Anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of a red-eye flight knows the wild emotional ride that comes along with it. You start with anticipation of a journey to a new adventure, shortly followed by the bleak mundanity of the shiny floored duty-free cattle run. Further dampening to the spirit comes with the inevitable failed bag scan and bashful apology for leaving a half-drunk, £4 bottle of airport Evian at the bottom of your backpack. Airports aren’t the best, talking about them is even duller, so I’ll stop.
I had been able to say goodbye to half the people I wanted to and twice as many as deserved it as I climbed aboard part one of two across the Atlantic. Honestly, the only thing that would ever make me think twice about leaving is the people I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with. Leaving them behind, even if it isn’t forever, is like losing a limb.
The flight into Madrid wasn’t a long one in relativity to the rest of the journey but I think it took more out of me emotionally than the whole rest of the voyage. Having to get off, and do the whole rigamarole of security again was a drag and I was already feeling anxty. A vent to my best friend and I was more or less back on track. The frustrated shortness was still there though, it had been lingering like a black cloud for a few weeks by that point. It was most likely just anticipation and impatience, the kind even a few drinks can’t shift.
Even whilst boarding AM022 to Mexico City, my mind was still telling me that someone in security had found drugs in my bag, drugs I had specifically ensured were not there literally hours earlier, and radioed ahead to Mexico City to detain and imprison me. No clearing a guilty conscience, I guess.
The flight was as uneventful as you would hope it to be, an aisle seat was a nice touch, especially for my diabetic levels of liquid intake and piss output. I’m not diabetic, I just hate the taste of my own mouth. We were brought two meals inflight; I don’t know if you’ve heard the one about aeroplane food, but it rings true. My culinary journey started less with a bang and more of a whisper. Cooking a meat, tomato, and veg dinner at 38,000 feet is actually phenomenal though when you think about it, even if it does taste like Chernobyl version of a Dolmio Day™.
It was a funny-timed flight. Despite being over twelve hours long it only took five by the clock, we must have been chasing the earth or something, I don’t know, I’m a writer, not a space wizard. I managed a bit of shut-eye after watching dirty harry on the little TV. I think I got around four hours in, enough for me to feel groggy, a bit sore, and not at all refreshed. Either way, we were coming into land and the reality of it all started to settle in.
Before I left, I had been a bit displaced for a few months already. Quitting my job and being given my section 21 on my flat had been months ago, and since then I had been relying on the kindness of some incredibly generous friends. I hadn’t had a bed I could call my own for some time, and for the last month, I hadn’t even been in my own city. The one constant throughout had been both the English language, and friends. Very good ones. I find that as long as I have these around me, being without a settled home has almost no effect on my mental health, I’m quite happy to live anywhere.
Mexico City was missing the two things I had come to realize were my anchor points and as I stepped into the airport this really hit home. Thankfully, due to the wonders of the modern age, I was able to pester everyone in my phonebook to get at least one crumb of the social life I lean so heavily on. It carried me through the remarkably long queue to immigration.
Immigration for me was a very minor, but final concern. I was aware that the length of the visa was entirely down to the discretion of the staff I randomly end up with. I wanted the full 180 days, it could be as little as 30, the length of my already paid-for stay in CDMX. If it was shorter, I would have to make my way to an embassy and apply for an extension. Not the worst thing in the world, but a hassle nonetheless.
I hadn’t really had to worry. Immigration, although I’m sure very thorough, was staffed by some of the most friendly and relaxed people I’ve ever seen in that kind of faux power. I think I’m used to the plastic policemen of England waving around their single GCSE getting their dicks hard arresting underage scratch card players. The one I got didn’t even take his airpods™ out as he asked how long I fancied stopping over. I shrugged and told him six months and he slapped the full 180 days on there. I obviously looked like I have the money to last.
A brief call with my brother, who had intended to come and wave me off from the airport but had been blocked by a Chelsea tractor that had been submerged in a flood (the irony), had put the shits up me before I left the UK. He had mentioned the fact that every flight with a stopover he had ever taken had lost his luggage. Now, I did have the essentials in my hand luggage: a laptop to earn P, a toothbrush to protect my remaining enamel, and chargers for my gadgets. But the rest of everything I owned was in that bag.
