Mexico City Part 1: Screw Comfort Zones

So, uh, you guys? I’m in Mexico City!  I am posting a day late again this week, not because I didn’t have time to write a post yesterday, but because I wanted to wait until I had more pictures and stories to share (and boy do I have pictures!).

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So I guess I’ll … start from the beginning? I flew out of O’Hare on Tuesday morning at about 8 a.m., which meant that I had to wake up at, like, 5. My friends Kim and Adam were kind enough to let me stay at their apartment in Chicago the night prior, which was a total godsend because I didn’t have to wake up at 3 a.m. (and also because I love Kim and Adam!).

I arrived in Mexico City around 1 in the afternoon. Mexico City is actually in the same time zone as good ol’ Twin Lakes, so I didn’t have any jet lag to deal with. Uber is popular here, as it is pretty much everywhere, so I got a cab from the airport to the AirBnb where I’m currently staying.

I move to a different AirBnb tomorrow (it’s kind of a long story, but I couldn’t get the same accommodations for the entirety of my trip), so I’ll wait to post pictures of my lodging until later. But my current place is pretty nice. There are supposedly other travelers in the building, but I haven’t seen anyone. I have my own kitchen, a cozy bedroom, and an al fresco bathroom – meaning, apart from the shower and the toilet, the walls are completely open with just a small curtain to stand between me and the outside world.

It’s a pretty neat place, but I’m excited to move to my next spot tomorrow. I’m hoping that the owner of the apartment will be around so I can make a new friend. She seems super nice via text, so hopefully that will work out well!

In short, my first day and a half or so was a little bit isolating (hence the selfies). I don’t speak a ton of Spanish, so I wasn’t able to interact with people as much as I would’ve liked. When I travel alone, I normally have no problem meeting fellow travelers – but it didn’t really hit me until this trip that the times when I’ve been completely solo, I’ve been in English-speaking countries. Sure, I was alone in Switzerland, but I had Nicole to hang out with in Germany and John to chill with in France. In the UK, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, everyone spoke English.

I spent my first day doing quite a bit of work. As a side note, my freelancing business is really starting to grow! I’m super excited about it. It’s taken a while, but I’m really starting to feel like things are picking up speed. I’ve gotten to practice what it would really be like to freelance and travel full-time. Yesterday, I woke up, went to a cafe and ordered breakfast (en Español, I might add), did some work, walked around and explored a bit, and then repeated the process in the afternoon.

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Speaking Spanish has been pretty intimidating, to be honest. I know enough Spanish that I have no excuse to not speak it, but I’m not experienced enough to hold a conversation. I have some mild anxiety about talking to people, ordering at restaurants, making appointments, etc., even in my own country, so working up the courage to speak in Spanish by myself in a foreign country made me really nervous. I’m not staying in a very touristy area either (my neighborhood is probably comparable to Wicker Park in Chicago), so most people around me don’t speak English fluently. I don’t have any regrets about that, by the way – I’d much rather get a taste of the authentic local culture.

Suffice it to say, by the end of my first full day here (yesterday) I was a little lonely. Though the city is absolutely beautiful and I’m definitely in the right neighborhood for my tastes and lifestyle, I hadn’t been able to connect with anyone. I was nervous to explore because of my anxiety about my language skills, yet I didn’t want to stay in my little room by myself all day.

When I went to sleep last night, I told myself that this would be the last day I’d feel sorry for myself about my language skills. There’s no reason not to attempt to speak the language. I came here to immerse myself in a different culture, and I needed to be humble yet positive about my inexperience with Spanish. I needed to put myself out there, explore as much as possible, practice with real people, and enjoy the moment!

And so…..today happened!

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I had an absolutely amazing day. I woke up feeling refreshed and positive, with who-cares-what-people-think kind of attitude. I went to the cafe near my apartment (which is amazing, by the way) and got the world’s best fresh fruit! I even held a short conversation with the waitress.

I finished a freelance project I’ve been working on, too, which made me feel super accomplished. I wrote a story for a client I’ve had for a while. In short, I was really productive – and this was all before 10 a.m.

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Next, I ventured out to the Mercado de San Juan, at the advice of my cousin John. The market was absolutely amazing! Full of delicious smells, people playing music, vendors selling kitschy goods, and local residents eating lunch, talking casually with the servers, and shopping for goods.

I sat down at one of the food counters and ordered the pollo con mole. Little did I know, it came with three courses: a soup (I could choose between a broth-based soup and a cream-based one), a grain (rice or spaghetti) and my chicken. The chicken was so, so fricken good, it basically melted off the bone. The mole sauce was flavorful. The rice was, well, Mexican rice, which is always good. And the chicken broth-based soup was warm, thick and flavorful, peppered with roasted zucchini, Brussels sprouts and onion. Best of all was verbally working through each course with the woman who was serving me. She explained my choices and I gave her my answers – all in Spanish!

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After my lunch, I bought some fruits and veggies from the local vendors in the market. This was also a great way to practice my language skills. I got so many different kinds of produce that I couldn’t wait to take back to my apartment and cook! I also stopped at a wine shop on my way home and asked for a recommendation. I conversed with the shop owner in Spanish for a while before settling on a red blend from la Valle de Guadalupe. I’m sipping on my vino as I write this – I bought it from a top-notch wine shop that had some really great wines, and it only cost 220 pesos (about $12 USD). That’s seriously the cost of Yellow Tail in the US. Freaking Yellow Tail.

In general, the cost of food has been a very pleasant surprise. I had a relatively upscale meal on my first night here, and it cost about 200 pesos. It’d be difficult to spend more than $10 USD on a meal here, and it’s super easy to find full meals for like $2-3. My 3-course lunch at the market was 45 pesos, or $2.50 USD.

As evening set in, with my bottle of vino and fresh produce in hand, I headed home. My plan was to cook my produce (I’ve been eating a lot of meat since I’ve been here, so I was definitely ready for vegetarian fare) and sip on my wine, but life had other plans – I forgot that I don’t have a corkscrew, and my stove didn’t work.

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Travel tip no. 1: be ready to improvise! I tried (unsuccessfully) to open my wine with a key. Instead, I ended up pushing the cork into the bottle. Thankfully, this wine was only $12, and even with the cork inside still tastes great (John, who works in the wine industry, is going to kill me for saying this). For food, I just went raw. I had some green beans, red peppers, a tomatillo, some onion, and a mango. Seriously: World’s. best. mango.

Travel isn’t always about enjoying yourself. Travel is about learning to adapt, to understand other cultures, to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Travel is about having experiences you never could’ve anticipated, for better or worse. And it’s definitely about having interesting stories to tell. My first few days in Mexico City have been a little challenging, but that’s all part of the journey. I have so much more to tell you about this city (how pretty it is, what my neighborhood is like, how kind and accommodating people are, how it gets an unfair bad reputation), but I’ll save that for a later post. For now, rest assured that I’m working through my obstacles – and that, my friends, is what travel is all about.

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