22 Aug 2011

San Miguel de Allende / Guanajuato

San Miguel de Allende
Just over 300kms north north east of DF is the stunning colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, on the 'silver road' that used to connect the mining towns of northern Mexico to the capital.  It added Allende to its title after 'its favourite son' Ignacio (A) who was a leading light in the fight for independence in the early 19th century.

Today it is full of American retirees (approx 10% of the pop) who enjoy the docile climate/ambience and push up the property prices.

The central square is an excellent place to imbibe a beverage and watch the mariachi's make their approach. We arrived on the Saturday evening and the place was pumping with 3 x 5 piece bands drumming, trumpeting and singing the night away as the townsfolk promenaded - fabulous...

For us the beauty of SM de A was further enhanced by the lovely cassita in which we stayed, all mod cons including a washing machine = always put a smile on Pam's face.

Fruit salad with lime and chili powder anyone?

Very different but equally beautiful is Guanajuato about 100 kms west. Built in a ravine with a network of road tunnels beneath the town (reputedly a legacy from its mining days) there is a real feeling of being in the mountains where every distance shot comes to a rocky end.

We are beginning to realise that in Mexico one is never too far from a revolutionary corner building or plaza, but Guanajuato has all of those and then some. The struggle for independence from Spain took 11 years (concluding in 1821) and during 10 of those years the head of Miguel Hidalgo (best mate of Ignacio Allende) was put on public display in down-town Guanajuato as a warning to other rebels.

Very apt that it should be the birth place of Diego Rivera who lived here for a decade before his family went south to DF.

We loved this town with its bustling pumping revolutionary vibe steeped in a rich cultural history (modern) although I now know what the hostel description of 'shared bathroom' can entail, namely the aforementioned facility being situated outside the padlocked bedroom door, across the common room, down a step or two depending on the lighting, out onto the roof terrace (mind the furniture/dried up flower pots/washing line - just at the right height for the taller than average gringo) and fumble for the light switch hanging by its own live wiring on the wrong side of the pitch black room, which after a couple too many coronas proved to be a trip to remember...ensuite it aint!

15 Aug 2011

Underground travel in Mexico City

Whenever you visit Mexico City make sure you use the metro...

It is modern, clean and compared to the continuous gridlock above ground, quite simply the only way to travel.

The trains are built by Bombardier (take note Mr Dave Cameron) and the rectangular (not arched) tunnels actually 'float' in the soft clay of underground DF, so that when there is an earthquake it doesn't collapse, or at least that is the plan and indeed in the 1985 quake it worked!

Best of all it costs 3 pesos (approx 15 English pence!) per journey from anywhere to anywhere (take note Mr Boris) and there is continuous live entertainment that money anywhere else in the world cannot buy, for example people carrying rucksacks with sound systems in them blasting out the latest Shakira/salsa/merengue/ heavy rock cd's which you then have the once in a life time opportunity to purchase for 10 pesos (50 English pence!!!) and if that wasn't enough you can purchase antiseptic plasters, torches, dvd's of childrens tv series, bouncing balls that behave like playdough - just some of this seasons collection.

To top it all, there was even a young man who jumped on with a bag of broken glass that he then prepared as a bed onto which he lay. Clearly (or at least it was to me) he was setting an example for Mr Boris to follow, so I gave him a few pesos for his trouble before he moved on to perform in the next carriage. Granted the blood running down one arm was a little off-putting, but all part of the daily grind I guess.

12 Aug 2011

5 and a bit days seeing the sights in Mexico City

Everything is shut on a Monday other than the Carlos Slim museum (Museo Soumaya). Carlos is 2010/11's richest man on the planet, mainly due (according to Aaron our hostel host) to the extortionate mobile phone rates his largely monopolistic company charge the good citizens of Mexico.

Over the years he has collected many works of art and it would appear that he had a bit of a clear out a couple of years ago and needed somewhere to put the odd Rodin, Renoir, Dali, Matisse etc so he asked his son-in-law to design a building and below you can see the incredible edifice they produced.
It doesn't work so well inside however with pieces thrown together rather randomly with no apparent narrative leading you through 6 floors of stuff, albeit pretty amazing stuff.  We came away thinking that Mr Slim should have called in a proper curator to sort it out rather than leaving it to the children.

Tuesday already and a visit to the nerve centre of D.F, the Zocalo (central square) which is huge and a place to demonstrate any grievance you have with the government and not to disappoint there was indeed a demo to witness...
The square is flanked on one side by the main government buildings containing some stunning murals by Diego Rivera - but we saw those on our last visit to DF so no pics this time - and on the other by the cathedral, apparently the largest in the Americas.
Offerings left in the cathedral

We made it up the bell tower of the cathedral, well worth a look, which affords fab roof top views...
and no health and safety gone mad here, as we were allowed to clamber across the roof!

Next up the Ministry of Education building where Rivera worked for several years creating the most amazing set of murals of his ever present trinity of the worker, soldier and farmer.


On the other side of the Ministry building is a whole section painted by David Siquieres (Rivera's great friend and later rival) which is much bolder in style and colour, impressive stuff.

And finally (after many many many kilometres on foot)the interior of the old post office building, which is extraordinary...


We then took a few hours off to eat and sleep before embarking on another tough day in the sightseeing rat race, albeit at a more leisurely pace taking in DF's central park, the Modern Art Museum and surrounding environs. The park is huge!


And then the big one, Teotihuacan which is about 50kms north of DF, still on the Mexican central plain and a sight to behold. It is one of those places where photographs cannot do full justice to the scale and sheer enormity of the project. The central avenue for example is nearly 4kms long, the pyramid of the sun the 3rd largest we know of and there are many hillocks beyond what has been excavated which are presumably other temples and exbuildings in need of some tlc.

But apparently Wal-mart have been given permission to construct in one area of the site, so hopefully they will tarmac the whole thing and get rid of these pesky obstacles, all in the name of progress eh... 
To round off a busy week we went south of the city to Xochilimilco which is a network of canals and apparently where city people go to chill out at the weekend. The way forward seemed to be to take a picnic of bacardi and coke, the biggest ghetto blaster you can carry, hire a colourful trajinera(gondola) and while the afternoon away exploiting these instruments of pleasure to the max, rock on... 

9 Aug 2011

Arriving in Mexico City

Madrid to Mexico City with Iberia, if ever you travel to this part of the world, try to fly with any airline other than Iberia. Reasons why?  Their seating plan in the airbus a340-600 makes ryanair look like the orient express - approx 400 people on board and we are all treated like cattle, food inedible, films rubbish (if you can see them on the screen half way up the aircraft), 11 hours of joy...

But then you arrive over Mexico D.F. (Distrito Federal), a massive metropolis where the last 25mins or so of the flight are over the city, a crazy vista of buildings and roads covering 573 sq miles, 21+ million people living on a plateau (that is sinking due to it originally being a lake!) which is 2,240 metres above sea level, insane, surrounded by live volcanoes and on a major fault line so prone to the odd earth rumble, totally bonkers, and they say it is one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. The causes of such crime rates tend to be attributed to the drugs trade/war although I wouldn't be surprised if further investigation proved a causal link between arriving on an Iberia flight and wanting to murder someone.

We are staying in a hostel - I know I know, bit of a shock to the star system that one has become accustomed to - which is perfectly comfortable and our host is taking great care to ensure we see the very best of the sights and eat some of the  most amazing food on earth, que bueno...