Posts/August, 2012/

Mexico City: Xochimilco

Friday, August 24th, 2012
trajineras

The “trajineras” floating on the canals of Xochimilco

As we started researching Mexico City a couple weeks ago, Nik’s dad sent us a photo of the Island of Dolls. The man made island, or chinampa, sits in the middle of an extensive 110 mile canal system in Xochimilco, and stuffed animals and dolls are hanging from nearly every tree. The dolls were hung by the owner of the island as a way to prevent evil spirits from entering, and now that he has passed away it is being exploited by his family as a tourist destination. As soon as we saw the photo, we knew we had to go. It looked creepy and incredible.

At one of our first dinners here, we brought up the Island of Dolls to our local friend, F, and Nik’s co-worker, B. F and B both laughed at the fact that we wanted to go, but also agreed that it would be an experience we could never get anywhere else. F gave us a little more background of the island, and told us that the only way to see it was by “trajinera” – canoe. We said, “Okay, even better. When can we go?”

On Saturday morning, we met in the hotel lobby with umbrellas in hand and began our journey. Traffic was outrageous, and the 20 minute drive took a good hour. When we arrived in Xochimilco, H (our driver) walked into the play-land-like amusement area and found an old friend of his that runs a fleet of trajineras. The Island of the Dolls turns out to be a four hour trip from where we were. F wasn’t fond of being on the boats for more than an hour. B was hesitant to commit to four full hours. Nik and I probably would have gone for it if it was just us, but after seeing how cool the boats were, we agreed that four hours might be a little much.

While we loitered six men in traditional celebration attire started dancing around a tall white pole while one played a flute/drum. Intrigued, we stood and watched the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). After the dance, five of the men climbed the pole and tied themselves to the center with thick yellow ropes. Once the ropes were coiled correctly, the flutist/drummer began playing again, and the other four leaned back and released themselves from the platform. As the top turned, the men flew through the air towards the ground and it was beautiful.

Danza de los Voladores - Dance of the Flyers

Danza de los Voladores – Dance of the Flyers

Afterwards, it started to rain and we made our way to the boats. There were over a hundred boats painted in red, blue and neon colors at the dock lined up in a row. We climbed through four or five to finally settle into the one in front, and a lady dropped off a bucket of beverages including coke, beer, and water. We paid her for the bottles we opened at the end of our journey, and she took the rest back to her cooler to wait for the next customers.

Row row row this boat

Row row row this boat

The trajeneras are propelled and steered by a man standing on the back of the boat holding a long bamboo pole. Each one is a thirty feet long and eight feet wide flat barge with a slanted front and back. The center area is flat and covered with a curved metal roof over a long wooden table and up to twenty small wooden chairs. The sides behind the chairs are protected with a long fabric curtain to block the rain or for privacy.

Boat ready for the next party

Boat ready for the next party

After we left the dock, we were in grid-lock boat traffic, but it didn’t matter. Most trajeneras were filled with large groups that had brought their own picnic lunches, and I was jealous. All we had was a bucket of warm beer…next time I will be packing a lunch with all the fixings!

Party Boat with Mariachi

This party boat was celebrating a birthday and sang with the Mariachi

Potato Chips and Candied Apples

Potato Chips and Candied Apples

F, B, and Nik staying dry

F, B and Nik

In addition to the tourist boats, there were smaller vessels carrying mariachi bands, food vendors and chotchke hawkers. They were all super nice, and if you shook your head and smiled, they smiled back and went on to the next group of visitors. The small islands within the canals were also impressive. Many of the trajenera drivers and vendors lived on the islands, and had built modest homes with beautiful gardens and porches. Some of them even built outhouses for the tourists to use for a fee.

A local's dock

A local’s dock

In the end, we were on the water for two hours, drank a beer each, shared two bags of potato chips with hot sauce, floated behind a boat that hired a mariachi band for half an hour (free concert!!), and it cost us 700 pesos (350/hr) + 50 pesos for food ($55 – split four ways). It rained for most of our outing, and we never did make it to the Island of the Dolls. Luckily someone had recreated a small portion of it near our dock!!

