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Entries about cycling

My bike's-eye-view of Chapultepec

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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

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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)

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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The current series is on Mexican dance and ballet.

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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.

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The buildings of Polanco can be seen in the background.

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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.

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

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We then pedal through the picnic area near this lake.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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All around are colourful displays of flowers.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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

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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!

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Around the Zócalo

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

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

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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.

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

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Looking through the arches at the Cathedral.

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Around the streets of the Centro Histórico

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

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

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

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

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Another mottled Beetle which has been repainted several times.

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We came across this church one day, freshly painted.

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

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

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The walls and tower of this church lean different ways.

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

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

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A small chapel in Plaza Santo Domingo.

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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.

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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.

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

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Around the Alameda

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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.

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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.

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

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

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A trolley bus passes by.

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

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Contrast between the old and new in Plaza Juarez.

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

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Old historic buildings surrounded by modern buildings.

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

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

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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.

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

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The colonial-style church towers

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

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Along Paseo de la Reforma

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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!

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

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

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

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

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Doing an impersonation of the statue.

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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.

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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.

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The tall thin modern building housing the Stock Exchange.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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In Part 2 - Photos around Chapultepec Park.

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

Feathers, mantras and vibes in the park

Yesterday the woods of Chapultepec were abuzz with vibrations. I discovered they came from a couple of events I had no idea were going to happen there.

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I stumbled on the first one just after I started my early morning cycle ride in Chapultepec Park. An insistent throbbing of drums sent the low-frequency wavelength receptors of my eardrums vibrating. A bit further on, the distinctive smell of incense, wafting in white wisps in the air, began to tickle my nose and clog up my throat. Following the drum beats and aromas, I found they were coming from Los Baños de Moctezuma. Although they are called Moctezuma's Baths, they were actually built in the 15th Century by a rather interesting ruler-poet-architect-designer-warrior with an intimidating-looking name to prounounce, Nezahualcoyotl, who was as well known for his poetry as for his aqueducts and water systems. Apparently, the Aztec emperor Moctezuma enjoyed swimming in this pool, hence the name. Recently, the pool has been restored but kept waterless. Shame.

Anyway, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to investigate. I wasn't the only one. A Mexican cyclist, an older man on a rather rickety contraption, motioned excitedly for me to bring my bike up to where he was. I got off and carried it up some steps and looked down over the low wall. There, congregated around the dry pool was a group of people, some of whom were dressed as Aztec dancers, sporting visually impressive headdresses with long feathers. Others were in robes. "Es un ritual Azteca muy antiguo", the cyclist informed me. An ancient Aztec ritual. "What is it called?" I asked him. He shook his head and said he didn't know the name.

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The group congregating around Los Baños de Moctezuma

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Many were wearing feather headdresses and robes

By now the participants had encircled the Baños de Moctezuma and had fallen silent as one of the men began to speak. "Gracias por venir. Estamos aqui para celebrar el ritual de ...". He was thanking them for coming to celebrate this ritual. I couldn't quite hear the name but I'm sure it began with an "X" like so many Mexican names around here. "Es un ritual Azteca muy antiguo...", one they have been celebrating for over 1200 years (or maybe it was 1500 years... I couldn't quite catch the number either). At this point, the Mexican cyclist picked up his bicycle, and pushed it down into the enclosure, propping it up by the gate. He beckoned me to do the same. Seeing his enthusiasm, I could hardly refuse.

The ceremonial leader continued talking about fuego (fire) and paz (peace) and some other things. He thanked the abuelo and abuela (the old man and woman standing nearby) for coming and representing the elders with their wisdom and knowledge. Then it was time to blow the conchas or large seashells. Anyone who had a musical instrument also began playing. Plaintive notes emerged from a flute, whistles blew out different animal sounds, a long stick with seeds inside rushed like a waterfall, and of course, a series of drums provided a background rhythm. Those who had small bowls with incense stoked the embers, releasing clouds of white smoke, and held them up.

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The abuelo and abuela

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Blowing the concha

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Girl holding incense and whistle

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Drummers

I watched on, fascinated by this unusual group. Some were obviously Mexican, others seemed to be New Age participants tagging along, and there were also a few normally-attired people. The ritual involved raising their hands and incense burners in the four directions and chanting something. Then from the opposite side of the pool a very loud, life-like jaguar growl caught me unawares and I looked around, half-expecting a wild spotted feline creature to appear out of the woods. The jaguar has long been a symbol of power and strength in pre-Hispanic cultures and, in Aztec civilisations, represents rulers and warriors. Next they repeated the action looking towards heaven and then bowed down towards the earth. When the ritual had finished, the abuela led the group out of the Baños de Moctezuma and I watched as they wound their way through the trees, accoumpanied by the very deep boom of a huge drum which one man carried on his shoulder. A second man walked behind with the drumsticks, beating rhythmically. A group of four or five young Aztec dancers with seed pods shaking around their ankles followed on solemnly while a youngster carried a banner proclaiming they were the Dancers of Teotihuacán.

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Performing the ancient ritual

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Bowing down to the ground

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Leaving Los Baños de Moctezuma

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Striding off into the park

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Man wearing typical huichol clothes and hat

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Banner of the Teotihuacán dancers

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Drum carried on shoulder with the man beating it from behind

Off I cycled to the other end of the park and this time was intrigued to hear strains of a musical mantra being loud-speakered out to the whole park. At the Fuente de Nezahualcoyotl, I came across "Xicome, la primera festival de musica sanadora" (the 1st Festival of Healing Music). Enveloped in more incense, gurus, spiritual leaders, yoga practisers, New Age participants... sat on mats in front of the giant statue of Nezahualcoyotl, and with one hand held up, eyes closed, scarves over their heads, were singing a slow mantra of eight notes, hundreds of times over. In fact, over an hour later, I could still hear the same song being broadcast to the four corners of the park and outside. Three television cameras were set up, as were offerings and incense. One of the workers came over to me and gave me a leaflet and invited me to take part in their workshops and other activities. They were here to bring peace and light to Mexico, and experience harmony with Mother Earth and nature.

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Xicome Festival teepee

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Chanting mantras and music in front of the large statue of Nezahualcoyotl

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Man preparing fire

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Corn cobs spread out at the base of a tree

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Decorating an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe

After sitting on the edge of the fountain for a while, I left in search of my own peace and quiet. I stopped in the middle of the woods, propped my bike up against a tree and soon my friends, the squirrels, came scampering over to me. This time I'd remembered to bring them some small nuts and I was soon surrounded by a group of small, twitching creatures who darted around me, scrabbled up and down the trees and chattered away in their squirrel language of tackatackatacka. One in particular became very bold and, taking a nut from my hand, sat on my leg, crunching it. Others investigated my bike and did acrobatics along the handlebars. Now THIS is peace and harmony with nature, I thought to myself.

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My bicycle in the middle of the wood

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A squirrel taking a nut from my hand

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Friendly squirrel sitting on my leg

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A curious squirrel checking out my bicycle

Just then, the ceremonial ritual group passed along the nearby path, piping and drumming and incensing the trees, the woods and nature. The squirrels stopped dead in their tracks for a minute, then scampered up the trees for a better viewpoint. The spell had been broken. I realised it was time to get going.

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Ceremonial group passing nearby

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Walking through the park

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Making their way around Chapultepec

I cycled back to Polanco, thinking about what I'd seen that morning. I don't know about the others but I'd definitely felt some good vibes and peace while playing with the squirrels in their habitat.

Posted by margaretm 06:00 Archived in Mexico Tagged nature indians events tradition cycling mexico_city aztec squirrels ceremonies rituals chapultepec_park Comments (0)

Cycling under an immense sky

The Alt Empordà, Catalonia

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The open skies of the Alt Empordà

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Cycling

I had forgotten what it was like to go cycling in the open countryside, under an immense sky, oxygenating my mind, body and soul. And the sensation of freedom at seeing an unpaved path disappearing into the woods, the sound of the pine trees whispering above me as they gossip in the wind and the spirited song of invisible cicadas resonating in the heat. Or the delightful rides through sleepy Catalan villages with their honey-coloured stone buildings warmed by the sun and window boxes with crowds of summer flowers craning their necks to watch me speed past.

Now that my bicycle is fixed, cleaned and oiled, I'm off on my early morning rides again, leaving the house as the sun sends the first soft beams on ahead to announce its imminent arrival. The dawn colours creep up over the mountains which loom up darkly on the horizon, stacked up one behind the other, like massive sleeping creatures. I'm revelling in the cool stillness of the morning, the birds' choir, the rabbits surprised by my wheels, sprinting off in jerky zig-zags, their white bobtails flashing behind them. Maybe they think I'm Mr McGregor. It's early but some of the older residents in the nearby villages are already out, hoeing, pruning, watering, growing their lunch and supper.

Sometimes I ride down to the sparkling river which gurgles happily, tickled by ribbon-like plants, polishing stones smooth. Up the hill and through the undergrowth, bumping down a clod-filled trail between fields turning a golden summery colour, with enormous round hay bales waiting patiently for re-location by tractors. The butterflies are beginning to unfold their wings and warm them up in the sun's rays, ready to flit off and visit their pretty playmates, the wild flowers. And then I come across July's brightest, happiest gift to us... a field drenched in yellow sunflowers, already awake, smiling at me. I want to hug them all and tell them I'm back and I'll be coming down to see them whenever possible.

Now I'm relishing these moments again, enjoying summer in the countryside, far from the big city.

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Dawn light

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Riding through the woods

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Flowers

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Morning mist over the river

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Butterfly

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Trail through the woods

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Hay bales

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Field of sunflowers

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Sunflowers

Posted by margaretm 23:12 Archived in Spain Tagged cycling Comments (0)

On yer bike - Sunday morning in Mexico City

Get pedalling!

It's 8.15 am in DF and I'm in Paseo de la Reforma. Something's missing....the roar of traffic, the smell of exhaust fumes, the overflowing buses and the pavements busily trying to absorb the weekday stress and crowds... these are missing because it's Sunday. Instead you can hear the birds singing, the sky is beginning to turn blue and an unusual peace and quiet is blanketing the urban sprawl. This megalopolis needs a break, just to sit down and catch its breath before another bustling week begins.

This is my favourite time here, when Mexico City undergoes its surprising weekly transformation. In fact, a complete metamorphosis takes place in the centre.... one morning a week, bikes rule!

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Early morning cyclists in Paseo de la Reforma

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Hitching a ride

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El Angel de la Independencia

This morning, office attire, uniforms and overalls have been discarded in favour of casual clothing and sports gear. Bulging buses, Tsuru taxis and trucks and cars spewing out toxic fumes have given way to a means of transport which is environmental-friendly, the bicycle. Every Sunday morning, from 7 am to 2 pm, the main streets in the centre are cordoned off and become the unviolable realm of people moving under their own steam. Some run, others jog, the rest are equipped with bikes, skateboards, scooters or roller blades. Thousands of residents in this vast, pulsating city, plus the odd tourist, claim back the centre for themselves, and do it in style.

This morning the organisation Muévete en Bici (roughly translated "On Yer Bike"!) is celebrating its 4th anniversary and, along with the Ministry of Environment and other institutions, has organised a whole series of activities for us, including guided rides around the centre, sports, cultural and musical activities, and the novelty of all their electrical installations being powered by pedal-power. Cyclists have turned out in their thousands. I've joined them on my sturdy mountain bike, as I do most Sunday mornings for my early morning Paseo Dominical. It is a heartwarming sight - whole families, with or without their four-legged friends, tiny tots astride their first "vehicles" right up to seasoned riders. All ages and sizes are represented on an imaginative range of bikes and trikes, as you can see...

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Father and son on their trikes

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Pedal power

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Family outing

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Monster bike

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Running in company

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Rollerblading down Reforma

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Sharing the effort

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This looks comfortable!

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Mum and kid on chopper

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Keeping an eye on Baby

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Strange bedfellows

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A tiny participant

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Cycling towards El Angel

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Padded up!

Although this is a special occasion, cyclists normally have free reign of 24 kms of traffic-less roads every Sunday, starting at the Torre Mayor in Paseo de la Reforma, up to the Caballito, around the Centro Histórico, and as far as the Basílica de Guadalupe (La Villa). And on the last Sunday of the month, an additional 35 km circuit is closed to motorised vehicles for cyclists, joggers and rollerbladers to enjoy. Mexico City is at last moving in the right direction, taking measures to reduce congestion and contamination... and WAIST SIZE. Pedalling steadily on the uphill ride to being a bike-friendly city. I, for one, am 100% behind them.

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Muévete en Bici route

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"I don't pollute" sticker

Posted by margaretm 08:08 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico city cycling sunday Comments (0)

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