Hello from Mexico City – First impressions

After a few very hectic days before my departure I got up at 4:30 am yesterday and my husband drove me to the airport. Since my flight was with Delta Airlines and had a stopover in Atlanta, I had to go through US immigration, as always an interesting experience. The whole procedure took me about 45 minutes, but finally I was through. Then it was off onto the bus to get to the departure terminal. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 8:20 and sure enough, at about 7:20 there was an announcement that the “rudder control switch” was loose and that maintenance would have to be called in. The ground personnel indicated that they were still trying to get us off the ground in the same plane, but it could take a while.

I was starting to get a little concerned since I would have less than an hour in Atlanta before my connection flight would leave for Mexico City. Well, the maintenance crew came in and with about a 40 minute delay we got off the ground in Toronto after being reassured that we should still be able to make our connection flights and that time would be made up in the air.

Mexico City and the Alameda Central from the air

Approaching Atlanta I noticed that this city must obviously be undergoing a lot of growth: new subdivisions are being built everywhere in the forested areas, many of them quite large with a lot of space between neighbouring homes. The soil in Atlanta is orange-red, so looking at it from the plane you see this colourful tapestry of green (forest), grey (roads, buildings) and reddish hues with a relatively small cluster of skyscrapers announcing downtown.

I always like to look at different cities from the air since even a first glance gives you a really good idea what’s going on with a place. Ground personnel were already waiting at our arrival in Atlanta and were directing us to our connecting flights. I had to move from terminal B to terminal E, so I caught an underground train that connects the various terminals at this airport. When I got to my gate I walked right into the plane as the flight was boarding already.

With a sigh of relief I plunked myself down in my window seat and started to relax, sure that I would be able to make it into Mexico City on time after all. As time went on, I started chatting with the young lady beside me, who lives in Minnesota and was flying on from Mexico City to Mérida on the Yucatan Peninsula. She said that she was visiting friends who had retired early in Mérida and are having a great time. They lost their jobs with the local Minnesota state government in their late to mid-fifties and started researching the possibility of retiring outside of the US and finally settled on Mérida where they are apparently really enjoying themselves. They have learned Spanish and are very well integrated in the local expatriate community as well as with Mexican locals. My conversation partner promised to link me up with her friends so I’d be able to do an interview with them about their retirement lifestyle in Mexico.

Market scene in Mexico City

Our approach to Mexico City was quite a contrast to approaching Atlanta. In Atlanta the air had been clear, there were lots of forests and greenery and houses were spaced far apart. The sky over Mexico City on the other hand was extremely hazy. As it is currently the largest city in the world with a population of about 25 million, its dimensions are huge, and houses and buildings are built very close together. I saw a series of office towers in the downtown areas and many of the residential areas had high rises as well.

Finally we landed, right on time, and we passed through immigration very quickly and by the time my passport and immigration forms were checked, my suitcase was already rolling around on the baggage carousel. I don’t think I have ever seen such efficiency at any large airport – quite surprising. I came out of the exit where a lot of people were already waiting to pick up their loved ones. Vanessa, my co-worker and local Mexican expert, was nowhere to be seen. I waited about 15 minutes, exchanged some Canadian dollars into Pesos, and just a little later I saw her walking towards me. There was a second exit where she, her dad and her mom-in-law had already been waiting for me. Vanessa has already been in town since last Saturday to visit her family and it was great to meet her father and mother-in-law.

Entrance to the Jardin Centenario in Coyoacán, Mexico City

After a brief walk through a large airport hall, her mom-in-law departed and the 3 of us started our explorations of Mexico City. We drove through the southern part of the city that is relatively modern and was built around the 1950s. Cars are also up-to-date models with surprisingly many European cars such as Renaults, Seats and Alfa Romeos. Our first stop was at a local market (called a “tianguis”) where market day is held once a week by merchants who move around from town to town. Fruits, vegetables, meat, clothing, arts and crafts were on sale in portable stalls and we settled in for our first meal. I had a quesadilla de flor de calabaza (quesadilla with cheese and pumpkin flower – just scrumptious).

On our walk around, Vanessa started explaining the various vegetables and fruits, many of which I had never seen. For dessert we had a “nieve” which is kind of similar to gelato (not cream-based) and very delicious. I had 3 flavours in my cup: queso (cheese), mamey (a tropical fruit) and beso de angel (the “kiss of the angel” flavour which includes strawberries and a whole bunch of other mixtures).

Colourful and irresistible street food everywhere…..

From there we went on to drop off my luggage and pick up Vanessa’s mom and then we drove through the historic area of Coyoacán, an area with tree-lined streets, museums, art galleries and cobble-stone pavement. Coyoacán is called “the place of the coyotes” and sure enough, one of the central attractions is a fountain featuring two coyotes in the beautiful Jardín Centenario. We also visited the charming Iglesia de Santa Caterina and Vanessa pointed out all the various shrines inside the church where people had left golden hearts and little trinkets, all evidence of miracles caused by the Virgen de Guadelupe.

We walked through the entire Coyoacán Area and right next to the church we saw local Indian women selling little dolls, we saw an organ player, many different stalls were selling Mexican delicacies and sweets. Young people were sitting down chatting, couples were flirting, children were playing.

Iglesia de Santa Caterina

Vanessa and I walked through a few local markets, some of them selling fruits, vegetables and meat, others selling handicrafts, arts and paintings. Altogether this was an extremely lively and colourful scene. I ended up buying a few small hand-painted brightly coloured pictures in yellow, purple and green frames that I found very charming.

Then we reconnected with Vanessa’s parents and had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the main square of Coyoacán. The restaurant called Sanborns was housed in a historic building and beautifully decorated. I had a tortilla soup and a spinach salad. Vanessa had warned me earlier that salads can be a bit dicey from a hygienic point of view, so I thought that since this was a pretty high class establishment, here is my opportunity to eat some greens without invoking the Revenge of Moctezuma. Vanessa had some interesting local delicacies: cows feet. I am not normally one for eating a lot of meat, particularly anything that comes from strange body parts, but I gave it a try: the meat had a gelatine-like consistency, but was actually very tasty.

We had a lovely conversation, and drove back to the apartment. By about 9:30 I was completely wiped and crashed into my bed. But my first day in Mexico was the perfect initiation to more adventures to come…

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