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Mexico: Guanajuato’s unlikely local hero

It seems wrong, using wi-fi on my smartphone while sitting under a corrugated iron roof. State-of-the-art technological convenience in hand, makeshift shelter overhead. Yet this is what I’ve been doing, casually surfing the internet in the Mexican town of Guanajuato, all the while praying the metal sheet is strong enough to withstand the light drumming of drizzle above.

Mexico: Guanajuato’s unlikely local hero

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I put my phone down and look out across the city from our rooftop balcony – more in the ‘unfinished top floor’ sense of the phrase than the ‘penthouse viewpoint’ connotation. The pinks, reds, yellows and blues of the colonial houses gleam in the valley below, creating a pastel patchwork before me, and the crayon-collection blocks vie with each other for a safe footing on the barren hillside opposite. Despite the treacherous location of these homes, an enormous statue of local hero El Pípila, brandishing a torch, towers above them, watching over the residents from the summit of the opposite hill.

As the story goes, the young man — nicknamed ‘hen turkey’ in Spanish — helped to bring about the turn in Mexican fortunes during the War of Independence in the 1800s. Local troops, led and inspired by priest Miguel Hidalgo, were unable to mount an attack on the invading Spanish forces who had barricaded themselves inside a stone warehouse.

They were lost for ideas until a young miner offered to attempt to set fire to the wooden fortress gates, and with nothing more than a slab of stone tied to his back as an improvised shield, El Pípila managed to crawl to the stronghold, tar and torch in hand. He completed his mission, avoiding the onslaught of the Spaniards’ muskets just long enough, before losing his life. With the path cleared, the Mexican troops, vastly outnumbering the Spanish invaders, were able to storm the warehouse, killing everyone inside. Hidalgo would go on to become a key figure in the Mexican resurgence, contributing sufficiently to the war effort and as a result, is known as the Father of the Nation.

But what of El Pípila with just a crude shield to defend his nation? I’m suddenly thankful of my rough-and-ready shelter, despite the fact the drumming above is heavier and I swear I hear the sheet iron creak under the weight of water collecting above my head. But Guanajuato, with its loud colours and quiet grace is too inviting. I resolve myself to braving the conditions and continue to look out over the city. El Pípila would have been proud.