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Viva Mexico! was how Miguel Hidalgo rallied his fellow Mexicanos to the struggle against colonialism, and it is a cry that is repeated by the president and echoed throughout the land every 15 September - Independence Day. As slogans go, it could not be more apt; Mexico is bursting with life.

While many nations live to work, Mexico does the opposite. The people are vivacious lovers of free time and socialising, and work will never have the importance that friends and family do. The mother, giver of life, is honoured and respected, and all children, whether belonging to locals or visitors, are doted upon.

The country's past seems to live at one with its present. In Mexico City, the Plaza de las Tres Culturas celebrates the three major cultures that have shaped Mexico: there are Aztec ruins, the 17th-century colonial church of San Diego and several late 20th-century buildings. Even the dead are alive here, at least once a year; on the Day of the Dead, the living bring gifts to their dearly departed and spend the night in their company, remembering and celebrating how things used to be.

Where the Caribbean Sea meets the Yucatan Peninsula, coral reefs come alive, with sea creatures, great and small. The Pacific coast attracts elephant seals and spectacular grey whales, who choose Mexico to breed and give birth, year after year.

Nor is the desert a barrier to life - it is home to agave, the mother of all tequilas. The blue plant has a lot to answer for in Acapulco and CancĂșn, where humans come ashore after a day in the surf to flirt in bars and nightclubs.

The biggest mass of teeming life in the whole of Mexico, is of course, its capital, where 20 million people (a fifth of the whole population) squeeze in together to work and play, live and love, die... and come back to life.