A Travellerspoint blog

November 2014

Mexico City Day 3-Tepoztlán and Día de Muertos

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This morning we had an early rise as we were heading to Tepoztlán and it would take us two hours or so the get there. Thom and I decided since we were up early anyway....(time difference I guess) that we would try breakfast at the Casa de los Azulejos or "House of Tiles" that we heard was worth it for the building and history. This place remember from the first post:

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Now we were kinda confused about the menu and strapped for time so I forgot to get a picture but here is one I am borrowing to give you an idea:
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Ok so into the vans and time for a nap....
Then we arrive two hours or so later at Tepoztlán. According to myth, Tepoztlan is the birthplace over 1200 years ago of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god widely-worshipped in ancient Mexico. Remember that info from the last post too? I liked this town very much nestled up in the mountains with lots of fun markets.
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So when we first arrived we were free to either walk around and shop or hike up this very steep mountain to the Aztec pyramid of El Tepozteco. We opted for the hike.
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So once again, here we are kids, up the mountain with no oxygen due to altitude.....
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Not nearly as bad as Machu Picchu but definitely slowed and humbled by the lack of oxygen. So was pretty much everyone else who was hiking the mountain both in and outside of our group so that made me feel slightly better about the whole thing...lol

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Thom went ahead with some of the guys and I opted to do some of the trail with other ladies from our group and the end by myself.
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It was more peaceful and personal by myself to not have to worry about anyone else and to push myself on my own. I liked it very much.
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Finally the top!
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Greeted by my husband of course...
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Oh wait maybe not!
These little Mexican Raccoons as I will call them have many different names but are actually Coati. They are super friendly but beggars.
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Oh there is my husband! Let's go up shall we?
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Making out on the ruins!!!! That is how we roll!
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Amazing views!
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This is me on top of El Tepozteco.

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It is refered from Tepoztecatl, the pulque (alcoholic beverage) god whose temple is on top of one of the mountains that make up the ridge. (this is what the internet told me at least????)
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This is Me and Javier.
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The views up here were wonderful and worth the trek.
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Coming down the mountain was much easier and faster than going up of course. We stopped and got some tasty sherbert/waterice off the street where I learned the difference between limón (lime) and lemon...he he he We soon met up with Chimi and the group and had a few moments to check out the local market.

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People were selling items for Dia de Muertos such as sugar skulls
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Marigolds- the flowers of the dead.
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Watermelons
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Which oddly they use almost like our pumpkins. They are hollowed out and then faces are scratched into them.
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I saw some families using them as lanterns at night later that evening.

Then just by chance we caught a small parade that was happening. They were walking through the streets to the main square.
Check out these videos for a glimpse:

We met in the courtyard of the church where there were many things happening. The church was also decorated for Dia de Los Muertos.
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There was some kind of folk dance competition happening on one side of the courtyard and some of the people from the parade we saw earlier were gathered around another area performing this dance. I am not sure exactly what it is suppose to symbolize but it has something to do with the Jaguar being the Spaniards I think first whipping the people of the land into working but then they rise up and all get whips and fight the Jaguar. Ummm those costumes must be padded because later it got really violent with the whipping! You can hear them ringing the church bell too. Here is a taste in the video:

After we headed to Roxana Bentes de Moura's restaurant/house where we would be eating lunch as well as creating our own altar for Dia De Muertos.
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Roxana and the women here were absolutely wonderful! I will try to explain more about the day and the rituals here through what we did.
The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.

An ofrenda (Spanish: "offering") is a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration. An ofrenda, which may be quite large and elaborate, is usually created for an individual person who has died and is intended to welcome him/her to the altar setting. Ofrendas are constructed in the home as well as in village cemeteries and churches.

The use of Marigolds is also important.
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In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of Dead). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. Here is Thom helping to make the trail from outside to our altar so that the dead can find their way.
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Most ofrendas contain three levels or tiers: on the topmost tier are placed photographs of the deceased and/or images of various saints which are positioned in a retablo which forms the back of the altar. Some people had a picture but most of us just wrote the name of a loved one lost on a piece of paper. We each were given a sugar skull as well.
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On the second tier are placed food items including such things as mole, candy, pan dulce, and especially a sweetbread called pan de muerto...
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as well as bottles or poured shot glasses of tequila or mezcal
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On the bottom-most tier are placed item such as lit candles, a washbasin, mirror, soap, and a towel so that the supposed spirit of the deceased see themselves and can refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar. We had masks and flowers.
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It was a very beautiful and emotional moment in the trip and even though it is suppose to be a celebration of a person's life it is still really hard to not feel any sadness in remembering.
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Then we were in for a special treat because Roxana also plays the roll of “La Calavera Catrina" on stilts!
Here she is getting herself and one of her students she works with up and ready!
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Catrina is a classic iconic character for Day of the Dead and you will see children and adults dress like her or dawning her hat all over the streets.
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La Calavera Catrina, also known as "Dapper Skeleton" or "Elegant Skull" is a 1910–1913 zinc etching by famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada. Originally called "La Calavera Garbancera," the image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time.
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While the original work by Posada introduced the character, the popularity of La Calavera Catrina as well as her name is derived from a work by artist Diego Rivera in his 1948 work Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda).
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Rivera depicts a culmination of 400 years of Mexico's major figures, which include himself, Posada, and his wife Frida Kahlo. Rivera took inspiration from the original etching and gave Calavera a body as well as more of an identity in her elegant outfit as she is poised between himself and Posada. The intent seemed to be to show the tradition of welcoming and comfort the Mexicans have with death and especially the identity of a lady of death, harking back to the heritage of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. As explained by curator David de la Torre from the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally Catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people4, de la Torre said. "Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded."
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We left the lovely mountain town...
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and headed towards Mixquic. This town has typically been know to be one of best places to visit because the people traditionally fill the very old cemetery with candles and flowers. That is not what happened for us this year unfortunately though and still not exactly sure why.
When you first arrive you see this:
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Quite impressive these GIGANTIC figures towering over you.
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Then you must meander your way through this incredible crowded long commercialized street fair that feels like it completely contradicts the somber spirituality of the whole occasion in a way.
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But there are tons of families and people here and most are not even tourists from out of the country. There are people with their faces painted like skulls and little girls wearing big hats that represent Catrina.
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All kinds of street food. It would all be fine and fun to me if it was only maybe on the other side of town and not say right up the the doors of the cemetery and church gate. But that is just my personal feeling and perhaps not what the people f the town want, I do not know nor do I want to speak for anyone but myself.

We went through the gates...
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and first went into the church which was absolutely beautiful.
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But then we were highly shocked and disappointed in that there were hardly any flowers and no candles or decorations or offerings at all on any of the graves. Although the cemetery itself was really cool because it was so old and the history and look of it.
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But there were no families celebrating or sitting by the sides of their loved ones gone.
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I managed to see one or two graves decorated but even taking these pictures felt really weird.
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You see if it had been what it typically was suppose to be it would have been ok to admire from afar and give blessings and love to the families and the beauty they put into remembering their loved ones. But this was not that and some people were simply running around on the graves taking selfies. It seemed very disrespectful in a way and Thom especially, was getting upset about it. I agreed too and so we left.
So times they are a changing. I don't know if it has become so commercialized or such a big "attraction" now that families are deciding to not participate in this way anymore and are perhaps keeping their memories alive at home more with offerendas? Perhaps sitting in a cold graveyard is no longer appealing to the youth who would rather be out at a street fair with their friends or participating in something more similar to Halloween and getting candy? Perhaps it is none of these things. I really can't say but even though we were disappointed our group, for the most part, was amazing in not letting this get us too down and not letting this ruin what was already an amazing trip so far. This day was already packed with so many amazing memories and history of the the holiday and culture.

Side note****
If you have wondered where all the original VW Beetles went...well I would say Mexico got most of them.
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We saw them everywhere and in every color and not those modern ones that they tried to remarket to my generation in the 90s. Javier said they use to be taxis here. I did really enjoy seeing them again everywhere....

Posted by Kelly Rose 14:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

Mexico City Day 2- Coyoacán and Halloween

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This morning we woke and started with a breakfast in the hotel Lobby but with realizing there would be some extra time I talked Thom into taking a little adventure walk to this famous churró and coffee place.
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The Churrería El Moro has been around for 78 years making churros (crunch cinnamon doughnut sticks) and hot chocolate or coffee with hot milk. Tasty!!!
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We headed back to our hotel where we would then split into our two groups with Chimy, Javier and our local guide Sergio in private vans to Coyoacán. Coyoacán refers to one of the 16 boroughs (delegaciones) of the Federal District of Mexico City as well as the former village which is now the borough’s “historic center.”
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Sergio, talking to us in front of a bakery displaying pan de muertos. The pan de muerto (Spanish for bread of the dead) is a type of sweet roll traditionally baked in Mexico during the weeks leading up to the Día de Muertos. It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped pieces.
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The name Coyoacán comes from Nahuatl and most likely means “place of coyotes,” when the Aztecs named a pre-Hispanic village on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco which was dominated by the Tepanec people.

