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Published: November 4th 2016
November has started with a little jaunt to Guatemala, via Mexico City. We had an extra day off for Day of the Dead, and I decided to make the most of it in Mexico city. I arrived on a night bus at 3am, and was a little dusty round the edges to say the least! I lazed around in the coach station whilst using coffee shop WiFi or reading until about 6:30am. I then went in search of the Zocalo, which is a city square filled with architecture, shops, restaurants, etc that's in every Mexican city or even the little towns. I figured there'd be hostels near Zocalo, as well as it being a good spot for a little pre rush hour sightseeing. I love the idea of Zocalos; everyone knows where they are, there's a mix of cheap food and expensive food, and there always seems to be something going on there on weekends. I wasn't disappointed by Mexico City's Zocalo. I began with the cathedral in the center, which is subsiding slowly because it's been built over a swamp, like a lot of the city. Thus, the cathedral makes for interesting viewing even if you're not big on the architecture of mass religion (which I'm not). There are four or five glass panels outside, and they've been put there so that you can see the lush plant life and ruins underneath the cathedral. I was more interested in those glass panels than the entirety of the big, elaborate, modern building behind them. I imagined Aztecs walking through the swamps for the first time, building their temples, and wondered if it had ever entered their minds that a foreigner like me would be strolling above them a millennium later.
A little history; Mexico City as it is today was built over the Aztec city of Technotitlan (possibly spelled correctly!) The Spanish built many churches, cathedrals, palaces, and elaborate buildings for administration, and so on. Some of them are beautiful, but I personally lament the loss of colloquial culture necessary to build them. The Latin Americans were banned from speaking their own languages, banned from practicing their own spiritual/religious beliefs, and resistance was met with brutal crackdowns. For these reasons, I personally enjoy the pre-hispanic history a lot more. It's more organic, original, and interesting for me as a result of the first two characteristics. My first trip was to an enormous anthropological museum situated in Chapultepec, a park/district that's not without charm of its own. I spent hours in the museum, and was stunned by the sheer extent of artifacts available to peruse. The different parts of Mexico were governed by different tribes, such as the Olmecs (a very old civilization), the Toltecs, the Mixteca, the Maya, the Aztecs (the Mexica) and tiny tribes like the Popoloca of Tehuacan. Each tribe was distinct, which is evident from the artifacts; depending on where a tribe lived, there were different materials available. If a tribe lived near the sea, they made flutes from sea shells. If a tribe lived in the more remote desert areas, there were more artifacts dedicated to the water gods of that tribes religion. I wandered around the museum in my usual funk of imagination and interest, and hardly noticed 3 hours pass. The collection is extensive and some of the pieces were spectacular to behold. They have an Aztec sunstone, which was used to sacrifice people on. I needn't tell you where my imagination took me there. They have stone rings that are similar to basketball hoops, but tilted at 90 degrees. The game was played with a rubber ball, and people could use their hips or arms to score a goal. If your team won, then your prize was to be sacrificed to the gods, and thus lending your strength and prowess to them. I doubt we'd consider this much of a prize now, unless your team winning means that the other team gets sacrificed... However, in those far off times, being chosen for sacrifice was a huge honour.
After finishing in the museum, I polished off a couple of hotdogs and chatted with a very interesting local. He was selling books, and he found it strange that I was perusing books for learning Nahuatl (the local Aztec language). We chatted at length about the traditions associated with pre Hispanic culture, one particular piece of information stuck in my mind. He explained why the number 7 was very important in Aztec spirituality; you have 7 things with which to receive sensory information. You have your two eyes, two nostrils, mouth, and two ears... We also talked about wanting to improve the understanding of local culture, language, and customs. We talked in low voices, because he said that there were quite a lot of people who would disapprove of the notion that Nahuatl could be taught in schools, and that colonial culture and language were to the detriment of Mexico's incredibly individual culture. He was very happy to have someone to speak with about it, and I was happy to see that there are people who are fighting to keep their language alive. I'd love to learn Nahuatl, but I only have two months left in Mexico, and don't want to whet my appetite briefly... I want a reasonable command of the language if I make the effort to learn it.
After this, I went back to my hostel to recuperate and find some food, before going on a night out with a trio of people I used to work with in a brewery office in the UK. We danced all night, and had a blast! Not bad for a day in Mexico!
A quick word about the metro (train/subway system) in the city; it's crazy cheap. You can from the Zocalo to the airport, a 40 minute trip, for 5 pesos. 5 pesos is 25p. You'd be lucky to take a 40 minute trip for £20 in the UK. Disgraceful.
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