Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why you don't want to take the Mexico City metro at rush hour, and other helpful tips

I didn't know much about Mexico City before I went there. I knew it was one of the largest cities in the world. And I knew that it Mexico. That's pretty much it. What I didn't know about Mexico City could fill a book (or at least a medium-length blog post). After spending four days there I'm happy to report that, while I'm still no expert, I have gleaned certain key tidbits that I will now pass on to you, all filtered through my own highly subjective experience, of course, and thus subject to interpretation.  So, in no particular order, here are:

5 Things I Learned About Mexico City
  1. There is mucho making out. You thought Paris was the city of lovers? Au contraire, mes chers; it's Mexico City.
  2. It is not a city of morning people. Do not try to go to the coffee place at 8 a.m., because it will be closed, and you will be sorely disappointed. Take your time, sleep in. There's no rush here.
  3. I had heard vague reports of the crime in Mexico City, and so we took the main precautions (holding onto our purses, not hailing cabs on the street). But I was surprised by just how much of a police presence there was everywhere. I never felt unsafe, because on every corner you could find not one, but five or more police officers, all decked out in their riot gear--plastic leg and body armor, helmets, even holding those giant plastic shields. Unsettling, perhaps, but better than the alternative, I suppose.     
  4. Every American visiting Mexico knows not to drink the water. Easy enough, right? But no! Not when this seemingly simple rule leads to a murky gray area of ever more mystifying questions, like, well, what about margaritas? My guidebook touted a number of restaurants and cantinas known for their margaritas, without mentioning the fact that typically, margaritas are served So, are you supposed to order your margarita...without ice? What about coffee? Yet another beverage described in loving detail by ye olde guidebook. Brewed with, what else, water,'s hot, right? So that's ok? But not necessarily boiling hot, so here we are back at square uno. And what about...soup? If boiled es bueno, but what if it's just warm? Some quick googling revealed that, purportedly, anyway, most establishments used to dealing with tourists use purified water in their coffee, etc. We agreed that we would be careful without going overboard; we would brush our teeth with bottled water but drink the damn coffee. All of which backfired in a major way on our last full day in town. Exhausted, parched, and in need of a sweet treat and a sit-down, we went to our favorite ice cream chain (yes, we had a favorite). Rather than a scoop I ordered a frappe, not knowing whether I had ordered a milkshake or something different. It arrived as a frozen coffee drink with mounds of yummy whipped cream (think Starbucks frappaccino), which was fine with me. It wasn't until I was slurping up the last dregs that I thought, Hey, you know what this is made with? Ice. It would have been relatively ok had I been within stumbling distance of our hostel, but as it was, there were about two hours of bus-to-metro-to-metro travel separating us. That was...not fun.
  5. Many metro lines have women and children only cars at the front of the train. This is useful to know if you are a woman, for obvious reasons. Plus these cars are generally less crowded, which makes for a more relaxing experience. Also, it was fairly hilarious to see that at least one in three women present were studiously applying their makeup with the aid of hand mirrors--bumps, rattles, and lurches notwithstanding. However, not every line has these cars, and not every metro experience was as peaceful and relaxing as the one I described. In fact, there was one time when Molly and I almost died. Our stop arrived, the doors opened, and Molly, being the only Spanish speaker of our duo, started tapping on shoulders and politely murmuring, "con permiso." It quickly became evident that this was an under-reaction of the grandest degree, as a literal wave of Mexicans pushed their way onto the metro car, with us caught in the middle. Politeness quickly turned to mute terror as flesh pressed us roughly from all sides, and I thought to myself, This is how people suffocate in crowds. This is how people DIE. We attempted to push our way out, as the hoard of, well, mostly five foot tall little old Mexican ladies outside even more determinedly fought their way in. I stood head and shoulders above the rest, but my lungs, my vital organs, remained firmly in the danger zone, pushed and pulled and punched on all sides by this fierce cadre of abuelitas. I made eye contact with one of the hoard, my panic and terror clearly showing on my face, and I swear she shrugged. One final, fraught effort and finally, miraculously, we were deposited out the doors of the cursed metro with all the force of a cresting wave spitting a drowning person onto shore. Gasping, rattled, we looked at each other in disbelief. "People be crazy," I summarized, and we continued on our way.  


  1. I believe your comment post-stampede was, "They're fucking animals!"

  2. I <3 your writing. Seriously love it. I would have written, "We were surrounded by a bunch of old ladies, and they wouldn't let us off the bus." :)

  3. I always forget about ice...i mean that in terms of you know - don't drink the water.

    I can't wait to hear more about your trip! It sounds like it was fun!

  4. OMG- I had a bad experience in Paris. We mis-understood the french wording for train and when we finally realized it, we had to run (with all our luggage) to the train station. My boss had told me horror stories of how the doors just CLOSE quickly- even if you are only halfway on and by the time we got to our train car, I was exhausted (my luggage was SO. HEAVY.) I frantically through my big bag in front onto the car but... I was too weak and all it did was bounce back at me. One guy on the train actually looked at me and SMILED. The ass. I had these visions of my train taking off with my coworkers in it and me NOT in it. I would be stranded! The panic sunk in as I was coming to terms that I may not be able to lift my luggage. And then a woman stepped forward to help me.

    I'll never forget that 5 seconds of dread thinking I was going to get left behind. (And obviously figuring out I had OVERPACKED)