Mexico started in what is today Mexico City and used to be Tenochtitlán. The Mexica (a people belonging to the group of Nahuatl-speakers; commonly known as Aztecs) left there former homeland (for a reason I forgot but probably a drought or something) to go look for a new home (this was in the 13th century AD). They packed all their things and lived as nomads wandering around aimlessly for about a century until they would see - as their religious leader assured them - a sign, sent by one of their gods, which would indicate the place where they should settle down again. One day they arrived in a valley at a lake (Texcoco). Within the lake was an island. And on the island they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus, eating a snake. Obviously the bird-snake-combination is of special importance for the indigenous people of Mexico, as shown in the fact that their most important god is called Quetzalcoatl (the feathered snake). So they decided that this was the sign they had been waiting for (who knows, maybe they were also just tired of their nomadic life) and that they would settle down on the island. In a little more than 100 years that they lived there before they were disturbed by aliens, they changed the ecosystem considerably: they built three bridges on which the island could be reached on foot. This was also important for defense, as the people in the region were almost always at war with each other. They also built "swimming gardens" where they grew food in the lake. This lead to the size of the lake diminishing more and more (and today there is basically nothing left and the area is really dry). On the island they built their religious center with the pyramid and the main temple. People were living around it but also on the mainland (where they also had most of their agriculture). After about a century of living there in peace and war, came the Spanish and they realized the importance of the place and thought that if they just took over the "religious capital" they would easily defeat the whole population. And this is where the history of "Mexico" begins: because of the strategic situation and the land bridges that were easily defended and the Aztec's long experience in warfare, the Spanish army - even though their arms were much heavier and they had horses, which the Aztecs did not - had no chance in the battle. So they had to use a trick: the Spanish leader entered the city with the pretext that he wanted to offer peace. Naïve as the Aztecs were and not used to the European way of lying and making promises and not keeping them, they let the Spanish enter the main area of the city, where the (the Spanish) sequestrated the Aztec emperor, after which they had basically won the war (the Aztec culture was very hierarchical in case I haven't mentioned that before).
What the Spanish did next shows their ignorance and is part of the reason why I can never enter the city without a really bad feeling of guilt: they destroyed the pyramid and the templo mayor and out of the bricks that the pyramid was made of, they built a catholic cathedral right next to where the temple used to be. These are the origins of Mexico and Mexico City. The Mexican flag shows a drawing of the Eagle eating the snake on the cactus. Next to the Cathedral in Mexico City today you can visit the remains and reconstructions of the templo mayor (I put an old picture of the model as the lead picture of this blog entry). Besides the drawing in the flag, obviously there are many other ways in which especially the nahua culture influences Mexico even today: many types of food, the names of many villages and cities (and the country itself of course), names for locally grown fruits and vegetables (jitomate, for example is a nahua word). In all of Mexico people's skin colours are a wide range from almost white to very dark. There is generally very little discrimination because of skin colour but indigenous communities who do not want to integrate into Mexican society are discriminated against. (I believe that Bolivia - which has an indigenous president - is probably the only country in the world that does not do that.) It is, however, very noticeable that the average skin colour is lighter the further north you go. And it is also obvious that the further north you go, the richer the people are. Oh, and it is also true that people on TV or in advertisements are much whiter than the average Mexican…
By the way, just north of what is today Mexico City are the most famous pyramids (mainly because of their size) of the whole continent. They are part of the city of Teotihuacán. Known for the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon. While they were also built by a people of the nahua-family they are about 1500 years older than Tenochtitlán and have very little to do with it.
