Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mexico 10: Mexico City 4

After Mexico's independence, the Mexicans destroyed most of the Spanish colonial buildings. Only in the Mexico City's historical centre does some of the colonial buildings survived and now left standing in the 21st century. So precious is this area, Mexico's historical centre has been declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Zocalo of Mexico City, or city centre of Mexico City, is a large and grand square, with one of the world's largest flag. This square is the site where thousands of people gathered together, and stripped, to do an artistic photo shot by a photographer. It took placed on 6th of May, the right time, but not exactly the right spot.

The Zocalo is beaming with people, shoppers, tourists. Full of life; bustling with activities.

People are allowed to gather in Mexico.

Mexicans are probably quite nationalistic.

Paseo de la Reforma is the most important road in Mexico City. It is a wide street which is flunked by banks and hotels, and also decorated with statues.

With Mexico's strict laws, very few foreign banks can be found in this country. Banamex, Scotiabank of Canada and HSBC, are the three banks sighted.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mexico 9: Mexico City 3

A visit to Mexico City can never be complete without visiting the Luis Barragan House and Studio. It was built in 1948 in the suburb of Mexico City, near Constituyentes Metro. This building is an exceptional and creative architectural work in the post Second World War period. The building may look ordinary from the outside, but within the building contains Barragan's ingenious creation of integrating modern and traditional artistic and religious elements into a new architectural concept that have a great influences in the contemporary world of design and architecture. Barragan is believed to Mexico's best architecture because he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The house consists of 1161 square metres, with a ground floor and two upper levels, including a rooftop space and a private garden. In 2004, Luis Barragan House and Studio was declared to be one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With regrets, the entrance fee costs an expensive 100MXN pesos and does not allow photo taking. Photos can only taken in the rooftop. However, the guide for the studio is able to speak both English and Spanish, so an important lesson on architecture and design can be experienced by non-Spanish speakers. For example, there is an enclosed space before entering the actual house. This is to prepare the visitor for the visual impact that comes in the actual house itself. The creation of continuous space through the living room is achieved by the use of high ceilings. Partitions are used to separate each part of the room but yet the private garden is still visible throughout. Continuous space, is also an important part in Japanese architecture. Lights , both artificial and natural are used carefully to illuminate the room and the objects. Some of the lightings are created to imitate the imagery of light shining down from the heavens. In addition, different rooms have large windows that face the garden. This will create a different picture for the different rooms. Barragan played with symmetrical patterns and shapes in each of the room which create unity and continuity within the whole house. Barragan's design may be considered minimalistic, but the thought to the design is far from simplistic. He made use of bold colours to draw the viewer's attention to the particular corner of the room. For instance, he would use bold pink behind his own chair in the dining room, so that his friend's attention will be focused on himself and not elsewhere.

The garden is particular interesting. It is not the normal landscape garden with beautiful ponds and flowers. It is a garden left to grow wildly. Large trees are used to separate the house from the streets. Barragan made used of a stone path, in conjunction with the neighbour's trees to create an imagery of a garden that stretches endlessly. But the garden's actual size is much smaller than it looks.

Overall, Barragan's house which was designed for himself to live in, exemplified himself as an egoistic, religious and tall person. He had many relationships but never got married. It is really amazing how one's design of a house can reveal so much about a person.

Barragan's intention of building high walls was to separate the house from the streets. However, some years ago, a house was built on the opposite side of the road that rose tall enough to be seen in this rooftop. To some, it is an insult to Barragan and his house. It was only recently that the Barragan's house came under the protection and conservation laws. But little can be done to the damage done. Along with Barragan's achievements and the arrays of museums, art galleries, talented street musicians and the ancient churches and temples, are just some examples of Mexico's achievement in the cultural and artistic aspects.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Mexico 8: Mexico City 2

The metro of Mexico City. One of the world's busiest subway systems, probably carrying even more passengers than New York City everyday. It is also the cheapest subway systems costing 2MXN pesos (SGD$0.30) per ride regardless of distance. This is due to the substantial amount of subsidies supported by the government in an effort to reduce traffic and pollution in this crowded city.

However, Mexico City, due to its altitude and climate, the polluted air gets trapped above the city and is unable to be diffused. Mexico City is still one of the world's most polluted cities.

It can be quite crowded and uncomfortably warm in the station and in the trains. Just like most of Mexico, there is no air-conditioning in the trains, but rely on opened windows for natural ventilation. As with most buildings, air-conditioning is a quite a rare item in this city. Due to its mountainous altitude of 2200m, it enjoys relatively cool climate than its low-lying deserts and coasts. With May being its hottest period, daytime temperatures can climb to around 30 Celsius. However, with an altitude of an average of 2200m, travelers may find breathing in this city difficult. To add to the difficulty, the air can be polluted.

Despite it being one of the world's cheapest and crowded subways, its train arrival have very high frequency of around 2-3 minutes. In fact, it is more frequent than Singapore's MRT services. And of course, being a much larger city, its train station and number of subway lines are even greater in number and more complex.

Mexico, the host city for two World Cup occasions, and this is one of the stadiums. A true football nation, Mexico is.

Pemex, the only petrol station in Mexico, where some industries like oil and banking are tightly controlled by the government.

If any travelers would like to think Mexico is a backward country with cheap prices, it is always better to think twice. Using the Big Mac index, which is a rough guide to the cost of living of every major cities in the world, the cost of Big Mac in Mexico City is MXN29pesos (SGD$4.10) or a Big Mac meal costs MXN48(SGD$7.00), which is slightly more expensive than SGD3.85 for a Big Mac in the state city of Singapore. Perhaps, a reflection of the prosperity of Mexico City, a reflection of the wide income disparity of the citizens.

The Revolution Square in Mexico City.

Gatherings and protests do take place in Mexico City. But when it does not, it becomes a venue for dating couples. Amazingly, Mexicans are observed to be less inhibited when they display signs of affection than most Canadians.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Mexico 7: Puebla

Puebla, both a state and a city 100km east of Mexico City where it is at the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano. Unlike many Mexican cities, this city was founded by the Spanish, and not built by the Aztecs and colonized by the Spanish. Therefore, Puebla is perhaps one of the most Spanish cities around Mexico. This includes a greater percentage of Mexicans with pure Spanish blood in them than other areas. The test of whether one is a Spanish descendant, is by observation of the exterior surface. Puebla, a truly unique Spanish colonial city in Mexico, has earned its rightful position as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The shopping arcades of Puebla. There is no air-conditioning in these buildings or covered walkways.

The university of Puebla. Although it may be small, it still has some pretty magnificent architecture. Travelers visiting universities will realise that Singapore's universities may have a good reputation. But when it comes to architectural wise, it provides really great contrast.

The gardens in Puebla. A great place to escape the burning sun rays.

A grand church in Puebla.

Intricate designs of the interiors of the church. Every inch of this church is suitable to be printed on a postcard.
Every effort to build the church, sculpt the detailed patterns, paint the paintings, must have taken unimaginable and immense amount of effort and resources. It seems that this church is quite a contradiction with pragmatism. Or rather pragmatism does not mix well in this part of the world, or this part of the history.

One of the very few places with names relating to the Spanish colonialism. Apparently, the Mexicans after gaining their independence, wanted to shed off the traces of the colonial rule and any name with relation to colonialism is not allowed. One exception is this 'Hotel Colonial Restaurant' which has special permission due to its historical importance and exceptional colonial interior design.

The beautiful interiors of the restaurant.

Mexican fried rice.

Uniquely marinated with unique sauce.

Some wonderful alcoholic mixture to put a finishing touch to the otherwise average meal. What travelers should look for at this restaurant is their service and of course, the ambiance, at this historical building.

A girl at the souvenir shop who would hold on to some souvenirs to customers hoping that they would buy something.

This church in Cholula, around the Puebla region, is a unique one as it is built by the Spanish on top of an Aztec temple. The Spanish took some of the temple's stones and used it for the construction of their church.

The ceiling of the church.

Puebla area viewed from the Aztec temple and Spanish church. Puebla, a city full of history, architecture and culture.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mexico 6: Cuernavaca

Cuernavaca, a city in between Acapulco and Mexico City. It has the nickname 'City of eternal spring', because the city enjoys a consistent temperature of 27 Celsius throughout the year. Although 27 Celsius sounds more like summer than spring, it is nevertheless the place where Mexicans visit during the colder winter months in Mexico City.

Apparently, these souvenir shops are aplenty everywhere. Bargaining is a must when dealing with the stall owners, who most probably know very little English and only Spanish. The universal language is either a hand signs or the calculator.

The beautiful architecture of Mexico.

Some artifacts of the Aztecs in the museum of Cuernavaca.

The map of the colonial world drawn by the Spanish. Most of the mapping details are fairly accurate except that Baja California is a peninsula instead of an island as portrayed in the map.

The ancient buildings too precious to be upgraded.

The aerial view of Cuernavaca.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Mexico 5: Acapulco

From Taxco, it takes around 3 hours to arrive to famous port city of Acapulco. Crossing the mountain ranges which is covered with a range of vegetation. From forest, to grasslands, to semi-arid areas, the landscapes kept changing. However, the busy route linking Mexico City to Acapulco used to be filled with bandits, where buses or cars were being stopped and passengers were often robbed or instructed to surrender their cash. The government had to clean up the area by enforcing stricter laws and employ more police to ensure the security of this important route.

Along the roads, rubbish could be seen almost everywhere. Even in the uninhabited areas, rubbish probably thrown by car passengers, was in great amounts.

The toll charges for vehicles traveling into the Acapulco area are fairly high.

This is the city of Acapulco, where the locals live. The famous beach is behind the hills where there a tunnel connecting the two parts of this city. This port city was founded by the Spanish who were trying to seek a possible route to link with China and Japan. However, the Spanish were distracted by the discovery of silver, natural resources and other great discoveries of the land. When they finally found the Pacific route to China and Japan, Acapulco being to prosper. Fees for transportation across the Pacific Ocean made the port rich. But the golden age of Acapulco ended when Mexico gain its independence. The locals destroyed most of Spanish constructions, including Acapulco, which later degraded to become a deserted village. It gained its famous again when Hollywood chose Acapulco to film their movie 'Rambo'. From then, Acapulco attracted many holidaymakers including Americans seeking for a beach getaway.

The beautiful beach of Acapulco.

Like tourist spots, the Acapulco Bay is filled with numerous apartments and hotels.

Apparently, Acapulco has many rich and famous people living here. This include famous tenor Pavorotti and other well-known Mexicans.

The hotels lying along the Acapulco Bay are expensive.

But the view from the hotel is great. Plus, the beach is only exclusive for the hotel guests only.

Although this might seem a getaway for relaxing, or for some shopping, its beach is not the ideal one which is covered with fine white sands.

The view is great, but not exactly a paradise beach. Instead it is more of an over-commercialized beach resort made famous because of Hollywood. In other words, overrated.


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