Friday, January 8, 2010

Mexico City

Our trip to Mexico City went surprisingly smoothly. The afternoon before we left, Chris had invited all the other boaters in our marina over to Ladybug for an “Open Boat” Boxing Day party with mulled wine and appetisers. That night we hurriedly packed for the trip and early the next morning we flagged down a taxi on the highway outside our marina. The flights were on time and the Aeromexico flight to Guadalajara even left 5 minutes early. In Guadalajara, airline staff greeted us with samples of hand sanitizer and ushered us efficiently onto a shuttle bus to take us to our connecting flight to Mexico City. Was this really Mexico?

Happy New Year!

No comment.

Arriving at Mexico City airport, our jaws dropped when we paid two pesos each (less than 20 cents Canadian) to ride the metro (subway) to the city centre, about five miles away. From Heathrow airport into London an equivalent subway ride would cost more than 30 times that. Our hotel, Regente, was six blocks from the nearest metro station of Iinsurgentes and despite all the warnings of pick-pockets and muggings, we felt quite comfortable walking in Mexico City.

Children reaching for strands of cotton candy.

Monument of Independence.

There were throngs of people walking along the Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare in the city centre, all heading to a gigantic Christmas 'tree', located near the Monumento a la Independecia. We decided to enjoy the evening’s festivities and strolled amongst the street vendors who were selling a colorful assortment of toys, decorations, and funfair foods. Children rode by on their parents' shouders wearing glowing LED Mickey ears, young boys demostrated colorful slingshot-launched lights, and whisps of cottton candy floated by overhead. We tried jicama pops coated in sweet syrup and chillies, and (my favourite!) sweetcorn flavoured with, what else but, lime juice and chillies! The Christmas tree must have been 15 storeys high, its colours and themes changing every few minutes from golden angels blowing trumpets to silver stars twinkling in a midnight blue sky and then a sequence of blue, green and red cascading from top to bottom.

Giant Christmas Tree.

Christmas Tree from the distance.

The next morning we were met by our friend Maleh and her brother Alejandro at the hotel. Together with another of Maleh’s Canadian friends, Penny, we set off for a guided tour of the main sights of the city. Alejandro drove like a true Mexican ( assertive, shall we say ) past the great sculptures of the Independence, Cuauhtemoc ( the Aztec king who ruled after Moctezuma ), and Diana the Huntress. We parked the car in an underground garage in the Centro Historico and proceeded on foot to admire the elegant Art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes. This building is Maleh's favorite building in the city. Started in 1904, it is crafted from Carrara marble and was completed 30 year later, construction being interrupted by the revolution. From here we walked toward the Zocalo, the second largest square in the world, admiring beautiful buildings housing banks and restaurants along the route. The Zocalo is a ten acre plaza, built from the rubble of Tenochtitlan, the seat of Moctezuma. In places there are windows cut into the stone paving, allowing a glimpse into the past.

Art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The Catedral Metropolitana on the north side of the square was the first cathedral in New Spain, constructed on the orders or Cortes. The original building was later razed and replaced with the current baroque style church in 1813. The interior is dominated by the richly gilded wood altarpiece which took 20 years to complete. I must admit that I much preferred the simpler interior of the adjoining parish church, El Sagrario.

Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) in Mexico City.

Interior of Metropolitan Cathedral

Altar of Cathedral.

We actually preferred the simpler interior of this church 'El Sagrario'.

In the centre of the square, there was a large tent set up for “Guerras de Nieve” (snowball fights), and inside it we saw kids wearing crash helmets throwing snowballs. In a side tent, adults were making snowmen using plastic moulds! Although there is snow high up in the mountains, it must be a novelty here in the city.

Making snow for snowball fights and snowmen.

Talavera tiles - a Mexican art form.

We were thrilled to watch indigenous people dancing in the square, wearing feather headdresses and rattling anklets. Nearby, a line of Mexicans formed in front of a shaman who waved smoking poseys of herbs around their heads and bodies to cure them of who knows what illnesses or evil spirits.

