A Travellerspoint blog

February 2016

What millions of Monarch butterflies look like...

...140 million, more or less

sunny 24 °C

I wish I could show you, but there's just no way to capture on film our real-life experience of being surrounded by millions of butterflies. The good news is the Monarch butterflies are rebounding, after a number of years of decline. Illegal logging in Mexico was destroying habitat, and pesticide use in Canada and the U.S. was destroying milkweed (upon which the butterflies feed), so serious combined efforts in all three countries appears to be paying off. This year, the butterflies have spread over 10 hectares, leading experts to believe their numbers are at about 140 million. Here is what a typical tree branch looks like:


Seeing the Monarch butterflies in their Mexican sanctuary has been a dream for years, and as natural wonders go, this was without a doubt a highlight. We drove three and a half hours from Queretero (where we're currently staying), arriving around 10:30, just as the day was warming up. If the day is overcast or too cold, the butterflies will simply cling to the trees for warmth. Yesterday was bright, sunny and about 20 degrees - perfect.

Getting to the El Rosario sanctuary is no small feat - after navigating through several small towns, you must drive up a hill for about 20 minutes, pay for parking, then drive for another 20 minutes up an ancient road that is a combination of paving stones and rock. We were waved in to one of two huge parking lots, and a gentleman madly waving a red rag instructed us where to park (a common sight in Mexico - can usually be interpreted to mean a tip is expected). We were early, so we were forming the second line of cars, and a tiny warning bell went off in my head about our ease in getting out (more on that later). As with every other tourist attraction, we knew we would run the gauntlet of souvenirs, cold drinks, food, maps, brochures, and offers to guide. A young boy appeared, offering to "watch" our car. Another young girl appeared to offer her services as a "guide." We told the boy we would pay later, but nothing we said to the girl would shake her. She followed us all the way up to the entrance. (another 20 minute walk past food vendors and souvenir stalls).


When we finally got to the entrance gate, we gave her a few pesos - a small price for the entertainment value of these little extortionists.

Then...the real climb began. The Monarch sanctuary is about a 2 km. climb, from the entrance gate - a steady, uphill climb that is easy enough because of the steps, but challenging because of the altitude. We kept a slow, steady pace,
and then...our very first butterfly appeared.


Another several minutes of walking, with the numbers of butterflies steadily increasing, we reached a flat meadow and
saw our first big concentration. They were in the air, on the bushes and on the ground - impressive, but not in the millions, as we had been promised.


Just past the meadow, the path continued, and so we trudged, for another rocky and root-strewn 10 minutes uphill -
and discovered why this sanctuary is such a draw. Monarch butterflies - everywhere - packed onto branches, filling the sky, flying in swarms and landing on a number of lucky visitors - including me!




The sanctuary is filled with guardians, who keep a careful eye on the butterflies to protect them from their visitors. This gentleman never stopped picking up butterflies from the ground and putting them beyond the ropes, to prevent them from being stepped on.


Signs like this one were posted everywhere at the top - asking visitors to maintain silence while observing the butterflies. Mexicans are the least rules-based people I've ever met, but they all respected the signs and spoke in very soft whispers, or not at all - a collective religious experience.


We sat and watched them for a half hour or so, then began our descent. At the base of the path, there were seedlings for sale - a regrowth and replanting scheme is in place to help replace some of the trees that were illegally logged.


Then...back in the parking lot - now filled to the brim with cars parked in these crazy, uneven rows with little or no room to back out. Luckily for us, we have a small car, and there was one empty space behind us. With a great deal of manoeuvering, Steve managed to squeeze out of there - a bigger car would have been stuck.


And back to Queretero we drove, to our lovely hotel Quinta Lucca, right in the historic district. There are four things we hope to find with our hotels - comfortable bed, showers with both hot water and good pressure, decent wifi, and parking. This one had all that, plus breakfast included - served in this pretty courtyard. Our room is on the second floor, in the corner, behind the potted plants.


Queretero was not originally on our list - it is just an hour from San Miguel de Allende, (where we head tomorrow), and we had no interest in visiting any more churches, museums, monuments or squares. But... we needed some city comfort and good food, and decided to make this our base for a few days. We're so happy we did - the compact historical centre is beautiful and full of life, and our time here has been a tonic.


