Mexico City is one of the world’s misunderstood places. The sprawling metropolis, home from anywhere to 12 to 25 million people — depending on who you ask — has a bad rep thanks to its smog, crime and squalor. But after spending a week around the DF (Mexico City is, like our own Washington, DC, not in a particular state but a Federal District, or Distrito Federal), I felt that I had enough experience to dispel a few myths while immersing myself in a culture that can only create new ones.
Tiffany and I hopped on an airplane at DFW’s new international terminal and made our way to Mexico’s Benito Juarez airport on June 21st. We had scheduled six nights — three in DF, two in the colonial silver mining town of Taxco, 2 1/2 hours south of the city, and one night back before our flight home. My biggest worry before touching down was the taxi cab situation. All the guidebooks had stern warnings NEVER to take one of the numerous, green, VW bug taxis that littered the city’s streets. Tales of muggings, kidnappings and beatings apparently were endemic in connection with these vehicles of death. Instead, it was recommended to take a Sitio or radio cab. At airport and bus terminals, you simply walk up to a window near the street exit and buy tickets, priced according to the zone you’re traveling to in the city. I thought it might be more complicated than this but it really wasn’t. It cost about $11 to take us from the airport in the eastern part of the city to our destination near the infamous Zona Rosa near the city’s center.
I was a little underwhelmed by the hotel I had booked for our first three nights. There were a lot of things we wanted to see and do those first three days in the city and my only criteria was location and price. The Hotel Posada Viena seemed to fit the bill. The large room we reserved initially looked more than adequate but it slowly turned gloomy. The large, king-sized bed felt like someone had removed the mattress and left us with the box spring while the dim, fluorescent lights gave the place all the atmosphere of an police interrogation room. At least the water was hot.
Knowing that we would be disoriented in a big, foreign country, I didn’t plan too much for our first day. All of the Spanish I had crammed for couldn’t prepare me for the shock of being thrown into place where they didn’t really speak English — yet didn’t understand my Spanish. I was frustrated trying to buy two beers from the farmacia across from the hotel and being handed a six pack. Trying to explain that I only wanted two beers (cause we didn’t have a fridge to keep ’em cool) only elicited a blank stare. So I bought the whole six pack. Guess I’ll have to work on my pronunciation.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we decided to take one of those sitio cabs to the city’s famous Zocalo — the second largest city square in the world built on the ruins of the Aztec main temple complex. I thought we could tour the Palacio Nacional, traditionally the seat of the Mexican government but now probably more famous for its Diego Rivera murals, but a military exercise closed the Palacio earlier than normal. It was already too late to tour the Museo del Templo Mayor but a late breaking rainstorm forced us to take sanctuary in the Catedral Metropolitana. The enormous 16th century Catholic church was built from stone taken from the pyramids and buildings of the Aztecs. It is now sinking into the soft soil.
Despite buying a pair of umbrellas on the Zocalo, we were soaked. I suggested we try to find a restaurant I had read about in the guidebooks, a place called La Casa de las Sirenas, just to get out of the rain. The restaurant, housed in a building behind the cathedral and probably just as old, featured a great, covered, rooftop terrace. Whether we were bucking Mexican tradition with our off-timed meals or whether our weekday schedule put us off the tourist track, our entire trip seemed to consist of eating meals in restaurants by ourselves. Sirenas was no exception. The food — which was expensive — was ok. Nothing to really write about. I had chipotle mushrooms with shrimp tacos and sopes. We learned a pretty important lesson — don’t spend a lot of money on Mexican food.
TO BE CONTINUED…
P.S. I’ve posted quite a few photos from Mexico City on my Flickr page. You can scroll down and enter through my Flickr badge on the right sidebar of this page or click here to go to the Mexico City ’07 set.