editor’s note: This post is by Tina Rosa, a veteran travel writer and adventurer who now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Gto. She is the co-author of “22 Days in Mexico” and “The Shopper’s Guide to Mexico.” She blogs at Open Salon.
Since my beloved Hotel Isabel Catolica upped its prices, I decided to give another abode a try. I like the historic district so cruised the net and settled upon Hotel El Salvador on Republica del Salvador, a promising location closer to the marvelous baroque building of the Bellas Artes that I like to visit on occasion, even just for a walk-by. As usual I requested a quiet room, always a concept fraught with a variety of interpretations here in Mexico.
The first flag is at the airport, where my taxi driver tells me there is no traffic allowed on that street, due to the metro or the bus traffic—-I can’t discern which. I will have to walk from the trunk road Lazaro Cardenas to my hotel, trundling my impressive mound of luggage. But when we arrive in the vicinity, my cabbie hops out, consults one of the numerous cops that lurk on every corner here in the capital, jumps back in and whisks me around the block, saying he’s gotten permission. Mexicans are almost always willing to push the envelope.
The Hotel El Salvador looks promising, with a lot of glass frontage and marble stairs. The desk clerk had a face to match, a facade of brittle immobility. When I complain that the fee for one night she names is several dollars more that the on-line price, she explains there are taxes. Unmoved by my protest that the quoted price was supposed to include all fees, she stare down her nose over her glasses, shoving the registration form toward me. “Must think she works at the Ritz,” I grumble to myself as I cram myself and baggage into the miniscule elevator.
My “quiet” room looks out over one of the arguably loudest blocks in Mexico City. The stores on this section of Republica del Salvador specialize in electronics, blaring their wares at competitive volume. But the windows have to be open to dissipate the sickly sweet odor of the room, reminiscent of the talcom powder on the bosom of an aging opera soprano—obviously a cover-up spray for other scents deemed even more objectionable.
Grabbing my camera, I flee to the streets. In the glaming of twilight, I descend the stairs of my hotel into Seisure City, where the twirling red, white and blue lights of cop cars, blinking Christmas lights and glaring strobe lights rhythmically accompanying blaring sounds contend to accomplish instant brain paralysis. Shading my eyes, I sprint around the corner onto Bolivar, which proves to be a block or two dedicated to the sale of instruments—brass, string, woodwind and keyboards. I price a couple of small attractive accordions, both out of my current range. A few doors further on a classical quartet plays at a streetside Brazilian coffee outlet.
Rounding another corner I come upon children dressed in red singing karaoke Christmas songs on behalf of Salvation Army. For unknown reasons, a group of robot people and super heroes gesture at passersby on the stairs of a building directly across from a sedate and elderly church, reminding me again that incongruity is one of Mexico’s greatest charms.
The streets are teeming, thronging—a mass of seething humanity, not to press a point. Shoulder to shoulder with impatient pedestrians, we face across the buzzing thorough-fare of Lazaro Cardenas a similar mass eager to cross to our side. When the lights change our opposing teams race to converge and miraculously weave through the on-coming assault to arrive successfully at the further curb.
Threading my way around cars stalled in traffic, I attain the edges of the Alameda Park. In the distance I glimpse what looks like a giant tarantula or spider, towering up to 3/4 of the height of the staid and imposing Bellas Artes. Closing in, I wander through its legs, glimpsing what looks like a sack of eggs hanging from its belly. A straggling band of youths marches through the legs of the sculpture, bearing a sign protesting the coming rise in metro prices. Couples and families line the low walls of the gardens, snacking, embracing, comforting crying babies.
On my way home I stop for a couple of savory tortas de pierna, whose price of 30 pesos ($2.40) compares favorably with my last meal of burger and milk shake at Ruby’s Grill in the Houston airport for an outrageous $16. Even better, I spot El Moro Choclateria, specialing in churros and hot chocolate, open 24 hours, and tag it for my early morning rising.
I retire to my room, noting the wonderful silence of the metal-grilled stores which have closed up shop for the night. I forgive the El Salvador its failings…..after all, it’s all about location, really!