Monday, December 1, 2008

35 Days in Mexico City: 7 Pleasant Surprises

35 days, zero rain!
Okay, I know it was the dry season, but come on…not a single drop!? I nearly forgot the meaning of the word "precipitation." Apart from the eye-drying aridity of the city air, the weather was absolutely gorgeous for the whole trip. Low 70s by day, mid-40s by night…and again, no rain!

Monumental architecture and colonial villages
As a San Antonian, what I learned in school about the history of Mexico dealt solely with the battle for Texas. But the country's historical ties to the Old World (as well as the New) are varied and intricate, and this is reflected in the architecture of the capital.

From the baroque magnificence of the Catedral and the neoclassical style of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, to the faded colonial grandeur of antique neighborhoods like San Ángel and Coyoacán, there are elements of edificed beauty everywhere that can take your breath away.

Green spaces
Pollution is definitely a problem in the city. But there are places you can go to breathe some moderately fresher air and get away from the puff and grumble of it all.

Bosque de Chapultepec, home to Mexico City's hilltop castle, is enormous and houses half a dozen world-class museums within its leafy confines. Farther south in Coyoacán, the Viveros tree nursery grows specimens to replenish and expand all of Mexico City's parks and makes a very pleasant setting for a jog or some afternoon tai chi.

As colorful as imagined
Whether it's the spicy reds and mouthwatering greens and yellows of the food or the jagged golds, oranges, and aquas of traditional textile designs, the Mexico of photographs is a colorful destination. And the real thing was no different. Just take a glance back through my blog posts from my time in Mexico City to see what I'm talking about.

Cheap transportation
"Gee, do I really want to pay $4.50MX to take the Metrobus for four stops?" I caught myself wondering one day. It only took a second to snap out of it. "4.50 pesos is 33 cents!" I reminded myself with a mental slap and continued crossing the street to the sleek glass and stone Metrobus terminal at Hamburgo.

After paying £.90, or roughly $1.50US, per bus ride in London just a month before, I was blown away by the bargain that is public transit in Mexico City. And the Metrobus was on the high end. Cost for a ride of unlimited duration on the subway? Two pesos.

English as a foreign language
Unlike in parts of Asia, where chatting up a foreigner for some English practice often seems like a national pastime, Defeños almost never engage in conversation outside of Spanish (unless they happen to be Korean). Whether due to a simple lack of English skills or an abundance of cultural pride on the part of city residents, it didn't matter to me. For someone trying in earnest to improve his Spanish, this was a godsend.

And surprise, surprise…I wasn't mugged, kidnapped, or murdered in cold blood
After all the lovely words of encouragement I received from friends and family before my departure (sarcasm, anyone?), I was understandably a little skittish during the first week or so. Suddenly finding yourself immersed in a new city, a new culture, a new home…that's bound to happen anyway, I suppose.

Well, I'm here to say that destinations cannot and should not be defined by the portraits painted of them in the U.S. news media. I never even felt uncomfortable, let alone had any trouble safety-wise. There's crime everywhere, but that shouldn't stop you from exploring your world. I couldn't be happier in having chosen to make Mexico City my home for five weeks. Julie Schwietert Collazo, managing editor of Matador and owner of the home I was generously allowed to sublet, agrees. Read her two cents here.

Enjoyed the list? Find its companion piece, 35 Days in Mexico City: 10 Quirks I May (or May Not) Miss, on my Matador blog.


julie said...

Hal! You have no idea how thrilled I am to read everything in this end of DF round up. You captured the city I love so much, and I'm really glad you experienced it with the same kind of passion and enthusiasm that I have for it. I can't believe it didn't rain at all, though. Even in dry seasons, it tends to rain in afternoon/early evening at least a little. You're welcome back any time!

Kathy Amen said...

Even given that London transport is ridiculously expensive, that's awfully cheap for getting around!

And I *loved* the picture of the pyramid with the blankets!

hal said...

It was a super trip, Julie, thanks to you! Hope we can return the favor sometime.

Mom, are you ready to return to the land of no public transport?

Henry Amen said...

Thank you for not getting mugged, kidnapped, or murdered (in cold blood or otherwise)!

I also loved that photo with the colorful textiles in the foreground and the pyramid behind.

Kathy Amen said...

I *will* dearly miss UK mass transit. Hope I remember how to drive!