Our first glimpse of Mexico City was from a traffic jam, watching sellers walk down the middle of the road pedalling hot food, cold drinks, cigarettes, and steering wheel covers to those stuck in traffic. Every bit of land was occupied by something—crumbling buildings, hordes of people, swarming outdoor markets, and a few prostitutes casually hanging around outside shops.
Our rustic hotel was in the heart of the old town, in the midst of chaotic and noisy city life—the constant blare of car horns and shouting. We discovered an amazing pasteleria nearby where locals piled up giant trays of with cakes, bread, and pastries, some of which equated to about 7 pence for us. We also quickly discovered that despite my conversational Spanish competency, understanding the names of Mexican food on menus proved difficult (amusingly, quesadillas are not called quesadillas). All of it was spicy as hell.
Mexico City is beautiful, abundant with old architecture, some of which is leaning considerably as the city was built on an old lagoon. We saw the stunning Bellas Artes, Monumento a la Revolucion, the infamous Angel of Independence, and the National Palace where numerous pretty kitties live. The cathedral in Zocalo Square, which you might recognize from the opening scene of the recent Bond movie Spectre, is particularly magnificent. Despite the almost 30 degree heat, the square was adorned with with Felix Navidad decorations, a huge Coca Cola Christmas tree, and an ice rink complete with a ludicrous number of people attempting to ice skate at once.
We visited Mexico City’s famous and free Chapultepec zoo, who are engaged in numerous breeding programmes to save endangered animals, particularly pandas. We saw the pretty Chapultepec castle, I fell face-first off a bus, and a squirrel helped himself to a seat on my lap. In true Mexican style, we spent an evening at Lucha Libre in the classic Arena Mexico. Despite my poking fun at Pebble’s previous history as a wrestler, the evening was hilarious and highly entertaining, with some of the wrestlers throwing tortillas into the crowd and one wrestler being de-masked. I liked the high-flyers and even read several hours’ worth of history on Lucha Libre afterwards.
Having explored the city thoroughly, including accidentally wandering into some slightly less savoury areas, we headed out of the city to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the ancient Mayan pyramids. Coincidentally, one of the guys we met on the epic train journey across Australia – Gaz – was also in Mexico City, so we all set off to the pyramids via the somewhat dangerous subway, then a rickety-looking bus where (disconcertingly) the driver videoed us beforehand.
The drive took us through the Ecatepec favela covering the hills on the outskirts of the city, which rolled on forever. Having only ever seen favelas in films and documentaries, it was suprising to see one in real life, how big it was, and not even the biggest at that. In general, the poverty in Mexico City took me by surprise—women with babies begging, young children selling things in the street or singing for money for their families. We did what we could, but on the North American continent, it was all too common to see.
After a few hours, we reached the incredible Teotihuacan pyramids. The once Mayan pyramids then utilized by the Aztecs are largely intact, and for a small fee you can even make the trek up them. We started gently on a few of the smaller pyramids, then braved the biggie—the Pyramid of the Sun (or water, as they now think it might be, despite numerous people offering themselves to the sun up there). The view of the World Heritage site was incredible, set in a shallow valley.
The following day, we headed out with Gaz on the train to Xochimilco, where brightly-painted boats saunter down the rivers like a Mexican Venice. As we meandered up the river, other boats passed by with mariachi bands playing songs, people cooking food on their boats and docking alongside other boats to sell the food, boats selling jewellery, and some with buckets of ice selling cold beers. For Gaz’s last night on his trip and our last night in Mexico, we treated ourselves to dinner in Café Tacuba, with traditional décor and mariachi bands playing.
We got up pre-sunset to wait in the ever-present Mexico City traffic for our flight. After a lengthy wait at a disorganized check-in area, we had a mere 8 minutes to get through security and to the gate for our flight. We hot-footed it through the airport to discover that the plane had been overbooked, so we ended up with free flights, Peb’s favourite—free food, and the very next flight to the Big Apple for Christmas and New Year, the most wonderful time of the year…