A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico

"We're Going To Miss This!"

sunny 26 °C

"We're going to miss this!" We've been saying this all week, having reached that point in our travels where time is no longer suspended, but is rocketing toward the end. And now, we are here - less than 12 hours before we get up at an unholy hour (3:30 a.m.) to make it to the airport for our 7:00 am. departure home. We have our antigen tests back (negativo), and are soaking up every last Mexico City minute.

We've grown very fond of our apartment, our neighbourhood and our routines. For a brief period of time, this has felt like home - we're getting our big city fix. There is so much that we will miss about being here.

The beauty of the architecture:

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The deceptive ease of simple modern design:

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The impromptu performances as you wait for the light to change.

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The unexpected signs that make you laugh:

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The signs that remind you of your responsibility as a tourist:

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Th unintentionally hilarious signs. In the middle of a beautifully tended garden that flanks both sides of a multi-kilometre pedestrian walkway, someone chose to place this sign beside the two plants that somehow missed the watering can.

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Being surrounded by such abundance - the lush gardens, the palm trees, agave, bougainvillea, jacaranda - took the bite out of being in the middle of a huge metropolis. We really felt as though we moved from one village to another, travelling along shady paths.

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I was struck by the uniformity of this hotel - how the square windows were mirrored by the precision-clipped shrubs below.

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We were trying to figure out what it is about Mexico City that has captured us so much this time. Possibly it is because we haven't felt the need to madly sightsee every day, ticking off boxes and exhausting ourselves in the process. I can be guilty of that; creating overly-ambitious itineraries that defeat the purpose of travel.

We have seen most of the major sights in previous visits, so we spent a lot of time walking and exploring neighbourhoods and being excited about the next turn in the road. It made for an extremely relaxing and serendipitous visit but as is always the case, we are leaving a lot behind.

Getting around Mexico City is so easy. Walking is a pleasure, taxis are cheap and plentiful, the subway is fast and efficient and the city bus system is multi-tiered, but requires a better understanding of Spanish than I possess.

Luckily for us, we were right on the Metrobus line; actually right on two lines - the Metrobus travels north and south on two major streets, and has its own designated lane, so traffic is never an issue. Tickets are cheap - 6 pesos (about 40 cents) - and there is a steady stream of buses, so wait times are never more than 5 or 10 minutes.

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There are over 150 museums in Mexico City and probably at least twice as many art galleries. For some reason, we saw very few of them this time. We did have one epic day where we headed into the Centro Historico.

We began by walking through Alameda Central, the oldest public park on the outskirts of Centro. This sculpture of hands clasping a flagpole really moved me but I am confused as to its significance. It is in memory of the thousands of lives (between 5,000 and 10,000, depending upon what you read) that were lost in the 1985 earthquake and I'm curious as to what the hands mean. Hands reaching to pull people to safety? A symbol of unity in the event of future earthquakes?

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In front of Alameda Central Park is the magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes. It is both a museum featuring murals by Diego Rivera as well as many other exhibitions, and a cultural centre that hosts music, opera, theatre and dance performances.

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As we walked from Bellas Artes toward Centro, there were a number of streets cordoned off and police cars, vans and military vehicles were out in force. We could see and hear a massive protest underway on the next street over, but common sense won out over my intense curiosity and we stayed the course. Every time we have been to Mexico, there have been massive protests over something or another and the accompanying police presence - I think it is part of the landscape.

We carried on to the main pedestrian street that runs from Bellas Artes to the zocolo. This street is a curious mix of cheap clothing stores and fabulous old buildings, as well as pocket parks and museums.

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There is a tiny park sandwiched between an ancient church and Torre Latinamericana, Mexico City's tallest building. It is currently featuring an outdoor exhibit of sculptures by Salvador Dali and Augustus Rodin. There were about 15 or so sculptures spread around this tiny park; here are two of them.
Rodin's La Eterna Primavera, 1898.

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Dali's Venus Especial, 1977

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Right across the street is the 18th-century Baroque palace, The Casa de los Azulejos ( The House of Tiles).

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Just down the street, we popped into the Palacio de la Cultural Citibanamex.

There were three exhibits - a display of work by sculptor Yvonne Domenge Gaudry.

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An exhibit about the 1910 Mexican Revolution; this Tree of Life portraying the major players.

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An exhibit on Nacimiento - scenes of the Nativity from Latin-American artists. This one by Manuel Martinez, Peru, 2009

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The main attractions around the Zocolo - the Cathedral and the National Palace - were closed due to Covid. We could have wandered around the Zocolo, but since it was stinking hot, we decided to head to one of our favourite spots for lunch and a view - El Meyor.

