A Sunday in Mexico City! What shall we do? How about a boat ride? Lunch in the park? Maybe a show with traditional dancers and mariachi bands? Oh well, let’s do it all!
First stop: Xochimilco, known as the floating gardens of Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When Cortes drained the lakes of Mexico City, he left one standing. This lake contains a large water transport system of canals that were built by the Aztecs. We had just arrived when there was a treat in store for us: a performance of the “Voladores de Papantla”, the famous flying men of Papantla. Our guide, Juan, comes from the same area in Mexico and his enthusiasm for the performance spilled over.
This is an ancient dance which is still practiced in Papantla area today. It is a tradition thought to have originated with a plea to the gods to end drought. The voladores in their home would be using a tree that had been totally cleared of branches. Here, it is a pole. First they dance around the tree (pole), one man playing a flute with a little drum attached to it.
They shimmy up the pole and spend quite a bit of time spinning in a tiny platform at the top, arranging their ropes. Then – down they come, going around as they go! The flute player never stops playing!
It was time for our boat ride on the canal. There are so many boats, each one brightly painted and slightly different from the others.
What a beautiful day for a little cruise.
For the most part, our ride was not as tranquil as this picture would make it seem. There was a lot happening! Vendors are ubiquitous in Mexico, and here they are in boats to sell their wares.
This vendor is selling corn on the cob. It seems to be a favorite treat because I saw them sold in many places in Mexico. I suppose they are sprinkled with chile powder, as everything else seems to be. There are also vendors selling other snacks plus drinks and trinkets. These vendors show how all the boats are transported down the canals: with a man in the front with a pole, Venetian gondolier-style.
But the absolute best is the floating mariachi bands. This band pulled up beside us, and we all decided to chip in for a little entertainment. Floating down the canal with mariachi music makes for a perfect ride. From the back of the boat in the bright sunshine, I didn’t get a great picture, but here it is.
Aside from all of that, there was much to look at on the shore as we went by. There are many greenhouses here with beautiful flowers.
Shops, homes, and beautiful old trees and other vegetation line the banks. The water is clear, and there are about 115 miles of canals winding all around.
Juan told us that on a typical Sunday, families in Mexico eat breakfast together. There may be a soccer game that one of their kids are playing in. Then there may be an outing with extended family, including grandparents, which could include a gathering of family at someone’s home or dinner at a restaurant. In between, they attend Mass. It used to be said that just about all of Mexico was of the Catholic faith. Of course, that is changing now, but it is still a very strong thread in the fabric of life for the Mexican people. There are some Masses on Saturday, but on Sunday there is one every hour. It’s forty-five minutes long, and then worshippers need to vamoose for the next one.
With all that in mind, we had arrived at Xochimilco early and had a fairly quiet and pleasant boat ride. It was getting very busy when we left, though. There are about 2,500 boats in total that could be used on the busiest of days. I don’t know how they would all fit in the canals!
The day was moving on as we arrived in the suburb of Coyoacán, and by now everyone was out to enjoy this beautiful day. Masses were in full swing at the cathedral. Parroquia San Juan Bautista, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is one of the oldest churches in Mexico City, completed in 1552. As in Mexico City, it is built on the rubble of an Aztec building. The lighter colored building on the right is the convent. We walked through the arches and came to a beautiful inner courtyard with an orange tree.
I have been to a handful of small towns in Mexico and Guatemala, and they all have the same layout: the main cathedral fronts a very nice public park. The park is a gathering place for the town at all times, but especially on Sunday. This is certainly true for the park in Coyoacán. We had our time here to ourselves, and headed straight to one of the restaurants lining the park for a late lunch.
I had lamb chops and Cal had steak. It was one of our best meals of the trip.
The people on the bench to the right of this picture were interesting because, confirming what Juan had told us, they were an intergenerational group. We saw this throughout our visit here. Every time the bench emptied, it refilled again with another little family, usually enjoying their ice cream. After the blanket vendor that you see near them got off the phone, he realized I was looking at him and thought I was interested in his blankets. He kept opening them for me to see but he was wasting his effort; I had already bought one from another vendor!
Like its church, the suburb of Coyoacán has colonial architecture and quaint cobbled streets. It was once the home of Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Diego Rivera. There wasn’t time to do much beyond explore the park area for us, but there a lot going on to see.
The name of the town, Coyoacán, is derived from the native Nahuatl word for “place of coyotes”. Coyotes once roamed through the forests and lakes here in those days. The beautiful fountain in the park pays homage to this name.
Near the fountain, a woman was dressed as a statue from Roman times for pictures and a few coins. She looked remarkably like one of my nieces so of course I took her photo.
There were so many people everywhere, but it did not have the feel of being overcrowded. Good luck finding a place to sit, though.
For two years while Mexico City was being built, Coyoacán was the first capital of New Spain. There were haciendas and forests between it and what is now the downtown area. Of course now the forests have been replaced by city streets. This building is named the Palace of Cortes, but it is actually the Coyoacán municipal building, constructed two hundred years after Cortes lived here.
Not far from the municipal building and the cathedral, native groups were having a large all-day “gathering”. One group would finish and another would take its place. Juan stressed to us that this is not put on for the tourists but, rather, it is connection to their roots. I’m not sure if their being bumped right against the cathedral walls, and holding the gathering on a Sunday, was intentional or not. After the Masses finished for the day, we walked into the cathedral and could hear the booming of the drums quite clearly.
There was a large, covered 2-story artisan market just across the street from the park.
One more treat was in store for us on this day. We barely had an hour back at the hotel before we had to leave again for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, held in the beautiful Palace of Arts.
This dance ensemble has been in existence for about sixty years, highlighting the traditional music and dance of different regions throughout Mexico. There were a couple of numbers that reflected their indigenous roots as well. Sometimes there were only two people on stage and sometimes as many as thirty. There was plenty of mariachi with different instruments, swishing of beautiful skirts, hats thrown up in the air, and foot stomping. It was an enjoyable and memorable evening.
Mexico City had the feel of any number of European cities that we had been to. Of course, it has its own history, architecture, and culture. On the weekend nights the area around our hotel was a hotspot for restaurants, bars, and just being out. One of the main streets was totally blocked to traffic, making way for cyclists and pedestrians. That is the way to enjoy a beautiful evening!
The Angel of Independence, the monument to Mexican independence from Spain, looks like this by day:
At night, it is lit, and here you can see the former traffic lanes open for pedestrian traffic. The mood is very celebratory, since it’s the weekend. We felt comfortable moving with the crowd as we looked for an ATM and a restaurant for dinner.
Our few days in Mexico City were a kaleidoscope of sights and experiences. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, but of course there is so much to do and see that I could have a full list for another visit.
Next time – Butterflies at the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary