FridaTrail: Mexico City interlude

Mexico City tourist attractions in relation to each other and the airport
Mexico City attractions in relation to each other and the airport

Highlights:

  • Mt. Iztaccíhuatl hike at Popo-Izta National Park
  • Museo Frida Kahlo and the Coyoacán borough
  • Centro Histórico museums and shops, Zócalo main square
  • Hop-on-hop-off tourist bus
  • Chapultepec park: Museo Nacional de Anthropologia, Castillo de Chapultepec
  • Street food tour and markets

A flight credit + tired body and mind = chill.

Mexico City: the start line of my FridaTrail. It’s not that I’m enamored by Frida iconography. My personal wellness project, if you will, comes from something she said about freedom from expectations.

They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore… I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.  – Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), first Mexican artist to be featured in the collection at the Louvre.

Frida Kahlo winking
Frida in 1933, by Lucienne Bloch

It was fate really, because when I found this quote I was already booked for Mexico City (CDMX). For real!

Fate spoke to me in the language of cheap airfare.

 

DAY1&2 – POPO-IZTA NATIONAL PARK

I’m very blah right now. This was supposed to be a quasi-retreat vacation, not a mountain trip, but the opportunity to hike arose and I couldn’t help myself.

At 5230m Iztaccihuatl summit is the third highest peak in Mexico after Popocatépetl and Pico de Orizaba (5636m). Like other prominent peaks here, Izta and Popo are associated with a tragic love story, wherein the Aztec gods transformed the lovers into mountains.

Izta is typically summitted over two days with class I and II, and optional class III scrambling on the normal route. For day-trip hikers there are tours from Mexico City that take groups up to 4000m or so. Day trippers should consider that it’s a 5 hrs+ round trip drive from CDMX – but still worthwhile for the view of Popocatépetl.

I’ve posted about my Izta trip here. Thank you Nómada México!

View of Popo from Izta
Popocatépetl blowing smoke in the early morning, as seen from Iztaccíhuatl
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The Popo-Izta love story is common lore

 

DAY3 – COYOACAN

The Coyoacán (place of coyotes) suburb is home to the Museo Frida Kahlo. Concurrently back home in YYC, our beloved Glenbow Museum is showcasing the Canadian premiere of the Museo’s exhibition Frida Kahlo: Her Photos.

This week is Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is probably a bigger deal to Mexicans than the knowledge that Frida’s archived photos have had a première in Canadà. On Easter Sunday the queue snaked around the block, equivalent to a 4-hr wait (normally up to 2 hrs). In any case, do pre-purchase entry directly from the museum online as this enabled me to skip the line.

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Delightful spontaneous sprouting in personal gardens and on the street
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Bougainvillea in bloom over the entry gate to parque Xicoténcatl
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National Museum of Interventions‘ gardens and church made for low-key sightseeing on Easter Sunday. A gentle, un-rushed atmosphere pervades.

 

DAY4 – HOP ON HOP OFF BUS FROM THE ZOCALO

Centro Histórico is the must-do for visitors to CDMX. After the peaceful shady neighborhood streets of Coyoacán, where elderly shopkeepers might call out a quiet buenos días to a foreign girl, the historic center was a world apart.

Only in ancient cities do you get that swirly effect of the new flowing around the old, like a stream flexing around boulders.  Concrete and glass towers rise around old-world monuments, busts, and vainglorious architecture, while these older structures themselves are enfolded around the ancient Mexica (Aztec) ruins of the original capital city.

My camera had a hard time cutting through the smog.

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The Palacio de Bellas Artes
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At the Zócalo, the President delivers speeches (such as the Easter address) to the square from a golden balcony at the Palacio National
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Vendor tables and tents are set up throughout the streets and corridors for a seasonal book fair

I took the Capital Bus hop-on-hop-off bus to other visitor attractions and districts outside the historic center ($160-180 valid for 24 hrs, vs. $35-200 taxi to individual sites, vs. $5 metro); recommended. Broadcast audio is in Spanish although headsets for English audio are available at no extra charge.

 

DAY5 – CHAPULTEPEC

The Bosque de Chapultepec (forest of grasshoppers) is one of the largest urban greenspaces in the Americas. It includes the requisite grandiose monuments, a small botanical garden, and several museums such as the Museo de Arte Moderno and the acclaimed Museo Nacional de Antropologia.

