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April 4, 1997

Mazatlan, Mexico - lonely as hell

4th April 1997:

So I'm sitting here resting my bones on the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico - its 4 in the afternoon, Saturday and I've just rolled into town from 9 days hard thumping out on the road from Bahia Kino - 700 miles to the north. The sun is low on the stage and the waves are rolling into the shore to the rhythm of 'Dock of the Bay' which is running through my head. Tourists stomp back and forth from their grilling spots on the beach - mainly Americans here on vacation. They're a distraction to the ocean behind that is lulling my senses. There's a half empty bottle of cheap red wine by my left elbow and I'm feeling kind of blue...lonely perhaps - or just tired - I don't know...

Traveling can get to you after a while - an 'around-the-world expedition' sounds very romantic an' all but at times it can get to be like a job - just like any other. Right now I'm missing home, family and friends - familiarity basically. Being in a foreign land with strange ways and customs and speaking in a foreign tongue can become exhausting, not just physically - but mentally and spiritually. I feel world weary and long to be sitting in front of a pint of Guinness in the Lock Tavern in London's Camden Town, waiting for a steaming plate of Steak and Kidney Pie to be thrust under my nose, talking a load of old BS to a familiar face - not having to bother, not having to deal ...

So I'm feeling bummed - and I know deep in my soul that its just misdirected energy that is actually an opportunity for growth if I can somehow turn it around into something positive. Its the body's way of letting you know of 'dis-ease' - a state of mind like most illnesses; the problem is when you're in the middle of the funk its so hard to 'see a way out' - to 'see the wood from the trees' as it were. The trick (for me) is to gather enough will-power to take the first step in starting a process of healing that feeds off its own momentum after not too long - like going out and buying a bottle of cheap red plonk, sitting on a beach and listening to the ocean!

Strange really - this is the first time in ages I've felt like this. Its not so much that I miss home - its more that I've lost (temporarily) some of my focus and drive to keep going; its a long, long way to Peru and what happens when I get there? More miles, more open continents and oceans to cross. So I think to myself - as I try to as often as possible - "Why am I doing this?" and " Are you really doing what you want to be doing right now?" I'm very guarded against continuing this trip for the sake of it (like anything in life). I like to think I'd have the bottle to walk away from the whole deal and to do something completely different if that realization should ever come - otherwise all that the expedition stands for becomes hypocritical and hollow. Just like the middle aged company executive that can't leave the job that he or she has now come to resent because they've been doing it for so long they can't imagine themselves doing anything else - and besides they need the money to support the lifestyle they've become accustomed to.

Such patterns of behaviour lead for the most part to mediocrity, a disease we are all susceptible to at every moment in our lives and one that Steve and I targeted to wage war against when deciding to do the expedition and its educational bias in the first place. Its a disease more widespread than the common cold, as quick to manifest itself and as deadly as Cancer. A disease that keeps you alive physically but kills your spirit, leaving you in a state of living death - like a zombie just going through the motions. We all know it - we're born with the potential for it. The question is how to keep it at bay?

So I apologise for 'dumping my bucket' on you guys - everyone has their problems and this is mine right now. I've tried a number of techniques to free this log-jam that I've been in for the past week or so - starting with the quick and easy red wine + ocean approach to biking on my own for the past nine days. But this ones a tough one to budge -a big funk like this one will need a more heavy duty approach.

I need to go and find an isolated place in the mountains to meditate, fast, be alone for four days - maybe forty! However long it takes to free the jam. Its a technique that many cultures past and present have used - including the Native American tribes that I first heard it from - but one that is little known in western cultures (much easier to shell out some cash and gobble some white pills). One half of me (the lazy left-brained side) is crying out for the external stimuli of familiarity and the company of people and things I know - the other more intuitive half knows that the real answers lie within me and what I need to do is to immerse myself into an environment of complete non-distraction that will allow me to 'see the wood from the trees', maybe even recapture my core-essence and see a little way into the future and 'my way' as opposed to being railroaded by the 'Expedition's way'. Sounds crazy I know but its so easy to become a slave of ones own imagination. Sometimes I think Steve and I created a Frankenstein-esque monster with this expedition - like we have with modern society - with ourselves serving the entity that we originally created. Scary stuff really - things can get out of hand so fast. Have to keep on reminding myself who's boss here - us or the monster...

I make no apologies for droning on about all this 'mind -stuff'. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the last update - the core reason why I am personally on this trip is spiritual - I can't speak for Steve here but I know its important for him too. Everything else from the educational programs even to the physical aspect of traveling around the world by human-power is secondary. The foundation of 'being-right-here-right-now-doing-what-I'm-doing-because-I-really-want-to-be' has to be rock solid otherwise everything else I touch becomes undermined and liable to mediocre results. Greatness is what I'm interested in - by that I mean "quality" thought, action and deed. (Quality is one of those nightmare words that people fight wars over; an impossible word to define - people write whole books on it without actually saying what it is! For now lets just say its one of those things you individually just 'know' or rather 'feel' deep inside).

