The next Mexico City neighborhood that I have decided to profile lies in the south of the city, beyond the reach of the subway. It is a ritzy area of palacial homes, double-decker shopping malls, Aztec ruins, desert gardens, and some of the worst traffic in the city.
Pedregal (full name: Jardines del Pedregal – “Rocky Gardens” en inglés) is an urbanization of land that sits immediately north of Periférico Sur and west of Avenida de los Insurgentes, in the shadow of Picacho Ajusco, the city’s 3,986-meter (13,077-foot) mountain. Although I have grown to not just like but love Pedregal, its sprawling, plus-sized colonia, filled with diesel-belching buses that drive past gated private residences is not for everyone.
Those cars in the photo above? They are traversing double-decker Periférico Sur, arguably the busiest stretch of DF’s ring road highway. Numerous multinational corporations have moved their Mexico City headquarters to the earthquake-proof southern corridor of the city, and Periférico Sur has received a corresponding bump in traffic over the last several years. The upper level is a toll road, but that is not to say that it, too, isn’t crowded during peak drive times. The modernist steel structure in the left frame of the picture is La Esperanza de María en la Resurrección del Señor (The Hope of Mary in the Resurrection of the Lord), which I once peeked inside, only to find it being decorated for a wedding later that afternoon.
Across the road from the church lies Perisur, one of DF’s most elegant shopping malls (if a shopping mall can ever be considered “elegant”). With the full name of Centro Comercial Perisur, it boasts Mexico-based anchor stores Sanborns, Liverpool, and El Palacio de Hierro. Its Cinépolis movie theater features reclining seats, and its food court is, if I’m not mistaken, the only place in Mexico to serve Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dogs. Okay, so it’s just a shopping mall. Still, Perisur is a fun place to people watch and spend one’s hard-earned pesos.
The neighborhood behind Perisur is a delight to explore. You will quickly see, after walking just a single block, that the larger homes are hidden behind 12-foot-high exterior walls, while the smaller homes (still quite large) sit on gated residential streets. But to an extent, strolls here include a respite from the usual cacophony of backfiring taxicab mufflers and hurried businessmen. If this endorsement seems in conflict to what I typically love about Mexico City, with its constant hubbub of commotion, know that this quiet section of Pedregal is, simply, something of a rarity…making it a sort of attraction in its own right.
From a historical context, Pedregal abuts a centuries-old Aztec settlement. Cuicuilco, on the opposite side of Insurgentes and just south of Periférico Sur, in Tlalpan delegación, is a ruin, free to the public, in which the star attraction is what little remains of a circular pyramid. Nahuatl, the dying language once spoken by the Aztec people, defines “Cuicuilco” as the “place of the rainbow.” The pyramid wasn’t discovered until 1917, but exact, conflicting estimates by archaeologists date the pyramid’s age as being somewhere between 700 and 8,000 years old. One thing more certain is the fact that Cuicuilco pre-dates more famous Teotihuacán.
Views from the pyramid’s grassy mound take in the haze around Periférico, the crags of Picacho Ajusco, and the lift hill of Superman: The Ultimate Escape at Six Flags México. The helix sculpture below is a stone’s throw from Cuicuilco and is one of several that dot Periférico. Each was erected to commemorate Mexico City being designated the host city of the 1968 Summer Olympics – a first for Latin America. The sculpture, modeled, perhaps, after a DNA strand, was donated by the U.S.
One of my fondest memories of my time as an English teacher in Mexico City was giving Saturday morning lessons to a wealthy CFO who lived in Pedregal. His house, set behind walls rimmed with barbed wire, put most McMansions to shame, and featured a living palm tree in the home’s interior foyer! Sunken living and dining rooms, dual fireplaces, wet bar, four-car garage, staff of servants…I could go on and on. The gorgeous, landscaped backyard featured a real, 20-foot Christmas tree, 10-foot stone walls, and a spacious dog run for his two hyperactive golden retrievers.
On the opposite side of those stone walls? Mexico City’s UNAM-affiliated Jardín Botánico, a desert-themed botanic garden where agave, maguey, and yucca plants thrive. I remember following up my Saturday classes by strolling around the grounds, particularly the outer reaches where the acreage resembles a sort of volcanic landscape. I am fairly certain that it was a mountain lion that I once happened upon, scurrying into the brush.
As opulent as the setting of my classes were, however, my fondest memory was of the warm hospitality of my student and his family. They invited me into their lives, serving me breakfast and gifting me bottles of fine holiday wine. For a man who left turbulent Bogotá, Colombia for “una vida mejor” in Mexico, he certainly seemed to accomplish all that he ever set out to do…and, personality-wise, never let his improved position in life change who he was…one of the most down to earth Chilangos whom I have ever met.
I miss Pedregral, Mexico City, and my friends there.