How Long Is Long Enough?

by Mari Pintkowski  (June 2012)

I was thinking about the fact that my husband and I have lived in Mexico for more than eight years. We have gone through the legal immigration process to live here as non-tourists; first with an FM3 for five years and now with an FM2. We live in Tulum Municipality, operate our beautiful boutique B&B, La Selva Mariposa, and have no plans to move permanently back to Colorado, so I ask myself, "What is our next step?"

After much deliberation, my husband and I feel we are ready to make an even bigger commitment and go to the next step which is called inmigrado or permanent resident. We refer to this as duel citizenship, because we don't have to give up our status in the United States. There will be pros and cons for us and still there are many gray areas, but we are going to move forward in the Mexican immigration process.

In order to achieve this level of citizenship, we will have to take a test in Spanish (thank goodness, I have not stopped trying to learn the language), and have a solid knowledge of the history and culture of this colorful, diverse country.

Some people learn best by visual methods and others with their auditory senses, but for me, I need a more hands-on approach to learning. We decided it was time to plan a trip to the capital city and learn more about the heart of Mexico.

We booked tickets on Aeromexico/Mexicana Airlines and were surprised that the price of tickets was as much as a ticket to our home state of Colorado. Later, we learned that cheaper flights could be found if we went directly to Volaris or Interjet Web sites.

We never expected to encounter a postcard perfect city, but what we found was a pleasant surprise. From the modern airport facility, to easy-to-find taxis to our hotel, we never for a minute felt unsafe or insecure. Yes, there was pollution and thousands of cars on the highways, but the drivers were courteous, the cars new, signage clear, and visible litter was nonexistent as we drove to the famous zocalo, or the historical city center.

Our taxi driver let us off outside the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico and we walked into the magnificent Art Nouveau lobby. Much to our surprise, it was not massive and filled with tourists like the hotels in the Riviera Maya where we live. The reception desk was tucked in a corner, and Jose Louis, the bellman, helped us get checked in and took us up the original 19th century elevator to our room. It was a large, elegant suite recently renovated and decorated in the posh style of the late 1800s. A balcony overlooked the street where the organ grinder spun his music and the hustle and bustle of the city awaited us.

The city square had an unusual appearance on this day, as it was being readied for the free Paul McCartney (of The Beatles fame) concert that was to take place in three days.

As we stood in the center of the Plaza de la Constitucion, the city's focal point, we could see why it is one of the largest city squares in the world. Besides our hotel, it is bordered by the aristocratic-looking government buildings, the grand Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional, originally the headquarters of Hernan Cortes. This historic building houses the famous frescos of Diego Rivera depicting the history of the city through the centuries, from the legend of Quetzalcoatl to the great city of Tenochtitlan to 20th century events that were painted between 1929 and 1945. Yes! This was a much better way to learn history than studying it from a book.

We decided to move beyond this marvel and start at the beginning of the city's history.

We walked toward a colorful mural past many vendors and people shopping and relaxing near the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest church in Latin America. While gazing at the relief map depicting the great ancient city of Tenochtitlan, a local fellow who spoke English offered to give us a five-minute tour of what we were standing in the midst of. The five minutes turned into a forty-five minute tour as we walked together toward the ruins of the Templo Mayor from where Montezuma once ruled this bustling Aztec empire that flourished from its beginning in 1325 A.D. until its conquest by the Spaniards in 1521.

We thanked our guide and gave him 100 pesos. We entered the gated site that led to a modern museum which housed the treasures that were found in the excavation of the Aztec city that was buried under the famous cathedral. The Templo Mayor was uncovered in the mid-1900s when the electric company was doing work on the city streets. Lou was content to take in the architecture and read the signs, while I purchased a headset so as not to miss a single detail of Tenochtitlan's history. After many hours of touring the site, we realized that we were the last visitors to leave the museum. The guards, who were waiting to lock up and go home, gently escorted us to the gates.

The history of the cathedral, whose construction began in 1567 and was completed 200 years later, for me, was darkened after soaking in the Aztec history, knowing it was built using stones from their sacred temples. We viewed the massive Gothic/Baroque wonder in rather a quick manner before heading back to our hotel.

Later that evening, after dining at the hotel's rooftop Terraza Restaurant, which has a marvelous view of the historical square, we went for a stroll along Ave. Francisco I. Madero, the fanciest street in the old part of town. This street is now closed to traffic and offers a delightful mix of shopping and people-watching. Police presence was obvious, but not oppressive and the tempo was festive and upbeat.

We located one of the city's oldest and most distinguished stores, Sanborns, whose signature store is located in the historic House of Tiles, an ornate mansion dating back to 1596. The exterior features blue-and-white tiles and graceful wrought iron balconies. The restaurant, which occupies what must have been the gran sala in the mansion, is itself a work of art, with flamboyant murals, massive stone pillars, splashing fountains, and waitresses dressed in interesting period costumes.

A little farther down the avenue was the well-lit, spectacular Bellas Artes building where the national symphony and folkloric ballet perform. The courtyard out front was scattered with people enjoying the lovely spring evening as well as the whimsical statures by a famous Columbian artist.

On our way back home we passed a genuine "red carpet" event where film stars were being interviewed and photographed by paparazzi and others passing by.

I have to say that never once on our first day in Mexico City did we feel unsafe or intimidated by what I imagined it might be like to be surrounded by big-city chaos.

We fell asleep thinking about how the megatropolis of Mexico City, has dealt so well with the modern-day problems of pollution, overpopulation and traffic.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our tour of historic Mexico City.

Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, own and operate their elegant jungle B&B in Tulum, To read more of Mari's stories of living in the Maya jungle near Tulum, go to the archives of

Mari Pintkowski
Akumal Villas

Cabanas Tulum