So if all this mind-stuff bores you and you're after more traditional expedition style roughy-toughy stuff - I suggest you log onto a web-site of people doing a three legged race up Everest or riding a monocycle across the Gobi desert or pedaling a boat across the Atlantic - or something equally as ridiculous!

OK, enough belly-aching. Its 6.30pm the same day and I'm back in my deluxe room here in the Hotel Venido where For 25 pesos a night ($3.50 US) you're given a towel, a bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper and a room that smells of poop. The only thing they didn't give me on the first night was my rights. The door clangs shut behind you like the ones on Alcatraz and the hoodlums come banging on your door at all hours of the night screaming "Mota, Mota" - whatever the hell that is (the trick is to start yelling back like you're whacked out on drugs or something and eventually they'll think you're as crazy as they are and leave you alone). But its somewhere safe to put the Raleigh and all my gear for a few nights while I write this update and sort out a few things in town - like extend my visa and fix up the Raleigh which is in serious need of some TLC.


This is yours truly scowling at the camera, butt-sore and filthy (actually the grime acts as a great UV filter - and its free!), having just fixed the seventh puncture of the day (desperately need new tyres), somewhere nearing Mazatlan.

Now I'm alone my day starts at 5.30 am at first light (no more lazy French or Yanks who need jump starting with coffee in the mornings!), and I get straight onto the Raleigh to make the most of the coolest part of the day and to avoid the southerly winds that pick up around 11 (whichever bike guide I read saying the winds are always from the north - you lied !!!). By this time I've clocked my morning quota of 40-50 miles and start looking for a flood-water tunnel underneath the road for shade and protection...


...These tunnels are a great discovery; by day they offer some respite from the sun and the wind; by night they offer shelter from rain and excellent security from would-be thieves as from the road I am completely hidden. During this hottest part of the day I cook a largish meal normally based around rice or pasta - the leftovers I can eat later at night without having to make another fire. This is my 'down time' when I can catch up on journal writing, mend clothes and equipment etc., before pressing on at around three to bike another 40-50 miles until sundown. Night is not a good time to do anything aside from find another tunnel and lay out my bed roll without being seen by anyone. Now I'm alone I have a personal policy of no lights or fires after dark and I am familiar enough with the inside layout of my saddle bags to arrange my bedding from memory. I use my camera bags and the computer as a pillow; that way someone has to wake me if they really want the stuff that badly. I've learnt much after the group was robbed in Ensenada earlier on in the trip and lock all the panniers together and to the Raleigh with a Kryptonite cable lock - the combined weight if someone wants carry it off being somewhere in the region of 160 lb. As a final gesture of defiance I have a rope connecting myself to the bike (another 170 lb.) so if one thing goes - we all go together! And lastly some camouflage netting over everything so if I don't wake at exactly first light, no chrome or glass on the Raleigh glinting in the first light of the morning gives me away...

Sounds a bit like warfare I know but I have to assume the worst case scenario like on the ocean. But if the stuff goes, it goes - I'm not going to stand in the way of someone who wants (or needs) it that badly.


The road from Hermosillio has been hot, dry and dull. I've listened to Bob Marley's greatest hits (the only tape I have not counting some awful French stuff that Ollie and Carol left me) so many times I can play it from memory (which saves on batteries). The only break up from the monotony of crunching miles comes from reading tributes to accident victims on roadside crosses - like this one in the picture. There are a lot of these lining the roads in Mexico.


Occasionally I'll pass a cemetery and take five minutes to explore what amounts to a housing estate for dead people. Most of the tombs would house a family of five comfortably, and once or twice I've entertained notions of staying in one of them for the night. I suspect however this would not be greatly appreciated by grief-stricken relatives visiting early in the morning to find sacred shrine of loved ones converted into doss-house by smelly gringo on bike.


This woman is everywhere in Mexico - painted on blank walls wherever you go. However I'm not sure who she is. I've asked innumerable amounts of locals who give me varying answers - suffice to say she's obviously pretty holy and deserves documentation for her popularity alone. Any ideas anyone? (and its not Mary Magdeleine apparently).


