A passport check and a customs form gets us into the airport arrival hall. A large letter “E” looms above us and small kiosks for money-exchanges, cell phones, and ATMs line the massive corridor that makes up the terminal. As we walk the quarter-mile from E to C towards Natalie’s dad, I am drawn to the lines of people waiting behind the ATMs. None of them seem impatient or frustrated. Our first interaction with Mexico City is attempting to use one of these ATMs. The line builds behind us as the machine slowly goes through its prompts. Pesos nearly in hand, we make a mistake. A screen flashes by and our card is returned. We try once more, apologizing to the man behind us and – by proxy – the now embarrassingly long line. He smiles and says no problem. Our second attempt fails, slowly, and we leave to meet Natalie’s father. His presence for our first few days was invaluable, turning an otherwise frustrating and (to me) mildly frightening experience into a light-hearted and food-filled one.
In a blur of metro stops we arrive at the center of the city. There is a din and smell to this place. The cars rumble and honk, vendors advertise through loudspeakers, bus drivers yell their destination. The smell of grilled meat mingles with fumes and unburnt gasoline from a hundred exhaust pipes.
A round of tacos and sodas is our introduction to the local food. We eat inside a tarp-walled stall, the cook out front endlessly simmering and chopping meat, grilling tortillas, and chatting with customers. The taqueria is just to the side of the metro station square, Pino Suares. The square is bustling, surrounded by vendors hawking trinkets, clothes, and food. Two metro lines that crisscross the city connect here making it a natural location for the many stall-filled markets.
Our tacos eaten and paid for, we hail one of the many roaming taxis and make our way to the hotel. The back seats of this taxi don’t have seatbelts – this hopefully one-off event later becomes a trend. The streets of Mexico city are fluid and fast paced. Cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and people share the road. Order and safety is achieved through common sense, some courtesy, and luck. Crossing the street is often an exercise in pure will, and casually driving on a red is an occasional tool of the road.
In a half-hour, we arrive at our hotel. We share the lobby with two other couples as we check in. Our limited fluency is both obvious and not an obstacle. The hotel room is large, clean, and quiet. We rest and discard gear to send back home. Our packs, despite having been purged once before the flight out, are still too heavy.
A walk down a dark street with cracked pavement leads to the local main drag. The pavement here is also cracked and broken, but streetlights and shop-signs light the way.
Here we are introduced to the ubiquitous Oxxo and Sanborns stores. Oxxo fills the role of the minimart; Sanborns is an upscale some-of-everything store with a restaurant on the side : books share the floor with electronics, makeup, and housewares. We continue along the cement and cobblestone streets to La Posta, the italian restaurant Natalie has chosen. Dinner is a three course example of excellent cooking. The waiters engage in light jokes at the expense of our limited spanish and we end the meal with dessert – pistachio creme brule – and a spanish lesson – caja para llevar.
Returning to the hotel we pass by an ATM. This time we succeed.