I spent my 30th birthday alone in Mexico City. There was nothing sad about the celebration, I was nearly finished with my graduate degree and simply wanted a break from Columbus, Ohio. Mexico City was the cheapest international flight I could find.
I stayed in a tiny hostel in Roma Norte, a touristy neighborhood in the center of Mexico City, close to many museums and a long walk from Zocalo, the famous plaza. The hostel was quaint, but like any good hostel, it’s not the building that makes a wonderful hostel experience, but the people.
I had the bottom bunk in a room of eight and once the awkward introductions wore off, everyone began to enjoy each other’s company. As a confession, I believe one of the many reasons I enjoy international travel is because people find my rural Americanness and slight southern twang to be charming. Whereas in many parts of the US, it can be seen as somehow less intelligent or conservative.
On the night of my thirtieth, I went to a simple Mexican restaurant in Roma Norte called La Zaranda. I ate tacos and drank mezcal, simple and wonderful. After dinner I returned to my hostel and was enthusiastically greeted by my temporary flatmates, all wishing me a happy birthday and Feliz cumpleaños.
Many in the group wanted to drink that night, so I decided to tag along. There were too many of us to sit at a nice cocktail bar so we tried a local club. The short bouncer at the door searched the ladies’ bags and found an EpiPen. He wasn’t sure what it was, perhaps some crazy foreign narcotic, and wouldn’t let her enter. After a small tussle with the bouncer, we went our separate ways.
I had found a local mariachi bar next to a whiskey bar near my hostel and made my way over there. Another American tagged along with me and we were seated in a very casual restaurant with amazing music. The fellow wasn’t into it as much as I was and kept complaining the entire night. Eventually, I told him to leave if he wanted to, he was ruining my night. I’m very much ok with spending the night alone and entertaining myself. He left and we never spoke again.
After the mariachi bar, It was nearing closing time for most places, so I decided to head back toward my hostel, stopping at nearly every taco stand along the way. The vendors raised their eyebrows at me when I ordered a single taco in broken Spanish. I assured them, one is enough. I’ll most likely stop at every stand as I make my way back, which I did.
I sat on a bucket at the last taco stand a block away from my hostel. The man to my right spoke a little English and asked where I was from, making casual conversation. I told him I was in town for my birthday and enjoying the city. He bought me a couple of chorizo tacos as we continued chatting.
I casually mentioned it would be nice to have a beer to wash this wonderful late-night meal down. The man asked how much money I had on me. It was the end of the night and I had maybe a hundred pesos (five dollars) left. He turns to a man leaning against a bicycle behind him and whistles. It had begun to drizzle and the bicycle man was wearing a trashbag for a shirt.
Trash Bag man walked his bike over to us and the two men chatted in very quick Spanish. The man sitting next to me said to give him the money and he’ll get the drinks. I handed over my cash, thinking I wouldn’t see it or the beers that night.
We continued to chat and eat our tacos. The chorizo was especially good.
About twenty minutes after the bicycle gentleman left, he came back with an ice-cold six-pack and tried to give me twenty pesos in change. I cracked open a can, offered the rest to the people around me, and gave the change back to the trash bag bicycle man.
It was a lovely birthday.