Nonetheless, James’ doom-mongering was amiss, not only was my bag already there, someone had unloaded it and popped a really angry post-flight cat on top of it. It was a good day for all, except the cat. I think James’ problem stems from him having suitcases full of designer, and mine is full of crusty pants.
I had landed in the early hours of new years day. The room I was going to be staying in wasn’t supposed to be ready until one pm. Usually, I would find a café, bar, or something along those lines to while away the hours, but it was new years day, an international day of not opening before midday. I didn’t fancy sitting on the streets with a bag full of goodies for 8 hours, so I spent them inside the airport instead. More calls, more reading, and more trying to keep my eyes open actually burnt the time away quicker than I thought, before long I decided that it was light enough and late enough to risk popping to my accommodation. I dropped my host a message, hoped he would read it, and jumped in an uber.
It was about half eight in the morning as I made my way to San Rafael. My driver was a Californian and welcomed me to the city with the warmness I desperately needed. I always get a lovely rush of inspiration and euphoria when I’ve been awake early, and this morning was no different. The slowly waking city flying past the windows was fresh, new to me, and full of potential. I knew I needed to relish this feeling, and remember it, I knew it wouldn’t last the day.
Arriving at the Airbnb showed no response from the host, but no matter, I had free Wi-Fi, as most of CDMX seems to, and I could wait in the cool and refreshing morning. The streets were clean, there was only the sound of birdsong filling the air, and it felt like the whole city was mine. Colorful, colonial buildings lined the streets, murals adorning their fronts. I was happy to wait and just feel if the earth moved differently here.
Oscar Daniel, the owner of the place, contacted me shortly after. Someone was still in the room but he would let me in to drop stuff. It turned out he didn’t live there and sublet the other room. That was fine by me. He arrived within fifteen minutes with his partner and let me leave my luggage. They kindly invited me back to theirs for a sit-down and a coffee, but I was too tired and compressed to fathom trying to be social, especially with a language barrier, albeit a small one with their impressive grasp of English. I opted to stretch my legs, get a coffee, and figure out my new neighborhood.
After so long in transit it was nice to work out the kinks. My swollen altitude feet complained about but being bag-free was a great feeling. I needed a coffee, a piss, and something to eat, not in that order. I walked in a haze through the streets that seemed home to nothing but birds. The shops were closed and the only people out were the occasional dog walker. I drifted about for two hours before I finally found a place to empty my bladder and get a coffee.
For $40 I got a bucket of beautiful, steaming, bean juice and it hit exactly where I needed it to. I sat under the vine-wrapped trellises out the front of the converted house that made up the café and finally had a chance to unwind. I watched the various customers come and go, enjoyed my book a little more, and basked in the sun which had just broken above the houses across the street. I had been very used to the biting cold of Edinburgh and the brisk winds of Margate for the past month, so to sit in a t-shirt and feel the morning sun warm me was bliss.
I waited about half an hour before I was to be let in to get up and grab some food. I was sure a street vendor or two would be around and there was a Neto just around the corner. I needed to grab body wash and some fridge booze. I was sweating out the many many scotch pies I had eaten in Scotland and I smelled like an onion farmer. It was only a block or so away.
As I rounded the corner, I was greeted by a roadside barbacoa. It was exactly what I wanted. I could already taste the juicy meats wrapped in soft corn tortillas, covered in onions, chili, and salsa. I hadn’t eaten for about eight hours and I was ravenous. As I approached, someone called my name, it was Oscar, my room was ready, he would let me in now. Rip in peace barbacoa, that would be the last time I saw you open today. I’ll get you another time.
The room was perfect. I unpacked my bag fully for the first time since I had packed it months ago and took time to just defrag. The trip had been long, months if I really thought about it. But here I was, in Mexico City, alone but with enough of a plan to be more than just freefall. I had a place to sleep, an income to eat with, and maybe even the social skills to meet some people. The world was my Al Pastor elephant leg and it was time to get shaving.
I showered, undressed, and got into bed, not in that order. I put on an audiobook to silence my whirring brain and finally got the chance to get some horizontal Z’s. But, as the Scottish literary hero Burns said, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley.