The Mexican Caper (1976) Part 4: Mexico City
Updated: Jan 19
Ciudad di Mexico: Life in the Fast Lane
I was shown into what would be my home for the next two weeks. But since I was in a near delirious state of mind, I still couldn’t process that I was walking into a MANSION! I was taken to my room, which I had all to myself; I noted the traditional furniture, Mexican crafts, and wall hangings, but the best part was the ensuite bath, with a toilet (reputed to be the best in the house), and the hot shower. For a road-weary traveler, this was another sort of paradise. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven.
I awoke the next morning feeling quite refreshed, after my 12 hour "nap". Alfredo came in and led me to the kitchen, the main gathering place for the family. Alfredo had four sisters and two brothers; his father was a wealthy industrialist who operated a furniture factory. Alfredo’s job was to hustle around for his father, making deliveries and picking up documents.
Alfredo led me to the kitchen, the center of life in the house. My eyes were drawn to the giant wooden table on one side of the large room, which was where everyone gathered to eat and I eyeballed the big stove hoping to see something delicious cooking. I was a little late for breakfast, but Alfredo’s stepmother made me something anyhow.
I ate some righteous meals in that kitchen, real home-made Mexican food; there was always something to eat, even when we came in at two in the morning after partying half the night. Often, Alfredo’s step-mom would join us in the kitchen when we came home late, buzzed to the bone.
The property featured a vast array of rooms, and in the basement, two squash courts! On the roof, a garden terrace featured a swimming pool with an incredible view of the city, which, unfortunately, could only be seen on clear days (probably about one quarter of the time).
Mexico City was a bustling place, full of frenzied activity. Driving around town with Alfredo was always an adventure. This was my first real experience driving in a Third World capital, where the rule of the road seemed to be: no rules. A two-lane street always expanded to fit at least three cars and about five motorcycles. The roundabouts which spun you off in any direction were especially invigorating, and we came within inches of cars on all sides. No wonder they didn't have many amusement parks; driving is exciting enough.
Mexico City had its share of problems, and I shudder to think what it must be like today. There was abject poverty, which I found myself becoming immune to. I found it so overwhelming that I realized it was quite easy to become cynical about how to deal with the problem. When one drives through mile after mile of barrios where many of the poorest citizens lived, as I have done in many cities, the problems of the Third World seemed nearly insurmountable.
I was able to see quite a lot of the city as Alfredo made his rounds. I explained to him that I was interested in archaeology, so he took me to the great Museum of Archaeology. It featured a waterfall in the middle courtyard, and more Aztec, Mayan and other native artifacts than I could imagine. This piqued my curiosity about the Maya, the Indian group who built pyramids more fantastic than those in Egypt. On this and later adventures, I would visit the great temples of Palenque, Tikal and Copan, which convinced me the Maya were one of the great races mankind ever spawned.
We did many other interesting things, including climbing a volcano high above the city. At the top, we looked down into its belly at the dry bed of a great lake. I believe we were some 13,000 ft above sea level; we stayed there until after twilight, and then Alfredo, his companions and I gazed down upon the lights of the great city. I remember thinking how vast LA had seemed from high above the city after dark, as the lights seemed to go forever. Mexico City made LA look seem like just a borough. I couldn't imagine how more people could possibly squeeze in, but still they flocked to the city from the countryside, hoping to strike it rich in the big smoke.
Another highlight for me was when we visited the great Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacán, also above the city. We made sure to visit at full moon, which added even more magic to the special effects sound and light show. To the east stood the pyramid of the Sun; to the west, the pyramid of the Moon. In between were the remnants of a great city, decimated by the conquistadors. I was captivated by the sight of the pyramids, and although I had not seen the great pyramids of Cheops in Egypt, I thought these must be at least as impressive.
One Sunday, we drove down to the stunning city of Cuernavaca, capital of the ancient Kings. The city was in full bloom, flowers everywhere, and beautiful cafes dotted the city centre. We visited his friends in a very swanky home surrounded by walls (in the Third World, walls are a sign of wealth, used for privacy and also to keep the vermin out). Cuernavaca was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever visited in Mexico, and is favoured by city dwellers as it is at a higher elevation, a bit cooler and a lot quieter. On that Sunday, it was very crowded, but also, quite exotic.
Alfredo was certainly the perfect host, taking me out into the countryside and going out of his way to show his gringo friend what the region had to offer. I sure had lucked out when he and his friends had picked me up on the side of the road!