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Xochimilco, Mexico City – June 19, 2018

Xochimilco is one of the 16 boroughs (alcadias) of Mexico City situated in the southeast part of the city. It is known for its canals which are remnants of the lake and waterways that connected most of the settlements in pre-Hispanic Mexico. Colorful flat-bottomed boats called trajineras ply the canals at the present time – and are popular for tourists and residents alike – to navigate the canals and artificial islands called chinampas – and eat, drink and be merry while doing so.



It’s not as exciting as other river boat rides in many cities around the world – there is not much to see along the canals BUT it is an experience to ride the trajinera – as it is not motorized, driven completely by humans using wooden poles that they thrust into the river bed to propel the boat forward. Because there are a lot of these boats traveling through the canals, it is interesting to see how they maneuver the boat without bumping into each other. There were also other boats hawking touristy souvenirs, food, and drinks and some boats that carry mariachi bands for entertainment.

According to literature, the boats float along “lined with gardens and curtains of trees” and there are gardens of flowers, vegetables and ornamental plants on the chinampas, but I saw a little of those. The area along the canals are so developed now. However what I really like are the folk art on the boats themselves and the fact the whole enterprise feels like it stemmed from backyard tourism that just took off. While the boats are of similar construction, each boat has its own unique decoration and each is named as a female!

We had lunch while we were on the “cruise,” the delicious lunch were delivered to the boat while it was moving, then while we were having lunch, a mariachi band boarded our boat to entertain us while we were eating and drinking. It got to be rowdy later on – millenials among our tour group – from South and Central America, the US and Canada – opened up singing and dancing after they had some alcohol. They had a great time! Friendships were made, FB accounts were exchanged, and promises to hook up later were overheard.

I was going to watch a mariachi band later on the night in Garibaldi Plaza, but I had my fill here so I decided to chuck that activty out.

As usual, I had the mole for lunch. I can’t get enough of mole!


Mole

Because of the canal and Chinampa system, the area has been designated as a World Heritage Site.



Museum of Pop Culture aka Experience Music Project

The last time I was in Seattle back in the mid 90’s, the Frank Gehry designed Experience Music Project wasn’t built yet. So this time around, this was really the draw for me to accept a friend’s invitation to visit her in Seattle. I wanted to see, even just the exterior of Gehry’s much applauded (and equally derided) building in Seattle especially how it compares to his Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago. (The building then known as Experience Music Project is now called Museum of Pop Culture.)




Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago lit up blue during the night

Well, it is similar – with its trademark steel fabrications that look like armadillo or pangolin armors – except for the colors! While Prizker looks like a crab nebula, this one looks like a creature that came from the sea, or as some other critics say, like smashed guitars, but the colors are wild. Pritzker is all silver/chrome while MPC is saturated with silver, copper, reds, blues … incredible. I haven’t really seen the totality of it as it is a huge building and it seems to me that there is no vantage point for photographers to take a picture of it as a whole … But it is all about details … and here they are in the short time that I was there (sorry, I am too cheap to go inside).



Pike Place Market


Flower vendor, Pike Place Market, July 28, 2018

Pike Place Market in Seattle is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. The major attractions for me were the fish market where employees throw fish rather than passing them by hand, the farmers market with Washington farmers selling their fresh produce and specialty farm products, the flowers sold by Ilocano farmers, the buskers – different kinds of street entertainers – one even brought a piano with him – and of course the different restaurants including the original Starbucks.



I spent only a few minutes in the market because I had to meet up with a group somewhere else for breakfast (my host also didn’t realize that I needed to photograph details and kept hurrying me up). (Guess where we ended up eating – of all places, McDonald’s! It was because they couldn’t find parking anywhere, except at Mickey D’s.) But at least I got to see the market again. I’ve been there back when there were no consumer digital cameras yet. So this time, I came back with a vengeance. Well, except that I really didn’t get to spend more time. Well, maybe next time.



Mexico City from Above

Mexico City (or Ciudad de Mexico or CDMX) is the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America. The city itself has a population close to about 9 million while the metro area is home to about 21 million people. It is an ancient city founded by people called Mexica – dating back to the 1300 and was built on an island in the center of a lake in the valley of Mexico. It also became the capital of later Aztec civilization, after which also it became the capital of New Spain when the Spanish conquered the country.



