I took an unexpected trip to Mexico City and got to see The National Museum of Anthropology in the process. This is a story of faith, adventure, high octane anxiety, and an unplanned fulfillment of my dreams. It all started when I got on an airplane to travel down to the little Indian village of Jaibalito, Guatemala to visit a dear friend, Cynthia, and to do service for a week. I flew in July 2015, and I traveled ALONE.
Traveling alone through Mexico City
First of all, I had NEVER traveled alone outside the country. In fact, I had never been anywhere outside of the United States except for a cruise to the Bahamas (with my sisters), a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico (with Dave and ironically with Cynthia and her husband), and a trip across the rainbow bridge into Canada when I was a little girl to see Niagara Falls. I felt giddy and nervous all at once. And so, Dave gave me a really profound and special blessing before I left. We both cried. In it, Dave told me that I would have angels protecting me on my travels. While I wanted this experience a lot, I also wanted to return safely back to my children and family.
In order to get to Guatemala, I needed to take a plane with a layover in Mexico City. From there, I had plans to travel to Guatemala City where a bus would be waiting for me, followed by a boat ride across Lake Atitlán. Everything was timed perfectly with little room for error as the boats stopped running late in the evening.
I left early with high hopes. Traveling on Aeroméxico proved to be a great experience. The flight attendants wore red hats and red shoes with matching blue uniforms, as if out of a movie. Do you remember “Catch Me if You Can?” Yeah, it reminded me of that scene where beautiful women surrounded Leonardo DiCaprio in all matching uniforms.
On the flight, the food tasted amazing, as far as airplane food goes. I practiced my Spanish a little bit with one of the travelers and her children. Confident, I thought, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Navigating the Mexico City airport
When I arrived at my layover in Mexico City, things got a little bit more interesting. I studied Latin American Studies at BYU, Provo, and while I spoke and read Spanish, it had been several years (like 15 or so…) since I had been fairly fluent. I didn’t remember words and phrases like “luggage” or “ticket” or “where can I find my next gate?” Why didn’t I know these things? Upon exiting the gate, I had to go through a mini sort of customs. I knew I had to reach my connecting flight and there were a LOT of people trying to pass customs along with me.
After a long process of getting through customs, I saw several doors, all with signs in Spanish. I asked in broken Spanish which way I needed to go and an officer pointed to one door. I walked through it and it didn’t look right. When I tried to go back through the door, they wouldn’t let me. I kept asking directions to get to my connecting flight to Guatemala and was sent all over the airport.
When I finally got to the place where I needed to check in, the line wrapped around in a maze, longer than any line I’ve seen at Disneyland. What??? I couldn’t understand how a connecting flight could have such a long line. Hindsight, I realized that they had sent me through the wrong door. Basically, I exited security and had to go through it all over again. Not cool. When I finally got to the check-in desk, the attendant said, “Corre!” which means, “Run!”
An unexpected detour
Running as fast as my legs could take me, I arrived at my gate just minutes before my plane was scheduled to leave. My luggage was already on the plane. When I presented my ticket, the attendant said, “Ya se fue,” which means, “It already left.” I saw the plane through the window. In a panic I told her that I saw the plane right there and that my “bolsa grande” or “large purse” was already on it (why didn’t I know the word for luggage again? It’s equipaje in case you are wondering. Thanks, Google!).
Unfortunately, the flight attendant had already given my seat away. It’s common, apparently, to overbook the flights and sell more tickets than there are seats. Dazed, I dumbly sat there at the desk with a horror struck expression on my face. Then panic set in. If I missed my flight, I would miss my bus and therefore miss my boat ride. How would I contact my friend? Most of all, where would I stay in the mean time?
Lines, lines, and more lines
The flight attendant told me that the next available flight left at 4 pm. She directed me to go wait in line at another counter to get my ticket switched. By the time I got through the line, the 4 pm flight was booked, leaving only a 9 pm flight available. If I took this late flight, I would arrive in Guatemala City by around 11 pm. I started crying.
Too much Spanish flew around me and I had too little understanding at the moment. What I needed was sleep, a safe place, and a way to contact my friend. I didn’t even know how to make an international phone call, having never done it before. The attendant gave me some pesos for meals and/or a hotel room and gave me my new tickets (I didn’t even know how much money it was or what the exchange rate was). After a good cry, I tried to contact my friend, Cynthia.
