After returning home from Peru, I was even more determined to improve my Spanish, and travel, travel travel. So, I started taking private lessons, and joined a web-language-group, www.mylanguage.com. After several tries, I connected with a woman in Valencia, Spain to practice my Spanish with. We have grown to be good friends, and still talk on a regular basis. But, I soon felt that I needed some kind of goal. I also had a strong desire to visit Mexico. So I started studying hard for the DELE Spanish exams and eventually booked a trip to Mexico in 2008. My plan was to visit the University of Cuernavaca to study a week for the exams, and then take them there, at the University. Before and after the week in Cuernavaca I wanted to travel throughout the south of Mexico. 6 weeks is not a lot of time, but I made the most of it. Here are the results.
Mexico D.F. (Mexico City or D.F. as the Mexicans say) (21 Oct.)
I arrived in D.F. on an early night flight just after the sunset. I have seen a lot of airports from above, but landing at Mexico City at night on a clear night must be one of the most beautiful sites you can imagine. The lights, the mountains, it is just amazing! It was late so I took a taxi to my hostel a few blocks from the Frida Kahlo museum (her blue house).
Day 1 D.F. (22 Oct.)
I started out my first day, enjoying my coffee just down a block from the hostel. I was up early, so I experienced the people dropping in and conversing on their way to work. At once I realized life here may not be bad at all. The happiness the people show and glow is a real change to Germany. Hearing a greeting like “Hola guapa que tal” (Hi good looking how is it going) is refreshing. I mean when was the last time you heard someone greet someone with “good looking”. It would probably be considered a sexual harassment in the US. Yes, I was back in Latin America, where the women like to receive complements, and the men like to give them.
First stop the Frida Kahlo Museum
Frida Kahlo has become quite the hype here in Germany, but her life story is fascinating, and her husband’s murals are incredible and deeply imbedded in the Mexican culture. Her art is interesting if not somewhat bizarre, probably due to the extreme pain she experienced most of her adult life. The cook book her step daughter wrote with Frida’s recipes gives an insight into the fantastic and diverse Mexican cuisine, which has little to do with the Tex-Mex restaurants in the US. The museum / house is beautiful and full of artifacts of her time. I really enjoyed it.
Second Stop, the el Zócalo
El Zócalo or La plaza de la Constitución as it is officially know, is one of the colonial largest plazas I know. It was also the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan when Cortez arrived. Of course you cannot imagine that today, but if you walk around the area, you will notice a lot of buildings leaning to one side. The entire city is built on a swampy area, and the foundations sink. It reminds me a little of Dawson City and the tilting due to permafrost. El Zócalo is the center of the city, and from there you can easily walk to several interesting sites. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
I walked from the Frida Kahlo museum to the Metro Station at the Av. Coyoacán sucking up the atmosphere of the city. Underneath the overpass at the entrance, there was a barbacoa stand, so I
ordered 4 tacos and wow what a taste! And right away I entered a conversation with other customers suggesting this salsa or that. Yes the trip was getting off to a great start. I have travelled all over Europe and have seen a lot of metro systems. Nothing compares to Mexico City. I must be the most efficient Metro in the world. You can get anywhere in the city fast and inexpensively. It is clean, secure, and modern. I was at the Zócalo in no time. The stop is directly under the square. There are so many things to see around the plaza, I can’t begin to mention them all. The presidential palace, the cathedral, several museums, including the “Museo del Templo Mayor”. I enjoyed the photography museum, and just walking around. After all, it is my first day. It is hard to not just eat at every stand or person selling something. It all looks so good.
The Post Office
One sight you should not miss is the old post office. The building is an intricate ironworks, and you can enter and look for free. It is beautiful. Otherwise, you need time, lots of time. I hate to rush from one place to another, and there is just too much. All throughout the city there are murals from Diego Rivera, including a museum in the center.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is incredible. I tried to enter, but it was closed to the public. I started a conversation with one of the women guides in the entrance, asking her when I would be able to enter etc. She then said, you speak good Spanish, follow me. She took me into the main concert room and told me to wait a few minutes. She said she would be arriving with a group of students and professors, and I should just act like I belonged to the group. The palace and tour were incredible. The architecture, sculptures, murals, and the tiffany curtain are all incredible. It is definitely a must see site. Of course it helped to be on a special tour.
The special tour
Later that afternoon, I met a friend who lives just a few blocks from the Zócalo. Actually he was not a friend at the time but a friend of a friend of mine. I had a gift for him. Victor teaches English to executives, etc. I won’t go into his history, but he is a great guy, and he showed me parts of the city I would otherwise not have seen. Like the huge black market “Tepito”. I usually do not say don’t go there, or it is dangerous, etc. But Victor told me: Dave this is not a place you want to go to alone. Don’t worry, because I am with you. And I am happy he was. Because, the market is huge, and I could have easily gotten lost in it. I doubt that there is anything that you cannot buy there. They were even selling cars. We spent the late afternoon and most of the night together. I arrived home at about 7 am. Victor gave me a lot of insights into the Mexican culture. I could not stop listening to his stories and information. I met Victor several times after that and he always had something new to show me or tell me. A similar experience a few years later led to meeting and marrying my wife Jessica in Lima Peru.
