The Bike Ride
The sky was thick and grey that day, as are most during the summer in the Distrito Federal. A combination of low clouds and pollution cast a dull chrome hue over the city, a flat light that accentuated the looming cement buildings. The typical threat of rain brought out a noxious smell of diesel fuel mixed with burnt cooking oil from the ubiquitous street vendors.
We began in the historic center taking laps around the Zocalo, the second largest plaza in the world, weaving in and out of police cars and taxi traffic. Veering down side streets where no tourists wander, we kept a retreating sun ahead of us and continued due west.
We stopped briefly for food in a sprawling outdoor street market. Forced to walk our bikes, often picking them up to step over the ropes of overhead tarps fixed to bolts in the street, we found a crowded stall with gaudy plastic tablecloths. A large metal vat of boiling oil was being tended by an imposingly thick man while his portly wife supervised three young girls garnishing fried taquitos with cream and queso fresco. With one leg through the frame of each of our bikes, we sat rapt in silence and watched as people made their way about their daily business, hustling replica designer belts over here and negotiating curbside deals over there.
The Santa Muerte
I had read somewhere of a clandestine shrine to the Santa Muerte, a feminine saint of debatable sacrilege. Her devotees are mostly from the notorious neighborhood of Tepito, where black market vendors, pirates and thieves have gathered since the central market days of the Aztec Empire. Venerating the Saint of Death is condemned by the Catholic Church but recent public worship, especially within organized crime, has created a large underworld of followers frustrated with Mexico’s financial and social crisis.
Most people are fascinated by her cult-like following. Ask the Santa Muerte for a miracle and she is often willing to oblige, but her fee is typically what one cherishes most in life. I never ended up meeting anyone who would pray to her; probably out of fear of unlocking some dark force from which no other Saint could offer deliverance.
Searching out the shrine, we coasted down wide boulevards lined with a mixture of abandoned architectural relics and decaying industrial space. Eventually we found the unassuming side street and the one-story temple constructed of freshly painted white wooden planks. Although nearly hidden, its eeriness stood out from the tired homes of cement block and window bars. Standing on our bikes