The Lifeblood of Mexican Civilization Since the Beginning [Mexico City, Mexico]

Travel

Mexico is often a closer flight for those living in certain parts of the United States than to go to other parts of the country. I had a volleyball tournament in New Orleans that January, so I thought of going a bit further south to Mexico during the depths of Chicago winter. My trip to New Orleans had unfortunately been one of the coldest winters that the city had seen, so I was hoping by going further south it would bring me more luck. This wasn’t my first time in Mexico, as I had first visited in 2015 to the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato. I had heard such wonderful things about Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world with a population of more than 20 million people. It’s also known for cultural arts, cuisine and its pre-Columbian historical significance.

January 15, 2018

I had booked a shared Airbnb in the Juárez neighborhood near the city center. The unit was on the top story with a balcony and artsy feel. The owner, and my to-be roommate for two weeks, was a French man who decided to go on vacation while I was staying there, so I ultimately had the place to myself. I met a longtime friend Salvador for a quick dinner before resting the remainder of the evening.

Airbnb in Juárez

January 16, 2018

My plan for this trip was to work from the Google Mexico City office, which was located in Lomas de Chapultapec, the western part of the city. My Spanish skills were a bit rusty, but I certainly needed them this trip. When taking an Uber to the office, the drivers would only speak in Spanish. Depending on the driver, I would spark up a little conversation, but for the most part, it was easier just to keep to myself. If any of you have been to Mexico City, you will know the insanity of traffic congestion. There would be times when we would go one block in a 20 minute period. After a while, I got used to setting expectations when getting in a cab, but I spent a lot of time in transit. In the future, I will do more research to find alternative ways for getting around to save a bit of time and sanity.

The Mexico City Google office was much smaller than the Chicago one – maybe around 300 people at the time. Again, everyone defaults to Spanish but was able to help in English if needed. The first day, I found an open area to work, and I had plenty to catch up on with my core job. The cafeteria in the office served Mexican cuisine, which happened to be my favorite cuisine in the world. I had a typical day of to-and-from work, however, I walked over to the Ángel de la Independencia, a large column in a roundabout with a golden statue of victory on top to mark the victory in Mexico’s War of Independence.

After a long first day, I sought a local Mexican meal for dinner. I walked nearby to Calle Rio Lerma and found a place that had a typical menu and exactly what I was looking for: pozole. Pozole is a hearty stew made of hominy, meat, lettuce, onion and seasoning, with various toppings. It takes a long time to make and is a common dish that fills the tummies of many locals.

Pozole with toppings

January 17, 2018

The next day after work I went to the neighborhood of Polanco, a trendy, affluent neighborhood near the Google office. It was a refreshing walk considering I wasn’t stuck in a cab in traffic during rush hour. Not too far is Museo Soumaya (Soumaya Museum), a striking exterior from afar in the shape of an anvil with 16,000 hexagonal mirror-like tiles covering the outside.

Right next door is Museo Jumex, a private collection of modern art and innovation. This museum was more interactive and experiential but certainly smaller in size than Soumaya. It was really affordable for both museums, so if you have extra time in Mexico City, it’s worth checking them out.

That evening, Salvador and I met up for some tacos at Taqueria Arandas near the city center, where I had a classic selection of tacos. Not too far away was the main city square of Mexico City, known as Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución, which is a common gathering place for Mexican events, military and festivals. Surrounding the plaza is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace. I was there at night, so it wasn’t as busy, but I could envision where this would be the heart of the city for centuries. Salvador and I stopped by the cocktail bar Pata Negra for drinks to cap off the night.

On the way home that evening, I walked through the Monumento a la Revolución, built in the early 1900’s to commemorate the Mexican Revolution. It’s considered the tallest triumphal arch in the world.

Monumento a la Revolución

January 18, 2018

Work at Google Mexico treated me well, and I was brushing up on my Spanish (however, still a long way to go!) I went to Starbucks during lunch at work, and the barista asked for what kind of milk with my coffee. I wanted almond milk but had not used the word “almond” before, so I said, “No leche normal, no soya, no arroz…,” (Not normal milk, not soy, not rice…), and the barista said, “almendras!” Easy enough – a cognate.

One of my Mexican coworkers recommended the restaurant Maximo Bistrot in the Roma neighborhood, a fusion of Mexican, French and European cuisine. I typically wouldn’t go to such a fancy venue that would normally cost a pretty penny, but the multi-course meal was really affordable (considering what it would have cost in the U.S.!)

Dish at Maximo Bistrot

January 19, 2018

It was finally Friday, and I went back to Museo Soumaya to go inside this time. I really enjoyed my time in the museum, which had more than 60,000 pieces of work over 30 different centuries. Later that evening, I went to see a movie at Cinemex.

January 20, 2018

During the weekend, Salvador and I met and went to Parque Mexico in the Hipódromo neighborhood. Before I came to Mexico, I knew I wanted to attend a Mexican soccer match for the first time, so I looked up tickets and was able to get some to the Cruz Azul vs. Léon game at Estadio Azul. It was the beginning of the Clausura season for Liga MX, the national soccer league. Also, Cruz Azul was playing in its final season at Estadio Azul, a stadium that opened in 1946.

Before entering the stadium, there were lots of crowds shouting in excitement for the first home game of the season. There was a heightened police presence controlling the passion between the two sides. Next door is the Monumental Plaza de Toros Mexico, a beautiful structure that hosts bullfighting and boxing matches. Upon entering the stadium, it was breathtaking to see the blue seats and blue sky and to be among so many passionate fans. In the upper deck you could see a section of Away fans which got heckled from time to time. Unfortunately the game ended in a 0-0 draw, but there was plenty of action along the way.

During that Saturday evening, we went to Coyoacán, an area south of the city, specifically along Felipe Carrillo Puerto road. The nightlife here was incredible, with many street vendors selling sweets, snacks, toys and flowers. In the background you could hear the sounds of Mexican music in Jardin Centenario. I highly recommend spending some time here to see the local tradition of nightlife, food and entertainment.

January 21, 2018

One of the most iconic places to visit near Mexico City is Teotihuacan (“The City of Gods”), an ancient Mesoamerican city that was born in the century B.C. and added its iconic pyramids during the first and second centuries A.D. It was once one of the largest cities in the world with around 150,000 inhabitants.

On the drive out of the city center of Mexico City, you can see the vast slums where many people come to live in the country’s capital for a better life. During the work week, you’d see an influx of people come to the city center to work and take advantage of public facilities, only to return to the outskirts of the city every evening and weekend.

When arriving to the Teotihuacan complex, we came across many vendors, and I bought myself a hat which saved me from the midday January sun. The archaeological complex was most known for The Pyramid of the Sun, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There was a huge line to walk up the pyramid at that time, so we took time to check out the rest of the complex, which includes the Pyramid of the Moon and ruined Palace of Quetzalpapálotl.

When walking down the Avenue of the Dead, it was a true walk back in time. You think to yourself, “I’m walking right where ancient indigenous peoples worshiped, gathered and spent their daily lives.” The city is thought to have thrived from ~100 B.C. to around 650 A.D., when it was likely sacked and burned – some say that it was an internal uprising; others suggest invasion. There was also a drought during that time period, so some scientists point to malnutrition in many young adults as the start of the demise. Many believe that the city served as an early model of urban society in the Americas.

After checking out the Pyramid of the Moon and smaller rooms with well-preserved murals, we began to make the walk up the Pyramid of the Sun. It was a long walk because of the queue, and some of the stairs were steep and small which made it hard for some. At the top, you had breathtaking views of the complex and countryside. You can envision an ancient civilization roaming the premises and then blink to see modern-day tourists taking in the experience behind smartphones.

After returning down to earth, we ate more tacos at a restaurant nearby before returning back to Mexico City.

January 23, 2018

Monday was back to work, so I took it easy and a day off from sightseeing. I returned to tourist life on Tuesday and visited the Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. It was a nice breath of fresh air in a city that often struggled with pollution at elevation.

The Castillo de Chapultepec sat atop of the hill (at over 7,500 ft. elevation) in the park and has had historical significance over centuries, dating back to the Aztecs. Today, the castle is open as architectural masterpiece containing art, stained glass windows and incredible views of the city. The castle was closing soon after I arrived, so I quickly had a look around before the guards signaled for everyone to leave.

I then made my way to another museum, this time to the National Museum of Anthropology. I had always had a fond admiration of the indigenous history of the Americas in the pre-Columbian era, especially the Aztec empire. I appreciated the chronological flow of this museum, helping me understand the change in societies over time. The most iconic piece of work in the museum was the Stone of the Sun, a massive Aztec calendar created in the 1500’s. This was my favorite museum in Mexico City, and I recommend it if you are interested in the ancient civilizations of the region.

January 25, 2018

During the week on Thursday, I went to Pizza del Perro Negro in the beautiful La Condesa neighborhood – great vibe and music.

I recall vividly how chilly it would get during night. It apparently had been one of the coldest weeks in Mexico that winter, which isn’t obviously as bad as Chicago, but it was still chilly. I covered my Airbnb bed with several heavy blankets to stay warm at night especially with no heat. Each morning, I couldn’t wait to wake up and take a hot shower.

January 26, 2018

One of the final things on my list to do was to see the Frida Kahlo Museum also known as the Blue House due to its Instagram-worthy cobalt blue paints. A friend Alejandro accompanied me there, and we waited shortly in line before checking out the gardens inside. The museum was actually the birthplace and home that she grew up in and now housed a collection of her work and life.

Garden inside Frida Kahlo Museum

Do you know the feeling when your body all of a sudden just flips a switch and you know you are sick? Well, about halfway through the museum tour I felt super lightheaded, chilled and dizzy, so we left quickly and went to a restaurant to see if I just needed some food and water. I sat there for a while wondering what had come over me and then got sick at the restaurant. Alejandro graciously drove me home during rush hour traffic on a Friday and made sure I was okay – I certainly owe him next time I’m in Mexico City!

January 27, 2018

The next day, it was then time to go back to Chicago after two weeks in Mexico City. I had woken up a little better but was certainly still under the weather. I quickly packed up my things midday and headed to the airport, when I realized I forgot one of my coats at the Airbnb. Thinking of what I could do, I called the Airbnb host to see if the housekeeper could put my jacket in an Uber (that I ordered) and bring it to the airport. (I definitely needed that winter coat to survive back in Chicago!) Thanks to today’s technology, I retrieved the coat and made my way to the airport gate.

While my trip didn’t end in the easiest way, I had an incredible time being immersed in the culture of Mexico City – from food, arts, museums, music, language and history. Given its size (both area and population) it can be an overwhelming city at first, but once you get the hang of it, you know where to find the charm.

Hasta la vista.

Michael

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