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Beyond Words - Issue #33 Mexico City

Beyond Words - Issue #33 Mexico City
By Nandini Chakraborty • Issue #33 • View online
A week in Mexico City with day trips built in. A family holiday to celebrate my husband’s 50th. It could not have been better.

Saturday
UK to Mexico City, check in, dinner and turn in.
We flew British Airways from Heathrow, taking advantage of a direct flight to Mexico City. A 12-hour direct flight. The effects of COVID are still evident. A flight from the next gate was delayed because of a lack of staff. (We would later hear other tales of travel chaos in Heathrow and Manchester. I suppose we got lucky.)
Around one and a half hours before landing, the landscape below us changed giving us an indication of the scenery that would unfold in the next week. Well bordered farms punctuated by low hills gradually gave way to larger mountains, as if small wrinkles on the hem of fabric were being bunched up near the waist. Further on, the green folds were replaced by looming black volcanic origin forms, mountains rising straight from the flat ground, villages nestling in between. Arched bridges ran linking the mountains and hills and in one place ruins (?Aztec) spread out like a picture in an archaeology book.
And then we were over Mexico City. Colourful apartment blocks, residential areas all higgledy-piggeldy stretched into the foot of the surrounding hills. In a strange way, the scene reminded me of my hometown of Kolkata- unplanned, unorganised, crazily spread out and in all colours of the rainbow. Amidst this rose sparkling high rises. The whole area glowed in the sunset.
We touched down around 18:00, around 45 minutes ahead of schedule. We had filled in our landing forms online, but these were not accepted. The lady managing the queues gave us paper ones to fill in. Thankfully we were not sent to the back of the queue again. A fifteen-minute delay and we were at the immigration desk.
By 7 pm we were standing in front of a ticketing machine trying to work out what to buy. We ended up buying a metro card for 100 pesos (85 pesos credit on it). An information desk pointed us in the direction of the metro station (Terminal Aerea). The same card can be used for three people (you just touch it at the entrance to a metro station three times).
(While I’m talking about it, let me tell you about the metro here. We used it extensively. I had a pic of the map on my phone which we would refer to any time we needed to navigate our way. If you are someone used to a metro in a city like London/Paris, Mexico City is no problem at all. The card works on metro, metrobus and trams. There are no zones. Every journey on the metro, irrespective of time and distance costs 5 pesos. There can be any number of hopping from one line to the other once, one is in the system. The card is touched to the turnstile at the entrance once to let one person it. It can be used immediately again, being passed on to another person in the travelling party. The exiting turnstile at the final station one is using to exit overground, needs no checks.
There can be a lot of stairs to negotiate and getting from one line to the other can take quite a bit of walking. However, for someone reasonably fit and mobile, taxis can be avoided altogether.
Regarding safety- we had no issues. We are Kolkata people though and my husband and I have grown up battling crowded buses and metros. Yes, the usual caution is advised, keep note of mobile, wallet, bag, valuables. However, at office times during the week, the metro can get crowded- I mean crushingly crowded. Again, something we have grown up with. But if you are not used to or find crowds of that extent disturbing, the metro here is not for you.
We were very impressed with the extent of police/security presence. On one evening, when a line had got unnaturally crowded due to a delayed train, in fact so much so that we could not get out at our designated stop and had to go further forward and then take a train two stops backward, there were police managing crowds in the station very efficiently.
Be aware that there might occasionally be delays. So, if you are taking the metro back to the airport, do keep some buffer time. If you are not comfortable, just call an Uber.)
So back to the metro station. Since it was our first time, we did get some help from the staff in trying to work out how to get to Bellas Artes. Our route worked out to be one stop to Oceana, Oceana to Garibaldi and finally Garibaldi to Bellas Artes.
I had marked Bellas Artes as the nearest landmark to our apartment. We would later realise that Juarez was the nearest station.
However, for now, we emerged right near the impressive Palacio de Bellas artes, the sharp whiteness of its walls contrasting against the orange, yellow, black domed roof, a picture which graces any article on Mexico City. It takes the breath away, that first moment of looking at something in reality, after all those guidebooks, articles and YouTube vlogs. Our short walk took us through the throbbing crowds, food stalls, colourful street shops on Avenue Juarez, running parallel to the edge of Alameda Central Parque. There were several spots where people were dancing to live music. One of these bands played every evening throughout the week. There were other street performers.
