Mexico City: Travelling Without Constraints

When Jasmine and Regi asked me to write a blog about our travels to Mexico City, I was immediately excited. While I enjoy seeing pictures and posts on social media when friends travel, there is only so much description you can put on a post before people simply scroll on to the next part of their feed. Blogs allow you to paint experiences in ways that are unique and unconstrained.

I have no qualms in saying that some of the most open-minded and cultured people I know, are those who have dared to venture out and soak-in what the world has to offer. Travelling allows us to glimpse into the lives of others and gain a better understanding of what the world is really like outside of a television display.

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Regardless of how many times you cross paths with Mexico City, each experience is different. The hustle and bustle of a city over-crowded with 21 million people, at an elevation of 7,400 feet, where the air is thinner than most are accustomed to, can literally take your breath away at times (much like reading this sentence.) For this particular voyage, throwing a group of ten people into the pandemonium of the city added a unique dynamic that made this visit one of the most memorable to date.

For those who have never been, the megalopolis is difficult to accurately describe. It is chaotic, busy, loud, overcrowded, traffic-ridden, polluted—take your pick. At the same time, it is intriguing, cultured, mature, eccentric, mysterious, and so much more. Those paradoxical depictions validate the notion that Mexico City incites both feelings of revulsion and magnetism in people. And that is why it is so unique; as a tourist—even as a local—you are constantly battling with sentiments of love and hate for the city. Individuals who are looking for immaculate infrastructure and amenities, typical of trendy tourist destinations, might be discouraged at first. Sure, there are parts of the city—like Polanco or Lomas de Chapultepec—that will make you feel like you are on Rodeo Drive. But, the beauty of visiting a city that is not theatrically staged for allure, means you are forcibly immersed in its culture—which is fantastic!

 

First Day

Flying into the city is the best way to appreciate its magnitude and size. As we soared above, you could see the endless rows of buildings and cars, the uniformed mountains that create a natural border around the city, and the volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.

Appropriately, the airport was chaotic and thriving with crowds of people. The trip’s first curveball was thrown at us when we were forced to walk out of airport property lines to be picked up by our driver; who was not allowed to pick up passengers on federal land, due to some suspect transport regulation. After hastily boarding our van, we weaved through mid-day traffic, with our skilled driver Javier, as we headed to our house in the colony of San Miguel de Chapultepec.

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Arriving at the airport!

At the end of an extremely narrow road, was a vibrantly-colored blue house, with a bronze-colored door. Upon entering, we were greeted by Maya and Copito—two loveable dogs that made our stay even more enjoyable. The house itself was immaculate, a true paradise in a centralized, peaceful and quiet neighborhood.

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Our first selfie in the AIRBNB house. It was immaculate! (the house, not the picture)

As we all settled in, so did the hunger. Our first eatery was about 10 minutes from our house, in Colonia Condesa. El Tizconcito; a place recommended by our AIRBNB hosts, which served fantastic tacos al pastor (the sign above the restaurant claimed that they were the creators of tacos al pastor, but I highly doubt it) and an array of delicious options on their menu.

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El Tizconcito in Colonia Condesa; it was delicious!

Oddly enough, the first people we saw eating outside of the restaurant was a group of Americans with U.S. soccer team jerseys. This would be a constant encounter in our trip. Mexico City is home to many American citizens. In fact, it is home to the largest American population of any city outside of the U.S.

Our first taste of authentic Mexico City-style food was fantastic. Most of us went for some variation of tacos al pastor, while Patrick and Elyse chose home-style pozole.

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After lunch, we strolled Colonia Roma, observing its beautiful blend of Spanish Colonial and contemporary architecture. Before heading back to the house, we stopped by a small convenient store. It must have been quite a scene with us in there. We depleted the store of its water bottles and chips, while holding the cash register hostage, as we each handed over large bills and used up all the store’s change reserves. Also, thanks to Sergio, I’m sure Mexico City was low on candy for a few days.

The last part of our first day was my favorite. Carlos, my cousin, was kind enough to rent out an event room in the building where he lives. The building was Torre Carso, on Zurich Avenue, in Colonia Polanco. The place was truly stunning.

Funny side note: before entering the building, we had to pass a security checkpoint. One of the guards was not shy about commenting on the beauty of the women that accompanied us guys. He went as far as to praise us for managing to successfully charm them. After that, I felt like all the guys deserved to stand a bit taller as we walked into the building.

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Waiting on security clearance to go to the family party!

Walking in, we were greeted by my family and immediately presented with dinner that awaited us. It is safe to assume we all enjoyed the food.

Shortly after eating, Patrick, Regi, Humberto, my cousin Adrian, and myself, were seduced by the nicely placed liquor bottles in front of an eager waiting staff. First on the agenda, was a sampling of mezcal. A traditional Mexican drink that is cousin to the tequila, but conventionally much more potent. Day turned to night as one, two, three mezcals settled in. By this point, I could not tell if it was the effects of the alcohol, but it felt like a replay loop was going on in my head, with waiters carrying out an endless supply of hors d’oeuvres on shiny platters. A bit of dancing, conversation and music took place, as we whisked away a few more drinks, hoping for another round of waiters to make their way to our table.

Second Day

Our second day started with an amazing breakfast at a trendy place called “Breakfast,” in Colonia Roma. The food and service was fantastic. For about $10 per person, we got unlimited fruit, sweet bread, beverages, and one entrée.

After breakfast, we went to the markets of Coyoacan. We spent a few hours there shopping from artistry vendors. A beautiful, calm, and affordable place to shop. I would recommend Coyoacan to anyone who wants a unique piece of Mexican culture, at a relatively low-price. There is also a center plaza, were events and displays take place, and plenty of food vendors that surround the area.  *Credit cards are widely accepted and safe to use*

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The food is very good in Coyoacan

There are some places that defy description, try as you may, you simply cannot articulate the feelings or emotions that place incites in you. It is frustrating. But, in the end, you realize that perhaps it is better that way; because describing it yourself would be an injustice (does not mean I won’t try.) A national team game in Estadio Azteca is one of those places and it was the highlight of our second day.

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Estadio Azteca

For soccer fanatics—or football as it properly called—I need not describe what Azteca Stadium means for the sport. The Hand of God, the glorification of Pele as an insurmountable legend of the sport; countless significant events have taken place there. The noise is deafening. The ambience is hostile. There seems to be more effort put into intimidating the visiting team than there is cheering on the home team. You argue with event staff about someone taking your seat, only to be told you will have to do the same. It can be terrifying and overwhelming. But, terrifying can be good, and once you finally take your seat and join the other 100,000+ fans in chanting a very particular insult at the visiting goalkeeper, you feel as if you were part of something bigger. It is not communal, warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging. It’s the type of instinctive, primate feeling that takes over you and makes you question the limits of your own sanity and morality. As far as the very particular chant that is yelled out, I’d rather not say what it is. But, just know that if you were there, you too would have a hard time not joining in—just ask Patrick.

My cousin, Adrian and his girlfriend, Lorena, accompanied us to the game. Since there were too many of us to sit together, we split off in groups of 8 and 4. Adrian, Lorena, Humberto and Eric were the smaller group and the rest of us sat together. We scrambled to our seat section only to realize that our seats were taken. A line of officers was occupying our designated area, to avoid any contact between the U.S. fans and the rest of the stadium. So, our seats were occupied by someone else who had their seats taken by someone else and the vicious cycle went on and on. As frustrating as it was, we had a blast standing on the steps of our section. We saw both goals from there and Jasmine got some amazing footage of the crowd’s reaction.

Shortly after, the night got even better. As we were standing there, semi-bathed in beer, after a goal celebration, a member from the event staff showed up and escorted us to better seats. After Sergio tipped them, they took us to some seats that were in the middle of the field and had the best vantage point in the stadium. The sights and sounds of the arena were even more striking from there. The frustrations from the beginning of the day were completely washed away.

Following the game, after a long walk out of the stadium, we saw a group of people be nearly decapitated, on a double-decker bus, while going under a bridge. A crowd of us by-standers were yelling at the passengers to duck their heads. But, more than likely due to inebriation, they thought were cheering for them. Literally, at the last second, they all ducked and avoided what could have been a disaster!

Javier maneuvered through bumper-to-bumper traffic (literally bumper-to-bumper) and our night culminated with some AMAZING tacos at Los Ovnis—a restaurant located right by the city center. The meal was delicious and well deserved. We had battle stories now. Yes. A flimsy group of Abilenians had gone to one of the biggest cities on earth, attended one of the loudest and rowdiest arenas on earth, to witness one of the most intense soccer rivalries on earth. The waiter noticed we were foreign, walked over to our table and asked if we needed help discussing the food options. I looked up at him and doubled-up on the tastiest thing I could find on the menu, as I reached for the spiciest salsa on the table.

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Traffic outside Estadio Azteca: save yourself some stress and hire a driver or grab an Uber

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Los Ovnis: A must go-to taco place!

Third Day

Our third day began with a trip to a local produce market. Regi, Humberto, Erica and myself were the only ones up and ready to go and grab food to prepare for the squad (the title I assigned to our group).

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Strolling the local neighborhood market

For $11 USD, we bought 2 kg of corn tortillas (make sure and remember that the metric system is used in most other countries, we had a stockpile of tortillas which we could not finish), a carton of 36 eggs, 2 liters of freshly squeezed orange juice, a dozen bananas, and 1 kg of chorizo! A dozen eggs in the US usually runs me about half of the total we spent there!

A funny anecdote: Erica and I split-off and left Regi and Humberto to find the rest of the stuff together. Not realizing that these markets were not your typical Wal-Mart, Regi and Humberto picked their things from the different vendors and left without paying! They thought they were able to check-out at the front of the market, similar to a grocery store. When Erica and I caught up with them, Humberto was trying purchasing the eggs and was starting to walk-off without paying. The vendor quickly stopped him and let him know that he had to pay for them there. That is when we realized that Regi and Humberto had committed a few crimes, while Erica and I watched some oranges being squeezed into a few cylindrical containers. We quickly went back and paid back the produce vendors. When we walked up, a vendor mentioned that he was going to chase them, but realized they were foreign, and since they seemed like good people, figured they would come back. It was hilarious!

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Heading towards the main boat gathering area

Our second part of the day was visiting Xochimilco—the final remnant of the ancient Aztec canals that once surrounded the area. For about $20 a person, we got a 4-hour boat ride, guided by a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. Beware, they will heckle you on price. Originally, they wanted to charge us $50 per person, but we were able to get somewhat of a deal. The sights of these canals are beautiful and tranquil. As you cruise through the canals, several other boats come up to you to offer you beverages and snacks. If you go, make sure and visit The Island of The Dolls (a creepy island filled with dolls and a particularly eerie story behind it.)

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Doll Island: Eric was terrified

Side note: this is not a place to swim! Jasmine had said she was going to bring her swimsuit in case we got in the water—ha! (It was very funny. Sorry Jasmine, I had to call you out.)

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This picture shows the boat parked next to us preparing our food. Very affordable and delicious ($5 USD/person for food beer micheladas $1.50 USD)

Xochimilco served as much-needed relaxation for an eventful trip. Our boat ride culminated with a delicious and freshly prepared meal prepared by a passing boat. The sounds of mariachis serenating into the evening was fantastic. The people who operate these gondolas are part of this indigenous culture. Many of their ancestors also navigated these canals and spoke the dying language of Nahuatl. It was fascinating to hear the stories of someone who lived life so simply. Even in an industrial hub like Mexico City, there are still areas like this that are intact and true to their roots.

I do not know if there is a way to properly define travel. Does going to an enclosed resort, where you have no interaction with the country’s people and culture qualify as travel? Perhaps. But, you can have your artificial resort vacation. I’ll choose this every time.

Fourth Day

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Walking towards the Pyramid of The Sun! *Bring Sunscreen*

Our final day of activity was amazing. We climbed the pyramids of Teotihuacan and learned about the culture and history of the people that inhabited this area.

The pyramid ruins are located outside of the city, towards the east. From our location, it took about 1.5 hours to arrive. I would recommend going during the week day, since less people will be there and you will get to enjoy it much more.

When we pulled up, we were directed to a local shop and meeting point for visitors. At no cost, we were given a history lesson of the area and the hand-made artifacts that are sold there. This also included a free sampling of mezcal, tequila, and xoconostle. No better way to prepare for a hike than a bit of liquor in the morning!

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We paid for a tour guide that explained the detailed history of the ruins to us, in English. The very first thing we saw was a shop selling hats. We ignored it and marched onward.

It took only a few minutes in the sun for us to regret that decision. Luckily, there were more shops selling hats right outside the entrance the main hiking area. They looked a bit goofy, but they are a must if you are climbing during a sunny day.

Funny anecdote: Our tour guide seemed to have on odd obsession with Patrick. When we refused to buy the hats at the first stop, he kept insisting Patrick would surely regret that decision. On top of that, while explaining some ancient paintings to us, I noticed he had Patrick’s name written on his right-hand. No one else’s name was written, just his. It was hilarious! We were all a bit creeped out and did not bother to ask the reasoning behind that.

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Shortly after this photo was taken, we noticed Patrick’s name written on our tour-guide’s hand, as he lead us into the dark.

I’m proud to say we all managed to climb to the top of pyramids! When you first arrive and look-up, it can be a bit daunting. But, it is not that bad.  Just take your time and remember not to look back, just keep your eyes forward.

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The girls had clearly planned for this picture

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Masculine victory pose

After you finish your hike, I would recommend eating at a restaurant called El Ranchito. It is a few kilometers from the ruins and it is delicious and like most things—affordable!

That night, our travel culminated with a fancy dinner in the colony of La Condesa, in a restaurant called Kaye. The chef and owner was kind enough to introduce himself to us and tell us his story. He is from Louisiana and he decided to move to Mexico City, when the food renaissance started to take place in Mexico City a few years ago.

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Being a Tuesday night, we actually had the entire restaurant to ourselves. Which was oddly satisfying. Our day had been filled with so much activity that it was nice to have a calm and peaceful dinner with friends. The food was exquisite! It was a multicourse meal that culminated with a main entrée. The restaurant had a great variety of hand-mixed drinks and the service was impeccable. We laughed the night away, knowing that this was the perfect finale to a marvelous trip. I nervously looked at my watch, not wanting this trip to end. But, optimism overcame me; realizing it was surely not the last time I would cross paths with this city and with this fantastic group of people, I poured down my final shot of my mezcal-based drink and asked the waiter for the bill.

Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts of advice: Do not try and drive yourself around. Speaking from experience, it is much easier and relaxing to have a local drive you around. The best analogy I can think of for driving in Mexico City is playing real-life Mario Kart, with more cursing involved. It’s fun, but can be super stressful and you can get lost very easily. Bring a jacket! We went during peak summer and the temperature rarely got above upper 70s. It rained almost every afternoon and the temperature dropped to the 50s at night. Do not be fearful of travelling to Mexico City because of what you see in the media. Crime rates here are comparable—and most of the time lower—than U.S. cities like New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, etc. Like most travels abroad, don’t carry around too much cash or too many fancy artifacts. Enjoy yourself. You will run into plenty of foreigners in the touristy areas. Make sure and check out some of the local cuisine. Mexico City is one of the gastronomic capitals of the world and is home to world renown chefs and restaurants!

While this blog ran longer than I anticipated, I still could not fit in everything that we experienced. And that’s okay—because, as I mentioned earlier, some things quite simply defy description. We dedicate so much time in sharing our life events with others via social media, that we sometimes forget to take a deep breath and truly digest what lies around us for our own pleasure. For most, it is a bit disheartening not being able to share what we live in exact detail, for me—and hopefully those who accompanied me on this trip—it is okay to hold some of these enigmas as our own. I hope for a time when I whisk away at some drinks, reminiscing about our travels; foolishly hoping for a staff of waiters to make their way to our table.

Whether you travel to Mexico City, across the country, or travel to the other side of town—travel. Walk in other people’s shoes; eat their food and experience their culture. You will have so many stories to tell—or not.


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