There it is—under the pile of miscellaneous items thrown carelessly on top—my backpack. Memories flood in as I contemplate packing. After a long two and a half years we’re off to Mexico City, a slow easing back into the world of travel. Forty-nine years ago Mexico was our first foray into what was for my husband and I, coming from small time Ontario, a foreign culture. Mere novices, we headed out in our Volkswagen van spending our honeymoon driving across the USA to Mexico City.
It's a quick journey this time—only a four and a half hour flight.
“Bienvenido” says the customs officer as he stamps our passports. With only carry on luggage we quickly make our way to a prepaid taxi stand, walk to the assigned exit and we’re off.
Well—sort of. Driving in this city of twenty-two million, the most populous city in North America is not for the faint of heart. Lanes are ignored, drivers squeezing in without signaling. Street vendors, performers, and window washers add to the chaos, dashing into traffic on red lights or more persistently during gridlock.
Arriving safely at our Airbnb we breathe a sigh of relief. Curiously our Airbnb is on Tomas Alva Edison Street. What possible connection could Edison have with Mexico? As it turns out—none—just a country trying to claim a prodigal son as their own by contending Edison was born in Zacatecas to a Mexican father and taken to the USA at an early age.
Dropping off our packs we hit the streets.
First stop is an OXOX, a Mexican chain of convenience stores, to buy a SIM card and phone plan. I tentatively try out my Spanish that I studied during the pandemic. Five minutes and fourteen dollars later I have four gigabytes of data and unlimited calling for thirty days. Mexico city does have many areas with public Wi Fi access, but it’s reportedly very slow. We've come to rely on Uber on our travels, saving us arguments with taxi drivers whose meters the world over mysteriously stop working when we get in.
Hearing the sound of loud music we stumble upon a Mariachi Festival, the first in the city since 2019. Top performers from around the country entertain the growing crowd. Smiles of joy and excitement light up faces around us as Mariachi dancers, swirls of bright colours, dance to the beat of the direct driving emotional music.
Spirits high, we google directions and head to the Zocalo, also also known as La Plaza de la Constitucion, the historic centre of the city where the Aztecs founded their ancient capital city of Tenochtitlan. Archeologists are still discovering pieces of the Aztec world buried underneath.
Mouth watering smells of outdoor food stalls soon entice us. It’s lunch time in a city that is a food lover’s dream. Contrary to stereotype, not all Mexican food is spicy, but many dishes such as moles are imbued with a complexity of flavours.
Restaurants serve stomach filling meals of the day while street vendors of all kinds pop up serving a variety of tasty treats from chilaquiles, basically corn tortillas cut into chips and simmered with a green or red sauce and topped with a sour cream, avocado and cheese to Tacos al Pastor, filled with Shawarma inspired spit roasted pork. All of which explains why my pants are getting tighter by the day.
We consider the chapulines, seasoned and toasted grasshoppers, but pass, although we’re told it has the crunch and tastiness of freshly made tortilla chips. It's a definite no for the scorpions!
Crowds thicken as as we get closer the historic centre. Adding to the already packed streets are people streaming in to celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the country's independence from Spain.
Protesters, seizing the opportunity for attention, snarl the traffic on route.
Reaching the pedestrian only streets we find a constant jostling for space. Vendors
selling everything from homemade toys to freshly made banana chips squeeze in on the side lines, while traditional organ grinders, sans monkeys, try to grind out a living. With twelve million visitors every year, Mexico City is never quiet.
Glancing up, the word Mennonita on an immense banner catches my eye. The Mexican government has minted a 20 peso, ($1.50 CAD) coin commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the Mennonites arrival in Mexico, many of whom came from Canada. Now, some descendants of those families, due to many factors including poverty and violence are returning to Canada, many to our area.
Thinking the coins would make good gifts we make a note to keep an eye out for them. We never did find any despite assurances that they were in circulation. Later, stops at numerous banks, including the Bank of Mexico Museum turn up nothing.
The sound of drum beats waft through the throngs and we know we are close to the Zocalo or La Plaza de la Constitution, the hub for public gatherings since Aztec times. One of the largest public plazas in the world, it pulsates with Danzantes Aztecas or Aztec dancers dressed in snakeskin loincloths, ankle bracelets jangling, dancing in the plaza to the beat of indigenous drums, evoking a ceremony performed at harvest time.
Spirituality is in the air as smoke from burning herbs floats around medicine men and shaman, as they ply their trade.
More than 150 museums dot the city, but near the top of our list is The Frida Kahlo Museo also known as Casa Azul or Blue House, home of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, revered legendary icons of Mexican culture. Their shared fervor for Indigenous culture, Mexican popular art, and communist ideology, has left an enduring influence.
But we can’t seem to get tickets. The website states it accepts credit cards but ours are rejected. Then I see the small print—credit cards accepted but not for online sales—no in person ticket sales available. Huh? So where do we get tickets? Ah, more info reveals a solitary automatic ticketing kiosk in a restaurant near the museum. Crossing our fingers we get an Uber hoping that the almost hour trip doesn’t leave us empty handed. Luck is with is—we nab the last two tickets for that day.
We’re not disappointed. Brilliantly coloured self-portraits, along with displays of Kahlo's personal belongings including jewelry, clothing, leg braces, support corsets and her wheelchair give a poignant intimate look at her life.
Our one foray outside the city is Teotihuacan, fifty kilometres northeast of Mexico City. A short ride to the bus station and we board a bus for the hour trip to the site. It's still quiet at opening time, the vendors just arriving to set up. Walking down the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon flanking each end we can almost feel the lifeless ruins come to life and see the inhabitants performing their daily rituals.
Although the beginnings of this city are shrouded in mystery, it must have been a powerful civilization influencing Mesoamerica. A damaging fire left the city abandoned in the 7th century. The Aztecs discovering the city in 1400 named it Teotihuacan meaning “the place where the Gods were created.”
Unfortunately you can no longer climb the pyramids, but I still remember the thrill of standing on the top all those years ago.
On weekends we hang out soaking up the ambiance in Alameda Park. Created in 1592, it the oldest public park in the Americas, and as in days of yore people still flock to the park to enjoy it’s leafy coolness and respite from the city. Families stroll, young people hang out and lovers hold hands. Vendors and food carts line the paths while musicians take the stage in different corners, each performing a different genre of music. Outdoor salsa dancing, rollerblading and yoga prove popular while children as everywhere delight in the fountains. Others just relax in the shaded benches watching the constant buzz of activity. For those who want to take part in learning activities there’s a speakers’ area. I especially enjoy a speech regarding inclusivity for Indigenous peoples.
Mexico city is a vibrant alive engaging inviting metropolis. We never tire of walking its streets, it’s preserved buildings a reflection of unfolding Spanish colonial architecture—every turned corner a surprise.
It feels so good to be back.