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Published: March 15th 2018
View from the rooftop terrace of our hotel in Mexico City
We’ve been travelling around Mexico. At least a part of Mexico. We only have three weeks. In three weeks you can’t really get to know a country. But you can get a feel for it. For me this trip is a bit like a taster of Mexico. A glimpse of what there is to see. One day I will be back and I will do it properly and give it the time it deserves. For now, the three weeks we have will have to do.
Starting off in Mexico City, a city that itself deserves three weeks, and even then you will only have seen a small part of what it has to offer. Mexico City is huge. We had three full days. In those three days, we saw three things properly, the Templo Mayor, the ruins of Teotihuacan (which you could argue doesn’t belong to Mexico City proper, as it lies beyond the city limits), and the Frida Kahlo Museum.
The Templo Mayor are the excavated ruins of the central square of old Aztec Tenochtitlan, or more accurately of its central temple. It was demolished by the Spanish, but it has now been uncovered once again. An impressive
Towards our street
sight in the middle of Mexico City, with a fantastic museum. If you like history, you will love it.
Teotihuacan belongs to another era altogether. Way before the Aztecs there was Teotihuacan, the capital of an enormous Empire, and to prove it they built some huge temples. Centuries later the Aztecs believed Teotihuacan had been built by giants. The Piramide del Sol is the third largest pyramid in the world, and it has great views from its top. We spent most of our second day at the sight, and still didn’t see everything. That’s how big it is.
Finally there is Frida Kahlo, an eccentric artist, a strong woman too, married to Diego Rivera, himself a well-known artist of the time. Despite early adversities, Frida went on to become one of Mexico’s most famous figures and her paintings and fashion style are known around the world. She liked to dress in indigenous clothes, she liked colours, her gaze was intense, her gaiety renowned, her marriage with Diego turbulent. Her house is full of vibrant colours, and local handicrafts and art which Diego and she collected. There are some paintings by her too, but mostly it focuses on her
life, through photos and simply through the preservation of the rooms as they were.
As for Diego Rivera, there are some superb murals of his at the Palacio Nacional, and you can see them for free.
So much for Mexico City, next up was Oaxaca, a bohemian sort of place full of artistic types, like musicians, painters, weavers and craftsmen (and women). It is also a politically active town with the socialist and Marxist slogans the most prominent signs of this. Oaxaca attracts lots of tourists too, and there is a bit of a Disney-esque feeling to the centre of town. Despite all it has going for it, Oaxaca still has a big poverty problem, which explains the political activism. As always it is the indigenous population which carries the weight of poverty. They are the ones that walk around the streets and the plaza’s trying to sell local handicrafts, cloths, necklaces, food and everything in-between. They are also the ones simply begging, for want of something to sell. Still, all in all, I kind of liked Oaxaca. It is touristic, but not too touristic, it is hip, but not too hip, it has something I can't put
my finger on.
Maybe it is the colours, because Oaxaca is certainly colourful, from the clothes, to the houses, to the food, there is colour in everything, even in the beggars. And Oaxaca is lively, with music everywhere. Oaxaca is culinary too, with its most famous product the salsa’s, called moles, which you get in different… colours! Told you there was colour in the food. More famous than the moles though is the mezcal! This is where the best of the best is made.
Yes, Oaxaca was certainly interesting. We took in some galleries to see the latest works of contemporary Oaxacan artists, we ate some grasshoppers, another specialty of the region, we managed to bump into a very exuberant wedding party, and we tried a little mezcal.
There is also a ruin, Monte Alban, on a hilltop outside Oaxaca. Built by the Zapotecs, another pre-Hispanic civilization.
As with Mexico City, there is loads more to do and see in and around Oaxaca, but it will have to be for another time.
If Oaxaca was hip and colourful and touristic, San Cristobal de las Casas, our next destination was hipper, more colourful and more touristic!
Though it isn’t as artistic, or edible as Oaxaca. San Cristobal is full of hipsters, hippies (young and old), topknots and dreads. In fact San Cristobal is so hip even the statues have topknots! It is true, I spotted one. It’s certainly beautiful, but it is a bit over the top for me. There are too many tourists, there are too many organic coffee shops, there are too many yoga bars, there are too many gringo jugglers and banjo players plying the streets, there are too many ‘look at me walking bare feet through the street’ types, too many foreigners selling home-made jewelry. I can't help but think that all those gringos selling trinkets and playing drums to make a living, are competing with the very people who need the money the most, the indigenous folk who live in the slums surrounding San Cristobal.
San Cristobal seems to me to be like a slice of Woodstock planted in an old colonial Mexican city. It is hard to find Mexican street food in the centre of town, or real Mexican food for that matter, instead you more or less stumble over vegan, vegetarian, funky, organic, and artsy restaurants or bars
Trying to make a buck
selling craft beers or broccoli juice.
Thus we have concluded our first ten days in Mexico, and it’s been a ball as they say. We have experienced the old, the new, the funky, the artistic, the hip and the hipper. Now it is time to see what else there is to discover. A bit less hip would be good.
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