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The restaurant is on the roof of a terrific bookstore, Porrua. If you look closely at the wall art in the entrance, you will see the design is made entirely of strategic book placement.

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The Postal Palace is an architectural jewel - all marble and brass and polished wood, with venetian and art nouveau design elements. This part serves as a museum; there is actually a post office still in operation on the other side of the building.

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We spent another day checking out Polanco, a swank neighbourhood with stunning homes and ultra high-end shopping; billed as Mexico City's
"Rodeo Drive."
We have seen some exceptional street fashion but there is something so je-ne-sais-quoi about the sartorial splendour of this gentleman. I have to assume his closet is filled with many other equally fabulous ensembles and I also have to assume he has plenty of occasions to wear them.

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Converse sneakers have found a pretty fancy spot - no confusing this with a suburban Foot Locker.

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One street after another, filled with homes that look like this - expensive, discreet, gated.

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It is in the Polanco neighbourhood that the incomparable Soumaya museum is found. This stunning structure is named after Carlos Slim's late wife, and houses his personal art collection. We visited it a few years ago, but were once again impressed with its beauty.

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Right across the street is the Jumex Museum, which showcases contemporary art. Please excuse the quality of this photo - I don't know what my camera caught to create this purple arc, but it does match the gorgeous lavender jacaranda. It is a beautiful building, but only two floors were open and both of them only partially. The exhibits were lost on both of us - if someone can explain the vision behind draping two sheets to billow along the floor with pillows anchoring them, I'm all ears. There was also a sheet of paper with a single line drawn horizontally about one-third of the way down the page. I always feel like a philistine when I complain about the "talent" behind exhibits like this, but sheesh...I sometimes wonder if we are being played and there is a hidden camera, capturing our expressions as we try to make sense of it all.

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We were far more entertained watching this spectacle: window washers swinging in the air, suspended on harnesses.

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And that is a fitting end to our trip - an image of the precarious beauty of Mexico City. We even managed to experience an earthquake while we were here. Not really - the quake was 230 miles away in Veracruz and we felt nothing, but it was strong enough to sound the alarms here. Yesterday morning, we heard sirens and a loudspeaker that kept repeating, " Alerte Sismo. Alerte Sismo"

We looked out our windows to see people gathering on the street below and within minutes our host contacted us to let us know everything was alright. Apparently these Alerts are common - they give residents one minute to prepare before a tremor may occur.

Thank you to Mexico and to the many wonderful Mexicans we met. Thank you for distracting us from ugly winter weather, from Covid numbers, from political mayhem, from the trucker protest and now from Russia's attack on the Ukraine. We appreciated the break and are ready to come home.

Posted by millerburr 22:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city salvador_dali zocolo augustu_rodin museo_jumex museo_soumaya polanco palacio_post_office citibanamex porrua palacio_de_bellas_artes Comments (6)

The Yin and Yang of Mexico City

sunny 28 °C

The more we travel around Mexico City, the more we realize it would take years to understand it. How to describe a city that changes from one block to the next and offers glimpses into lives of both tremendous wealth and and tremendous struggle - all within a few kilometres of one another? We haven't seen the wealthiest neighbourhoods, nor have we seen the poorest. We are seeing only what the tourists see and within those narrow boundaries we are challenged, stimulated, horrified, impressed and delighted every minute of the day. So many questions, so few answers.

A feast for the eyes, a democratic gift to all citizens - these pedestrian walkways that run between four lanes of traffic are literally life-saving. Why have more cities not adopted this practice of making urban life more livable?

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Our neighbourhood is filled with dramatic entryways. I love this gorgeous doorway, but how in the world does it accommodate a new sofa or fridge?

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Not every building in our area is Art Nouveau or Art Deco. There are a good number of more modern apartment buildings - most of them with balconies crammed with plants. We were told that most newer buildings were built to replace the original buildings that had been destroyed in the catastrophic 1985 earthquake.

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We walked past this site - cordoned off and ready to demolish. Amazing that it has stood empty for so long, but the damage was so widespread that it has taken this many years to recover, and they're not done yet.

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Like all great cities, Mexico City is all about the neighbourhoods. Each one is unique and offers a distinctive architecture, history and even demographics. One of the oldest, San Angel was once a small town. In 1934, it was declared a Pueblo Tipico Pintoresco ( Picturesque Typical Town), which indeed it is, and has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Charming homes, cobblestoned streets, a monastery and the Saturday artisan market are among the draws. As our cab driver told us, " Muy bonita. Muy cara." Very beautiful. Very expensive.

This home had an armed security guard out front and a gardener sweeping up errant leaves off the sidewalk. The guard told us that many people stop to take photos (I asked permission) of the compelling artwork at the entrance. This was the only clue as to the grandeur that lay behind those doors.

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Many homes in San Angel are like that - concrete fortresses that present a blank facade to the outside world, and to potential intruders.

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This one offered more of a glimpse, but was equally well-protected.

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Inviting tree-lined streets and laneways.

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The El Carmen Monastery is right in the centre of town, set in magnificent gardens. There was a service on while we were there, but like the rest of San Angel, there were guards to discourage us from peeking in. Stephen popped in front of this monster agave to give a sense of scale.

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The long-standing Saturday Market has its home in this handsome building, which houses some truly high-end works by local artists - fine pottery, jewelry, woodwork, textiles and custom design clothing and footwear.

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Outside, dozens of artists and craftspeople display their wares in the Plaza de San Jacinto and on the adjoining sidewalks.

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Since this is primarily an artist market, there was not a lot of fresh food, other than some eye-wateringly-priced macarons. I loved the fact that this lady had piggy-backed onto the market, and set up her wares. She was quite happy to pose for a photo - who could resist those artichokes?

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And...interestingly, San Angel was also the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It's complicated - the famous Casa Azul which belonged to Frida, and was shared by Diego, is in Coyoacan, and that is the house that attracts the crowds.

The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo served as house and studio to both artists, although it was primarily Rivera's home. This arrangement speaks to the tempestuous relationship and perhaps to their artistic temperaments as well.

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And far from the genteel beauty of San Angel, we take you to Juarez. It is currently Mexico City's financial centre, but was once a wealthy enclave; its streets filled with magnificent mansions. In recent years, since the 1985 earthquake, those mansions have been abandoned, severely deteriorated and occupied by squatters. Juarez is also home to Zone Rosa (Pink Zone), which has a large gay population.

The area can best be described as up-and-coming; vibrant, gritty and very much a slice of urban life.

Typical of this area - one intact and well-maintained building is situated right next to one that could use a little love.

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The main pedestrian-only street is loud, brash and home to fast food chains, cheap clothing outlets and adult-only shops.

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Street art tells provocative stories:

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Tells scary stories:

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Celebrates Mexico's favourite sport:

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Celebrates Mexico's international icon:

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Poverty is more visible here. There is a different tension in the streets - a little more jangly in some areas. Whether it is warranted or not, I was more conscious of my surroundings, more conscious of my belongings. It was never frightening, just less relaxing.

A large encampment lies in the shadow of this church. It runs for a couple of blocks and it appears to house several families.

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And yet, there is beauty. Several artists have set up shop in Juarez, including this beautiful store selling handcrafted garments. The mural on the wall speaks to the time-honoured Mexican tradition of textile art.

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I think this fabulous old building is an embassy, but I couldn't find a sign (that I could understand).

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Also fabulous, but new. This style of architecture is quite common in Mexico City - big gravity-defying blocks suspended high in the air.

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Street-corner, plastic-stool dining. Most of them are busy, with line-ups - those are the ones with tender foreign tummies to check out.

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And...Mexico's pride, its Central Park, its Sunday family madness - Chapultepec Park. This is the second largest park in Latin America - a massive green space just crammed with every imaginable attraction. We deliberately went on a Sunday, which is like a carnival. Families descend upon the park in great numbers and walk, bike, roller-blade, go for paddle boat rides, buy balloons and trinkets and chow down on corn, candy, tacos, juices, more candy. Watching Mexican families in action is at least as much fun as anything else the park has to offer.

We entered at the entrance with the magnificent Ninos Heroes Monument - dedicated to six child cadets who died defending Mexico in the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.

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Within the park there are several very good museums - the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum and the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology. We didn't go to either museum this year as we have been twice before.

Entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology

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We did go to the Museum of Modern Art, which had three expositions. The first one, called "Discontinuous Times" dealt with the disruption of the pandemic, and the effects on mental health.

Domingo, by Javier Anzures

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Fragmented Landscapes showed ways to express alternative renditions of familiar images.

Boy, by Reynaldo Velazquez Zebadua

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The third exposition dealt with feminism, and some groundbreaking images from the Movimento Nacional de Mujeres in macho '60s Mexico.

This arresting image by Hermina Dosel

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The Botanical Gardens are a delight, and according to these folks at the gate - they are under threat of being torn up and being developed - a museum, other buildings - it wasn't clear. For the zero impact it will likely have, I signed a petition and went in through the gates to appreciate something that might not be here next time we visit.

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The gardens have several species of mature trees and shrubs, as well as a huge greenhouse.