Today Mexico City is one of the biggest metropolises in the world. The city and the surrounding state together have about 25 million inhabitants. This is about 3 times as much as Austria as a whole and more than all of the southern Mexican states (Chiapas, all of the Yucatán and Oaxaca) together. For some reason people still think that moving to the city will automatically make them rich. And it is true for some, because wages in Mexico are definitely much higher than for example in Chiapas. However, many people who move from rural areas into the city do not have much education and will not be able to compete on the job market. They move to the city and realize that apart from wages also rents are much higher. That you spend more money on food, because in the city you cannot have a cow or chickens in your backyard so you also have to pay for milk and eggs. And so on. The obvious result is that there is a very big gap in incomes in Mexico city, which is visible in everything. Public transport is very good and very cheap - although last year taxes were increased and metro fares were raised from 3 Pesos to 5 Pesos (followed by the necessary protests), but it is still very affordable considering how well it works, compared to other cities. However, other than in more rural areas many, many people have private cars. In an average town in Chiapas for example, in general about every other car you see is a taxi. In Mexico it's probably like one out of 100. Other than in Europe the rate of private car owners is actually a good index of richness (as Mexicans generally love to be like Americans, not realizing what it actually means, having a car is a very important status symbol). The result is one of the worst air pollutions worldwide. The city actually does quite a lot to reduce air pollution but the effect so far is pretty small. Every car has at least one day per week, where it may not be used (depending on how much it pollutes some may not be used additional days). There is a big network of city bikes, which seems to work reasonably well in the richer parts of the city. And some of the biggest roads are closed for cars on Sundays and turn into big walking-biking-skating events.
Unfortunately Mexico also does other things to make the city "cleaner": like remove illegal vendors from various zones. I wasn't aware of this until they told me lately, but vending on the street is illegal in Mexico too (in the whole country, that is). Only normally no one cares. In the city they do obviously and they have actually removed my most important food and drink source since the last time I stayed in the city. Which made me very angry and my life much harder. On the positive side, vendors in the metro seem to be increasing again. Metro vendors are fun. Due to the size of the city, metro rides can take very long, so having vendors passing through all the time is really nice to pass the time, and every now and again the sell something you actually need and then you can even do your shopping without going anywhere. Mind you, the markets that form around metro stations sell just about everything you can possibly think of, but still.
I did not do much this time in the city. I spent most of the time in the hostel, writing blogs and in the park Chapultepec which is by far the best thing about Mexico. It's a huge park and especially in weekends about half the city goes there. One half goes to hang out with the family and have a picnic in the park and the other half goes to practice a wide range of sports offered in the park (from running to all kinds of martial arts to chess). The park is so big that it is never really crowded.
As for the hostel, I must say I seem to have made a really bad choice, choosing (without knowing, of course) the one place where all Americans go, that mainly come to Mexico because the beer is cheaper than in the US. This was rather rough so I was glad to not have to stay there long. Of course Mexico city has a lot of tourists and probably many Americans among them but because there are just so many people living in the city I had never noticed that fact. I used to be happier before I found out…
So that was my short stay in the city. While there I also visited the village where I used to live in Morelos (like 2 and a half hours from Mexico). I visited a friend there who works in a secondary school. Every time I visit she makes me talk to her students about my life. She thinks my life is so inspiring… I do it because I feel like I have to give something back to this country which has always been so welcoming to me. Anyways, I happened to be talking to mainly the same students this time as I had the pleasure of talking to last year. I didn't care too much, until I approached their class room and heard them call my name and cheer. They still remembered almost everything I had told them the last time. Which means it was worth something. That really made my day! One girl even said she'll visit me. And the new headmaster of the school asked me to check if there are any exchange programs with Europe. Morelos is a little bit like Chiapas. It is very rural and under-developed. Only it doesn't have the landscape that Chiapas has…
With that I am off to the south again. Actually, one more curious note: When I was in Mexico City I noticed the sun rises and sets literally an hour later than in San Cristobal. So I looked at the map and found that Mexico actually is much further west than San Cristobal, which I had never realized. I had always imagined Mexico more cone-shaped but it is really much more horn-shaped. Oh and a last note about the climate, as I am on the way to the hot coast: The climate in Mexico City is very similar to San Cristobal, only that, because of the pollution and the cloud that constantly covers the city, temperature doesn't change that much between day and night - so it doesn't get really hot, because the sun is always blocked somewhat by the smog and it doesn't get very cold at night.
I am currently passing through the istmus - five hours waiting time at the bus terminal which I use to write a blog although I don't have internet connection to upload it, so will upload it once in the next hostel. And I'll write about this region in the next blog, as it is really quite interesting. Yet another Mexico…