Photography and travel blog

Mexico City: a pleasant surprise

I generally do not do big cities very well. I deplore the crowds, the pollution and the general claustrophobic nature of them. With a population of 21 million in the metropolitan area, Mexico City fits the definition of a big city. This. coupled with Mexico City’s reputation as a crime-laden city of kidnappings, carjackings and muggings, made me hesitant about staying there long. In the end, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I rarely felt unsafe and the people are so darn polite that I only felt very crowded during rush hour on the subway.

We arrived in the afternoon, Christmas day, to Aztec dancing occurring in the Zocalo, the second largest square in the world after Red Square in Moscow.

The square was teeming with locals enjoying their holidays. In the middle of the plaza, there was an ice-skating rink with an 8-hour lineup, a display of snow, slides, food stalls and various vendors. While we were looking to escape the snow, the locals were dying to see it! 

We visited the main market, La Merced, a claustrophobic labyrinth of food, shoes, clothes and other goods. Everyone was very polite but I was surprised by the stark contrast in demeanour between men and women. While men were always laughing, talking and volunteering themselves in our photos, the women were very serious and demure. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of gender inequality in Mexico, but the difference was very apparent.

We visited many museums and art galleries. The National Museum of Anthropology, considered world-class, had some nice exhibits but by the end, I was reeling from information overload and couldn’t distinguish between the Aztecs, the Mayans and other Pre-Columbian cultures. The Frida Kahlo museum had some beautiful modern pieces. The Presidential Palace had some amazing murals by Diego Rivera, depicting the history of Mexico from the Mayans to the Aztecs to the Colonialist to the Revolutionists.

For nighttime festivities, we visited Plaza Garibaldi, a plaza famous for having mariachi bands soliciting people for a chance to play. The square was mostly patronized by locals, young and old, dancing their hearts out.

We also saw Lucha Libre, aka Mexican wrestling. It was a very bizarre spectacle. The wrestlers had strange doughy yet muscular physiques. Between rounds, scantily clad women would walk down the main runway showcasing sponsor products. Men in the crowd would whistle or catcall.
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During the match, a deep voice was screaming “Go F your mother. You suck.” in Spanish (translated by our Argentinian friend). When I saw who was screaming, it wasn’t a young boisterous man, but rather a 60ish, heavyset grandmother!

On our last day in the Mexico City area, we left the metropolitan area to visit Teotihuacan, an archaelogical site which was the largest city in Mesoamerica. The complex is most famous for its two enormous pyramids, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon. When I first walked through the site, I was less than impressed. I have been absolutely spoiled by Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. Some areas were still undergoing excavations and the structures seemed quite small. However, as we walked along the main avenue, I was wowed by the arid vegetation and the enormous, beautifully shaped trees.

The Temple of the Sun was enormous. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing structure, but when you consider that it was built a couple thousand years ago without modern technology, it dazzles the mind. The climb to the top was hard, made worse by the long lineups of people walking and struggling to get to the top. The views from the top gave an amazing viewpoint of the complex and surroundings.

Despite its colonial architecture, world-class museums and cosmopolitan flair, I was ready to leave the D.F.  Mexico City left a good impression, but as I said, I generally don’t do big cities well.  I was looking forward to moving on to Oaxaca.

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