Mexico City, Mexico 2017


1 peso=4.8 cents

The excitement of travel quickly returned. The very idea of having to set an alarm to wake up two hours before our regular waking time did not appeal to either of us. 3:15am is early for anyone, but once you are sitting at the gate waiting to board your flight, most of that disappointment goes away, at least for me. There are a lot fewer people on the road. Fewer people in the airport, and although the security line was pretty long, I am certain it would get longer during the day. But, for us, that was not a concern for us. Why? Because we got to test out our newly acquired TSAPrecheck status. This allows us to go to the Precheck line at security. No shoe removal. No liquid removal. No belt removal. You know, all of the things that can slow the security lines to a crawl. Just metal out of the pockets, bags through the x-ray, and walk through the metal detector. I was through the security line in about thirty seconds. El was not so lucky and winds up behind a passenger with internal metal which needed to be dealt with by the agents before she can pass. All in all though, she is through relatively quickly and we are at the gate with plenty of time to spare. Our first leg today takes us to Atlanta with just over two hours to wait for our connection. We haven't flown in eight months but the anticipation of travel never gets old. Today’s final destination is Mexico City. I have had my eye on this city for years. El has never been to Mexico and my only experience there was a week in Cancun 25 years ago. Most of my memories of Cancun are about how touristy it was. A thriving bar scene for college kids, all night dance clubs, and souvenir stands everywhere. Some of my first memories actually involve Mexico. Though I can't remember the specifics of why they went, at some point before I was born my grandparents went to Mexico. There was a photograph of my Grandpa Charlie, surrounded by Mexican children. I don’t know if he was showing them a magic trick, or talking to them, or just being his great goofy self for them, but there he was, the center of attention and someone had the thought to capture the moment. Also, Grandma Doris always had an array of one off dishes in her cupboard. Like mugs with no match, or a set of plates and bowls that hadn't made it all these years without some breakage and one of the pieces in her dinnerware cabinet was a dark brown, earthenware plate that had been painted and glazed. This was the plate she "got in Mexico". I don’t know anything more about the plate other than it was from Mexico. She had that plate all my life and between the photo and the plate were the first times in my life I heard about Mexico. I would not go so far to say that these items caused me to set my sights on traveling here today, but my families international travel experiences certainly encouraged me to get out an explore from an early age. I wonder where that photo and plate are today. El and I have maintained that we have never once been made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any of the travels that we have done. We try not to do anything dumb, and we have never been confronted by anti-American sentiment or felt we were I harm’s way- I can see how something like that could if not deter, at least be cause for extra vetting when picking our next vacation. However, the recent political changes in America I am curious what could happen on this trip. We are in the first month of the Trump presidency and some of the rhetoric regarding foreigners, specifically Mexico and Mexicans has not been very friendly. It has been our experience that people of other countries are smart enough to separate the American people from the American government. Though the places we went to seemed to love Barack and Michelle Obama more than most Americans did. George W. Bush was pretty well disliked everywhere we went. But, in most cases we were able to look at his policies with the same disdain as they did- and there you are raising a pint to cheer your mutual dislike of my government's policies. However, that I recall, we had never traveled to a place that our president had specifically called the people of a nation "rapists and murderers". That was part of an early campaign speech, I believe the one where he first proposed building a border wall that Mexico was going to pay for. So, while it is certainly interesting to watch the trainwreck that is his presidency, and I do not fear our encounters, I am interested to see how we will be treated on this trip (if any different than usual). Our flights go off as planned. The leg to Atlanta runs a little over two hours and it gives us just enough time to comfortably make our connection even with having to take the "plane train" to the international terminal. I am able to sleep a bit on the plane though I could probably use something a little more solid. I think once we get checked in to the hostel we will take a nap and plan to get out to explore the immediate neighborhood tonight, bringing our travel guides and travel notes to get an idea of what we’d like to do tomorrow. We have about another hour to go on our flight. They just came around with the immigration paperwork and lunch. It is always incredible to me how many people wait until the service starts to have that be the time the need to get up and go to the bathroom. Whatever, I suppose the flight attendants must either be used to it or incredibly annoyed by it. Nonetheless, after my turkey and cheddar sandwich I pull out some of our paperwork. I fill out the immigration papers, pull out the email I have from the hostel telling us our transportation options. We are arriving around noon, so the options at that hour are certainly different than we would choose had we arrived late at night. It looks like the metro or the bus should do the trick for us. I can't tell from my literature if there is a metro stop at the airport, so that being our first option, but the directions tell us the bus does run from the airport, so that is our back up. We will find an ATM at the airport and get a few pesos to get us along. Then we will find the ground transport desk and see if we can score a bus map or at least the directions to the bus stop. I pull out a newspaper article that dad had sent me as Mexico City was featured in his local paper recently and he thought enough to send it along. I give the article a read through to see if I recognize any of the places within. The writer is visiting Mexico City for the first time after growing up there many years ago, so she has a dual perspective. We only need one, but I like hearing about the experience as she compares the way it is today vs. what she remembers. A couple of paragraphs focus on the neighborhood we are staying in, so we may be able to locate a couple of the places. A couple of turbulence patches make El a bit uneasy, though they don’t last too long. Otherwise, I don’t have anything negative about this trip- flight wise. 

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 7

We land on time and the long line at customs actually moves rather quickly. We sail through and pick up our bags that have already come off of the carousel. We make our way through border inspection. We are always put in a strange position as El tends to pack snacks almost every time she goes out. And this trip is no different. She has a small bag of Combos and a packet of almonds. However, whenever we have to fill out the inspection declaration that asks if you have been on a farm or if you are carrying any live cultures or animal products to declare, there is always that box that says “food”. Are you carrying food? Technically, yes. The kind they are looking for? No. But, the last thing you want to do is have to get inspected and have them determine your non-disclosure is a problem. We always check "yes". They always ask what food we have and when El pulls out the bag of Combos they laugh and wave us on. Once into the inspection area you are asked to press a button. I understand that nine out of ten times the button will light green and once out of ten it turns red and you have to get a full hand search of your bags. We got a green and are sent through to the exit. Once in the terminal we find a tourist information booth and get a couple of maps, directions to the ATM, and pointed towards the metro.
Once we get to the bank I withdraw some cash with El’s card as it turns out my bank card is expired. What a shitty time to realize this. Anyway, we quickly get on the internet to do a  a quick check of conversion rate. One peso is about five cents, but I don’t want to withdraw more than we have in the account for obvious reasons. We get our cash and sit on a bench to figure out the subway connections and actually find the station. El uses the GPS on the phone and sees that it is about a mile (19 minutes) of a walk. With bags in tow, we move to plan B which is the Metrobus. We follow signs outside and the bus is the first thing we see. Not sure of how it works, we look into the bus to see if there is an option to pay in cash. There is not. The fare is 30 pesos and you can only pay with a Metrobus card. This is the last/first stop of the line and we spot a ticket machine in the area. We go to buy our pass, but we have questions and no one to ask unless we go back inside to talk to the tourist info guy again. We decide to just buy the pass regardless if you can use it on the metro or not. The pass costs 10P(esos) and you can refill it as needed. We know we need at least 60P on the card, but 50P bills are the smallest the ATM gave me. I pay with a 100P bill and get the 10P card with 90P on it. Unfortunately by this time, the bus couldn’t wait and now we find ourselves waiting for the next one. It only takes ten minutes for the next and the driver confirms he goes to Republica de Argentina Street and that is what we want. You hold your pass to a reader and it deducts the fare from the card. Nine stops later we get off the bus and walk to the hostel around the corner on a pedestrian street so the bus could never drop us at the place. We get checked into the room. We always request separate beds when we are on vacation. This comes from a history of reserving double rooms in Europe only to show up and find a single bed that is way too small for us and provides lousy sleep for the both of us. The single bed approach lets us both rest as best we can. We walk in to the room to find two singles and a double bed. Jose tells us that we will not be charged extra for the room which is usually given to families. The ensuite bathroom is certainly fine and we will report on the hot water situation after the morning routine. It is just about three o’clock. After brief discussion we decide to walk to find the closest metro, grab some lunch, and return for an afternoon nap and then go out in the evening. The guidebook recommends Café Tacuba for its tamales and we are all over it. On the way we find the second closest metro. The café/restaurant is busy and the menus have English subtitles. We choose two tamales, a chilaquiles [chee-lah-KEE-less] with beans, a side of guacamole, and two bottles of mineral water.

