Mexico City doesn’t have a great reputation, at least when it comes to crime and corruption. Although magazines like Conde Nast Traveler regularly run spreads on the city’s vibrant arts, culture and food scene, the fact remains that when many people hear “Mexico City” they think crime, drugs and kidnapping.

I myself was a bit nervous at the prospect of navigating Ciudad de Mexico on my own, so I stuck to the very safe streets of Polanco, near my hotel. Polanco is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, lined with Gucci boutiques and gourmet cupcake shops. Yes, the cupcake trend has made its way south of the border, as has frozen yogurt and gluten-free foods. I was impressed by the city-funded free WiFi in Polanco’s main park and that, as in Buenos Aires, there was a bike-share program.

I brought up the bike-share program to a local, and he confirmed that the city was indeed investing more money in bicycles – but not necessarily more money in bicycle lanes. Biking the city, Eduardo explained, remained a harrowing experience, and very few people actually commuted by bike.

In fact, living in Mexico City is a pretty harrowing experience in general. Eduardo said he’d been mugged several times, and had even had his car stolen that year. I’d had a similar conversation with my friend Juliana in Sao Paulo; however, where Juliana felt hopeful that the city might grow safer, Eduardo didn’t see things getting better anytime soon.

The Mexican economy is not thriving the way Brazil’s is. Moreover, Eduardo explained that Mexico – probably more than any other country – saw its fortunes rise and fall in tandem with the United States’. Apparently the old saying “when America sneezes, the world catches a cold” is doubly true for its next-door neighbor.

I’m glad I had a chance to visit Mexico immediately after Brazil – it was a fascinating juxtaposition. There was a kind of palpable optimism in Sao Paulo (doesn’t hurt that they’ve got both the World Cup and Olympics on deck), whereas Mexico felt riddled with anxiety, cynicism and uncertainty