We drove through the state of Mexico to arrive at the Federal District of Mexico (not a state; more like Washington DC). The drive took us down from the altitudes of Michoacán some; we went from over 10,500 feet down to 7,000 when we arrived in Teotihuacan – a small town within the District that is famous for its pyramids.
We camped at a small trailer park right in the town of San Juan Teotihuacan and the owner, Mina, was helpful in advising us what to see and how to get to Mexico City. She also advised us where Doug could arrange to have new lenses put in his glasses as they were in bad shape. We had tried to have this done back in Puerto Vallarta but were told they send the lenses to Guadalajara for manufacture and it could take upwards of ten days (which we did not have). We went to the optical place here and they said it would only take three days! Done – and the lenses (transitional progressives) cost less than $80USD!
We went for a walk in the town of San Juan, picked up some groceries and spent a night unfortunately, listening to fireworks! This Monday was a holiday in Mexico and they sure like to celebrate with their fireworks – ALL night and day. That evening an Israeli couple also checked into the campground. They had travelled the opposite direction to us and had just spent a week in Mexico City (I’ll call this CDMX going forward: Cuidad de Mexico). They gave us some advice and they left that morning for the pyramids and then on to the butterflies. We gave them some advice on where to camp and the best way time to head up to the butterfly zone.
Tuesday, Doug had some work to do and that afternoon we went to the pyramid site by cab – cost less than $2USD. We got ourselves a guide who was very knowledge and took us to parts we probably would never have explored on our own, including the murals they recovered, a good spot to see all the way down the “avenue of the dead” and into the museum.
Luis gave us lots of info and had photos that were taken during the excavations and artist representations of what the site looked like as well as a lot about the history of this area. It was first settled in 200 BC and was left abandoned and somewhat destroyed in 750 AD. There is a Sun Pyramid that stands about 66 metres high and has tunnels through and under it; a Moon Pyramid, 46 metres high and a long avenue with hundreds of temples; the original avenue was four kms long and the excavated site includes half of that. It’s amazing that something so old is still around and nowadays we can’t make things last a fraction of that time.
These peoples had interesting ways of making walls with stones and in between the stones the mortar they used had little rocks imbedded it in.
We climbed to the main level of the Moon pyramid and also the top of the Sun Pyramid; the stairs are large for the most part and at this altitude ‘twas not an easy climb. The views were great and would have been better if not for the smog of Mexico City in the distance. This valley, that includes Mexico City, was once a huge lake and there are but remnants left.
Mexico City; what did we expect? What did we come away with? Doug was pretty excited about going to Mexico City; Fran, not so much.
Driving in Mexico City (Cuidad de Mexico) has some restrictions and can be quite confusing so we opted to take a bus from the campground. There are travel restrictions for foreign plates and you cannot drive until after 11 am on the other days. To try and alleviate traffic, depending on what digit your license plate ends with, there is one day a week you cannot drive. These restrictions apply in the “zone” which is the outer ring of the city. Our campground was within this “zone” but we got there in the afternoon so we were good.
We took the bus from Teotihuacan (see photo below of bus terminal) on Wednesday morning for 34 pesos each (less than $2USD), the bus took under an hour to get to the Central North Station.
We got off two stops before that and walked over to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe where we made a short visit to see the framed shroud with the picture of the Virgin Mary on it. They have five churches/temples around this basilica and thousands make the pilgrimage here. The shroud is on display on a wall with three moving sidewalks in front to keep the traffic flow moving. We were there fairly early so crowds were minimal. We went inside that building and there was a mass in progress so we did not stay long but we did see the organ donated to this church by Canada. Next we took public transit over to the National Museum of Anthropology for a couple of hours. This museum explains anthropology and concentrates on the tribes of Mexico.
We took a long walk through the Chapultepec Park (one of the largest city parks in the world) and then down the main central road seeing various monuments, huge traffic circles and modern office buildings and shops. The park has two lakes, many playgrounds, a castle, a history museum, a zoo and other attractions.
