Planes, Trains and Autobuses..

With our tails between our legs we had returned to Puerto Escondido in the Big Blue Jeep. Our original plan to drive through the Central American countries down to Panama was over, we had made it to Belize but the power failures on the Jeep had made us rethink our trip. Back in Puerto the ‘Engine Control Motor’ was ordered, replaced and the Jeep was fixed. The Jeep is great for pottering around Puerto, but is a gas guzzler and just wasn’t up to the original tour plan. So we decided we would take shorter trips by public transport and concentrate on places we really wanted to visit.

First up; Mexico City. We have flown in and out of Mexico’s capital city numerous times over the years. When we visit Puerto on holidays it’s an 11 hour flight from Heathrow, an overnight stay and a further hour flight the following morning. We usually opt to stay in a hotel at the airport mainly for convenience and as Mr E books so early in advance we can get a good room rate. But we had never ventured into ‘Distrito Federal’. DF is the name for the capital city and is separate federal body from 31 other states in Mexico. Once you have flown over the mountains protecting the valley, you see the crammed expanse of Mexico City and its buildings that house 21 million people, 10 -15 minutes later the plane lands. From the plane window the metropolis looks huge, busy and slightly scary!

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When we first started visiting Mexico back in 1998 there used to be about 4 flights a week from DF to Puerto Escondido with the now defunct airline AeroCaribbe, nowadays there must be about 15 flights a week to choose from on 3 airlines. We booked our flights to DF with Vivoaerobus,  this airline is partly owned by Ryanair – therefore it’s cheap and basic. In Europe Ryanair offer promotions such as ‘fly from Bristol to Dublin for £1 plus taxes’, Vivoaerobus offer similar promotions. Mr E keeps an eye on the sales and booked us flights from Puerto to DF for 1 peso, yes that’s right just 1 peso! Plus taxes of course. We’ve booked a couple of flights for later in the year and these offer rates work out to be about $600 pesos return per person – that’s about £25! We flew out of Puerto late afternoon with a quick no frills one hour hop over the mountains to land smoothly in DF at high altitude 7200 feet, no ear popping on this flight. I can report I’m much happier flying Vivo Aerobus than the vile Ryanair!

We had read all the Mexico City travel guide warnings with horror stories about crime, street robberies, muggings, scammers and pickpocketers. So with bags firmly attached to our sweaty bodies we made our way through the airport to catch the Metro. If you’ve travelled on the London tube in the height of summer at rush hour this pretty much sums up the experience on the DF metro. 1.7 billion people travel the Metro each year, this is 400 million more than travel the London Tube. 1 ticket costs $5 pesos (that’s 25p) and allows 1 journey no matter how far the distance, yet on the London Tube one journey costs £8.00 (that’s $188 pesos) London guidebooks should warn of this daylight robbery!

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Yes it was busy, yes my face was red, yes we were the only white gringos but it was absolutely fine. There are strip maps with station destinations on the train and each station has a picture symbol. Like the London Tube the lines are in different colours and are numbered rather than named, it’s easy to navigate. I’ve mentioned before how resourceful Mexican people are and this is no different on the Metro. There are people selling a variety of goods, they hop in the carriage calling out in a singsong voice what they have on offer and how much it costs. We could have bought any of the following: nail clippers, ranchero music CD’s, sweeties, pens of every colour, USB’s, extension cables and iPhone plastic holders, it all makes the journey much more interesting.

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During peak times there are ‘women only’ carriages at the front of the train. This was introduced to prevent groping and so that single women don’t have to be squished next to sweaty hairy men. I’ve heard these carriages are like beauty salons in the morning with women applying their daily makeup and perfume.

So to sum up would I recommend the DF Metro? Yes for 5pesos definitely, if you would use the London Metro then you should give this a go. I took all the usual sensible precautions by wearing my zipper bag across my body, I don’t wear any bling jewellery in Mexico anyway and Mr E didn’t have anything in his pockets. We used the Metro a number of times and only once were we rammed in, I think it might have been me accidently groping a sweaty man as I lost my balance!

Our mini trip from Mexico City was to include visiting two colonial towns north of the capital; Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende by bus. There are 3 types of Mexican bus classes to choose from varying in cost and comfort. The best are the Executive Class buses with a company such as ETN. First class buses with companies like Premier Plus and ADO, then there are several bus company options for second class coach class.

We chose bus line ETN for the 5hr trip from DF to Guanajuato. Cost was $623 (£26) each. Return 3hrs from SMA to DF was $475 (£20) each. ETN offer VIP salons, their staff are executively dressed with the driver shut in his ‘cockpit’, the bus has great suspension, A/C and ETN takes great pride in running on time. You are provided with a choice of refreshment and a sandwich when boarding. This is a world away from National Express in the UK!

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ETN buses have 24 seats in a configuration of 1 seat, aisle and 2 seats. The seats are spacious, outrageously comfortable, virtually reclinable with foot rests. The buses have free wifi,  individual TV screens with headsets, options for games, movies and music. I watched the movie Diana which wasn’t such a stinker in Espanol! I could have watched several episodes of Downton Abbey, Carson sounded great dubbed in his manly Spanish voice! It was a supremely comfortable journey and is highly recommended.

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For the hour journey between Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende we chose to ride with Premier Plus. Cost was $125 (£5.30) each. Premier Plus also have VIP salons, executive drivers, refreshments and wifi. These top notch buses have 35 seats in configuration of 2 and 2, seats are narrower than ETN but still recline with feet rests and are comfortable. I can’t comment on the entertainment available as we didn’t get to view. I goofed up buying our tickets in advance by booking the wrong date – doh (Mr E totally blamed me of course..) but the helpful staff member rearranged our tickets, but it meant we didn’t sit together. Mr E sat chatting next to a business man who spoke great English who had left his Jeep in Guanajuato for repair on transmission issues, can you belive that? I couldn’t make that up!! Meanwhile I sat next to ‘Abuela’ Margarita who was the Mexican equivalent of my Nanna Joy complete in homemade knitted cardigan. I managed to have a proper chat in Spanish with her. She was ever so sweet telling me all about her family and San Miguel. Premier Plus was just fine but for longer journeys I would definitely choose ETN.

Our mini trip transport by planes, trains and buses cost us about £78 each – now that’s a bargain!

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