Mexico City — Of Volcanoes and Pyramids

Esther & Sebastion @ TeotihaucanEsther and Sebastion,  took me to see “the pyramids” at Teotihuacan, north of Mexico City.  Along the way I had a good view of the two snow covered volcanoes nearby.  Popolcatepetl (Smoking Mountain) is active; his appropriately named companion, Iztaccihuatl (The Sleeping Woman), is not. It is an interesting  legend, sort of the Mexican Romeo and Juliet, that you can read about here.Popocatepetl & Istaccihuatl volcanoes


Teotihaucan is a huge archeological site,  that the Mexican government has been excavating for 100 years, and they are nowhere near done yet. Dated to 10 BC or before, the city grew to 85,000 people and some 20+ square km at its zenith. Two giant, slant slope pyramids give evidence that the natives here worshiped the sun and the moon and since the main entrance to the city is called de la Avenida de los Muertos, practiced human sacrifice. Climbing to the top is steep; but what a commanding view of the valley and the mountains  around. After the Teotihaucan people died off, perhaps due to the practice of the warriors wearing the skin of the people they killed in battle and thus being exposed to their diseases (especially the Europeans), the Aztecs and other native peoples respected the city as a Teotihuacan sacred site (and apparently the Spanish never went there), thus it remains for us to see and wonder about today.

Pyramid of Moon - Teotihaucan Pyramid of Sun - Teotihuacancan

It never ceases to amaze me to see not only the building skills and the understanding of the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, that they could build such structures (without power tools, no less)  and align them with perfect precision.

Steps - TeotihuacanI wonder how the natives, who evidently were shorter than us, managed to run up and down the knee-high steps. The museum is filled with artifacts, murals, sculptures from the temples,  and a scale model of the city.Museum artifacts - Teotihuacan

This is a trip well worth making; buses leave regularly from the north terminal. I hear the crowds can be huge so go on a weekday though; not very many people on a winter Tuesday in December.  In fact I think the vendors may have outnumbered the visitors this day.

That’s one thing that detracts from the experience, not only here but anywhere in Mexico. Anyone can sell anything almost anywhere, without a permit or any regulation.  Vendors try to sell you things, wash your windows, or dust off your car at intersections. People sell any matter of things in the park. Kids beg you to buy gum on the Zocolo (plaza at the town center). You get used to it, don’t make eye contact, and wag your finger a lot.

I really hate the commercialization of the archeological sites though;  having someone approach you to try and sell  you something every 5 minutes is annoying and interrupts both your conversation and your experience of the ancient site that you are in.  I, of course, so obviously a gringo, would not only be approached,  but when  I shook my finger and said, “No,” emphatically, and kept walking, they would follow me and say, “Almost free.” Pretty funny, the first time.

Mexico City — Speak, Eat, Dance

I went with my friends to an Arabic class today. They are learning enough Arabic (and a little Russian too) to round out their language skills (which include very good English and some sign language.) It was interesting seeing and hearing, the very foreign to us, flowing letters and sounds. (reminded me of when Rachel was learning Persian – very pretty script.)

For now I think I will stick to Spanish; one language at a time. My hosts say I know many words. I am not conversational by a long shot but I can make myself understood and even amazed myself asking for things at dinner in espanol. I just might, as they say, know more that I think I do.

The temperatures are cool at night but by 10 am it is sleeveless shirt warm (especially for a gringo escaping a Midwest winter).  With good public, transportation and much in the way of culture, I would enjoy living in some areas if it were not for the air pollution. As I feel about most large cities, “it is a nice place to visit but I would not want to live here.”

Blue Bear dancingAfter the class, we were invited to a fiesta — a party to welcome my friends to a new congregation. There was pozole – a traditional Mexican soup made with maize (think corn nuts) boiled in broth which in this case some pork and a whole lot of pig skin and chunks of fat (not my favorite concoction.) You add oregano, chili, and onion to taste, and top with chunks of avocado. It is a dish for special occasions since it takes a long while to cook — a good thing too since  it is so full of fat that a few bites has me full to the brim even with plenty of limes to cut the grease. Afterward we “danced it off;” a little merengue is a good thing and fun too especially with people who grew up dancing this way.Alan

It is the end of the day and I am being serenaded by my host’s son, singing an aria in the shower. The sound, amplified by the shower stall, flows out into the courtyard and drifts to my ears below. A lovely way to end the day.

