The fifth largest city in the world seemed a little intimidating to us. But there were a few things there we wanted to see and do. Yet there were a few things we were afraid of: traffic, crime, expenses, traffic and crime (yes, I meant to repeat that! HAHAHAH). We had discussed heading into the big city while we were in Teotihuacan (a suburb), but we chickened-out and went to the mountains instead! Then more discussion ensued in the little village of Angahuen (where the buried church was) and we started looking at AirBnB rentals in Mexico City.
We found a little AirBnB apartment with parking just across the street. It was about $35 per night for a basic place in a nice neighborhood. We were near restaurants, shopping and public transportation. And the camper was parked right outside our window on a private street. The high-rise behind the truck housed the AT&T call center, so there was 24 hour security! It was a great location. With the truck securely parked, we were done dealing with traffic!
One of the first things we learned about the big city was the incredible inner city transportation system called the Metro. The light rail runs underground throughout the entire city. It is also linked by an above-ground bus system. Our nearest light rail station was about one mile away (Copilco) and we used it nearly every day! The fare was 5 pesos (about 25 cents) per trip. The trains ran every 10 minutes. The stations and the cars were clean, safe and modern. We never felt fear on the Metro (and we rode it day and night, crowded and empty) and really enjoyed the convenience of getting all across the big city! The convenience and safety of the Metro made us feel more at ease about crime. The next thing we learned about were the green spaces! The area of Mexico City that we were in has many green spaces and parks. These were perfect for the twice daily dog walks! Zeb and Mango really enjoyed roaming the streets and green spaces of our neighborhood. With the truck safe, the dogs walked and the transportation plan handled, we set about planning our week of adventures. Our plan of attack included museums, the basilica, restaurants, boat rides, geocaching and Six Flags! How would we fit it all in?
Once we figured out the days that certain places were closed, we decided to start our explorations at the far end of the city. We took the Metro to the Basilica. This is a collection of churches and chapels that are built at the location of the Miracle of the Virgin Guadalupe. This link will lead you to a short story that explains the history of the Virgin Guadalupe.(brief story of the Virgin of Guadalupe)
One of the notable things about this location is the leaning, sinking and misalignment of the buildings. Mexico City is built upon many lakes, and soil stability remains an issue. These churches are moving significantly. This old church has sunk about four feet into the ground and is leaning to the left from the churches next to it. Wooden ramps are adjusted frequently to allow guests to access the doorways over cracked concrete, separated tiles and gaping holes in the earth. Here is another photo to illustrate the movement of this massive structure. Inside the church there is constant restoration and maintenance being done to the walls, floors, altars and artwork. Visible cracks have shattered several walls.
The blue-roofed, modern church is where the tilma of the Virgin of Guadelupe is now housed. The roof is copper on the outside and the inside of the church is enormous. The Virgin is displayed in a frame behind the altar of copper. She is at least 50 feet away from the viewers in this location. There are armed guards, metal rails, and closed- circuit cameras protecting her.
But there is another access to see the famous artifact. The church has a moving sidewalk that passes under the altar. From that sidewalk the viewer can look up and see the tilma inside the frame, and gaze higher to see the beautiful roof of the church. This particular religious artifact has endured some significant research and testing for many eras. Here is a link to one such report- This religious relic can be viewed as a miracle or a religious icon or even a work of art (possibly the most popular work of art ever created). But it must also be a reminder of the conquest of Mexico (a military conquest and a religious conversion). After this tilma was popularized, well over six thousand Aztecs became Catholics and the ancient empires of Mexico began to fall to Spanish rule. There are many interesting articles about this religious relic. Here is a link to a science article that discussed the images reflected in her eyes. (Article about her eyes)
I can assure you that I approached this relic with much skepticism. But after seeing it from various angles and spending about 15 minutes in the chapel, I felt compelled to purchase and light a candle in memoriam of my deceased parents. Then I promptly placed a phone call to say hello to my only sister. Even through my skepticism I was emotionally moved. Or maybe I was just impacted by the energy and emotions of the thousands of other visitors who were around me. Regardless of the reason, there is a candle glowing in Mexico City for Mom and Pop, and my sister is probably still wondering why I called her to say hello on that random afternoon!
Another day of wonderful dog walking led us to this! CDMX is short for Cuidad de Mexico (City of Mexico or Mexico City) We also tried to find a geocache near here, but it was gone! After the dog walk, we jumped on the Metro again and headed for more fun in the city! Our first stop was the Templo Mayor. This is an archeological site in the middle of the more modern city buildings. The excavation continues, but much of the pyramid and temple has been lost to construction over the years. Seeing this amazing structure is another reminder of the historical roots of Mexico City, originally Tenotchitlan the capital of the Aztec world. Behind the excavation site you can see the National Palace (government headquarters similar to the White House in the USA, and an enormous Catholic church. Both structures were built right over the ancient rock work around the Templo Mayor.
We enjoyed lunch overlooking the Mexico City Zocalo (the city square or plaza) which is the second largest in the world. Only the Red Square in Russia is larger. While we were walking we noticed the riot gear. I guess the local police appear to be prepared for anything that may take place in this giant open space. Fortunately there were no protests the day we were there! Did you know it is a punishable crime for a foreigner to become involved in any sort of civil unrest or protest in Mexico? Our next stop was a quirky little place called the Mexico Medical Museum. This is housed in a former medical school. Many of the displays were once part of the educational program. The building is beautiful. The information is only in Español. But in any language, some of it was rather startling. These graphic, life sized, wax sculptures so life sized examples of various medical maladies. The photographic examples show medical procedures performed to improve appearances or quality of life.
On the way back to the apartment, we took a walk through a typical Mexican mercado. This movie is filmed while walking through a few sections of the mercado. The stalls are typically organized by product (shoes, flowers, clothes, meat, fruits and veggies, etc) and they are an assault on your senses. Enjoy the movie filmed by Mike.
Just around the corner from our rental we picked up coffee from this adorable sidewalk coffee stand. It was delicious, of course! Each day this man wheels his wooden cart here and sets up the wooden chairs and the canvas cover. He works the coffee machine alone, selling a wide range of custom drinks. And at the end of the day he breaks it all down and wheels it away, leaving a bare sidewalk again. We got up a little early for our next fun day. This time we used an Uber to deliver us to the gates of the largest theme park in all of Latin America! That’s right, we went to Six Flags Mexico! The weather was perfect and we had great fun including roller coasters, zombie-haunted house, dolphin show and real hamburgers. Then the one scary moment of our entire visit to Mexico City. The fast-spinning, swinging chairs at hundreds of feet in the air were frightening!!
As you can tell, we had a great time. But we were completely exhausted at the end of the day! Lots of walking, sunshine, snacking, laughing and people-watching (and a good bit of screaming our lungs out!) made for a fun visit to Six Flags Mexico.
For our next day of fun we decided to ride the Metro to Xochimilco. This is the Mexico City version of Venice, Italy. The entire community is based around a series of water canals and channels which are navigated by boats. Remember when I mentioned that Mexico City is built on a lake, well this part of town turned their lake area into the canals. And it became a major attractions for locals and visitors! When we arrived we grabbed a pedi-cab to take us to the embarcadero so we could hire a boat. Here is a rare selfie of us riding in the pedi-cab.
We went on Fathers Day, and many boats were celebrating with dads and whole families! The bright colors mixed with the music and laughter made it a very fun experience.
At the end of the fun we rode the Metro back to the apartment, it was during the busy hours. At this time of the afternoon they dedicate one or two cars for “Women and Children Only”. It is an interesting step toward fighting the harassment that women have endured while riding on the Metro. I felt none during our week.
We spent many hours at the famed Museum of Anthropology. This is organized in a fantastic manner and houses incredible artifacts from the entire country. In the plaza of the museum is a gorgeous, two-story, reverse fountain. The water falls from above, as shown in the photo. When we left the museum we wandered around the parks surrounding the museum. Off to one side we saw a crowd gathering and wandered over just in time to catch the Voladores start their show. Four men climbed to the top of the pole and began wrapping ropes around the pole. Then tied the ropes to their waists and jumped off of the frame. Then they began a slow, head-first, fall towards the ground as the frame spun at the top and the ropes unwound.
The entire process of unwinding takes about 4 minutes. And as you can see, the men are spinning and dangling upside-down that whole time! Watching it reminded me of the scary chair ride at Six Flags! We felt fortunate to have caught a show by the Voladores.
On our final day of being a tourist in Mexico City we visited the Toy Museum. This is located in a neighborhood with some fantastic street art. Even the museum is decorated with graffiti-style murals. But the whole place turned out to be bizarre, interesting, nostalgic and somewhat spell binding. We planned to spend a short amount of time there. But we found ourselves overwhelmed by the volume of STUFF on display in the multi-story collection. This particular display is a pile of various foosball (table soccer) units that have been bolted and welded together. I felt that this was a good representation of how the items in the toy museum are a melange of old and new and displayed in a blend of informational and artistic. It was all a bit confusing yet entertaining. This particular display is a collection of toys made to look like a typical street vendor cart. Inside are sandwiches, tacos, burritos and sopes. But if you look closely you see that the sandwiches have eyes and the other fillings of all the food products are little plastic human figurines. Again a strange blend of art and toy display. When you leave the Toy Museum you are asked to complete a short survey. On there you are to draw your favorite toy or collection of toys. Mike was quite nostalgic over the extremely large collection of model airplanes. He was an avid airplane modeler as a kid! So his comment sheet had a drawing of an airplane.
And just in case you were wondering, the truck/camper were doing great on the busy street. The guard told us that many people stop and take a photo with their friends posing in front to the artwork!
Leaving Mexico City required some planning. We had to be sure that we left on the right day of the week because of a law called “No Hoy Circula”. The is designed to reduce traffic and emissions in the crowded city (Federal District). Using the last digit of the license plate, there are days that are considered “No drive” days. Our last digit is a 6 so we cannot drive on Monday AND we cannot drive on the second and fourth Saturday. Also because we do not have a local license plate, we cannot drive before 11:00 am on any day. With all this information, we checked out of our AirBandB on a Tuesday after 11 in order to drive out of CDMX.
There are places we did not find time to see, museums we missed in our schedule and restaurants we still wanted to try. This city surprised us and we would return for more fun. We would encourage others to consider visiting this gem of cultural and historical information. Find a nice, safe apartment near a Metro station. Pack good walking shoes. Leave your fears at home.
Adios, Mexico City. We had a terrific time there.