Nahutal for ‘the place of coyotes’, Coyoacan, with its narrow cobblestone streets and maze of plazas and old buildings, is a bohemian neighbourhood that’s very quaint compared to the busy Zocalo and historic centre of Mexico City.
Viveros de Coyoacan
My excursion began with Jeruen, a gypsy Filipino blog-friend, from the Viveros subway station on the olive line. We walked to the sprawling Viveros de Coyoacan (Nursery of Coyoacan) public park which was quite busy on this saturday morning. I guess the health conscious folks show up here on weekends to purify their lungs as the air quality in the park definitely felt superior. Folks were jogging along the perimeter of the park on a running track that was covered in red soil. There were two things that stood out – firstly, people were running in anti-clockwise direction which, I don’t know why, usually confuses me and secondly, there were tons of signboards everywhere aimed at regulating the behaviour of the park’s 2,500-3,000 daily visitors. Just for the record, we were well-behaved for the rest of our trip.
Once you pass the running track on the periphery, the interior of the park gets interesting because it has a gigantic nursery and recreational area. There are subdivisions – from tropical plantations on one end to cacti on the other. The park produces about one million saplings that are used to ‘green’ Mexico City. Then there was a small arena where people were simulating bull fighting – a guy wearing horns was chasing the guy who was provocatively waving a red cloth at the bull. In other spaces, people were practising karate, yoga, sword fights and other activities that involved intimacy and tongues.
Mexico city is noisy, crowded and chaotic; but there is a noticeable push towards transforming the city into a greener, sustainable and socially progressive place. Lot of the initiatives that I saw there during my brief visit seemed very strategic and worthy of replication (and when I say that, I am talking about Mumbai).
Exiting from the park after replenishing our oxygen supplies and inhaling tons of dust in the process, we walked over to the adjacent neighbourhood which was in stark contrast to downtown Mexico City. People were smiling, kids were skateboarding, mamas were chatting in a park and artists were gathering outside an artsy cultural center. Overall, the village was quite intimate, casual, quiet and did not conform to my stereotype of Mexico city at all.
Walking through the Santa Catarina neighborhood was quite interesting because the streets were full of old architecture that the locals seemed to have taken for granted (ofcourse, that’s normal). On couple of occasions while I stood in front of a carved wooden banister affixed on a spiral staircase or a twisty wrought-iron grill at a balcony, passer-by’s looked at me suspiciously. The last time this happened was when I was walking through Puebla’s historic centre which is full of colonial buildings. I think I give a similar look to tourists who take pictures of murals on Toronto’s streets.
Plaza del Centenario aka Jardín del Centenario was our next stop. It’s a leafy square which was once the centre of Coyoacan village before it was gobbled up by the rapidly expanding urban sprawl of Mexico city in the past century. There is an exciting strip of restaurants along the side street but that did not excite us at all because the food in such places is usually overpriced and too sanitary.
Colonia del Carmen
What we were looking for was the Mercado Coyoacán or the Coyoacan market. Jeruen read somewhere about this place and when I walked in to scenes of meat and animal carcasses hanging from hooks and unclean floors in dingy corners of the market, I was very skeptical. Nevertheless, I settled down at a booth that served Tostadas, praying earnestly that I be spared from the revenge of Montezuma, an exotic name for traveller’s diarrhea.
↑ By far my most favorite Mexican dish. Tostadas have a crispy fried corn tortilla as the base and you can ask for chicken, pork, beans, mushrooms, etc. It will come topped up with avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and cream.