Heathrow - Mexico City flights are scheduled at almost twelve hours. Kind winds allowed us to leave a little late yet arrive early at 6.30pm (half past midnight British time). We made it through formalities and met Francisco who drove us to our hotel through heavy traffic as the country prepared for a three-day weekend celebrating the 1911 revolution when Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, among others, laid the foundations of modern Mexico.
This journey will take us from Mexico City to Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque
We checked in, discovered we had been upgraded and by 9.15 sleep seemed irresistible. Visiting the bathroom my eye was caught by the bidet which had three controls and a variety of ways of hurling water upwards and I could not resist a fiddle - unwise in a state of advanced tiredness.
Well at least it's a nice big room
At the Casa Blanca, Mexico City (on the next day)
Water was soon swirling in a merry dance but as the level rose I found I could not stop the flow – one, or both, of the taps had a left-hand thread and working out which did what was beyond me. Then I discovered the fourth control, the lever that lifted the plug, didn't. The water level was rising steadily and whatever I did made things worse. I asked Lynne to phone reception and set about removing discarded clothes from the bathroom floor.
Water was now cascading from the bidet, Lynne's phone call was being resolutely ignored, and I was beginning to run round like a headless chicken. The apparently flat bathroom floor turned out to be subtly domed, water quickly collected a centimetre deep in one corner and would soon rise above the lip and start flooding the bedroom. Another desperate whack to the plug lever lifted it just enough for me to insert my fingernails underneath and prise it out. To my relief water started emptying faster than the bidet was filling and soon it was low enough to see the precise effect of twiddling the taps and I was able to turn it off.
|Bloody, bastard bidet|
Mopping up took until ten thirty; the drain being inconveniently set at the highest point of the dome. We finally collapsed into bed only dimly aware that the party next door was now in full swing.
By two o'clock our body clocks were adamant that it was time to get up and the continuing party thwarted all attempts to override this instruction. We had a cup of tea. The sound insulation room to room was good, the noise merely a burble but when participants felt the need to go out into the corridor their conversations might as well have been in our room.
Around four they ran out of stamina and we managed a couple of hours more sleep.
We were to join a party for a guided 'market
and street food' tour, meeting in the entrance of the Sears Tower, about a
kilometre distant, at 10.30 so we took our time.
In the morning we both felt better than we expected. Breakfast was good and I enjoyed my black beans and nachos with chicken and rice followed by tropical fruits, all soft and sweetly ripe.
|Our hotel, Mexico City|
The Monumento a la Revolución was very near our hotel. Intended as a neo-classical home for the Federal Legislative Palace, building started in 1910 but was halted two years later by the revolution. In 1938 the completed first stage was adapted as a monument to the revolution that halted its building and it now contains the tombs of five revolutionary heroes including Pancho Villa. Transforming the core of a parliament building into a triumphal arch altered the neo-classical intention into something that has been described as Mexican socialist realism. Whatever the label, I think it’s ugly (sorry Mexico). At 75m high it is claimed to be the world’s highest triumphal arch, but please don’t tell Kim Jung Un, he would only have to make his bigger.
|Monument to the Revolution, Mexico City|
The bright sunshine - and corresponding heavy shadow – might have made photography difficult but had so far failed to warm the air. In the early morning Mexico City's 2250m elevation was winning out over its tropical latitude.
East of the monument we crossed Paseo de la Reforma, one of the city's main thoroughfares, into Av Juarez. Following Juarez for 500m brought us to the Sears Tower (though that is a generous use of the word 'tower'). Having reached our rendezvous half an hour early, we crossed the road to the ornate Palacio de Bellas Artes…
|Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City|
… and from there entered Almeda Park past a statue dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven which might well have raised one of his shaggy eyebrows.
Beethoven monument, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
From the right it looks less like a man performing a sex act on a Beethoven-headed angel - but it is still weird
The park is a favourite place for the city's middle class to stroll among greenery, fountains and classical statues and equally popular among its less fortunate citizens who sleep on the benches, padded by cardboard boxes.
|Almeda Park, Mexico City|
The sunshine eventually worked its magic, the air became warm - and the temperature would remain comfortable until darkness fell.
|Classical statues, Almeda Park, Mexico City|
Returning to the rendezvous we waited as 10.30 came and went. At 10.50 we phoned our local agents who had arranged the tour though another company. The guide, it transpired, had called to inform them we had not turned up. After a series of text messages, we had the instructions to reach a place where we could meet the guide and join the rest of the group.
By 11.10 we were outside the Pulqueria las Duelistas, a venerable institution specializing in pulque, the fermented juice of the agave cactus (of which more in Oaxaca). Half an hour later we were still there and after a further exchange of calls and texts we gave up, with the promise of a refund. We had, presumably, been given the wrong meeting place or time.
|Waiting outside the Pulqueria las Dualistas, Mexico City|
We conducted a self-guided tour of the area, finding the handicraft market and lots of interesting food shops, but we failed to find the San Juan food market! We walked back towards Av Juarez through the Barrio China - even Mexico City has a Chinatown.
|Chinatown, Mexico City|
Back on Juarez it was lunchtime and, as luck would have it, we found ourselves outside a likely looking cerveceria. We ordered a tostado topped with octopus, tacos with prawns and a bean sauce and unspecified draught lager. Before our order arrived we were brought (gratis) several small discs of fried corn and three pots of salsa consisting mainly or entirely of pounded chillies; habanero, jalapeno and an unremembered third. Unlike other chilli loving countries we have visited - India, Thailand, and parts of China (among others) - Mexicans value chillies for their flavour as well as their heat, so they care about the variety. Our three little salsas each had its own flavour, the red one tasting strongly of sweet peppers as well as being ferociously hot. Surprisingly, most Mexican food is restrained in its use of chillies, but they have a huge variety of piquanté salsas and commercial preparations of bottled fire which they sprinkle liberally.
|Lunch among the tacos, Mexico City|
We enjoyed the salsa, and the tacos and tostada that followed, though sadly this was to be our high point for tortillas. We discovered that the various and ubiquitous products of corn masa (dough) were, for us anyway, difficult to digest, lying in the stomach like dead weights. This is a handicap when it comes to enjoying Mexican food as most meals and certainly anything that could be called a snack, involves discs of corn dough cooked soft or fried crisp with various toppings.
We had almost finished eating when we heard the sound of drums and marching bands, the wind instruments, mainly saxophones and clarinets, being blown with an intensity that is uniquely Latin American. It was the start of the parade celebrating the revolution, and it would clearly go on for a while so there was no need to rush outside to watch.
Some marched and played their instruments…,
|Marching band, Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City|
...some danced; there were girls twirling flamenco style dresses...
|Dancers, Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City|
...and boys with gruesome face masks recalling prehispanic times...
|One lady seems unimpressed by the masks, Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City|
..or perhaps just fancy dress.
|Does this mean anything or are they just dressing up? Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City|
The paraders were mainly school or youth groups, each proceeded by a banner telling us who they were.
Here come the Halcones Dorados (Golden Hawks) from the city of Puebla
Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City
Many were local, some came from other parts of Mexico and there were visiting groups from further afield.
|Part of a visiting contingent from Bolivia|
It did indeed go on for some time and we walked slowly down Av Juarez watching it all.
|Some watch in comfort and get their shoes shined, Revolution Day Parade, Mexico City|
The last group passed as we reached the Paseo de Reforma. From there it was a short walk back to our hotel and a much needed nap.
We felt no need for food that evening, though whether as a result of re-adjusting body clocks or the weight of the tacos I cannot tell. We did go for a walk, finding the temperature had fallen with the coming of darkness and it was noticeably nippy. In the plaza by the Monumento a la Revolución a fountain was shooting up random jets of water illuminated by coloured lights and children (and even some adults) were dancing in and out of the jets.
|Two fathers with identical gestures urge their sons to get a soaking, Revolution Celebrations, Mexico City|
It all looked good fun for a good-humoured crowd, but the children in soaking wet clothes must have been cold.
|And having got the kids in the firing line, the dads stand well back, Mexico City Revolution Day.|