Mexico City: The adventure continues
Preparing to conduct business in a foreign country while mutilating a foreign language is only one of many challenges. Before we went to Mexico, we tried to anticipate others.
One concern was "la turista," aka Montezuma's Revenge. We didn't eat food from street vendors' stands. I took along some water purification tabs and an empty two-liter plastic soda bottle, and we treated the hotel water -- probably unnecessarily -- to provide as much potable water as we needed. Of course, good bottled water was available on every corner at absurdly low prices. So were "refrescas," soft drinks and juices in sealed bottles. I had mango- and tamarind-flavored drinks, quite refrescing in the temperate weather.
Also, we chewed two of those cheap pink bismuth salicylate tablets four times a day for prevention. We had antibiotics along, but didn't need them. We should've been more consistent with the use of alcohol-based hand-cleansing gels; too often we failed to use them before eating finger foods, despite having touched hand-rails and other objects public and private.
On one occasion, Belva ordered bottled water in a restaurant. The waiter arrived with an opened bottle in one hand and a glass of ice in the other. Before we thought to stop him, he poured the presumably clean water over the putatively clean ice. We're too cheap to discard valuable water just because it might cause a debilitating illness, but nothing bad happened.
At another restaurant, the waiter placed our coffee cups on the table, grasping them delicately by their handles -- except for cousin Joe's cup, which our server carried with his thumb pressed firmly against the inside surface. Joe didn't notice, and we thought it would be funny to let him drink from it before we told him. The color drained from his face faster than he'd drained the coffee from the cup, but I guess the hot strong coffee was more than amoebas can handle; he didn't get sick either. Just to be on the safe side, though, we decided not to try the house specialty, E. coli-burgers.
Mexico City's elevation tops 7,000 feet, and even in March the sun was not our friend. We took along long-sleeved shirts and long pants, plus good hats and plenty of sunscreen. Belva looked chic; I looked geek, but neither of us got sunburned -- even when we strolled along the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan, altitude 9,200 feet.
Joe just wore a baseball cap. After the fourth day, his earlobes were swollen, denuded and shiny, red enough to guide Santa's sleigh. I accused him of having a reaction to an ear-piercing at one of the gay-oriented shops found in the vicinity of our hotel, located in Mexico City's (more-or-less) upscale Zona Rosa, or Pink Zone.
Mass transit is big in Mexico City. This city of 20 million has 4 million cars. Gasoline is surprisingly expensive, given Mexico's oil export policies. At 20 pesos per liter, it runs around $5.50 per gallon. Nonetheless, rush hour lasts from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Taxicabs are inexpensive, and the drivers are superb.
A ride anywhere during rush hour is not for the faint of heart. Everyone zips in and out of traffic with literally fractions of an inch to spare between vehicles.
Stalled intersections look like herring-bone fabric, cars interlaced from all directions in alternating overlaps, but somehow they sort it all out. Horn-tooting is rare, road rage non-existent, and signaling optional. Traffic lights offer only suggestions, not commands. Once you get used to the notion you are totally helpless and about to die, a taxi ride is exhilarating.
We frequently saw car and truck exteriors being cleaned and polished with great pride. Traffic sparkles like jewelry, and amazingly few vehicles sport dents and dings. The interiors are a different matter. One must take care entering or exiting, as it's easy to be strangled by a dangling loop of weather stripping, hung like a bobcat snare to entangle the unwary. Usually the seatbelts work.
One driver had the lower part of a white animal's leg, with cloven hoof, dangling from his rearview mirror. I asked him if it was a goat's leg, which it was. Sort of like a rabbit's foot, I guess. Like the song says: A friend of the devil is a friend of mine -- if he's the driver.
There are lots of buses on the streets. Some are open-topped double-decker sightseeing buses. Very long lines await would-be riders on weekends or during peak hours.
In exchange for some pesos, they provided cheap earphone buds in case we wanted to listen to the tour guide's disjointed narrative in any of eight languages. Overhead clearance was minimal between our heads and various tangles of electrical lines and tree branches. Apparently it's considered a sport to flip the cords from the ear buds so they whip around the electrical lines just above head level. They dangled everywhere; at first, I thought they were just peeling insulation.
Little green-striped buses are far more numerous, far cheaper and more crowded. One can't always get off at the right stop if the narrow aisle is blocked; best sit at the front when possible. They're called "chicken buses," but no one brought livestock aboard the ones we rode.
Next time: Mexican marvels of culture and history.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family
physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays.