Not being English, Pedro had no desire to get up at 6am to head to San Miguel to watch England’s inevitable glorious defeat on penalties. You may think that I can only write that because I’m writing this after the game happened, but that’s just because you’re not English. It’s what we have done in every tournament I can remember. We qualify, struggle through the group stages playing well for maybe half a game and then go out against the first decent team we play. 1990 – lost to Germany on penalties in the semis, 1996 lost to Germany on penalties in the semis, 1998 lost to Argentina in the second round on penalties, 2000 abject and knocked out in the groups, 2002 lost to Brazil in the quarters (even though we had a man advantage for over half an hour), 2004 lost to Portugal in the quarters on penalties, 2006 lost to Portugal in the quarters on penalties, 2008 didn’t qualify, 2010 lost to Germany in the second round. It’s the English way, but more about the football later.
I was up not long after 6am and having packed the night before was on the road shortly after I’d carried my bike and bags down the steep staircases to the narrow street waiting outside. The game wouldn’t start until 13:45 and it would only be 80km, but I wasn’t going to risk missing the game due to some mechanical issue.
Heading out of Guanajuato was a little easier than it had been getting in as I made my way back to the entrance. There was an alternate way to San Miguel, going through Dolores Hidalgo – the home of the start of the fight for independence from Spanish rule in 1810 – but it was a much longer and hillier option and I wouldn’t have time to enjoy the history.
Thankfully, the area around GTO is gorgeous and after leaving I immediately found myself enjoying the views, so much so that a couple of hours later I had a lovely breakfast of yoghurt and muesli sat by the side of the road enjoying the overcast view. Riding along, reminded me of being back in Yorkshire. In reality, that might not be the most accurate comparison, but what can I say. Maybe it was the football, but I was thinking of home and how if I’d been in England I’d have been in a pub with friends getting ready to watch the game. My life, be it teaching in Asia for 6 years, or this travelling, has meant that I’ve had to get used to missing these kind of things, and while it does get easier I’ll always have part of me thinking about England.
Other than the scenery, the highlight came just before I got to a Pemex. I was climbing a hill, and a yellow car came up next to me. The passenger, a man called Jose, rolled the window down and started talking with me. I kept it going for a couple of minutes, but when he asked for my Facebook information I suggested he pull over at the top to talk. Jose was from León and was travelling to San Miguel with his family for the day. He’s a cyclist too, although he does it at a much higher speed than I do as he races rather than tours. It was lovely to talk with them and they wished me all the best for the England game and gave me a bunch of grapes to make sure I got there in time. I thanked them, although after they left and I’d eaten about 1/3 of the grapes gave them to a guy that was trying to thumb a lift the other way. The road wasn’t that busy and I figured I’d be getting to San Miguel before he got to wherever he was going!
Arriving in San Miguel, I had the joy of going the wrong way up the fairly steep cobble road heading into town. I considered side streets, but they all seemed even more ridiculous and being the main street I figured it’d lead to the main square. I was right and after interacting with a few drivers confused to see a cyclist riding towards them got to the main square to see the beautiful facade of the cathedral. I made it there before 12, and so had a lot of time to wait so enjoyed myself watching some indigenous Mexicans dancing in front of the cathedral and a large amount of tourists wandering around while I enjoyed the square. San Miguel was deserted after the Mexican War of Independence and then was discovered by foreign artists. Since then it has blossomed and become an artist community, full of not only writers, but also a copious number of people from the US.
Just before the game, I headed to a pub that I’d scouted out and positioned my bike in a safe place. I got a couple of beers and found a place to sit next to a Mexican family. The game started and in the first 15-20 minutes we actually outplayed Italy at times… then of course we remembered that we were England, had no right doing such a silly thing, and forgot how to pass the ball. Then we were incredibly fortuitous and hung on for dear life with performances of PROUD ENGLISH LIONS (as the media loves to claim) which basically means trying to make up for the lack of talent by running a lot and throwing yourself around to make up for a lack of technical skill, something we seem to be good at. During the game I was having some good banter with the father of the Mexican family who understood football and probably found my frustrated shouts hilarious. I don’t mind, as he welcomed me into his family and kept buying me beers. It then came to the inevitable penalties, and it was clear how much of a minority I was in. Italy missed their second penalty and I briefly believed and shouted a lot, but there was only one other guy in the pub cheering. Then England missed a penalty, and another, and the cheers from the Mexicans were deafening and the father bought me a final beer before we said our goodbyes. He headed off to settle up the bill and I nursed my beer thinking about the continual ridiculousness of being an England fan.
Pedro turned up a couple of hours later having not woken up until past 10. After a bit of confusion, and some ridiculously steep hills, we found our way to where we were staying. Pedro had been in contact with a friend of a friend of a family friend of a friend and they’d agreed to let him stay at their place. Unfortunately for us, it had a glorious view of the city, that of course meant that we had to get up to it. Having changed to my flip-flops, I had a fun job getting up the steep cobblestone streets and so resorted to pushing at times. We found the place, but the lady was out-of-town, and after explaining the situation the caretaker he let us in. We cleaned up, and headed off to explore the town that Pedro would be spending some time in.
Riding along (windy)
The ridiculous hills of San Miguel