The Trip to DFWe left our hostel in Oaxaca and started on the 25 minute walk with our heavy bags to the bus station, north of centro in Oaxaca. Coincidentally, we ran into Anna, the Norwegian girl who stayed with us at the homestay in San Cristobal! She had just arrived in Oaxaca after finishing her classes in Sancris when we ran into her on the street. Funny how that works out sometimes.
We had tickets for an ADO bus to Mexico City, and other than a short touch of motion sickness had a very comfortable ride. The sketchiest part, and my favorite, was the one stop we made at a little gas station, restaurant, bathroom called Restaurante Medio Camino, or "Half Way Restaurant." We didn't really plan our food well for this trip so I got us two room temperature sandwiches (a cemita since we were so close to Puebla here!) and some new chips. They may make the mayonnaise differently here, because I've had a lot of room temp mayo at this point and have never had an issue with it...
|Rolling, green hills between Oaxaca City and Mexico City|
|The half way restaurant|
Arriving in Mexico City took a bit of planning because there are at least three major bus stations there, whereas most cities (even New York) just have one central station. None of them were walkable from our hostel, so we chose based on arrival time and ended up at the Norte (north) station.
I wonder how big the other stations were, because even after arriving in this bus depot we had a solid five minutes of driving to get to our parking spot. This depot had at least 100 docks, so if the other stations are as large that's 300 buses at a time that can arrive every hour.
We immediately appreciated how much more organized transportation in the capital is. To get a taxi, you walk to an official counter inside the station, tell the attendant where you're going, and pay for a taxi voucher to the zone with your destination. You then walk to a manned taxi line, give your voucher to the attendant who takes care of the driver's voucher. This eliminates haggling with the driver and worrying about whether you're choosing a safe taxi or not. Haggling may be better for locals who know the city well, but for first timers these systems are predictable and great.
Mexico CityWe always knew that Mexico City was big, but during our stay we repeatedly revised our definitions of big. Sprawling is a better word; I still haven't been to a city that's more vertical and dense than New York (they exist, Hong Kong surely for one), but for area covered New York doesn't (seem to) come close. We got our first glimpses as we rode to our hostel in the Centro Historico and watched the blue dot on Google maps scarcely move.
Our hostel was just outside of the Centro Historico, on a side street within sight of a massive intersection where three of the largest boulevards in Mexico City meet. We stayed at Hostel Suites DF; after arriving I was thrilled to see that they offered a Lucha Libre outing, bookable with the front desk.
Checking into our hostel and then venturing out to find some dinner (sushi) was really satisfying because this neighborhood felt so much like a big city, with narrow streets and tall buildings throwing everything into shade. This entire trip has been us slowly realizing how much we like big cities, and we immediately felt more at ease wandering around this neighborhood than a quiet Cancun neighborhood.
After sushi, we made some friends with the Australians in the hostel common area and took notes from them about places to visit in the city and Guatemala. As a side note, I don't think I'll ever willingly sit on benches made with old burlap coffee bean sacks again; I ended up with itchy legs for a few days and I'm blaming the sharp burlap fibers for that.
It was really nice, feeling at home in this massive, noisy city. We love how in a large city you are anonymous and nobody cares about you, in the best possible way. So much of our trip has been in tourist towns and cultural centers, where white people walking around (with or without giant backpacks) register on every pair of local eyes. Not everyone tries to hassle you or sell you something, but enough of them do do and the feeling of being watched is a consistent, insidious annoyance.
We were definitely a bit more anonymous in Oaxaca, but outside of the tourist spots in DF we were just about invisible. Mexico City is also busy at night, so when you're walking down an unknown street, there's almost no cause for concern when one stranger is walking behind you, because you're never really far from other people. I don't know what it says about us, but we feel more at ease in this mass of people and concrete than we do walking down deserted small town roads.
One last thing: like Washington, DC, Mexico City is a special federal region called Distrito Federal, or DF. We really took to that acronym and it's understood around Mexico. Much signage in the city also refers to it as CDMX, or Ciudad de Mexico.
By the numbersLooking at a few key figures, this is how DF compares to New York:
|Metric||Mexico City||New York|
|Population, city proper||8.9 m||8.5 m|
|Metro area population||20.0||20.1|
|Area square miles||573||302 (just land), 468 (including water)|
Mexico City is actually the largest metropolitan area in the Western hemisphere according to its Wikipedia page, but these numbers are really hard to get a definitive take on - another page has New York edging it out. It is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, the oldest capital city in the Americas, and if it were a country, its economy would be the fifth largest in Latin America, just behind Peru.
New York, by contrast, is home to over 800 spoken languages, and the GDP of its metropolitan statistical area, if it were a country, would make it the 11th largest in the world.
I'm actually surprised at how close they are on the population stats because we've constantly heard that Mexico City is so much bigger, but they're actually quite comparable.