Last updateFri, 01 May 2015 7pm

Stubborn Spaniard endures steep slopes, gnats in Chihuahua sierra

In this passage from “America Un Viaje de Cuento,” Rodriguez is in Raramuri territory in northern Mexico, which, these days, is also narco territory. He is trying to get from Tubares, Chihuahua, located 440 kilometers north of Mazatlan, to a place called Piedras Verdes, site of a large gold mine called El Sauzal, and is faced with a sandy brecha up a very steep slope.

“Despite my best efforts, the brake pads slip frequently. It’s always the same pattern: one brake slips and then the other and then I fall and then the bicycle comes down on top of me. If I don’t get a bruise on my knee, I get a cut. And the miners driving by no longer stop to offer me a ride. By now they know I’m so stubborn I will only get on a truck if my legs are cut off – something I’m beginning to suspect might just happen, considering how much this bicycle is beating me up.

I stop a few times to rest because I’m worn out and my right elbow and knee hurt like hell. There are sections of this slope that are so steep that advancing ten meters takes me ten minutes and leaves me gasping for air. So it’s entirely thanks to fury and yells that I manage to push the bike a few more centimeters.

I could take longer rests – I am in no hurry and nobody is waiting for me – but to make things even worse than they are, it’s in this lonely corner of Chihuahua that I make my first acquaintance with some delightful creatures with whom I am going to form a close relationship in Latin America. They are called jejenes here, gnats in English. They are very small black flies that leave a tiny bubble of blood on top of their bite and if they really sink their teeth into you, a little stream of blood flows out of it and if I scratch the bite, I can’t stop scratching for three or four days.

Fortunately, the Mexican jejenes only land on my legs when I stop, but the ones I found in southern Peru are so aggressive that they manage to bite me even while I’m pedaling. I notice that it takes these Mexican gnats three minutes to discover me, so I restrict my rest stops to two minutes maximum – just enough to avoid the gnats, but not enough to catch my breath.

Legs trembling, huffing and puffing, I reach the mining camp which I have been looking at from below for the last two hours. I greet the miners (at least I think I did) and sit down in the shade. The boss comes over and offers me a cold Coca-Cola, but I say no, gracias. I haven’t even the strength to drink – I just need to rest. After a while, I regain consciousness in a sense and drink some water. The boss, worried about me, asks if I want to take a shower. A real hot shower! There is absolutely nothing better than a hot shower, but today not even that brings me back. The town of Piedras Verdes is still six kilometers further up the mountain, but now that I’ve cooled down, I know I couldn’t even do another 300 meters. I ask if I can stay the night. Of course you can, they say, and eat with us too: all the men at the Sauzal mine want to meet this idiot of a gachupín (disparaging term for Spaniard) who prefers to push his bike up a hellish hill instead of accepting a ride ...”