To Mexico City (and beyond!)

Just after Revolution Day, Hans, Ursula, and I packed up our suitcases and locked up our RVs in San Miguel for our biggest “non-RV” excursion yet…a 3-week trip to Cuba via Mexico City.

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Originally, we had thought about moving our RVs down to an RV park on the outskirts of Mexico City and storing them there, but with Hotel San Ramon’s great monthly rates, and very peaceful, secure environment, it just seemed to make more sense to leave them parked where they were in San Miguel.

So, on the day before Thanksgiving, we grabbed a ride down to the San Miguel bus station for our first-class bus ride down to Mexico City, where we’d stay for 2 nights before catching our flight to Havana.

None of us had ever taken a bus in Mexico before, but it was quite comfortable (and reasonably priced– just US$20 each way for the 4-hour trip between San Miguel and Mexico City, and that included a free bag of snacks and a drink!).

The first-class buses in Mexico are not like the old, musty Greyhounds in the U.S.  These are high-end buses with large seats, on-board restrooms, Video/entertainment screens at each seat, and even WiFi.  We took Primera Plus and were able to book our tickets online in advance.

(web photo)

(web photo)

Our bus arrived at the giant “Autobuses del Norte” bus station which looked more like a bustling modern airport terminal than a dreary U.S. bus station.

(web photo)

(web photo)

We decided to stay at a hotel near the bus station as we wanted to take a bus tour the next day to the Teotihuacán pyramids.  The Hotel Brasilia was just 2 blocks south of the station and an easy walk.  Unlike our previous Mexican budget hotels, this one was a 5-star winner!  Clean, modern rooms, free WiFi, and just under US$40 a night.

After getting our suitcases to our rooms, we still had a couple hours of daylight left and decided to head to the Zócalo, the huge main plaza in downtown Mexico City.  Rather than take a taxi, we found Google Maps directions for taking mass transit pretty easy to follow.  Within a few blocks’ walk, we arrived to a station in Mexico City’s massive subway system.  Just 5 pesos (US 25 cents) got us a ticket to go anywhere in the city (including station transfers).  Incredible!

Thirty minutes later, we emerged from the subway at the massive Zócalo plaza, which was in the process of being decorated for Christmas.  Some of the buildings already had their decorations hung–

Lots of pedestrians in Mexico’s largest city of nearly 9 million people (larger than New York City).

It is only fitting that a city this big deserves the largest Catholic cathedral in all of the Americas, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos.

The Metropolitan Cathedral looks big, but it’s outside appearance gives no real hint of the magnitude of its size indoors.

Once inside, the opulence of its many altars was immediate from the first one we saw–

The main altar was even more impressive–

I was initially impressed by the pipe organ towering overhead–

until we got around to the other side of the church and I realized there were two sets of these massive pipes….wow!  I so wish we could have heard them in action.

After the Cathedral, we headed down Zapata street towards the Church of the Holy Trinity.  This church was far grander on the outside than it was on the inside.

As we headed back to the subway, the sunset was spectacular over the domed Templo de Santa Inés.  A wonderful end to our first day in Mexico City!

On Thanksgiving Day, we headed to the Teotihuacán Pyramids.  While many people think you can only go there via an expensive private/commercial tour, there’s actually a great public bus line that will take you directly from the Autobuses del Norte bus station to the Pyramids, and it only costs about US$5 bucks!  Here’s a great link to how to take your own tour via this bus.

The bus trip took about an hour, and along the way, we could see the many, many neighborhoods of Mexico City.  It seems like every hill is covered wall-to-wall in houses and apartment buildings!

We arrived to Teotihuacán around 10:00am or so– still early enough in the day where we weren’t sweltering in the sun too much.  This is a place you need to be prepared to walk A LOT, and do at least some stair climbing as there are some excavated squares between the pyramids that you must climb in and out of.

The pyramids were constructed between 100 BC and 250 AD.  I’m not sure if this stone and cement work was original to that time, but most of the pyramids and surrounding plazas featured this unique style of rock and mortar–

After a good deal of walking and climbing, we finally reached the largest structure, the Pyramid of the Sun.

