Saturday, February 20, 2010

Falling for Mexico: a whirlwind trip that included (but was not limitedto) ruins, chocolate and art.

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My recent trip to Mexico was amazing.  First off, it was great to see my dear friend Lana and travel with her for the first time.  She is the reason that we planned this trip and it was her genius and planning that made it run smoothly.  Secondly, I discovered a budding interest in Spanish that I have carefully ignored since freshman year of college. Freshman year, I got to take a Latin American Culture course and a Spanish class (both of which I enjoyed). I need to budget in time and dollars to learn Spanish.  It was so cool to hear the Lana speak Spanish and get us around everywhere.  I could understand a lot of the basics, but when the conversations go intense or exact directions were needed – I was pretty useless. 

Mexico City
I arrived in Mexico City around noon and had to wait for three hours for Ms. Avulova to arrive.  This was not a problem as I had packed a book and seated myself comfortably front of her airport gate. She arrived an hour early (when does that ever happen?) and we went down to grab money (of course we had both showed up without any) and took a cab to our hostel.  Our Hostal Montejo was our home base in Mexico City.  Our host, Aaron, was absolutely amazing. He gave us a map, laughed at us when we told him what we wanted to do (mind you that night) and patiently reorganized our trip in Mexico City.  This was essential to us having an amazing time in Mexico.  We were walking distance from the Bosque where the Museum of Anthropology is located and so we headed that direction, and followed that by a nice walk to the Zona Rosa with some good eats. 

Day 2 involved us heading to the Zocolo of Mexico City via bus. Our first stop was the National Palace where we saw the Diego Rivera murals, the Cathedral of Mexico City and the Templo Mayor.  All was very impressive, but the fact that I was choking on smog and had burning eyes did not settle well. We headed to more murals and took a look at a beautiful post office and then headed to Coyoacan to see La Casa Azul aka the home of Frida Kahlo.  First order of business in Coyoacan was buying me a fluffy towel.  Made the rookie traveler mistake of forgetting my towel and rookie traveler I am not (disorganized, yes, but rookie, no)!


Coyoacan was pretty and cute and made up for the streaming madness that the city center.  The home of Frida Kahlo was gorgeous and the way the museum was laid out with her art, letters and photographs was very beautiful. It was like walking into her and Diego Rivera’s love story and it was just gorgeous.

Teotihuacan was our next early morning adventure.  About 30 minutes outside of Mexico City is a vast expanse of land and where the Aztec people seized the temples of the an older culture and built upon their massive temples.  Called the “Place where men become gods” by the Aztec people, the site features temples that ascend to the heavens and natural acoustics for priests to pontificate their interesting and somewhat bloodthirsty religious dogma.  The highlights in Teotihuacan were told to us by our guide as we walked around looking at murals and tried to imagine how the old city moved with the ebb and flow of people.  We also made a quick stop to taste some tequila, pucca and mezcal all wonders made from agave plants, and then we headed to go up the Temple of the Sun. I didn’t make it.  I got too nervous to go up the stairs and go to the top so I waited while Lana went up, said hello to the sun and then came back down.

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That afternoon we jumped on a six hour bus to Oaxaca City!

Oaxaca City
We arrived at 10pm and rang the bell to be let in to our hostel (a literal bell on a string).  Marta the matriarch of Hostel Quijote, let us in and showed us our room.  The next morning she sent us to Chocolate Mayordomo to get some hot chocolate and bread to start off our morning.  We then headed to Monte Alban to see our next set of ruins.   Monte Alban was fantastic. We were high up in the mountains, there weren’t that many tourists, and so it felt like our own Mesoamerican playground. But let’s rewind two seconds and talk about HATS! At the entrance to Monte Alban a woman was selling palm hats for around two dollars. There were bright ones, plain ones and multicolored ones – I, of course, settled on granny-esque one with a multicolored ribbon around it.  So the morning was not only spent frolicking around ruin, but frolicking with hats!

That afternoon, we explored the city center and met up with our dear friend Laura Boyle, who had been studying in Oaxaca for a week. It was nice to see her (I hadn’t seen her since we met up in London in 08).  The next day we were signed up for a cooking class at La Casa Crespo.  The cooking class was the highlight of my trip.  We started off the morning planning the menu with our teacher, and then we headed off to grab the necessary ingredients at the local market.  This was cool because we learned what items to look for and also more about local Oaxacan offerings. We headed back to the kitchen and began to whirl up salsas, mole, soup and ice cream.  I was in love with the colors of the venue, the smells of the food and the hands on action of learning how to make it all. 
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Palenque
Talk about whirlwind. We arrived in Palenque at 8 am and left that night at 6 pm.  Within that time frame we packed in a four hour tour of the Palenque ruins where our private guide Francisco told us all about the Mayans and how they were geniuses.  Except for making their skulls look like corn that is just plain awkward.   We walked around the ruins and then headed into the jungle where we were bitten by 18,000 mosquitoes and were utterly frightened by the chance of being bitten by a snake.
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Cancun
Oh cheap Miami (as our wonderful host in Mexico City put it) how you give Americans such a misguided and sad view of Mexico – Cancun was part of the reason I initially wasn’t that interested in travelling to Mexico and how sad I would have been had I not made this trip!  On the other hand, Cancun is just a lot of fun and ridiculousness, and we got to stay in a huge resort at a hostel price! Woot to hotwire.com for hooking us up in a 4 star hotel for 78 dollars a night! We visited Isla Mujeres  on day 1 and hung out at the beach.  It was all very lazing around and being fabulous after our jungle adventure in Palenque. The next day, we visited our final set of ruins at Chichen Itza.  Chichen Itza is an amazing site and restored very well.  You can’t go up to the top of the ruins anymore (I went up when I was in 8th grade – it was terrifying), but it isn’t the most necessary part of the tour.

The next day it rained all day and even if our plan had been to stay on the beach all day, we were happy relaxing and getting massages! All in all, a good way to end an adventure.

I really liked Mexico and am starting to feel very inspired to learn Spanish.  This will be the year methinks and I am very excited for it!

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Links to all of my photos

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