Hello universe! I’ve been blogging as I’ve been wandering about Mexico, but I’ve mostly had erratic or non-existent interweb. Now that I have a few days somewhere nice and touristy (aka filled with stealable wireless), I thought I’d start posting one every now and again (so as not to overwhelm your reading devices and tender eyeballs). Also, there is air-conditioning in this Starbucks, so I never want to leave it.
DAY ONE: MEXICO CITY
Mexico City is amazing. At over 20 million people, it’s one of the most densely populated places in the world. It’s loud, it’s polluted, and it’s 7000ft altitude, so you dehydrate faster and get drunk easier. You can’t drink the water – not because it’s bad, but because the city has been around in one form or another for thousands of years, and the pipes are old and corroded. My shower this morning smelled like all the fountains in the city – like rust and smog and age.
You also can’t flush your toilet paper. Just FYI.
The Spanish conquest built over the top of and beside the Aztec city, and then the French and Americans and everyone else who’ve conquered – or tried to conquer – Mexico at some point built over and beside that. The architecture is an insane mix of ancient, renaissance, just plain old, and shining new. The mix of rich and poor adds to the cacophony, throwing in broken windows next to glittering skyscrapers.
Driving downtown from the airport was a revelation – apartments stack like drunken lego creations, mismatched staggering box towers with washing strung everywhere like flags.
Cops stand on corners with whistles and cold Cokes. Cars are on blocks or parked slewed into the street. Everything is hot and loud and dirty – a riot of colours and billboards and paint-chipped concrete, and everyone drives like they’re in an action movie.
“I think my seatbelt is broken,” I told my driver when I couldn’t get it out of where he’d wedged it behind the seat.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Is not necessary.”
WAS SERIOUSLY NECESSARY.
But then today we saw a toddler hanging out the sunroof of a moving vehicle, so I think the Mexicans just have a different idea of road safety.
This morning we walked from our hotel downtown to Chapultepec Park – which is kinda like Central Park, but it has a castle stuck on top of it, and a hell of a lot more people selling empanadas. A lot of the streets are closed to cars on Sundays, so there were bikes everywhere. Bikes and joggers and dog walkers and kids running through all of it. There was a dance class going on in the street in front of the Glorieta del Angel, the whole square filled with people moving and shaking to the music.
A hairless Mexican dog (a Xoloitzcuintli) was fighting a little spaniel in the gutter. I never knew such a creature existed – the Aztecs both worshipped them and raised them as food. Which seems efficient.
On top of the park is the Castillo de Chapultepec – the castle on grasshopper hill. Half of it houses the museum of history, and the other half is preserved as a castle – with the rooms still fitted out with 19th century furniture and stuff. It was gorgeous, and I will be stealing it entire for my novel. Thanks, Mexico!
Outside, a pair of teenagers asked to interview us in English – they had to film themselves speaking English with native speakers as the oral exam for their university paper. We were the first English-speakers they’d seen – I only heard two other people speaking English all day. I’d ignorantly assumed that because Mexico shares a border with the US, people would probably speak some English. Not so – Latin America is a world unto itself, and I need to learn more than ‘sorry’, ‘excuse me’, ‘the check, please’ and ‘one, thanks’ pronto.
The subway was crowded and dirty and stank – I was claustrophobic even before the people began packing in. A different street hawker got on at every stop, getting progressively more bizarre – a lady selling candy, a bum playing a diet Coke can with a stick, a man with a boombox selling pirated compilations of popular songs.
I didn’t see many “traditional” beggars – people sitting on street corners holding cups. Mostly there were people selling useless trinkets or balloons or food. They pay off the cops to be allowed to sell on the street, so when a police car turns up they pack up and run so fast it looks magic. Ivan, our guide, told me this when I watched a whole wall of sellers fold up and disappear instantly into the crowd at some signal I hadn’t even seen. I saw a girl with no arms weaving with prosthetic hands, and a pair of small boys playing accordions on a street corner.
Ate: a DELICIOUS pulled pork taco and squash blossom quesadilla, and hibiscus iced tea – or agua de Jamaica. My new favourite drink.
Almost time to meet for dinner – it’s storming outside. I think I’ve seen more thunderstorms than I have in my entire life in the last two weeks.
I’ll try for more visual aids and less words in the future, but I make no promises about the second.