Tag Archives: Mexico

Exploring the Mega….Mexico City

With a population of around 9 million, it is hard to believe that Mexico City is basically built over a lake.  Factor in frequent seismic activity and terrible air pollution trapped in a geographic bowl and you might wonder why Mexico City still receives over 2 million international visitors each year.   But Mexico City checks every box, besides beach.  It’s got history, culture, food, architecture, and even sun.  Sun being our main goal, as even Texas gets too cold in the winter for Riki.

Central Mexico has a very lengthy and unique history.  Twenty five miles northeast of modern day Mexico City lies Teotihuacán, which dates to around 200 BC and was occupied by up to 250,000 people at its height.  The pyramids still located at this archaeological site are one of the most popular day trips from Mexico City.  Teotihuacán fell in the 7th or 8th century possibly due to internal uprisings.  But other city centers in the area filled the void after its collapse.  In 1325, the Mexicas, took a small natural island in Lake Texcoco and expanded it to create a new city, Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City.  The Aztecs dominated the area until the arrival of the Spanish, who conquered the city in 1520.  The Spanish built over the historic city and expanded the metropolitan area, which has now reached over 20 million people.  But that’s just the brief version.

We flew out of San Antonio a week before Christmas.  The flights were significantly cheaper, non-stop and San Antonio is only about an hour south of Austin. Plus, we got to stop at the outlets on the way so I could get new walking shoes for the trip, which is always a gamble but my other ones were just as much of a gamble considering the rough shape they were in.  At the airport, we bought a sim card for $6 and then took the metro to our hostel near the Zócalo.  We pack light, but I would not recommend taking the metro with any type of bag, and not recommend taking it at all during rush hour.  It’s chaotic, completely packed and involves a lot of stairs.  We dropped our stuff in our $25/night hostel (on the fifth floor, no elevator, no window, shared bathroom, but great location) and headed out to explore the historic district.  The Zócalo, which is the main square in the historic district, was completely covered in potted red poinsettias and the facades of half the buildings were lit up with giant Christmas light displays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Radio Stations
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ciudad de México
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mural

We braved the metro again the next day and stumbled upon the Artesania Ciudadela, which is a tangled market selling a lot of souvenirs.  We must have been there a bit too early, as most of the shops were closed, so we carried on to Chapultapec Park to visit the Anthropology Museum.   I had visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología (Anthropology Museum) last time I was in Mexico City, but that was 10 years ago, and honestly, even after three hours in the museum, Riki and I both agreed that we could come back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to Museo Nacional de Antropología
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Inside Museo Nacional de Antropología
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Teotihuacan model in Museo Nacional de Antropología
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sacrificial stone in Museo Nacional de Antropología, where they put the bloody hearts apparently
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The start of Mexico City
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Aztec sun stone in Museo Nacional de Antropología
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Oaxaca mural, Museo Nacional de Antropología
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Museo Nacional de Antropología

However, lunch beckoned.  We didn’t exactly hit the jackpot with food though. Ordering randomly, we ended up with some sort of meat item vaguely resembling cloudy jello in a taco. It was better than it sounds. Later, after walking Zona Rosa and the San Juan market, we again ordered randomly and got a white bread sandwich with hogshead cheese, or at least we think that’s what it was.  Luckily, the mojitos were good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mexico City skyscrapers
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ángel de la Independencia
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ángel de la Independencia
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
CDMX street corner

That evening, after over 30,000 steps, a hot shower was in order. Unfortunately, there was no hot water in our shared bathroom, I forgot to bring my towel and because I was standing there so long waiting for the hot water to arrive, the motion-sensing lights went out me.  Cue naked flailing around, splashing cold water everywhere as I tried to get the light to come back on before someone else walked in.

As we usually avoid group tours, we did some research on how to get to Teotihuacán on our own.  So we set out early-ish. 3 metro lines and a $2.75 beater of a bus later complete with hitchhiking mariachi players, we arrived at the pyramids.  This being my second time here, I was surprised to realize we must have skipped the south part of the site before.  Our first stop was to see the plumed or feathered serpent, which we had seen a replica of in the anthropology museum and something I don’t remember seeing on my last trip.  This section of the pyramid is largely intact because it was protected by a later pyramid built up against it.  These phenomenal creatures are supposed to represent Quetzalcoatl, the God of Wind and Wisdom, who is kind of like a snake-bird.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Near the entrance to Teotihuacán
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Teotihuacán
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The plumed serpent temple

Next, we went all the way to the other side of the archaeological site and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, the tallest one at 216 feet (65 m).  It was quite crowded as we ascended, but about halfway up we found orange barricades set out in a way which suggested they had to stop people on busier days to limit the flow.  The steps are very steep and there is only one hand rail but the view from the top is worth it.  Next we climbed the Pyramid to the Moon, though you are only allowed about halfway up.  This site is largely reconstructed and it is interesting to see the different techniques used at different time periods to delineate the reconstructed parts.  Old photos show this site largely covered in brush and there are still some grassy mounds that haven’t been excavated.  There are even a couple of spots where you can still view original murals.

Our return bus left from right outside of the last gate, was a bit less beat up than the first one and dropped us off at a metro that was more convenient to get back downtown.  We headed straight to the Roma neighborhood where we had delicious, large mojitos before wandering back to the hostel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
CDMX Street art

I was excited to show Riki the Templo Mayor, which is located just off the Zócalo and is the area where Tenochtitlan was founded in 1325.  The museum is amazing and showcases the artifacts found in the archaeological site. It also does a great job explaining how the 7 different layers of the superseded temples interact.  You can walk down between the ruins and then visit the museum where they house the artifacts; my favorite being the exhibit where they lay out the bones of the numerous animals they found.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Templo Mayor and the Cathedral in the background
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Skulls at Templo Mayor
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Templo Mayor Mosaic
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Diego Rivera mural at Palacio Nacional

We did a quick visit to the Palacio National to see the Diego Rivera murals before finding a sophisticated place overlooking the Templo Mayor for lunch.  Two hours, numerous fancy drinks, multiple courses including crickets, and less than $50 later, we needed a nap.  Some of the indigenous tribes were out on the square blessing people with odorous herbs and dancing.  We watched that before heading into the cathedral and then back for a rest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Torre Latinoamericana from the Zócalo
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heavens
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Blessings on the Zócalo

Later, we walked to the Bella Artes, where there was a folkloric ballet performance that evening.  We inquired about the ticket cost, but as they were almost $100 a piece, we opted to walk towards the Republic tower for a nice view.  From the top, we could see the skating rink and then spotted what looked like a carnival in the streets.  We ventured a few blocks north and were overwhelmed by the noise, lights, and atmosphere of the street fair.

Saturday we reserved for markets.  After running to catch the metro, Riki managed to squeeze in, leaving me on the platform as the doors thumped shut.  Luckily, the trains come so often that he caught me on the next train just a few minutes later, but we never ran for the metro again.  Our first stop was in San Angelo, where they have a lot of local artists, but it was quite packed with tourists and expensive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
El Bazar Sabado, San Angelo

We took the metro to Coyoacan, where we found the main square packed with people hanging out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Coyoacan most likely means “place of the coyotes” in Nahautl

The market here was huge, loaded with piñatas, which were very tempting, if only we had a better way to ship them home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Coyoacan Market

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Outisde Frida Kahlo’s house

We found a rooftop near Frida Kahlo’s house to rest before the long metro ride back to the Zócalo.  We ventured into a packed restaurant called El Quatro 20, where, surrounded by chaos, we had a great, cheap meal with huge beers. Just what we needed after a long day of shopping (though not buying).

On our last full day in Mexico City, we caught La Lagunilla market, where Riki was hoping to browse the antiques, probably looking for old books, if I had to guess.  There was a small section of antiques, but the quality varied and nothing really struck us.  We then ventured to the Jardin del Arte, which had some of the same artists we had seen on Saturday.

We then found a fruit market and walked on Reforma to the Metro Insurgentes.  Unfortunately, on our way home, in the Pino Suarez metro stop, Riki got pickpocketed as he entered the metro.  A group of people pushed us into the car as people were still trying to exit and managed to reach in Riki’s front pocket during the chaos and take his wallet.  We spoke with the police there who recommended reporting the incident back by the Insurgentes stop.  We went back to the hostel to cancel all our cards and then took an Uber to the Tourist Police.  And we were not alone.  Three other groups of tourists were in there, and the exact same thing had happened to them, in the same metro station.  He didn’t have that much money in his wallet, as we always split it up between us, but we were left without a debit card and down to one credit card.  Luckily, we were meeting my parents the next day and they were able to hold us over for the rest of the trip.  But it left us with an unfortunate impression. And we didn’t ride the metro there again.  To mourn the loss of the wallet, we stopped at a bar on Calle Geneve where we met two Mexican-Americans who cheered us up as we enjoyed our liquid dinner.

Uber is so cheap in Mexico City.  I was feeling generous as it was Christmas Eve and gave a 50% tip, but our 20 minute ride to the bus station was still less than $5.  We next took a first class bus for 6.5 hours ($24 each) to Oaxaca to meet up with my parents for a week.

Big Bend Road Trip….West of the Pecos, Texas

Two weeks before our 8 day West Texas camping adventure, Riki tells me that he’s only slept in a tent twice.  Not sure how that has never come up before in the 13 years I’ve known him, but it didn’t, and it made me slightly nervous.  But, so you don’t have to read to the end to find out if he made it – I’ll just tell you, he’s a pro.  Especially in the cooking category.  Who would think to make pad thai or coconut corn chowder on a little backpacking stove?  Riki did, and it was amazing.  It helped that we borrowed some very thick sleeping mats, too.  

Our route:

1219 miles (1962 km) in 8 days

We stayed in the Chisos Basin, in the geographic center of Big Bend National Park

Day 1: Drove from Austin to Marathon via Route 90 through many small towns and along the Mexican border. Stopped in Uvalde for Vietnamese lunch and some antiquing (which two weeks later resulted in a return trip to buy a massive Indonesian wardrobe that is now on display in our dining room).  Then short stops at the Amistad Reservoir and Langtry before hightailing it through pitch black roads to get to Marathon in time to set up our tent with the help of the car’s headlights and eat some BBQ at one of the only restaurants in town.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Amistad Reservoir Railroad bridge
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mexico, across from Langtry

Day 2: Marathon to Rio Grande Village area.  Stopped at Fossil Discovery Exhibit and Panther Junction.  Hiked from Daniel’s Ranch to top of canyon and return (1 hour up, 20 min down).  Brisk walk on Boquillos Canyon Trail (45 minutes round trip).  Checked in to Chisos Basin campground.

 

 

IMG_3155
Riki is a large as an Alamosaurus’ femur
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
First look at the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park

 

IMG_3161
I have endless pictures of Riki taking pictures.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Rio Grande from above Daniels Ranch
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Rio Grande looking downriver from above Daniels Ranch
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mexico and the canoe that some entrepreneurs use to transport their little art pieces across the river to sell.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Boquillas Canyon
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from our campsite (#3) in Chisos Basin

 

IMG_3179
Sunset in the Chisos Basin and our lodging for the week

Day 3: South Rim hike. 8 hours round trip. Pretty steep on the Pinnacles trail until Emory Peak and then a more gradual incline. Came back via Laguna Meadow Trail.

The view from the South Rim is astounding, definitely worth the hike, though the last few hours down were tough.  We saw people coming down who had camped up in the mountains somewhere. I can’t imagine having to carry even just enough water up some of these trails.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mules going up to collect “humanure”
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Pinnacles


IMG_3190

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_3200
The South Rim, where we ate lunch.  Pretty good visibility apparently for this spot.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From the south rim.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
South Rim – There’s a massive cliff just over my right shoulder.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We must have a thousand pictures of cacti now.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
South Rim – Looking for bears.

 

IMG_3208
South Rim – Can you spot Riki?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Headed back down from the South Rim
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
These Mexican Jays were all over the place but very difficult to photograph.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Chisos Basin – our tent is down there in the middle somewhere

 

IMG_3212
Riki made amazing pad thai and some sort of coconut corn chowder that I have requested again.


Day 4: Window Trail in the morning. Lost Mine Trail in the afternoon.
We wanted to go to the Lost Mine Trail first, but the parking area was already packed at 9 am, so we went back to our campsite and walked to the Window Trail instead.  We were quite lucky and had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes before a rambunctious group of girl scouts showed up. 
 
