Pedestrian and motor traffic merge at the Zócalo in Mexico City. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian).
Editor’s note: This is the last installment of a four-part series on Mexico written by staff photographer Tarmo Hannula.
MEXICO CITY, Mexico — As my wife Sarah and I wrapped up our last evening in Ocosingo, the entire city was celebrating Three Kings Day. That meant thousands of kids lining up at the main plaza to receive fun gifts. As we had dinner on the front porch of Las Delicious we were charmed by kids of all sizes having a ball at the festive event.
On the final day of our trip — which turned out not to be our last day — we caught a cab from Tuxtla Gutierrez to the airport, about 30 minutes.
After a two-hour wait, and much confusion at the gate, we learned that the air conditioner conked out on our jet.
“Come back tomorrow at the same time,” the folks at Aeromexico said. That’s easy to say. But we had just handed our last pesos to some street beggars, gone through security, checked our bags and were expected to be at work the next morning.
So, instead of moaning and groaning, which was my approach, we caught the next flight to Mexico City three hours later. For the inconvenience, Aeromexico put us up in a five star hotel and handed us a bunch of meal coupons that were valid at the hotel. So after having dinner and breakfast alongside everyone else from that flight, Sarah and I caught the subway to downtown Mexico City.
We’ve travelled here numerous times so it was easy for us to draw up a plan on how to capitalize on our impromptu visit. The subway in a city of well over 20 million is an interesting challenge. Rivers upon rivers of people flow about, switching cars, changing lines, crawling up and down stairs and escalators, until suddenly you’re deposited on some street, somewhere with your ears buzzing. We hopped out right at the Zócalo, one of the world’s largest city plazas surrounded by incredible churches and city buildings. It was warm and sunny — perfect walking around weather.
Our first goal was the amazing spread of towering Diego Rivera murals that emblazon the interior walls of the National Palace. It’s free to the public and worth spending some time studying these outstanding works of historical art. Rivera, among other things, depicts Mexico’s rich history, from early Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs and Toltecs (and other indigenous groups) through the arrival of the Spaniards and up into the industrial revolution.
We then wandered through a galaxy of small museums that stem off the Zócalo. One thing I’ve been impressed with about this city is, even though it has an enormous population with millions of vehicles and pedestrians buzzing about, it also has a tranquil, relaxed side. Walking the streets and mingling with the foot traffic, getting lost in the canyon of tall buildings and shops I find enormously satisfying.
Sarah has an uncanny sense of direction and, almost every time, can untangle the most daunting of city mazes and get us on the right track. We traveled to Paris once and she was able to get us to a tiny hotel in that giant city on some narrow backstreet that she had once visited years before. Without remembering the name of the hotel or the street, Sarah was able to take us right to it.
We were happy to make our way once again into the beautiful Alameda Central, a sprawling municipal park loaded with beautiful fountains, shady trees, flowering plants, plenty of benches and majestic statues. It was refreshing to note that the park had undergone vast upgrades since our last visit, with dazzling new fountains, pristine new walkways and new benches.
By now we were starved and, to our surprise, one of our favorite restaurants in the historical central district, Restaurant Trevi, was still there beaming with business. They serve Italian/Mexican diner style meals and the folks there are super friendly. I insisted Sarah tell the waitress, in Spanish, that we’ve been coming to the Trevi since the early 1980s. It didn’t mean a thing to her, but she still kindly took our order and we relished the whole experience.
We were in Mexico City once during a national election and the whole thing was coming to a crest in the Zócalo. More than a million people crammed into the main plaza and surrounding streets waving signs, chanting, singing and carrying on. I’ll never forget the electricity surging through that crowd — so much enthusiasm and not a stitch of violence.
Now it was time to unthread the tangle of subway stops and work our way to the Mexico City Airport. Fortunately we allowed a big chunk of time because rush hour was starting. The surge of people must have doubled from our initial trip into the city. Several trains were packed wall to wall with people with the subway doors barely able to grind shut against the wall of flesh. As soon as another train arrived everyone would barge forward and if you hesitated or were unsure of where you were headed you were cast aside and another train would fill up and disappear into the honeycomb of tunnels. Fortunately, Sarah discovered an alternate route than the overly crowded one we were on and we were able to navigate another, far more comfortable route.
Dealing with the subway and the vibrancy of Mexico City was a vast contrast to the sleepy town of Chiapa de Corzo and the cobblestone streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas. We felt lucky to have been welcomed into a parade to welcome the New Year in San Cristóbal, to tour the lazy waters of Sumidero Canyon and visit the little towns of Zinacantán and Chamula. In nine days we visited seven towns and cities, had some great food and met incredible people. The flight delay was the only big letdown, but it afforded us a surprise ending to an already great trip.
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