Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bonus Round

Before any French adventures are recorded...


Mission Objective:  Complete as many of the tasks on the To Do list provided by friend of a friend and return to the airport on time for your flight.
Location:  Mexico City, Mexico
Time Allotted:  14 hours (arrive 6:30 am, depart 8:30 pm)

TASK I:  Get rid of bags by storing them.

Even though I stood in line for an hour waiting to pick up my luggage, and then another hour in the wrong terminal to check said luggage into my next flight, and then trekked around the correct terminal to find that AirFrance was closed until the afternoon.  I dragged my wheel-less bag until I found the lockers and the cash exchange, leaving the airport at about 9:30 am.

Score:  10/10
Why?  All my luggage weighs about 19 kilos, or about 41.89 pounds.
Try walking around for three hours with that on your back.

TASK II:  Take the Metro out of the airport and into the city.

I like to think that my public transportation navigation skills have improved dramatically since I left the US.  Taking the time to ask the security guards how to get to the metro in Spanish, finding the metro was simple.

Score:  10/10
Why?  Ten months ago, I had to have written directions to use the NY subway.
Or, sometimes call in between changing tracks to have Matrix-like instructions directed to me.
Learning to navigate the subways in Spanish is a HUGE accomplishment

TASK III:  Head towards ZOCALO.  Coming right into the center of the city, you can see the cathedral, the presidential palace, and the remains of the Aztec palaces.

Looking for the tiny names of the neighborhoods on the metro map unfortunately isn't as easy.  And I found myself having to stare outside the window to look for the station names, and always up to the map posted in the metro itself.

Cathedral?  Check.  Lots of people praying, fancy stone carvings and sculpture, and that religiously stale smell of worship.

Presidential Palace?  Check...  But to be honest, I had no idea that it was the palace until after I took a picture of it and found posters of it later.  Key to doing tourist things: take as many pictures of everything you see, and then find out later if it's culturally significant.

Remains of Aztec Palaces?  This, I'm not so sure about.  I took as many pictures as I could have of old buildings; but none looked particularly Aztecan...  And the instructions made the remains sound so close to the cathedral and the presidential building...

Score:  7/10
Why?  I should've done research into looking for what I should be looking for.
Instead, I just blindly walked around taking pictures of what I assumed were historical monuments.

TASK IV:  Walk towards BELLAS ARTES through one street closed off for pedestrians.  It is a beautiful building that is a museum and an opera house, and you can go in for free to see the murals.

I ended up visiting three museums:  one of modern art where there was an Andy Warhol display of his work for Harper's Bazaar; another was of culture where I saw ancient Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Maorian relics, and of course Bellas Artes.  It must have been a while since my contact had been there, since the entrance fee was beyond free.  To save time, I appreciated the artwork outside, the marble designs inside, and the European-style café.

 So man plus-sized models...

Score:  6/10
Why?  I certainly didn't find the pedestrian street.  Or even really get to see the murals.
Just the cool marble interior.
But I did get to see two other museums, albeit quickly and for free, but two other museums nonetheless.

TASK V:  Walk around ALAMEDA park next to the museum.

Alameda was closed, and therefore outside of my control.  Lots of construction happening, but I did get to snag a picture of Beethoven as an angel.

Score:  3/10
Why?  I only got to see the park from a distance.
And although the instructions said to walk AROUND the park, I only walked down one side.

TASK VI:  Walk towards another metro station called HIDALGO, and take it towards COYOACÀN.

Since I didn't get to walk around the park, I just entered through the nearest station (not Hidalgo), but I did almost fall asleep on the 30 minute ride to Coyoacàn.

Score:  8/10
Why?  I didn't use HIDALGO, but a station much closer and available to the museum.
Additionally, I got to recharge my physical batteries on the metro during rush hour.
Even though technically all day is rush hour in Mexico City.

TASK VII:  Go to Frida Khalo's house.

Check.  Although in looking for it, many locals gave me contradictory directions, most of them beginning with "It's not exactly known where, but it's nearby."  Fortunately, one woman literally took me by the hand and walked me down the street to its exact location.  She called me "mijo," shook my hand warmly, and continued down the road.


