Plural, at last!
Forty-something months ago, I put a label on this adventure. I set a fairly open-ended goal of traveling not just one America but three of them — North, Central, and South. I did give myself an out, an easy way to skip number three without needing a major branding change should South America prove to be too costly or too difficult to visit. I called the adventure a tour of the Americas.
That silly little s has haunted me for four years because ¡surprise! Mexico and the Caribbean are in North America.
Today, I’m staring across the border at Belize and a very important milestone in this adventure. Tomorrow — or maybe the next day — I get to slap a new flag on the bike and make the tour officially plural.
As excited as I am to be grammatically correct, I’m also apprehensive. The next two months of riding will take me through territories that put Mexico’s “danger” to shame. Central America gives new meaning to poverty, corruption, and dangerous road conditions.
I’m just near Central America and the landscape and infrastructure have changed. I see jungle on either side of the road instead of hotels and adventure parks. The road has narrowed into a game of roulette where might makes right-of-way. The people are fast approaching the Central American stereotype, too.
Out of nowhere, I hear a quivering English voice laden with long vowel sounds asking for my help. Am I American? Do I speak English? It takes me a moment to get my helmet off. The dark-skinned stranger speaking to me throws in a bit of self pity and other mumblings until I can respond.
My yeses to his questions are abruptly answered with a torrent of blessings and thank-yous. Thank-yous for my speaking English. Thank-yous for my being American. Thank-yous for the grace of God.
The man I see is a spitting image of the southern Baptist preacher archetype. From his pulpit-ready voice to his dressy clothes, I’m drowning in stereotypes. On the surface, he passes the bewildered traveler test. He says he needs help, and he looks approachable. I’m not running away just yet, but I do listen to his story very carefully.
He’s a southern-baptist preacher from Georgia. He’s traveling Mexico with his wife and children. Their visit to Acapulco was fantastic, and then the airline lost their luggage when they flew to Cancun! His passport and his diabetic wife’s medicine were lost with the luggage. Now they’re stranded in some small village outside Chutemal, Mexico. The American consulate isn’t helping quickly enough. His wife desperately needs her insulin.
Every word of his plight comes out in the same trembly preacher voice he greeted me in.
His first request is simple enough. He’s looking for a Travel Aid office. I’ve never heard of Travel Aid but offer to look it up. A quick search online reveals that the nearest Travel Aid office is in Puerto Rico. He seems quite surprised that I have Internet on my phone.
This is about the same time all the details come together in the back of my mind. Who puts a passport in their checked luggage? What diabetic boards a plane without the very medicine which keeps her alive? And if you desperately need insulin, why haven’t you gone to a hospital!? I passed two on the way into town!
He’s not even convincingly near Cancun or Acapulco for half of his story to make sense.
His second request is the deal killer. He asks for money. He doesn’t ask directly. If only I would put him and his family on a bus to Mexico City, everything would be solved. He offers the flashy gold watch on his wrist and a matching wedding ring for collateral.
I kindly decline and accept another round of blessings as he backs away.
Who buys this load of malarkey? Central America, I think I’m ready. Let’s do this! La aventura!