Cuauhtemoc, Mexico 11 Oct 05
Odometer 9,701 m 15,612 km

Rolling into Chihuahua, Mexico, I called my local friend Arturo Macías. He and I had previously planned to caravan across the desert to the Sierra Madres and on to Barranca del Cobre, the famous Copper Canyon. There, we would attend an annual meeting of adventure motorcyclists from around the world. Arturo was driving his Volkswagen van full of motorcycle parts, so I would follow behind on my bike.

As we reached the outskirts of Cuauhtemoc--a town as hard to pronounce as it is to find your way around in--I endeavored to shadow my guide. This worked up until I was cut off by a stalled traffic light and several convoluted twists and turns. After broaching the intersection where I had last seen Arturo's van, I pulled aside to try and figure out which of three ways he might have gone.
On the open road to Cuauhtemoc, Mexico.
It didn't take long for the locals to see that I was hopelessly lost, looking like a bobblehead searching to and fro for my compatriot. I was in a run-down part of a run-down town and stuck out like a sore thumb.

Within seconds I was set upon by two young toughs. They appeared to be gang members, festooned with tattoos, gold chains and bandannas. Their muscle-bound upper bodies, accentuated by their broadly sculpted tank tops, glistened with sweat in the mid-day sun. Towering over me--far too close for comfort--their eyes prowled up and down El Viento as though examining the subtle curves of a beautiful woman. Suddenly, The taller and apparently older of the two, his cap worn sideways, spoke up.

"What's your problem?" he asserted in Spanish, half expecting me to not understand.

The urban legends are
true, I thought to myself as sweat overpowered the absorptive capacity of my helmet liner, Mexicans really are thieves and crooks! What was I thinking, planning this trip? Everyone back home had warned me of the inherent dangers ahead, so why didn't I listen? Here I am on only my second day south of the border looking like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a salsa convention.
Before I could explain my "problem" a third guy, even bigger than the other two and wearing greasy coveralls the upper half of which he tied below his waist, crept out of the heavy shadows of his garage. Dark sunglasses obscured his eyes, but with laser-like precision he honed in on me and my predicament. Without another word spoken, the younger two backed off. This guy appeared to be the man in charge--and this gringo was his fish to fry.

I swallowed hard and raced to rehearse the best Spanish I could muster. Amid growing tension, I inhaled to speak--only to be cut off in mid-breath.

"War you go?" The
jefe unexpectedly asked in his best, broken English.

Go," I inquired, surprised by both his command of my language and his question?

I then proceeded to explain in Spanish that I had briefly lost my friend and needed to find him so that we could continue our trip on to Creel, the next town over. The three of them then burst into a cacophony of unintelligible sounds, replete with wildly waving gestures often at odds with one another. To my delight they were all telling me which way to go, albeit each with his own special shortcut.

I saluted my three new
amigos and turned out into traffic, now believing the urban legends are false. Mexicans appear to be a lot like everyone else: a few bad eggs, perhaps, but mostly good-hearted folks.

Maybe I should get a tattoo.

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