Grant McWilliams

Mexico 2006 - Day 11

Today we had planned on going to the Archeology museum in Chapultepec park. In passing the Zocolo a man that had helped us one other time asked us if we wanted a tour. We told him where we were going and he told us they were closed today but Xochimilco was open and for 600 pesos he would take us to Xochimilco, Coyoacan, Fridas house, the University of Mexico, the largest stadium in the world and the palace. We said ok and off we went in his car.

Xochimilco

Xochimilco in case you don´t know is the Venice of Mexico. Five hundred years ago the Aztecs lived on an island in the middle of a monster lake. They built fake islands to extend the area of the land that they could inhabit. They did this by building squares of floating reeds that they staked to the lake bed.They then put dirt on them and planted plants. As soon as the roots grew through the dirt and into the lake bed the Aztecs would take the stakes out. This trick allowed them to double the size of their island. That island is now where the zocolo, palace and all the other historic distict is. The Spanish drained the lake when they got here so it´s gone now except for the area in the south called Xochimilco. So you can still travel about 100 km of canals in brightly colored flat bottom boats. People sell products, food and play music on these boats today. We went there today and it was very relaxing and a nice change from fast paced Mexico City. We paid 300 pesos for 1.5 hrs. The boats you will see when I get pictures up but for now just imagine a large flat bottomed boat with the front and back kicked up a bit. The boat handler stands at the back like a gondolier but instead of having a paddle he has a pole that he pushes on the bottom of the lake bed with. Not quite as elegent as Venice but still effective. The boats are long and wide enough to have a table in the middle of them lined with 9 chairs on each side and a roof overhead.

This makes for a great picnic setting if you bring your own food onboard. There are also smaller boats that aren´t too much larger than a gondola but look the same. All of these boats in native indian tradition are painted in very bright colors. The neat thing about Xochimilco that is different than Venice is that they aren´t just transportation around the canals but people also use them as if the canals themselves were market streets. There are other people in boats that sell goods like blankets, jewelery, food, plants and whatever else you can think of on the boats. As you pass by they will say what they are selling and if it looks like you are interested they will pole their boat up alongside yours and you do the deal. We were hungry so a food boat pulled up behind us and tied onto our boat and prepared us lunch. It was a husband/wife combination and the wife sat under the awning and cooked (yes with a sort of stove/griddle) while the husband powered the boat from the front. They cooked us chicken tacos which down here look more like taquitos than tacos. They were quite good and I took a picture of them as well. I´ve been trying to take pictures of all the food we eat here becuase it isn´t like the mexican food at home. As a matter of fact none of it resembles mexican food at home.

A man climbed aboard our boat with his “store” which was a suitcase of jewelry. We bought a set of turquoise necklace, bracelet and ear rings for 900 pesos ($80) or so. In America it would have cost much more but I also expected it to cost much less in Mexico.

Coyoacan

After we left Xochimilco our driver Fernando took us to Coyoacan which was a settlement of Toltecs on the bank of the lake that used to be here. This is about a 30 minutes drive from the zocolo showing how big this lake used to be. Coyoacan is also the area of the city where Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky lived. I actually like the main plaza a lot as it reminds me of Oaxaca. When Cortez came here he destroyed the Aztec temple in the center of the lake and set up government in Coyoacan so some of the oldest post-spanish buildings in the city are in Coyoacan. We saw cortezes house which wasn´t very inspiring and Natalya could resist uttering “Cortez is evil” under her breath when we entered. It´s nothing but and government administration building now and not very nice. The church of Gaudelupe something or the other is supposedly the most important church in all of Mexico and we went in it and it was pretty in a Catholic church sort of way. The main draw to Coyoacan for us was Frida and Diegos houses and studios which were both closed so we didn´t get to see them. All museums in Mexico are closed on Monday apparently because Museum, Mexico and Monday all start with the same letter or something. Maybe that´s not the reason but it messed up our schedule no less. We also ate in Coyoacan and Natalya and Jade decided to have seafood so they ordered cocktails with various seafood creatures in it. They came cold and all mixed up with a red sauce of sorts. Neither like them but I told them that´s the price of living a life of adventure. I tried their mole which wasn´t that great. Piper had a breaded fish that was quite good and she was happy with it. She wanted fish just like Natalya fixed in Paris. Natalya thinks it was better than hers.

We went by the University of Mexico which was founded in 1560 or so. The current location is only 100 years old but the old location was on the zocolo and is being used for something else now. UNAM has over 100,000 students making it the largest university in the latin american world and possibly the western world as well.

National Palace

We finished the tour by going back to the zocolo and viewing the palace where Diego painted the history of Mexico. This wall is in the movie Frida as well. Jade was very interested in each pane and we stopped at each from the day of the Aztecs to the Mexican revolution and studied each one. Diego likes to hide many things in his murals and this one is no different. It would take a history major to understand each and every point of this mural. It shows the Aztecs and their world, how they lived and ate, then the introduction of the spanish, the conquest, bringing of slaves, the mexican revolution and more. We also saw Frida in there as well. Interesting. Tomorrow we´re going to try to peek into the Belle Arts house to see the painting that Diego did for Rockefeller Center which was torn down because Diego put Lennon in it. Mexico had Diego recreate it in the Belle Arts performing house which he did and he included a not very nice looking image of Rockefeller too.

We ate at a nice place tonight on a walking street. I of course had mole pablono which is one of the two that I hadn´t tried. It was ok but not the same as the Oaxacan moles. Natalya ate a fajita with beef in a sauce that none of us had ever seen. It was ok… I do like Oaxacan cuisine better though. Tomorrow is our last day before we go home. We will visit the archeology museum, French emperor Maximillions castle and shop for everthing that we missed. Natalya got this black rock necklace and Piper wants one too. Jade and Piper both want sombreros. I don´t know how we will pack them.