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There are also ponds which are home to several fish and at least one handsome tortuga.

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We knew there was a Sunday bike ride, in which 20 miles of major roads are blocked to vehicles, which brings out the cyclists in droves. We sadly forgot about this bike ride, until we got to the park - it would have been fun to join in.

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And you thought I would never stop talking! We have so little time left and still so much to do. That's it for now - we will see you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 03:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city art_nouveau chapultepec_park art_deco colonia_juarez san_angel museum_of_modern_art Comments (8)

Living La Dulce Vida in CDMX

sunny 26 °C

We LOVE Mexico City! This is our third visit to Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX, to differentiate it from the state or country of Mexico), and after just a few days here, we are even more enthralled. If you've never been to Mexico City, I want to encourage you to come. Do you think of Mexico City as huge, sprawling, dirty, dangerous, polluted and prone to earthquakes? You would be right on all counts, but in fact the part of Mexico that most visitors will ever see is a tiny square in the middle of a vast valley, and most of those adjectives do not apply, or at least they do not tell the full story.

You will likely stay in one of three or four neighbourhoods - all of them easily accessible from the airport. Since we weren't quite ready to navigate the city by subway or bus, we grabbed a cab (you buy the ticket inside the airport and it is prepaid according to zone), walked outside to the taxi lineup and 25 minutes and $20 later, we were at our front door.

We rented an Airbnb in an Art Deco building in the Condesa neighbourhood. This is our building - we are on the second floor. We have a spacious 2-bedroom apartment, with high coved ceilings, brass trim on the door handles, beautiful old floor tile and a view of the Parque Mexico from our windows. The tree on the left covers our living room window, and we have the next two windows. The Parque is across the street to the left.

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There is no elevator. This is the marble staircase that leads up to each floor.

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The Condesa neighbourhood is simply beautiful - parks, tree-lined streets, fabulous architecture, unique shops, and really, really great restaurants and cafes. This is not an inexpensive postal code, but you can eat well for a handful of pesos, and the main attraction - people-watching and gawking at the gorgeous homes - is free.

This wind-up car is a fixture. It never moves and neither does the driver. They were both here when we visited four years ago.

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One of the neighbourhood's typical little restaurants.

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So many of these homes are blessed with attention to detail and incredible craftsmanship. Former mansions have been converted to spacious apartments.

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There are two main parks in Condesa - Parque Espana and Parque Mexico. They are within a five minute walk of one another, and offer city-dwellers twisting pathways, lush foliage, fountains and ponds and other features too numerous to mention. They are the "lungs" in a city like Mexico; the soul and sanity-savers.

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In addition to the parks, two long pedestrian paths wind through the neighbourhood, filled with walkers, runners, baby carriages, bicycles and dogs. It is quite incredible that there is so much greenspace in such a small area - residents and visitors are well served.

We are living right across the street from the larger park - Parque Mexico and it is a parade. As I write this, sirens are competing with barking dogs; in a minute all will be quiet again. Right below our apartment is a small cafe where the old gents meet up to gossip.

Waste management in Mexico is a curiosity. There are very few receptacles for recycling and none for compost. Everything goes into garbage bags, and yet - when the garbage is picked up, the workers open each bag and separate right there on the street - cardboard, plastics, etc. - all put into separate containers in the truck.

As viewed from our window:

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Thinking perhaps a park bathroom might not be the cleanest? This one is graced with a mural, an attendant and even a snack bar.

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There are a number of wooden signs throughout the park, dated 1927 - all of them with sayings that remind people to behave with consideration of others. Loosely translated: This park is made for you and your children. Take care of it as your own.

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And the dogs! Condesa is dog heaven. Dog walkers are legion - handling five or six leashes at a time, with every breed imaginable from Great Danes to golden retrievers to little foo-foos - every last one of them well-behaved.

And here is the mystery - the dog schools. For those of you who have dogs, try and imagine your beloved pet in this situation:

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Dog owners leave their pets in the care of young men like the three in this photo, and voila: the dogs all lie down quietly, with their leashes extended and do not make a peep. I asked one of the young men how they train the dogs, and he was either disinclined to tell me or realized that my Spanish was not up to the challenge. But clearly, they are dog whisperers - the dogs were mellow, unafraid and obedient.

Churros and chocolate are a big thing in Mexico. Churros are ropy twists of deep-fried dough that are rolled in sugar and popped into a bag. In case that doesn't sound sweet enough, you can get little tubs of chocolate or sweetened condensed milk to dip them in. They are a must-try, and no better place than El Morro, situated on the other side of the park; an institution since 1935.

