Alina l'Ami in Mexico

by Alina l'Ami
9/26/2015 – Playing chess in Mexico? Isn't that a bit dangerous? After all, the media are full of bad news about the war on durgs in Mexico. But Alina l'Amis passion for travelling and chess was greater than fear and despite all media reports she decided to play in the Copa Independencia in Mexico City. She saw a country full of wonders and surprises. Pictorial report.

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Part I - Mexico

When falling in love, some people say they feel butterflies in their stomach... If this is true, I got the whole Zoo during my first visit to Mexico!!

One may argue that being passionate by nature and having a traveling obsession, I saw (and bring you now) a 'distorted' image of an actually dangerous country, or that my pink glasses offered me a fantastic time when others would be disappointed, robbed or worse.

Truth be told, appearance and reality are opposites. They say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” but did you ever notice that first impressions are often entirely wrong, especially if based on media? They also say that there's no smoke without fire. I agree that there is no fire without smoke but not all smoke comes from a fire...

I will say it now and I will repeat it anytime – I have never felt as misinformed as in this case. There are indeed some marked zones where one shouldn't venture but why would I? So how is life in Mexico City? Exactly the way one succeeds to carve it! People tend to forget that problems or lack of safety on the streets, particularly at night, are spread and appear all over the world; besides, Mexico City is actually a country in disguise, with its 26 million people. With these numbers things are statistically bound to happen once in a while, that is inevitable. The important thing is to be cautious, to adapt to the place and not to expose yourself to unnecessary danger, just like anywhere else, be it Amsterdam or Paris.

I did move around a lot, in and outside Mexico City, but I did not feel in danger any single second. Instead, I discovered a magnificent capital (with M for Mexico), with loads of art (curiosity number one: artists are allowed to pay their taxes with their masterpieces!) and a very modern infrastructure.

La Peña de Bernal

This is my favourite image with La Peña de Bernal (English: Bernal Peak), not because of its beautiful setting nor because it has been reported to be the place where many could witness UFO activities (I didn't). But the way it was made, through effort, left a vivid memory attached to it: three hours drive, one-way from Mexico City, a torrid sun and a building site that made my hopes to get such an angle difficult to achieve...not in Mexico though, where people were happy to assist! The engineer allowed me to climb, to move through electrical wires and navigate between bricks and obstacles to bring you this photo.

Bernal Peak from various perspectives and the lively, colorful town that has the same name as the 433 metres high monolith, one of the tallest in the world: San Sebastian Bernal

I believe the whole of Mexico will soon be declared UNESCO World Heritage Site! San Miguel de Allende, with its Baroque/Neoclassical colonial structures, is probably the most visited place in Mexico. I have been told it is even more popular than all the beaches and the pyramids!

The pyramids of Teotihuacán are simply magical. Most  of the architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas were erected on this site. I cannot the describe my feelings when I saw this place where the Aztecs thought the gods had created the universe. Here they performed rituals and brought sacrifices (including humans) to their Gods. But the monumental structures are just impressive - whether you know something about Aztec culture or not. 

The Pyramid of the Moon

Happy visitors: the l'Amis accompanied by the wonderful host and
tournament organizer David Armando - muchas gracias for a great time!

We were told to use sunscreen but I thought it cannot be that bad - after all, we are not in the hot season and 20 degrees in Mexico City cannot suddenly multiply only 48 km outside of the city? I was wrong and got punished with a painful sunburn!

Alina and Erwin l'Ami before getting really roasted.

The Mayan calendar

Mexico is very modern, with a very good infrastructure, internet connection
almost everywhere and...the possibility to pay with credit card in the middle of nowhere!

The artisans offer any souvenir one could think of,
the most popular being Mayan calendars and sombreros.

The "Danza de los Voladores" (Dance of the Flyers), is an ancient ceremony/ritual that is still performed today, albeit in modified form, in some isolated places of Mexico, and was named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, in order to help the ritual survive and thrive in the modern world. The performers dance while they play instruments and climb a 30-meter pole from which the artists, who are tied with ropes to the pole, launch themselves to the ground. A spectacular performance.

The Mexican specialties offered here remind me of the Dutch poffertjes, but only due to their shape - to my mind the Mexican variation tastes much better (sorry to my Dutch friends and family, just my taste!)

The Xochimilco (obviously an UNESCO World Heritage Site) or the "Floating gardens" 

The canals and colorful gondolas attract millions of tourists.

Chess - and why not?! Erwin and I did learn a painful lesson from
our trip to the Pyramids the day before: better wear shirts with long sleeves!

While walking around in a park I could not resist the temptation
to sit down and play some moves with a chess enthusiast.

Once again, some of my best (or the ones I like most) photos are crafted with effort. The Palacio de Bellas Artes, which has an amazing facade (I believe it is Neoclassical or maybe Art Nouveau?), was begging to be photographed from a bird's eye, so I circled around to see which building and which floor fit the profile. I think I managed - with some help from the organizer and the people we asked.

My two favorite...

...panoramic shots, taken from the Revolution Monument.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City, one of the oldest
and largest Roman Catholic cathedrals in the Americas.

The "Altar of Forgiveness"

The Old Basilica and its interior from La Villa de Guadalupe or simply La Villa. When the foundations of the old basilica were beginning to sink the New Basilica was built right next to it. It houses the original tilma (or cloak) of Juan Diego. The basilica is one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism and every year several million people visit it.

