Mexico City is a massive metropolis with more than 20 million inhabitants. It is a place full of life, buzzing with vibrant scenes and under a constant tension caused by the speed at which everything takes place. Traffic is equally intense; some people need up to two hours to commute to work. Yes, just one way so it comes as no surprise that the subway has become a preferred method of transportation for some, and the only way to go about the city, for others.
The population of the city, combined with Mexican culture itself and the surrealism that Mexico City is always subject to, combined in a crammed space like the subway make it a very curious and interesting space. You will never forget your first Mexico City subway ride once you have experienced it, and you probably have never seen anything like it before.
Whether you are looking forward to your first time in the “metro” or dreading it, chances are you will need to hop on to get around in the city, so hopefully these observations will be helpful and the subway’s uniqueness won’t take you by surprise:
You have NEVER waited in line before, not like this you haven’t
The waiting time some people put into queueing to go into the subway beats every queue that has ever existed before. Truly, nobody should have to wait for so long to catch a ride home. Some subway stations, like Pantitlan, where more than two lines of the metro system intersect, are so crowded and in demand, that people have to queue to reach the platform, and then queue (more like battle to the death) to be able to go in the subway.
- Levitation is possible
There is no limit to physical proximity when you are riding the Mexico City metro. And just when you think there is no way another person could possibly fit into the wagon, ten more people will. They will push and force their way into the crammed space, sometimes squishing you so hard in between people that you might find your feet are not touching the floor anymore. Our only advice is to hold on for dear life, use your sense of humor and take a shower when you get home, it can get mmm…sticky.
- Queues for escalators are a thing
Yep, queues again. In Mexico, the general rule of letting people walk through the left lane of the escalator is more or less ignored by 99.99% of the population. Therefore, people stand in line for a while before being able to walk onto the escalator, since both lanes of said miracle of modernity are blocked. The escalator queue is a very good moment to marvel at the melting pot that the metro really is…or just walk up the stairs to get out of there quickly, just know that some stations are three or four stories (very) deep into the ground.
- Communication is key for survival
We have already mentioned that the metro is packed with people, but what you haven’t imagined already is that in order to be able to exit at your station, you have to actively communicate with the people around you. The go to question is “¿Baja?”, meaning “Are you getting out?”. You should direct this question to any person standing in front of you. If the answer is “no”, they should move to let you through, if the answer is “yes”, then don’t worry, you will be able to walk behind them to leave the train. This process is what I like to call “the human tetris” or the moment of your commute that involves the strategic displacement and rearrangement of people so they can actually leave the wagon.
- When the doors of the train open: battle
A crowded metro, with never-ending queues, with a hot-n-sticky atmosphere and people eager to get around their daily chores, all translate into one thing: when the doors slide open, it is anybody’s game. You will walk out of the wagon as people walk in, resulting in something similar to a battle scene from a movie. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourself, instead, put your arms in front of you and push your way out without fear of offending. Really, just go for it, if you stay in the city long enough, this reaction will become a part of you anyway.
- There are special places for the elderly, women, children and handicap people
While having a special place for elders, children, pregnant women and people with special needs or mobility issues is important in public transportation services, the Mexico City subway has an area designated for all those groups as well as women in general.
The reason is a very unfortunate one, given that the incidence of sexual harassment directed towards women in the subway is an all too frequent occurrence. In fact, you could say it is a daily or even hourly occurrence. This has resulted in a section of the train being reserved only to female passengers. There is much controversy around this measure, since it seems to avoid a problem, rather than solving it, for women in Mexico City. Also, a very binary vision of the world if you ask me…
- It might be crowded and hot, but people are kind and friendly.
No matter what happens, people in Mexico City are concerned about each other and will lend a hand to one in need. Eye contact happens in the subway (special attention Londoners) and it is customary to direct a kind “good morning” or “good evening” to your fellow passengers.
Regardless of how shocking the metro’s atmosphere might be for a newcomer, you will find it is an amazing space where Mexican culture is condensed, where you will be able to absorb and experience it in a completely different way than on the surface.
Good luck! Here’s a map!