Place and time: Enforced three week stay in Mexico City waiting for a new passport to be sorted out.
Cash: Not much at all – our emergency budget allows us 2 dollars each and even that means we arrive in South America pretty skint and dependent on a plan to somehow power the truck and move it using just the solar panel.
Mission: To use up that time wisely without spending any money.
It behooves the contestant to do some research before arriving – first internet port of call is couchsurfing.org, facebook.com or whatever your favorite social website tool. A good webizen advised us of a cool place to park right in the middle of town:
Parque Las Americas, four-star curbside, free.
- Central location; 40 mins walk east of Downtown and 50 mins walk south of Centro Historico. 5 minutes west and north of the standard complexity of DF Urbana.
- Park up with other crusty looking vehicles, some of which are three times your size, some of which are also lived in.
- Water from various mysterious taps around the neighborhood (remember to take that mole wrench).
- Electricity can be used temporarily at the back of the Urban Vigilantes’ Hut.
- Free Wi-Fi from a couple of unidentified sources (strongest standing on the park bench nearest the south-east corner).
- Full security from Vigilantes, passing Police cars (one every 10 mins, 6am to 11.30pm) and the numerous public-service ambulances, on-call telephone engineers and roadside recovery vehicles parked up around you taking a break.
- Meet the people of Navarte, the characters, the immense parts, the bit parts and the lost souls on their way around the Mexican Play of Life – dog walkers, joggers, alcoholics, vagrants, con artists and many other kinds of ambulantes vendredores.
- Once a week, you can wake up to the sights and sounds of a traditional fruit and veg market – remember to move the truck the night before…
That’s the accommodation sorted, then.
For eating, there are a couple of big supermarkets around and a few smaller markets with the usual bargain eateries located somewhere within their cores. To be avoided are the little coffee-shops/bars that dot the area and charge multiple dollars for basically snacks. There are also, of course, the ubiquitous taco stands.
Activities during the day in Mexico City include walking around getting a feel for the place, catching up on some European football at the competitively priced bars around the Zona Rosa, seeing the sights with all the other tourists around the Zocalo or browsing the various commercial zones – near us was a Car Parts Area and a Printing Area (where you can spend a couple of days designing your own t-shirt, base-ball cap and cooking apron). Lovely, what else? Well, of course, the museums, galleries and stuff are free on Sunday when there’s also a massive flea market between Centro Medico and Lazaras Cardenas that’s good for a laugh. Of course, the metro is really cheap – like 15p a ride – it’s entirely possible to spend a few weeks getting out at strange metro stations and having a look around. But be warned: Mexico City isn’t that big.
DF night life is slightly trickier. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of proper old -skool parties. You might get lucky and get the invite to a kind of self-organized event where your ten quid cover charge buys load of food, drink and the opportunity to meet drug dealers but these aren’t the massive entities we’re kind of used to in our own capital city. Up until midnight you can hang around for free in the Plaza Garibaldi which is apparently the only place in town where you can drink openly in public. And there are lots of bars, sure, but they seem, like, undistinguished – the more interesting ones had cover charges of 100 pesos – I ask you: five quid to get into a Rasta Bar? Enough to buy weed for a fortnight… And in fact the absurd economics of going out might put you off the whole experience. We tried a few ‘squats’ too but we had no answers banging on the door and no answers over on facebook either – I had the feeling we were just between events, though. The most entertaining experiences will be had, of course, in the kitchens, bedrooms and dining rooms of the locals you get to meet. They are a crazy bunch, it has to be said.
Three weeks later, Portuguese Passport in hand but 100 bucks lighter – we’re off to the beach…