An opening sequence of sweeping panoramas of metal-and-glass skyscrapers glinted in the sun, people in sharp suits carried briefcases as they vanished into revolving doors, the endless rush of traffic sped on sunlit freeways. Welcome to Mexico City. Every building had its own character and street its own identity. Peeling back the gloss, I was in a city that had a spin of its own—a wilder orbit inside the Earth’s calm blue-green whirl. Mexico City wasn’t open to the peace and tranquil that drifted around other places. Here, people raced on the roads like their lives depended on it. And cursed constantly in front of other vehicles hell bent on gaining distance first. But strangely, no one really honked their horn.
Leading us through the capital, Yusif assumed the role of a personal escort; charging himself with tour guiding and granting us our wishes for the day. His shoulders shuddered at the thought of us on our motorcycles (well, perhaps me on mine), and insisted on driving so as not to enmesh us in danger. An outright selfless guy that would sooner give up his precious free time than worry about how I might come a cropper astride Pearl amid the sheer mayhem that is the capital.
Seeing Yusif command the traffic around him, deftly avoiding calamity—the Greater City’s population of which was somewhere close to 23 million—he exuded the calm certainty of a general. It was a small but bold enough behaviour, the sense of his own entitlement in the dog-eat-dog world was unmistakable. It seemed to me that Yusif had the right to act with a free hand inside the seizing grip of the city and heed only the dictates of his conscience. My heart pounded, pumping wary blood through my charged limbs. A frightening wrongness possessed the world here and nothing seemed to ease it.
I tried to implement my general policy of pliable sweetness whizzing through the shocking brutality of the traffic, narrowly missing the myriad buses and underhand taxis that would pull out without warning. But occasionally I’d mouth “ARRRGH!” Out loud. The word slipped from my tongue before I’d even suspected its presence. My heart began beating as fast as a sparrow’s and worked itself up to a hummingbird’s rate, more buzz than beat.
I, myself envisioned how I tend to sometimes move on Pearl like a long apology and didn’t want to coerce her to ride as fast as a frightened mallard lost from home. I knew better than to meet with these cruel and ruthless roads on two wheels. I’d still had a gutful after Lima. It was my first experience of Mexico City’s pursuant traffic, which skittered and stampeded after us relentlessly like a crazy pet.
Breakfast in the city saw my heart rate resume to normality and us indulge a Romanian street-side café. It was run by an authentic Romanian chef who spoke not a word of Spanish. ‘Hilarious,’ I mused. For some unexplained reason, my face seemed to fit with him; he honoured me with free food. I cursed myself for asking him to reverse my cold coffee and heated muffin to their more conventional status. Especially when he popped over with a complimentary sausage sandwich, just for me.
Handling the aggregation of riotous activity on the roads in the capital of Mexico is not proceeded by rhyme, reason or logic. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and knee-jerk reaction. Some roads are broken concrete, tar-patched and bumpy. One we headed down in particular was nigh on Mexico City’s busiest street, mayhaps because it was one of the world’s longest—Avenida de los Insurgentes—where we encountered an extraordinary line of Mexican women jiggling their bodies and bare breasts this way and that.
Immediately taken by how present these women were; exposed but so focused in their plight for justice. They were dancing on the spot to a local beat in front of a cluster of around three hundred men, clad only in their boxer shorts. Why? Oh, they were collectively raising awareness in protest to a man who had stolen a sum of public money, and wanted him found and the funds returned. Top marks for originality people and good luck with that endeavour…
Yusif sneaked us all stealthily through Tepito, a barrio located in Colonia Morelos, part of the Cuauhtémoc borough—where a few hapless folks had been known to enter its hub—a bazaar—but haven’t always managed to leave. We were, however, reliably informed that it was a cracking marketplace to purchase just about any merchandise: from a bag of crispy deep-fried pig’s skin for your dog’s dinner or soup starter, a Brillo pad for your dirty sopa pan or just about most contraband that springs to mind, including an impressive supply of M15 rifles. Scary and scandalous.
Speaking of which, mid-afternoon we pulled up at a red light alongside a stationary military truck. In the back of which sat a young woman with a pretty face of mascaraed lashes and tinted lips—entrenched in the virtual arena of texting—tapping her phone in one hand and clutching a classic army rifle in the other. Utterly oblivious to anything spying on her in the real world, I casually pulled out my camera and took a quick picture.
“OH MY GOODNESS, LISA!” shouted Yusif. “What’s up?!” I urged, unknowingly. “If the driver or that woman had seen you, you would have been arrested on the spot. No questions asked. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the police or the military here in Mexico. They take it very seriously as an offence. You were lucky!” “Oh really?” as understanding dawned on me. Eeek…
Leaving the colour and chaos of the streets behind—intense and unleashed that they were—we entered the highly pedestrian, stringently regulated and underwater gloom of the United States of America Embassy. The sole reason we were in the capital; to apply for our US visa. The pair of us beforehand had feverishly run around like headless hens. Encumbering ourselves for man-hours by: beavering away in groundwork for the worst-case scenario of long separate interviews; collating paperwork of supporting documents; and unreservedly over-preparing to the point I was interrogating Jason in the game show Mr and Mrs style of questioning. Dreading that despite our 15 years together, he still might not know my middle name or mum’s maiden name.
What was the non-resultant outcome of our over-zealous preparation? A startlingly straightforward process. No bombshells. In a nutshell, we quite simply: completed an online form shortly after entering Mexico; booked two same-day appointments at the embassy three weeks in advance; and coughed up a whopping $320 US for the both of us. We then had our finger prints and faces scanned during the first appointment, and chatted fairly informally to perhaps the nicest visa clerk, for no longer than five minutes, during the second.
The young chap dealing with us was stationed behind double paneled (possibly bulletproof) glass, happened to be a Harley rider. And one who fortunately liked bikers on big trips. Perceptively sensing an air apprehension, even through two walls of thick glass, he put me at ease and reminded us that we were looking at the “customer service nation of the world”. I was a moment or two apprehending the fact that he actually wanted to help us in whatever reasonable way he could.
The clerk politely pointed out that as EU citizens, we could have applied online and paid a mere $14 US to have a 90-day visa approved within 24 hours through the ESTA programme. Although once our longer-term intentions to explore the States was established, he casually granted the visa of our choice—a B2 Tourist ten-year multiple entry one. On the spot. A truly ‘Genie in a bottle’ moment. I could not have been more surprised if he’d snapped a flock of live pigeons from under his iron-pressed cuffs. U.S of A here we come!
At the clerk’s window, I struggled not to whoop in delirious joy and it took everything I possessed not to punch the air in front of him. When his back momentarily turned, I settled for a subtle high-five with Jase instead. Both of us beamed at one another. Upon slipping the visa clerk our Two Wheeled Nomad card for final credibility and good measure through the concave counter, we may’ve even gained one more follower..! A silver lining on a rainbow bright day.
NB: If you’re a European Union citizen and only wish to visit the United States for up to three months, apply online for a US visa via the ESTA programme, it costs $14 US and all things being equal, should be approved within 24 hours.
The links outlined below are for a EU citizen wishing to visit the US on up to a ten-year multiple entry visa, a Tourist B2 visa:
Finger printing appointment:
Hamburgo # 213, PB Anexo, Col. Juárez, Del. Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, 06600
US Embassy address:
Paseo de la Reforma # 305, Col. Cuauhtémoc, Del. Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, 06500
Reciprocity information (Not applicable to those travelling on a British passport)