The end of the Lost Mine Trail turned out to be a gorgeous ridge with nerve-wrackingly steep sides.


IMG_3214
Riki walking into the Window Trail. While most of the trail was pretty tame, the water was high and there were a few spots where crossing was difficult and slippery.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The water drops off quite sharply at the end of the Window Trail

 

IMG_3223
Riki taking pictures at the end of the Window Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We actually had a mother bear and her cub in our campground one night. We didn’t see them but we heard our next door neighbors yelling and clapping to scare them off.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tips for the wildlife at the start of the Lost Mine Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lost Mine Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lost Mine Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Looking back towards the Chisos Basin on the Lost Mine Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The end of the Lost Mine Trail

 

IMG_3228
Riki going down one of many switchbacks on the Lost Mine Trail
IMG_3236
This guy was scurrying away, but I think its a Big Bend Canyon Lizard, which only lives in and around the park, and can change colors.
IMG_3239
Our trusty transportation at our camp site during sunset.


Day 5: Drove to Castolon Visitor’s Center.  Hiked into Santa Elena Canyon.  Had to remove our shoes to get across a Rio Grande tributary to get into the canyon. Ate lunch in the canyon.  Part of Mule Ear’s Trail – found a very sun bleached $10.  Drove to see Burro Mesa Pouroff. Walked to Sam Nail Ranch. Nighttime walk near the Chisos Basin Visitor’s center with a ranger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We did actually see a number of roadrunners, but unsurprisingly didn’t even get close to catching them on camera. We also spotted a coyote along the road one morning.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
West side of Big Bend National Park

 

IMG_3246
Luckily there weren’t many cars.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Castolon area with the Santa Elena Canyon in the background. Left side of the canyon is Mexico. Right is the US.  We could just put a wall right down the middle, no problem.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cerro Castellan mountain from the Castolon Visitor’s Center
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to Santa Elena Canyon. A ranger told us it has been like this for a few weeks, but it is often completely dry.  The water was only knee deep, but was pretty chilly.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Santa Elena Canyon
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tuff Canyon – we didn’t have time to go down, but it looks like a nice trail.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mule Ears Peaks behind cacti
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Massive mountain lion track on the Mule Ears trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Posing in front of the Chisos Mountain

 

IMG_3251
Posing with the (almost) full moon, which made star gazing tough.


Day 6 Thanksgiving: Left Chisos Basin and headed west out of park to Terlingua. Explored the cemetery, ghost town and some art galleries. Drove through Big Bend Ranch State Park and up to Marfa, which was mostly all closed up.  Continued to Alpine.  Dinner at the only restaurant open – the Panda Buffet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving the Chisos Basin
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I must confess, I did not get out of the car to look at this tarantula.  Apparently, he/she was very friendly.  I took Riki’s word for it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving Big Bend National Park
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ocotillo plants
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving Big Bend, headed west
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cemetery in Terlingua
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ghost town of Terlingua, which used to have 8,000 inhabitants due to mining of cinnabar (to get mercury) and now has something like 80.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Rio Grande from Rte 170 which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in Texas (and probably is)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Marfa – they did not sell gas, or art. And didn’t appear to be open.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Railroad crossing in Marfa
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Riki got his flag fix.


Day 7: Explored Alpine, which has lots of interesting little shops.  Drove north and stopped at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  Continued to Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains State Park.  Early dinner in the old drug store and then up to MacDonald Observatory for the star party. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Alpine mural
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute – They had a great cacti greenhouse and some short trails.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Some deer at our Davis Mountains State Park campsite
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
You already know how he got this one. Luckily no cars.

 Day 8: Took I-10 back to Austin, poking around little towns along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
More flags in Ft. Stockton

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Crockett County Courthouse in Ozona
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Llano River post flood in Junction

 

Overall, we had a great trip.  We probably could have stayed longer in Big Bend, but it was really nice to get somewhere that had showers.  And to eat something besides sandwiches for lunch.  We were lucky enough to have great weather the whole trip and it only really got cold at night.   Despite it being Thanksgiving week and the park being “full” we often found ourselves alone in the wilderness.  I can see how the summer must be unbearable, despite the amazing scenery.  I had no idea of what to expect before heading out there.  Texas just keeps on surprising me.