There are many ways to get to know a place. Some people prefer the usual sightseeing or trips to museums, while some opt for other activities such as wandering through the streets or visiting traditional food joints.
As for me, I use marathon races to discover new places and learn about the local culture.
Being an enthusiastic runner, I was drawn to an event in Mexico recently.
However, as soon as I arrived in the country, I had some feelings of regret over my decision.
Situated at 17 degrees latitude north, Tuxtla Gutiérrez — the capital city of the State of Chiapas, Mexico — was very hot, stuffy and humid.
Other countries along this latitude include Vietnam, Niger and Sudan, so you have a rough idea how the weather was like there in Mexico.
Though the weather was not ideal, I was still looking forward to visiting the historic places of the Mexican revolution lying along the marathon route.
Chiapas is one of the most “Indianized” states, where most of the villages are scattered in mountain areas or deep inside the forests. In 1994, the Zapatista Movement broke out in this southernmost state against the Mexican state, where the rural indigenous Indian people fought for their basic living rights.
I couldn’t help wondering if the area I would be running through was the exact scene of some violent conflicts in the past.
Earlier, there used to be only 21-kilometer half marathon races in the country. But this year, the organizer held the event at Tuxtla Gutiérrez, making a full marathon race possible. This helped attract more than 3,500 participants from several countries.
The day before the race participants gathered at a hotel downtown to receive the runner’s packs. The run was seen as a carnival by some as there were many parents and children taking part together.
At 7:30 on a Sunday morning, the event got underway and everyone dashed off. The sun was blazing hot and I had visions of being under the grill like a crispy taco. Luckily there was a water station every one or two kilometers. I needed to keep myself hydrated to avoid heatstroke.
The route included more ups and downs that I thought, interrupting my usual pace and breathing rate. A gentle gradient started after the first 10 kilometers, and it lasted for 8 kilometers! That drained away much of my strength.
After having moved up, it was, of course, time to go downhill, a process that seemed like an eternity. My knees started to ache and so did my feet. I had to really push myself to keep going.
During the last five kilometers on the way back to the town center, it was only sheer determination that propelled up forward — a fact that most of my fellow runners would agree with. I kept reminding myself to hang in there. When finally I got through the finishing line, tears were welling up in my eyes.
The route goes through the city, starting from the town center, parks, churches, shops, etc. Since it was the very first marathon race in the area, the locals were very puzzled at the beginning. Yet they soon immersed themselves in the event, shouting and cheering for the runners. That made the endeavor worth it.
Take a flight to the United States; then take another to Mexico City. There are domestic flights between Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutiérrez daily, which takes around one and a half hours. Alternatively, take a 12-hour coach ride to Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Please note that Tuxtla Gutiérrez is not a tourist city. In order to get to know more about the Indian culture, take a one-hour car ride to San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city located to the east of Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 4.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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