50 Favorite Places #11
Get there early in the morning, before the sun is fully up, and you’ll find the Viveros de Coyoacán already alive. Birds twitter and chirp as runners circle the perimeter path, their feet making crunching sounds in the fine red gravel.
The Viveros are part park, part nursery. They date from 1901, when Miguel Ángel de Quevedo – an engineer and architect who was also a passionate environmentalist, known in Mexico as “el apóstol del árbol” – donated a plot of land to be used as a public nursery. The idea caught the attention of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. Díaz was an asshole, but he was also genuinely committed to the beautification of Mexico City. In his autocratic eyes, making the city more beautiful meant making it more modern and European, and that meant ornate architecture and wide, tree-lined boulevards.
Where would all those trees come from? Why, the Viveros of Coyoacán, of course.
And so the Apostle of the Tree collaborated with the dictator to create a public green space of enduring beauty, because history is complicated.
I fell in love with the Viveros on our first trip to Mexico City last year. We stayed a few blocks away, and I went there every morning before breakfast to run (a little) and bird (a lot, if not especially successfully). I can’t think of a better way to start a Mexico City morning. There are other lovely neighborhoods, and there are larger parks, but getting to and around them involves navigating traffic and broken sidewalks and those weirdly high Mexico City curbs. Getting to Viveros, in contrast, is easy. So even though staying in Coyoacán involves a certain amount of hassle – a longish walk to transit, then a longish commute to Centro or Roma or wherever – the Viveros are worth it.
And so here I am, back in Coyoacán for Trip #2, having arrived Tuesday afternoon. The Viveros were my second stop, after food. Yesterday morning I managed a couple of miles of heavy-breathing jogging – the city’s altitude is an issue for me – before converting to full-on birding mode.
By the numbers, it wasn’t a stellar morning: I mostly saw reliable, low-dwelling friends like Canyon Towhees and Bewick’s Wrens. My eyes and my neck need time to adjust to treetop warbler mode, and I of course failed to commit myself to serious study of bird songs and calls, so the sources of all those twitters and chirps are a mystery.
But I loved it all the same: the unidentified birds, the surprising number of Chilangos meditating (seeing their calm helped me let all those unidentified birds go), the frightening number of very cute squirrels (calico squirrels, if that’s a thing, with patchy, multi-hued fur), the lone woman in the central oval displaying both grace and strength as she practiced bullfighting moves with a heavy pink and yellow cape. (On weekends, bullfighting workouts are an even bigger thing, with the mostly male participants paired up – one works the cape, the other follows it with a pair of horns and grunting sound effects – but they lack the woman’s grace.)
Today the Viveros gave me a serendipitous life bird, the very best kind – even better when it’s a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer because, come on, that name! I was walking to the Metro, toting market bags rather than binoculars, when it landed maybe three feet from my face.
Thank you, Viveros.