Date of trip: December 24, 2018 - January 2, 2019
If you haven’t seen Part I yet, check it out!
While the first half of our trip was full of Christmas lights and holiday crowds, the second half of our trip saw New Years Eve in one of the biggest cities in the world. Read further for NYE celebrations and a tour of an ancient city of pyramids, one of which still has mysterious origins.
- Day 6: All day: Coyoacán tour
- Day 7: All day: Teotihuacan tour, dinner at Cabrera 7
- Day 8: New Years Eve – Walk around Roma Norte/La Condesa, dinner reservations at Balmori Roofbar, walk around Av. Paseo de la Reforma, ended at The Angel of Independence for the celebration
- Day 9: Walk around Polanco
- Day 10: Left for home!
It was a new day. We had just a couple more tours left of the trip and we spent our 6th day in a different neighborhood, Coyoacán, the place of coyotes. We spent much of the day touring the historic center of the borough, one of the oldest in Mexico City, in which the Aztecs and eventually Spanish conquistadors called home.
Before our tour started mid-morning, we attempted to get a quick coffee and bite of food. I still don’t know why my attempts to order a torta and coffee left me in an awkward staring contest with a teenage boy running the counter. We walked away with one coffee, and no torta.
Luckily, we stumbled upon an organic cafe with juices and breakfast. We ate chilaquiles with red sauce and chicken, and huevos rancheros and washed it down with a delicious, green juice. Afterwards, we sat in the main square as the sun grew warmer until eventually it was time to meet up with Jose, our local tour guide, retired sociology professor, and pusher of cricket-eating and mezcal-drinking.
We met up with Jose across from the blue house where Frida Kahlo lived and died. The line wrapped around the block with crazy-ass, determined tourists. Four others joined us on the tour–a couple from the southwest currently living in New Orleans, a woman from DC and an English man who lives in San Francisco and owns a Taekwondo studio. Jose was a petite, older man with a manny pack.
Jose was already apologizing for his hoarse voice, as he had a very busy week of tours. From his manny pack, he fetched a small spray bottle and spritzed his mouth. Jose started by suggesting to skip the Frida house, for her best pieces were in the museum of modern art. He then led us back the way we had come, to a market to eat legendary tostadas de Coyoacán. We ordered pollo con mole and the most delicious strawberry juice.
We learned more about our fellow travelers; Steve had moved from London to California in 1992 and from the look on his face, had never looked back. Joel and Maribell, both Texans, had moved to New Orleans and also never looked back. They said their life goal was to watch baseball at every stadium around the states, to which we said to book a flight to MN and sit on the third base line to enjoy a view of the game and the Minneapolis skyline.
Our second stop was another place within the market, a family business handed down for 45 years where we were treated to freshly grilled cheese and orange blossom quesadillas, with none other than spicy, green salsa.
After filling up entirely, we spent the next 45 minutes or so standing in the main square listening to Jose talk at length about the intense and lengthy history of Coyoacán. I got lost in the weeds and didn’t have enough background to catch up. Jose was pissed when the building and famous murals that he wanted to show us was closed. “Corrupt government!” he shouted with a fist in the air as we walked away. Jose was prepared, though. He retrieved pictures of the murals from his fanny pack. He even had a photo of the arch we stood under, explaining that it was once the entrance to the church. A woman in a colonial gown stood atop the dirt and grass that would once be the very plaza we stood in.
Jose led us through the neighborhood, which was quiet and cozy, a very different vibe with its cobblestone streets and small plazas.
Jose and Chris walked and talked. “You’re from Minnesota, right? So your Vikings are doing good,” he said. Chris proudly corrected him, that he was in fact a Green Bay Packers fan. Jose beamed, “Oh, I like Aaron Rodgers. He’s the best of all time.” We grabbed a quick coffee in a quiet courtyard, surrounded by a sunny art gallery and a cafe.
Jose then led us back to Parroquia San Juan Bautista, a historic church where he said he and his friends got hitched back in the day.
We spotted the creepiest looking dog and Jose took the moment to explain the Xoloitzcuintli is an ancient dog, a companion to the Aztecs. It had no hair, black skin and reddish brown eyes. I did touch it, for good measure. Just to say I touched a chupacabra.
And then we stopped for food. Again. But this time at an overflowing restaurant that clearly everyone wanted to eat at. All I remember were the tacos–cheese stuffed ancho chiles–and the spread of salsas. Jose coached us through them, showing us to sample each salsa with each new bite. He pointed to one and very seriously warned, “be careful.” We ate rice and cucumbers to cut the spice. There was a lot of talk about eating crickets at some point. Jose tapped his belly, saying Mexico has the best tacos because of the fresh corn tortillas, fresh ingredients, and salsas.
Towards the end of the afternoon, Jose got really deep into history, life, and politics. Everyone else was making connections from names heard earlier and asking questions and nodding their heads. Jose, noticing my absence in the conversation, asked me, “So Ali, what are you curious about? What questions do you have?” I-ahhhhhh-have no thoughts. In my head. “I don’t think I have enough context to have questions just yet, Jose, but thank you.”
To cap the tour, we finally got to the grand finale–guacamole with cricket sprinkles. We bullied each other into eating the crickets, Chris getting the worst of it. I hid the tiny cricket under some guacamole, salsa, and a big squeeze of lime and we cheered pathetically for him when he popped it in his mouth.
Jose was lively, telling stories about the new phenomena that is mezcal. He explained that mezcal, despite being more pure than Tequila and taking up to 15 years to make, was once a poor man’s drink. The tables have turned in the past 20 years now that mezcal is trendy. We dipped our orange peels in the sal de gusano (worm salt), took a bite, and shot it back.
After thanking Jose for his hospitality, we raced around taking photos of the day’s best light.
Coyoacán had grown crowded with families and late night street vendors.
We bought some knitted gifts from a young woman and her elderly mother (basically the abuela from the movie Coco) who wore a traditional, blue and white dress. We then met a young artist with amazing drawings, one of which he sold to us for $2.50. Dusk turned into night and it was finally time for some churros. We sat on the park bench, watching and relaxing. The plaza was filled with sweet families. They playfully chased their children, followed littles ones on tricycles, and threw them up in the air. They stood around, eating, singing, and dancing, as they watched a clown perform magic and a young couple dance to a boombox.
And because we hadn’t had enough to eat, we stopped once more and ordered the Mexican version of Simply Chicken–a massive torta with fried chicken, a big slab of gooey cheese, and french fries. The Manhattans were really weak and weird, but our bad for thinking a Manhattan in Coyoacán was a good idea?
We strolled once more under the glowing lights above the plaza and bid farewell to Coyoacán under a massive, lit sign that said, “Feliz Años!”
It was our earliest morning, 8am by the time we were at the meeting spot for our Teotihuacan pyramid tour. We had heard about the pyramids from others we had met on the trip. But we didn’t know what to expect from the tour, as it was a different one. A tall, lone guy got out of a black suburban and greeted us, asking if we were there for the tour. Shane introduced himself, and gave us a quick horror story of his arrival to Mexico (because that’s what you do in foreign countries, you tell people anything and everything).
His story sounded something like this: His family had asked, “Why Mexico City?” but Shane said he was up for an adventure. However, when he landed and he couldn’t get wifi to fetch an Uber, he broke his cardinal rule and got in a pink and white taxi. His fears were soon realized when he knew the taxi was taking him everywhere but in the direction he needed to go. “Man, I know this isn’t right, and I’m getting screwed, but as long as I make it to my apartment, I’m good.” The taxi finally got near his stay, they couldn’t find the right address. They got out and entered a shady corridor that led them upstairs into a sex shop. “This doesn’t look like the pictures,” he said. Shane lived to tell the tale and still appeared to be hopeful and optimistic about his vacation, or expedition unknown.
Eventually, we were joined by two brothers from Bolivia, a couple from LA, and another couple from Denver. We boarded a sketchy van. Benches with thin cushions outlined the interior of the van, instead of rows of seats and belt buckles.
