Rich in history, art and culture, Mexico City so mesmerised a tourist she almost forgot she was about to begin radiation therapy for cancer
8/21/2018 3:28:59 PM
|written By : Renu Chopra|
Having never been to the Ajanta and Ellora caves, I was excited to begin our trip to the south of India. Two days before our scheduled departure, my regular annual mammogram presented abnormal results. The trip had to be called off. Instead of going to India, I endured a week of further screenings, ultrasounds, and doctor visits until the biopsy results came in positive. I had breast cancer.
Surgery removed the lump. I had one week before beginning the gruelling schedule of radiation therapy. We needed to distract ourselves from the grim reality and decided to go to Mexico City. We had previously been to the border states of Ensenada and Tijuana but knew nothing about the interior of the country or its capital. So began an amazing five-day trip to Mexico City with my husband.
To satisfy my craving for historical sites, something I missed because of the cancelled trip to India, I most looked forward to the ancient sites of the Teotihuacan pyramids and the Aztec ruins. We drove an hour to get to the three pyramids built for worship of the moon, the sun and the feather serpent. As we passed through the lava rock entrance of the pyramid of the feather serpent, I gasped. The pyramid lay in front of us in an expanse surrounded by buildings made of volcanic rocks and lava. Together, the contrasting colours created a stunning view. We climbed to the top and were rewarded with beautiful ancient carvings of the serpent still intact on the back side of the pyramid.
Our next stop, the pyramid of the moon, was the most dramatic -- built at the end of a large avenue called ‘Calle de la Muertes”, the road of the dead, so called because these Teotihuacan buried their ancestors under the homes where they lived. Next to this pyramid archeologists uncovered dwellings, including sleeping rooms, bathing areas, and waterways.
The third and largest pyramid was that of the sun and exuded the greatest majesty. Younger and more robust travellers than us climbed to the top of the 248 steps. We sat instead on the steps below admiring the workmanship of an ancient tribe, a little wistful of the youthfulness of those who had made it to the top.
In contrast to the pyramids, the Aztec ruins are in the downtown area right next to the national palace. Around these ruins modern structures have been built for easy viewing of the ancient monuments.
An unexpected pleasant jaunt was to the basilica of the lady of Guadalupe. Millions of tourists and devotees flock each year to see the site where the lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, a poor Indian, in the 1500s. Now a sacred relic, his original shawl with the miraculously imprinted image of the Lady lies on display for public worship, making this basilica the second most visited place for Catholics after the Vatican.
Mexico City is rich in culture and the arts. Visitors must see the iconic works of the famous painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Placed in the stairwell of the National Palace, Diego Rivera’s political masterpiece, The History of Mexico, was under restoration on the day of our trip. Through the scaffolding and workers, we saw the stunning Rivera composition. All milestone events are represented surrounding the centre of the mural, an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake, depicting the legend about how Mexico City came into being.
We went next to visit the house of Dolores Olveda, a friend of Frida Kahlo and owner of many of her and Rivera’s artworks. The house, donated to the city, is surrounded by large lawns of lush green grass and strident with the unique cacophony of the peacocks that strutted freely, proud of their spectacular beauty. The paintings hung within the house were stunning. I stood for a long time admiring a portrait of Dolores and her daughter, their hair spread out, untied and free. Much smaller but just as remarkable in its simplicity was the home of Frida Kahlo herself.
The most relaxing afternoon we spent on our trip was at the floating gardens. A pleasant time was to be had there aboard the large colourful boats. We drifted out into the water, boats bumping into each other, blocking paths, the drivers taking it as a matter of course to push and pull the boats manually until somehow miraculously a way opened. Alongside smaller boats sold silver jewelry, drinks and tacos.
I feasted on chicken tacos, rice, and beans with a spicy salsa while listening to the Mariachis who came on board singing ‘La Bamba’. It was a glorious hour sitting under the shade of the boat cover, wafting on the water watching others celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or entertaining a special friend.
Accustomed to excellent flavourful Mexican food in Los Angeles, we were amazed to find that each meal during our stay was a gastronomical experience. The highlight was Pujol, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. At their taco bar we were captivated by a slow and methodical parade of ten courses of gourmet masterpieces paired superbly with the right wine, beer, sake, margarita, or tequila. They adjusted to my husband’s vegetarian needs and my seafood allergies without forsaking taste. Of note was a starter that looked like a gol guppa taken directly from the streets of Delhi. Instead of our spicy tamarind water, this was filled with pico de gallo.
It was the perfect ending to our fabulous stay in Mexico City. Of special significance was an evening when we soaked away the day’s fatigue in the jacuzzi of the St. Regis. My husband asked me about my schedule for radiation and I turned to him quizzically. In that moment I realised that in just a few days, this intoxicating city had woven its magic and captivated me in its magical web. I realised that our distraction goal had been accomplished, that I had all but forgotten that I had cancer, or that treatments would begin upon our return to reality.