From Avenue Juarez, that beautiful street lined with jacaranda trees in full bloom and classical statues, we turned left to find:
Apartamento en el centro de la ciudad de México
Revillagigedo #18 Torre II Norte. Dept 3N Col. Centro Del. Cuauhtemoc
06000 Mexico City
Mexico
Our home for the next six nights. Our host met us there as planned and we checked into the apartment around 9 pm.
Taqueria el Caifan, Balderas 34, Colonia Centro, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico was our place for dinner. A short 3-minute walk from the apartment (fantastic location it was!). We chose huaraches with vegetarian, pork and chicken toppings, along with a guacamole starter. It was a very full meal reasonably priced.
The mural on the wall of the restaurant was a basket of food bursting with colour. Food is a big part of the Mexican experience. One slight word of caution though, it is not an easy city for non-meat eaters. The city’s famous street food was for us to savour from a distance as my daughter is pescatarian and on a family holiday like this, we did not want to be eating separately. So, we mostly found reasonable restaurants. I wonder how much more difficult it would be for a vegan. Everything my daughter ordered was smothered in cheese and/or avocado.
On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at a grocery store to buy a 5L bottle of water for 25 pesos! We also bought coffee, milk, and a sim card. The sim card cost 50 pesos and gave a weeks’ worth of unlimited calls and texts to Mexico and the States and 500 MB of data. Use of social media was also unlimited.
Thoroughly jet lagged and thoroughly satisfied with our first few hours in Mexico City, we were more than ready for bed.
Sunday
Xochimilco
A Sunday. The day when many museums are free but at the cost of negotiating crowds. It was also the only day we could visit Xochimilco, sail through its famous canals. After deliberating over coffee, we decided Xochimilco it would be.
A local sim and our daughter’s Spanish, we organised a private 4 hour tour for ourselves starting at 1 pm for 2000 pesos (500 extra for translation to English). It might be steep compared to taking a brief sail through other parts of Xochimilco, definitely more pricey than taking seats within a boat of 16 maybe, but it was worth it. Ruta del alojote (https://en.rutadelajolote.org/) were our organisers for the day. We agreed to meet our boat and guide at 1 pm at the waterfront, which was slightly further from the main site where people were boarding the trajineras (those colourful gondolos in bright yellow, red, green, and blue which sail these waters). The location was texted to us. The organisers kindly agreed to take our payment in cash on the site, trusting our word that we would turn up.
It was around 10:30 am that we managed to get out (a 6-hour jet lag is not easy to manage in a day.) We walked through Avenue Juarez again, this time the jacaranda trees resplendent in the sun. We passed Palacio Bellas artes on our left and crossed the road on to Av. Franscesco I Madero. A number of larger streets run between the green rectangle of Alameda Central and Zocalo the main historic square of Mexico City. The Av. Francesco I Madero, opens straight into the square, officially called Plaza de la Constitución. This road is smaller pedestrian access only. Gorgeous buildings tower over its polished tiles. Casa de los Azelujos, on the corner of the smaller lane called Condessa where it meets the Av. Francesca I Madero, is covered with bright blue tiles.
The Zocalo takes your breath away. Hemmed by the Metropolitan Cathedral, Palacio National; the Templo Mayor in a corner, other large hotels and shops finishing on all sides, a large Mexican flag swaying in the wind right at its centre, this centre is like the heart of Mexico City in many aspects. The bells of the Cathedral were ringing deeply as several people changed into Aztec finery in front of it, the sound of conch shells and drums mingling with bells and chanting.
We found a tiny café selling tacos and juices, to have breakfast in. The cathedral loomed behind us, and the ruins of Templo Mayor peeked out on our right. We ordered guava juice, tacos with chicken for hubby and me, and chilaquiles with a topping of sunny eggs for my daughter. This is the first time I have had soft tacos. Tiny double layered flatbreads, softly fried and topped with shredded spiced chicken. Served with the usual green sauce, red sauce and chilli/onion/tomato salsa. (Tacos were to become my staple in this trip! I could not help it. I loved them in preference to all the other flatbreads. One of our guides was to tell us, most Mexican food is a variation of a flatbread, meat, cheese and chopped vegetables, wrapped in different ways.)
As we had breakfast, the Aztec festivities were gathering pace. More people were arriving, wooden ankle beads were being wrapped around, various musical instruments were played, the deep trumpeting of the conch shell piercing through the ruckus. Many participants made themselves comfortable on the ground, lounging against walls and benches, polishing feathers on wide arched multicoloured headdresses. Others were queuing up for Aztec treatment. They would stand with their arms stretched out by their sides as Aztec Shamans dusted them lightly all over with brooms of herbs, swirled the smoke of heavy incense around them, all the time blowing conch shells and chanting. In the background the bells of the Metropolitan Cathedral kept tolling.
Around 11:30 we set off for Xochimilco. First, we took the metro from Zocalo to Tasquena. From Tasquena we took the Bus number 81 to Xochimilco (the bus stand is sprawling with no marked bays. We had to ask around until someone pointed out the Xochimilco bus. This is a local one which does not take a metrocard. You pay the driver in cash. It was around 7 pesos per person), using google maps to make out where we had to get off, to find our boarding spot for the Xochimilco canal cruise. On the way, we saw a glimpse of the canals, lined with numerous trajineras, flat bottomed boats, brightly coloured in yellow, red, green, and blue. The entire set up has a feel of the gondolas on the Venice channels. Only the trajineras are roofed over and have benches and tables underneath them. Also, the atmosphere is more family orientated. The Xochimilco trajineras ply only during weekends and are a family past time for locals.
We made it just in time, as promised at 1 pm. Our guide Adolpho, and helmsman were ready. It was a more secluded spot and we appeared to be the only tourists.
The trip started with an offering to the gods of the water and the five directions in Nahuatl (pronounced ‘Nawaat’), the ancient language of the Aztecs which is seeing a revival. Catholicism has not wiped out the old religion and both practices survive in parallel as Adolpho explained. He took out a flute, maracas, and a string of shells to accompany his chanting and we were invited to join in. the fifth direction, by the way is within oneself. Female spirts are more powerful. Women can hear her but men see her. More men drown in the Xochimilco.
Adolpho told us that the canal we were starting out on was one of the largest, called the Apatlaco. He explained the way of life here. The Xochimilco tribe were here earlier than the Aztecs, who were the last to appear in the area. Till now, the canals of Xochimilco provide water and food to Mexico city. The Xochimilco tribe unsurprisingly cultivators who provided food for the more warrior like Aztecs.
The area was originally a vast lake. Man-made islands called chinampas were made from river mud, held together with the roots of awehote trees, which are water laden. The chinampas were previously floating but have subsequently been fixed. The islands have cut the lake into the series of larger and smaller canal lanes which now characterize Xochimilco. We stopped at one of the chinampas where Adolpho explained the old cultivation techniques still used there. Dried cobs of corn were left at the corners of the island in trees as offerings to spirits.
Mountains surround the lake, the hazy outlines of volcanoes shaping out the horizon. Somewhere in the north, a cathedral is built over the remains of an old Aztec temple where a Nahuatl Goddess with a skirt of snakes was once worshipped. The Virgin in the cathedral combines elements of both the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Goddess.
The western side of the Xochimilco system where we had started off is the ecological reserve. More farms, animals, ducks but less people and less trajineras. The eastern side is the ecological reserve, more lively, commercialised, with parks and picnic spots on its banks. As we entered the eastern side, we saw more boats with families and food and music. The banks had children playing and picnics going on.
In all that it produces, Xochimilco also produces cempasuchitl, bright orange-yellow flowers used in the rituals of the Day of the Dead. The farming takes place in July/August and flowers in October. It is also called the ‘flower of the twenty petals’ or Aztec marigold.
One of the most intriguing and undoubtedly spooky stops of the cruise was the Island of the Dolls. I really did not know what to expect here, as I had not read up about it (nor seen a movie by the same name). Hence the island took me by surprise or rather shock. There are lines of dolls, mostly broken and missing parts, hanging in scores, full of cobwebs and dust. They line the pier, criss-cross the island and cover walls of every wooden hut in there. Inside the main hut where we were told the history of the island, more dolls line every shelf and hang off the walls. There are also parts- legs, arms, dismembered heads. All covered with the dust of times and lit in twilight even as the sun shone outside.
The man who set up this island was a farmer called Julian. A young girl out on a cruise with her parents apparently drowned near here. Then the crops started failing. Julian dedicated a doll he had found abandoned on the streets to her. Then the crops started flourishing again. The tradition continued. More dolls were added. They had to be found or donated, never bought. The most important doll, in the centre of the main hut is Augustina. Myths abound about the dolls heard whispering, body parts moving on their own. It is a creepy place, no debate there. Some dolls have been strung up by their necks, others crushed in places and painted red, like bleeding wounds.
Our final stop of the day was a chinampa where a family have set up a reserve for the Mexican axolotl. The Xochimilco salamanders are unique. They can regenerate almost any part of their body. Also, they reproduce before undergoing complete metamorphosis. Hence, they keep their external gills and tadpole like dorsal fin but can give birth to young all the same.
We also had a taste of Xochimilco’s floating food stalls. We bought a tall glass of chopped mango, sprinkled with chilli powder from another boat that sailed by.
Our four-hour cruise finished with Adolpho treating us to a Mexican song as we approached the pier again.
Our organisers were worried about us taking public transport back. We assured them that we would be fine and fine we were! We traipsed back to the main road where we got the 81 just in time. Back to Tasquena metro, we found our way back to Zocalo.
Back at Zocalo, the dances had come to a climax. All the Aztec worshippers were collected in a square and danced in rhythm to all four directions. Behind them in a marquee, rows of lighted lamps and incense added a headiness to the continued chanting.
After they were done, they quickly pulled on jeans over their waistbands and then it was selfie time!
The Zocalo is a place to wander around. To absorb the atmosphere and vibes (excuse the cliché). It was dark when we left, the main buildings illuminated in many colours and the horizon pierced by the striking Torre Latinoamericana, displaying the time and date, as we strolled back in the direction of Alameda Central.
We found a table in MATA Comedor Cantina, Filomeno Mata 18 Loc. 6 y 7 Altos, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, 06000 Ciudad de México. And we ordered, you guessed it, more tacos! Beef, shrimp, and fish. We found churro stalls on the way, to satisfy our sweet cravings. Sold for 15 pesos a piece, chocolate, vanilla, or caramel sauce would be injected into the sugar dusted quills.
It was late, but Avenue Juarez was still alive with lots of dancing to live music still making the streets throb.
Monday
Condessa, Roma, Coyoacán
We had contemplated going for a day trip on this Monday as most museums would be closed. However, looking at getting to Puebla in time for it to be a decent day trip, meant a 7 15 am start from the apartment. We needed some more sleep. So, we chickened out and said one more day in the city itself, to relax and get over the jet lag, one more day.
We found a bus to Condessa opposite Mercado de san Juan, operated by Camion, towards Metro Tacubaya, costing 7 pesos. It winded through various neighbourhoods, around Parque Espana, and dropped us on Avenue Tamaulipas. We found a café for breakfast. Coffee with quesadillas it was.
Condessa and Roma have the reputation of being ‘leafy neighbourhoods’ with an artsy vibe different from the historic centre. Condessa was quieter, more tranquil, greener. We had signed up to a walking tour of Condessa and Roma, which started from Roma. So, we ended up retracing our route to reach the junction of Puebla and Av Cuauhtemoc, almost opposite the Cuauhtemoc stop for metrobus 3. There were still a few minutes to go till the tour, enough to get fresh juices from nearby stalls and then start our two-hour walk.
It was an interesting tour, but to be honest if the museums were open this day, we would have gone for that. Some of the places we winded through were  Plaza La Romita and its church, one of the oldest places in the area, Plaza Río de Janeiro, with its David in Fountain sculpture and dog training school. In fact, we also saw dogs being taken around in prams. We finished at Parque Espana with its Fountain of the jugs. We saw houses in European style, delicate wrought iron verandahs and windows looking over the streets. However, the most striking thing our guide pointed out was the evidence that the city was sinking. He brought us to a road crossing, where we found windows sunk to the level of the street and entrances half buried into the ground. There are also alarms fitted to lampposts which go off 30 seconds before a major quake is due. There are practice runs at certain times of the year. Through our stay, we would look out for sunken houses and identify the alarms.
We finished near the Fountain of the Jugs, which looks out to a lovely jacaranda lined street- one of the many we would see.
Then it was time for lunch, where I tried tortilla soup. And then we made our way to Coyoacán, the neighbourhood that boasts the Frida Kahlo Museum. We took the metro again and emerged in a street of deeply bright houses. Not pastel, not rainbow, but indigo/cobalt blue, yellow ochre, and terracotta red. Frida Kahlo Museum, the house where she grew up and lived, is cobalt blue.
