Mexico City; among celebration, ancient ruin, and traffic mayhem. October 28 to November 2nd 2018

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North America » Mexico » Distrito Federal » Mexico City
November 1st 2018
Published: November 2nd 2018
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Our Costa Rican leg of the trip came to an end on the 28th. Staying in Atenas, on the outskirts, meant waking to a tranquil morning surrounded by misty mountain peaks and not being deep in the city centre as before. Highway 3, through to the city on one end, and from where we travelled the previous day, connected us west to east.

The transfer came to time, Jesús appropriately uplifting us. Within half an hour we’d gone 25km to Juan Santa Maria aeropuerto. Jesus Gerardo Mejía was an interesting fellow, and like all our trips, it was a good chat had en route mostly on Costa Rican life.

Unexpectedly, the 12.30 Aeromexico flight was delayed. Checked in, we then waded through the lengthy security section, to be placed in that location where all is either tax free or expensive.

Eventually we departed and in 3 hours more or less arrived in Mexico City. Facing the officials again, we needed the critical ESTÁ number, being nearer to the US, to determine onwards and past movements. Through successfully, and out into the terminal, it was on to local money contingencies
then arranging pre paid taxis. At $14 USD to the area of Reforma/ old town, it was a bargain service.

Our taxista was a man of few words but after a days travel with delay, so too were we.

The gem we’d arranged was easily found, nearby the Hilton, just down from Alameda park, and like clockwork (even though we were late) the owner met us upon stepping in.

We did well for a full Spanish introduction, and with time ticking by, thought quickly about dinner options. The Oxxo/ 7-11 stores were encouraged to go to for self catering. Great. And near too.

We exited another door into streets of, sadly, copious rubbish on the kerb, and also sadly, the reality of homelessness. If I’d missed this scene before when staying so close, it was only the timing.

A Chinese supermarket and convenience store rendered our meal more than what could simply be chips and soft drink. A Malaysian coconut curry was rustled up from cans and dry goods, so what might have looked a peculiar idea to start
with, I eventually got a thumbs up.

Waking up on our 6th floor abode, it was not to be a tour day, yet. The tourist office driver that Rodrigo was to arrange failed to materialise, and Plan B appeared our best bet to reach Xochicalco, a famous archeological site south of the City.

By that morning, we’d sealed a deal on a Tuesday trip, with a trustworthy companion of his named Joaquín. Fixed price for a day, and exclusive use of the car ourselves from 9am - 6pm, it would be pending Mexican traffic!

So a day of relaxed timing was needed.

We had a pool at our disposal, and with imminent water restrictions and closure, it had to be used. Quizzing Rodrigo on the reasons, a maintenance period for the entire city centre was planned, and yes, you could enter the ‘alberca’ from early until late, until the 31st. A new word, only used in Mexico, literally as a ‘water tank’, to replace ‘piscina’, and then further south, ‘pileta’, took time to slip off the tongue. Surprisingly quick however for P2 the linguist. Complicado!

In leisurely fashion we first got the contingencies sorted, another camera card for P2 and his dysfunctional Canon, more cash, and to fill a bare Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. An exercise in itself, the local Pak n save filled a good hour round trip trying to determine this n that, ending in a full pantry and plan for the afternoon.

Heading out into the excitement of pre-día del muertos was colourful and enchanting. Marigolds seemed a signature material for construction here, with bright crosses and posies festooning alcoves or stalls, dedicated to the popular event for Mexicanos.

Into the plaza de independencia and it was all mayhem with a nearby protest in full swing. More rights, more importance, and a lot of universities were mentioned. A teachers union perhaps, it continued noisily for several hours, as a backdrop to ourselves squeezing through fairly dense crowds to El Templo and la catedral.

The plaza went from bright sunlit to grey within that time, but the people and tourists kept coming. Stepping aside from the selfie stick brigade, we wandered through the large scale
models of the dead, celebrating the festival to come.

But where was a panadería when P2 needed it. Passing Electrolux street, paper products street, kitchen street, toilet / bathroom street, and gas tank street, we continued unsuccessfully until near Avenida Independencia when multiple options appeared. It might have been almost 6pm, but this was still technically Mexican lunchtime.

That night, we were to meet with a Mexican physiotherapist friend of mine, and with an intense electrical storm their plans got severely curtailed. Heavy Metro passenger traffic meant we eventually reunited around 10pm, with much thanks to WhatsApp. This was Mexican tapas time, a little later than scheduled, even if it was for some a NZ bedtime!

Xochicalco day followed, and after another crack at the alberca, we left the complex at 9am. Joaquín collected us in his Mazda SUV and comfortably we were whizzed out of the city, with the very odd slow patch. Several hours later we’d been transported from a dense city scape to another valley, surrounded by mountains and greenery.

The choice to go off peak (season) and avoid the major
archeological players paid off. Tickets in hand and on the fringe of a large school contingent, we parked up and headed with Joaquin our driver/ impromptu guide (thanks to him scanning the codes with his mobile phone to access English dialogue) into the complex.

Around 1100 to 1400 years old, the state of preservation and accessibility was incredible. Climbing up the multiple levels, it was clear how advantageous being atop a hill is, with evidence of water systems, natural ventilation methods, storage areas, bathing quarters, and ceremonial grounds in which rituals were often practiced.

Mórelos is the principal area of Xochicalco, and when you’re atop this magnificent structure, it is no clearer how different the ancient world and commercial world are - from seeing a 1400 engraved serpentine there, to being at roadside stalls or near cheap tourist souvenir shops to part you from your pesos.

Intense heat and clear skies took their toll, and a good 2-3 hour stint amongst hot old stone work left us with time to easily wind our way back to the big smoke. So we thought.

Literally Mexico smokes, with cars, with people, and with roadside eateries. If you’re not used to frequently broken streets, obvious homelessness, or dense afternoon and evening crowds, it can be a sensory assault.

A traffic jam added a good hour and a half to our journey of which most of it was stationary, first out of Cuernavaca, and then in central Mexico City. Alike some other drivers in parts of the world, a long line of cars pushed in creating 4 lane wide bottlenecks and much horn raging. Therefore, adding words for the day - tocando la bocina (honking the horn!)

Creeping into the CBD at snails pace around 6.30pm crystallised that cars are not for this City, however it’s likely made worse by having cheap gas and affordable cars. Bike lanes are everywhere but whether it’s good for the health on wheels or on foot is another story.

Eventually we said adios to our lovely driver, parting with an expensively sounding 4500 pesos, but so pleased to have seen what we saw without the crowds

The following day, a Wednesday, marked the beginning of the water crisis, to add to what we’d been introduced to as an energy crisis that was occurring.

Rodrigo our host had been most informative of when essential services would be available and when, and with a recovering gas hob (that I caused to shut down, rather than saying I broke it during cleaning), he remained helpful and amiable with problems that arose. Vessels of water in our apartment were at the ready, and eventually the shut down began with slightly tardy Mexican timing. Cue to head out on foot to the garden sector of the city, Chapultepec.

3.5km passed so quickly, as we were constantly entertained by figurines and displays dedicated to the upcoming Day of the Dead (Día de los muertos). Traffic on foot was still light, and vehicles a constant heavy flow, mid morning.

Entering at the main gate, and after a brief animal encounter (squirrels are so tame), we headed past numerous stalls selling low cost paraphernalia for Halloween and the Dead day ahead. A circuit of walking through the bosque led us to a strangely kermit green lake, with a lot of construction proceeding around it. Let’s add water quality to air quality as an issue we said, although I was informed by P2 that the parkland care is ‘on the agenda’ for the City. The two turtles and few birds on the pond we spotted there will surely appreciate that.

After considering the rules to enter the palace, we bailed on that idea, and gradually made our way back through the leafy boulevard of Paseo de la Reforma, dodging raindrops and pausing at a beautiful café with great coffee. Predictable storm conditions, and like ‘weather clockwork’

Back in our hood of Alameda, we made for a special balcony in the old town, for that elusive photo opportunity, where Dead day mannequins stood outside. Unfortunately they’d disappeared, and instead we had an encounter with a grumpy Mexican jeweller whom didn’t take kindly to our modest photo taking, near his plaza de independencia shop. My follow up Spanish Inquisition didn’t help, and off we went, consoling ourselves by seeking out Mexican chocolate.

Que bo is in a little plaza arcade, in the old town, looking a little touristy, but with very affordable treats. The percentage was getting way up there, with 95-99% cacao delights, and gift ideas were sealed then and there quickly. Content, we left to now a sunny early evening, but with heaving crowds, and a very smoke laden one at that, it was mint tea / time out time.

The city sparkles so well in the evening, usually following a build up of stormy conditions, and Halloween night sure brought the citizens to town. Resplendent in orange and black, from top to toe for some, it was a total colour fest.

So, one more day in Mexico. Our leaving day.

Ample time in the morning with a typical late Latin check out time let us enjoy the surroundings, without the mayhem. The oldest printing press in the world was worth a look, in good shape, but like many others, with a curious lean going on after 500 years of life.

And then, on good time, it was on to the airport after midday. What a crazy experience this then was, losing trust that just as you’ve booked a flight, doesn’t imply it goes, or you’re on it or in the class paid for.

First, young señor Ray gave us our connection tickets via LA, but a little commotion and quizzical enquires ensued, as to how we connect there from this mega-metropolis. Being told that the flight hadn’t been paid for to Alaskan airlines, yet we had concrete evidence of that from flight centre, was the start. “Call NZ”, we were told, Ray motioning to those phones “over there”.

‘Over there’ didn’t quite exist amongst the chaotic organisation of this labyrinthine airport, and with escalating worry and sweat, I did what any such situation demanded - I made a scene, and asked to call at their cost to NZ, as even if I could, there was no in-terminal mobile coverage.

With grand luck, nobody answered at the agency where we’d booked.

Having luckily a second travel agency number in my phone, I used it to call. Seconds later, Emily of Takapuna answered, knew exactly what we’d booked to the very last detail, and then engaged in a lengthy conversation with señor Ray. Eavesdropping, the words “en este caso, vamos
a ceder..’ were music to my ears, and after time ticked by a little more, I was passed on to Jorge the supervisor.

Speaking to an Australian couple who’d queued with us, and had problems with the ESTA visa and it not being recognised by local US staff (despite embassy verification), we resigned this experience to mean that some technical airline $&@#% needs serious sorting out.

Resolved, with great relief, and homeward bound. Coffee and cake had to happen, and with more peace, we continued through those airport experiences that always add a little bit of anxiety.

May the travel gods bless our next adventure

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