Four and a half hours in the air and it soon became very apparent from the plane window that we certainly were not in the United States anymore. Initial impressions lead to disappointment, as we viewed the city from the sky just around dusk. Clouds drifted over the top of the city, as we questioned whether these clouds were weather or pollution related – unaware we were soon to find out that air pollution is a hugely relevant problem in Mexico City, with the city even experiencing a time only a few decades ago where birds would drop dead out of the sky, due to the poor quality air! From the sky, most cities look incredibly similar – however Mexico City seemed to notably have a lot less skyscrapers, but definitely remained developed and probably even more so than we expected.
Our Spanish was incredibly limited, as I had only taken maybe two months of classes and had only just mastered basics such as numbers, hello, goodbye etc. And Blake had little to no exposure to the language pre-travel – so let’s just say our initial conversations with customs agents and airport workers were more than interesting and a huge eye-opener to the next six months that lay ahead! Nonetheless, we had done our research and already knew what taxis to take, where we were headed and approximately how much we were expecting to pay and managed to avoid being either A) in a dangerous situation or B) severely ripped off. We arrived to our hostel after dark, Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral but were super impressed with the first impressions of a crazy good location, right on the Zocalo or Main Square of Mexico City. As it was already late, dark and we weren’t yet entirely aware of our surroundings, we decided to ask the hostel receptionist for a suggestion for any quick eat within a few streets from the accommodation. He seemed entirely unenthused, yet pointed out a location on a map. “Open all night, cheap place to eat” sounded good enough for us. Little did we know, this guy had pointed us in the direction of a Pizza Hut – hardly the first Mexican cuisine experience we had envisioned or planned! Once again, our language skills (or lack of) let us down, but thankfully sign language and a few ‘gracias’ went a long way and we had successfully ordered our first dinner in very limited Spanish. We went to bed with full stomachs, smiles on our faces and the excitement that we had arrived in Central America beginning to sink in.
That excitement nearly wore off, as we realised our hostel was terrible for echoing and full of loud drunken Americans trying to find their dorm room at 0230am – but we were determined to let nothing bring us down, Mexico had been a dream for so long and we had a long full day ahead of exploring. We are big lovers of local food and always try to investigate where we should be eating and what local dishes we should be trying – so after discovering a popular place to try Mexican food, conveniently named ‘Cafe El Popular’, we headed there for an early lunch and to get our first Mexican dishes. Ordering tacos seemed to be a safe option, so we ordered one lot of chicken and one of beef and eagerly awaited our food. Before the main dish arrived, the waitress dropped us about five different varieties of bread rolls, and a stand containing five different sauces and condiments – the puzzled expressions on our faces were probably priceless! Running through our heads, we were thinking ‘Do we get this for free? How much extra does this cost? Do we wait and use this with our main dish? Is this a starter?’, and quickly observed the tables around of us locals to determine that the bread did seem to be complimentary and we could eat before our meal or together with our meal. What arrived next was not what we had ever considered tacos before, but boy were they delicious! Instead of the classic hard corn taco shell, or even soft corn tortilla with some fillings, what arrived were crispy, rolled corn tortillas that were hard and fried in a cylindrical shape, filled with the meat of choice and some cheese – simple yet effective, and incredible with the addition of some salsa picante (hot sauce)!
Full of energy we headed to our first sightseeing stop in Mexico, after a quick wander around the Zocalo and gathering our bearings. Templo Mayor, translation: Main Temple, was one of the most significant temples of the Aztec people and was the centre of their capital Tenochtitlan – now the modern capital, Mexico City. The site is UNESCO World Heritage listed and literally sits right in the centre of Mexico City, just off the main square and in between contemporary buildings. To see such an ancient site and our first Aztec ruins, literally surrounded by the everyday buildings of the capital city was truly bizarre and like nothing we had ever experienced before. The ancient city fell to the Spanish and unfortunately was partially destroyed and covered over with the new city, however what laid buried was incredibly intact by the time it was discovered and it was amazing to take a step back in time and see their beautiful inscribed carvings and paintings in the stone, able to still be admired over six centuries later. The House of Eagles was our favourite part of the site and definitely the most intact and detailed. Yet on the other hand, it is not entirely that well preserved as the main pyramid of the original site stood at over 60m high in its day, but the leftover ruins would only stand a couple of metres maximum. With excavation only commencing in 1978 upon the discovery of a large Aztec monolith in a construction site, it is crazy to see excavation still continuing in modern Mexico City to this day and to think that the Aztec capital lies buried under the chaos of city, still waiting to be fully discovered.
If you have been to Mexico before, you know that their culture is all about mural art – so it wouldn’t be a trip without witnessing some of their incredible artwork in person. We went to a museum, operating out of a university and got to witness some of the man of murals himself, Diego Rivera’s art displayed on the walls in front of us. Unfortunately we were unable to take photos of his mural works, but did get a chance to also photograph some other legendary mural artists masterpieces.
To balance out all the Mexican history we had absorbed in our first day, we decided to indulge in one of the most modern aspects of Mexican culture and take a trip to see the one and only, Lucha Libre. Mexico’s very own answer to the WWE, Lucha Libre means ‘free fight’ and is a form of professional wrestling that operates out of Mexico City at Arena Mexico on a Tuesday and Friday night. Being a Friday night, our hostel was running a cheap group tour to the wrestling and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to witness the chaos in person. A few tequila shots later, we had met some awesome new people and were ready for the main event – there truly is nothing like it and is probably the most insane thing we have ever experienced. Friday nights are their largest nights, hosting the ‘CMLL Super Viernes’ or ‘Super Friday’ for gringos, and is even broadcasted across cable television countrywide. The music is loud, the crowd absolutely screams, laughs, boos and jeers at the wrestlers and at one point, people were aggressively throwing coins at a midget wrestler in a mask. Vendors come along, shouting to sell you popcorn, chicharrones, beers or waters and the atmosphere is incredibly electric. There was one flamboyant luchador named ‘Maximo Sexy’, who featured a bright pink mohawk and a tank top saying ‘Kiss Me’ and at one point, the crowd was shouting at him, ‘BESO! BESO! BESO’. We looked at each other, confused as to what this could possibly mean, until our new Costa Rican friend Fabian turned to us and said, ‘They’re saying kiss! Kiss! Kiss!’. Sure enough, Maximo Sexy’s finishing move was to grab the giant, muscly luchador in front of him and smack a huge kiss on the lips! As the fights went on, it soon became apparent just how important a luchadores mask is, as one fight featured an unfortunate wrestler become de-masked and have to leave the ring in shame and embarrassment – only to come back later, reclaim his blue mask and win the final round of the fight! The fights could last up to three rounds, and it was great to see every single fight be taken to round three, with each team always ending up one round apiece heading into the last – the crowd favourites always coming out on top and defeating the bad guys.
The night was a blast, full of cheap entertainment, beers and new friends but before we knew it, we were back in Mexico City and it was already 11.30pm and we were yet to eat any dinner. With our new friends Fabian and Jorge, we were taken to a great little taco vendor only a few blocks from our hostel and experienced our very first Mexican street food. There we fell in love with tacos, done proper street Mexican style with pastor (marinated pork) meat off the spit-roast, coriander, hot sauce and a tiny slice of pineapple – safe to say, our home tacos will never be cooked the same again! Jorge was an incredible guide to this local gem and also a great translator. At five tacos for forty peso (approx $2USD), this was heaven to us and I can honestly say, we returned the next day for lunch. Lucha libre had inspired Blake for his first souvenir from Central America, and after wandering the entire city the next day, we finally found what he was looking for, before our time in the capital came to an end and we were headed onwards to our next destination: Puebla.