This past week I had the opportunity to take a trip down to Mexico City with a group from our mission, including some of the older students from Binimea (Jude’s MK school down here)! The coordinator for our Spanish language and Mexican culture program, Kathleen, also teaches Mexican history for the high schoolers at Binimea and organized this trip to explore Mexico City’s historical sites and culture. I had planned not to go but a spot opened up and we thought it would be an important trip to make because of the impact Mexico’s history plays in the culture today. Most of the trip was educational, while some of it was sightseeing. Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world with over 20 million people living in the greater metropolitan area of the city.
Our leaders were Kathleen and Walt, the principal of Binimea. I spent the time partnered up with my fellow language and culture student and friend, Jordan Husband, because both of our wives and kids had remained here in Chihuahua.
We departed from Chihuahua early Monday afternoon and spent the rest of day, through the night and the next morning traveling via a large tour bus. We made several stops for food along the way, and thankfully there was a restroom on the bus. The trip down was long but we made the best of it and were able to get to know some of our fellow missionaries and students from the school better.
We arrived in Mexico City late Tuesday morning and after de-boarding our bus we checked into our assigned rooms, got a quick shower, and began our exploration of the surrounding area. The location of the hotel was perfect because we were within walking distance of a number of our planned activities, being in the heart of the city’s historic center.
DAY ONE (Tuesday)
A short walk from our hotel was the Plaza de la Constitucíon, also know as El Zócalo, which is the city and country’s main square. I was interested to see this area because it was the location of the opening scene in the latest James Bond movie, Spectre. 🙂 A lot of the protests in the city also take place in this square.
We moved through the plaza and made our way to National Palace of Mexico City. Covering a surface area of about 40,000 square meters, the palace is the seat of the Executive Branch of the government. It contains some of the murals of famed Mexican painter Diego Rivera, illustrating Mexico’s history. This was very interesting to see, and we had a Spanish speaking guide to tell us the stories depicted in the murals.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City is located in the Plaza de la Constitucíon. It is the biggest and most beautiful example of colonial architecture found in the capital. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, construction was started in 1521 with stones that had been used in the Great Temple of Tenochtitlán (more on that below).
The Latin-American tower is a skyscraper located in downtown Mexico City with an awesome view of the city from the public observation deck on top (44th floor). We went up and took some pictures from the top during daylight and also again later after dark. It was spectacular.
In the evening we also walked to the Plaza Garibaldi where we hired a mariachi band to serenade us.
DAY TWO (Wednesday)
In the heart of the city are the remains of what was the Great Temple of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), a temple dedicated to the Aztec gods of wind, war and rain. Construction of the temple began sometime after the year AD 1325. Connected to the ruins is a museum exploring the rituals, trade, customs and politics of the Aztecs. The museum contains a great circular sculpture representing the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui. Its discovery in 1978 motivated the original excavation of the site. Upon excavating the area, over 7,000 ancient relics were found!
Xochimilco means “field of flowers” and is a set of channels that exist from pre-Hispanic times. It is now considered a cultural heritage. We rented two “trajineras” (gondola-like boats) for our group and enjoyed a picnic lunch through one of the channels. I was surprised at how popular the channel was as we passed many other people on it. There were also a lot of vendors on the water who would pull up alongside the boat (or hop in) to sell their goods. We had a mariachi band play for us as we traveled through the channel. On the way back, we passed by the famous “Island of the Dolls” (google it) and also stopped along the side at one point to check out all the different plants and flowers being sold in markets along the waters edge.
Danza de Los Voladores
Our last experience at Xochimilco was the viewing of the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), an ancient meso-american ceremony still performed today. According to one tradition, the ritual was created to implore the gods to end a severe drought. In it, five men climb to the top of a very long pole. One man remains on top, while the other four sit tied with ropes tied around their waists on a spinning platform. The man on top dances while playing the flute, while the other four descend off of the top, upside-down, slowly spinning around the pole by their ropes until they reach the ground. Its difficult to describe but you can see the video below.
Construction on “The Palace of Fine Arts” was completed in 1934 and is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Dance Company, the Opera de Bellas Artes and the Chamber Orchestra of Fine Arts. It includes many exhibitions and theatrical performances, and in the evening we had the opportunity to see the famous Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. It was an incredible performance highlighting dances and costumes reflecting traditional Mexican culture.
DAY THREE (Thursday)
Castillo de Chapultepec
This magnificent building, the Chapultepec Castle, has become emblematic of the history of Mexico. It was a sacred place for the Aztecs, later a Military Academy and Imperial residence, presidential home and is now the National Museum of History.
It is the location of the famous Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American war, where the Niños Héroes died defending the castle while it was taken by United States forces. It was during this battle that one of the teenage heroes, a teenage cadet named Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into enemy hands. This battle is also honored by the first line of the US Marines’ Hymn when it says, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”
This castle was also the residence of the first emperor, Maximillian I (Austrian-born), of the Second Mexican Empire.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
The basilica is a Roman-Catholic church and national shrine in Mexico City. The shrine is built near the hill of Tepeyac where “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (a title for the Virgin Mary) is believed to have appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. It is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site as it contains the famous of “tilma” (cape) bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which hangs above the high altar of the Guadalupe Basilica and is protected by bullet-proof glass. It is viewed up close by standing on a moving walkway.
This is the location of an ancient Meso-american city containing the well known Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. It was established around 100 BC, with completion of its monuments continuing until around 250 AD. It is considered to have been one of the world’s largest cities in it’s time and may have lasted for hundreds of years. It is the most visited archeological site in the country of Mexico, as it contains the pyramids, as well as the Citadel, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and the Avenue of the Dead.
This was my favorite part of our journey and an incredible glimpse into the ancient world. We were able to climb up both the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon and it was a spectacular site as we were able to view the entire complex. We were unable to make it to the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, but walked the Avenue of the Dead from one pyramid to the other.
After we finished at Teotihuacan it was time to begin our lengthy bus ride back home. These bus rides too and from Chihuahua were very long, but the time went by fast as we were able to spend time getting to know our fellow travelers more. We were also able to have some fun and get silly on the bus, of course stemming from our boredom. 🙂
We returned yesterday afternoon and overall it was a great trip. I learned a lot about the history of Mexico, including its ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs, the religious history of the Catholic church in Mexico, its wars and occupations by other peoples and its struggle for independence. All of these things are important to learn and study because it gives me a better understanding of the country we are serving in and her people. We consider it a huge privilege to be able to live in Mexico and a privilege to build relationships with the people of this country. Its history is a huge part of present day culture.
Aside from all that I learned from the trip, I am also very thankful for two things:
First, I am so thankful for our language and culture coordinator, Kathleen (Kata). She is the one who organized this trip, made all of the plans and worked hard to get every detail lined up. Her knowledge of Mexico’s history and passion to understand its people is contagious and this trip was the best experience I have had in Mexico so far, thanks to all she put into making this trip happen.
(We surprised her by having a shirt made with her face on it and a hat that said, “Amigo de Kata”)
Second, I am also very thankful to have spent a lot of time getting to know some of our co-laborers down here in Mexico and especially some of the students from Binimea, Jude’s MK school. They are a great group of students who love the Lord and like to have fun. We had a blast together and I hope to build on the friendships made with them in the days ahead.
So, there you have it. I only wish that Beth & the kids could have joined us on our adventure in Mexico City! Next time… 🙂
Here’s a couple more pictures for fun!