To have an idea of the vastness of Mexico City, on the last day of my vacation in Mexico City (June 19), I went up the Torre Latinoamericana, an architecturally significant building, not only in Mexico but in the world, because it is the first major skyscraper built on highly seismic land and has survived several major earthquakes. It was the tallest building in Mexico until 1984.


Torre Latinoamericana, one of the tallest (and safest) buildings in Mexico City with 44 floors and an observation deck (Mirador) on its top floor.

Here are some views of the city from the observation deck. On this particular day, you can actually see the towering white peaks of the legendary Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes.



Overnight on the Coast Starlight: Seattle to San Jose


Cascades Mountain Lake

The Coast Starlight is regarded to be one of Amtrak’s most spectacular train routes, passing through great cities on the West Coast – Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Sacramento, SF Bay Area, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles to name a few. It also goes through or pass along the Cascade Ranges and Mt. Shasta and the lush pine forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. Having just known this, I immediately changed plans – instead of flying from Seattle to San Francisco, I booked a ticket on this particular route.



It didn’t matter that the trip would take 24 hours from Seattle to San Jose and that I would miss the leg that runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been on an Amtrak train before – from Chicago to New York – several times, and it is not that bad. The seats are wide, the leg room is spacious and the windows are huge and good enough for photography. This time though, I booked a business class ticket – to ensure I have wi-fi, extendable seat, extendable table, free bottled water, a 6-dollar voucher for food in the adjacent lounges (a cafe and a restaurant) AND a dedicated car – less foot traffic. Because the car was not full, the guy sitting next to me moved to another seat, so I had two seats that I made into a bed for sleeping.

And I would at least spend time, albeit very brief, in Oregon, a state that I haven’t been to.


Portland Oregon

The highlight of the trip really was the Cascade Mountains – we went through it at sunset – and I was at least able to capture some of its glory. The pine forests, lakes and rivers along the mountain route were also spectacular. It was just difficult to take pictures of them even if I went to the observation deck – as the views were in both sides of the train.

Here are iPhone photos of the trip from Seattle to San Jose.

Best. Day. Ever. No. 2 Part 2: Teotihuacan, the iPhone chronicles

My second full day in Mexico City, June 16, 2018 was spent touring the two holiest places in the country: The Basilica and Shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe and the Teotihuacan ruins. Here are some photos of the Teotihuacan part of the day from my iPhone. I uploaded these photos while I was on the train from Seattle to San Jose (CA) in the second part of my vacation.



Teotihuacan is an ancient mesoAmerican civilization predating the Aztecs. Their city center is in a valley about 40 km northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacan is known today as the site of the most significant pyramids built in pre-Columbian Americans. There are two of them: the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun, the latter being the larger of the two. Both are open to the public for climbing although you can only reach up to the first level of the Pyramid of the Moon. You also get the best view from the Pyramid of the Moon because it faces the long avenue called Avenue of the Dead.

While there are hundreds, if not thousands of tourists visiting the site everyday, the site doesn’t feel touristy at all (although there are trappings of modern day tourism). Here are some photos of the ruins that I took with my iPhone. Photos from my Sony A7 will be posted later.



Chicago Pride Parade 2018

I didn’t see much of the parade because, as usual, I was on the float for Chicago’s Bible Bingo from NunsforFun Entertainment. Bible Bingo is another wacky interactive comedy penned by my friend, Vicki Quade, the creator of the popular Late Night Cathechism. The premise of this comedy:

“The parish needs money and the Archdiocese has a new bingo department.
Bring the two together and you have a night of bible trivia, audience interaction,
and the funniest quiz about the Holy Family you’ve ever seen.

Add to that a box of wacky prizes, fun bingo cards, and a lot of Catholic humor. In this interactive bingo show, we actually play bingo! And get the audience talking about everything from Adam & Eve to modern sins.”

It plays at the Royal George Theater 8 pm Fridays and 8 pm Saturdays.
Late Night Catechism plays at the same theater 5 pm Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays.

