The Journal  

1 December 2005

Mexico City

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Mexico City

16-23 November 2005

Our hotel in Mexico City was missing a trash can beside the toilet. That meant for the first time since we crossed the border, we could flush our toilet paper instead of throwing it away. It was one of many firsts in Mexico , like being able to take our clothes to a laundromat after a week of washing them in a sink or being able to ride the metro, a clean, efficient, 20 cent per ride system, rather than having to walk across town.

We slipped into one of the largest cities in the world on MEX 185 through a high mountain pass, the altimeter on the GPS read 10,500 feet. It was so cold that our breath condensed on the face shields of our helmets. Besides nearly rear ending a Chevy truck that I realized at the last moment didn't have working brake lights, we managed Mexico City 's infamous traffic well, finding our downtown hotel without problem.


Traffic is backed up at a stoplight, so a motorcyclist takes the opportunity to lane-split his way to the front.

  The taxis in and around Mexico City are green, with the most popular vehicle being the Volkswagen Beetle. The drivers would often try to flag down their next passenger, offering a ride to anyone walking with a toot of the horn.

We spent the next several days visiting the sites and exploring the city. It is impossible to describe Mexico City because it is a city without description. It lacks the well defined and distinctive boroughs of most large cities in its 350 colonias, or neighborhoods. One street that leads to the Zocalo, the national square, is filled with used appliance shops. Beside the 44 floor Latin American Tower that dominates the city's skyline is a half torn down building. Silk tie shops occupy space beside auto parts stores. The avenue behind the National Palace is a bustling street market, where you can buy anything from hotdogs to flowers to pirated computer software.

  Mexico City from the 44th floor of the Latin American Tower.

Ties for sale on a street corner.

It's a city under construction, from new high rise apartments to renovations to the centuries old Metropolitan Cathedral, where everything looks patched up, fixed temporarily and painted over.

  The Metropolitan Cathedral was crowded with a mix of tourists, construction workers and people attending Mass.

  The hand of a statue in the Metropolitan Cathedral welcomes all who enter.

It's a city where rich heritage collides with crass commercialism, where national pride mixes with national embarrassment.

The people of Mexico City were equally as diverse. They varied from indigenous women in traditional dress to punk kids with spiked hair and piercings. Nearly one fifth of all Mexicans live in Mexico City and watching the pedestrian traffic on the street provides a cross section of the nation's diversity.

  A woman starts a small wood-burning fire on the side of the street to prepare food to sell in the city.

  Sleeping side-by-side, two dogs share a cardboard bed along the sidewalk.

If tourism is Mexico City 's main business, than security must be a close second. Everywhere there were armed men, many police and other private security. Almost all stores, from jewelry shops to music stores, are watched over by a shotgun toting and serious looking guard. There were also many soldiers, most teenaged-looking boys with crew cuts and olive drab uniforms.

  Mexico City police forces close in on those protesting the government's small business vendor taxes.

Many of the soldiers were in town to celebrate the country's November 20, Dia de la Revolución holiday, which took place during our visit. The holiday marks Francisco Madero's 1910 call to revolution, which plunged the nation into a 10 year civil war that was the fire that forged both the strengths and weaknesses of the modern day Mexican republic.

  The image of Pancho Villa decorates the rear fender of an antique Shovelhead Harley.

Mexico City is a city built on shaky foundations, originally a lake bed, which the Aztecs began to fill in to form their great capital city of Tenochtitlán . After the Spanish conquest the filling continued, but the city's watery foundation still manifests itself with the sinking of buildings and the cracking of walls and streets. The foundation of the Mexican culture follows their capital city, built upon a history of warfare and conflict, conquest and exploitation from the warring lifestyle of pre-Hispanic cultures to contemporary issues of poverty and corruption. The National Palace is decorated with the famous murals of Diego Rivera, seething panoramas of violence and turmoil that tell the Mexican story in a way that no textbook ever could.

  The Tenochtitlán ruins are nestled right in the center of the Zocalo. The Spanish conquerors tore down the Aztec capital and used the rubble as a foundation for their own buildings.

The center of the Palacio Nacional.
Photo by Jeremiah.

  A school group visited the National Palace at the same time we were there to look at Diego Rivera's murals.

We planned to leave Mexico City on a Tuesday morning, but environmental issues kept us there another day. City regulations prohibit cars from driving on certain days of the week to help stem endemic exhaust pollution problems based on the last number on their license plate, a typical patch for a larger problem. The seven that ended the Guzzi's number meant that we couldn't drive on Tuesdays.

  The day we left Mexico City members of the Catholic church were holding marches celebrating the lives of saints.

  Many of our breakfasts, snacks and desserts came from this little bread shop just a block down from our hotel. The Panificadora Montserrat always had its doors open so the smell of fresh breads and sweet rolls lured customers inside. Our tray of pan dulces (sweet breads) cost us 14 pesos or roughly $1.40 USD.

All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus