Today marks the beginning of my 9-day Mexican Fiesta adventure with Contiki. We begin this journey in the massive city of Mexico City or Ciudad de Mexico. Located in the heart of Mexico, this capital city isn’t part of any one of the 31 states, but is part of the Federal District and is the country’s largest city. Mexico City is the 3rd largest metropolitan area (population included) in the world growing to nearly 22-24 million people during the work days. See massive!
We started our morning very early for breakfast before heading on to our home away from home, our tour bus. It took less than 5 minutes for everyone to get comfortable in our own seats as we start our 3 hour journey from Mexico City to Puebla via Cholula (I’ll get into more details later).
Once on the bus, as we headed out of the city, Ish talked us through the “boring” mandatory part of the tour, known as the rules, before getting the party started. The party began by giving us the option to select the traditional morning song. On every Contiki tour, the tour guide selects a song to be played first thing on the bus. It’s designed to trigger memories of the trip long after the trip has ended. I still smile each time I hear the song from my first ever Contiki trip, 6 years later. Ish, however, isn’t your typical tour guide and instead of selecting one song for us, he gave us a choice of three songs to be selected by majority vote. Our song choices included “Happy” By Pharrell, “Get Lucky” By Daft Punk, and “#Selfie Song” by Chainsmokers (don’t ask). By a sly margin of hands, “Get Lucky” was our final selection, though we listened to “#Selfie Song” more than once.
Finally, it was time for us to cozy up to each other and learn more about one-an-another. We were told to sit next to someone we don’t know, ask 6 questions, and then stand up and introduce the other person to the bus. The questions include: name, age, location of residence, career/job, favorite alcoholic beverage, and why Mexico. My bus-mate was Jimmy; 22 years old, from Portland, Australia, newly graduated Sports Journalist, came to Mexico for something different from Australia, and I forgot what drink he told me. [My introduction: Nicole, 27 years old, originally from Phoenix, AZ, currently resides in Seattle, WA, Speech Language Pathologist, I love Vodka and wine and I came to Mexico because I won this trip]. We then had to tell an embarrassing story about our selves. Unfortunately, I will not be sharing my to the public. Only my tour mates are privileged to my embarrassing story! Let me introduce the remaining tour mates:
Darren, (a.k.a Dazzla, D-money, D-train, Chief Mole-Mole, the oracle, any many more) resides from the lovely country of England and is our sole Brit. He won for the most nicknames given to a human being within 9 days.
Our Kiwi is Nicola. She is Maori, which are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, and introduced me to a new side to New Zealand that I didn’t know about. She has one of the greatest sense of humors I’ve been around!
From the land up north, Canada, journeys a pair of friends, Markus and Nora. They come from Nova Scotia and demonstrates how friendships can be created by a similar passion, travel.
The South Africans, Mark and John, journeyed from Johannesburg, or J-Burg (as I was taught) for a brother-trip. Mark is in the film industry while his brother raises, trains and races pigeons. Talk about different career paths.
The remaining 13 travelers come from all over the Land Down Under, Australia. We have:
Stefani and Stephanie: They didn’t know each other before this trip but together make up the dynamic duo known as The Stiffs.
Amy and Kristie: Best friends who grew up in different cities but remained close and travel the world together.
Nick and Jessica: our staple couple who are traveling the world together for the next 6 months.
Bec (my roommate) is coming off of a 5 week adventure from America and was my music guru throughout our trip. I finally had to tell her to stop asking me if I knew songs, because 9 times out of 10 the answer was “no” (I’m not very music savvy)
Jimmy and Glenn (or Ben- it’s his new name): roommates turned bromance and provided us with good stories and many laughs. To be young again!
Rochelle, our rocker chick, Aimee, Natalie, our sweet hippie chick, and Troy are the remaining four solo travelers.
Together with Ish and Marco (our bus drive); we make up April’s Contiki Mexico Family.
