23.01.2012 - 01.02.2012 22 °C
Nothing can prepare the weary traveller for the assault on the senses that is Mexico city.
Big bold brassy ( quite literally... The sound of Tijuana seems blatantly omnipresent) this seething metropolis grabs and shakes you , scares you and finally woos you with its Aztec charm until surrender becomes less than a choice.
Arriving late into MC s Benito Juarez airport the air traveller cannot fail to be awed by the sheer magnitude of the place .... A blanket of twinkling stars extending over the horizon in every direction as if some playful Aztec god has transformed mother earth to some vast eternal mirror..... brazenly reflecting the firmament ....
That greater Mexico city is home to some 23 million souls comes as no surprise given the sheer intimidating vastness of its span, and yet , punctuated by green space and impressive mountain vistas mother nature wrestles with Suburbia and wins... Never seeming far away.
I chose to stay in the Distrito Federal downtown area in the unimaginitively named DF suites , a basic but clean and welcoming hostelry. Mercifully with an English speaking host.. Which proved quite useful , given that the almost universal international proficiency for the English language seems to have bypassed Mexico entirely. For a traveller with little Spanish this can be intimidating.... But hey.... When in Rome ?
Throughout my four day stay in the city therefore, my Spanish phrase book was always within reach, and my A
advice for new players would definitely be to arrive armed at least with the basics .
Forearmed and with the goodwill that is generated by a manful effort to converse in the native tongue ,the traveller will fare much better..... At the very least your efforts... When slightly off the mark ,tend to generate much hilarity and doors seem to open.
As with most major cities the best way to explore is on foot.
Once on the streets one cannot fail to be impressed by the splendor of Mexico City . In particular the Centro historico where Aztec and Catalan architecture jostles for line honors in the majesty stakes. Colonial and ancient side by side in mish mashed alliance that somehow works . The museum del belles Artes in its white and gilded splendor skirts the avenue Juarez en route to the Zocalo ( or city square) where the sumptuous cathedral and presidential palace border the vast polis with a grandeur which amply rewards the tourist ... More advice. Figure out how to use time delay photography ahead of your visit to the cathedral... As you will be ejected if you flash ... And the architecture soars and dips with such Spanish grace and grandeur that pictorial record is a must!
Having prepared for my Mexican sojourn by rereading DH Lawrences " Mornings in Mexico ".... A travelogue from the 1920s ,capturing the authors impressions of the country and it's inhabitants ( particularly the Mexican Indian who seems to outnumber the Conquistadore descendants by at least ten to one). I could not fail to be struck by some of Lawrences insights which still hold true in the 21st century.
In respect of the Indian ... There is a solemnity... Dark and brooding which signals the otherness and separation from the Caucasian.Two races treading entirely different paths each cogniscent yet utterly separate from the other .
With the average height of a Mexican Indian measuring up at maybe 5 foot 2 a blonde haired greying gringo like myself sticks out like the proverbial dogs nuggets . This aboriginal mexican then contrasts with the suave confidence of the Catalan.... And having had contact through a surgeon acquaintance of my partner with several professionals of that ilk.... A twentieth century sophistication combines with a fierce national pride generating an energy which adds credence to the notion that Mexico is biding its time before becoming a major powerhouse on the world stage ,economically at least.
With the Mexican indian, staunch, placid and brooding with his black eyes and blue black hair one senses a connection with nature and the rhythms of the earth and the seasons ...which Lawrence captured more eloquently than myself .. That becomes all the more apparent when the traveller shuns the conurbation and touts his tequila y tortilla to the sticks " the real Mexico" which sits under a metallic blue sky nestled in the folds of the pleated grey mountains of the Sierra madre and in my case , goes by the name of Ixtapan de la sal. More of that later.
Before I take my leave of the metropolis I should first warn you about the pitfalls of traveling via the local metro system .
Again.... The most penetrative prose Cannot do justice .....Lonely Planet advises that it might be prudent to travel outside of rush hours... For during rush hours the forward cars are reserved for women and children only... Leaving their hapless menfolk to struggle with the writhing ,jammed in breathless sweaty mass that characterizes metro travel...
The train pulls in to the station and the impossibly full carriage spews forth its human cargo.... Rapidly replenished by more souls packed belly to belly and the journey continues.
I chose to negotiate my maiden voyage on this transportive monster whilst carrying all my worldly goods in a backpack and smaller pack held close to my chest. Now ,given the impossible proximity of ones fellow passengers ... Even outside the rush hour period... It's hardly surprising that pick pocketing is rife.... So I was more than relieved to complete my journey with my belongings ... And sanity ,intact !
Imagine my chagrin when arriving at the Terminal de sur to catch my Jalopy after much investigation at the very limits of my ( and my phrase books ) capability... It seems I had been fed a bum steer by my host and that in reality I should have been headed to Observatorio not Tasquena station.... So with less than a glad heart but more than my share of macho grit .... I launched myself back into the fray.... This time changing lines... Mercifully to a less crowded carriage.....and with my luggage safely monitored began to actually enjoy the experience .
Having travelled the Paris metro I am familiar with the notion that a moving trolley car and its inhabitants can be a captive audience for buskers or salespeople of whatever variety....
Mexico City takes this to a whole new level . Most peddlers seemed to be selling musical Compilations of various genres .. Whether it be 50 s Rock
And Roll.. Best of the classical composers or 70s Schlock a la Terry Jacks " seasons in the sun".... The sales strategy then seems to bo that a snippet of each song on their particular compilation is broadcast...and hopefully a sale will ensue .
At least ten peddlers had negotiated my carriage during the course of my journey without one of them generating a single peso.Enter the guy selling the pirated Beatles compilation and soon the strains of " I shoulda known Better with a Girl Like you" were put forth for the multitudes closely followed by " and I love her" and "obladi oblada ".
Never underestimate the selling power of the fab four !!! The guy was inundated with customers.... At 10 pesos a disc ( about 70c) he was selling those babies like hotcakes. Though I venture to suggest none of that hard earned bounty will end up in the coffers of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono .. But hey .... I guess theyll get by with a little help from their friends.
All this entertainment for the princely transit fare of 3 pesos or around 20 c Australian.... And there's the other thing ... Mexico is a time machine when it comes to pricing.... Everything is a fraction of the cost and one finds oneself back in the 1970s ... And with the strength of the Aussie dollar .... Well let's just say that the shoestring grows fat .
And so I find myself at the end of the pink Metro line number 3 .... Observatorio station .... With surprising ease I manage to locate the ticket seller from the seemingly hundreds of companies promoting the delights of their particular range of charabancs and with my luggage safely stowed and my wallet 100 pesos (7 dollars) lighter I begin my 3 hour journey ( the first hour and a half to exit the city ) to Ixtapan de la sal which is a spa town at the foot of the Sierra madre about 160 south west of MC.
A strange name which combines Aztec Ixtapan .. (Meaning "salt pan "in Mexican Indian Lingo) and the Spanish de la sal ( of salt) ..... So there you have it Señor welcome to salt pan of salt... Talk about stating the bleeding obvious.... The town planners must have been having a bad day!!!..... It's almost as double barreled as Peter o Toole .
To be continued.