One of the first rules of travelling (according to more experienced types) is to never over-plan. You never know when you’ll like somewhere so much you’ll want to extend your stay. And Mexico City definitely fits that description – I wasn’t all that impressed on my first visit in 2007, and now it’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite cities.
Unfortunately circumstances have meant I have no choice – firstly, the nest 10 days or so are Semana Santa (Holy Week), one of the busiest holidays of the year here, when buses and hostels book up very quickly. Secondly, I have to make it back to Guadalajara by April 24th to meet up with my friends on their return from England, and in the meantime I want to make it all the way up north to the Copper Canyon. So I’ve had to plan the next three weeks carefully, and that means tomorrow is the time to leave.
But I’m not going to let a little thing like a premature departure defeat me – so today I was up at 7am to sightsee my arse off.
First stop: the Zocalo
The other day I read that one of the coolest experiences in Mexico City is the daily flag-raising ceremony in the Zocalo, the city’s main square. Every day at 8am, a troop of soldiers march out onto the square, including a marching band, and raise the ginormous Mexican flag that stands in the centre of the square. It’s quite an impressively OTT ceremony just to raise a flag, but the soldiers seem to enjoy it and afterwards they all march back to their barracks singing the rather jaunty national anthem. Well worth the early start, but no time to mess around…
Next stop: Teotihuacan
After a quick stop for some breakfast at the bus station, it was time for the hour-long bus ride to Teotihuacan, at the edge of the Valle de Mexico. It’s the site of a pre-Aztec city, and has the third biggest pyramid in the world (the biggest is also in Mexico, at Cholula, but is completely overgrown and has a catholic church sitting on top, so doesn’t even look like a pyramid). On arrival, I made the cardinal traveller sin of comparing to places I’ve already been – and first impressions were that it wasn’t as impressive as the jungle-clad Tikal in Guatemala. How wrong could I be – the main Pyramid, the Pyramid of the sun didn’t look all that from a distance. But up close – jesus it’s huuuuge. Quite how huge I realised when I climbed all 248 steps to the top in searing heat. Great view from the top though. One of the best bits of the experience was that about 90% of the visitors were Mexican school kids, clad in colourfulm tracksuits, running around having fun and trying to engage the foreigners in conversation, with their terrible English being about on par with my terrible Spanish. Still, with the midday sun getting hotter and hotter, and no shade to be had, it was time to move on…
Third stop: the basilica of Guadalupe
The Catholic church certainly used to know a thing or two about PR: struggling to convert the locals back in the early days of colonisation, they managed to rustle up a quick apparition of the Virgin Mary to a startled native. A few miracles later and bob’s yer uncle, the locals are happy to convert. To celebrate this happy occurence, they built a whopping great big basilica to facilitate pilgrimages. I was hoping for an all-out tack-fest like Fatima in Portugal. Instead it was surprisingly classy, and the new basilica (built to replace the old one that is slowly sinking into the soft soil) is actually quite impressive. Religious duties over (hey, even a lapsed catholic can’t resist the odd shrine), it was time to move on.
The Alameda & the Palacio de Bellas Artes
A quick bus ride took me down to the Alameda, a lovely little park full of the beautiful purple-flowering Jacaranda trees that you see everywhere in the city, where I cooled off for a while. On the edge of the park is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, with fantastic deco interiors, and a series of murals by Mexico’s most famous muralists (I think the city’s murals deserve a post of their own at some point), finest of all being one by Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera, showing how much cooler socialism is than capitalism. He had to redo it in Mexico after the original (commissioned by the Rockerfellers in New York) didn’t exactly meet American tastes, funnily enough. Next door to Bellas Artes is the Torre Latinoamericana, which was the tallest in Latin America when first built. It’s not anymore but it’s still my favourite building in the city.
Final stop: time for beer
After cramming about three days of sightseeing in one day, there was of course only one way to end it: with a nice cool Modelo Negra in the shade.
I will be very sad indeed to say goodbye to the city, it’s a fantastic place and not at all like the perception of it being dangerous. I’ll definitely be back.