Sheathed in copper and glowing like a sun, the Sports Palace (below) is the architectural gem of Olympic Mexico. It will seat 25,000 spectators for basketball, a sport which resembles the sacred game that was the national sport of Mexico before the arrival of Spaniards, the bull and the pelota. Sport was an integral part of Mayan and Aztec life, and the ballplayers, the runner, swimmer and gymnast shown in this color portfolio are the most vigorous of pre-Hispanic sculptures. They are shown with the modern facilities that will house the October Games. The sculptures and the stadiums are followed, on page 53, by a guide to Mexico in this Olympic year.
THIS YEAR MA√ëANA IS A DIRTY WORD
One thing is sure, despite all rumblings to the contrary: Mexico City will be ready for its Olympics. It may not be ready until the moment the runner descends the Pyramid of the Sun to bring the Olympic flame to the opening ceremony on October 12, but it will be ready. The road to October has been a bumpy one, strewn with such potholes and boulders as protests about the altitude and the threat of an African boycott. But the Olympics are so important to Mexico that the men in charge have been galvanized rather than stymied by the difficulties. The Games, as they did to Japan, represent more than an athletic World's Fair—they are a means of proving to the world that Mexico is no longer a stepchild in the family of nations.
The chief organizer of the Games, Pedro Ramírez Vàzquez, is also Mexico's leading architect, builder of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology, the finest museum structure in the world, and two of the Olympic venues shown in the preceding color pages. His staff works with a 20th century engineer's approach, completely contrary to the cliché of ma√±ana Mexican bureaucracy. Every Olympic structure has been topped off with a paper-flower-garlanded crucifix, the Mexican steelworker's way of celebrating the placing of the highest piece of steel, and shifts of workers are laboring 24 hours a day to complete the roads, the sidewalks, the flower gardens, the hotel rooms and the street signs.
July 14, 1968
One of the most difficult engineering problems in all of Mexico is the one of fitting bodies into available beds by night and into seats at the Games by day. And Ramón Alatorre, the man in charge of the Oficina de Control de Alojamientos, or Office of Lodging Control, is the man in charge of happiness or despair for the Olympic tourist. Alatorre is the nephew of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, the President of Mexico, and he has brought to his Olympic office from his former job as public-relations director for the Mexico City branch of J. Walter Thompson a sort of professionalism that caused one recent visitor from New York to comment, "I did not expect to find that sort of thinking south of the Rio Grande."
The rumor that Mexico City is all sold out is false. It is true that most of the 50,000 beds in hotels are taken, but Alatorre's office has a listing of more than 17,000 additional ones in homes and apartments. More beds could be made available—25,000 have been offered in homes—but the committee does not feel that the city, the streets, the stadiums, could accommodate more than 70,000 visitors comfortably at one time or more than 100,000 during the 16 days of the Games. Tickets and lodging go hand in hand—no tickets are being sold without confirmed bed space, and each applicant must buy seats to at least one event every day he is in town.
As at all Olympics in the past, serious late starters—and that means anyone starting right now—probably can find a way to get there. Various U.S. travel agents offer packaged Olympic tours, and many have places still available. Almost all of them require the purchaser to buy a trip that will include from five to eight days in Mexico City and as many or more days touring Veracruz, Acapulco, Oaxaca, Cuernavaca or Taxco, like it or not. The reason for this is that travel agents in the U.S. have had to book their space from the old-line Mexico travel wholesalers who were given control of selling hotel rooms. These agents broke the 16 days of the Games into two or three blocks so that they could use the Mexico City hotel rooms they were allotted and the tickets that go with them as a come-on for selling more expensive tours. Many U.S. travel agents are so incensed by the scheme of things that they refuse to handle Olympics bookings. In defense of what may seem a touristic hold-up, Ramón Alatorre says that the tour plan was based on actual practice during the Tokyo and Rome Olympics—visitors came for an average of six days of the Games and then toured the country for the rest of the time.
Unitours of Los Angeles (1543 Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles 90015), for example, has a 16-day tour that includes three days in Guadalajara and three touring Mexico City before the Games, then eight days of the Olympics. The cost is $574 per person for air fare, Olympic tickets and twin-bedded room at the Continental Hilton or the Alameda in Mexico City. John Gibson of Los Angeles (3285 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles 90005) has nine-day trips (Oct. 8-16, Oct. 16-24, Oct. 24-Nov. 1) priced from $555 to $777, with the entire time in private houses in Mexico City, but with side trips to Xochimilco and the pyramids. Tickets to some of the Olympic events are included in the price.
Track & Field News, published in Los Altos, Calif., has been advertising its Olympic tours for a year. It has now sold all of the space it held during the track-and-field events, the first eight days of the Games, but finds itself more or less stuck with dozens of rooms after October 21. Rooms are in apartments near the stadium and cost about $10 per person per night; you arrange your own transportation.
G.T.S. Travel of 1435 Fourth Street, San Rafael, Calif. has a variety of tours, including as many as 10 days in Mexico City, for $521 from San Francisco. In Houston, John Hancock (Chamber of Commerce Building) still has space on seven of his eight Olympic tours. A typical one: four nights in Acapulco and four in Mexico City for $210 per person, air fare extra ($88 round trip, coach, from Houston to Mexico City). Olympics tickets are extra, as well, and these cost from $22 for the best opening ceremony seats down to $4 for the cheapest reserved seats at most events.
In New York, Hawke & Hawke (10 East 40th Street, New York 10016) has a variety of eight-day trips, with the entire time being spent in Mexico City. The most deluxe costs $855 per person, with two couples sharing a private house. A car and chauffeur, tickets to the Games and air fare are included.
Don Travel (375 Park Avenue, New York 10022), the agency that handles the U.S. Olympic Team and Committee travel, has reserved a block of new apartments near the Olympic Village. A 12-day package, from October 8 to 19 or October 20 to 31, costs $165 per bed, with six people in a three-bedroom apartment. Tickets are extra, but Don Travel will get them for its clients for a 10% surcharge.
For residents of the West Coast, one of the surest ways of getting to the Olympics is to use the service just established by Western Air Lines. As of July 1, they concluded an arrangement with the Olympic lodging office to serve as booking agent for Western passengers seeking rooms and tickets. One must book for a minimum of 10 nights in Mexico City. With one phone call, made before July 31, you or your travel agent can confirm the whole package at the same time a flight is booked. Western is adding 33 sections to its schedule during the Olympic period to take care of the anticipated load. Ten days after the booking is made, passengers will receive confirmation of rooms and tickets and a bill from the Mexican Olympic office. The price range of the rooms is from $10 to $24. Maid service will be a part of the deal, and breakfast will be served for an additional $ 1.20 per person. Self-drive cars, belonging to the house owners, who will take out insurance for you, can also be booked through Western beginning at $10 to $12 per day, and a driver can even be hired who will take you to the stadium and pick you up afterward for an additional $4.
Western flies to Mexico City from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Round-trip fare from Los Angeles is $235 first-class, $195 coach.
Pan American, which flies to Mexico from Miami and Houston, is prepared to furnish the same service to East Coast passengers. The round-trip Miami-Mexico fare is $194 first-class, $164 tourist, and from Houston, $117 and $88. Braniff, which has nonstop flights from San Antonio, can make arrangements for a hotel room but is not prepared to order your tickets.
If you are not flying, it is still possible to work directly through Alatorre's office to find rooms in homes in Mexico City. The cost is $10 per room in an apartment if the family stays in residence, $12 if it vacates. Homes under the same plan are $14 and $16 a room, and some of them in the fashionable Lomas or Pedregal districts, close to the Olympic Stadium, can run as high as $24 a room, a price that usually includes servants and a swimming pool.
Another idea that has not been oversold is to stay outside of Mexico City—in, say, Puebla, Toluca or Cuernavaca or even Acapulco, a 50-minute jet flight away. Of these, the wise choice is Cuernavaca, the garden town that is 2,850 feet lower down and 50 miles south by auto from Mexico City. It is on the right side of town—the side where most of the events take place—and, considering the state of downtown Mexico City traffic, as close in commuting time as the Reforma. The housing office has 1,700 beds in Cuernavaca as yet unassigned, many in comfortable inns and hotels, others in private houses.
To reserve rooms and tickets, write to the Office of Lodging Control, Avenida Juàrez 89, Mexico 1, D.F. Specify the dates you want (see schedule, page 55), and a form will be returned for your room and your ticket request. The most difficult tickets to obtain, because of limited seating space, will be to the swimming and gymnastics events. After your accommodations and tickets have been confirmed, you will be sent a bill. Once you have paid, you will receive a certificate that becomes as valuable as your passport, since it serves to claim both rooms and tickets after you arrive in Mexico. It will also be valuable to you in obtaining a Mexican tourist card and airline reservations.
