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.



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.



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.

Part II – Beyond the zocale, 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:


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!!



Five days in CDMX – First Glance

Metropolitan Cathedral

It has been too long since I have been abroad. So this year, I promised to myself that I would go out of the country, fly somewhere, have a visa stamped onto my passport for a trip that would not cost me an arm and a leg. I considered several choices – Ireland, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, even India but upon reading on these destinations, Mexico won out. Not the beaches which I have been to (you really don’t want to go these beaches with their exclusive all inclusive resorts unless you want to see loud tourists who could be your neighbor down the street, why would you go out of the country to do just that? or Canadians not in their best behavior, haha) but the sprawling densely populated Mexico City. Many people asked me why, Mexico City is not safe (and all that crap, I really think that is just racist talk, because most of the people who told me that – have never been there because they are afraid of the difference and they really believe what Trump says about Mexicans).



So Mexico City it is, (now officially termed as CDMX or Ciudad de Mexico) – not just for the price (my 7 nights stay – una habitacion in a 3 star-hotel, air fare, everyday tours, food, souvenirs, tips etc. cost me less than a thousand dollars), but for history, especially shared history with the Philippines. In my bucket list especially, is the archaelogical dig that they have right there in the city called Templo Mayor, an Aztec city that was destroyed and built over by the Spanish. I was interested on it ever since I read about the time electric company workers dug up a huge stone disc dating to the 15th century depicting an Aztec moon goddess, right there in the middle of the city, next to posh residences and the city cathedral that was built by the Spanish over the majestic Aztec temples that were there before. And this was only recently – 1978!

And also I thought I could practice my Spanish, which, it turned out, was so differently spoken over there that I just turned my brain off and just said, no comprendo, hablas Inggles? instead. (I had more positive experience in Spain when talking in Spanish.)


Lobby of Hotel Metropol

I stayed at the Hotel Metropol in the central historical district, two blocks away from Alameda Central, a beautiful, nearly 500 year old sprawling classic French-style garden. Anything that was important for first time visitors to see are within walking distance.


One sight along one street on my way to the hotel from the airport


My first thought riding on the taxi service from the airport was that, wow, the streets and the architecture were like Manila (except that the streets here are a little bit cleaner, they have their own version of the old Metro-Aides – street sweepers – with similar colored uniforms and also carrying what looks like walis tingting – coconut midrib brooms)! The city seemed to have white washed (or in this case, colorfully washed) unsightly buildings with intense colors – like bright pink and purple and green and reds (just like what Imelda used to do in Manila but hers was white). Mexico City has recently been named as 2018’s World Design Capital by the World Design Organization, the first city in the Americas to be named as so and this is painted on bright pink-washed walls all over the city.

And the graffiti and murals – they were incredible!


Airport greeter

But before that, I was impressed by my taxi service, Amigo Tours – it actually had a representative waiting for me at the airport arrival hall, with my name written on an erase board! – and I had my own sparkling car – whose driver was an expert in maneuvering around the traffic.

About Hotel Metropol (my expedia.com review):
“I was pleasantly surprised – I had a very good experience. The room was spacious and spotless. The WiFi was strong. I stayed for 6 nights during the rainy season, so I didn’t need AC – just opened the window. (It was actually cold one day – I am from Chicago.) Hotel is close to everything – just off Benito Juarez, a main street in the historic district, so once you’re off the main grid, streets are not as well maintained. Across is a shuttered beautiful art deco theater (what a pity). Noise level could be loud – as it is in the central district, people are always around 24 hours – including a group of twenty somethings hanging out in the front of the hotel till the wee hours. There is an itinerant food vendor who announces his offerings (tamales) with a loudspeaker every evening – could be annoying, could be charming. The hotel’s restaurant is a good intro to Mexican food – but nothing to write home about – although the breakfast buffet is incredible with lots of choices including fruit and bakery items that could be familiar … or not :-). The wait staff are personable – both morning and evening shifts (but not the front desk staff – strange – a bit stand-offish, though some of them may actually greet you. They should realize, they’re in the hospitality industry!). Would I stay here again? Yup. Certainly. Last: be careful about the potable water faucet in the room – pressure is strong! (Oh, and the towels are flimsy, but it’s a 3 star, not a 5-star luxury.)”

I had booked for a walking tour around the central district during my first full day in the city, to serve as an easy introduction to the city with a small group tour called Urban Adventures. We were to meet our guide at the front of the youth hostel just off the zocalo and a good 15 minute walk from my hotel.

The walk gave me a good first glance of the city. It was a gloomy cloudy day in Mexico. Lighting was not that good. I thought to myself, this walk, along the magnificently maintained Benito Juarez Ave. early in the morning, could spell whether I will like the city or not. I did. Have a look!