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Published: January 16th 2011
I didn't get a chance to write yesterday because I was out in the evening, so there is a bit of catching up...
Let's start with some things that have surprised me or caught my attention so far:
The police presence in Mexico City is quite astonishing, I'm guessing it's to try and tackle the security problems and help the tourism, but that's just my guess because they are everywhere in the tourist zones: basically you will find 2 or 3 on every street corner and when you get to the really busy streets, there is just about one in front of every shop. On the first day, because we were trying to get to the centre without map and therefore had to ask for directions quite a few times, we asked the police whenever we saw them (I suppose I figured they were less likely to mug us!). I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful they were. I don't just mean that they answered our questions, I mean they were really friendly and welcoming. But since that first morning, I've also had the opportunity to speak to normal civilians and I was even more pleasantly surprised. Here I am, thinking
that I'm in a massive city and from my experience in Paris and London, when you're on the tube in a massive city, you have to look miserable and walk as fast as you can whenever you're not on the tube. Not here. Here, people chat to strangers on the tube, not everyone, but I've seen it happen once or twice. And they're also chilled when they walk out. It was like a breath of fresh air.
Then you have the strangers I have had the chance to speak to. They are just so nice, I can't even explain. A couple of times when I've asked for directions, people have said “Come with me, I'll take you” and walked with me. Others have just started having a chat about where I was going and what I was doing. These are just random people on the street. I don't think that would happen in Europe...
Another thing I have noticed about people is they're not just friendly, they're quite loud: from the street sellers shouting to try and get your business, to the bursts of laughter between friends, this just is a loud city. They're also very affectionate in public, but
I suppose this is just the shock of going from England to a Latin country, all the couples just seem quite happy to spend 5 minutes snogging when they're waiting for the tube. I suppose that's a good way to pass the time! Lastly and unfortunately not so nicely, I find them generally scruffy. I don't think I have seen anybody well dressed. They all seem to wear cheap, worn out clothes but maybe I just haven't been to the more affluent side of town. I was always going to stick out like sore thumb because of my skin colour (there aren't a lot of non “Mexican looking” people around) and because I'm tall (at 5'11” I feel like a giant in a world of midgets), but my clothes just do not fit in with the rest of the population. I mean, they're not particularly nice but they look too new (for now!) Despite this, I have found the city to be very clean. There are a lot of cleaners everywhere and they are doing a pretty good job. But even away from the centre (my hostel was quite a walk away), I haven't noticed any rubbish anywhere. The one
thing I didn't understand was how the bin men work. I think it might be that they do the recycling as they pick up the rubbish. The reason why I'm saying this is because you'll have 5 or 6 men to each bin lorry and they are rummaging through the rubbish in the middle of the street before putting it in the wagon. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this one?
I'm not sure, but it seems to me that they're is quite a big gap between the wealthy and the poor and there just seem to be a lot of poverty around. All the parks are full of homeless and also some of the houses just don't look right (I'll try to find one or 2 pictures). Yesterday I went to the pyramids of Teotihuacan and was shocked by the “architecture” on the way: what seemed like whole villages of half built houses (and there weren't empty). I don't know if these were the Mexico slumps but it seemed to be the case in every village we went passed. It also seems that they are not generally bothered about painting their houses, so the villages are just the colour
of concrete blocks with a few slashes of bright colours for the odd house that is painted (because when they do paint them, they're not going for white or beige!)
A few other things I have noticed:
As relaxed and friendly as they are when you talk to them, put them in a car and it's a different story! They are absolute maniacs. They honk for everything: they honk to let people go, they honk because someone's cut them up, they honk to let someone know they're about to cut them up, they honk because they're about to do something they're not supposed to do (I've seen a bus on the right and lane of a 3 lanes road turning left, that's the sort of insanity I'm talking about) and they also honk when they're about to run you over... As a pedestrian, I feel a bit like a chicken! The green man doesn't mean much when it comes to crossing the road, so you're generally better off looking for a gap and then running for your life. At one point, I did have to cross a 2X3 lanes, that was proper chicken run!
There is female segregation on public transport (for their own safety I mean), so you have certain buses which are for women only (they're painted pink) and normally the first 2 carriages on the metro are reserved for women and children. I say normally because it isn't really respected.
That's it for my general comments so far, it will be interesting to see how different it is outside of the capital.
So now onto what I did yesterday. As I mentioned, I went to see the pyramids of Teotihuacan. These are located about 40km North East of Mexico and are the remains of what is believed to have been the biggest ancient city in Mexico. There are 2 main big pyramids: of the sun and of the moon, as well as many other smaller constructions. To get there, you can get the bus from Mexico's North bus station (accessible by metro for 3 pesos – about 15p). Once at the bus stations, there are dozens of different bus companies competing for your custom. They all have their prices to different destinations on the wall behind the counters, so it seems to be question of walking around and looking at what they have to offer and compare. However, it would seem there is only one company running the buses to Teotihuacan (at gate 8). You buy your ticket (35 pesos) just one way and buy the return on the bus. Then you jump on and you should get to the ruins about an hour later (or an hour and a half if you get stuck in traffic like we did).
The site itself is what I would describe as a “grower”. After paying your 51 pesos entrance fee, you walk to and start climbing up quite a small structure which is good but not amazing. However, you can see the 2 big pyramids in the distance (I think I heard it was 2 miles from one end of the site to the other) and you just want to go and have a look. And as you're walking the 2 miles, it just gets more and more: more “buildings”, more irritating street sellers (they're cute at the start but get really annoying by the end – and they're all selling the same rubbish, most of which having nothing to do with the site), more pictures opportunities, more steps to climb, more “hooooos” and “haaaaas” from the visitors.
It was a hot sunny day and despite the sun-tan lotion, I have burnt in places (probably because I didn't apply it very well, so I have red patches...)
All together, I spent about 3 hours on the site and that was with taking plenty of time to stop and look and take pics. But the climbs are hard, even if you are fit, because the steps are narrow and high (some are about knee high, strange when you think about the size of the locals).
If I carry on like the first 2 days, I'm going to have legs of steel! Having said that, I could have done more on the day, had I set off earlier (I didn't get there until nearly midday). I would say it's a day trip but could be done in half a day by someone in a hurry.
I got back to my hostel at some point between 4 and 5pm and then went hunting for some food (to cook for myself rather than to buy from the street sellers). I didn't find any big supermarket but in the small ones, they don't seem sell fruit or vegetables or meat, so you have to go to the market for that. I did find the market eventually and bought a few bits, as well as a bag of rice and some sliced bread from the supermarket. Overall, I found it quite expensive when compared with buying ready made stuff on the street.
Then, last night was Lucha Libre night!
When I got back to the hostel, I bumped into a girl who'd just arrived from Australia via 3 days in LA. We got chatting about what to do around Mexico City and I mentioned I was going to see the Lucha Libre, so she decided to come along and have a look. Then another guy overheard us and he ended up going too. I'd seen online that the cheapest tickets were 30 pesos (less than £2) but when we got there and I asked for the cheapest tickets, they said it was 100 pesos. It was still not much so I didn't argue but it turned out that we weren't in the cheapest seats as we were on the lower floor. What can I say about the evening? The only negative about it was that you weren't allowed cameras, which really was a shame because I would have loved to take pictures. Other than that, it was amazing! It wasn't full (but they do it every week end so I can sort of see why) but the atmosphere was really great and the show was quality. For those who understand a bit about this sort of stuff: it was tons of high flying and massive involvement of the audience, they were jumping off into the crowd at pretty much every round (there are 3 rounds per match) and even the girls' match was believable. Jon, if you're reading this, you need to start watching it! The main event was a bit of a let down and far shorter than I expected, but overall it was a really good night. I was looking at masks on the way out (in Lucha Libre, most wrestlers wear masks, it's the Mexican tradition) and when a mexican girl in front of me asked how much, she was told 80 pesos. Then I arrived and was told 180!!! So I didn't buy any...
I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, even those not into wrestling. Maybe some people might not want to stay for the whole show (2 and a half hours), but it's a great Mexican experience.
Today I left Mexico City for Morelia, but that's a story for later...
The internet connection here is terrible, so no pictures today. I will try to sort this out tomorrow.
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