Steve and I had ridden into a small town in the interior of Mexico, both of us dusty from the long day on our motorcycle. We had come from Colorado almost a month previous and were headed farther south, toward Belize. The motorcycle was small for such a journey, but at the time it was all we could afford.
As we came into town, we were greeted by a burly police officer on his own motorcycle. He rolled up next to us, and with a wrinkled brow, asked what we were doing in his town.
We had a few moments of hesitation, because we had been stopped and our belongings searched for contraband many times on our journey from the coast to the interior, on the road and in the forests. Perhaps we did seem suspicious, traveling on roads and into towns not often visited by outsiders, yet we had discovered mostly kindness and hospitality from those we met along the way.
After chatting a bit with the officer, we discerned that the purpose of his interest was only to be helpful. There was no campground or motel in the town, but he said we could camp in a field that he'd show us. We happily agreed and received the eardrum-piercing screech of a loud siren in return as he circled to ride in the opposite direction and gestured for us to follow. We followed. People ran out to the road to look at what was happening as we cruised slowly through town, slowly around the plaza again, and then out toward the field, following our kind escort with his lights blazing and siren blaring. Some of the townsfolk waved, some gaped. We felt famous.
After our amazing escort left us, we popped up our two-person dome tent, brushed gravel off the floor, and laid the handmade blankets inside. Then we lay down in the fragrant grass, relishing the time to relax.
It doesn't take long to set up a camp when you're traveling extra-light on a motorcycle. Your needs are reduced significantly to the bare necessities, and life becomes simple and easy. You have time after the minimal chores to rest, think, and laugh.
Taking a journey through the open air with the wind whipping about your ears and face, your hand on the throttle feeling the vibrating buzz while controlling the speed, you feel every bit of the road - the bumps, the turns, the gravel. You see more closely into the verdant roadsides and dusty ditches, into the cars and passing buses pasted with vibrant decorations. You watch people sitting together comfortably, hands over shoulders, and hear them talking under the shady trees. Children wave and skip along as you pass.
Your face and arms are alert to the subtle changes in the temperature and the humidity. Your nostrils directly receive the myriad pungent scents of the towns: diesel and exhaust fumes; perfumed gardens; dusty walks; perspiration; brewed coffee; and the scent of thick greenery, forests, and trees.
You have to remain alert on roads without shoulders, where donkeys or children or large trucks suddenly emerge from side roads hidden by foliage. When you take sharp turns, your thighs tighten, your senses go on higher alert, and you are very conscious of the crunch of rough gravel under the tires.
So, when you stop and relax, everything relaxes: arms, fingers, eyebrows, backs of knees. It's a wonderful relaxation you get after hours of riding. You just let everything go.
After a simple dinner, we quickly fell asleep in this quiet oasis of grass, surrounded by a dark, silent, dense forest.
But in the morning, we were abruptly awakened by shouts and thumps. What? What was going on? It took a few moments to get oriented to where we were. We bumped our heads on the low ceiling.
The sound of running feet thudded by the door to our tent, then back again. Thud thud thud. More feet. Some yelling. We turned to each other in consternation. What was happening? What was this interference?
We quickly got dressed and then unzipped one of the flaps of the tent. I peered out.
"Buenos días, Señora!"
A couple of young men running by shouted greetings. I waved, then pulled my head quickly back into the tent.
"Oh, my gosh, Steve! We're camped in the middle of a soccer field, and there's a game going on!"
Steve looked out. Sure enough, our little domed tent appeared to be nothing more than an obstruction in the middle of the field, rather like a large rock. No problem. The team wouldn't disturb us because we were obviously deep sleepers. They would simply play around us.
Thunk! Thud, thud, thud! Crash! More yelling and a few cheers.
We hurriedly packed up our belongings, and pulled the tent down and dragged it off the field while players zoomed around us. We saw smiles and waves. We laughed. We were in a tiny capsule of a new culture, surrounded by kindness and tolerance. We sat and watched the game, and cheered the players as we held hands.