We then decided to take the Turibus, which is a “hop on, hop off” bus that has four routes which you can intermix. We decided to the central and south routes. This took us through many of the neighbours of Mexico City in a double decker, roofless bus. We passed through The Condesa which they equated to Soho in NYC, saw their World Trade Centre which they said has the worldest largest rotating restaurant, San Angel which has a huge convent that has been converted to a marketplace, an interesting looking hospital that has been built with some type of clean technology that they claim actually helps clean the air, and also passed through the University of Mexico which is quite large and spread out and includes the Olympic Stadium from the 1968 games and a beautifully tiled library building. It was a beautiful day and the views were great. The south route took waaaaaay longer than it was supposed to due to traffic so it was dark by the time we got back on the central route which we only took back to the Zocalo, which is the big square in El Centro which was where our hotel was.
We stated at Hotel Amigo Zocala which was rated a 3 star hotel but it had its issues; first of which was they couldn’t find our reservation; we couldn’t get hot water, wifi was changed every day (!) and the breakfast that was to be included, we were not given coupons for. Wouldn’t recommend but the location was fantastic.
The next day we spent the day walking the sites in El Centro including the Zocalo itself which is a ginormous square surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral (the largest in Latin America) and various government buildings including the National Palace. The square, while huge, is rather boring in that it has nothing in it; no trees, fountains, benches or anything, except a huge flagpole; actually when we got there the night before, it was full of city trucks. Next morning there seemed to be some filming of some sort going on and then the square somewhat cleared out but to our dismay, the giant Mexican flag was not on display. We strolled into the cathedral and then down a pedestrian street, Cinco de Mayo, to the Alameda (a large green space next to the Palace of Fine Arts). This is a beautiful park surrounded by many shops and office buildings, including a large tower you can go up to the 56th floor of to see the city. However, this day, while sunny, was rather smoggy so we opted to skip the hazy views. We did go inside the Palace of Fine Arts as we’d understood there were murals of Diego Rivera, a famous Mexican painter, only to find there were only two. We did see a famous one called “An Evening on the Alameda” that had been reproduced and put on a wall near the Diego Riveria museum (which was not open).
We learned of the opera house inside that Fine Arts Building which has a curtain made by Tiffany’s. This is only open for viewing on Thursday afternoons so we were in luck. Doug was not too interested in this and had received some work to attend to so we went back to the hotel and later Fran walked back to the Palace when it was open for the free visitation of the Opera house. The “presentation” was about the history of the building, all in Spanish and then the curtain was on display. It is made of one million pieces of glass made by Tiffany’s and presented to the Mexican people. It is quite beautiful with a lovely picture of what the Mexico valley might have looked like before man arrived.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner overlooking the Alameda before returning to the hotel and checking out first thing the next day to go back to Tigger.
Mexico City is an enormous city of over 28 million people (no one knows for sure). It has a great public transportation system of buses and subways that seem to run well and are dirt cheap; we often paid ten pesos for both of us – about 45 cents! The streets for the most part are clean, wide and have good sidewalks. The cars are modern, the people look well off for the most part but as like any big city, there are street people begging (usually offering something in return though: gum, music and the like). Some of the neighbourhood streets are cobbled but in good condition. There are plenty of trees, benches and small parks. It has a many shopping centres with stores we are familiar and others we are not; lots of restaurants including many US chains like Chili’s; fast food chains like McD’s, Dominoes and Krispy Kreme and of course Starbucks. We saw Sears, Radio Shack and others. Traffic flowed pretty well and seemed organized until you see the giant traffic circles which have no lane lines and sometimes you can see cars nine across trying to get through a light. All the large roundabouts have lots of benches around the outside with trees and many people make use of them.
So in answer to the questions above, Doug ended up somewhat disappointed with the city and Fran was not sorry to leave. Mexico City tries hard but cannot really be ranked, in our opinion, with the likes of Paris and New York.
Upon our return to Tigger back in Teotihuacan, we took it in for an alignment (our guide Luis from the pyramids found us a place that would accommodate large vehicles). It cost a whopping one hundred pesos! We had them check the brakes as well and all was good. Next was to pick up Doug’s glasses which he was very happy with. After a haircut and a truck wash we were on our way to Puebla in the state of Puebla.