Mexicans call their capital simply, “México,” and the sprawling city of over 20 million residents is indeed the bustling namesake of the country. The Mexica (Aztec) people wandering from the mythical region of Aztlán founded the city where they received the divine sign of an eagle with a snake in its mouth, sitting atop a cactus, which now graces the national flag. A handful of well-armed Spanish conquistadores under Hernán Cortés conquered the Mexica capital with the help of the Mexica’s enemies, Old World diseases, and a premise that the Europeans were gods. This Spanish-indigenous interaction gave rise to the mestizo race, to which the vast majority of Mexicans belong. The Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous campesino on top of a hill in modern Mexico City, which convinced the resistant indigenous of Catholicism and solidified the Virgin of Guadalupe as the syncretic heart of the Mexican expression of faith. For us, Mexico City was the final city that we biked to in Latin America, and a very fitting one. From there we started a bus trip to the northern border with Texas.
Biking the long distance from Oaxaca to Mexico City, we stayed with firefighters, churches and even in an old jail cell–out of choice, as it was what the police offered. We were impressed by the beautiful, historic churches we found in many Mexican small towns and by the hospitality of the Catholic church. Without even knowing us, the priests of Tepalcingo made sure we were comfortable and well-fed, taking us around the town in the morning and sending us off with an authentic Mexican breakfast of cecina (thinly sliced beef), guacamole, cucumber water, beans, tortillas, sweet bread, pickled radish, and more.
In Jojutla, a town outside of Mexico City in the state of Morelos, we stayed in the welcoming, food-filled home of Doña Fortú, the abuelita of our friend from Goshen College, Michelle Salgado. Though she had bought cases of doughnuts and bags of chips in preparation for our US-American palates, she soon found out we liked Mexican food and showered us with tacos de cecina, tortas, sincronizadas, burritos, tlacoyos, pozole and a small tub of guacamole. Doña Fortú stays strongly connected with her family living nearby and in the United States; she Skypes Michelle every few days. Michelle’s aunt Silvia took us to one of Morelos’s famous swimming pools–actually a water park–to splash around. Abe especially loved this crazy ride in which people piled up in anticipation of a huge wave that sent them sliding, slipping and surfing down a ramp and tumbling into a rushing artificial river. Lovin’ that lack of liability and rules. Michelle’s awesome cousin Adriana and her long-haired, soccer-star husband Oscar took us to the town of Tepoztlán for a Carnaval celebration. The town plaza was packed with brass bands and chinelos, people dressed up in masks with poky beards and big hats. Michael got in there and bounced along with the chinelos for a bit while a tired Abe, usually game for a dance, looked on. Leaving Doña Fortú’s was another difficult departure from a loving home. Thanks so much to Michelle and her parents Angelica and Rene for making this connection for us!
Traffic was gridlocked 20 km outside Mexico City, but we weaved through buses and taxis on Avenida Insurgentes, what Mexico City residents call the longest street in the world. We arrived at the Casa de Los Amigos, a Quaker guesthouse where our good friend Mara Weaver from Goshen College is serving for a year through Mennonite Central Committee. The Casa takes in refugees from all nations–even those who have had their nationality rejected from their home country and who are left stateless. Mara, a history, politics and Spanish-language buff, loves the atmosphere at the Casa. She took us to a press conference in which families who have been separated by the United States’ policy of deportation of undocumented immigrants are now speaking out for children’s rights to know their parents. We also visited the artifact-packed Anthropology Museum, the Basilica de Guadalupe and the Cathedral in the central Zócalo plaza. In tribute to our college May Term slightly hippie lawn-lounging roots, we biked to the huge Chapultepec park to play ukulele and sing folk songs with Mara and her coworker friend Kate. We also loved meeting Chris and Heidi Hershberger-Esh, MCCers who had biked across the US before their term in Mexico. Stories of stomping buffalo and pesky raccoons made us realize that biking in the US can be quite different from what we’ve experienced in Latin America.
We’re looking forward to a few things about bike touring in the US:
- Drinking water out of the tap and not carrying all the extra liters (and kilos) of water weight
- Smooth, well-maintained highways, especially paved back roads
- Connectedness: free state maps, GPS and Internet with our smartphone
- Free, clean bathrooms with soap, toilet paper, toilet seats and functioning flushes
- Clear highway and street-name signage
- Cooler climate
But leaving Mexico for the US means we will miss quite a few things we’ve enjoyed about biking in Latin America:
- Tiendas, small stores along the side of the road conveniently selling bananas, tortillas, or lo que sea
- People who have the time to sit next to the road or in public spaces and provide conversation or directions
- Architecture: bright colors, earthy bricks, wiped tile floors, patios, airy buildings and courtyards
- Bike-friendly city structures with narrow roads and buildings close to streets instead of highways, private properties, and strip malls set back by sprawling parking lots
- Local food, including coffee, exotic fruits, and proud regional dishes
- Open air markets selling goods without excessive packaging or strict food regulations
- Slower traffic with drivers who respect slower moving motorcycles and bicycles
As we learned in a song in Oaxaca and sung to our kind hosts in Jojutla, “In Christ there is no goodbye, only an ‘until later’, mi amigo.” Hasta luego, Latinoamérica.