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Bienvenidos a Mexico!
Marina Lukanina

Chapultepec Castle

or many Russians, their first acquaintance with Mexico started back in the 1990s when Mexican telenovelas flooded our TV. Funnily enough, my own interest in Mexico is also attributable to them. I think I watched the shows differently than most people. I bought my first Spanish dictionary then, and tried to distinguish the words the actors were saying and then memorize them. Telenovelas were also the first place where I saw wonderful views of Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, and I decided that one day I would visit this country. I started corresponding with several Mexican pen-pals, one of whom became a good friend.

My dream finally came true six years after I saw my first Mexican telenovela. In December 2000 I went to Mexico for the first time. I clearly remember sitting at Frankfurt airport looking at my boarding pass that said “Mexico City” on it, still not accepting the fact that I was only hours away from realizing one of the greatest dreams of my life.

My Mexican friend took me to all the major sights in Mexico City and we also spent a week on the beach. My next trip was five years later, in 2005 when I was part of a Russian children’s camp directors’ group. Finally, on my third trip to Mexico I went with my work colleague and my niece. I was the main “Mexican hand” in the group. This was when I really discovered Mexico, and I realized how much this country resonates with my inner world.

We started our tour of Mexico from Acapulco, a beach resort city on the Pacific coast, having being invited to a wedding with over 200 guests. Acapulco is a gorgeous place to get married so if you are currently considering where to tie your marital bonds—go for Acapulco and you will not regret it! The beauty of the ocean waterfront, breath-taking sunsets, warm weather, and lovely palm trees, this will make your wedding day unforgettable.

I had mixed feelings traveling to Acapulco after I read various articles about violence in the city. However, during the time that we spent there, I always felt safe and secure. We stayed in the Diamante area of Acapulco which is where the most expensive hotels and beaches are, and it is also close to Acapulco airport. So in case you have your doubts, just choose a hotel in this area and you will be fine.

Our next destination was Mexico City, which has a population of over 26 million people. The city is indeed mucho crowded but it has its special vibe. We stayed in Centro Historico, which is within walking distance of the main square— Zocalo; “the heart of Mexico City” with the National Palace on one side and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in Latin America, which is built on top of some Aztec ruins, on the other. And just couple of steps from the main square you find yourself exploring Templo Mayor, one of the finest Aztecs ruins.

There are several more “must-see” places in Mexico City. Among these are the Chapultepec Castle and Park, a former residence of Mexican emperors. There is a breathtaking view from this castle of Paseo de la Reforma, the main street of Mexico City, with the Angel of Independence right in the middle of it. The Castle was also used in the movie “Romeo and Juliet” with Leonardo di Caprio (in case you are either a fan of Shakespeare or Leo or both, which is probably rare).

I highly recommend you spend some time wandering around the Anthropology Museum situated in the same neighbourhood as the Castle. You can see a famous Aztec calendar there and find out that in fact it is not a calendar at all, and learn plenty about ancient Mexican cultures.

My favourite district in Mexico City is Coyoacán, built in the colonial style, which has a very different landscape and architecture from Centro Historico or the downtown area. Two places you must visit here are the Museum of Frida Kahlo, the famous “Casa Azul” (“blue house” as it is painted in blue) and the Museum of Leon Trotsky. Frida Kahlo was a well-known Mexican painter and the wife of Diego Rivera, a bright, well-educated woman who took up painting as a therapeutic outlet after a 1925 bus accident nearly killed her. Due to the accident, she was never again free of pain and suffered over 30 surgical operations in 29 years. Through it all, she painted. Her themes were almost exclusively about women: women’s bodies, birth, death and survival. In one third of her work, she herself was the subject.

Frida Kahlo Museum

Pacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City

Just a couple of blocks from Frida’s house is an entrance to a totally different universe—the temporary refuge of Leon Trotsky, somebody who needs no introduction to PASSPORT readers. Leon met his bitter end in this house, when an assassin planted an ice-axe in his skull. Trotsky’s house is preserved in much the same condition as it was on the day of the assassination.

Another “must-see” place close by Mexico City is Teotihuacan, an ancient sacred site located 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacán means “place where the gods were born,” reflecting the Aztec belief that the Gods created the universe. Constructed around 300 AD, its most monumental structures are the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun (the third-largest pyramid in the world) and the Pyramid of the Moon. The main avenue of Teotihuacan that connects the entrance with the pyramids is called “Avenida de los Muertos” (“The Avenue of the Dead”).

If you do not have enough energy to climb both pyramids, go for the Pyramid of the Moon. Even though it’s not quite as high as the Pyramid of the Sun, the view from the top beats that of the Sun.

Keep in mind that Teotihuacán is located at an altitude of over 2,000m. Take it slowly, bring something to block the sun, plenty of water, and get there early before it gets too crowded with other tourists.

Mexicans are of course famous for their mariachi singing. The most common place to go and listen to them is the Garibaldi Plaza (Square of Garibaldi).

Our next destination was Palenque, a Mayan city in the south of Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle but has now been excavated and restored. By 2005, the recovered area extended to 2.5 km², but archaeologists say that this is less than 10% of the total area of the city.

One of my main observations of my recent trip to Mexico was that it’s hard to visit this country without knowing Spanish. Hardly anyone, even in the tourist areas, spoke English. Spanish is essential while talking to the cab drivers who try to fleece foreigners more than they should, like in Moscow. So always demand that they use the meter and check if it’s working before getting into the car and memorize some vocabulary around this topic before your trip.

I must confess I could speak about Mexico for ages. It is the country that I can easily relate to and see myself living there on a longterm basis. It is the country that has fully lived up to my expectations; it is the country that profoundly amazes me by its warm and hospitable people, their unique culture with great music, talented dancing and mysterious monuments and ruins from their past.

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