When Addison found me on the side of I-35 with my bicycle (Tuesday, Dec. 23rd) I was grinning from ear to ear.
“Wow,” he said me when we sat down together at the gas station picnic table. “You seem so happy. And your face is so tan — I can tell you’ve been riding in the sun for a few days.”
“Yeah,” I told him, sipping on a soda with ice (a tooth-destroying activity that brings me much joy on cycle tours). “I don’t feel stuck anymore. Like I know what I’m supposed to be doing right now, even if I don’t know where I’m sleeping tomorrow or where I’ll be in three days. I feel in alignment with my purpose.”
He nodded, smiling.
Addison has been very sad to see me go, but we both know I’ll be happier finally doing this trip, rather than trying to stay in Austin and avoid the inevitable. And without me around telling him everyday about how much I want to ride my bicycle to Brazil, he’ll be happier too! 😀
“I don’t know why I feel the need to do this ride,” I said. “But I’ve been happier in the past four days since I left Austin than I have been in a long time. I was thrilled to sleep in an empty building under construction–next to that church! I was so happy lying in my tent in that empty room. It’s almost weird.”
“I do know I won’t be happy the whole time I’m on this trip. I know sometimes I’ll be terrified, lonely, sad, or just craving a hot shower and a soft bed. I know I’ll find myself missing you, and our home in Austin… But that just doesn’t seem like a good enough reason not to go.”
Our next move that evening was to find a place to sleep before crossing the border in the morning. We had an offer to stay with a friend of a friend in Laredo, but Addison felt the need to be with me alone during my last evening in the U.S.
I thought it was probably a good idea. That way we could talk and blubber uninterrupted for as long as we needed to that night.
…and then they showed us our room. It wasn’t much to look at, and the shower water wasn’t exactly warm, but it was private.
I realized that night that there was nothing I could say or do, nor Addison, to make us both feel good about separating. It was just a difficult experience we would have to go through, and it was inevitable.
The next morning I had a call with a seer/shaman/medium named Elena. My dad had offered to set me up with a session with her, to gain some clarity around my trip. She is from South America, and, as I soon discovered, is pretty perceptive for someone who just met me on the telephone for the first time.
“What do you wish to get out of your journey?” she asked me.
I hesitated. For me, just doing the journey is enough. I know I will derive many experiences and lessons as I travel, and it will change my life. So I tried to explain this to her.
She told me about a past life experience that is still affecting me now.
“You are trying to prove something to yourself even now,” she said. “You want to prove to yourself that the world is safe, although you don’t really believe it is. So you are challenging yourself and the world by going on this journey, because you want to know that you are safe in this world.”
I can dig that.
“But,” she continued, “I want to make sure that you know something important: you don’t have to make this journey in order to learn the things you need to learn. You don’t have to do it. Only if you want to.”
It felt nice to hear someone tell me I don’t have to go on this crazy adventure.
“Ok, I think I understand,” I replied. “But I feel that I must make this trip. I don’t think I could ever be at peace with myself if I don’t do it. Or at least try.”
As we continued our session, she talked to me about self love. “You have never actually fallen in love,” she told me. “You may love your partner, but you have not let yourself fall in love, because you are not able to really receive love in return.”
I was surprised to hear this, but not surprised at the same time.
“You will fall in love sometime over the next year,” she told me, “but you will have to learn to love yourself first. You cannot fall in love with anyone until you fall in love with yourself.”
When I finished my session, I felt more clear about my intention for the next year:
Falling in love with myself.
That sounds more difficult to me than riding a bicycle to Brazil!!
But I’m up for the challenge.
After we packed up and left the hotel (and after Addison had written me a message in my journal while weeping and splattering the pages with his tears), we headed for the border in Laredo.
But first we had to stop and figure out how to activate the international plan on my phone.
And I had to buy us some gas station coffee. As I was filling our cups and searching for lids, creamer, etc., I realized I was just as confused as to where everything was as the two Mexican immigrants who had arrived by bus just then. They asked me to help them, and to show them were things were, and I gestured helplessly.
“I’m just as confused as you are!” I told them, laughing.
But I asked for help at the check-out and they found me lids so that I didn’t have to navigate with two lidless coffees through the crowds of Mexicanos that were piling out of the buses.
