Mediating Metropolis: Walking Mexico City
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
With around 15, 000 km2 of urban landscape to explore and upwards of 20 million people to navigate through Mexico City represents a very complex and dynamic urban environment. It is truly a mind-boggling place that is filled with contradiction and strife. Yet, at the same time it can be wonderfully simple and predictable. Having visited this metropolis several times I have found the best way to understand it and develop a relationship with it is to put my feet to the cement.
As awesomely large and sprawling Mexico City seems, it is also an extremely dense and layered city. The density and socially complex and layered nature of Mexico City creates a fairly walkable city. The reason for this is that the communities are strung together by several transportation networks and each have a dynamic infrastructure weaving in and out of industrial, residential and commercial (and often on the same block). Furthermore, food and drink can be found just about anywhere from street vendors to food stalls and bars tucked into the entrance way of residential and business buildings. To truly understand a city and its people one must walk amongst them and that is what I aim to do in any city and Mexico City is no exception. It has been a wonderful beginning as I have braved the traffic, the people, the decaying infrastructure and its renewal on my many walks throughout the city. I have come to my own understanding of the city and have developed a pedestrians sense of things and I plan to continue this relationship as often as I can. I will, upon each visit, find new places to walk and rest and I am sure that I will never run out of new places to see or new things to do in this immense and evolving urban setting.
Walking is meditation and mediation. It is at once relaxing and informative. Perhaps the most important aspect of walking in the city is when we are not walking when we are taking a break. It is of high importance where we choose to take a break and for what reason. My favorite pit stops are those for refueling with food and drink. For instance, on my most recent trip to Mexico City, my partner and I stumbled upon a wonderful strip of restaurants and food carts in Barrio Chino as we worked our way from our hotel on Paseo de la Reforma to our friend’s apartment deep in the city centre. It was early in the morning but we could smell charcoal burning mixed with something sweet. Between a couple of Chinese restaurants sat a woman and her steamer. She was steaming some delectable pork buns. They weren’t ready, but only had a few minutes to go so we waited and watched folk shuffle along on their morning commute and errands. The wait was well worth it. Soft sweet and salty steamed pork buns for breakfast. We felt warm in the morning sun and our mouths sunk into the buns allowing the pork to melt in our mouths. After this quick recharge, we were ready to get back to our short journey.
Walking Mexico City allows you to begin to distinguish barrios and connect colonias creating an ethnographic and social mental map of the city. Walking reveals an economic mosaic of classes layering upon each other and weaving themselves throughout the urban fabric. Mexico City is culturally and ethnically diverse. A city of 20 million people would have to be. This diversity creates distinct cultural districts, but each of these districts has a certain amount of overflow. That means the city’s dynamism creates a dizzying whirl of cultural patchwork making exploring by foot all the more interesting, fun and, of course, tasty!
Two of the most important roads when it comes to walking in Mexico City are Insurgentes, bisecting the city east/west beginning at the northernmost edge to the south, and Paseo de la Reforma bisecting the city north/south weaves around skirting the northern most edge of Centro passing Balles Artes and connecting the massive and wonderful Bosque de Chapultepec and beyond. Hiking these two arterial roads can lead you to several areas including the popular inner city colonias of Polanco, La Condesa and Roma, and the perhaps less glamorous but unique and amazing neighborhoods of Pequeño Seúl (Koreatown) and Little Tokyo in and around Zona Rosa embedded within the sizable and ethnically diverse Colonia Cuauhtémoc. The central point of these neighbourhoods is where Insurgentes and Paseo de la Reforma intersect and they constitute a vast section of the inner city. One could spend days consumed by wanderlust exploring these areas. While Insurgentes and Paseo de la Reforma are important transportation corridors feeding into the centre of the city, if one were brave enough to follow on foot, say, Insurgentes much further northward they could find themselves at the beautiful Parque Nacional El Tepeyac; or, southward by foot one might walk far enough to catch a football match at Estadio Azul. Don’t get me wrong, Insuregentes is a massively long road pushing 29 kilometers (18 miles) in length. But it is a valuable for transportation, even if by foot. The much more modest Paseo de la Reforma measures at about 15 km in length, and is surely a much more beautiful and comfortable walk with plenty of the cities most impressive monuments to find along the way.
Of course, there are plenty of other highly walkable and interesting streets and within reach of these two larger roadways. One of my favorites, especially for cocktail stops, has to be Avenida Álvaro Obregón in Roma which includes a lush green stone path median walkway between two one-way streets. The avenue is lined with residential homes, storefronts, galleries, bars and restaurants. It is perfect for an afternoon stroll and a few drinks before dinner. A great place to stop for one, two or several of these drinks would be the Aurora Roma Bar which includes a wonderfully lit patio space and a darker cocktail bar for a later night drink. They will also feed you one of my favorite cocktails in Mexico City, the Guanabana Mojito. A perfectly balanced sweet/sour concoction of rum punchy goodness. Try one! If you are getting hungry you might want to walk further up the avenue to Romita Comedor, if you can sneak in without a reservation, which also has fantastic cocktails and a fair wine list, if you fancy, to accompany your delicious feast. If you’d prefer a beer you might wander a bit off the beaten path to Escollo four blocks south of Avenida Álvaro Obregón on Quéretaro for an artisanal microbrew and some grub instead.
Like walking, food and drink are meditation and mediation as well! How better that these three aspects of life converge into a daily routine as if we were hunter-gatherers. So perhaps we could drink fine drinks in such establishments as found in Roma or grab a pulque or some cheap beer in an old dilapidated cantina in Centro. After which we might find ourselves in Koreatown for bibimbap and shochu, or further into Cuauhtémoc for sushi and sake, or a sweeter affair with churros and a thick sensational hot chocolate at the newer Churrería El Moro location. We might get midday drunk somewhere in Zona Rosa in a cheap laughable watering hole good only for people watching and walk on up to Bosque de Chapultepec along Paseo de la Reforma to find some of the city’s best street-side tostilocos. Whichever path we choose on our walks of Mexico City we can always be assured it will be broken up with tasty interludes and fueled by scatterings of drunken indulgence.
Sobriety certainly won’t bring us any closer to understanding a city with the magnitude and complexity of Mexico City. So whether intoxicated by the variety and intensity of Mexico City’s aesthetics, or by wanderlust, or by the devil’s medicine we are sure to find something out about the city. If we don’t get to know the city better, it certainly will teach us something about ourselves. So next time you find yourself in Mexico City, skip the metro and jump out of the Taxi. Take the beast by foot and mouth, you surely won’t regret it!