A yellow swallowtail on a pot of verbena at the Chapultepec castle.
Mexico City has such a reputation as an urban megalopolis with terrible air quality that one wouldn't think it had a lot of green space, but actually, the city's parks are many and beautiful.
The terrace of the castle overlooks the Chapultepec forest in every direction.
The Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the largest urban green spaces in the Western Hemisphere -- it's a forest park of 1,695 acres, twice the size of Central Park. Within the park are a number of museums - the famous Anthropology Museum, the Tamayo art museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art; a large lake (see above, top right); a zoo; many trails and paths and recreational areas where families love to stroll or picnic; and the Castle of Chapultepec itself with its extensive grounds.
A formal garden in the castle's top level courtyard.
Gardens require gardeners: these men had been trimming branches down below, and were struggling with their wheelbarrow, which overturned right after I took this picture.
A grove of palms underplanted with agapanthus, at the foot of the Chapultepec hill.
On certain Sundays, Paseo de la Reforma is closed to traffic and becomes a bike and pedestrian thoroughfare; we were lucky enough to hit one of those days. This is the street when it comes into the Chapultepec Park, giving access to the major museums and zoo.
Nearer to where we were staying are the semi-circular Parque Espana, and the oval Parque Mexico, which forms the center of what used to be the Hippodrome, or racetrack. The former course of the racetrack is Avenida Amsterdam, which runs in a gentle oval around the entire park, and the two lanes of traffic are separated by a wide, planted garden of trees and plants with a pedestrian walkway in the center. It's a wonderful place to walk, and we often found ourselves taking this (somewhat longer, but scenic) path whenever we were heading to someplace in the neighborhood.
In both of these parks, we often saw dog trainers with a whole hoard of perfectly-behaved canines. We talked to this young man at right, below, whose charges included four Afghan rescue dogs, and a large pet pig.
For someone like me who is crazy about plants, the parks are an endless source of amazement and pleasure. Many of the plants that thrive in Mexico City are species I know as houseplants, except here they are huge, sometimes attaining the size of trees. There's enough rain here for them to grow, but along with the water-loving rubber trees and azaleas and banana trees, are the native desert plants - cacti and various succulents -- and various monocots like the agaves, orchids, and bamboo. (I think I could happily go there and study and draw plants for the rest of my life.)
Every time we visit I notice more, and become more curious about this very different climate and ecology. And of course the birds and insects are different too; I spent an hour trying to get a good look at some tiny lizards in the Chapultepec gardens; they'd come out into the sun and then scurry around the trunk of the tree, just out of sight, like squirrels.
Of course, life is not so pleasant for the majority of the 22 million people who live in Mexico City; for many of them, just getting water takes up a big part of the day and is never certain. The Guardian ran an excellent photo essay yesterday by a photographer who walked around the entire periphery of Mexico City, documenting the often-dangerous, poor neighborhoods that spread up the sides of the old volcanoes on the edges of the valley. It's an eye-opening look at how much of the world, unfortunately, lives.