I was so nervous as we pulled up to the border, especially because google maps sent us to the wrong one at first! (apparently it was only for semi-trucks, and the attendants were very distraught at the sight of our little blue subaru coming through the lanes)
We drove through the border into Mexico.
Except that instead of a shiny office on the side of the border lanes with someone in a booth asking me for my passport, there was just a crusty old hobo with a tin begging cup standing next to some police officers with huge guns on their backs.
The hobo threw his cup down and ran to our window.
“You need visas? Tourist visas? Permits??”
“Uh…” I was in the driver’s seat, looking at him in confusion. “Si… pero…”
“I take you!” he cried excitedly. “You follow me in my car!”
He gestured wildly to an old, beat up car with its windshield smashed and taped together, and the front fender hanging on by a few ties.
I laughed. I thought he was joking.
That is, until I realized he wasn’t.
He leapt into his old beater with his “amigo”, and tried to get us to follow him.
Instead, we pulled into a currency exchange office and changed some dollars to pesos and asked them where the hell we should go to get visas and permits.
They tried to explain it to us, but we ended up driving in a circle back to where the hobo had returned and was holding his tin cup again.
When he saw us he threw the cup down again and raced to my window once more.
“I tell you to follow me, you no follow me!” he cried. “I take you to where you get visas and permits!”
A truck filled with policemen in bullet proof vests and army boots pulled up. The officer driving said something in spanish, and the hobo ran to his window and explained the situation.
He nodded to us and gestured to the hobo. Yes, you can follow him to get your visas and permits. He won’t lead you down an alleyway into a nest of narcos. That was my interpretation of his gesticulations.
So we followed the car that looked like it shouldn’t be able to drive even one mile without breaking down. It led us to what looked like an official building for permits and visas. A miracle.
The hobo stopped his car in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. He came to Addison’s window.
“Okay, you go in here,” he told us. “You get visas and permits.”
“Gracias,” I said.
“Now you give me ten dollars,” he commanded. “Give me ten dollars.”
I gave him 200 pesos and bid him adieu, as the cars that were stuck behind us began to blow their horns in impatience.
All the signs inside the building were in spanish, so it took us almost an hour to figure out which line to wait in, and by the time we figured that out, we also realized that we had to wait in every single line that we saw in the building, one after the other.
None of the attendants spoke english.
I kept opening google translate and typing in questions, or tried to translate the signs that hung over the lines.
One of us would run outside or poke our head out a window every 20 minutes, to see if my bicycle was still on the back of the car. It was locked to the bike rack, but the bike rack can be taken off.
By the time we got back into the car with our paperwork squared away, it was almost 2 pm. We sighed in relief.
Next stop, General Zuazua where my friend, Ismael lives.
Mario did not speak any english either.
We followed him inside and the three of us sat in relative silence, smiling politely and playing with their two little chihuahuas (Kookie and Kookien). After a while I asked Mario if I could bring my bicycle into the backyard, and where we could put our ‘cosas’ (things).
Ismael had said I could stay as long as I wanted at his house, because he had ‘an extra room’.
What he meant was that he was going to sleep in Mario’s room and give me his room!
We piled all of our stuff in there and then Addison played us some songs while we waited for Ismael to get home from his work at the ‘cookie factory’.
Ismael is a manager at a big factory in Monterrey where they make Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Fig Newtons and Ritz crackers.
When Ismael arrived, I hugged him 2-3 times, as I had not seen him in 4 years or so.
We ate dinner, and then he showed us his artifacts collection that he brought from Chical (the tiny village he’s from that’s located south of Monterrey about 800 km).
That night I was afraid.
Okay, I thought. Now I’m in Mexico. Now what? I don’t feel any more confident about cycling here than I did before.
Dogs were barking from every cement yard in the little town, and mariachi music blasted throughout the streets.
Addison left the next morning.
I thought if I just stayed at Ismael’s for a few days, than I would work up the courage to get on my bicycle and ride out of there.
Here’s some pictures of the next few days…
And we accidentally caught a tortuga!
Painting on the left is Ismael’s and mine is on the right (the plant grows in his village and is called ‘Corona de Cristo’)
Finally it was time for me to try riding my bicycle in Mexico…
So on the morning of Dec. 27th I packed it all up, while Mario and Ismael watched in amazement.
