We successfully completed our first adventure south of the border! Andrew, the trip planner, takes all the credit for the former exclamation. He read and informed himself on how to navigate around México and I depended on him to know what to do while I threw out helpful comments like, “I will NOT step out of the hotel after dark!” and “We will definitely have diarrhea for at least a week after this trip, not to mention the fact I’ll probably have to go to therapy for (insert whatever horrible experience you’ve dreamed up that happens to tourists in Mexico on a regular basis).” Not surprisingly, moms and dads all around weren’t all-together astonished when the announcement was made that our Spring Break destination of 2013 was México City. They were ever supportive, but I am sure they spent extra time on their knees in prayer that we’d come back whole, without any visible markings or emotional scarring and with all of our important documents still on our person. Thankfully, I can say not only did we feel relatively safe in D.F., we also had an thrilling glance into the chaotic, colorful country of Mexico and the lives of its people.
We stepped off the plane in Mexico City, not sure what we’d encounter. If our experience entering through passport check, grabbing our bag and passing through customs was any indication of the trip to come, we were going to conquer Mexico with a single guidebook and our Spanish expertise. The first challenge, finding the authorized taxi stand, strengthened my confidence in Andrew’s extensive preparation. Per his research, we bought our ticket inside the airport, wheeled out to the line of taxis, pre-paid for our ride and were on our way, through the shanty towns near the airport to the historic downtown.
During our time in the capital, we tried to hit the highlights on the tourist circuit in the largest city in the world. The Zócalo, or the main square, of the city is the second largest in the world, only behind Red Square in Moscow. The sheer number of people, mostly all Mexican tourists and residents of the city, strolling around the square, taking in the sights themselves, was overwhelming. They were with their families, eating ice cream, paying homage to Jesus and Mary inside the cathedral, holding hands, pushing strollers, swinging babies from their shoulders, snapping pictures with their iPads and showing off lots of PDAs. Located on the Zócalo are a couple of noteworthy sites: El Palacio Nacional, La Catedral Metropolitana and El Templo Mayor.
One of our favorites was the Palacio Nacional. Built next to the ancient Aztec Temple ruin, the Palacio Nacional boasts traditional Spanish architectural grandeur and clearly demonstrates the attitude of the Spanish toward the Aztec civilization (we’ll destroy your inferior culture and customs and construct our civilized empire right next to it). A sunny patio inside is surrounded by three floors of archways, with the main staircase decked out in true Mexican fashion with a giant mural painted by Diego Rivera. His murals depicting Mexican history and daily life continue around the walkway of the second floor. Outside behind the palace, a shady, lush oasis of palm trees and hibiscus flowers seem out of place in a city dominated by concreted blocks and pavement. For a minute, in the quiet of the garden, almost cool again, I almost forgot about the herds bustling by just beyond the building.
The Templo Mayor is also incredible, the ancient Aztec’s shrine to their sun god, to whom they made frequent human heart sacrifices. The volcanic stone that is left, leaving shape to the grand pyramid, worn down, doesn’t seem as if it could have witnessed the rise and fall of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city that once stood where Mexico City thrives today. Ironically, the Spanish took the stones from the demolished Aztec pyramid and used them to raise their own temple, a Catholic church, the Catedral Metropolitana, right next door.
I’ve barely covered days 1 and 2! There is a lot to say about the country that borders ours to the south!