Saturday 14 November 2009

Adventures in Mexico Part 4 – The City & Sights

You’d think I’d have run out of things to write about Mexico City after two posts, but no! The city was built on a lake bed, and today the only legacy of it can be found at Xochimilco which is supposed to be an amazing place to visit. Apparently you can get close via metro but then at the other end you have to use cabs, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with street cabs. Authorised taxis are called Sitio, but the street cabs are known to be shifty. Reasonable likelihood that the driver will rob you at gunpoint somewhere along the way! Wasn’t feeling like risking it, but if I’d found someone to go with, I would’ve loved to have gone there.

I did make it to the Piramides though, which are just outside the city at Teotihuacan. There’s two – Sun and Moon. The sides are shockingly steep, and utterly deceptive. You only realise when you start climbing, and it's worse when coming down. I was almost surprised no one had a terrible accident in the hours we were there! Definitely thought there was a need for better warnings or safety measures, but as my friends explained - Mexicans don’t treat each other like they’re idiots! If it looks unsafe and feels unsafe, people can make their own choices to proceed. Still, I was glad it didn’t start raining while we were on the pyramid. It looked like it would’ve been a nightmare trying to get down without fatally slipping!





The city is also prone to earthquakes, and all establishments have signs telling you what to do in case of earthquakes and fires. This makes it all the more interesting that buildings have intricate facades and balconies that look perfectly designed to decapitate or crush people in the event of even a slight tremor. Then again after the last one most of the buildings have been redesigned to cope with earthquakes, so no one looks in any hurry to relocate.


I’ve mentioned a few times how big the city is, but you really have to see the A to Z (streets map) to believe it. It has the tiniest text of any map I’ve ever seen, just so that it can fit in a normal sized book. You need a magnifying glass to see anything!

The houses are an eclectic mix of low rise buildings, and the city is very colourful. There are yellow, blue, red, pink and green houses that crowd the cityscape. The city is divided into districts and colonies (Colonias), many of which have long straight, tree lined avenues. There’s a lot to see with the parks, museums and old colonial areas. It doesn’t feel overcrowded, mostly because the streets aren’t rammed with people milling about. I also didn’t really see many non local tourists either, and the few foreigners I met all spoke excellent Spanish, leaving me feeling pretty shabby with my “no hablo español”!



Politically there is a lot of apathy. People are fed up with politicians, partly because of the corruption and partly because they don’t do anything about the Unions, which are hyper powerful. Unions can apparently go on strike even before businesses officially open. They simply block the area in front of businesses using flags, stopping all custom until they cough up. There’s no choice either as some of these Unions are actually run by councillors, so there's really nothing the business can do. Felipe Calderon (the President)however, is starting to break the power of the unions by recently closing down the country’s second largest electrical power distributor, Luz y Fuerza, a massive union driven electricity firm with about 40,000 employees. He consequently has had to step up security all around his residence!

Police apparently can't be trusted either. Corruption is rife. Police cars weirdly never switch their lights off even when they aren't chasing anything. Traffic police wave and blow whistles even though they're standing right underneath traffic lights, which work perfectly; and apparently only a traffic cop can give you a ticket. It needs a different cop to chase street hawkers. Hyper specialisation keeps bigger labour forces in play I guess!


Outside DF, much of the sprawl is made up with land appropriated by poor people who build on the hillsides, and once these accumulate to a certain organised size, they get recognised and receive formal services. I noticed that all these houses have black plastic water tanks on top of them, every single one of which seems to made by Rotoplast, who must be making a killing.

Inside most houses the most worrying thing was the plug points, pretty much all of which seemed to be falling apart! Curiously you can’t get electric kettles in Mexico. Coffee etc. is made in the microwave. TV guides are a little unconventional too, in that programme titles can be completely in Spanish even when the programme is shown in English, or in English when the programme is dubbed in Spanish. So it was always a bit of pot luck for me!

The city isn’t especially noisy, but the sound of cars is regularly punctuated by mobile street vendors sounding out their wares. It appears to be legal to use loudspeakers outside your store to advertise promotions. Noise pollution regardless. The guy who sells sweet potatoes has an insanely loud whistle, and the guys selling tamales on bicycles ingeniously have speakers to do their shouting for them. Everywhere you go you can hear the sounds of speakers blaring out “Sevenden ricos tacos oaxaquenos!”

On which happy note, I’ve got to run, but I’ll share a bit more about Mexican food and drink the next time I get to a computer...

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