I hadn’t said all I wanted to say about Mexico City but have fallen behind in my blogging (for good reason to come), so here is a concise note of …
What we should learn from Mexico
1.) Pride in our Art
This is the land of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera after all.
Frida even graces their 500 peso bill.
But I don’t only mean revering talented artists, but literally being proud of who we are in our art. This Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameida Park is literally set in one of Mexico City’s main stomping ground and contains most, if not all, of Mexico’s historic and noteworthy figures including his wife Frida, the fictional satirical La Calavera Catrina love her, worth a Wikipedia read on her own) and Leo Trotsky, who of course spent the last years of his exile here and must boast the most disconnected grave from his heritage surrounded by the aloes he collected during is stay.
Need I say more?
They’re cheap, fresh and everywhere.
There is the roughly five minute ritual of deciding what you want, watching the taco being prepared and main ingredients chopped and heated. OK, re-pan-fried.
Usually served here simply with onions and cilantro … Which only happens to be my favorite herb. Meant to be!
Why, oh why don’t we have more of there back home?
We all love a good cocktail bar. But what about one where it is old age tradition to serve snacks with your drinks. From the traditional …
To the modern (imagine chille/sour worm candied apple)
OK. All the food. Especially the Street Food.
Mexico City hasn’t lived up to most of its press.
Four days in and I haven’t been a victim of or seen any crime yet. People have been friendly and helpful. I haven’t been ripped off. It’s been ridiculously easy to get around. I, with my obviously western looks, haven’t even received any of the unwarranted male attention I was warned about on the Metro. I’m not quite sure what to make of this.
Mexico City is big (third largest city in the world) and it still feels like it can barely contain all it has to offer. In my first 24 hours here I stumbled upon students posing for prom pictures under a monument, an outdoor exercise class and bicycles taking over main roads, babies in their Sunday best on their way to baptisms and the sound checks for a free concert in the main Zocale (biggest town square in the America’s) competing with the Metropol Cathedral’s Sunday Mass service and bell ringing. While people might be concerned about crime here, it certainly hasn’t stopped a vibrant and busy street life.
Mexico City is loud and brash. Wherever you look there are people selling anything and everything – my best being encyclopedia’s in the metro car – and they’re usually yelling their offer. I’ve read that there are no or hardly any building regulations in the city, which is reflected in a complex mixture of building styles. I’m pretty sure that the city would make an excellent furled trip for architecture students wanting to see a little bit of everything. And yet certain neighborhoods have distinct character’s, which is not only miraculous but feels more reflective of its citizens past and present. One imagines body corporate meetings revolve more around tequila than car-park disputes.
I think I’ve walked more here then all my trip’s hiking combined and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of the few neighborhoods I’ve visited. But there are unexpected surprises that jump out at you. I’ve never seen such a high profusion of street art from murals in the metro stations to monuments and statues (you really must have had to do something wrong to avoid a statue). All the big international brands in one over-sized ode to a high street, right around the corner from a crowd of taco stands and roast chicken stalls down the road from the National Art Museum. There are also museums documenting and informing everything from history to archeology to popular culture to political cartoons to economics and even those all in Spanish still are really well presented. Imagine being a kid here. I might have even taken an interest in economics.
The stand out for my first day involved visiting an archeology museum of all things. It’s the archeology museum just off the main Zocale featuring the ruins of where they believe the Aztecs first built the structures on which the Spanish decided to build Mexico City. I’m quite a fan of ancient ruins in the middle of city’s. This one might not have been the prettiest but awed me for a couple of reasons. The Mexican government literally pulled down the colonial buildings on top of the Templo Mayo after their eventual discovery and the tour guides will explain how more runs are literally under the surrounding streets. The site is dramatically lorded over by the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral in what must be one of the most visual symbols of colonialism around the world. But with the help of earth quakes and volcanos, it looks like the Aztecs might be having the last laugh – the layers of ruins under the Centro Historico are literally pushing up several of its main buildings including the main cathedral (so if some buildings appear skew in my photo’s, it’s not just my photography). Sometimes history can be so cool!
Have I mentioned Mexico’s magico pueblos?
They’re towns around the country that the tourism board promises will give visitors a magical experience through their natural beauty, cultural riches or/and historical relevance.
Mexico boasts 83 so there are a lot of cobbled streets, old churches and taco stands to cover.
So you’ll forgive me if I’ve become a little fussy as to the town or city where I’m spending any of my precious 16 days in Mexico.
Historical and beautiful churches, quaint cobbling and architecture reminiscent of past centuries are obviously a given. Bustling markets with original local crafts sold by traditionally dressed old ladies is a basic. I quite like a bit of edge – usually in the form of some recent political movement not scared to throw around the word revolution – chucked in for good measure. And I’m not sure I could do without the entertaining guide book blurbs of old hero’s and tales to keep me entertained while wandering the easily-walkable streets.
