Scooting through the volcano studded Iztaccihuatl-Popocatépetl National Park took us nine miles on undulating hard dirt up to the cloudy top, and down quite a bit farther on the smooth stuff towards Tepoztlán—the “place of abundant copper” in the state of Morelos. Once there, Eddy opened his backbreaking sliding door to Posada La Casa De Ana B&B and greeted us as if we were one of his own. That’s what his grandfather had instilled in him from an early age towards travellers. I liked him instantly.
Smiling at us with kind eyes, Eddy exuded a quiet but happy persona and surprised us with an unexpected eagerness to attend to our every whim. Including driving Jason to the next town’s mechanic with his bike’s deteriorating battery. What a lamb. Within the first ten minutes of speaking with him, Eddy set me and himself to giggling; after relaying that I’d had a female audience watching me manoeuvre my bike up his steep driveway, I chuckled that I was teetering on dropping my bike with a show-stopping crash, bang, wallop. He mentioned that only two women rode motorcycles with engines bigger than 125cc in the whole of Tepoztlán; I’d be the talk of the town for the rest of the week, which amused me no end.
The pueblo mágico we’d found ourselves for a couple of nights boasted imposing views of Popocategpe and its forest-clad volcanoes, bestowing us with flavourful street food and mean Mediterranean cuisine into the bargain. Pretty pricey but the town was picture-postcard-esque. Even if we did get the brunt of a traffic policeman’s wrath upon bobbling down a steep cobblestone one-way street into the town—the wrong way. Stupid gringos! He clocked us and madness entered his eyes. It filled him like a flood of foul water pouring into clear. He spat some words at us with unmitigated disgust and looked at me as if I were a new stain that had somehow appeared on his shirtfront.
We apologised profusely hoping to distinguish any possibility of a fine like the light receding from a lantern. Narrowly getting away with it by the thinnest margin, we kicked the side stands down at a café lining the central plaza to get out of harm’s way but got caught out, again! The same traffic warden blew his whistle and wagged his finger in our faces for having rocked up in an unmarked non-parking area. Oh come on, really? We cleared out of there; to stand against him, would have been like a forest in the path of a hurricane, in the end only broken trunks and litter left.
Wending our way for 50 miles to the industrial sprawl that is downtown Toluca, saw us snake through thick alpine forest in fresh temperatures. The sunny day turned raw at 2,600-metres, the first real flirtation with altitude in the mountains for a while. A cool morning breeze flapped at my hair against my jacket as a bitty chill burrowed through me like a worm. Still, the day was set to Technicolor and the cliffs were topped by high-peaked pines. They rose like dark sombre spears among the brilliant green of the newly leafed pines.
Making a beeline for Touratech Mexico to tend to some more bike niggles was one of those necessary evils of having to be in big cities on a big road trip. I’ve said it before: If it’s not one thing, it’s your BMW motorcycle! But on this occasion, it was J’s bike grumbling, not my dear Pearl. Toluca is neither conducive to cheap accommodation nor inexpensive restaurants; heading straight to the lowest priced hotel we could find—a City Express Junior—still haemorrhaged our daily budget but what can you do when you’ve failed to reach out in advance?
Doris, the good old Garmin (satellite navigation device) pulled her usual stunt and veered us off the fast and furious road in order to shave six metres off the destination. She consequently detoured us through a convoluted industrial estate. On a gravelly dirt road, the car directly in front of Jason had just negotiated a tope (sleeping policeman), obscuring any notion of danger ahead.
“OH MY GAWD!” I shrieked. Skidding to a halt on the gravel, even at slow speed I came down the tope and collided into the back of Jason’s bike. While Pearl’s front tyre smashed Jason’s registration plate into smithereens, a gaping manhole swallowed his front tyre. Jase buckaroo’ed off while the moto remained upright—albeit at a chronically wrong angle—having nosedived to a severe stop. Less than happy, Jason was livid. I believe I felt the weight of his despair the way a diver feels the weight of the ocean. But I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t even bring my nerves and muscles to the tribulation, I needed to back Pearl up and fast. Not to mention having pipe-cleaners for arms.
The sump guard (bash plate…ask Uncle Google) bearing the load of Jason’s bike had taken the force of the impact yet seemed surprisingly robust; preventing the manhole from denting or misaligning the forks in any way. A handful of Mexicans dived in, pulling out the F800 with stress and strain and a clear sense of urgency, induced by Jason. An open manhole crisis closed but one neither of us would ever want to encounter again. Damn the sequential inevitability of that tiresome tope and car concealing the perils of the road, I wasn’t even fast enough to snap a photo of the moto-meets-manhole mess!
