Perhaps no love is strong enough to get through the whole life. But it seems that we do not have anything else which could withstand life, but love. Wieslaw Myśliwski
The last few days I spent in the backyard of Vladimir Vallega’s property – the man who pulled me out of the very bad mood, or, literally, out of the roadside ditch, where a few days earlier I was lying with a fever, and a piercing muscle and kidneys pain. Every morning and evening, on a regular basis, I was visited by the head of the bodyguards of a nearby mall. He would bring water, sometimes food and kept asking if I wanted to call my family. I would lie down a little bit more in a cozy ditch, but my body began to swell strangely, and the pain has become to be so unbearable that it didn’t allow me to sleep, so I had nothing esle to do, than to put my tent down, say goodbye to the pleasant lodgings and, surely, to the boss for the care and protection I received against any possible juvenile offenders.
I met Vladimir next to his restaurant called Portena. When I asked him if he didn’t know where the nearest clinic was, he took off his red apron, closed just a minute earlier opened premises and took me to the doctor. The visit, along with medicines, cost the equivalent of three hundred dollars. It turned out that I came at the very last moment, anyway, that’s what the doctor said. I got inflammation of the urinary tract, but now, after a few days of resting, generally everything is quite all right.
After a visit, we went back to the restaurant. I ate three pupusas (pancakes with cheese and meat), which almost burst my stomach. Firstly, Vladimir suggested hotel, but when he realised what my budget for the trip was – he changed his mind, and suggested the roof of his restaurant. The roof was a great place, but the idea of converting it into a cosy apartment did not please the police, so the next day I moved to the Vladimir’s house, or, actually, the backyard of his property.
Apart from the restaurant Portena, Vladimir leads a second, similar place – on the ground floor of his house. Unlike Porteny, this second restaurant is a typical comedor, where, for very little money (in Salvador, the currency is American dollar) you can eat a decent breakfast or a substantial lunch. The comedor is a family business. Vladimir’s wife works here, along with his children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.
Ali and Junior, Vladimir’s children, do not go to school. They learn at home. They have private tutors. At the end of the year they take all-year exam at school. Textbooks for learning are printed in Honduras, where “home” way to educate children is more common than it is in Salvador. Junior is fourteen years old, and speaks fluent English with a very good accent.
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something De Mello Anthony
A new cat came in sight. A red one, I do not pay attention to the rest. I do not know why I pay special attention just to red cats, it’s hard to say. Maybe, because my grandfather was a redhead and I got a reddish beard from him? But, truly, he wasn’t quite a readhead, but my grandmother would call him that way. My grandfather also was like Snufkin, so to speak. He was rarely at home, but, in contrast to me, almost all his life he would move in a circle with a radius of not more than five miles. He knew its every corner, he would say that it was the whole universe. Although he passed away not such a long time ago, I do not remember the timbre of his voice. I wish I had talked to him more, when there still was time for that. Where has this redhead gone again! – my grandmother’s cry reverberated from above the cooking pots – Go, look for him and call him for dinner! So I ran into the woods to look for my grandfather, and didn’t come back until evening.
But I was supposed to be talking about cuddling! So, I met a new red-haired cat. Just in case, I was not too nice to him, hugged him just a little and not with such an affection as the previous one, because I could have tamed this one, too (as the Little Prince did with his rose) and I would only cause more trouble, though probably of different sorts, because it was a male cat.
I met a cat on my birthday, in a Salvadoran village called Mizapa, in a house of Vega family, whose one member invited me to dinner that night, fed, watered and sang Colombian songs of Oscar Agudelo. Frankly speaking, there was just one song, sung over and over again, a Colombian hit, La cama vacía.
More than a dozen people live in the house, so the family is large and virtually self-sufficient. Behind the house there is a garden, which is full of fruit: huge watermelons, juicy mangoes, bananas, coconuts, and the others that I have never seen before. The family grow corn as well, which they use to make tortillas, and there are lots of chickens running around the yard. You can catch one, and without any further ado – cut off its head, as if it was the most natural thing to do, then pluck, tan over the oven and make chicken soup for the guest. For breakfast there were eggs with beans, and delicious coffee, which taste was incomparable with any other liquids, served by baristas in any networking coffee restaurants. It had an intense flavor, strong and deep and stayed on the palate for a long time after the meal.
Salvadorians were supposed to cut off my head, rape me, rob me, gut me, and in the best case – just to give gringo a decent thud, lest it occurred to him that he couldn’t ride so carelessly and freely, in his tight clothes, with a stupid smile and a red beard, on a far too conspicuous bike.
These warnings gave me people in Guatemala. In contrast, I heard similar stories in Mexico – but they were about Guatemalans and their sublime methods of tormenting gringos. We are good people, Mexicans would say, but when you get to Guatemala, no longer will you be able to ride your bike so carelessly, and to put up your tent wherever you meet the night.
The first impression after crossing the border between Mexico and Guatemala – there was more of everything: people, smells, fruits, comedores – roadside restaurants, but also there was far more noise and traffic on the road, holes in the asphalt, garbage. I liked the notes and the original name of the currency – Quetzal, attributed to the name of bird of paradise, which in the pre-Columbian mythology was a symbol of freedom and beauty.
The first night in Guatemala I spend in the yard of pastor Vilar, who, without batting an eyelid on my question, Do you know any good, safe place for camping?, responded: I’m inviting you to my house, the whole family will be delighted. A nice evening ended only when my knackered body almost fell out of the plastic chairs under the table. The next few days looked nearly the same. Such warmth, hospitality and willingness to help I haven’t experienced for a long time.
With regret, I was about to leave Guatemala, so long I stood on the border, wondering whether to go further, or maybe it’s time to stop fooling around and not to go any further at all. Maybe I should go to the bazaar to buy a machete, I thought, cut a piece of forest, and then build a little hut, beat out the threshing floor, breed chickens, have a plot of corn, and a rambutan tree, find a readhead cat and grow old with her, put up passing cyclists and invite them for dinner, then make them scrambled eggs for breakfast, serving it with a delicious cup of coffee.
Andrzej Bobkowski, a Polish writer, spent his last days In Guatemala. This time I could not, or maybe I just did not want to look for traces left by him. I went to trace my own path.
To say something more. In order to be said again. Said somehow. Always the same. Attempts. Off the mark. Never mind. Try again. Miss again. Miss better. Samuel Beckett
It was a redhead cat. She was running under the table and was eating all creatures crawling on the floor. She had dark, trusting eyes and large, pointed ears. I took her in my arms. What a scrag! I thought, scratching her ear with one of my hand and moving my fingers on her spine. Warm body purrsed gently. We touched our noses. Her rough tongue licked my skin. I hugged her tighter, a small head snuggled into my arm.
Rigoberto Rene Mijangos Maza, a forty years old veterinarian, who can pull his leg over his head and jump two meters up, found the cat on the road and embraced. Gato Angora, he said, a very wise and well-behaved, if you want, you can take her with you. I wanted, I did want, but I could not. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken her in my arms, I shouldn’t have hugged so warmly, because, probably, she thought something, no matter what, I do not know what cats think. Definitely she had something in mind, she thought of something, but I do not know what. How would I? I often do not know what I think, let alone a cat … And maybe she didn’t think at all, after all, thinking has nothing to do with it. I took her in my arms, hugged, and it should stay like that forever. From that moment she was about to snuggle in my arms, to the end of the world.
But next day, I was gonna leave, and I couldn’t take the cat, I wouldn’t be able to carry her in my panniers or in a camera bag, and she was to small to run after me. So, why was I so surprised in the morning, when I said goodbye to Rigoberto and his friend Benjamin, why was I sad when I saw her jumping through the gate and running towards me, like a little dog… Rigoberto grabs her and tosses through the gate, but the cat is back on the road again, and now, runs even faster in my direction, so she must be caught once again and locked, as Rigoberto said, now, she can’t escape, unless through the chimney.
I’m going fast, but still it’s too slow. I’m trying not to think, but I can still hear her miaowing through the door. Finally I stop and don’t move for a long time, until I fall asleep. An old man, carrying a plastic bag full of red, hairy fruit, wakes me up. It’s rambutan, he says. Have not eaten yet? Try it. He shows me how to peel them and says they are good for any bad thoughts. Then he goes away, stooping, disappears around the bend.