And what about that impetuous American tourist who decides at the last minute that since Mexico is just next door, he is going to take his sons to the Olympics—what will happen to him? First—how will he get there? He may hop in the car and drive down. The trip will be an adventure (SI, June 17) but half of the American tourists to Mexico travel this way. He can take a trailer or camper to live in, but he must reserve space in a trailer park in advance through the Olympic lodging office. He will not be able to camp just anywhere. What if he wants to fly? Nine airlines link Mexico City with the U.S. and, while they are heavily booked for the Olympic period, some fall-out will no doubt occur at the last minute.
The train to Mexico is one of the last of the great travel bargains. From the West the Southern Pacific's Sunset goes from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Yuma, Phoenix, Tucson to El Paso. From Juàrez, just across the border, to Mexico City takes 36 hours and costs only $28 for a roomette. From St. Louis and San Antonio, the Aztec Eagle enters Mexico at Nuevo Laredo and arrives at the capital 26 hours later. Full fare plus roomette from Nuevo Laredo is $23 one way. The trains are diesel-powered, air conditioned and have the kind of smooth roadbed and service that have all "but vanished from American railroading. Meals in the diner cost $2.
If this hopeful tourist enters Mexico at the Olympic period without a certificate for lodging or tickets to the Games, the border officials, instead of turning him back, as has been rumored, will allow him to cross, even if a park bench becomes a bed. Once in Mexico City, however, there will still be rooms available in private houses, and the lodging office will direct him to them. There may not be space in any hotel, although if this is so it will be the first Olympics in memory when all the hotels are filled. All uncommitted seats will go on public sale in Mexico on August 15. At the last minute in October, what will be left? Maybe some rowing or shooting or field-hockey or cycling tickets. Yachting, which is being held in Acapulco, is free, the government supplying four sightseeing cruise ships for spectators. Anybody can watch the marathon, which will course through the streets of the city, past Montezuma's great square, the Zócalo, back up the Reforma and return to the Olympic Stadium. The three-day equestrian endurance event is being held in Avandaro, a town 100 miles southwest of Mexico City and, at 6,100 feet, kinder to horses. Plenty of tickets are available, although rooms are scarce there.
And then Mexico City, during the Games, will be a spectacle in itself, its great cathedral and squares and palaces lighted by night. The sidewalks along Maximilian's famed boulevard, the Reforma, have been laid with pink tile, and the buildings of the fashionable restaurant, hotel and shopping center misleadingly labeled the Zona Rosa, have been washed with pink.
As part of the celebrations of the "cultural Olympics"—a year-long festival of music, painting, dance and theater—there will be a world folklore festival with music and dance groups from 40 nations performing in the streets and squares of the city all through October.
On October 13 and October 20 there will be bullfight cards—the Olympic press office calls them "monumental corridas"—in the Plaza México, the world's largest bullring. One Sunday Manole Martínez and Joselito Huerta, Mexico's leading bullfighters, will face "the best bulls of Mexico." On the other date the promoters hope to present Spain's El Cordobés and Paco Camino in a mano a mano. If the fights themselves do not prove monumental, the price of tickets will—they are from $48 to $80 for each Sunday afternoon.
Two permanent cultural exhibitions are highly recommended for any visitor to Mexico City. The first is the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park. This cool, impressive building, rich with stone and architectural invention, is the most satisfying single building in a city filled with fine contemporary-modern and colonial-Spanish architecture. It was completed in 1964 in an amazingly short 18 months, proving that Mexico can build quickly and well. It houses the history of Mexico, its finest artifacts and sculptures. Its purpose was not only to house these treasures but to give Mexicans, Indian and hidalgo alike, a pride in their heritage. It is the goal of Ramírez Vàzquez, the architect of the museum well before he became the organizer of the Olympics, that the Games should spread that pride around the world.
The other cultural must is a visit to the great pyramids of Teotihuacàn, the most important of Mexico's 11,000 archaeological sites. They are only half an hour's drive from the city, and for the Olympic year are illuminated at night with a sound and light spectacle that features the voices of Charlton Heston, Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead telling the story of their builders.
Once bedded and ticketed for the Olympics, the next consideration for the visitor is his health, and visitors to Mexico City worry more about their health than visitors to any other tourist capital in the world. They figure that if the altitude does not give them heart failure, dysentery will do them in.
