Desperately Seeking Lo Nuevo – Alternative Mexico City

Coche VW, México DF

I have been fortunate to pass through Mexico City many times over the past decade.  It is an exhilarating city: lively, approachable and full of vitality.  Its wonders abound:

  • the awe-inspiring pyramids at Teotihuacán with foundations greater in size than those at Giza in Egypt
  • the world-class Anthropological Museum with a stunning displays of Mexican culture through the ages
  • the expansive zócalo flanked by the teetering cathedral, the foundation of the Aztec templo mayor, and the National Palace with Diego Rivera’s masterpiece mural of Mexico’s history
  • the irresistible Plaza Garibaldi with hundreds of mariachi bands serenading the locals
  • quaint Coyacán featuring Trotsky’s home (replete with fortified walls still with bullet holes) and Diego and Frida’s “blue house” studio
  • dining in the centro histórico at establishments such as Café Tacuba with superb Mexican food and atmosphere
  • strolling with the locals on a Sunday in Chapultapec Park, eating ice cream and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a day of leisure
  • the illustrious Casa Museo Dolores Olmedo with exceptional modern art and extensive grounds roving with peacocks and the curious Xoloitzcuintle dogs, a pre-Hispanic canine
  • the many markets, especially La Merced covering 16 square blocks with its own subway stop at its center

The list goes on and on. During each visit I saw and experienced new things, but this time I was eager to do something different in the city.  Find the “alternative” Mexico City, or at least something new to me.  So in the 2.5 days I spent in Mexico City before returning to the United States I found the following “new” things that were well worth checking out.

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Lucha Libre – High Jinks and High-flying Theatrics in Mexico City

Lucha Libre cartelera at the Arena Coliseo

Strolling through the ever-fascinating La Merced market in Mexico City, I happened upon a poster advertising a lucha libre, or “free fighting” match today, not far from my hotel in the centro histórico in Mexico City.  And with a threatening thunderstorm rolling in, I dashed to the arena and purchased a mid-priced ticket after repeated attempts by the boletero to sell me the high-priced ringside seats.  I wanted to experience the “alternative” Mexico City, but not necessarily from the front row.  I was happy on this occasion to simply sit back inconspicuously and take in the experience from the relative afar.

And what a crazy experience it was – I expected to stay perhaps 45 minutes or an hour tops just to get a feel for the “show” but in fact after a couple beers and a surprisingly entertaining atmosphere, before long I found myself shouting on the edge of my seat as the finale neared at the end of Hour Two.

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CouchSurfing through the Canals of Xochimilco and Beyond

Trajineras (flat-bottomed gondolas) in Xochimilco, Mexico DF

Sitting in my hotel in Mexico City, tired after a day of walking and sightseeing – alone – I decided to check out the CouchSurfing groups in Mexico City to see if I could meet up with some locals and travelers to socialize a bit.  I’m a fairly recent arrival to the CouchSurfing scene, and since joining about a year ago we have hosted a half-dozen CouchSurfers in our home in Kittery Point, Maine.  And all experiences were unique and wonderful – everyone we hosted was full of wanderlust and shared the “change the world, one couch at a time” spirit of the exceptional CouchSurfing community.

There seemed to be a fairly active group in Mexico City, so I responded to a message offering to meet up on Saturday for a boat ride in Xochimilco, an area at the end of the light rail south of the city center.  Famous for its trajineras (flat-bottomed gondolas) that wind through the canals, the last remaining vestige of ancient Tenotichlán, the Aztec capital built in the middle of a lake in this central Mexican basin cradled in a basin between snow-capped volcanoes.  On a previous trip to Mexico City I visited Xochimilco alone and chose not to go for a ride.  All the other boats were filled with merry groups celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, special events or simply a fun, relaxing afternoon with family and friends.  Feeling conspicuously alone at the time, I just wasn’t in the mood to go solo on the gondolas.

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¡Carnaval y cascarones! Walking on eggshells in Mexico

Carnival miscellanea for sale in San Miguel
Carnival miscellanea for sale in San Miguel

A spectacular event happens at the start of carnival in San Miguel de Allende.  Starting on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, the street vendors sell hand-made puppets with painted faces, brightly colored garments with trimmings such as tequila bottles, cans of cerveza Modelo, balloons, decorative parasols, and assorted accessories.

Carnival puppets in the park
Carnival puppets in the park

These are highly customized and charming clowns on sticks whose smiling faces and dangling limbs bounce gaily with once in the hands of passersby.  The vendors also sell colorful flowers, some with confetti eggs in the center, and manually crafted masks with sequins and sparkling glitter.

Hand-made masks for sale
Hand-made masks for sale
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Activismo sin fronteras: OWS–San Miguel

Occupy Wall Street - San Miguel de Allende

I’m super proud of Mom and Ray.  They’ve been actively involved in the local Occupy Wall Street movement in San Miguel since they arrived last fall.  They’ve attended countless meetings, spent hours working on brochures, event planning and researching topics.  During my visit I was eager to attend their presentations, Mom on the state of education and Ray on the need for campaign finance reform.

Both have expressed their frustration with the Occupy movement, despite their firm belief in the need to fundamentally change the status quo in the United States.  The loose organization and its commitment to the principle of consensus present some structural and procedural challenges.  After three months of considerable time and energy committing to the movement’s objectives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, both Mom and Ray expressed weariness and impatience with the (lack of) progress.  As with the groups in the United States, the OWS San Miguel is comprised of disparate personalities with contending interests and priorities, resulting in slow momentum and seemingly endless discussions with no tangible results.

But what I saw in San Miguel was superb – an informed, impassioned and articulate team from the working groups presenting on a wide range of topics.  Forums were well attended, organized and open for free discussion.  Dissenting or questioning voices were welcomed and encouraged.   Both Mom and Ray each spoke for nearly 20 minutes and were well armed with clear arguments, substantiated with facts.  They fielded the follow-up questions and with knowledge and calm.  It was a treat for me to witness how hard they both researched the presentations, and I was extremely pleased to witness all this in person.

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Buddha Maitreya Project Relic Tour – Más allá del Museo de las Momias

The Meitreya Project in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Just one day after the ghastly, gruesome yet thoroughly Mexican Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) in Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende presented the remains of more enlightened souls in a less macabre exhibit. I learned of the Maitreya Project during today’s Unitarian-Universalist service in town, which I happily attend with my mom and Ray when visiting them.

Loving Kindness Buddha on Display

The Maitreya Project plans to erect a 500 foot statue of the Loving Kindness Buddha where the enlightened achieved final nirvana upon his death in Kushinagar, India.  The Maitreya Buddha is the successor to the historical Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who will arrive on earth when Dharma is all but lost in our world.

The introductory video presented renditions of the site with the towering 50-story Buddha, a magnificent (and expensive at USD 195M) stupa to honor one of the most important sites in Buddhism. I was impressed with the project’s goals other than the statue: construction employs local labor and suppliers, and tourist revenue will continue long after the build is complete, contributing greatly to the local economy; the facilities will be 100% powered by renewable wind and solar energy to last “1,000 years”; the site will include a teaching hospital to train doctors in holistic and Western medical practices and to serve the local (mostly impoverished) communities for free – noble aspirations indeed.

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Las lluvias del invierno… Museums and Mummies in Guanajuato

Museo de las Momias, Guanajuato, Mexico

An unusual rainy spell has struck pretty much all of Mexico, and here in San Miguel de Allende the high altitude has made for some pretty cold temperatures with daily highs only in the low 50’s F.  This chill, combined with the non-stop rain showers, have made the past few days rather unpleasant.  Normally warm and sunny with bright blue skies during the day and cooler, dry air in the evenings, the high-altitude desert of Guanajuato state is usually an ideal locale to spend some time during the winter months.

Yet the region has had a significant drought in recent months, with the normally wet summer producing inadequate rainfall.  Wells are low, the lakes far below the normal depths, and there are reports of cattle dying in the fields.  Mother Nature has not been kind to the region last year.  Sanmiguelenses had been praying for rain – fortunately for them past few days have generously spawned downpours and frequent passing showers.  This soaking rain will go far in replenishing the local supply of fresh water much to the satisfaction of all of us that depending on it.

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