Wednesday, August 02, 2006


As it turned out, we arrived in Mexico City just a couple weeks after a controversial presidential election. The right wing candidate, Felipe Calderón, is claiming victory with a razor-thin margin of votes (36% to 35%).

However, the leftist candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (above center), is claiming fraud. As a result, he organized several giant protests in Mexico City, including one on Sunday, July 16, the last day we were in town. People came from all over the country, and some sources estimated that over 1,100,000 people were packed in to the city center.

Needless to say, walking around this area was interesting, but quite difficult at times. We never got anywhere near the stage where López Obrador was speaking.

Demonstrators streaming past the Palace of Fine Arts after the protest ended.

The large posters in the background are actually protest art. In the poster on the right, the right-wing candidate Felipe Calderón is dubbed "FECAL", which one could assume has the same meaning here as it would in the US.

This one says "NO to the f@#%ing fraud". Mexicans definitely aren't shy about profanity.

As of this writing (August 1, 2006), the controversy still hasn't been decided, as the Mexican Supreme court is still debating whether to authorize a complete manual recount of the votes, as López Obrador is demanding. López Obrador has also presented charges and supposedly evidence documenting thousands of irregularities during election day.

None of this comes as a surprise, since electoral fraud is nothing new in Mexico. For instance, it is widely acknowledged by everybody these days that the 1988 election was stolen by the then-governing party (PRI) for their candidate. And, it's worth noting that same party (PRI) ruled the country for (suspiciously enough) more than 70 years continuously.

Anyways, the electoral mess 2006 should be decided once and for all by the first week of September.

Meanwhile...this wraps up our Mexico road-trip! After Mexico City, we were pretty exhausted, fed up with searching for dog-friendly hotels, and anxious to see friends in the US, so we made a 2-day road-warrior marathon beeline to the US. For what it's worth, we crossed the border at noon on Tuesday, July 18, with absolutely no hassle whatsoever.

The yellow line roughly traces the route we drove from Guatemala to Mississippi.

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Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were at once Mexico's 2 most famous celebrities of all time, and also arguably the 2 greatest painters in the history of the western hemisphere. The fact that they were married (twice) just makes them even more interesting. Plus there are lots of other juicy tidbits, including open bisexuality (Frida), rampant philandering (Diego), and an affair with a famous leader of the 1917 communist revolution in Russia.


One of Diego Rivera's most famous murals, "A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park", has its own museum which was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Mexico City.

Throughout Diego Rivera's career, he was primarily a muralist, and he left some famous and incredible pieces in all sorts of places, including US cities like San Francisco and Detroit.

In one of the most famous incidents, he was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to do a 63-foot by 17-foot mural inside Rockefeller Center in New York City. In the photo above, Diego is working at the Rockefeller Center. In the end, however, Rockefeller banned him from finishing the mural and quickly destroyed it because he had included an image of the communist leader Lenin among a group of US founding fathers.

In Diego's Rockefeller Center mural, Lenin was symbolically clasping the hands of a black American, a white Russian soldier, and a worker, as allies of the future.

After the Rockefeller Center mural was destroyed, Diego eventually recreated the mural (Lenin included) in Mexico City and titled it "Man, Controller of the Universe".

Diego was also commissioned by the Mexican government to paint murals in dozens of government buildings, including inside the National Palace (the Mexican version of the White House).

Just off the main plaza in Mexico City, we visited the Department of Public Education (above), where Diego had been commissioned to paint over a 100 frescos around 2 large courtyards. Amazingly, despite the strong communist themes of the works, these frescos are still here for all to admire. The building is a fully functioning government agency, so admission is free to see the art.

Carley admiring one of the frescos

This fresco was titled "Death of a Capitalist".


Although Frida didn't receive quite the international notoriety that Diego did while she was alive, her fame has arguably surpassed that of her muralist husband in recent decades.

Frida's tortured style which is most often characterized by gory self-portraits was shaped by a debilitating bout of polio as a child and a terrible trolley accident she suffered as an adolescent which left her partially disabled and unable to carry children to term. Much of her work reflects her life-long physical and emotional pain resulting from the accident.

We took a tour of La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in southern Mexico City, where Frida lived for a good part of her life. The house has now been converted to a museum where some of her art and personal belongings are displayed.

In the garden at The Blue House


So what is Leon Trotsky doing on a page about art museums? If you'll remember from your high-school history class, Trotsky was one of the 3 leaders (along with Lenin and Stalin) of the 1917 communist revolution in Russia. Well after Lenin died, Stalin turned against Trotsky and had him exiled.

Before too long, Trotsky ended up here in Mexico City, where he was befriended by Diego and Frida, who (as you might have guessed) were both avid communist supporters. During his stay in their house, Frida and Trotsky even had an affair.

After the affair, Trotsky got his own place about half a mile from Frida's house.

Eventually Stalin tracked down Trotsky and began trying to have him killed. Trotsky fortified his house with watchtowers and armed guards, but a group of assassins got in once and shot up the place; the only reason they didn't succeed was because they were all drunk.

Finally in the summer of 1940, a secret agent of Stalin (who had befriended Trotsky) killed him in his home office (above) by burying an ice pick in his head.

Here is where Trotzky's remains lie today, inside his former home in Mexico City, which has been converted to a museum in his honor.

Continue on through Mexico City

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Though we are not generally big "museum people", in Mexico City that is exactly what we became. And how could you not? The city is packed with many of the finest museums this side of the Atlantic!


Mexico City's world-renowned anthropology museum focuses mostly on what's been discovered about the history of the people who first settled the American hemisphere - from the first primitive settlers to the people who eventually built the great Mayan and Aztec empires.

Tens of thousands of incredible artifacts (some of them gigantic!) are on display in a very well-organized tour through more than 20 big rooms, with excellent contextual descriptions. You could easily spend an entire day here if you wanted to see and read everything.

The giant Stone of the Sun, also known as the Aztec Calendar - this piece measures somewhere around 6 feet in diameter.

Continue on through Mexico City


One of the most fascinating aspects of Mexico City is its rich history. Unlike almost any other modern city in the western hemisphere, Mexico City was a large thriving city before the arrival of the European colonizers.

Although the infamous Italian Christopher Columbus never made it to Mexico, the infamous Spaniard Hernán Cortez sure did. When he finally made it to what is now called Mexico City, he found a “magnificent” city the likes of which his expedition had never seen before, filled with resplendent temples and pyramids painted in vivid colors, intricately carved sculptures, beautiful colored feather tapestries, etc. This was a far cry from the crude and "primitive" indigenous settlements that Columbus and his successors found on the Caribbean islands and in what is now the U.S. (Of course, since the people who built this city were non-Christian pagans, Cortez ultimately destroyed their city and enslaved them)

This city, then called Tenochtitlan, was in fact the capital city of the legendary Aztec empire, then called Mexíca by the Aztecs. As you can see from the artist's rendition above, it was surrounded by a large lake. (The lake has been almost completely dried up for several hundred years now, and all that remains today are some canals in one of the outer districts.)

According to the Aztec beliefs, the city was founded at the “center of the universe”, a place where the heavens and the underworld came together with the terrestrial world. It was also the location where the ancient Mexíca explorers reportedly first saw the legendary eagle with a serpent in its beak, perched on a prickly-pear cactus, that was a sign to them to build the city here, and is now the symbol of the Mexican nation and pictured on the Mexican flag.

In fact, the heart of modern day Mexico City was the heart of the ancient Aztec empire, and unlike in other countries of the western hemisphere, the history of the indigenous people prior to the arrival of the Europeans is still a vibrant part of the entire national identity.

All this history comes crashing down over you when you visit the Templo Mayor, right in the heart of Mexico City.

These ruins were once the Great Pyramid (shown in the picture at the top of this page) which dominated the center of the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Reportedly, Cortez made the conquered Aztec slaves tear down their own temple and use the stones to build him a palace. Now the ruins lie about a block from the central plaza of modern day Mexico City, which you can see in the background (where the flag is in the photo directly above).

Needless to say, very little actually remains of the original structure. The ruins were actually buried for centuries under other more modern buildings. It was only within the last 80 years that it was discovered what an archeological treasure this city block contained, and finally the more recent buildings were torn down to excavate the site. Hundreds of valuable artifacts of all sizes have been recovered, and many of them are now housed in an excellent museum on the site.

Continue on through Mexico City


The highlight of our return trip through Mexico was undoubtedly the capital, Mexico City, which is known by Mexicans as D.F. (kind of like the U.S. capital is known as D.C., however D.F stands for Distrito Federal),

Mexico City is the largest city in the world, home to more than 20 million people!

From the top of the Torre Latinoamericano (Mexico City's tallest skyscraper), you can begin to get a feel for the vast size of the city. This view is only in one direction, looking out from the center.

This photo we snatched off the Internet shows the skyscraper where the previous photo above was taken from.

On our first trip through the country, we avoided Mexico City because we had the pre-conceived notion that it was little more than an over-crowded, over-polluted, crime-ridden, stifling sewer of a mega-metropolis, along the lines of Central American capitals such as Managua, San Jose and Guatemala City. How wrong we were!

Plaza de la Revolución, a couple blocks from our hotel

Mexico City in no way resembles the above-mentioned cesspools. Rather, it combines the best aspects of New York City and Washington D.C, with a touch of European flair. If you have a taste for museums (both fine arts and anthropology), Mexico City offers some of the best of both that we know of in the western hemisphere. It also offers a huge variety of stunning architecture (especially the colonial style), as well as beautiful parks and plazas, and a lively cultural scene. Mexico’s vibrant, hip middle class is more on display here than in any other part of the country that we visited.

A weekend crafts market in the central plaza of the pretty Cuyoacan neighborhood

Yes, the traffic can make driving a nightmare in the city, but the modern subway system (Metro) more than makes up for it, and is much nicer than its counterparts in New York and D.C. And yes, the city undoubtedly features its fair share of crime and slums, just like any big city. However, as much as we made our way around to various neighborhoods (mostly via subway, since the city is so huge), we never encountered anything remotely “sketchy”. They sure seem to have done a nice job cleaning this city up!

Mexican sidewalk snacks

As for the climate, it’s nothing like we’d always imagined. Situated in a large valley amid the mountains of Mexico’s central highlands at over 5000 feet elevation, the city enjoys pleasantly cool mornings and pleasantly warm afternoons during the summer, with the daily late afternoon thunderstorms usually lasting no more than half an hour. A light jacket was necessary for going out at night.

The one thing we didn't really do while we were in Mexico City was check out the nightlife. We've heard there's quite a varied and pretty hip club scene, but being almost 7 months pregnant, this was just not an least not this time!

The most unpleasant part of our visit to Mexico City was the task of finding a hotel that would let Kina stay in our room with us. This was definitely the most dog-UNfriendly city we visited in all of our travels! Thanks to Google and a lot of persistence, we finally got settled in a modern 12-story hotel where the concierge badgered us to take a tour or a taxi almost every time we walked through the lobby. For anyone traveling in Mexico City with a dog, go to Hotel Fontan on Avenida La Reforma first and save yourself some trouble. You will have to arrange things with the manager first (we had to leave copies of Kina's papers), and you may have to leave a deposit.

Unlike most places we visited south of the U.S. border, “budget” hotels were almost nowhere to be found, and the few that we did locate were already completely full when we arrived. Instead, most hotels are miniature skyscrapers that seem to compete to be more “fancy” than the others, and almost all of them have their own restaurants, with bellboys to take your luggage to your room and a concierge to set you up with whatever else you might want.

The view from our hotel window, along Mexico City's most famous boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma. The giant yellow structure supposedly represents a horse's head.

We ended up staying 5 nights and 4 complete days in Mexico City. Our activities mostly consisted of checking out various art and anthropology museums, strolling through pleasant plazas, learning about Mexico’s fantastic history, and checking out the massive political protest that dominated the city the last day of our visit.

Continue on through Mexico City


After leaving the intense summer heat of the Yucatán peninsula, it was nice to ascend back up into the mountains again, as we made our way toward Mexico City.

We made one overnight stop in the scenic little city of Orizaba, where the above church stands in the pretty central plaza.

The main attraction around these parts is Orizaba Peak, a gigantic 18,700 foot volcano that is the third-highest peak in North America, and more than 4000 feet higher than anything in the continental U.S.

Unfortunately it was cloudy when we passed through, so we had to swipe the 2 photos of the volcano from the Internet. Pretty impressive-looking spot, though, huh?

Another church we passed by in the pretty central plaza of the nearby town of Córdoba

Continue on to Mexico City


Driving through Mexico is quite a different experience from driving through the US, needless to say. Besides the thousands of speed-bumps and extreeeeeemely slow trucks, there are some rather interesting and sometimes amusing sights to see.

Up in the rural mountains of the southern state of Chiapas, this little village has a sign next to the highway proclaiming it a "Zapatista rebel autonomous municipality". Since their armed uprising in 1994, the Zapatistas have been trying to establish communities throughout Chiapas that are autonomous from the Mexican government - they have their own police, they don't have government schools or services, and they don't pay taxes. Lately the Mexican government has been leaving them alone.

In the same village, the mural on this autonomous school depicts masked and armed Zapatista rebels, particularly a character named sub-Comandant Pedro, standing watch over the villagers. Again, this was right next to the highway. (as always, just click on the photo for a better, zoomed-in look)

For some reason, there is a perplexingly large quantity of highway signs in Mexico which simply state "Don't Mistreat the Signs". Rob say, "some rules were made to be broken".

Continue into the central Mexican highlands