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6-13 August 2013. Our first day in Mexico City and we went wandering to the Zócolo which was full of not very inviting huge white tents, with childrens’ blow-up play castles outside – all fenced off. We weren’t drawn to investigate. We were on our way to some unearthed Aztec ruins right in the downtown core. What we found on the way, right next to the Zócolo, was by far the most interesting thing of the day. It seems that it was “shaman day” downtown. Even though we passed by this way on several other occasions we never saw them again. Agape we were! Astonished! A completely unexpected spectacular spectacle!

There were several of them, most giving short shamanic “treatments” to the many people lined up. Mexico may be a Catholic country, courtesy of the Spanish, but obviously the old traditions run deep. We also lined up. We were kind of growled and grunted at, and water splashed on us with leaves, and smoke waved all around us. See, I can feel the energy of this kind of thing, having been open to spiritual energies all my adult life. I was squealing with excitement. Don thought he did some energetic thing to do with strengthening the bond between us – as if that was needed. Anyway it was fun. And joyful.

This is our guy

Templo Mayor
Apparently electricians were digging and found some Aztec stone sculptures. As a result the Mexican government had the buildings of a whole city block torn down to excavate the area. The result was the discovery of Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple to both the god of war, (with the unpronounceable name of Huitzilopochtli) and Tlaloc, the god of rain.

This god of the dead and king of the lowest section of the underworld (his name is also unpronounceable – Mictlantecuhtli), was one of many sculptures and offerings found. He was one of the main gods of the Aztecs and worship of him sometimes involved cannibalism. Bloody lot, those Aztecs.

We also saw this guy who looks a bit startled. He’s a chacmool and was associated with the rain god, or he is destined for sacrifice to the rain god. Enough to make anyone look startled.

and a wall of stone skulls

The Aztecs sacrificed the skulls or hearts of warriors to the god of war, and at Templo Mayor archaeologists found a rare child sacrifice. Altogether a heart-warming visit.

Museo de Arte Popular
There’s a museum of Mexican folk art that really is heart-warming, delightful, joyful. Here are a few of the pieces that caught my eye:

I met a man in Santa Maria Del Tule, a Mexican who used to work for Interpol, but with the advent in his life of a wife and children he switched to the safer occupation of English teacher. He said to not go anywhere in Mexico City where there was not a strong police presence. But how would we know until we got there? We wanted to go to Xochimilco, and to Frida Khalo’s house, both way out in the suburbs. We went anyway. To get to Xochimilco we negotiated for the first time the Mexico City metro, to the end of the line, and then a tram ride, and then a fifteen-minute walk. Every step of the way people were helpful and friendly, and we didn’t ever feel remotely unsafe. On the way back, on the train, a young boy (about ten years old) sitting next to Don, began talking to us in Spanish. What a sweet conversation we had. We knew enough Spanish to understand him, and he taught us more, and we taught him some English. His mother and older sister, sitting opposite, and others nearby watching us, were smiling the whole time. It was a wonderfully open and innocent exchange; he was so present and full of curiosity and joy. It’s a great example of why we love to travel by public transport, and was followed, when we got off the train, by another brief sweet conversation with a woman who had witnessed our exchange with the boy. As we left the subway we noticed a man in a wheelchair at the bottom of the crowded stairs. Quick as a flash four men stepped in, lifted the wheelchair, and carried him to the top. Everywhere we go we see examples like this of the good-heartedness of people.

Xochimilco is known for its canals left from an extensive lake and canal system that once connected most of the villages of the Valley of Mexico. If I were to return I would walk right by the brightly coloured tourist boats and convince someone with a small boat to take me exploring on the many small side canals where people still live by agriculture on man-made islands.

But we knew none of this (our mistake for not doing our research ahead of time) and the path from the tram to the party boats was so obvious, and the many boat owners wanting to take us for a ride so persistent, that we chose one and went for a ride. And what a ride! Down a kind of “Grand Canal” crowded with boats being poled along, and filled with Mexicans on holiday. Almost every boat was full, everyone drinking and eating as they floated down the canal. Sometimes there were two boats tied together with twenty or thirty people on board along with their own Mariachi band. One paired set of boats was obviously the venue for an engagement or wedding party. Smaller boats selling food, or flowers, or dolls, or plants, or serapes, or a Mariachi band wanting to serenade any boat going by. Many Mariachi bands! The boats so close they were often in competition with one another. It was floating bedlam in the best way. I don’t think we saw the real Xochimilco, but we sure had a good time.

On the way home we ran into Edward Scissorhands working his magic

The streets of Mexico City

Men at work

Best Prom dress ever!

Street performer taking a break

Outside Frida Khalo’s house

The ancient City of Teotihuacan
From as long ago as 150 BC twenty to thirty thousand people lived in this Mesoamerican city. By 350 AD the population had grown to over ninety thousand, and the temples of the Sun and the Moon, and most of the apartment compounds had been built. Teotihuacans, their goods, symbols and artistic style had spread throughout Mesoamerica. Centuries later Aztecs from other areas made pilgrimages here. At the height of its grandeur it was a city of over one hundred thousand. Who built the great city of Teotihuacan? Apparently its origins are still a mystery. There is so much scholarly history of the many different peoples that lived both in Teotihuacan and in other parts of Mesoamerica that I feel I’m kind of drowning in it. Enough to say we were awed by the sheer size, complexity and perfection of construction of a city thousands of years old.

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the moon

In the museum

Taking a break

Mexico gets a bad rap in the U.S. media and government websites, mainly because of illegal immigrants and the drug gangs in the border states. People are warned the country is dangerous, and there is perhaps some truth to this in the border states. Throughout Canada and the U.S. Mexico is also known as an inexpensive holiday destination to beautiful beaches at such places as Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta which are completely subsumed by the Gringo tourist culture. Mexicans have a reputation for being laid back, for always putting things off until mañana, and for being somewhat “less than” their northern neighbours. I’m not saying all people from the U.S. and Canada perceive them this way, but it’s a fairly pervasive characterization.

This is not the Mexico we experienced. Far from it. For a start we didn’t go near Puerto Vallarta (beyond arriving at the airport there and immediately heading out of town), and years ago spending one day in Cabo was enough. The Mexico we found was warm, hospitable, friendly, kind-hearted and industrious. In the places we visited we found a people rightly proud of their rich heritage and their country, who welcomed us with open arms, and who delighted in sharing their culture. We’re so glad we went there.

This is the final post about our time in Mexico. Next post – a little about family visits in Sweden and Montreal, and then Argentina!

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.