Up early and out the door on Friday, 6 July, with a 70 kilometer bicycle ride to Playa del Carmen awaiting me, and the knowledge that the furthest in my life that I have ever ridden is 40 kilometers. The tunnels are the worst. Trucks roar by like jet planes, and the shoulder of the road disappears. Once free of the two short tunnels, the ride is merely a matter of: pedal, pedal, pedal and don´t stop, never ever stop. There´s quite a bit of traffic, which is to be expected, but I have water enough. I left before breakfast, so about 55 kilometers into the ride, I was starving, and there were no places to eat along the way. And then, just then, there was a Mexican miracle: The Burger Bar.
It was deus ex machina. The Burger Bar appeared as if it came out of a dream and, at the same time that I stopped on the far side of the highway, a car pulled into The BB´s parking lot, and two beautiful women — one even dressed in the classical red dress of passion — stepped out of the car and entered The Burger Bar. It may have been my imagination, but it appeared that the lady in the red dress stepped out of the car with a leg that was six feet long. We enter, nearly at the same time, and I smile at them. They look back at me with a look of distaste. When I take a moment to review the self´s figure, there is no denying that I am dripping sweat and covered in dirt, so it is the briefest of decisions — and one which any man with a shred of decency would make — to sit on the porch of the restaurant, and let the ladies and other diners consume without the displeasure of viewing me.
It just so happens that the manager of the Burger Bar, Isaac, is a bicyclist, and he comes out to speak. Very considerate fellow. And in compensation for the friendly manager, timely location, and delicious food, I recommend the hearty 150 gram burger with fries, followed by a dessert of banana bread, pan de platana.
I realized when I arrived in Mexico that people wanted to practice their English on me, and that I would have to force myself to speak Spanish, if I am to learn properly. Many conversations consist of a Mexican speaking English to me, while I try to reply to the speaker in Spanish. Aprendiendo Espanol lentamente, I say, meaning that I am slowly learning Spanish. En espanol, por favor. The most surprising thing is that so many Mexicans speak English really well — almost fluently. “I work with tourists,” said Eduardo, the driver who took me to the hotel in Cancun yesterday. “Many of my friends who also work with tourists don´t speak English, and I ask them `Why? Why don´t you learn English?´” It seems accepted here that anyone who works with tourists must speak English — one Mexican who worked on the ferry was even providing car rental insurance information in English while on the ferry. Very impressive.
La Isla de Cozumel, where I am typing from now, is a beautiful island. Its beaches are of white sand or rock — smooth stone floors — and it is a hub for cruise ships, whose passengers come for the snorkling, diving, and day trips. The cruise ships seem to be a source of consternation to the islanders. A lady named Susan, a Mexican who studied in London and who lived in Copenhagen for eight years, griped that the cruise ships have caused the decline of the island. “The passengers never stay,” she said sourly. “They are gone by 5 o´clock. They take, and then they go.” She was, for the record, equally critical about the local Mexicans — her own people, “Cozumel is the safest place in Mexico. But be careful, or your bike will disappear.”
But the island is awesome. It is beautiful, and most of the people are laid-back, relaxed, and they seem to know that a life is to be enjoyed. They take delight in their days. It is a friendly people, the Mexican people, and they seem full of love and laughter. Ah, wonderful.
Also, the old Volkswagon Bugs are ubiquitous here, which makes sense. Their small size makes them easy to park, and their underpowered engines will never be strained on the flat island roads. The VW Bugs come with license plates in the front that depict a sailfish and say the name of the state, Quintana Roo. Most also have a sticker or two — a Superman sticker, perhaps, or Bienviendos — stuck on the inside of the windshield. They are brightly colored, and remind me of pictures that I´ve seen of Havana, Cuba — another island city that contains older cars.