A Travellerspoint blog

Tepotzotlán, glittering witness to Mexico's colonial past

TEPOTZOTLÁN may have a name sounding like some kind of pharmaceutical product and be a mouthful to pronounce but don't let that put you off. I've spent days muttering it under my breath (at least 273 times) and it still gets stuck in my throat, like an overly large pill refusing to go down smoothly. But it's also managed to get stuck firmly in my mind as it's probably the closest I'll ever get to being inside an Aladdin's cave stashed full of Spanish gold. Now I see why so many people have crossed it off their list of Things-To-Do-Before-I-Leave-Mexico.

This pueblo mágico, 40 kms north of Mexico City but in reality almost joined to it, is located just where the chaotic urban sprawl in the Valle de México peters out at last and runs into open skies and humpback mountains, which is what its name supposedly means in the Nahuatl language. Fortunately, despite being on the brink of being swallowed up in the city's growth, it remains a quiet town of 40,000 people, with lumpy cobblestones and a centre rich in colonial vestiges. Its claim to fame is the Museo del Virreinato and the Iglesia de San Francisco Javier, a complex which houses some of the finest art and artifacts from the Colonial era. If that sounds a somewhat stuffy idea to you, let me assure you it isn't. I first heard about Tepotzotlán when Marc went there with his school. When your 13-year-old son comes back raving about an amazing church bulging with gold inside and has even taken photos of it, you know it's worth seeing.


So when I heard that the Newcomers' Club was organising a trip to Tepotzotlán (not to be confused with another pueblo mágico called Tepoztlán to the south on the way to Cuernavaca) and Lynda Martinez del Campo was going to be our guide, I made sure my name was on the list. Lynda assured me I would want to take masses of photos, although photos could not entirely do justice to what we were going to see.

Surprisingly, it only took us half an hour to drive there from Polanco. I say" surprisingly" because some days it takes me that time just to advance one kilometer up Paseo de la Reforma. When we arrived, I could smell the countryside and see the nearby rounded mountains clearly in the fresh morning air. I love that sensation. And there was the church, standing tall in an extremely quiet plaza or square, still not fully awake. 'Good', I thought to myself. 'As it's mid-week, we'll have it to ourselves'. And I was right. Weekends see a larger influx of people coming to visit this Colonial wonder and a lively market in this very square but today it was all ours.

While waiting for everyone to arrive, I skipped off to take some photos... my camera was already itching to capture scenes of Tepotzotlán, inside and outside the complex.

The church and museum complex

The church with its tower seen from the road

View of the main square with the Jorobado (Humpback) Mountains behind

The sign for Tepotzotlán is the shape of the church

Some of the locals outside the town hall

Giant chair decorated with bright colours and designs

View of the square, the mountains and clear blue skies from the church

A novel place to stack chairs!

There are a lot of artistic wrought-iron workshops around producing works of art like this bull or fancy gates and chairs

Colourful flags decorate an eating area

A lone vendor sits in the square waiting for some custom

One of the stalls in the square

When we had all gathered together in the shadow of the very ornate church which can't fail to catch your eye and dominates the Plaza de Hidalgo, Lynda started off by reminding us of the historical background of this area. It was in 1521 that the Spanish conquered Mexico and this land became known as New Spain or the Virreinato de Nueva España. Some fifty years after the Conquest, the Jesuits arrived a little late on the scene to set up their missions and to evangelise and found that the other Catholic orders had already more or less divided up Mexico City amongst themselves. So they came to Tepotzotlán and established a series of schools out here to teach their missionaries the indigenous languages, provide an education for the Indians and train up novice priests. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the land by the King of Spain, Carlos III, and didn't return until 1885. Once again, during the Mexican Revolution, they were forced to leave in 1914. The complex was nationalised in 1933 and declared a historic monument and later restored and opened as a museum in 1964.

