On Wednesday, February 21st, started my big adventure/project ‘ConnAct’. My parents took me to the airport of Cologne in Germany where everything went smoothly and we had good timing. The flight to Cancún should have taken 12:30 hours but, in the end, it took us only 11h and I was quite happy about it. The flight was good; I had a nice Italian guy sitting next to me, I had time to get acquainted with my new camera and I read about Mexico in my Lonely Travel guide. Everything was good, but I was very nervous about the trip I was about to begin and several times I wondered: ‘What the hell am I doing? I should just have a few days in Mexico and then go home.’ I swear, I’m never going to have another goodbye party before I leave for a trip, it makes this just too hard!
Arriving in Cancún at 5:30 PM local time, I had 3:30 hours to go before my connection to Mexico City. That’s usually quite OK, but in this airport, there was no wifi and I was very tired, so those 3:30h were very, very long.
The connecting flight was good as well. It only took 2:30 hours, so I arrived in Mexico City at 22:30 PM. Fortunately, there was wifi at this airport, so I could take an UBER to my hostel where I arrived at around 23:30 in the night. Check-in went fast and smoothly and at around midnight I was finally in bed. I was very tired and fell asleep quickly.
The hostel (Hostel Home) is very nice; the rooms are spacious, breakfast is simple but good, it’s clean and there are nice common areas where you can meet people easily. The only bad thing: it’s very, very noisy. You can hear everything people say or do, so no privacy, even on the toilet… Like in many countries in Central and South America, there is no throwing toilet paper in the toilet but in a basket next to the toilet which is – in my opinion – disgusting, but okay, I’ve seen this before.
The next morning, I had breakfast with an Italian guy, a girl from Germany and a girl from the States. They were super nice and I was sad to learn that the Italian guy was leaving for Puebla that same morning. The girl from the States is a very interesting person. She’s a writer and composes articles for the New York Times about travelling and success stories of solo women travellers. She just came back from 6 months in Hong Kong and is going to stay in Mexico for some time. Very interesting!
Suddenly, all the fear and homesickness of the last days were completely gone and I was back to being the happy traveller I always am. 🙂
I started exploring the city by getting lost, as usual. 😄 I took a wrong turn on my way to the subway and ended up taking the metro at a different station. On my way there, I bought a Mexican SIM card for my phone so that I am always reachable by my Mexican friends and since I’m staying in Mexico for about a month, the 5€ it costs are well invested.
Getting lost that morning had a very nice outcome: I met Arni from Iceland. He had been travelling across Florida with a friend for 10 days and was now in Mexico City for 4 more days before flying home. He’s a pilot for Iceland Air and a very nice person. We quickly decided to spend the morning together exploring the historical centre and to do a free walking tour. First, we wanted to do the official tour but then, we met another guy doing a free walking tour and decided to go with him. There also was a couple from China, living in California (Andy Deng and her name I forgot), and we had the best time together. The tour is called Mexico Atzlan Free Walking tour and the guide is a master’s student of history. I can warmly recommend his tour because he doesn’t just go around in the city, talking about its history and showing the buildings superficially; he actually goes inside the buildings with us. So, we went into the Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional where he explained all about Mexican history, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, famous painters of Mexican history. Did you know that the Aztecs had only a very late and short empire (1325–1521 AD)? They came from somewhere in the North and built a huge empire that fell because of Spanish colonization. The Maya civilization was very different from them. They lived much more to the Southeast and their empire started much earlier with its most important period between 250 and AD 900. Unlike Chile and Argentina, where all indigenous people were killed by the conquerors, here in Mexico, Aztecs and Maya people survived and their blood continues to flow in today’s Mexican civilization. Both civilizations are famous for their knowledge in astrology, math, their beautiful temples and pyramids and their religion based on gods linked to the earth, the wind, the sun and the darkness. Aztecs had 3 main gods: one for the light, one for the darkness and one for the underworld. Most temples in Mexico City were destroyed during the colonial time but in the last 100 years or so, they started excavating the ruins, like the Templo Mayor. It’s very impressive!
Our guide went with us to a small shop where we had some very tasty enchiladas. After lunch, on our way to the pulquería, we stopped to buy grasshoppers. It cost me a bit of an effort to try them, but they were not bad at all, just a bit too sour for my taste. Then, we went to an old pulquería and we had the local drink called ‘pulque’ that is made from a plant called Magueyes. We had seen this plant as well as the plant of which Tequila is made (blue agave) in the National Palace earlier. It’s the fermented juice of a plant that has about 14% of alcohol.
Something that impressed me a lot is that streets are filled with small shops and street food corners where you can see people eat tacos, enchiladas and tortas from 8 AM on. This food is very cheap and delicious. You could spend the whole day walking around and just eating! 😆
In the evening, I was supposed to go for drinks with Arni but he never got my message. I guess his phone got stolen in the subway, which happens to many people. In addition to that, we were probably both just too tired to do much. I managed to stay more or less awake until 10 PM which isn’t bad with my jetlag.
Conclusion of my first day: Mexican people are very nice, friendly and helpful and Mexico City – at least during the daytime – is quite a safe place because there is police everywhere. I like it very much.
On my second day, I got up around 7:45 AM and during breakfast I met two guys from France. They had just arrived to CDMX (Mexico City) after 2 weeks in Yucatán and they said that it’s wonderful there; a place you should definitely visit someday. Funny thing, just like me, they had done their studies in Nancy in France. They were very nice, so I left them my business card; maybe we’ll meet again someday.
Then I left for Toluca. Toluca is the city of the god Tolo, the god that inclines its head in respect. The bus station in Mexico City is huge; there are buses leaving all the time and they are cheap and very comfortable.
I arrived in Toluca at 10:30 AM and my friend Esther picked me up at the bus terminal. Like all my friends from JCI Estado de México, I met her in 2016 at the JCI Conference of the Americas in Uruguay where we had a very good time together. She picked me up with her 10-year-old son who had no school that day because the teachers of his school had a conference. First, we went to the archaeological site of Calixtlahuaca which is dedicated to the god Ehecatl, God of wind. It’s small but very well preserved and the best thing was that there were absolutely no other tourists! 😃 There also was a small museum about Ehecatl and the culture of this village which originally was known as ‘Matlatzinco’. Once it has been a powerful settlement and its kings controlled a large part of the Toluca Valley. Very interesting is the fact that this palace dedicated to Ehecatl is a circular temple, one of the very few existing ones. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this morning, because I forgot my memory card in the hostel…
Calixtlahuaca is a very typical Mexican village, but for me it was huge. It was interesting to see all the traditional village houses made out of clay. Many of them look very poor and unfinished but that’s just because they are old or because they didn’t paint their house. The people there are not wealthy, but they are happy with the simple life they live. Most of the young people go to the city to study and work there, though.
Afterwards, we went to the city centre of Toluca where Esther showed me her shop. She sells leather and everything related to shoes like soles, bottoms, etc. Then we had lunch: Huaraches, a dry and cold tortilla made of corn, toasted in a skillet covered with beans, coriander, flesh of nopal cactus (delicious!), onion, cheese and a chili sauce. This dish was absolutely amazing!
Then we visited the Cosmovitral in Toluca. It used to be a local market but now it is a beautiful botanical garden decorated with glass windows from Leopoldo Flores. He painted about what he believed to be the universal balance: light versus darkness, man and woman, the eternal duality of both, Ying and Yang, birds and man’s aspiration of getting wings and becoming one with the light (wisdom). It’s really beautiful and definitely worth a visit just like the city of Toluca itself.
We also visited the beautiful church ‘Iglesia de Carmen’, the Palacio Gobierno which is decorated with murals about the city’s history, the city’s portals which are some of the longest portals there are in South America, and the ‘Plaza González Arratia. Unfortunately, the huge and beautiful cathedral was closed, and we couldn’t visit it. That’s also when we met up with Perla, another member of JCI Estado de México that I had met in Uruguay. We tried some local alcohol called ‘mosquitos de Toluca’ which is a liquor made of oranges.
Then, we went to Metepec which means ‘mountain of Magueyes’. Magueyes is the plant that the pulque drink is made of. We visited the church of Calvario with its huge tree of life and the artisanal handcrafts of this magic town. A magic town is a town that by law has to stay traditional; that means no new high buildings, everything has to be preserved as it once was, which gives these towns its magical atmosphere. This town is famous for its pottery and the tree of life they make out of the pottery. Really beautiful!
We ate esquites, which is hot corn grains cooked with epazote and Manzano chili that is prepared with a lot of mayonnaise and cheese. Just delicious! I’m in love with this street food. ❤️ Finally, we went to a bar and had garañona, which is an alcohol fermented from about 20 herbs, prepared with lemon juice and a bit of salt.
In the evening, we went to Bistró Mecha for some pizza. We were joined by my friend Pilar and Miri, president of JCI Estado de México. Later, Rosi and Omar, other JCI members, came over for the concert that happened in the same place. The band was really good; they played only famous songs and we had a great time. Partially, our mood was caused by the bottle of tequila we had; as someone who is not a friend of tequila, I must say it was really good tequila. 😄
The next morning, Lorena came to pick me up at around 7:30 AM. With her 11-year-old daughter, we first went to the Volcán Nevado de Toluca which is 4680 m high. We could go most of the way by car, but that said, it was a bad ride. Lorena had hired a friend’s father – who is a taxi driver – for the day to drive us around. From there, we could either walk up (about 3 1/2 hours) or take one of the public cars or trucks there. We didn’t have that much time so we chose the latter. It was incredible, people were standing on the back of the cars in some metal construction and had to endure the cold wind for the 30 minutes’ drive up. Fortunately, we got a seat inside when we drove up, but when we went back, we had to stand in the back of a truck, caged like animals, and the trip was so bad that most people almost got sick. I wouldn’t have believed something like this exists if I hadn’t seen it.
Lorena had warned me that it would be quite cold up there but, of course, I didn’t listen, and I didn’t prepare properly (looking the place up online, checking cloths and weather conditions) and so I got there in shorts with only a warm sweater. Lorena insisted on buying me a wool hat and long socks to cover myself a bit because it was really cold. So, note to myself: next time someone organizes some trip for me, I have to check out the destination before going and make sure I dress accordingly.
We went up the volcano, but only to the lagoon. It was wonderful there, really, really beautiful! We had some problems with the height and so we ate some chocolate Lorena had brought. That helped but, of course, I hadn’t brought my medication against height sickness… Fortunately, everything went well and we had a very good time there, enjoying the view and the sun. It actually got quite hot in places where there was no wind. We spent about 1 hour up there, climbing around and Samantha, Lorena’s daughter, even put her foot in the cold water of the lagoon.
Then we went back and had some enchiladas with cheese and mushrooms. I just love Mexican street food. I have the feeling that Mexican people eat all day but, apparently, it doesn’t make very fat.
From there, we went to Valle de Bravo and our first stop was at Velo de Novia, a small park with a few waterfalls and the biggest of them is called ‘veil of the bride’. Like the one I visited in Chile 2 years ago, legend has it that her husband died just before the wedding and in her despair, she jumped off this cliff which then became the ‘Velo de novia’. It was beautiful and it was much warmer there than at the volcano. Whereas, at the volcano, it was very dry and dusty, here, in Valle de Bravo, only 1:30 h away, it was very green with many trees, rivers and a lake.
After this short stop, we went to the centre of Valle de Bravo, which is another beautiful magic village full of white houses built around a big lake. We had lunch on a boat restaurant where we had really good fish and some sangria. Sangria in Mexico is very different from ours: they have a very sweet lemonade called sangria and you have to order ‘sangria preparada’ if you want red wine inside your drink. Not bad, but not as good as ours, way too sweet for me.
To finish our day, we visited the centre of this sweet town and enjoyed the sun. It was a wonderful day. Lorena is such a great person and I hope to see her again soon.
That night, I stayed again at Perla’s place, because she had warned me, that it can be very dangerous to take a bus back to the city in the night; many of them get attacked and all people in the bus get robbed. So, I stayed one more night in Toluca.
To summon up, I had an amazing time in Toluca with my JCI-friends who made me feel very welcome and who showed so much of Mexican culture and many things I would never have seen as ‘just’ a tourist.
The next morning, my friend Pilar came to pick me up at 7:30 AM and I said goodbye to Perla and here nice mother. We went to Pili’s house by car and then took a bus back to DCMX. There, we took the subway to the Auditorio station where we booked a spot on a tour with Touribus that goes to Teotihuacan. We were only 7 people in this tour, which was really cool. First, we went to the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It’s said that she appeared to José Maria Morales y Pavon and so, this cathedral was built. There is the old one and a new one, built because the old one was damaged by the numerous earthquakes that affect Mexico. You can see the cracks in the walls of the cathedral very well and, when you’re inside, you can feel that it goes down on the right side. It feels like you’re on a sinking ship, which is kind of true.
Mexico City was built on an island in a huge lake and the soil is not very stable. That’s why many buildings are sinking into the ground and why they have to be supported and stabilized somehow. You can see this quite well on many buildings, like the cathedral in the city centre and here in the cathedral of the virgin de Guadalupe.
The new cathedral is round and I don’t like it. Between both cathedrals, there is a huge statue of Pope Paul II. who was very well liked by the Mexican population. He was there several times to hold mass at this pilgrimage place to which millions of Mexicans come every year.
There is also a small chapel with a well. People believe that the water there has healing properties, but since too many people came there to benefit from these healing properties, the water got contaminated and they had to close the well with an iron gate. Now it just smells really bad.
Then we went on to the ruins of Teotihuacan. Our guide was amazing! He was from there and had been visiting these ruins his whole life and even spoke the indigenous language a little so he could tell us many interesting facts about the culture and this place.
