Where do I even begin...let's start at the beginning. Long, long ago (ok, maybe just a couple weeks ago) in a land far, far away called the OC we were sharing our then tentative travel plans with Susie's aunt Tere. She is from Mexico City and comes back every summer (and then some) to spend time with her family here. She is also a school teacher, which makes the annual pilgrimage all the more feasible. Well, turns out she was going to be in Mexico City (hereafter referred to as "El D.F.") during the same timeframe we were making our way through here. Being the typical hospitable and inviting Mexican that we all are, she invited us to stay at her mom's house in the city and even volunteered to show us the way around the city (ie., avoid getting: pick-pocketed, robbed, late-20 something-napped, etc.)
. We were more than happy to have a local show us the ropes, especially since it's easy to get lost in this city of more than 20 million!!
I had never been to El D.F. except for an overnight lay-over. Susie had been here before but back in 1990, a lifetime ago so she was due a refresher.
Sidenote: On the bus from Morelia to El D.F. they showed the most retarded movie ever "Heaven". Has anyone seen this movie?? If you haven't, don't! It stars Cate Blanchett and Giovani Ribisi (Phoebe's slow brother from that little show called Friends). Most of it is in Italian (but it's an American film, go figure). It takes place in Italy and was so slow and tedious with an absurd ending that put the mediocre beginning and middle part of the movie to shame, if that is even possible. I'm SURE it was never released in the states as it didn't even merit a direct to video release. Maybe they got a black market copy of the tape from China or something. Cate must've been on crack when she read the script and accepted the role. Sorry I digressed, I just want to make sure you all steer clear of this movie.
We got to El D.F. in the early afternoon and Tere and her uncle Oscar were already there to pick us up
. By far the largest of the bus stations we've encountered down here. It has everything you would ever need. We get to her mom's house and she has already cooked up a storm and prepared Susie's favorite Enchiladas en Salsa Verde. They hit the spot after a long bus ride made all the more tiring by a terrible movie (remind me to tell you about it someday) ; )
That night we decide to venture out and see the town and prove or displell all the myths you hear about El D.F. (see Footnotes at bottom).We took our first metro ride and found it easier to use and cleaner than most in Europe we've encountered (point number one in El D.F.'s favor). We went to the viewing platform of the Torre Latinoamericana, which was at one point the tallest building in Latin America. The view was amazing from up there since it had rained earlier in the day and the visibility was as far as the eye could see. We then headed to the Paseo de la Reforma (El D.F.'s version of the Champs Elysee) to the famous city landmark the Angel de Independencia and finally the trendy come touristy of late, Zona Rosa for some coffee and dessert. Half a day in the city and I already feel at home.
Day 2:Chapultepec and Museo de Antropologia
On our first full day in El D.F
. we headed out on our own (Tere had a prior commitment) to Chapultepec (Cha-pool-Teh-peck) which the city's central park. We visited the Castillo de Chapultepec which a catle at the top of a hill in the park where the Emperor Maximillian and his wife Carlota lived during Mexico's short lived French Occupation. Yeah, can you believe the Franch actually occupied as oppossed to WHERE occuppied? I was as surpised as you. No hard feelings against the French though as the city is littered with monuments, Paris style metro entrances, etc. gifted to Mexico by the French. Ok now who says El D.F. has smog? I think it's just a big lie propegated by Bush (Jr. and Sr.) to keep scared gringos from coming to this otherwise wonderful city. The panorama from this vantage point was awe-inspiring and I took plenty of pictures to disprove the myth that this city is plauged by chocking smog. The Museo de Anthrpologia was eqaully impressive with the most complete collection of Pre-Hispanic treasures ever assembled. for those of you who love ruins and this sort of thing, this is a must-see.
Day 3: El Tianguis and Part One of the Historic Center
On this day we went to the tianguis (swap meet) with Tere and her mom. It was interesting and nor much different than those back home, except with tasty food stalls. In the afternoon one of Tere's crazy cool relatives her Uncle Manuel picked us up and took us to the historic center
. People here are (rightfully so) very proud of their city and love to show people around. We went to the main plaza area calles El Zocalo which is surrounded by stately government buildings including the Palacio de Gobierno, the Catedral Metropolitana and other D.F. government budildings. The Palacio de Gobierno has one of the most impressive murals I have ever seen by Diego Rivera which chronicles the history of Mexico from pre-hispanic times through the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and beyond. Our tour guide was so cool that he even got us last minute access to the priavte chamber where former presidents and met with congress to drwa the course of the country. That would've been the highlight of the day only that we got back to the Zocalo in time to see the lowering of the HUGE Mexican flag with full military regalia and ceremony. It was interesting to see all the people in the Zocalo stop what they were doing to pay their respects to the flag.
Day 4: Teotihuacan (Teh-O-Tea-Wha-Khan)
This day we also headed out on our own the the pyramids of Teotihuacan north of the city. Before I go any further, let me take this moment to confess a truly humbling moment. If you recall in the original entry with the tentative itinerary (which by the way has changed substantially) I wrote that Teotihuacan was an Aztec ruins site
. Well you will have to excuse my Mexican pre-hispanic ignorance (prior to this trip that is) as this is NOT an Aztec site, but one that belonged to a civilization which existed centuries before the Aztecs, but developed one of the earliest and most developed civilizations this hemisphere has ever seen. I knew this trip would be educational ; ) I never cease to be amazed by the precision with which these ancient civilizations built these impressive monuments. The two large pyramids were as impressive as any I've ever seen and we climbed them both: La piramide del Sol and La Piramide de la Luna. I can't even describe what it feels like to walk amongst ruins and structures millenia old. It makes you question what will remain of our own existence and civilization thousands of years from now (hopefully this travel log!! ; ) We had lunch at this restaurant which is inside a cave near the ruins (thanks again Lonely Planet for the suggestion) which was pretty cool (literally, at least 10 degrees cooler than outside).