We took a break at a park where children were playing, and parents chatted nearby. A quiet Monday afternoon. Then we decided to explore the nearby Mercado de Coyoacán. The market has a wide mix of food- fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish alongside artwork. We bought a terracotta statue of a woman skeleton holding a rooster. She is keeping company with the Mexican Jaguar, Turkish porcelain fish and the Bastar dokra peacock as I write this.
Tuesday
Puebla and Cholula
Now rested and feeling a bit more in sync with the time, we made an early start. We took Line 3 to Guerrero and then Line B to San Lazaro. A short walk from the exit of the metro is a huge sprawling bus station, TAPO (Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente, Calz. Ignacio Zaragoza 200, 10 de Mayo, Venustiano Carranza, 15290 Ciudad de México).
There are a number of bus companies which go to Puebla. We got the bus just past 8 am and got our return tickets for around 7 pm as well. Got a bit taken aback when asked for our passports, we were not expecting that. However, we managed with the photocopies we were carrying around which satisfied the lady at the ticket counter.
The ride was a comfortable and smooth two hours and a bit to Puebla bus station, Central de Autobuses Puebla. This is not within walking distance of the city. Just outside the bus station are several smaller local buses which carry passengers to either Puebla or Cholula taking around 30-40 minutes. We decided we would do Cholula first, then make our way to Puebla and finally back to the bus station before 7 pm.
The tiny local bus dropped us off near the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on its summit. This is the quintessential Cholula postcard picture. The pyramid looks like a hill as it is overgrown, the yellow ochre white bordered church on its top. The background volcano is however not visible in the late morning. Even on a clear hot day, the hazy outlines of volcanoes are visible on the horizon, but a view with snow capped toppings is possible only in the early morning. Opposite is the Frida Kahlo restaurant, its murals stretching out on its façade.
We began our uphill trek on tarmacked roads winding up to the gate of the archaeological site. The signboards are in English as well as Spanish and give a good overview of the site.
We exited at the opposite end of the site, from the entrance and then took the winding road up to the church. The church has an ornate interior but more notably, the views from the top are breath taking and worth spending some time for. The areas many churches dot the landscape and volcanoes make a hazy outline on the horizon.
We descended back to the main road and walked the short distance into the colourful town centre where we found a restaurant opposite the main plaza, squared off by immaculate white and terracotta red arches of a market and a matching church. Here we tried mole Poblano, a thick sauce with chocolate within its ingredients. The owner made a great show of thinking we were South Americans and was dramatically surprised to hear that we were of Indian origin. Well, he made an effort to impress, I’ll give him that.
We took a taxi to Puebla for around 150 pesos and were dropped off near the centre.
We had a list of ‘to see in Puebla in a day’ which we followed.
The Zocalo is a large leafy square with large fountains. Nearby is the Puebla Cathedral. An ornate library, Biblioteca Palafoxiana would not be out of place in a Harry Potter film. Puebla is a place to simply stroll around taking in the large colonial buildings, the bright colours and ornate borders, wrought iron frame verandahs and window frames with the European flavours. Multicoloured tiles and mosaics frame many of the buildings and parks. The Callejón de los Sapos is exceptionally pretty with its artisan shops and the deep coloured buildings we were coming to associate with the traditional look of the country. One of the main highlights was the Capilla del Rosario within Templo de Santo Domingo, a 17th century chapel dropping with gold from every inch. The extra 20 peso charge to enter the chapel is well worth it.
We finished our sightseeing with a stop to a churreria, where we indulged in coffee and chocolate smothered churros, accompanied by some traditional music!
Then we found the bus back to the Puebla Bus station. It took a winding route, but our co-passengers helped us to get down at the right place and we ran to get ours on time.
It was a long long day and we had dinner at a fast food joint before turning in.
Wednesday
Teotihuacan, Guadalupe
This was the big day. My husband’s 50th. We had deliberately kept Teotihuacan as a day we would remember.
We left early to reach Autobuses del Norte. Juarez to La Raza on line 3, then switched to line 5 and got off at Autobuses del Norte. The bus station is straight in front of the metro station exit, easy to navigate and I found it less confusing than Mexico Tapo the day before.
The ticket counters are spread just as one enters. Tickets for buses to Teotihuacan are sold from counter 8, need to ask for ‘Pyramides’. We bought return tickets. An hour and a half to the site, a pretty comfortable ride. Teotihuacan is easily done by public transport.
