It’s my first blog for a while so please bear with me. In fact, it’s been so long that blogs are now obsolete. I should be tweeting this in digestible chunks or using snapchat, whatever that is. There’s going to be lots of temples and churches as the tour can be summarized as first peoples and Catholics. I’ll try to keep to the highlights as I’m sure the actual experience of being here is probably a lot more interesting that reading about it from me.
The Aztecs founded the city. Anthropologists believe the first people in America travelled from Asia when the two continents were joined during an ice age in the far north where the Baring Sea is now. The Aztecs wandered the continent for hundreds of years looking for the sign of the Promised Land. This was meant to be an Eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus; obviously a rare sight. Unfortunately, the long awaited vision was found on a small island in the middle of a large lake. Personally, I think that the leader of the group must have been fed up wandering around. He must of spotted something far away in the island from the shore of the lake. “Doesn’t that rock look like an Eagle, and that twig must be snake, there’s a cactus somewhere.” Anyway, they settled on the island and soon went about enlarging it by reclaiming land along its shore to plant arable crops.
On our first day we drove forty kilometers north to the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Thought to be founded by Mesoamericans in around 100 BC who built a large city incorporating numerous ‘pyramids’ to worship the various deities that they revered. They left no record of their history, as they had no written language so there is a lot of guesswork and deduction by the anthropologists. There is extensive evidence of human sacrifice. It is famous for its Sun and Moon temples / pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead.
On our walk to the ‘Sun Pyramid’ an elderly American couple asked our guide directions.
“Which way to gate 2?” the lady asked.
“Back the way you came,” replied Cesare.
Off they tottered to the sounds of “That’s what I told you back there you idiot. You never listen” as the lady explained the situation to her husband. Ah, married bliss.
Back to the city in the afternoon to visit Guadalupe, the second most visited Catholic site in the world after the Vatican. Here is housed the famous image of the virgin Mary of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared to a local peasant Juan Diego three times in 1531. She asked him to build a church in her honor. Juan went directly to the Bishop to report this who, perhaps understandably, was skeptical. Juan went back to the Virgin Mary who said that she would give him a sign. She asked him to gather flowers from the top of a nearby hill. Here Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico. He gathered them in his cloak and went to see the Bishop. When he met the Bishop, he opened his cloak, the flowers fell, and revealed an image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on his cloak. This image is now housed in a magnificent church in the very centre of Mexico. We expected some kind of vague resemblance of Mary similar to the Turin shroud but it looks like a detailed painting (funny that). Anyway, if you’re going to claim a miracle you might as well go the full nine yards.
Next day was spent with a general wander around some of Mexico City’s more interesting streets and areas including the national palace and concluding with a visit to the anthropological museum. This is a great place full of native American treasures from the Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs etc. We took umpteen pictures so here’s just one as a taster.
Day 3 in Mexico City and a visit to the Museo of Dolores Olmedo, housing a collection of works from Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, both prominent artists of the 20th century. Diego was particularly influential in the muralist movement, and was also involved in the beginning of cubism along with Picasso. Today, his wife Frida has surpassed his fame, as she has become somewhat of a fashion icon, a kind of Mexican Monroe. Her image is everywhere. She reintroduced a lot of traditional dress into her wardrobe in the 1920s and 1930s. This has become very ‘now’ in Mexico with a lot of contemporary clothing and accessories incorporating some element of traditional patterns or design.
There was still time for a short visit to Xochimilco, where we embarked on a colourful boat called a trajinera to float along the pre-columbian canals propelled by an enthusiastic chap with a large pole. Here Mags bought some local jewelry from one of the many vendors that jump in and amongst the boats. There are scores of boats here navigating a small space, so collisions are frequent. It’s a vibrant scene where locals go to party with lots of boats having picnics.
A two hour drive took us to our next stop Puebla via a small detour to San Andres Cholula, a small village housing an extraordinary church adorned with colorful, childlike plaster work. (unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures). There was a Mass devoted to the patron saint of Animals and lots of villagers had brought their pets to be blessed. There was even a horse!
The Spanish liked to build their cities around a grid system, so navigation was relatively straightforward. We wandered around the city and had a fine lunch overlooking the main square near the Cathedral.
The highlight was our visit to the Amaro art museum that houses a fine collection including lots of pre-Hispanic pieces.
Next morning, we were met by Florencio, our new guide who drove us across country for five hours to our next stop, Oaxaca. The journey was quite spectacular crossing a mountain range and a huge protected ‘bioshere’ Lots of cactus including this one that was reputed to be 800 years old.
Finally away from the cities, the landscape looks a lot more ‘Mexican’ and we could easily imagine bandits on horseback being pursued by John Wayne.
We really enjoyed Oaxaca, a real ‘foodie’ city with lots of fine restaurants and bars all easily reached on foot from our central location. One highlight was our visit to a Mescal distiller. Mescal is a spirit made from Agave, a plant that is abundant in these parts. There are many varieties, some of which can be cultivated. The most popular variety is used to make Tequila. However, most of the Tequila is exported as it is considered inferior by the locals as it only needs to be 51% Mescal, whereas other Mescals are 100%.
We drove out of the city to a visit a crusty old Mexican on his farm where he makes umpteen varieties of Mescal. Its quite a long process; the agave root has to be baked for a few days in an earth pit, then mashed up either by hand or with some mechanical help. The mash is brewed and then finally it is distilled in clay pots. We had a quick tour followed by a tasting. Here am I sampling one.
And here is our host.
Another highlight was our trip to the food market, lively and vibrant with an astonishing array of food from chilies to worms. We ate grasshoppers before having a barbequed lunch of pork and beef in, of course, tortillas washed down with a couple of cold beers.
But it wasn’t all eating and drinking in Oaxaca (although we would have been quite happy with that), we managed to squeeze in a couple of amazing temples. Mitla, a Mesoamerican site where the symmetry of the architecture is stunning, and Monte Alban, a huge Zapotec site built on top of a mountain with extensive views into the countryside.
We also visited a natural phenomenon, a petrified waterfall formed from a natural spring. It’s a popular spot as you can swim in a mineral pool there. Here is Mags dipping her toes in.
We did a lot more in and around Oaxaca, and had to leave with a lot we wanted to do but didn't;t have enough tine. We can’t recommend it highly enough.
We reluctantly left Oaxaca for Merida flying via Mexico City. Here, we stayed in an old Hacienda in the middle of nowhere, a quiet retreat from what had been a hectic schedule so far. There are a number of these grand colonial houses in this area built on the profits of Sisal that was extensively farmed here, made largely into rope and exported to Europe. The business was hugely profitable until synthetic fibers were invented. Our Hacienda has been converted into a palatial hotel that sits awkwardly adjacent to a tiny impoverished village.
It wasn’t all relaxation here by any means as we zoomed off to visit Celestun, a salt-water lagoon famous for its flock of pink flamingoes. We explored on a surprisingly fast boat.
And we also found time for the obligatory city tour of Merida, most memorable for a trip to a monument to Mexico’s past by the Columbian sculptor Romulu Rozo. The main problem with viewing it is that it is in the middle of a busy roundabout with no pedestrian bridge. We were pondering how we would cross the busy road when a friendly police car appeared and stopped the traffic for us.
We left Merida and drove three hours to Cancun via Cichen Itza, probably Mexico’s most famous temple site. It really was busy with thousands of tourists, and possibly even more vendors selling tat. Still it is an impressive site with a giant pyramid in the centre.
Finally, we reached Cancun where we met up with some friends at an all inclusive resort for two weeks of relaxing by the beach with a little bit of golf on the side.
Anyway, back to that wall. We weren’t very successful in our fund raising campaign so we’ve set up a crowd-funding site atwww.madmaninthewhitehouse.dik
Please give generously.