Beware the Mexico City Airport!!!
Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
35Trip End Nov 02, 2008
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We were up at 4am to be at the airport at 5am. 25CUC later we were at the airport and as luck would have it, first in line for check-in. Quite a surprise really as Nicki and I have been suffering from this wallflower syndrome where no matter which queue we stand in, people always manage to push in without fail.
We handed over our passports and flight details, and I momentarily had flashbacks of our bad luck in London, as the lady asked us for proof of our flights out of Mexico. Since we'd booked our now flights to and from London last minute to replace the flights we couldn't take, they'd been booked as e-tickets and we still had not had a chance to print off the tickets themselves, so as things stood, we could provide no evidence that we definitely would be catching a flight out of Mexico. Thankfully however, Nicki had not yet chucked away our useless return tickets from Mexico, and thus having presented these to the lady we were fine to pass
Our flights first to Mexico City via Panama went without a hitch. That was until we disembarked in Mexico City, where we were to undergo another extremely stressful airport experience. Both Nicki and I walked up to the immigration desk and presented the lady with our passports who suspiciously scanned through them and promptly disappeared with them for about 20 minutes. The longer we waited for these passports, the more our stress levels rose, until the point I actually was expecting some very official people to escort us for interrogation or something. Fortunately she returned with them saying there was no huge problem as we'd been expecting. However, she wanted to see some other identification from Nicki as she was not convinced that the photo in Nicki's passport looked like her. Again thankfully she had her drivers' license on her and we could pass checkpoint 1.
Checkpoint 2, Customs. In Cuba we were advised that the limit per person of the number of cigars we were allowed to take out of the country went up to 50 cigars per person from the previous restriction of 25. Though we didn't have 100 in total, we did exceed 25 cigars per person. The customs form we needed to complete however stated that should a person have more than 25 cigars per person, these needed to be declared. We were deliberating for ages on whether to declare the few extra cigars or just go through and risk it. We joined the queue and then finally decided to get confirmation from a customs official who, before we could get our question fully out, said to "just go". Well, if she said just go, what could we do but "just go"? We had all our luggage scanned without problem and once we collected that had to press another button
I'd heard about this button before. It randomly goes either green or red. Green gives you the all clear, while red would result in your bag being strip searched. So just seeing this button pushed some panic buttons within me, and I'm sure more sweat started pouring of. I braced myself and pushed it.... GREEN!!! I was through! Such relief swept over my body. I turned around to watch what the result would be for Nicki. Another GREEN!!! Two hours after landing we were finally free! Nicki however had been completely oblivious to what this button had been at that point, which I suppose is a blessing for her as she didn't have to panic about the outcome.
Once through, we just needed to sit down and breathe out the breath we'd been holding for the last couple of hours. Every airport experience thus far had been an extremely stressful one, and this one had been no exception. I don't know what it is with having a South African passport that makes it such a complex process to pass any checkpoint. But as Nicki says, if we were to fake our passports, why on this green earth would we opt to have a South African passport if it was going to cause this much hassle on every entry and exit?
Mexico however was the last country we would visit and this surely would be the last "extreme" airport experience. We managed to catch ourselves an authorized taxi (apparently one must be very careful with the taxi's in Mexico City as catching the wrong one could be pretty dangerous) and soon arrived at Mexico City Hostel, which is located very near the Cathedral beside the Zocalo.
The really exciting thing about arriving in Mexico City having been in Cuba was seeing the shops around
We quickly dropped off our bags and a large load of washing, and then headed out with the idea of catching the Turibus around the city. The plan was to take the city tour on our first day in Mexico City and this would thus provide us with a better idea of the city layout etc, and also probably give us a better idea of what we'd want to do for the next day or so. The whole bus tour apparently takes about 3 hours, but it wasn't long before we decided to hop off in search of some food. A not-so-great dinner at Papa Bill's Saloon later and we decided to head on back. The problem however was that we couldn't find the Turibus stop to head on back. It then started pouring with rain and we took shelter under another local bus stop in the hope that the Turibus would come past and reveal its stop which was mapped to be somewhere nearby. Half an hour later the Turibus still hadn't arrived and since the rain had slightly subdued, we decided to walk back. Mexico City doesn't have the greatest reputation for being extremely safe, so we were somewhat panicky, but without any need for concern we found ourselves back at the hostel
15 October 2008 - Wednesday
Maybe it's because I haven't been to many hostels, but I found this one to be in complete disarray first thing in the morning. Breakfast was meant to be included in the price though by the time we got to the dining area we literally had to scavenge. Not only for breakfast but also for eating utensils - a plate, spoon, knife, mug. It really wasn't worth the effort unless you were the first.
