Mexico City – Mexico, 2014

I returned to Mexico after a three year hiatus. I can’t believe it has been that long since I traveled the country with my friend Steve. It seems like only months had past with the memories so vivid.

I always wanted to return to Mexico one more time. It left a lasting impression on me. Okay, it’s no Canada but it does have it’s charm. Mexico City has stunning architecture, wonderful history, delicious cheap street food and friendly Mexicans even if it portrayed very differently in the media. I was excited to show and share my previous experience of Mexico City with my partner, which was her first time in Mexico.

We were fortunate we had my partners best friend for many years, currently residing in Mexico City, owning a petite boutique bed & breakfast known as Casa Hipodromo . Casa Hipodromo is a small B&B in the heart of Condesa. They seek to give their guests a warm and rich experience with their extensive list of knowledge of the city, they want to give their guests the experience to see Mexico City like a local. Check it out here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2323184

We stayed in Mexico City for three weeks which gave us the opportunity to divulge into the city and experience everything it had to offer. Downtown Mexico City is filled with historical buildings and landmarks from every epoch. It is also known as the City of Palaces, because of the large number of stately buildings, especially in the Centro. In addition, Mexico is the city with the largest number of museums in the world, with New York #2, London #3 and Toronto #4.

I have selected a few highlights of our trip that we enjoyed visiting and are definitely worth checking out if you have plans on exploring to Mexico City soon.

Laza de la Constitucion, commonly known as Zocalo located in centro, is one of the largest squares in the world, surrounded by historic buildings, including the City Hall and the Cathedral.

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La Catedral the biggest in the Americas. Containing many altars, its principle altar is made from solid gold.

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Angel de la Independencia or simply known as “El Angel” is a monument in Reforma Avenue and Florencia Street, near Zona Rosa. This monument celebrates Mexico’s independence in 1810.

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Coyoacán is a historic Colonial Arts district which was home to Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Diego Rivera, amongst others.

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Paseo de la Reforma known as Reform Avenue is a 12 km long grand avenue and park in Mexico City. The name commemorates the liberal reforms of Mexican President Benito Juarez.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes is located in centro. A concert hall and an arts center, it houses some of Mexico’s finest murals and the Art Deco interior is worth seeing alone.

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Mexico City is full of various plazas and parks scattered through every neighborhood, but the following are some of the biggest, prettiest, most interesting, or best-known.

Chapultepec Park is a large park of 6 km in the middle of the city which hosts many attractions, including the city zoo and several museums such as the Modern Art Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, the Natural History Museum and the National Museum also known as Castillo de Chapultepec.

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Parque Mexico and Parque España are two adjacent parks in the Colonia Condesa, which used to be part of a race track. Now they are popular for an evening stroll, and sometimes house outdoor exhibitions or concerts, and are surrounded by cool cafes and bars.

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Mexico is the city with the largest number of museums in the world, to name some of the most popular we visited:

National Museum of Anthropology Chapultepec is one of the best museums worldwide over, it was built in late 1960’s and designed by Pedro Ramírez Vazquez. It gathers the best collection of sculptures, jewels and handcrafts from ancient Mexican cultures, and could take many hours to see everything.

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 Museum of Modern Art Chapultepec.
Here you will find paintings from Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, as well as a sculpture garden.

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Day of the Dead (November 1-2). Mexico is one of the few countries in the world that celebrates this day (Dia de los Muertos), in which people go to the cemeteries to offer tribute to their departed ones, and decorate their graves with marigolds and bright colors. But this is not a sad celebration, on the contrary, people give family and friends candy treats in the shape of skulls and bones made of sugar and chocolate. Don’t miss a visit to a public market to find these delicacies, and watch out for the parades to and from the local cemeteries.

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A trip to Mexico City will not be complete without a visit to the ruins of Teotihuacan in the outskirts of the City. Teotihuacan, also known as the City of the Gods, is an archeological site 40 km northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacan is home to some of the largest ancient pyramids in the world. According to legend, it was here where the gods gathered to plan the creation of man.  Construction of Teotihuacan commenced around 300 BC, with the Pyramid of the Sun built by 150 BC. 150–450 AD.

