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It was a Friday in the second week of November when we left Oaxaca with our wheels pointed toward Mexico City.

We overnighted in Tehuacan again, but not in the same hotel as before. It was an older building on the outskirts of town that featured an interesting Arabic design theme in its archways and tilework. Once checked in and settled, we walked to a Home Depot that happened to be down the street from us to pick up some butane for the soldering torch we picked up in Oaxaca, then went out for pizza.

Standing in an archway at the hotel

We kept seeing elephants everywhere we went

The next morning we helped ourselves to the hotel’s mediocre breakfast buffet (discovering only later, after being chased down by a staff member, that it wasn’t included in the room rate) for convenience sake, then hit the road. Retracing our route north through Puebla, we then turned off to head west into the capital city.

While in Oaxaca we had decided to try Airbnb again and booked a six-night stay in the neighborhood of Xochimilco, about 30 km (18 miles) south of the city center. The thinking was that it would be a lot quieter than staying downtown and we would just have to drive through the city with the bikes once, then take Uber and public transit to get around the rest of the time. It was our typical plan when we got into cities, so we figured it was fine to apply it to a metropolis behemoth of over 20 million.

Unfortunately there were no good approaches to the city from the south, so we had to come in from the east. After what seemed like forever sitting in the snaking, chaotic traffic lines of Mexico City, we finally made it to our Airbnb. It was a three-house complex surrounded by thick concrete walls about 14-ft high, topped with razor wire. A strange little island in the middle of a working-class neighborhood.

The entrance gate to our Airbnb compound

Waiting for the Uber driver

Elephant coasters on the table

Luckily we had been traveling in Mexico long enough to not be put off by less-than-stellar surroundings. As for our lodgings, we were super excited to have an entire house to ourselves! Secure parking for the bikes, a spacious kitchen stocked with plenty of cookware, a big king-size bed and laundry facilities. It was beautifully decorated and featured a little garden out back.

After we got out of our riding gear and moved our stuff off the bikes into the house, we took an Uber to the nearest grocery store a few miles away to pick up some ingredients to make fettuccine alfredo (one of Ehren’s favorites). Got back to the house, cooked up some deliciousness, cleaned up and got settled in for the night. Not even an hour later Ehren informs me it’s going to be a long night and promptly starts hugging the toilet: food poisoning had risen its ugly head.

We tried to think about what could have caused it: the pizza we had the previous night? The hotel breakfast that morning? The fettuccine we just ate? How did he get sick and not me? Eventually we narrowed it down to the eggs at breakfast because I didn’t have any (cuz they looked sketch) while he had taken a portion. Otherwise we had both eaten the exact same foods.

That was Saturday night when it hit him, and he was out of commission for all of Sunday and half of Monday too. On Sunday I took a solo Uber ride back to the grocery store to pick up some ginger ale, crackers and ramen for my ailing partner. Otherwise I worked on the computer and kept putting on movies for Ehren, who was trying to grab a little bit of shuteye in between bathroom visits.

On Monday afternoon Ehren decided he was feeling okay enough to take the metro into the Zócalo to walk around for a bit. We didn’t stay out too long cuz Ehren’s back was killing him after about 30 minutes of walking (he had pulled a muscle during one particularly violent retching session), but managed to take a few photos of the square and historic buildings that surround it. The metro back out to Xochimilco was as uneventful as the trip into town, and we got back to our Airbnb in the early evening.

He made it to the Zócalo!

Setting up for a concert in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral

Books laid out in a spiral around the central flag pole

Palacio Nacional

These statues signify the founding of the ancient Aztec city Tenochtitlán, (what is now the heart of downtown Mexico City) on the exact spot where the Aztecs encountered a golden eagle devouring a snake atop a cactus (which they considered a good omen)

Britt and the Zócalo

With three nights down, we only had three more to go before we hit the road again so we were eager to get out and see something Tuesday. We took the metro back into the city, this time to the station nearest the National Museum of Anthropology, where we spent the majority of the day exploring exhaustive exhibits about the varied peoples of Mexico. It was a beautiful museum complex, combining immersive outdoor displays with themed indoor rooms.

As wonderful of an experience it was, we have no pictures to show because of what happened next.

After we finished at the museum, we headed back to the metro station just as the sun was setting. Waiting on the platform, it soon became obvious it was peak travel time. People were cramming themselves onto the trains as hard as they could; we waited for three trains before figuring out we just had to push our way on board. With each subsequent stop more and more people shoved their way in, just when we thought there couldn’t possibly be any extra space to move. Just standing there you had no less than 15 people pressed up against you so hard it was getting difficult to breathe.

Eventually it started to thin out, and a seat opened up so I directed Ehren to sit down cuz his back was hurting him again. As he was making his way to sit down, he noticed the cargo pocket on his pant leg was half unzipped—his phone was gone. My stomach sank. We had become reliant on it for getting from the metro station to our Airbnb (a distance of around 2.5 miles through a maze of streets) via Uber because it was too difficult to articulate the location to a taxi driver.

Ehren said I should ask the people who were standing around us if they knew who took it or if someone still had it. I started talking to a few guys on the bench who were hesitant to talk to me at first (though I was speaking to them in Spanish), then they slowly started to give me some details (“Oh, it was that chica who was sitting there, very malo”). People are very non-confrontational in Mexico, we’ve found. One of them offered his phone so we could call ours, which was kind but whoever had taken it had already shut if off. I thanked him, then as the train car really started clearing out, I started getting a little more aggressive in my questioning (mostly because there were a few guys who continued to ignore me). But it all seemed for naught as none of it was going to get our phone back.

Just when it was all starting to appear so very bleak for our situation, a college student approached us from the front of the train, having obviously overheard this gringa starting to cuss loudly in Spanish at nobody in particular. He spoke English fairly well and we were able to explain our problem to him. Unfortunately he didn’t have credit on his Uber account, so he couldn’t help us that way, but he offered to have us tag along with him to his boss’ house (where he was going anyway to pick up his backpack) to use the computer so we could call an Uber to get us home.

We decided to trust him and followed him off the train at the next stop and onto a bus, where we continued to chat to get to know each other. He was super into sports, and when we mentioned we liked hockey he told us he played hockey here in Mexico City. His name is Mario and he is 19. He works for a guy making dental molds. And he said he wanted to help us because he’d always hoped that someone would be as willing to help him as a traveler in another country. Paying it forward.

Arriving at his boss’ house, we were greeted with a bunch of puppies! His boss’ dog had just had them a few weeks previous and they were roaming the first floor of the building. We went upstairs and met the boss man. He was a super chill guy who taught at a nearby university. They both asked if we minded that they smoked pot, which we didn’t cuz we had bigger things to worry about, then booted up the computer for us. After a few failed attempts, we realized we couldn’t log into any of our accounts due to the two-factor authorization that everyone enforces these days, which requires the use of both an email address and a phone number (to receive texted codes).

While we continued fretting about how we would get back to the Airbnb (not to mention stressing out about all our information that was easily accessible on the unsecured phone), Mario pulled up this David Hasselhoff video and excitedly asked if we had seen it before. There we were, trembling under the burden of the day’s unfortunate turn, heads about to split open from all the pressure… and we’re watching the Hoff sing, fight street toughs and ride dinosaurs.

It was ridiculous. We couldn’t help bursting into laughter, but it wasn’t entirely because of the video.

Not long after, Mario’s boss called a friend who was an Uber driver and arranged for him to drive us home. Before we left they gave us a little plastic tooth keychain (“So you can remember us!”), which still rides with us today.

Finally getting back to the Airbnb, we jumped into action changing every password we could think of; we were terrible smartphone owners and didn’t even have a lock screen on the thing. We had been so stressed out the entire time because nearly four hours had elapsed between when the phone was taken and when we were finally able to secure our accounts.

Fortunately we had Google Maps Timeline activated on the phone, and from that we were able to determine that they had turned on the phone for a short time after they took it into their possession (we could see their tracks exiting a metro station in one of the downtown neighborhoods and go across a park), after which it disconnected and never resurfaced. This means they only turned it on to wipe the memory so they could sell it quickly.

Still, it took that night and most of Wednesday and Thursday to deal with the fallout of having no phone. For starters, we couldn’t get our Uber account to work without a phone, even though we had the desktop app on our computer. After gigantic email chains back-and-forth with the company bringing us no closer to conclusion than when we started, we had to give up on the easy method of getting around.

This meant we’d have to ride our bikes (we opted to ride two-up to simplify things) across town to the Telcel store where we could get a new phone. Unfortunately the most direct route, an elevated expressway, was forbidden to motorcycles—meaning we had to snake around in crowded city streets for hours. And the store was only 16 miles away! It took all of Thursday to deal with getting a new phone: three hours to get there, two hours to actually buy the phone, and three hours to get back home.

The Telcel store we went to was located in a four-story mall with an ice rink on the ground floor

Unfortunately Thursday night was our last night, though we can’t say we were sad to be leaving town the next morning. It’s not the city’s fault for our misfortunes, as anything that happened to us could have happened in any city in the world (including the U.S.). We would like to visit Mexico City again one day as it is truly worth its own trip, but next time we’ll leave the wheels at home.

—Brittany and Ehren



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