The positives of living in Mexico City are many and well-documented: street food, the museums, the variety of neighbourhoods. But there are more subjective pleasures of the city. Here are all the things I love about living in Mexico City.
Hanging out at a taco stand
Mexico City’s extraordinary street food culture has got me addicted to tacos, gorditas, elote, flautas and chilaquiles. A less well-known of street food here is the common experience of ‘eating in’ at the stand. When I first got here this baffled me. What, so you want to just stand eating off a plastic plate, by a busy road, looking into the middle distance?
It freaked me out a bit if I’m honest. But, as time has passed I’ve come around to this strange arrangement. What bothered me I think is the implied sociability, that if I ‘ate in’ I might have to start a conversation with fellow diners. In fact, nobody really does this. You can just stand there, chomping away, in wordless brotherhood while your life expectancy inches lower.
Learning on the go
Last week I had one of my best moments since moving here. Just half an hour after finishing listening to a 27-part podcast on the Mexican Revolution (series 9 of the excellent ‘Revolutions’ series) I passed through Pino Suarez Metro station and stumbled across an exhibition of revolutionary hero Felipe Angeles.
I enjoyed the display in the silent company of other commuters who took time out to read about Angeles, who, if things had gone differently, could easily have become president, but was instead executed for treason. Metro stations all over the capital are strewn with such historical and cultural displays. When you have time to stop and read them they enrich the experience of public transport.
The strange sounds
The first new sound most people notice is the chanting scrap metal van. An ethereal voice exhorts you to sell your old fridge, microwave and so on. The recording was made several years ago by the 10-year-old daughter of one of the scrap guys who needed an edge in his collection game. Her strained tones are due to him getting her to repeat the script again and again until the early morning.
For a while, I lived in a high-rise on a busy road in Navarte, which was more soundproof, so when I started hearing it again recently in Condesa it was like meeting an old friend. Other distinctive sounds are the high-pitched recording of tamales vendors on bikes (I can never tell if it’s speeded up or a real Mexican voice) and the upwards-infected yelp of builders who cheerfully compete with traffic below. Like many things in Mexico City you develop a love-hate relationship with its soundtrack.
The 6-peso tourist bus
Like most places, central Mexico City has a fleet of tourist buses. I have never needed to get on one of these as the southern section of Metrobus 7 is basically a tour bus for 6 pesos.
Get on at Hidalgo heading towards Campo Marte, head up to the top deck, and you’ll sail down Reforma, one of the best avenues in the world. Every stop is a major monument, from the bright yellow modernist El Caballito, past the Angel of Independence, down through the north of Chapultepec Park. It ends in Polanco, the city’s business district, where the monuments to history give way to those of international business. It’s the best commute I’ve ever had.
On Sunday mornings Reforma is closed to traffic and you can do your own tour by bike or on foot.
I played competitive soccer twice a week in the UK. In fact, it was one of the main things stopping me from emigrating elsewhere as the camaraderie and fun that come with it are such an important part of my life. But I’ve now discovered a network of footballers via the Sport12 app.
With up to five games a week at different sports centers at a cost of only 100 pesos, which includes excellent pro referees, it’s great for football nuts like myself missing their regular fix.
Similar groups exist for other sports. I think this comes down to something to do with the expat mentality – people are more prepared to step beyond their comfort zone and prioritize getting the experience they want over the need for familiarity and safety. This is a good thing not just for providing sporting opportunities, but for congregations of all sorts of activities and interests.
My other great love is karaoke. Luckily, Mexico City is a great place for amateur singers like me. In a future blog, I’ll tell you more about my passion for karaoke.