Did I ever tell you about that time I dropped my camera and broke my (very expensive) most favourite lens at the beginning of my extended round-the-world trip? There is little to compare with the sickening thud of ‘precision optic meets floor’. (For those who don’t own fancy cameras but do own children, it’s reminiscent of ‘toddler head meets concrete’.)
Fortunately, my American friend Lisa came to the rescue and organized a repair through Canon in San Diego. It was all going swimmingly until we had to leave the States before it was ready. But no problem, we would just stop somewhere and have it sent to us. Mexico City seemed like as good a place as any to spend a couple of days. It was the place where I first met Claus, so I already had a soft spot for it.
Distrito Federal (or simply ‘D.F.’) is a mind-boggling huge metropolis with roughly the same number of residents as the entire population of Australia, squeezed into a basin approximately the size of Sydney. And yet we crossed it from one side to the other for less than 40 cents on a fast and efficient metro system that could give New York’s a run for its money.
D.F. gets a bad rap, and sure, it has its fair share of problems. Corruption is endemic, as is drug and gang violence, but tourists are rarely targeted. The city can feel more chaotic than Mumbai and we learned to limit our outdoor activities to the mornings in order to avoid the (quite literally) eye-watering air pollution that blanketed the city in the afternoon. But for all its difficulties, D.F, a city of contrasts, can hold its latin head high alongside many world capitals.
We strolled down boulevards and through public gardens reminiscent of the loveliest of European capitals.
We visited 500 year old Aztec ruins that rub shoulders with an elaborate cathedral.
Cyber café’s sit next to art deco sweet stores. We bought hot-off-the-press, hand made tortillas from a whole-in-the-wall stall then popped next door to a modern supermarket for the rest of our supplies. We ogled at architecture that would vie with buildings in Barcelona and witnessed more romance (and uncensored P.D.A!) than Paris.
Delicious, inexpensive (and sweet, in Thomas’ case!) street food tempted us on every corner and we marveled at the menus outside avant-garde restaurants.
We got caught-up in antsy protests and chatted with ‘amable’ locals everywhere.
There are more museums than London at a fraction of the cost (free on Sunday!) and we were enlightened in a dozen or so of them.
Mexicans work hard. They eat standing up and rush through the city (only because they are always running late!) but they relax hard too. On Sundays, 30km of Mexico City’s main thoroughfare the ‘Paseo Reforma’ and other main roads are closed to traffic. We strolled alongside thousands of local families down to the green lungs of the city; Chapultapec Park, where were delighted to find a free world-class zoo, fairground, markets, botanic gardens and a boating lake.
There is enough in Mexico City to excite even the most nonchalant traveller. Which is just as well, because our ‘few days’ stretched into a week, then two weeks and finally, 16 days after we stopped to wait for my lens, the ‘express’ parcel finally arrived. It wasn’t all good news though. The post office refused to release it until I paid the princely sum of 1450peso ($100USD) for ‘duane’. Customs, on a second hand item that was purchased overseas, was not for re-sale and was going to be taken permanently out of the country.
I tried (in my best Spanglish) reasoning, then pleading, then demanding…. all to no avail. In the end I had to part with the cash. I had my lens and we could finally depart Mexico City. Even if I was leaving a little bit of my heart (and my wallet) behind.