Chapultepec Castle

On the balcony

Inside the castle

Diego Rivera painted this mural 1947. It measures 64.4 sq. meters, is 4.17 meters high and 15.6 meters long, and depicts hundreds of characters from 400 years of Mexican history; a bit left from the center you can see "Catrina" (Death), who plays an important role in the Mexican culture.

A walk through the center of town with its generous boulevards and squares.

The cactus plays a major role in Mexican culture/cuisine.
In the foreground you see the "agave" from which tequila is made.

Tequila paradise or beehive?

For the real connoisseurs: apparently tequila tastes better when there
are several creatures inside the bottle. I haven't tried that though, so I cannot tell.

Mariachis

GM Vasily Papin from Russia

Erwin l'Ami tried a new look but did not buy the hat after all.
Too bad, because the sun was merciless.

Handcrafts - it takes a full week to create such beauties.

Mexican cuisine and its various salsas, patiently waiting for customers.

If you thought that the "nastiest" and most spicy chili in Mexico should have a red or red-ish colour, you are wrong. These little, cute guys are far from being polite to your tongue! Habaneros are some of the spiciest chilis in the world.

The famous tacos!

The cactus leaf is used in tacos as a side dish to flavour ice cream (!)
or simply on its own; and its fruit, called "tuna", just like the fish, is a great treat as well.

A simple dish elevated to the rank of art: the meal is kept warm in an Aztec pot. After one hour you can still burn your fingers! On the left you can spot the salt, which might appear to be an insignificant detail, but to support a healthier life the authorities in Mexico City decided to fine any restaurant that would place salt on an empty table. Only when the customer specifically asks for extra salt it can be brought to the table!

Mexican cuisine is much more than tacos and gorditas and tortas (I bet you were more accustomed with fajitas and burritos' names but, told you, come to Mexico and try the real deal!) - Margarita with tamarind is simply divine, as well as "Mole Poblano" (right-up-corner), which has more than 50 (!!) ingredients and the sauce consists of a variety of things, including chili and chocolate, to counteract each other.

Life on the capital's main streets: laid back and relaxed.

The Revolution Monument at night

Part two will follow soon...



Alina is an International Master and a very enthusiastic person in everything she does. She loves travelling to the world's most remote places in order to play chess tournaments and report about them here on ChessBase! As chance would have it Alina is also an excellent photographer.
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elyisus elyisus 9/29/2015 02:48
Totally agree with you Alina about Mexico. It is lovely, easygoing, and the pictures are great! I live in Mexico after more than 55 years, so I think I can talk about. I wish I could have played with you some chess!! Mexico loves those who love it!
Viva el ajedrez!
mkprab mkprab 9/28/2015 03:50
First of all, thanks a lot for your travelogues. They are truly entertaining !!

I would also like to echo your sentiments regarding Mexico.
During this summer, we drove around Yucatan peninsula, visiting many pyramids like Chichen Itza, Uxmal, etc. We also visited some cenotes, churches, and many other tourist spots. We drove through many towns and villages, and found the experience very rewarding. We met many Mexican and Mayan locals, and truly enjoyed their hospitality. We were told that the violent parts were in different states, far away from the Yucatan peninsula.
Vongoom Vongoom 9/28/2015 10:11
Just for the record: Teotihuacán was not an Aztec settlement. It was a Toltec settlement, abandoned centuries before the rise of the Aztecs.
Christian Sasse Christian Sasse 9/28/2015 12:57
Great report and images, Alina, absolutely fascinating! Next time I am in Mexico City I will go there. I find the orientation of the site interesting, there is a suggestion that one axis points to the setting of the Pleiades around 1 AD. There seems to be no documentation, on the other hand we do have the tools today to try and solve such mysteries. Thank you again, keep up the great work!
luishon luishon 9/27/2015 10:24
most of my friends and relatives tell me that Mexico is safe
I'm from Chihuahua state in Mexico
but I know things are bad
the problem is that Mafia organisations are all over in control
kidnaping and drug distribution all under the watchful eye of Government
people I know have tattoos on every limb and head
but now cadaver had been found with signs of been flayed alive
good luck on empty streets in a city of 30 million
johan1234 johan1234 9/27/2015 10:05
Very much interested in the "travelogues". Hope safe trips for both you and your husband wherever you go.
Denix Denix 9/27/2015 09:31
Great Report!! Looking forward to Part II !!!
Richterrauzer Richterrauzer 9/27/2015 09:24
I at least am interested about your "travelogues" and wonderful pictures. I have a particularly fond memory of the Madagascar report.
Playing chess is also about travelling places and meeting new kind op people and new cultures. Keep up the good work Alina!
Gregory Peck Gregory Peck 9/27/2015 09:23
we are very interested in cultural reports
Ishan Deshpande Ishan Deshpande 9/27/2015 07:29
We ain't interested in ur travelogues. Bring us some chess news...
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 9/27/2015 02:18
Great report, Alina.

I keep hearing wonderful things about San Miguel de Allende, and apparently the cost of living is about half what it is here in the SF Bay Area.
Aighearach Aighearach 9/27/2015 12:17
Alas, if only the violence restricted itself to marked zones! Glad you had a safe trip.

I don't think the creatures in the tequila are supposed to make it taste better. They're supposed to make it more macho.
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