this is the tasty plate of chilaquiles I got for breakfast at Sanborns

When I order for the two of us, our waitress tells me this is way too much food for one person and we both gesture that they are being split. The tamales come first and they are easily the biggest tamales I have ever seen. We split both. One is Oaxacan and comes wrapped in banana leaf which gives the masa a bit of a sweet flavor. The other is wrapped in corn husk and filled with shredded chicken and salsa verde. Both are very good and a deal at about $2 each. Next out is the side of guacamole which is very good and a pre-split single portion of chilaquiles. I am not exactly sure what this is and now wish we took a picture of it. It was sort of like a plate of warm tomatillo puree with a crunched up tortilla floating in the puree. With a side of refried beans. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn't order it again for lunch. The funny thing is that someone recommended I try this dish, but said it was a breakfast food. I will keep my eye out for a breakfast version in the coming days and try it again. After lunch we start back to the hostel. On the way we stop and I just get a Corona though it is served with lime and salt. I know Corona isn't the best beer in the world, but there’s no way I am putting salt in my beer. I do recall when I was in Cancun learning that rimming the beer with lime helps to keep the the ever present flies away. But if you were in a place without flies, it didn’t make much sense to do that ritual. We drink our beers and I start journaling, but can’t finish before we decide to leave. I could stay here for another hour, but now it is cutting into our sleep time. We walk back to the hostel and grab 2½ hours sleep and awake somewhat refreshed. Still a bit full from lunch we will explore the local neighborhood, grab some beer, and figure out our game plan for tomorrow. We head out down the street only to realize quickly that almost everything is shuttered closed. There is an occasional bodega or food joint, but at 8:00pm on a Tuesday, not what we expect to see. We go a few blocks in this direction and simultaneously recommend Yelping a cantina in the area. Within seconds, El has results, sorted by location and the first closest is Cantina Espana. We walk down, following the directions only to realize it is the place on our corner. We pass on stopping here as I am sure we will be back. The next place looks to be about a 15 minute walk away and we start off. It is incredible for a world metropolis twice the size of New York City, just how few people are on the streets. They really are empty. On the way we pass some cathedrals and make mental notes of where we will probably explore tomorrow. About 15 minutes later we walk into a Plaza Garibaldi and what a difference a block makes. All of the sudden we start to hear what sounds like mariachi music and start to see people. As we enter the plaza there are people everywhere and there are several roving mariachi bands playing at full strength to anyone that will listen, I took a moment to note from where we were standing how many bands we could see. I counted eight- full on 10 person mariachi bands playing on the plaza. This did not include the performers playing their instruments by themselves- then it would be considerably more. We walk until we find a bar called Café Tenampa. It looks like more of a restaurant/diner than a dive bar, but they are happy to serve us a beer. During our time here the mariachi bands make their way inside. Well, you think getting Happy Birthday sung to you in the middle of dinner at Applebees is bad? Can you imagine sitting at a table for two or three enjoying quiet dinner and conversation only to have a full mariachi band serenade you at a volume that is way louder than you ever need to hear music in this type of setting. We are offered a couple of serenades, but politely decline in favor of journaling and checking the guide books. After one beer, El looks up something called a pulqueria. Pulque is some sort of alcoholic drink that you can get at little shops called pulquerias. We pay and head out to the plaza. The bands are still at it, but we are able to avoid getting too close, choosing instead to listen from afar. We follow the directions and expect we are only a few meters from the place, since it is supposed to be just off the plaza. We walk ourselves into a dead end and conclude that the place must be closed. On our way out of the dead end alley we spot a very tiny place that looks like it might be the place we are looking for. As I peek in, one of the door hustlers sees me and when I ask if they serve beer, he orders a beer for us before we are even off the street! El seems a little skittish about entering though I think, how bad an one beer be? We walk in and there is no free chair, though a stack of chairs against the wall is stuck in the corner. As I start to resign to standing to drink our single split beer, the waitress grabs two chairs off the stack and sets them at the sole empty table. She comes back with a bottle of Corona that is one liter. We quickly tell her NOT to open it and that we would prefer to split a small beer instead of a large. She replaces it and we start drinking the beer in an effort to get out quickly. During the beer, two of the patrons start talking to us. I try to tell them that I speak no Spanish but they insist to speak in Spanish virtually non-stop. El does the best she can to translate and they include her in the conversation. Asking about where we are from and how long we will be in Mexico City. They have had a few already, but they are super friendly drunks. The occupancy of the place is maxed out at 12 plus 2 waitstaff. Over the course of our time here, three other patrons extend a handshake and offer a toast. One introduces himself as "Juan Michael". Others only smile and wave. I feel like we are at once intruding and being welcomed into this little locals club. The two guys that were sitting next to us are talking a lot. Neither seems to understand my assertion that I do not speak Spanish. They can slow down or talk louder, but it does not help. Though the conversation was always friendly and never uncomfortable, I now know how long it will take for a conversation in the country to turn to our president and his proposed border wall. Us giving a big thumbs down on both ideas was all it took to keep us in good graces with the present company. We are ready to leave, but Juan insists on buying us another round. We decline several times, but his Spanish is better than ours and he orders the bottle from across the room without our approval. The bottle shows up and we drink a toast to our new friends. After being offered more beer from the bottle he has been drinking from for the past half hour, we strongly decline and finally, El is able to put “we need to leave” into the translator and shows the screen around. We get up and make our retreat. Otherwise, I am sure we could have been here all night. Really, what started as pretty sketchy stop turned out to be a fun, friendly, sketchy stop for us. 

our very drunk, but awesomely friendly friends

So much so that if we found ourselves in the area again, I would certainly stop in for a Corona. After we say our goodbyes and actually hug one of our new friends who insists, we head back onto the plaza with the mariachi bands, but decide to head back towards the hostel and have one last stop at Café Espagna right near the hostel. We are still remarking at how few people are on the streets. Literally zero people. It is really eerie. The walk is not long and we are greeted and seated immediately. We order one last beer and an appetizer of chicken tacos and quesadillas. The tacos are kind of gross. Not like I was expecting. Think of a baked chicken puree, rolled into a tortilla and broiled, sprinkled with lettuce and cheese. The chicken is too dry and has a weird consistency. The quesadillas are more like what we would think of as a cheese taco with nothing else inside. The cheese is melted and the folded tortillas are laying flat. As you pick them up, they drip oozing cheese. The cheese has a bit of a sour flavor. Not spoiled, but more like a kind of cheese I don't prefer. I eat it, but don’t like it. Then El gets creative and opens one quesadilla, smears some of the side of refried beans inside and also some of the avocado tomato mixture that garnishes the plate and all of the sudden this is a very tasty snack. We finish up and head back to the room for the night. Before bed I test the hot water in the shower and there is none. I know I will have to ask at the desk in the morning about this to see if I am doing something wrong or if there is, in fact, no hot water. I spend a few minutes devising a plan that includes boiling water in the kitchen and taking a bucket shower before we head out. Besides the upstairs neighbors that came in loudly around 5:00am, I actually got a pretty decent night's sleep. Since we have no plan for our first full day in town, El asks if we can get up without an alarm and I agree. 

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 8

We wake around 8:00am and El is not feeling well. She believes it to be dehydration- or possibly that is a symptom of altitude sickness. I will have her set the pace this morning. I go to the desk to address the hot water and one of the maintenance guys comes to the room to show me how to put it on. No trick, but I swear there was none last night! All set with hot water, we are able to shower, grab some free breakfast in the kitchen and head out to our first stop is the Casa de los Azulejos. It is a building that has been plated in blue/white tiles. Inside is a large mural by José Clemente Orozco and it is located inside Sanborns which is a chain that sells a little of everything from chocolates and souvenirs to kids toys to perfumes- in addition to having a café. The guidebook recommends eating here, if not just to see the murals. 

i like how the artist incorporated the features of the building in the mural

the mural from above

We are hungry and El is starting to get a little bit of an appetite. She gets the sweet rolls with jam while I try chilaquiles again (pictured above). This dish was way better than the one we had yesterday. Not my super favorite Mexican food, but I guess I rarely eat Mexican breakfast anyway. This one was served as a mixture of salsa verde and queso fresco with the corn chips and side of beans. This one also had shredded chicken. It was a lot better than I expected and I'm glad I tried it. After breakfast, we head upstairs to take photos of the murals from above rather than annoy other eaters with our photography. One observation: lots of police all over the place. Seems like every shop has a security guard no matter how small it is. Certainly feel safe. They are on all of the buses and in every metro station. We head across the street to the church called Iglesia de San Francisco. El goes inside while I hang outside. Standing and admiring the facade, I get chatted up by a guy who is telling me about the history of this church. After a few minutes I realize he is part of a tour company that is offering the day trips out of town. This is one time though that I am mildly interested, but I just want a brochure which he is glad to give. He gave me his phone number in case I want the tour. He talked up his points and didn't oversell it. I told him I would let him know if I need a tour. After El came out of the church we pressed on to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The building is beautiful and sits next to Allende Park. 

outside Bellas Artes

They have a couple of murals inside and one is by Diego Rivera. There are some by others as well, but his is the only name I recognize. The museum is 60P to get in and 30P for camera use, though it is free to take pictures with a cell phone. We don’t spend long. There are only 3 floors. The first is the entrance, and the other two have the murals and paintings that are huge- so there aren't many on either floor. The main attraction of floor #3 is the Diego Rivera mural called “Man, Controller of the Universe”. The story with this mural is that Rivera was commissioned to paint it for Rockefeller Center in New York City. But when Rockefeller saw Rivera had included a images of Lenin and a May Day Parade in reverence to his communist beliefs, Rockefeller had the mural destroyed before it was completed. Rivera then used a black and white photo of the unfinished original to recreate this mural for Mexico City- complete with communist imagery. 

the center portion of Rivera's "Man, Controller of the Universe"

There were only a few pieces in the museum and we don’t stay long. Next, we decide to head down to the Coyoacán neighborhood to Frida Kahlo’s house/museum. We take the metro for the first time to Vivenda station. There is no metro card and you buy your individual trip tickets that cost 5P each one way trip. I do eventually see residents do have metro cards, but it is unclear where they get them or what they cover. There does NOT appear to be any 1, 3, or 5 day unlimited pass for us. Unlike most cities, there are no kiosks with card dispensers. We will just stick with the tickets.  Also, every metro station has the front part of the platform partitioned off, and only single women and kids under 12 are allowed in these cars. There is also a police officer who stands in the area to monitor and keep men (usually teenagers) from "wandering" into that section.  We certainly feel safe on the metro. El finds that one of our guidebooks has a self-guided walking tour for each section of the city. We follow the tour which also doubles as directions to Frida’s house which is certainly out there and far from the metro station. We find ourselves walking through a quaint neighborhood that we will probably not get to come back to since the tourist attractions in this area are limited and it is quite a way out of the city center. The weather is great for walking and the toughest part of the walk is the poor quality of the sidewalks. Probably some combination of uprooting by trees and shifting under layer, the unevenness is like we haven't seen since Buenos Aires and requires you to keep your eyes to the ground at virtually all times for fear of tripping and taking a nasty spill. At Plaza Santa Catarina we grab a sangria and journal on a rooftop bar. The sangria is awful, but the scene is wonderful and a nice rest before we head to Frida’s house. On the way to Frida’s house we stop at a tourist info stand for a map of the local area. We finish the walk to Frida’s house and the line is not too long. We stand at the end, but it does not seem to move. One of the options the museum pushes is to buy our tickets through the website in order to skip the line. No discount, but you can skip the line. It turns out that they open the ticket booth only once per half hour and that is what we are waiting for. At 3:30pm they open the booth and the stagnant line starts moving. We get a ticket each for 130P, one photo pass for 30P and one English audio guide for 80P. We spend longer walking through the house than I thought we would. This is the actual house were Kahlo was born, lived all her life, and then died. In some ways it reminded me of Pablo Naruda's house in Santiago.
entrance to the museum

Frida's studio

"Frida and Diego Lived in this house 1929-1954"

Frida's death mask laying on her bed

I could see how Rivera and Naruda were similar in their collecting methods and interests. After walking through the museum, El reminds me that she wants to go to a food place in the market. It is after 5:00, so I wonder if the market is even still open. We walk down following the directions to the tostada place. The book tells us that this place is so good that several booths surrounding it have adopted similar menus and color schemes to confuse customers into eating at their place instead. We follow our directions and find exactly the one we are looking for. The wall of tostadas is the menu and we sit at a bar counter. While we think, the waitress brings samples of three tostada fillings: mole with chicken, beef, and pork. I order a ceviche tostada and El gets the mole with chicken. I really like mine, and she likes hers. I don’t like the mole and she won't try the ceviche. We split one more pork and get our check at 6:00pm as they are closing up. What a great find! Afterwards we pull out the maps and figure the route to the metro. We have no stops between here and the metro so we just go right to the station. On the train we discuss our next stop. I suggest going back to Plaza Garibaldi to start our evening and work our way back to the hostel again- perhaps ending at Cantina Espagna like last night. We take the metro to Bellas Artes station and walk up to the plaza. On the way, I stop to admire some of the street food stands. One woman had a line waiting for her churning out grilled tortillas with a smear of black beans and some queso fresco. While the customers wait for their tostadas to finish, they grab a  plastic bag and ladle some salsa verde into it. An odd way to transport liquids, but it seems to work for them. They ask if I want one, but I am too full from our dinner. A while later we pass another street vendor with the interesting looking corn concoction. I again stop to learn what they are doing. He has two pots cooking over coals. One pot is plain corn that has been cut off the cob. The other is a simmering mixture of corn and hot peppers with some cilantro cooked in. When you order one, he asks if you want the hot or not hot (as in spicy). It is just a snack, so I decide to order one. I go for the hot. He fills a Styrofoam cup with the corn. Then you have the condiment options of mayonnaise, fresh squeezed lime, salt, queso fresco, and hot chili powder. I take all but mayo (that jar has surely been sitting out for a few hours!) My first spoonful is an incredible overload of flavors. I figure I should probably stir the contents to spread out the flavors and it worked. It was a tasty and fun street food. We walk up to the plaza and Yelp another place to have a beer. Unfortunately only the place we were at last night and places on the way back to the hostel come up. Against my better judgement I suggest going back to the same place as last night with our new drunk friends. You know, to see if they remember us. El is a trooper and reluctantly agrees. We walk up to the door and peek inside. I don’t see our friends and a very sloppy drunk woman yells at us from inside to come on in. Motioning that there is room for us at a table already occupied. We politely decline and slowly back away. We think that one of the places we were looking for last night stands in front of us. We decide to give it a try for one beer. The mariachis are serenading the tables outside, so we opt for inside. I go to the men’s room and El orders the beer. The smell in the men’s room is ripe of old urine. I don't experience rooms this bad very often, but right now an outhouse would be better! I exit to a shared sink. The water is not working, so they have left a plastic bowl of water on the counter for hand washing use. Knowing El carries hand sanitizer, dry hands be damned, I ask for some in lieu of the facilities provided. As I head to our table only about 10 feet away, I realize the stench of the bathroom is affecting the whole place. The beers have already arrived and I remark that I am glad they came in bottles as I don’t think I would dare drink anything from a glass in this place. The 70P tab is a little unexpected since similar dives have been much better for us pricewise on the beer. We find three places on the same street between here and the hostel. We will head out and barhop our way home. The first one is a bust. Either we have an outdated map or the bar is closed with no indication of its existence when the gates are closed. We start walking towards number two and eventually pass it. The address that is. Again, we cannot find the one we are looking for. We head to the third and it is a little too upscale for what we are looking for. We did pass one place that sounded and looked our speed, so we give it a go. The Doors on the jukebox. 20P beers (1USD) for  bottle of Dos Equis. Hey, I have been called the “most interesting man in the world” and although I do not wrestle alligators before breakfast, I am pretty sure we are in a place very few Americans make their way into. The music switches to Mexican tunes or a few and I concentrate on catching up on the journal. It is 9:00pm and we are committed for a 11:00 walking tour in the morning. This gives us with time to plan our breakfast accordingly. I want to eat enough to not be hungry when walking, but don’t want to spoil an appetite. I am getting a little tired from all of the walking today. 

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 9

We have a walking tour set up for 11:00am and will meet near the Bellas Artes building to walk through one of the markets. We don't want to spoil our appetite, but we do want to get something to hold us until the first food stop. The first thing we do is go to see a statue of the patron saint of thieves and drug dealers. I kid you not! Near the hotel is a street corner that has a shrine to Santa Muerte. It is a skeleton dressed in a pink dress and stands on a table with a coin collection box. I think it takes us longer to find that statue than it did to walk from the hotel. A couple of blocks away is the Temple and Hospital of the Most Holy Trinity (Templo y Antiguo Hospital de la Santisíma Trinidad). El goes in to get some pictures of the creepy statues, while I walk around taking some shots of the outside of the building and people watching. Next up we head to a street recommended by Elizabeth (one of my co-workers). She gave me a map and I told her I would figure it out. I believe it is called 5 de Mayo alley and looks like all of the food shops are preparing their food for the day. Lots of chopping, slicing, and boiling. Some of the smells are funky, but the sights can be wonderful. We see a guy boiling in oil what appears to be pig parts. He stirs with a giant paddle and as he does I think I recognize some ears and intestines. Not sure if they are added for flavor or if they are what is being prepared. El starts asking first if we can take some pictures, but then about hours of operation which are 10:00am to 6:00pm. He sees we are obviously taking an interest in what he is cooking and offers us a taste. He cuts a piece off of the freshly fried meat. It is no cut we recognize but it just tastes like fatty meat. Tasty and surely a great addition to the taco that I might eat later. If we are in the area, I would surely stop in for a bite. For breakfast we wind up on the corner at Café El Popular. We both get a biscuit with jam and café con leche mixed at table. The biscuit is more like a scone and the jam is very sweet. The butter on the scone mixed with the jam tastes great. We have about an hour to kill before our walking tour meets. We walk to Allende Park which is like a like central park. Lots of statues, fountains, trees, and benches. There is free wi-fi in the park so I quickly check email and do a little journaling. Before we know it, it is time for our tour. We head to the meeting place and meet our guide, Ubish, and his guide-in-training, Carla. After some quick intros, the five of us plus two guides head off to our first stop called K-Guamo for octopus tostada and cup of bouillabaisse. The soup is pretty fishy- not in an unpleasant way but in a boiled shrimp and lobster shells kind of way. The tostada on the other hand was wonderful. Chilled octopus with avocado on a tortilla. Really fresh and tasty. Our next stop is a pulqueria. We get the history of pulque and the explanation we would not have gotten had we not gone with the group. It is basically from the agave plant. When a leaf breaks, the plant tries to repair itself by secreting a sap. They collect the sap and ferment it. It is about 3% alcohol. Each pulqueria offers different flavors. This place offers oatmeal, celery, guava, pineapple, and coconut. We are each served a large shot glass of celery and oatmeal. 

celery and oatmeal pulque

The oatmeal is served sprinkled with cinnamon and the celery is served with a rim of salt and chili powder. The consistency is a little slimy (a little like okra) on the tongue and it is not my favorite. I do like the celery better than the oatmeal and don’t need to get another. El gets an additional coconut and likes it but I am done with what I have had. The discussion in our group is that if you actually order this- not with the group, they serve it in a regular sized glass. The shot glasses were just for our benefit and we will not see those should we order somewhere else. Next we move on to the San Juan Mercado. Ubish takes us to four stops in the market while walking us around the building. Our first stop is the cheese monger. He offers us a sample of five kinds of cheese. Four cow, one goat. Start mild and end sharp. I really like the first two, I skip the goat, and don’t care for the last two. The last one literally smells like feet and now I must have some wonderfully fragrant breath. Our next stop is salsa and jams. Miguel has a box of sampling spoons and he just doles out the tastes as fast as we can eat them. Some are mild and sweet, like grape jelly, while some get a verbal warning of supreme heat. I pass on the extra hot stuff and some of the ones I do try are really spicy. Very good too. I think my favorite was peanuts with five spices. A bit hot, but not overbearingly so. Next we stop at the bug guy. 

learning about bugs in the market on our walking tour

We learn about the kinds of bugs that are eaten here. Some are eaten as a snack, like grasshoppers or crickets, and some need to be roasted and ground up like a spice to be effective- like the flying ants. I thought we’d be given the chance to eat a termite or something, but we leave after our lecture. Evidently, bugs can be more than 10 times the price of meat, so I guess they didn’t want to splurge for the novelty of saying we tried termites. Next we are mostly walking through the market getting a visual tour of what things are offered. At one point Ubish asks if anyone is squeamish about seeing animals being butchered or skinned. The consensus is that as long as the are already dead, we are good. It always looks weird to see a lamb or a goat get completely skinned in one swoop. He points out that the market also has exotic offerings that you can buy as fast food. We pass a burger shop that offers lion, buffalo, and ostrich burgers among other things. Next we are off to see fish. The key to a clean fish market is whether or not it smells like fish. Fish smell is the smell of fish rotting so if you go into a fish market and there is little to no scent of fish, you know it is clean and fresh. This one was. Next is peppers and chilies. We get a quick lesson in dried peppers and smell the differences between them. The smaller, the hotter, the bigger, the milder. Next is a fresh fruit stand. Pepe brings several fruits over and slices them one at a time for us to sample. Lime, tangerine, cherimoya, mango, and something that tasted like a giant peach. All OK, but I didn’t think some of them were up to the peak of freshness. Whatever, it was an OK stop. On the way to our next stop, we stop at the ice cream stand and get a scoop (I choose mint chocolate chip). Next up we go to a juice counter. Fresh squeezed of any fresh fruit and also mixtures of different fruits. I just get a plain, fresh squeezed pineapple juice- though the pineapple does not mix well with the mint of the ice cream. Then we leave the market and head to a tacos el pastor stand. This is kind of like a gyros with the spit of roasting meat getting cooked from the outside in on a small tortilla and served with caramelized onion, salsa, and avocado. This I love. Very tasty. I am sure I will try this once again before we leave. Our last stop is a turkey sandwich. It is deep fried turkey with avocado. Also tasty, though my bird is a little dry. After the sandwich we head back to our starting point a couple blocks away. We say our goodbyes to the guides and talk about the possibility of doing another tour with them. 

El and i with our guide, Ubish, on the walking tour

More on this later. After the tour we go to Tour Latinoamerica, a 44 story building with an observation deck. However, on floor 41 there is a bar. If you ask for the bar, you don’t have to pay to go to the observation deck, though you can take pictures from the bar. Win/win. As we walk I have noticed is that are a lot of people employed as street sweepers. That are work at all hours using big straw brooms in all neighborhoods. Sometimes working on main roads and other times on side streets. They do keep the street mostly free of litter. Though the number of times we saw vomit, fresh or dried, was pretty remarkable. Sometimes in doorways or against a light post, other times just right in the middle of the sidewalk. I wonder if these instances are excluded from the sweepers’ job description. In fact one time we saw a worker actually cleaning/washing a public garbage can with sponges and rags, yet neglecting the vomitous obstacle that everyone has to avoid to get to the can! 
After the tower bar, we decide to head to Roma Norte neighborhood for the evening. We take the metro to Insurgentes station and walk outside to get our bearings. As will happen we are approached by a gentleman who appears a little disheveled. In our experience when we are approached and especially if we answer the question “what are you looking for” unfortunately money is often expected. As in “hey, I helped you, now you help me”. El is more likely to say we will find it ourselves where I am more likely to say the street we want and expect someone to just point. Instead, our new friend tells me that my pronunciation is very bad, but he will show us where we need to go. El follows behind whispering that he will want money for something that a map could do for us. The gentleman basically leads us to the Orbiza street that we are looking for and sets us on our way with a friendly handshake and a “mucho gracias" from us. We walk a few blocks down Orbiza to Obregon which we think is the main drag of this part of town. We grab our guidebooks and try to identify the closest recommendation to where we stand. It turns out we are within eyesight of one. We walk over to find the have not opened yet. Next door is a resto/bar that is reasonably priced. We go in hoping to map out a couple of options for the rest of our time in this part of town. We will basically bar hop our way back to the metro. Ubish and Carla (our tour guides from this afternoon) tell us that everything near the hostel is closed early because it is the center of town and more of a tourist and financial area than a regular neighborhood. They assure us other areas of the city enjoy a much later activity level than the center. Though on weekends things tend to stay open later than during the week. We finish our first round here and Yelp our next stop which happens to be next door. It is called Cerveceria de Barrio. It's a recommendation from a newspaper article, but now that we sit here I have no idea what the appeal to this chain bar is. Their prices are higher than other places. We have been offered an upsell on every item we have ordered (example: me: “I will have a Indio pilsner please” her: We have a beer that is better than that one called artisanal Tempus which is very good” me: “no, I’ll go with the Indio please”) The thing is that her recommendation was twice the price of my pick. El got the same treatment. We try to order food, but are told that guacamole is only a garnish and not a side dish for sale. I ask if my tostada comes with guacamole, but it does not. I skip on the food. We choose to finish our beers and head to the next stop between here and the metro. The next stop is Pulqueria Los Insurgentes. It is from my list of rock and roll dive bars. El orders a strawberry/peach pulque, while I stick with the Corona. We also order a "pre-historico" guacamole. The waiter goes over the Spanish menu ingredient by ingredient. “You know this is more than avocados?” I say yes, just bring it along, I know some places do it different than others. He continues, part wanting us to be warned and part wanting to challenge himself to the translations of the ingredients. “This” he says, “is avocado with tomatoes. And green like tomatoes”, which I assume is tomatillos, “purple onions, cilantro that I don’t know how to say in English”. I tell him it is cilantro and it is still OK. Then he drops the hammer with…”worms”. 

pre-historico guacamole (with bugs- the black stuff on the side of the avocado)

sometimes you feel like a bug, or in El's case, sometimes you don't

Yep, our guacamole is served with worms. What do you do? You order a dish that comes with worms. Do you cancel and rethink or do you go for it possibly to have to pull the worms out if they don’t taste good? Yeah, we tell him to bring it on, though El confides she may not have the stomach to try a worm. The bowl arrives and they aren't worms, but I think they are crickets. I have had a cricket before, but that one was bacon and cheddar flavored. I go for it grabbing a chip, scooping up tomato, avocado and a bug. It wasn’t anything negative, and I honestly didn’t get any taste from it. I am not 100% why it is added to the dish. It brings no additional flavor, but thankfully it doesn't bring additional flavor as I don’t know that I'd want to eat too many of these. I did it. It wasn’t bad, El is squirming, I remove them from the bowl and we eat the rest of the bowl without bugs, and they lay in a pile on the side of the plate. After we finish up we head to the next stop between here and the metro. A rock/punk club called Gato Calavera. The music is much more to my liking and the fact that we have to get patted down to get in reassures me this is my kind of place. This will probably be our last stop in the area before heading towards the hostel. It is just 9:00pm and we have been discussing a game plan for the morning that requires getting up somewhere in the neighborhood of 8:00am. On our tour today we met another tourist who heartily recommended the Museum of Anthropology. Every account is that this is a really cool museum and we have the time so it is on our agenda for tomorrow. We have only one solid plan for tomorrow. We have a cooking class set up, but it doesn’t start until 5:00pm, so we have a whole day to work with before then. 

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 10

Today the only plan we have is our walking/cooking tour at 5:00pm. Against all advice we take the adventure calling to us and pursue some stops in the Morelos neighborhood which is known as a pretty rough part of town. Even the sources that tell us to make the journey, tell us to do it early in the day as it can be downright dangerous after dark- for anyone, not just foreigners/Americans. Tepito Street is known as the most dangerous street in all of Mexico City and where do we need to go? To the Tepito metro station putting us smack dab at ground zero. What are we going to see? The Sanctuary at the Church of Santa Muerte. 

not your every day church window

We plan not to be dumb about it, so we leave the hostel with bare essentials. No backpacks, no big camera etc. There is no question that we are tourists when we walk down the street, but we don’t need to advertise it. We make another decision that most would have advised against…we decide that the metro is too much of a hassle and that we could just as easily walk there. The GPS tells us 12 minutes walk, where's the harm in that?. We set off with our sunglasses on, walking straight into the sun. The neighborhood businesses are just opening up. It looks like there is a routine of sweeping your sidewalk, then open your shop gates, then mop your inside floor and work your way out to the street, mopping the sidewalk last. As several shops do this, the rivulet of soapy water turns into more of a stream. These are small streets, so we walk in the street to avoid interfering with the work being done. The neighborhood is coming alive. As we walk we approach a cross street. There are several people standing in the intersection, all facing the same direction down the street, though with the upcoming corner, we cannot see what everyone is looking at. The looks on the faces of some of the bystanders causes me to think one thing…if we look down this street and they are gawking at a dead body on the street, we are out of here! Seconds later we step into the intersection and momentarily blend with the gawkers. No body! But, I do notice a few cops. As we pass, one of the women in the street is talking to her friend and uses the term “policia activity”, but we are out of earshot to hear if she has more details. We do press on. We walk about 15 minutes and find ourselves in front of the church. The window has the Santa Muerte figure, but the doors are locked. It is about 9:30am. The sign on the door says there is a service every day at 10:00am. Now, I don’t need a service, but I do want to see inside and take pictures. So, we can stand here for 30 minutes or we can GPS the address that we have for the shrine and go see what that is all about. We are so close to the hostel now and we have to stop there to grab our backpacks before getting on with the rest of our day that I suggest to go to the other location and stop here on the way back. El is good and we set off to the next. It is a 17 minute walk and on the way we start to see some less savory parts of town. We later learn that this neighborhood is the current drug zone and also famous for its pirating (as in manufacture of pirated goods) in fact I am pretty sure we saw a shipment of knockoff shoes being loaded into trucks as we walked past, but I can't be sure. We make our way to the shrine. There is no church associated with the shrine, it is just an awning over a window with a Santa Muerta inside. Just for kicks we looked up all of the things that Santa Muerta protects. 

if only I had an incarcerated friend or relative to pray for at this shrine 

The list ranges from things like protection against gun violence and sexual assault and covers professions ranging from police officers and taxi drivers to down right criminals- smugglers, prostitutes, drug dealers etc. She also protects LGBT, those in poverty, and other people marginalized by society. The Catholic church does not recognize the Santa Muerta faction but there are between 10-20 million followers. When going to visit the shrine people bring photos of relatives in prison to have them blessed. El and I wait our turn and once the two people in front of us are done, we step up to get a few photos. Sadly, I have no incarcerated people in my life that I could throw a shout out to, so we get our pics and head back to the church. Another 17 minutes and we arrive to open doors and a 10:00am mass in progress. We walk in and join the single parishioner in the second row. We take the back row. Not that we had any interest in the service per se, but thought it rude to just walk in in the middle of mass and start taking pictures. The service lasts about 20 more minutes and I am caught off guard when the priest grabs the collection plate and brings it around. Damn, of all days for El to leave the change purse in the room (remember we are bare bones this morning). The smallest bill I have on me is a 20P, thankfully it is not much money and I didn't have to ask for change of a 500P note- which would be awkward. After the service is done the priest actually turns on some pretty loud music that was a little more rock than you'd expect from another church, but not this one. I ask if I can take some photos and get the green light…actually, one of the workers gets called over to turn on the lights in the display case and all of the sudden, it’s lit up like a disco. Spotlights, flashing lights. Just for me. While I get some photos, El goes and speaks with the priest. Not sure what they talked about, but I think she got some explanation of some of the different figures in the room. 

disco Santa Muerta

inside the sanctuary. El got the scoop on all of the grim reapers from the priest

We spend about another ten minutes and start walking back to the room to grab our stuff and continue out to lunch. We decide to go back to Café Del Jardin for the pork tacos. It is on 5 de Mayo street and they were not open yesterday when we were there. They are boiling pig parts in the giant wok (hopefully different ones than we saw yesterday). Some recognizable, some not. We start with a taco each. Tacos are a little different than we are used to. Sometimes they are rolled into tubes and fried (like flautas/taquitos), and other times they are served as two 4" tortillas with your choice of topping. Today, we just get plain pork. While we are waiting I try to identify some of the swimming parts. Just because I will eat an intestine doesn’t mean I want to order an intestine taco! At one point the guy fishes out a lump of leathery flesh from the cauldron. At first I think it is just section of skin, but as he unfolds it the limp form of a face starts to take shape. He turns it enough to show me the snout and it looks like a Halloween mask…or something out of Texas Chainsaw massacre. 

boiled pig parts

It gets put back into the pot. He has a strainer that he is putting the done pieces on to drain them. I recognize a rack of ribs and also a piece of leg. Regardless of what they were floating alongside ten minutes ago, I order a rib meat and leg taco. He has a four section condiment rack that he makes up for us and delivers to the table. Two mild and two "very hot" he says. We get a Coke to split. There are no utensils so you are served a stack of two tortillas with the meat on top. You put your condiments on, fold it and eat. You aim for the stuff that falls out to land on the empty tortilla. And then eat the second with that filling. It is so good, I order another two tacos and El orders a quesadilla carnitas. I don’t know what that is and when it arrives it looks more like a deep fried ravioli than a quesadilla- and there is no cheese. It is hot, but we each eat one of the order of two. We pay and press on. We later learn that ordinarily when you order a quesadilla carnitas, the filling is brains. Better we found that out later than when we were there! Regardless, the quesadilla repeats on me all day (nothing like burping up brains all afternoon). Too much grease for me. Wish I had a Pepto, but they are back at the room! Walk to Bellas Artes metro to go to the stop called Auditorio. From here we walk to National Museum of Anthropology. The entrance is 70P. This museum is huge and very well laid out. I see why all of my research has pointed us here. We have limited time, so El gets a couple pointers from the guides of which rooms to prioritize. There are five rooms (out of 22) that get recommended. At this point my feet are really aching and I know we have a walking tour in a couple hours. I try to rest, but most of the benches are in the direct sunlight. I start to feel myself losing steam by the minute. By room #3 I am contented to move swiftly through and stop for just a couple of photos. This is one of those places that you hear described as being able to spend hours and hours inside, or that you could explore it for two days and still not see it all. Well, I don’t think there will be any of that for us. About one third of the exhibit cards are in English. Mostly the ones at the entrance to the room or section of the exhibit. Most of the actual artifacts have Spanish or no cards. This makes it easier for me to move along. All non-flash photography is permitted for free and El brings the big camera to get some good shots. 

a stone carving in the Museum of Anthropology

After the museum, we are half distance between two metros. We decide to walk to the one that did NOT bring us there. It is hot, but we have water and the street is shady. We have about two hours to go until the tour. Our game plan is to take the metro to where our class is tonight and find the meeting place. Then we will Yelp a café in the area to rest, get a coffee, and journal until it is time to meet the tour. There is a café a couple blocks away and we head there. A small room with a cappuccino machine and a cash register. All we need. I work on the journal and El checks out other local options for after our tour/class tonight. We are trying to think if we want to go out in this neighborhood or head back and go out there. Meanwhile, she reads about a bakery in this area that is supposed to be great. Turns out, it is across the street called Azucar Y Sal (Sugar & Salt). She heads over and gets a couple of pastries for breakfast. I meet her outside and we head to the apartment to meet our guide. We arrive a few minutes early and eventually our guide Elena arrives and tells us that we are the only two in the group tonight. We go inside the apartment and drop our bags. Then we walk to the small market at the end of the street and buy ingredients for the meal we will work with her to cook tonight. It is more of a cooking class than a walking tour. We pick up some fresh veggies, nuts, spices, and cocoa beans. I may expand on the cooking later, but basically Elena is a chef who teaches university level culinary classes. Her company rents this apartment out for these private dinners and we prep and cook the meal at her direction. We make two different kinds of salsa, one hot, one not. We make cheese quesadillas, two kinds of tacos, mole sauce that will be served with a stewed chicken that she cooked earlier in the day. And, my personal favorite, chocolate tamales for dessert. We (El and I) each ground our own salsa. Taking the roasted ingredients and putting them in a mortar and pestle. The salad we made was sauteed onion and cactus leaves. The cactus was a bit slimy (it is supposed to be), like okra, but would up being much better than I thought it would be. I hand-pressed and roasted all of the blue corn tortillas. These are the taco shells that we filled with a mixture of sauteed onion, roasted poblano pepper and heavy cream. Again, better than I expected. Now, mole is not my favorite sauce, but I eat it. This one was pretty decent and she didn’t serve it with too much on the chicken. Lastly, while we are eating dinner, Elena makes a chocolate sauce for the tamales that have been steaming for an hour. The sauce includes fresh roasted cocoa beans that we helped roast. It was really great. We met at 5:00pm and were done at 9:00pm, so a four hour dinner with some of the best food we've had in this city was well worth it. The cream is hitting me a little heavy, so I decide to play it safe and head back to the hostel neighborhood in case it gets worse. Right now I am OK. We take the metro back towards the hostel. We get off at Isabel la Catolica station and start walking towards the streets we are familiar with.

one of the pieces of subway art. how many can you name?

We do notice more people on the streets, but it isn't wall to wall people, by any means. It is around 10:00pm now, and we don’t need to make it a late night. Maybe one stop will do the trick. I remembered passing a place on Donceles Street that was playing some loud music that seemed to be my style. We head there and Van Halen circa 1978 is cranking. We order some beer and journal while enjoying what turns out to be a Van Halen all night playlist. Although it switches from Sammy to Dave back and forth all evening, this is good enough for me. I wouldn’t mind coming back here if other options are closed on another night. As we pay the check our waiter wants us to know two things: could we please go to Facebook and leave him a good review, and that the tip is not included. I tell him, based on the prices on the check I am aware of the tip situation and give him our reserved coinage. Afterwards, we walk back to the hostel and call it a night. As we walk, it is odd how often the smell of sewage wafts as you walk down he street. In retrospect, it was funny that our walking tour mentioned that it was geared towards tourists who were not put off by the smells of the big city! I am not saying that we ever stood around eating tacos in stench, but walking to the stand there may have been a familiar funk that I don’t usually associate with modern cosmopolitan cities. Just a little weird. Further, there were also several places where we would set up either for me to journal or for us to move out of the walkway to consult a map or guidebook only to have the stench of urine be overpowering. Enough that you check yourself to make sure you didn’t just sit in a fresh deposit. Though I never saw anyone actively using the city's flowerbeds or park benches as a toilet, they must move in the night because it was remarkable how often we ran into it. 

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 11

Our plan for the day revolves around our 10:00am meeting with today's cooking class teacher, Ben. When El and I were on the walking tour through San Juan market on Thursday, the guide, Ubish said that he was a chef. We started talking and I was asking if he did more than these walking tours and he said that he also held cooking classes. When I pressed, he explained that he was part of another company that offered private cooking classes. After the tour was over we hung back to get even more information. He said otherwise committed, but that his roommate would be willing to conduct a market/cooking tour on Saturday if we were interested. We agreed and gave him our down payment and he said we would get an email from the chef soon. Not long after, the email came and Ben introduced himself and asked us if we had any dietary restrictions. He also told us where to meet him on Saturday at 10:00am. The metro stop is San Cosme. El and I wake at 7:30am with the plan to get up and out. El bought some pastries yesterday at the Azucar Y Sal bakery. We go to the hostel kitchen to get some coffee and enjoy the doughnut/pastry which is great (the pastry, not the coffee). We finish up and check our maps. We were recommended to go see the Revolucion Square. 

revolucion square

It is a monument on the level of Arc de Triomphe in size and commemoration. In the 1910’s, Mexico’s dictator started building a place to house the legislature. However, there was a revolution before it was completed and the dictator fled. The unfinished building was then repurposed as a memorial to those who fought in the revolution. We take some photos and then walk from Revolucion Square to our meeting place instead of taking the metro. It is only about twenty minutes. As we walk, El and I almost witnessed a fender bender averted just seconds from occurrence (complete with screeching tires and horns)- while a traffic cop was directing traffic! Of course I am glad it didn’t happen, but I see the humor in an auto accident directed by a traffic cop. The markets and street stands are getting started for the day. The lunch foods are starting, but the breakfast foods (like tamales) are already in high gear. This is the first we have seen deep fried tamales and frankly as much as I love tamales, I do not think I could eat more than a bite of a deep fried one. God, that has to be hell on your stomach! No matter, we won't need to eat before our class. Just like our separation of recyclables from garbage, it seems that all homes and some public garbage cans actually require separation of organic from inorganic matter. I thought this was a great idea and am curious how the program works- is there a giant compost pile somewhere? We wander casually to the meeting place and wait for about ten minutes. Ben arrives and we are off. He has a menu all set for us and we head to the neighborhood market to get most of our ingredients. The market is just opening, so It is not too busy just yet. We move through easily making stops at his chili and seed lady, his butcher for beef, and veggie guy for tomatoes and zucchini and some fruit I have never eaten before- it is a type of tart prickly pear. Before long we walk to his apartment and get started. I will spare the details of our following his directions with prep and cooking of the dishes, but the menu was: Mexican rice, corn meal dumplings cooked in mole, with beef tips, onion, and zucchini served on top. The drink was a refreshing mixture of cucumber and lime blended for only couple of seconds and then strained and diluted with water. Everything tasted wonderful and Ben and Ubish ate the meal with us (as opposed to last night when Elena cleaned up the kitchen while El and I ate). 

beef tips with onion and zucchini, served over mole with a side of Mexican rice

El, chef Ben, me, Ubish

As we ate we discussed our trip so far and what our plans were for the rest of our time here. We did not know how long the class was going to take, so we didn’t know how long we would have to see other things today. As we pulled out our research, both guys knew almost all of the places we could go and had some great ideas about what things to see and what to take a pass on. I know that my first and foremost stop is the heavy metal/punk rock street market held every Saturday near metro Buenavista. We are done and leave Ben’s apartment around 2:30pm. We walk up towards the market, stopping at a park with a Moorish pavilion. Though it has been renovated in the past 20 years, it is an ornately decorated gazebo type structure that is the centerpiece of the park. They say that the pavilion is able to be completely taken apart and has been for special occasions over the years (as in they take it apart to move it for display elsewhere). We get a couple of pictures and continue on to the market. It takes us a while to navigate the area as it is, according to the map, on the other side of a giant mall surrounded by very heavily trafficked streets. Thinking we got the upper hand on this situation, we try to short cut through the mall. We go in and we cannot actually locate an exit on the opposite side of the main entrance. The mall has a metro station on the ground floor and we move to take the escalator up in an effort to find an exit further away. Well, we walk all the way to the end of this giant mall and now we can't even find an escalator or stairs down, let alone an exit! El asks the security guard how to get out and sure enough he says there is only ONE exit from the mall, at the metro station! Are you freakin’ kidding me?? A mall? With, I don’t know, 100 stores? And there is only one door in? And it doubles as the only door out?? What a colossal waste of time. We backtrack to the metro and get ourselves outside. We start heading towards the market again. At this point, I should mention that we are in a neighborhood that is not on any of our maps so we are relying on El’s cell phone GPS to guide us. About 2 minutes later I start seeing the kind of people I usually see in heavy metal bars. Long hair. Leather jackets. Backpacks with Iron Maiden patches. I feel we are getting close. We round the corner and I am stunned. It really is a heavy metal street market! There are vendors of all things heavy metal and punk. Posters, books, every type of apparel, bootleg DVD, tattoo on the spot. Bands hawking their own music and people walking around with a box of CD’s doing trades with others. They walk up to each other and instead of greeting each other, they stare directly at the trade offerings. El and I walk through at a rapid pace knowing that I could spend the day here. The market is called El Chopo (el-choe-po, no to be confused with el-chop-oh, the drug lord) and was great fun for me. I bought some posters of my favorite bands playing concerts in Mexico City. In this area, Ben and Ubish also recommended a place characterized as a “megalibrary”. El maps it and we are literally next door to the library. I don’t know how many books it has, but it was a lot. Obviously, we didn’t need to peruse the stacks, but getting a picture of the whale skeleton made the stop interesting.

