Mexico - Exciting Mega - City

February 2023

Another 150 kilometers separated us from Mexico City, but before immersing ourselves in this metropolis, we went in search of the Mariposa butterflies. These butterflies fly from Mexico to Canada over four generations. We already encountered them on a stopover in Monterey/California a few months ago. The colony currently in Mexico must consist of hundreds of thousands of the butterflies and of course we wanted to see it with our own eyes. So we drove into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada where we found a wonderful overnight place close to the entrance of the Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca.

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Camp in the middle of nature
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Sheep grazing next to our cars

After paying the entrance fee, we were assigned a guide. Visiting the area is only by guide and we were accompanied by Joanna. She was not only very knowledgeable about the butterflies themselves but also knew a lot about the flora and fauna here in the Sierra Chincua. During the 2.5-kilometre hike to the point where the colony of Mariposa’s reside, we taught her a few words of English and she slowly and patiently shared her knowledge with us in Spanish. Today was Saturday and one tour bus after another was unloaded and we even found ourselves in a traffic jam several times as a result. That hadn’t happened to us before either…a traffic jam on a forest walk.

Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast and the sun struggled to penetrate the cloud cover. To stay warm, the butterflies then seek out and stick together by the thousands to conserve energy in large colonies. A beautiful sight to see how many specimens seem to hover in large numbers at the base of the branches of the trees. The best part, of course, is when they are all flying around because only then can you see the beautiful orange color. Fortunately, the sun came through every now and then which was an immediate sign for the Mariposas to free themselves from the colony and go in search of food. What a bizarre sight it is then to see so many butterflies flying in the air between the trees. We were impressed by it.

We took another deep breath of the fresh mountain air, as we would miss it in the coming days. With more than 9 million inhabitants, Mexico City is considered one of the largest cities on earth. We traded the butterflies for people. A choice we normally prefer not to make, but for Mexico City we made an exception.

Leafcutter ants - A foretaste of the hustle and bustle of people in the big city

The traffic in this immense city would be overwhelming. Today we did opt for the expensive toll road as we wanted to torture ourselves as little as possible with the chaos that would reign in the streets of Mexico’s capital. We drove over a mountain pass of over 3,000 meters and as soon as we overcame this¬† we immediately got a view of the first skyscrapers. Before long, the first drops of sweat appeared, too. Yes, it was hot too but stress levels soon rose to unpleasant levels. It was Sunday and the car park we had chosen to spend the night was also crowded. We needed the rest of the afternoon to recover after we finally secured a spot.

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The city is simply too big to wander around aimlessly and get a feel for it anyway. We therefore had opted to be a “real tourist” today. We bought tickets for the well-known red hop-on-hop-off buses that nowadays run in all larger cities that have something to offer tourists. What we mainly didn’t do was hopping on and off. We switched lines only once and for the rest stayed on our seats until we reached Centro Historico. From the upper deck, we had a great view and passed one skyscraper after another lined up along the wide avenues. A few times we swapped the main road for narrow side streets and picturesque squares to reach our final destination at Zocalo Square with its giant cathedral.

This gave us two highlights to look forward to. We stepped outside and braved the crowds and the noise, which died away after only 100 steps. Inside the Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de Mexico, there was a peaceful silence. What a huge cathedral! Measured by floor space, it is the largest church in all of Mexico and probably the most richly decoreated one. The daily mass had just ended, which gave us the opportunity to take a closer look at the golden altar. We have visited many churches and cathedrals, but we had never seen such huge round arches supporting the roof high above our heads.

Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de Mexico

Zocalo Square also belongs to the greater category. The square, officially called Plaza de la Constitucion, at 220×240 meters, is the largest of its kind in the Americas. Every day, the national Tricolor in the form of a giant flag is hoisted and lowered here under the watchful eye of hundreds of tourists.

We walked a big number of kilometers and allowed ourselves to drift through the crowds. The many small shopping streets selling everything between toys, CD players and crystal reminded us rather of Asia. Big speakers poured out commercials over the shopping people and men with pushcarts tried to replenish shop stocks. The rickshaws, so typical for us, completed the Asian picture for us.

The next day, the Anthropology Museum was on the agenda. Comfortably on foot, we bridged the one-and-a-half kilometers from the sleeping place to this museum, which is visited by two million visitors a year. The museum depicts the history of Mexico in chronological order from the origins of mankind to the empire of the Mayans. Countless pieces of art from the past are on display, each time making us wonder how our ancestors managed to add such fine detail to the rocks. Such beauty is not produced today in our opinion. After 3 hours, our heads were full of information and there was nothing more we could take in, so we said goodbye to the museum.

By taxi and metro, we moved on towards the city centre and after indulging in some stuffed tortas in the Roma Norte neighborhood, we ended the day with a cocktail in Plaza Garibaldi where, with every sip, we were musically accompanied by dozens of Mariachi bands that try to make it a party every night in this square for a small fee.

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On our last day, we had two more things we wanted to see and they were all to do with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican who owes her fame mainly to her paintings. She was married to the famous painter Diego Riviera and together they lived in a suburb of Mexico City. The house is now a museum that we wanted to visit. Before going to the museum, we wanted to see some of Riviera’s murals that are on display in a number of buildings in the city. Unfortunately, it was not possible to view the murals in the Palacio Nacional, but we got a good impression of his work in a government building not far from it.

In the couple’s “Blue House”, memories came flooding back of the wonderful film “Frida” that tells the story of this extraordinary, beautiful and crazy woman and her sad and happy relationship with Diego Rivera. They were both impressive people and the museum visit was well worth it.

The next morning, we struggled through traffic without any problems and drove out of the city. That took quite a long time, by the way, because a city like this is not something you just leave. After the skyscrapers disappeared in the car’s mirrors as did the suburbs, almost all built up against the surrounding mountains it wasn’t long before we arrived in the town of Teotihuacan. We checked in at Rancho Viejo and enjoyed a free afternoon here at this comfortable ranch. The pyramids of Teotihuacan are 2,000 years old, so they can wait until tomorrow.

Campsite at Rancho Viejo

Teotihuacan had its heyday between 200 and 500 A.D. At that time, it was the largest city in Mesoamerica and had about 200,000 inhabitants. First we reached the Piramide del Sol, the Pyramid of the Sun. After the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt and the pyramid in Cholula, it is the largest pyramid in the world in terms of area. It measures 66 meters in height. Unfortunately, one can no longer climb most of the pyramids in Mexico, and here too we were denied an ascent.

We walked up to the second large pyramid, the Pyramid of the Moon. This one is a little smaller at 45 meters high and forms the end of the 2-kilometre-long Calzada de los Muertos. The Street of the Dead is one of the longest urban axes that has ever existed. All these names were first given by the Aztecs, who discovered this huge area around about 1250 AD. By then, Teotihuacan had already been abandoned for 500 years. To this day, only 5% of the entire area has been excavated and explored, and it is not known which people lived here, what language they spoke and what led to its demise.

We strolled along the Calzada de los Muertos to the main entrance. The street was lined with many small temples, walls and remains of buildings. Every now and then we had to climb a small hill via stairs; in each of these hills was a low tunnel that had surely served as a water drain. Opposite the main entrance is another highlight of the site, La Cuidadela with the beautiful Templo de Quetzalcoatl. At this temple there are still intact stone reliefs, you can see the “feathered serpent” Quetzalcoatl and the “rain god” Tlaloc.

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Templo de Quetzalcoatl - Temple of the Feathered Serpent
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Templo de Quetzalcoatl - Temple of the Feathered Serpent

After three hours we had seen enough and the sun was already burning down on our heads. We made our way back to the campsite and enjoyed another relaxing afternoon. Next we wanted to climb a rather big volcano and we had to be fit for that.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, infected.nl. All Rights Reserved.

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