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Tegan & Ingrid's world adventure

Mexico - Not what you'd expect - Part 1

MEXICO | Tuesday, 8 May 2012 | Views [1459]

Palenque ruins

Palenque ruins

When we first decided to include Mexico in this trip we really didn’t know too much about the country. We knew of course where it was geographically, and that it was the land of Sombreros, Corona and Tequila. But in all seriousness the things we did know was that there were some amazing beaches (definitely confirmed that part), some awesome Mayan Pyramids (little did we realise just how awesome they were) and some great tasty and spicy food (although we soon found out that the Australian version of a taco is somewhat different to the real Mexican one.)

However our main reason for choosing to come to Mexico at this point in our trip was because my youngest sister, Erica was studying in Mexico City for a semester and we thought what a good excuse to combine a new country we know really nothing about with a visit to family!

So we arrived into Mexico in the week preceding Easter as that was when Erica would get her week long school break so could spend some time exploring the country with us. As she had already finished up a few days earlier than we arrived we agreed to meet her someway south of Mexico in a town called Villahermosa and from there we would travel together to Palenque. Well it all went smoothly, we arrived in Mexico City, transferred to our domestic flight, arrived in Villahermosa and took a taxi to our hotel and then after just 5 hours sleep we were up and taking another taxi to the bus station to meet up with Erica, her housemate in Mexico city, Solene from France, along with Solene’s sister Loriane and her boyfriend Alan who were also visiting Mexico at the same time as us. So it was a bit of a sisterly reunion all round.

Our time in Mexico was originally going to be just a couple of weeks, then three weeks and eventually we decided on a full month as Erica convinced us that there was just too much to see to make it any shorter than that. Even then we actually only visited Southern Mexico and saw nothing further north of Mexico City. But for a first time tourist to Mexico we think we made a good selection on destinations. Whilst with Erica we visited Palenque, and stayed in basic cabins in the middle of the jungle with monkeys swinging through the trees and also went to San Cristobal de los Casas for an amazing cultural experience. Then we headed to the Pacific coast and the small backpackers town of Zipolite and from there to Oaxaca, the capital of the famous Mexican Mole sauce and Mezcal. Then it was time to visit Erica at her current home in Mexico city as well as a quick visit to a lovely little village outside of Mexico city called Taxco. This was all just in the first two weeks of our stay and we saw and did so much that I am just going to share with you a few of our highlights from each destination.

Firstly Palenque – well our favourite spot has to be the Mayan Pyramids, dotted throughout the jungle, it made for a magnificent setting, all the better as it was our first of many Pyramid visits and a great way to be inspired by the work of these amazing people from centuries ago. But we also made it to a beautiful swimming spot with clear blue crystal waters called appropriately “Agua Azul” or in English “Blue Water.” Highly original names there but hey, to be honest we’ve found that with most of our trip. It’s amusing to say the least.

San Cristobal de Los Casas is a beautiful old town set in the southern Mexican mountains and is famous for its more laid back lifestyle and colonial buildings. Also, a big plus for Erica, its Vegetarian food. We actually enjoyed some fabulous vegetarian food and Mexican food in general whilst we were in San Cristobal. It was our first taste of a Mexican taco and definitely not the best but it introduced us to a new understanding of a taco. Made with simply meat in a soft tortilla and topped with raw onion, lime juice, coriander and hot sauce of your choice. Very tasty bundles of eating pleasure. But perhaps our highlight of our stay in San Cristobal was when we took a local minibus out to a nearby village, San Juan Chamula, famed for its local craftsmen who still wear the traditional dress of woollen skirts for women and woollen ponchos for men. It was fantastic to see this, especially as it was Easter so there were celebrations happening in the street and the local “Zapatistas” who are the freedom fighting clan in the area, were parading in the street, weapons and all. It was really exciting to see. There were also some rituals happening at the front of their church however we felt rude getting too close to a religious ritual, especially at Easter so we just watched from afar.

It was in San Cristobal that we parted ways with Erica, Solene, Loriane and Alan and we went on our way to Zipolite. Our days in Zipolite were literally just spend lazing on the beach swimming and drinking beer by day and enjoying a big seafood lunch in the late afternoon before chilling out with a couple more beers in the evening. This was of course besides my bout of food poisoning which was definitely not a highlight so won’t be explained any further. The beach at Zipolite was incredibly rough with a huge rip so we had to be careful when swimming but it was totally worth it as the place itself was so chilled out. A great backpackers destination plus we stayed at a hostel with the most lovely owner who even let us use a beach umbrella and cooler box for free. Definitely a big bonus.

From Zipolite it was time to travel back inland to Oaxaca and I can’t go without mentioning the amazing bus ride. We decided to take a minibus as it was the cheapest and quickest option. But that also meant it was a very narrow and winding mountain road as the other bigger buses travel around the mountain instead of over it. But it made for a beautiful, if cramped trip.