Rani with young indigenous dancer.

Our next stop was to see the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. Built on the ruins of Moctezuma’s palace, the Palacio once housed the presidential offices, but is now home to various state departments. Rivera spent 18 years painting his allegory along the halls and stairways of the palace. Depicting the history of Mexico, there are panels showing the many actvities of the indigenous cultures, planting and gathering corn, trading in the market, making dyes for cloth, dentists pulling teeth, even a prostitute posing suggestively. The Spaniards are portrayed as hideous caricatures and a syphilitic Cortes is followed by his native concubine, La Malinche, holding a green-eyed baby.

Diego Rivera mural in the Palacio Nacional.

Detail from mural - dentist at work.

Detail from mural - clergyman and prostitute.

Cortes and concubine La Malinche with green eyed baby.

Young soldiers guarding the gardens at the Palacio Nacional

Alejandro, Chris, Penny, and Maleh in the gardens at the Palacio Nacional.

Our hosts knew when we were muralled-out and headed into the countryside to show us the Hacienda de Panoaya. This hacienda was given to the first Native Chief of Amecameca in 1534 by the King of Spain, Carlos I, for helping the conquistadores. The current buildings have been restored to be as they were in the 17th century and house a tribute to an exemplary nun, Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz. She was a very intelligent woman who joined the religious order so she could study the arts and sciences. There is also a Volcano Museum with lots of photos from not only Mexico but around the world. Beyond the corn fields lie the clouded tops of the 2nd and 3rd largest mountains in Mexico, the active Popocateptl and it’s slumbering companion Iztaccihuatl. Before we left, we visited the very tame animals in a small zoo in the hacienda. I fed hay to deer and a camel, while an emu ran circles around me as Chris tried to take photos.

A portrait of 15 year old Sor Juana.

Hungry camel.

Friendly camel.

Waterfalls and Hot Spring Baths

On the second day of our trip, all the women and Chris ( lucky him! ) went to the mountains for the hot baths. It was an hour and half drive from Tlaxcala on a good road and then about twenty minutes or so on a dirt road through a small village to the springs. We walked down several staircases and over a little bridge spanning the stream below a gushing waterfall. The admission was 70 pesos each which included changing facilities, several small pools inside and two large pools outside. It felt very therapeutic sitting in the hot water, smelling the sulphur and looking above at the pine trees and rocky walls of the canyon.

Hot Spring baths

Store specializing in candies, fruit wines, and liqueurs.

Largest Virgin Mary we have seen.

Eating traditional blue corn tortillas.

After several hours we emerged, withered like prunes, and Aida drove us to another waterfall where we walked down lots of stairs to look at an old hydro station and views of the cascading falls. A few adventurous souls paid 100 pesos to cross the canyon by sliding down a stout cable and returning via a suspension bridge. I was almost tempted but resisted.

Chris and Rani below the falls.

Aida, Rani, Penny, and Maleh at the falls.

Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl Pyramids

On Wednesday, Maleh drove us to the pre-Hispanic ruins in Cacaxtla (pronounced ca-cash-la) and Xochitecatl (pronounced sho-kee-tay-catch-l), which were only discovered in 1975. There were Mayan murals from the 7th to 10th centuries depicting vivid scenes in blue, red, yellow, black, and white. Rival warriors were dressed as jaguars and birds. Bloody sacrifices and the more mundane acts of trade and commerce were portrayed side by side. There are eight layers of construction built over the centuries with adobe walls, corridors, open courtywards, temples devoted to fertility, and even a room where parrots were kept in boxes, most likely for their exotic plumage.

Maleh, Rani, Penny - girl band pose.

Xochitecatl pyramid complex.

Cacaxtla mural depicting "bird man".

Cacaxtla ruins.

Fertility sculpture.

Jumping for peppercorns. This is a pepper tree!

Xochitecatl pyramid complex.

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