The adjoining church, the Iglesia de San Francisco Javier, built by the Jesuits between 1670 and 1682, was the one we were now sitting in front of. One look at the extremely ornate façade, without so much as a square inch of plain stone in the central part, tells you they either had a lot of time on their hands or were trying to make a point. Or both. If the façade of a church can be "read" like a book, giving a summary of what's inside and what's important to them, then this one has made sure visitors know what it was all about. There was a large figure of St Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Society of Jesus and one of the seven original Jesuits) in the middle, over the door, showing the church was dedicated to him. All the other saints and symbols were also part of the story and it would probably take you a good few weeks to investigate and fully absorb. But apparently, that was just the appetizer for what was to come. We could hardly wait to go inside. Before we actually went into the museum, Lynda pointed out the smaller "nest of domes" to one side of the church. "Remember this. You'll see what it is when you get inside," she said tantalisingly.

Lynda explaining some history to the group

A general view of the Iglesia de San Francisco Javier

Tile explaining the different figures on the façade

The very ornate façade covered in saints and other figures

Detail of the façade

Series of domes which Lynda pointed out to us and told us to keep in mind

Today the whole complex comprising the College, the former monastery and the Church of St Francis Xavier houses the Museo Nacional de Virreinato (Museum of the Viceregal or Colonial Period), one of the most impressive in Mexico, not only for what is on show there but because the buildings themselves are a fitting historical setting for the exhibits. Add to that the fact that the Church is one of the three most important buildings of churrigueresco (Spanish Baroque) art in Mexico and you can be sure you're going to need more than a few hours to take it all in. As Lynda took us around the museum and fed us entertaining snippets of information as well as the heavier stuff, we began our journey back in time. The stone floors, red and white walls and vaulted cloisters bulged with valuable paintings, works of art and sculptures from Mexico's colonial era. We visited the private chapel, the library, the pharmacy, the kitchen, and an exhibition on nuns and their way of life, and were transported back several centuries.

Scale model of the museum complex, seen from the front

Beautiful corridors, painted red and white, with stone flooring

Windows with heavy wooden shutters

The private chapel, "Capilla Domestica", with a towering altarpiece full of mirrors, portraits of saints, statues and reliquaries, where the novice priests used to come and pray

Interesting windows in the chapel

Lavishly painted ceilings and walls of the chapel

The only other visitors were a party of schoolchildren who seemed to be enjoying themselves

Vaulted roof and paintings

The Spanish arrived in galleons like these to conquer the New World

Suit of armour and paintings from the Colonial Period which stretched from the Spanish Conquest in 1521 to the beginning of the 19th Century.

A rather gory statue of Jesus on his way to being crucified. It would surely have left an impression on the Indians.

Another rather gruesome sight - relics of one of the saints

Scale model re-creating life in those days

Corridor in the ex-monastery

Exhibition about the life of nuns in a convent

View through the window of the bell tower and dome outside

The breezy terrace at the top gives all-round views

Looking down towards the Church building from the monastery

The Jesuits' library

Ivory figures

Detail of the door and corridor

Patio de los Naranjos, one of the interior courtyards with orange trees

Looking into the courtyard

Mural depicting the enormous aqueduct built near Tepotzotlán and well worth a visit too.

The gardens of the complex, leading to the vegetable plots

Scene from the kitchen

Shelves in the kitchen

Whitewashed kitchen patio with cisterns for collecting rainwater

The store room

The Pharmacy where they prepared the medicines

With many of the exhibits coming from the Cathedral in Mexico City as well as elsewhere, this complex must be the most well-stocked colonial museum in Mexico. Even if you aren't particularly keen on religious or sacred art, there is more than enough here to keep you interested. The buildings themselves are impregnated with the unmistakeable colonial style and you can't help but wonder what these walls have seen over the last 400 years or so. But there was still more to come. Lynda promised us that we'd be amazed by what we were going to see inside the church which was when I suddenly began to wonder if my camera battery would last out.

.../To be continued in Part 2.

Posted by margaretm 06:52 Archived in Mexico Tagged museum excursion colonial tepotzotlán pueblo_mágico Comments (1)

Let sleeping volcanoes lie

Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl

Last weekend, the wind huffed and puffed and blew away the layer of nata over the city, leaving clear skies. I decided it was worth getting up at the crack of dawn and making my way up to Santa Fe to watch the sun rise over the volcanoes Iztaccihuatl and Popocatéptel. Izta was fast asleep but Popo was only dozing half-heartedly, letting off little wisps of a yawn. I crept away silently when the sun burst over the horizon behind them, hoping they wouldn't wake up. You see, Popo is still an active volcano and he's been getting a bit restless recently.

The silhouettes of the two volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl on the left and Popocatépetl on the right. They are just 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City.

Legend has it that Iztaccihuatl was Popo's sweetheart. The silhouette looks like a woman lying down.

Popocatépetl is the second highest mountain in Mexico, at 5426 m (17802 ft) high.

Popo lets off a bit of steam and gas.

The sun comes up on the horizon behind Iztaccihuatl, which is Mexico's third highest mountain at 5220 m (17,126 ft).

Popo's almost perfect cone shape tinged orange.

To find out about the legend of these two sweethearts, read my blog post A smoking volcano of 6th June 2011.

Posted by margaretm 12:45 Archived in Mexico Tagged volcanoes sunrise popocatépetl iztaccihuatl Comments (1)

My bike's-eye-view of Chapultepec


Chapultepec (which means Grasshopper Hill in nahuatl) is one of my favourite places for cycling, even though I've never seen any grasshoppers around, at least not yet. Frankly, I don't know what Mexico City would do without this enormous park, its much-needed lungs, which from the air looks like a vast green landlocked sea surrounded by buildings. Asphyxiate itself, I suppose. But it's more than just a mega clump of trees pumping oxygen into the air and helping us breathe. With over 686 hectares or 1,600 acres, (either way, that's an enormous green area inside a city), it's the largest urban park in Latin America and it's got a bit of everything. Thick wooded areas, lakes, bird life, monuments, nine museums, picnic tables, food stalls, restuarants, fountains, a zoo, a funfair, and the only royal castle in the Americas. Not all together, of course, but spread out. The Bosque de Chapultepec, as it's known here, is divided into three sections. The first one, where I do most of my cycling, is the oldest and most visited. A big chunk of it is fenced-in behind wrought-iron fences and gates, off-limits to vehicles and dogs, and is shut at night.

Part of Section 1 of Chapultepec Park seen from the plane. You can see the Museo Nacional de Antropología in the bottom left corner, Chapultepec Lake in the centre and the Castle to the right.

Trees everywhere.. looking towards Polanco from the hill where the Castle stands

Chapultepec Park has at least a hundred different faces. At different times of the day and depending on the day of the week, it can be uninhabited except for the squirrels, ducks and birds, or awash with families picknicking or boating on the lakes. It also has a thousand hidden corners, waiting to surprise you. My favourite time to visit is early on Saturday morning. This is when I like to go cycling there. When it's just me and the squirrels and rustling trees. When I can hear the water splashing in the fountains, and the lakes are like mirrors. When the soft light begins to tinge the upper layers of the wood a warm colour and solid shafts beam down through the trees to wake up the dark forest floor. It's a magical time. Early in the morning, it's easy to forget you're in one of the largest, most-populated cities on this planet. In fact, if anyone were to remind you of that fact, you'd most likely think they were hatching a far-fetched tale to see how gullible you were. It's so spotlessly clean there couldn't possibly have been anyone around the day before.

I arrive on my two wheels to discover other like-minded souls, cycling, running, or striding purposely. Some early-risers have brought their mats, find one of the those shafts of light beaming down and set about doing their yoga exercises there, enlightened. I've also seen tree-huggers, absorbing energy I suppose. And small, multi-aged groups practising martial arts. Even grandmas in curlers and baggy tracksuits, jogging along healthily. There's always so much to see. The colours of the leaves change before my eyes, the flowers rub their eyes, yawn and open up. Dewdrops like sparkling diamond necklaces adorn the bamboo thickets. Squirrels scamper around or hang upside down, motionless, on the tree trunks by their long fingernails.

As I cycle around, the park slowly begins to stir and wake up. Vendors start setting up their stalls, candyfloss sellers whip up bright pink, purple or blue clouds of the fluffy stuff, and I can smell the sweetness in the air as I ride past. A few wisps escape and waft away in the sky. The ice-man pedals around with mammoth-sized ice blocks on his tricycle, cutting it into half-metre-long lumps for his clients to put with their refrescos to keep them cold. When the crowds arrive, they are going to need sustenance. They come in their thousands, whole families, youngsters, older people. This park belongs to the chilangos, the residents of Mexico City. They come here to breathe, find shade, have fun, wander around, forget they live in the middle of so much concrete and traffic. Few foreign visitors see much of this place except for when they go on their cultural visits to the museums and castle. And maybe a boat ride.

But anyway, I will be long gone by the time everyone arrives. The secret to having Chapultepec all to myself is getting there early... and leaving early.

Join me and my bike in a photographic tour of one of our early-morning cycles around Chapultepec

We start off in Polanco, after parking the car free-of-charge, and set off for the Monumento a Gandhi by Parque Gandhi, an area specially laid out for doing sport.

Next we cross over Calzada Mahatma Gandhi and pedal through the woods, which are usually empty early in the morning...

...except maybe for some squirrels and people walking their dogs.

We come to the contemporary art museum, Museo de Rufino Tamayo, hidden among the trees.

After that, we head for the tall blue pole which towers above us, just opposite the Museo de Antropología. This is where you can see the Voladores de Papantla "flying" at certain times during the day. (See my blog post Flying men of 26 May 2011)

We cycle on to the Museo Nacional de Antropología, which contains the world's largest collection of ancient Mexican art and exhibits about Mexico's indigenous groups. You can easily spend days there and still not see everything. This massive monolith my bike is in front of weighs 168 tons, and is a representation of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god. Apparently, it lay for centuries in a dry stream bed 50 km from Mexico City until it was brought here in 1964 on a specially made trailer which crossed through the city at night. 25,000 people were waiting in the Zócalo for it to arrive and welcomed it with a big fiesta.

Here we stop to look at three giant head sculptures lying in front of the museum, the work of Mexican artist, Javier Marin.

You can see also this poster outside, inviting you to come and watch the Ballet Folklórico de México in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It reminds me that I must go one day, but it will have to be an excursion without my bike.

If it's March-April, many jacaranda trees are in bloom along this stretch, turning the area a beautiful purple colour.

Next we cross over to the central part of Paseo de la Reforma, and stop to take our photo at the famous Alas de la Ciudad (Wings of the city), also by Javier Marin.

Opposite the Wings are some more interesting sculptures by Javier Marin.

We have plenty of time to look at all the winged statues displayed down the centre of Reforma.

Some Sunday mornings, Paseo de la Reforma is closed off to traffic for marathons and other races and we can cycle down it with no traffic to be seen, like today.

This isn't a language school, but the Museo de Arte Moderno, also located in Chapultepec, worth a visit especially if you enjoy modern art.

Next we come to the Jardin Botánico which has a small cactus garden.

On the same side of Reforma is an interesting outdoor gallery, with a series of large photographs which changes every couple of months. It's an interesting way to find out a lot about Mexico and other places as you drive, walk or cycle along. Yes, sometimes the traffic is so thick you have lots of time to look out of your car window and learn new things.

This one was a series of photos showing the marine wildlife of Mexico, with stunning colours.

The current series is on Mexican dance and ballet.

We enter the gates of Chapultepec Park near the Librería Porrúa, a glass-walled bookshop, in keeping with the tree-filled park. It has a couple of trees inside, whose branches protude through the wall and ceiling. No cars are allowed in this part of the park. We cycle past the Lago de Chapultepec, calm and peaceful at this time in the morning. Later on, it will be filled with hundreds of people boating and having picnics.

The buildings of Polanco can be seen in the background.

Very close by is another lake which is where they stage the outdoor ballet El Lago de los Cisnes (Swan Lake) in February and March. This event, famous here in DF, is into its 36th year. Last Saturday, we watched them setting up the scenery and stage.

A white swan on the lake. The green colour of the water is due to the algae.

We then pedal through the picnic area near this lake.

Soon, many stalls along the paths will be opening, ready to sell food, snacks, souvenirs etc. All is quiet at the moment, though.

We come across some candyfloss sellers preparing for the day ahead, making the bright blue, pink and purple candyfloss.

One of the oldest trees in the park, this ahuehuete or Montezuma cypress, El Viejo del Agua, is over 500 years and must have seen many things in its lifetime. My bike is dwarfed by it.

We cycle on towards the Castle, looking up at it perched on top of Chapultepec Hill. Emperor Maximilian I lived here with his wife Carlota during the Second Mexican Empire in 1864. It is also famous for being the only royal castle in the Americas.

The castle looks down on the Monumento a los Niños Heroes de Chapultepec, honouring the six young Mexican cadets who died defending the castle during the war between Mexico and the United States, in 1847.

A bit further along, on the way down towards El Ángel, we come to the base of the Estela de Luz which was recently inaugurated in January 2012. It was supposed to be ready in time to commemorate the Bicentenial of Independence in September 2010 but was only finished last month. Costing far more than originally planned and dogged by corruption, maybe it should change its name to Monumento a la Corrupción...

This is the view when looking down from the Estela de Luz towards the Monumento a los Niños Heroes and the Castle.

We turn back towards the Castle and then skirt it to the left, coming to another old tree, known as El Sargento.

Just around the corner, tucked out of sight is an unusual place, the Audiorama, where you can listen to music surrounded by nature in a beautiful peaceful setting. Each day they have different music playing. Of course, there is no music playing at this time in the morning or we would stop here for a while.

This side of the park is quieter, without any market stalls, and is a lovely place to cycle through in the autumn.

Next we pedal along till we come to this fountain, visited by squirrels. I sometimes watch them drink from the water.

Inside the park, there are lots of paths and trails to cycle along. For runners or cyclists wishing to do exercise, there is a 3-km circular route complete with signs telling you how many metres you've done...and how far you still have to go!

A bit further along are the Baños de Moctezuma where the Aztec ruler and Emperor Maximilian used to swim. They were restored last year although there is no water in the baths now.

We turn off the road and take a path cutting through the middle of the park where we come across a statue of Don Quijote.

The park has some water channels in this part and is very peaceful on Saturday mornings.

The paths are well-kept and easy to cycle along, although you can go off through the woods whenever you want.

As we cycle around the park, we can see some unusual trees like this one, with a huge base. Names and hearts have been carved into the bark.

Nearby is an area for kids which also has some interesting facts about Mexico and its history. Did you know that chewing gum, chicle in Spanish, comes from the sap of a Mexican tree called chicozapote?

We pedal through the woods and watch the early morning light beaming down through the trees. It really doesn't feel like we're in the middle of one of the world's largest cities.

Here we stop for a while and watch the squirrels scampering around and some even come up close to investigate.

As we head down towards the far end of the park, we arrive at the Totem Pole donated to the Mexican people by Canada in 1960.

Cycling on, we soon see the imposing statue of Nezahualcoyotl, ruler and poet and nature-lover, who preserved the large wooded areas of Chapultepec and its springs, made pools in the rocks, planted flowers, introduced animal species into the forest and ordered the construction of a zoo and botanical garden. No wonder they've honoured him with this statue and enormous system of fountains.

Here's the long line of fountains, the perfect place to come when it gets hot.

Water gushes out of the mouth of a wolf-like creature.

All around are colourful displays of flowers.

Green and shady, just what you need when cycling in the heat.

Here we turn back up towards the main walkway and come to the so-called Frog Fountain or the Fuente de las Ranas where I often see groups of people practising martial arts early on Saturday.

By now the stalls are beginning to open and get ready for the crowds of people.

We turn left and arrive at the zoo, a favourite place for families, and completely free-of-charge

This is the largest zoo in Mexico. (See my blog post If animals could talk... of 17 October 2011)

A bit further on, we leave through the park gates and cycle along the wide pavement bordering Reforma until we arrive at the Auditorio Nacional, a large concert complex.

We cycle back down the centre of Reforma. Around the time of Dia de Muertos, in October and November, the flower beds are planted with thousands of orange cempasuchils. This statue is near the military complex at Campo Marte.

Finally, we cross over the other side to the Museo de Antropologia again. Part of it is surrounded by a metal fence respresenting calaveras or skulls. We make our way around the back part towards Calzado Gandhi again.

Crossing over this street, we find ourselves in part of Parque Gandhi with trees and a running track. It is a popular place to walk dogs and I've even seen people practising bull fighting. One man holds some metal horns and charges, while the other one waves his red cape. There's never a dull moment around here.

To end our route, we make our way back to Polanco to where we've parked the car. There used to be a big advertisement along the way and my bike always wanted to stop there. I think I know where it wants to go some day!


And a last photo to show you what the park is like at the weekends during the day!


Posted by margaretm 07:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged fountains nature monuments cycling mexico_city chapultepec_park Comments (0)

My bicycle's view of Mexico City


Some words, said in the same breath, fit comfortably together like a long-standing married couple and have a smooth sound as they roll off your tongue. "Bread and butter", "knife and fork", "peace and love".... Not so "Mexico City" and "cycling". When said, the speaker has the vague idea that he or she has forced two incompatible concepts to rub shoulders together. Let's be honest, when you say "Mexico City", the idea of cycling is not the first thought that comes to your mind, is it? It probably wouldn't even make the Top 100. "Armoured car" would probably beat it. Yet I've discovered that bicycles CAN be ridden in this city and cycling can be tons of fun.... if you choose your time and place carefully.

Just over a year ago, with my birthday speeding up on the calendar, Josep asked me what I wanted for a present. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" I cautioned him. "A mountain bike!" Funny enough, the mention of a two-wheeler didn't even faze him. He knows me too well. "Ok. But you'll just have to be careful in this traffic!"

I didn't want a bike to ride in the traffic. That would probably be the most painful, life-threatening activity I could take up at this moment in time. Who wants to have the life choked out of them in the deathly python-like embrace of Mexico City's savage traffic? Or suffer lead poisoning from breakfasting and lunching on the obnoxious fumes spouted centimetres from your face? No, my idea was to pedal through the enormous wooded Bosque de Chapultepec in the middle of the city and renew my contact with nature on a weekly basis. And have the run of the Centro Histórico to myself without being threatened by motorised vehicles on Sunday mornings. This is when certain roads in the centre are off-limits to cars, buses, taxis and trucks and from 8 am to 2 pm become the rightful kingdom of cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, skaters and pedestrians, out to enjoy their city in a healthier way. With more than 20 kms of cycling routes to be enjoyed every week, who can blame them. What's more, on the last Sunday of the month, a Ciclotón is held with an extra 32-km route to pedal around. Last month, 42,000 cyclists participated, some of them using Ecobicis, Mexico City's shared biking system which has become very popular in the two years it's been around.

My brand new bike arrived at the end of January 2011, just over a year ago. I went for a quick ride around the nearby streets to check it out and to my delight, discovered that my Yaris, small on the outside but remarkably big inside, could comfortably hold me, a passenger, my bike in the back and even Ozzy! I wouldn't have to cycle downhill all the way to the centre and, better still, all the way uphill home. I could drive down to Polanco, park, take out my bike and get pedalling.

The following Sunday I got up early and made my way down to where it was all happening with my brand new bike. Dozens of cyclists were already sprinting up and down between El Ángel and the Alameda. It seemed strangely exhilarating to be cycling in the middle of the road where I normally get stuck in snarled-up traffic. A group of cyclists of all ages, riding bikes in all stages of evolution, were pedalling in a determined kind of way so I joined them. We sped past all the monuments and sights I had only seen from a car or on foot and were soon shuddering over the cobbles of the Centro Histórico where whole streetfuls of colonial churches and old buildings looked more like sinking ships floundering in a concrete sea. Leaning at odd angles, they are literally subsiding into the former lake-bed that the city is built on.

Before I knew it, I saw signs to the Airport. What were we doing right over here?, I began to wonder. That's when I realised I had inadvertently joined the Ciclotón and would be cycling right around the long route. I didn't even have a bottle of water on me. My cell phone came in handy and about half-way around the city, when the high-rise buildings of Reforma had become mere pins on the horizon, I phoned my family. "Um, I'll be back a little bit later than I originally thought..... NO, everything's fine. The bike's great! Actually, I've gone halfway around the Ciclotón route.... No, I hadn't planned to do it. I just got carried along and before I knew it, it was too late to turn back.... No, I'm not sure what time I'll arrive back. By the way, I can see the skyscrapers in Santa Fe a long long long way off in the distance." That first ride was an eye-opener, and 32 kms later, I arrived back at El Ángel in a flurry of wheels, dogs and music along with several thousand more participants. My bike had just done its first long urban ride on its maiden voyage.

Ever since then, I've spent early Saturday mornings cycling around Chapultepec Park when it is almost devoid of any human chatter and Sunday mornings exploring the Centro Histórico. I go on my own, with my camera, and have never felt unsafe. Thanks to my bicycle, I've discovered a side to Mexico City that most people don't see or even know about. A quiet, cyclable version of this mega city.

I'll let my bike show you the sights from its point of view. I'd better warn you now that it likes to be in all of the photos!


Around the Zócalo

In the Zócalo, looking towards the Catedral Metropolitano and the huge flag that often flies there.

Two of the hundreds of policemen you can see all around the city. I think they were amused to see us there.

The Palacio Nacional lines one side of the Zócalo and there are some very interesting murals by Diego Rivera inside which you can see free-of-charge. Unfortunately, they don't allow bicycles inside.

The symbol of Mexico City in tiles... an eagle with a snake in its mouth perching on top of a cactus....an interesting legend.

Looking through the arches at the Cathedral.


Around the streets of the Centro Histórico

Riding down one of the old streets in the Centro Histórico lined with old colonial buildings.

There are still loads of VW Beetles everwhere in the city.

There are so many churches in the Centro Histórico that it's hard to remember all their names!

I'm glad I've got a mountain bike as it makes it easier to ride down the cobbled streets.

Another mottled Beetle which has been repainted several times.

We came across this church one day, freshly painted.

Two of the many taxis which make cycling so hazardous in the old centre. It's best to keep out of their way!

A lot of the buildings in the Centro Histórico are made from volcanic rock like this one.

The walls and tower of this church lean different ways.

There are fountains everywhere. The small chapel behind is sinking down in the ground like many old buildings around here.

The Arcades of the Scribes, in Plaza Santo Domingo, where people still go to get letters written for them.

A small chapel in Plaza Santo Domingo.

The blue-and-white tiled walls of the Casa de Azulejos, a mansion built in the 16th Century, but now a Sanborns shop. It's also a good place to have breakfast or lunch.

This isn't a scene from a science fiction movie, with roots springing up all over the place and taking over the city. It's a new public exhibit by Rivelino, called "Raices" or "Roots" designed to provoke reflection about the nation's past. These white roots are outside the Museo Nacional de Arte.

One of thousands of colonial-style buildings in the Centro Histórico.


Around the Alameda

One of Mexico City's most elegant buildings, the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It was built in 1934 and is the city's main theatre and cultural centre.

Looking up at the Torre Latinoamericano, 188 metres high, and once the highest building in Mexico City. It became doubly famous when it withstood the big earthquake in 1985.

Looking towards the cupula of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from near the Casa de Azulejos.

The beautiful Palacio de Correos building (Post Office) which is spectacular inside.

A trolley bus passes by.

The Hemiciclo a Juárez is a monument in honour of Benito Juárez, ex-president of Mexico.

Contrast between the old and new in Plaza Juarez.

Stopping outside the Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia, a tought-provoking museum with exhibits about the Holocaust and other genocides, and cultural diversity.

Old historic buildings surrounded by modern buildings.

The Alameda is a leafy park which during the day fills with market stalls.

At this centre, you can learn some of the indigenous languages, like Náhuatl which was the language of the Aztecs.

This monument in the Plaza de la Solidaridad conmemorates the victims of the tragic 1985 earthquake, on the site where many people lost their lives when the Hotel Regis collapsed.

Looking towards the church of San Juan de Dios from the Alameda Park.

The colonial-style church towers

The silhouette of the Torre Latinoamericana in the distance seen through the spokes.


Along Paseo de la Reforma

El Caballito, the famous yellow horse of Mexico City, was designed by Mexican sculptor, Sebastián and I recently discovered that it also serves as a chimney!

Riding along the special cycle lanes down Paseo de la Reforma.

This is the Loteria Nacional building which they had just re-painted.

There are often military parades at the bottom of the Monumento a la Revolución on Sunday mornings.

Christopher Columbus watches over the traffic in Paseo de la Reforma.

Doing an impersonation of the statue.

Cuauhtémoc ("Swooping Eagle") was the Aztec ruler of the city when it was called Tenochtitlan. Today he stands in the middle of the traffic and modern buildings.

Some feline creatures at the bottom of Cuautémoc's statue along with an inscription reading, "In memory of Quautemoc and his warriors who battled heroically in defence of their country" against the Spanish.

The tall thin modern building housing the Stock Exchange.


El Ángel de la Independencia is one of the most famous landmarks in Mexico City. Originally there were just nine steps leading up to the base but another 14 were added due to the sinking down of the ground. The Angel is made of bronze, covered in 24k gold.


El Ángel was built to commemorate the centennial of Mexico's War of Independence and it was later made into a mausoleum for the most important heroes of that war.

There are some very interesting benches along Paseo de la Reforma, like this one. Another one looks like two giant sofas!

One morning we went to see the Alebrijes set up along Reforma.

The Ecobici bikes, Mexico City's shared biking system. They've been around for two years now and have been so successful that more routes and stations will be set up in other areas too.

La Fuente de Diana la Cazadora with the Torre Mayor behind. Until 2010, this skyscraper was the tallest building in Latin America, with 55 floors.


In Part 2 - Photos around Chapultepec Park.

Posted by margaretm 05:42 Archived in Mexico Tagged monuments cycling mexico_city centro_historico Comments (6)

Amor y Amistad, Love and Friendship

Valentine's Day


Today is Valentine's Day or El Dia de San Valentin. Here in Mexico it has a special twist to it. It's not just a day to celebrate romantic love between husbands and wives, or girlfriends and boyfriends. It's an all-inclusive celebration of Amor y Amistad, Love and Friendship. I like it better that way. No-one feels left out. Everyone has friends and family. It's a time for giving flowers, chocolates, heart-shaped balloons and cards. For eating pink and red coloured cupcakes and cookies and desserts. Or heart-shaped jelly sweets. And going out to restaurants to eat. They'll be brimming over today.

Yesterday I went up to Casa Daya. Laura, Carmina and I had decided to focus on the topic of Love and Friendship. These young teenage mums aren't too familiar with love and friendship. They've had little of these two gifts. They know more about rejection, abandonment, being used, hit, loneliness. We talked about true love, pure love, agape love.

"Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.
Love never fails."
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Not an inch of soppy, short-lived romanticism here. This is a strong, powerful, selfless love. Sacrificial love. God's love. This is the kind of love we need more of... in our lives, in our families, in our communities.

Pati wants to say something. Just 16, she arrived a couple of days ago at the home with her 10-month-old little boy. Today is the first time I have seen her. "Amo a mi hijo!" "I love my son!" she declares. Her face is radiant. She's saying that she feels this kind of love for her little boy. Amor materno, maternal love. Alejandra, a mere girl herself, has two daughters. "Yo moriría por mis hijas!", she pipes up. She would give her life for her daughters. She's emphatic. "I would prefer to die myself than see anything happen to them!" I suddenly realise that most of these girls have actually found a beautiful love in this world after all, despite all their hardships and heartaches. The love they feel for their children. I've seen it often in their faces when they rush over to show me their kids, cuddle them.

A bit later, we're engrossed in a special Valentine's Day activity with them. Their eyes light up when they see what they're going to do... covering heart-shaped cookies with white, pink and red icing and decorating them with candy hearts and other things. One for themselves, one for one of the other girls who are at school. "Be creative, think of what they would like!" I watch as they sing to the music in the background and smear icing on the cookies and on themselves. They think about their designs, each cookie is different, and I take photos of their obras de arte, their works of art. They still have time to create a card for one of the other girls, writing something about friendship, and decorating them with stickers of hearts and glitter gel.

Decorating the cookies

Proud of her work of art

Cookies and chocolates

But the biggest surprise for me is when they unexpectedly present me with cards. Beautifully crafted cards, each with their own personality, and a couple of drawings and small gifts. One of the girls has made a tiny scarf for her little baby but gives it to me. A couple of sweets are tucked away in a home-made envelope. Their faces are a picture of delight as I read their poems and what they have written, thanking each one of them. But I bet my face says even more to them. I'm very touched, they've made it a very special day for me. "We prepared it all last week when you were away. They've been waiting to give them to you", say Laura and Carmina. They too have brought chocolates for all the girls and staff. Some of us bite into our cookies and munch away. Mmmm... they taste delicious and sweet, filled with lots of amor y amistad.

My lovely cards from the girls

Me with some of the girls at Casa Daya

Amor y amistad, Love and Friendship.....a wonderful reason for celebrating.

Posted by margaretm 06:59 Archived in Mexico Tagged girls casa_daya social_problems Comments (2)

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