Continued from How I Discovered Mexico City – First of a Mini Series
I’d been to Mexico before. Twice in Cancun; the last time (as it turns out) to break up with the ex who accompanied me on the cruise. Once after business school with a good friend from there. It was nice, but kind of like a Mexican neighborhood in Hawaii. Sure there were some people speaking Spanish, and indeed there were a few Mexicans around too, but all in all it felt more like an extension of Southern California than a foreign country.
I’d also been to Ciudad Juarez in the late 80’s, across the river from a dusty El Paso. That was definitely not southern California. Hard, tense men sat along the riverbank on the Mexican side, eying the US and plotting their next move. Along the dusty, and well-worn streets, hawkers sold shoes, tourist tchotchkes, and other assorted flotsam. Interesting yes, but not exactly a vacation spot, and definitely lacking in any kind of historical or cultural charm as far as I could see. And I certainly didn’t want to end up in the crossfire of the drug war.
What about Mexico City? The sheer thought made my heart pound, but it also enticed. I’d heard that it had a very lively gay community, amazing museums, archaeological sites, tons of things to do. But it also had some of the world’s worst air pollution, highest kidnapping rate, and who knew what other dangers. Still the idea intrigued; I’ve always loved big cities. It definitely would be a foreign cultural experience. There’d be lots to do, and who knows, maybe I’d meet a Mexican cutie who could show me around. But first I had to do some research.
First stop, US State Department’s Travelers Advisory website for Mexico City. Wow! How many ways can one city be dangerous? Missing manhole covers; bad water; taxi drivers who moonlight as kidnappers; narcotraficantes; street crime; restaurants that allow smoking; the list went on and on. Don’t drive at night! Don’t eat raw vegetables! Get vaccinated! Watch out for stray dogs; they’re likely rabid!. Be careful of customs officers, they’ll try to rip you off! Frankly, it all sounded too dire to really be true. I mean, this was Mexico City, not Baghdad.
Oddly enough, I was not put off.
Next I bought a Lonely Planet guide to Mexico, which was much more helpful. Yes, there were issues in Mexico City, but a reasonably cautious traveler could easily overcome them. Better yet, the city was filled with millions of things to see from ancient Aztec ruins to the Colonial Spanish Centro Historico to the Zona Rosa, Mexico City’s answer to San Francisco’s Castro district. Forty five minutes away was Teotihuacan, the ancient Aztec city I had studied in my Urban Planning classes in college. Xochimilco, the “floating gardens” of Mexico City was at the end of a subway line. And the National Anthropological Museum was also a stone’s throw from the center of town. Ideal.
And my other research revealed that the gay community is enormous, with myriad bars, discos, clubs, and other ‘venues.’ Mexican gays were defying their country’s catholic tradition and coming out with vibrancy and life. And supposedly they actually like gringos. So I was set.
Mexico City awaited. Little did I know how much it would change my life.