Day 1- December 24, 2014: First night in Distrito Federal aka Mexico City
I started my journey out of Newark and unfortunately had to fly past Mexico to El Salvador.So what really should’ve been about a 4 hour trip was a good 9 hours in total. Boo. I touched down in DF (pronounced by everyone in Spanish almost like day-ef-ay) around 11pm and my homegirl Salma, who had flown in from Cartagena and had been waiting for a while, met me at the gate. We were last with one another in Cartagena in May, where we’d met 2.5 years ago. With the reunification, it was time for the games to begin.
Almost everyone I spoke to who knows anything about DF has said, “watch out for the taxis!” This link from TripAdvisor about getting from the Benito Juarez Airport, while pretty helpful, also had me picturing some sort of chaotic scene where hordes of sketchy dudes try to lure you into their cabs and you are then quickly whisked away to your destination while praying in the back seat that you took a legal taxi. But when we got outside to where the cabs were it was clear that the reality, in terms of danger and time, was nothing of the sort. We’d paid inside for Excelencia car service because it was the cheapest (around USD $19), but the lines for the couple companies that were out there were off the chain. Super long and damned near stationary. One cab came every 20-30 min. They said that because it was Christmas Eve (which soon turned to Christmas Day during our wait) there were fewer drivers. We waited a good 2 hrs. (no exaggeration) and it was cold as hell out there. But eventually we hopped in a cab as we cheered and said it was a Christmas miracle.
To understand DF one of the things you have to keep in mind is that it is a maaassive city. We are talking 22 million people in the city limits and another 20 million in the metropolitan area. It’s not just intensely populated, it’s also geographically huge, sprawling. Someone told us that, especially in heavy traffic which is the norm, it could take 3hrs to get from the north of DF to the extreme southeast.
We were heading to the far north to a colonia (neighborhood) called Tlalpan (trust that we are working hard to pronounce all the Aztec/Nahuatl words) to stay with a girl through CouchSurfing. This was my very first experience participating in Couchsurfing. Salma is a huge fan as it's an economic way to see a country and share in the lives of people who are from there. For the uninitiated, it’s a system where people go online here and ask to stay at people’s homes for free. When I’d first learned about it a few years ago I was fascinated. What are people getting in return? Why would you invite a complete stranger to come kick it at your house for nothing? How do you feel safe as a surfer or a host? The system of references and comments they’ve set up seems to allay people’s fears fairly effectively. And most people apparently really seem to do it for the cultural exchange. It differs depending on where you are I believe. For example, I remember hearing a guy from some city in Spain talk about it and he said that he was going to stop hosting people because he was just encountering folks who wanted a cheap place to stay and weren’t really about the sharing. Some hosts seem really hands off. Let’s chat, here are my keys, see ya later. Others want you to be attached to their hips. We thought that the girl with whom we were staying, Ixtzel lived alone but when we arrived at around 2am the house was bustling with family celebrating Christmas Eve. It turned out that she lives with her mother, father and two brothers. And it was quickly apparent that we were in the company of some truly sweet and loving people. Salma and I were both exhausted but we kicked with everyone for a while and then tried to plot on the adventure that lay ahead.
Day 2- December 25, 2014: Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico
We ended up waking up Christmas morning still unsure of what we were gonna do. We had some contacts through Couchsurfing and other sources and our plans changed a good four times with every new opportunity and piece of information, which can be unsettling, but is also the beauty of the kind of travel where a flexible schedule means you are open to all possibilities and you can really get your exploration on. Eventually
Ixtzel's older brother, Alberto where we could head to Tepoztlán to visit Salma’s old housemate, whom I’d also met in Cartagena, who was now living at a yoga sanctuary in Tepoztlán. We got to the sanctuary after about 3 hrs of traveling via car and taxi and to our chagrin homegirl was nowhere to be found. But hey, we decided to just leave her a note and explore Tepoztlán. It’s a super cute puebla (town) that reminded me of Cusco, Peru a bit. The architecture, hills, mountains in the background.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a Tepoztlán race fail in a tiny store we stopped in to use the restroom.
Umm, for starters did someone really make "El Negrito" a vocabulary word for the kids? Then did this person go on to depict him like the Planter's Peanuts dude minus the monacle? And wait, is "El valiente" (The brave) depicted by a white dude, knife in hand, with his pecks showing? Is that what's going on here? Oh okay, shake it off. Now back to the rest of the day.
We toured the market, which is held in Tepoztlán regularly but was particularly large because of the holiday so that streets were closed off and filled with people and vendors.
There are some places in Latin America where I just love the handcrafts and the prices make you wanna come back with a suitcase full of goodies. Other places, meh, not so much. Bolivia has beautiful handcrafted leather bags and carefully stitched blankets that would cost you almost nothing if you are coming from the US or Europe. Peru has gorgeous silver and alpaca sweaters, hats, etc. Argentina is killing the leather game. Ecuador also has some really nice alpaca items. So far I’m really digging Mexican painting, woodwork and ceramics. Every region specializes in something gorgeous so I found this site helpful to know where to get what in Mexico Arts and Crafts in Mexico | VisitMexico
Things were hella reasonable in Tepoztlán and of a solid quality. However, when we asked the taxi driver as we left about prices there compared to elsewhere he told us Tepoztlán’s more expensive than other places in what is basically the DF metro area. He told us that tourism is forcing the prices of everything up and it was obvious when I saw this mural, a familiar call to people to protect their town, its culture, its people. "Tepoztlán- No se vende" (Tepoztlán is not for sale).
We ate enchiladas at a pretty traditional place (Traveller’s note: I realize that foodie culture is all the rave, especially in the States. So I’m sorry to disappoint you that this adventure will not be focused on what I consumed. It’s just so not my thing. But moving forward I will attempt to cite the various things you can eat which represent the culture.). We later hit up a cute café called Cacao as we waited to head back to meet Ixtzel’s brother. And of course, just as we are heading to find a cab old housemate calls. Such is life. We rapped with her for a bit and took a cab back to Cuernavaca and like some Jackie-come-latelys met up with Alberto late and headed back to DF.