Every metro station has not only a name but a symbol. And they are often worth investigating. Some are a little obvious. Villa de Cortes springs to mind. Others less so. Would Garibaldi turn out to have a large poster of myself with a digitally shaved bonce? Turned out not to be. Shame, really. It took me a couple of years to work out what a chabacano was, and why it had a Metro station named after it. A chabacano, I discovered, was an apricot. Which still left me a little mystified as to why the metro station bore that name.
I’ve only just bothered to look it up, and now that I know the answer, I can share it with you. There used to be a river there, besides the bank of which apricot trees grew in large numbers. The explanation is so obvious once you know it. But you’d not have known there used to be a river there. You’ll struggle to find rivers in the Distrito Federal, despite lots of place names having the word ‘rio’ in them. They’ve mostly been diverted in large pipes underground. A pity? I’d have to see what the quality of the water is like before I call for any rivers to be brought back to the surface. I have concerns.
Today I got off at Metro Popotla. The name gives little away, to me anyway, but the symbol of a tree held hope of a historical find. Ok, I confess, I had gotten a tip off. The tree is an Ahuehuete tree, apparently, and famed for its association with Hernan Cortes, the conquistador supremo. Cortes, so the story goes*, had left Tenochtitlan, the Aztec forebear of Mexico City, where he was still a guest of sorts, to dash off to Veracruz. A party of Spaniards had landed there intent on finding and arresting him. He did battle, won the day and returned to the Aztec capital only to find that the buddies he’d left there had had a mad rush of blood to the head and had gone and slaughtered a bunch of Aztec nobles.
The Aztecs weren’t best pleased, and señor Cortes found himself holed up in the centre of the city, with Moctezuma as his prisoner. Surrounded by Mexica warriors, Cortes slipped out of the city under the cover of darkness, with all the gold he and his men could carry, and tried to make a dash for safety over a damaged bridge across the lake that surrounded Tenochtitlan. He was spotted and a chase and battle ensued. He just made it out with his life, but perhaps hundreds of his men, and maybe thousands of the non Aztec ‘Mexicans’ he’d picked up along the way to accompany him, died. The lake ran red with blood, and in places where the bridge was damaged, dead bodies filled the gaps, allowing others to walk across.
He stopped at a point where Popotla is now sited, and cried beside a tree for all the men he’d lost. And I’m sure there was a tear or two shed for the gold that had been lost with them. Instant karma, if there is such a thing. And so the tree was named Arbol de la Noche Triste – night of the sorrows. The tree stood for hundreds of years, before being destroyed in a fire a few years ago. But I wanted to have a looky see to see what remained. I found first a church, then behind it a garden. On a wall was painted a large mural depicting the events of that infamous night. Then past the church, in a small park, was a gated area where the tree once stood.
The stump is still there. And a huge stump it is too. A familiar looking stump, in fact. I’d seen such a tree before, I was sure of it. A little more research was needed on the Ahuehuete tree. As it happens, I was right to think I’d seen such a tree before. The Arbol del Tule, in Oaxaca, is such a tree and I’ve visited it twice. It has no links to Hernan Cortes, that I know of. But it does claim to be the worlds largest living biomass. I took a few photos. Of the tree, or what remains of it, and the mural. Click here to go see them on Flickr.
* So the story goes according to my memory, which isn’t always 100% reliable. If you really need to know the exact details, Google is your friend.