Sin Mapa

If you go to Mexico City, be sure your GPS is working. I learned this last week, when I went to Mexico City for the first time, to meet an old friend flying in from France and to spend a couple of days there before returning together by bus to my home in San Miguel de Allende.

My French friend, Marie-Laure, a retired high school teacher in Paris, and I have been friends now for fifty-one years, and we’ve often travelled internationally together. Now well into our seventies, we are, you might say, old-school travelers: We like maps. That is, the paper kind, the kind that can be folded up and tucked into a backpack, then spread out onto a table to see where you’re going — from YOU ARE HERE to WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. Oh, and with a legible typeface.

But we learned last week that no such thing exists for Mexico City. Mexico City is just too, too vast. My beautiful map of San Miguel, which lives in the backpack I carry everywhere, is 26 x 31 inches (66 x 78 cm). A readable map of Mexico City would likely be many times larger than that, and it would, when unfolded, fill up a room. (In terms of population, Mexico City is the eighth largest city in the world; New York is only number eleven.)

My 26 x 31″ map of SMA. A map of Mexico City would be exponentially larger.

Of course there is GPS now. But Marie-Laure’s iPhone had fallen and broken irreparably just before her flight, and my phone’s Maps feature wasn’t helpful either. So we found we had to rely on our taxi drivers to guide and teach us, and these experiences were mixed.

One, a driver called by our hotel, informed us when we got in his cab at 10:30 in the morning and promptly got stuck in four-lane, bumper-to-bumper inner-city traffic (due to a subway breakdown, a manifestación [demonstration] up ahead, and a bus convoy tie-up on our right) that we’d be wise to head straight to the Frida Museum if we wanted to get there by our one o’clock appointment. He was right. It took that long to get there. I’ve never in my life seen such traffic.

Two other, subsequent, taxi drivers, hailed on the street, took advantage and charged us many times more than the fares should have been. But we learned this too late.

Marie-Laure’s photo of me in front of Frida’s house
Marie-Laure in Frida’s garden. (Photos weren’t allowed inside the house.)

On the plus side: The Frida Kahlo Museum – her former home in the lovely Coyoacán district — was well worth the hassle and traffic. And the lunch we had at the Los Danzantes restaurant within about six blocks of Frida’s house was superb.

The following morning, overcast and chilly, we went for a walk near our hotel – sin mapa (without a map) — in search of the famous wide boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, which we ultimately found. On the way we discovered this lovely plaza:

Plaza Rio de Janeiro

Then it was on (via reliable taxi) to Mexico’s deservedly world-famous National Anthropology Museum, where we spent the rest of the day before returning by bus to SMA. This museum is a masterpiece. I could have spent a week there. Maybe, maybe, maybe one day I’ll return.

One of the dazzling halls in the anthropology museum
And one of its countless breathtaking statues — this one the goddess of corn, from Veracruz

The takeaways for me from this brief trip were two-fold. One: crowded, messy Mexico City, like life itself, is a mixed bag of bad and good; but the good outweighs the bad. And two: as with life, there are no big, clear, tangible, immutable, reliable maps to get us from HERE to THERE. We have no choice but to travel our respective bumpy roads, hit and miss, sin mapa, by faith and hope.

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  • One must buy tickets and reserve in advance to see Frida’s house/museum. For more information, go to: .
  • The Museo Nacional de Antropología (anthropology museum) is also a must-see. Allow many hours there, broken up by lunch at their fine restaurant, Sala Gastronómica.  For more, visit: .
  • Both museums are closed on Mondays.
  • Beware of unscrupulous taxi drivers. Use taxis either called by your hotel or from booths marked “Taxi Seguro” (like this one pictured), which are prepaid.
The Taxi Seguro booth at the north bus station
  • Marie-Laure and I stayed at a safe, clean, modest hotel in the Roma district, the Stanza Hotel on Ave. Alvaro Obregon; .
  • We traveled to/from SMA/Mx City by ETN bus, a luxurious yet affordable bus line; :
The double-decker ETN bus from SMA to Mexico City’s north bus station