Maybe the JFK terror plot bust this past weekend was no biggie, I have a hard time judging the severity of things, but when it appeared on CNN mere hours before I was scheduled to fly into said airport I was “oh no, not again.” Just days before we were going to fly out Barcelona last summer, the big British bust occurred. Maybe terror plots are constantly being thwarted and I only notice the ones that directly affect me.
Anyway, Mexico City is now done and over and I need to recap rapidly because my mom’s coming to town Friday and I’ll be consumed with good daughter sightseeing duties instead of internet tinkering. A few thoughts:
My first inclination was to compare Mexico City (from here out referred to as D.F. a.k.a. Distrito Federal like their D.C.) to Bangkok because it the closest thing in my first-hand experience. But it really wasn’t like Bangkok at all except that there’s a lot of chaos and traffic. Whenever I started feeling hot, fussy and frustrated, I thought “well, it’s not as bad as Bangkok.” S.E. Asia had more heat and humidity, more touting, more pedestrian unfriendly sidewalks, more language barriers but it seemed safer and more modern in many ways. You could at least use public transportation to get around.
Instead of stray dogs everywhere, a weird pervasive thing in Thailand, pet dogs take up like every open inch of space. Apparently, Chilangos love canines. Everyone in Condesa, the area we stayed in, seemed to be walking dogs, dining with their companions or have them barking from roof terraces. Parque Mexico had outdoor dog obedience classes and a mobile van for grooming. But I’m a cat person. The only cats we saw were scruffy street felines, one with a missing eye. At a mall pet store they had gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, puppies, birds and fish, but no cats. I started wondering if the cats as pets concept didn’t exist but there were ads for Whiskas all over the place. Perhaps kittens are kept indoors like most in NYC.
I then started thinking of D.F. as west coast. It’s much more of an L.A. than an NYC and I don’t always identify with that. The weather is very much west coast, i.e. nice. You know, 70s during the day with no humidity and 50s at night so you can wear light sweaters and jackets and your makeup doesn’t melt off your face. Here, it’s like 80s, sticky as hell and the temperature doesn’t budge once the sun goes down.
Also, you really need a car to get around and only losers take buses and subways. Practially every restaurant that's the tiniest notch above a hole in the wall has valet parking. Guidebooks make it seem like you’re taking your life into your own hands by riding the metro (or eating street food or using exposed ATMs or hailing street taxis) so we were initially scared off. But we started getting tired of taking $10 taxi rides just to go to adjoining neighborhoods. We did avoid the metro during rush hours and night, but it was hardly harrowing. The worst aspect was that it’s not air-conditioned and occasionally sat for long periods at stations. I don’t think anyone who rides the NYC subway daily would be put off by crowds or CD salesmen or musicians traipsing through. But unlike NYC, it’s not a great equalizer. You have to be a special level of rich to eschew subways here but in D.F. like much of America, middle class and above wouldn’t set foot in public transportation. James works with a guy from Mexico City who has never ridden it in his life and strongly recommended against the metro.
We also ate street food and (technically) hailed a street taxi but it was in a mall parking lot so the threat of kidnapping seemed reduced. And I didn’t have any majorly bad food reactions until the very last day when we had to leave and I was in serious trouble (it’s not two days that I’ve been back and my stomach is still not calm—in fact, I just had to run to the bathroom at work and I’m not one for such public displays). It’s too bad duty free doesn’t sell adult diapers. I was seduced into security at a French bistro, where we had our last dinner. It was all quaint and I let my guard down and ordered a salad when everyone says you’re not supposed to eat raw fruit and vegetables. I think the lettuce and sprouts nearly killed me. That’s what happens when you stray from meat, frijoles and corn products.
I don’t see anything wrong with watching TV on vacation. When I flipped on the TV right after we checked in, No Reservations in Puerto Rico (an episode I never saw) was on and I got sucked in. All those spa, beach, resort people lounge around the pool or sand or get massages–all essentially lazy things. I usually go to cities and for me, relaxing involves sucking up air conditioning on a king sized bed, sipping overpriced bottled water and watching crap like Van Helsing. Oh yes, I did and it wasn’t subtitled at all so it was kind of funny and more tolerable. Same for CSI, which I’ve never really watched in my life. I also watched most of We Don’t Live Here Anymore, which I’ve never sat all the way through in the U.S.
Film-wise we saw Piratas del Caribe at a near-empty matinee. I haven’t followed the franchise so it didn’t mean much to me, but it beat the other English language choice, Premoniciones.
The mall. No, I didn’t see any pyramids but I became consumed with finding a mall. I like malls on vacation, they’re grounding and non-hot (except in Mexico where they don’t believe in climate control). No one seems to have a problem with this in the parts of Asia I’ve visited. Singapore and Hong Kong are shopping crazy. The freaking Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur contain a giant mall. Even Penang, which is a tad backwaterish, had a modern mall. Mexico City not so much. But I knew a beauty called Santa Fe in some bizarre planned community on the outskirts of town, existed. It’s the largest mall in Latin America (and isn't all that huge). There was no way we were not going but the logistics proved exasperating.
Discerning locations and directions from websites in D.F. was taxing. There’s no Google Maps or Mapquest. I had no idea if this mall was a few miles away or an hour away. Could it be reached by public transportation? Who knew, because anyone who could afford to shop there would have a car. We considered asking our hotel but they overcharge and I feared at least a $30 charge each way to be driven and by this point we’d figured out the mall was only about six miles away.
It wasn’t until our very last day in the country that we pieced together a plan. We took the metro two stops to someplace called Tacayuba that had a bus hub, which supposedly had buses to Santa Fe. But once you get out of the subway it’s nutso and there aren’t any sidewalks or proper bus stops and traffic is insane and the only way to know where is a bus is going is to look at the little paper rectangle with destinations in the front window. I didn’t see Santa Fe bound vehicles anywhere and it was hard to look while dodging other buses. This is where we started to fret because there wasn’t a proper taxi sitio, and tourists aren’t supposed to approach random cars. But we did because we were hot and desperate and got crammed into a taxi with two other women and hoped for the best. About 20 minutes later and $2 each, we arrived at the freaky business district teeming with tall luxury apartments, pseudo-skyscapers and freestanding Chili’s. Awesome.
I realize Mexico has a severe income gap (not that there’s much of middle class in NYC either—any city where six figures is considered barely scraping by is perverse) so I get that there’s a market for the $550 Prada wedges I saw. But I do wonder about things like the $10 burger at T.G.I. Friday’s. That’s Manhattan pricing. There were a lot of items that weren’t outrageous luxury but surprisingly expensive. I don’t even spend $100 on a pair of pants or $4.50 for an iced coffee here. And I don’t think the growing Mexican middle class does either. However, the $48 seven-course high caliber-tasting menu I had at Pujol seemed like a great value compared to what you’d pay for the equivalent in NYC.
Oh shit, I was just going to rattle off a few thought and now I’m getting annoyingly wordy.
Elevation. It’s high (too lazy too look up exact number and make a comparison to Denver. Never mind, I can’t let that slide. D.F.=7,349 ft. Denver=5,280 ft.). You get drunk faster. My cardiovascular system went haywire and I thought my lungs were collapsing and my heart was giving out the first night walking around. I must be in worse shape than I realized and didn’t start feeling normal until the end of the week. Now in NYC I’m a maniac going up the stairs and have tons of energy. It’ll probably wear off shortly.
Food blogs. Where are they? (Don’t make me start in on my Asian blogger diatribe.) It’s not like Mexico is the Sudan. There’s an incredible food culture and someone immersed in it needs to capture and disseminate the goodness on the web. Oh, in English, so I can read it easily.
Hot food. Uh, duh. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious but Mexican food (well, the salsas and condiments) is really hot. I’ve sampled a decent amount of west coast and NYC Mexican food and I swear nothing has been as spicy and I have a high tolerance. The pickled jalapeños are at least twice as strong as what you find here. And the upscale restaurants don’t tone it down. The salsa accompanying my whimsically plated grilled steak at a fancy pants restaurant numbed my mouth and shocked my tongue. In a good way, of course.
Turibus=sheer evil. I know, I know, what do you expect from a tour bus. And the fact that they even mention complaint forms on their homepage is tip off. For my eleven bucks I’d at least expect vague punctuality and to be returned back in my original neighborhood not dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark. We initially thought it would be worth trying the Turibus because it’s such a pain to get around the city and with a day pass you can get on and off anywhere on the route, 9am-9pm and why not see the city? (I’ve done the NYC one twice, not of my own free will—thankfully, this time round my mom has decided she’s seen enough from a double decker.)
First off, it took an hour to find the stop in our neighborhood. Mexican websites have a real problem with maps and locations and the lack thereof. Then they make you wear this paper wristband that screams I’m a tourist come pickpocket and harass me on the streets and say you have to keep it on the re-board. I took mine off immediately after disembarking and then realized that even though we were on top for what seemed like less than an hour I had received a violent sunburn (the blisters are still peeling and oozing) with a nice white circle where the band blocked the rays.
Fine, we spent the afternoon doing all the historic stuff in the central area then around 6:30pm saw the Turibus and debated whether to run for it or wait for the next one. Not running for it was a near fatal mistake. They are supposed to come every 30-40 minutes, yet we ended up standing on the hot, sooty street corner until almost 8pm. This was cruel because up until this point and every day afterwards, we would see the Turibus in like every corner of the city, completely ubiquitous and full of idiots waving to passerbys on the street. Nothing a good ol’ flip of the bird couldn’t fix. What I hadn’t considered was the 9am-9pm thing and that wherever the bus may be on it’s 2.5 hour circuit at 9pm is where it stops for the night. We didn’t make it back to our neighborhood by the cut off and we were left at some auditorium in Chapultapec Park and had to find a taxi to take us back to our hotel (we were still green—it was probably a 30 minute walk that we did later in the week but we didn’t know where we were at the time).
Ok, it’s easier to show photos with captions than to use lots of words without illustration so here’s a slideshow thing that links to my flickr set.