As we departed Denver airport in time for a spectacular sunrise take-off, I felt extremely calm. All the pre-trip anxiety evaporated and everything felt right. We decided to check our bags through to Mexico City because it was just easier and that way we didn’t have to haul them around Houston airport during our stopover. Ben had forgotten his baggage tag in Denver, but we didn’t stress over that because those things are almost never needed.
We sat next to a lovely older Mexican woman on the plane to Mexico City, who congratulated us on our excellent Spanish and blessed us at the end of the flight (Dios te bendiga). Let me tell you, I genuinely appreciated the gentle ego stroke before launching into all of Latin America with my rusty college Spanish.
Unfortunately both our new friend and our Spanish were useless when we discovered that all Denver luggage was left behind in Houston. Fast forward 27 hours, many attempted phone calls to Southwest, and two very congealed contacts later, our bags were finally delivered to our hostel room door.
Despite the setback, we decided to make the most of the last three days in Ciudad de Mexico (also known as “CDMX”, recently rebranded from “DF”). Honestly this city defies description, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
First off, it’s enormous- both sprawling and buzzing with about about 9 million residents in the city proper, and 20 million in the general urban area. The first day, I was honestly quite intimidated by it and walked around cautiously, gripping my purse with white knuckles.
Massive thoroughfares and broad avenues slice through the city, and are lined with gleaming skyscrapers, all major retail stores, and many recognizable chains such as 7-Eleven, Subway, Panda Express, Krispy Kreme, and Pizza Hut. The Centro Histórico has impressive museums, statues, buildings, and very old streets that call to mind European cities.
There are countless different neighborhoods, each with unique character. Some are marked by poverty, others are rich with fancy houses guarded by barbed wire and German Shepherds. There are even the young hipster areas like Condesa and Roma with natural organic gluten-free donuts and sushi restaurants. To illustrate, we’ve been trying to find a supermarket everywhere (to no avail just yet), and at one point I asked a man working at a street taquería where we could find some fruit. He gave me directions and where did they take us? To a boutique store selling a small variety of beautiful organic fruits, and acaí bowls.
However, today we accidentally found ourselves in a serious slum whilst navigating markets and it was truly shocking to realize how quickly rich turns to poor. It felt like the fancy cafes and towers we had casually strolled past just minutes before were worlds away, and I genuinely felt scared for a few minutes.
One thing that has really impressed me in Mexico City is that people are unbelievably nice and helpful. No one seems to care about the blatant foreigners or wants to take advantage of us. We’ve walked through crowded markets, weaved through stalls, and stopped to whip out our iPhones for photos, and no one has paid us any attention. I don’t get stares or whistles or calls to buy things- people are respectful of our space and patient with our attempts to speak Spanish, which I greatly appreciate. I have to speculate that one reason for this is that Mexico City is just not a touristy place. There are almost no attractions or areas marketed to foreign tourists. Still, I would say the overriding factor is that people are just really nice here. Today in a packed elevator, when people exited on various floors they would say “Gracias” to the attendant and “buen día a todos” to everyone else in the elevator (Good day to you all). Even in the friendliest of places I’ve never heard that kind of courtesy!
After finishing the most amazing pozole last night for dinner, I informed Ben of a decision I’ve made. I love Mexico. And despite the rain and the grit, this city has already really grown on me. I think it was a lucky chance that we decided to begin our trip here, and I am all the more excited to visit our next destinations: Oaxaca and Zipolite, coming up next!
Check out this photo essay to take a tour through Mexico City as we saw it. : )