Well its been nearly ten days here in the capital. I’ve been getting my all important rabbies shots that aren’t available anywhere else in the country, and are even harder to track down through Central America if I do get infectulated. My muscles and bones are itching to get back on the road and head toward Oaxaca city and then my first taste of the coast – probably the part of the country I am most excited for. But it’s been nice to have an extended break, do a few out trips, meet lots of new people and see this crazy big city!
My experience on the metro has been awesome as I have ridden it out to the airport for my rabbies vaccinations. Yes, the travel medical clinic is set between a starbucks and a 7-eleven in the airport waiting area… perfecto! Anyway, the metro is clean and efficient, and for about 50 cents CDN, you are getting a lot! That is 50 cents to enter the system similar to TTC, but there are tones of routes networking the city. I read the system is totally crazy during rush hour, but still… at least they have more than two lines. During rush hour, men are barred from the first two cars which are reserved from women and children. Unfortunate this has to exist, but I guess it’s preferable to make this accommodation. Most engaging on the metro is the constant barrage of vendors entering and exiting the cars at each stop. They sell everything you could possibly imagine, usually one single item per vendor like halls, or ipod earbuds, or nail clippers – “small, large, make the hands beautiful” the man advertised. What I like is that they are all really chill, not pushy… I was told by a friend in Reynosa that if you want to buy something in Mexico, just picture it in your mind and someone selling it will come to you!
Cycling in this city is an extreme sport. However, its popularity has clearly been rising in recent years and in some of the wealthier or more up and coming neighbourhoods including the one I am staying in there is actually a good degree of bicycle infrastructure including fully separated lanes and a very popular bike share system. I have been arriving to downtown via the large Reforma street which stretches east-west across the city, and has some of the best cycling infrastructure. It also partially closes on Sunday’s for the popular cycling and active transportation rides each weekend. The bike share bikes are funny because they have tiny little 24” front wheels – they look rather like kids bikes, but I’ve seen every type of person on a Ecobici bike! A friend I was talking to about transportation also highlighted that while cities like Bogota and Medillen in Columbia have had gained notoriety for their progressive transit parks and cycling plans, they don’t have the economic power to implement on the scale seen here. As a result of the wealth in Mexico city, they have been able to move relatively quickly on infrastructure for fully dedicated bus-rapid transit lines over a period of months, and the non-existent bicycle share of 6-7 years ago has very rapidly grown to be the 4th larges bike share in the world. However, from my observations, the car is still king in the city in lots of ways. Many downtown streets are defined by ultra-wide lanes where of all types of motor vehicles all operate without much courtesy. Massive Rober Moses-esk overpasses cut through the city while the pedestrian get’s screwed with pedestrian overpasses to make even the simplest routes by foot… and they are the ones carrying their water and groceries! I’ve also seen some pretty wild traffic as you might imagine…
I also had the joy of exploring some other suburbs and crazy market streets after meeting up with some guys at the local bike kitchen. It’s call Casa Bicitecas, and I rolled by their centro location to do some work cleaning up my chain and cassette, but within 20 minutes I some other friends with bottles of pulque rolled up and we headed across town. Our destination was another sustainable living type community which was also part bike co-op, but had more of a focus on urban agriculture. There we hungout with some really cool people and talking about politics and eco-living before departing and heading wildly back across town. This was truly a fun way to see tons of neighbourhoods that are nothing more than imprinted on my impression.
At the other end of the transportation spectrum, I also had the pleasure of taking one of the privately owned impromptu bus lines. These are small school bus type buses decked out with neon lights, loud sound systems and lots of flare. Fares range depending on where your going and how the driver/drivers helper feels that day. They do operate on defined routes, but the busses are owned privitely, and then driven by randoms who may or may not have any certification or qualification at all. Further, there is an incentive for them to drive like crazy… they will pay the bus owner a set amount for a set time of use, and will keep everything they make over this. So, while the bike is clearly still boss, I’ve enjoyed getting a chance to check out some other forms of transportation here.