Arriving in Mexico City

I arrived June 11 and stayed with my friend Le and his dad in a small town near Buen Aventura outside the city limits of Mexico City (east of the city).  We spent 2 lovely days, one visiting the pueblo and walking up to the lookout (it was hazy so we couldn’t see the volcanos close by) and buying ingredients for an appetizing brunch, the next day going to Amecameca, a beautiful colonial town with a grand cathedral and a convent on the hill.  We searched for a phone that I could use in Mexico (it turned out that I needed one that was liberado/unlocked so I could use it in other countries as well).  Ruben (Le’s dad) and I went into the cathedral and I marvelled at the beauty of the stone floors and walls.  As Le pointed out, all the cathedrals and churches have been built on the back of sacred Mexica, Toltec, Aztec, and other pre-hispanic sites.  So it’s bitter sweet to view the facade, knowing that in many cases the stones came from pyramids (as is the case with Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City – the cathedral was built from stones from the sacked pyramid).  We did the peregrino (pilgrimage) up the mountain/hill to the cemetery at the top.  Another day I tried pulque, a fermented alcoholic beverage revered by the Toltec and perhaps older cultures from a cactus called Maguey.  The irony is that we had 2 of these cactuses growing in our garden in Sunnyvale, CA, thanks to my dad.  They got so big that we used the toe bar of a truck to extract them.   But back to pulque.  I tried one of durazno (peach) and one of pina (pineapple).  I couldn’t finish either as they are really strong.  They are supposed to make you very strong, especially sexually ;>  Then we visited a friend of Ruben who has a paleta/helado shop (he makes his own fruit bars from water and milk).  I tried the guayaba, which was lovely.  I first tried the fruit in Colombia and loved it.  It’s used in part for maladies of the stomach, which I have had my share of this trip.  A very kind man brought the best chicken, mole, blue corn tortillas, and salsa to us and then upon prodding, sang some songs from his home (near Oxaca if I recall).  He said that he leads tours to the south of Mexico and the gringos love hearing him sing.  For him, it’s about communicating his passion.  I definitely felt it.

The next phase of the journey was in Villa de las Flores in Coacalco, north of the city limits and near one of the cerros in la Sierra de Guadalupe.  I went into the center one day, and decided that it was too far to do every day (it took me almost 2 hours one way in a crowded combi, a van used like a bus, where everyone sits facing inward in seats lining the perimeter).  I decided to spend the other days walking up into the hills of the Sierra de Guadalupe.  It was particularly hot and humid, maybe 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity, but I was determined.  I met a very kind young man who is one of the park rangers/workers, who showed me a path up the mountain through a field of flowers.  This is the rainy time of year (June and July), and the rains had just started.  They get fierce thunderstorms, with lightening strikes and thunder that could scare the pants off most.  The second time I hiked in the late afternoon (5-8pm).  I enjoyed the murals in the Palacio Municipal of Coacalco.  As most murals in Mexico do, they spoke of the treachery of the Spanish and subsequent colonizers, the selling out of the people by certain individuals, but also the integrity and tenacity of many to defy and oppose the oppression.  I’ve spoken with many people that say that life is harder here now then it was even 5 years ago.  I wonder about the effects of NAFTA, which I know have reeked havoc with the people, as well as the economic crisis of 2008.  The pay is abominable for most jobs, and people are scraping just to get enough to eat.  Food is very expensive, as is rent/mortgage.

The last day of my stay in Villa, I went to Tehotihuacan, as it was only about an hour away by bus.  I arrived about 10:30am, before the hordes, and enjoyed being one of the first people to be set upon by various artesans.  Unfortunately I didn’t bring much money, so I had to politely decline the various offers.  I climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, that archaeologists think originally represented the water that flows on the earth (rivers and streams).  They found many paintings/frescos of water sinewing in a snake like fashion.  The site was built by Toltecs, who may have spoken Nahuatl (sp?), but researchers aren’t certain.  They used some Mayan words in their language, and then their city was abandoned for 100s of years, only to be discovered and revered by the Aztecs, who gave it the name Tehotihuacan (the place where men become gods).  The Aztecs gave the pyramids the names sun and moon, as they revered the 2 dieties.  The Pyramid of the Sun, with even steeper steps, was actually built to honor Tlaloc, the god of the rains, storms, and the type of weather that occur before the rain.  In the “entrance” to the city, there is a large area that reminded me of the agora in Greek sites, that recently was speculated to be covered by a meter of water in honor of the importance of water to the Toltec way of life.  They were an agrarian people who grew corn, frijoles, chia (not sure of origin of plant – I thought Peru/Bolivia), squash.  Much more to say about this sacred site, but perhaps later.

