A Travellerspoint blog

The poo ruined my shoes

Who would want to be a shoeshine boy

I considered there were a lot of Mexicans in Texas … I was gobsmacked when I arrived in metropolitan Mexico City. 25 million !!! With another 100 million waiting at the gates. Its still only the 10th largest city in the world – but it’s the one that may be in the biggest trouble sometime soon. The founders of Mexico City (Incas) didn’t give much thought to tectonics and there were obviously no ‘Geotech’ requirements before building. They build on a few small islands in the middle of a huge lake – then reclaimed the bits between – then reclaimed the bits around the edges. Today, the lake is gone and the whole city sits in a large flood plain on a deep bed of mud. The Italians make a big deal about the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Should the ever venture to Mexico they will be humiliated or at least humbled by the leaning city. Virtually every building leans. The whole city is wobbling its way down at 150 – 200mm (6 – 8”) each year. If someone inadvertently pulls out the critical plug it may gurgle into oblivion overnight. I looked in our closet for lifejackets. The most shocking thing is … nobody is wearing a hard hat. The city council manages by building steps. Whenever a street or block of buildings sink, they add a couple of steps to provide access. Little effort is made to fill up the cracks and even gaps. Mobility impaired people just beg in their own local neighbourhood. The official line is the buildings are too heavy. Therefore, it’s the owners fault. There’s 1,485 square kilometres (573 sq mi) of owners to blame including the world’s richest man. None seem perturbed by the fact they can’t get insurance. Que Sera Sera. Earthquakes happen on a regular basis. The cathedral even has fancy a plumb bob dangling from the dome down to the centre of the transept. When we visited, it was wobbling around like crazy – as were the chandeliers. Those praying seemed to be very fervent. I suggested to Flypaper and our guide it may be a good time to stand outside in the middle of the city’s largest square or at least pop into a confessional. My advice to all living in Mexico City … be sure to wear respectable pajamas to bed each night.
One is very conscious the city smells a bit. Actually, it smells a lot. It appears very tidy and everyone uses the trash cans. Even the beggars are more presentable than their counterparts in other countries. The smell is due to the fact no-ne seems to understand sewage doesn’t run uphill. The ever-changing subterranean humps and hollows create unexpected discharges. Often in embarrassing places. Recently the posh street of upmarket European brands found their clients reluctant to wade through raw sewage to purchase jewelry and branded clothing. It wasn’t that bad. I would have thought their 6-inch heels would have coped.
The teeming suburbs feature numerous brightly coloured houses. These are the homes that have been completed and all services connected, including cable TV. At that point the city can charge taxes. Needless to say, few people connect the final service they believe they can exist without. .Electricity, water and sewage are popular, but telephone and TV now have other options. As an incentive, on completion, the city pays for the paint. They only have 5 colours. Shocking pink is popular, followed by a striking purple and a very bright green. The hillsides appear as a psychedelic montage. Perhaps the dense haze isn’t ‘pure’ smog.
This city is believed to have the most museums in the world. I am one of the few tourists who can proudly claim to have avoided every one. (But we did puff around and up a few archeological sites which I hope are not included in the museum count.) This city boasts several huge pyramids. Around the world pyramids were all the rage a couple of thousand years ago. Many still exist and serve to cause painful thighs for days after climbing. They all seem to exist in hot climates. By the time I had conquered the pyramids of the sun and the moon I would have considered becoming a human sacrifice rather than struggle all the way down again.
Mexico has suffered its share of dictators. Our guide assured us the incumbent President is the latest. He is mystified by the fact, when voting closes the anecdotally most popular party is well ahead – but when everyone wakes up in the morning, the computers claim another party has won – again. The highest paid guy in the ruling party is reputedly the IT guy. I am also reliably informed there is a tremendous amount of corruption in Mexico. It certainly looks like it. One fact that leaves me suspecting our guide may have a point or two is the fact that the streets are teeming with police. I don’t profess to be a mathematician but, it appears 30% of the population are police, 30% are waiters, 30% are taxi drivers and the other 30% do all the work. (For the politically correct, these calculations refer to all genders.) A surprising number of men appear to do manual labour. That’s a sign the economy is improving and the country is swiftly emerging into the western world. The philosophy is, ‘It’s better to have everyone in low paid jobs than high unemployment. What a radical notion.
For the commercially alert there are always interesting ideas to appropriate. Just 2 doors from our hotel is an arcade featuring windowed displays of all sorts of hardware. Each has brief details, a web search, price and a prominent stock number. All items are very attractively priced. Obviously the ‘shop’ has a cost/overhead advantage. When the decision to purchase is made, the stock number is written on a slip of handy paper and given to a sleepy girl who shouts it over a hand-held radio into the unknown. Moments later a voice, that could be God or even the President for all I know, booms, “Si – gable gable”. (My Spanish is still a bit shaky). The girl demands payment which, when approved, she confirms into the radio. After a nerve wracking few minutes, the purchase descends from a hole in the ceiling – in a bucket. Obviously, there are big savings to be made in delivery systems.
Driving in Mexico City is just like all emerging nations. Awe inspiring. Swerve and dive. Look forward and rely on good peripheral vision. It works. Brake pads wear out pretty quickly but it’s a small price to pay to enable the traffic to actually move. Our guide was a bit slow on start off but I soon realized he was conserving his reflex ability for developing opportunity. I admire how everyone survives on instinct. Everyone except motorcyclists – they survive by divine compassion. We can’t teach Mexican drivers anything but in NZ they would be dobbed in by the secret police on the 555 hotline. Pity. Auckland could cope with twice the traffic without adding any infrastructure.
When Herman Cortez arrived here wearing a funny hat in 1519, the Aztecs gave him a cup of hot chocolate. In return he gave them smallpox. Having discovered Mexico is the home of chocolate I quickly donned my own funny hat and invaded a café. I was also given hot chocolate but with 2 differences. I had to pay for it and they gave me burnt lips. While not a communicable disease (my goodness – I’m wary of those) I still consider it an act of unfriendliness and its time they got over the revenge stuff.
We escaped Mexico City for something less relentless. As Mexico is a big country we decided to fly between our various destinations rather than spend days on poor roads. Instead, we spent days in airports. Air Mexico (Aeroméxico) is the major domestic airline. It has only suffered one fatal accident outside Mexico – but remains silent regarding internal mishaps. Aeronautically minded readers will appreciate hot climates at high altitude can cause issues with ‘lift’. This is the critical factor that enables ‘flight’. More heat and height, less lift. Because of high altitude and heat, all our landings could have been legitimately logged as crashes. I suspect doing so looks bad in the airline promo stuff and pilots hate seeing that on their CV’s. To its credit, Air Mexico is a very consistent airline. It was consistently late for every departure. It also serves excellent peanuts. At one airport during the delay, Flypaper released a few coins for me to have a coffee. This resulted in a visit to the toilet where I noticed an unusual pair of shoes below the cubicle wall next door. Two hours later following a 2nd treat I again took relief. Concerningly, I saw the same shoes and reasonably assumed the wearer was the same person. I reported the observation to Flypaper and asked her opinion. Afterall, the guy may be dead or worse, it may be the pilot. Her reply was reassuring, “The queue to the gate will be shorter”.
Our 2nd stopover was a small regional city called “Wah-Haka”. That’s what its called, but on a map, you should look for Oaxaca. It may be a mean thing to think, but I hope the Spaniard who concocted this spelling ended up on a pyramid as a guest of honour. Its given me no end of trouble. Wah-Haka is the ‘Tokoroa’ of Mexico. There’s a museum and some historical stuff but property values are not increasing. It has a shabby look – but in fairness, this Mexico, most places look similar. Unlike Tokoroa, this city and surrounding region has UNESCO World Heritage status. People have lived here since 10,000 BC. There have been 4 prominent civilizations and they’ve all been property developers. Over time there have been a lot of rocks moved around and stacked up here and there.
Our city walking tour guide, Jose, is 75 years old. When he called at our hotel I wondered if I should borrow their defibrillator for the afternoon. We strolled a couple of locks then he asked us if we could walk on slowly while he went off to collect another couple. Then, he ‘ran’ off up the street! Annoying! I looked at Flypaper and said, “This is going to be a tough afternoon”. Just about the time we were about to collapse, Jose took us into a Chocolate factory and plumped us up on the famous local delicacy. What a great guy, He earned a good tip after all.
Duel carriageway Toll Roads are becoming popular in Mexico – popular with the ‘guvmint’. The principal of ‘tolls’ is to provide cash to build and maintain the highways. So far, numerous short highways have been built but they have not raised sufficient funds to provide maintenance. Perhaps the reason is horses, cyclists and handcarts don’t have to pay. Surely, they should. People pushing their vehicles do pay. The long straight roads are in fact slaloms where drivers swerve to avoid vehicular calamity. It’s a challenge of reflex vs vehicle suspension strength. Often the roads win. Vicious speed bumps are used everywhere to slow traffic – except at military roadblocks. There, they simply dig up the road to resemble a shallow quarry. Nothing less than a tank could exceed 5kph which provides the military or police time to empty the magazine of their machine gun into the wayward vehicle. The reason for the roadblocks I’m told is to search for guns and drugs. Evidently the authorities are short of both. They have no concern about, Nicaraguans, Hondurans or even Columbians enroute to the USA. Anyway, these people don’t have guns or drugs – they can easily get them on arrival in Texas.
Southern Mexico is not the country portrayed in the movies. It is a tropical region more correctly associated with Central America. Should you ever feel inspired to visit, think again. Places like one we found ourselves in, Palenque, is full of 7th century Mayan ruins. Sure, the piles of rock still exist but all the good stuff like carvings, artifacts, significant bones and other stuff proving the Mayans were more than compulsive rock collectors, is in the cultural centre in Mexico City or Madrid. Mexico City has the best Bull Fights but Madrid has the best wine. Hope that helps.
Occasionally ancient Mayan city-state lords were women. As a result, these women became more masculine as they assumed roles that were typically and traditionally male roles. I’ve noticed this happens when we experience female Prime Ministers in NZ. Surely there’s a lesson to be learned. My abiding memory of this region … climbing Mayan temple ruins uses the same muscles as climbing Aztec pyramids.
Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico … although laziness is popular too. There are thousands of churches to visit and be awed by the lavish décor. Many close for siesta so perhaps the faiths are not so far apart. We have seen virtuous pilgrims cycling enroute to holy places struggling along with wooden crosses on their back. In times past, they walked for weeks, even months to demonstrate they devoutness. Now-a-days, the most pious choose an even more arduous pilgrimage involving greater penance – they take the bus.
Most of my knowledge of Mexico stemmed from comics read as a child. It’s a pity the internet has ruined this fine source of information. My understanding was all Mexican men wore a ‘sombrero’. They don’t. I never saw one anywhere. This is a great disappointment as it makes it much more difficult to separate the locals from the visitors. The easiest way I managed to distinguish was the locals were sitting behind enormous displays of brightly coloured trinketry pleading while the visitors were striding past attempting to be oblivious to the presentations under their noses. Also helpful, Mexican men have better mustaches as do many of the women.
I could tell you about Mexican food – but I don’t feel sufficiently qualified. Unlike my experiences in some other countries, I have only examined the food eaten once. That’s a compliment.

Posted by Wheelspin 18:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico roads city air poo artifacts mayan palenque pilgrims aztec catholicism toll

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