With all that is happening in the world I questioned the insensitivity of a new blog post, in the end I thought people might want a little something to read unrelated to viral infections. I will say we are safe here in Mexico where little has changed as the country has only 9 cases reported to date though I suspect the low number is more related to a lack of testing. We are taking reasonable precautions and hope you are too. We are watching the travel bans and hope everything has calmed a bit by the time we plan to return to the US in mid-April. Take care G&K. And now for a blog post.
We have generally had very good luck with our Airbnb’s but Mexico City has been less than perfect. The unit itself is great, two bed, two bath, lots of light in a great location with large windows…..that you never want to open.
The neighbors are the problem. Three bars that love loud music. In truth, most of Mexico loves loud music. Pharmacies and nail shops place huge speakers at their front doors blasting music into the street apparently to attract customers. I am obviously not their target audience. Like most people, I like my music, but I don’t like your music unless I am paying to hear you play it. It doesn’t help that the bars have no doors and the windows are wide open. The music starts around noon and goes until at least 10 PM, 2AM on the weekends. The weekends are the best, 14 to 15 straight hours of nonstop hits. By evening you have a DJ working the audience as he spins EDM and pop. Next door you have a live rock band and upstairs you have a third venue for your listening pleasure.
So, you never get a single track of music. On the rare occasion you hear a song you like it is overlaid with an EDM beat and maybe some rap or a nice Mariachi band. Needless to say there was not a lot of sleep happening at our house even with windows closed. We decided that two weeks of the music melee was enough and are leaving a week early. It is the first time we have cut our losses and moved early.
We have learned several lessons from this experience. First, there are risks with booking early. We usually book at least six months out thinking farther out means better availability. However, we have noticed on two occasions where reviews looked great when we book but when we checked reviews just prior to arrival there were problems. When we booked Mexico City there was only one review out of dozens that mentioned noise and we chalked it up to the city location.
I now suspect that at least one of the bars recently opened as most reviews in the past few months mention the bar noise. Second, when you are staying in a large city for several weeks you do not need to be where the action is or close to the tourist sites. If you are here for just a few days then a central location in the historic district makes sense. But if you plan on living in the city for a while and visiting sites only one or two days a week, a quiet neighborhood with good stores and restaurants is better. This point really hit home when we walked around the Coyoacan neighborhood and realized we should have stayed there. Quiet with a beautiful town center and everything we needed. A $5 uber ride would get us anywhere we needed for site seeing or the subway would get us most places for 25 cents. It is the same reason we lived in West Seattle and not in Pioneer Square. The residential neighborhoods are quieter, have good restaurants and better grocery options than downtown Seattle.
Mexico City old
So, how is Mexico City aka Ciudad De Mexico or CDMX for short? In a word it is fantastic. A truly great international metropolitan city with wonderful food and people. Definitely worth a visit. Much more modern and cleaner than I expected. We have felt totally safe everywhere. Some areas are run down and impoverished like any major city. As one of our guides said, “Mexico City is a contrast, it has high end first world areas and low end third world areas”. It is huge with 9 million living within its boundaries, 21 million if you include the surrounding metropolitan area. It has more museums than any other city in the world, 150 at last count. We have not visited them all so we can’t confirm the number.
Mexico City new
As our introduction to the city we met up with Oskar of the Global Greeters Network. We have never used this network before but heard of it in a recent Seattle Times article. The network is worldwide and made up of volunteers who like to meet visitors and show them around their city. It costs nothing, you simply go online and see if there are any greeters in a particular city and send in a request with your dates. You are expected to pay for drinks or lunch when you meet up. We spent about $40, which included drinks and tacos for us and Oskar.
Oskar is a 20 something college student who spoke fluent English and is the only greeter signed up with the network in this city of 9 million.
We wandered through the central historical district and out to a nearby neighborhood where we tried Pulque, a local favorite fermented beverage a little like Kombucha but with more alcohol. It is an ancient drink that has seen a recent resurgence. It was…..interesting, I think I will stick with beer. Oskar on the other hand enjoyed a whole liter with a stack of pancakes. A typical college student, free food and drinks, sign me up. Oskar was a great guy and a wonderful ambassador to his city, look him up if you visit.
We ended our walk at one of Oskar’s favorite restaurants for Tacos el Pastor, supposedly the location where the trend started. We learned throughout our stay that numerous restaurants around the city claim to be the birthplace of Tacos el Pastor. Much like all the pubs in Ireland with the sign proclaiming to be the “oldest pub” and after a time you wonder if the sign should say the oldest pub on this block. Regardless of whether they were the first, the tacos were excellent and it was a very nice two hours with a local. I would definitely use the network again, but don’t expect a professional tour with a canned script and visual aids. It is more like meeting up with your cousin who lives in the city, you walk around the immediate neighborhood and talk about things to do and questions you have. In return you pay for lunch. A very good trade off when you don’t have a real cousin in the city.
Art is everywhere
Later in the week we took an organized tour of Teotihuacan, an ancient city located 25 miles outside Mexico City. Teotihuacan was the 6th largest city in the world in the first and second centuries, home to over 125,000 people with stone apartments and running water, where temples and buildings scattered over 8 square miles were perfectly aligned with the moon and sun. The geometry, precision, symmetry and architecture of this 3000 year old civilization is beyond description. Our tour, including lunch and transportation to and from the city cost $67 per person.
As a bonus our tour guide Alexandro took us to his home where we met his family, tried some homemade chocolate and local mescal. Of course, we bought some to take back home.
His simple home with cinder-block walls and concrete floors set among half completed buildings and Agave groves provided a rare view into the local way of life. The teen daughters in front of a large flat screen TV, his wife working at the Whirlpool gas range and everyone using a smart phone seemed out of place in what appeared to me to be a rather impoverished home. My personal bias and DIY nature noted dozens improvements I would have made to the home for little money.
The conclusion I reached, whether right or wrong, is that Alexandro had no time for home improvement. Everyone we meet in Mexico works six or seven days a week and many have two jobs, they are a hard working entrepreneurial culture. Their common joke is that if an accident blocked the freeway someone would have set up taco stand and started tours of the accident site before the police arrived. Alexandro also gave us a view of his ancient heritage and religion by performing a cleansing ceremony in a cave near his home. No one was converted to his religion but it was interesting learn about his beliefs.
Many back home are worried about the safety of traveling in Mexico. We have felt completely safe everywhere we have gone. Even into a cave, in the desert, with a man we just met through Airbnb experiences. Maybe we are foolish, but I assumed if Alexandro was an ax murderer he wouldn’t have all those five star reviews. All kidding aside, the touristed areas we have visited have proven no less safe than downtown Seattle. We use common sense, are never out past 10, don’t make any drug deals, and leave an area if we feel at all uncomfortable.
Their Bakeries are pretty great too