A Travellerspoint blog

March 2020

Mexico - Tequila and Copper Canyon

Route: Mexico City - Guadalajara - Uruapan - Tequila - Chihuahua - Creel - Divisadero - Los Mochis

semi-overcast 20 °C

FEBRUARY - MARCH 2020

The next part of our travels through Mexico started in Guadalajara, a one hour flight west of Mexico City. Although we were told Guadalajara was quite a nice city our plan was to see the surrounding countryside. After a night in an airport hotel we hired a car and headed south east. The journey began along a highway with cultivated fields on either side. Once we left the highway the scenery became more varied and the road undulated through small towns and villages, over hills and into valleys with what looked like extinct volcanoes all around us. This was definitely more rural Mexico where pickups outnumbered cars, men on horseback were a common sight and many of the woman still wore traditional dress. We also saw quite a few open-backed police vehicles with one officer manning a mounted gun, we weren’t sure whether this was reassuring or disconcerting.

Market day in Michoacan state on our way to Uruapan

Market day in Michoacan state on our way to Uruapan

Travelling in Michoacan state

Travelling in Michoacan state

Street shop in a village on a road in Michoacan

Street shop in a village on a road in Michoacan

Paracho roundabout

Paracho roundabout

Road through Michoacan state

Road through Michoacan state

Roads scenery in Michoacan

Roads scenery in Michoacan

After a four hour drive we reached our destination, the bustling town of Uruapan.
Uruapan was our base for three nights and chosen because of its highly recommended national park. We also had high hopes for our accommodation, which didn’t disappoint. Our one bedroom apartment sat on top of a steep valley that descended to a fast flowing river below. We looked out onto a lush garden where humming birds fed on the nectar giving foliage, then beyond to hills and forest. A path led from our apartment past a multitude of wood sculptures to various seating areas all uniquely fashioned. It was such a nice environment we spent the first day in the garden gently swinging in hammocks, catching up on some reading, watching the wildlife and all the time being serenaded by the river that rushed down the valley just below us. The relaxing day did us a world of good especially as I was suffering from a bit of a stomach problem.

Our garden in Uruapan

Our garden in Uruapan

wood carvings in our garden in Uruapan

wood carvings in our garden in Uruapan

Bird life in our garden in Uruapan

Bird life in our garden in Uruapan

Humming bird in our garden in Uruapan

Humming bird in our garden in Uruapan

Feeling rested and keen to see more, the following day we visited the Uruapan National Park. Although only a short drive from the apartment it felt longer than it was. This was because our “SatNav” took us through all the narrow back streets of the town which was an interest experience in itself. The National Park is only small but very beautiful and quite unique. Cobblestone paths lead you in a circuit that follows the river for the most part. Every so often a stone bridge allows the river to be crossed and provides a good view of the many cascades that fill this stretch. The environment is sub-tropical with a mass of tree growth, which in turn is filled with a good variety of bird life that serenade you as you stroll by. The most unique feature of the park is how they have harnessed the power of the river to form canals that run alongside the pathways and then used to create fountains and water spouts. The whole circuit of the park took us less than two hours and felt very tranquil and refreshing with the rushing water and tree cover providing a cool environment away from the scorching Mexican sun.

River running through Uruapan National Park

River running through Uruapan National Park

Uruapan National Park

Uruapan National Park

Water Sculpture in Uruapan National Park

Water Sculpture in Uruapan National Park

Back at the apartment we had some lunch, collected our laundry and then retired to the hammocks in the garden.

The following day we left Uruapan and retraced our steps back through the lovely countryside of Michoacan state and on towards Guadalajara. This time Guadalajara wasn’t our destination, we were going about an hour further west to the town of Tequila. We were now in the state of Jalisco, and once past the concrete sprawl of Guadalajara, in a much more mountainous region. Tequila is a small town nestled in a valley and surrounded by distilleries producing its famous liquor. The outskirts of town appear a bit run down but the centre is much more attractive and that’s where we were staying. Once checked in, it was time to explore. We walked down to the plaza, past brightly coloured buildings to were all the action was. This area was very busy with tourist climbing on and off the strange shaped buses that transport them on tequila tours. An early diner in the historic La Fonda restaurant was then followed by a relaxing evening to recover from the long drive.

Arriving in Tequila

Arriving in Tequila

Guadalajara Bridge

Guadalajara Bridge

The activity for the next day was a tour of a tequila factory. For that we had booked a visit at the long established and well respected Casa Herradura 15km outside of town. The distillery is a grand walled establishment set amongst manicured lawns and historic buildings, with the mountains for a back drop. Our tour was in english and shared with six other guests, four Mexicans and two Brazilians. Our guide Fernanda first explained the history before showing us the the family house and the bottling plant.

Tequila Distillery Casa Herradura (meaning House of Horseshoe)

Tequila Distillery Casa Herradura (meaning House of Horseshoe)

Casa Herradura

Casa Herradura

We then moved on to the agave preparation area. The agave plant is the key ingredient in the making of tequila and it needs to be trimmed of its foliage before being put into the ovens. Continuing our tour, we passed the ovens, the crushing process, the liquid extraction and all the way to the filtration cellar. The cellar contains stills that filtrate the raw agave liquid into pure tequila. Finally it was time to taste the finished article, of which we sampled three, surprisingly we concluded the pure 55% was our favourite.

Preparing the agave plant

Preparing the agave plant

Agave ready for processing at Casa Herradura

Agave ready for processing at Casa Herradura

Oven

Oven

Agave processing

Agave processing

Filtration plant

Filtration plant

Tequila tasting

Tequila tasting

Field of  blue agave

Field of blue agave

By now it was “muy caliente” so we retired to our apartment until the early evening. By six pm it was cool enough to venture out and we made our way down to the central plaza. Here it was a hive of Saturday activities which kept us entertained for several hours. There were bands playing, people dancing, performers on an open stage and some dare devil rope artists called “Papantly Flyer” from the state of Veracruz. Four guys made up the “Papantly Flyer”, they would climb a trimmed plan tree, rope them selves up and then dive off the top spinning in the air as the rope unwound, all without any safety harness, spectacular but crazy.

Tequila Plaza

Tequila Plaza

Tequila tour transport

Tequila tour transport

Tequila Street

Tequila Street

Street of Tequila

Street of Tequila

Street art in Tequila

Street art in Tequila

Flying fearless mexican act

Flying fearless mexican act

Climbing up the tree

Climbing up the tree

Finally, before returning to our apartment we got chatting to three guys on horseback who offered us tequila before we both went on our way.

Chatting with their friendly barber

Chatting with their friendly barber

Dos caballeros in Tequila for the Fiesta

Dos caballeros in Tequila for the Fiesta

The following day we left the lovely town of Tequila and returned to Guadalajara to start the next stage of our journey around Mexico.

A two hour flight north from Guadalajara got us to our next location, the city of Chihuahua. We also had a time zone change and were now one hour earlier than in Guadalajara. The first task of the day was to buy our train tickets for our onward travel, billed as one of the worlds most amazing train journeys . This achieved, we had time to look around the city. Although not a particularly attractive city it does have some nice buildings and statues in the centre, but most of the colour is provided by the traditional dressed indigenous Tarahumara. The Tarahumara call themselves “Raramuri” which means “Barefoot Runner” and because they are famous for their long distance running. Today they are attracted to the cities to try and make a better living than can be achieved in their harsh rural homeland.

City sign

City sign

Chihuahua, chihuahua

Chihuahua, chihuahua

Chihuahua Street Art

Chihuahua Street Art

Cathedral

Cathedral

Quinta Gameros

Quinta Gameros

Two days in Chihuahua and then our real adventure begins. From Chihuahua we took the Chepe train almost 700km, south through the Copper Canyon, to its terminus in the coastal town of Los Mochis. However, this was not done in one long journey, we split it up to allow us to explore the area on route.

The first leg was a six and a half hour trip on the Chepe Regional train from Chihuahua to Creel. There is only one train every two days and ours left at 06:00am, so a very early start was required. We chugged out of Chihuahua station just as the sun was rising and headed across an arid plain with cultivated land or livestock on either side of the track.

Chepe Regional Train leaving Chihuahua

Chepe Regional Train leaving Chihuahua

Views between Chihuahua and Creel on the Chepe Train

Views between Chihuahua and Creel on the Chepe Train

Apple Orchards views from the train

Apple Orchards views from the train

Apple Orchard outside of Chihuahua

Apple Orchard outside of Chihuahua

It had been quite chilly in Chihuahua and much cooler than we had experienced so far in Mexico, so it didn’t come as a surprise to see a hard frost on the fields. The cultivated land then turned to vast orchards of apples although the trees were bare this time of year. The track now started to climb up into the mountains and scenery changed with it. Alpine meadows, mountain rivers and steep gorges replaced the cultivated land at the start of our journey. But what was the biggest surprise was that there was snow, we never expected to encounter snow in Mexico. By now the sky was clear and the sun was shining which provided the perfect light to appreciated the beautiful surroundings.

On our way to Creel

On our way to Creel

Chepe train

Chepe train

View from the train

View from the train

Soon after mid-day we arrived in Creel our overnight location. We got off the train and soon realised it really was quite cold even in the sun. We were in the mountains after all and at about 2,400m. Our hosts met us at the station and whisked us off to the apartment we had booked. A charming rustic place with cooking/dinning facilities and sleeping possibilities on two floors, we were recommended to sleep upstairs as it would be warmer.
We took a private excursion in the afternoon to explore the area. A visit to the land owned by the indigenous Tarahumara allowed us to see some unique rock formations and browse the local crafts on sell. Whilst there, we were able to visit the Mision de San Ignacio a church that incorporate the beliefs of both the catholic faith and the Tarahumara people.

