Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mexico City April 2019

The adventure begins, 5 days for Charles & Riley in Mexico City.
JFK to MEX DL 481  April 23-28 2019

Day 1 April 23 Tuesday
Riley and I woke early and caught the train to JFK. We went to the Delta Sky Club for breakfast and I stocked up on scotch and water for the day. We left the gate early, had free Wi-Fi, and arrived 30 minutes early, but still had to wait in a rather long immigration line. All the while I was fussing with AT&T because they had said our phones would work fine in Mexico. Riley’s did, mine didn’t. I used Riley’s phone to text Miranda who was in Central Park and asked her to call AT&T and try to get my phone un-blocked. That was somewhat successful but there were several more calls to AT&T later that day.
We caught a taxi to the Hotel Casa Blanca and had a choice of several beds as we were minus 2 members of our family. We asked the taxi driver to wait for us and take us immediately to the  Zócalo and he agreed. We dumped our things in the room and went right back out. Unfortunately, the traffic was terrible so we got out at the Bellas Artes and walked. We headed straight for the Palacio Nacional to see the Diego Rivera murals.
I had to leave my passport with the young attendant outside (seemed risky but I’d read that it would happen) and we went straight to the staircase that has hundreds of characters.
It was a little crowded there but fascinating. We walked around the perimeter of the interior looking at all of the different murals. There were so many and by different muralists. There was no problem getting my passport back as we left.
We headed past the Templo Mayor to the Secretaría de Educación Pública, about 2 blocks north to see more Rivera murals. Along the way, we marveled at how all the buildings were leaning and off center. Mexico is sinking and not evenly, so some towers and steeples look like they will soon fall. We noticed a restaurant outside on the top floor (third) of a building overlooking the Templo ruins and kept it in mind.
There was no sign at the small entrance in the huge 3 story stone Education building, so at the small doorway I asked the guard if there were Rivera murals inside, and he very welcomingly said yes, please come in. Made my day! Again I left my passport and we entered the first of two courtyards both surrounded by 2 floors of balconies and on the walls were Diego’s murals.
This was a much more interesting building and perhaps because there were no people there, it gave us more time to spend with the art. The murals showed a progression of style which Riley noticed. The building itself was loaded with architectural and design features that were very interesting.  We walked every balcony and explored both courtyards. We had a fantastic time there.
Then it was back to the 3rd-floor restaurant with a view of the ruins. Riley got the best table and we had a drink and a snack. Next, we explored the cathedral. All of the scaffolding that used to be in the interior is now gone so its majesty was revealed. It’s huge. We exited and walked to the south end of the Zócalo to look back at the leaning towers and the giant flag. From there we walked through the back streets to Cafe Tacuba for a dinner of tacos de pollo and filete con enchiladas served by Henriqueta. Que rico.
Well fed, we slowly walked by the post office and peeked in to look at the magnificent staircase and ironwork then by the stage entrance of the Bellas Artes, noticing how the building is about 15 feet below the street level. Then through the Alameda Park back to the Casa Blanca. After completing a Times puzzle we quickly went off to sleep both expressing how we missed the other two in our family.

Day 2 April 24 Wed
I woke up early and went down for a coffee at about 6:45. Had to struggle to get an espresso doble but finally managed. I checked out the buffet and it looked very good. I went out for some water and spent about 15 minutes in an OXXO store (like 7-11) looking at all the Mexican food items. Finally, I purchased a 10-litre bottle of water (it’s huge) and put it in my backpack to carry home. Riley was surprised to see such a huge bottle but we’ve already gone through a good portion.
We went down to breakfast then caught a car to the Anthropology Museum. I made a deal with the driver to pick us up at 5am on Sunday for our flight--all sorted. We met my old friend Javier at the museum. He was eager to tell us about the Aztecs and all of the various gods and symbols. He was very animated and fun to be around. The museum is astounding for its collection of the very best pieces from the various pre-Columbian societies which inhabited Mexico. We slowly walked through the many rooms enjoying the fascinating objects. The musical instruments were a particular hit. 
Javier had to go to work so left us after we had a coffee. Riley and I went to most of the other large rooms before leaving. We headed in the wrong direction as I was thinking of going to the gift shop of the Modern Art Museum where I had purchased many fabulous gifts in years past. But it had moved and was too far away, so we turned around and headed to Polanco and the Soumaya Museum. After a very long walk, we came upon the interesting architecture of the Museum and headed in.