We pulled our vans over to get out next to a school. Here you can see the tree of life depicting more history of the people.

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The area was getting ready for Diá de Los Muertos and had wonderful displays set up.

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Large "sugar" skull
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Catrina- an icon for Day of the Dead.. (I will be explaining all of this and the meaning behind the special day of remembrance in my next post)
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There were also stands set up selling yummy hot coca and pan de muertos.

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We checked out the Hidalgo garden and the cathedral.

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Next was the Frida Kahlo Museum also known as the Blue House (La Casa Azul) for the structure's cobalt-blue walls. It is an historic house museum and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
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Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she disguised this later in life by wearing long, colorful skirts. It has been conjectured that she was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that could have affected both spinal and leg development.
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On September 17, 1925, Kahlo was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, compromising her reproductive capacity.

The accident left her in a great deal of pain, and she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. The pain was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. She had as many as 35 operations as a result of the accident, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot. The medical complications and permanent damage also prevented Kahlo from having a child; though she conceived three times, all of her pregnancies had to be terminated.
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Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. Kahlo spent the time after her accident in bed, where she was able to spend her time painting as a way to entertain herself and express her pain. Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.

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The building was the birthplace of Kahlo and is also the home where she grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years, and eventually died, in one of the rooms on the upper floor. In 1958, Diego Rivera donated the home and its contents in order to turn it into a museum in Frida's honor.
One of Frida's last paintings before she died.
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The museum demonstrates the lifestyle of wealthy Mexican bohemian artists and intellectuals during the first half of the 20th century.
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According to records and testimony, the house today looks much as it did in 1951, decorated with Mexican folk art, Kahlo’s personal art collection, a large collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts, traditional Mexican cookware, linens, personal mementos such as photographs, postcards and letters, and works by José María Velasco, Paul Klee and Diego Rivera. Much of the collection is now in display cases designed for their preservation.

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The two rooms of the upper floor which are open to the public contain Frida’s final bedroom and studio area.
This is located in the wing that Rivera had built. The original furniture is still there. In one corner, her ashes are on display in an urn, some personal items and mirrors on the ceiling.

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On her bed is funeral mask, and under the canopy is a mirror facing down which she used to paint her many self-portraits.
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The head of the bed contains the painting of a dead child, and the foot contains photo montage of Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Mao Zedong. The pillow is embroidered with the words "Do not forget me, my love."

Her wheelchair is drawn up to an unfinished painting in the studio attached to the bedroom.
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There is also a special exhibit on Frida's suffering and how she embraced that suffering into her fashion and art. Taking ownership of the corsets she needed to wear to support her spine and embracing a style she felt distracted others from her legs.
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Finally exiting back into the courtyard you are greeted upon more beautiful displays for Dia de Los Muertos.

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This museum was really touching to me. I have seen many of Frida's famous pieces in Philadelphia and NY but this was different. It really put a greater focus on her amazing life and how she lived through all of her suffering. I really enjoyed being able to experience this as part of our time in Mexico.

And then there was this moment.....(Sigh)
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Ok Ok Ok......
Up next...
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The next stop was The Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli or simply Anahuacalli Museum.
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A special exhibit outside the museum with the statues of all girls...couldn't find out much about it but it is not always here.
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The unique museum was conceived and created by muralist Diego Rivera, who, motivated by his own interest in Mexican culture, collected near 60,000 pre-Hispanic pieces during his life and projected a building to place and exhibit them. This was partly his studio as well.
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It was completed after his death by architects Juan O'Gorman and Heriberto Pagelson and Rivera's own daughter, Ruth. Built of black volcanic stone, it takes the form of a pyramid. The museum articles are collected from almost every indigenous civilization in Mexico's history.

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The building forms a teocalli with means “sacred house”, its design notably influenced by the Teotihuacan culture as can be appreciated in the building’s boards, recreating the image of the rain god Tlaloc.
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It also shows Maya and Aztec influences, as can be appreciated in the hexagonal and rectangular (Aztec) arcs that give access to the different showrooms.
The Ceiling in some of the rooms:

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There was another exhibition of paper mache sculpture relating to the Days of the Dead.IMG_2747.jpg

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An Alter to remember Diego...
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Being that Thom and I and I are so into art and culture it was a real treat to have these included in our tour. After all this excitement it was on to lunch. Chimy had made reservations for us to have lunch at place that was once one of the house Hernán Cortés. Cortés was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
This was once one of his houses.
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Ok so now we had a short time to wander and see if we could gather up anything we may want for a Halloween costume. Many people just decided on painting their faces since there wasn't much time and many of the shops and stalls didn't have full costumes. Halloween is not typically celebrated in Mexico in the same capacity or way it is in the United States. However, there are more and more overlaps each year. But we would soon find that people tend to save their painted faces and "trick or treating" or rather "Me da mi calaverita" ( "Would you give me a skull"... A calavera de azucar is a skull made out of sugar) for November 1 and 2nd. Again more about all of that in great detail in the next post.

So back to the crazy tourists (he...he he) who wanted to celebrate Halloween. We were suppose to go to a party but that didn't really work out but everyone still celebrated with good spirits regardless. So what happened was, we went back to the hotel and prepared for a night out. Everyone pretty much painted their face and dressed up in some way for the most part. Thom helped out with his artistic skills and q-tips. I had picked up some crazy Maleficent horns and rocked a mask I had bought for another party before we left. We gathered in the lobby for dinner.
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Chimy took us to his neighborhood for actually are really yummy Italian/Mexican dinner. We were the only ones wearing makeup and face paint but when there are 24+ of you it kind of makes you the majority anyway right?
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Who is that creeper next me?
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Dinner conversations were hilarious and jokes from that night would continue through out the trip (thanks to Thom especially..lol)
Afterwards we went to a small chill bar that specialized solely in Mezcal, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave) native to Mexico. Not particularly Thom nor I's thing we did try some anyway. We also had to order some kind of snacky food item for the table as it was required of the place since it operated under some kind of different license. So why not crickets!

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Proof of someone eating them:
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Me not so much....

Well we headed back and it would be another busy jam packed day tomorrow as well.
I promise to tell you all about Dia de Los Muertos next as it would be November 1st on Day 3.

Posted by Kelly Rose 09:55 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

Mexico City Day 1

Mexico day 1
Thom and I arrived in Mexico City and took a registered cab to our hotel. We will be staying at Hotel San Fransisco in the Historic Centro district. We immediately dropped our bags and headed out to do some exploring on our own before our group meeting at 6:00.

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Now Mexico City itself doesn't have a great reputation and I am not here to dispute that. But just like any city there are bad sections and good ones and Mexico City is HUGE!!!! The greater Mexico City metropolitan area is one of the world's largest and the largest city in North America, with an estimated 20 million people living in the region. We are staying in the Centro historic area. This area is so great in many ways. Yes it is very busy with people but everyone seems really friendly. Mexico City is divided up into 16 delegaciones , similar to the boroughs of New York, which in turn are divided into "colonias" (neighborhoods), of which there are about 250.

There is so much history here and so much to do that I am actually sad that we don't have more time here. Here is an extremely brief history. Mexico City was actually once a lake. Crazy right! Due to this reason and earthquakes you can actually see how some of the buildings are crooked and slanted. The city now known as Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs in 1325. The old Mexican city is now referred to as Mexico City. It was once called Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs were one of the last of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples who migrated to this part of the Valley of Mexico after the fall of the Toltec Empire. The Aztecs were fierce warriors who eventually dominated other tribes throughout the region. They took what was once a small natural island in the Lake Texcoco and expanded it by hand to create their home and fortress, the beautiful Tenochtitlán. Their civilization, like their city, eventually became the largest and most powerful in pre-Columbian America.

In 1519, the Spaniards under Hernán Cortés arrived in New Spain. Cortes learned about the political problems of the Aztec Empire and was able to exploit them, enabling him to eventually conquer Tenochtitlan. The Spanish colony of New Spain was influenced by the timing of Cortes' arrival. The Aztec ruler, Moctezuma thought that Cortes was the god Quetzalcoatl, who was predicted to return to the land around the year that Cortes and his men appeared. While Cortes and Moctezuma initially treated each other with deference, friction between the Aztecs and the Spaniards soon erupted into violence. This culminated in the eventual siege and destruction of Tenochtitlan, and with it, the Aztec Empire.

The Spaniards rebuilt Tenochtitlan, renaming it Mexico City. They also rebuilt much of the infrastructure of the Aztec Empire, replacing themselves as rulers, with the Roman Catholic Church as the spiritual basis. This inhibited opposition by the natives to Spanish rule. The Spanish colonial city was built using much of the old Aztec layout and was about the same size.

So back to us now.... it is relatively easy to get around here with a map and our limited Spanish and so we head out. The architecture is fabulous!

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The Palacio de Bellas Artes is the most important cultural center in Mexico City as well as the rest of the country of Mexico.
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Amazing churches.... Even if the were built with parts of ancient temples and on top off Aztec ruins...
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The Casa de los Azulejos or "House of Tiles" is an 18th-century palace in Mexico City, built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family.
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What makes this palace, in the City of Palaces, distinctive is that its facade on three sides is completely covered in the expensive blue and white tile of Puebla state.
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The palace remained in private hands until near the end of the 19th century. It changed hands several times before being bought by the Sanborns brothers who expanded their soda fountain/drugstore business into one of the best-recognized restaurant chains in Mexico. The house today serves as their flagship restaurant. We had breakfast here a day or so later.
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The city is fun and vibrant with Halloween and Dia de Los Muestos approaching and there are displays and street performers set up.
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Display for Day of the Dead...more on the custom of this later....here are some teasers
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Our main goal of the day with limited time is to reach The Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters.
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Many murals Diego Rivera are painted there and it is totally free to see! Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, (sheesh ... You know I copied and pasted all that!) known as Diego Rivera was a prominent Mexican painter and the husband of Frida Kahlo. His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals among others in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Covering all of the walls of these two courtyards are murals. 235 panels or 1585.14 m2 of this mural work was done by Diego Rivera between 1923 and 1928.
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This was Rivera’s first major large-scale mural project. The themes center around workers, and the glorification of all things Mexican, especially the Mexican Revolution. Rivera named the two courtyards “Labor Courtyard” and the other the “Fiesta Courtyard” based on the themes he painted in each. Because he was affiliated with the Communist Party at the time, Rivera painted small hammers and sickles next to his signature on the panels in this building.
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The smaller, or Fiesta Courtyard, has murals by Rivera and other artists. Ground floor has the murals that give the courtyard its name “The Deer Dance” “The Corn Fiesta” “May 1 Meetings” With geometric planes and concentration of figures, “The Day of the Dead” is representative Rivera composition.
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The upper rectangle is occupied by a trio of a peasant, a revolutionary soldier and a worker with the opposite side containing images representing the clergy, militarism and capitalism.
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There are so many panels

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On the first floor of the Fiesta Courtyard is the coats-of-arms of the different Mexican states painted by Jean Charlot and Amado de la Cueva. On the opposite side of this floor are works by two other painters: “Washerwomen” and “Loadbearers” by Jean Charlot and “The Little Bull” and “The Dance of the Santiagos” by Amado de la Cueva.

The second level contains another Rivera work, “The Arsenal,” which has an image of Frida Kahlo distributing arms to revolutionaries. In the far left section of the panel appears the face of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Generally speaking, this corridor is devoted to revolutionary songs called “corridos” that crown and link the murals.
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After this we decide to head back to the hotel and rest and refresh before meeting our group and guides. We stop and grab this amazing taco from a small shop on the way back.

Finally it is 6:00 and we meet in the lobby to join our new travel mates and guides. There are actually two groups and two guides and we will be all together most of the time. Our two guides are Chimy and Javier and I can tell from our first meeting that they are going to be so helpful and friendly. We head out to a taco restaurant for our first dinner. Chimy and Javier are patient and helpful in decoding the menu for us all. Food was delicious! We take a nice walk to the Zocalo center. The Zócalo is the main plaza or square in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City. More about this later too.
Here we can see the beginnings of preparations for Day of the Dead. We also see ruins from the Templo Mayor. So much to take in and it's only the first day. It's going to be a really great trip!

Posted by Kelly Rose 04:48 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

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