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.

Largest City I’ve Ever Been To

Waking up in Taxco was quite magical. The view even better with the sun rise than it was at sunset. I cannot explain how beautiful this mountainside mining town was and pictures don’t quite show its true beauty. Mindful of the view, we still had a early morning deadline to get to breakfast then onto the bus. I’m not going to lie though, I was pretty eager to head back into Mexico City, the 9th largest city in the world. This city is the largest city I’ve ever been to, by a long shot.

Once on the bus, we headed northeast through some mountains before our first stop of the day, Xochimilco. Xochimilco is one of Mexico City’s 16 delegación (boroughs) and is best known for its canals, which are the remainders of the pre-historic Lake Xochimilco (where the city originally settled). The canals weave throughout artificial islands called chinampas and attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colorful gondola style boats called “trajineras”. With this intricate mix of islands, canals, and trajineras, Xochimilco has been elected as a World Heritage Site, however degradation has placed Xochimilco’s status in question.

As we unloaded ourselves off the bus, we headed down to the water front to enjoy an included excursion on our very own and very colorful trajinera. Each trajinera is designed to have a long table with chairs lining both sides, easily accessible to the chalupas (smaller “canoes), who ride up along the sides of the boats and sell their goodies. In today’s economy the boats are brightly colored, however in the past these boats would be completely decorated with real flowers in different design patterns. We were blessed with a mini-parade of historically decorated trajineras and I was blown away. I couldn’t even begin to explain how many flowers these boats had on them, plus each boat was tossing flowers at every boat that passed by.

Following our little canal tour, we hit the road for a quick 30 minute drive to another suburb known as Coyoacan. This suburb is actually where our tour guide grew up and gave us the inside scoop of the “must-dos”. One of the unique facts about Coyoacan is the fact that it’s the home to Frida Kahlo, who was born, raised and died in her “Blue House”. It was getting close lunchtime (okay, past lunchtime) by the time we exited the bus and this time Ish took us to a local taco stand for some authentic tacos. I was most excited for these because we haven’t had the opportunity to try our hand at some taco stands. This particular stand offered three different varieties of tacos- papas (potatoes), frijoles (beans), and pork and you can believe that I tried each one, papas being my most favorite!

After we inhaled our tacos, we were off (following Ish) on a little churro/coffee run. The churros in Coyoacan, as Ish was explaining, are some of the best churros in Mexico City. He may have been a little biased, but they were DELICIOUS. I got mine filled, yes filled, with caramel and after chugging my frozen Mocha just minutes before I was on my way towards a sugar rush. Following our churro/coffee run, the crew split into smaller groups and ventured off. I joined in with the Stiffs and South Africans and we headed to the main cathedral for a walk through and then to the handicraft markets. After a little time shopping, Stef, myself, Mark and John decided we would take a tour through Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. I know it seems fairly cheesy and touristy but I remember studying and learning about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera throughout my childhood and I was in awe the entire 20 minutes it took to get through her home. Plus, you only live once and I may never get this chance again.

It was back on the bus for the crew and off to the final hotel of the tour, where I would spend our final two night in Mexico and close our my Mexican adventure, Mexico City. Mexico City is the 9th largest city in the world with an estimated 23 million people, who commute into the city center on any given weekday. I don’t know about you, but that’s A LOT of people. It’s a bit smoggy because of the amount of pollution but doesn’t take away from the mystic atmosphere of the city.

Mexico City is my Mexican adventure story takes an interesting turn. The Mexican Contiki tours are all connected. The tour I’m on is called the Mexican Fiesta, which is the first part of the Mexican Grande tour and arriving back in Mexico City is where the second half, or Yucatan Highlights, begins. We knew that once we arrived at the hotel there was a chance of meeting some of the new tour members, who would be joining for the second half. It’s kind of an interesting dynamic because they are just starting and we are finishing. Once arrived at the hotel, I changed quickly and headed up to the rooftop pool and laid out in the sun for a solid hour and met several of the newbies.

By the time dinner rolled around, several of us weren’t sure what we wanted to do. We knew we would be having a long and busy day tomorrow and weren’t planning on “going out” but we were hungry. We ended up at P.F. Changs and it was a nice change in cuisine from the traditional Mexican food I’ve been consuming the last two weeks. Spending quality time with my tour mates never gets old and this dinner was just that, quality time. I know that my time Mexico is coming to a close but my adventure isn’t quite over. Tomorrow is a big last day and I can’t wait for you to read all about it!

From Cancun to Mexico City

When I woke up the next day, I was still in complete shock from my #NoRegrets Day adventure in the open waters.

Did I really just face my fear and concur it?

Was yesterday just a dream?

How did I get to be someone so lucky to live out a day like yesterday?

