Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mexico 1990

20 years ago I chaperoned a group of students on a trip to Mexico with two Spanish teachers. I found this travel log in my files and thought it would be of interest to some of you. It brought back memories of the trip and things I'd forgotten.

Wednesday, August 1, 1990 - We Left school (Denver, IA) in 3 vehicles for Des Moines and the Hampton Inn. Drivers were Marge Lieb, Mr. Jacobson and Diane Johnson. After checking in the 3 boys went to Young Guns II while the girls went to the freezing pool and later watched a pay cable movie "Bird on a Wire."

Thursday, August 2 - Got up at 4 am, no problems catching United flight to Chicago. We had some first time fliers in our group and one deathly scarred flyer (Diane Jacobson). After a long walk through O'Hara airport to the Mexicana desk we prepared to board our Mexicana Flight to Mexico City. We were seated over the wing so seeing the city from the air was a little difficult. The air appeared hazy, we had heard a lot about the pollution and elevation of the city. We were met by our guide Carlos who helped us to our bus and then guided us through the city to the Hotel Prim. I shared a room (Rm #533) with Marge and Sandra Lieb. The view out of our window was that of poverty and wealth. A building was being renovated directly across the street and next to it in an abandoned lot (from the earthquake) there were a couple of shacks where families lived.

Friday, August 3 - Everyone had been prewarned about drinking the water and the Hotel Prim supplied bottled drinking water to their guests. Marge did not feel well today and spent the day resting and trying to get back on her feet. We left by bus to first stop at the Plaza of the Three Cultures, where a Spanish Cathedral, Aztec Ruins, and Modern Mexican Buildings are all located together to symbolize the past and present history of Mexico. Our next stop was to the most revered religious monument in Latin America, the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Legend has it that Juan Diego a basket seller saw a floating lady and was persuaded by her to ask the bishop for a shrine. It took much persuasion on Juans part but after giving a gift from the lady of roses wrapped in a cloth the Bishop gave his consent to have the shrine built. The cloth that was wrapped around the roses had the image of the lady on it. It is framed and shown at the newly built temple which opened in 1979 to accommodate the people that come. Many people bring gifts to the lady and some crawl in on their knees in tribute to the lady.
Driving out of the city we saw evidence of so much poverty while driving through more industrial areas away from the center of the city. We were now on our way to Teotihuacan ("The Place of Gods") to see the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. First we went to a shop where they were forming volcanic stone into various items for sale. We also were given a presentation about the Century Plant, a large cactus plant that was used for paper, needle and thread and the juice of it when fermented becomes tequila. A strike of the workers and some venders made us reroute our approach to the pyramids. They were discovered in 1901 or 1905 and are dated back to being inhabited between 700 BC - 700 AD by farmers. Nomads came in 760 AD and killed the farmers destroying the civilization. There are still mounds of unexcavated areas leaving 80% of the area excavated. The pyramid of the Sun has 245 steps and is 65 meters high. The Pyramid of the Moon is shorter. The steps were difficult to climb in the high elevation and heat. About half of the students made it to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I made it up to the first large platform. We also visited the Temple of the Jaguars that had 13 steps symbolizing the 13 nations.
Lunch was served to us at the Gran Teocalli Restaurant - a Mexican fiesta with strolling mariachis and Indian dancers in full costumes. Tables were filled with fruits, salads and hot dishes. Most of the students at least tasted warm cactus. Returning to Mexico City we took a walking tour of the Zocalo; the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the newly unearthed Templo Mayor of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan. In the palace we viewed the huge Diego Rivera mural with scenes of Mexicos history. The guards were everywhere as the president was in residence. Everyone was scarred about taking pictures of the guards as they have been known to break cameras. The National Cathedral is the most important cathedral in the whole country. Part of the cathedral, which is built in the shape of a cross, is sinking and there is always the need for ongoing repairs. The top part of the cross of the cathedral floor plan was subject to a fire in 1962. Inside there are two grand pipe organs the Mexican Organ built in 1760 was built at a cost of only 20,000 pesos! The whole cathedral was built for 20 million pesos! (we received aproximately 2,850 per dollar while we were there!)
Carlos is full of information and we were told Mexico has 80 million people of which 18-20 million live in Mexico City the most populated city in the world. Mexico City, D.F. has a ratio of 4:1 women to men. Mexico covers 2 million square kilometers.

Saturday, August 4 - (Marge is moving today!) Riding the Metro, Mexico Cities subway system was an experience for many of us. Our destination was the 1000 - acre Chapultepec Park. Our first visit was to the Castle of Maximilian and Carlota. Positioned on top of a hill we prepared for the walk to the top. Building up our calf muscles must of been our first priority as the incline along with the high elevation was almost enough to do us in. What kept us going were the people exercising on the hill running up and down and when we reached the top we saw a large group doing aerobics. The castle used to be a military academy and 6 cadets once stayed there to defend the Mexican flag from the Spaniards. One cadet wrapped his body in the flag and jumped down the cliff to save it being taken by the Spanish in victory from it's pole. The six young cadets are national heros and even have their pictures on a 5 or 10 thousand peso bill.
We crossed Reforma Boulevard to explore the Museum of Anthropology. The park had boats on the water and birds to entertain the many people out on a Saturday morning. We were surprised to see 5 men on top of a pole suspended by ropes around their waist fall off the pole backwards and spin down to the ground. The museum featured the calendar stone, stone gods and artifacts of early Mexico, a modern environment for pieces used long ago.
The evening found us trying to organize transportation to the Latin American Tower for a view of the city from the tallest building in Latin America. A beautiful view at night.

Sunday, August 5 - Our last morning in Mexico City found us trying to get to the Ballet Folklorico. The President of Mexico was speaking in the Zocalo resulting in streets being closed all over the place. We ended up walked within 2 blocks of the President. The Ballet Folklorico was a beautiful display of native costumes and dances showcasing native stories, music and color. After the program we again boarded the bus for the floating gardens of Xochimilco. Carlos and Arturo (our bus driver) had gone and bought us Kentucky Fried Chicken box lunches and we took them aboard our floating gondola. All the girls were presented with bouquets of flowers upon boarding the boat. The canal was packed with musicians, families, peddlers, and groups of all kinds. When we got off the gondola we gave our scraps to some dogs and almost started some dog fights. Leaving Xochimilco we headed for Taxco on a new road that had been opened only 2 months. A surprise for some and we were all glad to be avoiding the winding curving roads into the mountains. (We got in on a few of them closer to Taxco.) On the way we saw fields of sugar cane and acres and acres of roses.
Our first stop in Taxco was at a shop where complimentary beverages were given (pop for the kids, Tequila for the teachers) and information about silver was explained. Pure silver is impossible to work, it needs to have an alloy. Most of the pieces in Taxco are between 94% - 98% silver. To earn the government stamp jewelry must contain 92.5% silver. All the silver mining is controlled by the government and artisans then buy the silver from them. The government stamp contains 2 initials of the designer/artisan and 2 numbers the federal # register of the workshop and the quality of silver. For cleaning silver ammonia is not good, the artisans claimed it would eventually eat away at the surface. Clean gold with ammonia and water. The amethyst stone, which stands for good luck, is also mined in Taxco along with many other stones. High above the city is located the Hotel Monte Taxco. We reached the Hotel by riding in a sky lift that accommodates 4 passengers and received a fantastic view of the city. The motel was a beautiful group of buildings and facilities that included a pool, disco, lounge, restaurant, game room, gym, tennis and basketball courts, horse rides, a golf course and shops. Arriving on a Sunday night most of the facilities were closing or being renovated. The disco had a special that night to anyone wearing black and white and after trading clothes around. The teachers went to the lounge to listen to Carl a singer/piano player from the Bahamas that came highly recommended. We enjoyed ourselves greatly.

Monday, August 6 - We traveled down the mountain via the sky lifts to tour Taxco, the world capitol of silver with a population of 200,000. The main highway going through Taxco is called John F. Kennedy Avenue. We went to silver shops and toured a mine no longer in production where we saw examples of the stones found in the region and old equipment used in the mines. There are currently 6 mines being worked around the clock in Taxco. We walked through the narrow stoned covered streets to the Cathedral of Santo Prisca, one of the world's most beautiful churches. It was built with money donated by one of the early silver pioneers whose only son and heir became a priest. Artisans were working on it's restoration and we viewed some of the clean up process and gold leaf painting. Some venders upon hearing we were headed for Acapulco that day told us the temperature there was 110 degrees! We decided to get some pizzas for the ride instead of stopping for lunch and were surprised to get cut up hot dogs posing as sausage on a couple of pizzas. Carlos and Arturo presented us with a contest for us all to guess what time we would arrive at a certain spot in Acapulco. Two surprise gifts were wrapped tempting everyone to guess the correct hour, minute and second of our arrival. The trip out of Taxco was very winding and many people tried to sleep to avoid the queezy feeling the road was giving us. We traveled over the Sierra Madres formed from the Appalachian and the Rocky Mountain ranges where they meet in Mexico. Our guide told us of many movies made in the area and we enjoyed the country side. Chandelier cactus were common is an area the guide compared to our Grand Canyon.
Our first sights of Acapulco were of a more industrial side of the city with some road construction going on. Everyone was looking for their first glimpse of the ocean it finally came at the top of a hill looking through some residential homes. Acapulco has one main street running parallel to the beach that has most of the points of interests. We traveled to the Tortuga (Turtle) Hotel located in the center of Acapulco Bay. Everyone went off to either enjoy the pool, explore the area or eat. The three teachers went to Sanborns and ate while looking out over the Bay. Window shopping filled the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, August 7 - Today a free day we planned to meet down for our breakfast buffet early, a feast of food, most took advantage of a chef who made omelets to order in the dining area. We traveled across the street to the beach area walking along the waters edge. While examining the sand and looking for crabs a wave surprised the three teachers giving us our first douse of water. We came upon Disco Beach where parasailing, Banana boats and Jet skis were for rent and figured the kids would find their way there and decided to settle. We had huge blue and white umbrellas and lounge chairs and tables in both shaded areas and the sun. The boys came later and the parasailing started first with John, Jason, Sam, and Jed. The excitement and enthusiasm the boys showed tempted the rest of us and Niki, Sandra, Ann, and Diane (yep me, I went parasailing!) followed. Marge tried to follow but the boat broke down for the day. (tomorrow) After a day of fun at the beach we shopped and then got ready for a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe, newly opened in Acapulco.
The Hard Rock Cafe was a treasure of music and movie memorabilia. A person could look at the items on the walls forever. T- shirts and Hard Rock items were purchased by most and we ventured nearer to the hotel by bus. I remember Brian saying "Do we have to pay extra for the sauna?" The bus was extremely hot and crowded, many of us would of walked if only we could get off! We then went to a disco near the hotel where many danced away their excess energy.

Wednesday, August 8 - Again to the beach, the coolest place around. We were told the heat reached 48 degrees C. today (That would be nearing 120 degrees F.!!!) There was less wind but first on our agenda was watching Marge parasail! She did it, a woman who can't float or swim out over the ocean! Quick shopping was in order before leaving for a cruise on the Bonanza to see the beautiful Acapulco Bay from the ocean side. The rock of the water didn't agree with many students but the views were great as we saw Frank Sinatra's, The Shah of Iran, and many other homes. Music and dancing accompanied us around the bay as we viewed "our" beach from the water. Our next stop by bus was to the famous Cliffs of La Quebrada to see the daredevil cliff-divers. The distance they dove was up to 138 feet while having to watch the roll of the waves against the rocks to complete a safe dive. It was interesting to learn the practice of diving from the cliff started as recently as back when a Tarzan movie was shot and Johnny Weismillers double had to dive from the cliff. After the movie was shot the double kept on diving for the crowd that would gather and a tradition was started. This was also the sight of Elvis Presley's movie "Fun in Acapulco". Many of us went to Pizza Hut that evening and while the teachers packed. Carlos took the students to Eve's a popular disco about a block away where they danced their last night away.

Thursday, August 9 - Our last morning in Mexico found us having an early breakfast, gathering of luggage and final group pictures before leaving in a bus for the airport. On our way to the airport we were able to see Sylvester Stalones impressive home and the Black Lagoon where part of the African Queen was shot and many other movies. The Acapulco Airport was not very large at all and we were all surprised at how such a famous location could have such a small airport. Everyone was exhausted and it showed (we saw people we traveled down to Mexico on and they commented we looked beat).
We arrived in Des Moines near midnight and were met by the Dunlaps. The three vehicles then headed home in a rain storm. I was Very low on gas and when we finally reached a gas station in Waverly that was open it wasn't until there that we heard about the US sending troops to Kuwait, the prices for gas was 1.25.
The trip was a success.

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