To enter the Anthropology Museum it was only a 15-min wait on a Tuesday at 11am. The impressive Stone of the Sun, the “Aztec Calendar”, is the highlight for many visitors. It’s positioned in befitting prominence dead center at the end of the Mexica hall.

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Some quieter pockets of lawn played host to an afternoon napper or bootcamp exerciser, but main promenades were crowded with literally kilometers-long streams of people
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Not a serene chill-out wilderness scene, but it serves its purpose of escape
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Happily there isn’t a special price for English-speakers. I wasn’t into consuming this type of intensely sweet, salty, or crunchy snack that caters to the popular taste.
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Comedic entertainment by the El Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Homeland) drew a crowd

Local runners were doing laps on the sloped road to the Castillo (castle) de Chapultepec that houses the Museo Nacional de Historia. As it had started to rain I got a bit of a run on, too.

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Murals at the National History Museum at the Castillo
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The Castillo is on the Chapultepec Hill; nice views of the city
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A pavilion of formal gardens highly appropriate for selfie backdrops

Maybe in Canada we are spoiled regarding air quality. The Bosque de Chapultepec promised “fresh air”, but I still found it smoggy. Even so, I had a pleasant visit. One can easily spend a full day or more in this area; it’s a popular spot for all ages.

 

DAY6 – STREET FOOD TOUR

“Food is such an important part of Mexico’s culture that Mexican cuisine has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” – Viator.com

Possibly you could say the same of every group of peoples, that the significance of its food is a key cultural identifier.

I met my tour group near the golden El Ángel/ Angel of Independence (Monument to Independence). It is actually a statue of winged Victory, or as I’ll call her, Nike. Independence and Victory as one and the same – I love that concept.

As I’d already previously sampled some typical eats at other markets, I joined Eat Mexico’s walking tour of the Cuauhtémoc borough. It’s like having a friend tell you which downtown food trucks are the best ones to hit up, with a dose of cultural context and a visit to the mercado (market) at Rio Tigris & Rio Lerma.

We sampled three types of tamales washed down with atole de arroz, tlacoyos topped with cactus slaw,  quesadilla filled with corn fungus, tacods de canasta el abuelo (basket tacos), cemitas (a Pueblan specialty sandwich made with bread baked at lower altitude), burros a todo mecate (squash-flower burrito), fresh papaya and mango with salty and sweetened chili powder, fruit smoothies, and… Tortillas of course.

We met obscure vendors and celebrity vendors. There is such a thing as celeb in the street food scene.

It was very fun, and concluded with a sweet takeaway of our choice from Dulcería Celaya. I chose candied preserved fig, guava caramels, a chocolate amaranth bar, and chili tamarind and dulce balls all to share with foodie friends once back home, as I was far too full to sample anything more just then.

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Tortillas being weighed; $13/kg. The government regulates the price. Delicious with just a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of salsa

As we finished up, our guide pointed out a large outdoor sculpture installation and talked about the artist. “You can see more of her work at the Museum of Modern Art,” she said, then with a grin added, “Much better than Frida Kahlo.”

===

On the food tour I met a woman who was previously a highly accomplished athlete, and as we started talking we shared our stories about “seeking normalcy“, shedding who we once were but holding on to who we still are… I also have to say that the group I joined for the Izta hike was one of the most cohesive groups of people I’ve had the random luck to be part of.

I believe that people are brought into our lives for a reason. I can’t think of better company with whom to have shared this interlude in CDMX. It’s fond memories.

With this, my FridaTrail is no longer an abstract concept; sometimes we sit on things for years and then, from the most seemingly innocent of circumstances we find ourselves catalyzed into it’s really, actually happening. I’m still pinching myself and expecting to wake up from a dream.

FridaTrail is transforming organically and pleasantly into something shimmering with optimism but as of yet indistinctly drawn, like heat waves rising in the horizon from a hot earth. I do wonder idly in what form the result will emerge, but for now am just letting it be…

From one continent to another: from tortillas in Toluca to the foul artistic bitches of Paris, from The Mexican Angel of Independence to the Greek goddess of Victory, indeed. Onward travels.

Next week: Dubai.

 

 

 

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