Note to self. Once the holiday laundry is happily being mechanically thrashed in the washing machine, sit down and write an email to Lonely Planet guide books and another to Trailfinders.
They are two companies that have proved invaluable in planning and executing our week in Mexico.
Our daily itinerary was set up by the one and enhanced by the other, but let me explain.
Our first day in Mexico City which, according to the Lonely Planet guide to the country ‘is the sun in the Mexican solar system,’ we were given a guided tour of some of the city’s main tourist spots by our guide Hector.
He’s been doing the job for fifty years and obviously we weren’t the first to hear what he had to say about this teeming, traffic-choked megalopolis of more than 9 million.
Or that he had had five wives and thirteen children which he had all kicked out once they turned 26!
But getting back to our tour of the capital – we were heading to the Zocalo – the main square and one of the biggest in the world.
This sprawling city is built on top of the ruins of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan – which itself was built – like Venice – on a huge inland lake.
Needless to say, modern day Mexico City has been showing signs of sinking back into it.
We went inside the Catedral Metropoitana – much of which had been constructed with Aztec stone scrubbed by the invading Spaniards from the urban structures of the indian nation they had just conquered.
Inside leaning columns and sloping floors showed how much of a downward movement this weighty pile has made.
Though, to reassure any future visitors amongst you, underpinning has ensured there will be no further shifting.
By now you are wondering where l am wandering off to – as l started by informing you of my needs to contact our travel organisers.
Well, another side of the square is formed by the Palacio Nacional – the Presidential Palace.
Our Trailfinder’s itinerary said we would go inside to admire the magnificent display of murals painted by Diego Rivera – one of the country’s most famous artists and one-time husband of another painter of note – Frieda Karlo.
And there is the rub, as the 65th incumbent to bear that title – one Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – actually chose to live behind that impressive edifice and – according to Hector our guide – has not allowed tourists in to disturb his peace.
Having been there for five years – and with another year as president to run – somebody should tell Trailfinders? That’ll be disappointed me!
While we – back home – have divided opinions of the freedom of motorists to roam our city centres – you should see the gridlock here!!
There is no cross-city drive that doesn’t involve jams, jams and more jams.
Pollution levels must be very high – no car or bus or lorry driver switches off their engines while stopped in their tracks.
As Hector the guide exclaimed. It’s not a rush hour here but a rush day – and we get one after the other!
We had started the day with a drive to the archaeological site of Teotihuacan – about 50 km or an hour’s drive northeast of the city.
It of course took longer than that.
On the outskirts you started to see the suburban mountain heights – almost obliterated by cement box housing. Some coloured many (as not obliged) just natural cement.
Earthquakes and property prices started this mass exodus to the hills. So daily commutes – despite a bus and underground and even a cable car system – accounts for much of the daily road traffic.
We were off to see the remains of a capital city – most of which was uncovered accidently while laying a railroad back at the start of the 19th century.
These people existed long before the Aztecs who – a long time later in Mexico’s history – marvelled at the ruins of this former civilisation. A city, they thought, that must have been built by the gods!
Two step pyramids stand at either end of a long processional route called the Avenue of the Dead. The Aztecs thought the many temples that lined the route were tombs!
The larger of these two giant stacks of stone is called the Pyramid of the Sun.
According to our Trailfinder itinerary, ‘you can climb its ancient steps for panoramic views over Teotihuacan and the surrounding countryside.’
Well, actually, since the Pandemic the steps have been roped off and – while the tourists are now returning – the decision has been taken to protect any further mass erosion – by keeping that restriction in place. Note to Trailfinders – please amend your records!
In our travels we have noted a much firmer approach to mass tourism. While many heritage-rich countries may still be keen to attract visitor revenue, they have to take measures to protect the very fabric of the relics people come to see and trample over.
Back to our hotel and – after a none-too-cheap dinner in house – we decided to step out into the night with a walk along the Paseo de la reforma complete with its pink-lit Angel – a winged victory and symbol of the city which celebrates Mexican independence from their Spanish masters.
Free but converted to the catholic faith and – yes – left speaking Spanish.
Back home we are coming up to Halloween – an American import that involves threatening people for sweets and delivering egg missile retribution if you don’t believe in ghouls and monsters !!
Being so close to the USA it’s not surprising the Mexicans do similar things but, built on top of that, is the Day of the Dead – Dia del Muertos – the remembrance of departed loved ones on November 1st and 2nd.
According to the Lonely Planet guide, ‘by celebrating death, Mexicans salute life and they do it the way they celebrate everything else – with food, drinks, music and much colourful decoration.
It’s a celebratory annual holiday with its roots sunk into Catholic tradition and pre-Hispanic rituals. Maybe today’s candy or decorated skulls can be traced back to ritual Aztec human sacrifices?
The famous avenue Paseo de la Reforma is currently filled with yellow marigolds and these are only used during this time of the year to honour the dead.
But this is also a chance to live life to the full and it’s a shame we will be home before it happens.
Meanwhile, according to the National Geographic online site, “don’t forget the skeletons. During Day of the Dead, life-size papier-mâché skeletons and miniature plastic or clay skeletons are everywhere.
Why? Mexicans honour their ancestors on the Day of the Dead, but they’re also reminding themselves that death is just a part of life. Hanging out with skeletons reminds people that one day they will be skeletons—but not for a very long time!”
I am finishing this at the end of day two of our holiday while l recover from a four-hour journey back from visiting nearby Puebla which should have only taken two.
Mexico City’s tourist industry is in grave danger from the motor car which is literally choking the city and its heritage attractions to death. That is one passing that shouldn’t be celebrated!