This article is from the Travelodium archive and was first published in 2010
I had been staying at a place called ‘Mexico City Hostel’ on the street Republica de Brazil just north-west of the Zocalo (main square in downtown Mexico). The Hostel offered a few different combinations in the way of sleeping arrangements.
The cheapest of these being $140 pesos a night for a 12-person, mixed-gender dorm ranging all the way to private rooms for $350 pesos a night. The place offered security lockers for the storage of any extra luggage that you might have had. However, they were without locks and so my first experiences of the Mexican street were in search of padlock and key.
The roads of downtown Mexico are for the most part arranged in blocks and grids, so with a little bit of wandering I was able to spot a place selling assorted combinations of bolt-locks, knives and hardware. I walked in and was quick to eye off an assortment of padlocks.
What I didn’t know then and soon learnt was that the process for buying things in Mexico differs slightly from that of Australia. In many shops and restaurants you do not order/purchase from the main counter. Tucked into a corner of these shops is a podium or a box with the word ‘caja’ written on it.
When you know what it is that you would like to purchase, you tell the employee at the caja, they will charge you and then give you a receipt. You take the receipt to the main counter and they collect the item of purchase for you. A simple thing to be aware of in Mexico.
I made plans that day to visit a few of the free attractions in the area. Palacio Nacional, La Catedral (both surrounding the Zocalo) and a cultural Museum on the Calle Moneda. I found all manner of people to be on and around the Zocalo.
There were 2 main hostels and quite a few large hotels in the area and so, because of the tourist population, this attracted some of the hustlers and con-people of Mexico City. The Zocalo was also a place for public protest and demonstration, at the time I was there a Make-shift marquee had been set up to protest for indigenous rights. To top this off the Zocalo is also one of the main stops on the Mexico City Metro. As I walked along the east side towards the entrance of Palacio Nacional I was struck by the number of people in the street either selling various collections of things and others outright begging, this was something that I had not seen before. When I got to the entrance 3 uniformed officers checked my passport and I was allowed in. Once inside my bag and shoes were put through a metal detector.
I found Palacio Nacional to be a remarkable building, it’s history began in pre-Hispanic Mexico when at the site, it was the house of the Emperor Moctezuma. Later, the Spanish conqueror Herná´n Corté´z had the palace built and then in the late 18th century the Spanish adapted it once more into what it is today. After Mexico’s war of independence it became the Palacio Nacional which the Mexican Government now occupies. I was able to stand close to many of Diego Rivera’s murals which cover many of the palace walls.
While I was visiting, the place was undergoing some kind of maintenance to the building’s structure itself. I found myself wandering into some of the areas where maintenance was being done and ended up nearby a worker recruitment building. Here I saw entire families dressed in white jumpsuits lining up to receive work. Again another strike to myself as I saw young girls and boys no older than 10 waiting to work.
I spent the rest of the day trawling about crowded market streets and seeing a few different sights but the next interesting part cam late at night in the hostel. It had come about that most of the people there hand begun to drink and tell stories of travel abroad..
We had an assortment of characters; An American, an Irish man, a Cuban lady, 3 British lads, a pair of Germans, an Argentinean boy and my Australian self. The only aspect of the conversation that I will comment on was the funny kind of tension between the Cubana and the American as politics were being discussed. We had been told several times by our friendly hostel clerk to try and hush ourselves in between the times of 12.00am and 1.30am. This wasn’t going to happen (despite our efforts) with so many people at the table and so many bottles on it. At around 2am the police turned up at the hostel and our gathering was forced to cease.
This has something to do with street-noise laws in Mexico City and is not an uncommon occurrence I am told. Some of us took to the streets in no mood for sleep. Having everything closed at this time in the downtown area our Cuban lady offered a few of us an invitation to come back to her house to continue the festivities.
We arrived at her house well stocked and laughed through the night but I would like to say a few things about this woman. She was about 30 years of age and a doctor of medicine having studied in Cuba, Mexico and America. She was not a clinician but instead studied the effects of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. She had not returned to Cuba or seen her family in more than 10 years, this is because in order for her to be allowed to leave Cuba she had married a Mexican man and ran off from him the moment she arrived in Mexico, she was not allowed to return to Cuba. She plans to remain in Mexico City for some time.