Creel

Creel

Valle de los Hongos Mushrooms rock formation on the Tarahumara land

Valle de los Hongos Mushrooms rock formation on the Tarahumara land

Mision de San Ignacio, Tarahumara people

Mision de San Ignacio, Tarahumara people

Inside the Mision of San Ignacio, kept very simple to allow the Tarahumara to dance as it is how they worship

Inside the Mision of San Ignacio, kept very simple to allow the Tarahumara to dance as it is how they worship

The tour ended at Lago de Arareco, a beautiful body of water surrounded by a tranquil forest, an ideal place for us to stretch our legs before an early dinner back in town.

Lake Arareco

Lake Arareco

Suitable fed it was back to the apartment to light the fire as the outside temperature was now approaching freezing. After a bit of resistance we finally got it lit and the room slowly began to warm, assisted by an additional gas fire. However, it was still to cold to venture into the bathroom for a shower.

Our wood fire in Creel

Our wood fire in Creel

Due to a change in train schedules our original two nights in Creel was cut short to one, so the next day we were on the move again. Another early start to catch the Chepe Express train from Creel to Divisadero meant leaving the apartment at 07:15 and braving the -2C outside temperature. This leg of our train journey was even more beautiful than the day before. The track wound its way further up in to the mountains and through dense pine forests. Unlike the previous day there were no settlements up here just nature and scenery. It then descended a little to arrive at our next destination of Divisadero. We had now lost any sign of the snow, although the temperature hadn’t increased much.

On the Chepe Express from Creel to Divisadero

On the Chepe Express from Creel to Divisadero

Train track from Creel to Divisadero

Train track from Creel to Divisadero

Our hotel room was warm and comfortable and we had no desire to venture far during the rest of the day, just a walk up to the sister hotel for dinner. The sister hotel was the smarter residence and had great views over the canyon. We felt that we had the best of both worlds, our comfortable and much more affordable place with access to the luxury up the hill.

Our hotel at Divisadero

Our hotel at Divisadero

The Mirador Hotel where we had our meals

The Mirador Hotel where we had our meals

The following day was all about the main purpose of the train journey: to see the Copper Canyon. The Copper Canyon, Barrancas del Cobre in Mexican, is the most spectacular view of an interlinking canyon system that is longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon in USA. With the small community of Divisadero sitting right on the canyon rim.
We wanted to see this natural wonder from as many vantage points as possible. We felt we needed to first get from the outer rim to the inner rim so as to get the best view of the gorge. There was a number of options to achieve this but we decided to take the “Zip-Line”, and not just any old one, the longest and fastest in the world (that was until 2018 when Dubai built one 300 meters longer but slower). First step was to get our safety helmet and harness and then proceed to the launch site.

Geared up, ready for the Zip-line

Geared up, ready for the Zip-line

After being explained the safety measures we launched ourselves off the “Zip-Line” platform and in to the abyss. The journey from the canyons outer to inner rim took only 2 minutes, covered a distance of one and half miles (2.5km) and reached a speed of over 80 mile per hour (130km/h). By the time we had reached the “Zip-Line” terminus we had descended 1500 feet (457 meters) and had the most incredible view of the outer canyon on the way down.

End of the Zip-line looking back toward the start

End of the Zip-line looking back toward the start

Malcolm on the Zip-line

Malcolm on the Zip-line

Ready to jump Zip-line

Ready to jump Zip-line

We were now on a rock outcrop that forms part of the inner rim of the canyon and provided views down into a river gorge hundreds of meters below us. Once unhooked from the “Zip-Line” we started the walk up the cliff face to catch a cable car that would return us to the outer rim. For the first couple of hundred meters we were still carrying all our “Zip-Line” equipment but were then able to deposit it before making the final ascent to the cable car station. All around us were spectacular views and endless opportunities for photos.

Rock outcrop known as Eagle Nest

Rock outcrop known as Eagle Nest

Canyon view

Canyon view

Canyon view

Canyon view

Our return to the outer rim was more sedate in the cable car but still provided some amazing views and yet more photo opportunities. However, we didn’t return directly but did a bit of shopping instead. All around the cable station the indigenous Tarahumara had set up stalls to sell their wears and in particular the intricate baskets. We watched two girls making them from reads and couldn’t resist buying a couple to add to our vast collection of local crafts from all around the world.

Raramuri girl or Tarahumara girl weaving a basket

Raramuri girl or Tarahumara girl weaving a basket

Weaving basket

Weaving basket

Once back on the outer rim we proceeded to hike along its edge, stopping regularly to admire the scenery and take yet more photos. Around every corner there was a new view, be it of a massive eroded rock formations or a boulder teetering on the cliff edge, it was a true natural wonder.

Canyon view

Canyon view

Canyon view

Canyon view

Turkey vulture flying over Copper Canyon

Turkey vulture flying over Copper Canyon

Canyon view

Canyon view

It was then a transfer back to the hotel for a late lunch and a bit of relaxation.

Any activity on our last day in Divisadero was rather curtailed by the heavy rain that arrived in early afternoon. We did manage a short walk but then took advantage of the weather and caught up on a bit of travel admin.

Heavy rain once again greeted us for our third and final leg of the train journey. Today we were descending from the mountains to the coast. Around 09:30 the train splashed its way out of Divisadero station bound for Los Mochis. For the next four hours we would traverse the mountains, through lush river gorges and in and out of narrow tunnels cut into the rock face. The scenery was stunning and even surpassed what we had seen on the first two legs.

Divisadero train station, a wet departure

Divisadero train station, a wet departure

Train track at Barrancas del Cobre

Train track at Barrancas del Cobre

Montain scenery from train

Montain scenery from train

We are heading towards the bridge in the valley

We are heading towards the bridge in the valley

Journey to Los Moches

Journey to Los Moches

Waterfall and memorial

Waterfall and memorial

Memorial sign and sculpture

Memorial sign and sculpture

One of the 86 tunnels

One of the 86 tunnels

Chepe Express on our way to Los Moches

Chepe Express on our way to Los Moches

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Leaving the mountain

Leaving the mountain

Scenery from the train

Scenery from the train

As we descended through the mountains the flora began to change. The pine forests had gone and been replaced by more deciduous tree species. There was also more colour with spring blooms of pink, yellow and white brightening up the predominant green landscape.

Forest in bloom

Forest in bloom

Finally as the terrain flattened out, fields of crops and livestock appeared. The tree cover was now more sparse and dispersed with giant Cardon Cactus. This was now the scenery all the way to our final destination of Los Mochis.

Out of the mountains, on to the plain, cactus and livestock

Out of the mountains, on to the plain, cactus and livestock

Once we had checked-in to our hotel in Los Mochis there was time to look around the central plaza. It was the “International Day of the Women” so lots of things were going on. The plaza was full of stalls selling everything you could think of, there were artists performing on stage, the church had a full congregation and there was a parade of floats. Enough to keep us amused for quite a while.

View from our hotel room toward Los Mochis central plaza

View from our hotel room toward Los Mochis central plaza

Los Mochis square

Los Mochis square

Los Mochis parade

Los Mochis parade

Parade

Parade

Our visit to Los Mochis was just for one night and the following morning we flew off to start the third section of our Mexican adventure.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Security
One thing that is very noticeable when you travel in Mexico is the level of security. I don’t think we have ever seen so many armed police in one place as we did in Mexico City. This didn’t change when we ventured out into the more rural areas. It was common to see several police officers in the open back of a pick-up, all armed and one standing with a mounted machine gun. It was the same in other big cities, where it was common to see heavily armed (a rifle, hand gun and baton) police patrolling the streets. There was even a security guard on the train from Chihuahua to Creel armed with a rifle and hand gun.
On the one hand it makes you feel secure but on the other it makes you wonder how dangerous it is to warrant this level of security. But to be fair we never felt in any danger during our whole stay in Mexico.

Chepe Train through the Copper Canyon
The Copper Canyon railroad is a marvel of engineering that took almost 90 years to build and cost US$90million. It was opened in 1961 and was designed to connect the Pacific Ocean with Mexico’s central desert territory of Chihuahua. At over 700km in length it crosses 36 bridges and passes through 86 tunnels on its way across the coastal plain, over the mountains and into the central desert. Once in the mountains in zig-zags through river gorges clinging to the cliff face, reaching a height of 2500 meters in some places. It is a true feat of engineering and a wonderful experience for those travelling on it.

Map of Chepe Train

Map of Chepe Train

The speed limit on Mexican Roads
When driving on Mexican roads it doesn’t take long to realise that all the speed limit signs are wrong, at least according to the locals. As a rule of thumb you need to add 20km/h to that advertised so a que of traffic doesn’t build up behind you. The only exception to this rule is when there is a police patrol in the area. Anne quickly became accustomed to this rule and followed soon after.

Coronaviras (Covid-19)
We left the UK on 12 February and have been in Mexico ever since. When we left there had only been a few cases of Coronaviras reported in Europe and almost all those in the UK could be attributed to a single carrier. At that time it was China and a few other far eastern counties that were really suffering.
Now we are in mid-March and the virus has spread rapidly. Europe appears to be suffering the bulk of the new confirmed cases and associated deaths, with Italy being the worst affected. On the other hand China, the source of the virus and hardest hit by it, appears to be getting it under control with only 19 new cases reported on Wednesday 11 March. To put that into context, that is 19 of 80,754 (3,136 of whom have died) confirmed cases since the end of January.
During our time in Mexico only 3 people have been confirmed to have Coronaviras, all in Mexico City. Therefore the population is aware but not over concerned. No one is wearing a mask because of it, there is not a shortage of toilet paper and life is going on as normal. This level of calm is likely to change for us next week when we travel into the USA where the cases are on the increase. At the time of writing there had been 1,875 confirmed cases and 41 deaths, of which 252 cases and 4 deaths had been reported in California, the state we are visiting. President Trump is initiating various measures he believes will fight the spread of the virus, one of which is to ban all foreign visitors from mainland Europe (this excluded the UK at the moment) for at least one month. But as we are arriving from Mexico we don’t expect to have a problem.
Check the California blogs to see how we got on.

