So last November I took a trip to Mexico City. I really should’ve wrote about it when I got back, you know when it was fresh. But, I want to avoid doing my taxes and it’s a Sunday. Might as well see what I can remember.
Why Mexico City?
Well, the flight was cheap – $307.88. But why go anywhere? I hadn’t taken any vacation in 2013. I moved to Austin, but other than that – nowhere. Hadn’t left the state. Hadn’t left the country. So why pick Mexico City? Well, I had planned to go during spring break to see Blur. But I just started a new job. Kind of hard to just disappear for a week after just working at a place for a month. So from that point, Mexico City was on my radar. So why November? Well — jealousy. I had a friend who travelled the world during 2013 and she had just returned. I had to do something before the year was out. I couldn’t not go someplace. To stay in Austin would’ve felt like a failure. So yea, just call me jelly.
Preparing for the trip
I took 2 years of Spanish in high school. I started doing Duolingo a few weeks before leaving. Basically, I can communicate on the level of a 2 year old, a really dotish 2 year old. But everyone in the world speaks in English right? So, I wasn’t too worried. And I even downloaded a translator app on my phone. Bases = covered.
If you know me, I like to be prepared. But “being prepared” is synonymous with overpacking. That friend who travelled the world, let’s call her Jenny (cause that’s her actual name), doesn’t overpack. I was going to approach this trip like how Jenny approached her travels – no checked luggage. Having no checked luggage means packing smart. Turns out smart packers use packing cubes. They also don’t use roller suitcases because wheels and a frame take up valuable cubic inches. I purchased this bag – Campmor Essential Carry-On and these packing cubes – eBags Packing Cubes. And these 2 purchases made all the difference. I was able to pack everything I needed for a week of travel in that bag with space to spare.
Another facet of the Jenny approach to world travel is to stay in a hostel. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, so I picked the best one on Hostel World, Hostel Cathedral. I also booked a hotel for Friday and Saturday, Room Mate Valentina, just incase the hostel was unbearable.
I flew in on Saturday, November 16
According to the internet, I could get from the airport to the hostel using the subway. I could’ve taken a cab, but that would’ve involved being ripped off by a cab driver in a city I don’t know via a language I do not really know. Not the best first impression. So I decided to try my hand at the Mexico City subway system. And it was easy peasy. According to my guidebook, the Mexico City subway system is designed to be used by millions of people daily. Plus literacy isn’t required. You only need 5 pesos and the ability to recognize pictograms – skills I posses (admittedly only after getting some small bills from a money exchange). I ended up using the subway a lot during my trip. The only trouble I had was accidentally walking into the women and children area of the platform, and being smushed and uncomfortable during rush hour. Safety-wise, I didn’t feel threatened. And the people selling things between stops didn’t harass me to buy anything.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the hostel. I booked a 6 person dorm with the idea that more people = more travel friends. Did I mention I was traveling alone? I was. It’s been so long now, but I feel like I didn’t really talk to anyone for the first two days. But I think that’s just me. I don’t know how to interact with people in real life. I remember getting really frustrated and texting Jenny that I’m hating the hostel because I don’t know how to meet people. Did I mention I was texting Jenny from the rooftop bar of the hostel? I was. And right at that very moment, a girl was staring out at the view and I said hi. We ended up drinking and talking most of the night. And it was at that moment that my hostel experience improved. I think it partly had to do with the transition from Sunday to Monday that brought in new people. The jackass American from Fort Worth left while more cool Aussies and Kiwis arrived. It’s giving in to a stereotype, but in my very limited travel experience at hostels – Americans are the worst. Luckily, I’m a Texan first, a Trini second, and an American if convenient.
The number of Aussies and Kiwis that I met was astounding. Mexico City is literally on the other side of the world to them. But the culture in Australia/New Zealand is to travel and get out there. Contrast this with a friend of mine who is 31 and just now got his passport. I also met some cool Britons at the hostel. Same deal there – traveling.
Mexico City Coincidence: At the hostel, I met 2 Kiwi girls who were in Austin for ACL. Pretty neat right? Well hold on, it gets better… They were there for the second weekend of ACL that got rained out. That Sunday they were running around town trying to catch some of the impromptu shows. The same things I was doing. They ended up at Speakeasy, a bar on Congress. I ended up at Speakeasy, a bar on Congress. So yea, we were in the exact same bar at the exact same time in Austin, TX a month ago and were now in the exact same hostel in Mexico City. What?!
I loved that hostel rooftop bar. It became part of my routine. Plus the beer was cheap, 20? 25? pesos. The hostel was nice overall. It felt clean. And the location was unbeatable, being in the center of Mexico City. Towards the end of the week, I really regretted booking the hotel. I missed leaving my hostel friends. But, once I took shower and took a nap in the king size bed, that feeling subsided. Lush.
I was looking forward to Mexico City cuisine. I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and have been eating Tex-Mex. What was Mex-Mex going to be like? Well, pretty much what you can get at any taqueria here. It was kind of amazing. There were little differences, like eating pulpo in a torta (that means octopus). But nothing world changing. I don’t know if that was because I was staying in the major metropolitan city in the western hemisphere. Would my food experience be different someplace that didn’t cater to tourists/visitors so much?
I also booked a tasting menu at Biko. I had never done a tasting menu, but decided to indulge. Mainly cause the hostel was so cheap and fancy dinners is part of the Jenny approach to world travel. I don’t remember any specifics, but I definitely left feeling underwhelmed. I kind of expected to get flavor drunk, but I was flavor sober at the end of it. The best part of the dinner was that I got placed next to a food critic. It made the dining experience more enjoyable hearing her take on everything.
I also tried a bit of street food. On the whole, it was extremely cheap and pretty decent. I only had a terrible butt reaction once, and luckily I was going to the Trotsky museum and made use of their restrooms a few times. So, maybe a little planning is necessary?
Mexico City Confession: I’m used to modern sewage systems. Modern meaning they can handle toilet paper. Apparently Mexico City does not have a modern sewage system. There are trash cans in bathrooms for used toilet paper. The intention is that after you wipe your ass, you throw the toilet paper in the trash can. I never did this. I didn’t want to do this.
You know how Mexico City is like the largest city in the western hemisphere? Turns out it contains a hipster neighborhood – La Condesa. One of the best parts of my trip was getting a free bicycle from a stand and bicycling down the Paseo de la Reforma and into La Condesa. Lots of parks and lots of dogs. I even ordered a panini and ate it a super trendy cafe. The bike ride only got hectic on the way back – the free bicycle had a time limit and I had to rush to return it in time. Bicycling on the streets of Mexico City is kind of dangerous – there is not always bike lanes and the sidewalks are very inconsistent. But spoiler alert, I made it back alive and on time.
I was staying near the Zocalo, the main plaza of the city. Basically everything in sight was a historical landmark – government buildings and Aztec ruins all in the same breath. What this meant is that I got museum-ed out in a few days. My absolute favorite was the Museo de Arte Popular which contained Mexican folk art. My biggest disappointment was the Leon Trotsky Museum. It really needed more photographs. I enjoy looking at old photographs. Especially of people who thought they were amazing. I like photographs of ego. I also enjoyed the Centro Cultural de España en México. It was a museum geared towards young hip people, like me. I caught a show there on my last night and saw this amazing Mexican cover band. And on the weekends, the restaurant on the top floor turns into a club. I wish Austin had a museum like that. I would need a few years to really go through the Museo Nacional de Antropología. I foolishly tried to see it all in a few hours and it really tired me out.
The only time I left Mexico City was when I took a short bus ride to Teotihuacan. You’ve heard of Teotihucan right? It’s an historical site where you can get harassed every minute to buy jaguar whistles. If you can make it past the salesmen, you get to climb awesome pyramids and just be overwhelmed by it all.
In general, I would try to make more trips out of the city. Like visit Puebla. Or go to the Island of the Dolls. You have to take a super long boat ride to the island. Going by yourself would be expensive since you rent the whole boat. But if you get a group together, it becomes loads cheaper. I almost went on one of the boats for a short trip in the canals of Xochimico, but I backed out due to the cost, embarrassment of being the only one on the boat with the captain, and the run down appearance of the boats.
I left on Sunday, November 24. I enjoyed my time in Mexico City and ate a lot of tortas and pastries.