Mexico City — Chapultepec Castle

Mexico City is almost beyond comprehension to this humble Mid-westerner. The sheer enormity of a city boasting 28 million people is evident in the constant traffic — lanes and lanes and unofficial lanes wide, horns honking, and people scurrying everywhere. Metro (subway) cars packed like sardines; doors close on shoulders and fannies that didn’t quite squeeze in fast or far enough.

Friends in front of ChapultepecMy hosts, Dr. Claudio and Caro Serrano, took me to the central city to “The Castle,” originally built, in the European style, for the Emperor Maximillian, one of the Hapsburgs, who had been governor of Milan, Vienna, and France  (if I read it right) before this post (their family motto was something like “we rule the world.”)

Chapultepec Castle facade, Mexico CityRising above the city on a steep, rocky hill, thick stone walls accented by grand balconies and watchful turrets kept an eye on the emperor’s  empire stretching out below. Much of the grounds now is a forest preserve with an artificial lake, zoo, and several other museums  (think Chicago museum campus). They call the area “the lung” of the city for the oxygen the trees provide to try to offset the air pollution.

LouisXV chair & candle standThe building is 1700’s  European spectacular  filled with mementos of the Emperor and Empress – gold buttons, watches, and jewelry, fine china, crystal, jewels, and opulent rooms decked out in the most fashionable European furnishings of the day — mostly Louis the XV and XVI France (Limoges  floor length clock and candlestands stood out as exceptional) as was the ornate Italian made carriage.

Emperor Maximillian & Carlotta's's carriageCan you imagine what it cost to ship this here?

After the Emperor went back to France, it was a millitary college that fought off a US invasion (of the fames Heroes de Ninos fame), a territorial governor lived here and ruled for 30 years until he was run out (and escaped to France) because of his love for all things French that drained the coffers, and finally the house of the Presidente who rattled around in it for awhile and then gifted it to the people of Mexico for an historical museum but still uses it for official functions for ambassadors and such.

Rooftop Garden, Chapultepecstle, Mexico CityThe rooftop garden, surrounding the old observatory tower is impressive, as is the long stained glass lined corridor and the view of the courtyard and from the courtyard overlooking the city.Stained Glass wall, The Castle, Mexico City

Thoughts from 30,000 feet

Cruising over the heartland

Clouds like snow covered mountain peaks all around

Snatches of brown fields

Corn maze  shaped like a rocket ship sporting  “a star upon thars”


Headed South over middle states — Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana

Blue skies reveal the great river’s serpentine windings

Suddenly nothing but blue dotted with white puffs

Below and above — stretching forever


Land appears — undulating no longer flat

Little villages and towns hug the sides and adorn the peaks

Rugged hills, softened by greenery

Roads zig and zag to the top and wind their way down again


Rivers meander between rocky promontories

Splitting in two

And coming together again

Whole once more


Mexico City

Red tile roofs stretch for miles upon miles

Isolated villages give way to housing tracts

Ordered grids broken by warehouses and plots of  tilled land


The air grows hazy

Shrouding the view of houses, schools, a bull ring

The occasional park lined with trees

Briefly breaks the haze


The central city grows tall

Latin colors brighten the view

Brilliant red, blue, yellow, orange, violet, magenta

Wheels on the ground

Mexico City rises tall

Amazingly Simple

I am amazed at how easy my flight from Madison to Mexico City went.  Starting at the Madison airport where very pleasant Delta employees checked in some very groggy passengers, then I was fast tracked into a “pre-checked” security line where I did not have to wait with 50 other folks, take off my shoes, take out my computer, and all that jazz. I waited behind 3 or 4 people, showed the TSA folks my frozen protein drink, ran the bags and me through the scanner and the whole procedure was done and I was on my way in a matter of just a few minutes. I liked that.

I had a short turn around in Detroit  but unlike Chicago where you seem to hussle miles and miles, I deboarded, walked around the corner and rode an escalator to the top of the building where I boarded a tram which silently whisked me away and deposited me in the middle of the terminal just above the gate for my outgoing flight. Quick and easy.

Things went so quickly and smoothly at Mexico City — off the plane, a short walk to customs, and a quick document check  (again instead of walking a mile and a half, or so it seems) — that I and my hosts were caught off guard.  So I had to wait a little. After being cooped up in a flying tin can, filled to the brim with Mexicans (no habla ingles), it was nice to stretch out, relax a little, and just read awhile — good preparation for traveling across town in Mexico City traffic — a cross between the gran prix and bumper cars (without quite bumping), zigzagging through curb to curb traffic, from break neck speed to dead stop in seconds, all while everyone makes their own lanes (if you can squeeze through the space it must be legal.) As my hosts said, “If you can drive safely in Mexico City, you can drive anywhere.” I believe it.

May the rest of this trip go so well.

Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder

ImageMexico City here I come. I am looking forward to warmer weather and being with good friends in a fabulous  place filled with beautiful colonial architecture , history, and culture. I will spend a few days with friends in Mexico City before taking a two hour bus ride to Taxco, The Silver Capital of the World, where I will be based for the next 2.5 months.

BB-Strapped in-qprI was really pleased when I got to the airport and the $40 domestic baggage charge the computer said would apply was waived by a very pleasant human being. So I take back all the bad things I was saying about airline fees.

It’s time to buckle up!

Leaving on a Jet Plane — and just in time too!

I head South for several months in the winter but not just to trade snow, ice, and cold for sunny and warm. Really, as we used to tell my mother-in-law who complained that we did not visit her in Florida over the winter, “You can’t ski on gravel!”

bb_cable_car-qprI love snow  — skiing, snowshoeing, building snowmen, snowball fights, even shoveling — yes really, it is invigorating! (As long as there is not too much at one time.) What I don’t like or perhaps what doesn’t like me is forced air heat.

So here it is December, in Wisconsin, cool (some say cold) days and even cooler nights, and I still have my windows open. I don’t mean just cracked either — OPEN to let the fresh air in and the heated forced air out.  You cannot do that all winter, thus, I escape to a warmer clime.

In winters past, the heat would come on in the fall, I would leave my windows open as long as I could stand it, but about mid-December the snow would come and the temperatures drop and eventually I had to close up and deal with the fumes from the  furnace and the dust from the vents filling my living space with a large dose of unhealthiness.

After one particularly long, cold winter, I decided to leave the heated living space behind and headed to Florida, where I lived in my van in a state park during the coldest winter in Florida history. It may have been colder than usual, but the air was fresh and unheated. That winter was the healthiest I had felt in years and the beginning of my annual “Escape from Wisconsin.”

I just saw the weather report and I am leaving just in time. Today is an above average 50 degrees, perfect for cleaning out the car for storage and loading in my suitcases. Travel day will be a more seasonable mid-20s, and the day after I leave the deep freeze arrives with wind chills by the end of the weekend expected to hit 30 below!

It’s time to go.


Countdown to Take Off

The frig is almost empty. The bags almost packed. Lift off is in about 36 hours – almost. I am almost ready to go and with nearly 36 hours to go that feels good.

When you leave home for any period of time you must decide what to take with you and what you can get there or live without. Some things are easy — warm weather location means warm weather clothes. Throw in the sandals, a hat, and perhaps a swimsuit, and you are set right? Well, almost.

When you have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and are highly sensitive to everything from food to fabrics,  laundry detergent to fragrances, additives, and ingredients packing is not always that simple. Travel to a foreign country, like Mexico, usually means that you need to take things with you that you will not be able to get at your destination; sunscreen for example,  the natural kind without a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, soap, laundry detergent,  food to eat as I travel, even my own sheets — get the picture?

Bear with suitcases

Almost packed

I pack my bags so the airline does most of the heavy lifting, then fill my rolling carry on with the heavier essentials that I need to know will not get lost — supplements, a change of clothes, my toiletries, and my work files. And then there is my ” fits under the seat” bag with my computer,  special snacks, and other essentials.

Tomorrow — the last day means doing laundry, cleaning out the frig, backing up the computer, finishing packing, and despite several things that tried to upset the schedule, there is still time left over to have dinner with my family. All is good.

I’m ready to go. Well, almost.