As I mentioned earlier Oaxaca is famous for its food and drink. In particular its Mexican Mole which is a particular type of savoury sauce poured over meat which comes in many flavours, the most famous including chocolate within the recipe! The drink Oaxaca is famous for is the Mexican Mezcal, which comes from the Agave plant. Many foreigners have never heard of Mezcal and simply have heard of Tequila. Well, we found out that Tequila is simply a type of Mezcal from a particular type of Agave plant in one area of Mexico. Many people in Mexico much prefer the taste of Mezcal and it is made in many different flavours including different fruits, coffee and spices. Our Oaxacan highlight was definitely the food. Tegan completed a cooking course. Those that know him well will also know how much he loves to cook and when we read that Oaxaca was one of the best places to learn Mexican cooking we decided it couldn’t be passed up. So he enjoyed a private cooking class with a chef at a local restaurant where they got to plan a 4 course menu, shop at the local market, cook and then eat it for lunch. It of course included a traditional Mexican Mole sauce for main meal and a glass of Mezcal. If you’re keen to sample the goods from his newly found Mexican cooking skills hit him up when we get home, oh yeah and don’t tell him I told you that.

From Oaxaca it was on to Mexico city and a brief stay at Erica’s current home which she shares with four other exchange students, all from France! I think she feels a bit like she should be learning French rather than Spanish sometimes. When we arrived at Erica’s my other sister Sonja had also arrived in Mexico the previous day. So it was another sisterly reunion with a big house party that night to top it all off.

Whilst we were staying with Erica for a couple of nights we really loved our evening visit to the Xochimilco canals in Southern Mexico City together with Erica’s housemates. We had a great night in long boats called “Trajineros” gliding down the canals whilst enjoying a few Sunday afternoon beers. There are even Mariachis (a traditionally dressed Mexican band who play and sing for you if you pay them to) who had their own boats and when someone flagged them down they’d just attach their boat to yours and play for you. It was great to watch. There were also floating sales people selling everything from teddy bears to roasted corn and hot tamales. The landscape was also surreal as Mexico City is just so huge and busy everywhere you go but out on the water you would never even know you were in one of the biggest capital cities in the world. It was just so peaceful. Two hours of that for just $20! A well worthwhile spend, particularly considering that was split between 7 of us on the boat together.   

After a couple of nights spent at Erica’s place we decided to give them all a bit of space as let’s face it 8 people in one house is pretty damn hectic! So we headed off for the small town of Taxco just two hours south of Mexico City by bus. It was recommended to us by both Erica and her housemates as a great place to see close to Mexico City and is known in Mexico as a “Magical Town” or in Spanish, Puebla Magica. Really this just refers to a beautiful quaint town, generally colonial in architecture and a great place for a weekend getaway, or in our case, a mid week getaway. We really enjoyed wandering the streets of this gorgeous place, taking the gondola for a great view above the town and sampling some more fantastic Mexican food. Here we had a yummy Pozole, a type of Mexican soup filled with meat, white corn and other yummy veggies topped with avocado and a type of pork crackling called Chicharron. We also had Tacos Dorado which are crispy shelled taco tubes stuffed with spicy chicken and then topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and avocado. Simply delicious!

One thing we especially enjoyed during our time in Taxco was a visit to some caves close by. These caves were absolutely massive, we’d never been in caves that big before. We had to take a guided tour in Spanish which was pretty useless to us, as let’s face it, whilst our Spanish has definitely got better we are NOT at the stage where we can actually understand sentences. But still we got a few of the jokes the guide made and had a laugh along with everyone else. What we really loved was that the structures inside the cave we just so huge and so amazing to look at. We walked for two kilometres inside the cave and at some points the roof was as high as 70m. They had even built an auditorium where they told us they sometimes hold music performances and in the past have hosted people like Pavarotti, Domingo, Andrea Boccelli and many others. Then he went on to proudly mention that this year they would be hosting Lady Gaga, we just thought, hmm wouldn’t have quite put her in the league with everyone else you just mentioned, but hey…

From Taxco it was an adventure back to Mexico City, with having to just trust that a bus was going to eventually arrive by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to take us where we needed to go. Ahh the joys of travelling! 45 minutes later than the time we were told it would arrive it eventually did.  We love Mexican time. This time we stayed in the middle of the city where we got to visit the Templo Mayor. Sonja came into the city as well and we all went there together. Templo Mayor is basically an Aztec temple which was found just 30 years ago when they were doing some renovations on a building in the city centre. They were digging up the floor when suddenly construction workers came upon a huge Aztec calendar. It was decided that this must be of significance and the Mexican government decided to tear down 13 buildings, many that the Spanish had built on top of this ancient Temple. They are now still uncovering this temple but the public are now able to wander in amongst the ruins of what is now left of this place that is quite literally next to the central square in Mexico City. A truly unique experience.

I’m going to leave it there for now and we will continue on our Mexican adventure in our next blog when we headed off to the Yucatan Peninsula.

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