After spending a month together in a car, we went our separate ways for the flight from Anchorage to Mexico City. It was a very weird feeling, especially for Ollie as he was a little uncomfortable leaving me alone in Mexico for a few hours before he arrived. We could now test out our very limited knowledge of the spanish language, probably making fools of ourselves along the way! In fact, the main thing we learned is “¿Dónde está el baño, por favor?”, i.e. where is the toilet, please. We felt that this was a good starting point to all languages!
When I landed, I was trying to find a train to terminal 1 to pick up Ollie and asked a uniformed guy who seemed to be helping people for free. You know where I am going with this. Of course he took my boarding pass and walked me to the train just around the corner and asked for tip. The bright side was I got to keep my coffee since he was holding it and the damage was only $3. Now I know how people feel when they land in India being swarmed by people trying to “help”. I vowed to get good at this..after all I am Indian!
We took a taxi to the hostel, taking in the evening hustle of the city. The sights and smells were a lot like India. It was more spacious than Bombay, less honking, people running across to cross the road, a few USA chain stores splattered and passionate people (read public display of affection..lots of it).
The hostel host recommended a cheap dinner place 5 blocks away. We went up a tiny winding staircase and tried to order vegetarian food in extremely basic Spanish words. We were fresh off the boat. The queso (not heavy American cheese) quesadilla and veg ambre (platter) accompanied by jars of chutneys, plateful of lime and onion were delicious. I think Mexico consumes more lime than India and that’s a huge statement given India’s population. They eat lime with everything – mangoes, dinner, beer, tequila, snacks, tacos etc.
After Ollie’s not so successful morning run, we walked down the historic district admiring the architecture with highlights such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes (palace of fine arts), Ángel de la Independencia (Angel of Independence) and the whole of the Paseo de la Reforma, which is the commercial business avenue. We stared at a lot of food stalls on the street and finally stopped at a stand selling tacos like panipuri, one at a time and you can choose different ingredients for each of them. We got a huevo (egg) and a chille relleno (green pepper) .. Yummy!
Zona Rosa and Condesa were nice and more modern areas. We were helped by a couple of English speaking folks for directions and buying a cheap SIM card for my phone. The train ride back was crowded but boosted our confidence for taking public transportation and enjoying the $0.30 ride!
The next morning in Chapultepec, we were trying to find a castle when someone told us that it was closed as the mayor of Rio was visiting…boo! We checked out a nearby silent park and some architecture. The city is full of really cool and well maintained buildings, statues, plazas etc. We took some time for photos and left for our next attempt at some culture.
Taking a bus and being the only gringos (literally means white, but they do put me in this category) on it, we made our way to the Frida Kahlo museum. She was a young iconic Latin American figure making her mark in fashion and arts. Fashion legacies including Vogue had displayed garments there inspired by her. She seemed like a great character and despite being disabled from childhood, really made the most of her life. Her work was both inspiring and quite dark at times due to her inability to bear a child. We were not allowed to take photos inside the house but it’s pretty easy to google her work.
Around the corner were a couple of parks and markets filled with pinyadas, lucha libre (local wrestling) masks & costumes, chillies and local produce.
Surprisingly it was not easy to get tea/ coffee outside of a cafe even though mangoes were sold everywhere, cut and sprinkled with chilly powder and lime. I ate a mango everyday in Latin America making up for all the India summers I have missed.
The evening train back was adventurous. The station was super packed and we let a couple of trains go. I was just telling Ollie that I couldn’t make the next one either when the crowd lifted us and deposited us on the train. We were totally squished! But it is safe to say that the city is not unsafe as publicized.
We spent the last evening in the city sipping beer and mescal, with some lime of course, just like the locals.
We heard a lot of mixed reviews about Mexico City, both in terms of safety and worthwhileness. A lot of what we felt about Mexico also came from Cancun, i.e. it’s just a party country where you can get away with speaking english. Mexico City proved us wrong. The people were welcoming, the food hit the right spot each and every time and the sights and sounds of the city were very entertaining. We left full of confidence for the rest of LatAm and a little sad that we didn’t have enough time to explore it to it’s fullest. It’s a huge city and 3 days does not cut it unfortunately.
Alas, we have miles to go before we sleep, and thus set sail on Mexico’s fine ADO morning bus service to Oaxaca. Preparing the speech before getting to the ticket counter, we passed another one of the many tests of LatAm!