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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Our time in Mexico City...

MEXICO | Tuesday, 18 October 2011 | Views [640]

I am in two minds about Mexico City…. My first impression of it was in the morning before the large city awoke. Every door was covered with a security roller door with many padlocks and windows were covered in thick security bars. It seemed dull and dirty, like a concrete jungle with no colour.

After a much needed nap in our hostel after an overnight bus, we hit the streets and what we saw was much of the same, except with all of the shops open and the addition of thousands of people – all of which were desperate to sell something. Groups of police huddled together at each corner, shop workers scrubbed the pavement, people worked out of shops the size of a cupboard, others sold food from dodgy looking grills on the sidewalk, yet the line of people waiting to be served was long. Even in the main city square, the buildings didn’t look appealing. Too many years of over populated smog and aging without maintenance were obvious.

However, I have read a lot about Mexico’s history recently and it is absolutely fascinating. Knowing what this country has endured made me understand how life is lived here, and once you get past the ugliness, you can see a different side to the city. If anyone is interested in a rough over view of the history, I have also added a separate blog entry focusing on this.

If you are a diehard history buff, a church goer, or an art lover, then this place will be a gold mine for you. The list of museums, cathedrals and gallery’s here are never ending.  I love reading about history, but on the whole, I’m not much of a museum person, unless there is an exhibit that particularly interests me, nor am I much of an art person (although I can appreciate good art, and I LOVE photography) so there wasn’t too much on offer in that respect that held my interest. However, if it’s free; I’ll still have a nosy! I do enjoy looking at the architecture of churches, but I am yet to find any in Mexico that can out do those I have seen in Europe. Surprisingly, 90 % of Mexican’s are catholic, making this the world’s second largest catholic country, with Brazil being the first.

On our second day in Mexico City we went on a day tour to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan which were rather impressive. One of them is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world at 70 metres in height.  (More info on this is in Mexico’s History chapter.) We climbed to the top of both of them and gazed down the ‘Avenue of the Dead’ in between the still half standing alters. On our way out of the city we passed by thousands and thousands of shanty houses all built almost on top of one another that a majority of the city’s population live in. If the places were completed, they were painted a bright colour, and as an incentive to complete them, they got to pay fewer taxes. Unfortunately, there weren’t many colourful houses….

On our final day we explored some of the more affluent areas of the city. Still not flash by any means but definitely more “normal”. Loads of nice restaurants, tree lined streets and expensive car dealerships.

We wanted to go to Chapultepec Park to the free zoo, the castle and to paddle boat on the green lake, but unfortunately the police had closed it and there were protesters outside. However we did come across some rather friendly squirrels that just made my day. At least 20 of them came running at us and surrounded us as we walked through the trees. Now, I’m a big fan of squirrels and would love to have one as a pet, but I know they harbour diseases and I didn’t fancy being bitten by one so I was a tad shy when they were practically on our feet!

We went up the 2nd tallest building in the city and enjoyed 360 degree views of seemingly endless red roofed buildings with not a spare patch of land in sight. We found some nice streets in the centre where the buildings were decorated and had character as well as some less aggressive markets. Seeing as it was Friday afternoon, the streets vibe seemed to be a lot more relaxed and music was everywhere. In some parts, he street vendors were competing as to who could be the loudest (which can become quite overwhelming in an overcrowded street!) and everyone seemed to be joking around which was a nice change from the serious desperateness we saw days before.

Countless people and travel guides warn about the dangers of Mexico City so we took precautions.  Carry little cash, be wary of quiet alleyways and pick pockets in busy areas, and when we needed to have credit cards and passports on us, Andrew wore a pouch under his clothes. The large presence of police helped made me feel safe, but the fact that they needed so many is a constant reminder of the darkness that lurks behind the curtains.  33 muggings, 30 car jacking’s and 4 taxi hold ups per day… But when you take into account that there are 21 million people living here, the percentage of those affected would be somewhat similar to back home.  These sorts of things happen everywhere in the world. Funnily enough, traffic statistically takes more lives here than anything else. No one pays attention to red lights or no turn signs, and the police don’t seem to monitor it at all! All vehicles are assigned one day a month where they are forbidden from driving to help calm the congestion on the roads.

It’s no surprise that people have to resort to theft and violence here when you take into consideration that half of the people here only earn around 50 Mexican pesos a day from being a street hawker or street vendor, which is around $4 US. These people also don’t contribute to taxes. Some 35 million out of 109 million adults in all of Mexico have not completed the basic primary years of schooling. 15 million people in Mexico still live without drainage systems.

At our hostel we had a roommate from England. The breakfast and dinner was included also so we met some people on the roof where we all gathered for meals. It was nice meeting new people but I’ve found that because we’re not out partying, and because we’re not in one place for more than a few days, we haven’t been meeting people as much as I thought. We will be doing more shared accommodation along the way but obviously, being in a relationship, it’s nice to have alone time. Besides, sharing a room means you only sleep as much as your roommates want to sleep… and I’m a grump when I don’t get enough sleep!!

I wanted to be experimental with the local food here, but even though I know the Spanish definitions for a lot of the ingredients and foods, they mainly list the names of traditional dishes as opposed to what is in them, so we’ve been too hesitant to order something and not know what we’re getting. Especially as we both don’t like spicy food, and here basically everything is cooked with chilli! (And mashed black beans & tortillas, you get them with almost everything!) Though, we did try some of the other juices derived from the agave cactus (that makes tequila). One was quite sweet but still too potent for me.

Mexico is known for its Tequila, it’s the only place in the world that Tequila can originate from. It’s also known for its Corona Beer, which is the 5th best selling beer in the world.

I would’ve liked to be in Mexico for the ‘Dia de Muertos’ (Day of the Dead). It’s a huge celebration on the 1st & 2nd of November (after Halloween) where they believe that the dead comes back to visit, one of the nights would be for the adults to return, and the other, for the children. Houses and restaurants are already covered in skulls, candles, coffins and decorations, and alters are being prepared with food and water as they believe the dead will need it after their long journey. Only a few places in Mexico still go to the extent of camping in the local gravesite for both nights.

When I lived in London, most days it was a struggle trying to get onto the tube at peak hour. In Mexico City, the population is almost doubled so I was worried about trying to get our bags to the bus station to leave. Luckily, without actually thinking it through, our departure was set for a Saturday morning so we made it there with no problems. We bused 5 hours to Oaxaca passing some stunning scenery along the way. A small village which made the simple life seem appealing, a larger village which seemed quite dismal from the outside, a smoking volcano and a few snow-capped peaks out in the distance which looked quite out of place, and the most impressive, a large tree and cacti covered mountain range that we wove around, through, up and over!

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