See the reviews at Trip Advisor here.




Vicki Quade and son Michael


The float with the requisite group picture.


Vicki in action at the parade



While I don’t have any pictures of the parade, I have lots of spectators pictures taken from the float. Here is a bunch of them. Enjoy!

Best. Day. Ever. No. 2 Part 1

Inside the Guadalupe Shrine square; in the background are two of the several chapels in the shrine
Avenue of the Dead and Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan Ruins

My second full day in Mexico City, June 16, 2018, was also spent walking, again with Urban Adventures, this time with their House of God: Shrine of Guadalupe and the Pyramids of Mexico City tour. I was incredibly fortunate to schedule this tour on this particular Saturday: I was the only one in the tour, it became my own personal private tour of two of the holiest sites in Mexico.

With Al Gomez, my Urban Adventure guide

My guide was Alfonso Gomez, another incredibly passionate and knowledgeable individual that Urban Adventure is known for so far as guides are concerned. We bonded right away because of our similar ages. As soon as he saw me in the lobby of my hotel, he said, you’re 61? I’m 63! As it turns out, he is a retired engineer enjoying his retirement as a freelance tour guide with Urban Adventures. He was very organized (he’s an engineer!) carrying with him some visuals, basically a book that he organized himself, and sometimes offered an alternative history (basically a native’s point of view) of the places we visited.



Our itinerary went this way: from the hotel, we walked to the subway to catch the train to the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe (Basilica Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe) and national shrine in the northern part of Mexico City. The shrine is a complex of several churches and chapels and other buildings and is basically considered a holy site in Mexico because this is where, it is said, that the Virgin Mary appeared several times to a native peasant named Diego.

The original image of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe displayed inside her Basilica. This image is repeated all over Mexico (as well as Chicago).

The Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world and the world’s third most-visited sacred site. The venerated image was granted a Canonical Coronation back in the late 1800. The complex is located on a hill called Tepeyac Hill, already a holy site to the natives on which a temple of the mother goddess Tonantzin. The Spanish then destroyed this native temple and built a chapel for the Lady of Guadalupe; the area became later on, a complex with several chapels, gardens and sculptures.

Bas relief representing Diego, the Indian peasant who witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary

The story goes that the Virgin Mary appeared to Diego 4 times before the priests believed him. It is a long convoluted story that involves Diego’s sick uncle who also saw the Virgin and recovered, rose blooms that didn’t grow on the hill, appearance of the Virgin’s image on Diego’s cloak, the erection of a private chapel where the cloak was first kept, the erection of a larger chapel on Tepeyec hill, and the first miracle in the area of the chapel happening when a mortally wounded Indian carried before the Virgin’s image made a full and immediate recovery.

On the subway to the bus station to Teotihuacan. Mexico City’s subway is extensive and efficient.
Bus station to Teotihuacan
Favelas (slums) as seen from the bus on the way to Teotihuacan

Then, we took another subway to a bus station to take a bus to a town called San Juan Teotihuacan about 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Mexico City. The municipality is where the ancient Mesoamerican pre-Columbian city of Teotihuacan, famous for some of the colossal pyramids pre-Hispanic Mexico is known for. This is another philosophy of Urban Adventures that I like: tours embrace the philosophy of “do what locals do,” so, as much as possible, their tours include riding public transportation, to experience part of locals’ everyday lives.

Mexican countryside

After a short lunch (tamales) in the bus station and a pleasant 1 – 1 1/2 hour ride through the suburbs of Mexico City and the country-side, I experienced the most anticipated highlight of the trip: the breath-taking ancient ruins of one of the glorious civilizations of the Americas – the ruins of ancient Teotihuacan, the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas and the 6th largest city in the world during its period.

Breathtaking view of the Pyramid of the Moon, first sight from the entrance.

The civilization existed from about 250 BC and may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, pre dating the Aztecs (of Templo Mayor visited in day 1 of my trip). The site covers a total surface area of 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Avenue of the Dead and Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan Ruins

From the ruins, we then walked to the town (San Juan Teotihuacan) to drop by a private residence that had a small obsidian carving business.

Obsidian Small Business

There I was treated to three different alcoholic drinks – pulque, mezcal and tequila. Arriba, abajo, adentro! Pulque tastes like the Philippine tuba – and has similar process of extraction and fermentation, but from the maguey plant (I learned that they do have tuba in Mexico, made from palm tree sap!). I also learned that the maguey plant is treated like the tree of life – as all if not most of its parts are used for something.

Maguey plant fiber

After here, we then took a local taxi service to another private residence to finish off the day – a humble family style dinner of chicken cooked traditionally – wrapped in foil together with cactus and the skin of maguey plant that adds a great flavor.

Chicken with cactus and maguey cooked in its own juices

Altogether, I walked about 6.1 miles, 16,956 steps and climbed 32 floors on this walk.



Here are pictures of part 1 of the trip: The Basilica of Guadalupe and national shrine.

Best. Day. Ever. No. 1 Part 2

I had to divide Day 1 into two parts because of the number of pictures I wanted to post. This post is part 2 of my first full day of touring Mexico City.

Part I – Templo Mayor, Metropolitan Cathedral, the zocalo
Part II – Beyond the zocalo, Bellas Artes, Chinatown, Mercado de San Juan, Alameda Central and Diego Rivera Museum

My first full day in Mexico City was a tour called “Hidden Mexico City” with Urban Adventures that specializes in small-group tour in many cities around the world. It is a division of an Australian company called Intrepid Travels that is known to deliver sustainable, experience-rich travel. Urban Adventures “are for those who want to get away from the tourist crowds and really connect with a city, with a local by their side. The experience can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a whole day, but in every case our Urban Adventures tours take travellers to interesting places to experience local culture and see what makes a place unique. Join us for the Best. Day. Ever.”



Here’s my review for the Hidden Mexican City Tour:


Eve

Our guide was Evaluz Espejel (Eve), a vivacious young-at-heart who was not only very knowledgeable about the places we visited, but also very passionate about Mexico, Mexico City and travel as a whole. She offered personal insights that may or may not be part of the “script” which made the tour less clinical, less observational and somewhat more participatory given the time constraint. She even sometimes, I felt, included her own little “side trips” (like stopping at a corner of the city, pointing out small detail of architecture or explaining some events currently happening on the street). Our group was small (3 including me), so the tour was quite personal and intimate. I didn’t feel hurried at all, especially that I photograph almost anything that interests me. There was enough time to absorb and understand the “sensory assault” (how else could I call it?) that is Mexico City – visual, auditory, smell, taste, touch, even movement, guided expertly by Eve. Consider this: the tour went through exploring ancient history in Templo Mayor, and the Spanish occupation in the zocalo and Metropolitan Cathedral with a pause for refreshments in a charming outdoor food stand, through strolling on the pedestrian only shopping streets full of people, to walking through a restaurant housed in an architecturally significant building, to viewing modern art in Bellas Artes, through to gawking at shops in Chinatown, to tasting various traditional and not so traditional food at the Mercado de San Juan, walking through the lovely French style Alameda Park, and ending in closely examining the famous “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park” mural at the Diego Rivera Museum. Yup, the tour was certainly stimulating all the senses. As an added health benefit: I walked close to 6 miles (just a little under 10 kilometers), 13,764 steps and climbed an equivalent to 9 floors during the tour. No wonder Eve looks so fit!!



Best. Day. Ever. No. 1. Part 1

Templo Mayor and its surroundings

Part 1: Around the Zocalo and adjacent areas – Templo Mayor, Zocalo, Metropolitan Cathedral, shopping at Cinco de Mayo Ave etc.

My first full day in Mexico City was a tour called “Hidden Mexico City” with Urban Adventures that specializes in small-group tour in many cities around the world. It is a division of an Australian company called Intrepid Travels that is known to deliver sustainable, experience-rich travel. Urban Adventures “are for those who want to get away from the tourist crowds and really connect with a city, with a local by their side. The experience can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a whole day, but in every case our Urban Adventures tours take travellers to interesting places to experience local culture and see what makes a place unique. Join us for the Best. Day. Ever.”



Here’s my review for the Hidden Mexican City Tour: