The Six Days of Mexico City

Skyscraper view down to Mexico City

On the first day in The City, 

my true love gave to me 

a ride in a double-decker bus.

So there we were, pinkish tourists in a bright pink bus, wired with earbuds so we could hear the commentary, camera in hand (mine.) The second-story roof was open, the weather was perfect and we were off for a magic carpet ride on our first day in Mexico City.

Crowds of people around Belles Artes
The Palacio de Belles Artes was always a hive of activity, a nexus of bus and subway transportation and a happening atmosphere.

Architectural Gems in the Centro historic district slid past. Beyond the Belles Artes, there was an extremely glamorous post office (remember when?), an equally beautiful museum, a church where lots of things happened.

Damaged historic church
A church of historic note in the historic district, it was damaged in the violent 1985 earthquake, and also is sinking into the earth.

Doug muttered “Get those plants out of the gutter”. Upon closer investigation, it was revealed that buildings sprouting greenery like this one were damaged in other ways: churches had leaning or missing steeples for example, other buildings either sunken, or surrounded by elevated roadways. And, not to mention buildings entirely absent, like missing teeth, in a built-up block.

Earthquake devastation 1985

Reason being: the massive earthquake in the early morning of September 20, 1985, which was felt most forcefully right here in Centro. Magnitude was a ‘violent’ 8.0, with two separate epicenters in and near the historic city center. An extra long duration, and an unfortunate congruence of seismic wave reverberations through the soft landfill that underlies much of the city meant major disaster in Mexico City.

There were 412 buildings totally destroyed, 3,142 seriously damaged, three to four billion USD in damages and effects that clearly linger to this day. Not to mention the 5,000 (bodies recovered) to as many as 45,000 souls who also perished. I am sure every city citizen above 35 knows where they were at that moment.

There is lots more of interest about this earthquake at a well-written entry:

But whoosh – we’re already enroute to the Minor Basilica (an official church term) of Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe. With such urban development all around, it is hard to imagine the scene in 1531 when a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a young Mexican peasant in a field and requested that a shrine be built there.

Crowded street approaching basilica
Pilgrims progressed toward the shrine in a steady stream.

“Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Is the inscription over the main entrance, which perhaps explains the shrine’s appeal to many pilgrims. But, as in so many matters of faith, there are also disagreements about the facts of the vision, the significance, the reliability; none of which prevent this from being the most -visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

boy with Image Virgin Guadeloupe
I sometimes make up stories about people I see; I work hard to make a happy story for rhis young boy here.

Created with Photospector

Image Virgen of Guadelupe
Nearly every image of this Virgin is surrounded by the bright spiky frame that reminds me of a classic migraine aura. I wonder if Juan Diego was a sufferer.

We drove past the Plaza of the Revolution, and the Angel of Independence, past the Anthropology Museum and through the upscale Polanco neighborhood, which was appealing indeed, in  a Rodeo Drive kind of way.

We were struck by the fantastic number of trees in the city. It seems a real effort is being made clean the air and reduce the pollution alerts which I hear are a regular summer feature. The traffic lights are ‘smart’, there are pollution-free transit zones, extremely inexpensive subway fares, lots of clean buses and trolleys, at least where we went. But, there is still a LOT of traffic.

We were also struck by the number of policemen we saw – different branches, mostly in pairs and groups, everywhere along our touristic routes, except in the really nice neighborhoods where perhaps private security guards performed the same function.

Group of Mexico City policemen with clear plastic shields
The shields seemed a little over-the-top to me, but didn’t concern or surprise the passers-by. And it turns out you can store a water bottle, cell phone, even lunch, on the back side.
Monument Angel of Independence.
This monument, photo courtesy of, might be the quintessential symbol of Mexico, we were told. Nicely lit at night, but of course we don’t know much about that!
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet Been acknowledged by the government.
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet been acknowledged by the government.

On the second day of Mexico we finished up the tour. We walked out to that proud symbol La Angél to join our bus. While we were waiting, we got harangued in two languages  by earnest young female Jehovah’s Witnesses, and watched several photo shoots, small parades and demonstrations.

Banner help, photos taken
It seems de rigeur to have La Angél as a backdrop for your meaningful photos.

And we saw this young lady celebrating her 15th birthday in the time-honored Mexican quincinera tradition. Our neighbor on the park bench informed us that this photography parade would continue all weekend long, day and night. Is that a stretch Hummer? I can’t say.

Girl in ball gown with young male attendants, and a stretch Hummer limo.
Throughout Latin America a girl’s fifteenth birthday is celebrated and signifies among other things, her entrance into womanhood. But only when I googled to check the spelling did I learn that while North Americans have taken to calling the event a quincerañera, in many countries, this is what the girl herself is called.

Santa Fe

Glass tower reflected in glass tower
There is a lot of interesting architecture in Mexico City, old and new.

The loop of our second day of bus touring went to Santa Fe, which we had no idea where, what or why, but, hey, it’s nice on the bus-top. Turns out it’s the biggest shopping mall in all of Latin America, full of high-end names, marble and subdued glitz. So I bought a pair of pajamas, in case I need to sleep in a multi-bed dorm with strangers. At a Sears store, at the way-back end of the mall, as far from Tiffany’s as it could get.

Santa Fe has many tall new buildings, several with I think helipads (at least windsocks) on the roof, and famous names on the facades. It may be an economic powerhouse, but it was pretty dead on Saturday afternoon.

On our third day in the City, we hit the ground because it was a Sunday. Everybody was out, shopping for Christmas, snacking, strolling the park. The streets were packed. Actually, they were packed downtown most of the time. But people seemed to move at a more relaxed pace on Sunday.

Lots of people,out downtown Sunday
Christmas shopping and Sunday strolling make for busy downtown streets.
Iceskating in the main plaza Mexico
This big skating rink-there’s more of it on the other side, plus long slides for the non-skaters – ihas been a winter feature since I think 2009. Maybe it makes Mexicans love their government more?
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
We went to the rooftop cafe
We went to a rooftop cafe atop a hotel which overlooked the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. The historic district of Mexico City is build upon ruins like this on what once was an island in a lake.


On the fourth day in town, we made a DIY tour on the public buses to los pyramides of Teotihuacan.  The how and why of these Aztec places is lost in the mists of time, replaced by theory and conjecture.

Their demise may have been a result of climate change (long-lasting drought) and mis-management of the masses by the elites, which could serve as a lesson to other civilizations, were they desirous of learning it.

View from atop pyramid Aztec archaeological site
If I ever find a time machine, I might set the dial for this place, 600 AD, just to see how it looked in full development and decoration.

Emboldened by our new command of the transit system, on day five, we took the public bus to Coyoacán to see the house where Frida Kahlo was born and later lived with Diego Rivera. Right around the corner, Leon Trotsky lived, and had been assassinated.

Frida Kahlo was born here, and dies here in 1954 at 47.
Frida Kahlo was born here, and died here, in 1954,  at 47.

Both of these are separate posts. It’s getting a little cluttered here.

We also spent time circulating around the main plaza of the Zocalo. This led to us being targeted by students needing to fulfill an English class assignment. Each time one student would record the interview on his or her cell phone while the other worked through a list of questions like What is your favorite Mexican food? or What is your father’s name? or worse, How old are you? Then they most politely thanked us for our time, wished us an enjoyable stay in Mexico and retreated giggling to review the recording. Sometimes we had to do it again due to technical difficulties. No problema!

Doug helps a srudent from the Politecnico with his homework. Students sought us out several times, and filmed each other on their phones asking us questions like What is your favorite Mexican food' and What is your father’s name. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?
Doug helps a student from the Politecnico with his homework assignment. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?

And then it was time to catch our plane to Santiago Chile. The transit system offers a special Metrobus at 30 pesos (when the regular bus is 5) with access to its own traffic lane, to whisk passengers from the Zocalo, and other points on the line, in record time, and we (and a transit policeman) were the only passengers at ten am. Airport security was present and effective but far less of an ordeal than the TSA version.

It would take more time than either of us (you the reader, or I) has to do justice to Mexico City. But I am looking forward to a return visit and expanded exploration.

Here are some more photos:

Now that I see them on a bigger screen, I see ‘failure to focus’. But, perfection is the enemy of ‘done’!

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