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Mexico City is a place you come to explore, get educated and immerse yourself in the Mexican culture. Take in all of its wonderful history, architecture and cheap delicious food. If you want a relaxing holiday then I would not recommend it especially in hurricane season. You would need to head to Puerto Vallarta or La Cruz which fortunately for us is exactly where we headed next.

185Also you can check out my friends article on Mexico City from our experience three years earlier where we experienced drinking the local tradition, Pulqueria. https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/travel/americas/a/23980635/drinking-in-the-local-traditions/

Day of the Dead – Mexico City

From eerie water ways to spine-tingling cemeteries, SteveMcKenna www.stevemckenna.org takes in Mexico City’s macabre Day of the Dead celebrations

Black hair slicked back, white paint caking one side of his face, our ghoulish guide Gabriel is straining to conjure a spooky atmosphere as we float down the dark, silent, moon-lit canals of Xochimilco.

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Recalling an array of far-fetched local myths and legends about this old Aztec stomping ground, a spread of ‘floating’ allotments in the southern reaches of Mexico City, Gabriel shines his torch-light onto a patch of vegetation-matted land, rising from the water.

“It’s the Island of the Dolls,” he says, in hushed, whispery tones. “Can you see the dolls?”

Gradually, the plastic faces and bodies emerge, some hanging from tree branches,others seemingly glued to trunks. Several are painted and bejewelled. Many are decomposing, riven with spiders’ webs and capable, one suspects, of inducing nightmares.

Years ago, says Gabriel, a young girl drowned in the canals. A local resident,said to have been haunted by her ghost, tried to appease her spirit by collecting dolls and placing them on the island.

It turned into an obsession, halted only when the tormented soul himself drowned in the very same canals that the girl had died in. Since his death,others have continued to add to the doll family.

Leaving the macabre island behind, we mull over its peculiar history when, all of a sudden, out of the darkness, comes light. And noise. Dancing – and drinking – to brash Latin pop music, a dozen young Mexicans offer giggly waves, ‘holas’ and try to shake our hands, but almost fall overboard.

Like us, they’re in a trajinera, the colorfully and elaborately painted wooden gondolas that ply the waters of Xochimilco, which, in the old indigenous Nahuatl language, means ‘place of the flower fields’, on account of the gardens (dubbed chinampas) that have been tended to here for centuries.

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Gabriel says Xochimilco is the last remnant of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city of lakes and temples crushed by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century. The victors went on to reclaim land from the water and planted the seeds for modern-day Mexico City.

Xochimilco’s canals are busiest on day time weekends, when Mexican families,mariachi and marimba musicians and flower, food and drink sellers hog the trajineras.

Tonight, this UNESCO World Heritage listed sight proves to be an eerily entertaining place to kick-off our Day of the Dead experience.

In a country bulging with festivals and holy days, nothing is more enthusiastically embraced than this two-day event, where Mexican families gather to remember the lives of deceased loved ones.

Although it blends Catholic elements, the ritual dates back to pre-Hispanictimes and, as the boat-partying Mexicans showed, it’s far from being an entirely forlorn occasion.

From Xochimilco’s canals, we head to the neighbourhood’s main square, where an Aztec-style performance is in full flow. Amid the thumping of drums and clouds of smoke, men and women in traditional outfits and peacock-feather-studdedhead-wear dance and chant with impressive vigour.

As the noise builds to a crescendo, one warrior spins round and round. And just keeps going – and going. I feel dizzy watching him.

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I’d been a little apprehensive about visiting Xochimilco cemetery. Though curious about the family rituals, a part of me thought it was wrong to intrudeon people’s private grieving. But Gabriel assured us. “Some may not like outsiders being there, but most won’t mind. Some will be happy to talk to you and show you how they’re remembering their loved ones.”

Stalls laden with tacos, fries, cakes (notably pan de muerto, sugar-coated bread baked by the bucket loads this time of year) and drinks, including chilli-infused beer, line the entrance to the cemetery. The jovial atmosphere among vendors and customers seems more akin to that outside a football stadium on match day than a sombre burial place.

