Ciudad de México, the sinking city

Catedral Metropolitana in Zocalo

I’ve been back from Mexico for a week now, and I still can’t get over the fact that I did it. I packed my backpack, flew over to Mexico City and, after 2 weeks, got back to London from Cancun. I went alone. It was the realisation of a dream – getting in direct touch with a culture that has been fascinating me for so many years already.

Despite all the bad image of Mexico that’s been constantly communicated to us not only by the press but also other media (movies, series, etc.) I got over the fear of going as a solo female traveller. My parents didn’t like the idea much, but well… I wanted to do it so badly and I couldn’t wait for other people to be able to do it with me.

So I did a lot of research, designed a feasible itinerary tailored to my own interests and booked my tickets. This was back in January-February. Fast forward 6 months, here I am, back from one of the best trips I have done in my life.

Ciudad de Mexico was my first stop. My first time in Mexico had to include its capital. That was out of the question. I spent 3 full days there and, of course, it wasn’t enough.

My research about Mexico City was extensive and I quickly came to the realisation the city was way richer than I thought, with way too many things I wanted to do. I had to be selective – I only had 3 full days in this place. It pained me, but you can’t have it all.

I decided to stay in Centro Historico area (Old Town) in my first visit to this city. It was central, only 20 minutes ride from the airport, and close to a lot of the main attractions I was interested in visiting. I can recommend Hotel Isabel as a good and affordable place to stay. It has all the mexican vibe going on, and I definitely enjoyed my stay there.

After a sleepless night (my body was 6 hours ahead of time), I stepped outside the hotel on a Sunday morning and started to walk toward the Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitución) where I had planned a free walking tour (that I really, really, really recommend, find it here). Since I was way too early, I ended up walking aimlessly around, just taking pictures and absorb the atmosphere around me.

There were a few things I immediately noticed. First, how the lazy, morning rays of sunlight struggled to penetrate the smog. Air quality is low, with pollution being a serious issue in Mexico City. Secondly, I noticed I couldn’t walk at my normal fast paced rythm – not only because locals do walk very slowly, but because the city is actually located over 2,200 meters above sea level! So, not being used to it, my body couldn’t function the same way. And thirdly, when I was taking my first shots of the beautiful buildings surrounding Zocalo I came to realise that they seemed to be leaning towards a side. I thought the lack of sleep, the warm polluted air were defintiely affectiving my judgement and my vision.

But then, my amazing guide Emiliano told us Mexico City is sinking.

And my reaction was like “ahhh so I’m not going mad with jet lag!”. I was pretty relieved to be honest. But mostly fascinated with this. How come the city is sinking? And more, at about 1 cm per year!

The Aztecs didn’t chose the place well. That is what happens when you trust the visions you get after eating some magic mushrooms. Just kidding… or not? Well, the leaders of the Aztecs had a vision in which the Gods told them the sacred land would be identified by a sign. So when the tribes saw an eagle sitting in a cactus devouring a snake, they thought that was the sign they were looking for. The sign telling them that was sacred land and that was where they should settle. This is the coat of arms you see in the Mexican flag.

The thing is, Mexico City was indeed an island in a massive lake formed by the water coming from all the mountains surrounding it. It may not look like it, but the capital of Mexico is actually in a vale. Of course that was not a good idea….at times the island would flood and the city had to be evacuated. Sometimes it would be inhabited for almost 3 years… but after the Spanish arrived, claimed the land and killed the indigenous (we know how it all ended right) they decided to dry the lake and built over the now dried lands. The problem is that the lands are made of clay, which obviously is not solid enough to sustain tons of buildings above it…hence, the sinking!

On my first day in Mexico City I was honestly overwhelmed, but not in a bad way. I was suddenly absorbing so much knowledge just from those 3 hours of walking tour, so many interesting facts, so much history…and at the same time there was the smell of tacos, the shouting of street vendors, the music of drums from the indigenous dancers, the scent of incense being burned to clean the soul, the colonial architecture around me, the details on art nouveau buildings in the main street. And then I realised that if I thought there was a lot to do in Mexico City before landing, I had no idea of how much more there actually was.

I suddenly wanted to do everything, despite knowing I couldn’t. I questioned my decision of such an ambitious itinerary through Mexico. I had to sit down for a bit and just breath. Put everything in perspective. I was living a dream. The amount of things I got to visit didn’t really matter. What it mattered was what I was absorbing, living, breathing, experiencing. I wouldn’t let that to be an anxiety attack. I had planned my trip. I prioritised. I gave another deep breath. Grabbed my camera. And there I went.

I ended up doing a lot. So this post is only a start of much more to come. Not only on what I’ve done in Mexico City, but throughout my entire trip to this amazing country.

Love

Nic

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