After spending about two months in the USA, mostly with Di and Praval, we took a flight out of Vegas to Mexico City. When our travel plans had been detoured towards the western hemisphere, we decided to make the most of the time there. While a lot of things were in consideration, including Cuba and South America, we had settled for a couple of months in Mexico. While discussing these plans in the US circle, the frequent question of “Two months!? What will you do for two months in Mexico?” came up. Well, we were about to find out.
A Taste of Mexico
We landed late in the evening in Mexico City. From up above, the city had a very familiar feeling to it. It could have been Bangkok, or Delhi (had Delhi’s air been cleaner), or any other big Asian city. It was a stark contrast to the weird built up city that we had seen on take-off, Las Vegas. Although, the exit of the city had offered a nice view of the Grand Canyon.
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Catching the flight gave us a promising taste of the warmth that we were hoping to find in Mexico. The flight crew had been warm and friendly, such a change coming from the cold cold Europe and USA. The entry into Mexico was chaotic in a way that felt like home. A ramp had been blocking the way for the bus that would load the passengers. Then, for some reason, the buses wouldn’t leave till all of them were loaded. We were eventually dropped off at an obscure service gate that was opened from the inside when the crew with us said something on the walkie-talkie. By the time we reached the baggage belt, the bags were stowed away in some corner of the arrival hall with no-one having any idea as to where exactly. All this was just a sample of the chaos that we were going to find in this mammoth city. I, personally, did not mind. 😆
We took a metro to the center of the city, where our hostel was located. The metro was busy, as was to be expected after the chaos of the airport. We were slowly taking in the Mexican way of things and my broken Spanish helped us get robbed of 10 pesos by the ticket vendor 😑 One thing that stood out at the metro stations was the insane amount of PDA. I mean, it was difficult to not look because it was in every direction! 😲
The metro was a simple enough experience and we reached our stop in about 40-50 minutes. We walked to the hostel and I was surprised to find the entire place shut and bolt at 9:30 in the night! I had expected it to be like an Asian city center (in my mistaken comparison with Asia), bustling with life and energy till the wee hours of the night.
We found the hostel and dumped our bags. The lady at the reception found my Gorillaz tee interesting and told me that she used to be a fan of the band “when she was young”. We took some recommendations for food and headed back out. The one shop we found open was not too far. I had a lot of trouble understanding their rapid Spanish but I tried my best and eventually managed to order our dinner 😬 We had a nice meal, our first real Mexican food! It did not disappoint!
After the food we walked around a bit to see center of the Zocalo and then came back to the hostel and called it a night.
The next morning we had a task at hand. We needed to buy a sim card and the past half day in Mexico City had taught us that the language problem was real. Not as bad as Russia but very real. I located the office on Google Maps and then we headed out with me practicing some phrases on Translate app 😂 Surprisingly, it did not go as bad as I dreaded. Once I asked them to slow down, I could understand a bit of what they were saying and make out the rest in charades. We got a new connection and topped it up and were all set to take on the Mexican world! 😤
The People and their Gods
We went into a neighbouring Starbucks for some coffee when the Mexican American behind me in the queue told me about Templo Major, thus triggering the first recommendation of ours in Mexico City.
We headed to Templo Major after a quick stop at the hostel. We walked through the Zocalo now in broad daylight and saw the grand structures all around. The architecture and colours had a very Spanish feel to them; in my media aided imagination, I would have imagined Spain to be something like this.
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Walking through these grand structures, we hit upon the dug up site of Templo Major.
The temple was discovered a few years back right in the center of Mexico City. The ancient city of Tenochtitlan, on top of which the center of Mexico City now resides, was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. The natives' temples were destroyed and churches were built on the top of them. Templo Major was the main temple of Tenochtitlan but since it had been rebuilt 7 times helped the older phases of the temple survive the destruction.
We walked through the preserved complex which had a lot of history to it. Since this was an unknown part of the world to us, it was all quite engrossing and we, in our typical style, spent close to 4 hours here as opposed to the recommended hour and a half. The temple was dedicated to Tlaloc (rain god) and Huitzilopochtli (sun god or god of war). These were the primary deities of the people of this region - Mexica (dubbed Aztec by the Spanish).