The collection has a few wonderful pieces and many secondary yet interesting pieces. The building is structured like the Guggenheim, you start on the top floor and walk down a spiral ramp. We hopped a taxi back to the hotel and rested before meeting Tihui, Claudio, and Ricardo at the San Angel Inn for dinner. And what a fun dinner it was.  
They all adored Riley and we loved looking around the 19th-century hacienda that had been kept in all its glory. The air in the courtyards was cool and refreshing, the food was delicious, and the company marvelous. Ricardo decided to come to New York to see Whipped Cream and we began making plans. Tihui had been working overtime to ready La Compania for 2 programs, Giselle and a Nacho Duato program. Claudio and Tihui gave us a ride home and we went straight to sleep.

Day 3  Thursday, April 25 -- Teotihuacan.
We woke about 7:30, had some breakfast, went to the car rental place just a few blocks away and were off up Insurgentes toward Teotihuacan. Traffic wasn’t too bad yet and we were there in about an hour.
We put on copious amounts of sunscreen and climbed the Temple of the Sun. We were there early and so there weren’t too many people which was nice. We explored all we could up there and then headed down the huge alleyway exploring all of the side temples toward the Temple of the Moon. There were many vendors selling ocarina-like instruments which when blown would make a sound like a jaguar. So everywhere we went we were surrounded by jaguars!
The top of the temple of the Moon was roped off so we only climbed up halfway. The vista down Avenida de Los Muertos is remarkable, however. Then we went to some rooms I had never seen with many frescos and giant snakehead sculptures. It was very interesting. Riley kept trying to figure out what exactly might have gone on in those rooms.
We kept on going down the alleyway and explored the museum and gift store. Finally, after encircling the Pyramid of the Sun we went to the car buying a few things on the way and drove back to Hotel Casa Blanca to rest a bit before going to Giselle at the Bellas Artes.

We met Ricardo in the lobby at 7:30 after admiring the art deco interior and had a quick coffee before the show. Inside the theater, the Tiffany glass fire curtain was still down and we had a good look at it.

Tihui and Claudio met us inside and we sat in the very best seats. After the performance, we went backstage to greet the performers, then straight to Cafe Tacuba for another dinner. We were pretty tired from all the climbing earlier in the day so had a tamale and

then took an Uber back to the hotel saying a fond farewell to our friends. Riley made a big impression upon everyone. 

Day 4 Friday, April 26  Popocatepetl & Iztaccihuatl hike
We woke and made our way to coffee, breakfast, and the hire car. We decided to let Google lead us out of town through a part of the city that I had never been. It worked out fine and after a few wrong turns, we were on the highway to Amecameca. We drove through some of the back streets of Amecameca which turned into dirt roads but eventually led to the Paso de Cortes and up into the mountains.
       We reached the “ranger station” at the top of the Paso, checked in, paid our entry fee, and headed onto the terrible road to the Izta trailhead. I’m thinking of writing a tour book on the world’s worst roads which lead to fantastic places. We could only maintain about 8 mph for the 5-mile trip. This one comes close to the road to Lambafellsgja in Iceland.
But we eventually made it, parked, and began our hike up to
the 4th Refugio, -- that was the furthest extent that I thought it possible for us to go from reading the trail description. There was a handy map at the base which showed the distance and elevation change between each Refugio. The first was the longest. By the time we got to Refugio 1, I was feeling the effects of the altitude. My heart rate was about 120 and my breath quick. It just meant that I had to rest more often than Riley who was powering up the volcano. The trail was a mix of fine black sand and rock which meant that with each step up you slid back an inch making the climb even harder.
We reached the second and third Refugios and decided (after a rest) to continue. At the trailhead, before we began, we had decided to hike up 4 hours and down for 3 thinking the descent would be easier and quicker. It was approaching the 4-hour mark as we drew near the 4th Refugio. Riley continued on up, but that was it for me. I remained at a lovely viewpoint admiring the rough weathered basalt and other formations.
After Riley came down we decided to head back to the car and about halfway down we stopped for a water break and Riley couldn’t find his Zojirushi water bottle that he has had for 7 years. He realized that he must have left it at the very highest point of his climb. We didn’t have time (nor energy) to retrace our steps to the top and Riley’s mood slumped because of the loss for this daily companion. We decided it was an offering to Izta for her sleeping calm.
There weren’t many other hikers that day, we saw perhaps 12 others. We met a group of 4 hikers who were headed up to their camp. Riley mentioned losing his bottle and his nostalgia for it and they said they would keep an eye out for it. I gave them a business card thinking it was probably a lost cause. But, lo and behold, the next day I got an email from one of them and they had found the water bottle!
By the time we were back at the car, we were both exhausted not only from climbing but from the altitude. We had hiked only about 4.5 miles with an altitude rise of about 2,600 feet. By our standards, this is not all that much considering the Grand Canyon hikes we did several summers ago. But the fact that we started at 13,300 feet and hiked to 16,000 feet was significant. Riley looked up the oxygen statistics at various altitudes and found that we had about ½ the oxygen than sea-level. No wonder I was breathing hard!
Riley slept on the bumpy road back to the station then successfully guided us back to the hotel. After a long hot shower, we enjoyed two Casa Blanca hamburguesas delivered by room service. We both were asleep very shortly after.

