A Week in Mexico City

¡Hola! We’ve just wrapped up a week in Mexico City and are about to depart for Guatemala. We’ve spent the last week staying with Vesper’s college roommate, Claudio, who generously let us crash at his apartment. It’s been a busy and delicious week here!

After our crazy layover in Panama, we were pretty exhausted when we arrived here last Wednesday and didn’t do much other than hang out and eat some delicious street tacos. The next day we hit the ground running with a trip to the National Museum of Anthropology, where we learned about the history of Mexico. We finished up the night with dinner at a delightfully cheesy restaurant, with mariachi bands and dancers who performed while we ate.

The architecture of the museum was pretty cool
The Stone of the Sun and our dinner platter at the mariachi place

Friday we had the opportunity to drive outside the city to Teotihuacan, one of the largest ancient Mesoamerican cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we walked along the Avenue of the Dead to climb up the Pyramid of the Sun (one of the largest pyramids in the world!) and the Pyramid of the Moon. We’re blaming the altitude (or maybe the smog that you can see in the pictures), but our legs were so sore the next day! After hiking up all those stairs, we had worked up an appetite and stopped at La Gruta for a late lunch. They had caterpillars, ant larvae, and grasshoppers on their menu, but we were all too scared to snack on bugs and went for some more traditional appetizers and cervezas artesanales instead.

Detail of Temple of Feathered Serpent, Pyramid of the Moon, and Pyramid of the Sun
La Gruta is located inside of a cave!

The next couple of days were spent back in Mexico City. We visited the Chapultepec Castle, which is located on top of a hill in a beautiful park that offers excellent views of the city. Saturday evening, we had a delicious cookout with Claudio and several of his friends, which was a great chance for us to talk to more locals and get travel tips on other locations in Central and South America. Sunday, we spent a lazy day exploring the historical city center’s landmarks, museums, and churches.

Angel de Independencia
Looking down La Reforma, Metropolitan Cathedral, and Javier Marín's Terra

Monday was a national holiday in Mexico, so Claudio had the day off and we went about two hours northeast to the state of Hidalgo to check out the Basaltic Prisms. We left the city fairly early (for us, that is), and along the way stopped for breakfast on the highway. Not an exit off the highway; we literally pulled off onto a shoulder to eat at one of the numerous barbacoa stands along the road. It was amazing! Barbacoa refers to the way they cook the meat (we’re assuming sheep based on the picture), where the meat is either slowly cooked over an open fire or in a pit in the ground. We had huge barbacoa tacos that are currently winning best street food of the trip, plus some soup made from the drippings of the meat - good, but not as good as those tacos. After stuffing our faces, we finished the drive to the Basaltic Prisms, which are these crazy hexagonally shaped columns formed by cooling lava millions of years ago. It was a super interesting phenomenon and a great way to spend a beautiful (smog-free) day outside the city. We rounded out the day with a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was beautiful but also surprisingly slanted due to the front part of the church sinking.

Basaltic Prisms formed by volcanic activity
Barbacoa, overlooking the waterfall, and Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our last few days in Mexico were spent at a slower pace, particularly as we begin to plan our next leg of the trip. We saw a few more museums, ate more street food, and did a last few loads of laundry. Overall, we had an amazing time here, but couldn’t have done it without Claudio’s awesome help! It was great to have an insider’s perspective (and car) to show us around the area.

Here are a few final overall impressions/observations from our week here:

  • Barbacoa on the side of the highway is amazing. Street food in general here has been pretty delicious overall.
  • Women dress up much more here than the do in the US. We’re talking heels all the time, no matter what.
  • PDAs are everywhere. Sometimes you just want to tell people to get a room.
  • Mexican cervezas tend to be lacking in anything hoppy, dark, or pretty much any flavor in general… which is probably why they add things like lime, salt, hot sauce, tomato juice, etc. to their drinks. Check out Micheladas for more on this.
  • The prices here are great! At about 1 dollar to 18 pesos, our travel budget was very happy.

We know a bunch of these probably carry over to other countries, but guess we’ll have to keep moving to find out!

Thanks Claudio!

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A Long Layover in Panama City

Flights from St. Martin to Mexico City were either ridiculously expensive or had some ridiculous legs and layovers. Since we’re on the cheap this year, we chose the latter. Using some leftover Untied miles, we flew from St. Martin to Mexico City via a 15 hour layover in Panama City. Our incoming flight flew right past the canal, providing us with an awesome view of the structure as well as an impressive amount of ships going to/from the port. We landed around 5 pm, made a reservation at a cheap hostel near Casco Viejo (the old Spanish historical district), and spent the next several hours exploring the area.

Our walk to Casco Viejo was spent along Avenida Balboa which - in addition to being an insanely busy road - has an awesome pedestrian walkway right along the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Our stroll here provided some amazing panoramic views of the city’s skyline and sunset views over the roofs of the old city. We joined the countless amount of people out biking, jogging, or just enjoying the beautiful evening.

We then got lost in the streets of the old city, wandering around and enjoying the architecture, smells, and people. We stumbled upon a gathering outside the Cathedral, Vesper found a cheap watch at a local market, and for dinner we had some delicious street food consisting of stewed chicken, lentils, and spaghetti all served over rice. It seemed random, but was quite delicious! As evening settled in, we walked back along Avenida Balboa to see the city lit up at night before heading back to our hostel.

Skyline at night along Avenida Balboa
Wandering around Casco Viejo

We had a cab arriving at 4:30 the next morning to take us back to the airport, for another short layover in San Salvador, before we finally arrived in Mexico City around noon - 24 hours after leaving St. Martin.

We’ve been in Mexico City almost a week now, and we’re planning our next leg of the trip. It looks like it might involve either really long bus rides or some more goofy layovers - hopefully they’ll turn out to be just as successful!

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Celebrating a Birthday in St. Martin

Although our original plan was to start our year abroad in Mexico City, last weekend we spent a whirlwind four days in St. Martin to celebrate our friend’s thirtieth birthday. We said goodbye to America far too early on Friday morning to start our travels. Of course we ended up running through the Atlanta airport to barely make our connecting flight. Nothing like beginning a marathon trip with a sprint!

Once we were all at the St. Martin airport, we got in our dinky little rental car and followed our AirBnB host to the villa for the weekend. This involved some creative driving - namely jumping a few curbs in a roundabout - as we experienced Friday rush hour on the island. Once we reached the house, we couldn’t have been more pleased. We had a small private patio with a pool and lounge chairs overlooking the beautiful water and views of St. Barts in the distance. We had officially found paradise.

Over the next few days, we explored the island’s beaches (some nude as we accidentally found out), cooked delicious meals in our house, and relaxed in the perfect weather. Monday we celebrated our friend’s birthday on a private speedboat tour. We spent an amazing day exploring some small islands and beaches, snorkeling with sea turtles and tropical fish, and lounging in the beautiful blue clear waters. Our day wrapped up at the famous airport beach, where the incoming planes fly right overhead and everyone gawks to take pictures.

We left St. Martin Tuesday afternoon, the two of us only slightly sunburnt, and began our 24 hour trip to Mexico City. Why did it take 24 hours? Find out next time…

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After a short four-day jaunt in St. Maarten and a brief layover in Panama City we have finally arrived in Mexico City! Our year of travel has finally begun and we could not be more excited.

We are so ready!

We are still getting into the travel groove and hope to start posting on a regular basis, but I think it depends on the quality of internet.

One of the many iterations of packing, paring down each time.

In case you were curious what someone would pack for a year long trip, here is a slightly abbreviated list of what we ended up bringing along:

  • Passports
  • Cards and some money
  • Toiletries
  • Meds and first aid
  • 5 changes of underwear and socks
  • 5 shirts
  • 2 pullovers
  • A warm fleece
  • 2 sets of pants
  • Sandals
  • Sneakers
  • Hiking boots
  • A raincoat
  • Water bottle and UV sanitizer
  • Swimsuit
  • Laptops
  • Camera
  • Cell phone
  • Kindles
  • Knife
  • Clothesline
  • Duct tape and para cord (just in case)
  • A deck of cards

It all fits in the bag and it’s not too heavy, but I imagine we will find that we brought too much and have to whittle it down a bit on the road.

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Our First Adventure in Asia

Shortly after we returned from Peru, a friend found crazy cheap flights to China over Thanksgiving and suggested a group of us go. We had just spent most of our vacation days for that year in South America, so we were hesitant to join, but then we realized: $500 flights to CHINA! An international flight for that cheap couldn’t be passed up. So about two months after we had landed back in the US, we boarded a plane to Beijing with five other friends for our first trip to Asia.

The first flight was a quick shot up to Toronto - no problem. The flight from Toronto to Beijing, however, was over 13 long hours. We watched movies, played games, chatted with the flight attendants about the best haggling strategies and markets for fake designer bags, and made futile attempts at sleep.

