To celebrate the new year, I took a weeklong vacation to Mexico. The first thing I did was go on a guided food tour. The tour guide provided a lot of interesting facts about the city as I devoured some delicious tacos. An obvious observation as you move around the city is the overwhelming amount of people with dogs. Mexico City suffered a terrible earthquake on September 19, 2017 (weirdly, they had another huge one on the same date back in 1985). 'Frida', the dog named after the famous Frida Kahlo, rescued close to 50 people, according to some reports. The city honored her with a mural and a statute. This event drove the adoption rates for dogs. Today, Mexico City has no street dogs making dog walking one of the coolest jobs around.
Later in the night, I roamed around Zocalo, taking in the New Year's celebrations. Some street artists were putting on a show, and a few fair-style games were set up around the main square.
The next day, I started with a run on Amsterdam avenue in the Condesa district. Back in the day, Amsterdam avenue was a horse racing track, and the urban planners integrated the original layout. It is readily apparent when you look at a map. Following that, I had a fantastic meal at Rosa Negra. It is one of the best Latin restaurants in the Polanco district of the city.
Like most 90s kids, I grew up watching WWE, among other things. While I wasn't a huge fan, I distinctly recall being impressed by the wrestler -- Rey Mysterio. He always wore a mask and had some incredible moves. I found out much later in life that the mask was an artifact of Lucha Libre, so I went to see one of those matches at Arena México. The energy in the stadium was palpable, and everyone was super excited. The main event for the night was a cage match with 12 fighters. Once everyone got in the ring, a 3-minute timer started when the fighters would attempt to weaken their opponents. Following that, the goal is to escape the cage as the others try to pull you down. Finally, when the last two fighters remain, they must fight it out, and the loser must surrender their mask. Quite honestly, much of the fighting was overly dramatic and hysterical, although I would certainly commend some of the moves. In the end, the fighter who lost invited his son into the ring to surrender his mask, and that was quite a sad thing to witness.
Before the main event, I got a chance to chat with one of the wrestlers. He shared that Lucha Libre, at its core, is a dramatic play of good versus evil. As the translator relayed our conversation, he mentioned that this wrestler, who I won't name, usually plays the bad guy. But then the wrestler added something that made the translator pause. He said he was the bad guy—not just in the matches, but in real life too. The silence that followed was heavy. Was he joking? I'm still not sure.
I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Anthropology with a guide. There is so much to take in. It is the biggest museum in the country, with rooms full of artifacts from the Mayans and the Aztecs. I could go on and on about all the exciting things I learned here, but for brevity, here are my favorite exhibits.
Look at the circular wheel in the image below and guess what it might have been used for.
My first thought was it was some kind of a grain mill. It turns out the Aztecs used it as a sacrificial stone. Every single day for 200 years, the Aztec empire sacrificed 52 people. Four Aztec warriors or priests would hold each of them down on the stone. Another priest would first slit their throat and then cut open their stomach. The priest would then remove the beating heart for the ritual. Psychedelics were used as a form of anesthetic for this entire torturous experience. We don't know the reasons behind these sacrifices for sure. Some believe it was to appease the gods, while others believe it was an act of assistance to the gods in maintaining the cosmos. Either way, it is fascinating and brutal at the same time.
Another exhibit I was fascinated by was a pyramid that displayed the hierarchy in Mayan society. On the very top was the emperor, followed by shamans, priests, or the connection between humans and gods. The third tier belonged to the noblemen and the rich. Following them were the commoners -- farmers, artists, soldiers, etc.; finally, the bottom level belonged to laborers, servants, and enslaved people.
Finally, one of the most exciting artifacts was the Aztec sun stone. This was technically the whole plot behind the movie 2012 (Although they credited Mayans instead of the Aztecs. More info on this topic can be found in this article). Note the destroyed features on the center of the stone. Allegedly, after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, some drunk American soldiers shot at the stone which was placed at the side of one of the buildings in the Main Square in Mexico City.
There is so much more to see -- the ball games, relics of cosmetic surgeries made by the rich to stand out, Mayan jewelry, pottery, and so on.
After Mexico City, I flew to Merida specifically to see Chichen Itza. Unfortunately, some protests were blocking the road to the pyramid, so instead, I went to see Ek' Balam, which is ~50 kilometers northeast of Chichen Itza. Ek' Balam dates back to 700 - 300 BC, and the city fell down around 600 - 900 AD. This is one of the few places you can still climb up the pyramid. The best way to climb the narrow, steep pyramid is sideways and diagonally.
In the 1970s, drilling into the ground to make a well was rare in rural Mexico. Using shovels on the limestone bedrock is practically useless, so people used dynamite. Surprisingly, a family in a village found a cenote (pronounced say·now·tay) in their backyard. The government has since prohibited drilling in the area, so now this family has discovered a gold mine on their land. Fortunately, our tour guide was friends with that family, and I had the opportunity to swim in it. Floating around in the refreshing water and looking at stalactites formed over millions of years was an incredible experience!
Finally, I wrapped up the trip to Merida by visiting Izamal -- the yellow city. The city was painted yellow to commemorate Pope John Paul II's visit in 1993. Why yellow? Because that is the color of the Vatican City flag.
To end the trip, I headed to Cabo and stayed at one of the all-inclusive resorts. The beaches were excellent, and I saw some sunsets that my phone's camera couldn't do justice to capture. It was stunning!
That was about it. I hope to return to Mexico again to see Chichen Itza and eat more delicious tacos soon.