We began with a double-decker bus tour - not that informative, but it gave us an overview and a chance to make faces at this little boy,
who couldn't take his eyes off Stephen the whole time.


We spent a fair bit of time in the many squares and pedestrian-only streets, watching life unfold. There is never a dull moment in any Mexican zocalo, and Queretero has several.

Many Mexican towns and cities have "el danzon", where couples dance to a big orchestra. We watched couples like this in Oaxaca, and again here. The couples were mostly older, dressed up and obviously very much enjoying themselves.


Another convincing argument for having a strong core.


We were having lunch, and suddenly a pretty couple and their "people" arrived just a few tables down. It became obvious that a shoot of some kind was going on, so we gawked shamelessly. Sure enough, it was a commercial for a watch, shot beside an older gent who was quite indifferent to the whole thing.


Stephen, who as you all know, can't help himself.


We watched this young woman being gently pushed by her friend...and then, away she went. Around and around the square, as pleased as punch. Proving to us and herself that it is never too late to try anything.


The restaurant scene in Queretero is great - we've eaten very well since we've been here, and been entertained at the same time.

A unique merchandising effort to attract diners.


We had quite a delicious lunch here, and while we are probably not the target market of this bohemian cafe, we had to admire his je ne sais quoi approach to service.


Okay - this is a really long blog, even for me. I'll leave you with a few street images of Queretero. We're in San Miguel for three weeks - just relaxing and living like locals. This should cut down on the length of the blogs - but you know there'll be stories.





Posted by millerburr 16:07 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

Driving the scenic 120 through the Sierra Gordas

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Actually, "scenic" does not begin to describe the road to Jalpan and through the Sierra Gordas to the city of Queretero. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful, with a very real danger that you could drive right off the road admiring the views.


If I could offer one piece of advice to the road engineers of Mexico, I would ask that they provide numerous lookouts, more guardrails, and the odd bit of signage to assure drivers that they have not driven over hairpin roads for 45 minutes in vain. (this was our quandary today on the way to Queretaro - we just kept fingers crossed we had chosen the right turn-off - but let's back-up two days to our drive to Jalpan).


Queretero is a tiny, perfect state - safe, clean, pretty capital city, quirky small towns, rich in agriculture, Franciscan missions, the extraordinary Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve with endless outdoor opportunities, and much appreciated from our perspective - roads in decent repair, largely populated by courteous drivers. Which brings us back to driving the 120. Hwy. 120 is the only road that cuts through the Sierra Gorda mountains, connecting all the small towns and larger centres. Therefore, you may find yourself stuck for miles behind a convoy of gravel trucks, a flatbed hauling a tractor, or a large truck. We trailed this fellow for a while, but for most of our drive, we had the road to ourselves.


We chose Jalpan as a base to visit the Sierra Gordas, and to learn a little more about the mission churches that were founded in the area. Jalpan is described as being "tropical and humid", and by the time we arrived, the temperature had climbed to 36 degrees. We stayed in one of the chain of Mision hotels (there are also hotels in California) - largely because it offered a pool. As we checked in, we were offered a glass of aqua fresca - an extremely refreshing slightly sweetened cucumber drink. It's funny the things that stick with you. I was so frazzled and sweaty by the sudden heat, and that simple glass of juice is something I appreciated so much and will remember.

Our hotel and courtyard


Jalpan is compact and attractive, built on hills, with a large plaza and of course, the Mission church. The five missions that were established in the area in the 1750s by Franciscan monks have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The facade has tremendous detail in the carvings, while the interior does not stand out in comparison to many of the churches and cathedrals we've seen.




This was something we have not seen in any other churches in Mexico. Beside the candles, there were a few large bulletin boards, filled with photos, small toys, pieces of clothing, hair ribbons. There was no-one to ask about the significance of this - if the belongings and photos belonged to people who were sick or deceased. I'm so curious, but my Spanish is not adequate enough to find out without offending or confusing someone. If any of you know anything about this custom, please tell me.


The Sierra Gorda Reserve was established in 1997, and is described as "the green jewel" of central Mexico. It is the most ecosystem- diverse protected area in the country, and groups in the area have developed a number of tours to some of the more remote areas. If we had been more organized, we could have booked a hike to caves where swifts, and/or macaws live, and at dawn and dusk can be seen flying out by the hundreds. There are a large number of other sights one can visit without a guide, and so we headed out to the Cascada El Chuveje - a 150-ft. waterfall. After leaving the highway and bumping down a rough road for a few kilometres, we arrived at this little homestead.


A woman came out to direct us to a parking area. She was extremely friendly and helpful, and had a few cold drinks for sale. A little further up the road, we were stopped by another woman to pay our admission fee, and Steve snapped a photo of this pig that stepped up to the fountain for a drink.


As we were driving into the waterfall area, we noticed this cow by the side of the road. Two hours later, it had moseyed up the road to home. We wondered how these families survived in this extremely remote area. Obviously, they have their meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables, and possibly a small income from collecting money for the park.


As if all this animal activity was not diverting enough, our path to the waterfall was accompanied by ear-splitting music that seemed to come out of the hills and follow us, in a most disturbing Deliverance kind of way, for the first 15 minutes or so.


We turned a corner, and it stopped, and we found ourselves in an enchanted forest. Beautiful, quiet , a "dappled glade" if I may use that cliche. We walked along a creek, past a number of pools that appeared to have been encircled in concrete.


Finally, we reached the waterfall, and sat for several minutes enjoying the view. We watched the water for a pattern, much like we watch waves breaking on shore to see if we can predict a sudden change in volume or force. We wondered about the signs warning us against trying to swim in the "very dangerous water - muy frio (very cold). Muy frio indeed - this water shoots straight out of the mountain streams - it is icy.


We keep forgetting that Mexico has four seasons as well - and being in the mountains is a good reminder of that. We have been in many places where the days are spring-like and the evenings are quite chilly. Many trees and shrubs have a spring-like appearance as well - these are two examples:


We could have stayed in this stunning part of Mexico for much longer, but we had booked a couple of days in Queretero (the city). We drove today on another scenic stretch of Hwy. 120, (we made the right turn after all), arrived in Queretaro, and just got back from exploring the city a bit.

See you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 19:20 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

The surreal, unreal vision of the brilliant Edward James

sunny 35 °C

Salvador Dali said of Mexico - "I will not go again to a country that is even more surreal than my paintings". The more we travel through Mexico, the more we understand Dali's sentiment. We drove to Xilitla to see the famous gardens of the late eccentric Edward James. To get there, we drove for eight hours through the high Sierra mountains; a trek that put the "odd" in odyssey.

We drove through many small towns. This one was having a fiesta, complete with an intriguing choice of rides.


A group of 100 or so cyclists were taking part in a Ride for Jesus (rough translation) - as a lead-up to Easter. We wondered why such an event would be staged on twisty mountain roads with no shoulders - certainly passing cars and trucks showed no concern for their welfare. Further along we noticed Jesus on a cross, strapped a little unsteadily in the back of this van.


Parts of the mountain roads were in such bad shape that we marvelled at the ability of big buses and service trucks to maneuver - our little car was able to easily switch lanes to avoid massive potholes. This colectivo was in front of us for a while - jammed to the rafters with passengers. Mexicans are so uncomplaining and accepting of inconveniences - we followed them for miles and never saw one of the men shift or move or look impatient.


Finally, we arrived in Xilitla, (he-leet-la) and we were shocked by the town. Run-down, dirty, not one redeeming feature - not even a passable zocalo and cathedral. Our hearts sank. We had booked at the Hotel Dolores, which was painted a lurid orange, smelled of cleaning fluids and was run by a trio of thugs. One of the them grudgingly showed us a room the size of a high school locker and about as appealing. We fled.


We discovered the Paraiso Encantado, just out of town and up the road from Las Pozas. Built on a hill, almost eaten up by vegetation, this hotel exactly matched our expectations for the area. The charming owner Mario led us past a large pool, up several stone steps to our unit, with a sweeping deck overlooking the jungle. We think we were the only ones there. It was electric - we were enveloped in jungle sounds - a steady thrum of insects, birds, and other mysterious jungle noises. Hummingbirds, chacalacas, parrots, and the shriek-y calls of a tropical bird with a red beak and yellow tail feathers. Butterflies of every colour and size.

Years ago I read about the mad world of Edward James and his surrealist sculptures in this remote corner of Mexico, and hoped one day we would find our way here. Nothing prepared us for the Heart of Darkness, acid-trip creation that greeted us the next morning at the Los Pozas entrance:


Edward James was born in Scotland in 1907 to an American railroad magnate and a British aristocrat. He studied at Oxford, and immersed himself in a bohemian world where he became a patron to Salvador Dali, Leonora Carrington and Rene Magritte. He inherited a fortune and found himself in Mexico. After a chance meeting with a local man, Plutarco Gastelum, James moved to Xilitla, bought a plot of land, and the two men began the decades-long construction of the Sculpture Garden of Las Pozas. James (or Don Eduardo as he was known by his Mexican friends) employed over 150 locals to build walls, create paths, plant gardens, and fashion the sculptures. He paid all of them double wages, and gave some of the families free homes. Needless to say, he was much beloved by the locals. We found out all of this from Miguel, one of the Gastelum family members who grew up on the property and knew Edward James. He was watering the garden as we walked in, and stopped to talk at length about Edward James' life, including his love of animals. He told us stories of how Don Eduardo would walk around the property with an ocelot, flamingos or a boa constrictor. If you Google Edward James, you will find a wealth of information about him.


We spent hours wandering the grounds - every path leads to another fantastic sight, and you have to pay attention so as not to miss any details. Las Pozas mean "the pools". A waterfall leads into a series of aquamarine pools that ring around one side of the property, and visitors are invited to swim. The pools are embellished with stairways leading nowhere, urns, columns and stone walls.



We met up with a Mexican family who had jumped into the cold water, right under the waterfall - fully clothed - and were having a whale of a time. They tried to convince us to join them, but we just waded in.


Many of the paths are Britain-inspired - narrow, with high stone walls.


This foliage puts you back in Mexico - as you walk along clumps of steroid-sized ferns and fronds, there is no mistaking you are in the jungle.


Staircases feature prominently in Las Pozas. Some are purely ornamental and whimsical, and lead nowhere.



Others invite a climb, however precarious that might be. We tried to imagine this garden in Canada - it simply would not exist, due to health and safety rules, liability issues, etc. etc. There would be ropes and caution tape and guards and...it would be impossible.


This woman was about 60 feet from the ground. She walked up those narrow stars without batting an eye.



We met this young couple, from Joshua Tree, California. We had a chance to chat, shortly after we took this photo of them. They had dreamed of coming to Las Pozas for ten years, and wanted to make their private wedding vows to each other here. As transfixed as they were by the place, they still had time to discuss their mortification over Trump!


Giant hands - possibly a model of Edward James' hands?



A rare burst of colour


This entrance way to the garden is in the shape of a giant engagement ring. When the sun hits it at a certain time of day, it illuminates and the prongs on the top resemble a diamond.


An entranceway to another part of the garden.


I'll leave you with a final story about our first dinner at Las Pozas. After we had checked into our hotel, we asked if there was a restaurant close by and our host told us we would find a restaurant at the far end of las Pozas. We drove down a long, bumpy dark road (the garden was closed), and eventually came to a point where we could hear music and see flickering candles. We parked, walked in total darkness down a path to find a restaurant set under a palapa, with jungle noises orchestrated to set off the strange music. A few tables were filled, including one with a young man loudly talking (at length) about the Voyage of the Kon Tiki. It felt like a set from Apocalpyse Now - our very own surreal moment. The food was fantastic, the beer was cold, and that dinner set the stage perfectly for what was to come.

We arrived in Jalpan yesterday - we'll send out another blog in a few days to tell you all about the Franciscan missions and the beauty of the Sierra Gorda mountains.

Posted by millerburr 05:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

From love in the ruins to climbing into thin air

sunny 22 °C

Let it be noted that we drove out of Mexico City during rush hour on a Thursday, not only without mishap but without getting lost. Not once did we stop at a gas station, or argue over directions. We simply moved out of our hotel, turned left, turned left again and we were on our way. Avenida Insurgentes took us through the heart of downtown to the outer suburbs with no more fuss than one name change. We just kept driving in the direction of Teotihuacan, (Los Piramides on the road signs), and an hour later, we were there.


Teotihuacan is an extraordinary and significant site, and unless you are joining the spring equinox bucket-listers, it is large enough to wander past the crowds and imagine what life was like those many, many years ago. This is what we try to do when visiting ruins, until we are accosted by an endless and tireless stream of hawkers selling everything from onyx masks to jaguar cat calls (quite realistic) to cheap jewellery ("I made myself'). At one point, I became so exasperated, a vendor actually apologized. Those annoyances aside (everyone's got to make a living), we found Teotihuacan to be so engrossing - it compares very favourably with the many Yucatan sites.

Ancient Teotihuacan covered over 20 km.,and had a population of up to 65,000 people - a number of the homes are in a semi-intact state, with frescos still visible. The main area open to tourists is just about 2 kilometres, anchored by the Piramid de la Luna (the moon) and the massive Piramid del Sol (the sun) - the world's third-largest pyramid. The main promenade, the Calzada de los Muertos, anchors the two pyramids and connects the many tombs in between.

We began by climbing the smaller of the two - the Piramid de la Luna. This was our practice run for the much larger Piramid de la Sol - access to the top of this pyramid is blocked, but even reaching the second level affords incredible views.


We were extremely fortunate on the day we went - the sky was clear, the view went for miles, and the temperature was in the low 20s. Even so, we both wore our broad sun hats, drank gallons of water and took it slowly. This was our next challenge - The Piramid de la Sol. The dots on the top are people. The steps (264, according to one jubilant young person) are high and vertical. There are three tableaus to rest, enjoy the view and take photos. That these pyramids and tombs exist at all is incomprehensible - no metal tools, no animals to haul and no wheel to build.


And this was the view on the way down. Climbing up and down is aided by grabbing onto sturdy cables in the centre, although there were no end of kids running up and down effortlessly (and apparently without vertigo).


I'm not sure if I'm paying for my sins of neglecting my gym workouts, but the combination of altitude and climbing almost vertical steps took its toll on me very quickly. I became quite winded and dizzy, but carried on.

This couple was my inspiration.


They began the climb when we did. The wife was in a wheelchair, and while shaky, was able to walk a few steps unaided. We watched while the husband folded and stored the wheelchair, and then hoisted her onto his back, and proceeded to climb the stairs. We assumed they were just going to the first level, which would have been remarkable enough, but they climbed up slowly and steadily, and eventually reached the very top. The husband very tenderly put her down, and gave her a big kiss, with their friends cheering and taking photos. Such a moving example of love and courage and trust; if you have ever climbed up steep inclines with a heavy backpack, you know how easy it is to have weight shift, and struggle for balance. We tried to picture Stephen carrying me 264 steps up the pyramid and back down, but the image wasn't quite happening.

Teotihuacan has two excellent museums - we visited them both. The first was the Museo de los Pinturas -
Teotihuacan was famous for its frescoes and murals.


The second was more comprehensive, with displays of death artifacts, and skeletons. Many bodies were buried in the fetal position, with their legs bound up to their bodies. This was intended to place them in the "birth" position for entrance to the next world.


Art imitating life - a scale model of Teotihuacan below - Piramid de la Sol reflected above.


From Teotihuacan, we drove to Real de Monte in a couple of hours - an old mining town high up in the mountains, and one of two Pueblo Magicos in the area. While this town was the scene of the very first miners strike in the Americas in 1776, it is noteworthy to tourists for the Cornish influence here. In the 19th century, a British company invented a singular boiler, which was used in Mexico. By the mid 20th century, Cornish miners arrived to work the mines and operate the machinery.

