After a much needed shower and change of clothes, I take to the streets. It’s still quite early in the day despite the time it took me to overcome the road. I decide to use the rest of the afternoon to explore the town.
The use of space is paramount in a town made small by the limitation of a river on one side and a mountain on the other. Instead of growing wide, Batopilas has grown long. Its two kilometers of length stretch from just before the bridge to a short distance beyond the plaza. Only a few side streets give it width in the middle. Where space is for want, the engineering gets creative. I see homes and parking spaces cantilevered into the air. When there’s a garage, it usually requires four-wheel-drive to use. And the steps that start at the street go every which way, climbing for ages before they reach some home nestled into a flat spot high above.
I meet people along my walk. Rafel tends the museum and speaks some English. He offers what turns out to be a great restaurant recommendation. When I stop next to the park, a girl tries to coax dólares out of me and gets scolded by the others in her group. Boys ride their bikes in the streets and laugh profusely when they nearly crash. Women are about their stoops sweeping the dust that must never go away in a place that never receives rain. Men sit around a lot, just like I’ve seen elsewhere in Mexico. Even the working men spend a lot time in what must be very deep consideration of what to do next.
My walk from one end of the town to the other gives me an hour to think a lot about life in this town. What must it be like to farm the food I eat or wash my clothes in the river as some people do? How is it to rely on tourism for a living when the whole world is urged not to visit Mexico? Life here looks difficult, but pleasant. The weather is definitely a highlight of life in Batopilas. Here, the weather is not unlike the tropics. I ask if they celebrate the coming of Spring as the people of Parral are doing this week, and the answer tells all. What Spring? It’s summertime year around. It neither rains nor gets cold. It does, however, get very, very hot. For this reason, the people with money have air conditioning.
My Spanish is improving at a remarkable rate out of sheer necessity. I spend my free time sitting in the plaza and reading lines from the Lonely Planet’s pocket phrasebook. No phrasebook the size of a pocket is perfect for all situations, though this one at least gives me courage to immerse myself among Spanish-speaking people. Plus, when I find myself immersed in Spanish, it’s difficult not to pick up on the little nuances of the language not touched by the book. Together over time, these roots grow into an entire tree of the language with different branches for finding accommodations, eating out, or simply conversing with someone about their life. The trunk of the language, vocabulary, grows larger every day. And new branches, the grammar and comprehension, grow longer and more complex also.
People try so hard to help me understand. Tonight at the restaurant Carolina, there’s no menu. The Señora simply voices the food options to me. I haven’t encountered enough Mexican food yet to know what she says, and I give up looking them up in the phrasebook while she very patiently waits. I’m her only customer this evening. I ask for whatever she recommends, and I’m satisfied with the result. Beef, beens, rice, and corn tortillas.
The next morning I find myself having breakfast with the neighbor. From our brief conversation in the street yesterday, she seems the intellectual type to me. That she speaks English so well lets us communicate in a way that I don’t get with others. Whenever I don’t understand something she says in Spanish, she repeats herself in English and then gives me a Spanish lesson. With everyone else, there’s just a lot of head shaking and smiling.
My second day in Batopilas is also the day I fix the bike. It dented itself fairly well with those loose rocks in the road. The dang thing should know better than to fall over. I take the busted pannier down to the river and beat it back into shape. I love that it’s so easy to repair and hate that it is so easily damaged. I do fear that the brunt of a fall would hurt the bike if the panniers were any stouter. The fall broke a few welds near the bottom, and these gaps get filled with silicone to restore the water resistance. I may have them welded later if the silicone fails.
I use the rest of the day to journal and watch the locals. From my perch on the patio, I see all. Tarahumara women wash clothes in the river. Their children swim and often yell out to each other while playing chase. Cows are frequent wanderers in the area, too. They drink from the river, and one even pauses to eat an entire cardboard box. These are the right kind of distractions that give me pause while writing. I can look up to see the farmer watering his garden or a group of men carrying something heavy across the foot bridge and then return to my journal with a new perspective.
It’s just another day in Batopilas where the weather is fine and the work, well, it gets done eventually. Tomorrow I head back out of town. The fear of the road keeps me up at night. I play back the entirety of the dirt sections and know exactly which places will push my riding skills to the limit. The hard parts will come, I’ll do my best to endure them, and then they will be behind me. Failure is not an option. Death, certainly not.
Just in case, I move the personal locator beacon into my jacket pocket and schedule another breakfast with the neighbor. Best to start that road with brain food and keep the oh-shoot button close, just in case.