Now I’m here, on my second visit to Mexico I feel especially bad for not finishing the write up from my trip almost a year ago!!
When I was here last I did two separate visits to Mexico City, first for a few days and then again right at the end of my 6 week trip, for a week.
Mexico City, to me, felt a lot like any other big city in the world. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but my perception of what Mexico: a ‘third world country’ should be like was wrong. The technology and shops are just as contemporary as anywhere else in the world but I guess things that separate it from other places are the way the government is run, how the education and health system works and a big gulf in the division of wealth.
I’m often asked if Mexico is a safe place to visit and I guess the reality is no it’s not. But by sticking to main areas and listening to advice of where not to go I never found myself in a situation that made me feel uncomfortable. The closest thing to crime I saw was a run-down-looking local man running (very slowly) away from a police officer, who didn’t look very interested in chasing him. The man fell over, picked himself back up and kept running, was nearly bitten by a stray dog, but kept running, he looked around to see that he wasn’t being followed but still he kept running in – slow motion.
On that occasion my girlfriend Karen and I were visiting an area called Garibaldi. Admittedly, the 5 minute walk from the metro station is not the safest neighbourhood (which is where we saw the rogue runner) but the square itself is a tourist attraction and so quite safe.
It is a square where the famous mariachi bands play. In the Square itself there are lots of different bands, with their big instruments and extravagant clothing, roaming around looking for people to pay for a single song or two. Inside the bars and restaurants bands will entertain people that sit down to eat and drink and come and ask for tips and attempt to sell CDs containing their music. We listened to 4 or 5 different bands play on a square stage in the centre of the room as we sat and ate our meal. A very authentic and enjoyable experience.
Like any other big city there are plenty of activities to do. Whilst there, I visited museums, walked through a park that surrounded a castle that boasted great views of the city, I took an open top bus tour – that took most of the day to complete the three different lines – and went up a cell tower that took you above the sky line. Unfortunately, Mexico City is one of the more polluted cities in the world and the views were spoilt slightly by a layer of smog that makes seeing far into the distance difficult.
All over Mexico, even a year on, I find myself comparing prices to those in the UK with great surprise. To go to the cinema and get a large drink and popcorn I paid in the region of £5. And that’s for seats that are classed as ‘VIP’ in the UK. It is very rare to find a meal for much more than £10 including a drink and usually I’d be paying around £4 or £5. To get the metro anywhere in the city costs about 40 pence. But my favourite bargains whilst visiting Mexico City were my two trips to the 90,000 capacity Azteca Stadium.
In the UK, if I want to watch my brother play football, in the 7th tier of English football, alongside 100 or so other people, I pay £8. To watch, first Cruz Azul and then Club America – in a party like atmosphere with tireless staff walking up and down stairs with snacks, beers and even hot food on trays carried on their head – I paid around £5. The standard of play in the Mexican top division was not that great but the players are constantly running and you can see the passion amongst them. The atmosphere from the moment I got on the metro to the stadium until way after the final whistle was awesome.
From Mexico City Karen and I went on two cultural trips an hour or so outside of the city. One was to a place called Xochimilco (pronounced Hochimilco), a place where you can pay to be ferried along a busy river way. The traffic included 100s of brightly coloured boats, with long tables under the shelter of a roof, captained by a local man at the back using a pole to propel the boat. Boats containing Mariachi bands offering their services also navigate the river and people selling snacks. On the banks you could find snacks, restaurants and souvenirs.
Our other trip was to the extremely impressive ruins of Teotihuacan (tetiwacan). The ruins of Chichen Itza, near Cancun are the most famous due to a phenomenon which happens once a year that creates a shadow in the shape of a snake, but in my opinion the ruins of Teotihuacan are much more impressive. At the North End you can climb the pyramid of the moon (not quite all the way to the top) and have an amazing view along ‘The Avenue of the Dead’ that stretches for 2 kilometres and is 40 meters wide. All along the avenue are pyramids and temples including the biggest halfway along, the Pyramid of the Sun that you can climb all the way to the top.
After a long day in the sun we were able to buy a nice meal for about £2 which, for me, is unthinkable at such a tourist destination! But that’s only because I’m constantly comparing to UK standards. As I touched on at the beginning of this, the wealth in Mexico is far from equally distributed. It can help give perspective and make me thankful for everything that I have.