Ciudad de México

Trip Start Dec 15, 2006
Trip End Feb 07, 2007

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

My arrival via bus wasn't as eventful as I'd hoped. I had expected the driver, experienced in dealing with Mexico City's traffic, to impress by performing masterly maneuvers whilst carving through the rush hour madness. I had expected the urban sprawl to begin 3 hours before we got anywhere near the city center. I had expected to see the sky coloured brown by the smog.

Well, I was disappointed. The roads in were fast so we got to the station about half an hour after hitting the outskirts of the town, and so far I have not seen the effects of smog. And the chaotic traffic - a no show.

I did get a sense of the size of the city today though. I took one of the the longest subway routes possible all the way to the end, and then changed onto a tram-like transport, taking it from end to end, finally arriving at Xochimilco, one of the southern most parts of the city. In all it was about an hour and 10 minutes on fairly fast transport from the center of the historical section of the city. And it still felt built up and hectic. In between there was a lot of medium to heavy industry and loads of small commercial sorts of neighborhoods.

Just like every other city here, it is steeped in history. The initial Aztec settlement, about 700 years old called Tenochtitlan was the center of the empire for a while. Upon Cortes' arrival the original structures were mostly razed and built upon. Around the mid-1520s the Spaniards began major development and built some impressive buildings and churches. Like every other Spanish settled city, it has a grid-like layout and contains a massive square, or zocalo, near the center. The zocalo has been the site of too numerous revolutions ,and important events in Mexico's history, to name.

A couple of winges about the place though. The footpaths are too bloody narrow. Most streets have vendors on them hawking everything from hairbrushes and batteries to tacos. The pavement normally would provide enough room, but when shared with these stalls there is often barely enough room for a single file line to stay on the footpath, let alone any dual lane action. You either wait for the flow past a seller to stop before you can go or, as you most often do, jump out onto the road to go around them on the other side. And I don't need to go into the dangers of doing this. Other parts of the city don't have this problem though - having been designed with useful pedestrian commuting in mind they banned the stalls and provide enough room to get where you're going without the crush. I know this is an odd thing to whinge about, but it noticeable and annoying.

I have noticed a few odd things the Mexico City inhabitants do. One is talking to each other, not on mobiles, but on long range 2-ways. I saw at least 3 or 4 people doing this - walking around, talking into a walkie-talkie sort of thing, obviously conversing with someone just like it was a phone. It makes sense though - no phone bill, but a limited number, perhaps just one, of people you can talk to. I didn't try my phone while I was there, but perhaps coverage in the city isn't too flash either.

Another odd occurrence is seeing oldish women walking around town with what at first looks like a real child bundled up in their arms, but upon closer inspection is seen to be just a doll. The doll is dressed up too, almost looking like jesus as a baby or something. Who knows. Crazy Catholics.

Then there are the guys who looking like German police officers, in an official looking tan uniform with proper looking hats, who operate these weird pipe organ things that emit a very annoying noise/song. Not only do they annoy you with the sound they make, but there's always two of them - one to crank the machine ad one to pester you with his hat out for money. I would gladly donate if only it were to shut them up instead of spurring them to continue the noise pollution.

As dangerous as the Planet made Mexico City out to be, myself and everyone I was with didn't run into any trouble the entire time we were there. There were the odd attempts at pick-pocketing on the jam packed metro, but nothing too sinister. We certainly didn't witness any of the 88 muggings a day that was claimed to have been the average by the Planet. Perhaps the worst thing the Mexicans did to us was to mob every museum and gallery on Sunday making it impossible for us to go. They're free each Sunday and the lines are staggering. These people must sit there all day, and most probably don't even get in.

I took a day trip out to Teotihuacan with a group of people from the hostel which turned out to be a fair bit of fun, aside from the actual logistics of getting there and back. The hostel offered tours for significantly more than it costs to do it yourself, so we took the latter option and battled non-working subways and crowded bus stations to make our way out to the site which is about 50kms north east of the city. It was one of the largest, if not the largest, city around the 100-400AD period. It currently has the third largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramide de Sol (Pyramid of the sun), which you are allowed to climb up. There's large parts of the central drag of the city still left. It's worth a couple solid hours of exploring, but at the end of the day it's probably one of the most visited sites in Mexico and the Saturday we went was no exception. On the way in we witnessed this ceremony sort of thing. There's a large pole, about 15-20meters high. On top of this is some sort of spinning apparatus that allows 4 people, tied by their feet, to swing around the poll. They are tied with rope that unravels as they go around so as they spin around they get closer and closer to the ground, finally landing on it. I believe they are symbolising birds of something. I don't really know, but it looked pretty tricky. Especially the guy who stood on top of the pole, sans safety rope, whilst playing a woodwind instrument and cautiously dancing.

The trip to and from Teotihuacan took us through some of the more run down parts of the Mexico City's sprawl. Often the houses look like nothing more than a concrete box with a couple of windows. And these things cover every part of open flat ground, even running up and sometimes over surrounding hills.
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