From Chihuahua, we had (eventually) decided to take the long bus ride down to Mexico City directly rather than stopping along the way. The timings wouldn’t have worked all that well for any of the stops that we were considering and, in truth, I was excited to get to Mexico City. It is one of those big cities along with Beijing, Tokyo and New York that has always called out to me. As with all of the aforementioned, it is a food city at its heart and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the best of what it had to offer both in culinary terms and otherwise.
The 20 hour bus ride was uneventful, but with a distinct lack of food stops, I arrived in Mexico City with a serious hunger on. In a city famous for its abundance of food, that was never likely to be much of an issue for long…
From the terminal del norte bus terminal, we took the metro down to Zócalo, the focal point of Mexico City’s centro histórico. Already feeling at home with a metro system, our first glimpse of the city across the Zócalo felt distinctly European. It felt almost nothing like the rest of Mexico that we had visited so far, but as in so many big cities we felt instantly at home. The Christmas decorations going up in the square as we arrived was another big tick in the plus column for Kim too.
We arrived at our hostel to find that the entrance was through a slightly insane Christmas decoration shop. With lights everywhere and multiple instances of the same Christmas music playing slightly out of sync with each other it was a bizarre welcome.
After checking in to the hostel, we went in search of food. We stumbled across a taco place that was absolutely heaving, even at 11.30am so went with the wisdom of crowds, ducked past the flaming pastor meat and grabbed a table. In my ravenous state, I could have eaten anything on the menu, so I opted for the plato de la casa, which essentially let me do just that! A mix of pastor meat (marinated pork prepared like a donor kebab), chorizo and suadero (a flavourful cut of steak) served with nopal (cactus) salad and a heap of maize tacos. Plastered with the spicy salsas from the table it was exactly the kind of experience that I had been hoping for here. To top it off, I could even understand the waiter, so the Spanish was going well too. All in all a good start!
After a hearty meal, we were in need of some activity, so set off on a walk to the cities famous Anthropology Museum. The walk took us through the world’s smallest Chinatown, Zona Rosa (Mexico City’s Gay District) and through to Chapultepec park. In the park, we were greeted by hundreds of vendors selling everything from snacks to Lucha Libre masks. It was an interesting place to walk through and people watch, but the park didn’t exactly act as an oasis of calm from the city!
The Anthropology museum comes with a big reputation and it was easy to see why, it housed a mind boggling array of artefacts from a whole range of indigenous Mexican cultures. However, what we have come to realise over and over again is that we really aren’t museum people. We lasted nearly two hours and saw some interesting things, but our fill of indigenous culture would be had at the array of temples and lost cities across Latin America. Places where one could really imagine the thriving cultures that once existed are far more interesting to us than a series of artefacts, however thoughtfully displayed.
By now, we had covered some serious distance and it was time for some more food. As luck would have it, the well known El Pialadero de Guadalajara was just round the corner and I was just about ready for one if their equally well known “drowned” sandwiches. When I was handed a glove with my sandwich, I knew things were about to get serious!
The combination of spicy salsa (added from the table) and a messy sandwich ensured that my whole face was tingling all the way back to the hostel.
The next morning, we joined a free walking tour around the centro histórico. Starting at the cathedral on the main square, we took in a lot of the main sites in the area and learnt some interesting things that we would otherwise never have found out. For example, we discovered that the opening scene in Spectre when Daniel Craig walks through a Dia de Los Muertos parade, inspired a similar parade in the streets of Mexico City, not the other way around. We also received an introduction to many of the key figures in Mexican history and saw a post office that was simply stunning.
It was a great way to spend a morning and a nice overview of the centro histórico. For lunch we stopped at Cafe El Popular, a 24 hour Mexico City institution that we would visit on more than one occasion. The food was great, as was the atmosphere.
Inspired by the masks in Chapultepec the day before, we had decided to watch some Mexican wrestling (Lucha Libre) that night at the Arena Coliseo. It was the smaller of the two venues in Mexico City, but it was only a short walk from where we were staying. Buying tickets was a breeze and at 50 pesos each (£2), they were an absolute bargain.
We made our way up to the balcón level seating and took up a prime spot right at the front, next to the cage that separated the cheap seats from the rest of the arena. At this moment, said arena was almost entirely empty. What had we let ourselves in for?! As it turned out, a lot of fun. The Arena slowly filled up and some semblance of an atmosphere began to develop. The cage seemed entirely redundant as the crowd of all ages showed no signs of wanting to throw anything towards the ring. That’s not to say it was a welcoming atmosphere for the rudos (bad-guys) though. Even with my level of Spanish I could pick out some pretty choice abuse that was been shouted in their direction. The técnicos (good-guys) were greeted with equal enthusiasm, but met with more encouragement and less derogatory comments about their mothers.
The in-ring action started off fairly slowly, but I had a built up a rapport with the beer vendor serving our section, so I was fairly content regardless. As it happened, the action quickly hotted up and the técnicos were soon throwing themselves about the ring in high risk acrobatic moves, in between threats of de-masking and soap opera acting. We were engrossed.
By the time a whole tag team of rudos were ceremonially de-masked (a big deal in Lucha Libre apparently), the atmosphere was buzzing.
The evening concluded with the headline fights. Ostensibly, these were the same as the fights that had gone before, but the fighters pictures had been on the front of the programme that came with the tickets!
It had been a great evening and we were happily recounting the fights as we wandered back into the city in search of a post-Lucha Libre snack. Once again, we followed the crowds and found ourselves at a taco joint specialising in offal. Not really feeling in the mood for ojos (eyes) or sesos (brains), I opted for the slightly safer option of machete (cheek). It was the first cut that I managed to translate that I actually fancied at that moment. When the tacos came, they were scorchingly hot with chilli, presumably because the majority of cuts were all simmering away in the same pot. It had probably been getting hotter and hotter as the day went on. That night I went home with a serious chilli buzz…
It was an early start for our trip to the ancient capital of Teotihuacán, so we could beat the crowds. The bus took us through the suburbs of the city, where brightly coloured houses cover the mountains that circle the city.
Arriving at Teotihuacan, we found that our plan to beat the crowds had worked perfectly and we walked through the gates to find only a handful of people on the multi-acre site of the city. As we approached the pyramids, we spotted multiple hot air balloons as other visitors took to the skies for a different vantage point. Having already taken one hot air balloon ride this year, in Cappadocia, it would have been difficult to justify the expense for this visit. As it was, we were content exploring the site on foot anyway.
We walked up the side of the sun pyramid, at points climbing on our hands and knees as we ascended the steep stairs. At the top, we met a couple of other visitors, but it was far less crowded than I imagine it gets later in the day. From here, we could take in vistas of the whole site and could enjoy particularly good views of the other major pyramid on the site, the moon pyramid.
As we climbed back down, a strange noise rang out across the site. Over the noise of the burners of the hot air balloons, it was difficult to make out, but as we got lower we realised it was a vendor with a little wooden toy that when blown sounded like a “Jaguar”. Whatever it was supposed to be, it was an awful noise!
In the short time that we had been on top of the sun pyramid, the park had filled with vendors, most with these toys that made the awful noise. Still, when we had first arrived we had enjoyed the slightly eerie quiet of a once thriving city. In those first few moments, I had found it far easier to imagine the thriving ancient communities than in the Anthropology museum. Though that time had well and truly finished as vendors tried to shift all sorts of what was mostly tat. In fairness though, this was creating an atmosphere of its own, particularly at the bottom of the moon pyramid where one vendor had a speaker blasting our music. It was harder to imagine the ancient civilisation that had once inhabited this city, but it was entertaining, particularly when one group of tourists started dancing in front of the vendors stalls.
We were more than happy to sit and take it all in for a while once we reached the top of the moon pyramid, particularly as there had been more steep stairs to climb for this one too.
After a rest at the top of the second pyramid, we explored some more of the site. It was an enjoyable wander, but by then tour groups were starting to flood in and we were pretty keen to get out away from the crowds. We stopped for a quick snack of delicious tacos at a stand just outside the exit and then took the bus back into the city.
The next day, we visited Mercado de la Merced and were so impressed by the array of exciting produce that we promptly found an Air BnB close by. In a week or so, after a few trips around Mexico City to do white water rafting and see the Monarch Butterfly migration, we would return and I would do some serious cooking.
In the evening, we got chatting to a guy in the hostel. It transpired that he was originally from Reigate and had been travelling for the last 30 years, on a single trip! As I approached the 30 week mark since I finished work this time around, it already seemed like an age. A 30 year trip seemed almost inconceivable to me, but boy did he have some stories…