Mexico City sits at an altitude of ~7,000ft, is the second most populated city in the world (after Tokyo, although some say the biggest) with ~20 million inhabitants, and sits in a shallow mountain bowl which traps all the pollution. It's supposed to take a couple of days to acclimatise to the altitude (I did notice myself huffing and puffing, and that's not because I’m unfit!), and I didn’t notice the pollution at all really, unlike big cities in China and India where you can’t see the sky or further than a mile away due to smog. Oh, and there’s the jetlag to contend with too. Everything you read about Mexico City shouts danger, danger, danger – it’s supposed to be one of the unsafest cities in the world. However, I stuck to the main touristy parts and didn’t really feel unsafe at all – plenty of dodgy-looking people but no worse than Bridgie on a Saturday night. Lots of police everywhere but no drug shoot-outs, no prostitutes or drug dealers on the street corners (I was obviously looking in the wrong places).
I stayed at the Hotel El Salvador, near the centre of the city. This was the tour group joining hotel and I’d booked 3 extra nights here at £15/night before joining my tour group on Friday evening. A taxi to the hotel cost ~£6, a bargain compared to normal airport transfers I pay for. The hotel was fine, the rooms clean, free Wifi, better than I was expecting. No-one in the hotel spoke much English so my currently limited Spanish came in very useful, especially when ordering a rum and coke in the restaurant (Cuba Libre!) and deciphering the meats – no cat, dog or rat for me tonight! Had chicken tacos (taco tubes filled with chicken, smothered in cream and cheese with guacamole and beany-type sauce), very delicious but probably very fattening, and a huge rum and coke for about £4.50 all in!
Mexico City was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, then a beautiful city in the middle of a lake traversed by causeways. The Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors, led by Cortes, in 1521. The then Aztec king, Montezuma, thought that Cortes was the god Quetzalcoatl reborn, so he invited him with offerings of gold, etc. Cortes thought "Happy days", took Montezuma hostage, then later killed him. The Aztec capital was destroyed and the modern day Mexico City built on the ruins during the Spanish rule.
On Wednesday morning I ventured out the Zocalo, a 15 minute walk from the hotel. This is the heart of Mexico City and one of the largest public squares in the world. The square is a popular place to hold demonstrations since it is next to government buildings and today, there seems to be some taxi drivers protesting about something as the whole place is full of hundreds of taxis.
One side of the Zocalo is taken up by the Palacio Nacional, residence of the Mexican Presidents. However, what I have come here to see are a series of massive, brilliantly coloured murals painted by Diego Rivera which depict the history of Mexico.
The Metropolitan Cathedral sits beside the Zocalo and is the largest church in Latin America. Building began in the 1500’s and continued over the next few centuries with various additions. Inside it is amazing, full of beautifully decorative chapels, altars, paintings and statues. It is supposed to be as impressive as the great cathedrals of Spain, France or Italy. Also, being built on soft, wet land, the Cathedral is tilting and needs to be propped up now and again!
Until a few decades ago, it was thought that the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had been destroyed completely. However, in 1978, the remains of the main ceremonial site of the city, the Templo Mayor, were unearthed near the Zocalo. At the end of every calendar cycle, a new temple was built over the old one; in this case, there are 7 temples stacked one on top of the other. You can see the tops of the some of the temples that have been unearthed. The museum next door houses items unearthed from the excavations, and there are models and reconstructions of the ancient city and Templo Mayor. Also, outside the Cathedral are glass panels in the ground through which you can see some of the ruins of the old city.
On Thursday, I paid a visit to the National Anthropological Museum, said to be one the greatest museums in the world. I successfully negotiated the Metro (M$3 for ANY single trip, ~15p) and then caught a pesero (small local minivan type bus) to the Museum. The Museum shows the history of Mexico from prehistoric times, highlighting the different cultures and races that inhabitied the country. There are thousands of exhibits - sculptures, statues, jewellery, sacrificial items, burial tombs, etc. I hired an audio guide and quickly whizzed through the Museum in a day, you could spend many days in here looking through the exhibits. There is also an upper floor devoted to the ethnography of the indigeous peoples of Mexico but I didn't have enough time for this.
On Friday, I had to switch rooms because this was tour joining day and I would now be sharing a room. However, hopefully the roach I found in my new room wasn't going to be my room-mate for the rest of the trip (I actually found two, one dead and one still twitching)! Maybe I'd better start getting used to this for the rest of trip!
I then paid a visit to the Torres Latinoamerica which used to be the highest building in Mexico City. There is an observation deck on the 42nd floor for excellent views of the smog-infested city. I also visited the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes. The inside is extremely extravagent, full of spectacular lighting, huge friezes, and stylised masks. Later on, made another visit to the Zocalo where there were some protestors dressed up as Aztecs who decided to go dancing in the street and hold up 6 lanes of traffic.
Met the rest of the group this evening, I'm the only Brit, there are 2 Swiss, the tour leader is American, the rest are Aussies! We've got a 6.40am start tomorrow morning leaving Mexico City so more in the next instalment in a few days time!
The next leg of my round the world adventure starts with a very long day travelling! A 3½ hour coach ride from Bridgwater to Heathrow, a 1 hour flight to Amsterdam, then an 11 hour flight to Mexico City. Left Bridgwater at 1.30am, arrived Mexico City at ~6.30pm the same day so ~24 hours travelling including all the waiting for connections (Mexico is 7 hours behind UK time).