Saturday, 12 March 2011

64. Los San Patricios

Four and a half days cycling have brought us through the four states of Morelos, Mexico, Queretaro and Guanajuato, climbing up to 3000 metres as we cycled eastwards around Mexico city, through the colonial cities of Toluca, San Juan del Rio and ending up in San Miguel de Allende, stomping ground of the beat writers in the 40s and now wintering ground for North American retirees.

In the dim light of the main church in San Miguel de Allende, amidst crucified messiahs and flickering candles, San Patricio holds up a shamrock and a steady gaze to the empty pews. How did a plastic puppet of Ireland's patron saint end up in the dry cactus highlands of Mexico's Guanajuato state, surrounded by snakes and a population oblivious to his importance for Irish Christians and publicans?

Well, back in the mid 1840s when many Irish were escaping the famine and heading across to the United States of America, Mexico was preparing to do battle with its northern neighbour after the latter had annexed the territory of Texas in 1845. Many of the recently arrived Irish migrants ended up in the US army, either by choice or coercion, and some of them ended up in units preparing to defend the newly expanded southern frontier with Mexico. Desertion rates from the US army were high, however, and attracted by Mexican offers of better pay and land, the Mexican army saw an influx of foreign fighters, mostly recent European migrants from a Roman Catholic background who perhaps were inspired by common religious ties as well as by chances of economic betterment. As a result of the number of Irishmen who joined, the unit became known as St. Patrick's battalion, revered as heroes in Mexican eyes and depised as traitors by the Americans. As a result of their military experience the unit fought well at key battles, though no doubt they were also motivated by the death sentence they faced if captured as prisoners of war. The victorious US army ultimately got their chance for revenge, however, and General Winfield Scott ordered his men to carry out the hanging of thirty San Patricios at Chapultepc, in view of both the US and Mexican soldiers who had fought there, at the precise moment when the US flag was raised.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Trip distance  42,122 km

Saturday, 5 March 2011

63. Bikeless in the Big Smoke

We had planned to come in to Mexico city to visit my old flatmate, Hans, and his wife, Marianne, for a long weekend that has turned into ten great days. Rather than pedal into the city, we left our bikes with Hans´ friend Ernesto in Cuernavaca and got a lift with Hans into the world´s third largest metropolitan area (after Tokyo and Seoul). The Valley of Mexico has been the region´s chief urban centre since the pre-Hispanic period and the Aztec city of Gran Tenochititlan boasted over 150,000 inhabitants at its height. The city became the capital of New Spain in the colonial period and by 1900 Mexico city had half a million residents. Through the 20th century the city expanded dramatically as people attempted to escape rural poverty, only to find dreams of urban prosperity were reserved for the few. Today the greater metropolitan area is home for over 21 million people, almost one fifth of the country's total population and the largest in the western hemisphere. It´s big and it´s smokey.

Swapping our bicycles for Mexico´s metro, we're able to explore some of the city's markets and museums, find some new reading material, gatecrash a birthday party, as well as catch up on long-lost episodes of Dr. House and enjoy the use of a life-size cooker and more than two miniature saucepans. Unfortunately Ellie´s eagerly anticipated new Brooks saddle that was sent from England is still floating around somewhere in the Mexican postal system, so we'll have to hope it catches us up as we head north.

Aztec Stone of the Sun, Museum of Anthropology

A Diego Rivera mural in the Palacio Belles Artes

At the Frida Kahlo museum in the Casa Azul

Mexico City, Mexico
Trip distance: 41,761 km