One American cookie is equal to the price of a few Indian street meals.
Arizona doesn’t have many towns on the route. I am mostly surrounded by stunning natural beauty. Yet so far, one town immediately impressed me: Ajo. Where a white church reminds me of Nicaragua, or maybe just the old Spanish colonial style.
I cycle through when it is close to getting dark and I need to find a supermarket, water ánd a place to camp. I have to hurry a bit, but I can see it’s an old mining town, still going strong. The evidence is clear in the neatly cared town. The housing is tidy, the supermarket sells a good variety such as cookies from Alternative Baking Co. Only for the conscious vegans and thus the better-off among us. I grab one, while I think how pricey they are -I don’t know yet how good they are either- meanwhile thinking about the homeless guy who’d asked me about the weather forecast. His cheap looking bicycle has countless empty jugs dangling on his steering wheel. ‘Will it be dry tonight? I want to camp out. Is it allowed to camp here?’ he asks me. I feel I am an unfair comparison to him, he is called a ‘transient’ while I am called ‘hippie’ in the eyes of people who like shooting their guns for fun.
More saguaro’s, more needles and more prickles
I cycle through magical landscapes, so fantastic that I can not capture it with a camera. Sandy tracks are dunking into endlessness, the road I am on is vanishing into a far distance. The benefit of cycling through a test-flying area is that it is as beautiful as a National Park but without the traffic. It is an ongoing of cactus needles and I am thankful that I was convinced of the benefit of slime-tubes. I never have a flat tire, yet I barge my wheels continuously through cactus fields. Each morning and each evening I have to remove prickles from sharp grass and needles from cacti out of my body and socks, and I keep repairing my Therm-A-Rest mattress.
I stop along the road when I see an abundance of nuts. Kind of walnuts from old, drought trees. What a waste! Parking my bicycle right into the bed of nuts I must have trampled many before I start collecting them. I decide to fill a plastic bag with these nuts, which I expect to be other than walnuts because the tree at home gives very different nuts. It might be pecans. Even better! A car in the distance approaches and I think stop gathering is the best thing to do, just in case. I find that understandable although gathering nuts is not something wrong. I place myself on the hard-shelled bedding of nuts and the car stops right in front of us: ‘I just came to check if you were not collecting pecans because many people come here to get our pecans for selling them, which is what we are trying to do.’ I assure him I was not doing such a thing. He continues: ‘Ohhkay… well, do eat a few, they’re good.’ After he starts the riddle of ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ which rimes perfectly with ‘holy cow!’
‘You cycled from Tucson? Holy cow!’
Going on from Tucson to Gila Bend I try to avoid all the sealed roads. I cycle back the way I came but slightly different as not to do the exact same thing. I prefer to have a goal, often choosing between a logic, straight forward or scenic way. The reason I cycle back is that I have a 3 month visa and cycling into New Mexico will soon welcome me with cold and snow while I prefer the Pacific coast for now. If it had a longer visa, I would have crossed into Mexico, and on to Colombia. But now I am back on sandy tracks along agricultural fields, alfalfa fields and pecan plantations where, of course, only Mexicans are working. Massive cotton fields have my attention as I can see the huge difference in harvesting compared to India. Here a truck rides past the huge bale of pressed cotton -plucked and pressed by machinery- to reverse a bit and park his open trailer right in front. Then he press a button and the huge bale is hauled in by sharp spikes on an assembly line cum fork-lift thing. ‘This here is a completely different world,’ the driver of the truck says when he hangs his head out of the window to talk to me. The driver comes from Colorado and praise the cotton he’s picking up: ‘Free ass wipes!’
Having said that, I do try to wipe after peeing and it is remarkable soft and very absorbing.
Cycling over the rough sandy tracks dividing the agricultural fields is calm. Nothing much is happening in terms of stunning beauty. I dip granola bars into a jar of honey and I empty trail nut-mix into my mouth while cycling. Seeing black-tailed Jack Rabbits sprinting and jumping high up, making pirouette-style movements is fun. Spotting the Burrowing Owl tending his place of safety is interesting. Seeing another cyclist chased by a vicious chihuahua with megalomania makes me laugh out loud!
More contrasts with India
Why do I constantly make comparisons with India? It also dawns on me that I do this often? Is India king? Is India my favorite country? Is nothing as spectacular and interesting as India? Did I live a former life in India? I don’t know exactly but I dó know that I have very strong connections with India. That might be the reason for my annoying behavior of relating to India so often… excuse me for this, but I’ll continue doing so.
I cycle over private farm roads, past giant cow factories: inhumane industrial agriculture. All the cows run towards me when I pass, like we humans are going to feed them? Like they have faith in humankind, which is so cruel to them. Here one family has thousands of cows, and a Mexican family to run the whole damn thing. The average Indian families I have seen while cycling had just one cow. It’s so sad to see those cows, their wet noses rubbing the fence, watching me with their lovely big eyes. To protect myself I envision the even sadder Ethiopian cows… grazing on grassland long turned into sand.