underneath the whale skeleton in the megalibrary

the whole whale skeleton with floors of books above

They also have an renowned  botanical garden surrounding the building. It was nice, but we've seen better. We don’t spend too long. We make plans for the next stop. A restaurant called Minichelista. One of the things I love about our travels is that we put together lists of things to do in the city compiled from several sources. And today I was rattling off some of the options and when I said "Minichelista", Ubish laughed and said he could not believe that I could have this place on my list. It is a great place he said, but was kind of out there. As El and I plot the address on the GPS we realize it is a 47 minute walk from here. It is before 5:00pm and we go for it. It does not look like there is a metro stop anywhere near the destination and we are resigned to learning how to take a local bus to at least get us back to a metro if not all the way to the central district where we are staying. We walk and sure enough, just about 45 minutes later we are upon the doorstep. Along the walk as I complain about my aching feet, El reminds me that a cold beer lies ahead. As we walk into the restaurant, literally the first thing we see is a sign that reads ”be aware that we serve no alcohol”. We have come too far to leave because of this. We ask for a seat in this obviously funky place. After seating us, the host comes back to the table to tell us the have a meeting of English speakers at the place tonight and wonders if it will be OK if some of them come over to speak with us as native speakers. We agree, but since we are sitting at a table for three, we invite only one at a time. We will be happy to speak with anyone for a few minutes. We understand that a local young lady has organized a kind of meetup for people who want to practice their English and some of them are more advanced than others. Javier is the first to sit with us and he is an engineer for Bosch who grew up in Mexico City and is in town for the meetup. Next up is Abril. She has been studying English since she was a baby and her command is pretty great. She is studying Japanese and Korean now and has traveled to Europe with dreams of more world travel. And she is only 18. I am impressed by her interest in all things international and we encourage her to follow her dreams. Over the course of our time here I get a chocolate and coconut milkshake and a hamburger Arab style, which just means it is served in a pita. The burger isn't great, but the shake makes up for it and the quirkiness of the place and the conversation with our new friends makes the aching feet and lack of beer totally worth it. As we get ready to leave we ask about the local buses to take us to a metro station. Abril is from the neighborhood and knows which bus will take us. She offers to walk us to the street and help us flag a bus to get to Normal (the name of the metro station). We settle up and walk with Abril for several blocks. Of course we hope to not have to wait too long. We continue to speak with her and find out more about her family and answer questions about our travels. We wait not five minutes and she demonstrates how to hail the bus. The sign in the window confirms it is the one we want and we quickly say our goodbyes. We jump on the bus and the last stop is the metro station. We get on to the blue line and head back to Allende to go back to El Jarrito bar from the other night. With cheap beer, decent tunes, and plenty of seats. Since it is Saturday night, there are more people inside than there were the other night. The other night we ordered our beer at the bar, tonight there are four waitresses with enough clientele to keep them busy. Most seats are taken and we resign to asking another couple of we could share a table with them, but just as I am about to ask, one of the waitresses commandeers a table for two and we are seated. I have not had one minute to journal today, so I spend about one and a half hours catching up while El knits, monitors the giant snowstorm about to pummel home, and reading today's latest Trump news. One headline was that an Israeli newspaper, in an article regarding Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the paper used a photo of Alec Baldwin satirizing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live instead of our true life joke of a presidentPretty funny stuff. I can't help but wonder if it was on purpose! Nonetheless, I catch up and tell her I do not need to stop elsewhere tonight, but would take a last round here if she was alright. She is and I order the two beers. $2 USD for 2 Dos Equis, I love this part of my vacations.

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 12

Set the alarm, but wake well before it goes off. I think I am just so exhausted after each day it is helping me get solid sleep each night. We don’t take too long getting ready. We plan to go to metro station Polanco as one of the girls last night told us about a set of steps in the metro station that is painted like a piano and actually sounds like the notes as you walk up and down the steps. I have seen this project in Stockholm (you can Youtube it), where on a daily basis when given the choice of taking a side by side steps or escalator, most will choose the escalator. 

waiting for people to clear out so we could make our own racket running up and down the "keys"

Then they installed the piano steps and almost everyone took the steps. There seems to be a really creative and interesting program going on in the subways since many stations have art installations (some even have mini, one-room museums!), Some have science exhibits (one has an unlit portion of the walkway between two metro platforms that as you walk through, a blacklight projection of all of the constellations of the zodiac are on the ceiling. 

a subway connector corridor darkened so you can see the constellations on the ceiling

I guess that unless you take this path regularly, you may not even know that it is there. Some people we talked to didn’t seem to even know about these station installations, while others told us about ones we didn’t know about, like these piano steps, for example. A concept that supposedly was an easy way to get people to favor the healthier option. However, this installation is on the stairs to the exit of the station and while we hang back to let the crowds go before getting our pictures, it is pretty clear that the novelty of this project has worn off on them and most people are now back to favoring the escalator. Anyway, we don’t even have to leave the station. We walk up and down getting our pictures and video. There are laser triggers to detect your steps and tell the system when to play your note. I think some of the eyes may need to be adjusted as the piano is sounding more like one from an old house than a newly tuned one. After our time here, we get right back on to the metro and head to Isabel la Catolica station. A funny moment happened here but, I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough. OK, what do you do when you look up on a semi-crowded subway car and see a man holding up and open straight razor? I grab my camera (though not fast enough). Almost every metro car has some sort of hawker or performer. They step in and as the train pulls out of the station you will get one of the several options. You might get a blind karaoke singer with a change cup attached to his chest walking through the car. You might get a forty second bible verse. You might get someone selling gum or decks of cards. It happens so often and I don’t understand enough of the language to pay any attention, that they really have to do something special to get my attention. Not paying attention to the words I do hear one of these hawkers in the car. It takes a few seconds into his spiel for me to peer across the crowded car to see a hand holding a white and silver object above head level. I think it is a harmonica or some sort of maybe a little plastic carrying case for eyeglasses. Then, with the flick of the wrist the straight razor is exposed. The guy is probably 20 feet from me and no one between the two of us is screaming or shoving to get away from him. There is no sense of urgency. I put everything together, that he is just a hawker and this is his ware to unload today. I try to get the camera, but with no takers in this car he is on to the next car to try again. I turn to El and can can only imagine what would happen if the train hit a bump or there was an unexpected jolt. If there was, I assume the people next to this guy would find out first hand, just how solid this product is. He might even sell a couple. But, could you imagine if you were in a New York City subway car with an open straight razor? It would be a miracle if you didn’t get yourself killed, regardless of your motive. Moving on, Ubish had told El about a mini-mall with shops that sell only Mexican made goods. El is on the hunt for some traditional clothing and the idea is that she will be able to get ones not made in China. I rest and journal while she shops. It is 11:00am and we want to eat tacos el pastor again today. We hear that El Huequito is the best and it is near Isabel la Catolica street. We will go there for lunch. Last night we also got a recommendation of the “grass wall”. 

just leaning in the grass

It is on Regina between Isabel la Catolica and Bolivar. It is a fun little art installation where a wall is covered by grass with bicycles and tricycles attached to the wall by the tires.The illusion is when you lean against the wall and take a photo from the ground, it looks like you are laying grass with your bikes behind you. We spend a few minutes there laughing and then move on. We go on to Bolivar and easily find number 58 which is El Huequito, universally recommended for the best tacos and while I really liked the tacos we had on our walking tour a couple days ago, I am ready to sample these. They have a small restaurant and also a take away setup on the sidewalk so you could just grab one and go. We confirm that if we order in the restaurant we are still getting the food from the sidewalk because I want the fresh sliced stuff, not from a bin in the kitchen. I get two regular tacos, one taco with cheese, an Aztec soup, and a beer. 

Aztec soup

tacos al pastor cooking at El Huequito

The tacos are the 4 inch tortillas and some sliced pork with sauteed onion and a little cilantro and avocado. The soup is a tortilla soup. A tomato heavy vegetable broth ladled over a cup of julienne tortillas, some fresh cheese, a slice of avocado, and dried ancho chili on top. It starts off pretty mild, but as the dried ancho steeps in the broth, the soup gets hotter and hotter as I progress. Good thing I got a cup and not a bowl! The food is very good, though, in a way, I can't say I taste much difference between here and the stand from the other day, but at least now I can say I have eaten the best tacos al pastor in the city or at least in the central district. After lunch, we head to the artisan market for El to check on some more native clothing. She didn’t find exactly what she was looking for at the mall (though she did get some things). We walk down El Salvador towards the market. We have been seeing traffic police all over this city since day one. They wear the white gloves, dress in white uniforms, and usually have a whistle to alert drivers who are not paying attention. As we walk down El Salvador we cross Balderas. Balderas is a major street while El Salvador is a good sized street that has a car lane on the left and the right and a bus stop in the center of the street. Most of the green light time is given to those on the six-lane Balderas, while the El Salvador traffic waits for the green arrow to make their turn onto the one way Balderas. As we approach, we hear the whistle, but honestly, this does not sound like the short chirps of the traffic cops, but more like a kid learning to blow for the first time and whose parents have not taken it away yet. We cross over Balderas and find ourselves across the lane from the source. It is a man with a whistle, and when the turn arrow is red, he is blowing wildly and gesturing for all cars to stop. Even when they are all stopped, he continues to blow and gesture. Then, when the arrow turns green, with equal enthusiasm, he blows the whistle and gestures for the cars to go...go...go. Until the light turns red and he starts to stop everyone again. Like a traffic cop, only with the stoplight doing all the heavy lifting. Once the line is stopped, he then approaches each waiting car for a handout. Allthewhile, keeping an eye on the light to change. It certainly was a clever gimmick. As we see a sign for Bucareli Avenue, I am reminded that as we spend longer in a city, you start to see how the neighborhoods are interconnected and you start to connect them and even though you saw each area individually, it comes together and you start to feel like you are getting to know the city better. The market is directly across the street from the taco shop we ate at on our food tour the other day. As we approach the market entrance I turn around to see the stand and lo-and-behold…the awning says El Huequito! It is a satellite operation of the one we just ate at. So we had eaten these tacos before today, we just didn’t realize it! El finds what she is looking for in the market, and we are on our way to one of my picks…the National Museum of San Carlos which we understand is small, but has a pretty extensive collection of Gothic art. We don’t usually do too much art-wise as neither of us appreciate it like many others. The featured exhibition is Goya and there are many, many sketches and paintings by him in the first room. Unfortunately, his painting "The Third of May 1808" is not here. We didn’t even get sketches of it. There were four main halls housing permanent and temporary collections. I saw one Rubens, one Van Dyck, and one Rodin statue. We move quickly as nothing grabs us too much. There is a funny moment when we enter a room that has two high back, upholstered chairs set up in front of one of the paintings. Two old people are sitting in the chairs, not to rest, but to admire and discuss the painting. They were discussing and pointing like it was speaking to them. I wanted to have El stand behind the chairs and take a photo as I walked up to the painting, so they would be admiring me. But I thought of it too late. We are done in about a half hour. We head to the café area to journal and check potential next stops. I don’t need food, but a beer sounds good right about now. We settle on Bar Opera, and on the way we come across a bus stop. There are two kinds of stops, ones where you just wait on the sidewalk and get on when the bus arrives. But, there are also bus stops that are more like covered platforms where you go through a turnstile to get to the platform. The platform is enclosed and usually manned by one or more police officers. Having been on the lookout all week for a place to recharge our bus pass to have enough to get to the airport, we know we can do it at this platform. One of the kiosks is broken, but we are able to get the extra 30P onto the card. Now I am comfortable that we are prepared for the Metrobus fare to the airport. On our way to the Bar Opera that we want to try, we stop and do the Museum of Memorial and Tolerance. 

