By Ines Amarelo
Mexico City, May 2 (EFE).- Music, sweat, shouts of encouragement, Spanish rock and many types of weights and barbells with which to exercise all make up the site to which many young people and adults are flocking in the so-called Valle de los Mamados (Muscle-man Valley), an open-air gymnasium in the heart of Tepito, one of Mexico City’s most violent neighborhoods.
“It’s a very healthy spot. You can clear your mind; if you’re depressed or anxious, here you can relax,” Omar – a young sports enthusiast who comes to the gym, like so many others, to find physical and mental stability – told EFE.
“Here, there’s no room for emotional problems. Here, you can chill out … you can build up your muscles, and you can feel really nice. Here, there’s no place for drugs,” he said.
Under the direction of Rodolfo, a 55-year-old who for 14 years has been exercising with the weights at Calles Park in the “rough neighborhood” of Tepito – officially small in size but big to its residents – men and women of all ages gather each morning, many before going to work, to keep themselves in shape and meet up with friends.
“They come here to de-stress themselves. We give anyone who comes some physical education training and, if they take to it, great. It’s not like an Alcoholics Anonymous group or anything like that. You come to develop yourself mentally and physically and the doors are open to everyone,” said Rodolfo.
Besides him, one of the most experienced “veterans” is Mario Alberto, 62, who said that he’s a police officer and that, after more than 50 years of coming to the park to exercise, he continues to beleive that it’s helping him to feel better about himself and the people around him.
“I get home, I take off my uniform, I come here and I de-stress. My family tells me ‘Go to the park for a bit’ … This is the center of our life: the family and this. Here, there are no egos, anyone who does well, we support him, and anyone who does poorly, we tell him how to improve,” says the officer, who sometimes comes to the park with his 3-year-old granddaughter.
In Tepito, organized crime is a problem, but for decades the local residents have been fighting to keep the areas culture and atmosphere in the forefront, and in the several streets comprising the neighborhood one can feel the effervescent community life.
Rodolfo and Mario Alberto said that the activity in the park starts up at 5 am, with some of the exercise crowd helping to keep the area clean and free of violence and drug and alcohol consumption.
Suri and Valeria have been coming to use the weights for the past few weeks and said that they are already feeling the difference physically along with the warmth of the group that’s like a family.
“As women, … you feel kind of strange seeing so many men around, with everything that’s happening,” said Suri, who added that she’s aware of the pervasive violence against women in Mexico, where every day an average of more than 10 females are murdered.
But here, she said, “at no time did any of them show us a lack of respect or say anything nasty. They’re respectful, they offer to help us and we’re grateful.”
Edgar Andres, 39, said that he’s been exercising for 20 years and lives in the area. He comes to the park, saying that “I like exercising for the discipline, but … there’s also a friendly relationship, we help each other, we teach each other. We like it when people come here and everyone gets along. Not only with the weights, but also playing basketball, eating an ice cream.”
He said that many people have found a kind of refuge at Calles Park during the coronavirus pandemic, both because it’s an open-air site where the risk of infection is low and because they can forget their problems associated with the virus.