When you decide to live on a small island in the Caribbean, you give up many conveniences in exchange for great weather, a new culture, and beautiful scenery. Many things are an inconvenience. Paying bills one at a time in cash by hand is inconvenient. Attending emergencies at night on a bicycle is inconvenient. Looking for a mushroom that costs less than a week’s pay is…never mind, I digress. So, imagine you need some paperwork signed by a doctor and there’s no one in your entire country that’s qualified to do it. That’s when inconvenience becomes an ordeal! So, I had my choices of where to go, and Mexico City won out as the easiest and cheapest option.
I had to figure out how I would get myself to Mexico City and back, alone, without missing any work. I formulated a plan. I had been very sick at the start of the week, the kind of sick where you wake up on IV fluids in the back, back, back, room of a local clinic. So, it was a long busy week at work and I knew I had to finish on time Saturday at noon to make it happen. Saturday morning came and I had lots to do. Of course, things rarely go to plan. My technician Ingrid was already away and I was trying to manage my appointments on my own. Immediately I had a snag, the dog who’s broken leg (a small non displaced fracture of the femur bone) I had splinted the night before was back. She had handily removed the entire bandage, sigh. She needed heavy sedation to put a new one on.
Luna’s Broken Leg
If you remember the dog at the end of my previous blog, he had a good part of his foot missing. That dog also needed heavy sedation for continued work to bandage and add tension sutures to encourage the wound to heal and start to close.
There were vaccines to be done, health certificates for travel to be filled, and a dog brought in by the owner’s friend for weight loss, with no knowledge of the owner’s last name, the dog’s information, or any money. Once I got this all squared away, I raced home on my bike to finish packing. Soon I was in a cab with my favorite taxi driver Marcos, on the 5 minute drive to the airport. Luckily the airline had a sale after hurricane Earl and so I was able to get out by plane instead of by boat! I checked in, no ID required, and waited for my 9 seater to take off for the mainland.
When they called for “Red” I was ready to go. Up and away to Corozal, Belize. We landed 20 minutes later in a field next to a tiny building and I climbed into a pre-arranged taxi to take me across the border to Mexico. Out of the van, walk out of Belize, into the van, back out to get stamped into Mexico, back in the van. Then a short drive to the airport in Chetumal, Mexico. So far so good. Then a quick two hour flight to Mexico City and I was safe and sound in bed by 11 pm. All in Spanish, of course.
So, I had all day Sunday to play tourist. Mexico City during the day is not the danger trap that many people envision. There is, however, virtually no English spoken. Unlike Belize, it’s pretty much Spanish or nothing. I was ready to put mine to the test. I woke up early in my tiny room with no windows but with a superb location and headed out. I was shocked and unprepared at how chilly the evenings and mornings were. I first stopped at a local cafe. The window was full of delicious pastries. I decided on a biscuit with jam, yogurt with tropical fruits, and a Mexican hot chocolate.
From there I walked around to see the sites. One of the most famous is the Zocalo, a huge square in the city that contains many historical buildings including the Catedral Metropolitana, a huge old catholic cathedral. It was Sunday morning and so a service was underway, it also seemed that it was baptismal day, as there were numerous babies in fancy white dresses.
In another part of the plaza was the Museo del Templo Mayor. This temple was one of the main Aztec temples in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. Some of the temple has been unearthed by archaeologists and it is now known that many more layers of temples exist under what is now the cathedral. First I walked the path along the ruins, then entered the building where they keep many of the treasures and human sacrifices that have been found over the years. Maybe it was the doctor in me, but I was mesmerized by the skulls, bones, and teeth on display. I could have stared for hours!
Ruins of the Templo Mayor
Statues and Skulls
I also walked with the crowds through the streets and markets. I came across the area where large murals are displayed, these where incredible.
It was lunch time and I was hungry. There is so much delicious street food in Mexico it’s hard to know where to even start. I spotted a stand making fresh blue corn tortillas for tacos of various sorts. I took a deep breath and tried to be brave. When you don’t understand the language completely and you can’t recognize all the items it can be intimidating, but how else can you get the real experience if you don’t get out of your comfort zone?! I stepped up and managed to get a chicken and a goat (or sheep?) taco with juice. I was directed to a long communal table to eat with the locals. It was everything I had hoped for. For dessert I decided to try something that looked good but I had no idea what it was. I ordered one. It later turned out that the inside is jicama and the red sparkles are a type of chamoy (like a sweet/sour/salty covering). The taco lunch was $2.72 US including the drink.
I needed a nap. Back to the hotel. Hmmm, what next. Not yet dinner but only a few hours to spare. Well, I’m going to admit it, I took a taxi to Walmart. I have to say, going into a real mall was overwhelming. The people, the noise, the shoes! It’s been a long time. So, I ventured into Walmart, looking for some things that are impossible to find or terribly expensive here. I wandered around for over an hour just amazed at the “stuff”. Finally, mascara and pyjamas in hand, I headed back.
For dinner I had selected the oldest restaurant in town, Hosteria de Santo Domingo. They are famous for the national dish Chiles en Nogada, which is served here year round instead of just the traditional Aug/Sept. It is a poblano chile (not spicey), filled with shredded meat, dried fruits, and spices, then deep fried in a light batter, covered in a walnut cream sauce, and topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley, appearing red, white, and green as are the colors of the Mexican flag. It was interesting and very good. The margarita was strong enough to make me sweat.
Guacamole and Chiles en Nogada for Dinner
I spent the first half of Monday fulfilling the reason I came all that way. Afterwards, I headed to one of the famous museums, stopping in the park outside for lunch. I tried another street food where the man cooks ears of corn right there over the fire, then adds the kernels to a pot of soupy corn. He scooped that for me into a cup, added lime juice, a small amount of mayo, some cheese and spicy chili powder and I was ready to go. Yum.
Unfortunately, I forgot that all the museums etc are closed on Mondays. I met a cab driver who offered to take me to a different part of the city to what I understood in spanish to be some gardens, he claimed they were open and then after he would drop me at the airport. I don’t recommend getting into these situations, as you always end up paying more than you should, but I dreaded getting to the airport 5 hours early, so I decided to hop in.
He took me to a place called Xochimilco. I was surprised to arrive and need to get on a boat! This is an area of Mexico City full of a canal system that connects various fields of flowers and greenhouses that are growing plants for commercial and private sale. Tons and tons of flowers and the people growing them use boats and the canals to get around. There are also tourist boats to take you on a tour, along with boats selling goods, food, beer and with mariachi bands. Each boat is pushed by a man with a long bamboo pole. There is definately some bumper boats going on as you can’t steer. It was actually really fun.
That evening I flew back to Chetumal, Mexico. I had a quick sleep at a local hotel. Then got up early Tuesday, taxied back and walked across the border into Belize, caught another tiny plane, and had time to get home, eat breakfast, and be at work at 9 am to start a new week!
Having to go far into a neighboring country for a simple task was certainly an ordeal. But it is unlikely that I would have had this great adventure otherwise!