Sinaloa--The Beautiful Beast

 As I sit here in the San Francisco airport waiting for my temporary travel buddy to arrive, I finally have time to begin recounting this trip-of-a-lifetime. I will try to catch up while not leaving any great stuff out, but so much has happened in such a short period of time that my head is still spinning! Here goes...

 I left Banderas Bay at noon, a late start after a very late night working feverishly to prepare the new masterpiece for travel. Carlito was running beautifully and in short order we were floating up into the misty mountains towards Tepic. It had become a cloud forest up there with the rains, and as I drove along I could hear all sorts of intriguing sounds through the mist. This was a stark contrast to the hot and still very dry plains I descended into after crossing into the notorious state of Sinaloa.

 Sinaloa earned its dubious reputation as the home state of arguably the biggest cartel in Mexico, and as I drove along I noticed the oddly out of place, conspicuous looking Beverly Hills style mansions overlooking the lonely highway. Pretty sure I saw gun turrets on one of them, which was definitely a bit unsettling. However, this is not what I felt compelled to write about in the end, and at no time did I actually feel threatened in that place.

 As I drove along, the dry plains turned into beautiful farmland, dotted with large majestic trees and fields containing a cornucopia of crops, from mangoes to sugarcane. I stopped under an overpass beside the road and made a quick coffee using the little camp stove my Ma gave me two years back when I left Canada. Along with the semis that drove past, there were lots of little Nissans loaded with produce.

 I reached a tollbooth and had to wait in line for a few minutes, not really noticing the white car behind me. After we got through, it pulled up beside me to pass and the two men inside were smiling and waving excitedly, giving me the thumbs up. That’s when I realised that during our wait they had gotten out their phones and looked up my website, which Carlito now wears proudly across his back window. It felt so great to have shared my art in such an incidental way, and for quite a few miles I couldn’t tear the grin off my face.

 As I travelled along, I began to notice some hilarious things about the highways in Sinaloa. First of all, on the two lane roads there is a wide shoulder that people like to think of as another lane. As a result, they will pass on curves (including semi drivers) because they know you can shove over just enough for them to blast by. One has little choice but to get with the program on that one. There’s only one catch: these “extra lanes” end with little to no warning and there is simply a guardrail set at an angle towards the actual road, as if to violently usher vehicles back into the intended lane! It really puts some literal meaning into the term “living on the edge!”

 Also, people around there aren’t fans of slowing down for construction sites, and the construction workers themselves seem really on board with that. In Canada, even the simplest construction area is marked off miles ahead and accompanied by bored looking sign people, along with stern warnings of fines etc. In Sinaloa, you round a curve in the road to see a lone man waving an orange flag energetically, Nascar style, with vehicles flying past and the construction workers shovelling unworriedly (yet very warily) in the 40 degree heat. Makes a person feel like if one were to pull over to the side, the crew would come running over to change your tires in 30 seconds and slap your hood to set you off again!

 The thing that struck me the most about this state was the incredible use of…wait for it…one’s own two hands. Everywhere I looked there were people working under the sun; out in the fields with 5 gallon buckets; beside the road with picks and shovels; loading square straw bales into ancient cargo trucks; herding Brahmas with mules and horses—it really took me back to my childhood days and I felt a great sense of admiration for these hardworking people. On a long stretch of uninterrupted highway I saw an elderly man on what looked like an even more elderly bicycle, with sacks of grain loaded onto the back plus a 5 gallon bucket on either handlebar, slowly peddling his way to some unknown far flung destination. I felt as if I had stepped back in time, and in a very deeply moving way. Despite the few who gave this place a dark name, personally it will always spark in my memory these beautiful images.

 As the sun went down outside Culiacan, I pulled over to buy some peanuts and caught some beautiful sunset shots from behind the big Saguaro cactuses beside the road. This was a sure sign that Sonora was not far off… (To be continued)