Day 5: Part Two of Historic Center
Since we got to the Historic Center kind of late the other day we had to go back and finish seeing the Palacio de Gobierno, the Temple Mayor and the other sights. We started off with the section of the Palacio that is where Benito Juarez lived (one of the greatest Mexican presidents and the only one of Indigenous descent). We even walked in the room where they said he died of angina something or other, but like most things in Mexico some believe that is the "official" story and that he was really poisoned by the opposition. We then visited the Templo Mayor which are mor recently discovered Aztec ruins in the heart of the historic center. Apparently some utilities workers were digging circa 1978 and found some ruins, go figure
. Once they dug a bit deeper they realized they had found the remains of the main temple of the city of Tenochtitlan, the city Cortez found where present day D.F. stands. It seems most of the temple and adjoining structures were demolished and the stoned used to pave the present-day Zocalo and build the Catedral. What little remains is still a sight to see as well as the adjoining museum. We then went ans saw more Diego Rivera murals and then went to Frida Kahlo's house (La Casa Azul) in the Coyoacan (Co-yo-a-khan) disitrict of the city. They didn't have many of her most famous painting there, but they did have a lot of her personal affects, inlcuding the bed where she painted the last couple years of her life, some of her iron corsets, and other personal belongings.
Day 6: Xochimilco (Zo-chee-Meel-Koh)
Since this was on a Saturday, Tere's family all got together and decided to take us on a trip to the Aztec canals of Xochimilco. Tere's mom called it the Venice of Mexico. Although, not as grand it was every bit an original from the Mariachis's floating by to the crazy food market (more to come on that later). Before we got on the colorful boats we had to get food at the food market nearby. As soon as we got there all the vendors (at least 20 of them) started yelling, no screaming at us to get our attention
. They all waved samplesd of whatever they were selling from their stalls and screamed at us to drown out their neighbor. It was hilarious because when they try to get your attention they try to yell out something about you to identify you (since they obviously doin't know your name). Well, Susie had just bought some sliced cucumber with lime juice and chili so all the vendors started calling her the "la Seņora de los Pepinos!". You can only imagince the reaction by Tere's family when they saw Susie turn beet red in response to being calle the "Lady of the Cucumber". We finally got some food and got on our colorful "gondola" that seats 30 and had a two-hour ride full of good food, even better tequila and lots of fun. Tere's family is a riot and the most hospitable group of people you could ever come across. On the way back home they took the scenic route to show us around the city a bit more.
Day 7: Basilica de Guadalupe and Palacio de Bellas Artes
On this our last day here in El D.F. we went to mass at the Basilica de Nuestra Seņora de Guadalupe, Mexico's patron virgin. Before we did that though I had to find a decent pair fo shoes for the Ballet Folklorico performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes we would be attending that evening (apparently a worn pair of Pumas or flip flops would not be "fitting", or so Susie thought)
. So we get to the Basilica (not really sure what the technical differences are between basilica, catedral, capilla, iglesia, etc. are) just in time for mass and low and behold who walks in accompanied by an army of Aztec warriors in full regalia and playing various instruments, but the Catholic priest!!! he was even wearing the typical feather headdress (sp?) of an Aztec priest/religious figure. This was a bizzare sight to say the least. As if that were't enough he proceeds to give half the mass in Nahuatl (Aztec language) and the entourage that accompanied him uponm entering chanted the responsorial psalm and performed other ritual and dances throughout the mass. It was an interesting experience; one I won't soon forget. That night we attend the Ballet Folklorico at the regal Palacio de Bellas Artes. Tere's cousin works there and got us in for free! See I told you they were a friendly clan! The performances were amazing and according to Susie (the resident expert on dance) these dancers had very good technique; the best she'd ever seen in a ballet of this sort. As we left we caught one of the dancers who even signed Tere's program and our CD! I took lots of video clips but I don't think anyone has been able to view them off this sight, so I will only post pics for now until someone confirms the video clips are viewable.
In summary, El D.F. was nothing like I imagined
. I think it gets an unwarranted bad wrap as we felt safe everywhere we went and at all times of the day. I'm not going to say that bad things don't happen to locals and visitors alike, but if you practice some common sense (ie., leave all the "ice" at home and refrain from benig bling-bling a la Puff Daddy) you should be as safe as in any other large city in the world. The smog was a non-issue. The first couple of days we had visibility that bested any typical day in LA and even the other days were no worse than your normal June gloom effect. The people were super friendly everywhere we went and were genuinely happy to see you interested in getting to know their city. The food was great, from the fancy schamnzy nouveau Mexican places to the many food stands throughout the city. Special shout out to the Huaraches (Hua-rah-chess)!! HUHM!! : )
On to Puebla....
This is going to be the longest entry ever as I have to capture all the goings-on of the past week in this great Metropolis.