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Presenter : Justine Shapiro

Mexico City Guide

Justine Shapiro travels to Mexico City, a melee of modern sky scrapers, Indian markets and Spanish churches where most of Mexico’s political, cultural, and economic life has been centred for thousands of years.

After finding a cheap place to stay, Justine is keen to get her first taste of city life straight away. Her first stop is La Merced market. There’s been a market on the site since the Aztec Justine at the Basilica de Guadelupe era and now its one of the city’s largest food markets, boasting 150 varieties of that Mexican staple the chilli, as well as cactus, chicken guts, bugs and mosquito eggs. Justine samples as much as she can stomach, then pays a visit to a glass-blowing workshop.

Less than an hour’s bus ride away is the ancient Aztec site of Teotihuacan. It was a major city in 400 or 500 AD, but all the records and artwork were destroyed so archaeologists can only guess at the cause of its ruin.

Teotihuacan is best known for its two gigantic pyramids, one to the sun and one to the moon, and after climbing the steep steps to the summit Justine takes in an incredible view of the whole site.

Back in Mexico City Justine meets up with Tommy Glasford, a North American artist who with a studio in the Zocolo, the main square. After showing her around his studio, Tommy takes Justine on a history-packed whistle-stop tour of the Zocolo.

Her visit to the Museum of Anthropology is a little more leisurely and her guide knows all the gruesome history behind each archaeological treasure. Justine just can’t spend another night in Mexico City without paying her respects to Mexico’s most renowned liquor – tequila. There’s over 550 varieties to choose from in the bar and Justine tries her hardest to get through as many as she can. Her first stop the next morning is Sonora witchcraft market where she can buy medicinal and magical herbs to cure a host of ailments – insomnia, ulcers, diabetes, bronchitis… and even hangovers.

Spectator sports are another Mexican obsession and Justine’s curiosity gets the better of her as she buys a front-row ticket for lucha libre, masked wrestling at the Arena Coliseo.

Early the next morning Justine heads a hundred miles south west of Mexico City to the colonial city of Taxco. Although Taxco started out as a primitive mining camp, the discovery of silver transformed it into one of Mexico’s wealthiest cities. Justine is visiting Taxco at the time of the annual silver fair and there’s every imaginable trinket exquisitely fashioned from the precious metal on sale.

The Virgin of Guadelupe Festival takes place in early December and is the culmination of almost two weeks of celebrations. Justine witnesses the build up to the big day when local men Virgin of Guadelupe Festivaldart around the town with fireworks mounted on model bulls.

The largest bullfighting ring in the world is in Mexico City and its here that she witnesses her first bullfight. Justine joins the devotional throng gathered at the Basilica de Guadelupe, where about five million Mexicans end their pilgrimage from far-flung regions of the country.

Twelve miles south of the city is Xochimilco, a favourite weekend destination of Mexican families who escape the urban sprawl for the network of canals and flower nurseries. Justine comes across a curious sight on the little island which Don Julio has shared with his family of decrepit dolls for 23 years. Curious tourists find the spectacle rather creepy but Don Julio insists his dolls are like spirits who watch over and protect him.

On Justine’s final day in Mexico she pays a visit to the lush, secluded mountains of El Rosario, where billions of monarch butterflies migrate from Canada each year and find refuge in the butterfly sanctuary. They are an extraordinary sight, a blaze of vibrant colour forming a thick carpet on the ground to escape the stifling humidity at the heat of the day. It’s a perfect, peaceful end a frantic week in Mexico’s vibrant, passionate and disorganised capital.

Places Mentioned - Mexico

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