The bus ride from Cuernavaca to Mexico City was a lot of fun and it was nice to have someone else drive for a while. We enjoyed the view out the windows and listened to music with our headphones. As we were nearing Mexico City I noticed a very thick layer of smog everywhere. You could barely see a few miles into the distance it was so thick. I had read that the pollution in the 21 million population Mexico City was pretty bad, but apparently in recent years they have started to take more environmental measures to reduce pollution. One thing I read was that they only let certain cars with certain license plate numbers to drive on certain days. Based on what I could see it didn’t look like it was helping much.
We finally arrived in the South City Bus Station which was right next to the metro station. The metro system in Mexico City is super easy and we were able to get to the Zocolo on our own no problem. Each line has its own color and each stop has a name as well as a symbol representing the stop. And all the stations have the name and symbol all over so you know exactly which stop you are at.
The metro is easy to use, but it is jam packed all the time. When the train stops people flood on and off as fast as possible. Sometimes people get pushed around and trip and fall. The drivers sound the alarm for the doors closing so quickly and we have seen many people get nearly stuck in the doors. Some people’s bags get caught in the closing doors and they have to pull their bags in. THEN there are the constant barrage of people walking up and down the train yelling at everyone that they have this and that for sale. Apparently this is illegal so they get on discreetly with a backpack of stuff, then bust out headphones, lollipops, bandages, books, anything to try and sell to the riders on the metro. Some of them even hook up speakers in their backpacks and they get on the train and then blast music which plays samples of various songs and they hold up pirated copies of cd’s for sale for the songs they are playing through their backpack. There are networks of these people everywhere trying to peddle anything they can all the time. At first we were like “Really?” and then we got used to it.
Once we finally got to the Zocolo, or the “eagle stop” (the symbol for the Zocolo stop was an eagle…see how easy that can be?) we got out and the Cathedral was staring us right in the face…as well as hundreds of sidewalk vendors and merchants selling pirated movies and music. Sometimes you see blankets with clearly printed out and burned dvd movies and then you will see a couple kids rush to pick the blanket up and fold up with the movies inside while a federal police vehicle drives by. It is like a cat and mouse game with the pirates and police here.
We found our hostel which was called Mexico City Hostel and checked in for a few nights into a large bunk dorm room. This is the first really big hostel we have been to so far during our travels. There were lots of people from all over staying here and we had plenty of roommates through out our stay. We still had plenty of daylight left in the day so as we were settling in we decided to go out and explore the Zocolo for the afternoon. While we were in the hostel regrouping our plans and route through the city it just started raining really hard out of no where. Then came the flashes and booms of thunder and lightning, but a little storm wasn’t going to stop us. We grabbed out rain coats and we hit the streets.
Our first stop was a huge pawn shop one block away from our hostel. We peeked inside the large building and most of the shops had jewelry and that was it. There was one small area that had some artwork and sculptures, but the rest was jewelry, mostly gold. We were hoping for some weird and crazy stuff but oh well. After that we headed to the cathedral. Everyone was stuck inside and waiting for the rain to stop. We must have looked like the crazy people going in and out through the rain from building to building. The cathedral was much like the ones we had seen before and offered a bit of sanctuary from the rain.
Then we headed toward the Supreme Court of Justice building which was supposed to have dozens of huge murals painted inside. We got there and asked the front desk if we could see the murals and they wanted some collateral in the form of ID’s but we left all of our ID’s and passports back at the hostel. No use carrying those around if you don’t need them right? Well we did, but luckily the guy at the desk had us write our names down on a piece of paper and let us go through anyway. We had a blast walking through the Supreme Court building…where in America could you just wander into a government building like that and just wander around looking at things? There were murals from many different artists old and new. One mural which really stuck out to us was by Rafael Cauduro. It depicted some very graphic political themes and it also incorporated minor demolition to the walls with bricks and crumbling plaster which was apart of the paintings. The entire mural spiraled all the way up 4 stories of one of 4 corner staircases in the building. It was amazing, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me. Here is a link to his website with some imagery of the mural. http://www.cauduro.com/obra/murales/SCJ/scj.html
After the Supreme Court of Justice building we came outside and noticed the rain had stopped. We stopped into a restaurant and had a light dinner and then headed back in to the hostel to check some emails and have some beers before bed. Some other travelers were watching a chick flick on the TV and Steve and I did some computer stuff and watched hockey. Right before bed I got this shot of the street outside the window of our room in the hostel right near the Zocolo.
The next morning we woke up and had some free breakfast at the hostel consisting of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee. We ate quickly because we heard that there was a tour going from the hostel to the Teotihuacán ruins today and we wanted to see them. Our first Mayan ruins! So at 9am we were ready to go. We thought we were just going straight to the ruins but the tour had some other interesting stops for us to see. First we stopped at some ruins that were right in the heart of Mexico city itself. We remembered reading about these ruins in our book. Apparently over the years Mexico City was built and little did anyone know that there was an ancient Mayan city sitting right underneath them. It wasn’t until the 1980′s that the city discovered the ruins and started excavating. It was wild to see such ancient ruins amidst this huge bustling city.
Right behind these ruins was an old church and we got to walk through it for a little bit before heading off to the Teotihuacán ruins themselves. The lighting in the church was very blue and I got a few interesting shots in there.
It took us about 45 minutes or so to get to the Teotihuacán ruins, but right before we got there we stopped to do a quick tour of an obsidian carving and mezcal tasting shop. They showed us how they made the mezcal in the agave plants and the many uses of the plant itself from papers to needle and thread to alcohol! We got to try three different kinds of mezcal, one was from cactus and was very sweet, one was a mezcal with an almond flavor and was also very sweet, and the last was a more traditional smokey flavored strong type. They were all very good and I think the almond was my favorite. They also gave each person a little sombrero made from the fibers of the agave plant as a little gift and a young boy went around pinning the sombraros on everyone’s shirts while we tasted mezcal.
Then they showed us the various symbolic meanings of the obsidian carved statues and masks they had in their shop. They were all very ornate and beautiful. Some of the obsidian had a gold shimmer inside of them. We thought all of the souvenirs were very nice, but we asked the owner if they had just some raw un-carved obsidian we could buy. The little boy brought us out to a small rock pile in the back of the shop and let us poke around and we found a few pieces we liked. I was going to buy a small ornate cat carved out of obsidian for 200 pesos and they threw in the raw obsidian chunks for free!
After the obsidian tour we finally got to go see the ruins which would contain two major temples, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun. The entire city there was huge. The first thing we noticed was that the place was littered with pan handlers trying to sell you tons of souvenirs and jewelry. Everywhere you turned they wanted to show you something for “nearly free.” It kind of took away from the sacred experience we hoped for, but we sort of got used to it. There was one thing unique to the souvenirs here we hadn’t seen, or heard, before. We kept hearing these big cat calls which turned out to be these clay jaguar calls that the pan handlers were trying to sell. We totally bought one because they sound awesome and we want to freak out our cats when we get home! It was kind of cool to hear jaguar calls every so often while walking around the ruins. There were also clay flutes being played as well which sort of added to the experience a bit.
So we entered the city and wandered over to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and discovered some remains of ancient serpent heads and figures of royalty with their supposedly jade jewlery around their eyes and through thier ears.
We then walked a long distance through the areas where markets were held and advanced water preservation methods were practiced. Then to the side of the main road we got to look into one of the homes which was excavated. All of the doorways and entryways were very low to the ground as the Mayan people were much shorter than most people today. In the home there were clear signs of plumbing systems through the walls and even a shower! It was quite amazing to see.
Then we continued onward toward the Sun and Moon Pyramids. The Pyramid of the Sun was the biggest pyramid there in the city. The stairway up to the top was strenuous, but totally worth it. The stairs themselves were very large and at least 2 feet high each. Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking. Pictures can’t really capture the vastness of this entire ancient city.
After enjoying the views from the Pyramid of the Sun we were led to a cafe near the obsidian shop outside of the main Mayan city area for some lunch. Unfortunately, Steve and I only had enough money for one meal. It was a buffet and $100 pesos per person, which was kind of steep, but we remembered we brought some cookies along with us in our pack so we grabbed those and our tour guide snuck us some bananas and we headed back to the pyramids to look around some more. The guide wanted us to be back to the bus by 4:30 so we had some free time to explore around and see the Pyramid of the Moon. Before we went back to the pyramids we went into a really great museum on the outskirts of the city. The museum had lots of unique and rare artifacts that were excavated at the site. They also had a huge diorama of the city itself and what it probably looked like in its glory days… also, skeletons!
We finally got back on the bus and headed back toward Mexico City. We had one more stop before we got dropped back off at the hostels. We went to the Basilica and visited this important catholic site which was supposedly the most important miracle related religious site in the world, next to the Vatican of course. The story goes that there was this guy named Juan Diego who claimed to have had a vision of the virgin Mary and she told Juan to build a shrine built in her honor. So Juan told the bishop and he didn’t believe him. Then Juan had another vision and the virgin Mary then told him to put a bunch of flower petals in his cloak and then carry them to the bishop. When the bishop opened the cloak the cloak had the image of the virgin Mary imprinted on the cloak and then he believed Juan so they built the shrine.
Sounds ridiculous if you ask me. We went to see the supposed actual cloak that had the imprint of Mary on it. Those flower petals must have had an art degree to be able to depict the virgin Mary as well as they did. So people from all over the world come here and crawl on their hands and knees to worship this depiction of the virgin Mary. You can go into the church/shrine and ride a small conveyor belt (yes, a conveyor belt people mover type thing that they have in airports) and slowly glide by and look up at this framed image of the virgin Mary (I guess they framed the cloak? It doesn’t really look like a cloak to me at all.) It was kind of funny to us because of it’s ridiculousness…but to each their own. The inside of the church looked really neat and had these honeycomb like lights at the ceiling though! And the windows were very beautiful.
So then after another hour of sitting in Mexico City traffic we finally made it back to the hostel. We were pretty tired from the days outing, but decided to go grab a bite to eat at a cafe and then came back in and had a few beers while we hung out on the computer and watched another chick flick someone had on with a stupid ending, I think it was called Spanglish (haha, appropriate for our trip.) Then we hit the sack for our next outing! I’ll continue our Mexico City adventures in the next post!