Mexico City

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Mexican Triangle

Ipsos recently released a pretty detailed survey, detailing the best cities in the world. The best to visit, the best to live in and the best to do business in. It’s worth a look at. Needless to say, the usual suspects all turned up at the top of the list – London, New York and Paris. No shocks. But I was looking at the list for another name. I saw Abu Dhabi, LA, Singapore, Stockholm and others. But not the one I was looking for. I didn’t see Mexico. Not in that top twenty list.

It’s a travesty. Judging cities is subjective, but I struggle to see how quite a number of those cities feature above Mexico. Actually I don’t. I know why. Mexico City is just not on the radar. Not the British radar. Not anyone else’s radar, perhaps other than the Spanish and other LatAm countries. The Bermuda Triangle moves a few hundred miles south west the moment you talk tourism. And poor Mexico City is swallowed whole.

On one hand it’s hard to see why. The place is so full or cultural, art and life. On the other hand, it has suffered decades of terrible pollution, poverty and crime and all the negative publicity which came with it. Most European countries focus on international cities within the boundaries of their own empires. And too many people in the United States still assume that Mexico is a desert where sombrero toting peons ride donkeys to work and beat their wives when they come home.

I’ve spent ten years trying very hard to put Mexico on the map. To get it bleeping on the radar. And I have clearly failed. So far. But I shall persevere. Trust in me and let me lead you to the promised land. A city where the sun shines every day. Where the people smile more than in most cities. Where colour is vibrant and ever present. Where food is hot, tasty and cheap. Where art drips from the walls of almost every building – in the case of graffiti, literally so. Where there is an adventure round every corner. Go to Mexico. You’ll be amazed.

Easter Getaway

More than half a million Brits are boarding flights this Easter. To anywhere but here. Spring has officially started, but the snow drifts burying half the country suggest that winter has decided to overstay her welcome this year. It is bleeding freezing. A few brave cherry trees are blossoming, but the flora remains in stubborn hibernation. I wish I were one of the six hundred thousand headed to the sun. Alas, I am not. I will have to make do with dreaming of the sun.

Anyone care to guess where in the world I’d rather like to be sunning myself? I’m offering no prizes. I have been consoling myself with a few videos  of my favourite city and country. I’ve posted loads of them over the years. The Bicentenario series by Televisa. The wonderful rendition of Cielito Lindo for the Banamex advert. The very slick advert by the Mexico City government. There’s lots of old reels available on YouTube too. Remember the 1940′s video in colour that did the rounds a few years back? There’s a couple of black and white ones too.  And one from the 1950′s too.

Or are you just after the hard facts? Perhaps this National Geographic video will be to your liking.  But I found the video I’ve embedded below the most interesting. It’s a BBC documentary, made in 1999. I’m sure that’s Taxquena in the opening few minutes. This is a period that put most residents of DF, at least those that can remember it, in fear of their city. I knew so many people who had horror stories of crime in Mexico City. Nine out of ten of them came from the mid to late 90′s.

When I first arrived in 2003, things were calmer, but still edgier than they are now. The doors of the Hostel Cathedral which almost abuts the Zocalo would have its doors shut not long after dark, and a security guard or two toting shotguns.  Those days are happily gone. The hostel has its doors open till late at night and you can walk three blocks from the Zocalo without getting robbed. Although, to be fair, there is still one direction you’re not best advised to stroll off in…

Two Year Itch

Doesn’t time fly? Or perhaps not. It seems a lifetime ago since I wrote this old post. But it truly was just two years ago. To the day. My final day in Mexico, before returning ‘home’ to England. I find ‘home’ harder to define these days. My passport says it’s to the east of the Atlantic. There’s a part of me that disagrees with that conclusion. Either way, I have a visa to live in Mexico sorted out, and perhaps one day I will have a new passport that I find more agreeable.

There’s just one last hitch. An undisclosed hitch. It’s a maybe type thing. Something over which I don’t have the final decision. Stay tuned, as they say. Till then, here is one of the last photos of me that was taken in Mexico. Where am I? I’d run a guessing contest, but it could be anywhere. As it happens, it’s a nice little restaurant in Tlalpan.

Dragon Paper

The New INM Regs Part 4

The helpful young lady at the Mexican Embassy in London promised to send me an email, and she was as good as her word. I had it, and all the information I need. I think. And providing I understand it all correctly, then this visa business should all be very, very straightforward. For me, anyway. I know that a lot of people whose circumstances are different may have some problems ahead.

I simply need to turn up at the embassy with Mrs P and a bunch of documents, and my visa will be ready two of three days after that. The documents? My passport. Her passport. Some passport sized photographs of myself. And our marriage certificate – apostille not required! Oh, and I need to bring originals and copies of all those. The consular fee is £22, and I have to pay a further £150 for the visa proper in Mexico when we get there.

The visa is good for two years I think, but doesn’t permit me to work. That’s not a problem – once I am in Mexico I can apply to have the visa changed to include work. I dare say another fee will be involved. There is a final  requirement though. It seems almost too easy, and almost pointless. Unless I have misunderstood, I simply have to provide some bank statements from the last six months that shows there has been, on average, a balance of £903 or more in my bank account. If so, that is again no problem. Have I got it right…?

Original y copia de comprobante de inversiones o cuentas bancarias con saldo promedio mensual equivalente a trecientos  días de salario mínimo general vigente en el Distrito Federal ($18,699.00 peso mexicano o £901.35 durante los últimos seis meses

The Metro Experience

A link to this was posted to my Facebook page the other day, with the promise that it would bring back memories. It sure did. I’m looking forward to my commutes when I return. I never tired of the metro. Although I did avoid the busiest parts of the line in rush hour whenever possible. Life gets crazy in rush hour.

The video was taken by a chap called Santiago Arau – you should check out his Vimeo page for a few more pretty cool Mexico videos. I do like Vimeo. I didn’t renew my subscription with them because I simply didn’t have the cash at the time. I’d sell them a nice bit of ad space on my blog – say, for about what it costs for a years sub to Vimeo! Out of interest, has anyone ever signed up for Vimeo, or gone and bought a Pro account on the basis of my blog? I know I did get a few enquiries…

Mexico Metro Project

I don’t often dedicate a whole blog post to pimping someone else’s blog. But I’ll make an exception today. I suspect it’ll have limited appeal – it’s a niche blog. It’s one guy’s project to document every metro station in Mexico City – the MCM Project.  I almost typed ‘in DF’ then, but of course certain parts of the Metro go beyond the Federal Districts borders. It’s in English and Spanish, by the by.

Anyone who’s read any of my older posts will know I loved the metro. I loved it because it was efficient. I loved it because it was cheap. I loved it for the separate world that seems to exist there. I loved it for the art and obscure wonders that can be found there if you look hard enough. Every journey was an adventure. It’s a truly wonderful system.

And, in case you’d forgotten or never known, I hold the world record for covering the entire network in the shortest time. Admittedly, as I’m the only person (as far as I’m aware) that has taken up this challenge, I only had to do it to claim the record. When the new line opens, I’ll have to do it again. It’s the rules.

But anyway, I digress. If you’re ready for a tour of Mexico City, station by station, then this is the blog for you. When he left a comment on my blog recently, I bet he had no idea that he’d bumped into such a kindred spirit. Nor that he’d bumped it someone who’d already done his entire project in little more than ten hours! But I never did document the system in half the depth he’s doing. I’m on his virtual carriage for the ride.

Earthquakes and Angels

Mexico City, and of course the Pacific coast of the country, had a pretty good shaking the other day. There’s a video doing the rounds on social networks of the Angel of Independence during the quake. I’ve been up on the balcony at the feet of the angel. It’s scary enough at the best of times. I wouldn’t want to be there when she’s dancing to the tune of a temblor.

The poor angel has been a victim of quakes before. I wrote a post quite a long time back about my search for the fallen angel – it came off its pedestal during a big quake in the 1950′s. I did find it in the end. Well, her head. I think they may have simply patched up and polished the rest of her. The photo below shows the fruits of my search. Click here to see the other few shots I got.

Angel Front Quarter

Twelve Months

I took this photo exactly one year ago today. I went to Coyoacan with Paola, for lunch, a coffee and a last stroll together on a beautiful sunny early afternoon. Just a few hours after taking it, I was aboard a British Airways flight to London. If I could go back one year, I’d hang around Coyoacan a little longer. Have one more coffee, perhaps in El Jarocho. I’d hang around just long enough to miss the flight.

Coyoacan is a lovely place to just hang around. The people watching opportunities are plentiful. The museums are peaceful escapes from the hurly burly of the city. And the atmosphere restful. Coyoacan was a regular stop for me, as it was just a few minutes drive (or bus ride) from home. I used to ride through on my pedal bike twice a week on my way to a class. I look forward to taking more photos there. Sometime this year.

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Mexican Days

I love this video. The owner of this Vimeo account released another great video last year which went viral in the Mexpat community. This new one is just as good if you ask me.  And worth watching full screen. I wish I had the talent/ patience/ equipment to make a video like this. I miss Mexico City. A lot. If you’re tired of hearing me say that, then pity my work colleagues who get a daily earful of my pining. But I will be back. And even if you have little interest in Mexico City, the videos are both worth watching, for their creative attributes alone.

