Mexico City was much more than good food, talented artists, and old architecture
The city gave me nostalgia as I watched it through the window of our Uber. It was our first time there, but everything felt very familiar. An abundance of dilapidated old buildings, street wires crisscrossing above our heads, and tarpaulin signs competing against each other took me back to the Philippines minus the jetlag. From Los Angeles, it only took us 3 hours and 40 minutes to fly to this city.
I had some preconceptions before arriving here—that it would be as chaotic as people described it to be. However, I noticed the opposite. Traffic seemed to run smoothly, and fewer motorcycles occupied the road. I have nothing against motorcycles, but the most chaotic cities I’ve been to was riddled with them. Here, everyone seemed to know where they were supposed to go—no loud horns, no angry drivers, and no random pedestrians in the middle of the road. And I was surprised to see fewer street dogs (at least in the areas we drove by).
Uber was cheap (getting around cost between $3 – $10), but we took advantage of our central location by walking around. On foot, the neighborhood’s colorful character emerged in plain sight. We came across charming and colorful murals, inviting food stalls lining the sidewalks, and eclectic eateries with cozy interiors. Roma Norte, the neighborhood we were staying at, had a lot to offer to the senses.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the city was quite walkable. There were street vendors on every corner, but the sidewalks were clean and big enough for everyone.
Mexico City felt like a union between European cities (think Venice or Rome) and Asian cities. Another thing that amazed me was seeing canine friends unbothered by people walking obediently without leashes next to their humans.
Locals spoke to us in Spanish by default. I’m not sure if they don’t speak English or they’re choosing not to. Nonetheless, I was happy to finally practice what I’ve learned from weeks of Spanish lessons on Duolingo. A lot of the words were familiar to us since Filipinos also use the same words. Though it was a small achievement, I felt really proud of myself. I secretly hoped no one would speak to me in English just so I can keep practicing.
We ate at restaurants with various price ranges. From a fancy restaurant that Anthony Bourdain suggested in his recent book to cheap taco shops, we stumbled upon on Google maps. My favorite ones were always the last-minute spots we discovered. Like the carnitas place that filled our stomachs and satisfied our taste buds at only $10!
What I failed to research was ordering water at the restaurants. The server usually starts asking if you wanted Agua Mineral or Agua Natural. In my head, I thought Agua Mineral meant bottled water (or in the Philippines, we call it Mineral Water). Apparently, Agua Mineral is sparkling water, and Natural is still water.
As we were getting around the city, we quickly found out that we suddenly had a lot of time on our hands. Unfortunately, most of the museums were closed because of the omicron variant. Sigh. One big reason we chose to start our trip in the city was for the museums. We were looking forward to learning about their history and culture through the museums.
These are consequences of traveling during a pandemic. On the plus side, there are fewer people and flights are cheaper. But on the other end, most indoor spots are closed, and of course, you have to worry about your flight back because flights to the US require you to have a negative test result.
The surprising thing (for me) about Mexico City is that majority of the people wore their masks even outdoors. Being neighbors with the US, I regrettably assumed that most people wouldn’t be wearing their masks. It reminded me of our trip to the Philippines in 2021 and seeing Filipinos wear their masks despite the heat and humidity. Now I wonder if the US is an anomaly in this pandemic.
Luckily for us, one museum was open—the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo. It’s not as impressive as the other major museums, but the architecture was worth the $4 (per person) entrance fee.
There were also some interesting artifacts. Here are some that I really liked.
A couple of notable markets we visited: Bazaar Sábado (and the surrounding area) and Mercado de Artesanías La Ciudadela. There are plenty of markets selling crafts and local art in Mexico City, but these two stood out for me. You can find random things like handmade fabrics, traditional clothing, hand-woven baskets, ceramic sculptures, various hand-painted art, and more.
Mexico City was much more than good food, talented artists, and old architecture. Though we were only there for five days, it gave me a glimpse of what the country is about, not just how it’s portrayed in the media. The city welcomed us without judgment or discrimination. I felt safe and accepted. I knew one day I had to go back. Hopefully, by then, the museums will be open.