On the way, it is worth looking out for street sculptures and lovely murals decorating large stretches of the motorway. I managed to capture some of them on my mobile, but many flowed away before I could even get my camera out.
 The bus dropped us off near gate 2. There were absolutely no queues, and we were within the site in minutes. The entrance from gate 2 leads straight to the Pyramid of the Sun.
We entered around 10 am and took the bus back around 4:30 pm. For the kind of interest, we have in ancient sites, we could have spent even more time.
I used our ‘Rough guide to Mexico’ to take in Teotihuacan at our own pace. The main realisation as we were reading about the site, was that it was pre-Hispanic, mysterious, not an Aztec site. The Aztecs gave it its current name which means the city where men become Gods. But this is not its real name from antiquity, we will never know.
The ‘Avenue of the Dead’ runs like a spine through the site with various building spread on either side of it. It is not a straight road. Be ready for a lot of stairs. You climb a flight, descend on the other side into another plaza. So, the ‘avenue’ is actually a series of plazas divided from each other by platforms. And stairs rise on either side of it leading into temples and living quarters. Many places have splotches of murals on them and remnants of mosaics. The lives of a people we will never even know the names of.
We walked towards the Citadel and Temple of Quetzalcoatl, which are near gate 1. (You are allowed to exit and re-enter the site multiple times during the day). On the way we visited the site museum which gives a useful overview and understanding of the history of the site.
Access to many of the stairs are blocked. But a few areas are free to explore, and it is worth keeping an eye out for them. These lead to surrounding temple and accommodation complexes.
It was around mid-day when we exited through gate 1 for a break and lunch. We decided to forego a sit-down lunch. There are no eateries near gate 1 (other than the on-site restaurant) but more choices abound towards gates 2 and 3. We bought chopped mangoes sprinkled with chilli and fizzy drinks from road side stalls to refresh ourselves for another round of sightseeing. We walked along a shady path with signboards put up intermittently about other important historical sites in south America.
This time we entered through gate 1 and near the pyramid of the Moon and its plaza. The palace of the quetzal butterfly is nearby. It was past 3 pm. There are a number of complexes 15 to 25 minutes’ walk from the main site. There would not be enough time to visit them all. We decided instead to finish with the Museo de los Murales Teotihuacanos, Beatríz de la Fuente around 10 minutes’ walk away, outside the main gates of the site.
The museum has an amazing collection of murals from around the site and is a good way to see them all in one place. (We also enjoyed the coolness after the beating heat outside).
It was perfect timing to catch a bus just outside gate 3.
On the way back, instead of going straight to the bus station, we got dropped off a stop earlier from where we could walk to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
There are two constructions here. The newer more modern structure which houses the cloak with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The older Basilica stands nearby bordering the same plaza.
We entered the new Basilica and the followed the crowd to the 3 parallel travelators which move slowly in front of the framed image. (I must say I was confused. I was expecting a ‘cloak’. The image appeared miraculously on the cloak of Juan Diego, which is now framed and put up in the Basilica for all to observe.
We entered the main part of the Basilica during the time of the service. Not something we intended to do deliberately, but once in and seated, we could not leave. The service was in Spanish, but it was nice to absorb the atmosphere. I loved the part where we looked around, made eye contact with people around us and greeted each other. It was strange to think that if we were in India on this auspicious day, we would probably be offering prayers at a Kali temple for my husband. Perhaps the divine has ways of accepting worship and giving blessings, in methods we do not quite totally understand.
We followed the crowd out around 6:30pm, the plaza lit up with the glowing setting sun. Turning towards the old Basilica it was not a surprise that access was not allowed. The whole building tilts dangerously like a precarious stack of cards.
As we exit the plaza, there is a road under a flyway with an amazing stretch of murals on both sides.
We made our way back to Centro Historico where dinner was at MATA Comedor Cantina again. More tacos. As my daughter commented, we had chosen the same place for Mother’s Day and Daddy’s 50th birthday. Daddy had had a gift from Teotihuacan though. A deep sunburn on the crown of his head, which would peel off in days to come to expose new skin. Talk of new beginnings.
Thursday
Mexico City, Bellas artes, Cathedral, Post Office
Two early starts in a row and bus drives had left us a bit tired. We decided to take it slow and keep ourselves restricted to the historic centre and stroll around this day.
We had a late breakfast in the same tiny café near Templo Mayor again and then set off to walk around. We entered Bellas artes with its impressive collection of famous murals, explored the Alameda park in daylight, the interior of the Metropolitan Cathedral and the gorgeous post office.
Then we set off to do some shopping. This would be our last chance to spend money and do some final packing.
Mercado de Artesanias La Ciudadela is where we spent a good three hours, lost in the maze of rainbow colours, a range of artwork in wood, terracotta, silver, fabric, beads, corn husk, straw weave and paintings. We bought a wooden mask and a terracotta jaguar, a wooden bird for my daughter.
After a short break at the apartment, where we dropped off our shopping, we set off for a last evening at Zocalo.
It was a time for people watching, the large Mexican flag flowing with the breeze in the background, as the day turned to dusk, the lights of the buildings around us came on and dusk gradually turned to dark.
It was time to look for dinner. We studied menus and crowds, ultimately settling for a place that sold tamales and a meat dish cooked in cactus.
Friday
Chapultepec and take the flight back to UK
The last day in Mexico City dawned. Packed and organised, we checked out of the apartment and headed towards Chapultapec. Actually, we first took the metro to Sevilla, changing at Balderas. Then we found the address for our booked luggage storage (Bounce luggage storage). This is the first time we have used this system. It is kind of an Airbnb for luggage storage, people registering their properties as places where luggage can be kept. The prices are per piece of luggage, by number, irrespective of whether it’s a backpack or large suitcase. The storage times started from 10 am. The landlady was a kind soul who offered us a drink and toilets if needed. Lightened of our load we made our way to Avenue Paseo de la Reforma, and took in the views of the golden Angel of independence and dark wrought Diana the Huntress fountain. We further walked down to Paseo de las Heroínas (Heroines Boulevard) which includes a number of statues of women who had made history including Leona Vicario. The Paseo de la Reforma runs right through the city, up to Hidalgo and the corner of Alameda Central providing a lovely walk marked by numerous statues and fountains.
We then made our way to Chapultepec Park, its ornate iron gates guarded by statues of lions. We walked through the leafy avenues up to the Monumento a los Niños Héroes, past lakes and out into the Paseo de la Reforma again, up to the magnificent National Anthropological Musuem.
It must have been around 11:30 am when we entered the museum. We spent around four and a half just exploring the ground floor.
Armed with my trusty ‘Rough Guide to Mexico’ guided us through the main displays on the ground floor from pre-Hispanic to Mayan and Aztec. An extensive array of displays leaves one dazzled and frankly a bit bewildered at the end. The most notable highlight among many is the Piedra del Sol, the Aztec Calendar Stone, a huge circular piece directly opposite the entrance of the room, drawing the eye instantly. Many of the rooms have elaborate reconstructions of temples and habitats.
Then it was time to collect our luggage and head for a last meal to El Hidalguense on Campeche 155, Roma Sur, Cuauhtémoc, 06760 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, a fantastic place for barbacoa (available only from Friday to Sunday). Sold by weight, it is well worth the costs.
And then a final trip to metro to get back to the airport.
Conclusions
What will be my most enduring memories of Mexico City? The blue sky with wispy clouds, the streets lined by purple jacaranda trees, the bold bright murals, tipsy buildings, steaming and sizzling food stalls, churros with lines of chocolate squeezed into them, live bands and dancing on the streets, Aztec rituals mingling with Catholic, cobalt blue buildings, buzzing markets with handicrafts and mounds of vegetables and fruit. And the kindness of people. The time on Paseo de la Reforma when a pair of policemen approached as we perused our map, to make sure that we were not lost and wished us good day. The other time when we were waiting for a metro bus and some people tried to talk to us. We understood little of their Spanish. They then turned to a policeman in post, who questioned us. We ultimately realised that people were just wanting to make sure that we knew where we were going and were taking the right transport. The policeman made sure that the metrobus driver knew where we were going. We felt safe and looked after.
Different ages and different cultures have swirled into one unabashedly vibrant city with no efforts to slow down. Its leafy parks are small oases within a hectic pace which makes no apologies. The dancing continues late into the night as the bands blare their music into the warm air.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Nandini Chakraborty

Stories from travel. There is nothing that teaches us more than human interaction, culture, and history. Travel breaks misconceptions, challenges assumptions and teaches us the true worth of this world of ours.

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