Mexico City: the hottest place to be
January 1, 1970
by Tove Melin
I’m facing some major changes in my life right now. In fact, just the last week has contained changes on almost every one level: I got two jobs, I got the news that I’ll have to move from my apartment, I found a new apartment, I handed in the first draft of my master’s thesis (a proud 300 pages)… Basically, there has been a lot on my mind lately and things are far from stable at the moment. People tend to ask me why I insist on staying in Mexico City when it’s so far from Sweden and when salaries are so low. On top of that, it’s not exactly a secret that Mexico tends to have something of a reputation of being dangerous. So why fight for something so complicated? Well, it’s simple really. Because in the midst of all the complications and difficulties, life is really also so simple, so interesting, and so full of life. I’ll tell you why, and while I’m at it, I’ll also break down a few of those terrifying stereotypes for you.
The thing about Mexico City…
… is that it has everything. And when I say everything, it’s because I mean everything. For anyone that hasn’t lived in a city of around 30 million inhabitants, it is truly very hard to understand the width of that. This city has three times more inhabitants than my entire country does. So say you get into the metro in the western district of Polanco, which is primarily a business area with shiny buildings and Western food, and you get ride the metro for an hour eastwards (you could easily go for an hour and a half from one extreme to another, just on the metro. And I’m not counting the Metrobus and the train) and you end up outside of the airport, in a place where there is almost no formal business, people hang out chatting in plastic chairs on the sidewalk, oh, and you find the best freaking tacos in the whole wide world. (Not joking.) It’s is like a different world, a different country. Going southwards from there, you find the last standing indigenous colony of Mexico City called Xochimilco, where public and private transportation is widely based on gondolas, and they still farm native tomatoes and corn. The Historic Center looks like Rome, and the Roma-Condesa area is bohemian hip. Every part of this city has its own charm and ambience, and sure, there are definitely parts where you shouldn’t walk alone at night, but there are also places where you can, at any hour of the day.
To live in the world of ¡Ay, ay, ay!
I have traveled quite a bit for my fairly young age, and I have lived in four different countries. No place, so far, has fascinated me so much as Mexico. That being said, Mexico City is very different from many other parts (or rather, every other part) of the country, but that doesn’t make the city less interesting. On the contrary, this is one of those cities where you just won’t, ever, manage to see all, and you still feel like you are constantly doing something. I once read that if you are bored in Mexico City, it’s because you really want to be bored. This is something that is very true. In January this year, the New York Times made a list of 52 places to visit this year, and Mexico City came first. Righteously. The article describes the restaurant life, museums, artistic scene, design and architecture, most of all in the Condesa-Roma area. Because, you know, it has it all. This place is perfect for tourism. And also pretty awesome to live in.
Food, drinks, food, and lots of more food
Now, if you didn’t already know, I’m a foodie. I totally admit to being a food snob and basically 80% of my life goes around food. Here, I’m in heaven. There is literally everything and not only are the food and drinks amazing here, the restaurants are very varied and there are just so many creative, hip and hot initiatives to enjoy. Every day something new pops up, there is always another place to discover. I mean, I’m a nerd, but I’m happy just walking around watching the different places, getting inspiration, taking part of the refreshing and fun ideas. There are also quite a few food markets that have opened up in the last few years, that allow you to stroll around hip stands, and choose between very varied dishes. Prices in this area are higher than in many other parts of the city, but still ridiculously cheap compared to many other countries. For 30USD you have had yourself a huge meal and lotssss to drink. For 15USD you have still had a very decent meal and a few (alcoholic) drinks included. If you don’t feel like spending much there are excellent places even in this area, where you can have a nice dinner for 3USD. Yes, it’s that amazing.
Although this is a topic that is way too broad to even address within one headline, it is also one of the best things about the city. Here culture can be anything. It is the world’s most museum-filled city and there is truly an endless amount of things to see. There is also an amazing musical scene, with all from national and international rock/pop concerts to mariachi street musicians, classical concerts, and large international festivals (such as the Corona and Vive Latino). The national public university UNAM holds the largest movie archive in Latin America and there are frequent film festivals held here. You’ll find artisanal production from allover the country here, in the local markets as well as in established stores (more expensive than in the villages, of course, but still accesible). It’s a pick-and-choose situation here, really everything is within your reach.
Mexicans are really friendly and happy people. Sure, they’re all suspicious of each other (you’ll always hear a “don’t trust anyone here”), but in the end, you’ll find that the vast majority are just really helpful and sweet. There are no people to go out partying with like Mexicans, you know you’ll have one and several more good laughs at any time you go out. Sure, it is sometimes a little difficult to get things to happen (planning isn’t exactly part of how most people roll here, which often results in that nothing happens if you don’t make sure it does yourself – don’t take that as a personal thing, it’s just how it works) but when they do, it’s always a blast. And hey, there are always a million other things you can do.
Roma Norte and la Condesa have become crowded with hipsters, which not only shows in the restaurant/bar life, but also largely in the way people dress and look here. This is the one place that I have seen in the world where men actually have more barbering/hairdressing options than women. Lots of local designers have little clothing boutiques with unique styles, and there are also weekly markets and bazars where small companies show their work. Mexican hipster fashion is (I find) way more fun than the European version since it mixes the “traditional” hipster clothing with a Latino touch. The result is pure awesomeness.
I’m not an architect, but buildings here are just really cool, and very varied depending on where you go. You’ll find everything from colonial neighborhoods to shiny business districts and bohemian turn-of-the-century buildings. I’m personally a fan of walking, and even though I’ve been here for a year now, I still enjoy walking between the different neighborhoods and enjoying the variation.
Breaking the stereotypes
There are lots of things being said about Mexico and about Mexicans in general, much of it not well founded, some of it decently anchored in reality, some of it misconceptions or misunderstandings. There are a few things that tend to pop up when I tell people that I live in Mexico City, however, that are worth looking closer at.
“Mexico is dangerous”
Look, I’m not going to say there’s no violence here. Ignorance helps no one. I don’t blame anyone for believing that it’s rough here. We hear things in the news, and we think of how big cities can be rough and it all seems to add up. Mexico must be a dangerous place. But this brings us right back to the discussion above: Mexico is huge! There are definitely areas both in the country and in the city where you shouldn’t be, and there is no doubt that the numbers related to violence are high. But then there are 120 million people living in this country, and we don’t hear about those who live peacefully. News are great, but they are also biased, since it’s just not news when things don’t happen. I dare say I feel safer taking a night walk in my area of the city, Condesa, than I sometimes did in Sweden. So just get know your area and you will have no problems. Also, no need to walk to places in the night, or even to take the metro – Uber and secure taxis are everywhere and at very good rates.
“Mexicans are lazy”
I have one statement for you: Crowded streets at four in the morning. You just don’t see that in Sweden. People here work around the clock and many work several jobs. Sure, maybe efficiency isn’t the number one quality here, but I would prefer to blame bureaucracy than people. Go Mexicans! You’re a hard working people.
“Mexicans are macho”
Now, this is a tricky question. Yes, there are days when you, as a woman, just want to give up everything and never go outside again. There is definitely much to do in this area. But there is also much being done. I have wonderful (male and female) friends here that work for and support equality and others that are yet exploring, but the fact is that there is an ongoing discussion – way more than the first time I was here six years ago. Just like it does culturally, Mexico City represents all different kinds of standpoints in these issues, too. And as much as there is resistance to gender equality, there is also a strong movement in favor.
“Mexican food is way too spicy”
Correction: Mexican salsas are really spicy. Most Mexican food is actually not, and how much hot salsa you put on your food is really up to you. I enjoy a good hot rush with my tacos, but I also love the dishes that are less spicy – Mexico is a world of flavors and dishes, and Mexico City has them all. You find food from allover the country here, all from fat-dripping, juicy tacos to fresh shrimp ceviches and rich, warming stews. On top of this, there is also the international kitchen, and I swear that almost all countries in the world are represented here, and well represented. I’ve had some seriously delicious pizzas here, as well as real Thai and real Indian. And Mexican sushi just brings Japanese to a whole new level (mango-avocado sushi is the sh-t!). There’s something for everyone here, literally, so should you not find “your thing” it’s either because you haven’t looked, or because you simply don’t like food.
I fell in love with this place…
… to be honest, not the first time I came here, basically because I didn’t know where to go and what to expect. It is worth it to check up some points of interest before coming here, because the city is too big to explore completely randomly. The second time I came here, however, I was captured immediately, however. And over the years, as I kept on coming back, I got more and more attached to the city, up to the point where I decided that I needed to live here at some point in my life. Chilangos (the people that live in the Mexico City) would always tell me that I would get sick of the crowd and noise after a month, and yes, it’s big, it’s exhausting, it’s never really quiet, but I am far from tired of this place. A year in, and I have only begun to explore. It is truly a place that requires – and most of all deserves – your full attention.