I think the museum was very tastefully done as well. Plus the entry fee did not pinch for a day’s activity.
After the temple, we sat at a cafe which overlooked the ruins and had some guacamole and refreshments.
We wandered through the lanes of a local market en route the hostel. It felt very much like India (minus the honking). The Zocalo was certainly an interesting place.
That evening we spent a lot of time completing some pending blog work. Parul struck up a conversation with the kids we were sharing the room with. They were party kids from Chile and one of them was studying films in the USA. But a more interesting conversation started later that evening when we stood in the balcony marvelling at the lights that lay sprawling around us, covering the vast plain and the hills. We asked the guy sitting there if he knew what it all was and he told us that this was all Mexico City! He was an actor from Argentina and the conversation that lasted over an hour was a mix of learning Spanish, a lot about Argentina, movie recommendations, etc.
The next morning we left the hostel for an AirBnB we had booked in another part of the city. One of the reasons why we shifted was that the hostel was nothing like what I had imagined it to be. I was expecting more of South East Asia and this was more of USA. The other reason was that the AirBnB was turning out to be cheaper than the hostel.
The metro dropped us in a residential area. Pretty lanes and buildings. We had left early so I was somewhat hungry. I managed to order a plate of tacos for breakfast. I have no idea what all I asked him to put into it but it was delicious! 😂
We eventually reached the AirBnB in one of the residential buildings and met our hosts, Dahlia and her cat Gato. The room was a pretty one and we settled in soon enough.
The initial few hours were spent planning our next two days in Mexico City and our travel thence. Dahlia was an extremely interesting person and full of useful information. She had travelled within Mexico the last year and kept recollecting fond memories when we told her the list of places we planned on going to. She was also a foodie and kept telling these intriguing bits of information about Mexican cuisine and it’s history. A few hours later, we had started feeling like we were bunking with a friend rather than being hosted by someone we had met the same morning!
Realising that it was too late to do anything touristy that day, we headed out to grab a late lunch of quesadillas, had a nap and then left to wander around the Roma neighbourhood before sitting down for a dinner of sope and more quesadilla 😄
Of Art and Theater
The next morning we started off towards the Chapultepec park which housed a bunch of museums. It was a huge park in the center of the city and me, being a sucker for parks, totally loved it! Lots of people were out and the general vibe of the place was one of happiness (the reason why I love parks).
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Our primary interest was in the Museo de Arte Moderno (MoMA) which Dahlia had recommended over the Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s house). She had said that it would be a better introduction to Mexican art in general rather than just one artist. Plus we had read reviews of overflowing tourists at the Casa Azul so we chose MoMA instead.
As Dahlia had said, it definitely was a better introduction to Mexican art and artists. We learnt about the rich history of art that the country had. I was impressed by quite a few of the works there, particularly of the muralists, including Diego Riviera. Frida Kahlo was strictly okay for my taste.
There was a section of contemporary modern art. There were a few pieces that I enjoyed but most of it flew right over my head 😅
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There was another exhibition by a photographer, Caballero, that we walked through with a lot of interest.
And then there was the fun stuff 😛
One thing that I loved about the museum was the reasonable entrance fee. It was just 70 pesos for MoMA. Thing made the country’s culture so accessible and did not restrict one in terms of choice. We did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time in the museum and did not do any other in the area 😛 Instead, we walked around the beautiful park for a while and got caught in a sudden shower! Good thing that we were prepared and had our ponchos handy!
Once the rains let up, we walked down the Paseo de la Reforma till the Angel of Independence. I was happy with the multiple photo opportunities that the city was providing and kept clicking away at anything and everything.
We then walked past the Zona Rosa and caught a metro back to the BnB. Mexico City (CDMX) had a lot of fascinating facets to it. From the historical Zocalo, to the commercial Zona Rosa, to the quiet residentials like Etiopia. Understandably so since it housed roughly 20 million people, some 20% of the entire country! The population of CDMX is comparable, or perhaps even more than Delhi’s but somehow it does not feel all that crowded. It is much more spread out and there is an inherent level of organisation in all that chaos.
After a short nap we headed to Arena Mexico. Another thing that Dahlia had suggested and we had immediately gotten interested in was the Lucha Libre. You could call Lucha Mexican WWE but technically WWE is American Lucha. Lucha Libre started in late 1800’s!
It was an interesting night concocted of beers, ridiculous theatrics, a job offer for Parul while she waited in the line for the washroom, my camera disallowed at the gate and me fretting over it, stealthily clicking pictures from the other camera I had managed to sneak in. It was all mighty fun! 😆
While leaving the arena we bought a mask for me and a onesie for Sushi. The Indian in me felt slightly disappointed that there was hardly any scope for bargaining. The quoted price was too low to begin with! It felt nice to see that the people of this country are not yet at a place of unlimited greed 😄
Birthplace of the Gods
We woke up late the following morning as well and had a double breakfast of empanadas and chillaquiles. Then we used the public transport to slowly get to Teotihuacan. This was another site that we had initially decided to skip because of it’s popularity. We had thought we’d see the ruins in Yucatan later so this would probably be a redundant affair. Dahlia, fortunately, had corrected our mistake. Teotihuacan was Aztec while the ruins in Yucatan were Mayan. Plus, Teotihuacan was famous for it’s obsidian work and the sample she showed us had us sold on the idea.
We did not mind too much that we reached at half past two in the afternoon. The entry fee was a nominal 75 pesos and the tourist crowd was over the top. We quickly did Piramide del Sol amidst a throng of unfit tourists. The 250 odd steps were not really a challenge and the view up top was quite beautiful.
However, we rushed down for the fear of obsidian artists shutting shop. We clicked some photos and then found a guy who was just about to wrap up. Once again the quoted price was low enough and we ended up buying more than what we had initially planned 😛
Rainy clouds gathered in as we did a quick tour of the museum to make sense of what was around us. The 40 minutes we spent before the museum closed down was probably the shortest we have done in a museum of this size!
By the time we got out the rain had let up and we walked around on the recently washed paths.
We hit the Avenida de los Muertos a couple of times which is the main avenue along which the entire city was constructed.
We walked all the way till the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Snake). It was late and the rains had shooed a lot of tourists away. We shared the temple complex with another couple and sat a bit to enjoy it. Eventually, we were asked to leave since it was closing hour 😛
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The ruins were well preserved and there was certainly something surreal about the huge pyramids that the ancient Aztecs built. While it was nothing “spectacular”, it was certainly worth the visit and the obsidians. Happy with the way our day was spent, we grabbed a glass of pulque from a vendor on the street side and waited for a bus that would take us back to CDMX.
We slept till late in the BnB since the day’s walking had been extremely tiring and then left for a late dinner with Dahlia. She had been amazing company and we still think that our time in Mexico wouldn’t have been half as amazing if we had not met her 😄
Our last day in Mexico City started off with Dahlia teaching us how to make salsa and huevos rancheros.
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We gobbled it up hungrily as brunch, packed up, and made an impromptu decision to go check out the Cineteca Nacional de Mexico with Dahlia. It was such a cool place! They show popular and art movies from around the world. We were too late for the one English show we had enough time to catch. So we walked around the complex, browsed through booked in the bookstore, bought some coffee and cakes, talked a lot, shopped in a cool retro store and got caught in a sudden shower. I jotted down some music and movie recommendations as Dahlia drove us to the airport where we caught a late night flight to our next destination, Puerto Escondido.
We reached Puerto Escondido late in the night and took a colectivo to Brisas de Zicatela, where we had booked an AirBnB. We dumped our bags and found a shop close by to have some sope for dinner before we called it a night. The next morning we headed out to the beach to check out what the town had to offer. Turned out, Puerto Escondido was a surf beach. Who knew 😑 The big waves crashing down meant that we wouldn’t be doing a lot of swimming out here.
The Art of Doing Nothing
Looking back, we spent the 6 days in this town doing more or less nothing. I contemplated taking some surf lessons but out of laziness and speculation never got around to it.
Our days would start with a brunch followed by siesta in the room. We might work on the blog or watch some odd television series on Netflix.
When the sun died down a bit, we headed out to the beach. I went for a run a bunch of times and was quite surprised at how difficult it is to run on the sand 😱 But the third time around I was doing better and enjoying myself. We sat at the shacks on some days enjoying the sunset and watching the surfers take on the waves. It seems like an interesting activity. Maybe I will try it one day.
The weather was stormy at times and sunny at others. It was hot and humid throughout.
Our favourite thing to do in Brisas was to eat. There was a traditional Mexican place we had found that made the absolute best guacamole we had had thus far. Parul also says she liked the chillaquiles here more than Mexico City.
But it was not just the Mexican cuisine. Brisas had a thriving expat population and cuisines from all around the world. Some in their element and some fused with the Mexican tastes to make a gastronomical delight. The meals did cost a pretty penny as per Mexican standards but once the food came it was all justified.
In other news, the cats at the property had become friendly with us. Though I am not a cat-person, I find sitting and observing them fun. My Spanish had started becoming hopeful. I had started picking up the accent out here and did not default to English when I struggled. We binged watched Stranger Things 3 and I thoroughly disliked it 😑
Life’s a Beach!
We had dismissed Puerto Escondido as a surfer beach town but there was enough for a non-surfer to do here as well. We walked around the small town of Brisas a couple of times and had learnt of it’s lanes by heart in the 6 days we were there.
One of the days we headed to Puerto Escondido to find a couple of beaches that had been recommended to us. Playa Carrizallilo was a small learner friendly surf beach which was suitable to swim in as well. However it was way too crowded for our liking and we immediately made our way out of there. We walked around the pretty neighbourhood to find our next destination - Playa Coral. This was nice and spread out. Much less crowded and seemed like a nice place to chill a while. So we did just that. I went for a swim as well and it was an exciting affair with a fierce ocean and a shore that suddenly dropped deep.
My pick of beaches was the one beyond the Punta at Zicatela. We went to that one twice in the days we were at Zicatela. The entrance was through an adventurous set of alleys cut out into the rock by the waves. You had to wade waist deep in water or clamber across a short rocky stretch to reach the other side. It had all the beauty of Zicatela without the crowd. The beach seemed to stretch out endlessly and would have been perfect for a run. We made do with some swimming and walking along the beach. Parul was in perpetual fear that the high tide would lock us out on this side and we wouldn’t be able to return to Zicatela 😂
One of the nights we sat on the Zicatela beach just after a storm had passed the town by. We took a bottle of wine with us and watched the clouds drifting above the ocean. Streaks of lightning formed inside them ere the clouds lit up in beautiful hues of orange. We must have sat there for an hour or two, watching the lightning and listening to the waves crash. The sky directly overhead was clear and lit up with the stars and moon. Far away, the lights of Puerto Escondido glittered. It was a trip in itself! We had left our cameras in the room but Parul’s phone did a decent job of capturing long exposure shots. I was taking in the scenery and found it weird as to how I was thinking of it in frames. Hopefully it will pass with time and I will learn to enjoy such moments in a way I did before I owned a camera.
We had our philosophical moments as well. Parul compared the rough sea to life. Eventually there is the relatively calmer part but to get there you have to the waves of your inhibitions and doubts. Perhaps it is easier when you are young since you are also fearless, but then that might not be necessarily true.
Mexico City and Puerto Escondido had given us a taste of Mexico and we were definitely looking forward for more. From the bustle of CDMX to the hippy beach-side vibes of Puerto Escondido, it all was fascinating in a lot of ways. This countries had a lot of apparent similarities and subtle differences from Asia but it felt very much like home. The people were just as warm and their smiles just as welcoming. We ventured forth into the country with an eager anticipation.
Read the next part from Mexico here.