The Sun and The Moon

How can one city be so noisy in the morning? Oh wait there’s more than 10 million people here that’s how. In all honesty it didn’t really matter because we had another early morning, rise and shine, wake up call. We had to be on the bus by 8AM to begin our tour of Mexico City.

Getting on the bus this morning was a little different as we were joined by, I believe 22 more tour mates, who all are just starting their tour. As best we could, the original Mexican Contiki family gathered into the very back of the bus. Segregation did occur and we may or not be okay with it, but only in this context. We didn’t want newbies. We liked our original crew but we adjusted quickly to the change, as I knew we would. I was a bit bitter for most of the day because I was leaving and wasn’t in the mood to make new friends, which lasted for about 30 minutes.

We started off our morning, driving through different parts of downtown Mexico City, making our way to the main cathedral and National Palace (government building). As we drove, we learned about the various round-a-bout status and their meaning. None of which I remember. Brain was in full overloaded at this point. When we arrived at the National Palace, we exited the bus and divided into two groups. At this point, we did have two tour guides due to Mexican law, which was a little sad because Ish has been it for us for a whole week, but again we learned to adjust.

Entering the National Palace, after the metal detectors, you walk into this open courtyard with a beautiful fountain. Ish was explaining to us the history behind the fountain and the building itself, which is still used for government purposes today.The main stairwell and the walls of the second floor are covered, ceiling to floor, by grande fresco murals designed and created by Diego Rivera. The murals located on the wall are jointly titled “The Epic of the Mexican People”, created between 1929 and 1935, to demonstrate the various stages of the Mexico culture. The main stairwell mural is a combination of different images that depict the History of Mexico from 1521 to 1930.  In the middle level of the National Palace is another set of 11 panals by Diego that are part of a series depicting the pre-Hispanic era. Due to Diego’s passing, this series was not completed and the walls remain blank. Looking at Diego’s collection of frescos at the National Palace is quite impressive and reminds mea little of Michelangelo and his work at the Vatican. 

After exiting the National Palace, we were off to the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City, commonly referred to as Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. This main cathedral located right next door to the National Palace is the largest cathedral in the Americas and built in sections between the years 1573 and 1813. The church is designed and built in the Baroque style, common throughout Mexico. Like many popular historical places, the cathedral has suffered some extensive damage over the past century. A fire back in the 1960s destroyed a large portion of the interior requiring restoration that uncovered some important documents and artwork (seeing the positive from a negative situations). Built on soft clay soil, the churches foundation was beginning to create a sinking affect and threading the structural integrity, placing this cathedral on the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Thankfully, following restoration, the Mexico City metropolitan Cathedral was removed in the year 2000.

Before parting ways with the center of Mexico City, we stood outside the cathedral and captured our Mexico Contiki Tour group photo (minus several tour mates who came down with the flu bug).

Once back on the bus, the introductions between the old and the new tour mates began. We had to sit next to one of the newbies to merge the old with the new. I sat next to a young Aussie named Jacob, who reminded me a little of my brother with his long hair. He was quite the surfer boy and was there for a good time. Many of the new tour mates were there to PARTY, after all they are heading to Cancun for 4 days. We did introductions the entire bus ride out to our next included excursion, Teotihuacán.

What is Teotihuacan? Teotihuacan was an ancient pre-Columbia Mesoamerican city located just outside of modern day Mexico City. This place is known to many for it’s extravagant archaeological structures and two grand pyramids. These pyramids are dedicated to two Gods the ancient people of Mexico worshipped. The larger of the two is known as Pyramid of the Sun and the smaller one is known as the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Thanks to restoration efforts, both pyramids are able to be climbed by tourists and is the most visited archaeological  in Mexico. This archaeological site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ish began to explain to us, prior to lunch and entrance into the site, that Teotihuacan was one of the sites nominated for becoming one of the New Seven Wonder of the World. However, because not much is truly known about this archaeological site, that it did not end up qualifying for the final seven. I find it fascinating that for as much that is known about Teotihuacan, their is still more unknown about this grand site.

BUT…before we entered into the archaeological site, we made a pit stop at a local craft market/shop to learn a little about tequila and about their acclaimed volcanic rock art pieces. We learned about the process of turning agave, which varies from region to region into tequila. The men who harvest the agave plants, jimadores,  use a tool called a coa, and are taught to be able to identify a plant ready for harvest versus those that are not. They maintain adequate heights of the quoites, which are   high stalks that grows from the center of the plant. Did you know that if the quoites were skinned away from the stalk, the material is actually as strong as paper, and can in fact be written on? I wouldn’t have believed it myself if she didn’t show us.

