Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mexico City!!!

So, I spent my Memorial Day in Mexico City. Not the most traditional of choices, I agree, but you can't beat a round-trip ticket and 4-night hotel package for $314 flying out of Tijuana.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is flying in Mexico (and probably Central and South America as well) and who lives in San Diego. It's actually quite easy. You take the trolley or get dropped off at the border, walk across and take a US $12 or $18 peso taxi ride to the airport. You can do this even if you don't speak any Spanish.

However, there aren't the many people in the TJ airport who speak English, so if you don't speak any Spanish, be prepared to mime a lot. But on the way out, I met a young American couple who were going to La Paz and they had done ok with not knowing Spanish, so it's definitely do-able.

Flying into Mexico City was a little disappointing. It's like the 3rd biggest city in the world, but there's hardly any skyscrapers. It's definitely not like Sao Paolo, Brazil which actually took my breath away.

I had arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport ($35 round-trip. Thanks Cheaptickets!) but I now realize you could probably take the subway as long as you don't have a lot of luggage. You can print off a map of the subway and it goes right to the airport.

After I checked in to my hotel, I walked around for a bit and ended up eating the most expensive meal of my life. (not intentionally, of course). I was so tired and the only restaurant I could find was this fancy Japanese fusion restaurant. Nice to find out the next day that if I had only walked about 2 more blocks I would have found tons of restaurants.

I ordered vegetable tempura, read my book and listened to this teenage jazz band they had playing. While the food was just ok, the service was fabulous! I understand a little bit better why people go to super fancy restaurants.

Anyway, a few beers (Sapporo of course) and some tempura and sushi later and I get the bill, which is about 500 pesos. Which comes to about $50. With a tip, it came to about $70. I was so tired, I didn't even care (although I obsessed over spending so much money the rest of the next day). However, it was a super nice restaurant and everyone deserves a splurge now and then.

They packed up the sushi/rice and tempura which I figured I could somehow save, but I saw a homeless guy on the street and ended up asking him if he likes Japanese food. He said yes (must be a bum with a sophisticated palate) and gave him the rest of the food. He seemed happy. I seemed happy. So I figure it's money well spent.

I have somewhat of a problem giving homeless people money (especially when they have signs like, "Need money for pot" or "Why lie? I need beer". It's kind of funny, but are you really doing these people any favors by giving them drinking/drug money? I figure you can never go wrong with food.

Anyway, the next morning I had arranged a city tour and I met a really nice Venezuelan girl and Brazilian guy on the tour. We saw the President's Palace and the Diego Rivera murals, the Cathedral (complete with some "Aztec warriors" posing for tips, and the Zocala, which is one of the largest public squares in the world. However, when I visited there was some sort of permanent squatter camp/political protest going on and there were tons of people camped out there.

That afternoon, I also went on the Pyramid tour. This was one of the things I really, really had wanted to see. Technically, it's called Teotihuacan but I think most people refer to it as The Pyramid of the Sun and The Pyramid of the Moon. They are pre-Aztec pyramids and one of the most important archaeological sights in Mexico. You have to have a driver to get there.

One thing are my research agreed upon. Driving in Mexico City: Just Don't. I can't agree more. There are tons of huge boulevards and roundabouts. I think the drivers may be worse than NYC.

It's pretty cheap to hire a tour to go to the pyramids (like $35 or so) and we stopped off at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe . This is the most important religious site in Mexico (if you click the link, you'll recognize the picture immediately). There are actually 3 churches here. The original, then a newer one (which is actually sinking into the soft soil below--kind of like the Leaning Tower) and then the 3rd, which was built in the 70's or so and definitely looks like it.

They had the actual "miracle" painting/cape there. It's the original image that supposedly appeared as a symbol on someone's cape and apparently has been shown that no human hand c0uld have created it.

How they had it displayed was very interesting. They had 3 sets of moving sidewalks (ok, I know that's a Beverly Hillbillies description of it but I don't know what those things are called--they're the things in the airport that are like escalators but flat and they help you walk faster).
So you could view it one way, get off the moving sidewalk, step 1 foot in front and onto another one going a different direction, zoom past it again, get off, step 1 foot in front and zoom past it in the other direction. No gawking allowed!

This day was the highlight of my trip as the next day was a real let-down. I had really wanted to go to Xochimilco, which is considered the Venice of Mexico. I figured I could do the subway myself and didn't need to pay for a tour. Which is true. The subway was easy to figure out and only cost about .25 cents (30 pesos) one-way. The whole trip cost me about $1 US (you have to pay for a transfer).

Maybe if I had been with a group it would have been fun. But you have to walk down many small, dirty streets to finally get there and when you do, you have to walk down a small passageway filled with people selling open-air food (complete with flies and e. coli) and then you get to the canal and it's dirty and brown.

You can then rent a boat which has a guide who paddles the boat (like a gondolier) but I could definitely see it's more fun if you have a big group because there are long picnic tables in the boats and you can eat and drink (people come up to you in boats to sell food, soda and beer). As I was on my own, I didn't want to tag along and be the third wheel to a Mexican family having a nice Sunday afternoon out, so I just took the subway back). The subway was easy and I was proud of myself that I could do it, but if you're traveling alone, I think I would recommend the tour so you have people to sit with and talk to on the boat.

The next day, I just walked around and chilled in my hotel room, watching bad dubbed sitcoms and Mexican soap operas. Part of the reason I went down there was to practice my Spanish and see if I could survive. Most people were very nice, however, I did have a minor altercation with a teenage counter person at KFC (I hate American fast food but hey, I didn't want to get Montezuma's Revenge).

Other than that, I had complicated conversations about international phone calls, complaining about everything in my room because nothing worked (ie, the fan, most of the lights and the refrigerator--I never got the last one solved), I listened to whole tours in Spanish and even protested when I got short-changed at Oxxo. Which I am proud to say, I successfully got my 50 pesos back. We never covered that in Spanish class!

The main street in Mexico City is Paseo de la Reforma although I think most people call it Avenida Reforma or Calle Reforma (I know I did when I asked for directions and people understood me). My hotel was on this street (Imperial Reforma) and many important sights including the Angel of Independence which I learned from a very rude and very mustacchioed female guard can only be climbed on the weekends.

There was tons of anti-Calderon graffiti (really explicit stuff, like Death to Calderon, etc) and other squatter camps. I don't know if this was the feeling of just a few disgruntled people or how most people felt. (I also just love being able to work in the word disgruntled whenever I can).

Some people say Mexico isn't safe, but I felt perfectly safe the whole time I was there. I watched my purse, just like I would in any big city, but most people I met were pretty friendly (again, the smaller the town, I think the nicer people are). But aside from KFC guy and the female mustached security guard, everyone was pretty nice.

However, be prepared for guns. It's funny that foreigners think the US is a gun culture. I counted 11 police officers in just one stretch of block and they all had semi-automatics. Not to mention, all the cops/security guards outside businesses like banks and sex shops (I have no idea) who stood guard on the doorstep with automatic pump-action shotguns.


  1. Seems like it was a great trip for a really good deal (though would you be able to get the same decent price for a slightly better hotel?)

    I liked your story about the food and the homeless guy. :) We had that problem once here in Rio Preto. We went to a churrascaria that everyone said was good, and when we got the bill it was 100 reais. Whoops. It didn't look that fancy and certainly didn't taste much better than a normal-priced churrascaria.

    Also, congrats on your Spanish! :D

  2. The flight was pretty cheap (like 164) and I'm sure for a few more $ I could have gotten a better hotel. It wasn't the worst I've been in and the location was good (it was in between the Zona Rosa district, which is kind of like South Street in Philly or Garnet in SD and the Historical District). Hope you have a wonderful birthday! Today is also my best friend from childhood's birthday!

  3. Not only did you make me laugh a lot, but I truly think you did a great job in sharing about this! Mexico City has never been an idea of my own for a tourist destination, but you certainly sold me on it with all of your great tips! I love the opening photo too. Hilarious :-) Have a great weekend!

  4. Wow, you're brave going to another country by yourself. I couldn't do that!

  5. I had a friend from Mexico City once who was driving with me and I cut someone off quickly and he was like "That was sooo Mexican". That and what I've seen from my own experience would imply that I never want to drive there. Yikes.

    Looks like you had a great trip!

  6. Hey Sara!
    Yes, the driving was CRAZY! But the worst part (at least for me) was there were all these round-abouts and parts where the lanes would switch. I only took 1 taxi ride but he was pretty crazy ;D I def wouldn't want to rent a car there...