It was Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration in Mexico. I was aware of it but didn’t realise how significant it was until got my feet there. Since it was at the right time, I had to be in the right place. That was Iztapalapa to see the largest and the most elaborate Passion Play in Mexico. I had no idea what to expect and it turned to be my most intense photography shoot in recent years.
With a little time for background research and not many online resources in English, I took a plunge and caught the Metro to the borough in the morning of Good Friday. The day was the peak of the reenactment for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Although my knowledge of Catholicism was very limited, the vibe made me immersed in it. It was apparent how much dedication put into their faith. My eyes were even wet at some point. It was the first time I experienced Christianity like this.
The performance spread along the designated route around the borough. It was hard to keep track of what was going on. The best approach for me was just to go along with the flow. It caused some anxiety during the photo shoot. I might talk about it later.
But the event wasn’t just about the performance. I also enjoyed seeing its ecosystem–how others related to it. That will be in the next post.
After the overwhelming first day in Mexico City, I took a trip out of town to Teotihuacán with a group tour on the following day. It was a quick introduction to an ancient Mesoamerican civilisation. Even though the UNESCO World Heritage Site was the highlight of the tour, the program included other interesting places. That actually gave me a good grasp of the city.
Before an-hour drive Teotihuacán, the tour took us to Square of the Three Cultures. There, I learned how multilayer the city was: pre-Columbus, the Spanish Colonial and modern Mexico.
At the site, I decided to climb up on both Pyramids. The first one, the Pyramid of the Moon, was not too bad–not too high or too crowded. Unfortunate, there was a long queue at the Pyramid of the Sun from the base to the top. And it did not so fast. It took more patience than strength to get up to the peak by waiting in the line under shadeless sunlight. But it was worth it.
I was drained from the heat after the two Pyramids. They took us for lunch before getting back to the city for the final spot of the day tour, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That was an excellent way to wrap up the day that we could see some significant architectures from both colonial and modern phases of the city.
It was another exhausting day with loads of informations to process. But by the end of it, I got much more understanding of Mexico City.
The first day in Mexico City concluded at Mexican wrestling or lucha libre. After the havoc and confusion at the box office, I located my seat in the arena. It was on the second row from the ring—perfect for the night. From then on, with some Tecate, I let myself to be open-minded and went with the flow.
To be honest, I had had doubts about this branch of entertainment until I watched Sense8. It was a scene at lucha libre. Hernando, one of the main character’s boyfriend, dissected it:
This is the Manichaean drama. It’s life and death, good and evil. La parca negra (a grim reaper—evil side of the wrestling match) is a symbol. He is the devil in our lives. For some, he can represent the government, the class system or any form of oppression. But for most of us, he is that fear we are afraid to face.
This is a dance that is also a fight. The struggle that takes place in the ring is a reflection of the struggle that takes place in our minds and in our hearts. At some point, we all encounter our own parca negra. He is that thing we are afraid of, that thing that stops us from becoming what we know we can become. Until we defeat him, we will never know peace.
That scene cracked my curiosity about lucha libre and made me want to experience a real one. And I was glad I did so.
The lineup consisted of four or five matches. Each fight was between black and white of some sort: heroes and villains, patriots and foreigners, etc. Some won and some lost. That was life. Unlike a sporting event, there was a narrative like a stage show. And unlike a stage performance, there was an engagement with the spectators like a sport.
The audience had total liberty to pick their sides. Interactions between the wrestlers and the crowds were also intense, either cheering or booing. As the night went by toward the final match, the energy in the arena erupted to the roof.
My seat allowed me to see the fights up-close and record some actions on my phone—I still couldn’t believe that luck. Some punches were stunts. But their acrobatic moves were also real. That seemed to be another layer of duality hidden in it. But I didn’t want to read it too much and let go of myself.
By the end of the night, I was both educated and entertained. My doubts were demystified. It was undeniably a fun night. And I appreciated and admired the performance more . There couldn’t be a better way to wrap up the first day in Mexico City like a night at lucha libre.
