The Mexico City Chronicles

Welcome to the (almost) daily journal of my experience living in Mexico City. While CDMX is pretty similar to many American cities, it does have its share of unique challenges and cultural peculiarities. Keep checking back over the next month or three as I share bits from everyday life navigating a new city in a new country.

Day 81: Final dispatch: It’s almost over
Saturday, March 25

Three months in Mexico City went by so fast. On Tuesday morning, I fly to Pittsburgh, where I’ll stay for a few days before heading back to Chicago for the month of April, before heading off on another series of adventures to be announced soon. So this is my last post on the journal of life in Mexico City.

It’s not possible to summarize my entire experience in a short blog entry. But the bottom line is that I loved my time here. It was just like being in a big American city, with the added bonus of getting to speak Spanish, eat Mexican food, and experience the culture and history of the region. Oh, and it was much cheaper than being in the U.S.

in the zocalo

I’ll be continuing my Mexico City Photo of the Day series on Instagram for at least a couple more weeks, since I have a backlog of awesome pics to publish. So keep following me there for more CDMX goodness.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. In fact, I am doing it again. I’ll be back here in Mexico City in May for at least a few more weeks. I could easily see myself living here. Perhaps someday I will.

Day 78: Street art mania
Wednesday, March 22

I realized that I’ve been posting a lot of street art photos on my Instagram, but not so many here on the blog. So here goes. Most of these came from Coyoacan and Roma Norte, two of the city’s best neighborhoods for street art.

street-art-cdmx

flowers-street-art

frida-street-art

doctores-street-art

si-senor-street-art

building-street-art

mexico-city-faces

Day 75: The building is shaking
Sunday, March 19

I’m back in an apartment that sways in the wind.

The first time this happened was at the beginning of January. I was sitting on the bed when suddenly I felt the building start to sway for a few seconds. I worried that we were having an earthquake, since earthquakes are very common in Mexico and there have been a few infamous ones over the past century in Mexico City.

I checked the reliable site I bookmarked for Mexico earthquake information, but it didn’t list anything for Mexico City.

When the swaying returned in the next day or two, I realized it was probably just the way the building was constructed. Allow it to move a few inches so that it’s not rigid and can remain upright when an actual earthquake occurs.

That seems to be the case with my new apartment also. Secretly, I’ve always wanted to feel a (minor) earthquake, since I never have. But now that I’m on the 5th floor, I’ll be happy to leave town without having that experience.

Day 71: American fast food in Mexico
Wednesday, March 15

I love enchiladas, quesadillas, and chilaquiles, but every now and then I need some fries and a crispy chicken sandwich. Roughly once a week (usually after my exhausting Sunday volleyball match), I get a craving for American fast food.

So over the course of my nine weeks here, I’ve had the chance to try most of the American fast food chains once. Here now are my reviews of how these places stack up with their U.S. counterparts.

Wendy’s: Wendy’s seems to be the least popular U.S. fast food chain here, at least based on the lack of stores around the city. I’ve only seen two. I tried one yesterday and their menu is mostly the same as back home. This is the only restaurant I’ve seen anywhere in Mexico City that serves chili, so bonus points for that.

wendys mexico city

They do have a couple of extra local dishes, like jalapeno poppers. I tried bacon cheese fries, and those did not measure up. The bacon was undercooked, the cheese was some odd neon-colored concoction, and the fries were soft, mushy, and bland, as compared with the crispy, skin-covered fries from the U.S. Wendy’s was a fail.

Burger King: One cool thing about BK Mexico is they have a big list of things you can add to your burger for an extra 20 pesos, such as jalapenos and pineapple.

Yes, pineapple. That fruit is big in Mexico. You see Hawaiian pizzas and al pastor (pork with pineapple) tacos everywhere. BK also has little packets of liquid cheese in addition to ketchup packets. I wasn’t brave enough to try them.

KFC: Chicken legs, chicken strips, biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy. A lot about KFC Mexico is the same as KFC U.S. What’s different? Rice is available as a side. The size of the sides is way smaller. And condiments include jalapeno sauce (no idea what that is) and marmalade. Strange!

kfc mexico sauce packets

Domino’s & Pizza Hut: The pizza at Domino’s is very cheap. Domino’s has kiosks in some subway stations where you can buy an individual pepperoni pizza for 20 pesos ($1 USD) or get a combo with chips and a drink for 35 pesos ($1.75 US.) What a deal!

The only bad thing is their pepperoni smells and tastes weird. It’s definitely different from the American meat. Pizza Hut, though, is exactly the same, so Pizza Hut wins this taste test.

McDonald’s: I think I ate here once but I don’t remember much about it. McDonald’s is my least favorite fast food, and my experience here was no different. The one good thing about Mexican fast food is the price. You can get a basic combo here with a sandwich, drink, and fries for 45 pesos ($2.25 U.S.)