Posted by MAd4travel 19:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

Mexico City

Route: Mexico City Area

semi-overcast 25 °C

FEBRUARY 2020

Our next journey took us away from the inclement weather of a British winter to the much more pleasant climate of Mexico. Due to the benefits provided by the jet stream our route took us north over Greenland, with nice views of the winter ice through the aircraft window, then down through Canada and USA before arriving in Mexico City nearly 12 hours later. Once the formalities were dealt with we took a taxi to our apartment in downtown Mexico City. Although the apartment wasn’t as good as we had expected it was ideally situated to visit all the main attractions the city had to offer.
Jet-laged and bit disoriented by the six hour time difference our bodies took a bit of time to adjust so the first few days we took it easy. We explored the historic streets that were right on our door step and admired the colonial architecture that was all around us. We checked out the local and tradition supermarkets to purchase our food and managed a few of visits to local attractions.

Historic Centre in Mexico

Historic Centre in Mexico

Street view in Mexico Historic centre

Street view in Mexico Historic centre

Mexico historic centre

Mexico historic centre

Mexico historic centre

Mexico historic centre

Ottoman Clock tower

Ottoman Clock tower

The first of those was the national cathedral that sat on the the edge of Plaza de Constitution. A grand building with fine carving covering the outside and an equally impressive interior dominated by its vast organ complex.

Cathedral

Cathedral

Cathedral

Cathedral

This was followed by the intriguing “House of Tiles”. Here, in the nineteenth century, the son of an aristocrat wanted to prove his worth to his father. To do this he undertook the renovation of one of the family mansions and to make a statement covered the exterior in tiles. The building is also beautifully decorated inside and is now a favourite restaurant for local Mexicans to have breakfast. Today the building is protected and stands out as something quite different to all those around it.

House of Tiles

House of Tiles

Whilst travelling we like to send postcards to friends and family. This usually requires a post office visit to acquire stamps and often turns into a fascinating experience, for which the one in Mexico City didn’t disappoint. The stamp purchase was quite straightforward, especially with Anne’s grasp of Spanish. But what was amazing was the building. Palacio Postal, as it is called, had an attractive colonial exterior but it was the interior that caught the eye. It was like stepping back in time as none of the fixtures or fittings had been changed since the early 20th century. And not only that they had been maintained beautifully. When we left we hoped that more stamps would be required making an excuse to return and look around some more.

Palacio Postal or Post Office Palace

Palacio Postal or Post Office Palace

Palacio Postal

Palacio Postal

One of Mexico City’s most magnificent building is the Palacio de Belle Artes so a visit was a must. Built between 1932 and 1934 the exterior of the building is primarily Art Nouveau and Neoclassical and the interior is mainly Art Deco. The building is best known for its murals by Diego Rivera, Siqueiros and others, as well as the many exhibitions and theatrical performances its hosts, including the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
Our visit was to see the exhibitions and architecture both inside and out. Architecturally the building is impressive from the outside but even more so once you get inside. We spent a very enjoyable hour or so wandering around the first and second floors admiring the massive wall murals and taking in a very interesting exhibition dedicated to the life of Emiliano Zapata Salazar. Emiliano Zapata Salazar was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution, the main leader of the peasant revolution in the state of Morelos, and the inspiration of the agrarian movement called Zapatismo.

Palacio de Belle Artes

Palacio de Belle Artes

Inside of the Palacio de Belle Artes

Inside of the Palacio de Belle Artes

By now we were getting a good feel for the city and enjoying our exploration of its central attractions, but were also keen to venture further afield. For over ten years, and following a TV documentary, we had dreamt of witnessing the Monarch Butterfly migration (the longest on land) and Mexico City is the ideal place to do this from. So with the assistance of our friend and Mexico City resident, Flor, a trip was arranged.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a world heritage site situated in a protected pine forest about 100km north east of Mexico City. The morning sun hadn’t risen by the time we met our tour guides but by 07:00 we were loaded in the tour bus with 12 other guests and on our way out of the city. The drive itself was interesting as we were able to see the city suburbs and business district of Santa Fe as we headed into the hills. The area we were entering into is known as the volcano belt and as the road climbed through the forest and past fields of avocados we could see conical peaks all around us. It was a 3 hour drive to reach the reserve and after a brief explanation about the Monarch Butterfly we began our climb into the forest to meet the creatures in question.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Millions of Monarch Butterflies over-winter here between October and March and then return back north into the USA and Canada for the summer. As we climbed up through the pine forest we couldn’t believe the number of Monarchs that were feeding on the flora all around us. Photograph stops were numerous, both to capture the moment and to catch our breath as this walk was at altitude, around 3,300 meters.

Monarch Butterflies feeding

Monarch Butterflies feeding

Once at the top of the path we then descended into a valley. It was at this point that we were really blown away by what we saw. Millions upon millions of butterflies filled the air, the trees and small streams that ran through the forest.

Pine tree branch covered in Monarch Butterflies

Pine tree branch covered in Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies clinging to a tree trunk

Monarch Butterflies clinging to a tree trunk

Butterflies resting on a tree trunk

Butterflies resting on a tree trunk

Monarch butterfly gathering

Monarch butterfly gathering

Snowing Butterlfies

Snowing Butterlfies

As they went about their business it felt like it was snowing butterflies. We paused every few meters to take photographs and would become yet another perch for them to settle on. They came so close and in such quantity you could hear the beat of their wings, it was truly a magical moment.

Butterflies covering stream

Butterflies covering stream

More butterfies looking for water

More butterfies looking for water

Monarch Butterfly looking for anything to land on

Monarch Butterfly looking for anything to land on

By the time we had climbed back out of the valley and down to the car park we had spent around three hours in the company of these magnificent creatures and had fulfilled a long held dream. As we sat chatting over lunch everyone agreed what an incredible experience it had been and one that will be remembered and cherished for life.

Preparing tacos for lunch

Preparing tacos for lunch

The kitchen

The kitchen

Our next day of discovery only required a short walk from the apartment. Situated right in the centre of Mexico City is the most important temple of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, and now known as Temple Major. This is a relatively recent discovery which only came to light during the construction of the city’s metro system. The reason it had been hidden for so long was because the invading Spanish destroyed the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and built what is now Mexico City on top of the ruins (see”Mexico City” below for more details).
Albeit only a fraction of the original temple complex remain, this is a magnificent archaeological site, made even more impressive by its location. The Great Temple, devoted to Huitzilopochtli (God of War) and Tlaloc (God of Rain & Agriculture), measuring approximately 100 by 80 m (328 by 262 ft) at its base would have dominated the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan. The construction of the first temple began sometime after 1325, and it was then rebuilt six times.
Wooden walkways allow you to walk around the site without damaging the ancient structures and provides excellent viewing points. At the end of the walkway is a museum containing many of the artefacts found on the site.
We spent several hours admiring the Aztec engineering and artistry, leaving with a much better understanding of one of the worlds most famous civilisations.

Temple Major

Temple Major

Temple Major

Temple Major

Temple Major museum, God with his liver showing

Temple Major museum, God with his liver showing

Temple Major, the dismembered sister of the god in the museum

Temple Major, the dismembered sister of the god in the museum

Temple Major

Temple Major

Temple Major

Temple Major

Continuing our adventures further afield we took a trip to Coyoacan with our local friend Flor. Although a town in its own right, Coyoacan has now been swallowed up by the Greater Mexico City. Fortunately it has retained its charm and has the bonus of being connected to the Mexico City Metro network, which is what we used for our visit. The focus for the excursion was to visit the house and museum of Frida Kahlo. Frida is one of Mexico’s most famous artists and was married to another one, Diego Rivera. The museum is small so it didn’t take long to look around. We left, not being a fan of her work, but with a great admiration of what she stood for and for what she achieved considering all her health issues.
From the museum we walked to Coyoacan centre to find somewhere for lunch. On our way we called in at a traditional market where stalls were packed tightly together displaying their goods on every free surface including the ceiling. It also contained many eating establishments all offering a similar basic menu of traditional Mexican food. It turned out to be a fascinating and interesting experience made all the better for having our own local guide and friend, Flor.

Market

Market

Market

Market

Market stall specialising on Day of the Dead

Market stall specialising on Day of the Dead

Mexico spice

Mexico spice

Piñata

Piñata

Crystallised fruits in Coyoacán Market (including a cactus in green)

Crystallised fruits in Coyoacán Market (including a cactus in green)

A nice lunch was then taken at the central plaza before returning to Mexico City’s historical centre. An enjoyable day was then completed by a Tequila supper on the roof terrace of our apartment.

Tequila on the roof terrace

Tequila on the roof terrace

After a restful day catching up on a bit of travel admin we were then on the move again, this time it was a visit to Teotihuacan. At 07:00 we meet our friend Flor and our guide for the day Fernando outside the apartment and headed off for a day full of history and discovery.
Our first stop was still in the city at a place known as the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The name "Three Cultures" is in recognition of the three periods of Mexican history. The square contains the archaeological site of the city-state of Tlatelolco and is flanked by the oldest European school of higher learning in the Americas called the College of Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco (built in 1536 by friar Juan de Torquemada) and by a massive housing complex built in 1964. Fernando explained the history and significance of the site and what the rest of the day had in store for us, it was at this point we realised we were accompanied by an excellent guide.

Plaza of the Three Cultures

Plaza of the Three Cultures

We then fought our way through traffic to reach the small town of Acolman on the outskirts of the city. The reason for the stop was to visit its famous monument, the Temple and Covent of San Agustin.

Monastery Acolman from Conquistador period

Monastery Acolman from Conquistador period

Cross from the time of the Conquistador, with some images such as flower to attract the locals

Cross from the time of the Conquistador, with some images such as flower to attract the locals

Now out of the city, progress was much faster and we soon arrived at the highlight of the day, the ancient city of Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city located 40 kilometres northeast of Mexico City and is the site of the most architecturally significant pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. It is the most important and largest pre-Columbian city in Mexico and at its peak, in the first millennium CE (Current Era), it had a population estimated at 125,000 or more. This would make it at least the sixth-largest city in the world during that time.
We spent the rest of the day walking around this vast archaeological site, climbing pyramids and being amazed by the quality of the murals and carvings. Fernando explained the history of the site based on archaeologist assumptions, as this ancient civilisation had no written records to refer to.

Pyramid of the Moon

Pyramid of the Moon

Starting climbing the Pyramid of the Sun

Starting climbing the Pyramid of the Sun

View from the Pyramid of the Moon

View from the Pyramid of the Moon

Nobel residence

Nobel residence

Mural inside one of the many ancient houses

Mural inside one of the many ancient houses

Details of a mural inside one of the many uncovered buildings

Details of a mural inside one of the many uncovered buildings

City of Teotihuacán

City of Teotihuacán

View from the top of Pyramid of the Sun

View from the top of Pyramid of the Sun

View of the Pyramid of the Moon from the Pyramid of the Sun

View of the Pyramid of the Moon from the Pyramid of the Sun

View over the ancient mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán

View over the ancient mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán

Jade Goddess

Jade Goddess

Temple of the feathered serpent in Teotihuacán

Temple of the feathered serpent in Teotihuacán

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

Our final day in Mexico City was a city tour, courtesy of our friend Flor. We started with a walk down Av. Paseo de la Reforma past the skyscrapers to the Angel of Independence then on to Chapultepec Park. Being Sunday the roads were closed which meant that locals could cycle, jog, walk, skate and even exercise without the fear of being run over.

Business Centre

Business Centre

Business Centre

Business Centre

Sunday, car free Business centre

Sunday, car free Business centre

Chapultepec Park is a large leafy place with lakes, a castle, sculptures, museums, to name just a few of its attractions. We had a brief visit to the Modern Arts Museum and took a look at the castle on our way to our lunch destination in the up market Polanco district.

Park Chapultepec

Park Chapultepec

Statues in the Chapultepec Park

Statues in the Chapultepec Park

Frida Kahlo famous self portrait

Frida Kahlo famous self portrait

Lunch was at the best taco place in town and it was really good. A walking tour around Polanco followed and the day finished with a coffee at the Mirador Torre Latino. At 166 meters the tower used to be the tallest building in Mexico and still provides great views of the city, especially the Palacio de Belle Artes, from its cafe viewing deck.

Torre Latinoamericana

Torre Latinoamericana

Palacio de Belle Artes from the Torre Latinoamericana

Palacio de Belle Artes from the Torre Latinoamericana

Torre Latinoamericana

Torre Latinoamericana

And that was our 12 day stay in Mexico City. The following day we boarded a plane for Guadalajara and the start of more Mexican adventures.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Mexico
Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico.
It has a population of 127 million with 9 million living in its capital Mexico City. This figure increases to 21.3 million when you include the suburbs (the 10th largest in the world). It is a democracy but has incurred political instability for most of its existence. The majority of its people, 83%, follow the catholic religion and its GDP is the 15th largest in the world.

Mexico Flag

Mexico Flag

Living in Mexico City (Historic Centre)
Spending two weeks in Mexico City’s historic centre allows you to get a real feel for area. It is always busy with people going about their business and traders spill out onto the street to attract potential clients to see what they have to sale. It also appears that streets have trading specialities, around us we had the music street selling instruments, speakers (with the volume tested regularly) and other associated accessories. Close to that is a street that only sells phones and other associated technologies. We passed a street that specialised in jewellery and even one that only had chicken meat for sale.
As usual we self-catered as much as possible which meant visiting food shops of all types. The local supermarket had the usual products and provided for most of our needs with one of the numerous convenience shops catering for what we had forgotten to buy. However, the most interesting place was Mecardo 77, a vast covered traditional market with stalls selling everything you could think of. It catered for the specialist Mexican taste, selling a large array of spices, meats, vegetables, fruits and even fried scorpions and grubs.

Grubs for sale at mercado 77

Grubs for sale at mercado 77

Delicacy at Mercado 77

Delicacy at Mercado 77

Mercado 77

Mercado 77

Mercardo 77

Mercardo 77

The more time you spend in the city the more you learn about it.
One interesting fact is that the city is sinking by around 10cm a year. This is because it has been built on a dried up lake. It first became a capital city in the time of the Aztecs when it was known as Tenochtitlan. The city was originally built in 1325 on an island in Lake Texcoco. This worked well until 1521 when the invading Spanish completely destroyed the city using their modern military hardware. In 1524, the municipality of Mexico City was established, known as Mexico-Tenochtitlan and as of 1585, it became officially known as Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City). The subsequent damming and diversion of rivers that fed lake Texcoco caused it to completely dry up. This in turn allowed the city to spread out across the now dry valley and create what we see today.
At 2,240meters above sea level Mexico City is one of the highest capitals in the world. This altitude takes a bit of getting used to when arrive. The thiner air makes you feel a bit breathless and just doing ordinary things requires more effort.
The city also suffers from a high level of pollution. In the 1990s it had become infamous as one of the world's most polluted cities; however, it has become a model for drastically lowering pollution levels. By 2014 carbon monoxide pollution had dropped drastically, while levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide were nearly three times lower than in 1992. Despite the cleanup, the metropolitan area is still the most ozone-polluted part of the country, with ozone levels 2.5 times beyond WHO-defined safe limits. Something we noticed when returning from excursions outside of the city. Especially when coming back from Teotihuacan, the pollution haze could be seen hanging over the city from some kilometres away.

Posted by MAd4travel 12:52 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

France & Malta 2020

Route: Hove - Lyon - Grenoble - Morestel - Lyon - Hove - Marsaskala - Hove

sunny 15 °C

JANUARY to FEBRUARY 2020

The end of 2019 was something quite different for us as we spent Xmas and New Year in the UK. Usually this time of year is spent in the southern hemisphere where the weather is much more pleasant. We stayed with our good friend Rob, who really knows how to celebrate this festive season, and was able to catch up with friends and family at the same time.

The Tree

The Tree

Papillote a chocolate speciality of Lyon area

Papillote a chocolate speciality of Lyon area

Our Xmas Lunch

Our Xmas Lunch

In early January we travelled to France. First we stayed in Grenoble to spend some time with Anne’s dad. Then had a couple of days in Morestel with good friends David and Sue. Finally finishing our trip in Lyon catching up with family.

Quai du Rhone

Quai du Rhone

Getting good luck from the LOU Mascot

Getting good luck from the LOU Mascot

Rugby Match Lyon (LOU) vs Northampton (The Saints)

Rugby Match Lyon (LOU) vs Northampton (The Saints)

Lyon Mural

Lyon Mural

The Rhone

The Rhone

One of many murals in Lyon, this one is full of Lyon famous people over the centuries

One of many murals in Lyon, this one is full of Lyon famous people over the centuries

Then after a brief stop in the UK we were off again, this time Malta was our destination. A three hour flight south changed the weather from cold, damp and dreary to bright and sunny with a temperature in the high teens. Immigration and car hire formalities were swiftly dealt with and in no time we were in our apartment in the attractive fishing village of Marsaskala.

Malta view from the air

Malta view from the air

Our apartment was modern and comfortable with a balcony that looked out over the fishing harbour and right in the centre of town. Ideal for a bit of relaxation in between excursions to explore the island.

View from our apartment in Marsaskala

View from our apartment in Marsaskala

I can safely say that during our stay we managed to visit all corners of the island and left with a pretty good idea of what it had to offer. The one exception was a visit to the neighbouring island of Gozo.
The south of the island is the most built up and at times it feels a bit claustrophobic as you drive through the concrete jungle that seems to spread out continuously from the capital Valletta. But usually by the the time you reach the coast the scenery improves and the traffic calms.
The north of the island is much less developed and more pleasing to the eye. Small farms grow vegetables, mostly for domestic consumption, and the lack of buildings allow an uninterrupted view of the island’s rocky terrain.
Away from the urban sprawl Malta has a lot to keep you interested. The old town of Valletta and Mdina are steeped in history and we found it fascinating to look around. The islands archeological sites are also worth a visit, we particularly liked the Neolithic remains at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. There are a few quaint fishing villages that are worth exploring for the colour and activity, Marsaskala and Marsaxlokk being two of the best.

Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk

Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk

Traditional fishing boat

Traditional fishing boat

Mdina

Mdina

Mdina

Mdina

Street in Mdina

Street in Mdina

Detailed iron work in Mdina

Detailed iron work in Mdina

View from Mdina

View from Mdina

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim

Hagar Qim

Valletta harbour

Valletta harbour

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

Overview of St Paul's Cathedral, Valletta

Overview of St Paul's Cathedral, Valletta

Inside St Paul's Cathedral, Valletta

Inside St Paul's Cathedral, Valletta

St Paul's Cathedral Ceiling in Valletta

St Paul's Cathedral Ceiling in Valletta

Valletta Street

Valletta Street

Finally just driving around is a pleasure, once you get away from the urban sprawl. Narrow lanes lined with cactus fences take you to tiny hamlets and then on to sheer cliffs that stretch all along the islands coast. The “Blue Grotto” is a the foot of one of these impressive cliffs.

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

Gozo from Malta

Gozo from Malta

Cliff

Cliff

Rural road

Rural road

And so to the end of an enjoyable week in Malta and back to the cold of England. Not for long though, Mexico was calling and just 10 days away.

Posted by MAd4travel 13:31 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

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