Querido Mexico…

22 07 2009

I haven’t been anywhere in a while…and though I know I’ve eaten some great meals recently, I’ve neglected to take any photographs.  I’m in the mood to write, though, so what to do?  Dig up an old, yet-unrecorded trip, of course.  Two and a half years ago Chris and I spent a few days in Mexico City and had a wonderful time.  I’ve been a little saddened by the news about Mexico recently, and sometimes wonder if I’d be up for this same trip again, at least right now.  While most of the violence I read about is taking place along the border, I have also read about brazen instances of violence in the resort towns as well as Mexico City.  I wish this were not the case, because I had such a great time, never felt unsafe (at least not too unsafe), and Mexico City and I have unfinished business.

We arrived in Mexico City around 4pm on a Friday, 30 November 2007.  We hired a taxi from the airport (I had done a great deal of research on taxis — we only used Super Sitio or Servitaxis) and began the long, slow drive into the city.  I had read that the traffic in Mexico City was bad, and even with an expectation that it would be bad, I was amazed at just how bad it was.  It took us so long to get to our hotel — the Hotel Camino Real in the Polanco — that we only had time to run in, throw down our stuff, then walk briskly to the National Museum of Anthropology.  It was almost 6 by the time we finally got there.  The posted hours for the museum said that it would be open until 7; however, around 6:30 guards started walking around turning out lights and rounding everyone up.  Unfortunately, this left us with no choice but to run around trying to see as much as we could see in very little time.  I wish we could have spent hours there!  The collection of artifacts is amazing and I’m sure its so much more impressive when you can take the time to read about everything.

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Once we were officially kicked out, we walked back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner and stopped to take a look — it was a pretty cool-looking hotel.  The design was quite minimalist and modern.  Here are a few snapshots:

Entrance

Entrance

Fountain out front that changed water patterns

Fountain out front that changed water patterns

Standard bedroom

Standard bedroom

Loved the modern bathroom

Loved the modern bathroom

That night, we walked to La Fonda del Recuerdo for dinner.  The walk was somewhat long, but I enjoyed the stroll.  I don’t recall what we ate, but I do recall that we enjoyed ourselves and many tequilas y sangritas.  We both developed quite a taste for the Don Julio Reposado with a sangrita — so tasty.  The restaurant had a very festive atmosphere with jarochos performing traditional music, lots of tables full of happy people, and the odd (to me) roving people trying to sell you flowers and other items.  I’m still not sure what the deal was with the person who came to the table with a bird cage with little tiny birds in it…  After dinner we walked back in the chilly night air — this felt very good after a heavy meal and a few tequilas.  I have read that we should have taken a cab to and from the restaurant, but I enjoyed the walk and never felt unsafe.

The next morning we woke up super early and took a taxi to the bus station where we managed to get on a local bus out to Teotihuacan.  My ability to speak Spanish came in very handy here, although it was still a bit confusing and I was never 100% certain we were doing it right until we actually arrived at our destination about an hour later.  We were the only people on the bus going to Teotihuacan, so that also had me slightly worried that we were on the wrong bus…but, it all worked out.  The strangest thing happened on the way, though.  The sun was barely beginning to rise as we headed down the highway when suddenly the bus driver pulled maybe a foot or two to the side of the road (not out of the road — just barely to the side) and stopped…and got off.  People started looking around to see what was going on but no one seemed to know….all the while cars are just flying around us.  After a few minutes the driver got back on and we continued on our way.  Not really sure about that…this was one point on the trip where my imagination started running a bit wild.  But I guess he just needed to make a pit stop…or something.

When we got to Teotihuacan it was not yet open, so we had to stand around outside the (open) gates (I tried to walk in and was promptly sent back out).  Once it opened we headed in and started exploring — we were practically the only people there for a while.  It was simply beautiful.  The stairs up to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun were a challenge — the steps were tall and narrow — but the view from up top was profound.  The park abounds with interesting visual perspectives.  Here are some of my favorite shots from the day:

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After wandering around this amazing ancient archaeological site for a few hours we caught a bus back to the city.  The bus ride back was cool — since we were on a local bus, we made several stops in little towns along the way and I felt like I got a greater sense of what the towns are actually like. 

