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Published: February 25th 2018
On Wednesday 21st of February started my big adventure/project "ConnAct". My parents brought 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 and during the flight I got acquainted with my new camera and I read about Mexico in my Lonely Travel guide. Everything was ok, but I was very nervous about the trip I was beginning and several times I asked myself :"What the hell are you doing? Just spent 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 5:30PM 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, 2:30 hours,
so I arrived in Mexico City at 22:30. Fortunately, there was wifi at this airport so I could take an UBER to my hostel where I arrived at around 23:30. Check-in went fast and smoothly and at around midnight I was finally in my bed. I was really tired and fell asleep fast.
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 eyes) disgusting, but ok, 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 people and I was sad to learn that the Italian guy was leaving for Puebla this morning. The girl from the States is a very interesting person. She's a writer
and writes articles for the New York Times about traveling 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 from the last days was completely gone and I was back being the happy traveller I always am. :-)
I started exploring the city by getting lost, as usually. :-) 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 stay in Mexico for about a month, the 5 € it cost are well invested.
My getting lost had a very nice outcome : I met Arni from Iceland. He had been traveling across Florida for 10 days with a friend 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 center
and to do a free walking tour. First we wanted to do the official one but then we met another guy doing a free walking tour and decided to go with him. There was a couple from China, living in California (Andy Deng and her name I forgot), there as well and we had the best time togehter. His tour is called Mexico Atzlan free walking tour and he's a master’s student in history. I can only recommend him because he doesn't just go around in the city talking about its history and showing the buildings superficially, he actually went inside them 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 South East and their empire started much earlier with it's most important period between 250 and 900 AD. Not like
in 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 of these civilizations are famous for their knowledge in Astrology, Maths, their beautiful temples and pyramids and their religion based on God's 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 very tasty enchiladas. After lunch, on our way to the pulqueria, we stopped to buy grashoppers. It cost me a bit of overcoming to try them, but they were not bad at all, just a bit too sour for my taste. :-) Thenwe went to an old pulqueria and we had the local drink called pulque that comes 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 8AM 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, like it 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 10PM 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 day time) is a quite save place, because there is police everywhere. I really like it a lot!
Day 2: I got up around 7:45AM and at breakfast I met 2 guys from France. They just arrived from
2 weeks in Yucatán and said that it's wonderful there, a place you should definitely visit some day. :-) Funny thing, just like me, they had done their studies in Nancy in France! They were very nice, so I left them my card, maybe we’ll meet again some day. :-) Then I left for Toluca. Toluca is the city of the god Tolo which the god that inclines it's head in respect. The bus station in Mexico City is huge and there are buses leaving all the time and they are cheap and very comfortable!
I arrived in Toluca at 10:30 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 Conference of the Americas in Uruguay where we had spent 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 archeological site of Calixtlahuaca which is dedicated to the god Ehecatl, god of wind. It's small but very well preserved and the best thing : there
were absolutely no other tourists! :-D There was also a small museum about Ehecatl and the culture of this village that was originally known as "Matlatzinco". It was a once a powerful settlement and it's Kings controlled a large part of the Toluca Valley. Very interesting is that this palace dedicated to Ehecatl is a circular temple, one of the very few existing once. 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's huge. It was interesting to see all the traditional village houses made 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 center of Toluca where Esther showed me her shop. She sellls leather and everything related to shoes like soles, bottoms, etc. Then we had lunch : Huaraches which is a dry and cold tortilla
made of corn toasted in a skillet covered with beans, coriander, flesh of nopal cactus (delicious!), oignon, cheese and a chili sauce. This was absolutely amazing! :-)
Then we visited the Cosmovitral in Toluca that was earlier a local market but no 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, Jing and Jang, 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 Perla, also a 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.
we went to Metepec which means "mountain of Magueyes". Magueyes is the plant of that the pulque drink is made. There we visited the church of Calvario with it's huge tree of life and the artisanal handcrafts of this magic town. A magic town is town that by law has to stay traditional, that means no new high buildings, everything has to be conserved as it once was and this gives these towns its magical atmosphere. This town is famous for it's 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 mayoneese and cheese. Just delicious, I'm in love with this street food! :-D
Finally, we went to a bar and had garañona which is a fermented from about 20 herbs and that is prepared with lemon juice and a bit of salt.
