Unlike the other capitals I had visited, Mexico City just seemed to appear. There was no view to look out over the city, but just a gradual increase of houses and traffic. Mexico City was built on a drained lake and as a result the City has massive problems with flooding and subsidence. This was apparent as we reached the city limits and encountered the road completely covered in water. Vehicles were slowly edging through it and the water definitely came up to some car wheel tops. A very exciting start!
The hostel I had chosen to stay in was just off the main square beside the Cathedral, a very imposing structure. I got there quite late in the day so after dinner at my hostel (which was included but terrible), I wandered around the main area before calling it a day. I had been looking for a cafe or bar to have a coffee/glass of wine but surprisingly there was nothing obvious around the main square. Very odd.
The next day I had booked to go on a tour of Teotihuacan, one of the most famous ruins near Mexico City. I had thought they were Aztec ruins but it turned out different. We did however seem some Aztec ruins at the Tlatelolco - our first stop. Situated in the centre of Mexico City, it was one of the main citadels for the Aztec when they started to establish on the island that was in the lake. It was said that the island was originally overrun with snakes and the Aztecs were given it by their enemies who thought they would be wiped out. However, as resourceful as ever, the Aztecs used the snakes for food, establishing themselves on the island and continuing to conquer the remaining areas.
Unfortunately we could not walk around the ruins as they were filming a documentary but we could walk around the perimeter and, even from here, it was clear where the main buildings had been. The additional layers added to the temple during it's expansion were also very obvious and very interesting. Nearby, the Church of Santiago looked down on the ruins. When the Spanish took over this area in the 17th century, they used the stones from the ruins to build this church and some of the detailed designs from the temple were obvious in the reused stone. This area was also home to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, so named because it symbolized the fusion of pre-Hispanic and Spanish roots into the Mexican identity. It displayed the architectural legacy of those three cultural strands: the Aztec pyramids, the Spanish Church and the modern Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Foreign Ministry). Unfortunately this square was where the student massacre took place before the Olympics opening night in 1968, the truth behind the massacre still hidden.
Leaving the centre behind we headed out to the Basilica de Guadalupe and Capulla del Cerrito. These churches pay homage to the Virgin Mary who, it is said, appeared there and requested a church be built in her name. The original church however, began to sink in the soil and so a new church was built. As an aside, when I came into Mexico City we had passed on the highway people cycling behind a truck carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. There were many of these groups who were now converging in this important area as pilgrimage. The square was filled with great many people and dancing. It was an impressive and unusual sight. Up on the hill where the Virgin Mary was seen we were able to look out over this square and Mexico City itself.
After a stop for lunch and the chance to purchase local goods (of course), we finally made it to Teotihuacan, Mexico's biggest ancient city. Built by the mighty Teotihuaćan civilization, the city's grid plan was plotted in the early part of the 1st century AD, and the Pirámide del Sol was completed - over an earlier cave shrine - by AD 150. The rest of the city was developed between about AD 250 and 600. Social, environmental and economic factors hastened its decline and eventual collapse in the 8th century.
The majority of the names in the city were the names that the Aztecs gave later when they arrived centuries after its fall. It remained a pilgrimage site for Aztec royalty, who believed that the gods had sacrificed themselves here to start the sun moving at the beginning of the 'fifth world, ' which was inhabited by the Aztecs. The city centred around the Avenue of the Dead (so called because the Aztecs believed that tombs were buried under the pyramids lining the avenue.) At one end was the Pyramid of the Moon and then half way down the monstrosity of the Pyramid of the Sun.
Looking out over the city ithe scene was very impressive. The straight Avenue stretched for as far as the eye could see, whilst being drawn to the two intense structures of the Pyramids. This sight was well preserved and worthy of the attraction it draw. We started our tour there by exploring houses of the wealthy that had preserved immaculate wall paintings and design. As the city grew, the wealthy would build on top of their old buildings (very much like the temples) and there were many examples of this. New floor levels could be seen, rooms filled in with rocks to support the next level and stairs cut off. It was impressive. We also saw an ancient version of a spa!
We wandered back out to the Avenue of the Dead and headed towards the Temple of the Moon. You could only walk half way up but even from here it was an impressive sight with the whole citadel stretching out in front of us. Next was a hike up to the Temple of the Sun. Unfortunately along the way were many street sellers trying to convince me to buy jewellery or rugs, or whistles which were supposed to sound like condors or jaguars. Oh the temptation! Arriving at the Temple of the Sun, sans any product, I was faced with a mammoth climb up to the top. This temple was one of the largest and stood at 64 metres high. There was only one way to go and that was up. Making it there safely, again the view was magnificent. You could see the valley and distant mountains, an excellent spot for a city. Knowing I had to face the climb down and pray not to fall and break my neck, I slowly started the descent. After a brief look in the museum, given the length of the city left to cover it was time to make my way to the exit in order to meet my group. Teotihuacan had been an interesting city and very different to the others I had seen. However, it did not grab me as much as the other ruins I had seen.
That evening I had booked to go see Mexican wrestling, Lucha Libre. I can honestly say it was one of the best nights entertainment I have ever had. I had booked through my hostel and was accompanied by an Irish couple also from the hostel. We got given a wrestling mask and a shot of tequila before we got to the stadium. As luck would have it, this night was the final of the middle weight championship so extremely special. We were to watch 6 matches, climaxing in the final. When we got there the first match had already started so we settled down to watch grown sized men in 'super hero' outfits throwing each other around in and outside the ring. It was a dramatic performance and it was hard to tell whether the punches, jumps, throws etc really hurt or not. One thing was clear - the audience loved it, and even more when the girls in skimpy outfits appeared to announce the next round! It was WWF/WWE but in good spirit and family entertainment.
