By David Ward — Mexico City. When my daughter Jessica, who works for the Foreign Service, was first assigned to work in the embassy there, I wasn’t really excited to visit. My wife and I have followed Jessica around the world, visiting her in her various assignments in American embassies. Each place has been exciting and at each I have made it a point to scrounge up a bike and do some riding.
But Mexico City? That’s just the polluted capitol of the poor, run-down country to our south, right? I have known Mexicans, having grown up in a rural farming community where many seasonal workers from Mexico were employed. Good, nice people and diligent workers. But I wasn’t excited to visit.
So, I was surprised when people told me, upon mentioning we were going to visit Jessica, that they loved Mexico City, with some even stating it was their favorite city. That got my attention. I also heard from my daughter that every Sunday, a miles long route of one of the city’s main thoroughfares, the Paseo de la Reforma, is shut down for people to come out and enjoy bicycling on a street free of traffic. That also got my attention.
Well, that was three years ago. I have now been to Mexico City, and other destinations in Mexico, three times and I now echo what others told me: I love Mexico City. There is a vibrancy to life and culture here, and a fascinating history to be explored here and elsewhere in this great country.
Each time I have visited, I have rented a cheap bike to cruise and explore on. The first couple of times the bikes were journeyman, single speed bikes. Mexico City is flat except for a few overpasses and bridges until you get to the outskirts of the city. As such, the single speed worked fine. This last time, May of this year, I rented an older road bike, a cool-looking silver Colnago with orange decals, or so I thought. When I mentioned to the shop owner (who, thankfully, spoke enough English for us to communicate) that I owned a Colnago, he laughingly told me this was not a Colnago. Those were just stickers a prior owner had put on there. A closer look clearly established that to be the case.
Each time I have come, I have done the Sunday ride, the Muévete de Bici. The ride is as colorful as the country itself. There are recreational riders on high end road bikes, but the majority are people on a wide variety of bikes ranging from the everyday get around the neighborhood bikes in various stages of repair or lack thereof, to artistic homemade or modified frame bikes, to the ubiquitous rent-them-off-the-streets bikes. There are kids, and even some adults, on trikes. There are some roller bladers, and even a few runners and skateboarders. It is a hodgepodge of pedal-powered machines, styles, colors, and people that excites the senses. It was so exhilarating to be a part of it.
Beyond that, I have used my rental bikes to explore this city, ranging from the Zocolo (the center of town where you find the Palacio Nacional with the famous Diego Rivera murals, the Cathedral and the Templo Mayor), to the Palacio des Belles Artes, and to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and its famed central library as well as the Olympic Stadium from the 1968 Olympics (probably most remembered, at least here in the United States, for the “Black Power Salute” of Americans John Carlos and Tommie Smith). Riding in traffic, even on the occasional bike paths, is not for the faint of heart. There are sufficient numbers of cyclists that motorists seem to accept and not resent them, but spaces can be tight. Mexican traffic, like most foreign countries, is what I call organized chaos. It works well enough, but you have to be brave in claiming your space and going with the flow. I am a fairly intrepid cyclist in traffic, so I actually found this rather exhilarating.
Mexico City is rich in culture and history, not just since the Spanish invasion, but dating back to the Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayans. Turns out Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world, including its beautiful and fascinating Museo de Antropologia. And those museums are just a part of the many features and attractions Mexico City has to offer. Everything is quite inexpensive, though vacationing here would be well worth it even if one were paying prices comparable to other large cities such as London or Paris.
I have loved my visits to this great city, and my time spent tooling around here on a set of wheels. My daughter is soon transferring to another assignment so I do not know if or when I will make it back. And that makes me rather sad, because I find Mexico City alive, culturally wealthy, unique, and exciting, and a city just fun to be in and to explore on a bike. Gracias Cuidad de Mexico.