***Note if you’re the parent of any innocent young child skip this next part and maintain your oblivion to what that kid might get up to while traveling.***
Well why stop at Cantinas when your Mexican amigos want to take you out on Kixmas eve. We wake up from our 4am nap around 3pm and go to visit with Ivan’s friends, it’s decided that the five of us will be re-visiting another cantina that night. We drive across the city and I’m sent inside to see if the cantina is up to my liking, I’m getting the hang of this and actually the crowd is quite a bit older so I explain the grandparents inside are sort of keeping the vibe mellow and we find another place. This one is two levels, packed and bustling, I like it. So I take the only shitty table left, they’re devastated that I would sit there and explain that we need a table in the middle near the ledge, sure enough one is acquired for us. Tacos, tostadas and tortas are ordered along with some two litre beers and by 1am we’re right back in the swing of things. Ivan’s the only bilingual, I’m the only total English speaker and the other three are straight Spanish. After the second round of drinks everyone seems to be comfortably speaking Spanglish. By 2am we shift gears and land on the top floor of some five star flash restaurant complete with sheik art on the walls, oversized white light fixtures and service staff for your every need. Espressos and cappuccinos are ordered with various flavoured liquors and a large sheet of carved wood is brought to the table showcasing a sample of every dessert on the menu, we order one of each. Everyone is supporting a nice buzz of booze, espresso and sugar, it’s 4am and I think the night is winding down. Ahh silly me, I’m soon to find out it’s only winding up and it’s soon brought to my attention that I will no longer be given a choice of spots and we are “Going to Queens”, everyone laughs, I furrow my brow and we hit the road.
I can count the number of times I’ve felt uncomfortable in my whole life on my hands, that number is seven & they all involve Mexican strip clubs. Hell I’ve even showered naked in front of hundreds of people and aside from the water being a little cold that day it didn’t faze me as much as a Mexican strip club does. My first ever out of country trip I was seventeen and of my soon to be brother in laws friends thought “the boys” should go to a strip club the night before the wedding. I remember leaving the city, passing through heavily armed military checkpoints and forty-five minutes later landing at a “hotel and dance club”. It was dark; the music slow and depressing, a long stage with a single light sat atop a lonely pole, and a number of locals curiously watched us stroll in. At one point we’d won a draw that we had never entered and my ten year older brother advised me to slide my chair close to the table and keep my hands on my lap. The rest is likely as you imagined it.
Well some seven years later I find my self on a personal tour in small town Mexico with my innocent twenty-one year old girl friend and a lesbian couple. This guy in his fifties takes us out for a nice dinner then proceeds to take us to FIVE, count them FIVE different equally awkward, slow music, bad lighting, non interactive strip clubs where he knew the name of ALL of the girls that worked there. Why it took five before I asked to be taken back to our campsite is beyond me, maybe we all thought there might be some fun club or something in the end.
Well at about 5am I find myself on what is now Kixmas morning in a place packed wall to wall with the rest of Mexico City who felt the need to be with the Ho-Ho-Ho’s rather then Santa himself. I immediately lose my fun relaxed personality and look more like someone who’s just exited a haunted house. We’re escorted to a table near the stage, a nice bottle of 12 year old scotch arrives with a series of mixes and as I’m clearly the only non-national we naturally get a few glances from a hundred people or so. The girls on stage are cute, aside from the obvious majority having implants on both top and bottom with some surgeries looking like they had gone better then others. A number of tables have a dancer sitting at them and the girls are drinking. The men seem to be holding the majority of the conversation with there hands and the girls are letting there bodies do the talking…
After an hour or so it’s noticed my mood hasn’t changed much, so to relax me a little a girl is ordered up for me. A cute and curvaceous dancer resembling a more full bodied Pocahontas type sits down beside me and puts her hand on my lap then starts to chat me up. I forget any Spanish I had ever learned and after several minutes of her trying to make small talk, she instead asks if anyone speaking English is working? I secretly pray the answer is no, instead the prayers of Pocahontas are answered and a cute, fit and very well spoken girl shows up and starts to befriend me. The first three minutes I answer all questions with either “yes” or “no”, the whole table is looking at me like I hate Christmas. Stiff as a cross with my hands intertwined in my lap I finally ask her some questions. “So how does this work, we buy you a drink and you make a commission?” She says yes.