Day 5  Saturday, April 27   Trip to Coyoacan.
This morning I woke early, was completely surprised that I felt pretty much ok,  got a Starbucks (my new name is Carlos), and returned the rental car. Riley slept until 10am. He was obviously very tired. We had a very lazy morning and it wasn’t until about 2pm we went to Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum, in Coyoacan. When we arrived the line was around the block! Reluctantly, we decided to spend our time exploring the rest of Coyoacan and, perhaps, do some shopping. Saturday afternoon, it was bustling. There were so many merchants selling everything from birds to beads, and they were everywhere, inside ramshackle buildings, on the street, and on the church steps.
       The fountain in the center of the zocalo has a sculpture of two coyotes playing and being forever showered with water. We had some success shopping and went to find some tacos al pastor. They are a favorite of mine, tacos with spicy pork, cilantro, onions, and pineapple. We found a restaurant, El Tizoncito, whose motto is “Los Creadores del taco al pastor”. Jackpot! We each had 4 and felt stuffed because we’d had such a late breakfast. We tried again at the Casa Azul but the line was still way too long so we taxied back to the hotel to do some homework and pack up.

Day 6 Sunday, April 28  back to New York
We had made arrangements with Carlos to pick us up at 5am and when we arrived in the lobby at 4:55a he was waiting. We had breakfast and coffee at the AeroMexico lounge and took off on time. On this plane, there are no window shades but the window panes grow dark with the touch of a button. Very cool, Boeing. Riley has a trio rehearsal in the evening and a Carnegie Hall performance on Wednesday so - here we come.
An amazing trip but we missed Miranda and Max. We got video clips of Max’s performance and were amazed. But we’re glad to be home again, working on our futures.  Hasta pronto.

Elements of antiquity and modernism. The pattering of the public on cobblestones and the sulfuric smell of certain streets. Spanish style and indigenous genius. These are the alleyways and the sunken terraces of Mexico City. The world is a vibrant picante stew of kind souls and motorcycles, stoic stone cathedrals and the silly sounds of Harmonipans, original land turned dry and dusty with the arrival of a foreign people and the passage of time. As the red, blue, green, pink, and orange colored canopies pass by in a neon Taxi, the colorful rainbow of life plays tricks in the polluted air. Walking into gilded post offices is as easy as scanning barcodes on electric scooters. These are the simple realities and complex intricacies of Mexico City. This tierra is transfigured day by day into a sandbox of people who, wearing splotchy jeans and bearing worn leathery hands and caring not about their appearance as much as their cultural pride, go forth en masse and live and thrive and constantly experience the destined syncretism of existence in an oasis. Gringos speak in pidgin Spanglish as abuelas chatter confidently about the past the present (even the not too distant future) and all of it clicks satisfyingly together under a green tropical canopy. These are the fading facades and cracked concrete structures of Mexico City. These are the tired aching faces and hairless barking dogs of Mexico City. These are the fibers of a vibrant turquoise and indigo culture that, like a beehive, teem under a hot Quetzalcoatl - the Central American sun.     Riley


One other incident of significance happened while Riley and I were in Mexico. On our return trip from Teotihuacan, stuck in traffic about to turn onto Insurgentes, I rashly decided to switch lanes and moved to the right not seeing anyone.
Unfortunately, a car had zoomed up into the space and I bumped the passenger side door with my front right fender. Traffic was completely stopped so there was no pulling off anywhere, The man got out of his car and looked with incredulity at the dent in his door. After a moment of thought seeing the traffic as bad as it was, I took a business card out of my wallet and went up to his window, apologized, and gave him my card. When the traffic cleared, he went right and I went left.
The next afternoon (Friday) I received an email from Senor Oviedo saying that he was the driver of the car and asking what we should do. I wrote back taking full responsibility and asked him if he could get an estimate for the repair. The following day we climbed the volcano, Izta. When we got back to the hotel I received a text saying he would get an estimate in the morning.
At about 11am on Saturday, he texted me two estimates and suggested the lower of the two and, of course, I agreed. I said I could give him some cash today but I had no means of transport. He said he would come to the hotel in an hour.
His English was as minimal as my Spanish. I apologized again and gave him some pesos that I had. He gave me his banking details so I could wire the balance to him. As we parted, I thanked him for his grace in this situation and he gave me a huge hug and wished me well.
Two days before, I had badly dented his car and today he was hugging me farewell. No anger, no hostility, no rage, no bitterness. He was a thoughtful understanding and gentle soul. I could only think he is representative of the true Mexican spirit.

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