After suffering through stifling desert heat, our desiccated bodies craved Fresas con Crema (a carton of frozen strawberries topped with fresh cream), and Licuados (smoothies) of juicy tropical fruit so abundant in the coastal regions. The city of Choix did not fail. In the bustling center of town, brawny young men atop of pickup trucks hawked the tastiest oranges, mangos, bananas, papayas and coconuts that we had encountered in our entire lives. The fruit had such an alluring complexion that the vendorsâ€™ usual puffery proved completely superfluous. I thrust a few bills into his hands, he shut his mouth, and I gathered an array of aromatic produce. Nate and I and proceeded to the town garden plaza, with the usual intention of taking over the center gazebo for a Siesta. Having bought enough food to satisfy the ravenous bellies of four touring cyclists, Nate and I ate everything not having the patience for Jacob and Goat to emerge from the Cyber cafÃ©
Lounging and digesting in the garden plaza, a few local youths came to observe the crusty gringo novelties. There were three girls aged nine, twelve and fifteen, and one younger boy who seemed to just tag around his sister. Little by little they approached my vagabond stakeout, until they sat side by side with me on a bench.
To rouse the spirits of the crowd, I decided to pickup my guitar and stage an impromptu performance. The girls giggled through my tirade. Suddenly the atmosphere was disrupted by the wailing sirens of a police cruiser as it directed a truck full of drinking companions to pull over to the curb. It was obvious that all five of the men in the car were drinking, had been drinking all day. They were jovial and unconcerned by the rather rude intrusion into their routine Sunday excursion. The Police officer turned out to be a rather young woman, with a radiantly warm face, who carried but a small sidearm in a holster around her waist. It was the smallest weapon I had yet encountered among any law enforcement personal in Mexico, and wondered if there was some regulation or unofficial policy that excluded women from wielding automatic rifles. Either way, the female officer appeared to be struggling in maintaining order among the five inebriated good-ole boys who made every attempt to make light of the situation. The three men in the back seat, a few fifty peso notes in hand, indiscreetly pestered her about being reasonable on the price of the bribe. Iâ€™m certain that one of them tried offering her some beers. After ten minutes of negotiations the officer finally accepted a bundle of bills as sufficient restitution for the traffic violation, perhaps simply to avoid enduring any more insults to her authority figure pride, or she was just in need of cash.
Retreating from the caravan of belligerents, the officer noticed that I had been observing her in action and walked over to make my acquaintance.
â€œHolaâ€¦Bienvendidos a Choix.â€� She welcomed me with over-the-top enthusiasm.
I told her a little bit about the bike trip, and my companions, watched as her eyes lit up with intrigue.
â€œÂ¿Vives aquÃ en Choix?â€� I asked.
â€œNo, Vivo cerca de Los Mochis.â€� She replied.
With Los Mochis being another two hundred or so kilometers to the west, I figured it to be an improbable commute for her to work so far from home. Before I could learn more about her, she shifted her attention to the summons of her radio.
â€œYouâ€™ll be resting around here for some time?â€� she inquired; her awkward smile revealed a puerile expectancy for our reunion. Iâ€™ll see you againâ€�.
Then she took off jogging down the street. I missed her attention already, and started to follow her when a boy about my age called out to me. He wanted to know what I was doing in Choix.
â€œYouâ€™re one of only two gringos in town. Thereâ€™s a young couple; missionaries that live near the secondary school, theyâ€™re the only other Americans around.â€� He explained between puffs of a Marlborough that had been bummed from a man passed out under a bench across the street.
He directed me to the missionariesâ€™ house, recommended that I take advantage of their hospitality and hit them up for a shower and food. I asked what he did for work.
â€œI work in a steel mineâ€¦ most of the men in this town are employed in the mines.Â¨
â€œIâ€™m sure its difficult workâ€�.
The man drooped his head low, affirmed that the work was indeed hard, and didnâ€™t look eager to explicate on mine labor conditions.
I went looking for the crew so that I could impress upon them my enthusiasm for a shower; it had been at least two weeks since the last. They were all inside a Nieveria (ice cream parlor) inhaling cartons of Fresas con crema. The female police officer was hanging around the front of the shop, looking frolicsome. As we stepped out of the shop, she beckoned us to wait a moment. She had brought a plate of taquitos for all of us to enjoy â€“and she served them up to us on decorative china. We devoured them in her presence but as soon as we finished nobody knew how to proceed beyond smiles. She then walked over to a manicure shop, spoke a minute with a friend, then waved for us to accompany her inside. There we were offered another plate of food. It turned out the food had been prepared in the back room by this friend of the police officer. As we ate, the manicure specialist -who knew a bit of English- tried to figure out what type of men we were.
â€œDo you like to smoke?â€� An odd question to pose considering that we were in the presence of law enforcement.
We nodded in the negative.
â€œDo you like to drink?â€�
We all timidly admitted that we did.
â€œDo you like to drink?â€� The question was now directed at the police officer, who just sighed, shrugged her shoulders and blushed in complicity.
The next natural phase in such conversations would be for the men to ask the ladies to meet for a drink later. Instead there followed an awkward silence, the police officer still blushing in child-like timidity perhaps hoping that one of us would gratify the yearnings of her lonely heart.
â€œSoâ€¦ you will stay a night here, or just passing through?â€� The manicurist revives the conversation.
â€œWeâ€™ll probably be leaving in a few hours, once it cools down a littleâ€�. Jacob responded austerely.
We split ways with the two ladies after thanking them profusely for the food. I couldnâ€™t expel from my mind the thought that we had broken the poor girlâ€™s heart. A part of me wanted to stay and converse and get to know this young police officer; but mostly I just wanted to pedal as fast as I could out of the town before my consciousness plunged into a protracted absorption with my own sense of solitude.
After a haphazard search for the missionary house, we gave up on the shower idea, and started heading out of town. We bought food for dinner and breakfast at a medium sized tienda (store) operated by a small girl no older than fifteen. Outside of the store, while packing our food bags, a man approached us and asked about our bikes. He expressed concern for what would inevitably be increasingly miserable riding, as the days would only get hotter from here on out. Getting into his truck, he was about to pull out onto the highway when he rolled down the passenger window and called for me to come near.
â€œHere.â€� He held out a small piece of plastic, ripped off of some bigger bag; it was a bundle of some chalky powder. â€œI want you to have this.â€�
â€œWhatâ€™ve you got there?â€� I understood well enough that he was offering me drugs.
â€œCocaÃna!â€� He shouted merrily.
I denied him the pleasure of bestowing upon me such a lavish gift. His face expressed dismay, as though it were perfect medicine for the trip ahead. Maybe he believed it would increase our productivity, shoot us to the next town at rocket speed, and compel our legs to spin with the fine tuned order of a sports car drive shaft. Moments after he left, our law enforcing admirer drove past noticing us but failing to wave. Her usual warm adolescent smile looked ready to tumble to her knees; by now she must have been cursing this tantalizing crew of socially inept gringos.