There is a theory that fear brings on most cases of tourist stomach trouble in Mexico, just as nerves seem to foster air sickness. A panel of Mexican gastroenterologists got up on its national pride recently and declared that there was no such thing as "la turista," that tourists got sick in Mexico because they drank too much. The whole country is touchy on the subject. When asked if the table water was bottled and if the lettuce was washed in halazoned water, the headwaiter at the Rivoli, which is a sleek French restaurant, said frostily, "Sí, se√±or, but I get sick whenever I go to San Antonio."
People who have never been sick in many trips to Mexico generally abide by several basic rules. They do not drink the tap water, ordering agua purificada at the table and for the hotel room. A good bottled water is Tehuacàn. They do not eat raw vegetables, halazoned or not, or any fruit they cannot peel for themselves, no matter how irresistible the strawberries. They do not go in too heavily for chili peppers and they drink in moderation until the early breathlessness of being at 7,349 feet is past. That takes about two days, and a siesta after the customary late-afternoon lunch is a wise idea.
This fear of the food and the water drives many American tourists to the nearest approximation they can find of a lunch counter back home—the Sanborn restaurants, which are the Howard Johnsons of Mexico—or hotel coffee shops. For example, a recent convention of 15,000 Rotarians failed to fill up all the fine restaurants. The Rotarians shunned the French, Italian, Swiss, German and Chinese restaurants that make dining out in Mexico City as pleasant an experience as dining out in San Francisco. And they would have died of starvation before venturing into any of the better taco palaces.
Anyone who has spent his days and part of his nights in the Olympic whirl will prize a good dinner easily arrived at among all the strolling violins, illuminated fountains and candelabra in Mexico City. One good place to find just what you are looking for is in the Pasaje Jacaranda. Here, in the heart of the Zona Rosa, is a walkway that is half Rome and half Carmel, lined with galleries and boutiques and outdoor restaurants. Alfredo's, a north-Italian restaurant, is the favorite, but there is also an Aunt Jemima's pancake house, a pizzeria and half a dozen others. From a fountain filled with trout you select one for Alfredo's to cook, the world passes by and you do not need a tie.
Around the corner at Bellinghausen you will find the same simplicity—white napery, horse paintings on the walls and a good dinner for under $5. Try the cabrito al horon (roast baby kid).
One of the great discoveries for most American visitors to Mexico is that there is great variety to Mexican cuisine—much more than the beans, peppers and tortillas of Texas, California and New York Mexican restaurants. The San Angel Inn, once a pulque-plantation hacienda, is a colonial-style restaurant with a giant hors d'oeuvres table; the Fondael Refugio is a temple of Mexican cuisine. Nothing is frozen or canned. The Lincoln Grill, a businessman's lunch place downtown in the Lincoln Hotel, is the best seafood restaurant in the city. There are great leather booths, an air of calm. The waiter brings the bottle to your table when you order a vodka and tonic—and it's Russian vodka. The red snapper Lincoln will change your mind forever about Mexican food. It has a sauce that sounds as improbable as the chocolate sauce of chicken molé. It is filled with baby shrimps, oysters, asparagus and cheese and is superb.
The most colorful Mexican restaurant of all is El Taquito, particularly on Sunday night after the bullfights. This is known as the matadors' restaurant, and its rich tile walls are decorated with paintings of bullfighters and stuffed heads of bulls. The carne asada, or grilled steak, is first-rate and is, incidentally, the surest Mexican dish to order for anyone who is afraid of too much seasoning, but the rest of the menu goes the whole range from hot to hotter. There are strolling mariachis, which, depending on how you feel about strolling musicians, is a fault or a blessing. They expect to be tipped for their serenading. You may want to pay them to go away.
And while you are in the vicinity of El Taquito, run up for a drink on the roof of the Majestic Hotel. This is one of those views to drink by—the bar and its terraces overlook the great expanse of the Zócalo, the Cathedral, Cortés' palace, all the detailing of these handsome colonial buildings vividly outlined in light.
A tip on drinking in Mexico: the Mexicans make gin and Scotch under licenses from parent companies abroad. The gin is O.K., the Scotch is not. Imported gin costs about 20¢ a drink more and is worth it if you are a martini purist. Imported Scotch costs about $1.50 a drink. By regulation, a Mexican restaurant must first offer wines made in the country. Since they are not bad and since even ordinary wines imported from Europe are very expensive, drink the wines of Mexico.