Once identified the jimadores carefully cut away the leaves from the piña, the succulent core of the plant. This is when the process of heating, cooking, draining the juice, fermenting and so for begins. After all the processes are complete you’d have tequila, which THEN becomes classified into the 5 commonly known types:

  • Blanco (white) or plata (silver): white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels
  • Joven (young) or oro  (gold): unaged Blanco tequila that is colored and flavored with caramel
  • Reposado (rested): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size
  • Añejo (aged or vintage): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo (extra aged or ultra aged): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels, this category was established in March 2006

We also tried our hand at a delicious cactus beverage called pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting the sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It’s a bit milky in color, but tastes delicious.

After our tequila lesson, the guide began walking us through their process of creating volcanic glass sculptures using various minerals and stones located around the region. This particular volcanic glass is known as obsidian. It is a naturally forming glass found within the margins of lava flows where the chemical composition nduces a high viscosity and polymerization degree of the lava, thus creating obsidian. Obsidian is hard and brittle and was highly used throughout the pre-Columbia Mesoamerican culture (click here for further information regarding the uses in Mesoamerica). I had no idea lava could become a natural glass and the designs and sculptures put together at this store were breath-taking.

After our “quick” and educational stop at this shop, we headed towards our lunch destination. We dined at Restaurant McCoy Artesania, which was a buffet style restaurant. It was a little pricy and wasn’t anything spectacular but did has some wide variety of traditional dishes and entertained us with an Aztec style dance. I think at this point in the day, as it’s like 1 o’clock, we were all ready for the pyramids and were happy when it was FINALLY time to enter the site.

When we arrived and exited the bus, we were given a little bit more history about the site, but I was in complete “awe” starring at the centuries old ancient buildings. I don’t even know how to put into words this feeling of utter amazement. Have you ever been somewhere that was so historic and beautiful? This feeling has only happened to me once before in Pompeii and even then I couldn’t formulate words. We walked towards the Pyramid of the Moon, which you are able to climb half way and the steps were so steep you practically had to crawl up them and coming down you had to hold onto a rope. The Moon rises to 140 feet towards the sky, and I estimate that we climbed to approximately 100 feet high (as I have no idea). Not going to lie, I was actually afraid I was going to fall.

Once down, I continued my way through the Plaza of the Moon with John, Mark and Stef and down the Avenue of the Dead towards the Pyramid of the Sun. The Sun rises 246 feet (75meters) and Stef and I climbed ALL THE WAY to the top and the view was astonishing. It was exhausting climbing but worth ever ounce of energy. At the top, Stef and I met up with Jimmy, Amy, Darren and Todd and had some entertaining photo opportunities including many selfies (typical). We weren’t able to spend too much time at the top, but even just the short 15 minutes was enough for a life time.

Back on the bus for our hour long drive back into the city, which I’m pretty sure was spent in semi-silent as many of us, myself included were completely spent. I was planning on grabbing a nap at the hotel in prep for the night’s festivities, but once back at the hotel many of us gathered in Jess and Nick’s room for pre-evening drinking and socializing. I must say, the new tour mates were in party mood and rearing to go. We didn’t have too much time before it was off to dinner.

Dinner tonight was INSANE as we added about 20 more people to the crew. We dined at a restaurant called “El Refugio” fonda where we were served a choice of soup from a selection of three (chicken, chicken and veggies, and veggie) and a combo plate, which included a stuffed chile, a chicken enchilada, and a taco. Talk about selection. Plus, all of this was ended with dessert. I could barely make it though the main plate of food. The best part of dinner was trying to figure out what was going on. There were so many new faces and with the tight quarters it got loud quickly. This was just the beginning of our night as many of us decided we would “party hardy”.

After dinner, Ish directed us to a local bar called Tamaulipas, via taxi, where I jumped in with Mark, John and Jimmy. Let’s just say the night escalated from here in so many great ways. Taking tequila shots with Stef and Amy to start, dancing with the crew, to “ditching” (I say that nicely) the newbies and making our way towards an Irish pub, where we proceeded to dance and talk and laugh. We ended the night screaming at the top of our lungs to our tour song, “Get Lucky”, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end this tour.

I knew then that the next day would be the final goodbyes (which ended up being me completely hungover), but having one last go round was more than I could have asked for. This entire experience, trip and everyone I met on my Mexican Adventure with Contiki was perfect. I have had the time of my life, accomplished something I never thought was possible, met so many amazing people, and learned more about a culture I grew up right next too.

Thank you to the entire Contiki family including Ginny and her team, who worked behind the scenes to set this up; to Claire for making my time in Cancun so wonderful and traveling across the Atlantic to support me as I concurred my fear; to Celine and Capkin for taking time away from your son to help make my No Regrets day possible and the amount of time spent planning and filming this trip; and to Ish and my tour mates for providing me with an amazing tour filled with knowledge, laughter and an all around once-and-a-lifetime experience. Lastly I want to thank my entire support system- God, my family, my friends and my follower for coming along my journey with me and supporting me with everlasting love and faith. I don’t think I could have done any of this without each and every one mentioned. I cannot wait till my next big adventure- transitioning my life into a new city and new job.

