Mexico City

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March 17th 2018
Published: March 17th 2018
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With a population of between 21 and 24 million, depending on which suburbs fall into the Greater metropolitan area, Mexico City has almost the same number of inhabitants as the whole of Australia. It is the largest megalopolis in the Americas, the eighth wealthiest City in the world based on GDP, and is second only to London for the number of museums it has to offer.

The city is situated within the Valley of Mexico; a natural setting that contributes towards to chronic pollution problems the locals have to endure. With over three and a half million cars on the road, carbon monoxide levels are so bad that authorities have warned people about exercising outside and have banned hundreds of thousands of inefficient vehicles. Having said that, the city enjoyed clear blue skies on most days that we were there, and wasn’t afflicted by the layers of haze reducing visibility that Los Angeles or Santiago experiences. We bought tickets for the open top bus, which we felt was the easiest way to familiarise ourselves with this massive City; the service has four separate routes which takes a minimum of nine hours to complete - traffic permitting – which we accomplished over the course of two days. The tour bus served its purpose in terms of giving us a better understanding of the layout of the neighbourhoods and we navigated our way around on foot, sometimes walking five or six hours a day which still wasn’t a fraction of the time needed to explore the place in detail.

With huge parks and lots of tree-lined avenues scattered around the City, it was a lot greener than I'd imagined. For our first five days, we stayed with relations of Gabi and Anton, our ex-housemates from Melbourne. Their house was in the El Pedregal district, in the south of the City. Whilst there, we made the most of being situated away from the centre and visited the market towns of San Angel, the canals of Xochimilco and Cayoacan - which is the home of the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky; the building where the Russian dissident lived until his assassination by one of Stalin’s agents, courtesy of an ice pick to the head.

Sundays are by far the most popular day of the week in Mexico, not only are the museums free to residents but it seems to be a family day with many churches in the city packed out due to a predominantly Catholic population attending mass.

After five days in Mexico City, we travelled south by bus to Taxco in the state of Guerrero. The entire town is built upon the side of the surrounding hills and one of the best ways to explore the labyrinth of narrow streets and laneways is as a passenger in one of the many VW Beetle taxis that inundate the place; the interior of these cars have been refitted with the front seat removed and the driver opens and closes the passenger door by pulling on a rope. We jumped into one of the Herbie taxis to go up to the El Cristo statue and the mirador viewpoint that overlooks the town. As he took off, the driver muttered something about the fast and the furious which was either a reference to the films or an introduction to his driving style. Judging by his erratic, high-speed manoeuvring, I'd say it was the latter.

The town has benefitted from the discovery of huge silver deposits over the last Century, although the supply has now been almost entirely extinguished. The government are concentrating on new ways to bring revenue to the area and maximising the potential of tourist interest in the region is one of their aims. A major natural attraction in the area is the incredible cave network of Parque Nacional Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, which stretches 1.2km beneath the mountainside. Some of the chambers reach a height of 82metres, and one has been modified into an auditorium which holds four hundred people and has hosted concerts featuring Paul McCartney and Placido Dominguez.

After Taxco, we travelled north once more to Mexico City where taxi drivers in Mexico City must be amongst the most patient people on earth and seem completely unperturbed by a 15km journey taking two hours. I don’t think road rage is a common problem in this part of the world.

Our accommodation was more centrally located this time in, La Condesa a European style area with boulevards full of cafes, boutiques, bars and restaurants that was badly affected by last year’s earthquakes; the evidence of the rebuild to the roads, pavements and buildings was on display throughout the neighbourhood. The picture of suffering and devastation was apparently lost on Melissa, however, who made the following comment: 'I think it'd be good to experience an earthquake.' Well, I wouldn’t. I think it’d be terrifying. I didn't respond at the time, mainly because it didn't warrant an answer - I just made a mental note to include it here.

I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing a natural disaster of my own, as Hurricane Melissa continues to leave a trail of destruction in her wake. So far, we’ve had a missing phone, the replacement sustaining a cracked screen, a smashed fit-bit, a towel rack ripped off a wall, a toilet seat broken, a laundry line snapped, a luggage key locked inside of a bag and a finger slicing incident that caused her to faint. She also had a neighbourhood dog latch itself onto her ankle at one point. She’s doing well.

On our first Saturday back in the capital, we decided to try the Hipodromo de las Americas races. There were public information instructions describing evacuation procedures in the event of an earthquake positioned throughout the venue. ‘Just enjoy the experience’ would no doubt be Melissa's words of wisdom. Melissa picked winner after winner once the races got underway and it occurred to us later that it might've been a good idea to actually place a bet at some point but we were side-tracked by the 15 peso beers. The second half of this Super Saturday double-header came in the shape of the Club America v Atlas match at the Estadio Azteca that night.

The Azteca has held two World Cup finals and was also the scene of Diego Maradona’s famous handball against England in the 1986 Quarter Final; it is a venue that I had wanted to visit for years. Melissa, on the other hand, succumbed to the lure of watching Netflix in the apartment. Plus, it was raining. So, I headed off to the stadium without a ticket to see if I could pay on the gate. With Ticketmaster prices reaching 1100 pesos, I was expecting to pay at least 500, but face value turned out to be 160 with a free ticket for the reserve match the following day thrown in. With the ground capacity of 105,000, the stadium looked quite empty although the attendance was a creditable 21,000 considering the weather conditions on the night. Ex-United player Ravel Morrison appeared for Atlas who were on the receiving end of a 1-0 defeat to the home side Club America.

A few days later, we took a local bus out to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, situated 50 km northeast of Mexico City. The bus route out has gained notoriety in the past due to a spate of robberies, and the authorities have responded with an increased security presence with officers boarding at various points to film the face of each passenger with a video recorder.

Teotihuacan was built in the first century A.D and features the famous Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun (the third biggest pyramid in the world). We climbed the two hundred and forty-eight steps to the summit for a view above the Avenue of the Dead before lunch at Las Grutas, a restaurant built within a cave. At its height, it was the biggest city in the pre-Hispanic Mexican Empire with a population of 125,000 and stretched as far as El Salvador. The City was burned and abandoned in 750 A.D, and the reasons for it remain a mystery, but the region that benefitted most from its downfall was the brilliantly-named territory of Cantona.

On our last night in Mexico City, we luckily bought ringside tickets for the Lucha Libre wrestling at Arena Mexico. It was a brilliant, ridiculous night with the locals creating a frenzied atmosphere in the crowd. Most had come to see the main event and local favourite ‘El Terrible’ the current Mexican National Heavyweight Champion. His appearance sparked bedlam in the crowd with seemingly gentle-natured old women suddenly turning into bloodthirsty lunatics. Up to this point in our travels, we hadn’t encountered many gringos, but we happened to be sat next to a couple from Richmond of all places, who were as mystified by the sudden change in the atmosphere as we were.

Due to the vague nature of our travel plans, which is always subject to change, we eventually spent twelve days in the capital - in four different types of accommodation. It is a fantastic city – one of the best we have ever visited and the length of our stay is a testament to how much we enjoyed our time there. Prior to travel, we had read a lot of speculation regarding safety in the city, but from our experience, it seems to have gained an unfair reputation. At no point did we ever feel remotely unsafe and we explored every area available to us, night and day. Beforehand, we had high expectations for Mexico City, and it more than lived up to them – it came as no surprise to us that the New York Times ranked it as their number one pick of 52 places to go in 2016.

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