Subway: If you get a combo with the Subway sandwich of the day, you can eat for less than $3 US. I don’t eat here often, because I don’t trust that most the veggies in Mexico have been washed with safe, filtered water. And without veggies, a Subway sub is quite lame. So when I do eat here, I usually get a pizza sub, which doesn’t require any additional veggies.

Quizno’s: I couldn’t believe it when I saw a Quizno’s. It always feels like this chain is about to go out of business in the U.S., so how could they exist in Mexico City? I stopped by once, the place was empty, the prices were too high, and the sandwich was terrible, over-toasted and sauce-deficient.

Carl’s Jr: I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a Carl’s Jr in the U.S., so I have nothing to compare it to. But I will say this was the most expensive fast food option around. The cheapest sandwich on the menu still runs about $3 U.S., while most are closer to $5. I think I spent almost $10 U.S. for a meal here, which is very high, although I got a milkshake, so that boosted the total.

Overall, I guess my favorite would be Burger King, mainly because of the onion rings and cheap burgers. Subway is reliable. But for the most part, I still prefer enchiladas verdes.

Day 67: Ricky Martin and homemade spaghetti
Saturday, March 11

I just realized it’s been a full week since I’ve eaten Mexican food. Shame! But I have good reasons.

First, I got sick again. Ugh. Like last time, I don’t know if it was food poisoning or maybe just getting contaminated ice in a drink, or even just swallowing a drop of water in the shower. Quien sabe? I’ve been careful about my diet. But for two whole days I was unable to eat, and then when I started to get better, I ate simple foods like chicken broth and saltines.

The good news is that my current Airbnb apartment is my favorite yet. It’s right in the heart of the nightlife area, so music is pumping all day from the bars, starting around 1 pm. I’m listening mostly to Latin music these days since that’s what I hear everywhere. Tracks that I’m currently jamming include “Vente Pa Ca” by Ricky Martin (he’s still popular here!) and “Chantaje” by Shakira (she’s still popular here!)

My current apartment has a kitchen, so for the first time in weeks I am able to cook. That’s the other reason I haven’t had Mexican food lately. I’ve been making spaghetti and other simple, cheap dishes. I tried making a vegetable hash from potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and onions. It worked out ok (it tasted better than it looked.)

potato hash

I only have 17 more days in Mexico! I don’t know where the time has gone. As I speak, I’m about to go eat some enchiladas for dinner. It’s been too long!

Day 64: Seeing the city from above at Torre Latinoamerica
Wednesday, March 8

At 44 stories, Torre Latinoamerica is the second-tallest building in Mexico City. It qualifies as a skyscraper in a city without many tall buildings due to earthquake concerns. Torre Latinoamerica survived powerful quakes in 1957 and 1985 so it considered one of the stronger structures in the city.

A few of its upper floors serve as a Mirador, or lookout point. Tourists can take the elevator up and get good views of the city in every direction. Even with the smog, you can see neighborhoods throughout the city and even some distant mountains.

A few shots from the Mirador of Torre Latinoamerica from my recent visit:

cdmx from above

bellas artes from above

zocalo from above

mirador interior

traffic from above

Day 61: La lluvia esta aqui!
Sunday, March 5

On the 60th day, it rained. I went two full months in Mexico City without seeing a drop of rain, but finally the other day (two days in a row, in fact), we got some showers. Nothing big, but it made me happy to see some actual weather. I shouldn’t complain about highs between 72-76 every day, but I enjoy when the weather varies from time to time.

Umbrella sighting!

umbrella

Thankfully, I made it through my four days at this apartment mosquito-free and I slept great. Today, I move on to a new place, right in the heart of the busy nightlife section of town, right above a bar, on a street that currently has ongoing construction. I’m not sure how much sleep I will be getting, but I will enjoy being in the middle of the action for a while.

Day 58: Airbnb drama caused me to eat an entire cantaloupe for breakfast
Thursday, March 2

I’ve been sharing the fun and glamorous aspects of life in Mexico City, but there have been some irritating challenges as well. In two of my five apartments so far, I’ve dealt with mosquito problems. They buzz in my ears and keep me up when I’m trying to sleep.

Yesterday I moved into a new Airbnb in the hipster ‘hood of Roma Norte. I love this area. I walked around after dinner and was so happy to be here. I walked to the grocery and bought food for the next two weeks.

roma norte

And then night time came, and I managed a measly 2 hours of sleep. Every time I turned out the lights, a mosquito would buzz in my ears and wake me up. Then I would bolt out of bed, turn on the lights, and spend the next 10 minutes hunting it down. This happened four times before I gave up at 4 am and just decided it was time to start my day.

I’m paying a lot for this place. I have the whole apartment to myself. This was my splurge. This was the place I decided to overspend on so that I could relax and enjoy this awesome neighborhood.

But now the thought of spending the next two weeks battling with bugs 24/7 is something I can’t bear. So I’m getting out. I booked two new places to cover the next two weeks, ate the Airbnb cancellation fee, and I’m packing up and heading out at 10 am.

My next place, unfortunately, is much smaller, and it’s a shared apartment with others. So I can’t take with me all the food I bought yesterday since there won’t be space in the new fridge.

For that reason, I’m scarfing down as much food as I can this morning. Like that entire cantaloupe. It was actually delicious and I don’t feel bad about eating the whole thing. For food safety reasons I haven’t been eating many fruits and vegetables down here, so my body is probably delighted to have the nutrients. I also had to chug a bottle of juice and eat two paletas.

I just hope that my remaining four apartments over the final four weeks will be pest-free.

Day 56: Chapultepec Castle
Tuesday, February 28

I made my second visit to Chapultepec Castle this week. It’s a fascinating place. I decided this place was worth an entire separate post, so click to read about Chapultepec Castle and see lots of great photos.

chapultepec-castle

Day 53: Hipster heaven in Roma Norte
Saturday, February 25

I’ve always been most at home in hipster neighborhoods full of record stores, piercing shops, independent coffee shops, street art, and the like. So it’s shameful that it took me so long to spend a day in the Roma Norte area, which fits that description perfectly.

In less than five minutes walking around the area, I felt at home. Erin and I went into three record stores, a vegan chocolate shop, a book store, and a health food cafe where we got an awesome lunch (avocado and tomato wrap with pesto). I’ve decided to move here for the final two weeks of my Mexico City stay next month.

record store roma norte

cafe roma

Speaking of which… yes, my time here will be ending on March 29. I’m headed back to Chicago for about a month, followed by a week-long trip to Florida (details coming soon). I may return to Mexico City in mid-May for another month, but that is still up in the air. I’m definitely not ready to leave, but I still have a lot of time to explore.

Day 50: Witnessing Mexican military exercises
Wednesday, February 22

Today was my most epic sightseeing day yet. My friend Erin is visiting for a few days, so we headed to El Centro to see the major attractions, including Palacio Nacional.

Palacio Nacional is a hugely important building in the center of the city. The President of Mexico doesn’t live here, but he does have offices inside. There are also offices here for the Federal Treasury and the National Archives.

The main reason tourists come is to see the massive murals painted decades ago by Diego Rivera. We arrived around 4 pm, and that just happened to be when the Mexican military was rehearsing some kind of routine inside the palace. One group of soldiers played drums and trumpets, while another just stood in place with their guns.

mexican military

military drummers

It was interesting that they let those of us with the pink “tourista” badges just wander around while the military performed these exercises. The murals were impressive too, although it took some effort to force myself to focus on the art after witnessing the big military exercise.

diego rivera mural

Day 47: I visited a puebla called Puebla
Sunday, February 19

Yesterday I took another day trip by bus, this time to the city of Puebla. It’s a city of nearly 2 million people, located two hours east of Mexico City. Lunch was a delicious plate of taquitos and enchiladas con mole.

taquitos enchiladas mole

My favorite things about Puebla were the city center and the massive sidewalk markets which went for blocks and blocks. My friend found some socks for less than a dollar. I wanted a ball cap, since I’ve been getting a bit of sunburn lately. I ended up finding a plain red and tan hat from a vendor on the street for 40 pesos, or $2 U.S. That’s crazy cheap. Even if I only wear it a couple times, I will get my money’s worth.

puebla sidewalk market

Puebla was a short trip, but it was a good time.

On a more disappointing note, my attempts to stalk Conan O’Brien while he’s in Mexico have been failing to a spectacular degree. On Saturday, he spent the day walking through my neighborhood of Coyoacan, literally a few blocks from my apartment. That’s the day I went out of town. So I missed him. Fail!

Then today, when I was playing volleyball in Parque Pilares, Conan was playing soccer on the field right next to mine. I didn’t even realize he was there. When I got home, I saw this video. I am one of the people playing volleyball in the court just over his left shoulder. I am an idiot for missing this opportunity. I don’t think meeting Conan was meant to be.

Conan and fútbol star Giovani dos Santos

Posted by Conan O'Brien Presents: Team Coco on Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 44: Conan is here!
Thursday, February 16

Conan O’Brien is now here to shoot his special Mexico City episode. He landed last night at the airport and I assume will spend the day at hotspots around the city for the remote segments that are always a big part of these shows.

I love Conan and I was seriously considering hanging out in the Zocalo all day until he inevitably shows up there. But then I thought, what if I go down to the Zocalo and he comes here to my neighborhood of Coyoacan instead to see the traditional markets?

So I’m just going to go about my day as normal. As much as I would love to stalk him and have a #ConanMexico encounter, I’ll probably just have to wait for the episode to air on tv like everyone else.

Day 43: One of my best days yet
Wednesday, February 15

Yesterday might have been my best day in Mexico so far.

I spent it entirely in my current neighborhood of Coyoacan, which is like a traditional little town that somehow exists inside the 22-million metropolis of Mexico City.

Having already visited the community’s top tourist attraction, the Frida Kahlo House, I decided to spend the morning at the Trotsky Museum. Leon Trotsky was a Russian Marxist revolutionary who was exiled when Stalin took power in the 1920s.

trostky museum

He eventually settled here in Coyoacan, where he lived until a Stalin-hired assassin killed him with an ice pick in 1940. His house was preserved as a museum. Guests can walk through every room of the house, including the study, where Trotsky was attacked while sitting at this very desk.

trostky desk killed

Museum cost: $2.75 U.S.

Following the museum visit, I walked around the central plaza looking for lunch. I considered going back to my favorite spot for enchiladas verdes, but I wanted to be adventurous and find somewhere new.

I ended up at this great quesadilla stand where they make the quesadillas right in front of you. The woman grabs a hunk of dough, presses it, inserts the fillings of your choice (cheese and refried beans for me), seals it, and drops it into boiling oil.

making enchiladas

A few minutes later, lunch is served. It may not look spectacular, but it was delicious. And super cheap. Lunch cost, including drink and tip: $3 U.S.

freshly made enchilada

I stopped at my favorite paleta shop for a chocolate ice cream treat. Cost: $1.50 U.S. Then continued through the market, coming across strange and cool products like these Frida Kahlo shoes. If only they had my size!

frida kahlo shoes

Later in the evening, after eating a quick dinner at home, I was wasting time online when I decided that spending time in the central square would be more fun. So I walked over there, bought a churro filled with chocolate cream (cost: 85 U.S. cents), and took a seat in the plaza.

After a bit of people watching, a large group of elaborately-dressed people began a performance that went on for an hour. They danced, banged drums, and lit herbs on fire. I’m guessing it was some sort of tribal or traditional ritual. It was entertaining for sure.

Total cost for the day: About 165 pesos ($8.10 in U.S. dollars) for lunch, two snacks, and a museum visit. That is a quality day right there.

Day 42: Subway adventures
Tuesday, February 14

Things that once seemed daunting, like taking the subway, are now old hat. At first, I took Uber everywhere since it’s dirt cheap here ($4.50 US for a 30-minute ride across the city), but now like a local I’ve switched mostly to the subway to save money.

subway street art

A train ride is a mere 5 pesos (25 cents US), so over the next several weeks I can save quite a bit of cash by sticking to the Metro. Some subways have good food options too. At one stop, I saw the cheapest food I have seen yet: a street food vendor offered 5 tacos plus a Coke for 20 pesos (96 U.S. cents).

Domino’s has subway stations at many stops. They offer an individual pepperoni pizza plus a drink for 35 pesos ($1.75 U.S.) On occasion, when I’m hungry and want a cheap snack, I will stop by and grab one.

Day 39: Familiar foods abound
Saturday, February 11

When I visited Cuba, it was almost impossible to find groceries or supplies. In Centro Habana, at least, I never did locate a grocery store or pharmacy. I found a fruit market, a few bar/restaurants, and that was it.

I had wondered if the same might be true for Mexico City, but it most certainly is not. All three neighborhoods I’ve lived in so far have a Superama grocery store with all the essentials.

superama mexico city

They sell lots of Mexican foods, but also American foods like cans of Hormel chili, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (limited flavor selection) and even rice milk! I never expected to find rice milk in Mexico City. Superama is the only store I’ve seen it in. But it’s here.

Which is great news for me and my cereal. Speaking of which, get a load of this!

chocoblast strawberrylicious crunch

All-chocolate and all-strawberry versions of Cap’n Crunch! Who knew these existed? This is breakfast cereal heaven. At the pharmacy I even found a special dermatologist shampoo that I use for my scalp. Basically everything that exists in the U.S. can be found in stores here. Except for Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. Haven’t seen those yet. But who needs those when you’ve got paletas?

Day 37: Perception vs. reality
Thursday, February 9

It’s time to tackle the subject of the perceptions people have of Mexico City. This city has taken a lot of criticism over the years, but the city I have seen is not much like its reputation.

Dirty? Not more than any other big city.

Smoggy? Didn’t notice at all until I left the city on weekend trips and saw a layer of haze in front of the mountains.

cdmx skyline

Lots of people? True. Traffic is bad, and the subway and express buses can get so busy during rush hours that people are packed in like sardines. Fortunately, public transportation here is excellent, and subway trains come every 3-4 minutes so there’s never much waiting.

Dangerous? Not particularly. Some neighborhoods are worse than others, and like any other city, you avoid those spots. Pickpockets are evidently a big thing on public transit, but being alert and vigilant goes a long way.

mexico city plaza

The metro area of 22 million people is among the largest in the world. Mexico City has its share of crime and poverty, like any other place. But it’s also very modern (recycling and composting bins in city parks, yoga and pilates studios around town), has a burgeoning food scene (my neighborhood has tons of upscale restaurants, bakeries, and cupcake shops), and tourism here is exploding.

Here’s a great writeup about Mexico City published recently in the New York Times that nicely summarizes how the city has changed. The NYT named Mexico City its #1 place worth visiting in 2016, by the way:
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/28/travel/mexico-city-culture-childhood-new-awakening.html

Day 35: Street art and awesome paletas in Coyoacan
Tuesday, February 7

I am now in Airbnb apartment #3 for my Mexico City stay. This one is in Coyoacan. It’s a traditional neighborhood with more families and fewer tourists (except for the hundreds who come to the bustling Coyoacan market on the weekends.) It’s also the home of the famed Frida Kahlo Museum.

There are so many colorful houses and so much street art here that I want to spend an entire day walking around photographing all the colors.

street art cdmx

I’ve been eating paletas for years, since the Mexican grocery stores in Chicago all have them. These are ice cream treats on a stick. The paletas in Mexico City are wayyyy better than the ones back home. Much more rich and creamy. And the flavors they have here are incredible.

Most places that sell paletas have a few standard flavors: nuez (pecan), fresa (strawberry), and galleta (cookies & cream) among them. Helados Y Paletas Gloria in Coyoacan has a ridiculous number of flavors, including delights such as pistachio, caramel, lemon pie, and chocolate-vanilla swirl.

They even have a cheesecake paleta! Who knew that cheesecake paletas were a thing?

cheesecake paleta

Covered in graham cracker dust, this thing is so rich, like a real slice of cheesecake, that I almost couldn’t finish it in one sitting. Rest assured, you’ll be hearing much more about paletas in the coming days.

Day 33: Mi español no es bueno
Sunday, February 5

Before I arrived in Mexico City, I assumed that my basic Spanish-speaking abilities would increase to near-fluent levels within the first month. I figured I would be so immersed in the culture that the language would seep into me easily.

So much for that idea. I’ve picked up some new words, but my overall level of Spanish communication has barely improved. This is mainly because I’ve been speaking English everywhere. All of my Airbnb hosts speak English. The friends who have visited from home and the other Americans I’ve met here speak English. I’ve even gone on a few dates and met a handful of locals, but they all speak English too.

palacio espanol

I’ve tried apps, YouTube videos, and Spanish-to-English guidebooks without much luck so far. I’m going to have to start forcing people to talk to me in Spanish. Necesito aprender ahora!

Day 31: Pineapple tamales for the win!
Friday, February 3

Yesterday was another random discovery on Jana’s last day in town as we came across a Tamale Festival outside the Museum of Cultures in Coyoacan. Dozens of vendors representing various regions of Mexico were on hand to sell tamales and hot fruit drinks that are native to that area.

I had imagined buying 4 or 5 to get a good cross-section of flavors, but they were much bigger than expected, so two was plenty. I went with a Oaxacan tamale filled with chicken and salsa verde, and a dessert tamale with pineapple and raisins. Stumbling across random stuff like this is one of my favorite things about Mexico City.

mexico city tamale festival

pineapple tamale

Day 29: Volleyball in the sun
Wednesday, February 1

I forgot sunburn was a thing that happens. I played volleyball for two hours yesterday in the park and now I’m red.

In my first month in Mexico City, I’ve gotten very little sun. Not because the weather isn’t nice – it’s been in the 70s every day, and there hasn’t been a single drop of rain since my arrival.

But my neighborhood has a lot of tree-lined sidewalks and parks that keep the sun’s rays from reaching my skin. In addition to that, many places in the city have tall buildings that block out the sun most of the time. So I never even bothered buying sunscreen because it hadn’t been necessary. Oops.

As for the volleyball, it’s a weird bastardized version of the game. The locals play in cement courts in outdoor parks. They like to play 3-on-3 rather than 6-on-6. Weirdest of all, they allow the ball to bounce once on each side. Typically, after the first pass, the setter lets the ball bounce before setting up the hitter.

mexico city volleyball

It’s taking some time to get used to playing this way, but I will keep showing up every weekend. I need to stay sharp because I want to play in some volleyball tournaments once I return to the U.S. The overall skill level here is decent. I’m better than most of the people who show up each weekend, but there are some skilled players who provide a challenge.

It’s really hard to find volleyball in this city, so I’m glad I located this weekly game. For anyone reading who is searching Google for “Mexico City volleyball,” as I was after arriving in the city, pickup games are played on Saturdays and Sundays at Parque Pilares starting around noon, sometimes earlier. I was also told games are played on weekends at Parque Bicentenario near Polanco, but I haven’t been there yet myself.

Day 27: The prettiest dangerous neighborhood you will ever see
Monday, January 30

This weekend I took another bus trip, this one to the nearby town of Toluca with Chrys from Women Digital Nomads. Toluca wasn’t the most exciting city in the world but it did have a botanical garden with some eye-popping stained glass art on the walls and the ceiling.

cosmovitral

After a stroll through the town center past a bunch of street performers and sidewalk vendors, we headed over to a hillside neighborhood where all the houses were painted pretty pastel colors. It was one of the cutest Mexican neighborhoods I’ve seen yet. And also one of the most dangerous.

Two blocks in, a group of guys sitting on the front stoop warned us we should turn around because the area was full of guns and thieves. An elderly lady passed by and told us with urgency in her voice to leave. So we did. How can a neighborhood this pretty be so dangerous?

retama toluca colorful houses

retama houses

Turns out the city of Toluca created a project to beautify this Retama neighborhood to make it less depressing and scary. In doing so, they unwittingly made it attractive to unsuspecting tourists. Apparently Uber drivers won’t even go up there. Fortunately the friendly residents keep an eye out for oblivious light-skinned outsiders who may wander through.

I had planned to get a photo of myself in front of every color house, but since we had to depart the area in expedient fashion, I did not have the opportunity. Just pretend this photo also has green, blue, red, and orange squares.

colored walls

Day 25: Lucha libre wrestling madness
Saturday, January 28

I neglected to write about the lucha libre wrestling matches I attended a few days back. Lucha libre is the Mexican wrestling style in which most of the competitors wear masks and capes and perform high-flying aerial manuevers. For just a few bucks, you can attend the matches and get a firsthand look at the action.

fuego lucha libre

My friend and I splurged for expensive seats ($8 each), which put us in the 7th row. They found obvious ways to make it clear who were the good guys and the bad guys. Like having the one American wrestler carry a Donald Trump flag to the ring. Needless to say, he was the super villain of the evening.

sam adonis flag

From the crowd chants and whistling to the mask shops outside the arena which did heavy business, it was cool seeing this part of Mexican culture.

lucha libre

Day 23: Volcanoes and pyramids!
Thursday, January 26

Behold, the largest pyramid in the world!

cholula great pyramid

I spent the last two days with my friend Jana on a trip to the town of Cholula, 60 miles east of Mexico City. We caught the bus over there for $14 roundtrip. The photo shows the Great Pyramid of Cholula. It wasn’t discovered until the 1880s because it was buried, and most of it remains underground.

With a base of 1480 x 1480 feet, the Cholula pyramid has the largest volume (4.45 million cubic meters) of any pyramid in the world. That’s double the volume of Egypt’s Giza, even though at 217 feet it’s only half as tall. It was abandoned in the 8th century and eventually became overgrown to look like a natural mountain.

cholula pyramid

The church on top of the hill was built in the 16th century by the Spanish, who had no idea they were building atop a pyramid.

cholula church

Because the church has become a historic landmark, the pyramid underneath it can never be fully excavated, but workers continue to explore tunnels and portions of the pyramid around the edge. It was cool to get to stand on part of the biggest pyramid on the planet.

What else does Cholula have? A welcome sign for the state of Puebla.

puebla sign

And great views of two nearby volcanoes. As we were viewing Popocatepetl (elevation 17,800 feet) from the church atop the pyramid, it shot off a big plume of smoke. How cool to see a volcano in its active state!

popocatepetl volcano

Day trips to nearby towns are fun. It’s always interesting to enjoy the vibe of smaller cities for a while. I plan to do much more of this type of travel while I’m here.

Day 20: A kooky toy museum!
Monday, January 23

I had occasion to visit the Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico the other day. It’s a museum for antique toys located in a former house that has been converted into a museum with four floors and numerous rooms of toys from decades ago.

Rooms are dedicated to Legos, Hello Kitty, Luche Libre wrestling, Barbie, board games, model planes, and pretty much every other type of toy you can imagine. Some of the toys were Mexican and some were American, including lots of toys that I never knew existed, like an Andy Warhol-inspired Barbie doll in which Barbie wears a Campbell’s Soup dress!

I’ll have a more in-depth post in the weeks to come. Here’s a quick preview:

Day 18: What’s cheap in Mexico City? Fruit, Uber, and Airbnb
Saturday, January 21

When I came to Mexico in 2009, the exchange rate was $1 US = 11 pesos. Now, the rate is $1 US = 21 pesos. So my purchasing power is almost double what it was seven years ago. Good for me, not so good for the locals.

mexican bills

The neighborhood I’m currently staying in is fairly upscale, so prices are only moderately below what they are back home. A few areas where there’s a major difference in cost: produce (avocados cost about 55 cents each), Uber (a 30-minute ride across town is less than $5), and Airbnb.

A room on Airbnb runs around $20/night on average for a nice place, and as little as $9-11 per night for bare bones lodging. I’m bouncing between the two extremes to stay on budget and so far it’s working out well. Tomorrow I move in to my new place.

Day 16: Churros and button-down shirts
Thursday, January 19

Now feeling better and with another friend in town, I did some more exploring of the Condesa neighborhood today, ending up at Churros del Centro. Each churro here is 6 pesos, which works out to 30 cents in U.S. money. That’s insanely cheap!

churros

I also bought a button-down shirt at Woolworth (yes, this store still exists here) on sale for $7 US. The only long-sleeve attire I brought with me is a hoodie and a flannel, and nobody here wears either of those. When they go out at night, the vibe is “smart casual” and they wear button-down shirts or sweaters. So I’ve been feeling like a slob anytime I go to a bar. That problem has now been resolved.

Since I haven’t yet had a chance to make it out to the suburbs to the malls with H&M and other decent clothing stores, the Woolworth shirt will suffice for now. Just don’t tell anyone that’s where I bought it. Shhh!

Day 15: It’s a Netflix week
Wednesday, January 18

I want to post an update about life in Mexico, but there’s not much to say since the last one. I’m still sick, but feeling better and starting to eat again. In another day or two I hope to be back to normal. Both friends who came to visit over the weekend also got sick. Yeesh.

I’ve been watching a lot of NFL Network and Netflix while lying in bed. I’m taking in a lot of standup comedy specials and re-watching the greatest sitcom of all-time, the British version of The Office. That’s pretty much the extent of my activities this week, except for two trips to the convenience store for Gatorade, soup broth, and crackers. It’s very easy to find everything I need here, in terms of medications and drug store necessities.

Day 13: Bedridden
Monday, January 16

I guess my post from last week about food safety was a jinx. I’ve spent the past 48 hours dealing with a hideous stomach bug of some sort. Getting very sick on my third day in the Philippines and now my 12th day in Mexico is disheartening. I hope this is just bad luck rather than something that will continually plague me on future international travel endeavors.

I’m starting to feel a little better. The plan for tomorrow is chicken broth and crackers.

Day 11: Aztec artifacts and such
Saturday, January 14

I haven’t done a ton of touristy stuff since I’ve been here, but that changed yesterday when a couple friends from Chicago came to visit. We headed off to the Anthropology Museum, widely considered the most impressive museum in the city.

It features exhibits and artifacts from various areas of Mexico, dating back several thousand years. I will eventually write a much longer blog post about this place, but for now here are a few pics of the place, which costs a whole 70 pesos ($3.50 US) to enter.

anthropology museum

mexico images

mexico artifacts

mammoth mural

Day 9: Grasshopper lunch
Thursday, January 12

When I saw the giant plate of toasted grasshoppers last week at the Coyoacan market, I realized that at some point I would have to try them.

That day was yesterday, when I went to Aguamiel restaurant. A friend ordered the chapulines (a bowl of grasshoppers meant to be eaten in tacos with guacamole) and I took a sample. They were surprisingly chewy rather than crunchy. They were very salty and had a heavy lime flavor.

chapulines grasshoppers

This was my first time eating insects and I don’t know if I would try chapulines again. They were not my favorite. The same goes for mezcal, a local spirit on par with tequila. I had mezcal for the first time last night and found it too strong and bitter. Oh well. I don’t have to like every Mexican delicacy. I’m still onboard with chilaquiles, cochinita pibil, pulque, and michelada.

Day 7: On water and fruits
Tuesday, January 10

You can’t drink the water here, so like many people in this area, my host gets office-sized water cooler jugs delivered. Before meals I pump out fresh water from the jug.

water jugs mexico

Since I’m not eager to repeat my Philippine food poisoning experience from last summer, I am taking great care deciding which fruits and veggies to eat here. For safety reasons I’m trying to stick to things that have a protective peel, like avocados, bananas, oranges, and pineapple.

Going out to eat makes things trickier. It’s not really possible to avoid all fresh produce unless you’re going to be a maniac and request that they remove them from every dish. So I’ve resigned myself to occasionally getting lettuce on my burritos and onions on my chilaquiles. I’m willing to cross my fingers and live with the risk.

Day 6: Winter is here
Monday, January 9

Those who imagine that I’m basking in a tropical paradise should know that the temperature has gotten down into the 30s two nights in a row and the high yesterday was only 59. Mexico City sits a mile and a half (7380 feet) above sea level, so the climate is not balmy year-round as it is in beach paradises like Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.

Normally, the temperature is pretty steady. Virtually everyday, the high ranges between 70-75 and the low between 45-50. My current Airbnb apartment, like many places here, has no heat or air conditioning because neither is necessary. Opening a window or grabbing a blanket is generally the only climate control needed.

condesa houses

Even when it’s hot outside, nobody wears shorts here, ever. That’s one thing the guide books were right about. Everybody wears jeans, unless they’re going for a jog. The surest way to out yourself as a tourist is to wear shorts, so I have yet to wear any of the three pairs I brought.

Day 5: My first pulque & michelada experiences
Sunday, January 8

What a great Saturday night! I found a Couchsurfing meetup at a local bar called Beer Stop. About 12 people showed up. Half were locals and half were visitors traveling through the city. So I met some awesome people and got some tips from the locals. I may get together with them in the future to explore the city.

I tried a couple of very Mexican drinks at the bar. One was pulque, a traditional drink native to central Mexico made from the maguey plant. It comes in different flavors. I tried pineapple, which was fantastic. It was sweet and milky and didn’t have any hint of alcohol taste.

The next drink was michelada, a lime beer served in a glass with salt and chili spices around the ring, like a warped twist on a margarita. Normally I’m not a big fan of the chili, but the combination of flavors seemed to work with this drink. Now I can say I’ve had a couple of authentic Mexican beverages.

michelada drink

Day 4: It’s still Christmas in Mexico City
Saturday, January 7

I’ve been pleasantly surprised all week to see Christmas trees still up around the city and holiday music being played in stores. Turns out, that’s because Mexicans celebrate the holiday on multiple occasions. My Airbnb host informed me that on December 25, kids often receive clothes as presents, and on January 6, they receive toys.

January is also when families eat the “rosca de reyes,” or kings’ ring. It’s a ring-shaped cake or bread with little plastic dolls of Jesus baked inside. Whoever gets a slice with a doll is supposed to serve tamales and throw a party for everyone on February 2.

rosca de reyes

When I dropped by Walmart yesterday to seek out some items I’ve been having trouble finding (turns out they don’t have soap holders, either), I spotted huge tables of roscas de reyes and most people in the checkout line were buying one.

Day 3: Street food and pear mojitos
Friday, January 6

My Chicago friend Mike happens to be in Mexico City for two more days, so we met up at the Coyoacan Market, a typical Mexican mart with dozens of little shops selling food, toys, gifts, and every sort of trinket you can imagine. It’s definitely more of a traditional Mexican neighborhood than the modern ‘hood where I’m staying.

mike cdmx

There were a million little affordable food stands inside the market. I grabbed a chicken burrito for 50 pesos, or $2.50 US. Mexico City allegedly has the best street food in the world, so I plan to take full advantage of this, keeping in mind the golden rule of street food: Eat where the locals eat. The locals know which places are either poor quality or unsanitary, so follow their lead.

After that it was off to a Couchsurfing meetup at a bar called Salon Malafama, an upscale joint with pool tables and creative cocktails, like the weird but delicious Cuban pear mojito. Grabbing dinner and a drink is a fairly mundane day under normal circumstances, but here it’s awesome because everything is totally new to me. Every street, every restaurant, all the sights are new, and that is exciting.

Day 1: Balcony dining and Mexican cooking shows
Wednesday, January 4

It took less than an hour to feel completely at home in my Airbnb apartment in Mexico City, or DF as the locals call it. (That’s Distrito Federal, which is their equivalent to the District of Columbia.) I’m staying on the 5th floor of a nice building in the Condesa neighborhood. I really like this place – I could be content living here indefinitely.

I just ate dinner on the balcony, enjoying the calm, warm night and thinking about the frigid temperatures I just escaped from in Chicago. I’ve unpacked all my belongings and hung them up. Every shirt and pair of jeans I brought is wrinkled beyond recognition, so for the first week I am not going to look cute while walking around town.

The wifi works great, and I have 800 cable tv channels. My new favorite show is Cocineros Mexicanos. Tonight their featured dish was “hamburguesa con crema de cacahuate.” Hamburger with peanut sour cream! They topped it with grilled pineapple and caramelized onions, which we can all agree are the two most underrated burger toppings.

Tonight is an early bedtime since I’m beat. Tomorrow I’ll be writing all day. It will be way too easy to blow off work and play tourist for the next three months down here, so I am forcing myself to put in a full day of work before I start exploring the city. Friday the fun begins.

Best photo of the day: This shot of Estadio Azul and Monumental Plaza de Toros Mexico taken while flying into the city.

estadio azul plaza toros mexico

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

6 comments on “The Mexico City Chronicles

  1. really enjoyed this recap. looking forward to more daily life stuffs!!
    quick question: do you have to worry about ice cubes when going out if you are concerned about fruits and veggies?

  2. Good writing, dude. I’ll continue to check back for updates. Bummer about the stomach illness. I got nailed in Mexico City on New Years Day last year (didn’t know at the time that it’s because of 2016!) But totally worth it because Mexico. Next time I’m bringing Cipro, which might help, or not depending. Salud!
    Dan Hagen recently posted..Flightseeing Denali with K2 Aviation

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