The streets of San Miguel de Allende are eerily silent at 5.30am. I’d planned to walk down the cobble-stoned block to the local bus stop, past the colonial homes in this UNESCO World Heritage city, my home for the month. Then, I was startled as two stark lights pierced the darkness. A taxi?
It drove past me slowly. Oh, wait. I can take that taxi, I thought. I hailed him.
Good thing, too. As we turned onto Mesones and passed the bus stops, I saw not a bus in sight. The buses don’t start running until later in the morning.
We drove the mile or two out of town to the coach station, where I showed my phone to the agent. She glanced at the ticket number on my screen, then handed me two paper tickets. One for the trip to Mexico City at 6:30am, and one for the way back tomorrow at 5:40pm.
Boarding the bus was easy – there were only a few buses leaving so early. A well-coiffed attendant handed us six passengers small plastic bags containing snacks and our choice of beverages.
"Agua," I said, pointing to the bottled water. She slipped a bottle into the snack bag. On the bus, I took a look at my treats. A processed snack of jalapeno and ham in between a sweet roll. Yuck, no thanks. Some cookies with strawberry jam. I was hungry enough to eat that a few hours later. And the water.
The bus internet didn't work, and I couldn't find the power outlet, but that was OK. I was asleep by the time we hit the outskirts of town.
I woke up with the brightening of the morning sun, just in time to hit traffic on the outskirts of Mexico City some three hours later. I didn’t mind waking up. If I'd stayed asleep during the approach, I'd have missed looking out the window and learning that Mexico City is still full of squeegee men (and women), that particularly irritating thing we used to have in New York where your car windshield is assaulted for tip money.
There are a few things I don't miss about old New York, the dirtier, edgier city of the 80s and 90s. That's one of them.
I was in Mexico City to catch up with a friend in town for a comic book convention. But that wasn’t until tomorrow. For now, I had a whole day in the big city.
"I belong in the city," I thought as I navigated the metro. I enjoy the anonymity of metropolitan areas, and like the seamless ease of melting onto a subway with just a look at a map.
I'd been in Mexico City in 1992, but that didn't mean I remembered much about it. I had to pause as I left the Norte bus terminal. "Donde es la metro, por favor," I asked a guard.
He rattled something off – the problem with asking in Spanish is getting answered in Spanish – and pointed me to the centre of the terminal. Ah, there it was. The stairs into the ground, right in front of the centre of the building.
I descended, bought five single tickets from the booth clerk at the phenomenal bargain rate of three pesos each, and slipped through the turnstiles. I nearly stopped, surprised at the signage around me. So much hand lettering! All so old and probably the same as what was painted here during my 1992 trip.
A long darkened hallway gave me pause as I remembered Mexico City had a reputation for petty crime, but it was just an exhibit of constellations.
I caught the train one stop, transferred, and went a few more to one called Hidalgo. The signs were clear there, and I'd scoped the area out on Google Street View last night, so I was able to easily find my hotel by looking for a huge golden sculpture, which was right next to a Starbucks. But as it turns out, everything in Mexico City is next to a Starbucks.
The hotel I'd picked off of my bank points website was, oddly, Hotel New York. The other one I'd been looking at had been Hotel San Diego, and availability had been the deciding factor. I walked in, and though it was 10:30am, the man behind the desk still let me check in. That was good – the place was friendly.
It was a typical budget cheapie of the kind I've stayed in all over the world – ageing, clean, old fixtures, bordering-on-but-not-quite-rundown. The WiFi reached my room. I dumped my overnight bag and headed out. I had a mission.
I needed to find a hair colourist.
I had my colour formula on the Notes function of my phone, and I had a list of six or seven salons I’d found online. I decided to check the closest one to my hotel, a place called Misslene.
It was in a shopping mall, and I was a little doubtful at first, but the colourist did a perfect job. Maybe I wasn't going to end up with horizontal banding from this trip. During my first MariesWorldTour.com in 2001, I had a *lot* of banding to the point where I looked like the core of a tree, but I'd gotten better at choosing salons since then, and carrying my formula helped. Plus, crowd-sourcing helps. I could often find recommendations online. That didn’t happen much in 2001.
And not just for hair. After I left the salon, I used Foursquare to find recommendations for a lunch spot. This was successful too, and weirdly, was right across the street from the hotel I'd stayed at in 1992. I had less success with finding a mani-pedi using Foursquare. I walked around looking at about a dozen nail salons, but in the end, decided not to bother. I'm from the land of the cheap mani-pedi, and while I understand it’s not going to be $22 like at home, if I was going to spend a lot, I might as well spend it back in San Miguel where I could maybe meet a few neighbours.
I walked all over the Centro – I had a guy at the Movistar customer service centre fix my new SIM. The young woman at the shoe store I'd bought it in back in SMA had set it up wrong, and I had been suspicious, so had sought out customer service here in the big city – then I headed to the neighbourhoods of Condesa, Roma, and finally Zona Rosa. My feet were killing me by the time I walked back to my hotel, but lucky for me, my friend from the world of comic books had missed his flight, so I didn’t have to trek back out for dinner.
I grabbed a sandwich on the way back to my room. I wasn't looking for anything good. I was tired, exhausted from my long day of walking around this one tiny part of this massive metropolis.
Maybe the city was just the city, and I didn't necessarily belong to it after all. Or it to me. I belong nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. This much you learn from spending too much time on the road.But tonight, I belonged asleep in Hotel New York.
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