One of the innovations they brought as well to this small Mexican town were Cornish pasties ( known as pastes here) to take down into the mines for lunch. Dozens of shops and restaurants sell them, and we can't get enough of them.

Breakfast - meat, potato and onion paste, apple paste, and fresh cinnamon coffee. Dad - you would love these. We were given a tour of the restaurant's kitchen - they produce a massive number of pastes each day - about 15 sweet and savoury varieties - for $1 a piece.


If ever I was considering a career in mining, this visit to Mina Acosta put an end to that idea. We piggybacked onto a school tour, which made it way more fun - forty 15-year-olds screamed and giggled through the whole tour. We began with some above-ground explanations from our excellent guide (he worked the mines for 5 years), and a solid overview of the machines, the working conditions and the depths the men descended to - five levels up to 500 metres


And then we put on hard hats and entered the tunnel.


Once inside, we walked through tunnels barely high enough for average-sized people. Dark. Damp. Claustrophobic. And we were only at the first level - we did not descend down to the level where the miners worked. Our guide talked about accidents and deaths and the plague of silicosis. He turned off the lights so we were in utter blackness (hence the screaming teenagers) - it was a very convincing impression of what a miner's day would entail.

We were mightily relieved to see daylight again, and explore the rest of Real del Monte. It is a small, compact town - not a lot to do here, but the streets were twisty and narrow and fun to wander through.

A view of the town from the upper level lookout


Street scenes



Today, we drove a short distance to El Chico National Park and the small town of Mineral del Chico. El Chico is a 3000-hectare park, with great hiking trails, pine trees and crisp, fresh air. If it wasn't for the cactus and agave plants, we might have been in British Columbia.


We walked along for about 40 minutes, with gradually increasing incline and viewpoints.


And then we ran into this little fellow. Matted and thin, but confident on the trails, he is not lost, but lives here. He was wary of us, but did drink water out of my hand. This is the very first little Mexican dog that has stolen my heart, but he was not interested in coming along with us. Somehow, he has found a home in the mountains.


We talked to this lovely family from Queretaro who were here for the weekend to hike in the mountains. One of the daughters spoke perfect English (learned in her high school), and they led the way to the summit.


Our reward for the climb. Unfortunately, there was some cloud cover, so our view was not as far-reaching as it might have been,
but spectacular nonetheless.


There was this cross planted at the top of the summit. We don't know if this gentleman died up here, or if it is a commemorative cross
to mark a place he loved to visit while alive.


We had to traverse a bit - facing front, on our backsides, going backwards -
whatever worked - until we hit the stairs again.


After our climb down, we headed 10 km. into the very picturesque little mining village - Mineral Del Chico, for lunch.


Yet another Pueblo Magico, this sweet little town offers refuge for city-weary tourists. This is the low season - but from April on, the cars stream out of Mexico City northward for a dose of fresh mountain air and outdoor recreation. Their motto is "Pueblo chico, gente grande" (Small town, great people) - which we found to be true. There are a number of cabins for rent and small fishing lodges; we also saw a number of mountain bikers setting out. The twisty hairpin road in to the village would be pure adrenaline on a motorcycle.


We leave tomorrow for Xilitla, about 5 hours north - to discover the Heart of Darkness garden visions of a mad English eccentric who hung out with Salvador Dali. See you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 17:46 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

No more museums, please - you're killing us

sunny 24 °C

We have hit the museum tipping point in Mexico City. For over a week we have set out, map in hand, to discover as much of the city as possible, and much of that discovery has been through museums. Every day has felt like a perfect treasure hunt - the old, the new, the people, the dogs, the parks, the art, the food...the Pope! Today, we set out to Chapultepec Park (home of many museums) to visit the Castillo de Chapultepec, which houses the National Museum of History, and it may have been the endless portraits and gilded furniture, but we hit a wall. Stephen had to go outside and sit down.


Let me back up to a couple of days ago when we visited the renowned Museum of Anthropology, set in Chapultepec Park. If you are in Mexico City for 36 hours - this is the one you don't miss. We had been there five years ago, but couldn't wait to revisit - you simply cannot see it all in one day. The entrance grounds and setting are spectacular - cut stone, a centre waterfall feature and a wide pond filled with grasses and a handful of fat and lazy koi. (it is so much fun watch the excitement a dozen fish can elicit among small children and their parents.)


