Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mexico City Trip (February 8-10, 2008)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a short three-day trip to Mexico City, visiting a colleague of mine (Edgar). The main purpose of this trip was to meet with a couple of researchers from Mexico who are doing extensive DNA research on native populations. Mexico counts about 190 diverse ethnic and linguistics groups and it is a true gold mine for population geneticists. Although the trip was fairly quick, my friend packed the time with interesting activities.

The first nice thing was about this trip was that Delta gave me free upgrades to first class for both legs of my flight. Not bad...

I arrived at the Mexico City international airport on Friday afternoon. Mexico City has a lot of traffic and 25 million people that are trying to move quickly to where they need to go... I loved their taxi system made up mainly of grey and white old VW bugs. At every corner, you have people selling food or small day to day items. It is nearly impossible walk on sidewalks as that is the place for the small street vendors. Before Mexico City was built, there was a large lake in this valley. Gradually, the Aztecs brought land in and dry parts of the lake. The city's transportation system was based on the numerous canals that divided each lot of land. Today, most of the lake is gone, but a small section outside the city maintained the canal system with pictoresque boats for tourists to ride. Since I was a tourist, I went on such ride...

Dinner was also a special treat as we ate in an old building called the Tile Palace, which at one point was the residential home of a wealthy Spaniard family.

Edgar came over fairly early on Saturday morning to pick me up at the hotel where I was lodging (the Sheraton in the historic part of town). We spent the whole morning and part of the early afternoon meeting with the two researchers I came to meet. We discussed Native American haplogrouping, collection strategies and a couple scientific papers they recently published.

After our nearly 6 hours meeting, we traveled outside of Mexico City to a place called Teotihuacan, which houses one of the largest and nicest archeological sites of Mesoamerica. The two largest building are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which Edgar and I both climbed. My legs were sore for the following three days... I found a site that has some neat information about this place (HERE). I got myself some small souvenirs, including a complete set of Aztecs gods carved in volcanic rock. I hope they will bring me good luck... :)

If you don't die from falling off the pyramids, they will finish you in here...

For dinner we went to a place called La Gruta (The Cave). This area has many natural caves that were used by the Aztecs as storage for food and other items, and also as a basement to some of the pyramids they built (used often as burials). This is one of the most interesting places I have ever dined at. We walked two stories underground in a semi-open cave packed with colorful chairs and tables. Dinner was also an interesting experience. We had fried pig skin with guacamole as an apetizer and then I ordered a Mexican sampler as the main dish. I also tried a dish called Mole... which is some sort of tortilla filled with chicken and smothered with a chocolate-base sauce... Not my favorite thing at all...but not bad enough to ruin the overall eating experience.

When I thought I gave everything I had to the day and I was happily getting closer to my hotel, I realized that Edgar had more plans for the evening (it was about 9pm...). We took the subway and visited a station with some models of the city of Mexico through the centuries. Then we walked around the historic center, visiting some more ruins, cathedrals, historical palaces, and some weirdos doing Woodoo like dances on the street. Lastly, we went through the traveling museum/display/exhibit of Ashes and Snow, which this year is hosted by Mexico City (in 2002 it opened in Venice, Italy and it has been in several large world cities since then). If you have never heard of it, you got to check their website at Ashes and Snow. What a surreal experience that was. The music, the images, the videos, the building... it was a walk in a different dimension. The artist, Gregory Colbert, spent years of his life documenting the interaction of animals and humans and his best pieces are part of this great show. If you will ever have the chance, you must go through one of this exhibits!! We completed the dinner with some Mexican flan at the Restaurant/Bar "La Opera."

Sunday was the day of departure. My flight was at 4pm. Edgar suggested we spent the morning touring the Anthropological museum, which is one of the finest collection of Paleoindians and Native mexicans culture and history. It was a journey through the history of this country and continent, something I really appreciate doing since my bulk of doctorate research is based on the genetic history of these people.

I flew home sleeping like a baby and with my mind filled of wonderful imagery from one of the most beutiful and diversified places on earth. This was my third trip to Mexico, but my first one to the country capital.

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