Oaxaca de Juarez wanes slowly as you leave overland. Centro is the core and the ideal. It’s not always the reality of the city, but it encapsulates the essence of it. As you exit the center of the city, the bright colonial houses fade into buildings that cosmetically tend to be more functional than fancy.
Spaces grow wider as you approach the countryside. On the road to Mexico City, beyond Oaxaca city’s reach are crop-covered rolling hills, brilliantly green against the gray wet summer sky that feeds them.
At some point, we reach a mythical looking place where long columns of cacti rise from the mountains. Interspersed with desert brush plants, they jut out of the steep slopes from the bases of the mountains to the summits. I love these kind of travel moments when unplanned, you encounter something so uniquely beautiful.
We arrive in Mexico City in the thick of the rush hour traffic. After procuring an authorized taxi ride, there is more traffic, and my driver gets lost on the tricky one way streets that lead to my destination.
I’ve had great experiences staying in hostels in Mexico City’s Centro and Coyoacan neighborhoods, but want to try out a different area this time. I’ve found a hostel in Colonia Roma and I’ve made a reservation through their website.
As a backpacker with flashpacker tendencies, something I enjoy about Mexico are the excellent hostels for a great value. Unfortunately, I quickly find out that for about the same price as the good places, Hostel 333 does not fit into that category. When I arrive, they tell me the bed in the room I’d reserved and received confirmation for is not available.
All they have available for the first night is a creaky top bunk in a too-small six bed dorm room. They’ve had the audacity to make it a seven person room by letting someone sleep on a foldable mattress on the floor which takes up any bit of extra space in the room and partially blocks the doorway. It’s so packed that I’m not sure how someone could clean it, even if they wanted to. The room is full of people who’ve been here for awhile and have clearly become accustomed to living in their own filth of used dishes and dirty underwear. Essentially, it’s the kind of hostel that gives hosteling a bad name. I thought I’d learned how to avoid places like this, but I guess I can’t win ’em all.
Fortunately, I’ve got no time to wallow in irritation and I have a great way to temporarily get out of the room. I have plans and I’m late. I’m meeting a friend I met in Oaxaca in the summer of 2010 whose affinity for Mexico has also brought her back to the country. This time, she is with a class from her school in Oregon, a small group of awesome women who are in the midst of studying Mexican muralism and creating their own mural at a Mexico City university.
I go just a couple blocks over to meet them at the Pulqueria Insurgentes. Since I’m at a pulqueria, I must try pulque, yet another fermented beverage derived from agave. I go for the passion fruit flavor and it’s brought to me in a metal mug. At the first sip, I’m put off by the unexpectedly slimy texture. Once I’m past that, the drink has a certain wholesomey rustic charm to it. And with a plate of tasty tacos in front of me and good company around me, all is well in Mexico City. Terrible hostel rooms are temporary, but Mexico City’s magic is boundless.