Eight hours layover in Mexico City, what is there time for? A walking tour!
We emerged from the airport to a slightly cooler temperature, an abrupt realisation of everything Cuba isn’t. We had reconnected to Internet and could Uber to the centre within 15 minutes, all the while passing billboards and shops filled to the brim with stuff. It wasn’t that we had necessarily missed these things, but they were suddenly very obvious to us.
We pulled up outside an empty square, cordoned off for an event to do with the upcoming elections. In the middle, a giant flag depicting the red, white and green of Mexico with their evolving emblem of the eagle, snake and cactus in the centre. Behind stood the magnificent Cathedral of the Ascension of Maria. Activity was all around. People in traditional Aztec clothing were performing cleansing rituals in the pre-Hispanic traditional way. There was begging, something we had seen very little of in Cuba.
Our tour guide, Anna, was a bubble of energy and could explain anything, no matter how dark or gloomy in the most adorable way, ending with a little giggle. Mexicans, she explained, could find a reason to laugh at any situation. And they sort of need to. Only the year before they had a big earthquake which shook the city. Monique had actually been in the air en route to Mexico City the day it happened and landed to a much altered city and mood. As she spent a few days here during that time last year, to her we were walking through familiar settings which were once again filled with their normal life. Looking around at the buildings it was suddenly obvious where cracks had been filled in to secure the buildings again.
The city was founded by the Aztec people in 1325, protected on all sides by a mountain range and it was once a lake which has been slowly filled in, continued by the Spanish who took over the settlement here. The earth is fighting back and again once it is pointed out, it’s hard not to see that the streets are far from flat. In places they are more like waves where the ground is sinking 1cm per year, however areas with pre Hispanic fortifications such as temples are being pushed back out, in some places they are now higher than the modern day street level. As we walked around next to the cathedral, you could visualise a city of islands, many uncovered hinting at the many more temples that lay below. Next to them, the modern day beauty’s of the Presidential Palace. It is open to the public when the President is not in office, as Anna said, “luckily for us, he never comes to work.”
Inside the grand cathedral you have to convince yourself that your camera is straight, as the whole thing is on the move. Whilst I was thinking it looked like it wouldn’t last much longer Anna explained that a while ago that was the case, however now below the cathedral sits a high tech hydraulic system that counteracts the movements of the earth. Each day they come in and check the needle in the centre of the building and adjust the system below to match the movement that has occurred. As such it’s one of the safest buildings in the city. Catholicism was adopted by the pre hispanic people in a way that encompassed a lot of their original beliefs and traditions. The day of the dead, Dia de Muertos, is an example of this, a ritual combined with a saint worship to make a hybrid Catholicism accepted by the conquerors and the conquered.
Outside of the cathedral square wide roads were ladened with sweet shops, shopping, police in riot gear anticipating protests. The buildings were on the move here too. Tiled and engraved beautifully each one had a history of elegance and indulgence. The gem in the crown is the Palacio de Bellas Artes where ballet, opera and arts are celebrated in Mexicos biggest cultural centre. Largely made of marble and gold and sparing no expense, it’s lavish neo classical design has sent it sinking at a rapid rate, it’s ground floor is now a basement.
Of course we were hungry for real food and were pointed in the direction of a taqueria. For a dollar each we loaded up tacos with tasty veg and a touch of spice. And that was that. Tour, tacos, taxi. In a few hours we had a peek at a whole different version of Central America, a whole different history and people. Onwards and northwards to Canada.