It was a day when the traffic stayed agitated and sky remained turbulent; the latter clicked from bright and promising to dull and incomplete. Despite wanting to cling onto the harmony of the everyday, I understood that our lives were permanently set to change, the way a television remote hops sporadically through the endless crud to find something worthy and interesting. A two-day interlude at Valle de Bravo—located on the shore of Lake Avándaro, 95 miles southwest of Mexico City—was pleasant enough but more akin to something you’d have on in the background than anything enthralling.
The channel changed to one where the stars and planets realigned favourably. Courtesy of one of the 772 Horizons Unlimited Communities across 114 countries, out popped a pleasant man named Yusif. Just about the kindest a person can be, Yusif was ‘humility and good manners’ personified. Upon meeting him, without any scrutiny behind his blue eyes he showed only friendly curiosity towards us both. That, and a sincerely apologetic attitude for being at work longer than anticipated. I smiled as I said hi quickly followed by “Wow, please don’t worry about that.” Nice guy. “Thank you for meeting us at all,” and shook his hand, which was strong and sure as an apple picker’s.
Inviting us to stay up to a month, Yusif whipped us into shape by insisting we treat his rather refined bachelor pad as our own. ‘Lucky’ doesn’t convey how our feet had landed on this guy’s doorstep. Yusif was ordinarily too busy with work to be at the beck and call of two wheeled-waifs and moto-strays like us.
Born in Mexico, Yusif was part Palestinian with skin that erred on fair, more than it was equipped to absorb the hot climes of his home turf. He constantly smiled good-naturedly accentuating his round hamster cheeks and gelled his hair, which sported an unremitting wave through it. He was a chap that remained dogged to his professional devotion; piloting business jets. He lived his private life according to his passion, which he indulged with quiet but interminable ferocity: touring the world when he can on his prized R1200GS Adventure and blasting out on his KTM 350 for short, sharp enduro bursts. That, and opening his world when work seldom permitted to the fellowship of the road. The perfect host; endlessly agreeable, jovial and undemanding.
With a heartbreakingly beautiful kitchen at my disposal (Yusif’s a bit of a foodie), I was on culinary cloud 9; concocting dishes and woofing Mexican cuisine by the plate load. Nothing shy of the words “dream come true” would do here—it was the cliché made into flesh.
It took only moments to notice how Yusif cleaved the air with definitive thoughtfulness around the kitchen. His movements were swift and efficient but gentle. He abruptly traded his usual roving and slightly ham-fisted manner for calm focus and unhurried competence. He asked if we liked quesadillas but I was lost in the space equipped for a professional chef. I would’ve agreed to beaver tail. Jason and Yusif were good talkers. I rode their talk as if it was a hammock stretched between them. Together, they were engrossed in all things motorcycles and bike maintenance.
By offering up the tricks of the trade about preparing certain ingredients, Yusif left me hanging on his every word, my nose hanging over his every creation and lapping up the taste sensations like a stray cat licks up milk. I poured over utensils I never knew existed, like an avocado knife complete with matching slicer, a carrot crinkler or a pierced wooden spoon shaped in a half moon for separating olives from the liquid, and marvelled at his having four different methods to make coffee. When I remarked on Yusif’s cooking proficiency and wide-ranging repertoire he said modestly, “Thanks, I’ve picked up a few things. I would starve otherwise, I live on my own.” Don’t forget Bongo, your gigantic golden retriever!
Yusif served us a plethora of dishes—more fusion cuisine than merely Mexican and carried them through the way he pursued all his projects, with a scholar’s scrupulous attention. He was a diligent student of the world at large, and liked things broken down into bite size sequences. And spotless!
We spent our time talking about two wheeled travel, exchanged ‘must see’ places north and south of Mexico, traded one-way tips for staying within a tight budget—as a high-flying chief pilot, Yusif wasn’t exactly in the habit of penny-pinching—and told one another amusing anecdotes from the road. I rolled into bed with the buzz of making another fast friend and a few glasses of red swimming in my head, looked over and saw Jason’s rib cage rise and fall with the steady rhythm of slumber. Like him, nothing could unstitch the fabric of sleep, I was too tired, too far gone and fell asleep—my waking ideas marching straight into my dreams.
In the middle of our stay with Yusif, I remembered that he’d been vividly instructional on one item: “There is something you must do for me before you leave my house. Please, you need to complete a page in my guest book.” There had been only one previous entry made by ‘Lone Rider’. Amazingly, we had met the guy! At the ferry port taking us from Colombia to Panama, a chap called Eduardo Banges from Brazil riding a Yamaha V Star 950 through the Americas. Upon fulfilling our required duty, Yusif looked at the double-page spread decorated with my compact ramblings and planted a precise little kiss on my cheek. I smiled, as if unutterably pleased with myself—the pleasure was all mine.
I’m an advocate that small particles of evil are scattered throughout Earth and perhaps the universe, but the sum total of all that evil is a grain of sand on a vast beach compared to the goodness, acceptance in abundance, hope and unconditional love in which the universe is awash. The latter of which embraces friendship that knows no bounds—our host Yusif.