Falls and fun at eco-friendly 'ice' rink in Mexico

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexico is better known for cactus-dotted deserts and Caribbean beaches than winter sports, but the capital's central square is celebrating winter with an enormous, eco-friendly artificial ice rink.

The thermometer reads a relatively balmy 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit), but the Zocalo, as Mexico City's main plaza is known, is full of revelers skating -- generally with more eagerness than aptitude -- across a sprawling sheet of specialized plastic.

Open until January 6, the rink is the largest of its kind in the world, at 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet), according to organizers.

It is made of high-density polymer, whose chemical characteristics make it almost indistinguishable from ice.

In 2007, when the city first began setting up a winter rink in the Zocalo, it used real ice, keeping it frozen with enormous refrigeration machines.

But the new surface has enabled the popular holiday attraction to go green.

"We don't need any water, we don't need electricity, we don't need fuel and we don't emit carbon dioxide. This rink, as you see it here, requires no energy," said Hans Broder, of Swiss company Glice, which installed the rink.

"We are saving enough energy to power 4,000 homes," he told AFP.

"We want to bring people the dream of winter, so kids everywhere can ice skate, no matter the climate."

The sprawling white surface stands out against the gray stone of the soaring colonial buildings that surround the Zocalo, once the heart of the Aztec empire, today decorated with brightly lit holiday ornaments.

"It's the first time I've tried ice skating. I'm afraid of falling, I keep losing my balance," said a nervous Stephanie Minon, nine, clinging to the arm of her father, Edgar -- before both slipped and fell to the "ice" in a shriek of laughter.