Nobody Looks for you in Mexico - Page 4
I packed the jalopy-rental while Jon continued sweating through an end-of-the-week Spanish exam. The travel plan, we had agreed, would be made up as we went along. The American doctor conducting Jon’s medical course suggested the colorful town of Bernal as a stopping point before continuing south. “Quaint,” he called it. Jon’s guidebook used the same word. After driving for a couple hours, we pulled into town.
A 1200-foot igneous monolith loomed over the shoulder of the otherwise sleepy village, serving as a dramatic backdrop. In the small, central plaza old men sat and talked beneath a canopy of shade trees. Birds perched above chirped through the afternoon. Occasionally, a man on horseback would approach the plaza proudly displaying the beast beneath him. Our afternoon run led us on a failed attempt to circumnavigate the large volcanic tower. A fine, dirt trail brought us halfway around the monolith, where it ended abruptly and forced us to return, rocks in hand, from whence we came.
“’Quaint’ means that you can buy knick-knacks and sleep in a cheap, sagging bed,” Jon said.
“No, it means that the streets will be cobblestone, and the walls will be orange and red,” I replied.
The debate carried on until we found ourselves back at the hostel, where the portly owner greeted us with a smile and asked about our run. He didn’t express surprise when we told him about the miles that we had covered or the many more that we had planned to cover in the upcoming days. My many excursions into Mexico have taught me that Mexicans understand running. This is an important cultural distinction when you enter a crowded plaza wearing nothing but short shorts and running shoes.
Though the Tarahumaran Indians of northern Mexico have captured the attention of the running world in recent years, thanks in large part to Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, it is Mexico City and her many surrounding suburbs that have birthed the gross majority of the country’s greatest runners and the surrounding mountains that have forged them into world-class athletes.
Though top Mexican runners have only been on the stage since about the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when the country brought in international coaches to train some of the more promising distance runners, the sport is ingrained into Mexico’s culture dating from pre-Columbian times.
Amongst the Aztecs there existed a lower caste of people, the tameme, meaning messenger or porter. In a culture that hadn’t yet invented the wheel and in a land that was void of large hauling-animals, everything from messages and sacks of corn to the Sacred Flame was delivered by the tameme. An intricate network of trails connected Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) with every corner of the Aztec Empire. The Emperor’s kitchen, it was told, enjoyed the luxury of fresh fish from the Gulf of Mexico, 240 miles away. Today, there are Mexicans who proudly trace their lineage back to the hard-working and light-footed tameme.
Though the owner of the hostel was not a runner himself, it was a matter of fact that running is simply a way of getting around … faster than walking.
On leaving Bernal the following morning we decided to bypass Mexico City and her 21-million inhabitants to encounter the conical volcano, La Malinche, rising above the field-burning haze present throughout most of the country.
One can’t help but admire the simplicity and perfection of a volcano from afar. It is the first mountain a child learns to draw—two lines meeting upwardly at a point. It is the centerpiece of legends. Mexico’s sixth-highest mountain, La Malinche (14,636 feet) was named for the conflicted, young and beautiful Aztec woman, who was first brought to Conquistador Hernán Cortéz as a slave. Later, she acted as a translator, advisor and, finally, lover to Cortéz, bearing his first child, Martín, who is believed to be the first true Mestizo.