Flying into Mexico's Juarez airport is strikingly familiar, like flying into the Philippines' Ninoy Aquino international airport. The crowds are overwhelming. Family members seem to arrive by the busload to greet their respective arrivals from the United States. The security guards futilely try to impose rules--to not go beyond a certain line--but as soon as they turn around, everybody's pushing against the gate again.
We went through a fairly brisk immigration and customs process. We made sure to hold onto our tourist/exit cards as failure to present these at departure time would result in stiff fines. There are several currency exchanges and authorized taxi stands inside the airport. Expect to be approached by middlemen who will insist on showing you the way. We fell victim to one of them and we had to tip him after he walked us outside to where the cabs were.
There are two kinds of cab: a yellow and white SUV for P280 (right outside) and a green and white beetle for P180 (climb some stairs and cross the highway overpass). Some guidebooks warn you about cases of robbery in VWs. In spite of this, we picked this ride and were driven to the Zocalo, the main plaza, without any problems other than the occasional stomach-turning change of lane. Urban taxistas, no matter where you are, apparently all learned how to drive from the same school.
Twenty minutes and P200 later, we were in Hostal Moneda on Calle Moneda, where we would stay for the next three nights. Our double room was fairly clean by hostel standards but we did bring extra sheets just in case. They ran out of hot water a couple of times but their facilities, including a payphone in the lobby, proved to be very convenient and useful throughout our stay. The staff is extremely helpful and they will help you practice your Spanish.
After settling in, it was time to check out the Z?o. You don't really know what a flea market is until you experience Mexico City's Zocalo. There are vendors occupying every last square foot of space, hawking various wares and screaming out different prices. Clothes, jewelry, toys, random knick-knacks, and of course, food: tacos, tamales, cotton candy, corn, juice, and all kinds of drinks. Woven beanies and gloves go for up to P30. I bought a hat that would come in handy at night and during the early morning.
We visited the Metropolitano Cathedral, which is the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America. It was first built in 1525 and is continuously going through renovations. The other half, Sagrario Metropolitano, is more stable, as it was built on the remains of an Aztec pyramid.
Our first meal came from a Ricos Tacos food stand--bistek taco and a limonata drink. Green and red salsas and limes are available as condiments. For P7 it wasn't a bad way to get a quick snack. We'd continuously return to these stands throughout the trip though prices seemed to vary by the vendors' moods. We will soon eat as many as four a day, excluding our other more complete meals. As with New York dirty-water hot dogs we obeyed the adage that it has to be good if it looks dirty. For dinner, we walked to Cafe Tacuba. The tacos had whetted our appetites for Mexican food. We enjoyed our first taste of mole and the house special enchiladas. Mariachis made the rounds of the restaurant as we sipped our Dos Equis beers.
We finished our first night off by walking around the Zocalo. Kids are jumping up and down, reaching for wisps of cotton candy that stray from the machines stationed around the plaza. Incandescent bulbs light up the area. The whirring and humming of the power generators are constant in the background. Some vendors are already starting to pack up their wares. Many vendors come into the city from outerlying villages. So under makeshift houses built from foundations of boxed goods and roofs of plastic tarpaulin, vendors and their families would call it a night and start again as early as 8am the next morning.
MEX - Benito Juarez Airport
Mexico City International Airport is located eight miles east of the historical city center.
As of 12/23/02, US$1 = P10
Mexican money also uses the $ symbol but call it Pesos. To avoid confusion, P will be used here as Pesos and $ will stand for US$.
Calle de Moneda #8
Centro Historico 06020
Phone: (52-55) 55 22 58 21
P150 per night/per person for a private double room with a P100 deposit each person. Check-in time is 11am. Check-out is 1pm. Facilities: TV room, Internet room (about P10 for thirty minutes), kitchen, cafe, bar and the roof terrace. Free breakfast from 8 to 10am.
Ladatel sells phone cards for P30 to P80. To call anywhere in the United States, dial 001 + area code + number.
Open daily. No flash photography.
Tacuba 28 near Calle 20 de Noviembre. I was reading Sandra Cisneros' new novel, Caramelo, while traveling and she even recommended the restaurant in one of the chapters. Our meal cost about $25.