10.08.2012 - 13.08.2012
We have visited Mexico before but that was way back in 2004 and it was only a day trip from the US down to Tijuana. We had a great time but really didn't feel we had done the country any justice. So as we were nearing the end of our time in South America we looked for different options to fit our time and budget. We really wanted to cover Central America but with less then 2 months we felt at our travel pace it would be too much to cover. Then a friend of ours did a trip with Intrepid and had a fantastic time. After looking at some of their trips on offer we found a basic trip that covered Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 46 days. With a 15% discount on offer and not having the stress of worrying about having to plan travel and accommodation we booked it in. The tour would be very basic using public transport and budget accommodation but it is what we are use to. I know there are lots of debates about individual travel versus tours but for us this option really worked out the best. It would allow us to fit in a highlights tour of Central America within our time and budget.
We flew into Mexico City from Havana. We arrived mid morning and after a well needed coffee and breakfast at the airport caught a taxi to our hotel in San Rafael. Exhausted after our trip we had an hours power nap before heading out to explore the city. We managed to navigate the Metro system and make our way into the city centre. On our way we stumbled upon a street stall selling tacos. Wow they were good! Little soft tortillas filled with deliciously succulent meat, a slice of grilled pineapple, onion, coriander and fresh salsa. What more could you ask for? They were only $6 pesos each so you could have 3 of them for under a £1. What a bargain!
We had an explore around the Centro Historico visiting the Cathedral Metropolitana, Zocalo main plaza and the surrounding streets. The weather then turned against us and it started pouring rain. We looked for somewhere to hide out and found Café de Tacuba. From the outside it didn't look like anything special but inside was a beautiful room with colourful tiles and paintings in art deco style. We took a seat and ordered some coffees and an apple tart and enjoyed them while a live Mariachi band played amongst the tables. Not a bad way to hide out from the rain. We then went back to the hotel for a bit before just grabbing some more street tacos from the stand just up the road for dinner.
On Saturday we were handing our key in at reception when we met Hosea an Australian guy who would be on our trip. So we headed out with him to explore more of the city. We headed into the Centro Historico again, stopping off for some breakfast tacos on the way. We then went back to Café de Tacuba for some coffees. We had a look at Templo Mayor which was just off the main plaza and was where the Aztecs first saw the eagle with a snake in its mouth (the symbol on the Mexican flag). For them this place was the centre of the universe until the Spanish Conquistadors demolished the temple and built a Catholic church on top of it (a very common practice across all of Latin America). We then decided to catch the Turibus around the city to be able to see most of the major sights in a day. We chose the typical route which started at the Zocalo and took us past Palacio de Belle Artes, Plaza de la República and Monumento la Revolución, plus many other sites.
When we reached Museo Nacional de Antropolgia we hopped off to explore the museum. I had read that it was an amazing museum and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Luckily we got free entrance as an archeological association was protesting about the commercialization of archeological sights in Mexico. The museum was packed with artifacts from across the country and across numerous cultures. It was really well presented even with outdoor recreations in jungle settings and so many wonderfully preserved items. After 1.5 hours we had just skimmed through most of it when we decided to catch the bus back around the rest of the circuit. The rest of the circuit took us through the upmarket area of Polanco.
On Saturday Mexico had won the Olympic gold medal in football against Brazil. This must of been a huge deal for them as the streets were packed with people celebrating, all decked out in national colours, honking horns, waving flags and partying. It was great to see but caused huge traffic chaos as major streets like la Reforma were closed off. So when we reached Zona Rosa we hopped off the bus and walked back to our hotel through all the crowds enjoying the atmosphere. There were plenty of food and drink vendors as well as many police just in case things got out of hand but everyone was very relaxed and there was no trouble at all.
That night we got to meet the rest of our group and our tour leader. We would be lead by David a Guatemalan and would have a mixed group of people from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Malta. After going through some formalities we set out for a walk down to Zona Rosa along la Reforma. Here we just had burgers for dinner before looking at the colourful nightlife. After some exploring we headed back to the hotel with a customary stop off at a taco stand.
On Sunday we headed out on a tour to Teotihuacán. Our first stop on the tour was at Plaza de las Tres Cultura which had Aztec temple ruins, a Spanish Catholic church and modern day buildings. It was interesting to see such a mix at one site. We then stopped off at Basilica de Guadalupe which is where the Virgin of Guadalupe painting is located. There are 3 churches located in the same square including Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe which at being able to house 40,000 people was an unbelievable sight to see. Belief in the virgin who appeared to indigenous Christian convert named Juan Diego in 1531 transposing her image on his cloak is extremely strong. Viewing the original painting or cloak is something that attracts thousands of pilgrims every day. Even with its capacity the church was packed with people and had queues out the door. There were people crawling on their knees towards the church as part of their pilgrimage. We entered through the side of the church and got to see the famous painting in which they say the paint floats on top of the material. To deal with the crowds they have put in moving walkways to keep the crowd flowing. With people breaking down in tears it was a very interesting glimpse into the devotion Mexicans have for religion.
We then drove to the site of Teotihuacán pyramids which were built between 100-600 AD by the Teotihuacán culture. It was also later used by the Aztecs as a ceremonial centre. The major drawcards here are the Pirámide del Sol(Pyramid of the Sun) and the Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). We started by climbing the Pyramid of the Moon which was quite a steep climb up but provided good views over the site. We then walked along Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) trying to dodge all the hawkers selling tacky souvenirs until we reach the huge Pyramid of the Sun. It is the worlds 3rd largest pyramid with its base 222m long and wide and 70m high. So we joined the queue to climb up the 248 steps to get to the top for an amazing view. After we had finished exploring we had a buffet lunch with some awesome blue corn tortillas before returning to Mexico City.
That night we went on a walk down to the Monumento a la Revolucion where we got to see the 'Yo soy 132' protest movement who are protesting against the results of the latest presidential elections. We continued to walk for about an hour ending up at Plaza Garibaldi which is a square filled with Mariachi bands. We grabbed dinner in the market next to the square and then hired a Mariachi band to play us a song. You can rent them per song or hire them for a birthday party of function right from the square. It was great to see all the different bands serenading people. We then headed back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep.
Mexico City is really fascinating. It is one of the biggest cities in the world with a population of 21 million. It is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, sinking even more then Venice. I guess when you build a city on a lake, it may start sinking at some point in the future. It makes some of the buildings a bit wonky but it does add character. Being such a big city there is plenty to see and do. We got just a taste with our time there but really loved it and will be back in the future.
Next stop the home of mole, Puebla!