Mexico is a country proud of its history ...

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End May 31, 2004

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Saturday, December 28, 2002

Mexico is a country proud of its history and heritage but ruled by religion. Even loyal catholics from Europe must be overwhelmed by the number of churches, chapels and images there are of the Virgin Mary. I had my first taster of Mexico 6 years ago when I made an unscheduled stop in Mexico City. Because I wasn't planning on visiting I only stayed 4 days, I knew that I had to return and do it properly.

Started in the North on the border by taking a 35 hour bus ride (I wanted to ease into the journey) from Tijuana to Guadalajara. Dont remember much of the bus trip, apart from stopping every 3 hours and watching the movies and the checkpoints. In Mexico busses are occassionally stopped by the army and checked for drug traffickers and probably criminals. Finally arrived at Guadalajara and started the Mexican experience. This is where Tequila and Mariachi music originated from. Went to see one of Clemente Orozco's famous murals "Man of Fire" which he did Michaelangelo-style on the ceiling of a church. Guadalajara has also some great colonial buildings and a huge cathedral. This is something the Spanish conquistadors did well. Built huge imposing cathedrals, an attempt to replace the impressive pyramids and temples, most of which they demolished.
So after a few days in Guadalajara I headed south east to the megapolis which is Mexico City. This place is just too big. 23 million and rising. And the energy just drains you. Most people try and spend as little time as possible in this city because of crime or its too busy or whatever, but this is a mistake. This is the cradle of one of the greatest empires of the Americas...the Aztecs. It used to be the capital Tenochtitlan. An island city built in the middle of a lake. The Aztecs were more warlike than other indian cultures. However when Hernan Cortes made his way to Mexico with his conquisatdors, they welcomed him with open arms. You could call it great timing on Cortes's part or bad luck for the Aztecs. That year the Aztecs had predicted a god would be arriving to their land. Quite coincidentally the God had the same complexion as Cortes and a beard. So when Cortes arrived they assumed he was the God. Unfortunately for them he was a very ambitous and ruthless Spanish General and made alliances with their enemies (which he conquered later)to overthrow them. One story goes he was so determined to conquer these Indian cultures, after disembarking, he had the ships burnt so the soldiers knew there was no way back. They had to conquer and win. In the corporate world we would describe him as being very focused and having good man management skills. Anyway he did what he had to do, wiped out most of them and built huge cathedrals on top of demolished temples. Cue the missionaries to spread catholicism and New Spain had arrived. But they did build impressive structures. The cathedral in Mexico City is probably the biggest I have seen. And as if to counter this Spanish mark of imperialism a huge Mexican flag tries to obscure it in the middle of the square (again probably the biggest flag I have seen). And tucked to the side of the cathedral are the ruins of what used to be Templo Mayor - the main Aztec temple. You can feel all the history in Mexico City.
And it has great art and a great Anthropological museum. After a couple days I went to visit the ancient city of Teotihucuan just north of Mexico City. Built before the Aztecs (800 BC) this is home to the third largest pyramid in the world - Temple of the Sun.

After the mad energy of Mexico City I took a 2 hour bus journey (learnt my lesson on long bus trips by now) to the picturesque city of Puebla. Nearby was a town called Cholula. They say it has 365 churches - one built for every day of the year. Unfortunately I got bored at 358 so I cannot confirm this. Cholula also has what would have been the largest pyramid in the world had it been finished. It is an interesting ruin as they used a hill to be the foundations of the pyramid. you can actually walk in the hill as they built corridors and stairways inside it. Naturally there is now a pretty Spanish church on this hill. From here I saw the active volcano called Popocatepetl. Next to the volcano is a mountain called The Sleeping Woman. This is Popocatepetl's woman. He is apparrantly waiting for her to wake up. My time in Puebla allowed me to recharge and have some interesting conversations with my new Argentinian friend Gervasio. He used to be a lawyer (a family tradition) but realised after a few years that he was not meant for it. He now is a freelance translator with a passion for literature and music (esp. Beatles). We had many interesting conversations on Happiness being a warm gun - "You see Joey happiness is a paradox. When you are happy you are comfortable. Therefore it is a warm gun." Absolutely.

After Puebla I started to head for the Pacific beaches, but first stopping at Oaxaca to visit the famous Monte Alban city. The bus journey took us through valleys of cacti and when I arrived at Oaxaca I was not disappointed. The state of Oaxaca is where the drink called Mezcal comes from. This is probably more popular amoung Mexicans than Tequila. And this is where the worm was originally introduced. Oaxaca also prides itself on the local delicacy - chapulinas or fried grasshoppers. I must admit they were quite tasty, but the worm was more filling. Wait till you hear about the fish eyeballs...

Finally after being on the road for almost 2 months and badly needing a rest my new travel companion Paul (ex newspaper subeditor from NZ) and I headed to the palm strewn Pacific Beaches - Puerto Angel. Here we stayed in a Cabana right on the beach and ate fresh fish and drank Pina Coladas to molten sun sets. I also finally saw my first sunrise on the Pacific before heading out one morning with the local fisherman to bring in their catch. Unfortunately they only caught one fish, but on the boat ride out I saw turtle and manta rays somersaulting out of the water. I felt quite sorry for the fisherman so decided to purchase their entire catch for 7 dollars. Later we barbecued the fish and I was persuaded into eating one of the eyes, which was quite unappetising.

Pretty much half way through the Mexican trip and was looking forward to what would probably be the highlight - the Mayan route. This is a tour through the southernmost Mexican states of Chiapas and Yucatan taking in the Mayan temples. Started this off in the very colourful city of San Cristobol de las Casas. While staying here I visited two indigenous villages. The contrast between the two was interesting. Two Indian villages about 3 km from each other with different cultures. One village had changed their interpretation of catholicism so the men could practice polygamy. This town also did not strongly advocate education for children - hence you see children working in their parents shops or begging. In contrast the other town made sure their children were in the classroom and lived a more conservative lifestyle.

During the Mayan route I saw some amazing archaelogical sites. Palenque was the first and probably my favourite. White temples set in the lush green jungle. The setting really made this site. And some of the bas-reliefs were amusing, especially one of a god smoking a suspicious substance. So it seems that the Mayans liked to alter their perception too with the help of the plants. I also noticed Palenque had alot of butterflies floating about which added to the mystical charm. Later I visited the impressive temple of the Magician at Uxmal. This site also had its own new residents - huge iguanas. Then off to Chichen Itza, probably the biggest Mayan site in Mexico. This was impressive not only because of the main pyramid but also the perfectly preserved crypt inside which has some artefacts: a red jaguar throne and a green sacrificial statue.

Finally I arrived on the Caribbean coast at Tulum. This would be my final Mayan ruin and set against the turquiose waters it is quite a sight. Was now coming up to Christmas so what a better place to relax than a Cabana on the Caribbean. After 4 days of lethargy on the beaches I decided to get organised for my next destination. Cuba apparrantly is quite lively so will be making my way there for New Years....

Until next time wishing you all a Happy New Year !!!
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