I can remember laying in bed for a good solid 30 minutes reflecting back and thanking the Lord for not only the experience and chance of a lifetime, but for helping me concur something that has held me back in the past.

I knew the morning would go fast, I still had to pack and the rest of the crew was setting out early on an expedition to visit and learn about Gaby and Miguel’s restoration program (the one that Contiki is in collaborations with): Acropora Palmata Restoration Program (National Park Reefs of Xcalak).

Gaby and Miguel are the directors of this program initiated by Oceanus, A.C that began in late 2011. They currently have over 300 new coral colonies planted throughout Xcalak including Elkhorn coral a.k.a. Acropora palmata, which is the main species that dominate the reef crest and is one of the most important coral reef builders. The basis for the installment of this project was due to a massive disease suffrage that resulted in major mortality of this species. From the information provided to me by Gaby, I learned that this project is one of the first of its kind in Mexico.

While at breakfast, Gaby and Miguel educated myself and the others about the current state of their project. Most of the communication occurred between Gaby and Celine and in Spanish, which made it hard to follow, but I did learn quite a bit about the sensitivity of coral and the damage too much rainfall can cause. They explained to us that last year, one specific region, had so much rainfall that it actually whipped out an entire year’s worth of growth. I knew coral was being damaged but I really didn’t understand to what extent. I am grateful for Gaby and Miguel’s love and passion towards this project and towards our ocean and all their hard work.

After breakfast, it was time for our last goodbyes and it was difficulty to hold back tears. I know I just met these people but everything they’ve done for me during my time in Cancun, made me feel like I’ve known them for years. I didn’t want to part ways with Claire, Celine or Capkin, Gaby or Miguel, or Matteo or Luis, but I knew my Mexican Adventure was only just beginning.

I didn’t give myself much time to pack between saying goodbye and my shuttle pick up, which isn’t like me at all, but in Mexico, time seems to escape me. When I arrived at the airport, Journey Mexico had one of their employees, Alex, waiting to assist me through the airport to ensure I was set and ready to jet off to Mexico City. What I wasn’t expecting after I checked in, was the fact that I was in Premier seating (a.k.a. FIRST CLASS). That’s right, I sat in first-class on the two-hour AeroMexico flight from Cancun to Mexico City and this included free beer! Can you say spoiled brat 🙂

The flight and journey to the hotel were pretty uneventful, well except for the part where my driver drove me to Best Buy and then another camera store to purchase a new camera body. I might have left out this bit of information in my last post because I wanted that post to be about happy memories and not depressing ones. Unfortunately, I made a grave mistake and took my DSLR camera on the boat with me and the sea decided to punish me but getting it wet. I am usually very cautious with my baby and it was heartbreaking to lose something I’ve cherished for nearly three years. Thankfully, my driver was exceptionally understanding and could see my joy in holding a new DSLR camera. I never thought I’d be so attached to an electronic item before and thought I could get by, but it was barely 12 hours and I wanted to crawl into a corner and cry without one.

I arrived at the hotel with an hour to spare. The journey between the airport, the camera stores and the hotel took FOREVER because landing at 4:30 PM on a Friday in the largest city in the world meant rush hour traffic or in Mexico City’s terminology, daily traffic since nearly 22-24 MILLION people live or commute into the city daily. I can no longer complain about the horridness of traffic here in Seattle when comparing it to Mexico City. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

By 7 o’clock, I was up at the rooftop bar meeting, greeting and hanging out with my newest Contiki family (some missing) including our tour guide, Ish. Ish is the only Contiki Mexico tour guide and has been doing these tours for about a year and a half. Impressive huh?! We were missing a few at this meet-up but it didn’t matter to us. We were all so excited to be starting our Contiki tour.

I learned that although I was only doing the 9-day Mexican Fiesta tour, others were continuing on to the Yucatan portion, which is the 13-day Mexican Grande tour. It didn’t take long before we were off to dinner, asking the typical “introductory” questions. Who are you? Where are you from? How old are you? Where have you traveled? What’s the purpose of your trip? Etc. etc. etc. This has to be my favorite part of traveling: learning about other people and their journeys in life. Traveling links you to one another. It’s a bond that you can easily share and Contiki tours are a great way to travel solo and meet people!

By the time dinner ended, I was exhausted and decided to call it an early night, but I was still alone in my room. I was a bit surprised because it was nearly 9PM before my roommate arrived at my room because there was a mix up at the front desk. For the night, I roomed with Aimee, a 27-year-old from New South Wales, Australia! She had not arrived at the hotel prior to us heading to dinner and after learning a bit more about each other, we headed off to sleep as the next morning was an early one. Even though today was full of travel, it was still jammed pack with excitement. Until next adventure…