I've met some pretty interesting characters the past few days; Ignacio (seen here in the picture signing his name on the 'cabeza de vaca' - cows head) dropped in while I was cooking my midday meal to shoot the bull - even though 'shooting the bull' with my horrible Spanish basically amounts to where I'm from, how far I've traveled and where I'm going. A common question I get asked is how I can afford to travel. I find the easiest way of answering this without getting too technical about the Internet and admitting to carrying a computer is to say I write articles for magazines in the UK and the US for a wage of $200 per month. This normally puts them off the scent of wondering how rich I am - and anyway - its pretty much true.


I was fearing the worst when I was flagged down by this crew - every one of them over 200 lb. and looking like they mean serious business. I had nothing to worry though - they turned out to be the friendliest folk I've met so far (induced I'm sure by mucho cervezas). After 20 minutes interrogation about the expedition they turned me loose with an ice cold cerveza and $60 US - amazing! The guy on the left even tried to give me his shoes ... a touching offer I found hard to refuse without offending him.

Not so friendlies turned out to be the police at the checkpoints that pop up in the desert every few hundred kilometers (not to be confused with the municipal police who are nothing but a joy to deal with in comparison). I dread these checkpoints as they usually pull me over due to my long hair etc, and although I've nothing to hide I am on total red alert in the event of them trying to plant drugs on the bike without me seeing - a well used practice I've heard they use if they think you have money - then making you bribe them to avoid going to jail.

On one occasion the sergeant took a liking to my beloved Gerber knife and wanted to buy it. I told him - as politely as I could - that it wasn't for sale. He looked at me hard and again asked - or rather demanded - how much I wanted "for the Rambo knife". Oh boy I thought to myself - he's one of those ones. Again I gritted my teeth and refused (its my only knife and I use it all the time). "After all", I said trying to loosen things up a little, "what was I going to use to defend myself against all the banditos in Mexico?". He loved that one thank goodness. His pot-belly shook like a big jelly as he told me through spurts of laughter that there weren't any banditos in Mexico anymore - only in the movies. HA HA HA HA.... Yeah, I thought to myself, they all went off and got uniforms to sit around check points and intimidate tourists instead. HA HA HA HA. More laughter all round - mine through smile-clips.

At that moment there was a yell from one of the maize trucks being searched for drugs nearby and off they all bounded like a pack of dogs to get a cut of the spoils - sergeant at the fore. Saved by the bell once again....


My technique of biking against the traffic to avoid getting hit from behind remains the safest way even on the four lane highway that I've been riding. In fact all the locals do it - and recently I've even taken to riding against the fast lane to avoid being slammed so often by the passing draught of trucks that predominantly use the slow lane. This is something most highway patrol police in the US and the UK would have a big problem with. The Mexican traffic police however seem not to be at all perturbed by this behaviour and indeed virtually all that pass me give me a wave of encouragement and a blast on the horn.

It seems as if everyone on the roads in Mexico and people in general just do their own thing regardless of what others think. At first this gives an impression of total chaos on the roads, with pedestrians, trucks, dogs, bicycles etc, just missing each other by inches - a phenomenon that I found breath-taking to watch at times before getting accustomed to it - and I know many American people that I've met have a problem with. "Too dangerous and inefficient". But after a while I began to judge it less against the more orderly 'western way' and more on its own merit. I started to realize that somehow all the confusion blends together into a seamless quilt of interlocking realities, that unfolds with as much predictability as rafting down white water rapids - but somehow keeps together enough to prevent from capsizing...

I find this cultural phenomenon fascinating and have asked numerous people about this trait that seems to run like a common thread through Mexican culture. The only people who knew what I was talking about were Mexicans who had lived in the US and had a basis of comparison. To the average Mexican its just the way its been all their life - so they know nothing else.

The following - for what its worth - is my summation of this phenomenon based on the opinions of around twenty people and my own interpretations...

"...The way of the Mexican is to respect the way of each individual as long as it does not infringe upon the freedom of others. For example if someone is riding their bicycle against traffic in the fast lane - they obviously have good reason to - and that choice is respected and not questioned. With each person following 'their own way' as they seem fit, without judgment from others, the atmosphere becomes relaxed and non-pressured enough for a state of (metaphysical) 'flow' to come into existence in which reality is created the instant before being witnessed at second-hand via the five senses. This gives the impression of chaos - even though there is underlying 'flow' preventing everything running together into a huge motorway pile-up. Its like bumper cars that never bump because they all have the same polarized magnets in their front bumper. (I spoke to two surgeons and a doctor at the hospital in Guamuchil that had all worked in US hospitals and they told me that the number of road related injuries and death per capita were similar in both countries).

The immediate future of this phenomenon is in essence 'out of human hands', and you either take a leap of faith and go with this 'flow' - be part of its dynamic energy and trust its arbitrary course, or take the more orderly approach like in the US - designing static patterns of control based on the scientific laws of probability to better predict future realities. In a religious context the Mexican way amounts to a certain degree of man's blind faith in "God". The US way is man working to become "God".

I guess that's why religion and the 'hakuna matatu' attitude is so big down here; whatever happens is meant to happen in the eyes of Mexican people..."

I remembered reading a similar cultural attitude to the way of the Mexican in a book called "Stone Song" by Winfred Blevins about the way of the Lakota Plains Indians prior their way being replaced by the white way ....

" Whether your way was to paint yourself in a certain manner, to wear something of iron or never touch iron, or whether you should charge the enemy first or simply swell the ranks, that was your nature, your vision, the route of your spirit on the earth. Other Lakota would respect it. None would try to coerce it or even influence it. None would mock it. Your understanding was the essence of you, and to follow it was your sacred choice..."

For me right now in the context I'm in - biking to Peru - the Mexican/Lakota way is better. I bike on the 'wrong side of the road' and I feel a lot more in control of my life as a result. I tried the US way skating from Miami to San Francisco and it nearly got me killed...


Lastly I wanted to tell you about this guy on the moped. His name is Frank. I met him in a town called Guamuchil in Sinaloa province when I had to stay overnight due to bike trouble. He is a medical doctor and kindly allowed me to sleep inside the gates of the hospital for security.

We spent a little time together - he spoke better English than I Spanish - so we exchanged our personal stories and thoughts on life until it was time for me to move on the following day. The first minute I set eyes on him I knew he was tired - not physically but with life itself. His wife and kids left him because of his depression 6 months ago - which only made him more depressed. He said to me that he was tired of being a doctor, and tired of living in the same town and doing the same old thing. Problem was, he couldn't 'see a way'. He'd thought for a while about moving to Puerto Viarta 300 miles to the south but hadn't made the break.

He discovered a year or so ago that he has terminal cancer - and that he has maybe only a little time left. This has given him sense of urgency to find some sense of fulfillment and purpose in life. But he just can't see a way...

'Seeing a way' - like I mentioned at the beginning of this update - is a tricky one. I'm battling with it myself at the moment. On a dark night its hard to put the next step down in front of you with any sense of confidence for fear of walking into a tree or falling into a hole in the ground. Its a catch 22; you don't make the next step because its too dark, so you stay there log-jammed going neither forward nor back. A stale-mate of sorts.

Frank and I talked a lot about how to make the first step that will normally induce a positive feedback cycle, eventually freeing the log-jam and allowing 'your way' to take its natural course to a sense of fulfillment and purpose in life. He could just walk out right now on impulse and leave everything - a kind of throwing oneself into the void technique; he could go to Puerta Viarta; he could wait a month and catch up with the expedition on his motorbike and carry on through Chile on his own and eventually end up in Tierra del Fuego (southern tip of Chile); or he could....

Basically there were a hundred different options at hand, all seemingly as good as each other. But Frank couldn't make up his mind. The problem is the combination of choice and in an indecisive state of mind often only makes the stale-mate worse (often better off with just one - then necessity kicks in). But what can make one option better than another is the energy and impulsion you put into it. If you try something half-heartedly, you cannot expect it to be a success and the funk will only get funkier! (and I'm not talking about James Brown here). The danger is to then get sucked into a viscious circle of either not having the confidence to take any more steps forward and staying put, or taking another step but with even less certainty than last time - with predictable results. So the problem - as with Frank - is not so much with the options, but with ones own state of mind.

"...emancipate yourself from mental slavery - none but ourselves can change our minds..." Bob Marley - Redemption Song.

So how to change your state of mind? Well for me - and the Lakota Plains Indians and maybe Frank - a good way is to go to the wilderness, do nothing and wait. The confidence that you need to make the first step a success and lead to 'your way' will come from within. It always does if you give it enough time - just have to be patient.

I offered this idea to Frank - who said he would think about it. If anyone would like to write this guy and maybe say hi and give him a boost, his full name and address is the following...

Calle Bravo Entre Mina Y
Clinica Lopez Gaxiola
Francisco (Frank) Rodriguez Guerrero
Guamuchil Sinaloa

So I guess that's all for this week. I'm going to jump under the shower (a hole in the wall that spits cold water at you if you're lucky) then saddle up the Raleigh and get my butt outta Dodge as they say. I might be gone for few days up in the mountains so please don't send out the dogs if you don't hear from me for while. Like I said in the beginning I need to detox myself in solitude for a while - and who knows - I may come off the mountain and decide I want to be an accountant after all!!! We'll see. So long ya'll - I leave you with these words of wisdom from Bob Marley's 'Get up stand up'...

"...most people think, great God will come from the sky.
Take away everything, make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
then you will look for yours on earth..."

- Jason

Posted at 6:00 AM