My first evening México City (or D.F. ‘Distrito Federal’ as it’s known as here) I landed about 6.30pm and all I wanted to do was SLEEP! Pretty wrecked after the 11 hour flight from Heathrow I was glad to jump in a taxi and get dropped directly to the hostel I had pre-booked for the first four nights. Hostel 333, recommended by my friend Dee who’s living here, is in a great location in La Roma/Condesa area which is an up and coming hipster-y area with lots of bars and restaurants, also near a major metro stop (Insurgentes) which is really handy.
Once I was settled I *had* to have a cerveza on the roof terrace of the hostel, and met some really great Spanish girls, two who were travelling around Mexico for a month or two and another who was living in Mexico City. I have to say I was pretty exhausted not just from the travel but I had not really slept a wink the night before I left mainly due to nerves…I was definitely feeling apprehensive and just couldn’t imagine or visualise what was ahead of me. I think since then, (it’s been two weeks now since I’ve been in Mexico) I’ve definitely learned that when you’re travelling it’s best to take one day at a time…or at least a day or two in advance 🙂
On my first full day in Mexico City I jumped on the metro to the ‘historic centre’ otherwise know as ‘Zócalo’. A word about the metro: my god it’s GREAT! Seriously, just 3 pesos (equivalent of about 20c) gets you as far as you want on the extensive metro system, with as many changeovers as you like. I felt pretty safe most of the time and there is also even a special area in most metro station platforms for the top three or so carriages ‘por mujeres y ninos’ i.e for women and children. I got the metro to the airport when I was leaving for Cancun and it saved me a LOT of money, I paid initially 288 pesos to get from the airport to the hostel by taxi when I arrived, and another plus with the metro is the traffic isn’t as bad. Although word of warning for those with big bags (me), there are many, many steps and not an escalator in sight so be prepared!
Back to the Zocálo: the Plaza de la Constitución is a huge square right in the centre of the historic quarter, the day I was there, there seemed to be a health convention-open day type of thing with loads of vans offering health screenings, mammograms etc. A lot of protests take place around this area, at the time there was an electrician’s protest but thankfully it caused minimal disruption.
Right on the square is the towering Catedral Metropolitana, so I popped in to have a look. It’s pretty impressive, with many grottoes dedicated to different saints all around the church. Mass was taking place at the time in the small area at the front of the church with about 50 or so people in attendance. All of the padlocks below were in front of the grotto for the patron saint for pregnant women!
I strolled down Avenue 5 de Mayo to Palacio de Bellas Artes, the most important cultural centre in Mexico. Diego Rivera’s famous Rockefeller mural hangs here, amongst other great works of art, exhibitions and performances including the Mexican folkloric ballet.
I passed by the beautiful park Alameda Central, featuring lots of beautiful sculptures and a giant monument to Benito Juarez, former president of Mexico and all-round favourite because of his defense of national sovereignty, seperation of church and state, amongst other things. Next to the park is the Diego River Mural Museo, where the controversial mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en el Parque Alameda (Sunday Afternoon Dream in the Alameda Park) hangs. Un this small museum, which features other Mexican modern art pieces, I met a really nice retired Mexican man called Arturo who explained the entire mural to me in detail with much theatrics! At one point he was trying to explain how Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo interacted around the painting of the piece, which was originally painted on the lobby wall of the Hotel Del Prado (now the Hilton) across the street in 1947-48. He was to be Diego and I was Frida (!) and at the beginning of the painting process when it was just sketched out, Frida did not feature yet as he wanted to paint her in the flesh but she did not come. As he painted, he instead used a photograph of Frida taken by a man with whom she had had an affair with, and in her hand in the painting lies a ying yang symbol which, according to Arturo, supposedly symbolises her ying and yang for relationships with both men and women.
The controversy around the mural grew out of Diego Rivera’s original Marxist inscription, “God does not exist,” which he later changed to the tamer “Conference of San Juan de Letrán”. The earthquake in ’85 destroyed the hotel but not the mural, and this museum was built to house it.
First impressions, Mexico City is a huge place but definitely not as scary as it’s made out to be, in fact in my time there I didn’t come across any trouble at all. Speaking to some Mexican friends here, they reckon it’s pretty much one of the safest places in the country and in my opinion, a great starting point for a Mexican adventure.
My next stop on the first day I spent in Mexico City was Frida Kahlo’s house, La Casa Azul, which certainly did not disappoint…