Fake Island of the Dolls

Fake Island of the Dolls

Nik and I have been talking a lot about the livability of Mexico City. If we do ever decide to move here, we are taking our families to Xochimilco when they visit.

Mexico City: The Condesa

Monday, August 20th, 2012
The Condesa

Vintage car parked on the tree line streets of the Condesa

Thursday morning we woke up early, had breakfast on the patio, and set out to stroll. Our planned route was about six miles long and took us through the Condesa neighborhood and then to the Zócalo in the historic center of town.

Like all large cities, Mexico City has a matrix of large through streets that are filled with cars honking and pumping toxic amounts of exhaust into the air. I prefer to avoid these streets when walking as much as possible and Nik is drawn to them. They often provide the most direct route between A and B, but the smaller side streets filled with smaller cars, smaller shops and smaller homes are more appealing to me even if it does add a mile to the route. So, our day was filled with a balance of the two.

Shoe Shine on the Boulevard

Shoe Shine on the Boulevard

Signage

Signage

The Condesa is a neighborhood west of Insurgentes Avenue and south of Avenida Chapultepec. It was first developed as the home to the city’s elite in the 1930s and 1940s, but declined to a state of abandon after the 1985 earthquake. In the past fifteen years, the area has become popular again as the city’s creatives have flocked to the old buildings. They have also infilled any empty lots with modern minimalist architecture creating street scapes that span the century. The small one way streets are lined with trees and are often boulevards with parks filled with benches and walking paths running through the middle.

Walking Path

Walking Path

Who lives in that window? I kind of wish I did.

44

#44

Blue and White

Blue and White

A surprising number of small parks dot every neighborhood we have wandered through. They range from a single lot with grass and a few benches to the central section of a roundabout surrounding a large monument to intricately landscaped parks with water features that span multiple city blocks. The crowd at each is also distinctly different. Upon entering Mexico Park, it seemed like everyone we passed was walking their pup. Then we turned down a path towards the center and found over thirty dogs of every breed and size lying down in a row on a long plastic sheet facing a large open space. Each dog had a leach stretched out in front of their front paws, and I expected to see their owners beside them. Instead there was one man in the center playing fetch with a doberman pincher, one teenager incrementally sweeping the plastic mat by moving two or three dogs at a time, and one more man tending to the troubled dogs that had to be tied to a pole or tree. We stood and watched the doggie daycare for fifteen or twenty minutes and came to the conclusion that no one would take on the responsibility of so many dogs in a public park in America.

Dog Daycare

Dog Daycare

After the dog park, we walked through the streets a bit more, and ultimately found the Nevería Roxy at Tamaulipas 161. It is an old fashioned ice cream parlor that has been in the Condesa for over one hundred years. When we first arrived at 11 o’clock, they weren’t open, so we lingered in the boulevard and watched cars and people go by. They still appeared to be closed at 11:30, but we walked over anyways and found that they were open…they just hadn’t taken the chairs off the tables yet. We took our seat and ordered one scoop of pistachio ice cream and one scoop of mamey sorbet. Both were so delicious, that we had to have more. To the owners amusement, we ordered a banana split with chocolate, rice, and banana ice cream. Heaven!

Banana Split

Banana Split from Roxy: Banana, Chocolate and Rice Ice Cream

Now we were off for the longest leg of our journey to the Zócola in the center of town. Nik and I were both tired by this point, but continued anyways. We stopped at a small market to have seafood tacos, passed by the home of the Lucha Libre (freestyle wrestling), Arena Mexico, and walked through the shopping crowds on the pedestrian street, Francisco I. Madero. By the time we made it to the Zócalo, we looked at the Cathedral for about five minutes, and then descended into the Metro station to go home.

Arena Mexico

Arena Mexico – home to the Lucha Libre

Banana Chips

Banana Chips

Francisco I. Madero

Francisco I. Madero

For more amazingness, check out Nik’s blog post too:

My First Two Days in Mexico City: Walks to Chapultepec Park, Colonia Condesa, and the Zócalo 

Mexico City: Chapultepec Castle

Friday, August 17th, 2012
2nd Trip to Mexico...1st Trip to Mexico City

Mexico: Painted/Stained Glass at Chapultepec Castle

We left San Francisco at 1:10am Wednesday morning, and by 5:30am (7:30am local time), we were standing in line at the Mexico City airport waiting to throw our fruit away at customs.

After meeting our driver, and plowing through morning rush hour traffic, we checked into the hotel and took a deep breath. Do we sleep now, or do we power through with no sleep to make the most of our first day in this foreign land? We were filled with excitement, and decided to power through after taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast of fruit, pastries, cheese, salmon, juice and coffee.

Per our typical traveling habits, we sought out the nearest park. Luckily, we could see the largest one in town, Chapultepec Park, as well as the castle that sits at its crest from the breakfast table. With our destination in sight, we strolled down Paseo de la Reforma, the main boulevard that connects the park to the historic center of town, and entered the park at the Monumento a los Niños Heroes. From there, the Gran Avenida circles through a lush landscape dotted with monuments, museums, park benches, and lakes at the base of Chapultepec Hill. Once we made it into our green comfort zone, we set goals. First, we would climb to the castle, and then we would make our way back to the lake.

 Niños Héroes

A monument to the Niños Héroes, “Boy Heroes”

Chapultepec Park sculpture and amphitheater

Chapultepec Park sculpture and amphitheater

As we approached the castle driveway, a security guard waited next to a bag check tent. Signs indicated that admission was $47 ($3.50 USD) and bag check was $10 (75¢ USD), but it was not obvious if either was required to climb the hill. After all, our goal was to see the building and the views from the top; not to go to the National History Museum that occupied the interior. Once we figured out that we did not have to pay at the security check point, we struggled to talk to the guard. We thought he was telling us that we had to check all of our bags, including our cameras which didn’t make sense. He actually just wanted to peak inside our bags to make sure we didn’t have any knives. We didn’t, so we made it through and climbed the hill.

Chapultepec Castle

The long road up

At the top, we found a second security checkpoint and a ticket booth keeping us from the castle and its terraces. After purchasing tickets, we approached the second guard who took a more thorough look through our bags. Apparently, gum was not allowed inside, and she made me throw out a nearly full pack. I figured it was sacrifice I was willing to take for the sake of keeping an historic building beautiful.

Chapultepec Castle

The main entrance to the Castle

Within seconds of walking through the entry gates, we were both glad we did. The gardens and terraces themselves were worth $47, not to mention the museum collection (with descriptions only in Spanish), castle building, rooftop terrace, murals, stained glass windows, butterflies and 360˚ views of the city.

Chapultepec Castle

Marble inlay at the one of many vestibules

Chapultepec Castle

The ceiling mural depicting the Niños Héroes above the main stairwell

Chapultepec Castle

Part of the museum collection

Chapultepec Castle

Nik patiently waiting in the upper levels of the atrium while I explore every nook and cranny

Chapultepec Castle

Monogrammed window obscuring the view of the city; Entry courtyard

Chapultepec Castle

The view looking down Paseo de la Reforma

Chapultepec Castle

A second level terrace

Chapultepec Castle

The upper gardens and watch tower

Chapultepec Castle

Painted glass windows

By the time we finished at 11:30, there was a line of tourists waiting to buy tickets, and we were thankful that we decided to go early.

On our way out of the park we did explore around the lake a little, but were too tired to enjoy it. We will be here for two full weeks, and our plan is to go back to rent a paddle boat and eat ice cream.

We had lunch enchiladas on the way to our hotel that were delicious, and then fell asleep as soon as we got into our room. For dinner, we had room service while draped in fluffy terry cloth robes and then slept soundly through the night.

Mexico City

Our view of a Paseo de la Reforma intersection and Mexico City at night

For more amazingness, check out Nik’s blog post too:

My First Two Days in Mexico City: Walks to Chapultepec Park, Colonia Condesa, and the Zócalo

Archives for August, 2012