Mexico City

Days 1 and 2

We began our 8-day Caravan tour of Mexico’s Ancient and Colonial Cities in Mexico City, where we took an ETN bus from Guadalajara.

Beautiful New Bus Station in Guadalajara

We spent 2 days in this fascinating capital city of Mexico, and one can really only scratch the surface in that amount of time.  There is so much history here, entwined within this cosmopolitan city of roughly 25 million people throughout the entire metro area. Surprisingly, for a city its size, it is less polluted than those much smaller than itself, given the anti-pollution efforts of the Mexican government, with a mandatory semi-annual inspection for all who own vehicles.

It is currently the dry season in Mexico, so we had not seen any rain since mid-September, until our last night in Mexico City.  Walking back to our hotel in the historic district, we were blessed with a shower.  It was actually a little chilly as this city sits at an elevation of 7300 feet.

We stayed at the Hilton Reforma and we were foolish enough to not take any pictures.  It is considered a 5-star hotel, so suffice to say, it was lovely.  Our first night was dinner and an orientation.

Our first full day began with a drive to the Teotihuacan (pronounced Teh-oh-tih-wah-KAN) archeological site, which is an Aztec name, meaning “the place where men become gods”.  These ruins were discovered in 1884 by railroad workers.

Back in the year 400 AD, Teotihuacan was the sixth largest city in the world and Mexico’s largest pre-Columbian city, with a population of approximately 200,000 people at its height.  A great fire appears to have destroyed the city in the 7th century and its prosperity and influence began to dwindle after this.  300 years later, Teotihuacan was mysteriously abandoned by its people.

Almost one thousand years later, the Aztec believed that Teotihuacan was a holy place, where the sun, moon, and universe were created.

The first palace that you walk through to arrive at the Avenue of the Dead is El Patio de Los Jaguares (Jaguar Palace).  Colorful murals can still be found throughout this site.

As we were pressed for time, we quickly moved on to the Avenue of the Dead, down to the Pyramid of the Moon, as we were anxious to climb it.

Piramide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) was considered a sacred building within Teotihuacan, as it sat at the beginning of the main road, Avenue of the Dead, and was thought to be used for ceremonies.

Pyramid of the Moon stands 50 meters tall, and if heights are not one of your loves, this climb could be somewhat daunting, as the steps are steep and very tall.  It is definitely worth the climb, however, as the views from the top are breathtaking.

Terry is standing on top of Pyramid of the Moon, with Pyramid of the Sun in the background.

And to prove that I, too, made it to the top (no, I did not Photo Shop myself into this picture), here I am with lovely views of Avenue of the Dead and Pyramid of the Sun behind me.

Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun), standing 60 meters tall, was the largest pre-Hispanic building of its time (100 – 650 AD) and was a very important structure, as it was believed that the sun god was worshipped at this monument.  Supposedly, a natural volcanic vent sits under this structure, allowing travel down to the underworlds.

Terry and I just had to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.  As you can see in the background, the views are spectacular.  We have also been told that in the very near future most of these archeological sites will be closed to climbing in order to preserve the sites so we climbed everything that was available to us.

After lunch we were scheduled to visit the National Palace and the Anthropology Museum.  As we boarded the bus, unbeknownst to us, our bus was in a no parking zone so the traffic cops gave us the “boot”.

We learned it is quite an ordeal to have the boot removed once the parking fine is paid so, after an hour of waiting, we all loaded into a couple of vans and headed to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (Anthropology Museum).  This is a fascinating museum that could take one days to go through, but unfortunately we only had two hours so we focused on the Aztec and Mayan exhibits.

Above is a statue of Coatlicue, the earth goddess of Aztec mythology.  She is the mother of sun, moon, stars, and all the Aztec gods and goddesses.  Her name means “serpent skirt”.  It is said that she is the source of all life on earth and took the dead back again into her body.  This statue depicts Coatlicue as both creator and destroyer.

Her head is made up of the joined heads of two snakes and her skirt is made of snakes woven together.  Her large breasts show her as a nourishing mother, while her clawlike fingers and toes depict her as a devouring monster.  She dons a garment of human skin and a necklace of hands and hearts with a single skull in the center.  This suggests that Coatlicue consumed everything that died.

This is the infamous Stone of the Sun, which was misidentified as the Aztec Calendar because of its symbolic content and names of the days.  It is actually a large sacrificial altar.

Human Skull Adorned with Stones and Colorful Tiles

The Mayan room was especially interesting since we had seen many archeological sites of Mayan creation.

This beautiful mural was covering one wall of the exhibit room.  Notice the birthing process, along with the serpent with mouth open, representing entry into the underworlds.

These are the funerary effects of Pakal the Great, the Great Mayan King who reigned over the inhabitants of Palenque. His actual sarcophagus is located in the Tomb of the Inscriptions at Palenque, which he had built during his reign.  For the Mayan people, existence after death took place in a parallel universe reproducing the conditions of earthly existence, so they regarded it with the same importance as life itself.  Jade was very important to them, so Pakal was buried with many jade objects.  His mortuary mask was encrusted with more than 200 tiny carved and polished jade stones, perfectly assembled.

We did not have time as a group to visit the National Palace so some of us set out on our own after dinner to do a little sightseeing.

This is the Palacio De Bellas Artes, the Palace of Fine Arts, which houses an opera house and museum.  It was beautiful during the day and enchanting at night when lit. Construction was begun on this structure in 1904, then stopped because of the Mexican Revolution.  It began again in the early 1930’s and was completed in 1934.

This is the Templo de San Francisco, where a wedding was taking place when we stepped inside.

The Cathedral was not lit at night but the picture below shows a lovely gold-leaf altar.

A monument dedicated to Don Benito Juarez, on the grounds of Alameda Park, the first public park of the Americas, built in 1592.  This park was very large and picturesque and was directly across from our hotel.

This ended our stay in Mexico City.  The next stop on our tour was to be in Veracruz, where Carnaval was still in full swing.

New Adventure!

We are about to embark on a 6-week adventure!  Our journey begins tomorrow morning in Guadalajara, where we board a bus to Mexico City and join an excursion conducted by Caravan Tours of the ancient and colonial cities of Mexico.  This 8-day tour will take us throughout the ruins of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations and will conclude in Cancun. From there, we will travel on our own into the Central American countries of  Belize and Guatemala.

Check in often as I attempt to document our wanderings and Terry will contribute beautiful photos of our adventures along the way.

Hasta luego!

Tequila ~ Day 2

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!  ~  George Carlin

Day 2 – Oh no, tequila hangover (just kidding)!

We decided to start our day with a tour of Museo del Tequila, which proved to be very interesting and informative.

The courtyard was so warm and inviting, with stunning stone archways, beautiful paintings on the walls, and rooms with wonderful sculptures, photos and stories portraying the history of Tequila.

In earlier days, this stone wheel, called a tahona, was pulled by mule, oxen or horses to extract all the juices from the agave fibers.  Fortunately, today the process is much easier, as these tahonas could weigh as much as 3 tons.

This is a sculpture of ancient Aztecs sharing a cup of pulque.

Jose Cuervo began their distillation operation in 1758 and is the second largest tequila manufacturer in Tequila.  Although we did not take a tour of their distillation facilities, we did enjoy their gardens, which were gorgeous, as well as their retail establishment.

The raven appears to be the trademark for Jose Cuervo.  Note the large raven in the upper left corner of the birdcage.

The photographer, my husband Terry, sporting a new beard and Panama hat!  He is standing in the courtyard of the Jose Cuervo gift shop and cafe.

This is a very colorful presentation of the award-winning Jose Cuervo tequila boxes for the past 15 years that were displayed in their gift shop.

A Huichol artist, whose jewelry and pottery was displayed in the gift shop, was kind enough to let us photograph him.

One of the many fabulous Cuervo gardens, with an unusual sculpture as its focal point and many pedestals of varying heights displaying the proud trademark, the raven.

Another wonderful wall display of the Cuervo trademark.

A peek through the iron gates of the Jose Cuervo courtyard to the plaza beyond, where we headed to retrieve our vehicle and journey back to Lakeside.  This was definitely a worthwhile trip!

Tequila ~ Day 1

No visit to Jalisco, Mexico is complete without a trip to Tequila.  We found it to be a very clean, quite charming city of 35,000, and chock full of history, as one might expect.

The city was established in about 1656 and has been named a World Heritage Site. Tequila’s origin lie with the Aztec peoples of Mexico, who made a beverage from the agave plant long before the Spaniards arrived in the village that was then called Techinchan.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1530, having run out of all spirits they had brought with them from Spain, they fermented agave juice.  The first tequila factory, however, would not be established for another 70 years, at the hacienda of Don Pedro Sanches de Tagle.

The first order of business for us when arriving in Tequila was to secure a room for the night. We looked for the main plaza in the city, knowing that there would be an interesting church to visit as well.  We were very surprised to find such a lovely hotel bordering the plaza so we quickly booked two rooms, got settled, then headed off to explore the city.