one of the art installations dedicated to children victims of genocide at Museum of Tolerance

an important concept no matter what language

The cost is 75P for the entrance and 95P for the audio guide. We decide to skip the audio guide and just do the museum on our own. Having seen museums of this nature before, I can't imagine that we will miss that much. The museum is focused on genocide and crimes against humanity starting in the 20th century. The exhibit starts with the holocaust and this period of history take up the top two of five floors from ideology to liberation. It looks like Steven Spielberg provided much of the video footage that was on display. I was amazed at how detailed the part of the exhibit that dealt with Ukraine was. Of course, it was part of the USSR then, and it even detailed Babi Yar which we have visited, but most people do not know was the third deadliest event during the holocaust. The centerpiece is an actual train car used to transport people to camps in Poland. As you work your way down the the floors, there are exhibits on Darfur, Guatemala, Cambodia, Ottoman Empire, Armenia, Yugoslavia etc. The Central American problems that resulted in "the disappeared" always tugs at my heart. Those poor families whose members had been kidnapped and murdered never to be heard from again. Every time I see those people holding the photos and names of their loved ones makes me so sad. Then the bottom floor was about the definition of tolerance and acceptance of others. There was a temporary exhibit entitled Feminicide, focusing attention on females of any age who have been killed or disappeared in Mexico either because of family violence, sexual assault, or about eight other specific methods. The most striking moment was walking through corridors filled with files of unsolved cases, some labeled “no identification”, but each a file of a person who is longer able to tell their story. Heartbreaking to say the least. I have to pause and consider myself so lucky up to this point in my life to have not experienced any tragedy of this nature that I know of. 
Afterwards, we walk to Bar Opera and arrive just as they are closing for the night at 6:00pm (early close on Sundays). The next random place we see is called Salon Bach. They are offering a deal of a free 4 course meal with the purchase of 4 beers. Now the beers are 60P each (which is about double ordinary). We ask the waitress if we can order 4 beers between the two of us and get 1 set of dinner. She agrees and we start with a bean and avocado soup. Next an endive and walnut salad. Entree is a chicken over pureed yucca in a lemon and thyme sauce. Very tasty. Dessert was warm strawberries tossed in butter. It was supposed to be served with ice cream, but they ran out of ice cream. The food is decent, but not enough for a dinner for both of us. I can't believe they want you to buy four beers each though! Instead of ordering more beer here, we press on to Salon Corona. Getting decent reviews for their atmosphere and food, we head a couple blocks over. It is a small and busy place. It looks like families as well as tables of friends getting together to watch the game kind of place. We order tacos, quesadilla, guacamole and beer. It is served with hot sauce and hot peppers. I ask which are hot and which are very hot and the waiter tells me. I get daring and taste one of the very hot ones. I chew the end off and it really isn't too bad. It has been soaking in vinegar, so that must have diluted the heat a little? A few moments later I am feeling a tingle on my tongue. As a few minutes pass, I realize it is still getting hotter. And hotter. And hotter. My mouth is now on fire. It doesn’t last too long, but luckily I have the guac and beer to wash things down. 

all just variations of hot

We finish up here and head to El Jarrito for our last stop of the night. I keep forgetting the cross streets it is located at. As we walk towards the bar, we discuss the couple of things we might want to do before we leave on Tuesday. Sadly, at one point we pass a church that we know is closer to the hostel than the bar, so now we have to decide if we will turn back around or press on. I figure that we should skip El Jarrito and just go to the bar near the hostel. When we get there it is closed and we call it a night. It is only 10:15, but we want to get a reasonably early start on the day tomorrow to Teotihuacan. The other night I was speaking with one of the other hostel guests and asking if she had gone or was planning to go to Teotihuacan, since we were kind of on the fence. Turns out she is a doctoral student whose thesis is on Teotihuacan and she was going there for her research. I asked if she was taking the tour, and she said she needed much more time there and was going to go herself using the public transportation. I ran into her again tonight and asked her about her trip and if she had some suggestions. She gave us exact directions and the details of her travel to and from the ruins.

MONDAY FEBRUARY 13

We are up at 7:30. Eat breakfast at the hostel and are out by 8:30.  After considering our options, we decide to do the trip on our own. There is a never ending list of companies that offer this tour. They pick you up at your hotel, take you to some big church between downtown and the ruins, they stop for lunch and the gift shop and get you home by 6pm. The cost is 550P each and they all seem about the same- I have not found one that does or offers anything different. Some will tell you that your ruins admission fee is included with their group, though I didn’t find one that it wasn’t. Nonetheless, we look up the instructions of how to do this ourselves instead of the tour. We start at metro Zocalo which the closest to the hostel, and after two transfers we get off at Autobus del Norte station. The bus station is directly across the street from the metro and we head inside to Sala #8. It is a pretty big station, but there are only eight gates. One of the things we learned was that you have to tell them you are going to the "pyramides" because Teotihuacan is also the name of a town and you could accidentally buy a ticket to there instead. We are through the line in one minute and the bus leaves in 10 minutes (every twenty minutes, I think). I don’t think we could have planed that better. The bus tickets are 50P each way and you buy round trip at the station. As we head towards the ruins, we start making stops along the way picking up people who use the bus like a minibus. At one point we saw a man riding a ten seed bike in the right lane of a six lane highway. I am not talking about a big avenue with traffic lights. I mean an expressway with on ramps and exits! He had no helmet. I hope he made it off the road OK. The bus ride lasts exactly one hour and we are let off at the gate to the complex. There are several structures in the complex with a central road called the Avenue of the Dead. At the end is the Pyramid of the Moon. To one side is the Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world and you can climb up the 248 steps to the top landing. You can climb half way up the Pyramid of the Moon, but the Sun you can go to the top. I have no interest in climbing either one, so I let El decide for herself if she will do one or both, but she seems pretty excited about going up the Pyramid of the Sun, so we plan for that. We walk the Avenue of the Dead all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon taking pictures along the way and going into some the minor structures along the way. It is about a mile trek that includes several walls of steps to traverse. As for souvenirs there is an incredible amount of people selling souvenirs inside the complex. Selling everything from blankets and tshirts to “silver” and “obsidian”. There are also jaguar and bird calls, masks, and tour services available. There were just two things they don’t seem to sell inside: hats and ice cold water. It is so hot and I tell El that even though we have water in our packs an ice cold one would get me to spend enough for a good commission for someone. To no avail. Though El does find some water, it is well off the path (near one of the housing areas) and not seen by people like me who stick to the trail. 

on the Avenue of the Dead

the Pyramid of the Sun

view from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun

She decides not to climb the moon and we start working our way back to the Sun. I set up camp at one of the landings in front of the Sun. She leaves her backpack and takes the camera and water and heads up to the top. I am able to set up a good enough spot to sit and journal in her absence. She is up and down from the pyramid in about 40 minutes. She got the pictures she wanted and is back before I know it. We have one last stop to make at the Citadel. It is a major spot in the complex and we head back towards it. It is similar to the Pyramids of the Moon and Sun, only smaller. Again, El chooses to go, while I wait for her. I take the bags while she takes the water and camera. We agree to leave when she returns. It is just after 2:00pm, so we have spent about four hours here (the tour groups give you 1½ hours here so they can whisk you off the eat or buy souvenirs and get to the church). We head out to the main road (entrance gate) to wait for the bus back to the city. Our return tickets are not for a specific time and we think the buses run about every 20 minutes. As we get to the street we see a bus and ask one of the attendants if this is the bus we want. He says "si" and we run to meet the bus, reconfirming with the driver he is going to the station we need. The ride is about 45 minutes back and we get off at the bus station. We have dinner reservations tonight at 7:00 and we need to decide at 3:30 if we will have lunch or if we will just get a snack to last until then? After discussing necessity of going back to the room before dinner, we decide to head to the neighborhood of the dinner and find a bar/café there instead of going back to the room as they (room and dinner) are in opposite directions. On the way through the La Raza metro station to make our connection we see a sign of a woman selling canasta tacos. These have been recommended and are just the fix we need to hold us until dinner at 7:00pm. Unlike the dry soft shell tacos we have been eating all week, these are prefilled with a mixture of… I am not quite sure what. Beans and potatoes are part of it, but I don’t remember the rest. Once filled, the tacos are then steamed making the tortilla really soft and easy to rip. We order two tacos and squeeze our way into the condiments area. Assuming everything is "muy picante". I put just enough salsa on the taco and eat it in about 3 bites. Shockingly, the taste reminds me a lot of Jack In The Box, which I have not had in years. We make it down to the Condesa neighborhood to first find the restaurant and then we will Yelp bars in the area. It only takes a few minutes from the metro to reach Lardo. We head to La Pozinlia for a beer around the corner. Once I connect to wi-fi, I message a friend I have been trying to connect with all week. He lives just outside of the city and it seems that it is equally difficult for him to get to me as it is for me to get to him. We finally agree on being able to meet after out dinner- I guess around 9:00pm. At 6:30, El and I figure it is worth a shot to go to the restaurant and tell them that we are early for our 7:00pm reservation. Worst thing that happens is they stick us at the bar for a few minutes. As expected we are seated right away and I am given an English menu. While I ordinarily don’t want to put anyone out, there are times that even for El it is good to have the translation. For example one of the appetizers was chicken something with grilled bread. Not sure of one word, I consult the English menu to see it is deep fried chicken livers served with grilled bread. If I ordered it I would eat it, but it probably would have dampened my enthusiasm for the course. We start with a bowl of warm marinaded olives and almonds. We also get a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Next is an andouille sausage and burrata personal flatbread pizza. Next comes deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with a ricotta style spicy cheese filling. A plate of curry spiced, grilled nan arrives for us to soak up the tomato sauce on the side of the flowers. Next is my beet salad with grilled provolone on top. Then El's salad of watercress, mango, cactus, and toasted almonds. Lastly for the dinner portion, we order sauteed cauliflower served over guacamole. The spice combination on the cauliflower is so good. El asks the waiter and he takes a couple of stabs, but we think he is missing at least one spice. We resign to few uncorroborated guesses. When he returns to clear our plates, he slips El a piece of paper with the ingredient list on it. The list is both in English and Spanish, and is a nice gesture. Tarragon, by the way, as the one we couldn’t guess. As we wind down our meal we order a dessert called cheese cake with berries and pistachios. The “cheese cake” is not what we expected, but it was still very good. It was more like a vanilla cream flan than ice cream. A really nice cap to the dinner. Being our last 12 hours in the city, we wanted to be mindful of our finances in terms of not wanting to have too much left over that would require converting back to dollars, but knowing that we needed to have enough to go out with friends afterwards. It is always a challenge. Luckily, I am able to keep a running total of the dinner cost and without denying ourselves anything. We are able to avoid putting anything on the card and just use the cash we have on hand. I wouldn’t say this place was the top spot in the city, but it was fun and quite enjoyable. El and I were able to split everything and taste all of the food served. The quality showed in each dish with nothing lacking. A lot of the dishes we got were simple and relied on spice combinations to keep them interesting. The whole meal runs us 1500P (which is just about $45 USD) which is a better value than anything at home I can think of off the top of my head. As we finish our coffees, we are able to let my friends know we are on our way to a bar called La Clandestina on Obregon Street. We were looking for it the other night, but it was at the far end of the street and we had to skip it. This works out perfectly as we meet Jose and Andrea for the first time. Andrea seems to know a thing or two about all things alcoholic. She becomes my source of info about mezcal. La Clandestina is a mezcal bar that serves a couple of beers and about 15 varieties of mezcal. 

craft distilled mezcal at La Clandestina

I have had tequila (not my favorite), but don’t think I ever had mezcal that I can remember. After a quick discussion with the waitress, it is decided that she will bring samples of three different kinds, I will choose the one I want a 1oz shot of. I believe the samples were a young, medium, and aged varieties. The samples are enough for El and I. Definitely not my favorite drink. Yikes. This is awful, though to get the full experience I order the least bad of the three- the youngest one. It is served with sliced oranges sprinkled with worm salt. When I asked what it was, I keep hearing “warm salt” and can’t understand what that is all about, I keep asking for clarification until finally Andrea explains it is "worm salt" made from the powder of the dried worms found in the bottle of mezcal mixed with salt and sprinkled on the orange slices. Honestly, that slice of orange with the worm salt was the best part of the shot! Now, with a limited beer menu and me not wanting another shot and El entirely content with just drinking the samples, we discuss going to another bar that has a wider beer selection. I settle up and we leave. Jose and Andrea suggest a bar, though just as we leave and walk towards the car, El and I spot the place next door called The Trappist, that someone recommended earlier this week (I think it was Ben at the cooking class). Now, El and I know that we are within walking distance of a metro that stops running at midnight, and being propositioned with the possibility of driving to another bar that may or may not be near one and not knowing if we would be offered a ride back to the hostel (or if our driver would be in a shape to drive) we need to think on our feet hoping not to find ourselves stranded in need of a taxi that we now have no money for, I just don’t want to take that chance. 
I ask if we could at least have a look at the beer selection in the Trappist to see if there is anything acceptable that would allow us to keep our options limited in our favor. Andrea and Jose lead the way and it sounds like this place does not have the variety they were hoping for, but there are enough here to make it a good stop. Andrea is talking up Mexican craft brew beer, which I don’t think we have sampled much of. Usually a Corona or Dos Equis is the Mexican beer we have been getting with our tacos and quesadillas. Andrea does the choosing and orders four beers and four glasses for us to sample the craft brews that she is recommending. Over the course of the evening, we wind up drinking seven beers between us including a wheat, lager, stout, and porter with a couple more in the middle. Eventually the bar gives last call and Jose grabs the last of the selections for the night. We are all OK to stay, but it is now after midnight and it is probably best that we call it a night (instead of getting started at a new place). We had a great last night in town with Jose and Andrea and I think Jose and I both wish we could have put this meeting together earlier in the trip so we could have gone out with them more than just this once. We had a great evening with them and who knows when our paths will cross again. After we settle up, El and I get dropped off at the hostel. I don’t know how people drive in this city! Even a night with relatively little traffic, and a GPS telling us how to go, it is still a challenge to navigate and find the right streets! Eventually, we turn onto a street I recognize and even though I am turned around and think we are coming from the opposite direction, I figure it all out about two blocks from drop off. A typical weeknight in the center district with no one on the street we pull over with no fear of other cars coming by and needing us to move. We exit and say our final goodbyes capping off a great end to a great vacation. A quick game plan discussion for tomorrow morning and we are in bed short order. 

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 14

We set the alarm for 7:30 but something is not sitting well with me and I am not feeling well. That said, I am up well before the alarm hoping whatever it is will pass before we leave for the airport. I will spare the details, but the Pepto is getting a workout this morning. I want to get some food in me since it is not my stomach that is giving me problems. I am thinking that it is some of the hot peppers or spicy things that is kicking my ass. We shower and quickly pack. El had made a stop yesterday at another pastry shop to grab a couple of pastries for our breakfast. The game plan was to hit the national Basilica at Zocalo, then head to the Palacio Postal to mail postcards and get some pictures of the ornately decorated atrium. 

the atrium at the post office

I am not sure I am going to be able to make both and tell El I will decide after breakfast if I will try one, both, or neither. We revise the plan and El will go to the Basilica by herself. I will attempt the postal building by myself. It is 8:45 and we want to meet back at the room around 9:30. I walk down to the Bellas Artes area and find the post office inside. The four postcard stamps run 49P and luckily there is no line. I drop the cards off and take a quick picture of the atrium. I need to start getting back to the room. I have a couple of subway tokens left over and use one to go from Bellas Artes to Zocalo station so I don’t have to walk it all. On my way out of the metro I approach a woman clearly on her way to the token booth and hand her my three remaining. She tries to pay me, but obviously I refuse and with the smile on her face, it looks like I have just made her day. A little goodwill never hurts. I meet El back at the room and we grab our bags and check out. I confirm where we need to get the Metrobus that will take us to the airport. It is only three blocks away, but it is necessary a) to have a bus card, which we do, and also B) no matter how confident you are, to always ask the driver if this bus is going the the airport (or wherever you are heading). We got three wrong buses before the right one for us came. The ride took about 45 minutes and we get off at the same spot we got on a week ago. We breeze through security and are sitting at the gate at 10:15am. We have 1½ hours before we board to head home. 

Conclusion:
On the bus ride to the airport, El asks if I had a good vacation and without hesitation, I answer "absolutely". I don’t need to reiterate all of the reasons that we travel well together, but it is because of this that I feel we get the most out these trips for us. I know people travel for different reasons. We met one couple on this trip that was looking for salsa dancing clubs and if they could do that every day, I think they would be content. Others travel for art and spend all of their time in the art museums. I don’t think why we travel can be narrowed down to just a couple of categories. I bet to some people who would read this journal, it might look like all we do is eat and drink with all of the bar hopping we do, but I don’t think that is the case. It is hard to tell without a timeline of arrival and departure that there is a difference between sitting in a bar and journaling/knitting for three beers over the course of two hours, rather than doing shots and stumbling our way back to the room- which we don't do. There was none of that. It is just that bars usually have better music than cafés and they are open later too. So I would rather spend an hour in a dive bar on a Thursday night than drinking cappuccino at a café in the same neighborhood. A few people on this trip asked me how we come up with all the stuff to do. Well, Google is my friend and in the time leading up to the trip I will see where Anthony Bourdain went in this city, what do others say are the best sights, best restaurants, best bars, best heavy metal bar, best museums, weird things to do etc. I compile all of these suggestions and then carry them everywhere we go. During our trip we explore on our own, but we also talk to residents, tourists, and other passers through to see what they did, what they liked and also what wasn’t good for them and why. On no less than three occasions on this trip someone was impressed by something we had done during our time here. One of my slight concerns on this trip was the current political situation on the U.S. regarding Mexicans specifically. Wondering if I would feel any resentment or if people would know that the actions of my government do not reflect my opinions. That said, the subject did come up a couple of times in conversations, but there was never more than a causal comment. Every day we would walk passed the newsstands and see the front pages of the papers. Every day at least one paper had a photo of Trump above the fold. Even though it was not being discussed and we were not involved in debate with anyone, it was pretty obvious that they are watching us a a nation and looking to what comes next. Without confrontation, we were never made to feel uncomfortable. In fact, on several occasions, people would ask where we are from. When we said "New York," the response every time was a smile and the words "ahh, welcome to Mexico City." Even though we are on vacation, we are on the go constantly. We leave the hostel by about 9:00am every day and got back, I think 10:15pm was the earliest night in this week. We walk, we eat, we drink, and we laugh and explore. We try to engage with people we cross paths with and I think we are better travelers for it. I know our style of travel is not for everyone, but I am glad to have someone who shares the same passion for the places we go and can appreciate the same places we wind up in. To have a resident tell me they are impressed with some portion of our travels to their city is gratifying and I know I am doing something right. Until the next trip, "hasta luego". 
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