A zocalo, or main town square, just isn’t a zocalo without an imposing cathedral, trees for shade and a statue or central kiosk of some kind. I prefer a high ratio of old people sitting and judging from the benches, surrounding coffee shops, shoe shining stations and newspaper stands. And there should always be some sort of live music floating through the air, maybe some soothing guitar strumming in the afternoon heat before becoming more up tempo for evening. If I could choose.
Seriously though, it’s impossible not to be swept away in one of Mexico’s traditional towns or city’s. I know Oaxaca is a bit of a cultural hub so this probably isn’t typical throughout the country, but it’s almost impossible to walk down the street without hearing someone play a musical instrument. Even something as simple as the candles left under the Oaxaca Cathedral Saints are touchingly, brightly decorated and fiercely Mexican.
So imagine my surprise to discover Oaxaca isn’t even on the list (I think it might be too big).
But it’s certainly has met the criteria and then some. And I guess there are 83 pretty good reasons to visit Mexico.
North, always north. This is how I regularly describe my travel plans to all who ask.
So what would make me change path, I hear you ask?
Turns out the answer would be Cancun, baby!
It represents the very evils of all-inclusive-resort, inauthentic tourism to most hippie / backpacker / hipster types. But I was game for something a little different, keen to hit a beach again and maybe check out a club or two (I have been remarkably well behaved on these travels, for the record). So I prepared to temporarily part with culture, taste and those know-it-all hippie / backpacker / hipster types and head back West to the Caribbean.
I admit to heading out for the night as soon as I got there.
Unfortunately / fortunately I don’t have any photos because I was advised against taking my camera out. So you’ll have to take my word on the neon-lit Lady Gaga’s, giant prawn-like alien figures and starship troopers running around and entertaining the packed dance floor. At this point I should also mention Cancun has some of the most dangerous, all-inclusive drinks specials I’ve ever come across. When you order a tequila, they bring you a bottle. In general, though, I found Cancun hell bent on insuring you have a good time with people falling over themselves to make sure you have everything you want, including and especially alcohol.
Luckily you’re in Mexico with the best hang over food in the world …
And these completely un-photoshopped but naturally unreal beaches to recover on.
So I only lasted a night in Cancun (and just at that!!). It’s definitely won’t be kind to your liver or wallet and it’s not the place to meet actual Mexicans.
But in its defense there is actually loads to see in the area, the service is excellent and it is one helluva lot of fun!
I’ve spent my weekend abusing Mexico’s easy-to-use bus system.
It’s a big country but comfortable buses, coupled with some good reading material and a trusty neck pillow, certainly go a long way in more ways than one.
Nice views don’t hurt either. And you know they’re good when you’re trying to snap some photos as you go!
I left the Chiapas, heading to the Yutacan province, world famous for its beaches.
But first stop: Merida. It’s known as the white city thanks to its use of light colored Mayan stone in the construction of several of its central, important buildings and churches.
But mostly after spending a while in idyllic, tourist towns, it was good to be in a typically busy, bustling Mexican town in all it’s crowded and chaotically cabled glory.
It’s also where I decided I would make the effort to get to Cancun after all, despite the cheese factor, gringo crowds and long distances. But more on that tommorrow.
I’m in Mexico. San Christobal de las Casis to be precise.
It’s another picturesque, cobble-streeted, historic town, this time in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
I’m not sure whether it’s the mountain air, autumn tones, quality of light or hippie/hipster vibe, but everything in this place seems to just be real-life instagrammed.
One of San Christobal’s unique features are the two cathedrals lording over the town from both the East and West lookout points. Climbing up each gives remarkable views of a bustling town, surrounding mountains and, of course, more churches (the Catholics were if nothing else persistent).
Yes, those are local boxers taking to the stairs down there. Cue Eye of the Tiger.
But the town is arguably better known for its revolutionary past. San Christobal was after all the city the Zapatista’s took over for a short while in 1994. They’re still around today just hidden up in the hills advocating non-violent resistance against the Mexican government and workers and indigenous rights. Apparently you can visit one of their beleclava’ed camps up in the hills after passing rigorous security tests and under strict instruction not to photograph members so that they can be identified. Guide books warn against exploring the mountains by yourself in case you hit upon signs threatening gringo’s and Mexicans.
Meanwhile in San Christobal, coffee shops and t-shirt retailers are only too happy to market their particular brand of revolutionary chic without any irony that this is attached to a movement against poverty and long time marginalization of the downtrodden local community.
In stead of the Zapa visit (which in stead I spent a long time reading about), I headed to check out some of the scenery the Chiapas is known for. Even though I somehow managed to book myself on an all Spanish tour, boating through the Sumidero Canyon was one of the most awe inspiring things I have done. Needless to say details are sketchy, but it was really good to get lost in the massive scale of some river and some cliff faces, somewhere in the south of Mexico