A Tanker of Tequila

After entering Mexico at the Tecate crossing, my husband, Robert, and I pedaled along Highway 2. We carried gear for an indeterminate length of time toward a vague destination. In preparation for the trip, Robert had mounted our metal-framed hiking packs over the rear wheels making the loads high and unbalanced, but panniers were not in use yet. Our ungainly loads made us shimmy like belly dancers at slow speeds.

We did not find a good spot to camp for the night and had to take a chance on a weedy side road which seemed abandoned when we found it in the dark. We were hidden from the highway but clomping hooves awakened us. They hesitated but wandered away. Then we heard distant voices and barking. We were not as isolated as we had thought and lay in our sleeping bags imagining a dog attack, a stampede or a farmer who might want to roust us out.

The phantoms that bedeviled us in the dark vanished with daylight.

A hearty breakfast in a roadside café helped settle our nerves. Sixty cents apiece for two fried eggs, refried beans, tortillas and hot instant coffee. We stuffed extra tortillas into our bags for later.

After another ten miles of road and a soda break, we cranked our way up a challenging hill and stopped in a wide pull out to catch our breath. The morning was still chilly and we puffed steam in the frosty air. At the back of the cleared area, two men sat smoking on the steps of a small house that looked abandoned. A shiny stainless steel tanker truck and trailer was parked in front of the house.

I said, “Do you think they are guarding it?”

“Hard to tell but they look friendly,” Robert said.

An older man came around from the back of the house, talked to the men and waved us over.  We shrugged “Why Not” and followed the three of them to the rear of the house and propped our bikes against the house.

I followed our host into a stark kitchen with a sink and not much else to make it look lived in. There was nothing on the grungy green walls but fly spit and spider webs. The two men were sitting on boxes and cans around a tiny pot bellied stove where a covered skillet sputtered. Our host was rinsing out a greasy glasses and pointed to our seats. He poured something from a clear bottle with no label into one of the glasses and offered it to me. I thought it must be water and handed it to Robert and awaited the next glass. The thought of bacteria did occur to me, but how could I refuse? While I watched the next pour, to my surprise Robert sputtered and whispered to me in a choked voice, “It’s tequila.”

When the old man offered me the next glass, I said “lo siento pero tequila es muy malo por mi estomago.” The men chuckled. I thought it was my rusty Spanish, but one of them said it was very funny that tequila might be bad for my stomach.

Robert whispered, “The tequila is so strong I’m not worried about any microbes.”

I retrieved my water bottle from my bike.

Our host opened the lid to the skillet and revealed pieces of chicken frying. He pointed to the skillet and said, “Pollo?”

“I think he’s inviting us to eat with them,” I said.

“How can we refuse?” Robert said.

While we waited for it to finish cooking, the men questioned us about why we were biking along that stretch of desert road.

“Columbia,” I said, the answer we used since we were not certain where the trip might end.

The men laughed and raised their glasses for more tequila to toast our audacity, as if they needed an excuse. Robert held out his glass for his share.

For about an hour we ate tough, greasy chicken and drank coffee and tequila with the men. The old man spoke some English, and with my fractured Spanish and Robert’s dramatic gesturing, we were able to pass around some thoughts.  The two men were the driver of the tanker and his assistant. This was one of their usual stops on their way south.

The food finished, the assistant left the kitchen. A loud diesel motor rumbled to life and minutes later the young man returned with a bucket of clear liquid. The old man got up and winked at me with a smile. He strode to an empty ten gallon glass bottle, rinsed it out and set it on the floor for the young man, who carefully poured from the bucket. The assistant left again with the empty bucket and returned again with it full.

By now Robert was feeling just fine. When the assistant began pouring the second time, Robert broke out laughing. Rolling and tipsy on his upturned bucket he said, “It’s tequila! That whole tanker is loaded with tequila.”

The men understood and grinned at each other.

The old man explained, “Si. Tequila. Es muy fuerte. No agua.”

Very strong tequila. It hadn’t been watered down.

Apparently, several buckets of the fiery liquid would never be missed. I wondered how many stops the driver had before reaching his destination and whether the final product might just have a little water in it by then.

By then, my bladder was quite full. When the driver and his assistant got up to leave, I tried to follow them, but another man named Pedro walked in the door. More greetings. Glasses were filled and passed. Pedro spoke a bit of English, but before Robert got too wound up, I said, “We have to go or I’m going to burst.” He was ready to stay there the rest of the day, but seeing my distress, he reluctantly pried himself away from the congenial group. The old man generously refused our offer of money for the food and drink saying we would need it later.

Everyone followed us out of the warm kitchen, watched as we carefully mounted our awkward bikes, and waved us on our way. I shoved off down the hill, desperately searching for a private bush and Robert weaved happily along behind me.