Monday, September 15, 2008

Mexico: Cuatro

La Historia (The History)
We were able to do quite a bit of sightseeing in between our work days at Niños. It was wonderful to see some of the famous historic sights in and around Mexico City. Here are just a few snapshots of them. On Sunday we went to Teotihuacan, the site of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. These huge structures were built by the native inhabitants of the region (neither Aztec nor Mayan, contrary to popular belief) in the first half of the 1st century. In addition to the pyramids there are also dozens of other structures and roads. It was quite an amazing site and we had a lot of fun there.

Deb, Anne and I climbed up the Pyramid of the Moon, but they don't let you go all the way to the top on that one. It still affords a good view of the other pyramid and the surrounding areas.

Braving the rain and watching out for lightning, Anne and I climbed all the way to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. That is no small feet considering we were climbing some of the steepest steps I've ever negotiated at almost 7,000 feet of elevation. Needless to say we were huffing and puffing.

Outside the pyramids there is a botanical garden, of sorts, that is home to many of the native plants of Mexico. I've never seen cacti so big in my entire life. Some of them were 8 or 9 feet tall.

Those little balls at the top of this one are called "tuna" and are peeled and eaten like a fruit. I didn't try one but they supposedly taste like kiwi and have lots of little seeds in them that you have to spit out as you eat it. (See why I didn't try it?)

Later in the week we went in to Mexico City to tour El Palacio Nacional (The National Palace). The president doesn't actually live there, it's more like a museum, but there are some government offices there. Much of the palace is devoted to the memory of Benito Juarez, the most famous former president of Mexico. He is considered to be the liberator of the country. We got to see his private residence and the bed where he died. We also learned a lot about the history of Mexico, particularily during the Juarez era.

My favorite part of the palacio was the Diego Rivera murals. As a Spanish major and a Spanish teacher, I have studied and taught the Rivera murals for years. It was awesome to see them in person and stand right there in the palacio where he stood when he painted them. I got a lot of good pictures of all of the murals, but I won't bore you with all of them. Here are just a few. These are 14 feet tall and sometimes 30+ feet wide and they all depict the history of Mexico in different eras.
I wish that I also could have seen some Frida Kahlo works, since she is the other famous Mexican artist that I have studied and taught, but none of hers were displayed in the palacio. I'll just have to settle for seeing her likeness in one of Rivera's murals. (That's here in the red, V-neck dress at the bottom of the mural above.) She was his wife, you know.

Just around the corner on El Zocalo (the center plaza of Mexico City) in the Municipal Cathedral. It is a massive cathedral that looks pretty much just like every other Old World cathedral you can imagine except for the fact that it is crooked. Yep, that isn't bad photography. The whole place is sinking. According to the plumb bob inside the building has moved 84 inches in the past 800+ years. One side (the right in the above picture) has hydrolic jacks under it, but the other side doesn't yet and it is still going down. As a matter of fact, originally you had to climb up 6 steps to enter the catherdral. Now you have to go down 2 steps to go through the doors.
Since I'm not all that in to saints and candles and gold leaf I didn't take all that many pictures of the cathedral. However, the enormous pipe organ (with both horizontal and vertical pipes) was pretty impressive. The other thing that made an impression on me in the church was the sign that said, "No se necesita un celullar para hablar con Jesuscristo. Por favor lo apague." ("You don't need a cell phone to talk to Jesus. Please turn it off.")

We also got to eat at a couple of mexican restaurants (not Taco Bell) while we were out and about. In Mexico City we ate at Sanborn's. The food was good, but the best part of Sanborn's is the atmosphere. The restaurant is located in downtown Mexico City in an old palace. The palace was converted to a restaurant in 1903 and it has been serving delicious mexican food ever since. The outside of the building is completely covered in handpainted ceramic tiles, giving it the name "The House of the Tiles". It is really a wonderful place to eat. And after you eat there is a gift shop and a confectionary shop in the lobby. We got some really delicious chocolates there.

The other restaurant we went to was "Las Tejamaniles". The name refers to the particular type of wooden tiles used on the ceiling (teja) of the building. But, for a reason that wasn't quite clear to me several people in our group called it "The Hole in the Wall". It was a cute little restaurant where they cook out in the open right in front of everybody. They have a big open air garden in the center of the restaurant full of beautiful plants and a fountain. The management gave us all little handpainted clay pots when we left. That is where I tried my first bite of cactus (not bad), had my first chocolate malt (delicious), and used the construction paper that was hanging on the wall in the bathroom as toilet paper (I don't recommend it unless, as was the case here, there is no other option).

Probably one of the biggest cultural experiences we had though was getting to go to an indoor soccer game to watch several of the Niños kids play in their league. (I couldn't get any good pictures through the chainlink fence that protects the fans and the lighting wasn't sufficient either.) Even though I know nothing about the sport, it was so fun to sit and cheer for them and watch them defeat a team of adults at least 10 years older than most of them. Can I just say that indoor soccer is quite a physical and dangerous sport! The boys were excited and happy to have such a big cheering section in the stands and we all loved it too.

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