13th October, 2008
There are no traffic rules in Mexico City, at least none that I can make out. From the airport we weave our way through the city streets. Our driver darts in and out of lanes with expert abandon. I focus on the sights and try to ignore every close call. Color is everywhere. Mechanics shops are painted in pinks and yellows; young women in tight black pants direct traffic, their arms gesturing wildly, whistles blowing incessantly. At traffic lights hawkers dodge the cars, selling trinkets. We drive by a city park where hundreds of protesters dance naked on a platform stage, banners proclaiming their cause. We ask the taxi driver what they are doing and he tells us they have been dancing every day for 3 months to protest the unfair sale of their land in Veracruz. I contemplated the headline in our local paper back home should the community decide to adopt naked dancing to promote sensible development.
We arrive at Casa Gonzales in the Zona Rosa and settle in before heading out to check out our neighbourhood.. Most of the restaurants in our budget are closed by the time we head out at 7pm so we cruise into Papa Bills Saloon, a wild west style restaurant/sports bar and feast for around $10.00 each. Marco has an amazing dish of pan fried chicken pounded thinly and stuffed with huitlacoche (an aztec delicacy of black fungus which grows on corn), nopales(cactus) and squash flowers and avocado. Delicious!
Next day we walk the ten blocks or so to Chapultepec Park stopping for breakfast at a busy taco stand. Breakfast is muy sabroso, tacos de pollo and papas ( chicken and potatos) with an array of fresh salsas, lime and chiles to spice it up. We stuff ourselves for around $6.00 total including fresh orange and guayaba juice and then spend the the next few hours exploring the National Museum of Anthropology. Outside the musuem we are treated to a traditional Dance of the Eagleflyers, the girls buy some beaded jewellery from a Huichol woman and we head back to the hotel along Reforma.
Day 3 we are off to Frida Kahlos house, a highlight for me. We breakfast at several stands along the way to Insurgentes.. Vendors sell plastic tumblers of chopped, fresh papaya and melon topped with chile and lime and we all munch happily as we head to the metro station.
The metro is an experience not to be missed. Five million commuters a day ride this highly organised series of underground lines. For 20 cents a ticket you can ride all day in one direction. Vendors, performers and beggars jump on and off at each stop moving from carriage to carriage to try their luck. First up a crippled guitarist sits on the floor amongst the crowd singing plaintively. When the train pulls up the next stop he shuffles along the ground dragging his useless legs behind.
After being transported back to the fifties at Frida Kahlos we jump in a taxi to Xochimilco, the site of ancient Aztec gardens and spend the afternoon lazily floating along the canals. Highly decorated boats filled with celebrating Mexican familes and mariachis pass by.
We stop for lunch at a designated restaurant, the prices seem reasonable but when we go to order drinks the boat driver suggests we buy from the two women who have pulled up beside us in their canoe. We forget the #1 rule of agreeing on a price before we buy and order 2 chilena beers and a couple of sodas for the girls. The Chilena beer is a traditional concoction where a tall bottle of beer is poured into a large cup precoated with chile and lime; an interesting blend but not one I’ll try again.
We finished our lunch and drinks and asked how much…the drinks alone were 210 pesos ( around $30.00 Aussie dollars!) This was no ordinary gringo rip off..it was waterway robbery! Marco spent the next 15 minutes arguing and the boat driver faked outrage and attempted to act as a mediator but in reality they were probably all in cahoots. We finally bargained down a price which was still unrealistic but at least better than the starting point.
Day 4- We jumped on the metro again and headed to the downtown historic district, touring the main cathedral and meeting up with our My Space friend Rocco who was just as lovely, gentle and kind in real life as on the Internet.
We visited la Ciudadela ( the largest art and craft market) and had lunch together at a great little hole in the wall café. The serves were so large we had to take half of our food with us. Later we fed our leftovers to a clan of cats living on ledges at the Insurgentes Metro station. They werent like any ferals we had ever seen, a couple of Birmans and Siamese, they all looked healthy and strong and we sat and watched them for some time.
A young man in black jeans eyed us menacingly and simultaneously we all had the feeling we were being marked. About a dozen exits branch of from this circular plaza and we tried several of them before finding the one which led back to our hotel. We walked home quickly. It was several blocks before we lost the uneasy feeling.
Our last day and we had arranged a tour to Teotihuacan and the Basilica de Guadalupe. The bus picked us up at 9am and we joined the International crowd of visitors from Chile, Brazil and Hungary. The clouds threatened rain but the skies held out as we climbed the Pyramid of the Sun and dodged the vendors selling obsidian aztec statues, wooden drums and jewellery.
We arrived back at the hotel for a quick rest and shower before a scheduled jam session in the downstairs lobby with our friends Rocco, Kike, Priscila, Ana Lorena and Pepe. We spent a fantastic few hours playing music with and to each other not stopping until an exhausted traveller upstairs poked her head out of her room and politely asked us if we could please finish up as she was trying to get to sleep.