So I ask how else she makes money. “You get paid for the night or the song? Does everyone get paid the same?? Do people pay you to have sex with them???”
I pretty much sound like her father.
She explains one 250 peso ($16) drink she gets 150 pesos ($10) she gets paid 500 pesos per three songs ($33), thou that’s more then say the new girls or the ones who aren’t as good of dancers. There is no paying for sex as it’s not a brothel, however you can pay for private dances in a room with windows on three sides.
She drinks Moet and Chandon Champagne and explains I’m allowed to touch her just like the other guys are doing to the other girls, I explain I’m fine while I look straight ahead, stiff back hands in lap. This is how I always party.
By the second drink I’m asking more about her personal life and what else she does with her life. She’s also a graphic designer and to get her degree she had to have a top level of English, she also works out a lot and her dream is to be in the circus.
She explains her routine is next and when she started she used the alias Paula, thou she kept forgetting that name and missed her queue. They call Jackie backstage and she explains she’ll be back in a few songs.
A few minutes later a nicely costumed Jackie appears onstage and bangs out a series of well rehearsed dance routines with summersaults, flips, 90o pole climbs and spinning descents to the floor, in deed it did look straight out of the circus. There was a small support wall blocking my direct view for most of the show, thou I could see just fine in the reflection of a mirror on the wall. No one noticed my mirror view and as a result my table, our server, a bouncer and several others in the bar got my attention to excitedly explain I was missing the show. Jackie was by far the only real performer in the club.
Aside from my haunted house look, I did burst out into random giggles a few times to the thought of explaining to my Mum what I was doing Kixmas morning while the rest of the world was opening their first gift together. Hahaha, my Mexican amigos laughed too.
By 8am Queens was escorting it’s Kixmas crowd out into the festive early morning streets. It was fully noticed to the disappointment of all that I’m lame at Mexican strip clubs and by 9am I crawled into bed with reindeers dancing in my head.
Wait wait, don’t stop there, we haven’t had Kixmas day yet! By 1pm that same day I find my self in a restaurant that only serves this sort of delicious sheep soup. There is two Mariachi bands, about 15-20 in total and about the same amount of guests. Coronas are opened all around, the soup is served with tortillas and the usual side dishes. Soon after another round of Coronas hit the table and a drink called “The Rock”, I asked enough questions about the delicious rock drink that they eventually took me behind the bar and showed me how to make it, then the house bought us a round. We spent the next several hours between duelling Mariachis, Coronas and Rocks. The whole place including both mariachi bands sung me “We wish you a merry Christmas” in English, ohh my gawd what an afternoon!
By about 7pm Burgos wanted to go for coffee and desserts, so it was again left to me to decide between Starbucks or a Mexican franchise. I pointed out the support Mexico was currently receiving from the USA and we quickly pulled up to the Mexican joint across from the Starbucks. Again I asked what something was and I was getting both the desserts and the coffee drink I asked the ingredients of. I decided I’d ask fewer questions as everything I ever asked about would just appear in my hands rather then getting the explanation. At one point Burgos disappeared for a couple of minutes and came back with a little bag for Ivan and I, he explained that the enamel cups inside we for each of us, that it would be good for my camping trip and that it was the same material that Pancho Villa used to drink his warm tequila and cinnamon out of during the revolution. Well I don’t know if it was the Christmas sprit, complete lack of sleep, the extreme extent that everyone had been going to ensure I was having a fantastic time or the Corona buzz I had going, thou that blue cup put me over the edge. I said thank you and promptly walked out the door bursting into tears. Oh my god, I lost it and stood down a dark alley way sobbing alone for like five minutes while passer byes looked strangely at me very out of place. Eventually Ivan and Burgos walked out looking at me curiously standing some hundred feet from the door and showed me my phone then hopped in the car. I cleaned up my face got in the back of the lightless car and never did explain why I immediately left after I was given the gift.
Well the whole scene played itself over again an hour later while I gave his family some little Canadian gifts and Ivan & Burgos a bottle of tequila I’d picked up in the town of Tequila. Ivan then translated his parents and Burgos words that I was officially part of the family and anything I ever needed was mine and as a “brother” I was always welcome at “our home”. It was all a touch overwhelming…
Eventually we made it to family dinner about 11pm with a mix of Mexicans, Americans and me, apparently this was normal and we were basically on time for Kixmas festivities.
Hey liver glad you got the previous month off because we still need to get through boxing day!
Myself, Ivan and Burgos land back in the Centro. At the extremely luscious Balcón del Zócalo we took a table on the balcony overlooking the crowds of ice skaters and tobogganing (yes we’re in Mex. City) the same area I’d even seen it “snow” a few days earlier. Not the sort of restaurant one usually wears old board shorts and a camping jacket too, thou my taste in wine surprised everyone and they seemed to look past my other tastes. The first bottle was met with table side made guacamole & marinated grasshopper topping, followed by a course of a tostada look a like with spinach, avocado & speckled with ant eggs “Tlayuda de Aguacate con Escamoles”. The second bottle was met with the second course; Ivan savoured the roasted suckling pig, Burgos the beef tenderloin and I nestled up to the Salmon In Tamarindo Mole “Lomo de Salmon con Mole de Tamarindo”. By the time the series of desserts and coffee rolled around the thought that I had been camping beachside catching my dinner and bar-b-q-ing it over an open fire a couple weeks prior had been completely erased from my mind.
After dinner it was discovered the car park we had left the car in closed at 11pm and it was now 12:30am. The options we’re cab it home and back in the AM or continue the evening until it reopened at 8am. We headed to Plaza Garibaldi, the Mariachi Mecca of Mexico City. We had quickly gone from one of the nicest places in the city to one of the seediest. It’s not Burgos’ kina place, so I suggest one quick beer. By 6am we’d heard from most of the entertaining thou not necessarily talented mariachis some of whom a have actual string for guitar string, we’d danced with the only girls brave enough to venture into the area after dark and I’d befriended the local clown. As night was turning to light I thought what a great idea that a guy with a giant coffee urn showed up to sell coffees and the first people in line were the federales. It was pointed out to me that there was no steam off those coffee cups and that giant urn was filled with whiskey! 7am breakfast and by 8am we’d picked up the car and our group of bloodshot eyes and smiling faces headed home to greet Ivan’s parents for a happy post boxing day :)
To summarize the series of events I would say that everything you’d ever heard about Mexico City is likely true, it’s total chaos, completely crazy and could double as the city that never sleeps. I never once felt unsafe until I was told or it made clear that it was maybe unsafe. On the bus Ivan shoved his cell phone in his crotch, stuffed his money in his sock and pointed out that he was wearing nothing of value. At one point on the bus Ivan looked at me and said we’re in “Tepito”, do you know where that is? I said no, he said it’s one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city and we’re not getting out. As a result I the only photos I have are from others as I never once took my camera or phone anyplace. If you listen to anyone who’s lived there for long they all have a story of being robbed, seen people stabbed, or been part of some awful crime. One day Ivan’s friend, a single mother of two children was on the bus home and two kids about thirteen got on her bus shot two rounds through the roof and demanded all valuables from everyone on the bus. Going through the bras of the women, a popular hiding spot, to check for extra cash. They we’re ordered to put their heads down thou her two small children watched it all unfold. Maybe I was lucky, maybe in a city that size the odds aren’t necessarily stacked against you. It’s unfortunate that the police are seen useless to help and are considered as equally petty thieves, however some sympathize with there meager wages and one friend pointed out that in fact the police we’re the largest source of entrepreneurs in the country. They we’re given a uniform and a gun and told “your self employed earn whatever you can”. Personally everyone I met went absolutely out of their way to ensure I was safe, had a great time and was always welcome at their home. I never had a police issue and the police actually took some photos for us, as did some of the military. Overall if you know anyone in Mexico City and are invited, Mi Casa Su Casa couldn’t be truer. It’s fascinating, delicious and hospitable. Go I dare you…
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