An Earth Shaking Experience in Mexico City
After a long year, full of my happiest times to date, and my most earth shaking times I have decided to shake off the dust on my publishing roots and get back to the grindstone. I was searching for some divine inspiration when an unlikely candidate encouraged me to continue my writing. So—today—I continue sharing my thoughts, despite my insecurities, despite my total insignificance in history, and lastly (and most significantly) despite my total disappointment with the human condition because of the hatred, ignorance, and wars that I see daily.
So while I have not published in quite some time, I have still had adventures in these many weeks. Adventures are inevitable for those of us who have a spirit of an explorer in this life. Blessed are the wild and free at heart, for they should have adventures all their lives!
So Why Mexico?
Like usual, it was time to get off the beaten path.
Architecture That Will Take Your Breath Away.
I’ve been trying to earn some credibility as a traveler. I’ve wanted to get off of the beaten path and to get away from the tourist traps to find the authentic places of past and present. You see, I will never be a Sandal’s All Inclusive Resort or a Carnival Cruise kind of girl. I can appreciate a good long day sitting in a beach chair, but there is too much certainty in places like that. I try to discover culture. I find satisfaction in experiencing new things—and I can typically visit several places with a backpack (and go for twice as long) cheaper than some of the typical all-inclusive places. Don’t even get me started about Disney World.
Mexico was a baby step, metaphorically speaking it was a step farther than the castles of Europe; training shoes for the jungles and the grasslands where creatures and natives roam. This year I have discovered that there are two types of people in this life. There are those who let the distractions of daily lives rule them. Then there are those who seek to learn, study, grow, and roam. I am determined to be the later.
Places on the short list for now: Columbia, Oaxaca/Yucatan, Peru, Argentina, South Africa, Mozambique, India, Nepal, Banff National Park in Canada, Seattle, and climbing a 14er (that’s 14,000 feet) this summer in my new home state of COLORADO!
What society told me that I would find in inner, central, Mexico: cartel, crime, sickness, history, and culture.
What I actually found on my trip: an earthquake, colorful architecture, conquered people of history, the best street food that you can find, Tacos Al pastor, carnitas, the spirit of the natives, Pyramids, grilled grasshoppers, archaeology, Giardia, wonder, pride, and some of the most hospitable people that you will ever find.
Please accept this as my ever failing attempt to describe the wonderful and complex place that is Mexico City. I visited 16 weeks ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since.
Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. It’s vast expanse for exceeds that of New York City. It was hard for me to comprehend until I experienced something that no photograph could ever convey. I flew into Mexico City in the middle of the night and gawked while looking outside of the plane window. The sea of lights strung upon the hills seemed to stretch for eternity.
It’s hard to fathom a place that big.
It’s Got Culture. It’s Got Class.
Mexico City is also the oldest capital city in the Americas. It was founded by the Native Americans, then later taken over by the Aztecs. It used to be on an island in the center of Lake Texcoco. The city had amazing engineering feats like aqueducts and bridges. Spain later came to conquer the territory. The lake bed dried up and expanded into the modern crawling expanse. Many of the beautiful buildings now have foundation issues because of the dried lake bed. A crowded city with foundation issues in an earthquake prone area is a logistical nightmare.
We stayed in a modest place called Chill Out Flat in the middle of the historic district. After a long flight, naturally we headed to the room for a bit to clean up and rest. A cool breeze blew through the bathroom window. Sirens started going off in the streets and of course we didn’t think anything of it. Suddenly, the property owner busted into our room as I was half dressed. He told us that we had to get out of the building because of an EARTHQUAKE. I grabbed my passport, my LifeStraw, my shoes, and ran downstairs barefoot into the street. As I stood barefoot in the grubby street with centuries of dust underneath me, I told myself, “Here I am abroad– I am going to get swallowed by the Earth – I hope my mother knows I love her–I hope someone takes care of my cat– If I do live, will the airport crumble and leave me stranded?”. Dramatic? Yes. But it was a new experience for us and we were thankful that it was just a small tremor. Naturally, after the trembles were over we spent time reading up about Earthquakes. Apparently after one hits, it is very likely that another will hit soon after. Andrew and I had 3 false alarms while we were there. One of which gave a group of fellow travelers quite a fright when they rolled their luggage on the wooden floor past our room in the hotel. It’s crazy how rolling luggage on a wood floor sounds EXACTLY like an earthquake . . . We looked like idiots. Crazy Americans. When I had the chance I asked the property manager: “Why did you come to our room in to warn us? Where you not concerned about your own safety and timeliness climbing downstairs? He replied, “In Mexico we take care of others staying under our roofs. I am responsible for you because you did not know about the Earthquake”. So my conclusion the first day was that the hospitality of these people was outrageously amazing. [Also, the cost was extremely reasonable, it was very clean; included a hearty breakfast made by a local woman who served us at a table full of other travelers.]
- Wander the streets in search for the perfect taco. Each taste will be better than the last. Eat outside! Drip it on yourself– these are requirements.
- Pasterleria Ideal can’t be missed. This bakery arms you with a tray and tongs when you enter. You stand in line to have your pastries bundled in string and butcher paper. This place was so unique and unlike anything that I have ever seen. For a second I even contemplated how to open something similar of my on in the U.S.
- If you follow me closely, then you know that I am cheap. But we usually splurge on one sit down restaurant while abroad. Fonda el Refugio is a family owned joint where President Obama ate when he came to town. It’s in the cute artist neighborhood of Fonda. The owner will greet you at your table. Don’t skip the homemade chips and salsa, the desert, or the homemade candy [But do not take ice in your drink or dip your candy in water like the waitstaff suggests. After eating on the street and not getting sick, I got a bit too comfortable here at this high class place . . . and I did both. Ever heard of Montezuma’s Revenge?] It was still beyond good.
- Eat at a non-touristy restaurant: Salon Corona
Things to Try
- Have a conversation with someone about immigration to the United States.
- Ask someone how they feel about your nationality and how they feel tourism has changed the area.
- Marvel at the majesty of the churches in one of the most religious countries in the world. Notice how light shines through the window as if it is directly from heaven.
- Venture into the “low” side of town and discover that there is a difference between poor and working vs. unsafe.
- Visit the largest slum in the world. See the colorful houses on the hills. Ask a local about the water storage containers seen on roofs, the lack of available water, and sanitary issues of water.
- Take a tour with a guide wearing an Indiana Jones hat to describe the archaeology of the native Teotihuacan civilization. Climb the sun and moon pyramids. Doubt if your lungs will make it, conquer the steep steps holding nothing but a rope. Get a lesson about warring, conquering, and human sacrifices. Learn about the obsidian trade and how people made jewelry and weapons. Marvel at one of the great mysteries of history… how could this powerful civilization disappear without a trace?
- Learn about how dye was (and is still is) made from the eggs of insects, crushed, and combined with plants to make beautiful tapestries.
- Walk in a park
- Visit a market
- Walk up and down an entire street of dresses for sale for Quinceañeras
- Speak with a Native American about their closeness to nature and ancestral spirits
Visit the National Museum of Anthropology. Visit Lucy– the oldest skeleton ever found. Gasp at how short she was. Observe Aztec relics.
- Wrestle with the fact that parts of Mexico are so safe, while others are not. Think about how imaginary lines on a map can influence culture. Ponder the fact that a place so close to the United States can be so different, yet the hearts of the people are totally the same.
- Take a Free Walking Tour [like we do everywhere possible] to learn about the city.
- Befriend a local.
- Think outside of the box to rid yourself of stereotypical thinking.
Viva La Mexico!