La Ciudad

Mexico City Travel Blog

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There isn't a word in the English language that sufficiently describes the urban expanse that is Mexico City. It is sprawl on steroids, density unparalleled spread beyond the horizon, full circle, stacked stories high, shanties for rooftop garnishes, at night a distant glow of etheareal embers.

We're staying at a hostel, Hotel Catedral, a block behind the Zocalo, the central square in Mexico City. As luck would have it, we arrived at the beginning of the weeklong annual celebration of Mexican Independence. The truckloads of machine-gun toting military and police personnel patrolling some radius from the Zocalo are more unnervering than reassuring.

The kilometers around our hostel are packed with every sort of shop and street vendor imaginable, milling with thousands upon thousands of patriots and police disregarding every common sense law of car-packed street navigation. Honks, whistles, and shouts comprise the omnipresent aural assault, with the malodor of sewage, garbage, and exhaust intermittently disrupted by wafting scents from streetside food vendors hawking tacos and tortas for mere coin, bills for those who prefer the relative health standards of a sit-down restaurant. But we're here to steel our stomachs and stretch our dollars, so we'll brave cramps and diarrhea for sublime tacos al pastor from a fly-swarmed cart. Last night I sampled a plate of delicious platanos fritos -- "Si, con todo," I instructed the seller behind the rickety cart -- smothered by various colored icings and sauces from squirt bottles, and I've yet to suffer any consequences; Jackson, too, survived his three hotdogs for twelve pesos. Tonight wé've resolved to sample the giant-kerneled corn grilling on every block, often off the cob and mixed with chilis and mysterious sauces. Hunks of dried fruit the size of fists made window shoppers of us when we pass one dulcerias, and panaderias abound, selling assorted breads, cakes, and pastries for small stacks of pesos. I experienced postre de las tres leches for the first time an hour ago, the moistest cake I´ve ever had the pleasure to devour, and it'll remain a staple of my diet as long as it's available. Dollars are accepted most places, but we're dealing in pesos, which equate to approximately one dime apiece. Nearly forty-ounce varieties of excellent Mexican beer, including many we don´t see stateside, sell for less than 20 pesos.

We stand out walking the streets, a head taller than most, wearing white shoes we've renamed after supermodels they're -- excuse me for lack of a better term -- eye-fucked so frequently. But I'm less paranoid already, after two days of working myself through throngs with their spitfire español. I won´t wear the stomach-bound money belt I purchased anytime soon. I will be wary, however, of beer companies' promotional chicas. Supposedly the girls promoting Victoria wield a device that electrocutes the daring, or more likely meatheaded, so severely that they are unable to release the grips until the devious cerveza vixens, having had their fill of agonized screams and faces contorted by anguish, cut the flow of electricity. As Jackson describes it, complete with convulsions, "jiggling your bones" for free Victoria almost sounds like a fun game, just one that would never be legal in the US outside of government-sponsored torture sessions.

For about $15 per night, our hostel is quite nice. We're in a dorm with three bunkbeds, a shower and toilet. The hostel is sex stories high, with a restaurant and bar on the main floor, a rooftop terrace and bar, another balcony, and a kitchen, laundry service, and this cheap internet cafe (from where I'm transcribing these previously handwritten entries). We're provided a mini-buffet breakfast of fruit and bananas, cereal and milk, yogurt, bread and jelly, and coffee. The cereals are corn flakes and Cocoa Crispies, and something fiber-rich that resembles twigs. I miss my cereal stocked cupboard. (Our first morning, however, we tried cochinita pibil, a traditional Yucatan breakfast of spiced and shredded pork piled upon bean paste on a tortilla. Sensational. A candied gauva mixture we snacked upon later was equally enlightening.) With the hostel dinner nothing more than one helping of an iceberg-romaine blend and a side dish that was one night scrambled eggs, another tortillas piled with undiscernible gunk, I'll have to rely upon cerveza and panaderias to keep my weight up.

Past my initial fear of being pumped full of automatic gunfire from the menacing government forces, I'm more concerned about our hostel shower. Jackson described the emitted stream of water as a missile, which I promptly dismissed as nothing more than a firm stream. Upon engaging the shower, missile stream proved an understatement. I'm convinced our showerhead is one step removed from the riot control water cannons I expect to see unleashed in the streets any of the coming nights, to control the surging masses celebrating independence.

We bus to Oaxaco tomorrow morning at 8:30am, so we'll take the Metro from the stop adjacent the Zocalo to the southernmost bus station, then ride six hours in luxury for a mere $36 each. All of you still in the US: suckas!
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