Vamos a Mexico!
I’ve been to Mexico before….if it counts that it was on a cruise to Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. Yea, I know that doesn’t really count. Which is why I’ve been wanting to go. Also I did feel a little guilty about being a slightly obnoxious neighbor.
This trip was planned around Dias de los Muertos, the day of the dead festival. My best friend decided to hitch along with me for her first international trip. Our route included Mexico City, Patzcuaro, Guadalajara, Tequila, Guanajuato and a stop in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve before heading back to Mexico City. For the sake of spacing out all the photos I took in Mexico, this blog specifically covers Mexico City.
First stop, Teotihuacan, the Mesoamerican city just outside the city. Though many cultures, including the Aztecs would come to claim it as their own over the centuries, not much is known about the original people who lived here and built it up as a city. Believed to have been started around 100 BC, there is no information about why it was built. The compound is centered around the Avenue of the Dead. It’s about a mile long ending at the Pyramid of the Moon.
If you are so inclined towards beautiful views, the climb up the Pyramid of the Sun promises a substantial vista. However, the steps are steep and the high altitude is enough to make even the most fit of trekkers stop halfway up to “admire the view” before the final ascent. Most everyone makes it though, the elderly with canes, yogis ready for sun salutations and even Japanese grandmothers sporting sombreros.
Both pyramids are worth a climb offering different views of the massive complex. Bring your hiking shoes and be prepared to be swindled out of a little money by a guy blowing into a whistle that sounds like a jaguar call. You’ll realize shortly after handing over MX$250 you should have paid MX$40 for that it really doesn’t sound like a jaguar when you do it.
Day 2: Xochimilco (pronounced sochi-mil-co; xochitl: flower, milla: garden, co:place)
Luis was on the hunt for calendulas, marigolds, for his Day of the Dead altar. Marigolds are an invitation to the dead to return and are strewn gracefully in front of altars to resemble a runway or just placed around the altar with food and drinks.
But first, lunch! We stopped at the market to try some local delicacies: quesadillas made with huitlacoche (corn smut), chicharron and pumpkin flowers. Yes, it was all delicious, but my favorite was the corn smut!
Next stop was a pulqueria for some pulque, drink of the gods. It is made from the fermented sap of the agave plant and tastes a lot like milky kombucha.
The main attraction of Xochimilco are the festive boats cruising the canal. From the outside it looks like a tourist trap with all its glaring colors but it mainly serves as a popular destination for locals celebrating birthdays, family gatherings and any other occasion. You hire a boat, one size fits all and join the parade on the canal. Vendors cruise around selling food, plants, flowers and most importantly drinks! Try a michelada. Choose a cerveza and dress it with lime juice and hot sauce, rimming the cup with salt and spice.
Two hours was up in no time. The day could have floated away sipping micheladas and drifting the canals listening to mariachi bands and toasting with tipsy locals. This is one of the must-dos for a trip to Mexico City. Grab a few friends or find some strangers to go with you and it’ll be a blast. The only word you’ll need to communicate is “Salud!”
Mexico City was the beginning of a beautiful trip. As an American, you don’t always hear the best things about Mexico and when people find out you are visiting there and aren’t going to the beaches they question your mental health. Never on this trip did I feel unsafe or taken advantage of. Yes I may not be the best bargainer and I found myself speaking French while trying to respond in Spanish, but instead of pickpockets or sinister intentions, I was greeted with broad smiles and warm invitations. All they really want from you is that you eat a lot and have a good time.
Tips for traveling in Mexico City:
- If you have an unlocked phone you can purchase a sim card with about 1 gig of data for MX$150 (roughly USD$8.33 in 2016) from any Telcel (best coverage). Perfect if you are there for 2 weeks! Topping up is just as easy if you stay longer.
- Metros are the cheapest costing MX$.10 (half a penny!) for a ride but Ubers are also surprisingly cheap averaging MX$40 (USD$2.22).
- If you are considering driving around Mexico from Mexico City be prepared for hefty tolls on main highways. They are the quickest and safest but range from MX$40-$400 per stop. A three-hour drive will cost you around MX$700 (USD$38.89). Gas is more expensive. Also make sure you have the mandatory insurance on a rental car. This is a good article that explains insurance: http://www.sfgate.com/mexico/mexicomix/article/Renting-a-car-in-Mexico-What-you-need-to-know-3787891.php
- Visit Teotihuacan by yourself without a tour. This is a good article and how to catch the bus: http://thegirlandglobe.com/how-to-visit-teotihuacan-without-a-tour/
- Most importantly! Learn how to say your numbers in Spanish. Above learning anything else learn those numbers! You will have a upper hand at bargaining!