Nacho rests serenely at the mirador above the Valley of the Moon, the shadows from the jagged cliffs spilling like water into the dry valley as the sun begins its slow slide below the horizon. Inside, Brad and Sheena sit on the couch; Shakira is on the stereo. They both gyrate their hips to the music. It’s not a tasteful gyration either; it borders on crass. They each hold their t-shirts up to reveal their skinny bellies moving in and out like the pulsating chest of a dying fish to the snappy Latin-pop music. Brad has always been the better Shakira gyrator, and Sheena knows it. His hips don’t lie. Sheena pours Brad another glass of pisco, and he drinks it. Suddenly, she slams his head into the plastic shoe bin. Blindsided. Sheena flashes the lights on and off like a strobe light, making scary faces at Brad. All at once they both stop, look at each other, and one of them says it: “What would people think if they actually saw this?”
It’s hard to believe, I know. Shakira? You guys listen to Shakira? To understand this, we need to go way back.
In 2002 I found myself in the back seat of my friend Scott’s pickup truck, headed South. A mountain bike racing team from Mexico had scored some cash from the Mexican government, and had used it to bring some American riders down to compete in their racing scene. The local media was informed, and in true Mexico fashion they created a fictitious rivalry between one of our guys and their National Champion, Ziranda Madrigal. Interviews were held, and the radio blared promos about the clash between their national hero and the invader from the North as if it were some kind of lucha libre match. The stage was set – all we had to do was get there. And to do so, we did what any self respecting adventure seekers would do: we loaded a bunch of sweaty, totally macho dudes into a couple of pickup trucks and headed for the border.
Before we reached the border, the mood inside the truck was calm. We were composed. Conversations were had, speculations were made, and stories were told.
After we crossed the border, Scott did something risky. While surrounded by a bunch of sweaty, totally macho dudes, he slid a Shakira CD into the CD player. I waited for the side punch to land on Scott’s cheekbone, but it never came. Instead of filling our hearts with pain and our heads with feelings of killing Scott – the pansy – something else happened. Actually, it kind of worked. Shakira’s spicy accent narrated our journey Southward, forever linking her voice to the barren landscapes, dry arroyos, cinder block towns, and highway taco stands in our subconscious minds. Her voice sneaked through our open windows and into the passing desert like a nimble cat. And only dios knows how much I like cats.
That’s right, I’m a cat man, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And I’m also a Shakira man.
The Atacama desert in Northern Chile is a vast and expansive place. We drove for three days across lands where, throughout the entire expanse of recorded history, rain has never fallen; the only substances in all directions for as far as the eye could see were sand, pebbles, and heat waves. With nothing to do except watch the hours turn into days and stare at the skinny dotted line from steering wheel to horizon, we had to find a way to pass the time. And what better way than to wriggle our hips to the sweet meowing voice of Shakira.
Need a good start to a soundtrack for your next road trip South of the border? Here are three songs that, for me, capture the very essence of Mexico and fill my nose with the sweet smell of nostalgia for my first experiences with southward travel: