I left London feeling excited, tired and with a sneaking suspicion I might be coming down with a cold. Sure enough, half way through the 11 hour flight, I could not stop sniffling! Seems like bad luck to feel ill before you even land but, then again, I did get tonsillitis on my birthday so I guess my body just does not rate me.
British Airways was obviously keen to remind us of our destination by giving us some Mexican snacks…though unfortunately I can reveal the salsa was not the “Finest”.
Even though I knew about the size of Mexico City (21 million approx) coming into the airport I was still surprised by how built up it actually is. Most of the airports I’ve been to are on the outskirts, with fields or countryside nearby, but here I fully felt like I was flying into a central district.
We got into Mexico City when it was already dark so didn’t get to see a huge amount on our first evening. I’m lucky that my parents decided to come with me for a few days though, got to stay at a nice hotel – all Art Deco and that.
The next morning I got to experience three apparent staples of life in Mexico City: protests, traffic and bureaucracy.
The hotel is on a main square, La plaza de la constitución. When I casually look up from my breakfast, I see police in riot gear filing out of their vans! It was a bit bemusing at first, as the protesters were just out of sight, but turns out it was one of the teachers union protests I’d seen in the news. Interestingly, foreigners are prohibited from participating in manifestaciones, not sure if it’s enforced but safe to say I didn’t join in.
In terms of traffic, everyone here seems to drive a car, and there’s a LOT of people. You’d think I’d be used to traffic by now living in London, but it still hurts a little to leave 30 minutes to get somewhere 30 minutes away…with it actually taking nearly double that. It’s a bit congested and polluted, with flyovers errywhere but there is a lot of green and trees too.
Then the bureaucracy. I’d been told that I should go to an Instituto nacional de migracion to switch my visa for an immigration card. Alas, if only it were so easy. I rock up at 11am and there’s a worryingly big crowd outside. When inside, there were 5 different queues and I had nae clue where I needed to be. I went to an information desk that gave me a ticket and sent me to wait at another information desk, who told me that I actually needed to fill in a form online and come back another day to that desk over there (gesturing to a 40 person queue, which I assume is where all the magic happens).
Interestingly, I was worried that Mexico would be quite americanised, with most people speaking English. Yeah, not really the case, which I’m pleased with! All the people at border control and the immigration office spoke to me in Spanish, despite being the most obvious foreigner (not much blonde out here).
No doubt, the day perked up after the chaotic morning. We went to a lovely place called Downtown, recommended by my friend Iñaki. It has a hostel, shops, a rooftop bar and a couple of restaurants – including restaurante Azul.
I had a traditional dish from Puebla, the place I’m going to be for university, called Chiles en Nogada. Poblano chiles stuffed with meat (I had shredded pork), in a walnut sauce topped with pomegranate. I can think of a few people who may not like the sound of this but it was tasty!
Then we had a walk around. Now, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that many buildings in Mexico City are not the prettiest. The Museo de Bellas Artes and the surrounding area is truly astonishing though —
￼Inside, there was the famous mural by Diego Rivera — El hombre controlador del universo. A fun game of spot the communist ensued!
There were some columns which got in the way and I took a panorama which, frankly, did not do it justice so I found this picture online to appreciate the full scale of it.
The funniest part of the trip so far has got to be telling a cab driver we’re English and getting the response “Ahh, you’re the original gringos!” Yes that’s right, we’re OG. For the record, this is the first time I’ve been referred to as a gringo and I have a feeling it won’t be my last (with no offence taken).
This driver though, “The native people of the States were Indian but now non-whites are all immigrants who aren’t welcome?? At least there are no borders in heaven…” AND he complimented my Spanish.
I have a feeling this year is gonna be alright.