When all else fails, ask dad
Before leaving on my trip, I had paid for international texting, so I thought it would be easy. I tried texting Cynthia first, to no avail. The text didn’t go through. What??? If the texting didn’t work, then what did I pay for? I then tried texting Dave, my husband. Once again, the text didn’t go through. Oh no. How was I going to contact anyone? Could I find a hotel open at 11 pm in the middle of Guatemala City hours away from my final destination (not the safest place on earth for sure). What about a new bus ride or a new boat ride?
Then I thought, “When all else fails, ask dad.” I said a little prayer and texted my dad. It went through! I told him what had happened, via text, and asked him if he could contact Cynthia in Guatemala. He got through to her and she was able to get me in contact with Greg Jensen, a travel consultant and Co-Founder of Cultiva International (formerly Maya Eco Homestead). Greg helped me find a hotel in Guatemala City and re-booked the shuttle and boat ride for the next day. While I wasn’t happy about it, I was finally able to relax a little. (Travel tip: I later realized that my phone was attempting to text via Instant Message and when I changed it to “Send as text message instead” it worked. Good to know for the future.)
Time to be brave
My dad then texted me back and asked me what I was going to do? I had about 11 hours to kill. Since I felt exhausted, I thought about going to a hotel to sleep but didn’t want to miss my next flight. Furthermore, I was scared to leave the airport. This felt totally out of my comfort zone. Dad texted again and told me that I should tour Mexico City. He said that I could use a double decker tour bus to see Mexico City as well as The National Museum of Anthropology. Dad then texted again, telling me that the museum was world renowned and definitely worth the trip.
I slept on the bench and thought about it for maybe an hour or two. Finally, I got brave and asked where I could find the tour bus or other transportation. Thankfully I had my camera equipment with me in a Catholic Charities Sports Bag a friend had given me, and not in my luggage. (Travel tip: If you have expensive equipment, don’t carry it in a traditional camera bag or you could possibly be a target. Carry it in a beat up sports or duffel bag and surround it with clothes. Worked like a charm!) As I walked down to the bus area, anxiety set in. Would I be safe? Could I find my way back to the airport? Was my Spanish sufficient enough to spend the day in Mexico City by myself? I finally decided to let go and live a little.
Follow your gut
Almost immediately, when I found the double decker tour bus, I had a really dark feeling. I mean, REALLY dark. My heart started pounding in my chest and I stopped in my tracks. At that moment, I knew I wasn’t supposed to get on that bus, for whatever reason. Hence, I turned to go back into the airport. Then to the side, I saw a Taxi kiosk and instantly a good feeling replaced the bad one. Encouraged, I asked how much the taxi would cost, and while not understanding pesos, but having some from the airport, I figured out that I had enough plus a little bit extra for a taxi ride.
An older gentleman drove the taxi. He treated me very kindly and actually reminded me of my dad. I asked him about the museum and he spoke ENGLISH as well as Spanish. It was a beautiful gift for a travel weary girl. After a small amount of time, we arrived at the National Museum of Anthropology. When we stopped, the taxi driver asked me how I was going to get back to the airport. I wasn’t sure. He said taxis came to the museum all the time and that I should be fine. Then he paused and said, “If you pay me a little bit extra I’ll wait for you.” That gave me so much comfort. I told him I would be an hour or two and we set up a meeting place.
The National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, Mexico
As I entered the museum, I sat there mesmerized and in heaven. A tour guide approached me who spoke, I think, 5 different languages including Spanish and English. As a result, I decided it would be worth paying for a tour and started walking through the museum with this stranger. As he walked me towards my first exhibit, my taxi driver entered the museum. I said, “Hola” and acknowledged his presence. Then my driver made eye contact with the tour guide and an unspoken understanding took place between the two of them. He never interfered with our tour, but he was always there in the back of the room. It was as if he was protecting me from any harm.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop going from exhibit to exhibit
Now back to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It was INCREDIBLE! So many things I had studied about or seen pictures of in my Latin American Studies classes stood on display right there in front of my eyes. Upon entering the museum, a tall carved pillar shrouded by a cascading waterfall greeted me. An outdoor plaza was surrounded by buildings filled with artifacts from different cultures, time eras, and people.
I saw tiny Pre-Classic earthen pots,
bits of cracked corn and every day living,
as well as intricately carved statues and walls.
Handmade pots stood on display for all to see.
