It was an unplanned “holiday” because we needed to go to get our visas renewed (much like an H1B, James’ E3 visa is tied to his employer). Most people go to Canada but apparently this time of year is really busy – Vancouver had no available appointments and Calgary had an 84 day wait, so Google suggested that we go to Mexico City which had a mere 14 day wait.
I was pretty freaked out – all I knew was that parts of Mexico are extremely unsafe – I’ve read news stories of entire buses getting killed by drug cartels, people getting kidnapped, and friends have told me about how their parents were driven around in armoured cars with bodyguards. But after doing some research I found that Mexico City is one of the safest parts of Mexico and it’s no more dangerous than any large North American city. And (aside from the stress of not speaking the language!) we had a really great time!
The first awesome part was finding out that the seats I’d selected were actually bulkhead seats. Normally airlines make you pay for these seats and now I can see why. Soooo much room!
I could straighten my legs and still not touch the seat in front of me! It didn’t make any real difference in comfort to me but James was pleased which made me pleased. =)
Straight to work! We had to go to the Applicant Services Center in the morning to make sure all our documents were in order – Mexico City is the only place that makes you go through this step. You can’t do it on the same day as your visa interview so we had to arrive a day earlier to get everything taken care of. There was a huge crowd of people outside the building waiting for their appointment times. It was a pretty stressful experience because all the announcements were in Spanish and we had no idea what was going on (this would be a common theme throughout our visa process).
We were put in a special queue because James’ documents were missing his middle name so we first had to get in line to fix that before getting in the proper queue. We were told that we’d need to bring a photo to our visa appointment (something we didn’t know beforehand!) so we had to get emergency ones taken around the corner. Even at local rip-off prices (250 pesos/$19 USD) they were still well worth it for the convenience.
Afterwards we dropped everything back at our AirBNB place, grabbed some street tacos (amazing and only 12 pesos each) and headed to the Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Unfortunately for us most of the square was taken up with a huge installation teaching people how to ride bikes so we didn’t get to see Zocalo in all its glory. The cathedral was beautiful, but since neither of us are religious we just kind of wandered around feeling vaguely out of place while we looked at the architecture.
Also, the metro system in Mexico City is fantastic. The trains come very frequently (the one time we had to wait 5 minutes for a train we were like wtf?!) and it costs 5 pesos (40c!) to travel with unlimited transfers. Rush hour was the most squished I’ve been in my life, but overall it was a super cheap and convenient way to travel around the city.
We also got to try maguey worms!
James didn’t like them but I did. They were kind of like meaty french fries (and apparently they have heaps of protein!)
This was the day of our visa interview. It was also raining really heavily in the morning so we got soaked walking 30 minutes to the consulate. In hindsight I should have picked an AirBNB place that was closer to the embassy instead of in a cool neighborhood (I’m normally better about that but in this case I was seduced by the photos).
As far as I could tell we were the only E3 applicants. James thought it might work in our favour because maybe there would be a dedicated E3 agent but no such luck. The main stress came from not knowing what was going on and getting in the wrong line (individual employees spoke excellent English, but all the general announcements were in Spanish) but once we got on track the actual visa interview was very straightforward – we were easily approved and told to return on Thursday to retrieve our passports.
The bottom floor seemed to focus on ancient ruins and the top floor more on the different Mexican cultures. We explored the whole museum but if you only have a short period of time I’d recommend focusing on the Aztec section. There’s some really impressive stuff there, like the Aztec sun stone (originally buried in the Zocalo), and a huge collection of stone figures.
On Wednesday we went on a private tour to see Teotihuacan, which was an ancient (100BC!) city in Mexico. We left quite early and got there at 7:30am, just before everything opened. The first half hour it was pretty much just us (and the workers) there, and it was pretty cool seeing the citadel and the Avenue of the Dead completely empty.
Here we are in front of the Pyramid of the Sun (seriously, try to picture it in colour – bizarre!)
Other people were starting to trickle in by now. Given its size I thought the pyramid would be more challenging to climb (maybe if you do all the levels at once? We kept getting distracted) but the views were absolutely spectacular.
In the background you can see the Avenue of the Dead leading to the Pyramid of the Moon. We also climbed the Pyramid of the Moon (though you weren’t allowed past the first tier) and the view was also gorgeous.
Here I am carefully descending the steps. You get a much better sense of how enormous the pyramid is by seeing how teeny tiny everyone looks against it.
In the morning we spent some time looking atDream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. It’s so stunning in person and I regret that we didn’t see his other murals at the National Palace. It was 12 pesos each for entry and there was a guy in the room (James and I are divided on whether he was a museum employee or just a Diego Rivera enthusiast) who explained parts of the mural to us.
Then it was time to pick up our visas from the US consulate. We had to get there at 3pm where everyone waited outside in a confused huddle until they started calling out names. Our names were never called (!) but the guard let us through anyway cos we had a piece of paper telling us to be there. We were taken to a special waiting area which freaked us out because everyone else got to go inside. We watched everyone else leave with their passports and visas until one of the employees told us that they couldn’t find our passports (!!!). Eventually they did find them and from there on everything went smoothly although we were by far the last to leave. =(
In the morning we went to Templo Mayor, which is this Aztec temple that some workers randomly discovered underneath Mexico City. There were 7 pyramids built over one another, and you can walk around the ruins and see the various layers.
The museum afterwards had various relics that were retrieved from the site as well as a model of the 7 layer pyramid that we were previously walking through:
The disk of the dismembered Coyolxauhqui is probably the crown jewel of the collection (I think the one on the level below is Tlaloc, who was everywhere – at Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor, everywhere):
And this is their reproduction of how it looked originally:
I kind of love how gruesome a lot of their art is and how huge a theme death is. Case in point:
After the museum we picked up my pottery and went to a market to buy some Otomi bark artwork (I love death themed art but not on my walls. I bought cut-outs of friendly little seed spirits).
Then in the evening it was time for Lucha Libre! We went with a tour group – we could have done it cheaper on our own but I think going with a group was more fun. Our guide was awesome and explained the rules to us and taught us Spanish phrases to yell out.
Afterwards we picked up a lucha libre t-shirt for James (110 pesos or $8.50 USD). The t-shirts had really cool designs and I kind of regret that we didn’t buy more, but we were running out of cash towards the end and didn’t want to go to another ATM. Then we took the metro home, had 1am tacos, packed, and got an hour’s sleep before taking an Uber to the airport.
We arrived back in Seattle around 4pm with fresh US visas. =) Overall I’d recommend getting your visas in Mexico (especially if you speak Spanish!) It was scary for us because we didn’t know the language, but everything went well and we got to explore an amazing city that we never would have visited otherwise.
(Drinking a mescal cocktail and feeling very cosmopolitan in trendy Condesa)
Adios Mexico! I know how to say that at least.
Also lo siento, no habla espanol.