One of the most exhilarating sensations experienced in Mexico City, when I’ve felt my heart skip as I contemplated the sheer immensity of the city zooming past my taxi window, was while driving down La Calzada de Tlalpan – the rolling hills and immensity of a light strewn panorama that seemed to confuse where the urban mass ended and sky began, will forever inhabit my memory.
Traveling through Mexico City, using its diverse means of public transit, walking or by bicycle, is a voyage through the many worlds preserved in concrete – worlds both rich and poor, new and old, decaying and burgeoning.
The way in which you maneuver through a city inhabited by 20 million people, determines your social space within the Great City. The urban travel mode of choice determined by social positioning and available pocket change – the Metro, los peseros, MetroBus, los taxis, los convis, or if you’re socially comfortable enough and probably detest public transportation, by coche – opens up perspectives and experiences that either bring you close enough to confirm the chasms of social and racial inequalities in the city and perceive the faces and personalities of fellow urban dwellers, or as comfortably away from these realities as personal space and your annual salary can afford.
As an urban denizen forever faithful to the efficiency and affordability of public transportation, I prefer and love the Metro and peseros – small and radically fast buses, painted green – of Mexico City. The Metro is the most amazingly fast way to get around the city and its underground world of urban rituals and movement was a first primer on urban culture and resiliency, discerning the solidarity of poverty in movement and the morsels of warmth and lucidity of a city below the city. Above ground, traveling through the avenues congested with deafening traffic aboard the peseros was very much the same, except much faster. Los peseros of Mexico City cost about 3 to 5 pesos, depending on the distance traveled, and the small buses seem to defy any and all inexistent traffic and physics laws – they squeeze into any space, race through traffic at a stand still and within the trembling and bouncing, people squeeze and adjust themselves to fit the bus to full capacity.
As I began to experiment and travel through the city, I learned of the stigmas associated with using particular modes of transportation and the shaming around the use of the affordable and perfectly efficient Metro and peseros and the preference for MetroBus, taxis, and cars by upper-class working professionals. Although in retrospect these attitudes are almost universal in many urban cities, the racism and classism present in the national subconscious is plastered throughout the city via its public transportation systems.
And as part of the perspectives of an urban transient transplanted from elsewhere, free and ignorant of the social codes impregnated early on, and with the flexibility and financial means to choose how to travel, I was granted the opportunity to discern more fully the spectrum of Mexico City through different vistas.
Although sometimes it has been uncomfortable and sometimes absolutely breathtaking, all of the visions impressed on my while traveling through the city have allowed for an intimacy with a place simultaneously enigmatic and distant.
The city is composed of millions of forms, millions of ways to get around, but with the opportunity to perceive it in all its immensity and yourself within its vastness.