|Traditional Mexican kitchen, painting in El Cardenal|
We were met by our old friend and her incredibly pleasant and steady driver at the airport. Battling the chaotic traffic (very reminiscent of Delhi) requires steady nerves and a ton of patience. Mexico city is densely populated (about 57 people per sq. km., so the statistics say) - and the roads are groaning with vehicles (despite the fact that there is a very efficient metro system in the city). There were cars, buses, two wheelers, real taxis and fake ones (discernible only by the order of alphabets on the number plates) - the only thing we missed here were the cows!
We stayed with our friends, in Coyoacan - the place of the coyotes - a beautiful area where once a river flowed. Now it has picturesque old houses, narrow, winding lanes and bird-filled trees.
After a delicious lunch of tortillas and chicken with mole and glasses of hibiscus juice and tamarind water, our friends took us around. It was a whirlwind tour of the city covered in the short time we had - to show the diversity of the region : the large green spaces and cramped roads, the famous murals and architecture, the local bazaars and the world renowned museums. During most of my stay, I shunned my camera, just wanting to soak in the atmosphere and sights. I do this sometimes (and generally regret it later, when I am unable to describe all that I have seen and experienced, to others!). Fortunately others were not so lackadaisical.
On the first evening we visited UNAM, the second oldest university of the Americas. It has a sprawling, green campus dotted with architectural wonders including beautiful mosaics and sculpted murals. We walked around to get a feel for this venerable University; it seemed like a wonderful place for students.
|Mural atop a University building|
The next day was Sunday and we rose early in anticipation of our Sunday breakfast at 'the best breakfast place in town' (as our friends said). It truly was. El Cardenal (named after the bird) - located close by, in a huge traditional house with gleaming wood, beautiful stained glass, white linen and large vases overflowing with fresh flowers. Everyone was impeccably courteous and no one was rushed us (even though a long queue built up as we sat down for breakfast). I was quite amazed at the unhurried atmosphere - families large and small, sat together and ate their food with relish amidst much chatter. "It is the Mexican way," I was told.
It was a memorable meal, that began with a plateful of hot, freshly baked rich breads and a cup of steaming chocolate that was made at our table. The Mexican chocolate is lighter (and I think, tastier) than the Spanish variety. It is generally made with milk but one can also request for a version made with water than is still lighter and has a more intense chocolate flavour.
Then, to my great joy, we were able to taste two specialties that I had read about and had been wanting to try in Mexico (and it was very fortunate that we ordered them because I did not see them anywhere else subsequently). Huitlacoche - a corn fungus (that was served in tortillas). This is a fungus that grows on the ears of the corn, transforming them into dark coloured, earthy tasting nuggets. The second was an omelette (Mexicans are experts at cooking eggs) stuffed with nopal (a cactus) and a kind of ant larva - a surprisingly tasty combination. This was one of the most memorable meals that we had in Mexico. We were also offered lots of fresh fruit but could only manage a slice of Mexican pineapple (a different variety from the American kind).
|Tortillas with corn fungus|
|Omelette with cactus and ant larvae|
|Tortillas with a baked tomato sauce dish|
|Stone of the Sun|
After this we went for a drive through the most amazing and varied sections of town - tiny lanes, broad boulevards (some of the roads are closed to traffic on Sundays, leaving a clear path for cyclists - this was a heart warming sight, and we wished that the same could be done in India).
Finally, we drove past the Gandhi bookstore (one of the best in the city), past the sculpted coyotes, to reach home - in time for a Sunday nap and a good Sunday evening gossip session followed by a small piano concert. Later at night we met my husband's college friend, who had driven miles in the pouring rain to come and see us. We sat in a little cafe and watched him eat his dinner (we were too full to eat anything except a bit of rice pudding that was thick, creamy and liberally sprinkled with cinnamon). Caught up on news. He has recently opened a hotel in Baja California and invited us to stay. Alas, we had no time, but I did secure a job as a Yoga teacher in his hotel! An offer to be seriously considered at some other time, in the future. As we parted he handed us a bagful of guavas- they were small, ripe and delicious.
Thus ended our last night in Mexico city. We left (after another excellent breakfast and a bagful of gifts) the following morning, carrying with us sunny memories of Mexico city and all our friends.
(Note on photographs: All pictures were expertly taken by Gossi Soto but Blogger has somehow changed the dimensions in the process of uploading. Some of the pictures have been slightly distorted in this process.)