Mexico City, Mexico: WEEK 10 NOVEMBER, overcast with sunny intervals, 11 - 21 degrees
18.11.2016 - 19.11.2016
Our stay in Mexico City didn't go according to plan. The tone was set when we boarded the bus in Oaxaca, having our day packs searched and our bodies patted down for weapons. An official then boarded and video taped all of the passengers. I've never been searched for weapons before taking a bus in all the years I've been backpacking.
Then there were all the warnings about self preservation in Mexico City, the most populous city in Mexico with 21.2 million inhabitants:
- don't hail a taxi in the street, people have been robbed and abducted in stolen taxis
- never take taxis from the airport or bus terminals unless they are authorised prepaid taxis
- always double check a taxi driver's identification including their photo
- don't go to bario Doctores or Lagunilla market at night which are centres for the drug trade
- do not keep debit or credit cards on your person as muggers have been known to hold you hostage until they have extracted enough cash from the ATM with your card
We took all the relevant precautions as like any big city including London, you need to be vigilant at all times and we were constantly drilling Thomas about his bags and possessions. We arrived at the most enormous bus station I've ever been to, TAPO north terminal, in daylight. Mexico has four major bus terminals for the four points of the compass. We couldn't travel into the centre on the metro as backpacks are not allowed. We successfully found the authorised taxi desk, bought our ticket to the Zocalo (historical centre) and waited patiently for our authorised taxi in the queue.
Our taxi driver resembled Michael Douglas from the film "Falling Down" - he was definitely a man on the edge of imploding or on the brink of a nervous breakdown, attired in a white crumpled shirt with fraying cuffs, a loosely fitting tie and greying hair at the temples. When we handed him our prepaid ticket, he threw his hands up in disgust, slammed the driver's door shut with such force that whole taxi shook, threw our backpacks into the boot and stormed off like a toddler in tantrum meltdown.
We weren't sure what to do at this point as we had already paid and he had now taken our ticket. We got into the taxi, completely bemused, while I checked his identification and photo plastered on the window. We surmised that the historical centre was an unpopular fare and hoped that he would return to the taxi in a better mood. "Can we get a different taxi as he's a scary man?" requested Thomas. We were thinking about what we should do next when he returned, got into the driver's seat without a word, started the engine and agitatedly ran his hand through his hair. He slammed his foot onto the accelerator, the tires screaming in protest as we lurched forward over a speed bump to join gridlocked traffic. This was when I realised that yet again there were no seatbelts in the front or rear.
It was 2.4 miles to the Zocalo, most of it spent bumper to bumper, apart from odd bursts of speed which normally followed a dangerous manoeuvre that Fast and Furious Vin Diesel might have attempted. Our kamikazi driver decided to turn into onward traffic, edge through junctions with red traffic lights while other vehicles ploughed into us and overtake into lanes that didn't exist and relied on other traffic giving way. "I'm frightened', admitted Thomas, "why don't we get out of the taxi?" Good question, but when I glanced at the street we were stuck in, it was lined with shoe shine stands intersperced with coloured umbrellas under which were ladies in mini lycra skirts, stockings, suspenders and teetering on high heel platform shoes. "I don't think this is the best neighbourhood" was my reply and I couldn't have told you where we were either as I'd lost track of street names.
After enduring over one and half hours of erratic driving and horrendous traffic jams to cover 2.4 miles, we finally made it to the third largest city square in the world 'Plaza de la Constitution', where we screeched to a halt and our backpacks were unceremoniously dumped in the road without a road and our taxi driver roared away. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Our broom cupboard room in the hotel had bunk beds - a double on the lower level and single on the top. No one slept well as the bed springs were so noisy that whenever anyone moved in any of the beds, it woke everyone up (and that was with ear plugs jammed into my ears). All the hotels and hostels we tried were full so we made a decision to leave Mexico City behind early in the morning and head out to Zitacuaro, high up in the pine forests.