First Impressions of Mexico
When I boarded my plane to Mexico, I knew Mexico City was huge. Its population is about as large as that of Switzerland, more than 8 million, and with its outskirts included, there are more than 20 million people densely crowded together in this metropolitan area. When my plane flew into Mexico City 9 days ago, I became aware of the full extent of the human brain’s incapicity to deal with such numbers. How much is 20 million? There’s no way to imagine it unless you see it: Looking out of the plane window, all you see is houses covering hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. Even from above, there’s no visible limit to this city.
Long story short, Mexico from above looks like the kind of city that can swallow you up alive. Good thing I had 1) pick-up service from Metrohm Mexico’s Elvira, who welcomed me warmly and took me to my hotel, and 2) already planned to leave the city around midday the next day to get acclimatized to the country in some smaller, less overwhelming towns: Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, which can be reached by bus from Mexico City within a few hours.
Fleeing the City
Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende are beautiful colonial towns, which are popular tourist destinations not only among foreigners, but also among Mexicans—in the case of Guanajuato, tourism is mainly domestic even. This made up a big part of its charm for me: the town’s businesses, whether they’re restaurants, shops, or street stalls, cater to a Mexican audience mainly, and not only tourists. The University of Guanajuato has more than 30’000 students.
In spite of its picturesque colonial architecture, Guanajuato doesn’t feel like a museum, but like a town that’s full of life. There are lively markets selling food and commodities as well as handicrafts and sometimes souvenirs—especially popular the «calaveras de Guanajuato», colorfully painted skulls made from papier-mâché or clay.
In San Miguel de Allende, life seems to revolve around the many churches and, in particular, around the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel cathedral. This impression of mine might have been strengthened by the fact that I was there on Ash Wednesday, on which the catholics, who constitute more than 95% of San Miguel’s population, go into the churches to have a cross of ashes drawn on their foreheads.
When you leave the central town area, you quickly get to neighborhoods that almost feel deserted, but nonetheless charming: built at the side of a mountain, San Miguel consists mainly of steep cobblestone alleyways, and when you just keep walking up, you’ll have a great view of town and the surrounding area.
Back in the Megacity
On Thursday, I finally returned to Mexico City. After having refreshed my Spanish for a few days and having generally gotten used to the way things work in Mexico, the giant city didn’t seem that overwhelming anymore. There’s a lot of things to do and see, and once you take a closer look, you’ll find many spots that make you forget that you’re in a megacity. There are big parks and people on bicycles and rollerskates—things I really didn’t expect when I got my first glimpse of Mexico City from the plane.
Mexico City has various beautiful neighborhoods where you can stroll around, enjoy the occasional local delicacy—I ate a grasshopper yesterday; yes, you read that right, a grasshopper—and watch daily life. But there is also a rich history in its streets. There are the remains of Aztec life, literally buried underneath evidence of the colonial times: right underneath the city’s main square and the colonial cathedral is the Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple built by the Mexica people. This indigenous people settled in what is now Mexico’s historic center in the 14th century. The rich history of the Aztec past and the colonialization as well as the diverse makeup of the Mexican population that has resulted from both are impressively documented in the Templo Mayor museum and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, which are absolute must-sees if you’re ever lucky enough to spend some time here.
Highlights from Mexico—so far
Some things that I’ve particularly enjoyed during my stay so far in Mexico have been:
- Taking public buses. Apparently these buses get robbed once in a while, so I shouldn’t be unreservedly recommending them. But if I hadn’t taken some public buses during my stay, I would have missed out on a lot. You really get a glimpse of daily life here. Also, there are often street musicians in the buses, whom I’ve always found very entertaining, even though the musical quality varied from I-feel-like-dancing to this-guy-doesn’t-hit-a-note-not-a-single-one-not-even-by-accident.
- Street food. Not only is it delicious, very variable, and cheap, but also, you get to talk to other people at the stalls. I was at a street stall looking for a snack when last Friday’s earthquake happened—great conversation starter. By the way, Mexican food is not all grasshoppers, in case you’re not really into that. There are a lot of amazing foods not quite as strange to the Western palate.
- Mexican markets. Mexican markets are the liveliest, most colorful places you can imagine. Much like the public buses, they’re a good place to watch daily life happen: people shopping for food and commodities, eating, drinking, strolling around amidst the colorful stalls that sell everything you could imagine and more.
- Early morning walks. All times of the day have their own specific charm here in Mexico: the busy afternoons when everyone—and in Mexico, that’s a lot of people—is rushing through the streets, going about their business, or the after-work hours, when the relaxed atmosphere and the high spirits of the crowds on the street become palpable. But my favorite is probably the morning, just after sunrise, when the city just starts waking up. It’s cool but sunny, and the streets are still quiet; only the early birds are out and they’re still a little sleepy. You can hear the squeaking of shops opening their blinds and doors, and doors slamming as people come out of their houses one by one. There’s an optimistic mood all around, curious what this new day might bring.
The Metrohm World Tour Officially Begins!
Now that my week of vacation of Mexico is coming to an end and I must say I can’t actually believe that it’s already been 8 days since my arrival. There’s still so much to be seen and explored in Mexico City, let alone in the country. I’m looking forward to getting to know Metrohm Mexico this week and being introduced some more to the culture of this incredibly diverse country. A video will be coming soon!