Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Perhaps its an obsession with borders or the natural curiosity of wanting to know your neighbor or most likely the many nights in college spent watching Y Tu Mamá También (that last scene where the Spanish woman shouts to Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, “You’re so lucky to live here. This place oozes life!”) but either way, I have always had a fascination with Mexico. Places like Guanajauto, Merída, Chiapas, Oaxaca sound ideal, relaxed, disorderly, colorful to me but since I only had a week to explore and dislike packing in too much, I figured Mexico City would be a good place to start. Finally this July, for a round trip ticket that was less than my plane ticket to NYC last weekend, I made my way to Mexico.

“Travel is only glamorous in retrospect,” Paul Theroux wrote in The Patagonian Express, and accordingly, my trip to Mexico City involved a lost phone (left it in the cab), a little bout of sickness, and many unforeseen delayed flights but still I can’t stop thinking about mezcal served with a side of orange and Frida Kahlo’s garden and our apartment in La Roma near a roundabout full of little cafes. 

I’m lucky to have a friend who wants to vacation in Mexico City with me, and beyond that, I’m lucky to have, between us, three friends who have lived in el Distrito Federal previously, who sent us detailed lists of places to visit. From what they recommended and what I gathered, here’s my list of favorite sights:

Roma and Condesa – Our guidebook laid out a walk through Roma and Condesa, the two bourgie, upper-class neighborhoods of Mexico City. The walk led us pass outdoor cafes, city plazas, a few bookstores, and 18th century style buildings. On any given day, I love walking and people-watching but even more so when I’m traveling and gathering my bearings so this happened to be one of the highlights of my trip. My friend and I went on a walk at dinnertime so the city was especially alive after everyone had come home from work. Be sure to stop by Mercado Roma when dining, Parque España when relaxing, and El Péndulo Bookstore if you’re in the mood to browse.

Dance salsa – I may be biased because I dance salsa but I think  the worst thing you can do when travelling to Latin America is to seek out trendy bars that only play English music because it is de moda these days. If you don’t dance salsa, just go and humble yourself, take a seat, enjoy the music and watch. Or dance – I swear, you’ll end up enjoying yourself. In Mexico City, Mama Rumba is the place go but there’s also La Hija de los Apaches if you’re feeling adventurous.

The Frida Kahlo Museum – The museum is worth it for the trip to Coyoacán alone. Coyoacán feels like a quaint town inside the massive city and offers some respite from the hustle and bustle. The museum is an ode to one of my favorite artists but also in general, a pleasant house and garden tour. Coyoacán’s center plaza and markets are great for wandering through, especially when all of the university kids and families have filled the square at night.

Bosque de Chapultepec – Most come here for the Anthropology Museum, which if I hadn’t been fighting off a stomach sickness, would have been fascinating. I thought the bigger attraction though was the park itself with its 1,695 acres. I only saw a peek inside Chapultepec (the largest park in Latin America and also the lungs of Mexico City) but I’d say it’s definitely worth exploring.

Tepoztlán – I recommend taking a day trip outside of the city. While the capital is a creative force and full of energy, most of Mexico’s magic lies in its countryside. I ended up heading to Miacatlan to visit Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, the organization I worked for in Honduras, but I hear great things about the mountain town of Tepoztlán and am quite said I missed it.

Calle Regina – Calle Regina reminded me of a spot in Granada, Spain I used to go where the street was closed for pedestrian use and outdoor cafes sprawled out onto the brick lane but true to Mexico, it was a bit too chaotic to be considered charming. Students and artists flock here at night, which will make you feel in the know but then again, will also mean you have to ward off the piropos that men send your way as one of the few gueras on the street. Per the advice of a friend, I went out to La Burra Blanca, an anarchist dive bar with cheap beers and live cumbia.

Mezcalería – There are too many mezcal bars in the city to direct you to just one but you can’t leave the city without sitting down and sipping on mezcal, served with orange slices and sal de gusano (salt ground with dried caterpillers). On my last night in the city, my friend and I wandered in the rain to find a spot to end the trip and after walking into two slightly unimpressive bars, we finally stumbled upon a mezcalería that had full tables and played salsa quietly in the background. Hearing Spanish all around me, sipping on my mezcal, I looked at my friend and realized I needed to come back every year I can.

Also worth mentioning: the Zócalo, the Palacio Nacional for Diego Rivera’s murals, Xocimilco, the ruins of Teotihuacan, Arena México for a Lucha Libre fight, Fuente de Cibeles, La Lagunilla market for antiques, this wonderful Airbnb, and the list goes on…

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