City with Zocalo from Torrelatinoamericana IMG_4802 low res

I left for Mexico City on a 7:05 AM US Airways flight from Boston, through Charlotte, NC and then onto Mexico City. To this day people are amazed that my most frequent connecting airport is Charlotte. Somehow, Charlotte just doesn’t strike people as a likely gateway to Mexico. It didn’t strike me that way either, but that’s how they routed me. I suppose fundamentalist Christianity has become a way-station to deep Catholicism. Who knew?

Flying into Mexico City, I was fortunate enough to have a window seat on the left side of the plane. (something I’d recommend if you book a flight there.) As we approached, I could see Popocatepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl poking through the smog, and then below, the vastness of Mexico City. From the air, it looks at least as large as Greater Los Angeles, and certainly as spread out. As we landed, we flew over the center of the city, right over Reforma, the Champs Elysées of Mexico City, and then looped back to the airport, giving me a wonderful view of all that I was about to discover.

At customs, I decided that aggressive friendliness was the best tack for getting through unmolested. “¡Buenos Dias! ¿Cómo está?” I said cheerily to the immigration agent, and then also the customs people. Turns out you aren’t likely to have much trouble at customs, despite what the State Department may think. They have this random-number system, where you press a button, and if the light turns green, you sail right through without so much as a bag inspection. If it turns red, you get a cursory bag search. I pressed the button, and then a few short steps later, emerged into the hectic rush that is the Aeropuerto Juarez, AICM to the locals.

Ok, I had to get a taxi, and I had to make sure it was an official taxi. I at least didn’t want to START my vacation being kidnapped. Fortunately, there are official taxi stands at both ends of the airport. Unfortunately, it’s about a mile long, and the international arrivals are in the middle. So after a brief hike through throngs of Mexican families waiting for long-lost relatives to arrive, I got my taxi ticket, and then got in line to wait for a taxi. While I waited, a Mexican guy who had likely grown up in the US (judging from his unaccented American English) asked me why I was in Mexico City. “I’m here on vacation,” I said.

“Wow,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to come here on vacation. There’s no reason to come here unless you have business or family. This is a hellhole!”

I laughed nervously. This made me a bit anxious, especially as the view of the city from the taxi stand wasn’t promising. But there I was, and I was determined to have an experience, whatever that experience might be.

Soon I was hustled off into a waiting taxi. In broken Spanish, I told my driver where I wanted to go, and off we went. Along the way, I was struck by how much the area near the airport looked like East LA. Even the terrain was similar. Big smoggy city in a valley amongst brown hills.

Mexico City is at approximately 7,500 feet of altitude, and that combined with perhaps the smog, led me to have a headache shortly after arrival. “Sheesh, I hope this doesn’t last my whole trip,” I thought. After checking into the hotel, I took a nap, and when I awoke, around 4:30 PM or so, felt OK.

There I was, alone in Mexico City, with an entire realm of possibilities before me.

To be continued…

(P.S. – I inadvertently posted the next episode instead of this one, then took it down. Sorry for any confusion.)