This was my first visit to Mexico. It’s also my first time traveling with a passport. I’ve been to Canada dozens of times – it happens when you grow up in Michigan – but I didn’t have a passport until a few weeks ago.
At the airport, catching a taxi was easy. I prepaid at a counter in the airport and had an uneventful if somewhat traffic-filled journey to Jalapa street in Roma Norte where we were staying (I traveled with my girlfriend Cheri and her daughter). This impression is VERY influenced by the fact that we were staying and hanging out in a gentrified area.
It was a challenge getting international calling and roaming enabled for my phone. Not because it was hard to do – but I had to login to the Ting (my phone service) website and turn it on and wait for it to take effect, using the spotty airport WiFi. From what I had read that was something that should have been on automatically, but I guess it wasn’t. The FAQ wasn’t too clear.
The apartment we were staying in had entry through a courtyard barred by a heavy iron gate, which seems pretty standard based on what I’ve seen so far. It was decorated in Danish Modern style and looked really nice.
The most notable thing about the buildings so far is the total difference between inside and outside. The sidewalks are mostly rough and broken, with cracks and dips and unevenness. I think that might be a combination of how earthquake-prone the area is and the fact that the city has sunk 32 feet in the last 60 years due to groundwater pumping (and that’s been accelerating – one article I saw had it dropping 3.2 feet per year).
The building facades are mostly stucco or crumbling concrete, usually barred and gated. Graffiti is pretty common, but not much more common than some U.S. cities. Chicago comes to mind.
The city is much more American than I would have expected. Domino’s, Starbucks, Circle K, Chili’s, 7-11, and Krispy Kreme are all familiar. Far more people than I would expect speak English, but people are generally really patient and kind in dealing with my terrible broken Spanish. Many signs are printed in both Spanish and English and it’s not too hard to get by. And the music – I’ve heard more American than Mexican so far, things like John Lennon and MGMT.
It’s also really quiet and peaceful, and not crowded at all, which is not what I expected. From what I hear that’s unique to the Roma and Condesa areas with the rest of the city being a lot louder and busier.
The air is surprisingly clean too. I heard that it was about as polluted and smog-filled as Los Angeles (the only place I’ve ever choked on the air), but it’s much better. Once in a while an old smoke-spewing diesel truck will roll by, but for the most part people drive modern American cars and the traffic doesn’t look notably different than what you’d see in California.
It’s also pretty clean. I’m comparing to Portland, Oregon, but only a couple times have I caught that distinctive sewer smell and not once have I smelled piss. Entire sections of Portland smell that way – old town, for example.
I expected it to be warmer, 80s and humid, but July is the rainy season. It’s cool during the day, starting in the low 60s and reaching the mid-70s, and then it rains starting around 5pm.
There also haven’t been many beggars and no visibly homeless people. By contrast, Portland is stuffed to the gills with hollowed-out derelict drug addicts living on the streets and begging for heroin money. You can’t walk more than half a dozen blocks in PDX without being accosted by someone with a clearly broken brain. And the Portland mayor, Ted Wheeler, is thoroughly incompetent and useless at doing anything to improve the city. He’s too busy making sure the police are protecting out-of-town white supremacists that show up to terrorize residents.
I shouldn’t be surprised that Roma has so many Italian restaurants, but I am. I’ve been here a day and a half and haven’t really eaten any authentic Mexican food. It’s been Italian twice, Venzuelan, and Swiss. That’s not really intentional and I’m sure plenty of local fare will be consumed (and the second half of the trip will be in Tulum).
None of us has had any trouble with sickness, but we’ve also been taking Travelan and being fairly cautious with our consumption (me less so than my wiser companions).
Chapultepec Park is amazing. They have a castle, multiple museums, a great botanical garden, sculptures – it’s huge and beautiful and they have tiny lizards on the trees and super-friendly squirrels that run up and take food right from your hand. Definitely recommend.