"Riding backy with Las Marias"
By Ione Bingley
Loitering on a street corner in Mexico City at 7.30AM, my heavy eyes roam over a skyline blurred by shimmering smog. I try to discern two wheeled forms through the tangle of traffic as I wait apprehensively for my ride. One by one gliding female silhouettes appear, spectre-like from the mist. Pulling up in front of me, the throb and spit of their hot engines fills me with a childish excitement.
Feeling clumsy next to their proud elegance, I fish for something to say to assert myself within the female hierarchy. Sauntering over to Savage and her deconstructed machine I peer inside the exposed engine, feeling the heat on my face as its guts pulse.
Running my eyes over the rose-tinted metal, I manage to stammer out, “The body has a really interesting colour”. Without a backwards glance she replies, “Ya, I pissed on it”. Savage for a reason, I get it, she’s badass.
President and visionary Blackbird takes me under her wing and steers me towards a shiny red bike mounted by a willowy brunette. Once Introduced to the chatty and affable Gummy Bear, I eagerly jump on the back and we’re off, late, weaving through a congested mess of cars, trucks, food carts, windscreen washers and jugglers.
Having bonded with Blackbird over a reciprocal love of leather, I was invited to ride with Mexico’s amazing all female motorcycle gang in return for some photographs. So here I find myself, roaring through a concrete spaghetti of piled and knotted highways on my way out of the city to see the proud Toltec warriors of Tula.
As we ride through the nearby town of Huehuetoca, men stop mid-sentence, open mouthed, unable even a perfunctory wolf whistle, silenced by this rare show of female strength and individualism as the gang perform a rite of passage made famous by the aggressive maleness of the Hell’s Angels.
Gummy flips up her visor and yells over her shoulder,
“It’s so funny how people look at us. It’s like, what the fuck, five girls on bikes.”
And she’s right, onlookers are stunned and unsurprisingly so, the gang is a unique sight in Mexico. It’s rare to see even one female motorcyclist here, to see five is unprecedented. Even with this fleeting taste I begin to understand, the feeling of liberation and power thrills like forbidden fruit.
We pull up to a buzzing local market attracting more stares as the leather-clad girls stroll through the smoky mêlée of frying meat and bubbling stew. I follow Blackbird and Savage who are making a beeline for a taco stand manned by a colourfully clad old lady who shoots a toothless grin in our direction. On closer inspection, and not without apprehension, I see that it features insect only fillers.
Blackbird takes the reigns and orders us ant egg and maguey worm tacos that they tuck into with gusto. I follow suit and am more than pleasantly surprised. After rejoining blonde bombshell Mrs Powers and Gummy for a coffee we’re on the road again.
Snaking through the hot throng of cars, Gummy complains about Mexico’s traffic problem, “Look, this asshole needs to go first”.
She has a point, there are a lot of cars in Mexico and riding a bike anywhere is dangerous. Every member of the gang has taken a serious spill at some point putting them out of action for several months, but true to form they all got back on two wheels and half the fun is the risk. If cool is proportional to deviance and danger, Las Marias must be reaching some kind of pinnacle.
Reaching Tula and after a parking lot chinwag about periods, we hike up a deserted pyramid to mingle among the four metre stone giants gazing with them over sprawling satellite towns and factories. A single flame rises from a nearby industrial site, licking the clouds.
“Mordor”, mutters blackbird.
Even with the wind whipping past speeding along on the back of the bike, it’s hard to ignore the smog hanging over the highways. It seems industrialisation was paid for with clean air, but industrialisation is what empowered women in the past. Machines allowed women to be physically equal to men and it is machines in turn that have liberated these women. Power is freedom.
As I gaze up at the towering Toltec heroes with their stony stare, it’s hard not to liken their cool determination to that of Las Marias. In a society where male machismo pervades and dominates, these biker girls stand tall.
Rapidly losing interest in the pyramids and their unblinking proprietors, Savage slinks off in search of Pulque, an appropriately ancient, gloopy tipple made from fermented agave plants drunk ceremonially in prehispanic Mexico. Rather surprisingly she reappears not long after with a sun bleached two litre Coke-Cola bottle that is half filled with what looks and tastes not unlike off banana smoothie. Weirdly, I’m into it. Savage explains they sell it by the litre and reveals her own personal stash, something for the ride home.
There is something poignant about the pride and enjoyment that Las Marias take from their Mexican culture, and the backlash against social norms that they represent. Bringing a modernist message of female strength and uprising, their non-complicity with conventional feminine ideals only serves to make them more magnetic. I find myself plotting how to get myself a motorbike and a pass into the gang.