It took a little over two hours to get from the airport to my hotel in the Reforma area of Mexico City. I was a fortunate one, as I had a personal driver that had been hired by a friend and he was able to navigate the scribble-scrabble layout of the streets of this enormous city. I simply sat back and mumbled "go, speed racer, go" to myself, as Antonio weaved his way up one Calle and down the next. As a passenger, death seemed the inevitable conclusion to this sleigh ride of potholes and unread or unrecognized traffic signs. Combined with frenzied, obviously, acid tripping, drivers of motorized vehicles of all sorts and dimensions, my only offence was to "will" myself into a quadriplegic state of mind. I am well traveled, I fear neither road nor highway, I have ridden the sidewalks of Bangkok at 70 miles an hour. I am seasoned, but, I was overwhelmed by the shear number of transport "jockeying" for their desired positions.
So it's not the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, nor the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco that I shall write about this grand city. No, the great museums or The Palace of Fine Arts are not the subject of this muse. Population, that's what is going on here. Today, 25,000,000 (twenty-five million) people are living in this house called Mexico City, a house that had about 3,000,000 (three million) in 1950.
"She was a picture in old Spanish ways.
Just for a tender while I kissed the smile, upon her face.
For it was fiesta, and love had it's day.
South of the border, down Mexico way."
As soon, as I parked the car and stepped out in front of our hotel, I knew we were in for something special. It had rained in the mountains on the 5 hour drive from Mexico City and the narrow cobblestone street was clean and glistening. There was a real fresh crispness in the air, a welcome respite from the last day in the ever present gray smog of the Capital city.
We were in the city known as, "The Athens of Mexico". Xalapa or Jalapa, pick your pepper, either spelling is correct. Home to about 600,000 Jalapeno's, as they refer to themselves, it is the city center that draws people from all over the globe to visit.
Day or night, one immediately loses track that you are in Mexico. Close your eyes, twirl in five circles and you will awake to the feel of the city of your choice. Take a midnight walk on the main street, follow your nose to the smell of fresh ground, home grown coffee and freshly baked sweets, or open your ears to the different sounds of music coming from the many open doorways. Pick your spot for some traditional Son Jarocho. It's all there, Blues, Cumbia, Cuban Salsa, or follow the disco ball to the wale of "Staying Alive".
Restaurants abound featuring cuisine from around the world at prices that will do nothing less than amaze you. For example, at an Argentine restaurant, we had a fantastic Chateaubriand for two, complete with two side dishes and drinks for less than $25. People coming and going into the early morning neither with fear or projecting any, if crime is a problem, it is a hidden problem. Shangri-La is south of the border. I would imagine that the 50,000 plus students enrolled at the Universidad Veracurzana/Xalapa keep the "cultural edge" finely honed.
"Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, (Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay,)
Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, (Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay,)"
In 1950 there were 3,000,000 (three million) souls in Mexico City. In 1980 the official count was 8,831,000, (eight million, eight hundred and thirty one thousand). By the year 2003, the body count rose to over 18,700,000, (eighteen million, seven hundred thousand). Today, the unofficial population of Mexico City tops 25,000,000 people, yup, over twenty five million people and the population expansion shows a continuing growth rate of 10% a year.
"Then she sighed as she whispered manyana, never dreaming that we were departing.
And I lied as I whispered manyana, for our tomorrow never came"
We got up early that morning, enjoyed a nice breakfast and decided to take a walking tour of Los Lagos, three man made lakes right in the center of town. It's about a two mile walk to circle all three, Xalapa homes on one side and parts of the University on the other, a quiet romantic scenic stroll, reminiscent to me of the Lake District in England.
Hopped in a cab and headed off to the world famous Museum of Archaeology dedicated to the "finds" from the State of Vera Cruz. Big airy step down rooms filled with colossal Olmec heads among other relics. One of the massive Olmec heads stands over eight feet tall.
Later that evening we enjoyed the highlight of our visit to Xalapa. For 10 bucks, we sat front and center during a spectacular performance by the Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa. The approximately ninety piece orchestra was conducted by Italian Stefano Mazzoleni and featured musicians from all around the world. The program that evening was "Movie Pieces". We were treated to themes from La Strata, Star Wars, Harry potter, West Side Story and more.
Pinch me hard, I am in Mexico!
"South of the border, I rode back one day.
There in a veil of white by candlelight, she kneeled to pray.
The mission bells told me, that I shouldnâ€™t stay.
South of the border, down Mexico way."
There is no way for this city to even attempt to rejuvenate and renew the required basic infrastructure while the current rate of the population explosion continues unabated today. The roads, water and electrical systems, along with, sewage systems, and telephones are stressed beyond their capacities. New housing cannot begin to even put a dent in what is required today. Mexico City is a Cuidad under siege. I was there for three days, I felt like a hostage, you can't leave your hotel because it takes two hours to go 10 miles, and then it might three hours to get back. It is the ant hill, the termite mound; the wasp nest without a mission. The Inn was full years ago, but the reception desk is still open. Something has to give.
"Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, (Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay)
Good bye good bye."
Lyrics, "South Of The Border (Down Mexico Way" Chris Isaak