Score:  10/10
Why?  I was told to GO to Frida's house, not IN it.
I'm also a firm believer in asking for directions, especially in another language.
And when a stranger takes you by the hand to bring you to a stranger's house, I'd say you've done a fantastic job.

TASK VIII:  Go to Trotsky's house where he was killed.

Another time to be honest:  I had no idea who Trotsky was.  I just roamed around, asking if they knew where was "la casa de Trotsky."  Easily found, and painted bright red, it makes one question whether visiting the murder scene of an unfamiliar famous person just to say one did...

Score:  8/10
Why?  For the same reasons as going to Frida's house.
Except this time, instead of being directed by a woman, I got directed by a man selling churros on his bicycle.  Unfortunately, I was only one house away when the churro man pointed to the house.

TASK IX:  If you're there for lunch; go to the market, MERCADO DE COYOACÀN and try tostada.  You'll love it, really, it really is a Mexican experience.

INCREDIBLE.  The colors, the smells, the cost.  Going to one of these sit-in counters is an experience; you just choose one of probably 30 different meat/vegetable cobinations, and the chef will pile it on a tostada with a bunch of cream and cheese.  I had one with a bottle of sangria (unfortunately only a kind of grape soda, but still worth trying) for 35 Mexican pesos (about 2.73 USD), and I felt full.  Top it off with a small quarter-kilo bag of gomas, or gummies, for 15 (about 1.12 USD)Mexican pesos; and you have an apparently Mexican lunch.


Score:  10/10
Why?  Once again, I was led by a woman who I didn't know.  Interestingly, life conversations happened, all of which ended in her ultimate piece of advice:  "nunca te pierdas," or, "don't lose yourself."
Additionally, resisting the urge to buy wrestling masks, pinatas, dried fruits, and other foods in hopes of finding the tostadas takes an uncanny amount of discipline.  But when you find it...  

TASK X:  If you have time/choose not to go to COYOACÀN, take metro towards SEVILLA and look for REFORMA, the most popular street in Mexico City with many memorable statues and buildings.  OR look for EL BOSQUE DE CHPULTEPEC, a beautiful forest/park with lakes and a palace inside.  OR ask for directions for LA CONDENSA, the "cool neighborhood" full of bars; restaurants, and little shops.  OR close by is LA ZONA ROSA, the gay area of the city.

Two things kept me from doing any of these options: 1) running around for so long really take's its toll on a traveller's legs, and 2) general paranoia of missing my plane to Paris convinced me to be back in the airport by 5 pm.  Really, my legs felt a pain I haven't experienced since kalaripayattu classes in India.  I've grown up with the general rule of arriving three hours before an international flight, but looking back at my friend of a friend's message, only two hours would have sufficed in Mexico City.  Ah, le sigh.  What could have happened.

Score:  3/10
Why?  I could actually feel my alternate universe being created as I boarded the metro back to the airport.  Who knows what would have happened there?  Fortunately, I made it back to the airport on time, bought a French phrasebook, and allowed myself to attempt to study the language for about an hour and a half.  Interestingly, the woman sitting next to me in the terminal spoke Spanish, and we discussed being able or not being able to speak French.  Conclusion: worse comes to worse, pretend I'm from South America.

Bonus Bonus Points and Penalties:

+5 for venturing around with a backpack, even though many people highly suggested not doing so.  AND nothing got stolen.

+ 5 for speaking Spanish and using it to ask for directions.  Especially when you don't normally believe in asking for directions.

+ 5 for doing extra things while still sticking to the instructions.  Seeing extra museums, visiting extra shops, and wandering over to look at that pretty display of colors actually didn't take away from the short-lived experience.

+ 5 for getting an extra stamp in the passport.  Unexpected, and makes one look even more cultured.

- 5 for losing 20 pesos/less than two dollars.

- 5 for not drinking any tequila or cerveza while in Mexico.  IN MEXICO.
Overall Bonus Round Score:   85 points.

Passing, but not as much as I'd like to be.  If I've learned anything from this experience, it's to MOVE QUICKLY, cut your losses when you can, and pack even more lightly than you expected.  Even though your instructions are written inside a journal, you don't need to carry all those things with you.  Nevertheless, realize that only a few hours' worth of venturing around a city isn't nearly enough time to actually get to know it.  But at least you took a considerable amount of pictures to pretend otherwise.

[ Mario ]

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