Okay, back to the journey. The drive from Mexico City to Puebla was pretty average as most of the first part was venturing through the suburbs and traffic-filled. On our drive, Ish explained that we were driving past a location known for Haciendas, which are Mexican Ranch style homes, and filming of the famous Telenovelas take place in these haciendas. Growing up in Phoenix, I’m very familiar to telenovelas, but if you don’t know about them, they are basically Mexican-style soap operas, but way more entertaining.
Puebla is a World Heritage Site, but before our arrival, we ventured into the history city of Cholula, pueblo magico. Cholula was once second to the Aztec capital of Tenochitilan, now modern Mexico city, and while here we visited the great pyramid dedicated to Quetzacoatl, mesoamerican diety meaning “feathered serpent”. But before entering into this archeological site, we enjoyed a traditional Mexican snack food, chapulines. These bugs, or grasshoppers, are seasoned and roasted and give a bit of a crunch when you eat them, but all-in-all not bad in taste. Not sure I’d eat too many, but I can now say I’ve eaten a grasshopper.
In order to reach the archeological site, you must walk 1-by-1 through a long tunnel lined with dome lights and if your claustrophobic, I would recommend having someone walk with/in front of you. The pyramid of Cholula is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the modern world and stands at 180 feet with a base of 1300×1300 feet (massive). We spent approximately 30-45 minutes learning from Ish, about the various components of this pyramid. For example, the differences between markets for selling food items vs. goods. It was quite fascinating to hear the historical components of this specific locations. (more will be provided via vlog whenever I get to them)
On our way out of the Great Pyramid and before heading back to the bus, we gathered around a centre with a giant pole standing tall and up top stood 5 men dress in costume, 1 in the middle and 4 with ropes tied around their ankles. The leader does a ritual honouring the earth’s elements and then begins to play his flute and beat the drums as the four men fall, with arm outstretched. As the spin, they make 13 circles around the pole, totaling 52; the number of years that comprise the pre-Columbia religious calendar. It was quite the performance.
Back to the bus we went and straight into Puebla, where Marco dropped us off right in the centre square. We were provided with free time, at which point, we followed Ish to a local buffet style restaurant to try our hands at Pollo de Mole (Chicken Mole- pronounced mo-lay). Chicken Mole is a traditional Mexican dish popular in Puebla and is a dark brown sauce with flavors consisting of chili peppers, spices and a little bit of chocolate. I thought it was very appetizing and not too spicy, as most of the Mexican cuisine tends to be.
After lunch, our walking tour of the city of Puebla began. We explored a few of the local churches, which are designed in the Baroque style, including the Puebla Cathedral. This Cathedral is located in the center of the town, a square which became a World Heritage Site in 1987 in part due to the heavy influence of Talaveras. Talaveras are ornamental tiles used on the facades of buildings.
Talavera is also a style of pottery distinguished by a milky-white glaze and is commonly found throughout Mexico. However this most authentic is from this city and its surrounding communities due to the quality of the clay and the traditional production, ages back to the 16th century. We were privileged to visit a local pottery mill, see the stages of production and enter into an authentic 16th century style home. The owner maintained the original structure of the home and is it still in pristine condition.
A sweet treat was next on our list and we ventured to a sweet shop to taste a Camote, candied sweet potato). Although an interesting grainy texture, think taffy mixed with apple sauce, I found this treat to be rather enjoyable and not too sweet. We also enjoyed leche cookies and a few other selected items (I couldn’t keep track).
The handicraft market came next and by this point of the day, each and every one of us were beginning to feel the beat down from the sun. Having been to Mexico many times before I spent most of my time here walking around looking for items different from what I’ve seen. I came up empty-handed, which I didn’t mind.
A nap probably would have been the adult thing to do, however many of the girls gathered in a room and chatted for a few hours (we had dinner scheduled that night), getting to know each other more. I brought my favorite Mexican beverage, Manzanita (apple soda), for them to taste and it was a great way to spend the afternoon. By dinner time, I was famished and enjoy a cup of soup, some meat dish, and a local brewed beer. Conversation flowed freely around the dinner table and continued at a local bar until early the next morning, well midnight. It was a packed day full of new experiences. Up next: Cuernavaca, Mexico