Friday, April 15, 2016

Mexico City

I couldn’t get from the USA to Cuba directly so I had to make a pit stop somewhere else.  The cheapest option:  Mexico City!  It wasn’t on my initial itinerary, but I’m super glad I went.  The city was impressive – definitely not what I was expecting.  While there were definitely some dodgy characters around, there was a massive police presence in the main tourist areas and I never felt unsafe.  Their metro system was dirty and crowded, but it only cost 5 pesos which is around US$0.30.  Compare that to London’s underground – also dirty and crowded – and the value is just mind-blowing.

Mexico City had some lovely neighbourhoods to walk around.  La Roma had a so many delicious-looking cafes and restaurants.  Polanco was the super fancy shmancy part of town with all of its Jews and valet parking at Starbucks.  It makes all other Starbucks everywhere else in the world look like slums.  Paseo de la Reforma – one of the main streets in the city – is closed to cars on Sunday.  Joggers, walkers, and bicyclists were out and about taking advantage of the open space.  There were dance classes in the street, food vendors, and more.  It was a fantastic walk.

The most impressive thing for me was the political situation in Mexico’s capital city.  Just like in the USA, Mexico is a union of states.  Up until the end of January, Mexico City was known as the Federal District (DF) – their version of the District of Columbia.  Just like Washington DC, the capital wasn’t equal to the rest of the country in terms of political representation and voting rights.  After years of pushing, January marked the end of the DF and the start of CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico).  No longer called the Federal District, the city is simply now just Mexico City and has been elevated to the same status as a state.  So, in summary, Mexico has beat the United States to equality for those people living in its capital city.  WTF, Congress?  Maybe the US should scrap the wall along the border and let some good ideas flow across instead…

Ok, enough of my political ranting.  A few highlights of my time in Mexico City:

One of my 103 Things is Teotihuacan – one of the most famous sites for Aztec ruins.  Located outside the city in the next state, it was an easy day trip from the capital.  The massive Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon were the main sights, but there were a ton of other smaller temples as well.  I went on a tour organized by my hostel and it was fantastic.  The guide was great and gave us a lot of information about the site and the Aztecs in general.

Elsewhere, the Templo Mayor right in the middle of the city has the ruins of the old Aztec capital – Tenochtitlan – and a museum about the site.  Another site – Tlateloco – has better restored ruins and a massive church which the Spanish built using stones from the pyramids there.

Museo Frida Kahlo:
After Teotihuacan, my next favourite thing was the Frida Kahlo Museum.  While Frida wasn’t the most well-known artist of her time (her husband – Diego Rivera – overshadowed her), the movie about her life thrust her into the history books.  Their house has been converted into a museum which has preserved some of the rooms as they were and transformed some into galleries of her work with displays on her life.  A temporary exhibition on her clothing and various braces she had to wear (she had an accident when she was young which badly damaged her body) was on display when I visited.

I visited various sites to check out Mexican art.  The Museum of Modern Art seemed to be mostly closed so the only noteworthy item on display was one of Frida’s most famous works:  The Two Fridas.  The National Palace – once the head of government of the country – has massive murals painted by Diego Rivera.  The Palace of Fine Arts (which also contains a big theatre) also has large murals by other famous Mexican artists and was free when I visited on a Sunday.

Aside from the art museums, the two big museum draws in Mexico City are Chapultepec Castle (which contains the National History Museum) and the National Anthropology Museum.  The former is set in an old castle which has been well-preserved with colonial furniture.  The museum section tells the history of Mexico but without any English whatsoever.  My Spanish is good enough to get the main points from the text, but it probably would have been better with a guide.  My favourite display were old maps which show Texas as part of Mexico.  Sometimes I think we should give it back…

The latter museum is MASSIVE and tells the entire anthropological history of the country from pre-historic times until today.  Relics from the Aztecs, Mayas, and a bunch of other cultures that I had never heard of were on display.  Even though their English captions were shorter and fewer than the Spanish ones, I still had to rush through the museum.  I was inside for four hours and only left because I was super hungry.  It was fantastic.  My favourite part:  ancient Aztec, Mayan, and Olmec phallic statues.  Of course.

No trip to a Latin American country is complete without churches.  And there are many.  I did my best to avoid them so I wouldn’t get churched out.  Aside from the Church of Santiago at the Tleteloco site, I visited the Metropolitan Cathedral which sits on the Zocalo (Mexico City’s main plaza).  The cathedral was massive and ornate, but it still only took five minutes to go through.  The Basilica of Guadelupe and the neighbouring Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe (built when the original proved to be too small to handle all the pilgrims coming) were excellent.  They are two of the most famous churches in the country because some dude saw the image of the Virgin Mary there a really long time ago and now that image is the patron saint of the Mexico and well-known all over Latin America.  Apparently.  Some of this Catholic mythology is really pushing the boundaries here.  I think the Shinto traditions in Japan are way more fun.

Elsewhere in Mexico City, I walked around a lot, went up the fairly unimpressive Monument to the Revolution, and did my best to confuse Starbucks baristas (and others) by telling them that my name is Felipe.  “Really?”  “Sí.”

There’s one aspect of Mexico City that I haven’t discussed here.  For those of you that know me, or have ever met me, or have ever read any of my blogs even just once, then you know what that is.  I’ll devote a special blog to that next.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Mexico City, follow this link:

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