Once we made it back to the hotel we hopped on the subway and headed down to the Centro Artesanal crafts market to do some Christmas shopping.  First order of business, however, was lunch.  There were several stands serving all sorts of foods near the entrance to the market, and after walking through once we settled on a fairly crowded taco stand where we got perhaps our favorite meal of the trip.  We ordered a few varieties of tacos — I wasn’t always sure of the meats, so I just pointed to what looked good (and it was, indeed, good).  Our favorite taco, we agreed, was the taco chile relleno — delicious queso-filled chiles rellenos that the woman working the stand tossed back onto the hot grill, cut in half, and stuffed into delectable corn tortillas.  This was exactly what we were looking for — fantastic street food.

After lunch we headed into the market and found all kinds of goodies to bring home and give our family members for Christmas…everything from cheesy magnets to lucha libre t-shirts (vamos, Mil Máscaras!) to a beautiful mirror set in tin and more.  Chris bought me a gorgeous hand-carved and painted wooden platter for my birthday.  Since we had learned in Turkey that I absolutely HATE negotiating, we had a system — I identified the goods and Chris worked for the best price.

Next we headed to Chapultepec Park and strolled about for a couple of hours.  The people-watching was great and the park is really beautiful.  I’m a big fan of urban parks and Chapultepec goes down on my list of one of the best.  I managed not to take very many photos for some reason…but here are a few.

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That night I asked our hotel for a dinner recommendation and they sent us to La Hacienda de los Morales.  In retrospect, I’m a little disappointed in our dinner experience that night.  The building was beautiful but the atmosphere was a bit too fancy and it was not cheap.  I don’t mind paying more for food if it blows me away, but the food was just fine.  I wish we had found a local gem.  I would have preferred something a little more adventurous, more fun.  As this was our last dinner in Mexico City, I’m left feeling a bit unsatisfied.  This is the first of my unfinished business with Mexico City.

The next day, Sunday, we again woke up early and headed to the Zócalo  — a day I which I had been anticipating all weekend.  I could not wait to stroll the massive plaza and see the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Templo Mayor, and especially the National Palace to see the Diego Rivera murals.  When we arrived at the Zócalo, this is what we saw:

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Christmas had arrived…as had a massive ice skating rink filling the entire plaza, making it virtually impossible for me to get any perspective on the vastness of the square!  Sure, it was fun watching kids and grown-ups alike skate around and the decorations were very festive, but Chris had been telling me how cool the plaza is, how many different things I might see…and instead all I could see through the bleachers set up all around was an ice skating rink, and forget about getting a good perspective on the cathedral or the palace.  Oh well — it’s still beautiful and I’m thrilled to be here, and as it was a Sunday morning it was cool watching people heading in for mass.  I did manage to get a few shots that turned out okay:

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Our final stop for the day before we had to begin our return journey to the airport was to be the Palacio Nacional and the murals.  Although we had confirmed (through various written publications…) it would be open, when I approached the guard to go inside the told me it was closed today — no one could go in.  I fruitlessly tried to explain how I was flying home later that day and how I had come specifically on this day to see the murals — I’m not sure what I thought would happen, as if he’d say, oh, okay, well come on in for a special tour…  Needless to say, we did not get to go inside.  So, I had learned a few important lessons on this trip.  The first lesson is that posted hours in Mexico City are more like guidelines (I’m also thinking back to the Anthropology Museum).  The second lesson is that if it’s really important to see something, don’t save it for the very end of the trip!

Our quick trip to Mexico City was wonderful, but I know it was just a taste of what the city has to offer.  As I mentioned above, we have some unfinished business.  I want more time at the museum.  I want to see the Zócalo on a regular day.  I want to find better dinner spots.  And I want to see the murals!  Even with this unfinished business, though, I was instantly attracted to the sights, the colors, the sounds, the general festive and animated feeling I noticed everywhere we went.  Plus, it’s always a blast for me to travel somewhere where I can speak the language.  I know I’ll be back.

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