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I chose Mexico as my next vacation spot for two main reasons: It’s the closest foreign country to me and I’ve never been, and I could fly there with Southwest points.

I decided to stay at a hostel dorm room instead of a private AirBnB or hotel because hostels arrange inexpensive tours. Mexico City Hostel recommended taking the metro from the airport. I did not fear riding the subway in a city of 20 million people because I had taken the subway in Beijing and Tokyo, two highly-populated cities, without incident. But of course China and Japan are not notorious for the same types of crime.

I’ve been to over a dozen foreign countries, and I’ve been ripped off before, but this was the first time I’ve ever been pickpocketed. As I was stepping into the subway train car, I felt a stampede of people suddenly rush in behind me. I assumed a lot of people were just trying to get in before the doors closed so they didn’t have to wait for the next one. It didn’t occur to me until later that those people weren’t random. They were a team, and that was their way of distracting me so that I didn’t feel them take my wallet out of my back pocket.

I immediately reported this crime to a police officer with the help of two locals who spoke a little English. Then I called to cancel my credit card and debit card. Before getting back on the subway, I took my phone out of my pocket and put it in my backpack, which I wore on my front. I thought I was being smart. There’s no way somebody could take my phone from me right in front of me. So of course that’s exactly what happened.

The same method was used on me. I was pushed into the subway car. There were so many people in such a tight space that I couldn’t move an inch. My phone was in the lowest pocket of my backpack, so it was the farthest one from my sight. I didn’t see or hear it being unzipped. At the next stop, I checked ever pocket and discovered my iPhone 6 was missing, as well as my mini travel bag from Philippine Airlines, which contained my headphones. Luckily a local man was willing to walk me the rest of the way to my hostel so I didn’t have to remain on the subway or deal with the police.

I told the other guests my story, and they had all heard the same story a dozen times already, which made me feel slightly better.

The next day my mom wired me money through Western Union and I bought an iPhone SE because it was the cheapest one at the Apple store.

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I bought three locks: one for each compartment of my backpack. This made me feel secure until two different people on separate occasions said the same thing to me: “I can pick those locks in a second.” Seriously? Then what the hell am I supposed to do? “Just… you know… be cautious.” Ah. Okay.

I spent every day of my two-week vacation paralyzed by paranoia. But… I never got pickpocketed again.

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I can’t speak for all of Mexico–perhaps not even all of Mexico City–but during my week there I saw so many locals covered with tattoos and piercings. It was like being at a tattoo convention. I’ve never seen so many people with tattoos on their faces. The piercings were crazy too. I saw people with huge gages in their ears–and one guy with a gage in the side of both nostrils (What happens when he sneezes?!). I saw people with studs in their cheeks and embedded under their skin. I saw a guy with metal horns sticking out of his forehead.

Mexico City seems to be very pro-PDA (and LGBTQ-friendly). I saw so many couples (straight, gay, and lesbian) being affectionate with each other in public.

What was comforting yet concerning at the same time was how many police officers I saw on a daily basis. They were practically on every street. They were a very visible presence, geared up in case of a riot. One day I thought there was going to be a riot when I saw a street lined up with cops wearing their helmets and shields. There were a lot of loud protesters, but that was all.

My favorite kind of people were the street performers. I compiled the videos of my favorites here.

I didn’t see many people who were noticeably foreign. I met a few locals who I assumed were foreign because of their fair skin. The most memorable of these was the woman I met in Merced Market. It’s like a maze in there and I couldn’t find my way out, so I took a lunch break. I sat down and ordered a chicken & cheese quesadilla. None of the kitchen staff seemed to know any English. I understood enough Spanish to know they were talking about me.

It took a while for my quesadilla to cool off enough to eat, but when it did–Wow! It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.

I was about halfway through my lunch when a tour guide dropped by. She knew the staff and they explained to her that I was lost. So they understood that much.

She paid for my quesadilla and let me follow her tour group to the subway. Along the way she explained how people get pickpocketed on the subway, and it was exactly what happened to me. I told her about my experience to which she replied, “I’m sorry for my people.” Until she said that, I had no idea she was Mexican. She looked almost as white as me, and spoke perfect English with no accent.

She paid for my subway ticket, and while riding the subway she told us: “A lot of people think Merced Market is a safe, tourist-friendly place, but it’s not. I witnessed a cop get murdered here last week.”

I got off at the next stop.

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My favorite tourist attraction in Mexico was the Teotihuacan Pyramids. My hostel arranged the group tour, which cost 550 pesos. At the beginning of the tour, we could see hot air balloons floating in the distance. Our tour guide was very nice and informative. I don’t remember much now, but she did teach us a lot about how the people who built these pyramids lived, which was interesting. Out of all the pyramids we saw, we were allowed to hike to the top of two. The views from the top were worth the 200 steps.

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I took a bus from Mexico City to Guadalajara, which took about six hours. The bus was nicer than I expected. It was big, comfortable, air-conditioned, and your ticket includes and a snack and a drink. I did, however, have two major complaints. The wifi was so weak, I couldn’t do anything on my phone besides text. Much like on a long international flight, there was entertainment. I was so excited until I discovered that every American movie available had been dubbed into Spanish.

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My first day I went on the Tequila Tour. Our tour guide was so nice and funny. The first stop on our tour was the Tres Mujeres Tequila Distillery. After learning about tequila, we got back on the bus and went to somewhere else to sample different tequilas. We were surrounded by beautiful blue agave fields with sand-colored mountains in the distance. Every kind of tequila was distinguished by color. There was white, blue, green, and red. After drinking one sample of each, I went back for seconds. This would later prove to be a big mistake.

During the tasting, we had live entertainment in the form of a mariachi band. After everybody got drunk, we were loaded back into the tour bus and taken to a big buffet lunch. The food was better than I expected.

The final part of the tour was a free hour to explore Tequila, the city that the drink was named after. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much. I very rarely throw up from drinking too much, and this was one of those few times.

The most disappointing tour was Chapala: the largest lake in Mexico (and second largest in Latin America). The tour guide only spoke Spanish; the only reason I learned anything at all was because there happened to be a guy from Ecuador who spoke English. I’ve swam in the South Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Simply looking at a big lake isn’t that exciting. Plus, it was so foggy, you could barely even see it. There were no activities. Lunch was bland. I would’ve gone on another tour, but it was the only one available that day, and it was my last day.

I actually missed the tour bus pick-up at my hostel because of “Mexican Time” and had to chase the bus down.  I was told to be ready at 9:00 am, so I was. I went to the front desk and said I was ready. They said I was right on time and that the bus would be there at 9:30 am. That’s not right on time. That’s early. So I sat down to breakfast with this Finnish girl. Somebody announced the arrival of the Tequila Tour bus, which I found out later includes the Chapala Tour. Because they didn’t say “Chapala,” I ignored it and continued waiting. The Finnish girl explained that when Mexicans say to meet at a certain time, they don’t really mean it. The actual meeting could take place an hour later. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Just say what you mean. To me it’s the same as lying.

I cut my stay in Guadalajara two days short because I hated my hostel so much. The window in my dorm was open 24/7. I lost sleep every night due to bright street lamps, loud street noise, the humidity, and mosquitoes.

When I returned to Mexico City, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, which I highly recommend.

Al mal tiempo, buena cara (Put a good face to the bad times). — Mexican Proverb