Hokay a lot’s happened since I last wrote anything, and I don’t want to skip any days as I know what I’m like and if I’m not careful whatever I’ve been up to here will be lost to the pungent landfill of my memory. So!
27th of October
I left my lovely Roma hostel, as due to crowds arriving for the Day of the Dead, beds were scarce. In the late afternoon I met up with an old friend I knew from Australia: Paola. Last time I saw her was 2019, in Melbourne. Paola’s born and raised Mexico City, and she was amazed to hear I was in her city. She invited me to join her friends for a birthday party, and in the afternoon she picked me up and we drove to Anzures, an affluent neighbourhood where her friends live. It was interesting to see the other side of the coin after witnessing so much poverty in other parts of the country: clean streets, fancy cars, palm tree mansions, perfume on the breeze. It was odd to think that just across town the cigarette men and sweetcorn stalls and shoe-shiners still lined the streets.
Paola introduced me to her friends, Matt, Pablo and Danny, the birthday boy. The guys were very accommodating, and they spoke English to include me in their conversations, bless them. They live together in a large house that Matt inherited from his late grandparents. I saw my first genuine ofrenda in the house: Matt and his mum had put up an altar for the Day of the Dead, and decorated it with lights and little skulls and marigolds and photos of family members who’ve moved on. It was very sad and pretty.
In the evening we went across town to Roma, to a bar that, ironically enough for this gigantic metropolis, I’d been in with Lauren a couple of days before. I sat on the rooftop terrace with the Mexican gang and we drank pulque, a drink indigenous Mexicans have been quaffing for thousands of years. It’s mostly fermented cactus juice, but they mix it with strawberries and cream to render it a sort of slimy strawberry milkshake. It has an intoxicating effect, but it’s more like being high than drunk. I got very slow and relaxed and stoned, and Paola drove me home when it got late.
We got stuck in traffic on the way home, and it was only on crossing a junction that we found the source of the mess: random breathalyser tests taking place in the street. Paolo swore under her breath; she’d had three bottles of beer over the day and was concerned she’d be over the limit. When the officer bade her to wind down her window, she nodded and smiled and leaned out to blow in the little gadget. Her score was zero.
“Oh my god,” she said as we drove away, “I blew into it wrong on purpose. If I did it right I would have been fucked.”
I’ve no idea what the penalty would be in Mexico, but I’ve a feeling it wouldn’t have been light.
The next day I slept late and spent the morning in a café writing articles for the wonderful blog you are presently perusing. I met up with Eline, a Dutch girl I met in Puerto Escondido, to go for a coffee in Roma Norte. This coffee eventually turned into food, which turned into beers, and we stayed up chatting and laughing in the vampire goth bar until 3am. Banging music, loved it.
I got some wild news two weeks ago: Liv, one of my favourite friends from the UK, got in touch after a silence of a couple of months to let me know she would soon be coming to Mexico City. She didn’t know I was even in the country. I was thrilled, and for the following two weeks I was giddy for her arrival.
Liv and her friend Mari arrived late on the 28th, so I met them at their hostel the next morning. It surreal stepping away from the petrol firework hubbub of a Mexico City street and into a colourful courtyard to find an old pal waving amiably.
We didn’t waste time: the 29th was the day of the city’s main parade; the James Bond parade, as everyone seems to call it here. The city has always had parades around Dia de Muertos, but after 2016’s Spectre, in which Daniel Craig weaves through a sepia, bustling Mexico City parade dressed in a skeleton costume, the city has decided to up their game and put on a spectacle to match the one depicted in the film.
Liv, Mari and I wandered through Alameda park, and when we heard the sounds of a parade we hurried over to the road to get a good view: I’d been looking forward to this for years. Imagine my confusion, then, to witness a loose gaggle of skeletons and lackadaisical maidens pootle their way down the high street without any backing music. They had a brass band, sure, but the musicians were very Mexican about it and only seemed to give their instruments a toot when they felt like it, and rarely in time with the other musicians.
“I sort of thought… it would be bigger than this,” I murmured to nobody in particular.
Well, happily, it turns out we are tits: this wasn’t the James Bond parade at all, but a parade to celebrate each district of Mexico City. The Bond one was later that evening. The first parade wasn’t bad per se – it just wasn’t quite the packed-streets bone-bonanza I’d been envisioning.
We had lunch in a pleasant leafy restaurant in Roma Norte, then hurried back to Reforma for the final parade. At first we tried to watch the thing down near Chapultepec Park, but the crowd was ten people deep from the barrier and we could see nothing. We walked half an hour along Reforma hoping the numbers would thin out, but they did not. In the end we found a decent vantage point: a traffic light island, which we could stand on to see above everybody else’s heads.
We ate sweets from a cart and waited, and after fifteen minutes drums filled the air. Further down the road we heard the crowd roar – and what a crowd: I read somewhere that a million people had come out to line the Reforma and watch the parade. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve ever seen such a dense army of people covering such a vast area. I felt very little.
The drums swept up and over us, and behind them came a powerful brass section in silver armor with red plumes, marching in step like soldiers, and behind them came giant floats: cigar-munching skeletons, rolling Aztec temples with dancing high priestesses, skull-dogs. People climbed onto the roofs of bus stop shelters for a better view, others climbed trees, while in the background a gaggle of endlessly inventive hustlers sold periscopes made of cardboard and mirrors to offer short people a clear view over the heads of the crowd. Behind me men yelled out from taco stands and cricket stalls, while in front of me rolled a grey carousel of the undead with a huge top-hatted skull rising from the centre. There came a blow up Catrin and Catrina couple, towering six stories tall, which briefly toppled over when some mortified steward lost their grip on their guy line, and after there loomed a giant Frido Kahlo head with a very detailed monobrow. There was also a Nescafe float too, for some reason.
After the parade we explored the Zocalo, packed with ten thousand skeletons and ghouls, and the gigantic LED Catrina that spans the main street and grins down at the living.
In the evening the girls were tired, so I met up with Eline again and we sat in this down-and-dirty bar-restaurant until 3am drinking mezcal and eating tacos and doodling in the notepad I carry with me. We drew knobs and fannies and laughed until we cried. A hoot.
Hungover and underslept, I headed to a coffee shop in distant Condessa for some fuckin reason. It was an 8km walk, and I sat there for an hour or two trying to write and failing because I was too tired and trippy. I wandered through Parque Mexico after, then met Liv and Mari for tacos in a fancy area. In the evening we found a gorgeous bar-bookshop; it smelled like home and sanity and cosy calm, and I drank a lemonade and we ate pan de muertos, or bread of the dead: a giant donut-like snack baked to resemble a sugary breadcake with a cross on top.
Next day, feeling recharged, I met up with Liv and Mari for breakfast. We waited in a Starbucks in the city centre (free Wi-Fi, very important when you don’t have a SIM card) for the latest exciting arrivals: Luuk and Bas, the jolly Dutch duo I travelled with for a week or two at the beginning of my Mexico trip.
I’d not travelled with the boys in around six weeks, but seeing them again it felt like only five minutes had passed. Since we split, I’d travelled through Chiapas and Oaxaca, while the boys had adventured their way through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, scaling volcanoes and swimming through torchlit caves and handling tarantulas. We greeted each other with big hugs.
I was very happy to see that Luuk/Bas and Liv/Mari took a shine to one another instantly. I was nervous they wouldn’t get on, but I’d forgotten: it’s impossible not to like the Dutch boys. We decided to visit the famous Aztec canals at Xochimilco for the day’s activity, and we took a bastard-long Uber out of the city, stopping off on the way to each take a thundering whaz in a Pizza Hut.
The canals were expensive and too brief, but very colourful and unique: sitting on a large, flat wooden boat, the five of us sailed for an hour around waterways busy with mariachi bands floating on wooden platforms. They paddled over to tourist boats and attached themselves to bellow their romantic songs. The whole river was alive with music and laughter with boats daubed in vibrant yellows, reds and greens, and we drank Coronas from an ice-cold bucket as we were punted upstream, waving to local people in their gardens and watching the storks that tiptoed through the reeds on the shore.
In the evening we went to a rooftop party near the Zocalo, where we bumped in Nienke – the old gang back together again. There were many other faces I recognised there too; all backpackers heading north seem to end their trips in Mexico City. We finished the evening in a rooftop club with a beautiful view of the Palacio de Bella Artes, lit up in gold against the night sky.
We showed Luuk and Bas the Zocalo in the daytime, winding through zombies and werewolves and demons, past the many ofrendas that line the square from each Mexican state. I went to the Anthropology Museum in Chapultepec Park with Liv, but since I’d already been I sat and had a coffee while she explored. I saw an interesting sight in the park: a giant totem pole, with four men in traditional Mexican clothing sitting at the top, thirty metres up. As I watched, they flopped themselves over the edge and dangled upside down by ropes around their feet. They swirled around the totem like conkers on strings, playing pan pipes and drums as they span around and slowly lowered down to the earth. A curious sight. Very cool, very weird, and slightly hypnotizing to watch. We went to Lucha Libre again in the evening, and once more cheered and heckled the beefy wrestlers wanging each other about.
All in all, a bonkers week.