Sunday, October 23, 2016

[MIGUEL HIDALGO] Bosque de Chapultepec

Sometimes you don’t have to get out of town to find something interesting, especially when you’re broke AF and you’re not in the mood for a movie marathon. It’s a good thing that Mexico City has a lot to offer thanks to its sheer size and abundance of culture. And so I turned to Wikitravel and was presented with a variety of options. I ended up with Chapultepec. I’ve exited that very Metro station many times to go somewhere since I moved here in May but never really explored the park despite knowing that it’s just there.

Chapultepec means “Grasshopper Hill” in Nahuatl, which explains the emblem of the Metro station depicting the insect. Touted as the largest city park in the western hemisphere, it has a lake, a zoo, several museums, running and biking paths, monuments, as well as its very own castle. Given the land area that it covers, several Metro stations can be used as a gateway to the park, with the most obvious one bearing its name. Consult a map so you’d know which station would be the most convenient for your destination.

I chose Chapultepec because I’m already familiar with the area. There's an exit that's supposed to lead to the castle but I chose the one going to the park. If you go on a Sunday, you won't get lost unless you are that dense. Just follow the crowd of locals and they will lead you straight to the entrance. It’s like a Sunday family affair thingy, visiting this place. And not without reason! What reason is it then? Most of the attractions offer free admission on Sundays.

There were info boards as I walked past the entrance gate. Did you know that the park contributes a lot to the cleansing of the city’s air? Did you know that this is the largest green urban area in Latin America? Did you know that the events listed here are free for all of you today? And then there were two or three maps showing how ginormous the entire park is, lakes and all. The path I was following led me to an intersection: left led to the castle; right, to a concert with Reforma’s skyscrapers in the background.

Of course, we came for the castle. Trivia, by the way: those buildings you see from afar, they lead you to the Angel of Independence if you follow them. In fact, the golden statue is visible from afar once you reach the balconies of the Alcázar. Anyway, I snubbed the concert and traversed the bridge to my left. On both sides is a view of the highway, which makes you marvel further on how awesome the place is, to be a tranquil haven in the middle of a bustling megacity. Well, not today with this crowd!

But imagine an ordinary weekday when the hordes of Mexican families aren't here. The park would more likely just play host to joggers, bikers, and maybe some tourists. As a foreigner, it doesn’t really matter when you go. I suggest you go on a Sunday to witness how Mexican family life is celebrated here. Sure, you won’t be getting impressive selfies but as least you’ll get to experience what it’s like to be a local, even for one day, through mere people-watching.

The centerpiece of that specific area is a tribute to Los Niños Héroes, six heroic cadets who served as defenders of the country when they died in the Battle of Chapultepec during the American invasion of 1847. The statue is backed up by six posts with an engraved black eagle on each one. It’s an impressive monument regardless of the angle of the photo. Take pictures from the other side if you want it juxtaposed with the skyscrapers of Reforma. It’s rife with symbolism, depending on the extent of your imagination.

Head toward the castle gates and you will be greeted by hawkers inviting you to check out the food and toys they are peddling at their stalls. To your right is one of Chapultepec’s museums, the Museum of Modern Art. If you go on a Sunday, you’ll see a note on the main door saying FREE ADMISSION. Now, I am not sure if this is also true for foreigners. I always get in everywhere for free because of my UNAM ID. I did so for the castle, for example, but I would’ve paid MXN 65 (~PHP 170) if I didn’t have the credentials.

Lockers are available before you walk uphill. The cost is MXN 10 (~PHP 26) until 5 PM. I left my laptop there. It’s safe. I later realized that it wasn’t mandatory because everyone else had their bags with them in the castle grounds. Before reaching the castle itself, you will pass by Museo Caracol, as well as see impressive aerial views of the city down below. The higher you go, the nicer they get. If you have a baby and a stroller with you, there is a stroller park right at the castle entrance but I’m not sure if they are free or not.

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