Inside the huge, sloping, tree and foot-path studded cemetery, the darkness isilluminated by whirls of candles and the cool air spiked with incense. It’s creepily fascinating. Beside marble graves and sarcophagi, some the size of chapels, families hunch together, shielding themselves from the cold with colourful blankets and shawls. Men in jipis (Panama-style hats), armed with shovels and pick-axes, douse fresh soil over coffins.

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While some groups are subdued and reflective, we see many smiles and hear much laughter. Outside one grave, a dozen people are drinking and cracking jokes. At another, a man is playing an acoustic guitar and singing.

A Day of the Dead tradition is to make decorative altars, laced with brightorange marigolds, and sprinkled with the favourite foods and beverages of thedeparted – as well as photos, letters and poems. The idea is to lure the deadsouls back to this world.

Seeing us lingering, a solitary, elderly man welcomes us over to the minichapel he’s minding. Dedicated to his late wife, it’s a work of art; a stunningly decorated spread of offerings, including skull-shaped candy, a pocket-sized La Catrina (an iconic lady skeleton) a devilish pumpkin, corn, fruit and tequila. We tell him it’s beautiful. He says we can take photos. When we say ‘gracias’, he nods and smiles. At the neighbouring grave, a man pipes up on a trumpet and plays a mariachi-infused tune.

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It’s 2am. Many folks will stay here all night (November 1) – and all day tomorrow, says Gabriel. Officially, November 1 is the day to remember dead children, with November 2 for deceased adults, but this isn’t strictly ad hered to.

The most dramatic place in Mexico to soak up Day of the Dead is on the islands and shores of Lake Patzcuaro, 200 kilometres west of Mexico City. Tens ofthousands of people – including an increasing number of foreign tourists – head there to watch the traditional vigils unfold.

However, we find the Mexican capital a thrilling place to be. The city’smultifarious barrios are studded with creative, garish decorations and there’s a tremendous buzz generated by the millions of people shuffling around – many in Halloween-style costumes.

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The following night, we join the hordes, dressed up as Cruella de Vil,Ghostface, Freddy Krueger and the like, along the Madero, the mansion, shop and church-lined stretch running between the Zocalo, the central plaza, and the fine arts palace.

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The street is so packed it takes five minutes to walk 50 metres, but the vibe is so fun and friendly, with not a hint of trouble, that we don’t complain.

It’s a pleasure to see a city more renowned internationally for crime, grime and pollution in such high spirits.

NB – This article is being re-published with the writers permission.

Mexico City – Federal District

I reckon we saw more scenery on the hours’ drive to the airport than we did the previous day on Luis’s excursion.

We took the short one hour flight fromTuxtla to Mexico City. It was either that or a bus ride which would have taken near on twenty hours; it was only about another 10 GBP to fly so that made our decision an easy one.

On arrival at the airport we had arranged to be picked up by staff from the hostel.  Once in the car hoping we were not just about to be kidnapped we headed to hostel Amigo located in City centre a few blocks away from the main square – the third largest in the world behind Beijing and Moscow.

We arrived on the 31st October which is when Halloween falls; the hostel was all decked out in the usual attire skeletons, pumpkins, spider’s cob webs etc. In North America and Mexico they really celebrate Halloween as a holiday and go all out to impress with the costumes. There was a party being held that evening in the hostel bar which we contemplated going to. The barman was a bit of a character called Jerry. A very loud Mexican that could be mistaken for English loud mouth yob, he had spent way too long working in this hostel and immersing himself within the English mentality and chav language.

We gave the party a miss and went to thesquare were a weird and wonderful exhibition was taking place. It included colourful creatures that were about 5 meters tall and near on 100 of them. We walked and got entwined for a while before heading to the main street which was a hub of activity. This is where we met a gorgeous police women who we noticed was staring in our direction with her colleague. They didn’t speak much English but we grabbed a photo or two – she is without doubt the most beautiful female policeofficer I have ever laid eyes on.

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Many Mexicans had dressed up in Halloween outfits for the event as well as day of the dead which is a national celebration in Mexico to mourn the death of loved ones over a two day period starting on November the 1st and concluding on the 2nd.The 1st is to remember the children and the 2nd for the adults that have passed away over the years.