One can’t quite grasp the magnitude of this monument, until you reach the steps and begin climbing the very narrow steps.  Ursula (a.k.a. the mountain goat), had no problems at all climbing all the way to the top–

I, on the other hand, only made it to the second landing a few hundred feet up.  In hindsight, I’d realize a month later that I had quite a valid excuse– 2 cracked vertebrae and a honkin’ cancerous tumor.  Rather amazing that I was able to climb any steps at all!  The views were tremendous, though–

From up here, one had a great view of the slightly smaller Pyramid of the Moon to the north–

At ground level once again looking back at the Pyramid of the Sun–

As impressive as the pyramids were, by the time we’d climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, we were all beginning to be rather fatigued by all the vendors continuously hawking their wares.  I think Hans and Ursula might have actually been running from a vendor in this shot!

Now, we had reached the homestretch– the plaza headed towards the Pyramid of the Moon.  Only a dozen more vendors to say “no, gracias” to!

The steps at the Pyramid of the Moon were much steeper than Pyramid of the Sun.  Only Ursula braved the climb, while Hans and I decided to rest in a shady corner of the plaza.

By the time Ursula returned, it was now beginning to get more crowded and hot.  We decided to skip the museum and other exhibits and just catch the bus back to the hotel.  All in all, though, the pyramids were quite amazing to see and experience.  It seems completely unfathomable how humans were able to excavate, chisel, and construct so much stone to build such a massive place.  Doing so in 2016 with modern machinery would have been quite a feat, but doing so 2,000 years ago with primitive tools?  Incredible.

For Thanksgiving evening, we decided to head back down to the Zócalo for dinner.  Taking the subway again was a no-brainer.  Could you imagine how much a taxi would cost in this rush hour traffic jam?

We decided to try La Casa de las Sirenas, a rooftop restaurant just behind the Metropolitan Cathedral with wonderful views, and even better food!

After a wonderful day of touring and a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, all seemed idyllic as we headed back to the hotel on our bargain 25 cent subway ride.  That is, until we reached the transfer station where we had to switch from one subway line to another.  That station was still horrendously crowded even at 7:00pm–

By the time we reached the platform, it was getting hot and stuffy with so many people, and I did something incredibly stupid.  I took my jacket off, now more clearly showing the fanny pack around my waist, and phone in my baggy front pants pocket.  When we finally worked our way to the front of the platform and the next train arrived, we suddenly felt a push of people from behind literally shoving us onto the train and pinning us against passengers already standing inside the train.  A few seconds later, when the doors were closed and train was on its way, a fistfight broke out between some of the young people behind me and a Mexican man already on the train.  While other passengers were screaming for the fight to stop, I felt someone’s hands behind me unclipping my fanny pack from my waist (thankfully, I was still holding it tight in front of me and they weren’t able to get it, but two seconds later, when the train stopped at the next station, I realized that my phone was now missing from my pants pocket!  I began screaming in my butchered Spanglish at the young woman behind me who was now running off the train with her gang of 4 or 5 other guys (the ones who had instigated the fistfight).

When a metro policeman walked up to the open train doors, Hans, Ursula, and I decided to get off and see if we could file a report.  The officer spoke no English, and without my phone, I had no Google Translate app to tell him precisely what had happened.  But he got my drift and walked us over to 2 other officers who also tried as best they could to understand us.  From what we could comprehend, now that the criminals were long gone, there was not much they could do– pickpocketing in Mexico City is very common, and I was dumb for not keeping my jacket on to keep my valuables more hidden.  Lesson learned!

Thankfully, because I had an iPhone with fingerprint security, the chances of the thieves ever being able to access the data on my phone (or even resell it) were slim to none.  I used my iPad Mini back at the hotel to log into my iCloud account’s “Find My Phone” app and was quickly able to flag it as stolen, and to have all data erased if the thieves ever got past the fingerprint login password.  Next, I logged into my Telcel account (my Mexican cellular provider) and they had a feature to mark my SIM card as stolen so it too could be immediately de-activated.

While it’d be a slight pain to not have a phone for the rest of my trip in Mexico (and in Cuba), I only ever used data services anyway while outside the U.S. (for Skype calls, Google Maps, and web browser stuff), so still having my cellular-capable iPad Mini would get me all the same functionality at least.

I counted my blessings that night.  If I had to be a crime victim, at least it was a non-violent pickpocket crime, and nothing was stolen that could not be replaced.

On to Cuba!

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