In the evening I got to Tapachula. I have a fever again. I sleep in the park, some Salvadorans come at night. They are pushy, do not let me sleep. I do not talk to them, I feel bad, I want to scold them, but I have already used all words during the day. I don’t utter a word, finally they leave. The second night in the same park, there was a slight earthquake around midnight – the earth wavered ridiculously, a strange feeling, as if I pitched a tent on the sea. In a few hours I will find out that the epicenter was in Guatemala. In the morning, the police wakes me up, telling, it is not a camping ground and I should go to the hostel for immigrants and the homeless.
I was sitting in one place for hours, trying to collect my thoughts together. Then I went to the suburbs to look at the way, to look out of red spots, but apart from a violent storm, there has been nothing to see. So I came back to the park.
In the evening I went to seek a shelter, but ended up in a patio of Chang-Martinez family. Mrs. Lulu’s grandfather came from China and married a Mexican woman. The family is big, there are ten people in one room, and it’s still only a part. I ate a sweet mango for dinner, went back to the tent. I started wandering in my thoughts on the redhead’s hair, weaving words in it, and then I dreamed that I went back, that I did not want to go any further. I wanted to be with her, didn’t go anywhere, and if I was to move one day somewhere, then only with her, but Rigoberto opens the door and says that the cat ran away. She ran the other way.
It is obvious that, regardless of our modesty, in the eyes of the hosts we looked like two big bags , filled with booty, with dollar signs on each side. In the face of difficulties that these people were struggling, poverty in which they lived, failed hopes and lack of opportunities, you could not escape the consciousness of this situation, you could not control the visible anxiety. It was not the fear of theft or assault, but the embarrassment caused only by our presence. Just because we were there – so relaxed, so laid back – was a kind of an insult. When I wandered through these mountains in my strange-looking outfit and face of an alien, initially I felt a shiver of shyness every time when we approached a new village and were flogged by assessing looks of inhabitants. But my embarrassment soon disappeared, as natural politeness of almost every encountered human being caused that I would forget about the serious differences lying between us. Tony Anderson, Bread and ashes.
I met Mrs Lili in the park, in the city of Puebla. I was just about to move on, but my stomach, filled to the brim with food, demanded an extension of siesta. An hour before I ate a huge papaya, followed by the equally big cemita – a Mexican hamburger. In the evening, sitting at the dinner at the house of Mrs Lili (whom the oldest of four sons will present me as Peggy Sue) I will find out that my burger was called cemita de milaneza, a sandwich filled with persea, onion, cheese, meat and some hot spices.
It’s hard to say, actually, to what or to whom I owe the fact that I was invited to the house to stay overnight. I presume it was because of my Polish origins, cause when I answered a standard, frequently asked question: De donde viene? (Where do you come from?), it turned out that the family Munive Alcaide for almost a year accommodated a Pole, Italian philology student, Samuel Sulkowski.
I followed the taxi and half an hour later I was lying on a comfortable bed, clean and tidy, overlooking a Polish flag hung on a wooden shelf. In the evening I met the rest of the family: papa Marco Antonio and his four sons: Julian, Abraham, David and Tono, with whom I shared a room. I took the bed of David, who came home just in time, when I was leaving the shower, tied with a tiny towel. Mom did not manage to let him know before about my arrival, but he didn’t seem to be surprised at all, as if he was accustomed every so often to meet an almost naked stranger in his room, lying on his bed, covered in a fresh, clean, new bedding.
The next day we went for a family reunion, where most of the participants took me as a long time unseen Samuel. By the way, I was able to participate in the children’s game called piñata, during which blindfolded children, using a stick, try to break a paper star. When it’s done, sweets and toys are ..
The traditional piñata was shaped like a seven star with tassels at its ends, symbolizing the seven deadly sins. Breaking piñata symbolized and represented the will power to overcome the temptation to commit sins.
In the evening we went to Cholula to watch voladores – Pole Flying. Five men climb up the tall, narrow pole. Except for a waist cord, there is nothing to protect them. One of them remains at the top of the column, playing drums and the flute, while the rest, with their outstretched arms, jump down and, balancing their bodies in the air, lauch themselves to descend to the ground. Men turn thirteen times, which multiplied by four participants, gives fifty two revolutions, which constituted one cycle in the Mayan calendar, as well as the number of weeks in a year of “our” calendar.
Hospitality of Munive Alcaide family was exceptional. Each day someone bothers me, but it rarely ends up to be invited home. However, the Mexicans still seem to me incredibly kind and hospitable. Wherever I stop to take some rest, someone instantly comes to talk. Even for a moment, just to share a word.
People are curious about everything. I am disarmed questions like: What do you do when it rains? What do you eat? Where do you sleep? What do you do when you have a flat tire? As for eating, I usually ask the same question: And what do you eat? I eat exactly the same things, and Mexico is simply flooded with food that you can buy on the streets, so you do not have to carry inventory in panniers. As for patching punctures: exactly two days ago, it happened for the first time, and it has been the first puncture since I left Alaska last year.
In the capital I stopped to have a chat with road workers. They had yellow suits, which blended into the orange wall. I leant on it, pulled up the legs, and twine tired knee with my dirty, sticky hands. Only after a while I noticed a little girl, sitting on the side. A few older men, two women, and a teenage girl, Lupe. She smiles a lot, but does not want to say anything. Men speak for her. That she is not as young as she seems, she has a child, a boy, and she must work for him because his father is an ordinary cabron and does not help in any way.
I get a mango for a road, in a bright colour of Lupe’s suit. I feel bad. I feel ashamed. I want to share something, but I do not know what. I would like to leave something, but I do not know what and for whom. Mango is sweet and leaves sticky hands. Juice trickles down my chin, stains shirt. I want to pay. I take out the money, but Jose Angel Alvarez tells me to hid it and stop fooling around, because the God looksfrom above and sees everything and that it is enough for everything, and that I should be careful on the way.
The workers return to work, and I’m back on the highway. In the evening, I stop close to the gas station. There is no problem with putting up my tent nearby, nobody is surprised by the question. Nothing has changed. In Mexico, no one has ever refused that I can stay for a night in my tent. I cook dinner, bury in the sleeping bag, and watch the stars with a longing look through the night.
From the perspective of a place which one has to leave, travel is an exercise in dying. Any leaving is dying, every act of breaking out of the same is one of many small deaths that make life is just sheer passing. Kazimierz Mrówka
The heat and humidity give me a hard time. The antibiotic was too weak, so after three days I got two shots in the ass. For a better way. But, unfortunately, it was not any better. I left Mazatlan and headed south, but after a few days I had to throw up the game and once again look for a doctor. I got another set of tablets, then I bought some food, ten liters of water and stayed for three days in bed, frankly speaking, without getting out, apart from some rare visits to the restroom and time for changing sweaty clothes. It is said that dogs do that when they fall ill. They look for a place where they can be left alone to get through, so they hide themselves from the world and lie. So I followed an example of dogs, because I trust them. Even these I meet in Mexico, these that often bark at me and chase along the road, trying to reach my calf.
Almost the whole day the room is filled with dim light. It gets lighter only in the late afternoon, when the sun tilts in the sky and warm coulours fill a small patio. It is quiet and peaceful. Without some mosquitoes and rare visits of my neighbor, time passes by and nothing disturbs it.
A small, almost transparent, beautiful lizard lives in the corner of the room. It comes out in the evening and secretly eats insects that in abundance come flying into the room through a crack in the window to dump the wings on the ground. Then they awkwardly wriggle on the floor, do not even try to run away when a lizard is eating another creeping, naked insect.
And finally, late at night, ghosts arrive. I welcome you, ghosts, please, make yourself comfortable, no, really, I was not expecting you, thank you, thank you, Moomins will bring a glass of water, and some munchies, it’s nice you come, thank you, thank you, it is always better to talk to someone, swap wards, even with those who are invisible, than just to mumble constantly to yourself. Where you can sit? Everywhere you want, you can sit on the bike, surely, even on the bed would do, really, I move a little and there will be room for everyone …
So we sit around comfortably, close our eyes and listen. We listen to each other. We listen a lullaby with our silent eyes. Good night.