Sunday morning in Mexico City

(Note: To read the first two articles in this series, go here)

I went out to explore Mexico City some more after an early breakfast on a Sunday morning. I only had another day and a half there, and wanted to see as much as I could!

I made a beeline for Alameda Park, the large green space that adjoins the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The park is fronted by a large monument to Benito Juarez, whom many Mexicans think of as the father of their country. I’d wanted to walk there the day before, but had run out of time.

Juarez, the only indigenous president in the history of Mexico, was an interesting character. Among other things, he confiscated all property owned by the Catholic Church. He seems to be a figure of worship in the country’s older public art, as was George Washington in the United States.

Benito Juarez National Park - Further adventures in Mexico City

Left: Benito Juarez being welcomed in heaven by angels. Right: A lovely pathway in the park named after Juarez.

I took a different route than I’d taken the day before, for each street held unique marvels. A sort of maxim, “An architect’s best friend is time,” came to me as I delighted in the mix of new (and sometimes eccentric) and very old buildings that seemed to exist on every block.

Old and new buildings in Mexico City - Further adventures in Mexico City

An old tower and a colourful modern building that you wouldn’t likely see in the U.S.

Sunday morning in Mexico City is a very pleasant time. Main boulevards are closed to all traffic except for bicycles and pedestrians. This creates a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere in a metropolis that engages in frenetic activity most of the week.

Street beside Torre Latinoamericana - Further adventures in Mexico City

Equal opportunity on street and sidewalk. In the background is Torre Latinoamericana, a city landmark.

I walked for more than an hour, down to a circular plaza radiating avenues like spokes, and replete with a fountain and skyscrapers of ultra-contemporary design. The scene was most impressive.

Traffic circle in financial hub of Mexico City - Further adventures in Mexico City

Traffic circle at the intersection of Avenida Benito Juarez and the Paseo de la Reforma.  It, too, is closed on Sunday mornings to all but bikers and pedestrians.

“This must be the centre of the city,” I thought. Then I remembered how, from the air, Mexico City seemed to have several such “centres,” and I wasn’t quite sure.

I stopped at a Starbucks to have some juice, write a bit and upload my latest photos. Then I began the trek back to the hotel, double-time! I had to get there before noon for my next engagement.

A remarkable afternoon

I tried to phone my friend Rafael, as we’d planned. Unable to get through, I sent him a hurried email, and in a moment he phoned me, asking the address of my hotel.

Before long, I was out front, getting into an Uber that came by within five minutes. We were on the way to Rafael’s home in Huixquilucan, a green outer suburb roughly 26 miles (42 kilometres) from the city centre.

I’d met Rafael at Meher Baba’s Samadhi (Tomb-Shrine) in India, way back in 1996. One aspect of my journey, as you may recall from a previous article, was to visit Latin American Baba devotees.

I was looking forward to talking with Rafael. I also wanted to make the acquaintance of his unusual “houseguest”—the term “pet” being not quite appropriate for his eight-year-old jaguar, Maya.

Rafael and his jaguar, Maya - Further adventures in Mexico City

Rafael plays with Maya, the orphaned jaguar he raised from a baby.

When Maya was a baby, a friend of Rafael’s presented her to him as a gift. Rafael’s response was, “Are you crazy?” However, a jaguar that’s been removed from the jungle can’t survive there, and Rafael didn’t feel that a zoo would give the animal the quality of life she deserved. It was quite a conundrum.

Rafael happens to live in a home with a large backyard surrounded by high cliffs—the perfect habitat for a jaguar. He decided to keep “Mayita,” who has now resided there happily for eight years.

Here’s an Animal Planet video about Rafael and Maya that’s been circulating on the internet for several years:

After we’d talked in his living room for a couple of hours, Rafael led me to the room adjoining the backyard. “Make sure your hand doesn’t stick out past the aluminum runner of the sliding door!” he told me. Then he went out to play with Maya—who plays a bit rough, by the way.

After a few minutes, Rafael came back over beside me and said, “Maya, come and meet Max!” It was another couple of minutes before the 170-pound feline carefully walked over and gave me what I think was a friendly look, from a couple of feet away.

“The fact that she came this close means she likes you,” Rafael told me. The feeling was mutual.

Last morning before flying on

Surprises found while walking one block in Mexico City - Further adventures in Mexico City

Pictures from a walk: top, a fountain and wall in the old part of the city. Bottom: A hotel with international flags and a picturesque church.

I had one more morning in Mexico City, before catching a taxi to the airport for a 4 p.m. flight to South America. After another early breakfast, I went out for one last walk. When a museum I’d thought of visiting eluded me, I just kept on walking, having not yet gone in that direction. Surprises continued to greet me on every block.

Two more interesting buildings in Mexico City - Further adventures in Mexico City

An ornate but fading residential building and a very odd public seat for a weary pedestrian.

The neighbourhood gradually changed from commercial—though not yet busy yet, at 8 a.m.—to mostly residential, and very old. As I walked farther along the cobblestone streets, there were buildings similar to ones in Oaxaca, but a bit more faded. I began to feel enchanted!

I stopped, opened a small notebook and jotted down some lines. Then, feeling that they’d succeeded in expressing my mood poetically, I tried a little experiment. This 40-second video-poem is the result:

A humourous final incident

I arrived back at Hotel Isabel at 11:30 a.m. Check-out time was noon. As I entered the hotel, a man standing near the doorway asked me, “Do you need a taxi to the airport?”

I turned to look at him. “Are you a taxi driver?”

“Yes,” he said, pointing to a shiny cab parked against the curb. “The hotel charges 220 pesos. I’ll take you for 180.”

Taxi driver Benito - Further adventures in Mexico City

Benito, the entrepreneur taxi driver who turned out to be totally trustworthy.

I’d resumed walking again, and now we were approaching the hotel desk. I felt slightly on guard, but wasn’t averse to saving money. “Ladies,” I asked the desk clerks, “Do you know this man? He says he’s a taxi driver.”

“You shouldn’t go with him,” said one lady. “Let us call for you.”

“Why? Do you think he’s going to rob me and kill me? Benito,” I said, turning to the man, who’d handed me his card with his name on it,” Are you going to rob me and kill me?”

“No, sir” he said. “I just want to drive you to the airport.”

And so I went upstairs, got my bags, having packed them earlier, and returned to the lobby. Benito took my duffel bag and rolled it out to his taxi as I followed, my bookbag over my shoulder.

We got underway. The plane didn’t leave until 4 p.m., but Benito thought I should get there early, and my thinking about that on travels is “Better early than late!” Benito, sensing that I still felt slightly uneasy, said, “The reason the hotel ladies said they didn’t approve of me is that they get a commission on every fare they arrange.”

Aha, I thought. Of course! I relaxed as we drove the rest of the way to the airport. Benito even let me charge my phone in his cab.

Painting by Fernando Andriacci - Further adventures in Mexico City

A painting by the ubiquitous Mexican contemporary artist, Fernando Andriacci, shown in the Mexico City airport gallery.

I checked in with the airline, ate lunch, and perused the colourful Fernando Andriacci exhibit in the terminal’s art gallery. Then I went through security and customs. At 4 p.m., I was on my way to Panama City, Panama, where I’d change planes for a flight to Montevideo, Uruguay.


Read the next article in the series, MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY AND THE FERRY TO BUENOS AIRES: Travels in Latin America [Part 4]

Read about the author’s first day in Mexico City: ADVENTURES IN MEXICO CITY: Travels in Latin America [Part 2]»

Read the first article in this series (which is projected to run to 6 installments): THE WONDERS OF OAXACA: Travels in Latin America [Part 1]

all images: Max Reif