Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mexico Day 2: Mexico City

Day #2 started early with a ride on the metro to Colonia San Angel -- a nice suburb area with a college town feel - complete with Starbucks, internet cafes, and other trendy shops.

The metro (subway) in Mexico City is considered to be one of the best in the world and is very modern, safe and clean - although very very crowded at almost all times of the day. Oh, and it's only forty cents per person.

It was a long ride out to San Angel and a decent walk awaited us to our destination...El Mercado de Sabado at the Plaza de San Jacinto. Our goal was to find a craft market to get a bag para Kryste and look around at the hand made fabrics and other items that sell for pennies on what you would pay for manufactured goods in the U.S. -- but with 5Xs the amount of detail.

Anyway, the market wasn't quite what we had in mind and was actually more similar to the annual Ann Arbor Art fair held every summer -- mostly Europeans selling paintings and locals selling jewelry and woodwork.

Fortunately though, we were also close to Colonia Coyoacan - the location of Casa la Trotsky. Let me tell you something - nothing is more surreal then walking around an upper middle class neighborhood in Mexico City to find the home of an exiled revolutionary founder of the Russian Red Army!

Trotsky, of course, was exiled for his opposition to Stalin. When Trotsky first arrived in Mexico City, he lived briefly at the home of Diego Rivera before moving a few blocks over to the house of Frido Kahlo. Later he again moved to his own home which you can now visit and, unfortunately for Trotsky, is also where an assassin sponsored by Stalin eventually caught up to the exiled leader, giving him the fate of most revolutionaries - a violent death at the hands of an enemy (this one of course was particularly violent as Trotsky's head was smashed by a pick axe).

This was despite the two guard houses and gun towers on the Trotsky property and the added security that was put in place after Trotsky survived an earlier attempt on his life.

Amazingly, the study where this occurred is there relatively undisturbed and the museum at the home is run by a board of directors that includes Trotksy's grandson. In addition, his ashes are buried at the foot of a red flag with a hammer and sickle monument.

By the way, if you ever plan on walking from San Angel to Coyoacan, you should know two things -
1. it is indeed a very nice walk
2. it is much further than it appears on the map and a cab ride would only cost you $2 (20 pesos).

Another "by the way" -- the only reason Trotsky's assassin survived is because Trotsky himself ordered his bodyguards not to shoot the man when they burst through the door during the ensuing struggle ("Do not kill this man. He has a story to tell").

After leaving Trotsky's house complete with the stylish gun towers and garden, we still needed to find the market we were looking for -- I had a picture of the place in my head and - while street vendors and markets are ubiquitous with Mexico City - we had simply not found the one particular market I was thinking of -- so we hailed a cab, tried to ask about the market location and were taken to a nearby market within Coyoacan which was neat to see - but still the wrong one.

However, this does remind me of our other observations regarding style/fashion in Mexico City -- 1. Jack from the Nightmare before Christmas is HUGE here -- most of the vendors sell some type of traditional craft with the image of the Pumpkin King featured prominently -- why? because he is a big skeleton of course, and if you know anything about this place, you know that this population is obsessed with death and skeleton imagery. OK, fashion/style observation #2 -- pseduo-punk/goth style is ridiculously popular here -- it's like the U.S. in 1994. Kids with spiky hair and bracelets/piercings are everywhere - even fairly conservative people have little signs of this culture.

What we called "mini Mexico 'hot topics'" are all over the streets so you don't have to go without a studded bracelet or early 90s grunge rock T-shirt. Oh, and if you want to take HepC home with you as a souvenir, opportunities abound at the numerous street body piercing/tattoo shops.

After the Coyoacan Market, we hit the reset button, headed back for the hotel and did a little research to find the now much sought after holy grail of markets with an unknown name and location.

We stopped for lunch at a rooftop terrace restaurant overlooking the square when we witnessed one of the more amusing events of the trip thus far - a large group of naked or near naked bicyclists - complete with police escort - circling the square in protest of "manufacturo". Try doing that in front of the White House...

Poking through some travel books and using the free, but slow, wireless Internet connection in the hotel, I finally found a market that, from the description, sounded absolutely correct. Of course, we stepped out into a torrential downpour when we decided to go to el mercado and got soaked hauling ass through the Zocalo to the nearest subway stop.

At least it was worth it - as soon as we stepped out of the belles Artes stop, I had a good feeling we were in the right place. After getting lost a few times wandering the streets, and bumping into another group of lost tourists, we finally made it to the place we were searching for -- although we had been in a slight hurry because the books said something about the market closing at 5 (and it was getting past 4:30), we quickly realized that, like most things here, the time was more of an idea then a reality - maybe this was the time that the first vendor packed up but it certainly wasn't the end of the day -- that wouldn't be for hours to come at this market.

If you visit, definitely find this place -- it's near the Almeda and is called Mercado de Artesanes. It's a nice mix of touristy and local with a lot of high quality but affordable stuff...

And yes, we did find a hand woven bag for Kryste for 25 pesos....

We were pretty exhausted after the market. Fortunately, I stumbled into a ticket agent for the bus so I was able to buy my bus tickets to San Miguel that night in the subway station. More on the Mexico bus system later - but I will just say for now, it is not what you might expect - their buses are like planes - with a drink/food service, big comfy seats, A/C, and cheesy American movies playing on the many TVs.

Anyway, the bus trip the next morning was an early one, so we stopped by a restaurant whose advertised gimmick is "prehispanic food" including grasshoppers and ants.

Unfortunately, Kryst chickened out on the grasshoppers so I had to settle for tacos. The only real amusement at this place was that a travel channel documentary was being filmed at the table next to us - so the dishes were being presented one at a time to the camera crew while the waiters tried to keep a straight face and the chef snuck peaks at his food from a Little balcony in the adjacent rooms.

Anyway, day 2 was obviously busy and things didn't settle down too much on Day 3 - a travel day where we got our fist look and experience in San Miguel de Allende - the place where we will be for the next 4 weeks.

Mas tarde

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