There were some noticeable matches. One of the best involved a gay wrestler named Maximo. He was raging gay (definitely part of his act) and flaunted it as much as he could to win the audience. The best thing was how he used it against his opponents. When his opponent grabbed him or locked arms around him, he would wriggle and move in obvious delight, much to the disgust of his opponent who would quickly release him! No need for strength here, just a good wriggly bottom! This match involved three wrestlers on each side. So when one of Maximo's team mates was pinned, Maximo, if he was free, would run up and kiss the opponent to get his team mate released. It was hilarious and pure fun. All the wrestlers in this match played up to the audience and made it worth the money.
Another notable match involved a wrestler called Strongman. How he was middle weight I will never know. His muscles bulged everywhere, including his neck muscles. It was a disgusting sight but he was very effective in the ring. None of his opponents could do anything to him for he could literally pick them up with one hand. One of his team mates was a very fat middle-aged man who did not deserve to be a wrestler. Part of his 'act' was to start crying when someone picked on him. Strongman would then come to comfort him and beat the opponent. Again it was well acted entertainment. The costumes throughout were fun and the wrestlers knew how to get the audience going and the atmosphere roared. I felt sorry for the front row though. Fights often carried on outside the ring and wrestlers would end up being launched into the audience, sending them flying. Saying these people paid more money to be there, it was clearly what they wanted.
Finally the time arrived for the big finale, the defending champion Mistico (whose mask I have) vs Volador. Mistico throughout the whole match was clearly winning. He spent most of the time preening to the audience as his opponent lay on the floor. However, in the last minute of the first round Volador came through and won the match. We have no idea how. Clearly it was planned that Mistico would win the second round so that the third and final round could be played. In this round Volador came more alive and somehow managed to tear off half of Mistico's mask. If the wrestler's mask was removed it normally signaled the end of the match, as had happened in previous matches with other wrestlers. This time the ref intervened and went to fetch Mistico a new mask. The damage had been done though and even though much the underdog Volador won. Mistico was not a gracious loser. He punched out the ref, floored Volador and then pulled off his trousers before stealing the belt and running off. Now who was the champion??!! It was so funny, that we could not stop laughing. A genius night out and worth every cent.
After an extremely busy first day, I thought I would try and relax more on the second but ended up being just as busy. I was determined to visit a proper Aztec sight and so made my way to the Templo Mayor. Demolished by the Spaniards in the 1520s, it stood on the site of the cathedral. It wasn't until 1978, after electricity workers happened on an eight-ton stone-disc carving of the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, that the decision was taken to demolish a block of colonial buildings and excavate the site. It was said that the Temple was where the Aztecs saw an Eagle eating a snake on a cactus, which came to be the symbol on the Mexican flag. It was a sign to the nomadic Aztecs that it was time for them to settle here and so they developed the island including Tlatelolco which I had seen the previous day.
The Templo Mayor was not a massive sight but well designed for tourists. A path wound through the ruins with noticeboards (actually in English!) pointing our various important aspects. Many stone carvings had remained proving how important the temple had been. One area included several rooms still with paintings of the sacrifices the Aztecs partook in, including human sacrifice. There was a wall of stone skulls which dominated and gave a menancing impression. It was an intriguing site, and maybe because I am more interested in the Aztecs than any other of the races I have seen, I found it very enjoyable. The site also had a museum which was very well put together and held many artifacts from the site. This included huge stone tablets, a statue of an eagle man and a face carved from stone, which although very simple, was remarkably life like. I thoroughly enjoyed myself here and it was a shame to finish the tour.
Feeling quite elated after the joy of the wrestling and the Aztec site, I decided to meander through Mexico City to the Museo de Antropologia. I was very glad I did for along the way I encountered a parade for the Chinese New Year. Floats passed all dressed differently for the year of the tiger, various groups waved to the crowds and different bands made it a very lively event. There were martial arts in the street, dancers and even a dj. It was very festive and fun. It made me very glad I made the walk, even though it took me about 2 hours to reach the museum.
The Museum itself was also very well put together and explored Mexico's history right from the caveman era. It had many artifacts and displays taken from the many ruins I had visited during my time in Mexico and I found it a great way to pull it all together. Unfortunately everything was in Spanish and I had been too cheap to pay extra (and it was a lot extra) for the audio guide. But this did mean I could savour the displays without having to be distracted by a tape running in my ear. The main display was on the Aztecs, which completed my wonderful time over the last two days. I was thrilled. The room was huge and full of magnificent pieces. I caught my self several times walking around with my mouth wide open in astonishment. I must have looked a bit odd but hey ho. After seeing this room, I barely paid any attention to the others.
Soon it was time to go back to the hotel and just absorb and process everything I had seen. It had been an incredible 24 hours. It was only then that I realised how far the walk had actually been, about 6 miles. With the parade I had barely noticed.
Getting back to the hotel, I was totally wiped out and so made sure that the most strenous thing I did that night was watch a movie and have a glass of wine. My flight to LA left early the next morning. This was the end of my brief tour in Mexico. During my time here I had seen some remarkable ruins -sights I will never forget and natural formations that took your breath away. Mexico was seeped in history. It was a place to learn but also a place to laugh. The Mexican wrestling memories will brighten any dark day ahead.
However, the thought of going home had been looming ever closer and it was time to leave to go to my last destination of the year; Los Angeles. America here I come!