And I rode into the city of Monterrey…
I was terrified.
For reasons mostly in my own head.
But I made it to my host’s house in under 3 hours.
His name is Max (or ‘Cejas’, which means ‘eyebrows’).
He is a physicist, a writer, a coder… and he is very curious and fun.
Oh, and his girlfriend Maria, and his sister.
Somehow I managed to win (I never win games!)…
The next day I was supposed to ride to Ramos Arizpe, a town about 75 km Southwest of Monterrey.
Maria squeezed me fresh orange juice and bid me farewell.
I could not find my way out of the city. The only options seemed to be massive interstates with no shoulders and lots of traffic.
There is no bicycle option in Google Maps, so when I would load a route for walking, it would send me up one way streets going the wrong way, and when I realized what was happening I usually had to do some crazy maneuvering to get out of harm’s way.
When I upload a route for a car in Google Maps, it sends me onto huge interstates where no cyclist should ever set tires down.
The sidewalks do not have ‘ramps’, so to speak, so in order to get up onto or off of a sidewalk (which is usually very narrow, broken up, and will have random trees, posts or blockages in the middle of them without any warning ), I have to lift my 80 lbs of bicycle up onto it, and then lower it down again when the sidewalk suddenly ends or gets too narrow.
I kept breaking down crying, which annoyed the crap out of me.
I felt so alone and confused, especially not knowing how to speak the language, and everyone stared at me like I was a space alien.
After stopping at a Krispy Kreme and charging my phone (and nearly weeping all over the donut attendee), I kept going.
When I found myself dodging enormous potholes and treacherous chunks of cement that were posing as some kind of sidewalk, while semi-trucks and buses screamed within inches past me at 70 miles per hour, I gave up.
I can’t do this, I thought. I’ll never make it to Ramos, what to speak of Brazil. How is this trip going to be enjoyable if I’m terrified the whole time?
I’m not brave. But I wanted to become brave by doing this trip.
I thought I would feel more brave after a day or two of riding in Mexico, but maybe Monterrey was a bad place to start…
I sent a whatsapp message to my host in Ramos, Julian.
He offered to pick me up.
I cried some more and accepted his offer.
While I waited for him to come with a car, a lady sat near me, watching me curiously.
“Cansado?” she asked me. Meaning, ‘are you tired?’
“Ah no… Estoy esparando a un amigo con un carro.” I pointed to the highway swarming with traffic. “Esta camino es muy malo para el bicicleto.”
She nodded in agreement.
I somehow was able to explain to her that I was headed to Brazil, at which she was duly impressed. However, I wasn’t so sure this was accurate information anymore..,
Than I offered her an orange, which she happily accepted.
When Julian arrived with a bike rack on his car, I hugged him and thanked him repeatedly.
He said, “It’s no problem. This road is very bad even for a car. I understand.”
Julian rode his bicycle from Ramos to New York City about 9 months ago, and then flew to Europe and cycled around there. He knows that cycling in a city in Mexico is much more hazardous than cycling somewhere like Manhattan, where it is a common activity and there are bike lanes and alot of awareness around cycling.
As we drove along the highway to Julian’s home, I stared in horror at the last 40 miles I would have had to cycle.
If I had tried to ride this highway, I think I would have died, I thought.
We passed a semi-truck that had hurtled off of the road into a ravine and was dangling there like a giant, metallic carcass.
On either side of the highway are mountains that literally touch the sky, and at their feet spreads out the desert, with cacti that are 10-15 ft. high.
Julian’s family received me with incredible hospitality, and stuffed me full of pasta, salad and tortas.
Than I crawled into bed around 6 pm, still shaking, and cried myself to sleep.
I wonder when I will be brave?
I don’t really want to ride alone anymore, so I’m praying to the universe to send me a traveling companion, at least until I feel more at home on the road and in Mexico.
To be a part of my journey and help me get all the way to Brazil, please visit Patreon.com/jahnavi
P.S. I’m not writing all of this to complain, but simply to be honest with every part of my experience. It takes a lot of courage for me to admit to being terrified and crying all over the place, so please suspend your judgement if you can! 🙂 Thank you!!