The Maria Christina Hotel

I flew out of Vancouver excited to get away, excited to see Mexico and totally unprepared for everything i found there. In those days, 1978, booze flowed freely on Mexicana Airlines. Given the booze, the heat, the overwhelming aroma of flowering tropical flora, i was lucky i didn't fall down the rollup stairs getting off the plane. My plan was to check out Mazatlan for a couple days before heading on to Mexico City. i had learned a few words of Spanish and was very luck that almost everybody in the touristy city knew enough English for me to survive. i stayed those first few nights in a little old hotel next to the beach that the cab driver took me to from the airport, it was simple, old, perfect, and probably owned by a cousin of the cabby.

The next morning i was up real early and decieded a swim in the ocean would do my hangover wonders, it did. The day was spent walking the beach for miles in both directions. By Happy Hour the only part unsunburnt was the part i sat on at the bar. It was a palapa roofed outdoor beauty next to the beach. Again my luck was running as i met a neat young bartender named Roberto. Almost everybody else was there with a date or a friend so being single i got to meet way more of the locals everywhere on the trip. We chatted a bit and he asked me to help him with his English and i definately needed help with my Spanish. The next couple days after the Happy Hour rush we went at it. Of course his English was way better than my Spanish so i learned basic tourist survival stuff, he learned the latest gringo phrases. In Mexico back then the main way to earn decent money was tips from the tourists, the better your gringo slang the more tips you earned.

We got to be amigos, he told me where to go during the day on my walks, where the neat stuff was. He knew i was coming back through Mazatlan in a couple weeks on my way back home and we arranged to continue our sessions then.

Next came another Mexicana flight this time over the mountains and into the caldera of Mexico City. Huge culture shock, huge crowds, nobody spoke English, without Roberto's lessons i'd have never survived the airport let alone the city. i followed Roberto's advice and found a collectivo van marked Zona Rosa, the international area. Being the only single person in the little van i got a front seat view of the white knuckle drive into town. Again, nobody else spoke English so i figured i'd get out at one of the hotels somebody else asked to stop at. They were all huge highrises and obviously beyond my budget. The driver asked "donde" [where] which i misunderstood and answered "Americansi" so he left me off at the US Embassey a block or two away. Another huge stroke of luck.

Outside was a US Marine in full dress uniform who pleasantly directed me to the US citizens info. area despite my long hair and hippy atire. There, after a few questions and answers i was directed to an office where an embassey official took pity on me, because of my ignorance undoubtedly. He told me about this great and reasonable old hotel where they often put up visitors. He tried directing me there but as i knew nothing of the city he took it upon himself to call the hotel for me, reserve me a room and get the hotel to send around a car to pick me up. It was unbelievable, there i was a hippy draft dodger being picked up at the private back door of the US Embassey and chauffeured to an amazing colonial era hotel and treated like a king.

The fellow at the hotel desk knew exactly who i was and said that they were expecting me. A bellboy grabbed my old backpack and led me up an incredible curving staircase to my mini-suite overlooking the fountain in the courtyard. There were 10 ft high ceilings, arched doors and windows, and the most beautiful bathtub i've ever seen. Within minutes they brought me a dinner menu and translated it while asking if i wanted dinner in my room on the balcony or if i prefered the terrace by the fountain. i figured this was going to totally blow my meager budget so i went back down to the desk to ask the about the rate. Again, i was amazed to find out that the Embassey had a special deal with the Maria Christina and that i would be charged $20US a night including meals an unbelievable deal in Mexico City in any kinda place even in '78 let alone in this kinda the classy hotel.

i ate on the terrace, drank fancy drinks [all included] and went to sleep in my suite sure i'd be booted out come sunrise. But instead they showed up with coffee and the English version of the Mexico City daily newspaper at 9AM.

According to the guide books the rooms have been 'renovated', the outside has been stuccoed and painted pink but the main floor and gardens remain as i remember them. To quote Lonely Planet, Through a majestic stone archway, the spacious lobby is drenched in colonial splendor, with carved wood columns and beams, cast-iron chandeliers and azulejo tiles spiralling up the walls of the grand staircase. The colonial charm has been poured into the lobby lounge and adjacent gardens which lead onto a Sevilla-style patio with a faithful reproduction of a medieval fountain. The bar, in a separate building with its own patio seating, makes a terrific setting for a tequila, served cantina-style with a dish of peanuts alongside. Hummingbirds flit around the feeders that dangle from some lemon trees. Through the decades i've sent many friends who've gone to Mexico City to stay at the Maria Christina, they've all loved it.

More on Mexico City, the train to Oaxaca and Oaxaca itself manana.