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Model of the Great Temple, showing successive construction episodes in ca. 1350 to 1450 A.D.

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Sewer line built through the heart of the Great Temple in 1900. Major faux pas.

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Part of the Great Temple in foreground; behind, the Cathedral, modern buildings, and tourists.

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Buildings near the Great Temple. From Aztec times to now, subsidence has been the bane of builders in Mexico City.

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Saturday market at the Zocalo, in front of the Cathedral.

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Aztec funerary urn in the Great Temple museum.

 

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Conifer-Hunting in Mexico

Day 16: Saturday, February 19

It's good that we were well rested, because today was a very full day. We got up very early, had some good coffee downstairs, returned the car (it was a slow process, but cost exactly what they told us it would cost, about $1200, which is a lot but I'm glad there were no surprises), and took a deluxe airport taxi to our downtown hotel (we had made reservations while in Melaque), the Hotel Catedral, which is only a block from Mexico City's Cathedral and Zocalo. The hotel itself cost us 550 pesos per night, split amongst three of us. It is a lovely hotel. There's a drinking water tap in the bathroom, everything works, there's a good restaurant downstairs. Its rooftop terrace faces the back side of the cathedral. We were on the sixth floor, high enough for the sounds of the bustling market street below to be charming rather than annoying. That market street does not sell papayas or TVs. No, it is completely lined with used book stores, running for about 5 blocks, and as such is probably the most desirable spot for a bibliophile in all of Mexico. If you walk out that five blocks, you then get into several blocks of consumer electronics. A string of blocks to one side offers everything a bride could want. Another sells everything you need to build a first-class shrine to the virgin.

A couple of blocks away is the Aztec's Great Temple, and this was our first stop. I think it cost 30 pesos to get in, and I took many photos. It's right by the Cathedral, indeed, the Cathedral sits on top of a major unexcavated temple. There's a decent museum at the Great Temple too, and we toured that as well.

We got around a bit by Metro. Bob guided us to a Plaza of San Jose that was supposed to have a huge tree, but there was nothing there. Probably the wrong Plaza of San Jose. But, getting there involved Metro. Metro costs two pesos to go anywhere in the system. This is cheap even in Mexico, and the service is incredibly popular. It is clean, pretty quiet, and by far the fastest way to get around in the city. We took it to Chapultepec Park and discovered, to our chagrin, that it is closed. The whole park gets closed down every year, or so we understand, to clean up the mess and replant and prune and so forth. The museums and such are still open, but Bob wanted to see the purportedly giant trees, and now there is no hope to conclusively determine whether such trees even exist. We could look in from the edges and see some nice, but not especially big, Taxodium mucronatum and Araucaria bidwillii, and maybe a few decent Cupressus lusitanica, but nothing to write home about. We also discovered that some parts of the park are not closed, and will hopefully visit them tomorrow, but for now we came back to the hotel, browsed some bookstores, and then went out for dinner.

We went to a place that served very expensive food, recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, and we managed to spend 900 pesos on a completely unmemorable dinner. I had a tamarind mole that wasn't very good but encourages me to try making one of my own. Bonnie had mole de bolsa, i.e. commercial mole, forgettable. Bob's food I've already forgotten. While we were there it rained for about 2 minutes, very lightly, the only rain in our whole trip. Also we heard loud drumming all during our meal. After dinner we went to check it out and found a big celebration a block away where hundreds of people were doing Aztec dancing. A few wore something like costumes but most were in street clothes and there was much more enthusiasm than proficiency in evidence. An English-speaking university student buttonholed us and explained that this is an increasingly popular activity, especially among young people in Mexico City, to try to reestablish a connection with their Mexica (Aztec) history.

There's a lot of monolithic, monumental architecture in Mexico City, and in the streets, a very vibrant culture. Bookstores and public expressions of art are commonplace. The town has a very high level of activity, and almost everyone is very friendly (can you imagine describing a big American city as “very friendly”?). People with good English skills would just come up to us and start talking about things, and they usually seemed to be motivated by pride in their nation's productions, much like the helpful man in Jilotepec yesterday. We love it–this is a cool town. True, the air pollution is bad, but I've seen worse in LA. It is incredibly crowded, though, and I'm very glad I'll never drive in it again.

Continue to Day 17

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Last Modified 2010-12-18