Fiestas, Fights and Frida
14.09.2012 - 23.09.2012 21 °C
It was chaos when we arrived in Mexico City. Road blocks, hordes of people and police everywhere. It was the day before Independence Day celebrations kicked off and we had timed our visit perfectly. I’m a sucker for big cultural celebrations and they don’t come any bigger than Independence Day in the capital. A staggering 22 million people call Mexico City home, making it one of the biggest cities in the world. That’s the whole population of Australia!
While independence day is September 16th, a bulk of the celebrations take place the day before. A huge stage had been erected in the famous zocalo (that’s what the Mexicans call a central park) and entertainment kicked off the morning of the 15th. Brayden and I joined the thousands of flag waving Mexicans, watching a litany of Mexican pop singers, traditional dancers and of course, mariachi.
— Zocalo decorated in the three colours of Mexico.
— Keeping up my energy with a red, white and green tostada in between acts.
— Folk dancers. They way they used their skirts was almost hypnotising.
— No celebration is complete without Mariachi.
— We saw lots of people free to be themselves, like this cross dressing street performer. Gay marriage has been legal in Mexico City since 2010, surprising considering Mexico is 90% Catholic.
By nightfall the zocalo was chockers and it was raining heavy. Almost half million people had poured in to see the famous Grito de la Independencia (the cry of independence) which takes place an hour before midnight. The tradition sees Mexico’s President recite the same speech made in 1810, calling on Mexicans to rise up against the Spanish. At 11pm the excitement was palpable as President Felipe Calderon stepped onto the balcony of the National Palace and began the cry. After each phrase the crowd responds with “VIVA!” Brayden and I got the hang of it by the third sentence or so.
Here’s a translated version:
Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Galena and the Bravos!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live National Independence!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
After the crowd yelled their final “VIVA MEXICO” cheers erupted and fireworks lit up the sky. It was the kind of experience that gives you goose bumps and one I’ll never forget. The next day we watched a massive military parade through the CBD.
— A soggy Brayden...by this stage we had been standing in the rain for 3 hours!
— Traditional September 16 military parade.
— Even the dogs were getting into the spirit.
We had lots of unforgettable experiences in Mexico City. High on the list was visiting the home of world-renowned artist, Frida Kahlo. She’s been a favourite of mine ever since I studied her in high school. Half the house has been converted into a gallery exhibiting her emotionally charged paintings, the other half has been left exactly how it was in 1954, the year her turbulent life came to an end. Walking around, seeing the bed she slept in and the studio she painted in was incredibly moving.
— La Casa Azul [The Blue House], the house Frida Kahlo was born in and died.
To find out more about the city we signed up for one of those ultra touristy double-decker bus tours. It was a bit of a disaster as the recorded commentary was broken and the city’s traffic meant it was one sssllllooooowww trip. To be fair we did see lots of landmarks and sites including...
— Monumento a la Revolución, commemorating the Mexican Revolution of 1910. You can take a glass elevator to the top.
— View from the top of the monument.
— El Ángel de la Independencia, one of the most iconic landmarks in the City.
— Museo Soumaya, owned by Mexican Carlos Slim - the richest man in the world.
— The amazing Jardin del Arte, where artists gather to exhibit and sell their works.
- Sonora witchcraft market. Here you can find love potions, remedies to conquer fears and ingredients like dried frogs.
The ultimate night out in Mexico City is at the Lucha Libre. The spectacle sees masked wrestlers (luchadores) battle each other using all sorts of manoeuvres. Each wrestler has a cartoonish identity and wears a costume. It’s incredibly fake, but incredibly entertaining. The best part is when the luchadores enter the arena. They’re so intensely in character, accompanied by bikini babes, smoke machines and strobe lighting. They’ve all got names like ‘the Blue Demon’, ‘Ultimo Dragon’ and ‘Mistico’. The pageantry is out of this world.
— Masks are central to Lucha Libre. If a wrestler is defeated they may suffer the ultimate shame of having their mask removed.
There are all sorts of matches – little blokes, big blokes, women and most were three on three or tag-team. By the third match you forget it’s all a show and find yourself whooping the goodies and booing the badies. My favourite wrestler was Kraneo who was actually two wrestlers in one. Kraneo had a dwarf accomplice who he would hurl at his opponent. It was the ultimate signature move. To top the night off, Brayden and I participated in a Mexican wave. A Mexican wave in Mexico! Surely that's in the book '1000 Things to Do Before You Die'.
— The luchadoras were fierce. Luna (right) was a crowd favourite. She had thunder thighs and a personality to match.
For those who prefer more conventional performing arts, I’d recommend the Ballet Folklórico de México. It’s a two hour showcase of traditional Mexican dance staged in one of the world’s most beautiful theatres - the Palace of Fine Arts. Strangely, Brayden decided against accompanying me. He preferred to show his appreciation for Mexican culture via a few Carona’s at the hostel.
— Palacio de Bellas Artes.
— Ballet Folklórico de México was started 60 years ago by a woman concerned Mexico’s dance traditions were dying out.
— The kaleidoscopic roof of the Bellas Artes.
Far less entertaining, was the bullfighting we went to on a Sunday afternoon. We bought tickets without much thinking and felt like a Neanderthals sitting in a cheering crowd as a bull is tortured to death. It’s not a sport since the bull can never win. Every time the animal got some advantage, the matador would retreat behind the fence or call for backup. I guess you could call the matadors brave but heroic? Hmmm. Then again, I'm a moron for supporting the savagery by attending.
— This matadora (female bullfighter) got into a bit of trouble.
— Half way through the fight, a padded up and blindfolded horse would be sent in to spice things up.
An hour out of the city is Xochimilco, Mexico’s answer to Venice. The area has something like 170 kilometers of canals that you can travel through on a gondola-like boat. On the weekends it’s a party on the water, with boats carrying mariachi bands and floating food and drink stalls. It was a lot of fun but we were really wishing we had our friends and family with us. The boats you hire are built for 14 so it felt a bit lonely just the two of us.
— Xochimilco is a World Heritage Site.
— Mariachi entertaining boaters...for a fee.
— Chomping on some corn bought from a woman on a canoe...as you do.
To escape the craziness of Mexico City, locals head to Chapultepec Park, just a ten minute ride on the metro. At 686 hectares, it’s the largest park in Latin America and packs in the attractions. The most visited is the Museum of Anthropology, considered to be one of the best in the world. Brayden and I spent hours checking out its collection of indigenous artefacts.
— The museum is really well done, with reconstructions of temples and tombs. In case you were wondering, I'm pretending to be an archaeologist.
We also went to Chapultepec Zoo. I thought it was going to be average as entrance is free but it was excellent. The variety is huge, including Pandas. We even caught up with some Aussie amigos…
— Mexican roos.
Chapultepec even has it’s own castle which sits regally on top of a hill. Castillo de Chapultepec has served as a home for all sorts of important people, including presidents and now serves as the National Museum of History.
Similarly the zocalo also packs in the attractions. As well as the monumental cathedral and National Palace you can also check out an ancient Aztec Temple! Templo Mayor was only revealed a little over thirty years ago after a couple of electricity workers unearthed a carving. It’s the equivalent to a sacred Aboriginal site being found in the Opera House’s backyard! The ruins aren’t the most impressive – but the museum is great and the location is hard to believe.
— National Palace.
— Templo Mayor, built in the 14th century in honor of the Aztec gods of war and water.
All up we spent 8 action packed days in the capital, enough to make Mexico City one of my favourite cities.
Next stop – Merida on the Yucantan Peninsula.