Friday, March 20, 2009

I’m, cough, cough ,through, achoo, with you.

There’s a group of squeegie men outside of our hotel. They’re not like the squeegie guys we’ve come to know in Toronto, they’re true professionals with amazing technique. Within in three flicks of their wrist they can scrub down and dry a window in about 10 seconds flat. What is equally amazing is that they’re not considered nuisances here. People encourage them to wipe the grime off their windows - daily. That's when you realize just how crappy the air is in this city. Then you wish they could work the same magic on your lungs.

It was our fourth day in Mexico City and by now our throats were burning, our noses perpetually running and mouths perpetually dry. All thanks to the smog. And thanks to our crappy transportation experience the day before our mental state kinda matched our physical state. We weren’t completely run down but we were a little annoyed. So we thought we’d take it easy and explore a couple of neighbourhoods close to our hotel. And when I say close, I mean we didn’t need to take another crappy bus.

The first stop was a Scotiabank so that we could replenish our wallets. Then breakfast. Then to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a beautiful art nouveau building that was a bit confusing. Despite it’s exterior inside was an art deco explosion complete with more awesome murals by Diego Rivera, including a copy of the Crossroads of Man that he painted when Rockefeller destroyed the original. It would appear that the capitalist Rockefeller wasn’t happy with the anti-capitalist themes of the mural (the portraits of Lenin and Marx may have been the last straw). But the other confusing thing about this art gallery was that it wasn’t an art gallery. So after checking out the rest of the murals we left.

Thwarted by our attempt at culture, we sat outside and did some people watching. There was an interesting mixture of organ grinders, punk kids, tourists, and shoe shine men. Adrian decided to get his sneakers cleaned and thankfully the one nearest to us spoke English so Adrian could do his own negotiating.

“How much?”
“For you, 15 just like the Mexicans.”
“Yes, 15.”
“Sure go ahead”

Notice the repetition of the number 15 – it’s the equivalent of $1.50. Seems like a reasonable price for the 5-10 minutes it took him to finish the job. And when he finished that’s when the trouble started.

“Finished. 50 pesos”
“50?!? You said 15”
“No, I said 50 – it’s normally 60 pesos for Mexicans.”
“No you said 15”
“50 pesos”

We knew he was lying and getting ripped off was not helping with our mental state but arguing with him would have made us even more cranky so we paid him the 50 pesos and considered the $3.50 an investment in our mood. I do have to give the rip off artist props for knowing that fifteen would get us to agree but sounded enough like fifty to pull off a bait and switch. Lesson learned– always say the prices in Spanish or write them down.

We walked across a big crazy park to a shady sunken square between two churches. One of the churches was leaning scarily to the left. While the other one was now a small museum. Noticing the two current exhibits Barbie and Italian design, I convinced Adrian to go check them out. The museum was home to a bunch of old furniture and other household goods as well as some 200+ year old paintings by artists from around the Spanish world. Just as Adrian was yawning, we found the Barbie exhibit full of screaming and giggling little girls. I have to admit it was more entertaining than the old household stuff. They had 500 Barbie dolls from over the last 50 years, including a bunch dressed as representatives of various countries. You’ll be pleased to know that Canada was included but not so impressed when I tell you she was dressed as a Mountie. In contrast the UK Barbie was dressed in a custom-made designer Burberry outfit. Doesn’t quite seem fair does it.

Now to find the Italian Design retrospective. We wandered through the entire museum multiple times but finally I had to ask in my atrocious spoken Spanish (yes, my lessons were great for reading but when it comes to speaking I suck) only to be told that it wasn’t open yet. Hmm… you’d think they’d tell you that before you paid admission. Or at the very least adjust the sign out front that claims it opened two days earlier. Time to move on.

We walked over to the Plaza de la Revolucion which was being restored, past a deserted art deco arena called the Fronton Mexico (picture above) where jai alai was played (you know, that sport that they showed at the beginning of Miami Vice involving men dressed like jockeys and whipping balls at a wall with a scoop). We were close to a restaurant mentioned by Lonely Planet that is owned by an ex Lucha Libre wrestler and known for it’s giant tortas – the delicious Mexico City sloppy joes we discovered on our first day. And decided the combination of kitch and yum would be perfect. However after walking over there, we discovered that it was shuttered tight with giant public health violation notices pasted up on the windows. Yet another thing that didn’t go as planned. But better than actually eating there and getting sick I suppose.

We tried to make up for the day by going back to our old torta stand but even those didn’t taste as good as they had the first day. The shine was beginning to wear off of Mexico City just like it had on the old Fronton building so the next day we decided to get out of the city.


Cheryl said...

uh oh...sounds like the crusty traveller might be making an appearance soon.... :)

liz and adrian said...

we took today off - hence all the catch up blogging. I'm still a couple of days behind but uploading the photos takes so it's really draining.

hopefully the vacation day will keep the crusty traveller away. unless of course we can't get a bus out of here tomorrow...

Anonymous said...

Follwing your blog - great posts! Being from Latin America, it makes me angry to hear how tourists (gringos as they call all white) get ripped off. I can relate so much. It is not honest! For things like souvenirs and boat rides ans extra services, you have to negotiate tough, you should probably pay only up to half of the price they suggest. In most cases, you can get it from someone else. Sorry to agree, but definitely the boat ride and shoeshine were a total ripoff, for a country in Latin America. Don't stress, take it easy, haggling will become easier everyday.

liz and adrian said...

thanks for the compliments anonymous and the tips. i don't like to call it getting ripped off because i believe that if you can and do pay the price than it's not getting ripped off. However, once my spanish becomes understandable i'll probably push back more.

Kat said...


Great blog - I look forward to reading about your adventures (while me and my husband save for ours!).

Two things - I can't get the Google RSS reader to work, although I think you already know about that. The other thing is that the where are we going map with all the tags on it sometimes causes the page to crash (and makes it slow to load for me). Maybe nobody else has had a problem with it, but I thought I would let you know just in case (maybe it could be on a separate page with a link to it instead of the actual map).

Have fun and stay safe ... and most importantly keep up the blogging =)

Anonymous said...

Oh, because the RSS isn't working properly I didn't realise you'd been blogging!

Have caught up now, and after reading your Mexico City posts I'm very glad I had my spanish lessons now, even if I'm a bit useless still it should help avoid the scams to some extent (hopefully). Hope they're not gettibg you down though - when things have gone wrong for me travelling in the past, they normally end up becoming some of my happier memories as they tend to make great anecdotes!

liz and adrian said...

Hi Kat,

Welcome. Glad you're enjoying it so far.

Sorry for crashing your browser. Don't want that. So I'll see if I can figure out how to change the map to just a link. Give me a moment or two.

Hopefully, google reader will get back to normal soon. It dumped the last 8 posts in the reader just the other day so I hoe with the latest post all is well.

liz and adrian said...

Hi Geoff,

I know - very annoying about the rss feed.

I'm not too down about the scams - they were so minor that they weren't worth it. But yes, be very happy to have that Spanish under your belt. I'm hoping that my speaking skills become better as we go. Although we may take some lessons when we get to Guatemala (they're supposedly cheap there).

The countdown is on for your trip. Good luck my friend. Hasta luego.