A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Tikal - Lost in the Guatemalan Jungle

Our 600th blog post

sunny 30 °C

It is perhaps fitting that in this National Geographic planet our six hundredth blog entry should come from one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world...
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These are the ruins of the once great Mayan city of Tikal that were swallowed by the dense tropical jungles of Guatemala over a thousand years ago and only resurfaced when they were uncovered in the 1840's...
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Tikal city had some 3,000 buildings housing up to 90,000 inhabitants at one time, but the whole place was abandoned in the 10th century. Only a few of the buildings have been properly excavated from beneath a thousand years of tropical growth. Most are still hidden under massive tree covered mounds and will never see the light of day. Only a couple of the tallest buildings poke their heads above the canopy when viewed from the top of the 230 foot high Temple of the Serpent.
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The Temple of the Serpent in Tikal was the tallest building in all of the Americas until Christopher and his amigos arrived in 1492 and Spanish colonialism began. The temple may have shrunk a bit with age, (haven't we all), but it is still quite a climb on a hot sunny day.
Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya and some of the buildings are nearly two thousand five hundred years old. As far as important archaeological sites go, Tikal stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Machu Picchu, Chichén Itzá and the Great Pyramids of Giza . The temples in the central plaza are truly awesome.
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The ruins are set in the centre of a National Park that is home to a wide variety of animals including jaguars. We didn't spot one of the big cats but we found ourselves surrounded by an ecstatic group of birdwatchers who had spotted this very rare bird...
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They gave it a name – but with our minds exploding with historical facts we forgot it. Maybe you can help!

Visiting Tikal is neither an easy, nor inexpensive, experience. Some people take a ten hour bus trip from Guatemala city, but we flew into the the tiny community of Flores that sits on an island in Peten-itze Lake in the central highlands and took more than an hour's car ride to the site from there. The picturesque little town of tin-roofed houses and restaurants thrives on the fact that it is the only sizeable place within striking distance of the ruins....
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This is the pretty whitewashed church that sits on a hill in the centre of the island...
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When we look out of our hotel's window and watch the sun rising over languid Lake Peten-itze we reflect on the past eleven years of our worldly travels and are forced to question the sanity of humanity...
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The world is a beautiful place filled with kind and loving peoples who, for the most part, want only a reasonable share of life's riches. Here in this remote part of Central America the people are friendly and seem happy to see us. With such beauty it is difficult to believe that the Guatemalan economy is fueled by drug dealers, people smugglers and rampant corruption. We are only here for a few days but from what we have seen, Guatemala and the Guatemalan people deserve better. There is much to see here and we will return.

Posted by Hawkson 16:52 Archived in Guatemala Comments (3)

Costa Rica's Beauties and Beasts

semi-overcast 27 °C

The upside of staying in a cloud forest high in the mountains of Northern Costa Rica is that we are surrounded by the lushest vegetation and beautiful flowers like these imitation Christmas ornaments...
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...and this very unusual large white phallus. (No suggestions for its common name is required - thank you.)
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The downside of this watery world is that we are subjected to frequent torrential downpours and persistent clouds shrouding the mountains and the volcanoes – that's the nature of a tropical cloud forest. Although the sun shone at times, we never saw much of the Arenal volcano. However, the fertile slopes of this still active volcano are home to a myriad of creatures including these cute coati – South American raccoons...
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While they may look cute they are apparently pretty nippy and we were warned to keep clear. But the tropical forests of Costa Rica are home to many creatures that are far more dangerous than a coati and far more difficult to see. There are many poisonous snakes and spiders, but this tiny frog is the deadliest of all...
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This red strawberry poison dart frog is small enough to sit on the nail of your little finger, but it has enough venom to kill you and, possibly, a friend. Luckily for us this little creature was behind glass at a nature conservancy, but we wouldn't want to meet one in the wild. This cute little red-eyed tree frog, on the other hand, is not at all venomous and is the iconic amphibian of Costa Rica.
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These camouflaged little frogs are nocturnal hunters so they hide under leaves and keep there eyes shut during the day, but the flambouyant butterflies like this giant blue morpho are more than happy to show off their brilliant colours in the sunlight in order to attract a mate...
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There are some 1500 species of butterflies in Costa Rica and we have seen them everywhere. Photographing them in the wild has been a challenge, but at the Butterfly Conservancy near La Fortuna we were able to see them in all their glory. These tiny glass-winged butterflies are almost invisible in flight and can only be seen when the sun catches their gossamer wings.
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While these sara-longwings make a pretty scene against the colourful flowers.
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We have left behind the rain forests of Costa Rica as we head north to Guatemala to visit one of the many wonders of the ancient world. Our morning began with a three hour drive on some of the most tortuous mountain roads imaginable as we returned to San Jose and dropped off our rental car We then flew to Guatemala City and after a change of plane we flew on to the small town of Flores close to the Belize border. Meet us there in a couple of days and we will take you back to a time before Christopher Columbus 'found' this incredible place. Hasta pronto – See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 18:30 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (6)

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