Chasing donkeys to a great camp spot
I sleep on overgrazed mesquite land, on creosote filled Sonoran desert Earth, and in Ironwood National Park, where I can hear the wings of Snow Buntings flapping above us. This tiny little bird flies from the Arctic while I keep warm under my sleeping bag, where ice is gripping onto. Because I prefer to sleep under the open sky, waking up underneath wet sleeping bags is not great but all the more romantic it is. I wear a down-jacket and keep toasty and warm during the 11 hour nights. Nights where I keep hearing the funny cries of the coyotes. Nights where I wake up from shooting farmers nearby, if it isn’t a shooting range test area.
You know, this is the only country I have been in where I feel a slight unsafe feeling about being shot. Years ago I have traveled along the Syrian border where deadly attacks were going on between Kurdish. Taken aside by military people to protect my safety I watched the news on Turkish television showing the numbers of people shot dead. I have cycled right along the fence between Turkish Kurdistan and Syria not so long ago. Well, in Afghanistan I was quite uneasy too, but here in the USA I am again slightly worried that a bullet might hit me.
‘That’s why you look so cute’
Says a woman who’s shopping with her husband at Target. Back at Yuma I visit the shopping-mall area before I head to a hotel -The Historic Coronado Motor Hotel built in 1938-, and I am so overwhelmed by the giant shops that I buy way too much. My panniers loaded with beauty products -I soon try to discharge the shampoo which is nice but too heavy- I wonder what she meant with this: ‘That’s why you look so cute’. It could be that I am not fat, that I am rather small and dressed in a pink stretchy T-shirt full with stains. I might actually look cute.
The quietness of the desert
There’s hardly any traffic on the roads and tracks I choose, even though I pull a freshly dead coyote from the tarmac. It is heavenly to wake up in a tent, where I do some pleasant cycling and consume lot’s of food and chai. It is each day a gift to step out of the tent right into full nature to witness a clear blue sky. I am surrounded by absolute quietness.
Such times I can see the big difference in culture. Thinking back about the toned-down atmosphere in Iranian chaikhanas. The craziness of India, the flurry of cultural abundance. The lively atmosphere at sandy markets in Nigeria, or the comfortable friendliness of Pakistani. All of a sudden the great hospitality of the Iraqi Kurdish is magnified. I think being in complete nature can only be because of very developed cultures -or extremely authentic ethnic groups-. People in developed cultures have their natural awareness overly advanced and therefore, as an inevitable effect, they have lost their culture. I believe cultural abundance hangs close with a lesser developed mindset about how to preserve nature. It seem to be one or the other.
Here are no tea stalls where I can behold daily life in full bloom. Though, here are Mexican restaurants where this kind of simplicity comes close. In those little cozy restaurants they have donations boxes for trying to relocate people who died trying to cross the desert into USA.
The atomic bomb of the West
A few days after New Year I cycle from Gila Bend to Yuma. It is like an atomic bomb has been brought to explosion; there is no traffic. I am cycling over tracks and between the mountains where the Native American reign their lands, encountering no human being. A coyote in the distance runs away from me, I pass a dead squirrel, and I scare off a mouse, seeking safety under a creosote bush. It is like I have missed the announcement on the radio ‘stay inside, close windows and turn on radio’. It is like everyone thinks it is too cold to go outside. It is like humans don’t exist. The overriding quietness is soft as the pastel-colors in the evening light above the desert. The silence which is not hurting my ears anymore, but where I got used to. The absolute soothing silence….
And it all looks so pacifying, all those different birds together; the Kingfisher near to an Egret and the clear white Snow Egret not far away. But under the surface there’s so much going on; terrified mice run for their lives, fish swim until they’re eaten and a coyote runs away in the distance, checking on me all the time. Their lives are constantly in danger while it is absolute quiet. Some kilometers later I cycle through agricultural land again where the harvesting has been done. The fields give a soft pastel hue now the new seeds are sprouting up. Mountains are in a haze, a fox runs away once more and two Turkey vultures circle above me, as I could be prey.
The night-time temperature goes down to minus 7 while I am camping in a very hidden spot between smoke-trees. I sleep under the stars and wake up under ice-covered sleeping bag. From a distance Mexican music is swirling my way, coming from men who tend the fields around us. The smell of making chai and fried potatoes is blending together with the wind bringing the stench of urine and shit from the huge cow factory not far from where I am. The sun is warming me slowly, like the fire of my camp. The sound of a train-horn softly pierce through imaginary scenes of India. The reality is I am in a country where no one disturbs me, where I can camp without people stopping to look at me. I am aware of the incredible freedom I have here….
I cycled this part of USA in December 2014 and January 2015, to be continued…