Waterfall feature outside museum


The museum is divided into two sides on two floors, and the displays are in both Spanish and English. The first floor begins with pre-Hispanic Mexico, at its evolutionary stage, and follows around to show the transition to agricultural communities, Teotihuacan, and how the people of Oaxaca, the Gulf Coast, the Mayas, the west and the north influenced those regions. The corresponding upper floors illustrate how contemporary indigenous cultures developed and are practised today. Hunting, gathering, domestic life, warfare, music, art, costumes, and many other artifacts are presented in a logical, chronological and easy-to-follow format.

We began at the beginning:


The serpent pyramid, where victims were sacrificed (their skeletons are displayed in the back)


Great Big Head (Olmec, from the Veracruz area)


Burial shafts. The deceased were buried with artifacts, significant to them and to helping them enter the next world.


Jewel-encrusted teeth - a sign of wealth and status. So there, Kanye - nothing new about the grill.


Small children praying for family members. In some indigenous communities, the church floors are covered in grasses or pine needles. Different candles indicate varying degrees of illness.


This display shows the clothing and toys typical of this indigenous group. I just love the face on this beautiful child.


Five hours later, and we left the museum, wanting more...but not at that time. Lucky Mexico City residents who can pop in (for free) on Sundays and spend an hour or two at their leisure. On the subject of museum admission costs in Mexico - they are often free to nationals on Sundays, and many have no charge at all. We have gained free entrance to a number of lesser museums by showing our passports (to prove our senior status), but even a major museum like this one is just 60 pesos - less than five dollars. Another of Mexico's delightful contradictions - the water is undrinkable, but the art is for everyone.


Today, we had two goals in mind - to see the Castillo de Chapultepec, which houses the National Museum of History, and then head over to the Condesa neighbourhood for their Tuesday market. The Castillo has had a few incarnations - set high on a hill, it was a military academy, then home to Emperor Maximilian and Empress Charlotte, and became the presidential residence until it became a museum in 1939. The Castillo and grounds are as grand as you might expect of regal residences, and the panoramic view of Mexico City is worth the climb. First, you have to get there:


Views of the Castillo, front and back



The Castillo is surrounded by tiled terraces on one level. This is a view from one of the piazzas.


A portion of the garden


The tower in the middle of the Castillo


Inside the Castillo, one of the main staircases


The upper-level terrace


A disturbing painting that combines ancient and modern struggles


Almost as disturbing to me - the ubiquitous selfie - because there is no sight, natural or man-made, historical or priceless,
that cannot be improved by one's own image


That first photo we started with, of Stephen having a time out on the bench? That was the end of our time at the Castillo today - he simply could not look at one more portrait or another display case of old swords. I joined him a bit later and we agreed we both had a serious case of museum fatigue. We walked over to the Condesa area, and headed for their Tuesday food market.


Along with the many stands of unrefrigerated meats and chickens, sitting within spitting distance of passers-by, dogs and flies, we came upon this curious sight. Chopped vegetables were piled up in great mounds, occasionally straightened by the vendor's ungloved hands. Since we've been cautioned to wash all veggies carefully, and avoid strawberries altogether, would we be flirting with Hep A or E coli?


Our lunch - some delicious concoction created by taking corn tortillas, moving them around on a grill until they are a bit blackened and crispy, topping with mushrooms and grilled vegetables and cheese - so good.


Our friends Joy and Oscar are also here for a couple of days - on their way home after over five weeks in Puebla. We've met up for dinner and swapped stories. We all share a love of Mexico, and they have been a very welcome connection to home. Tomorrow is our last day in Mexico City - it has been an amazing experience to be here but we're ready to leave the (unbelievably enormous and all-encompassing) big city and switch gears again. On Thursday we'll spend the day in Teotihuacan, and then move onto Real del Monte - an old silver mining town that was largely populated by Cornish miners. There will be hiking and rivers and cold mountain air. See you in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 18:37 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

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