The Teotihuacan civilization lived from about 300 BC until AD 900 when it was invaded by Toltecs. Its zenith was ca. 300–600AD and they are famous for their massive pyramids and temples. There is the Pirámide de la Luna and the much bigger Pirámide del Sol. Both are well preserved but were partially destroyed when the excavation team used dynamite to free them – idiots. This city was probably one of the biggest ones in ancient Mexico and it was the capital of the Teotihuacan civilization. This civilization had destroyed most of the trees around their city for economic reasons and so, someday, they left the city and went to other towns where they mixed with local people which is the reason why Teotihuacan blood floats in many people’s veins in Mexico.
Between the pyramid of the moon and the one of the sun, there is the ‘Calzada de los muertos’ (Avenue of the Dead), called so, because the Aztecs believed the buildings around it were tombs of Teotihuacan rulers, but, in reality, they were temples.
Both pyramids are not facing each other but arranged so that each full moon hits the pyramid of the moon perfectly and that the equinox is always to see in the pyramid of the sun. Very impressive! Also, the architecture of this place is so that acoustics are perfect and everyone could hear what the priests and rulers said. In the centre of the square in front of the pyramid of the moon is an elevated space which was used for human sacrifices. The Teotihuacans believed that if they didn’t sacrifice the most beautiful and volunteering virgin every so many years, the sun wouldn’t return. They only sacrificed volunteering virgins, not slaves or warriors, like the Aztecs. First, they gave them narcotics so that they wouldn’t feel any pain, then they cut open their stomach just below the rips and ripped out their heart in sacrifice.
With our guide, we also made a small cleansing ritual where we had to breathe in and out in front of a temple and then clap our hands wishing something good for ourselves or someone else. Apparently, there is a lot of magnetism in this area that can make you feel dizzy doing such an exercise. He also asked a nice lady there who was selling stuff (there were so many people selling statues, jewellery and other stuff) to show us the different plants Teotihuacans used to create different colours. They can make almost any colour and they conserve very well.
Afterwards, he left us alone to walk around and go up the pyramids. Pili and I spent this time and the rest of the day with Freddy from Costa Rica. He’s in Mexico for a month for work and we had a great time together. We only went up to the pyramid of the moon, because the line to get up the one of the sun was much too long and we couldn’t make it in time. So, we just walked around, talking and enjoying the impressive sight of this ancient city. So far, they only excavated a small part of it and even that is very big.
At 3 PM, we then went to a buffet restaurant where we enjoyed some mariachi music and indigenous dance. Mariachi music is very famous in Mexico and they always sing ballads about love or lost love. Freddy told us that they are also very famous in Costa Rica and that he used to be in a mariachi band when he was younger.
After lunch, we went to an artisanal place where they showed us what you can make out of the Magueye plant: when a Maguaye plant is 8 years old, they cut its heart out and then it produces for 9 months 4 litres of juice in the morning and 4 litres in the evening, I think. This juice ferments very quickly and becomes the famous pulque drink that they mix nowadays with juice, like pineapple. The tip of the leaves is very hard and pointy and could be used as needles. They are attached to a fine thread which contains an antiseptic juice. Inside the leaves, there is a fibre that is very hard and can be used as paper. The leaves are made of a fibre that can be used for many different things and so, this plant is kind of a multifunctional wonder-plant. 😄
Here, they also process the stones of the volcanos and of the hills around this place to make masks. They have the most beautiful colours here and they work all the stones by hand. It takes about 3 days to make a small mask. They also use stones of other colours to decorate them. It’s really impressive.
This was our last stop and then we went back to Mexico City (also called DF). Pili and I walked around the Reforma street for some time. It’s a wealthy district with many skyscrapers and expensive restaurants and shops. There was an exhibition of art on this street that was very nice. We also went to the castle there, but we saw it only from the outside since it was already closed. At 7 PM, we met Freddy in the Olive Garden, an Italian restaurant on Reforma and he invited us to dinner – very nice of him. We had a really good evening and then took an UBER to my hostel, where I gave Pili the Belgian chocolate I had brought for her and the JCI girls. Then she went home because she had still more than 1 hour to get back to Toluca. Freddy stayed with me at my hostel and we had a few beers and a wonderful time. He invited me to visit him in Costa Rica and he told me he would take a few days off to show me the country. 🙂
The next morning, I went to the Tapo bus terminal and, at 11 AM, I took a 7h bus to Oaxaca that allowed me to see the beautiful landscape full of trees and mountains in Mexico.
On a final note: I couldn’t have had a better beginning of my adventure than this time I spend in Mexico City and in Toluca. I saw beautiful places, met (up with) wonderful people, learned much about different cultures and civilizations and enjoyed delicious food.