The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City has exhibits from the Toltecs, Olmecs, Aztecs, Maya, and many other ancient people
Dazed, I couldn’t take it all in. We saw the Toltecs’ and Olmecs’ artifacts as well as those from the Aztec and Mayan people.
Towering carved stone monuments filled the exhibit halls from ceiling to floor.
Smaller ornately carved artifacts filled the rooms in every direction.
Upon entering the next exhibit, I saw outdoor gardens you could walk through,
necklaces made out of teeth (I don’t envy the guys who had to sacrifice those!),
breastplates made out of shells,
and even decorated large shells that the ancient Americans used to blow into to make calls (like you see in the cartoons!).
The Aztec room blew me away
When I walked into the Aztec room I was blown away by the sheer grandeur and size of some of the carvings. Was this giant carved structure the actual Aztec Calendar? I had a small replica of the Aztec and Mayan calendars (one on each side) on a silver necklace I got in Cozumel, Mexico but I had no idea how large the actual calendar was. Pictures do NOT do it justice!!! The little plaque might give you an inkling of the size. This thing was massive!
An entire section had exhibits on Hernán Cortés, whom I had studied while at BYU and in gradeschool
Pictured below shows a diagram of the ancient Aztec city. Hernán Cortés entered across the bridge in 1519. He was welcomed as a “white God” into the city by the Aztecs. Little did Moctezuma (Montezuma II) know what would take place that day. Mexico city is now built on top of that lake and is sinking in parts.
In addition to the Aztec room, the Mayan exhibit thrilled me
Walking through the Mayan exhibit transported me back to my college days. This time, however, the artifacts stood right in front of me. Seeing the hoops and pieces of an actual Mayan ball court, where the deadly Ball Game Pitz was played, sent a thrill of excitement down my spine. I could almost touch it, but I didn’t of course. How were they able to shoot baskets through those stone rings by hitting a ball from their hips? It couldn’t believe I got to see it in person.
The photograph below shows a carved statue of “El Creador,” or “The Creator.” I find it interesting that their Creator looked like a man.
Next is a carving of Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan “Descending God.” The story of this particular “god” is deemed to be one of the reasons why the Aztecs welcomed Hernán Cortés into their city (at least from what I’ve learned). The story had been passed down that a white God had visited their people and that one day he would return. Yet, the Aztecs believed that Hernán Cortés was him which ended ultimately in their destruction.
In addition to their gods, the Mayans also carved their own faces. Another thing to note is the shape of their heads! The ancient Mayan people commonly practiced head flattening or binding.
An unexpected tour of Mexico City, Mexico
As my tour of the National Museum of Anthropology came to an end, I thanked my tour guide, paid him, and headed back to the taxi. He followed me and wanted more money than what he had originally told me, but my taxi driver just looked at him with a warning expression and then led me away.
On our way back to the airport, the taxi driver asked, “Have you ever been to Mexico City before?” I said, “No.” He then said, “We have extra time before your plane leaves. I will take you to some of the more beautiful parts. No charge.”
That’s what my dad would have done. After a fun drive and tour of Mexico City, the taxi driver told me, “You need to practice your Spanish.” And so, we talked in Spanish and I asked him questions about words and phrases I didn’t understand. By the time I got to the airport, my nerves calmed and I felt confident that I could continue my trip to Guatemala no matter what happened.
In conclusion, I tipped and thanked my taxi driver and made it safely on my plane. Due to bad weather though, there were more delays, but that’s another story! After my trip, when I got back home to the states, I realized that my blessing came true. An angel WAS sent to me to protect me in the form of a taxi driver on my unexpected trip to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Here are some more photos from The National Museum of Archeology, Mexico City, Mexico for you to enjoy!
Check out this HUGE wall display!!!
I remember the guide noting how special the following artifact was
I love the ancient musical instruments
And the intricate carvings and pottery
Archeologists unearthed ancient stories and paintings on stone walls
Furthermore, the jaguar was an important symbol in ancient times
As much as I wish I could read and understand some of these carvings, they are still beautiful
Mosaics were also a popular style of art due to the use of natural resources to make the art
The Aztec room
An artist’s rendition of ancient civilizations
Giant carved disc
This ancient text reminds me of Egyptian papyrus because of the thin paper and inked messages
And more stone carvings
And finally, an important burial ritual, hence the use of jade beads
I hope you enjoyed my tour of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico
Continue the journey here!