Travelling solo, first time overseas for 18 years, I’d left my wife and children at home, and my niece, whom I’d travelled over with from Australia, in Los Angeles.
Alone, amongst 20 million odd Mexicans.
In Australia all I had originally planned to do in Mexico was have a tequila and find some cheap tacos. I was expecting the place to be a little like the towns you see in old western films, with moustached men wearing large sombreros speaking a little like Speedy Gonzales from the Looney Tunes cartoons.
An hour or so after landing I knew You won’t find anything like that in Mexico City. I stayed in the historical heart, not far from Zócalo. I had already tried out the little bit of Spanish I’d learnt when speaking with an Interjet flight attendant as she ferried me from terminal one to terminal two or vice versa. She had the most beautiful brown skin, a petite build and spoke softly without a hint of the high pitch stereotype I’d developed watching Americano movies and television. She did not smile but it didn’t strike me as being unfriendly, especially as she realised I had reached my limit of Spanish and she made conversation in English. She had a manner, as I found with many Mexicans, that was unhurried and relaxed, down to earth, starkly different from the Los Angeles I had left that morning.
Just minutes later, in my first outing in a Mexican cab from the airport, I found the same relaxed attitude to life.
“How do you tell which lane to drive in?” I asked the driver.
“Que?” He replied.
“There’s no lanes marked on the road”, which was three or four lanes wide.
He looked down at the section of the road in front of him. “Si, I had not noticed until now”.
We hit a point where the lanes came into existence again and continued on our way.
It was Sunday afternoon, the clouds were up there somewhere, in the haze, in the sky beyond the buildings that lined the narrow streets. It reminded me a bit of Varanasi in India, only slightly wider with less cows. I went in search of Tacos, first taking a photo of the intersection, with its 7/11, near my hotel, in case I got lost and needed to retrace my steps.
The grand Zócalo had been taken over by some activities for Mexican children on school holidays. The massive Mexican flag fluttered over the tents in the square to my left as I veered down a promenade lined with colonial beauties that my friend, who has been several time to the city knows the name of, which I can only describe as pretty buildings with mosaic like fronts that maybe you see in Barcelona or places like that. It’s like the one below.
As I went in and out of shops, entertained by a toy soldier character from Toy Story, and other street performers, avoiding the small deluges of rain that came and went just as quick and intrigued by the amount of people just walking around, without even a shopping bag or a care int he world. Thousands of couples, families, teenagers and everyone else in between promenaded down this thoroughfare a few kilometres in length that I have no idea the name of. There were plenty who weren’t of the build of the flight attendant I’d talked to earlier in the day. I watched them just strolling along, then discreetly filmed them crossing to the tune of this bird-like pedestrian crossing sign. In front of almost every every shop stood private security guards, and on every corner there were police with heavy riot gear, and occasionally a army truck with big machine guns passed, which meant some of the scarier stories of the city, and this country were likely to be true.
I stopped at Starbucks and with help of my Lonely Planet Mexican phrasebook I asked some trendy looking Mexican whether there was so many people walking around because it was Sunday.
“No”, he said in Spanish, “everyday they walk here, yes, maybe more today because it is Sunday”. They used to do this sort of thing on a Sunday afternoon along piers and boardwalks in Australia. Now we might be settling down in front of the television.
I found my cheap Taco shop back to wards Zócalo, only 5 pesos for a taco.
“Buenos Tacos aqui?” I asked someone in the line in front of me.
“Si, Buenos Tacos.”
I order two frijoles and one carne. They have them all pilled up in big plastic buckets, layer upon layer of tacos, and serve them on plastic plates covered in plastic bags. There was no salad, or sight of a slice of tomato, that you might expect in Australia or the USA, just a small soft corn tortilla taco with carne, frijoles or pollo. I sit down with the locals and help myself to a bucket of guacamole, not this wussy pale green mild stuff you get in other countries, this one had some balls and tested your mouth’s resilience to fire.
I went back to the hotel, had my first Mexican tequila and called it a day. Like the volcano not far from the city, the cheap tacos rumbled and threatened to erupt through the night. I walk back to the past the zocalo to my hotel, holding my stomach in anticipation.
If I was the praying type I’d be starting tonight with Holy frijoles!