Leaving Mexico City

19 December 2011. Filed under category Travel.
Another enormous mural. Notice the chair bottom-left, for scale.

My month and a half in Mexico City has ended. I am leaving this sprawling metropolitan to return to my childhood farm back in Sweden where I’ll celebrate Christmas. But before I go, I want to wrap it all up with a few last stories and observations.

The Sinking City

Mexico City is sinking. The foundation is a dry lakebed, and the soft material is slowly sinking under the weight of the city. This process is expedited by the draining of underground water reserves, but the citizens need water so there is nothing they can do about it.

Two contrasting religious buildings reflect Mexico City’s geological history: Templo Mayor and the Cathedral.

Templo Mayor is the great pyramid that once was the central religious and political building in the Aztec civilization. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed the pyramid and used the stones to build their cathedral. However, long before the Spanish arrived, the sinking ground had already been twisting and deforming the temple. To counter that problem, the Aztecs added new layers to the temple. Like the rings of a felled tree, one can trace the history of the temple and the shifting earth in the increasingly distorted inner pyramids.

The Cathedral also whispers of its sinking foundation. A heavy pendulum hangs from the ceiling, seemingly at peace. But it moves, imperceptibly slowly, as the city sinks, and the tip of the pendulum traces a route on the floor across the decades, mapping out the movements of the sinking earth.

Lucha Libre

This is the Mexican version of American Wrestling. For those who don’t know what that is, image a boxing ring in which a number of men and women in superhero costumes play-fight and bitch-talk until a predetermined winner is announced. The Mexican version takes the silliness to new levels though. In one evening, I saw a fat wrestler (nick named ‘The Really Fat Pig’) whose special power was that he couldn’t be lifted, a dwarf dressed as a blue parrot, another dwarf dressed as a reindeer and a pink-haired gay wrestler dressed in a pink sash and pink panties whose superpower was to terrorize his opponent with kisses.

This last bit almost had me file Lucha Libre under ‘homophobic’. But in the interval, two gay male wrestlers, in black suits and Mexican wrestling masks, got married in the ring to the cheers of the audience. I guess I judged too early!

The Food

Digging into some fat and carbs!

Digging into some fat and carbs!

I mentioned in an earlier post that food is everywhere in Mexico. The recipe for 99% of it goes like this: take two tortillas, dip them in fat, fry them, add cheese and optionally another filling. Sometimes you fold the tortillas over and sometimes you roll them up, but this merely changes the shape of the food. It remains cheap, cheerful and utterly unhealthy.

Chilli is of course an ingredient too. There is nothing the Mexicans won’t add chilli too, including sweets and beer. Restaurants and street stands alike provide bowls of chilli sauce to add to your food. This is a sadistic culinary game of Russian roulette. You don’t know which chilli is really spicy and which will kill you. (And if it doesn’t kill you the first time, it’ll make another attempt a few hours later.) The colour is no clue; I’ve breathed fire after tasting a spoon-tip’s worth of innocent looking white chilli.


What do old Mexicans do with their retirement? Criticise the loose living of their grandchildren? Oh no, they go out and have some loose living of their own!

Proof of this can be found at La Plaza de la Ciudadela where the old folk of Mexico congregate to swirl around the dance floor as fast as their hip replacements allow! The dance is called danzón, and it looks very similar to tango with the exception that the embrace is frequently broken, despite the arthritis.

When I become old, I hope that I will keep the same spunky spirits as these seniors. I see no reason to ever stop dressing up, go out, dance, flirt and have a damn good time. Do you?

Everywhere is Market

A city disguised as a market.

A city disguised as a market.

Mexicans love their markets. You can’t walk five blocks before you stumble upon one. There is also a neighbourhood which is nothing but one giant market, with its own metro station in the middle.

But the spirit of commerce is more pervasive than that. Individual salespeople roam the streets carrying their sweets, pens, cigarettes, stuffed toys, balloons or whatever else they may be selling. In the metro there are even more salesmen, announcing their wares in between stations. The ones selling music strap large speakers onto their backs and play the music at top volume.

When stopping at a red light, impromptu markets appears out of thing air and thrives for the 30 seconds before the green light. I’ve seen a man sell two-metre long coat hangers to waiting cars. I’ve seen jugglers and fire-breathers put on shows. But the most industrious scheme, in a mobster-kind-of-way, is the one where boys run up to a car and wash the windshields, no matter how clean they were or how much the driver pleads for them to stop. Once their ‘service’ is given, the driver must give them some money or risk having his car keyed as he drives away.

The Traffic

Don't walk, run!

Don’t walk, run!

Traffic in Mexico City is terrible. Being stuck in hour-long gridlocks (a.k.a. markets) is common. When the traffic does move, however, it is a wild beast. Traffic rules are mostly guiding principles. I once found myself in a taxi, praying for safe deliverance, as the drunk driver ran a couple of red lights and drove at 110km/h down an inner-city road.

Perhaps the mad drivers are the reason why the green light symbol for pedestrians isn’t the normal version of a man walking calmly across the street but rather an animated green man running for his life.


This story is best given in pictures.

The Murals of Mexico City

Mexican artists seem to love big grandiose and often political murals. The two best places to see these are Palacio de la Bella Artes and The Castillo. Again, I will leave the pictures to tell the story.


Putivuelta is a Spanish noun describing the walk you do around a bar to check out the crowd. It comes from the words ‘puta’ meaning slut or whore and ‘vuelta’ which means ‘return / revolution / lap’.

This is such a useful word that we should really invent an English equivalent. Slut lap maybe? Leave suggestions in the comments!

Thank you, friends!

I made many friends in Mexico, and I want to thank them all for their time and kindness. Special mention goes to Ernesto and Paco, who relentlessly dragged me into new and wonderful adventures.

Where am I?

Remember that you can always find out where I am using my travel map or the ‘Current Location’ on Facebook.


Which English translation of 'putivuelta' do you advocate?

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  1. BrotherMichael says:

    Great post!

    By the way…
    That has to be the funniest illustration of Jesus I have ever seen.
    I had no idea he was such a big sissy!

  2. Rich says:

    I was thinking slut-lap, but perhaps slut-turn (slattern? perhaps this is the root of the word… :P)

    Did you really get kicked out of a convent?

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I was frog-marched out of the convent by security, yes. It is funny, now.

  3. Crys says:

    You could combine prostitute and strut, prosti-strut. Maybe too close to prostate? More to the point, whoreabout.

  4. Joel Oswaldo says:

    Well no, Tepotzotlán is no more a convent, it was many years ago, now is El Museo Nacional del Virreinato, and…museums in México as anywhere in the world aren´t places for la PUTIVUELTA.

    1. hahahahahahaha can’t stop laughing

  5. Craig Brown says:

    Well, I already say “I’m going on Safari,” and I’m quite happy with that. I have no recollection if I invented that or not.

    Re: your embedded question about if there is an age limit to certain activities…hell no! When I can no longer do something I want to be totally SURPRISED. “Huh, this is weird, I seem to be having some sort of trouble climbing Mt. Denali.” Yesterday I bounded down a 700 foot high sand dune whipped by a bitter winter wind off Lake Michigan…and I was feeling like I was six years old inside. Cowabunga!!!!!

  6. Xavier says:

    hi Gustav, I like the pose of your arms and hands on the picture with the flames. Very esthetic. You should explore modern contemporary dance if you haven’t done so already.

  7. DJ says:

    In the small town where I grew up, we came up with the notion of ‘slapper laps’ for a phenomenon we saw on way too many occasions which kind of went like this:
    – Young guys with dodgy cars that have been customised (big exhausts, loud stereos – with speakers that can’t handle the bass, tinted windows etc) but are generally still s**t rust buckets.
    – A set of roads in the town centre forming a small circuit – aka the lap.
    – Friday/Saturday nights, guys take cars and do lap after lap after lap, trying to find a slapper (slightly less derogatory notion of a slut) impressed enough to join them in their car for whatever fun and games they can come up with.
    – Rinse and repeat

    Ey voila, a slapper lap.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      We have ‘slapper laps’ in my home town too. I was surprised to also find them in a Mexican town. They had developed the formula though in that they had neon-light hub caps and other crazy lighting.

  8. Andy DelliColli says:

    I just would do it and tell whomever I was with that I had to go meander the crowd.

  9. Really love this site, Legal Nomads mentioned your site to me today and I’ve spent an hour combing through your posts. Intrigued your weaving of narrative and history and photography. Looking forward to following along with more of your journey! 🙂

  10. Karina says:

    It is interesting how you perceive mexican people. I am mexican and I liked the fun way you pictured the city. All most time I get angry because I hate when somebody try to wash the windshield of my car (the “limpiavidrios”), but it is like a constitutional rule… And I didn’t know that about Lucha libre, it is very impresive to me but it shows the openess of people here in Mexico.

    Sometimes I try to guide foreing people when I believe they are lost, but not a lot of people is as open as we are. It’s weird when somebody rejects help. Then, if you are planning to visit Mexico City, never doubt to ask for help.

Which English translation of 'putivuelta' do you advocate?

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