We had a long admin to-do list drawn up and thought we'd get that done first, but then changed our minds thinking we'd get on the Turibus and then stop along the way to do our jobs. We found ourselves walking through the Chapultapec Park for a while before again getting back on the bus, only to jump off the Reforma Avenue to take photos of the various seats along the road. All the seats are very creative and provided us with loads of entertainment taking photos of us on them.
We then headed down to a market to have a look around. I kept finding myself buying more gifts despite the fact that I have absolutely no space left in my bags. It wasn't long afterwards that we discovered an internet café and ended up spending about one and a half hours on the internet catching up with the world
Dinner in Mexico City's China Town and then another quick walk back to the hostel. We've also managed to book our flights from Cancun to Mexico City, so at least we won't need to sit on a 24-hour bus back here at the end of our two weeks.
16 October 2008 - Thursday
A much better start to the day today with breakfast. I think a large group of students have left easing the load somewhat. However, the ladies toilets were completely disgusting. Hardly any of them are flushing and thus they're literally just clogging up with shit. Though guess one cannot expect too much when you're traveling on a shoestring.
At 9am, we were picked up by our tour guide for the day, Lambrico. We'd booked ourselves onto a tour to Teotihuacan, with a couple of other stops along the way, with the first stop being Tlatelolco. Here we were guided through the Aztec pyramids and the Spanish Temple de Santiago. We got a full run through of all of the histories but for me the most interesting was the more recent massacre of students in 1968 just before Mexico hosted the Olympics
Our second stop was at the Basilica de Guadalupe. This apparently is the second most important location for the Catholics after the Vatican. Thousands of people make pilgrimages to see the Virgin. Walking around the Basilica is a quite a surreal experience. People have set up tents, and are camping and sleeping on the premises on the floors with their large bags of luggage and sleeping bags. Everyone eats around the churches as well, though not sure where they acquire all their food from. There are toilet facilities on premises though these are quite nasty themselves, and I have absolutely no idea where these people shower or clean, if they do at all. Maybe it's just me, but it does seem a little bit crazy, or maybe I just don't understand.
Our final stop, Teotihuacan. Driving through the other parts of Mexico City to get there however is quite an eye opener. All the buildings are unpainted and incomplete giving it an overall grey drab colouring. The reason for this is that once you've painted your house, you indicate that it has been completed and thus have to start paying taxes, so everyone just leaves their houses unpainted instead. Great incentive to having a beautiful city
Before exploring the ruins, we stopped off at a shop and restaurant called Cinco Sol or 'The Five Suns'. We were given a demonstration of what the agave plant can be used for other than the Mezcal drink - paper, soap, sowing. We then had three different shots, and for some absurd reason the Tequila tasted great. And this before I'd had any other drinks. Though I have a suspicion that this may have something to do with the honey mixed in with it.
After a demonstration of how they do the stone carvings we were shown into their shop. The jewellery, carvings and ornaments were incredibly beautiful. One cannot help but want. I had to laugh though because Nicki offered to buy a statue of the Love god at a much reduced price, and was completely surprised when they accepted as I'm not sure she really had much intention or desire for it in the first place.
We then headed through for a delicious buffet lunch. The food was great, and we also had a very enthusiastic band playing in the background. I found myself roped into dancing with one of the band members, though struggled for some time. Once I got my steps right however it turned out to be great fun. I must admit that the Mexican men are miles ahead of the Cubans when it comes to their behaviour and attitude towards women. It really was so nice to be treated like an equal again and not to constantly have to be on guard, or feel the hair at the back of your neck constantly raised as a result of the cat calling.
Finally, Teotihuacan. I'm glad we decided to visit these ruins though was somewhat confused in the sense that Lambrico kept saying that most of the information we've read to date is false and then provided his own versions of everything. When I questioned him as to how we should know whether his versions of the story were correct, he got quite angry at me. Anyway, we had about three hours in total to stroll around, observe the ruins, climb both the sun and the moon temples, and make a quick stop at the museum.