There is absolutely no denying it, Mexico is kitsch and I LOVE it! I cannot get enough of the little disco-light shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe dotted throughout every neighbourhood, the weird and wonderful handicrafts, papel picado, jingly jangly charms and rosary beads in taxi driver’s rear view mirrors, skull everything, live goldfish in flower arrangements, extravagant “coming of age” dresses for 15th birthday parties, tiny Chihuahuas in outfits, and I can’t possibly leave out the spandex-clad lucha libre wrestlers. Kitsch is cherished in Mexico and their reverence is catching, my apartment serves as evidence.
The city offers some really kitsch activities and I recommend you make room on your itinerary for some unique entertainment options, especially given that you can go to bars and clubs, any time, anywhere,. So far I’ve hissed and booed at the lucha libre, I’ve sampled shots of tequila and mezcal while being serenaded by mariachis and I’ve flashed the good folks of Mexico City from the bathroom at the top of the city’s retro skyscraper (read on).
I know I know! Like me, many of you might be asking yourself why on earth you would subject yourself to a pantomime wrestling match featuring a load of men in spandex. But Lucha Libre is a cultural phenomenon and sensory overload that provides the kind of surreal experience not usually achieved in sobriety. Mexico’s second-most popular sport after soccer has been entertaining the masses since the turn of the 20th century and many of its most vibrant personalities have gained iconic status in pop culture both in Mexico and abroad.
The bus left Reforma 222 around sunset and we were accompanied on-board by four luchadores, all willing to answer our burning questions on lucha libre, their love lives etc.
Anyone that doesn’t speak Spanish might be a bit lost at this stage but the party atmosphere is infectious and you can get some great photos from the upper deck.
Of course the tour includes a free mask.
Once at Arena Mexico, it’s kind of hard to work out what’s happening. People support either técnicos (the supposed good guys, they follow the rules) and rudos (the supposed bad guys, they like to play dirty while still adhering to a moral code), although tags teams can include both rudos and técnicos, and rudos can make the transition to técnicos, as was the case with the Blue Demon.
Luchadores who start off their careers as masked wrestlers can be unmasked by opponents in a humiliating defeat, while others choose to wrestle with their hair revealed. Luchadores may also “wager” their mask or their hair with the loser either having his head shaved upon defeat or being unmasked revealing his long-hidden identity before the crowd.
Add to this an endless number of rounds and participants, half-naked dancing girls, half-naked lady wrestlers, little people dressed in monkey suits being manhandled by rudos, wrestlers being carried off on stretchers, crazy rattles, crazy hats and crazy reactions, and you have a night you won’t easily forget, no matter how hard you try to.
It really is incredible to see how fanatic lucha libre fans are, and its popularity transcends class divisions. Of course a degree of choreography is involved but there’s no denying that the moves take serious acrobatic skill and I could hear the nipple slaps from the second-level stalls. Vendors will bring beer, popcorn and other nibbles right to your seat. As if my senses hadn’t been stimulated enough, a friend insisted I couldn’t possibly come to the luchas without trying cueritos (pickled pig skin smothered in dripping chilli sauce). I definitely prefer the crispy version chicharrón.
For me the luchas was as bizarre as it was fun and I love those kinds of experiences that engage all the senses. I felt like I received a real insight into such a kitsch part of Mexican culture and I highly recommend you try it. No one goes to the lucha libre in Mexico and comes home without having been affected in some way.
No trip to Mexico City would be complete without being serenaded by those other colourful icons of Mexican culture, mariachis, and the place to see them is downtown in Plaza Garibaldi. Throughout the day and night this square is packed with flamboyantly dressed mariachis, Son Jarocho folk groups and Norteño bands serenading a mixture of mesmerised tourists, just-married couples in full wedding attire, and locals celebrating a special occasion or in search of a rhythm to dance to. For the right price you can even pick up a full mariachi band to bring to your party or event.
Located in the same square you’ll find the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal, a relatively new museum dedicated to showing the origins and production of agave spirits as well as showcasing the wide variety produced in Mexico.
I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with fellow blogger and agave spirits expert Cecilia Rios Murrieta, aka La Niña del Mezcal, who guided me through a tasting while explaining the differences between tequila and mezcal.
I highly recommend you check out her blog to get a real understanding of how to appreciate these iconic Mexican spirits during your time here! Rule no. 1: They’re to be sipped, not shot! Don’t miss my chat with her on my video post!
Another unique experience to be enjoyed day or night is a visit to the Torre Latinoamericana. Once Mexico City’s tallest building, at 188m (597 ft), the skyscraper has since been surpassed by the 214m Torre Pemex, however the outdoor viewing deck offers some superb 360° views of the city to the surrounding mountains and volcanoes on less smoggy days. As well as being one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the tower is internationally recognised as an engineering and architectural marvel since it was the world’s first major skyscraper successfully built on highly active seismic land.
Visitors are provided with a little map that helps identify landmarks viewed through the telescopes and I found it an excellent way to get my bearings in the city.
On the 41st floor, you’ll find the Miralto bar and restaurant where you can enjoy a few drinks or a meal by the large windows as the sun goes down on Mexico City. An electric storm provided a dramatic backdrop to my dinner there. One of my favourite things about the restaurant was the ladies bathrooms. Instead of walls, the end cubicle has floor to ceiling windows making for an irresistibly adventurous if not slightly terrifying experience. I never did find out whether the glass was one-way or not.
In typical Mexican style, even the nightlife has something for travellers seeking unique experiences that define Mexican culture. Salvador Dalí once said of Mexico “”I will not go again to a country that is even more surreal than my paintings” and after a kitsch night out in Mexico City, you will begin to understand why.