This place was buzzing there must have beena good few thousand people walking up a mile or two stretch. Everyone was happy, laughing, taking photos and hanging out with friends and family. It was brilliant to witness. Many people wanted to take photos of us and we were not even dressed up though we kept the theme going of looking like aliens hence whythey would be interested.

The next day we did the usual breakfast,coffee and sightseeing such as the University – the largest in Latin America and the Olympic stadium. In the evening we headed to Xochimilco a suburb in the south of the city to celebrate Day of the Dead. We took a boat rideon the canals and then took a bus ride which got lost on numerous occasions to the cemetery.

There, the families of the deceased would perform certain rituals like clean the grave, cover it in flowers and light hundreds of candles. As well as this, they would also sit around the grave and tell stories celebrating the life of their loved one and play music. One group had a saxophone and guitar and were very happy making this moment a joyous occasion for the family and friends.

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It was a little weird to be intruding and taking photos – only once we had asked for permission with the family first of course. It seems to have become more of a tourist setting rather than be a place of respect for the families- but to be fair they were great with us.

I’m glad I went and experienced it but I wouldn’t do it again…….

The next evening we went back to the main strip again – this time it was packed. Rammed with well over 50,000 people all dressed up enjoying the festive spirit. It was a joy to be there and witness the carnival like atmosphere and great costumes including Edward Scissor handsand La Catrina – a skeleton dressed up as a women!

During our visit we saw numerous wonderful sight which included; Chapuchec Park, Museum of Anthropology, the National Palace and the Cathedral.

After four days in the centre we decided tohead out to a different part of the City and head for the more upmarket suburbof Condesa. It was here we met Yolanda a friend of a friend of Steve’s. She invited us to a house party in the ultra-sheik area of San Angel. She was a lovely girl who spoke excellent English.

We arrived at this house and in Mexican standards it was like a mansion. It was part of a gated community,about four stories high with a sound proof condo up the top with a balcony that looks over the City. There must have been about twenty or so people – all Mexican but nearly all of them spoke fluent English. We chatted and drank their free booze for the evening before getting a taxi back to the hostel.

The following day we met up with Yolanda and her friend who showed Steve and I around San Angel. It was like a town inside of a city. It was a very leafy place which had a much laid back atmosphere. This included lots of restaurants, cafes and Mariachi singingaround the small square. We grab a beer, bite to eat and enjoyed the vibrant neighbourhood.

In the evening we headed out in the very trendy Condesa area. We walked around for what seemed like an eternity trying to locate this British pub we had heard about – after about half an hour we found it but it didn’t live up to expectation so we moved on to an Irish bar.This place was heaving. It was what we had been looking for in terms of women and music but way too busy, you literally couldn’t move or hear anyone.

One of the best days I had was when we visited the pyramids on the outskirts of the City. Entrance cost 2.50 GBP. The pyramids were a joy to behold. The views from the top were glorious and anything I write can not do them justice.

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One of the last evenings in the City we went to a popular hang-out joint which sold the drink called Pulqueria. This was a drink made famous by the Aztecs but had been consumed long before then.It consisted of several fruits notably agave – the same plant they get tequila from. It was weird. I’m still unsure whether I like it or not, the texture was very stringy and if I’m honest it looked like seaman. The second one we tasted had a nut taste and was easier to drink but after two both of us had had more than enough!

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To some up my experience in Mexico City I would say it was way batter than expected. You hear all these stories in the media about how it’s one of the worst places in the world for drugs, violence and murders but we never once experienced any of these. Certain areas are not great but all cities have these – some areas you walk around you could literally be anywhere in the world they are that beautiful such as Condesa and San Angel which I’d compare to leafy Chiswick in London.

I am so glad I experienced this city and saw it with my own eyes and now have a proper opinion which I can pass onto anyone that is interested and actually wants to hear about the real Mexico Cityand not the biased views laid out by the British media always portraying the negative aspects of the place.

We left Mexico City and headed for Guanajuato. About four hours north of the Capital. I had heard great things about this colonial town from Steve which he had picked up along his travels in Europe over the summer.