This was going to be an upbeat post about how a comparatively small town girl survived in one of the world’s biggest cities. I was planning to spend my days visiting Mexico City’s museums and galleries and my nights trying out bars and cantinas, maybe even the odd pulqueria. Unfortunately it was not to be.
Were this my first time backpacking, I would be seriously considering throwing in the towel. Heck, even as an experienced traveler I found myself in the early hours of the morning feeling sick, sore and wanting nothing more than to be home with my cats enjoying a comfy bed and familiar environment. Basically what started this whole saga was tacos from a CBD street vendor, which I now know should be avoided at all costs no matter how clean they look and how many iron-stomached gringos tell you they’re safe. 5 tacos for less than US$3 is definitely not worth being confined to bed unable to stomach anything but water. And of course when you’re sick the only thing you want to do is rest, but the uncomfortable rickety dorm beds, noisy ceiling fans and inconsiderate roommates made this pretty difficult. So as you could imagine, I was having a crappy time, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who knows my overseas travel history will know that I seem to get sick every time I set foot outside Australia, and as you could imagine, it really puts a dampener on things. And something I realized during this spell of Montezuma’s-Revenge-on-steroids was just how difficult it is to get sick while you’re travelling on your own. Whenever I needed anything I would need to get it myself, and at a time when even getting up to go to the bathroom was difficult, getting myself dressed to buy water at the convenience store across the road seemed like an impossible task. It did make me long for someone who could check up on me every now and again and who I could beg to do water and pharmacy runs for me, but there was no one.
Still, I don’t want to let my bad luck ruin anyone’s perception of Mexico City, which really is a fascinating place. The city centre is constantly buzzing, especially on a weekend when young chilangos (Mexico City locals) come out to play. Walking down Avenida Madera on a Friday night was an exciting assault on the senses as the bars filled with university students and the shops with teenagers while families took photos with Johnny Depp lookalikes who would rather be elsewhere. Salsa, Cumbia and American Pop Music blared from all directions and it was fantastic. I understand how this could be overwhelming, but I decided to take advantage of the crowded streets as an excuse to people watch. Unfortunately the next day the sickness set in so I wasn’t able to experience Mexico City at it’s liveliest again, but judging by the noises coming from the street below it was just as bustling.
On the other hand, Mexico City in the early morning is a scene of tranquility. If you walk the streets surrounding the Zócalo (central plaza) before 9am the only people you’ll come across are shopkeepers washing down the pavement, early morning joggers and taco chefs preparing their daily al pastor (gulp!). It’s the perfect time to grab a hot chocolate and a pastry, take a seat in a park or plaza and think to yourself, in the words of mustachioed Aussie cultural icon, “how’s the serenity”.
Chapultepec “forest” is also a good place to escape the chaos of Mexico City. Despite being plonked down in a busy part of the city, somehow this huge, fenced off park containing trees, iconic buildings and a small lake remains tranquil and full of birds and squirrels. I would have loved to spend a day wandering through, visiting the old colonial residence known as “The Castle” before making my way over to the anthropology museum, but due to my sickness-induced time constraints, I had to sort out my priorities… And my priority was the museum. Having already heard several rave reviews I decided this was one place I had to see while in Mexico City and it was definitely rewarding. Admittedly some of the ancient culture exhibits tended to be a little repetitive, but the upstairs “Pueblos Indios” (Indian Villages) galleries were fascinating, providing an introduction to ancient and modern customs of Mexico’s indigenous groups. And of course there was no way I could come here without visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán, a neighbouring town that has become part of Mexico City. The museum is set in the famous “Blue House”, where Kahlo lived with her on-again/off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera, and where the pair sheltered an exiled Leon Trotsky. While there aren’t many works by either artist here, there is an interesting documentation of their lives, largely through photographs. Kahlo’s ashes and slightly-creepy-but-fascinating death mask are also kept here. Aside from the extremely steep entrance fees and frustrating extra costs for photography, the museum is definitely worth seeing while in Mexico City
So that’s what I did in Mexico City. Nowhere near as much as I would have liked and I barely even scratched the surface on what this city has to offer. This is a wonderful city for tourists and and all that really needs to be done to enjoy it is to follow the first rule of international travel, and something I still tend to forget: proceed with caution wherever you eat or drink until you’ve had a chance to acclimatize. That will give you the best chance to stay in good health so you can appreciate this place and its many wonders.
And for the love of god don’t eat tacos on the street.