Over my time living in Mexico as of right now, I'd say I have spent roughly 1.8 years living in areas that most others would call "dangerous" or sketchy at the very least in either Mexico City or State of Mexico (Naucalpan).
In that time, I've lived in areas that I would classify as "soulless grey block zones."
Those are areas that basically look like -- from the sky and on the ground -- endless blocks of grey looking buildings that seem underdeveloped or poor in construction.
In these areas, there isn't really any "life" or "spark" in the streets.
You have people walking around.
But no mini festivals, relatively few people to begin with, almost no street food spots, a lack of murals, relatively few businesses on the streets, minimal traffic, no parks nearby, very few trees, etc.
And where every street basically almost looks the same.
In my experience, the worst areas are when they are just numbered streets in Mexico without any nicer names attached to them (C. 1, C5, C9, etc).
Of course, that's just Mexico.
In another Latin American country known as Colombia, streets named after numbers is the standard.
Anyway, they are basically lifeless areas that look underdeveloped.
In contrast, you also have poorer areas in Mexico City areas known to be sketchy that fit one of two bills:
For one, they aren't really THAT sketchy looking at all outside and completely look normal. They are simply considered too dangerous by limp dick foreigners who are too scared to leave Roma. An example of that would be the general area in the north around Lindavista, Gustavo A. Madero, etc.
Second, you also have "grey blocks" that look very much like the soulless areas discussed but where the main difference is that they DO have lots of activity outside.
A shit ton of people, lots of traffic, very busy area, lots of commerce and street food, mini religious festivals held in the street, cute barrio girl looking women walking around showing lots of skin, etc.
Though both areas do have the usual ol' sun in the sky without any trees that is killing everyone with oppressive heat from Hell itself.
At any rate, some folks have asked me "why do I live in these areas?"
Well, to be honest, I just prefer to travel around and want to see other corners of Mexico City.
I judge an area after I've moved there for a few weeks to some odd months and give it a try.
But, over the time traveling, I've concluded something obvious: I REALLY like the poorer areas that have lots of activity and don't like so much those without it.
In fact, I just like any area that is heavily congested with a shit ton of people and activity outside.
Could be an area more developed like Centro Historico or it could be a poorer area like Pedregal de Santo Domingo.
How poor it is really doesn't matter except if the development of the area brings heavy tourism eventually and, while I don't mind seeing other gringos, such a development can bring some negative consequences.
Like more aggressive homeless people for example and less locals who have a more genuine friendliness when dealing with you.
Though one benefit is that it does usually come with better bars, restaurants, etc.
Regardless, either area just FEELS alive with so much god damn activity outside.
I like it!
On the flip side, I do appreciate calm areas that are nice and quiet outside but I don't like them when they are in the "soulless grey zones."
If I'm going to live in an area without much activity outside, I'd much prefer it to at least have some nice parks nearby and not feel soul sucking.
It only feels soul sucking when it's just "dead" outside with neither nice green scenery like what Bosque de Aragon has nor the shit ton of activity that areas like Pedregal de Santo Domingo have.
And, quite frankly, I believe most "shit hole" areas with endless grey blocks have some pockets where you can get that semblance of activity outside.
That semblance of life and soul.
And, as you can guess, you basically just have to stick to the main avenues.
Literally just look on Google Maps for where are the avenues of the "grey block zone" you are moving to.
Now, to be fair, not every avenue is the same.
For example, I recently moved to Tlahuac of Mexico City.
If you are along Avenue Tlahuac, it doesn't have THAT feeling of congested chaos for the most part on most days I've been here over the last few weeks.
It doesn't feel like it unless some event is going on.
However, when I was visiting a nearby park called Bosque de Tlahuac, I did see a few streets my taxi driver drove on that made me think "OK, this area I like."
While I don't remember perfectly which avenue it was as I wasn't checking for street names, I think it was Av. La Turba as that would make the most sense given its proximity to Bosque de Tlahuac.
Similarly, I saw another avenue that reminded me a lot of Calle Ahuanusco in Pedregal de Santo Domingo that also, at least for the some odd minutes I was on it, seemed to fit the bill for the type of area I like.
That congested, full of energy area with so many people outside, looking "third world enough" with music playing, lots of commotion, cute barrio women, endless amounts of street food and businesses, a tianguis over there, etc.
And, to be honest, there's something about an area that I like -- in its own way -- that FEELS "third world enough."
As odd as that sounds.
There's something to the appearance that has rubbed off on me.
And I don't know why.
To be honest, I just like a chaotic area.
And one that doesn't feel "too sterilized."
Into The Chaotic Streets
An area that isn't wiped clean and cooky cutter packaged for all the tourists showing up expecting a Latin American Disney land.
A grey block zone with buildings that look like they could collapse in a second.
A tianguis way in the distance that you can see.
To the left of you, there's an innocent, naked woman with her tits pressed against a window that is being chainsawed in half FOR NO REASON on the third floor of a third world looking building.
To the right of you, there's a homeless man sniffing something with one of his homeless buddies having a schizophrenic laugh standing over him.
Endless honking from vehicles in all directions due to the traffic delay happening over a random motorcyclist getting hit by a taxi a few streets ahead.
And one of his buddies -- who wasn't too injured -- is pissed and blocking the road. Even tossing rocks at the taxi dude's windshield.
Beyond that, you got that tianguis as I said. The street market. Where some thief was captured by the locals for trying to steal something and is now being lynched while the police unsuccessfully try to save him.
Of course, it's a bit ironic that they'd be so mad at a thief given the streets are full of street sellers trying to get rid of stolen clothes, headphones, shampoo, etc.
And, if you are hungry, you can always buy one from any of the countless street food spots all around. Does an elote sound good to you?
While you enjoy the scenery and the food, you also got music playing in the background.
There's some arcade room nearby with pin ball games and what other else that is blasting out TEGO CALDERON
All the while there's cute barrio women walking around.
Well, cute is subjective.
On one hand, you got those nice indigenous looking women in their early 20s (they stop being cute when they hit 25) that yell out to you with a nice grin "HOLA!!!"
And, on the other hand, you got low 70 IQ women who are dumb but street smart. Not the type to bring home to show your family. Always revealing a bit of skin outside. And god damn do they look good. And they suck cock well.
But it's not just them walking the streets!
The whole neighborhood is full of young people.
In fact, the average age of the neighborhood is probably around 25 or so.
Hustlers selling stolen products, barrio girls, indigenous women selling street food, middle aged women going to church, gang members sitting on the side of the road, corrupt police, etc.
And, to be in the midst of it all with the occasional gunshot somewhere in the distance, makes you feel alive.
It's not sanitized.
And I fucking love it that way.
I love the chaos.
I love feeling like Satan himself lives next door.
I love how unassuming and not pretentious the people are where I can drink in the street with nobody giving a fuck.
I love the street energy.
I love the extra randomness of it.
I love the inherit contradictions with how extra religious the locals are living in an area with so much degeneracy out in the open.
Outside, it's like a circus at times!
Something CRAZY might happen today.
Perhaps a taxi driver fighting a homeless crackhead?
Who the fuck knows?!
You could be completely depressed, stumbling around drunk on half a bottle of vodka and still be entertained.
Perhaps a religious festival springs out of nowhere and you join the crowd!
Most importantly, you just feel alive.
And that's what I love about certain "grey block zones" of Latin American cities.
The excitement. The chaos. The randomness. The danger. The mix of characters. The abundance of food. The history behind the place. The feeling of witnessing a circus at times. The lack of pretentiousness. The street energy. The feeling of being alive.
Wrapping it Up
But, like I said, not every "grey block zone" is the same.
Some are lifeless and not worth more than a few weeks of your time at most.
They do have their own uniqueness for those who wish to "test the waters" in such an area.
You can feel like Osama Bin Laden hiding away in a place nobody would expect to look for you.
Perhaps go "a bit crazy" out here and live a few months in such an area drinking all day while painting or writing a great novel with the rest of your free time involving board games with the locals on the side of the road.
The only thing to mention is that they are relatively close to the chaotic, full of life sections discussed.
When I lived by Pedregal de Santo Domingo, I was only some few streets away from such areas.
When I visited Iztapalapa while apartment hunting, I saw areas that kinda fit both bills.
Parts that seemed grey and lifeless.
With others full of energy.
And, when it comes to Tlahuac where I am now, it's all the same.
I'm currently -- for another 2 weeks anyhow -- in a more "lifeless" area because I didn't spend enough time researching the area for where to move to.
Just kinda "went with the flow" and picked randomly an apartment in the area without even checking it out first (mostly because there was no metro that could take me there).
But I have also seen certain avenues around these parts that fit the bill of what I like the most out of "shit hole" neighborhoods of, for a nicer term, "grey block zones."
At any rate, if you choose to live in such parts also, just make sure to do your research ahead of time with at least the previously mentioned following steps:
1. Look on Google Maps for where the main avenues area.
2. Visit said avenues on both a Monday afternoon and a Friday or Saturday afternoon (plus the night on a weekend to get a better sense of how dangerous it is).
3. Ask locals on local Facebook groups about the general area and where to stay.
With that said, you'll get a rough sense of where to go.
Anyway, that's all I got to say.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
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Thanks for reading.