For our latest trip, to Yucatan in Mexico, see the What’s New page.
In April/May 2003 we went to Mexico, and traveled for three weeks around by rented car. Well, Mexico? In three weeks you can do only so much, so we limited ourselves to the capital, Mexico DF (Districto Federal), some of the pre-columbian sites around here, and via the colonial towns Puebla and Oaxaca to Chiapas, with its Mayan ruins. No Yucatan, not enough time. And also not the vast northern and western part of Mexico.
This is a fairly basic travelogue, with some of our unusual experiences, but mostly summing up the route and the places we went, to serve as a cloth hanger for the pictures. Which are pre-digital era slides that have been scanned, although sadly in several cases too late: many of them lost colour over time, most likely from excessive temperatures. There is not a lot of background here, not a lot of history – nothing like you are used to from the more recent blogs. Yet, it is an opportunity to share some of the early travels, and some of our old photographs.
Mexico, the City: Mexico’s huge capital city has an equally uge variety of attractions, from weekend boating to monuments and murals.
Arriving in Mexico DF (pronounce dé-effe, which means Districto Federal), which outside Mexico is more popularly known as Mexico City, the first impression is one of a low rise town, not too big, everything reasonably closeby, traffic manageable, you know, almost provincial. However, once you start walking, you realize that this is a mega-city; distances are enormous, and you slowly start to appreciate that this is indeed one of the biggest city in the world, with some 20 mln inhabitants. Nevertheless, public transport is excellent, with a fast metro system, busses, taxis, and most importantly the ‘peseros’, mini-busses that used to take you along the route for a peso, albeit that inflation has now corrupted the name, as one needs to pay 2 pesos these days – still incredibly cheap, at an equivalent of 20 US$ cents.
The Mexican Driving Experience: Driving in Mexico is not without challenges.
The next day we rent a car, and we leave town, first in northerly direction. Now driving in Mexico is a challenge, on more than one front. Firstly, there are the Mexican drivers, some of them driving very fast, most of them seeing nothing wrong with overtaking in the right hand lane, and all of them respecting the unwritten rule that the larger the car or truck, the more right of way. We have rented the smallest possible car. Secondly, each crossing is referred to as ‘entronce peligrosa’, each bend as ‘curva peligrosa’, no matter what type of crossing or bend, so these warnings soon loose their significance – until there is a real sharp hairpin, warned for in exactly the same manner. That the roads are dangerous may be clear from the many crosses along them.
Around the Capital: There are lots of attractive sites, from various periods of Mexico’s history not too far away from the capital, from pre-Aztec pyramids to Spanish colonial towns with a wealth of churches and convents.
Ruins come in different forms in Mexico. Many of the less important ones are only partly restored, or restored but not vigorously protected, allowing you to wander around freely and explore. Obviously, experience has taught the Mexicans that the public is not to be trusted – and we have seen plenty signs of that ourselves -, so the better-known, more famous sites are carefully controlled and fenced off, with walking paths clearly marked and signposted, and rope preventing you from going astray. Which undermines the Indiana Jones experience somewhat, reduces it to a walk in the park.
To Oaxaca: South into the mountains, there are several interesting archeaological sites near the provincial town of Oaxaca
So far we have stayed fairly close to Mexico DF, but now it is time to explore further afield. Our next destination is Oaxaca, in the mountains to the south. Soon after Puebla the landscape changes, becoming spectacularly desolate, red and white earth, with hazy – always hazy – mountains in the back. No matter how close you are to mountains in Mexico, they always seem to be hazy, almost invisible. Cacti start to appear, in many different forms, some with single spines and others with elaborate multiple branches. The road starts to climb, away from the river valley below, which remains bone-dry.
Oaxaca is another colonial gem, read more
To Chiapas: The southernmost province, Chiapas, is especially interesting for the people, traditionally dressed, although churches and ruins also have their place.
The next day we leave early for the long drive to San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. No wonder Mexico starts late, at 6.30 am it is still dark. At 9 we enjoy a simple breakfast in a roadside café, where I am sure we got hugely overcharged for our eggs and bacon and watery coffee, and where we were just laughed at when we declined the tortillas and asked for bread instead; obviously, the woman did not know what bread was. After a while the cactus-filled mountain scenery gives way to the flatter grounds and palm trees of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of the country. Here it should be possible to dip in the Pacific in the morning and bath in the Atlantic in the afternoon. South of the Isthmus the road starts to climb again and enters the province of Chiapas.
Almost immediately the presence of military is felt, read more
To Palenque and back to the Capital: On our final days in Mexico we visit some fabulous archeaological sites, of which Palenque is the best known, and most impressive. There is a lot of stone in this one!
After a struggle to get out of Comitlan – ‘todo derecho, derecho’, only to be confronted with multiple junctions immediately ahead, and that five times – we drive to Ocosingo and to the Tonina ruins. This is the first Maya site we visited, and impressive it is, with a seven-platform pyramid with a temple on top, pieces of original stucco remaining, some buildings adorned with bas-reliefs, traces of paint still visible, and very few people.