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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Final Escape: Ciudad de Mexico

Oaxaca City outskirts from the bus to Mexico City

Finally we were ready to take our final bus ride in Latin America.

The shiny ADO terminal in Oaxaca city even had an HSBC ATM

We caught a taxi to the ADO terminal and arrived at 9.45 am just in time to get the last two seats together at the very back of the 10 am bus and got out without a hitch. Mexican OCC and ADO buses are bussing heaven. They are clean new, have good toilets and give you meticulous receipts so your stored luggage can't accidentally be ripped off by another passenger en-route.

The road weaves its way through increasingly arid country with alternating wasteland and farming country with small towns scattered across the landscape.

The landscape is still a series of rolling highlands with distant views when the road climbs to a high point.

The arid land becomes expose with white semi-desert, permeated by a succession of desert species, here wild agave century succulents.

Eventually the road break out into a high pass with stunning views over high mesas ...

with very high mountains, some densely covered with columnar cacti ...

the cactus species change from trichocereus to tall cereus species ...

it then gives way to a plain with immense distant views, covered with yucca trees ...

(click to enlarge)

A 'shoebox' suburban micro-housing development.

We then enter a long period of increasingly urban wastelands ...

Calle Brazil outside the hostel

finally arriving at the huge sprawling airport-like TOPA Eastern terminal delightfully a full half an hour early, which is quite close to the centre of Mexico City so that the authorized ADO approved taxi ride to Mexico City Hostel right off the Zocalo cost only 60 pesos.

Mexico City Hostel from Calle Brazil

Mexico City Hostel was finally one of those classic places we thought we were going to get in Panama City and Antigua - a huge old rambling traditional building which has been beautifully restored to make a top class hostel at a reasonable price of 350 pesos a night for a huge double (actually a four-person dorm with a double bed) with a breakfast of scrambled eggs. black coffee and toast, without even having to pay a deposit for a prior e-mail reservation.

Mexico City Hostel (above) foyer mural, (below) vertical panorama of the foyer (click to enlarge)

We were famished after the bus ride, so we asked the girl at the counter where there was a good place to eat and she pointed us to the "Popular Cafe" a few blocks away off the Zocalo. Again this proved to be one of those renowned eating places (also top of the Lonely Planet list) where they serve good square meals at half the price of the surrounding restaurants, at a lightning pace to a bulging crowd of ever desirous patrons.

By the time we got seated and made our order of the best deal, Numero uno the standard main with free cafe con leche and rolls, the doorway and street outside had become filled with people waiting a turn to get in to the overflowing cafe which nevertheless served our meal in short shrift.

Christine in the "Popular Cafe"

Next morning was our last day in Latin America as our flight for San Francisco left at 8.55 in the evening, so we set out on a tour of the Zocalo, the Cathedral and the Aztec ruins of the Templo Mayor, which will be the subject of the next blog.

Panorama of the south and west of the Zocalo

Two compressed panoramic views of the cathedral

Pope with Mary coming out of his belly

Front altar with the black "poison Jesus" on the right with people in devout worship below

The front altar has a "poison Jesus" - a figure which is supposed to have turned black when a priest who had been poisoned by an adversary kissed the figure thus healing himself. It has thus become an object of devout worship for divine favours in the manner of the Lady of Lourdes.

Devout worship (poison Jesus on left)

Woman in traditional clothing leaving the cathedral

Government palace on the Zocalo

Street beside the Templo Mayor

After the Templo Mayor, we checked out and struggled out on a walking tour of the Centro Historico which frankly proved a fiasco. Just about all the buildings with interesting murals or exhibitions were closed for repairs or between displays, so we had to content ourselves with some photo views of he central city and a few shots of the Teatrico Publico which has some heavily socialist murals by pupils of Diego Rivera, the artist and partner of Frida Kahlo.

This bears out our overall impression that, although Mexico City has many sumptuous attractions, such as the anthropological museum which I have visited previously and would have liked to have time to see again, like many large and capital cities, it is more a place of turgid commercial ctivity and a heightened degree of risk with less cultural benefits than smaller cultural capitals such as Oaxaca and San Cristobal.

The Thetaro Publico with frescos by students of Diego Rivera

Sculpture in the courtyard

The museo de luz building which was closed for a new display

Streets scenes within a few blocks of the Zocalo

Later I took a walk to get food and took these pictures of the very odd government pawnshop building, a sprawling pseudo-in-hock-bank surrounded by gold and jewelry merchants with its rather stunning stained glass skylights - in itself a Mexican paradox of institutional usury, for which I was sternly warned that I could not take horizontal shots of the bank floor (as shown below) but was welcome to take vertical shots of the ceiling.

Outside and entrance hall of the Nacional Monte de Piedad or government pawn shop

Banking floor below and roof glass above

Finally at 5 pm we took a taxi for 120 pesos out to the airport with a bogus taxi driver who was learning English by playing CDs to himself as he drove, who pleaded with us not to tell the cops we were in a taxi but that he was our Mexican amigo.

After a couple of hours of confusion at the airport as to whether we were boarding with Mexicana or American Airlines, we finally took off on an uneventful Mexicana flight to San Francisco where we breezed through a freindly immigration and customs section, despite having our fingerprints taken and our irises read meeting our friends Peter and Bronwen at around midnight SF time but 2 am Mexican time, who whisked us away to a late night's sleep at their place in Los Gatos.

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