Navigating the Mexico City Metro

IMG_8112.jpgGetting around via public transportation is my personal choice when traveling. Mexico City’s Metro was a bit intimidating for me to handle alone, so I planned to use Uber for the duration of my visit instead. That plan changed on my first night in CDMX, when I agreed to tag along to a Lucha Libre match with a couple of new friends.

“Do you mind if we take the subway?” Sarah asked as we walked outside of my loft. I didn’t mind at all, since I could rely on her to show me the ropes. We began our short trek to the station closest to us, Zapata, and chatted about #45 along the way.

My Airbnb host had left me with a rechargeable metro card with enough for one fare. The cost to ride the metro in CDMX is 5 pesos (about $0.25 USD), the cheapest metro fare I’ve ever paid. Additionally, there is no charge to transfer to a new line. I placed my card to the reader and it let me know my new available balance of zero pesos. Once past the entrance, we followed the signs for Line 3’s northbound train. We only waited a few minutes before it arrived. When it began approaching, I was surprised by the crowded cars. It was about eight o’clock on a Friday evening, and locals were packed inside like sardines. We quickly stepped inside to head to our destination.

Of course no seats were available, so we stood shoulder to shoulder, surrounded mostly by men. The first few cars of the subway were designated for women and children only, but we didn’t use it since we had a guy with us. I later sat in these for a few of the rides throughout my visit. There was a police officer monitoring the area to ensure that no men go inside. On times when I rode in a regular car, I had no problems with aggressive men.

PictureThe packed car was old and basic. There wasn’t much air circulation, so the windows were open. The stuffiness was worse with the added body heat from the large number of people inside. Fortunately, it didn’t smell. The subway didn’t announce stops, and there wasn’t a screen showing which stop was approaching. One had to figure it out on his own, but I barely paid attention since Sarah knew where she was taking us. Instead, I focused on holding on to the bars and not falling down whenever the subway made a swift turn or an abrupt brake.

Every once in a while, I glanced around to check my surroundings. Sarah mentioned there would be stares since black people don’t frequent Mexico City, but I only noticed a couple of glances. People seemed to be more concerned with their own lives than what the black American was doing on a subway with two French people.

Six stops later, we were ready to exit. We weren’t required to scan our metro card to exit – only upon first entrance. There are no kiosks to recharge the metro card. I had to stop at the ticket booth on the way back. I handed the booth operator my card with twenty pesos. She quickly added the amount to the card, and handed the card back to me. That was it.

On later rides throughout my visit, I noticed that the stations didn’t seem to be handicap accessible. There are several instances where stairs appeared to be the only option with no visible escalator or elevator nearby. A woman with an injured leg was carried down to the station by two men. I also noticed some cars that were newer than the one I took for the first time. Some were very clean with air conditioning, and made announcements for each stops along with visual screens identifying the next stop.

I still used Uber to get around late at night, and to get to places subway couldn’t go. Those fares were in the range of $2 – 3 USD per trip, and the drivers seemed to be a bit more professional than in the States. Still, I was mostly impressed with the Metro.

I’m so glad I could rely on Sarah for my first experience. I don’t know why I was so intimidated by taking the subway because it actually was very easy to navigate – all I had to do was follow the signs. The payment system was simple – pay five pesos no matter where one goes, and I only had to scan my card once. The only thing I didn’t quite figure out is which was the best direction to exit once I was off the subway. I didn’t notice any signage that said if one exited at these particular stairs, it would lead to XXX Street.

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