In the evening, we went to Bistró Mecha for some Pizza. There my friend Pilar and Miri, president of JCI Estado de México, joined us. Later, Rosi and Omar, other JCI members, joined us as well 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, but 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 4680m 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 and he could bring us together first hostel. From there, we could either walk up (about 3 1/2 h) or take one of the public cars or trucks there. We didn't have that much time so we chose 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 min drive up. Fortunately we got a seat inside when we drove up, bit when we
went down again, we had to stand in the back of a truck, like animals, and most people almost got sick, so bad this trip was. I wouldn't have believed 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 myself (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 you, check out the destination before and make sure you dress accordingly! ^^
We went up the volcano, but only until the lagoon. It was wonderful there, really really beautiful! We had some problems with the hight and so we are some chocolate Lorena had brought. That helped. Of course, I hadn't brought my pills against hight sickness... But everything went well and we had a very good time there enjoying the view and the sun. It actually got quite hot there where
no wind was. We spent about 1 hour up there climbing around and Samantha, Lorena's daughter, even up her food in the cold water if the lagoon.
Then we went back and had some enchiladas with cheese and mushrooms. I just love Mexican fast 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 the Vela de Novia, a small park with a few waterfalls and the biggest of them if called "veil of the bride". Like the one I visited in Chile 2 years ago, legend has it that her husband to be died just before the wedding and in her dispair she jumped of this cliff which then became this "Vela de novia". It was beautiful and there it much warmer than at the volcano. Where around the volcano it was very dry and dusty, here in Valle de Bravo it was very green with many trees, rivers and a lake and it's just 1 1/2 hours away.
After this short stop, we went to the center 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 ate really good fish and had 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, much too sweet.
To finish our day, we visited the center 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 slept 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 robbed. So I staid one more night in Toluca.
In conclusion, I had an amazing time in Toluca with my JCI friends who made me feel very welcome and who showed me many different things of Mexican culture.
The next morning, my friend Pilar came to pick me up at 7:30 and
I said « goodbye » to Perla and here nice mom. We went by car to her house and then took a bus back to DF. There we took the subway to get to Auditorio station where we booked a place in a tour with Touribus that goes to Teotihuacan. We were only 7 people on 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 much damaged by the numerous earthquakes that affected and still 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 build on an island of a huge lake and the soil is not very stable. That’s why many buildings are sinking in the ground and they have to be supported by girders or stuff. You can see this
very well on many buildings, like the cathedral in the city center and here in the cathedral of the virgin de Guadalupe.
The new cathedral is round and I really don’t like it, but well. 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. It’s supposed 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 there.
On our way back to the bus, Pili bought « gorditas », small corn cakes that are delicious.
We went on to the ruins of Teotihuacan then. Our guide was amazing, he was from there and had been visiting these ruins his whole life and even spoke some of the indigenous language so he could tell us many interesting facts about this culture and this
The Teotihuacan civilisation lived from about 300 BC until 900 AD when it was invaded by Toltecs. It’s zenith was ca. 300-600 AD and they are famous for their massive pyramids and temples. There is the piramide de la luna and the much bigger piramide 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 one in ancient Mexico and it was the capital of the Teotihuacan civilisation. This civilisation destroyed most of the trees around their city for economic reasons and so they left the city for other towns where they mixed with local people which makes that Teotihuacan blood floats in many people in Mexico.
Between the pyramid of the moon and the one of the sun is the « Calzada de los muertos » (avenue of the dead), called so because the Aztecs believed the buildings around it were tumbs 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 on every full 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 here what the priests and rulers said. In the center before 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 some many years, the sun wouldn’t return. They only sacrificed volunteering virgins and 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 breath in and out in front of a temple and then clap our hands wishing for something good for ourselves our 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 get up the pyramids. Pili and me spent this time and the rest of the day with Freddy from Costa Rica. He’s in Mexico for work for 1 month 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, talked and enjoyed 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 mariachi music and some 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
After lunch, we went to an artisanal place where they showed us what you can make of Magueye plant : when a Maguaye plant is 8 years old, they cut it’s heart out and then it produced during 9 months 4 liter of juice in the morning and 4 in the evening I thing. This juice ferments very fast and becomes the famous pulque drink that they mix nowadays with juice, like pineapple. The peak of the leaves are 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 fiber that is very hard and can be used as paper. The leaves are made of a fiber that can be used for many different things and so this plant is kind of a multifunctional wonder plant. :-)
In this place, they also work the stones of the volcanos and hills around this place. They have the most beautiful colours there 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 so we went back to DF. Pili and I walked around the Reforma street for some time. It’s a wealthy district with many skyscrapers and top restaurants and shops. There was an exposition of art on this street that was very nice. We also went to the castel there, but we saw it only from the outside since it was already closed. At 7 PM we met Freddy again in the Olive Garden, an italian restaurant on Reforma and he invited us to dinner (very nice of him!). We had a really nice 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 staid with me at my hostel and we had a few beers and a wonderful time. He invited me to visit him when I’m in Costa Rica and he told me he would take a few days of to show me the country. :-D
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.
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