I had little idea of what to expect of Mexico, a country to which my only exposure had been various film portrayals which invariably painted it as lawless and full of Danny Trejos threatening to kill you. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the reality was greatly different.
I had booked a week of AirBnB in the capital, Mexico City and so, address in hand, I set out from the airport to find my digs. Not one, not even two, but three kindly Mexicans offered me help in reaching my destination in Roma Norte – there a few other capital cities in the world where I can imagine such levels of generosity.
After some subway surfing, I arrived at my lodgings in Roma Norte, on the edge of the very trendy (hipster beards abounded) La Condesa neighbourhood.
My hosts were Luis and Cynthia. Luis was an illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter and all-round creative type. Other talents included baseball, yoga skills and a fluency in English of which most English people would be proud. Despite being annoyingly talented, he was such a lovely chap it was impossible not to like him immediately. Cynthia, his fiancée, was a similar polymath. She split her time between two family businesses, spoke fluent English and was also an accomplished yogi. Both Cynthia and Luis spent some time during the week working from home and Cynthia was joined each day in her upstairs office by Norma, her sister. In keeping with the rest of the household, Norma was charming, intelligent, multi-talented and fluent in English. My attempts at conversational Spanish soon fell by the wayside, luckily for them!
Armed with some suggestions on touristic activities, I set out to explore the city. Here are my findings:
La Condesa: littered with parks and picturesque side streets, this is the city’s hipster HQ. Beautiful people sip cappuccinos on the terraces of chic cafes and stylish restaurants compete with juice bars for patronage.
Must go choice: Contramar, scrummy seafood restaurant!
The historic city centre: in front of a grand cathedral stretches a vast central square which dominates the centre of town. Colonial architecture and cobbled shopping streets radiate outwards from this focal point, giving the whole area a sense of pomp and history.
Must go choice: El Cardenal – traditional Mexican dining in a beautiful building. You’ll love the choice of rolls and pastries for breakfast.
El Bosque de Chapultepec: a Hyde Park-esque space in the west of the city, it boasts fountains, woodland, running tracks, a boating lake, a zoo, al fresco dining options and much more besides.
At the northern end of El Bosque de Chapultepec lie some of the city’s best museums: those of anthropology and contemporary art. I only had the stamina to visit one of the two: anthropology.
This museum is labyrinthine, encompassing everything from the day homo sapiens first set foot in Mexico onwards. One cannot possibly give full attention to everything but the Mayan and Aztec exhibitions are a must.
My timing for a visit to Mexico was impeccable – the city was preparing for the Dia de Los Muertos – the day of the dead. Part of the tradition is to create colourful, fantastical creatures known as “alebrijes”, traditionally carved from wood. Reforma, the main road into the city centre, was accordingly lined with these strange sculptures.
As I child I would always leave the best part of the meal till last so I could focus all my attention on it and savour it properly. Occasionally, as an adult, I still do so. Here is the best bit:
Ever since an adolescent fascination with WWE (or WWF, as it was back then), I have always wanted to go to a live wrestling match so, when I put Mexico City into Trip Advisor and “Lucha Libre” popped up, I was determined to go.
I put the suggestion to Luis and he said that he, Norma and another friend would all be keen (Cynthiawas out of town). Tickets were arranged and the anticipation grew (for me, at least).
The night of the event came and we headed to the Arena de México. Luis had given me some background on the traditions. There is a history of anonymity and wrestlers typically wear masks. If a mask is removed, the wrestler can never wear that mask again.
Battle is joined between an individual or group of tecnicos and the same number of rudos. Broadly speaking the more technical tecnicos are the good guys and the rudos put in cheap shots behind the referee’s back and taunt the crowd.
We arrived just as the first bout of the eight scheduled was beginning. The arena was quickly filling up. What ensued was an evening of theatre, consummate skill, athleticism and entertainment. I wouldn’t do it justice were I to attempt to describe the bouts. You’ll just have to go if ever you have the opportunity.
With a life goal achieved, I said a fond farewell to my new Mexican friends later that weekend and boarded a bus to Oaxaca in the South. And that’s the subject of the next post.