A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico

Inside Mexico City

sunny 24 °C

It's Tuesday and as Mexico City re-opened its doors to tourists we had a lot of catching up to do. The city's sights are scattered and we had to ditch our original plans and be selective. We started with the enormous National Palace which was built by the Spanish on the same site and using the same materials as the Aztec emperor, Montezuma's, grand palace...
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This is just one of the fourteen inner courtyards...
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The palace and its museum could be a whole week's worth of sightseeing, fortunately for us only a small proportion is open to the public. However, we soon learned that Mexico City is all about Rivera Diego. His murals and paintings are plastered everywhere. This is one of many depicting pre-colonial life...
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And this is the huge mural on the main staircase of the palace...
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This nearly 5,000 square foot mural depicts the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930 and took Rivera six years to complete. While the artist depicts Mexico as a Marxist utopia in the early 20th century he somehow manages to put America's wealthiest capitalists like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and J.P.Morgan into the frame, alongside his own wife, Freda Kahlo... Art historians please explain.
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This is one of the historic streets near the Palace which are are filled with people scratching a living by selling all manner of knick-knacks, or setting up mini kitchens offering inexpensive tortillas...
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There are many disfigured and disabled beggars, but almost every street has at least one church with an elaborate dome or decorated bell tower and some of the gilded interiors must be worth a fortune. This is just one of the many altar screens in the Metropolitan Cathedral...
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The Metropolitan Cathedral is sinking, along with the rest of the city at an alarming 3 feet a year. (That is not a typo). Mexico City is nearly seven thousand five hundred feet above sea level, but it was built on a lake bed of soft clay. As the growing city sucks water out of the ground for its daily needs, the ground continually shrinks beneath it. At the current rate, (which is actually accelerating), the city will be 300 feet lower by the end of the century, and many of these buildings and grand arches may collapse...
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Mexico City's aging subway system may also be in trouble. The trains have pneumatic rubber tyres so the ride is quiet and smooth, but there are few escalators and miles of grotty underground walkways linking connecting lines. We sometimes felt we were walking to our next destination, not just changing trains. The good news – each ride of any duration is just 33 cents Cdn. The trains are frequent and, despite warnings, not overly crowded, but it took us a long time to navigate the city. Next stop – the Palace of Bellas Artes where we again ran into Senor Diego's murals. However, as it is Tuesday and we paid a modest entry fee, we got to see the art-nouvea foyer without a thousand people clamouring for free tickets...
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Now it's Wednesday and we have left Mexico City for San Miguel de Allende. Next time we visit Mexico City we will return mid-week to see the rest of the place.

Posted by Hawkson 15:03 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

A Mexico City Weekend

sunny 23 °C

We changed our plans for our visit to Mexico City and so arrived at the weekend. We have learned some valuable lessons. First the good news...
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Mexico City is renowned for its nightmarish traffic, but on Sundays many of the roads in the city's historic centre are closed. Only cyclists and pedestrians are allowed. Without the traffic the air was crystal clear and we had some clear views of the many historic buildings in the sunshine.
This is the Church of San Hipolito. It was built in 1729 on the spot where the Spanish finally conquered the Aztecs in 1531...
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This is the the Modern Art Gallery on the right, behind the ad-hoc artisans' market...
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However, the city's museums,galleries and parks, have free entry every weekend. Which brings us to the bad news. Almost everywhere we had planned to visit Saturday and Sunday was thronged with a sizeable proportion of the more than 20 million plus locals all taking advantage of the offer, leaving us on the end of some very long queues in the baking sun. One incredibly beautiful building that was not packed was the Post Office. But Mexico City's central post office is no ordinary postman's hangout...
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It is called the Palacio Postal, (The Postal Palace), for good reason. This is the grand staircase...
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We soon gave up on the other museums and galleries and spent our time people watching in the parks. This is the entrance to Chapultepec park on Sunday afternoon...
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Chapultepec park covers 1,700 acres and is one of the largest urban parks in the world – second in size only to the central park in Santiago. The park has 15 million visitors a year and most of them seemed to be there on Sunday. We would have taken a pedalo out on the lake – but 5,000 people beat us to it...
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With so many people out to enjoy themselves Mexico City's parks become sprawling outdoor markets at the weekends filled with stalls laden with cheap trinkets and vast amounts of fast food. Size matters here and Mexicans are no different to anyone else -they can't resist a super-sized treat. These lollipops and discs of candied nuts were huge...
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But we were amazed that people were actually buying candy floss bigger than their kids...
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So that was our weekend. We still have Monday and Tuesday. But wait: all the museums,galleries, and even the parks, are closed on Mondays in Mexico City. Lesson learned – don't change your plans without doing some research.

Posted by Hawkson 07:18 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

One Day at a Time in Mexico City

sunny 25 °C

Our day started in Guatemala City at 4am when we took the hotel shuttle to the airport for our flight to Mexico. We flew past one of the world's most active volcanoes, Popocatapetl, which erupted just a few days ago and disrupted flights with a plume of ash 4 kilometres in the air. It gave us no trouble today and by 11am we had dropped our bags at our hotel in the Condesa District of Mexico City, had a late breakfast, and took the open-topped tour bus to get an overview of this capital. First, a glimpse of the modern city soaring above the tree lined boulevards...
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The city's parks and squares are filled with statues of the great and the good, including this very famous one of the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhte'moc. His feet were immersed in boiling oil in the early 16th century by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in order to extract the whereabouts of Montezuma's gold. Cuauhte'moc was tortured for three years before being hung - probably a relief.
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Cortes got his hands on some of the Aztec's treasure, but Montezuma is still getting his revenge on foreign invaders – though, luckily, not on us on this trip so far.
Christophe Colon, (Christopher Columbus), was probably to blame for the catastrophe that befell the Aztecs, along with the Toltecs, Mayans and numerous other indigenous civilizations in the Americas, but he is seen as a hero throughout the continents of the New World. This is his statue in Mexico City...
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The historic central square in Mexico City, known as the Zocalo, is surrounded by magnificent buildings and the largest cathedral in Latin America...
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The Spanish built the cathedral on the site of the Aztec's Templo Mayor and, to add insult to injury, even used some of the building materials from the temple. The Zocalo was the principle ceremonial site for the Aztecs prior to the Spanish invasion – yet another reason for Montezuma's revenge.

The monumental entrance to the Central Park in the heart of the city is quite magnificent...
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And the nearby Palacio de Bellas Artes is a stunning building that hosts cultural events including music, dance and opera....
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There are so many important buildings, museums and galleries in Mexico City that we will have difficulty getting to all of them in the next three days – but we will try. Here are a couple to begin with...
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This enormous triumphal arch in the Plaza de la Republica commemorates the revolution that lasted from 1910 to 1920 and radically reformed the government.
Whereas this gold plated winged goddess is called the Angel of Independence and celebrates Mexico's independence from Spain on September 16th 1810...
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Many of the shady tree lined boulevards and parks are filled with weekend markets and it seems that most of the twenty million locals, along with the many tourists, are out looking for a bargain ...
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The national museums, galleries and tourist sites, are free for Mexicans at the weekends, so there were long lines in some of the more popular places. Maybe things will be quieter by Monday and Tuesday.

Posted by Hawkson 17:44 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Fifty Shades of Grey

semi-overcast 26 °C

Lake Bacalar in Southern Mexico is renowned for its multi-hued crystal waters where, it is said, a keen eye can see seven distinct blues and up to fifty shades. Unfortunately we seem to have hit a dull patch and the sea and sky looked very similar to what we see at home at this time of the year – fifty shades of grey. James was disappointed so he rented a catamaran and sailed off in search of a bluer horizon....
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Luckily the sun eventually made an appearance and brightened the lakeshore palapas.
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And we got a glimpse of just how beautiful the lake could be...
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James is not the first member of the Hawkins clan to have sailed in this part of Caribbean. In the 16th century the English buccaneer, Admiral John Hawkins, captained a fleet of privateers that blockaded and intercepted Spanish treasure ships leaving Mexico with gold looted from the Mayans. This is one of the canons the Spaniards mounted on Fort San Felipe in Bacalar in order to stop Hawkins...
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It's a great hiding place for an iguana.

At the fort's museum we discovered that pirates were the bad guys who robbed to line their own pockets, while buccaneers were good guys because they robbed to line the king's pockets. But some of the bad guys were actually bad gals. Mary Mead, a fearless English cut-throat was eventually caught and hanged in Jamaica.
There are no cut-throats here today, we hope, but there are plenty of locals out to make a few bucks from the hordes of tourists. However, the people here are poor compared to their compatriots a few hundred kilometres north in the ritzy resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The roads are bad, the sidewalks broken and meagre thatched houses are common here...
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In Denmark our photos were often invaded by Biking Vikings and we've experienced similar problems here with Mounted Mexicans...
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However, bikes are not a luxury or an environmental statement here – they are a major form of transport. The streets teem with entrepreneurs offering all kinds of foods and services on wheels..
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Food of all kinds can be bought on the street in Mexico and the main highway through the small town of Pedro Antonio Santos is lined with stalls selling pineapples. This young woman was charging just a dollar each.
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We bought a couple of pineapples but it looks like this guy couldn't resist a bargain...
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Now we continue south to Panama, but we haven't finished with Mexico yet and will be back in a few weeks.

Posted by Hawkson 17:36 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

Blissful Adventures in Bacalar?

rain 24 °C

We've left Playa del Carmen, heading 300 kms south toward the Belize border, in search of the warm waters and the supposedly spectacular colours of Bacalar Lake. We had no trouble finding the town of Bacalar. It was impossible to miss the giant sign in the town plaza.
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But someone had stolen the sign from our lakeside hotel and no-one seemed to know where it was, (neither the sign nor the hotel). We found the hotel after an hour and a half, by which time the sky had turned black, the power had failed and a stinking sewage truck blocked the access road.
Authentic Mexican palapas with thatched roofs on the waterfront may look appealing on the travel brochure, but are not attractive in pouring rain, in the dark, with a sewage truck in the drive and giant transport trucks thundering past on the adjacent highway. Fortunately, the management quickly found us a very nice, quiet, dry, sweetly smelling place in town.

We never found the hotel sign but saw many others including this badly mangled one on the highway that says, “Don't damage signs.”
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The sun shone this morning and we set off for the Caribbean resort of Mahahual along a road that is so straight it can be driven blindfolded for 72 kms. And we arrived in Mahahual just in time for lunch and a downpour of biblical proportions...
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However, this heron didn't seem to mind the rain...
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We had planned on swimming in Mahahual until we saw this sign...
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But signs can be deceiving. For instance: Does this sign mean “Stop for robbers being chased by armed police” or “Only robbers and police may use this crossing.”?
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The sun came out eventually and brightened up the day for the thousands of passengers who had slipped ashore from this Caribbean cruise boat and found themselves marooned in soggy Mahahual...
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Once we had returned to Bacalar we visited the fortress of San Felipe in the centre of the town...
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It was built by the Spanish conquistadors in 1729 to fend off the British pirates who were based just along the coast in British Honduras (Belize today).

While we may be considered adventurous by some, we met a couple from Barcelona in Mahahual who are driving their RV from Florida to Patagonia, (via San Francisco), together with their two children aged 12 and 6. Eva and Don Juan sold up everything they had in Spain a year ago, shipped their RV to the states, and expect to take 7 years to drive to all the way to the end of the world in Ushuaia. This is Eva...
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While driving the full length of two continents in a cramped vehicle is perhaps a little risky, doing it with two teenage kids is downright suicidal. We wish them well.

Posted by Hawkson 15:15 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

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