09/02/2015

Mexico City On My Own

  • Field Notes

When I told people of my plans to go to Mexico City by myself, I was shocked by the reactions I got. “You’re going to get shot!” was the resounding cry I heard at least three times.

And not to spoil the ending – I didn’t.

I did however eat amazing food, meet great people, learn a bit about local culture, walk Frida Kahlo’s streets, explore museums, see ancient ruins, and share stories with strangers. I was there for one week.

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My time in Mexico City, or what the locals call “El Distrito Federal” or “D.F.,” taught me once again that a city is a city is a city. Of course around the world, they all have their own distinguishing flavors and colors, but the rule of thumb just about everywhere you go is this: don’t put yourself in bad situations, and you won’t find yourself in one.

In some ways, it reminded me of my time living in San Francisco. Know your neighborhood, meet people, and opt for the alleyway that doesn’t appear to be out of an episode of Tales From The Crypt. For those who haven’t been to Mexico City, I will say that it does help to speak Spanish, or to at least know the basics – the “excuse me’s” and the “do you know where’s” will take you far.

My favorite moment of getting lost happened while making my way to the Palicio de Bellas Artes to see a photography exhibit of Pablo Picasso. In the distance I saw what looked to be a parade of protesters walking in my direction. The very wide sidewalk was overrun with people, yelling in unison. I wondered what was happening and waited until they were closer to read the banners. As they got closer, I saw they were all very young boys and girls, shouting something I couldn’t make out. But then their shirts and flags made their cause clear. They had the fever. Bieber fever.

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When I wasn’t walking, I made my way around town primarily by bus and taxi. I will say that it’s wise to keep an eye on your bag while shoved into the crowded buses. I’d also take some time to scout out reputable cab companies, or even request pickup from a hotel or restaurant. The taxis from the airport are reliable (as are the currency exchange stations), but picking up a car off the street means using your brain to determine whether or not they’re swindling you. Take a look at a map before you hail a cab, and get a basic idea of the neighborhood, you know the drill.

During my time, I stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Coyoacan – a small portion of Mexico City that feels like a village. With several streets lined with boutiques, flower shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants brimming with locals, it was the perfect place to settle into at night and find a peaceful rest. It’s also where Frida Kahlo once lived. Her beautiful blue home is now preserved as a museum, one I highly recommend seeing.

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Food is a new world of options in Mexico City. Some places don’t lend themselves kindly to visitors when it comes to street food, but if you smell something tempting from a vendor in The District, go for it. The word for fast vendor food is “antojito,” which translates to “little craving.” There are endless tamales, tostadas, and tortas to pick from, each spot having their own distinct flavor, typically made from scratch by the vendor themselves. There are also countless fruit and juice stands, as well, should you suddenly have a need for a green drink, papaya salad, or a freshly peeled kiwi to snack on. Mexico City is a place you can eat for cheap on the street and yet feel like royalty.

If you want to go somewhere with countless boroughs to explore, infinite food to try and affordable accommodation, Mexico City is your ticket. The combination of celebratory energy and the pace of the working day makes it a wildly exciting place. If you want it to be. It can also be very calm. You’re free to shape your experience, and it will also shape you.

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Sera Lindsey is a photographer living in Los Angeles. See more of her lively, sunshiny, fun-loving work here.

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