Saturday, 14 September 2013

Final Weekend of the Trip: Mexico City

There is so much to do in Mexico City I could probably do a dozen posts and still not do it justice, there are probably even some museums I would happily wander around in, especially the Museum of Anthropology and all the various ones that house ancient Mayan artifacts. However, I would like to think this won't be my last time here so I can save that for another time. With time pressing and only a weekend available, I will just focus on the most important things on my brief stay: Mexican wrestling, the Mayan city of Teotihuacan and a local football game.

Arriving at the hostel on Friday afternoon I soon made friends with people on the rooftop terrace as we all patiently waited for 5pm to arrive for the bar to open. Over a few beers everyone was talking about the Lucha Libre event that night, namely, Mexican wrestling. Having been made aware of this I quickly ran downstairs and found out that there was still time to buy a ticket for the show, much to my relief. I was aware of the wrestling but with it only being on Tuesdays and Fridays I felt lucky I got to fit it, unexpectedly, in my plans. Forget the fact it is a tour based thing, which I generally dislike, there was the promise of fighting dwarves and with that in mind I was sold. Pretty sure that's still okay.

Once the group got there we discovered that you can't take cameras in, however much to our bemusement, you can take in phones with cameras. Mexican logic at it's finest.

There were six matches in total, the first of which was a female fight which was in full swing as we found our seats. Not a bad show but the real entertainment started in the fourth show when there was about ten wrestlers involved. There didn't seem to be any discernible order to proceedings but no one in the arena cared as they screamed and shouted during what can only be described as a royal rumble on crack, with the place reaching fever pitch as a dwarf jumped off the ropes and nutting a guy in the cojones, brilliant. This match was worth the price of admission alone, what with the resident gay wrestler upsetting the opposition with kisses and affection, obligatory muscle men for the girls (and boys) and irascible dwarves been thrown around like rag dolls and just getting up again and kicking someone in the nuts. Pretty sure the beers helped too.

Come the end of the night, everyone was buying masks, I managed to find myself out of this purchasing bracket, and after a few drinks in a local bar with some 18 year old police recruits who had just graduated, God help us, we called it a night.

A little sluggish the next day but we managed to make it to Teotihuacan, a Mayan city of epic proportions just outside of Mexico City. Tours abound for this place but doing it on your own is a breeze, just get to the North Bus Terminal (taxi, bus) and from there ask for a ticket to Teotihuacan.

Entrance is the usual two ticket job and from there you have the sprawling grounds to traverse. The main roads are like a cross, two roads perpendicular to one another, with the extensive Avenue of the Dead running north to south culminating with the impressive Pyramid of the Moon. The, even bigger, Pyramid of the Sun lies along this road and surrounding the Pyramid of the Moon there are numerous other pyramids.

You could get a guide but for me the best thing about this place was just the sheer size of it, it reminded me of places like The Forbidden City or the Summer Palace in Beijing, just massive. There are plenty of signs around the main monuments and a small museum if you are interested in learning a little more about the history of the place.

Avenue of the Dead Mexico City Teotihuacan
Avenue of the Dead

Pyramid of the Sun Teotihuacan Mexico City
Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun Teotihuacan Mexico City
Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Moon Teotihuacan Mexico City
Pyramid of the Moon

After more drinking, partying in a gay bar and paying off police officials we found ourselves in the early hours of Sunday and on my final day of my trip, I was finally going to get to a football game. Sadly I managed to miss Boca in B.A and a cheap game in Bolivia but at the University Stadium I was able to enjoy a great afternoon out in the sun, drinking a beer and watching sub-par football surrounded by passionate, English speaking locals. A great way to round off the weekend before 48 hours of painful transport home, that'll teach me for flying coach.

No belts allowed in thr stadium

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Right in the heart of the Yucatan lies another Mayan great in Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world. There are so many old Mayan ruins in Meso-America that it isn't surprising that one of them made the list, and with it's famous pyramid in the central plaza this is probably the most recognisable of the lot. Unfortunately, this comes at a price and as a result it is the most frequented and given it's close proximity to Cancun is something of a tourist trap. Still, this shouldn't take away from the splendour of the place.

Getting here is easy and there are transport links from several towns within a few hours drive from here. The easiest route would be to take a tourist bus but the local buses are so frequent and cheap that unless you want to be surrounded by a bus load of other tourists, you're as well off doing it on your own steam. In my opinion, just take the local buses. If you want a guide, just hire one on site.

Once at the park, there's the standard negotiating of crowds and buying tickets for the park entry and admission, not sure what the difference is there but you need both at these sites. As you go through a 
turnstile, the path is flanked by touts selling everything you have no doubt already seen before at exorbitant prices, so just ignore them unless the promise of 'almost free' goods is too good an opportunity for you to miss. I was definitely sucked in a couple times, almost free, are you kidding me?

After a short walk you come to the main plaza where the Kukulcan pyramid or El Castillo (The Castle) greets you. It is the centre piece of this archeological site and prominently stands out as there is nothing around it but grass. Two side of it have been reworked and if you get lucky you can sneak a decent photo in between the tour groups who incessantly clap to hear the echos from above. Unfortunately, you can't climb up, the same goes for just about all the structures here which isn't surprising given the through traffic.

Of course there is more to Chichen Itza than this momument which so easliy draws in the punters. To the north lies the sacred cenote which Mayans used as their main water source, on the way to this you also pass the Platform of Venus which like any good Mayan platform worth it's salt probably saw its fair share of ceremonies and decapitations.

To the west of the main plaza is the Great Ball Court, which I heard a guide saying was the biggest of it's kind in the Mayan world, (sometimes it is handy to eavesdrop on tour groups). Here they played a sport which could be described as a cross between football and Quidditch, no hands were allowed but you had to put the ball through a hoop attached to the wall. The pitch is surrounded by grandstands with carvings of, to put it mildly, death, and experts say that the captain of the losing team was probably sacrificed. Of course he was.

Adjoining the court is the Temple of Jaguars and just outside of the pavillion is the Lower Temple of Jaguars and the Platform of Jaguars and Eagles, which is adorned with beautiful carvings of skulls and eagles tearing hearts out of living men.

East of the great plaza is the Temple of the Warriors which is surrounded by the Group of the One Thousand Columns, I couldn't tell you if there are 1000 but there are a lot of them. Thankfully the Mayans didn't just build a load of stelae and it is widely acknowledged that they once supported a roof of some great hall or other.

To the south is the High Priest's grave, also known as the Ossuary, due to the fact that it has a communal graveyard in it's foundations. A little further down the path will bring you to El Caracol, the Observatory, where the Mayans were able to look to the skies for guidance and time bearings.

Most of the structures are within close proximity to one another and it is easy to walk around the site in only a couple hours, a day trip in the afternoon would suffice and if you feel the need, a guided tour would only add a little extra time to your day. Easy to get to and visually stunning, it is indeed a treasure and awe inspiring. However, I can't quite help but wonder why this got the nod over Tikal or Palenque, both of which still maintain that mystique, either due to the jungle and overgrowth that surrounds their structures or the fact that they are less busy, which I feel is imperative to a Mayan archeological site. All in all though, this makes for a worthy detour from the chaos of Cancun.