Morelia, Monarch Butterflies, Mexico City
There are different degrees of bus travel in Mexico from the average local busses, long range ‘chicken busses’, Primera Plus (first class) and then there is Ejecutivo; the latter of which is only $10 more expensive than first class. Usually a direct, long distance service, the Ejecutivo has only 3 seats across the aisle that almost fully recline and a foot rest. It’s the closest we will ever get to business class in flight!! The Parhakhuni Line adds more of a touch with personal TV screens for on road entertainment (some movies even in English), power socket for laptops, internet, wireless service and the final touch was a hostess making us tea and coffee! 5.5 hours of travel for under $30 AUD!
The purpose of visiting Morelia was no more than a jumping off place to see the Monarch Butterflies; however the town in itself was a wonderful surprise in many ways; not being overly touristy was a bonus. The university has occupied many of the old buildings in Centro Historico providing a vibrant atmosphere, especially in the early mornings and evenings. Doric columns are prevalent in most of the buildings and the porticos around the centre (Zocalo) offer many places to hang out and watch the world go by!
Morelia is very much a Spanish town dating back to Nueva Espana in 1541, with a wonderful mix of colonial architecture with new buildings required to be built with the same soft pink stone of the older ones. This also means that there is no signage allowed for businesses which has removed the tacky street fronts of other towns. Of course it takes a little longer to find things!!
The cathedral took over a century to build and it is truly magnificent.
As in all town squares, people gather for various entertainment.
A very common feature of the many buildings throughout Mexico are the colourful murials inside or outside buildings depicting some aspect of life.
We hired a driver (we were the only tourists around!) to take us to the Monarch Butterflies, a 2 hour drive, feeling very at home in a Commodore and seeing many eucalypt trees along the way. How did they get there???? Some interesting towns to drive through and one in which a Mexican was driving his horse drawn buggy along the street with the cars; no-one paying him any special attention. Some of the fields were also being ploughed by horse; the agricultural areas seem a world apart from the city of course. A quirky find was the hillside that had large drainage pipes going in at angles, serving as a nice cool spot to house a car…… a different take on undercover parking.
The El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary was very quiet and we had our very own (Spanish speaking!) guide. Climbing 2000 feet to get to the trees (total altitude now being around 11,000 feet) was an effort for me going up (anemia not helping) and Peter, with his knees coming down – walking down backwards is easier on his knees! So between us, at least one could get up the mountain and the other down.
The Monarch butterflies are of nature’s phenomenal events. They number in their hundreds of millions with estimations from year to year being 200 to 500 MILLION. Flying from the Great Lakes region in August, they arrive in Central Mexico around November and breed there in late March. After the males have had their fill, they die, leaving the pregnant females to then fly north to Texas and Florida, lay their eggs in milkweed bushes, then they too, die. Eggs hatch, caterpillars feed on milkweed, make cocoons, emerge late May, fly off to the Great Lakes and mate, so the whole cycle begins again. It takes 3 to 5 generations to make the round trip from Canada to Mexico. A lot of miles to flutter!!
You could not see the trees for butterflies. The Mexican Government has now stopped land clearing in the area to try and preserve the habitats for the butterflies.
Lunch, consisting on black corn tortillas cooked over a fire was actually very enjoyable!
Mexico City is one of those places you need to see for yourself. It is one of the most amazing cities we have seen, not at all polluted as some of the Asian cities and certainly not as crowded. The French built metro is phenomenal and combined with an efficient bus system, the 105 million masses are moved around very efficiently, at low cost. For 25 cents per person per entry, we could go anywhere in the metro.
As there is an escalating situation of drug violence in Mexico, the government has moved to increase security around tourist areas. As there were 4 armed police on every street corner in the central area, and throughout the underground and anywhere a tourist might wander, there were no issues with regards to our safety. Locals warned us in the outer areas of pickpockets, but we saw no one that looked even remotely shady. We have also heard from many locals in different areas that it is an unwritten rule with the drug lords not to bring the violence into tourist areas due to the economic importance of them. This increase in violence is very sad for the majority of Mexican people who are wonderful, kind and generous folk.
Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec Tenochtitlan City-State was interesting as the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan on an island surrounded by a great lake. Of course that city centre became the Centro Historico district of Mexico City, with the rest of the sprawling city built on a lake. Although well drained, there are many issues of sinking apparent. Makes you wonder how far under water we were zipping along in the underground. The Basilica of Guadalupe is sadly laying victim to Cotez’s poor choice of location!
Nearby Indian Chapel is suffering the same fate.
The Zacolo, central square, is the 3rd largest in the world behind Red Square and Tiananmen Square. The Cathedral in the Zacolo is the largest church in Latin America. A truly magnificent building with iconographic ceilings; it too is slowly sinking into the wet ground beneath.
The Aztecs built extensive canals (extending for over 180 km) where they grew their produce. Xochimilco, on the southern outskirts of Mexico City is one very small area that is left of this original canal development. Now very touristy, the Floating Gardens are a favourite place to take a family on Sundays; it provided some entertainment for us gliding along the canal listening to the Mariachi bands and watching the world go by.
Throughout Mexico, fresh cut flowers are widely available and purchased for very little cost.
To the north of the city lies Teotihuacan, whose civilization flourished in earlier BC. The sun and moon pyramids are not as grand as those in Egypt and were thankfully missed by Cortez as they look like hills from a distance. (Cortez had torn down other ancient stone edifices to build churches!).
The pyramids were originally painted yellow and red; the colours extracted from crushing a worm that grows on a cacti. Paint did not last for long and the mind boggles at how long the painting took!!
The sun pyramid has a remarkable alignment as on May 19 and July 25, the sun is directly over the pyramid at noon, and the main west façade faces the point at which the sun sets on these days.
At quite a steep climb at 2,200m absl, that would be Cheryl sitting having a rest!
Most of what stands today has been rebuilt and in 1971, a tunnel was found that leads to a cave under the centre of the pyramid, suggesting its former purpose. The understanding of astronomy, astrology and the big picture of the universe of earlier peoples just blows us away as it is indeed astronomical!!
Around Teotihuacan there are many places selling local obsidian and other quartz like mineral ‘artefacts’ . The vendors, anxious for a sale , were telling us they were almost free. The piece Peter liked, a jade funeral mask had a $3000 price tag!
An amazing artisan market (Centro de Artesanias La Cuididela) covering almost a whole block offered the best diversity of crafts from the Oaxaca region at the best prices we had seen.
Our favourite piece...
Sunday, being family day, the many parks are full of families and people selling their wares, and of course, where there are people, there is food. The Mexicans seem to eat throughout the day! Being attracted to a variety of music, we happened across a square full of people ballroom dancing! Sensational! With no boundaries of wealth or dress, people were out there purely to enjoy their dancing.
Across the street, in another park, there was salsa dancing, with lessons happening in the background. This young cool dude was wonderufl to watch.
Another building we stumbled upon held the display for Independencia y Revolucion, celebrating 200 years of their Independence from Spain, 1810-2010. The craftsmanship in displays was unique and amazing with a variety of media from clay, wax, straw, silks, embroidery and paintings. The expressions on the faces of the people and even the horses were fantastic.
The Anthropologica Museum, claiming to be the best in the world, would not be far from the truth, and anything less of a building would not do justice to the artifacts inside. Its successful capture of the complex history and diversity of Mexican Civilization is bought about through the regional organization of its displays. I finally got to see my Olmec Heads that were even more astounding than anticipated. That was my bit of excitement!!
An interesting feature of the Olmec Heads is their African facial features; in a time before known contact with African peoples. Perhaps there is much unknown about ancient civilizations!
Some of the archeological items displayed have only been discovered since 1940 and as late as 1975. The jade death mask of King Pakal from Palenque in the southern jungle near the Guatemalan border was just magnificent.
Outside the museum are the Voladores. Traditionally, a Totonac Rite in Veracruz (Mexican Gulf) and carried out once a year, 5 men in traditional dress rotate down a 30m high pole while one man at the top plays a Chirimia – small drum with flute attached. This ancient ceremony is thought to be a fertility rite; the men falling to the ground bringing sun and rain. Each man circles 13 times with a total of 52 revolutions, significantly tied to two pre Hispanic calendars. That in itself is amazing. Vertical Morris Dancing????? Peter was thinking about the Fair Maids of Perth doing this..which would defy description!!!
One of the Voladores said to Peter that you need ‘grande cojones’ to do this! He looks like he does!
The more we see of Mexico, we discover the more there is to see. We have one more land tour to do in the south from Chiapas, once we cross the hazardous big T (Gulfo de Tehuantepec) and our clearance port for Mexico.