Beijing

We landed in Beijing around 7 pm, fumbled our way through customs and the subway to our hostel, and collapsed in our giant doom room staring at each other jet-lagged with bleary eyes. Before crashing for the night, we managed to drag ourselves to dinner at a place close by. Although we had been warned, our first experience with Chinese food was nothing to write home about: the food was bland and greasy, and we made jokes the whole time about whether or not the “chicken” we were eating was actually dog. After dinner we went back to the hostel and immediately passed out.

Although our first dinner experience was mediocre, the next morning the hostel owner introduced us to what would be the best food of the trip. She wrote down an order for us in Chinese and told us to walk down the block and hand that piece of paper to a street vendor. We had no idea what we were getting, but it turned out to be amazing. He handed us back a bundle of steamed buns and tea eggs. They were cheap and delicious. From then on, that was our go to choice for breakfast (or really anytime we saw vendors selling it).

We spent most of the time in Beijing exploring the touristy sights including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, and the Great Wall. The sheer size of all these monuments was incredible and would be difficult to explain, even with a photo. A fun thing we experienced was the uniqueness of being white in China. Lots of the Chinese tourists would sneak pictures of us. The bold ones would quickly shove in for a selfie with us in the background, while others asked to pose with us. We thought it was hilarious.

Seeing the sights around Beijing
White people are weird!

Although a lot of Chinese food left something to be desired, it was not all bad. Since we were in China over Thanksgiving, we made sure to find a nice place for the big meal. Instead of turkey we had Peking duck at a fancy restaurant. They made a show of bringing out the duck and carving it at our table. Even the bathroom was fancy, with warming toilet seats and fans to dry your bottom, in case you need that sort of thing. It was the best meal of the trip, plus a testament to how cheap our trip was: despite being a higher end restaurant, the whole meal cost less than $100 for seven people.

Xi’an

After Beijing, we took an overnight train to Xi’an to see the terracotta army. The display was HUGE. It was insane how large the building were that encased the army, and it hasn’t even been fully excavated! There were three major structures that were larger than football fields that surrounded the excavation sites, plus several other buildings that held additional special exhibits, including one that showed what the warriors would have looked like fully painted when they were originally created.

After finishing up with the army, we headed back to the city center to grab some food and explore more of Xi’an. When we finally arrived back at the train station, we were tired and ready for another relaxing overnight train to Shanghai. That would have been great, except we did not realize that Xi’an is so large, they have multiple major rail hubs, and we were at the wrong one… oops.

The ticket clerk assured us that there was no way we would make it, but we had tenacity. We were too many for a single cab, so we quickly rounded up two, threw money at the drivers, and set out for the train station across town. One of the cabs made it just in time, but the other cab was unfortunately 5 minutes too late. After an hour of broken English discussions with the ticket office, we realized that there were no open seats on any train for days and our best bet was to fly out in the morning. We swallowed our pride, bought the cheapest flights to Shanghai possible and rented a room in a hotel near the airport.

This hotel was probably the most interesting hotel experience we have ever had. While it had a beautiful lobby and hotel rooms, the niceness stopped there and the dirty/weird things began. Chain smoking must have been encouraged in every room. They provided paper slippers, some type of face mask in case of space shuttle launch, and a plaque in the bathroom reminding us to shower and “have a happy.”

We have no idea, but at least we are prepared for lift off

Shanghai

We splurged in Shanghai and stayed on the 30th floor at a Marriott right in the city center. The skyline there is already beautiful, and our view was killer. When we checked into our room, we all just stood by the floor to ceiling windows for 10 minutes looking out over the city.

We spent most of our time in Shanghai wandering around, impressed with the vastness of the city. We wandered into a textile market, explored winding streets, and strolled along the Bund. A highlight of the trip was also our first experience with escape rooms at Mr. X. This was insanely fun and has since sparked a love affair with puzzles rooms.

After Shanghai, we took the bullet train back to Beijing, where we acquired a few knockoff designer bags and souvenirs from the Pearl Market and got ready to head back home.

The journey home

Our journey home involved a 12 hour overnight layover in Toronto. We checked out some sites downtown, tried a few new local beers, stuffed our faces with poutine, and somehow ended up at the after party of an electronic music festival. The next morning was a little rough, but it was the best way we could have wrapped up our trip.

Despite our initial concerns about the language barrier, we were able to put together the trip on our own and (more or less) navigate the cities. The food and beer wasn’t all great, but China was a fantastic destination for our larger group to share experiences and do some amazing sightseeing. We learned a ton about the Chinese culture, tried a bunch of new things, and as the title of this post implies, it definitely won’t be our last trip in Asia!

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