Cuernavaca Bound

The morning of the second day, I woke up feeling, well “ugh”.  I cannot believe it. How am I sick already? I didn’t think I drank that much last night. I was good. I stuck to XX Amber and Negro Modelo. There’s no way I’m hung over, which only means this feeling was more than just the bottle-flu. In hopes that getting a few more minutes of sleep would do the trick, I chose to skip breakfast and take a shower. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t feeling up to snuff and barely managed to pack with enough time to walk down stairs and catch the bus.

Once on the bus, I started to feel okay. Sitting was a good option. Today’s journey would take us about 3 hours from Puebla to Cuernavaca though Pueblo Magico of Tepoztlan, a longtime home base among precipitous cliffs and temples of the Nahua people and according to myth, the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent-god nearly 1200 years ago.  Unfortunately, in 2009, Tepoztlan title of Pueblo Magico was revoked in 2009 for noncompliance. It didn’t take the town long to fix whatever issue it had and regained the title approximately a year later. This town is famous for two things; 1) remains of a temple built on top of the nearby Tepozteco mountain, and 2) the exotic ice cream flavors prepared by the townspeople. While in Tepoztlan, standing in the zócalo (town center), we were educated regarding the agriculture most commonly grown in this region, maize and a variety of other grains. A very sweet and adorable elderly woman, allowed Ish to use her plethora of grains brought to the market for sale as our classroom. (see pictures here).

At this time, my flu-like, dehydration symptoms were becoming more prominent the longer I stood in the sun and wandering through the market with the very potent perfumes of fish, chili, and raw meat did not aid in my survival of the day. Once through the market, Ish brought us to entry way of Ex Convento Dominico de la Natividad, which looks more like a fortress than a cathedral. The entry way was completely compiled from grains and maize. (see pictures here). This was our second UNESCO World Heritage Site, inducted in 1994. I was struggling to comprehend exactly what Ish was explaining regarding this cathedral, but I believe he mentioned that this was the location where the Spaniards did all but force the local indians to convert to Catholicism. However, I wouldn’t quote me on this fact. My brain could barely function and focus on taking pictures. 

Before our trek back to the bus (as the bus was unable to drive us to the town), we stopped in t Tepoznieves, the ice cream shop for a little taste Mexico or as they say, Nieve de Dioses- Ice Cream of the Gods. This local shop has more than 120 flavors of ice cream and sorbet, ranging from the typical strawberry, chocolate, and bubble gum to beets, maize, and even the exotic tamarind. I selected pistachio (favorite), cappuccino and mango. All three were exceptionally delicious!

We continued our journey onward towards Cuernavaca and at this point I’m fading fast. The ice cream was probably not the most intelligent of decisions, but it’s ice cream and I wasn’t going to say no.

Cuernavaca, located in the state of Morelos, was established by the Olmec over three thousand years ago. It is nicknamed “the city of the eternal spring.” because of its stable, warm climate with abundant vegetation and the nickname delivered. It may have only been 80 degrees but this chick was on her last leg and felt as though I was going to pass out standing in the middle of the city center. Thankfully, we didn’t have a walking tour scheduled as were provided with free time to gather lunch and do a bit of shopping. I joined majority of the crew at a local 100% Natural restaurant and most of the initial portion involved my head face down on the table. I remember hearing Ish say “I think we’ve lost Nicole”. At this point of the day, I was still going off an empty stomach and knew I needed to eat so I chose a bowl of fruit with lemonade for some natural sugar.

Once our free time came to an end, we ventured off to our hotel, which was the brand new Holiday Inn Express and instead of hitting the pool like everyone else, I showered in freezing cold water (my core body temperature was ridiculously high) and PASSED out hard for a solid 2-3 hours. I hate missing out on the fun, especially this early in the trip, but if I couldn’t get rid of this icky feeling, it was only going to make the rest of the tour more unenjoyable.

I rallied awake and got ready for dinner, which included my glasses. If there is one thing you need to know about me, I NEVER wear my glasses in public unless absolutely necessary. This shows how icky I truly felt.

Dinner was included tonight and was a delicious spread of salad, veggies, chicken mole and a select few beverages. Some of my fellow travelers enjoyed their very first Squirt and tequila. If you are unfamiliar with Squirt, let me educate you. Squirt is a grapefruit flavored beer and is delicious both solo or when combined with tequila. Once dinner was completed, it was back to the hotel for a room party and more laughs and stories than I’m allowed to share. I mean we went from “Heads or Tails” to “Never have I ever” and well you get the picture. It was all fun and games until security was called and off to bed we went. Tomorrow’s adventures included jetting off to the beach resort town of Acapulco.

Pictures of my sick filled day two here

The Contiki Journey Begins

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

Picture Here