Anyone who has experienced the traffic of Mexico City, with its 400,000 cars creating a New York traffic jam under a Los Angeles smog and its confusion of one-way streets intersecting at odd angles, will wonder how anyone is going to get anywhere on time in October.
One agency that is working on the problem is under the direction of Eduardo Terrazas, a young Mexican architect, and an international team of urban planners, engineers and graphics artists who have created a clean-cut contemporary "signage" for the Games—everything is symbol- and color-coded. Track and field is green, basketball orange, as shown in the map at right. The same symbols are being used on stamps, maps, all literature, on kiosks around the city, where stacked cardboard squares give the schedule of events so clearly that no language capability is necessary. Enormous balloons bearing the colors and the symbols will float over every venue, and even the streets to the stadiums will be striped in the colors, as well as the special buses that will circulate during the Games.
Taxis will have fixed rates—about $1.25 from the hotel district to the Olympic Stadium. Corps of students are being trained to aid motorists and pedestrians, and the traffic police are being disarmed during the day to appear more friendly—or perhaps to prevent suicide when they are faced with the world's greatest traffic jam.
PASEO DE LA REFORMA
OLYMPIC POOL & GYMNASIUM
TO CUERNAVACA AND ACAPULCO
The gymnastic feats of the ancient Indians are celebrated in many pre-Columbian sculptures. This acrobat from Nayarit was also a hollow pot. Olympic gymnasts will compete in the National Auditorium, a wedge-shaped structure seating 12,500, in Chapultepec Park. It is the work of Pedro Ramírez Vàzquez, the architect who is also the organizing chairman of the Mexican Olympic Games.
A ballplayer, girded and padded in leather like some contemporary goalie, is one of the most expressive of Mayan sports sculptures. The ball game was not unlike a mixture of soccer and basketball and had religious significance for the Mayas and Aztecs. The captain of the winning team was often allowed to offer himself for sacrifice to the gods. The Aztec Stadium, the largest in Mexico, was built in 1966. It also was designed by Pedro Ramírez Vàzquez. It seats 100,000 and will be the site of Olympic soccer games and of the 1970 World Cup matches.
A swimmer etched in stone from the Gulf of Mexico culture called Veracruz predates the Gothic gargoyles of Europe, which it resembles. It hovers above the soaring buttresses of the Olympic pool and gymnasium. This building, one of the most dramatic of those constructed for the Games, has a roof suspended on cables from the bridge-like concrete piers, giving unobstructed space for 10,000 viewers of swimming, diving, water polo and volleyball.
A runner from ancient Colima crouches behind an inset painting of the Olympic Stadium, a giant bowl carved out of lava. Once called University Stadium, it has been enlarged to seat 80,000 for track-and-field events.
The most expensive tickets are those for the opening ceremony. This one is 175 pesos, or $14. It is an example of the fine graphics of the Games—in which colors and symbols are used to break the language barrier.
A CAPSULED SCHEDULE
OPENING CEREMONY, Oct. 12
TRACK AND FIELD, Oct. 13-20
BASKETBALL, Oct. 13-25
BOXING, Oct. 13-26
CANOEING, Oct. 22-25
CYCLING, Oct. 15-23
EQUESTRIAN EVENTS, Oct. 16-25
FENCING, Oct. 15-25
GYMNASTICS, Oct. 21-26
FIELD HOCKEY, Oct. 13-26
SOCCER, Oct. 13-26
WEIGHT LIFTING, Oct. 13-19
WRESTLING, Oct. 17-26
SWIMMING AND DIVING, Oct. 17-26
PENTATHLON, Oct. 13-17
ROWING, Oct. 13-19
SHOOTING, Oct. 18-23
YACHTING, Oct. 14-21
VOLLEYBALL, Oct. 13-26
WATER POLO, Oct. 14-26
GRAND PRIX EXHIBITION, Oct. 27
CLOSING CEREMONY, Oct. 27
The roads to the venues are being painted with vivid stripes, keyed to the events, and signs and giant balloons with sports symbols point the way in an effort to make Mexico City's complicated street layout less of a jungle for the Olympic visitor. The Sports Palace, the Olympic Pool and Gymnasium and the rowing course beside the floating gardens of Xochimilco were the major new constructions for the Games. Mexico possessed unusually fine sports facilities before it won the Olympics and has spent a conservative $44 million on new buildings.