Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Last Rites

Good lord it's strange to be home. It's going to take me a while to get used to it - just the different keyboard is enough to put me off.

So, the last few days in Mexico. Well, I broke the habit of the rest of my trip and got mugged on my last night abroad. I was walking back from the lucha arena when a kid about 15 or 16 ran past my left shoulder pointed a cap gun at me and pulled the trigger. If this was supposed to shock me it didn-t really work, as I just looked at the fella with a bemused half grin when he said "give me your money". No, I replied and went to walk off quickly when his hitherto unseen accomplice grabbed me from behind. I tried to break free and run off but was tripped and knocked to the ground where the pair proceeded to administer a swift kicking to me. Keeping me down with their feet they grabbed my wallet from my pocket, gave me a few more kicks for good measure and ran off. Gits. Due to the money exchange place having given me my cash in unwieldy $500 denominations last time I'd got some changed I had a fair old amount of mazumah on me when I got jacked, meaning I lost around £30-£35. Which was a pain in the arse. But to be honest I wasn't badly hurt, and like a moron (or so I'd thought) I'd forgotten to bring my camera with me when I went out that night, so it really wasn't too bad. And as I said to the woman who ran my hotel, these things could happen any where. What can you do?

The journey back was going fine until we were about to take off from Mexico City. Yup, things went wrong that quickly. Just as everyone had boarded, the heavens opened and a great big storm kicked off. Marvellous. We were stranded on the runway for 45 minutes before we finally took off. That would have been fine, of course, except that this flight wasn't going straight to London. It was going to Frankfurt, from where I was getting a connecting flight to Heathrow. By the time I arrived in Germany I had a twenty minute dash across the vast space of Frankfurt airport, arriving at my flight just minutes before it left. What didn't make it from one flight to the other was my luggage. When I arrived at Heathrow I had to then wait for a further couple of hours until my bag turned up on a later plane. Still, again, no harm done.

Anyway, I'm back now, so all I've got to do is unpack and sort out all my stuff, and dust off my room. Now, to go back to my life...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mexico City part the final: Estadio Azteca

Today is my final full day here in the world's biggest tropical city, and I spent in wisely, by going on a tour around the enormous Estadio Azteca. Opinion is divided as to whether this is the biggest capacity stadium in the world, or whether that title should go to the Maracaña in Brazil (or somewhere else, perhaps - I don't know), but certainly at a capacity of 110,000 all seated or so it's got to be there or thereabouts.

The Estadio Azteca is the home of América, Mexico's best supported and (I think) most successful club side, who currently feature players such as Argentine Claudio Lopez and star of the Mexican national team Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who some of you may recall from the Korea/Japan World Cup in which he did a thing where he held the ball between his ankles and lept over tackles.

América are the champions of the Clausura tournament 2005 over here. What the hell does that mean? you ask. Well, like in Argentina, and many other Central and South American countries, the Mexican league has two season, an opening and a closing. Thus there are two champions per year. Don't ask me why. Actually in Mexico and Central American countries (don't know about South American ones) they don't just have a league either. The league format in both the opening and closing seasons is just a preliminary, at the end of which the top 4 teams play semi-finals and then a final to decide the overall champion. Which seems bloody daft to me, as it means that you can win the league and still get nothing. But there you go...

Anyway, the Estadio Azteca is not just famous as the home of América. It's also where the finals of the World Cups in 1970 (Brazil 4 -1 Italy) and 1986 (Argentina 3 -2 West Germany) were held. It has therefore been graced by both Pelé and Maradona in their pomps. And yes, it's where fat Diego scored both the "Goal of the Century" and the "Hand of God" goals to knock England out. Git.

This will be my last post from Mexico, and indeed on of the last posts full stop. I'll probably do another one or two to recap, sum up, conclude and look back on my journey, but I'll write them when I get back home. Which won't be long now, international flights permitting...

See you soon.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Mexico City part the fourth: More Lucha, The trouble with markets, and mopping up

Having done all of my planned day trips outside of the city, I shall be spending the rest of my time inside the boundaries of "el D.F.", mopping up museums, smaller ruins and churches and so on. None of which will make for very exciting posts on here, I'm afraid.

So instead I shall revert to a semi-regular theme (no doubt causing groans in some): live sport. On Friday night I went to see more Lucha Libre action, and witnessed a great three hour card at the large indoor Arena Mexico. is what I was there for, if you're interested. Anyway, suffice to say it was great - like watching the WWE live except with more absurd wrestlers and less pyro.

Oh, and finally, having spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around the numerous stalls and markets of Mexico City I have come to the conclusion that they are entirely useless to me. Super cheap bootleg DVDs and PS2 games can't be used at home due to stupid regional formatting, shoes come in US Size 10 at the biggest (which is UK size 9 and waaay too small), and clothes are all either horrible or terrible quality. A shame.

What really sticks in the craw, though, is that despite being in the country from which Kahlua, Mescal and Tequila originate, stupid import laws mean that I'm allowed only a single litre of spirits to take home with me. Such a waste...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Mexico City part the third: Taxco and Teotihuacán

Technically neither of the following places are in Mexico City, being rather outside of it, but when Arsenal have just sold Vieira for peanuts compared to what he's worth you'll forgive me if my mind is elsewhere and thus my accuracy suffers.

First up, the picturesque colonial former silver mining town on Taxco, located South of "el D.F" in some mountains. It's the usual with regards colonial towns, to be honest: cobbles, lovely (though in this case rather overdone especially the churrigueresque inside) central church, lots of nice smaller churches, small town feel. A bit dull, not a whole lot to do. The main differences with Taxco are that 1) it's built on a ruddy great hill so everything is either up or down a steep slope but there are great panoramic views, and 2) its history of association with silver means that despite there being none of that precious metal left in the hills around the town any more, it all having been mined, it is reknowned as a place to buy jewellery made of the stuff, which unfortunately means every shop, hustler and kid in town is trying their utmost to get you to buy some from them.

I spent a couple of hours there wandering around the streets and enjoying the atmosphere, then came back to the big city.

Speaking of big cities, at a time roughly the same as that at which the Roman Empire was the top dog in southern Europe and some surrounding areas, the king of things round these parts was the citystate of Teotihuacán. That wasn't its actual name, mind you, that's the name the Aztecs gave it hundreds of years later. They revered it, thus giving it a title that means "the place where men became gods". The actual name of the place is, alas, unknown because the Spaniards (them again) destroyed any written material that might have survived to tell us in the name of God.

What does remain of a city that at it's height covered an area of 25 square kilometres and had a population of 175,000 people is, as usual with Mesoamerican sites, the religious and ceremonial heart. In layman's terms, a series of ruddy great pyramids. The biggest two are the Temples of the Sun and of the Moon. That of the Sun is the second biggest pyramid in Mesoamerica (the largest being just a ruin now), its base a very similar size to that of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, though a shallower slope and stepped sides mean that it's shorter than that particular edifice. It's still huge though, the biggest thing I've ever seen in terms of ruins, and very impressive, though perhaps not aesthetically as pleasing as the Temple of the Moon. Despite being smaller, this is on higher ground so that its peak is about the same height as that of the other large pyramid. It's in better condition, and looks nicer to boot.

The site also boasts lots of ruined areas where the priest/rulers of the cities lived, altars on which they sacrificed people and animals and other temples (with impressive carved facades featuring the faces of Tlaloc the God of Rain and (of course) the plumed serpant of Quetzalcoatl), as well as a good museum, and lots and lots of other tourists and cheeky Mexican schoolkids.

Those two places represent probably my last journeys out of Mexico City. From now on I shall be concentrating purely on sights within the city, starting tomorrow with the world-reknowned Museum of Anthropology, wherein I shall see relics and artefacts from the Mayan, Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan and Aztec cultures, for perhaps the last time. Sniff...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mexico City part the second: Trotsky, Toltecs, Lucha Libre and Murals with Metaphors

Ok, this is going to be quite a long one, as a few days go a long way out here in the big city in terms of things happening.

I've spent large parts of the last few days looking at huge murals painted by Pinko Mexican artist Diego Rivera. In the 30s he was much feted to paint the walls of lots of Mexican public buildings and government offices, meaning that one can wander round these spaces for free and gawp at the quality work on display. Most of the murals are somewhat commie in tone, despite Rivera once oddly being commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller. The painting was then rejected due to its inclusion of Karl Marx.

Rivera's best work in my opinion is the enormous painting of the history of Mexico taking up three walls around the large central staircase of the Palacio Nacional. This depicts the various conquests, insurrections, inquisitions, wars, rebellions and revolutions of Mexican history, with images of lots of the main historical characters. It's great.

There are also various galleries and such dotted around the city where Rivera paintings are shown, though in general they're not as good as his murals. Some of them are in buildings that he actually designed, built or lived in, which is quite cool. One such building is actually the house where Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife and a famous Mexican artist in her own right, was born. Her work is less impressive for me, being as it is angsty feminist type stuff and thus not really up my tree. However, I'm sure I'll be told I'm wrong by angry e-mails from Sylvia Plath and Courtney Love fans if I denounce it as "dull self-indulgent tosh" so I'll just say that considering what it is, it's done quite well. And that without it I'm sure the artwork for "In Utero" would have been quite different.

That house is also notable because it's where Russian-Revolutionary-it's-ok-to-like Leon Trotsky lived when he first came to Mexico City. Trotsky was of course on the run from the long arm of Joe "how many divisions does the Pope have?" Stalin, and was granted asylum in Mexico largely because fellow lefties Rivera and Kahlo petitioned the then Mexican head honcho. The story goes that when he arrived in Mexico he expressed concerns at the ease of access a possible assassin could have from the neighbouring property. So Rivera bought it and combined the two houses.

Eventually Trotsky moved out of their house and in to his own place, which is where he was nearly assassinated once, before being actually assassinated. The house is now a museum, and had been left largely as was, right down to the bullet holes in the bedroom walls from the first assassination attempt, when yet another reasonably famous Mexican commie painter (this time, crucially, a Stalinist) David Siqueiros and a group of other men put 700 rounds in to the house having been let in to the grounds by a corrupt security guard. Trotsky and his wife and her kid survived by that old chestnut, hiding under the bed. After that attack the Russkie intellectual ordered security beefed up yet further, with towers and walls and 24hr guards all over the shop. Didn't matter though - his eventual assassin bluffed his way in to Trotsky's circle by pretending to be a businessman converting to Communism and then bludgeoned the man to death with the blunt end of an ice pick. Took Trotsky 24hrs to die, after an operation to try and save him. Had a massive brain, apparently.

On a totally different note, last night I went to a traditional Mexican sports event: Lucha Libre. For those familiar with WWE, I shall simply say it was like a load of Rey Mysterios fighting each other and was fantastic. For those not, it's athletic wrestling by masked Mexicans, with the emphasis far more on "pantomime" than "realism". While no doubt my Mum would describe it as "silly", I thought it was extremely enjoyable - there's very few places where you can madly boo or cheer grown men in leather masks, pants and boots, after all...

Finally, today I went to yet another Mesoamerican ruin site. This time it was the Toltecs, who the Aztecs considered to be their ancestors (though modern archaeology disagrees). The ancient Toltec site of Tula is great if, like me, you just can't get enough of stepped pyramids. Even if you're of the "seen one, seen 'em all" mentality, though it'd still be exciting because on top of one of the pyramids are fantastic 5m tall statues of Quetzalcoatl, the lord of creation, depicted in the outfit of a Toltec warrior. Quetzalcoatl is of course the bloke who feld to the East that I mentioned in the last post, then returning in the form of Hernan Cortes, at least in the perhaps misguided opinion of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. In this particular guise rahter than sailing off on a raft of snakes across the ocean after fleeing, he instead burns himself up to become the Morning Star, or as we know it, Venus.

There are also various galleries

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mexico City part the first: Tenochtitlan and the Conquest

Seeing as I shall be in this gargantuan urban agglomeration known by Mexicans as "el D.F." (Districto Federal) or simply "Meheeco" (as they say it) I figure I shall be writing more than one post about it. So count this as the first of several.

Today I arrived in the biggest city I've ever been to (and the world's second biggest, according to I managed to get a cheap room by standards round here, though it's still more pricey than the rest of Mexico. Still, not long to go now...

I spent much of today wandering around some sort of large impromptu street market thing, doubtless occurring because it's Sunday. However, I did also do some things of note, namely looking at the ruins of the Templo Mayor of the old Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (which Civilisation players will be familiar with), on top of which Mexico City is in fact built.

Tenochtitlan was one of the foremost cities in the world when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, and the Aztec king Moctezuma II could quite easily have sent forces to crush the Europeans flat had he so chosen. And yet, despite the warlike nature of the Aztecs (not to mention the constant requirement their Gods had for human sacrifice), he instead welcomed the foreigners in, leading in the end to his doom. The naughty Spaniards starting taking all kinds of liberties, looting and pillaging, and a disgruntled population, driven mad by Moctezuma's refusal to keep the actions of the conquistadors in check, killed their own king and drove the invaders out. The night that they fled the Spics lost fully two thirds of their number, apparently mostly because the Aztecs took down the bridges (Tenochtitlan was built on swamp) and the greedy Europeans were literally drowned by the weight of the gold booty they were carrying. Mad.

Still, Hernan Cortez, the Spanish leader, wasn't beaten yet. He returned with his allies, most of the other tribes of the region, none of whom had enjoyed the Aztecs rule over them, and laid siege to Tenochtitlan, eventually prevailing, trashing most of the city, and (in true Conquistador style) using many of the stones from the old temples etc to build churches and catholicise the natives.

Why in the bleeding hell did Moctezuma permit Cortez to act like such an arsehole in his city rather than capturing him and burning his heart to the greater glory of pagan gods? The Aztecs had a myth: the God Quetzalcoatl had been drive from Tenochtitlan by an evil god in times past, and had fled to the east. It was prophesied that the light-skinned, bearded god would one day return from there to claim his kingdom. Cortez had a beard. Funny how things work out, isn't it?

Friday, July 08, 2005

London, Oaxaca, Monte Alban and Mitla

Well, first of all, blimey! I woke up yesterday morning to a world gone mad, yet again. Hope everyone's ok after the bombs...

Oaxaca, where I currently am, is a very pleasant city. In a change to most pleasant Latin American cities in my experience, it's architecture is more "grand" than "quaint", something I welcome. There are of course a load of churches and a market, de rigeur round these parts.

The main draw for Oaxaca, though, general quality of place aside, is the proximity to Zapotec/Mixtec sites Monte Alban and Mitla. First, the former.

Monte Alban is a large collection of pyramidical temples (aren't they all?). What makes it really special is it's location. The Zapotecs levelled out the top of a large hill in a valley to build the religious centre of their city-state, so that the temples stand at the peak of the tallest mound for miles around, looking down on all sides to the valley floor some 300m below. Incredible.

The other reason Monte Alban is special is the collection of "dancer" sculpted panels found there. Rather than actually being dancers, however, the male nude figures displayed are believed to be representations of captured enemy chiefs. The idea being to show that they had been sacrificed to the gods. Hence the genital mutilation on many of the figures...

Mitla is considerably smaller, and further away, but is also cool. Being a later site than Monte Alban, it has more details intact, including some fascinating geometrical wall patterns. Depending on whom you believe, it may well have functioned as a sort of Vatican City for the Mixtecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, where the head of their religious world lived. By that time the religious leaders were no longer the state leaders, that duty having passed to the military leaders.

I'm off to the (really) big city on the bus tomorrow night - rather than piddle around looking at other small places en route I've decided to just go straight to Mexico City and spent the remainder of my time away from home there. So that'll be what I am reporting about next time. Probably.