Instead of a short trip to Toronto for a spring break/visa run, there was a little voice inside me calling for an adventure in Mexico City. That voice enticed, ‘it’d be your first time in Latin America. Getting some culture shocks would do you some good.’ The first day in the city did just that.
I arrived at the hotel very late at night and got to explore the area in the morning, looking for breakfast. The street ambience reminded me a lot of Bangkok. That must be comfortable chaos for me. On the way back to the hotel, I got to a Metro station to see if I could get a Metro card—public transport cards have become souvenirs from cities I’ve been to. But there wasn’t any a ticket vending machine and they didn’t sell a card a ticket booth. I left the station and made another stop at a pharmacy to get sunscreen.
I had no concrete idea where I wanted to go first. There was a list but it wasn’t assigned to any specific day. So, I spent a chunk of time in the morning, planing the first couple of days. A day tour to Teotihuacan was booked for the next day. And I left the evening flexible for a Lucha Libre show but didn’t book a ticket online.
Ironically, the first thing I decided to do was to get a Thai massage in the historic centre area. It was a walking distance from the hotel. That walk allowed me to see more of the streets and how astonishing building facades were.
The massage place was tricky to find, locating in an apartment building. A security guard told me it was on the second floor. I took a lift up there but couldn’t see any sign. So, I climbed to the top floor. A lady living there directed me back to the second floor and turn left hallway. All of that was in Spanish and hand language. I realised language would be a hurdle more than I thought.
The place didn’t look any different from a typical Thai massage venture. Except, all the staff was Mexican. Before the session, I spotted the owner and greeted her in Thai.
Of course, I would not expect the massage to be the same as the original Thai massage. To some extent, the Mexican masseur got me relaxed. Besides, I needed that after months without it in Washington DC.
But above all, it was the curiosity about this place that I drove me here. Luckily, after the session, I got a chance to have a little chat with the owner. It was astounding how she built this up. She had lived in Mexico City for over a decade and had been running this business for eight years.
Next on my list was a haircut. I took a Metro to Roma Nte to get to the barber. Again, there was no Metro card sold at the station either. I got a single ticket. It cost MX$5.00 for a trip, flat, no matter where the destination was. The ride was a few stations away and considered as my test run for the city’s public transportation. Later on, I gave up on trying to purchase a pre-paid card and just bought a single ticket each ride.
I read some reviews about this barber speaking English. Fortunately, a British who was with a client asked if I spoke any Spanish. And I confidently replied no. So, he helped me communicate with the barber, a young Mexican woman. He actually picked my Australian accent (I guess it’s still there) and we had a yarn across stools. She did a good job on my hair and he kept checking on me.
After that, to kill sometime before the night’s show, I strolled this hip neighbourhood and took a rest with some margaritas at a bar. Apparently, it was also a record store and a microcinema. I didn’t get much of the details but was told there’d be an event in the evening. But I had to move on to Lucha Libre.
I got to the final destination of the day, Arena México. There was a long line without a clear sign. I assumed that was it and just cued up with others. There was an American couple behind me who, like me, had no clue what was going on. Then it started to get frenzy. Apparently, the line was for picking up online tickets. Another box office opened up for purchasing tickets. I made myself there. I handed my credit card and the guy gave me two tickets. I told him I wanted only one. Clearly, it was lost in translation and he wasn’t happy. A lady next to me kindly translated for me. I just needed to sign the unused ticket and he refunded that with cash. Fair enough.
After a bag search (big cameras weren’t allowed), I entered the arena and completely missed an usher. Then I learned later how it worked with ushers. They lined up behind the checkpoint. When you showed your ticket to the first of the line, he’d led you to your seat. You’d give him some tips and he’d hand you a program. It was too late for me to get a program then.
Nonetheless, I found myself in a second-row seat. What a good spot! How it went would be the next post.
The first day was overwhelming already. Spanish was a real challenge for me, obviously, but I got by and thought it. And there was a lot of help along the way. But that said something about the people and the city.
Shoes on the street were still my side fascination. Here are what I’ve documented in 2018. There were mostly in my neighbourhoods both in Washington DC and Bangkok: Mount Pleasant and Phra Khanong, respectively.