I come from Slovenia, which is a lovely but tiny European country with a population of only two million. So when I was choosing where to do my summer internship this year, I decided to try something a bit different and went to one of the biggest cities in the world – Mexico City.
I flew to Mexico in early July. As the plane was landing very early in the morning, it was still dark and all I could see was a sea of lights only stopping at the horizon. Upon entering the arrivals area, the first thing I saw was a mariachi band (but unfortunately they were there waiting for some other girl).
My host family picked me up and the drive to their home took over an hour; I started to realise that it was indeed a pretty big city. When we arrived, my Mexican mother greeted me with ‘mi casa es tu casa‘. Then she taught me how to make quesadillas and guacamole (they have remained a part of my daily diet ever since).
In the afternoon, my new brother and sister rounded up all their friends and then showed me around the neighbourhood. Our house was on a hill in the far south of the city that resembled a village with its narrow roads. House walls were painted in shades of pink, orange and blue and decorated with small altars and multi-coloured garlands and there were tiny stores and people selling fruit on every corner. The south and also every other part of the city I visited was very lively and colourful. Often there were small carnivals on the streets and elderly couples dancing in the parks.
Nearly every Mexican I met there could sing, play at least one instrument and dance to passionate Latino rhythms. At times I felt a bit inadequate with my lack of skill in, well, everything.
The warm and welcoming people I met there were one of the reasons I loved Mexico so much. My host family never let me spend time in my room by myself; they would always drag me out and show me family pictures, tell me about their holidays and teach me how to cook their delicious dishes. At some point my Mexican mother also made me try on her wedding dress.
I didn’t get the chance to sleep on my first few nights in Mexico, because the students from the university where I was working threw some fiestas. In my experience, Mexicans take parties seriously; at some point they literally showered me with tequila and telling them to go easy on me because it was my first day there definitely did not help.
The first weekend was soon over and it was time for me to start my internship – that meant I needed to somehow transport myself from the house to the university, which was pretty far away. I was advised not to get lost in the largest city on the planet, so I spent a considerable amount of time studying the map of public transport, only to realise that there was none in the part where I was staying. I also didn’t speak any Spanish, which turned out to be a slight problem once I managed to find a taxi. But I soon learned to find my way around.
I should mention that I spent several hours every day by myself in taxis, buses, metro or sometimes just wandering around the city markets and parks, and I never felt like I was in any sort of danger (apart from the brief moment when I tripped and almost fell into a nopal, a prickly pear tree). The other students who were doing their internships with me felt the same way about Mexico City.
Mexicans eat (and drink) pretty much everything with at least one of the following ingredients: lime, salt and chilly. That includes candy. Spicy lollipops and pica fresas, gummy strawberries covered in chilly were new to me, but I absolutely loved them. Everyone knows tequila goes well with lime and salt, but one can also never go wrong with adding those to a glass of beer.
And have you ever been told not to try the street food in Mexico because you will get food poisoning? Well, you can just forget about that piece of advice. I practically lived of street food for the whole six weeks I spent in Mexico, and it was just amazing. I got completely addicted to tacos and tortas. Mexican tacos are nothing like the ones you can be served in Europe; they are composed of small corn tortillas, with only a choice of meat, spicy salsa and (of course) some lime juice. Tortas could be best described as sandwiches (but they are so much more).
I also experienced some telenovela-style moments during my time there. One of my friends from university, Javier, invited me to his house to try his abuelita’s (grandma’s) cooking. She made us some enchiladas muy ricas and we had a lovely chat (about Slovenia not being the capital of Slovakia and what is my favourite colour, which was pretty much all my Spanish could cover at that point); then she asked me whether I had a fiancé and when I replied with a negative answer, she decided that surely now I should marry her grandson, and the rest of the family joined in on that idea. Then they made Javier take me to the rooftop and recite Shakespeare to me (in Spanish).
When the time came for me to go back home, I sat on the plane hugging my huge souvenir sombrero and sadly thinking about my future prospects of my own cooking, maths assignments and lack of weekends in Acapulco. I decided I would certainly return to Mexico someday soon. I had an awesome time – muchísimas gracias to my friends across the ocean!