We were finally going to visit the Mexico City! La Ciudad de México, or El D.F.! We didn’t know exactly how to say it best, but it was looking exciting.
For one, we’d booked an Airbnb for the week, which almost turned out to be free. We had a $100 coupon from Airbnb for being “Superhosts” in Oman. That money paid for a room near the center for six days, from a Thursday to a Wednesday!
But we soon realized that we weren’t able to actually drive in! In Mexico State, you can’t drive on at least one day of the week. If you don’t have a special registration sticker, your “no driving day” (“Hoy no Circula”) is based on the last digit of your license plate, even foreign plates. Ours ends in “2”, so we couldn’t drive on a Thursday. So we had to book the Airbnb for an extra day to arrive on Wednesday.
Wednesday: Arrival at the Airbnb
The van was too tall for the apartment’s parking garage, but the guard on duty told us it was safe to park in front of the building. It was just out of his sight, so we were a little nervous. But we didn’t have many other options.
When we walked in the apartment, we smelled something funny. The owner wasn’t home but his two rescue puppies had left several piles of poop and puddles of pee all over the living room floor. We cleaned some of it up. But our bedroom was nice! It had a big shower with lots of hot water, and a TV with Netflix. Luxuries!
We ate in nearby Casa de Bauce, a small garage-style diner. Edd and I shared a plate of grilled beef, bacon, onions, mushrooms, pepper and cheese for 50 pesos. Free parking, cheesy beef, Netflix. Mexico City seemed amazing already.
Thursday: Thanksgiving in Mexico City
Frst thing in the morning, Edd went downstairs to check on the van. No break-ins! We already had something to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day. We ventured out of the apartment and onto Mexico City metro.
The metro was a bit of a mosh pit at some times of the day. Avoid if you are a claustrophobe or a germophobe! You will be touching, pushing, or holding onto your neighbor. Unless you are a solo female traveler, in which case you can get on the less crowded female-only cars.
On a park bench by Metro stop Chapultepec, I talked to my family in Michigan. When I told my mom we were in Mexico City, she said “BE SAFE”. Geez I swear, anything that has the word “Mexico” in it is dangerous. I told her we were sitting in front of a Japanese-style pool with crows bouncing around. Then I talked to Aunt Roxy. Miss you guys!
Then we went to the Anthropological Museum of Mexico. It was the first museum we have gone to that had really complete and interesting information about each piece. The curators didn’t hold back. So we not only saw beautiful pristine artifacts, we actually felt like we learned a lot. Some of the pieces, both big and small, really blew my mind. Three hours was not enough time there.
For Thanksgiving dinner, we found ourselves a block off of Paseo Reforma in a Korean restaurant called Surasang. We ordered pork belly slices which we fried for ourselves on the table. It came with nine small dishes (banchan) with pickles, fresh kimchi, dried fish, onions, eggs and other mysterious but yummy vegetables. The food wasn’t traditional, but it felt special.
On the metro back to the apartment that night, we saw young men and women of all ages still wearing suits, ties and polished shoes, and just going home. According to Diego, our Airbnb host, late working hours are the norm.
We were both thankful for the culture (and cuisines) in this cosmopolitan city, but also thankful we weren’t working there!
Friday: We meet up with Lindsay and Gil
We didn’t leave the apartment before noon. Our Airbnb host was at work and we were enjoying the mornings drinking coffee, blogging, and petting the dogs. After noon, the poor pups started to pee all over the apartment. That was our cue to leave.
We went to the western corner of the Parque Alameda, to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum. It has Rivera’s famous 15-foot long mural called “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central”. It portrays a social and chronological history of Mexico. We had seen a replica in the Rivera’s childhood house in Guanajuato, but the real thing was pretty cool.
We found a restaurant with a rooftop terrace called El Mayor to meet Lindsay and husband Gil. The restaurant and bar overlook the Templo Mayor, ancient pre-colonial ruins which had been concealed for centuries by a Spanish church.
Lindsay is a perpetual traveler, and our overlapping travels began in 2004, during our college study-abroad semester in Burgos, Spain. In 2007 she came to visit me in my tiny apartment in Marbella (from which ensued an interesting trip to Morocco). Then in 2011, she bounced down to Mérida, Mexico, where I was finishing up work.
And now, six years later, there she was, stepping off the elevator at El Mayor!
We introduced our husbands, and then drinking was in order.
Lindsay and Gil were in the capital to do a couple of culinary tours. They filled us in on their subversive dating history, secret wedding and their recent travel logs!
For dinner we went to an acclaimed Mexican restaurant, Limosneros. The rims of our cocktails were lined with corn dust, and when the waiters poured the soup from a pitcher into the bowls over corn crouton sculptures. It was the fanciest Mexican restaurant Edd and I had ever been to! Lindsay and Gil treated us. Thanks guys!
Saturday: Downtown and drinking
We all planned to meet up again after their morning food tour. Edd and I did our own tour that morning around the center. We bought beers in an OXXO, stuffed them in coozies from my aunt Maggie, and sat in Alameda Park and watched the skateboarders and rollerbladers roll down the shiny walkways.
Ricky Martin was scheduled to give a free concert that evening in the main plaza, and so most of the streets downtown were closed to traffic. The people wasted no time in filling the vacuum. We walked down the pedestrian Regina Street, where everyone sat outside drinking and chatting.
Did I mention Mexico City was built on a lake? Over the old city of Tenochtitlán. The city was made up of canals, which the Spanish filled in and built roads. Consequently, many of the buildings have sunk over the years, and you can spot them everywhere.
As it grew dark, we veered away from Ricky Martin and popped into our first pulque bar, Pulquería Los Insurgentes. Pulque is a gently fermented agave drink. On our tour in Tequila we learned that the indigenous Mexicans drank it before the Spanish came over and distilled the shit out of agave plants. Now, the milky, fizzy pulque is making a comeback in Mexico, and with flavors, too.
Edd and I ordered two mugs: one with a pine nut (piñón) pulque and the other with a passion fruit (maracuya) one. The pine nut tasted like a sweet and frothy kambucha, while the passion fruit one had slimy globules but was still tart and refreshing.
We met up with Lindsay and Gil at a nearby Loup Bar in the chic streets of the Roma neighborhood, where the specialty is natural wine. We, as proud boxed-wine drinkers, had to be educated about natural wines, which are produced and filtered without the use of chemicals or other additives. (Friends in Saudi Arabia, or those in prison, there’s hope for you yet, haha) We had a delicious sparkling Mexican wine called Pet-Mex.
We followed that with some greasy grub at the very popular chain Casa de Toño, open 24 hours. In just a few blocks, you can go from sipping natural French wines to finger-feeding yourself fried pork skins from plastic bowls. A testament to the diversity in this city.
We said goodbye to those two on the street. It was a spontaneous meetup but I was still sad to see them go! See you two again sometime!
Sunday: Festival del Bosque de Chapultepec
The huge Bosque de Chapultepec Park, encompasses a castle, a zoo, and several museums. It was hosting some free events this week for its annual festival.
Sunday was a great day to go there too, not just because it was packed with children getting their faces painted and eating various forms of sugar. Sundays also mean, like in most Mexican cities, the museums offer free admission.
We started at the Modern Art Museum, and loved the “Scenes of the Mexican Identity” collection. The art was grouped by theme, so you can compare Frida Kahlo’s painting of fruit with Olga Costa’s, with Diego Rivera’s ink drawing of a boy eating a taco.
Outside, we watched a small carnaval-style parade, with groups representing what appears to be the diifferent demographics of the city. There were Columbians, Indonesians, and even a few young kids representing Kenya.
Later, we caught Los Voladores outside of the Anthropology Museum. These four guys tie themselves to the top of huge pole, then let go, spinning slowly around the pole as they “fly” down. One of them plays a flute. They put on a show every hour! And they happily (and deservedly) accept tips.
Afterwards, we visited the Rufino Tamayo Museum. One large exhibit was of cut-out shapes sticking out of walls. We were pretty happy we didn’t pay for the entrance. The best thing was a temporary exhibition of photos taken of Macchu Picchu in the early 1900s gave Edd and I a little inspiration for our voyage.
Monday: Bugging people and Bugs
Monday means everyone goes back to work. That means people in bad moods.
Edd went downstairs to check on the van, and a resident from the apartment was standing there, very angry about where we were parked. Edd thought he understood, “This is for visitors”. He explained that we were also visitors, threw up his hands, and walked away.
Diego messaged me and asked if we could move it, just to avoid problems. Apparently she’d threatened to call a tow truck or “ponchar” our tires (that’s the Mexican verb for it). We weren’t actually blocking anyone’s exit, but I later deduced that she may have been telling Edd that we were in her “vista” (she couldn’t see around our van when she was pulling out).
Trying to be nice guests, we walked to two paid parking lots in the surrounding blocks. One was full, and the other one wanted 500 pesos a day. So we asked Diego to tell his neighbor that we’d only be there for two more days. Our big van does not conform to tiny little city standards of beauty. It’s ok, girl, we understand you.
Mondays in Mexico also means that museums are shut, so Edd insisted we go to the market. He was on the hunt for one thing: edible insects.
Mexico City’s big Market, El Mercado de la Merced, is a huge, messy funhouse. Disoriented (and distracted) wanderers like us can only navigate by way of the numbered doors or entrances (puertas), which lead into passageways which disect the market from east to west.
We managed to find a place which Lindsay recommended, “Moles Balbis”. As soon as we rounded her stall she had plastic spoons heaped with smoky and tangy mole samples flying in and out of our hands. Add soup stock or water, and these become the base for rich chocolatey sauces for meat, eggs, or veggies.
We couldn’t resist. We bought a bag of mole almendrada made with almonds, a powdered pipián made with pumpkin-seeds, and a bag of irresistible ajonjolí garapiñada, candied sesame seeds.
Now back to the insects. We had passed a guy with jugs of insects on our way in, but we left to find an ATM and forgot how to get back to him. Now we were lost, and no one knew anything about some guy selling insects. People said, “Bugs are not in season now” or “You can only get them in the morning from the little old ladies”. We did eventually find a few elderly women selling grasshoppers! But the specialty stuff looked like a lost cause.
Finally, after many loops around the maze of stalls, we found the guy again (“Enrique”. Perimeter near Puerta 11, Nave Mayor). Phew. He had whole beetles, ant eggs, fermented fish roe, dried worms, whole dried frog, and fly larvae. Mmmmm. My mouth was just watering. With vomit.
Edd asked for a variety pack. I think this guy knew how precious his creatures were because 50 pesos didn’t buy us much. I think there were two beetles, six worms, three or four ant eggs… well, it’s not like you can pick these right off the ground or anything!
Edd liked them all and even convinced me to take a bite of everything. We decided the beetles tasted best, and the worms were actually like potato chips!
By the way, if you are looking to eat a non-buggy lunch, go to the western side of the market on the perimeter. It is lined with stalls selling fresh grilled food, even late into the afternoon.
We ended the evening out in the Zócalo and the Mexico City Cathedral.
Tuesday: Palacio Nacional
On our last day in the center, we did one of the top “to-dos”: visit the Palacio Nacional. It is a beautiful building with quiet gardens(although some of the floors appear to have sloped into its former lake) and several large, detailed Diego Rivera Murals. Plus, it’s always free to go in.
We had to make the obligatory canal boat ride on the canals of Xochimilco, or as they’re more romantically referred to, The Floating Gardens. Xochimilco is on the southern edge of Mexico City, and you can get there by taking the metro and light rail!
But we were on our way out and we drove there. We said goodbye to the doggies at our Airbnb and moved back into the van.
There are several ports, or embarcaderos, around Xochimilco where you can hire someone to guide you around the canals on the colorful wooden trajineras. We headed to a Embarcadero Nativitas, because we saw there was a huge parking lot there where we planned to stay that night.
It took us a while to figure out how to contract a captain without being ripped off, because lots of men approached us with offers. A guy named Oscar offered to take us for two hours for 700 pesos. We got on the Viva Lupita. He handed the money to the dispatcher, who then took the peso notes in his right hand and made the sign of the cross. Then he gave our little boat a push and we were off!
It was a very pleasant afternoon. A few more hours, with a few more friends, with a few more beers would have made it great. The Mexicans knew how to do it right. You get up to 20 friends together, bring lunch and a couple of crates of beer, and it’s a cheap outing.
We stayed that night in the parking lot like we had planned, but it got pretty creepy when all the visitors left. At 4:30 AM someone knocked on the van door and asked Edd for money. Yes, Edd was sleepy and later realized it might not have been safe to open our door! We were a bit spooked and we didn’t sleep too well after that.
Thursday: Oops, it’s a Thursday
Remember when I said that we weren’t allowed to drive on a Thursday? Well, we woke up and realized that we were still technically in Mexico City and under the same “no driving” laws. But we sure as hell weren’t sleeping another night in that lot, so we planned an inconspicuous route out of Xochimilco.
But just as we passed the city limit sign, there was a police checkpoint. And boy, did those boys flag us down. An officer walked up to either side of our van. But we were smart this time and rolled up the passenger side window, forcing them to speak only to Edd.
“You cannot drive today!” The officer said, showing us the “Hoy No Circula” chart. He said he would have to impound the car.
We were really sweet to him, pretended we didn’t understand Spanish, and played into the confusion regarding the rules.
“But this is not really in Mexico City! But it’s past 11 AM! But we are a foreign vehicle! But we have a Mexican import permit!”
Finally a second officer came. He practiced his cute English with Edd, asking him about fútbol. He glanced over our import permit papers, said that they had made some mistake over the hour, and waved us on. Whether or not he told us the truth, we still don’t really know.
Mexico City was exhilarating until the very moment we left.