May 07, 2006

Chalma + Sta Martha (Mexico), 07.05.06

GPS Track Video

Photoset Show

GPS Cycling Data:

Distance: 115 Km, Ascent: 2570 m, Time: 6:20 hr, Avg Speed: 18.1 Km/hr, Max Speed: 68.5 Km/hr

Travel Report:

This ride was one of the kind I use to enjoy more :-) It combined both the richness of a cultural ride plus the demanding nature of a difficult climbing ride. I mean: we have the opportunity in this ride to know very interesting and rich cultural elements of the peoples that are located along the route. And we were lucky enough to explore those cultures inside a demanding and cruel (physically speaking) cycling route.

This ride was intended to be a round Mexico City - Chalma (Mexico Sate) - Mexico City ride. As you can see in the altigraphy, this attempt requires a lot of endurance, since the ascents along the road are really demanding, to say the least. From Mexico City (alt: 2240 m) we had to climb to the Tres Cruces summit (alt: 3200 m) and then came different little ascents that combined give 600 m of climbing, just to arrive to Santa Martha (alt: 2850 m). From Santa Martha comes a steep descent all the way to Chalma, at an altitude of ca. 1700 m. And this is only the easy half part :-)

The hardest part is the return leg of the trip, since from Chalma (alt: 1700 m) we had first, to climb to Santa Martha (alt: 2800 m), and then a zig-zag altitude-wise climbing (totalling 800 m of ascent, only in this part) to arrive at Tres Cruces (alt: 3200 m), before the descent to Mexico City (alt: 2240 m) could be taken.

As you can see, this route was going to be a gruelling one.

By the other side, the cultural richness of the human mosaic present along the route was superb ! Chalma is a religious sanctuary where a lot of people accustom to go and pray to the Black Christ of Chalma. For some reason, a lot of people believe as miraculous this very religious image.

We ride along the free highway to Toluca, passing on our way the summit Tres Cruces (ca. 3200 m), descending later 200 m to La Marquesa, where we took the deviation to Chalma. We took the short way to Chalma, passing by Xalatlaco, instead of the longer route that pass by Malinalco. I think that now the standard route to Chalma is the short one (by Xalatlaco), since that when I have rode to Malinalco I have seldom seen pilgrimages along the route. On the other hand, riding by Xalatlaco, a lot of cycling pilgrimages can be seen along the route.

On Xalatlaco we stopped a little in order to purchase water plus some food. Passing Coatepec and other towns that are on the road, we arrived to Santa Martha, and started the descent to Chalma. Maybe 1 or 2 km before arriving at this religious sanctuary, we stopped a little in one of the ubiquitous shops that offer flower crowns. This flower crowns are used by some people that went to Chalma. They put a flower crown on his head and proceed to make the last 2 km to the sanctuary ... dancing ! Or a sort of dancing, anyway. This dancing resembles me the Chinelos dancing of the Morelos state. I put myself one of those crowns, as it didn't hurt :-)

When we arrived at the sanctuary in Chalma there was a lot of people ! I have the understanding that this sanctuary is visited by lots of people any day of the year, but the day we went, there was in fact a lot of people ! There was even a cycling pilgrimage that came from the nearby town of Ocoyoacac. We formed in the long queue to enter the church building (under an inclement sun), finally entering later in the sanctuary.

As you can see in the photos, also the church was packed with pilgrims. There exists a special feeling when one enters in this religious sanctuaries. Being myself a non-believer in any religious doctrine (i.e. atheist) I still find overwhelming the feeling inside those sanctuaries. I think that it is owed to the fact that a lot of people gathering in the same church, coming from so different cities and towns, and believing that the image they are adoring and praying to is a miraculous one, that will solve some of their troubles, is always going to have a lasting impact in any mindset, believer or not.

The church is huge, as you can see from the photos, beautifully painted in white. It even features some enormous and gorgeously decorated arches, chapels and vitrals. Its columns are even decorated with golden paint ! Once one leaves the main altar of the church, a big and beautiful fresco can be appreciated, depicting some angels.

Behind the main altar there is a small chapel, where another image of Christ can be appreciated. What astonished me more about this little chapel is that this image is preferred over the main one (front altar) by indigenous people, or at least that appeared to me. In this rather obscure chapel I saw a lot of indigenous people, praying with more religious fervor that in front of the main altar. I suppose that for some reason, this image is nearer to their hearts. What really made me anger is that this very poor indigenous people, still continued giving their money to the white keeper of that chapel ! How, more than five centuries later than the spanish conquest, still the poor indigenous people accustom to give their money to a white chapel-keeper ! This is the sort of things I still can not understand of my country :-(

At the exit of the church a river can be seen. It is used by the sanctuary pilgrims to refresh themselves. After the church visit, we went to eat something in a restaurant. After the meal, the group divided itself, since 2 of us wanted to try the return to Mexico City cycling, and the rest preferred to return by bus. So we told farewell to the ones that were going to take the bus ... and started the hard part of the ride: the return by bike.

Up ahead on the road from Chalma, there is a place where an old ahuehete (enormous tree, ahuehete in a nahuatl word meaning: great water tree) stands in the middle of some water pools, where a lot of people accustom to bath in, in order to refresh themselves from the difficult task of going to Chalma by foot. I stopped there and ... submerge myself in those cold and refreshing waters ! That was beautiful ! In the middle of the heat (both from the weather and also the one resulting from the climbing cycling), having the opportunity to take a full bath in fresh water represents an indescribable pleasure :-)

I continued the climbing cycling towards Ocotlán, where I stopped to buy some food. Continued the ascent towards Santa Martha. Arriving to Santa Martha represented the end of the continuous ascent. After that point, a zig-zag altitude-wise climbing rested. But we were running out of time. The visit to the sanctuary had taken a lot of time from us. When we arrived at Santa Martha, it was already 17:00. It was there agreed that attempting to complete (from that position) the return by bike was dangerous, as the darkness loomed and we were going to cycle those lonely regions of La Marquesa with no solar light. So we had to cut our route short at Santa Martha (an impressive ascent from Chalma, anyways) and took a bus to return to Mexico City:

I really do hope to make a complete round trip to Chalma soon, avoiding a visit to the sanctuary, and departing Mexico City earlier, in order to have sufficient time to complete the route ... cycling :-)

Thank you for reading. Till the next travel.