Coming to Mexico

I get asked about living in Mexico now and again. It’s nice to know that, despite all the bad press, the country has been receiving, some people still have a big enough sense of adventure to see the appeal in moving to the Distrito Federal. It’s an adventure I couldn’t recommend highly enough. The latest enquiry asked the right sort of questions. The sort of answers you’d get from people familiar with Mexico City will differ according to experience. But here are mine..

Ready, Steady, Gone

I’m planning to go in mid-September, fly to Cancun and find work in DF. How likely am I to find something well-paying this time of year? I’m CELTA qualified with around 3 years experience.

It depends what sort of work you’re looking for. I think most schools usually have their positions filled by end of August. But you might well be able to pick something up. Teaching Business English is pretty easy to get into though, and is my personal preference. It’s something you can get into at any time of year. I suggest checking out Dave’s ESL Cafe and chatting to some people in there. Network with expats in the city when you arrive. There are often ‘Teacher Get Togethers’. Hand out flyers outside international companies to staff on their way in to work. Once you’ve got your first few classes, more tend to come along through word of mouth pretty quickly. You can also get hours, albeit at low pay, from language schools. It’s all good practise will you find something better. And you’re plenty qualified enough…

Is the country as dangerous as Western media makes out? I have reservations about simple things like taking my laptop due to the scaremongering of the British press and the stereotype that Mexico has cast upon my family – none of who understand why the hell I have to do this.

The western media should be sued by Mexico for libel! Although the really negative reports are mostly from northern areas of the country, not Mexico City, the media have been tending to portray the entire country as being in a state of virtual war. Of course DF has crime. All big cities do. But it’s really perfectly safe. I always felt safer there than I do in the UK. I took my laptop and had no problem, although I did have a home to go to. I also used to wander all over the city with nice cameras and my iPod touch without any problem.

What is a good amount to take out there? I expect to have around 4K in savings to fall back on should work be hard to find/organise. How long can I expect that to last?

Four thousand pounds is a lot. That’s about 80,000 pesos. I could survive comfortably, although not extravagantly, on 10,000 pesos a month. 15,000 is very comfortable. This includes rent, food, bills and beer money. I am assuming you’ll be looking to get a room in a shared apartment to start with. But even a nice departamento can be had for less than 5,000 pesos a month. Again, get chatting to people who are in Mexico. There’s often someone who knows someone who’s looking for someone for some place.

What drew you (and away from) Mexico? Did you manage to really hone your Spanish?

My turning up in Mexico was, originally, really random. I was fed up with my job in the UK and looking for a cheap place to take a TEFL course, and a link to a school in Mexico turned up in the Google results. I knew next to nothing about Mexico. A quick bit of research suggested it’d be a interesting experience. And seeing as I’d always turned left out of Heathrow on previous trips abroad, I thought I’d take a right turn for a change. I booked the course and the plane ticket. That was in 2003, and although I didn’t ever get around to taking the course and ended up back in the UK, I had the Mexico bug.
What made me come back to the UK?  I really can’t remember. I must have been mad. All I know is, I will be going back. Not this year. Maybe next year. If not, then surely the year after. And it will be for keeps. My bones will be buried in Mexican soil, and I won’t in all honesty be that upset if I never set foot on English soil again. I’m currently working on getting my Spanish up to scratch for the citizenship test. This really tells you all you need to know. Your folks might think you’re mad for going. I’ll think you’re a bit mad if you ever come back….

Ladies of Polanco

I keep myself up to date with happenings in Mexico. Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and radio all do the job quite nicely. It’s sad to see that not a lot has changed, particularly with the ‘War on Drugs’. The burning of the casino really tops anything I remember happening, although my memory isn’t always terribly reliable. There were probably a few events that were just as horrible. President Calderon has refered to the attackers as terrorists, and is getting some flak for it. I do see why. At the same time, I don’t see how the term, in the wider picture at least, could be considered anything other that factually correct.

I find myself in the awkward position of being against the War on Drugs but very much pro the war on drugs. There’s just no point in the wholesale prohibition of narcotics, although any legalisation should be both highly regulated and continental, not just Mexico. At the same time, the drug cartels do need to be fought. It may be drugs today, but if you take that away, they’ll find something else to do with their time. And guns. Caveat – when I use the word ‘fought’, I don’t mean to leave the impression that the military and police should be the only forces involved.

Other things haven’t changed too. The police in DF are still largely a bunch of ineffectual clots. The Ladies of Polanco video has gone viral on social networks, and does make for a more light hearted view of Mexico’s police coming worse off in a street battle. Light hearted on the surface – the underlying problems are a little less funny. If you are visiting Mexico City soon and looking for tips on how to avoid having to pay a bribe, these ladies have all the vocab you need in a quick 60 second lesson…

 

Living in a box

My first visit to Mexico City, way back in 2003, was an eye opener. The poverty really struck me. Sure, there is plenty of wealth too, but coming from the UK that didn’t ‘stand out’. Seeing beggars with mutilated limbs and open sores lying on the pavement, and kids begging for pesos in bare feet – that does stand out to a foreigner stepping off the plane. I’d seen worse poverty before, it has to be said. But it still hits you.

It can be a hard life for those born nearer the bottom of the ladder in DF, and I’m convinced that it’s only the traditional, strong family unit that prevents there being more unfortunate citizens begging on street corners for a few pesos. That, and the admirable work ethic of most Chilangos. I read a report not so long ago which claimed Mexicans are the hardest workers in the world. Which makes a bit of a mockery of their ‘lazy and feckless‘ reputation on this side of the Atlantic.

So what was I struck by upon my return to the *UK? Sure, there is poverty. Of sorts. Not the Mexican sort though. Plenty of people live from pay check to pay check. There are lots of people who are skint. But what struck me was how many people manage to waddle around Bournemouth  slurping from a can of Special Brew before it’s even noon, later retreating to their taxpayer funded flats, safe in the knowledge that a fortnightly state hand out will keep them going and that the NHS will provide for their health care. Life in Mexico is too hard. In the UK it can most definitely be too easy.

Where’s the fine line between too hard and too easy? That’s Mission Impossible for any government I suspect. But both Mexico and the UK are currently moving towards it, albeit from different directions. It’ll probably still be a while before they meet. But I can’t help but feel Mexicans are the more admirable bunch. Along with their long hours, the Mexican has an astonishing ability to improvise, mend and make do, recycle and repair. Second hand goods keep their value much more as well.

There’s a lot to see on the streets of DF today that might well be a lot more common in the UK and US of tomorrow. That may not be such a bad thing. The video below is one of a series produced (I assume) by Creative Blends, who have a number of interesting videos offering a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Mexicans in the less glamourous parts of the city. You might need to click the Annotations button for English subtitles.

* My comparisons are from personal experience in DF and London/Bournemouth, and my personal experience doesn’t include living in the poorest areas of either country.

Mexico City’s Hidden Treasures

I used to add places I visited, photographed and blogged about to a Bing Map. I got bored today and selected 20 of those places for a new map….places that are slightly off the beaten track, hidden from view, or that are otherwise often overlooked by the average tourist. Summoning up the full extent of my capacity for witty and imaginitive titles, I called this map Mexico City Hidden Treasures.

If you’re in DF and have exhausted the traditional sights and sounds and are on the look out for something different, then this map might be up your street. You can click through each item on the map to my blog post, and from there to any photos I may have taken.

 

A Long Time Ago

Did you think you’d seen the last of my Mexico photos? Nearly, but not quite. I spent my final Wednesday, before flying off in the evening, walking around Coyoacan. Chatting, eating, sipping coffee and snapping a few shots. Truth be told, I’d snapped Coyoacan to death already. I looked through my memory card today and chose the final selection for upload to Flickr. There’s nothing in there that I haven’t shot before. But they are the final shots. And that makes them publishable.

I did like the photo below though. The colour of the buildings. The lush green leaves on the trees, yellowed where the bright Mexican sun hits them. It’s a warm, bohemian photo. Very much the opposite of where I am now, in the countryside of southern England. In winter the countryside is a grey and bleak place. Everything is dead and soggy. It comes to life spectacularly in summer, but for now it’s a shell.

London suffers the same drizzle and grey skies, and has greyer buildings, but the lack of vegetation and abundance of colourful lights makes it an altogether different world. But I still miss the Mexican sunshine. Still, it is now March. Some spring flowers are out. But it’s a bit of a wait till summer really begins in May. Till then I have my final shots of Coyoacan to remind me of what the sun looks like. Click here to see them on Flickr.

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Adios For Now

The wonders of WordPress. I can write a post and set it to publish in later, at a chosen moment in time. I have a post set for October 19th 2072, to mark my 100th birthday. Maybe I’ll be around to read it, maybe not. This post is set to publish at 8.55pm February 16th 2010. Which is the moment my plane is due to take off from Benito Juarez airport, heading to London Heathrow. I’m not fond of flying. It’s boring, for one. and despite my functional appreciation of the laws of physics, and my grasp on why a Boeing 747 is perfectly at home 30,000 feet or more in the air – it just still doesn’t seem quite right that a chunck of metal that big and heavy gets off the ground.

But anyway. This is truly adios. For now. You can click on the image below and see it in it’s 11 megapixel glory by the way. Perhaps you’ll need to save it to disk to be able to zoom and have a looky see at the 400 odd photos that it contains, taken over the last 5 and a bit years in Mexico. Depends on your browser maybe. It’s zoomable in Chrome.