Le has finish a building project. I’m feeling homesick and uncertain about what to do, as I came primarily in response to his request. It’s been a tough time for me, and I’ve thought about leaving. We’ll see. I think I’m in culture shock. I’m looking at maps and trying to identify where I’ll go. Some of the places I’ve been recommended include Guanajuato, Zacatecas, San Miguel de Allende, Tula, Tehotihuacan, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas (incl San Cristobal de las casas).  I’m staying 2 hours from the center, and need to get closer. I’m not sure how large the city is, but it’s impressive in its sprawl. Combis are small vans that people squeeze into. I had the rare opportunity to attend the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Solistas Ensamble del INBA with conductor Horacio Franco. It was a very beautiful performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus Oratorio. I met the conductor by accident as I was sitting on the steps of the theater, which was built during Porfirio Diaz’ bloody reign in the 1800s. Diaz was a francophile and had the institute built in the style of French neoclassical architectural design. Diaz also was responsible for bloody repression of the indigenous people of Mexico. Many were exiled, more assassinated. In any case, the performance was beautiful. I arrived back at the house at 1:30 am, as the concert got out at 11:30pm.

I left where I’d been staying (Le’s mom’s house) on a Combi and headed to center of the city, el centro historico, to spend a few days seeing museums and not traveling 4 hours/day to do so.  A kind and generous man, Jaime, a friend of Le and local shaman who is working to bring back the Mexica culture.  He holds sweat lodges, temescales, which were practiced by the guerreros, military men of the Toltecs and perhaps even earlier.  I slept in a kind of tree house, open to the mosquitos, sound of horns blaring, exhaust from cars, and other less than pleasant effects.  After 3 or 4 days of almost no sleep (he is also very popular and often has visitors at all hours of the day and night, often gritones), I decided to look for a more suitable place to sleep.  I consulted a friend of Jaime, who said that I could stay with him and his family for a fee (we agreed on 200 pesos, as that was the rate that I’d be charged in a hostel).  He was kind enough to give me his room, and we spent some time at the Antigua Colegio de San Infonso (a Jesuit seminary of sorts in the 1700s).  The center is littered with historical buildings from the 1700s, with beautiful archways and courtyards that would inspire envy in the most astute architects.  The entire city is gradually sinking, as the city was built atop a lake.  I partook of this one day in the park of Chapultapec, where there is still a lake and boats.  It was Sunday and it seemed that the entire city (or the part that wasn’t in Acapulco for summer vacation) was enjoying the park.  There was a clown telling dirty jokes in a way that the kids in the crowd were immune, and the home (castle actually) of Porfiro Diaz was prominently displayed on the hill.  After seeing a few of his homes, I understood why the people of Mexico revolted in 1910.  Diaz was a Europhile who, for example, in an attempt to keep the city from being inundated with water from the rains, had massive drains built under the city streets.  Unfortunately, one of those drains was built in the middle of Templo Mayor, and some of the history of that site was lost.   I went to Templo Mayor on Sunday, as it is a free museum day, as well as the Museum of Medicine, where I was very interested in the herbal and curing practices of the pre-hispanic indigenous people.  I also listened in on a tour (in Spanish of course) of Diego Rivera’s murals in the main Palace in Zocalo where the president of the country resides or at least has offices.  I went to the Museo de Caricaturas and enjoyed the studies of the various politicians that have reeked havoc on the lives of the people of Mexico.  As in Chile, political cartoons were a very important medium for delivering criticism about various government policies in a way that protected them from prison or death.  There is certainly a history of that in the US as well.


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