Hotel Plaza del Jardin
Interior View of Hotel Staircase off the Foyer
Plaza Shot Taken from the Mirador of our Hotel

And yet another history-laden beautiful church, right off the plaza.

Church of Santiago Apostol
Interior of Santiago Apostol Church
Angel Guarding the Church

Terry snapped the photo below of two beautiful little girls playing on the grounds of the church.  At closer inspection, it appeared they were playing with cellulose insulation, of all things!

While Rosie and I set off to check out the market, the “boys”, awaiting lunch, planned out the activities for the afternoon, certainly excited about what lie ahead in the tasting rooms.

I had not the first idea of how tequila was distilled from the agave plant so I was excited when a local tour guide approached us and offered to take us on a tour.  As an added bonus, she spoke perfect English.

Our first stop on the tour was to view the Jesus Reyes distillery, a small factory that continues to produce tequila in the ways that were done before many of the more modern technologies were developed.  It has been in operation since 1840 and only distills small amounts of tequila for select stores.

Ex Hacienda El Martineno ~ Jesus Reyes Distillery

The hearts of the agave, once harvested, are placed in ovens to steam for most of a day, under high temperatures.  Once this process has been completed, the hearts (pina) are transferred to distillation tanks.  The remaining juices are steamed under very high temperatures to produce tequila.

Distillation Tanks

These copper stills, during the distillation process, create what can technically be called tequila, although at a much higher proof than is allowed by law for consumption.  We were told that of approximately 1000 liters of agave juice, only 10% becomes tequila after the process is completed.  It is the condensation itself that becomes the tequila.  The fiber that remains behind has many uses, one of which is compost for the next planting of the agave fields.

The above bubbling mass is the contents of a fermentation vat, where the tequila is transferred after the distillation process.  Since bacteria is needed for the fermentation process, these vats are left open, where small bugs drop into them.  We were assured that the end product is strained many times and the alcohol content must surely kill off anything bad, right?! Actually, many decades ago the bacteria that was used for this fermentation came from the bodies of the workers in the agave fields, as the picture below depicts.

White Oak Barrels, Aging the Tequila

Some tequilas are aged in white oak barrels, while others go immediately to bottling.

The end result in the tasting room, where we were given a quick lesson on how to imbue our senses, both taste and smell, with the heady liquid.  Good tequila is not drunk with salt and lime, as we are accustomed to NOB, but rather sipped, as any other good spirit. Given that this distillery produces few bottles and does not sell much beyond their factory walls, a bottle or two just had to find its way home with us.

From here we opted to visit a mid-size distillery, to view the differences with some modern technology thrown in.  La Cofradia (a religious order) is a 20-year old factory that creates their own bottles and pottery on site as well.  A lovely boutique hotel sits on the grounds, along with a duck pond, which completed the restful setting.

Off to the factory to see how the distillation process differs from that of Jesus Reyes.

Pinas after Steaming in the Ovens

Once these pinas were cooled, we were allowed to taste.  We found the agave heart to be very sweet, with the heat having concentrated the sugars.

The equipment was definitely more modern but the process explained at this factory was the same.

Stainless Steel Distillation Tanks
Modern Fermentation Vat
White Oak Barrels ~ Aging of Tequila

Tequilas carry different classifications, dependent upon the amount of time aged:

Blanco:  clear; unaged; bottled immediately after distilling

Reposado:  aged between 2 months and one year; somewhat amber in color

Anejo:  aged 1-3 years; darker amber, taking on more of the flavor of the barrel

Extra Anejo:  aged greater than 3 years

A tour of the ceramics factory was next on our list.  We toured several rooms displaying various stages of bottles to be fired, along with beautiful pottery pieces.

Worker Intricately Painting the Bottle Prior to Firing

And some of the finished products:

Last stop ~ tasting room!

On the way back to the plaza, we discovered that our trolley driver loved his music, cranked up so that everyone in town, and I mean everyone, could hear us coming.  He seemed to know the entire town, as people waved and spoke as we went by.  There was no sneaking back into town for us!

The remainder of the day was spent wandering the city blocks around the plaza.  As luck would have it, a security guard allowed us to enter the Sauza gardens, the largest of the distilleries in the city, having been established in 1873. These were some of the loveliest gardens we had seen yet in Mexico, as evidenced below.

The streets were so clean and the flags and buildings so colorful, with abundant statues and murals.

Tequila Street View
Turquoise Building off the Plaza
Spectacular Mural in Municipal Building

A great first day!