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Kitty-corner to El Morro is another cafe - one of the hundreds to be found on street corners in Mexico City.

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The neighbourhood adjacent to Condesa is called La Roma and in fact they are often mentioned in the same breath, as in " La Roma-Condesa." They are quite similar in appearance, with perhaps La Roma edging out along the hipster lines - a tad younger and cooler. la Roma was a very upscale area that fell into serious decline after the 1985 earthquake which devastated parts of the area, as well as Centro Historico. As is so often the case, it was the artists that first moved into the area and began to revive it and then as it became gentrified, the artist were forced to look elsewhere for more affordable rents.

We decided to sign up for a free walking tour of La Roma, and lucked out as there were just three of us - our fellow walker was a young woman from California. Our guide was an extremely amiable, knowledgable and enthusiastic Mexico City native named Gus, who pointed out a number of notable buildings, provided an overview of Mexico City's history, and gave us a lot of insider tips about the city. We've done "free" - (no actual charge, but you give a tip) walking tours before in other cities and they are usually really fun.

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If you saw the movie Roma, you would recognize this style of entrance - the long driveway leading to the house at the back. This is quite common in La Roma.

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This building, known as The Witch's House, was one of the buildings that fell into disuse, but has been completely restored.

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Speaking of earthquakes, there was an earthquake on September 19, 2017, in which a building collapsed and killed a number of people. In memory of those killed, an artist collective has painted murals of a number of the victims, with this notable one, Noemie Manuel Garcia. She had just graduated from high school, moved into Mexico City to begin work and she was killed on her very first day on the job.

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Yesterday we headed south to the neighbourhood of Coyoacan - a lively artistic community that attracted the likes of Leon Trotsky and was home to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who lived for many years in their bright blue home, Casa Azul, now a museum. We had visited the Blue House on a past visit, and this time just wanted to concentrate on wandering the streets and getting a feel for the neighbourhood. It is a fabulous area - home to the very rich but still steeped in the history of its radical past.
The name Coyoacan is Nahuatl for "place of coyotes", and is so honoured with this fountain in one of the main parks.

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The coyotes show up everywhere, on street signs and cafes, and even a yoga studio.

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We walked out of the park through this arch and onto one of the main streets.

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Avenida Francisco Sosa runs for several blocks and is home to some of the area's beautiful homes, and most impressive tree roots.

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We walked past this incredible mansion, and when I asked the two guards what it was, they replied, "A school."

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As fabulous as this neighbourhood can be, it also has plenty of more accessible sights - homes like this one:

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An old-school pool hall:

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A church (one of many):

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A museum dedicated to watercolour artists, both Mexican and international, with equally glorious grounds:

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And a number of tiny alleyways, impassable by any vehicle larger than a motorbike:

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Whew! Long post - and I've left out so much. Still, so much to tell you about - I should have a couple more postings before we're done here.
I will leave with a final photo of the quite wonderful MacStore, set in a grand old building. We replaced our drowned iPhone - updated to a brand new phone and we're back among the living. See you again in a few days.

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Posted by millerburr 00:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged espana mexico_city walking_tour art_nouveau art_deco condesa la_roma parque_mexico parque_ Comments (6)

Taking a Ride on the Wild Side

The east coast of Cozumel is called "The Wild Side" for a number of reasons. It is largely uninhabited and undeveloped. The Caribbean Sea pounds in with such ferocity that most days it makes swimming a seriously hazardous venture.

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Those same waves and that treacherous undertow are just what the surfers are looking for.

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The last time we were in Cozumel we rented a car and drove south to Punta Sur then north up the east coast and back again across the transversal highway into town. We saw a lot, but figured we would see that much more on bicycle.

Let me give you a little background about our bike riding history. We used to own bicycles, but five and a half years ago when we sold our house and contents, our bike riding more or less ended. Bear in mind that we were never road warriors and in the intervening years, we may have rented bikes a handful of times for leisurely sightseeing. So, with this level of bike fitness and an overly optimistic evaluation of our stamina, we decided to ride around the island for a total of 64 km.

This is us after 15 km. - still happy and feeling good about the whole idea.

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When I say "ride around the island" - that is not actually possible, as there is one main road that runs north and south around the main developed area (town, beach clubs, resorts, etc.), and then cuts across the island. There is another main road that runs north from town on the west side up into the hotel area. Most of the north end of the island is undeveloped, with no road access but for a bumpy dirt road on the east side that is accessible only with jeeps or ATVs. So the 64 km. loop is done along the bottom half of the island, and a huge bonus here - much of it is on designated bike lanes. In fact, there is a bike lane that runs along the east coast, entirely separate from vehicles and runs right along the water.

This leg of the journey was heavenly -without having to watch for traffic or even pedestrians, we were free to sail along and get lost in our surroundings.

Turkey vultures quite unfazed by our presence.

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One of many little sheltered coves. This one has a substantial rock barrier in front, which provides a safe current-free spot to swim.

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Being a meteorologist in the Caribbean would be an exercise in frustration and humility, as the forecast is almost never right. Clouds are a constant - they roll in and clear away, and sudden downpours don't always come with a warning. We got a bit of a soak on our first hour of riding, stayed dry for the rest of the ride, but the clouds never left us. Very atmospheric though and a bit of a break from relentless sun.

There are not a lot of places to stop for lunch on the wild side, with food quality being hit and miss, but Coconuts Bar and Grill had been suggested for the "experience." It didn't disappoint, as it was the ultimate tourist trap with overpriced mediocre food attached to a stunning view. We've often mused on that - why so many beachfront restaurants turn out such rotten fare. Having a professional chef in the kitchen is not always possible, but I know from my own experience in a home kitchen that it is as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, so why not raise that bar a little higher?

Coconuts gave us a good laugh. Our server was smarmy and insincere, but the place was filled with enough curiosities to keep us amused.

This photo doesn't tell the whole story, but it does look as though you are being warned that the gaunt and frightening mannequin named Chimichanga" loves to bite. (Chimichanga is in fact a cockatoo tethered to a nearby cage.)

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On the opposite side of the room, there is another biting bird - this rather shy parrot.

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Having birds in cages is not uncommon in Mexico and it always makes me feel a little queasy to see these poor things tied and unable to fly. There are two dolphin centres in Cozumel where you can swim with and pet the dolphins, but there are plans to outlaw that practice as it is deemed to be so stressful to the mammals. To Mexico's credit, they banned using animals in circuses a number of years ago. We were in Sayulita many years ago when a circus came to town, and along with the acrobats and magic acts, there were a number of big cats held in small cages. Their "performance" in the ring was heartbreaking - drugged and listless as they clambered over a few blocks.

We rode past this site that no-one seemed able to explain, but we're wondering if perhaps it was the home of the circus. We peeked down the road through the locked gate and could see a few trucks. Certainly these two are a little worse for the wear, so it has been quite a while since anything went on behind those gates.

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Mysteries! So many unanswered questions. Like what on earth was this back in the day when it was in good shape? Along with the deteriorating dinosaurs, the lot was filled with a half-dozen vehicles who have also died a slow death.

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This is part of what I love about Mexico - so many stories, so much that is unknowable, and let's face it, so much you don't want to know. Now one thing I have wondered about on this trip is why there are so many pharmacies in places like Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Many of them are no bigger than kiosks, but there is one on every corner; some of them offering discounts and most of them offering drugs like Tramadol, which is a serious opioid - available without prescription. In some cases, they have people standing outside, hissing, "Farmacia" in the same tone you might hear "weed." So what is going on?

I have it on good authority (from a couple we met on the beach in Isla Mujeres) that some of the many pharmacies as well as some of the many high-end jewelry stores are in fact being used to launder cartel cash. Now that seems like a sound business practice to me, but I don't want to go spreading false rumours, so take this with a grain of salt. I like this photo - Aqui y Ahora (Here and Now), plus a great mural, speaks to living for the moment. To aid in that approach to life, we have the Be Well Farmacia and a diamond shop.

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Back to our bike ride. Once we had ridden across the island, then headed south on the east side, and then stopped for lunch, we still had more than halfway to go and we were beginning to lag. At one point, I passed a gentleman walking his three Irish setters and he seemed quite astonished that my goal was to get back downtown. "You can always flag down a taxi", was his encouraging suggestion.

The only thing that was keeping us (me?) from considering that option was my pride. My rear end was numb, my shoulders and upper arms locked in a painful half-circle, my calves were seizing and I was playing mind games to continue. "Km. 28!" "Just 28 km. left!"

The scenery was a helpful distraction. We were riding through the southern part of the island past the beach clubs and the exclusive resorts.

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Soon, the southern part of town came into view and we were like horses to the barn - just 6 km. to go.

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We returned beaten but unbowed, and our new bike rental friend Philip ( from the Okanagan who has lived full-time in Cozumel for four years) was suitably impressed with us. We took his advice to keep moving and eat sugar, so with a half-hour walk ahead of us, we stopped for ice-cream as we hobbled home. Next day we were as good as new.

I want to tell you about the SeaWalls Project - seawalls.org This is a global organization of artists who paint murals whose theme is the environment and the protection of our natural world. There are a number of these murals in Cozumel, as well as other parts of Mexico and all over the world.

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I don't think this one is part of the SeaWalls project, but I liked it. If you'll notice on the left, there are two guard dogs, who took great umbrage at us stopping to admire the artwork.

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Barking dogs in Mexico - it could be a documentary. it is a given that you will have barking dogs as part of your audio background. Our street has a number of dogs and once one dog starts, the chorus begins and can last for five minutes. It's a choir - a couple of baritones, a few tenors and a whole front line of sopranos. Always one or two off-key. Then it will start up again, the next time a leaf drops, or a bike goes by or really...anything. Strangely and fortuitously, they all seem to go to bed at a decent hour and stay quiet, so nothing to complain about.

We went for a neighbourhood walk a few nights ago and met some of the miscreants. These scruffy little characters just about lost it when we quietly walked by, but then I looked at their situation. The three of them are probably in there morning, noon and night - I'd be barking as well if that was my lot in life.

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While these three have perhaps a finer pedigree and a more orderly environment, they were no less vocal.

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We are leaving Cozumel with wonderful memories and ended our trip on a high note - we met my cousins for our final dinner. I have a lot in common with my cousins Diana and Maureen. They spent their early childhood in Gaspe; I visited every summer. We all grew up in Montreal; Diana's husband Bruce and I were in the same class one year. Our family ties run deep and although we don't often see one another (we're spread out in Milton,Ontario, Edmonton and Nanaimo), we can easily pick up where we left off.

They are in Cozumel this year for nine weeks, and we visited with them twice. Lucky them - still six weeks to go.
Stephen, Ginny, Diana, Maureen and John. Bruce is missing from the photo - a bout of turista caught up with him unfortunately.

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We fly out tomorrow to Mexico City - exchanging sea level heat and humidity for high altitudes and cooler temps. We're sad to leave this beautiful spot, but also ready for a change of pace. See you in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 01:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches punta su snorkeling cozumel Comments (11)

We're not in San Miguel de Allende...

...but we are in San Miguel de Cozumel

semi-overcast 27 °C

We've been to San Miguel de Allende three times in the past several years and we have spent countless hours wandering the hilly streets with one stunning sight-line after another unfolding at every turn. We have always thoroughly enjoyed our visits; San Miguel offers up something different every time. What we have enjoyed far less is the dominating gringo presence that has turned this beautiful colonial city into a well-heeled tourist playground - often at the expense of the locals.

San Miguel has earned a reputation as being "Gringolandia" and it is not undeserved. But the pluses of this city have always outweighed the annoyances for us, and so we had slotted a couple of weeks to check out our favourite sites. We would be there right now, but for an incident that soured us on the place once and for all.

We had booked an Airbnb from a Washington State couple who contacted us several weeks ago to find out our anticipated arrival time. Since we would be arriving on a Sunday around 6:00 pm, the owner told us that we would be expected to tip the property manager $30 to let us in. When we inquired about this practice, we were quite curtly told that a) Mexicans don't normally work on Sundays (?) and b) it is customary to tip in Mexico. Since Mexicans most definitely work on Sundays and we are well versed in tipping customs, we were both annoyed by the misinformation and insulted by the insinuation. We were also puzzled - in all the years and dozens of places we've stayed at in Mexico, we've never been charged to have someone hand us a key. We chose not to get into it with the owner, but merely changed our arrival date so as to avoid any "Sunday" issues.

Then we got to thinking... Would this unfortunate intro to this Airbnb be just the beginning of aggravating dealings with this owner? We had met several people like him in San Miguel before and they get in the way of all the reasons we love Mexico. So we turned to Plan B - head to another tourist destination with lots of gringos, also named San Miguel (de Cozumel)!

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If you remember our last visit in Cozumel, we were here for just four days with one sick day (Stephen being sunned out) and one rainy day cutting into our adventures. We left wishing we could have stayed longer and now we are back - back in our same cute casita and this time hitting the ground running - knowing where to go and what to see. Also my cousins are here - we've already had one visit and have more planned - more on that in the next blog.

Cozumel is a contradictory place. It is the fourth largest cruise ship destination in the world, and yet the presence of thousands of daily visitors is hardly noticed. I don't know where they all go. There is far more wild, jungly land than there is development, and the whole east coast is usually unswimmable due to winds and currents. Senor Frogs and Hooters have staked their ubiquitous claim on the waterfront, but the dining out scene is well balanced with Mexican-owned establishments, both mom and pop, and fine dining. The malecon is simply beautiful, running for many kilometres along the west coast of the island. If you are needing shade and don't mind being hassled, you walk on the street side where you will be coaxed to "take a look" for everything from made-in-China souvenirs to cigars to tequila. More serious purchases include diamonds, gold and no-prescription-necessary opioids and Viagra. If that proves to be too much, you just flip over to the water side and enjoy the view in peace.

We have found the tourists in Cozumel to be a little different than other beach destinations - quieter, less yahoo behaviour - more family, less party. Many folks live here here for the winter months and they are well integrated into the community. It is a much more relaxing place to be.

Getting around is the one sticking point - most of the tourist sites and beach clubs require either a car rental or a taxi - there is no bus service. Typically a round-trip taxi to most beach clubs will be $20, which adds up but is still way cheaper than a daily car rental. Most beach clubs either rent sun beds and umbrella for a fee that is then put toward the food and drink bill, or they simply ask that you purchase your lunch from them.

We headed out to Sky Reef Beach club a couple of days ago - it was blowing up quite a gale, so unfortunately the snorkelling was not as satisfactory as it could have been.

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Neither was the food - I foolishly ordered nachos, which aside from a few crispy tortillas on the edges, was a soggy mess, topped with a scant handful of tomato and onion and held together with a gelatinous mass of congealed cheese. Still, as we always say when the day does not unroll as we had hoped, " Real life happens on the road" - including unmet expectations.

A few real-life scenarios have unfolded for us this time around. The most inconvenient is the loss of our phone, which did not survive a Caribbean swim. Just prior to that, Stephen bought a new cord in Playa del Carmen for his iPad and then left it behind in Merida. We have since bought a second cord but the iPad is still behaving badly, so we may well be on the hunt for a few new devices once we return home.

Our experience at Buccano's Beach Club was incredible - the polar opposite of the Sky Reef. Buccano's is beautifully appointed, immaculately maintained and people actually go there for the food.
This is the entrance:

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We arrived early enough to have our pick of sunbeds, and set ourselves up for a completely enjoyable and memorable day. This flotilla arrived, which felt like a worrisome sign of things to come, but not at all. They dropped in their snorkelers for a while, then left and that was that.

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The snorkeling was fabulous. It is an incredible and highly addictive pastime to wade into the ocean, drop down and begin exploring. At times we were simply floating with fish swimming all around us; at other times we would be drifting along and just above our heads a barracuda would glide by. Fish of every colour of the rainbow, including huge schools of sargeant major fish ( small, black and yellow striped) that according to one of our nearby beach neighbours, actually bite. "They'll give ya a good nip" which was all the intel I needed to try and stay clear of them. I looked up "Cozumel fish" and according to the images I saw online, we saw angelfish in many different colours, a few harlequin bass, a school of blue tang, some honeycombed cowfish, damselfish and grouper. I also saw a magnificent spotted moray eel - slithering along the ocean floor, with its wavy back and sinister-looking mouth opening and reaching. We're hoping to have at least another few snorkelling experiences over the next week. We've run into a number of divers here and I have to say, their enthusiasm is infectious. If we love snorkeling, can you imagine what it would be like to dive - especially in this warm water with so much marine life. Maybe another trip.

We've been amusing ourselves with the fauna visible from our front deck. We wake up each morning to birdsong and in the early evening the action resumes - they swoop and soar and chirp and twitter, but sadly they are all birds of a feather - black and grey and brown. I have read through our Cozumel Bird Book and there is not a drop of colour to be found in our neighbourhood. I did get a snap of this Yucatan Vireo but that might be it for our tropical sightings.

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Most nights we are visited by this froggy fellow - I think this is a common milk frog. He sits on the cement wall and gradually makes his way up to the top, where he eventually climbs over and disappears. I hear myself doing the colour commentary," Oh I think he just moved" and I realize how far away from my youth I have moved.

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Although our weather has been a bit unsettled since we arrived, we have had a few nights where we've been able to watch the sunset. We had a multi-media event at Rinaldi's - a pizza place on the waterfront. There were people gathering on shore, a couple of snorkelers in the water and a cruise ship preparing to cast off.

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We had a ring-side seat.

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The main event.

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And finally, because I love them, some murals - all nature and Cozumel related.

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We still have lots to do and see here, so we'll catch up again in about a week. Our trip is starting to come to an end. We still have three weeks, which for non-retirees, is a very respectable holiday. For us, we are seeing the end on the horizon, which is always greeted with mixed feelings. We will finish our time in Mexico with 12 days in Mexico City - one of our very favourite cities.

As I write this, Stephen is watching the Superbowl in Spanish! See you all again in a week.

Posted by millerburr 00:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cruise_ships murals island snorkeling malecon cozumel #stephenpaulburr Comments (6)

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