Sunday, July 26, 2009

La Gran Aventura: Mexico City

Thursday morning at 6:30 am, we left Guadalajara, headed for Mexico City. After seven hours on the bus, we finally arrived at our hotel, which was modest, but clean and comfortable enough. After freshening up from the journey, we headed downtown.

Just in case we had all forgotten about the whole swine flu nonsense, we were greeted at the National Palace by a woman in a white coat squirting GermX on the hands of all who entered and a man with a heat-sensing camera making sure none of us brought a fever past the front gate. While we were there, we saw the beautiful murals by Diego Rivera:

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Afterwards, we went to the Templo Mayor, an Aztec site in downtown Mexico City, where we heard the tale of a goddess dismembered by her little brother because she had been very naughty:


And we saw the remains of the pyramids:


After our downtown tour, we walked through the rain to have dinner at the first Sanborns restaurant. I first heard of Sanborns in my high school Spanish textbook, because every time the characters ate out, it was at Sanborns. Our dinner was actually a little disappointing. The vegetarians in the group were unhappy because both "vegetarian" options contained meat, but even worse in my non-vegetarian book was that they were all out of flan.

Friday morning we started with Bosque de Chapultepec, a huge forest-turned-park in the middle of Mexico City's urban landscape.


We climbed "grasshopper hill" (the meaning of Chapultepec in Nahuatal) to see Chapultepec castle, which was originally built as a summer home for dignitaries, but became Mexico's version of West Point after the revolution. The castle was a beautiful example of colonial excess:

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Next stop, the National Museum of Anthropology, where I met the goddess of death:


After the information overload of Aztec, Maya, Toltec, Olmec, and so on and so forth, I bought a tasty treat from a street vendor in Chapultepec:


This actually looked much yummier before I ate the mango and papaya, but I was too hungry to remember to take a picture. I've never seen jicama served with fruit before, but it was a nice contrast.

Friday afternoon we went to the Diego Rivera Museum and Frida Kahlo's house.

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Friday night, my roommate Serena, a couple of other girls, and I went to VIPS, a restaurant chain owned by Wal-Mart of all things. Serena was halfway done with her dinner when Katia said the four words you never want to hear during dinner: "Is your lettuce moving?"

A little green worm was inching along Serena's enchilada, kind of like the little hungry caterpillar with a hankering for Mexican food. The poor manager was so flustered. He gave Serena all of her dinner free (I would hope so) and gave Katia her entree free because it had lettuce on it; then he gave us all free dessert. I guess we should have been more upset, but instead we got the giggles. Who would have thought that the food from street vendors would be more reliable than that from brick and mortar restaurants?

Saturday morning we hit the trail again. Our first stop was the church of the virgin of Guadalupe.


Next, we stopped by Acolman, an old monastery. Our professor was eager to point out that the indigenous people were not forced to construct the building, evidenced by the indigenous motifs, like the four-petaled flower seen both in the monastery and at the Aztec city of Teotihuacan.

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I don't know the truth, but the builders being "allowed" to include indigenous designs doesn't necessarily mean they weren't slaves. It may just mean that the monks had no idea the cute little flowers held greater meaning.

Our last stop was Teotihuacan, the archeological site I've been looking forward to for months. I was slightly disappointed, however, that there were hardly any informational plaques. Instead of an educational excursion, climbing the pyramids has become more of a Rocky-esque test of physical endurance, which I failed.

My right leg is crooked, and it gives me trouble from time to time. Climbing the hill to Chapultepec castle the day before caused a flare, so I was already in decent pain before we even got to the ruins. Still, I climbed the smaller Temple of the Moon.


And I got about two-thirds of the way up the Temple of the Sun, where the view was amazing.


I kind of wish I would have pushed through the pain, but at the same time, I'm still hurting enough today that I think I might have made the right choice. I just feel like a dork for not making it all the way to the top.


I guess the most important thing I learned at Teotihuacan is not to make eye contact with the countless vendors unless you want to be badgered. Instead, just keep repeating, "No, gracias," and plow on through. On the bright side, they did all call me "Señorita" instead of "Señora," which was kind of nice while I was feeling like a decrepit old lady with a bum leg.

After another seven hours on the bus--interrupted by a stop where I paid two pesos to use a toilet with no seat--I finally made it back home (at least my temporary home in Guadalajara) just before midnight.

Only two weeks to go. I really like Mexico, but I really miss my family!



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