A common theory as to why no Mesoamerican culture invented the wheel is because they didn’t have any pack animal to pull it, cows and donkeys and horses all came from Europe. (FUNFACT: Horse actually evolved in North America first and crossed into Asia before dying out in North America long before humans arrived here).
A obvious side effect of not having the wheel is that your cities tend to use canals rather than streets, originally Mexico City was almost entirely canals
When the Spanish conquered they filled in all the canals with the exception of one small village far to the south, Xochimilco. Today Xochi is the far southeast corner of Mexico City and the only place where the canals survived.
The best part of a trip to Xochi is you get to ride the tram system, it starts where the furthest subway line ends and continues all the way to Xochi.
I arrived hungry and found multiple shops making machetes, gigantic quesadillas, which I have not tried yet, ordered one.
Buuuuuuut linguistic miscommunication happens and I ended up with three… of the gigantic…. quesadillas. I got them to go and ate one in a park nearby and gave the rest away.
I wandered down to the embarcadero and walked along the canals for a while.
I was gonna spend more time in the area but after an hour or so of wandering the past week of 20+kms a day in 30c heat finally caught up with me, all at once. I could not move, my back instantly locked up and I had to sit for 45 minutes, after which I made my way home, slowly, one foot at a time, for two hours. I got home around 5pm, fell into bed and slept 20 hours. I have a tendency to overdo things, not sure if you heard.
Central de Abasto (CEDA) has been on my must visit list since I was a kid, dreaming about future travel. The last time I was in Mexico City I ran out of time and couldn’t make it as it’s fairly out of the way.
CEDA is simple the most, the biggest, the craziest. It’s the largest market of any kind anywhere in the world, it’s estimated between 1/3rd and half of all food items consumed anywhere in Mexico pass through CEDA at some point.
Size – the market is over 2kms by 2kms long.
Trucks – about 50,000 trucks are present at any given time.
Hours – the market functions 22 hours a day, it closes for cleaning from 8pm to 10pm nightly.
Employees – about 70,000.
Customers – about 300,000 attend the market per day.
The market basically supplies every single food item in Mexico City, from supermarkets to the taco lady on the corner.
This next video is quite boring. To emphasize the magnitude of CEDA I recorded myself walking from just the start of the banana area to the end of the banana area. Each major item has a similar space.
I spent half a day just wandering the market, trying not to get in the way, I walked from the south end all the way to the north but probably saw maybe 5% of the market after walking 10+kms of it.
I shot the following video after two different people told me this was quiet time for the market, it was about 2pm.
The hand trucks are called “diablos”, the guys pushing them are “diableros”.
One of the very best reasons to travel, for me, is to see things and experience things that reset what you thought the limits of things were, to give yourself new frames of reference for things you’ve always known. I was laughed at by market workers more than once for the look of wonder and my mouth hanging open (could have been the hat tho, now that I think of it, it’s not great).
There are taco stands every 50 metres or so in all areas of the market, I picked one in the basement of the beef processing area at random, was the best tacos so far this trip.
I could honestly write pages about the market, it was mind-blowing, they have their own bank, their own police, their own jail, their own mayor, doctors, clinic, dentists. They also have extremely dark, serious issues that I am not the person to expound on.
Yaaaaa! Finally got to ride the cable cars! The last time I was in Mexico City the plans for building cable car lines and making them part of the transit system had just been announced. Today there are two cable car lines just outside Mexico City, run by the State of Mexico, known as Mexicable and 2 more lines within the city (with 2 more about to be completed) known as CableBús.
I took the subway (Line A) all the way to the end in Iztapalapa and then switched to the cable car. This is the newest cable car line, it opened just over a year ago, and is the longest cable car line in the world, about 11km long.
Improving mobility for residents of Iztapalapa was one of the goals in the area rejuvenation plan and another subway line was not feasible due to the amount of hills in the area. Cablebús Line 2 creates a circumferential connection between the end of the subway Line A and the end of the subway Line 8, carrying passengers for 40 minutes up and down several mountainsides. It’s spectacular and costs 7p, about $.50can.
That was the first response I received a few months back when I asked residents of Mexico City on Reddit if I would be safe wandering alone in Iztapalapa. Residents of Mexico City are known as Chilangos, my question brought a lot Chilango opinions out.
Iztapalapa is the neighborhood on the east side of Mexico City, I don’t know what the correct terminology is, what one Latin American country finds offensive another finds totally normal, so I don’t know if Iztapalapa is called a favela, or a slum or a bario or what but it’s one of two areas of Mexico City that are considered no-go.
Of those who responded to my question about personal safety in Iztapalapa the answers seemed to fall into two camps, respondents from wealthier areas of Mexico City had mostly never been to Iztapalapa themselves and assured me that going was stupid and dangerous. While Chilangos who actually live in Iztapalapa responded with what sounded like much more reasonable responses, namely “come early in the day, leave all your possessions at home that you can, don’t stay in one spot too long, use your brain”.
To me those responses sounded more measured than “if you go you will die!”. So I decided to head out to Izta early this morning and see what I could see, if I felt unsafe I could always hop back on the subway to safety.
I also wasn’t just going to Izta to see the scary part of Mexico City, that would be gross. There are four different sites within the area that I want to see as many of in a day as I can: the CableBus, the Elevated MetroBus, the Fire Pyramid ruins and the Central de Abasto Market.
Another reason I wanted to see the area was because of how much I kept hearing about the residents fighting, and recently succeeding, in making their home a safer place.
In the past decade residents of Izta have embarked on about half a dozen programs to try to improve things.
Initially a taskforce of women residents of Iztapalapa was convened and given powers by the mayor’s office, they were instructed to produce a list of recommendations after 90 days study.
After 90 days their list of recommendations included just one item: lighting.
The entire initial budget was spent on installing new lighting to make main avenue’s through Izta into safe corridors. The newly lit streets are the easiest in Mexico City to spot from a plane and residents call them “the best lit streets in the world”.
The lighting project worked, crime along these newly bright corridors dropped to a fraction of what it was before and the project was such a success that the city and federal governments, with help from the United Nations agreed to launch at least half a dozen similar new projects.
The police had mostly abandoned the area and were invited back in with the Mexico City government agreeing to over doubling the police presence, half a dozen safe injection sites were opened, a dozen gigantic community centres (known locally as UTOPIAS) were opened, residents began projects to painting their houses in intense purples and greens and pinks as well as over 7,000 new murals.
As a direct result of these efforts Iztapalapa has gone from consistently being one of the most dangerous areas in all of Mexico to no longer being listed in the top 15.
I spent one day, walking just over 20kms, in Izta, so I realize my impressions are microscopic. Having said that my time there was absolutely wonderful, at no point whatsoever did I ever feel I was in any danger or any less safe than in any other part of Mexico City. I’m not saying the area is perfectly safe, it clearly isn’t. Just that I feel common sense can counter a significant portion of the danger present in a neighborhood like this.
When compared to other parts of the city, the people I saw were absolutely more engaging with me, more interested in me, and absolutely refused to believe I did not speak Spanish. Perhaps because they don’t see as many people wandering around that look like me as the rest of the city sees but I was greeted over and over again incredibly warmly, I was offered the best seating, in the shade, at taco stands and licuado stands. People in the markets insisted I take samples and talk to them and I rarely felt any pressure to buy anything, more than once I looked to buy after sampling and was waved away.
I was called “American” probably half a dozen times, when I would shake my head the next comment would invariably be “ahhh, Britain!”.
The two gentlemen in the pics below were my favourite, in a small alley market they showed me every step of the chicharron making process, posing for pictures, being very silly, tearing up one of their whole roasted chickens so I could try some (it was staggeringly good chicken).
I didn’t actually get many pictures, the most common advice I got was about being careful with a camera, both because it marks you as an outsider and because the residents are not keep on a camera in their face.
Of the four sights I wanted to see I only made it to the CableBus and to the Central de Abasto Market, I will make individual posts about those. I didn’t make it to the new elevated bus line or the Fire Pyramid, I likely will not have time to go back this trip either and I am totally bummed about it.
The layout of the streets around the centre of Mexico City today is mostly exactly the same as when it was the capital of the Aztec empire. Thanks to this and good record keeping by the Spanish I was able to stand at the corner of Republica de El Salvador and 20 de Noviembre today which was the exact spot where Cortez and his entourage were standing when Moctezuma II came down from the palace to meet him, on November 8, 1519.
This would have the Spanish view, the Cathedral in the distance would instead have been the largest Aztec pyramid. As soon as the Spanish took control they enslaved the Aztec religious class and forced them to raze the pyramid and build the Cathedral with the stones.
Further to the south, near the edge of Mexico City proper is the Cuicuilco Pyramid. The giant pyramids at Teotihuacan get all the press but the cool kids make the trek to Cuicuilco for O.G. pyramid action. (plus I’ve already been to the Teo pyramids)
Cuicuilco is much smaller than Teotihuacan and at first glance is not in nearly as good of shape either. There’s a reason for this however, Cuicuilco is likely about 1,000 years older than Teotihuacan and is believed to be the first significant building constructed by anyone in central Mexico. It’s the grandfather of all other Mexican pyramids.
As it’s not really on the pyramid map I had the entire place to myself the entire time, just me and one security guard. I sat in the shade for a couple hours beside the 3,000 year old building and just chilled. I love stuff like this, experiences like this, so insanely much.
The pyramid continues below ground for several levels but they are lost under the hardened remains of the lava flow that ended the time of Cuicuilco being a rival to the nearby Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).