We arrived in Mexico City a couple days ago reasonably well rested after a couple uneventful flights. I’m withholding my complete verdict on the “Cabin Comfort” pillow, but tentatively it seems ok and I managed a short nap on the way here with it. As usual, Martha snoozed most of the flight with her travel C-Collar on.
All our baggage arrived safe and we were pleasantly surprised to undergo a security check before leaving the baggage area that ensured the baggage we were departing with did in fact belong to us. They checked our check-in baggage receipts against those on the actual bags. Martha scooted through customs without anyone giving her or her bags a second look. However, as soon as I came through the baggage scanning area, security seemed to tense up and one guy started to divert me to the “random” baggage check. I think I set off the gringo alarm, but as soon as Martha said “he’s with me” en Espanol they waved me on. Martha’s grandparents were waiting for us past the threshold and THANK GOD they were, because we were gonna be descended upon by vultures with all the baggage we brought for the hiking trip.
I definitely have a new respect for Martha’s grandfather after being driven around town in Mexico City traffic in the old Ford stick shift they keep here. Driving here is controlled chaos…. maybe like the behavior of cars in say, a rotary in Boston, except applied everywhere…. changing lanes and yielding through body language and subtle adustments in lane position…. it’s a give and take where timid behavior will get you crushed. Her grandfather is in his 80′s, and in no way shape or form would the cliche “driving like an old person” apply to him. It’s an impressive spectacle to watch him navigate a major intersection with malfunctioning street lights, no marked lanes, and cars going every direction. Actually, it’s also a little bit terrifying.
We had arrived mid-afternoon and the first stop was one of Martha’s grandparent’s houses that is closer to the airport. They wanted to take us by a market they like for a snack/light dinner. It was a fairly typical latin american market, counterfeit dvds and clothing, fruit stands, butchers, etc. We went to a seafood counter that specializes in shrimp cocktails, ceviche, and octopus prepared a few different ways. Needless to say, all of these culinary selections were on the pre-trip “don’t” list, but, here we were at Martha’s grandparent’s favorite place to get this stuff. Martha said she had been here before years back, but still acted unsure about whether we should or shouldn’t eat here. After some debate, I decided to go for it, figuring that if I become really, really, sick I’d still have enough time to recover before our hiking trip and also that the martyr points I’d get against Martha would last for years. The mileage I would get out of that might alone be worth the suffering. In any event, the shrimp cocktails were delicious, natural octopus and octopus in ink were excellent as well. As it turned out, no one got ill either.
We also stopped by one of their favorite bakeries that was nearby, La Esperanza:
We ran a few errands and then headed to Martha’s grandparent’s main house. After settling in for the evening, we sampled some of the pan dulce before bed:
Lots of interesting souvenirs around the house from their travels mostly from Asia and Europe. Also, a lot of brand new looking household items that are decades old. Check out this Vodka “Imported from the USSR”:
Walking around the first day Martha and I were both feeling the altitude a bit. Mexico city has an altitude around 7,400 ft, but the edges of the city can climb into some of the surrounding mountains upwards of 12,000 ft or more. Martha’s grandparent’s home is in the far south of the city and it seems like it may be on the higher end of that altitude range. After really noticing this the first day just walking around we decided it was definitely a good idea that we planned to have our hiking trip on the back end of our time in Mexico to maximize acclimitization.
On our second day we explored some of the high points of the downtown historic district, including the Fine Arts Palace, the Torre Latino, the Zocalo, and a number of historic buildings in the area. This is a pic of the Fine Arts palace viewed from the 37th floor of the Torre Latino.
View from the top deck of the Torre Latino on the 42nd floor:
Government building on the east side of the Zocalo. The main square in the Zocalo is occupied by protestors and vendors of all sorts and the previously open public space is sadly a very unattractive tent city at present.
Postal history building. The composition in this photo is basically copying a popular postcard. No need to reinvent the wheel right?
Of course we took lots of pics all around downtown, but I can’t easily add them all into WordPress “posts” here. My plan is to add posts like this as I’m able and at the end of a country/destination I’ll add a picture gallery that will include pictures from all the posts in that area as well as other picture selections that weren’t included.
One of the highlights of our second day was dinner at a very interesting restaurant that featured “prehispanic cuisine.” Martha saw this place on an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s show and it made it into the itinerary. I had a sense of what kind of menu items would be available after going to a prehispanic Mexican restaurant in Cambridge. This place took that concept to a whole new level. You’re greeted by a stuffed armadillo as you go in…. the place is simple and clean, filtered water prominently displayed, a full bar off to the side. The menu had an addendum that provided english translations for some of the more “exotic” items on the menu. I originally tried to order the escamoles (ant eggs) and then mosquito eggs, but they were out of both. Seasonal items I guess. I ended up getting chapullines (crickets) and Martha got maguey worms (tequila/mezcal worm). When the waiter apologized for the second time not having my order, Martha took the opportunity (en espanol of course) to completely sell me out and lay the guilt on heavy to the poor guy saying I saw him on television and I came all this way really wanting to try this and that. Kind of funny because Martha was the one that really wanted to come here! Seriously though, I did want to try ant eggs.
The fried crickets and maguey worms were the first items to come out. They included guacamole, salsa and corn tortillas to make tacos. The crickets were crispy, salty and maybe a little dry but still pretty delicious in a taco.
Martha got the maguey worms and everyone agreed they were the best. They were fried and had a very crisp light texture.
Probably in response to the subtle guilt trip Martha delivered on my behalf, the chef brought out a few extra items for us to sample. First, a mosquito egg tortita with mole sauce. The mosquito eggs reminded me of flying fish caviar, a satisfying and delicate texture. The mole sauce was mostly the dominant flavor, very rich chocolate with a little spice.
Next, the chef brought out a meat dish. Shredded meat in salsa roja, the chef simply told us it was “a rare and very exotic” meat. Yikes! Well, we came a long way and I had to live up to Martha’s guilt trip. I approached this with an open mind, figuring there was good reason he didn’t tell us up front what it was. It was definitely very delicious, like skillfully prepared roast beef in texture, with a fruity and spicy flavor. After finishing the dish we figured we could get an answer to what it was. The chef replied that “it’s a giant jungle rat, it’s vegetarian and lives off of fruit. Very difficult to get.”
So that closed out our meal and it was off to get some pan dulce for the evening and watch the sunset from Torre Latino.