by Mari Pintkowski (July 2012)
In last month's article, "How Long is Long Enough?," I wrote about our journey from Tulum to Mexico City to absorb, first-hand, the history and culture of Mexico to be better prepared for the next step we will take in the Mexican immigration process. To our delight, we found a city that was welcoming, safe, clean and easy to maneuver.
On the second day of our trip, we woke up in one of the world's most sophisticated capitals and knew we had to fit a lot into our schedule. After a quick breakfast at the hotel's café, we took a taxi to Chapultepec Park where we planned to spend the entire day.
We stood in awe and admired the solid granite mountain with a storybook-castle perched on top. The air was cool and fresh as we strolled up the drive, admiring the towering trees that lined both sides of the road. Each tree in the forest was so different from the varieties we have at La Selva Mariposa. We stopped to talk to one of the gardeners sporting a large sombrero. He could tell our interest bordered on a passion for trees and, later on our way down, he passed us some seeds we could plant in "our" Maya forest.
The site of the hill had been a sacred place for Aztecs before the Spanish conquerors arrived. The building atop it had served several purposes during history, including a military academy, imperial residence, presidents' home, observatory, and presently a national museum. Once we arrived at the summit of the hill, we discovered as seniors (over 60 years old) our entrance was free, BUT in order to proceed, we had to empty our water bottles, so we found a thirsty tree and shared the contents. The guard could tell our concern, and pointed to the fountains in the courtyard and said we could fill our bottles before we left the grounds.
Construction on the neoclassical-style Chapultepec Castle began in 1775 as a country home for the Grand Viceroy Galvez. It had several other inhabitants before the 2nd Mexican Empire, led by Maximilan and his consort, Empress Carlota, chose it as their residence in 1864. It is grand, elegant and fit for royalty. The Baroque furnishings that fill the castle traveled over the sea from Europe. Surely the road leading to the mansion was not paved at that time and each piece had to be carried up the hill by hand or in rough wagons. I could not help but imagine what the indigenous people, who did this work, thought of the residents who had taken over their forests and made it their own. For a moment, I could imagine myself as Carlota, greeting guests, but only for a moment. Then I had a thought about how Lou and I have chosen to make our home in the midst of a Maya pueblo. Unlike the lord of this manor, we look to our neighbors as both teachers and laborers and are committed to work side by side with them, inspiring and learning from each other.
The immense park that surrounds the castle is bisected by the famous Reforma Boulevard and is home to a zoo, botanical garden, lake, sculpture garden and museum. We wandered the paths through the park admiring all that surrounded us and, as we got tired and hungry, a North American custom got the best of us. We passed food stands in search of a sit-down restaurant.
While walking along the Reforma, we noticed that booths were being set up with a name of a foreign country boldly printed on each one. A sign nearby indicated that an international festival would take place in a few days. Little did we know at the time that we would be back in its midst enjoying the lively colors and sounds of a world parade.
The National Museum of Anthropology, located in the park, was number one on our list of things to see and we were finally here! As we purchased our tickets and headsets, we could see that we needed more than three to four hours to really absorb the contents of all the rooms. We had been to the Templo Mayor and wanted to learn some earlier history of the indigenous people from Central Mexico. We started our tour with the Toltec culture originating in ancient Tula. This city was once the Toltec capital and was located in what is now Hidalgo, Mexico. The giant, sculpted columns in the form of warriors once adorned the entrance to the temple dedicated to their god, Quetzalcoatl. The city, like many others of its time, crumbled due to inter-warring, drought and fire. Their culture, however, influenced cities like Chichen Itza and Tulum that were later built during the Postclassic period (900-1200 AD).
We wandered separately through the interconnecting rooms, sometimes getting confused and looking to each other for clarification. The sculptures were massive, the art work skilled, and the beautifully detailed displays awe-inspiring, but this was way too much history to absorb in one day.
Years ago when we built our house at La Selva Mariposa, we embedded an Aztec calendar in the center of our living room floor. I couldn't leave the Aztec section without a photo of the original stone calendar with the sun god in the center.
We saved our last ounce of energy for the room displaying the Maya history. After visiting so many Maya ruins in the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas, we expected to see some impressive artifacts that were uncovered during excavation. Instead, we saw more copies. It took some time to remember that many of these treasures were taken back to Europe with the early archeologists, and the ones that remained in Mexico are in the Archeological Museum in Merida, which we have yet to visit. Several pieces intrigued me and I found myself staring at a painting of trees with their roots reaching down to the cenotes below the ground.
The other work of art that was especially interesting to me was a sculpture depicting the five levels of the Maya caste system.
When we walked out of the salon and into the courtyard, rain was pouring through the relief-decorated metal column that was attached with invisible cables to the roof outside. At that moment, we realized that we had left our umbrella at the restaurant and joined the crowds waiting for a break in the weather in order to exit the museum.
Lou had his heart set on finding Casa Botin, a sister restaurant of an old classic we had eaten at years before in Madrid, Spain. It was no longer in the city, so we let go of this dream and chose a famous old restaurant, Café Tacuba, within walking distance from our hotel. This little gem was tucked inside a 17th century building. We enjoyed some of the city's celebrated cuisine, along with the decor of hand-painted tiles, antique paintings and strolling minstrels that evoked the magic of old Mexico.
As one day rolled into the next, our time at the Grand Hotel on the zocalo was drawing to an end and tonight 80,000 spectators would fill the space to hear Paul McCartney, of The Beatles fame, perform a free concert.
Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, own and operate the #1 B&B in Tulum, La Selva Mariposa. To read more of Mari's stories of their reinvented life in Mexico go to their website www.laselvamariposa.com and order her books on www.amazon.com.