Diego Rivera is the probably most well-known muralist in Mexico, maybe in the world. He was the husband of Frida Kahlo, and apparently quite the womanizer. Although you would not suspect it from looking at him. He was a very chubby not so handsome man. His murals can be seen throughout Mexico, and are beautiful. He was a sympathized with the communists and associated with the communist intellectuals of the times. The Rockefellers contracted him to paint a mural in the entrance of the Rockefeller Center. When he had finished it and unveiled it, they discovered he had used the images of famous communists like Lennon and Marx throughout the mural. The Rockefellers asked him to change them, but he refused. So the Rockefellers paid him and had the mural painted over. End of story. I visited his house / museum, but I could not see all of it as there was an event going on. It was still early, so I decided to visit the ”Museo Nacional de Antropología”.
Museo Nacional de Antropología
On the way to the museum, I stopped by my hostel and then walked to the metro station. I had another baracoa lunch and it was even better than yesterday. I spent the rest of the day at the museum and parks surrounding it. I guess I have mentioned that one of my passions is Anthropology and Archeology. Of all the museums I have seen, this is one of the very best. It is large, so you need some time. One thing I would like to mention is that depending on where you are, some museums tend to put their own cultures in a somewhat better light. Not everything you read or hear is the truth. Machu Picchu in Peru for example was apparently not as important as they like to sell it for. I know there are many more sights in Peru, which are much more important culturally. Today, the archeologist believe that Choquequirao was probably more important to the Incas than Machu Picchu. Tourism is a major industry, and you sell what you have to sell.
I returned home gathered my bags, and caught an early night plane to Tuxla in Chiapas. I usually like to travel by bus. Bus travel in Mexico is great. You can book online, it is cheap, and the buses are comfortable. You do not need to book a tourist bus. I like to hope on a night bus and sleep on the bus. It saves a lot of time. But in this case, it would have taken me several days to get to Chiapas and San Cristóbol de las Casas. I had several things I wanted to see, in the south of Mexico before I needed to be in Cuernavaca for classes.
San Cristóbol de las Casas (25. Oct.)
After arriving in Tuxla, I shared a taxi with another couple straight to San Cristóbol de las Casas. Tuxla is the major city and capitol of Chipas, but I don’t believe there is a lot to do there. And, as I needed to be selective of what I could see. I checked into a very inexpensive hostel (Maria Bonita), and was shown to my room on the roof of the building. The access was by a winding stairway outside in the patio. On the roof there was only my room and a shower & a toillet. Perfect! The view was incredible. The room was small and basic, but what else do you need. The young woman at the desk (and apparently one of the owners) was very friendly.
In the morning I went downstairs for breakfast, to find a note the woman left for me telling me how happy she was that I was staying in her hostel, and she was sorry that she could not greet me for breakfast because she had an appointment in town. What a good start. I walk out the door and across the street was a tortilla bakery. The employee was producing stacks after stacks of tortillas. When I asked him if I could buy 1, he just laughed and gave me one.
I took stroll and explored the town center. The plaza is typical for anywhere in Mexico, there is always activity, and on the weekends while I was there, there were concerts, people dancing children playing. What I did not know at the time, was that there was a program going on throughout Mexico to preserve the traditional dances such as the bamba or corridos, etc. The youth seem to be only dancing Bachata and Salsa. My plan was to visit San Cristóbol a few days, and then do a circuit to Aguas azules, Palenque, Chetumal, and Tulum.
San Cristóbol is kind of a tourist stop, and has a lot of hippies who have jumped off the truck there. It has a friendly nice atmosphere, even though there are a lot of tourists. The main market is fun, there are a lot of stands to buy food, chilies, herbs, etc. as I was planning on returning I did not buy anything. While walking around town, I saw a small little sign advertising “Grutas de Rancho Nuevo” It was Sunday, and not a lot going on, so I asked a passerby how to get there, and caught a collectivo.
When I arrived I was very surprised. It was a huge park with lots of trees and places to have a barbecue, stands selling food, A playground for the kids, etc. It seems to be the place where the locals go on the weekend. And of course there were the Caves (Grutas). So I bought an entrance ticket to the caves, and took the tour (Spanish only). The caves are huge and the tour was interesting. When I finished the tour, the park was beginning to fill with locals. I bought a huge quesadillas, and tried some of the other food. Delicious!
Show your education and don’t paint or scratch the walls (or this sign).
When living the park to return to San Cristóbol, I met some Marriachis entering the park. I asked them if they were going to play, and they told me I had to come back that night to come to the dance. But I had booked a tour to the Sumidero Canyon early the next day, so I passed on that one (which I really regret).
The Sumidero Canyon was carved by the Grijava River. At some point in the not so distant past a huge Dam was built which backed up the river into a long lake. The rock formations, animals, and Dam are beautiful. On the way back we stopped at the Village of Chiapa de Corzo, the oldest village in the state of Chiapas.
About halfway down the river there is a backwater where the plastic collects. You cross through it for about 300 yards. They are constantly removing it, but it gives you an indication about the huge amount of plastic flowing to the ocean.
The next morning I left by bus to do my circuit.
More soon ……