Highlights of Mexico
In the eyes of the world, the most common characteristics associated with Mexico relate to the resorts of Cancún or Acapulco, drug violence, tequila and tacos. When we arrived in Mexico City on a sunny Spring day, still reeling from a memorable road trip through western USA, we had our expectations set to a modest level.
The main plan was to meet up with friends in San Andrés Cholula and soon begin our Central American adventure in earnest. Our interests revolved mainly around the ancient pyramids and archeological sites found scattered throughout Mexico, of which we had already seen Chichen Itza back in 2011.
We decided one month should be enough to get a taste of this gargantuan country, funneling south between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
After three weeks cycling the streets of Cholula, we found ourselves alone on the road to Oaxaca. Seeing the agave trees rise in the distance, it began to dawn on us that there might be something else to Mexico outside of morbid news, beans and spring breakers. But what could it be?
Five months later, we had our answers.
Note: since we’ve already provided some info on our first trip to Mexico in our Yucatán post, we’ll abstain from repeating it here. Hence, this entry refers only to our second visit.
When most people think of Mexican food, they usually think of tacos and beans, or any other concoction related to Tex-Mex. However, we soon learned Mexican gastronomy is one of the most diverse in our extraordinary world, and spent most of our time trying everything we could lay our hands on. As non-meat eaters, we had to make do with fish, veggies, the odd insect and at least 5 tons of chocolate.
Although headless chickens are a recurring sight throughout the land, we were surprised at how easy it was to stick to a vegetarian diet, even more so if we delved into traditional Mayan cuisine. Also, we spent hours upon hours meandering through local markets, haggling over fresh kale and the best avocados money can buy. We are proud to admit Mexico is now one of our favorite food destinations on the planet.
During our whole time in Mexico, we did not touch a drop of tequila. Nonetheless, we discovered a few of the more typical alcoholic beverages Mexico has to offer, which often vary according to specific regions. Hence, we tried pulque and tlaxke in Cholula, mezcal in Oaxaca and pox in Chiapas.
Tlaxke is a delicious mix of yoghurt and fruit, and is therefore suited to all dispositions. The other three contain varying degrees of alcohol, pulque having the lowest (mild buzz after a few large glasses) and pox the highest (out cold after a few shots).
Both pulque and mezcal come from the agave tree, found rising green through many Mexican landscapes, whereas pox is made from sugarcane. We found them all very enticing and definitely worth the pesos…
We must also mention the delectable coffee available in Mexico. In Chiapas, we visited a coffee plantation to know a bit more about the process, and ended up making a video about it.
The mountains of San José del Pacífico hold many stories shrouded in mist. We made our own mushroom-induced tales, and will always remember the dragons dancing in the morning sky.
Mexico has a fantastic transportation network. Most of the roads are in good condition, although peppered with infamous “topes”, or speed bumps. For long-distance travels, buses are usually the preferred option, and they range from modern luxury ADO road mammoths to derelict chicken buses. When dealing with shorter distances, our main choice fell on “colectivos” (basically pick-ups) and “suburbanos” (a large van). We tried them all, had a great time and always felt perfectly safe.
Mexico holds as much cultural diversity in one small town as many cities in the developed world. The amount of different languages, clothing, traditions and features is at times overwhelming, but always fascinating.
Religion plays a big part in people’s lives, as can be perceived by the vast amount of churches sprouting everywhere, habitually displaying vivid colors and seemingly under a constant barrage of fireworks.
Mexico’s cultural wealth goes back millennia, and the ruins of powerful empires can still be seen today. We greatly enjoyed roaming through the old cities of the Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayas, gawking at their ancient splendor and magnitude.
But Mexico’s cultural vibrancy is not only measured in tradition and empires of yore. We came across a country where artisanal artifacts stand next to modern art spaces, all trying to bring past and present together, to hopefully ensure a richer future. Culture abounds in Mexico – in galleries, in the streets, even inside small alternative cinemas in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
The Day of the Dead is one of the major celebrations in Mexico – and it is indeed a celebration, where the living eat, drink and sing next to those who are gone. It was also one of the most remarkable events we have ever witnessed in our travels…
The Sea, the Sea
In Mexico, we became enamored of the Pacific and its beaches. We shared the golden sand with tourists and locals alike, bathing in warm waters and even finding time to ride a wave or two. There is much more to love in Mexico than Cancún resort brochures would have you believe.
We only visited a small part of Mexico during our stay, but marveled at how the landscape changed dramatically from one region to another. Leaving the volcanoes towering close to Cholula, the agave fields of Oaxaca led to the nebulous mountains of San José del Pacífico, whereas the hot breath of the Pacific gave way to the highlands of Chiapas.
Throughout the Mexican landscape, beauty was never absent.
For all the extraordinary gifts Mexico has given us, none is more lingering than those embodied by its people. We encountered friends and made new ones along the way, but every day of our travels was filled with the warmth and grace of ordinary strangers.
We met young and old, rich and poor, city-folk and country-folk – all were ultimately responsible for making Mexico one of our best-loved nations, and one we hope to return to in the not-too-distant future.
We couldn’t finish our rundown without yet another silly video. Here’s a few highlights of Mexico in 3 minutes: