Caught the eight o’clock bus to Valladolid. My bike luggage again cost me extra, this time almost as much as the ticket itself. The journey was uneventful. The roadside scenery in the Yucatan is horrendously monotonous and flat. Thick, impenetrable shrub, looking like it struggles against the dryness of the place lines each side of the road. I’m glad I didn’t ride here.
Valladolid is a sleepy town; a pleasant, laid back sort of place. In the bus station I was standing with my bike, copying down the timetable for buses to Playa Del Carmen. A little guiltily I must add, as I felt that it was quite insulting to the town; I’d barely just arrived and I was already plotting my escape. A gorgeous Latina, about my age with light brown, curvy hair, approached me and asked me if I could speak Spanish. Her name was Cecilia, though she pronounced it in a way that it rang sweetly off her tongue; in a way that I couldn’t quite pronounce it. She said she’d come up to me because she’d seen me with the bike and thought I’d be different. Cecilia asked me a lot of questions about my trip and my luggage before I could get a chance to find out anything about her. She was from Columbia and was on holidays with her boyfriend Carlos, who was from Venezuela. Carlos approached us shyly, moments later, with a likeable grin. She was an artist and writer, he was a Communications student in Cuba and they were both trying to settle in Havana. She told me why she liked the social system in Cuba; she may not be able to have a fancy camera or a fancy car, but she had health care and when she has kids (“I want to marry and have kids and watch them grow up in Cuba”) they would get free dancing, singing and art lessons. She said with a scorn how she sees so many children and old women on the streets of Mexico, selling small trinkets and begging for change; yet Mexico is such a rich country. Cecilia agreed that some European countries also have social healthcare and education systems, but people live their lives by stepping on and crushing others in order to always get ahead.
I told them how I wanted to go to Cuba and they encouraged it, especially since I would be on the bicycle and people would look at me in a different way (instead of being a rich, white, foreign tourist I would be a rich, white foreign tourist on a bike, I thought realistically). We swapped emails and went to part ways. I shook Carlos’s hand and as I was about to shake Cecilia’s, she pulled me in towards her in what I thought was quite an intimate and sexy manner, and kissed me on the right cheek, leaving me plenty of time to reciprocate the gesture. Sigh…What a way to start the day. I left the bus station with a grin as wide as a bus.
I wandered off on my bike trying to find a cheap hotel near the plaza. After the bike accident that very nearly killed me, I said I’d never ride helmet-less again, but here I am riding about a lovely Mexican town with the wind in my hair. Damn it felt good. The respectfulness that Mexican drivers have given me while on the bike has definitely given me a false sense of security.
I posted my well-read copy of Che’s Motorcycle Diaries to my friend Stef (the person, not the bicycle…) in California. It was an adventure trying to buy an envelope without knowing the Spanish word for it; sobre, and everyone kept pointing me to the post office (which had none). At the newsagent it took five minutes of bad sign language before the man realised and pulled out the envelopes stacked just behind him. The book cost almost as much to send as it did to buy it, but it’s Che, I thought, and well worth it.
I bought a good coffee at a cafe overlooking the main plaza and then headed off to find the oldest Christian structure in the Yucatan, the church of San Bernadino. The church was at the end of a wide and cobbled street, Calle 41A, running diagonally from all the main streets. The street was bordered by the colourful walls of residences; blues, yellows and reds. It was quiet, empty of cars and only a few people around.
I was still feeling that familiar nice buzz from the coffee but all of a sudden everything seemed to slow down. I’m in super slow motion and right now Calle 41A has become my favourite street in all of Mexico. I’ve never felt so present in a place before. It seems my life has changed a notch. The loneliness; my somber, useless questioning mood and the heavy heart that I’ve carried ever since parting ways with Amelie, and probably for long before, has completely disappeared. I’m left with a grin on my face for the rest of the day. The type of grin that makes most people smile back at me and makes others, like the old ice-cream man at the plaza, comfortable enough to approach me and strike up a conversation. We didn’t understand each other at all, but we had a good laugh about it anyway. The good feelings were definitely helped by meeting Cecilia this morning. Maybe she was my angel in disguise giving me some much needed sense of direction.
And so Stef will be coming with me to Cuba. The trip will be pointless without the bike. It wouldn’t be Cuba without Stef. Back at the hotel, I “Cuba-fied” my panniers, taking out everything I didn’t need including the mattress and sleeping bag. Screw the bike shoes as well, it’ll be flip-flops from now on. I’m taking it easy; no more of those tedious, long, sweat-my-arse-off days anymore. I’m excited about cycling again.