el espinazo del diablo


July 3rd, 2014

I shift down from third to second gear, realizing I won’t be able to go any faster than my present speed.  I can barely see a few meters in front of me, everything is so white.  I’m up in the clouds.  I can’t tell if it’s actually raining but I’m soaking wet, at least on the outside of my rain gear.  I come up to another hairpin curve and take it at such a slow speed I could be jogging.  I know that just a couple of meters to my right is a steep fatal cliff but I can’t see down it at all.  The road straightens back out and I keep my slow speed to dodge fallen rocks and debris on the slick pavement.

This is the “Carretera Libre” the free highway between Mazatlán and Durango that doesn’t cost money to drive on but takes three times as long and is much more dangerous.  I wasn’t planning on taking this road until I met a man who rides motorcycles in La Paz, Baja California who insisted that this was the more beautiful route.  Maybe it would be on a clear day but I’ve already passed the exit to get on the toll road so I’ll just push through.

The straightaways don’t last long up here and I’m already at the next curve, probably the 700th today.  All of a sudden I’m looking at a pair of intimidating headlights, taller than my eye level glaring at me from the opposite direction.  Instead of remaining in their own lane though, they come clear across into mine, pushing me to the edge of the road.  I yell out some curse word that only the frosty clouds can hear.  I feel chemicals rush through my body but I’m starting to get used to it.  This is not the first semi-truck to do this today.  I find that drivers here just have a different mentality than back in the states.  When passing for example, many seem to have no problem with leaving only centimeters of space between my easily tippable bike and their safe metallic cages.  If anything, it is definitely teaching me to be a better driver.

Back to the curves.  All I can do is just lower the chances of an accident by taking it slow.  Luckily I’m not in a hurry, if I don’t make it to Durango by tonight, that’s fine.  I had my fill of rushing back in Baja and it only brings me stress. 

After a couple of hours I arrive at the biggest town I’ve seen since I’ve been on this road.  A one-street village that stretches about a kilometer long, maybe hosting 200 residents.  I look around for the possibility of a gas station since I don’t know when the next town will be.  They’re easy to recognize here in Mexico since there is only one brand of gas station, but there is none to be found.  I slow down to a walking speed to calm the jolt of the cement globs in the road they call “topes” or speed bumps.  I notice a boy, maybe 8-10 years old, sitting in the back of a pickup truck with gas canisters and a hand painted sign reading “gas”.  I pull over.

The kid stays in the truck and looks at my motorcycle in awe as many kids do and as I probably would do if I were his age.

“Hola”  I call over to him.  He snaps out of his trance and jumps down to greet me.  “Vendes gasolina?”  I ask him.

“Oh, Sí, Sí”  It takes him a second to realize he’s at work and runs to get a 2 liter coke bottle full of the pink liquid.  I open my tank and let him fill it.  He struggles with it, the bottle being big relative to his size, and spills it all over the place, half of it making it into the tank.  I feel for the kid and ask to do the rest myself.  I end up spilling a bunch too. 

“See, I did the same thing”  I smile at him and he shyly laughs.  As I pay him the 26 pesos, a couple of his friends come running over and just stand looking at the bike and me without saying anything.

“Hola.  Como se llaman?”  I ask their names, then questions about school and what they do for fun around here.  They ask me questions about the motorcycle as I check the oil and chain tension.  When I open my lock box to get some water, one of them notices a flattened soccer ball and asks if I play. 

“No mucho, y ustedes?”  They say that they all play but haven’t for a while because their ball is flat.  The ball has been taking up too much room in my box anyway so I pump it up and give it to them.  They humbly accept the gift and I take off. 


I know they’ll put it to more use than I will.  I can’t tell who gets more happiness out of this simple act, the kids or me?  For sure the kids are temporarily happy to play with this ball until it gets lost, goes flat or they fight over it.  What is better though, is that they witnessed an act of generosity which, after witnessing many acts of generosity in their lives, will inspire them to be more generous too.  With each act of generosity they participate in, they will be happier and more fulfilled, which is the real gift.  I think that in this moment, I’m the one who is really on the receiving end of the benefits of this action.  In addition, I extend the pleasure by writing about it on this blog to feel validated by readers.  Apart from that, the most pleasure comes from the spreading of these thoughts which will hopefully inspire others to enjoy the enduring fruits of simple acts of generosity.

The fog begins to clear and after a few more curves I arrive at a big sign that says “El Espinazo del Diablo”  The Devil’s Spine.  The air is cooled by a slight breeze which has carried most of the clouds away.  I dismount and walk to the edge of the cliff to peer out over a generous view the earth is offering to just me in this moment.  I feel thankful for the ability to give and receive.  What a worthwhile gift it was for that man back in La Paz to insist I take this road…