From out of city, sprawling settlements similar to the favelas in Rio crawled up the hillside. The morning light and smog casted an orange blanket over the city, making it hard to see at times. When it had cleared, we saw on the side of the freeway neighborhoods with adorned graveyard, rows of colorful homes with black rain barrels scattered on each rooftop. At times, you could spot a random cat or dog on the rooftops. Eventually, the land became more rural and agricultural.
And then the van pulled over on the side of the highway under a bridge. Chris’s hyper-vigilance and experience watching Transporter movies kicked in high gear: He turned and looked behind us and saw two motorcycles pull up behind the van and walk their bike behind the bridge. He instantly took a screenshot of where we were and took note of whatever he could use as a weapon. THIS was Chris’ response. Ali’s response was a bit more like this, “Hmm…look at that cloud! I wonder where Stacy is from and why she lives in Asia. Is she dating Richard? Why are we stopping? Stacy doesn’t look worried. This must be part of the plan.”
Moments later, a woman wearing a backpack and carrying a wide-brimmed straw hat, opened the van door and said, “Hola Chicos.” She shook our hands and introduced herself as our host. I think Chris felt better. We drove off, Noa and the others–all of whom spoke Spanish–talking really fast about I don’t know what (except that Noa thought that Stacy, who lives in Taiwan, was of Asian decent). I somehow got that.
When we arrived to the pyramids and parked in a big dirt lot, we could see some hot air balloons still floating above the pyramids.
Noa gave us bottled water and cereal bars and started to explain a bit of the pyramid’s history.
We first climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, one of ancient Mexico’s largest structures. Mexican pyramids don’t come to a point on top, so once we reached the plateau we got a 360-view of the area.
We ironically spotted LA at the top of the pyramid. She was wearing an LA hat and fervently asking her tour guide questions. For a moment I wished I had the audacity of LA to spontaneously travel the world on my own and not hold back my thoughts or curiosities. And then I got over it.
Noa had a gentle way about her. She apologized for her “broken” English and said it was her first time having English people on her tours. She spoke mostly in Spanish to the others. She led us through a desert path past massive cacti to the other pyramids.
From the top of the second pyramid–Pyramid of the Moon–we could see the “avenue of the dead”, a massive dirt avenue that runs like an axis from where we stood to the main town, and is lined with other, smaller pyramids.
Part of the tour led us through a small museum with ancient artifacts and what felt like an exodus through the desert, we waited to see the Red Sea. Shane was huffing and puffing, and that’s when he disclosed he had major surgery five years prior that left him still building up his endurance. We were so hot, thirsty, and hungry. Like with Jose’s tour, we followed little of what Noa was saying, at no ones fault. It was hard to hear everything she said as we walked, in her gentle voice and through the Spanish. Again, others nodded and we continued on.
At the end, after walking much more than we bargained for in the hot, dry air, we were picked up again and drove to a city market where we found an open table and ordered tostadas and quesadillas. Afterwards, we got hot chocolate drinks, made with Mexican chocolate, of course. The drinks were delicious, but Noa had us eat an actual cocoa bean, which tasted bitter and dry. It was terrible. She got out a curved stone basin and a stone rolling pin of sorts. She said something in Spanish and everyone giggled like teenagers. I looked at Shane and Chris, who felt the same as I did. “I think I missed something” I said. Noa translated that those who are good at crushing the bean are said to be Gods in bed. She asked who wanted a try, but no one wanted a bad reputation.
When it was all said and done, we ended the day catching beers at the brewery back in town. The group had been reserved all day long. Nancy broke the silence with a truth or dare game from the back of gum wrappers. Turns out Richard ate an eyeball once.
That night we got an early dinner at Cabrera 7 in Roma Norte. It was a gorgeous restaurant with glowing lights, and plants everywhere. Chris pigged out on a pork torta and I had mole again. Dessert was the most glorious cake of our lives–a tres leches from my dreams. We scootered in the dark all the way home, this time sharing the ride with me up front, screaming and laughing my head off the whole way.
It was fun while it lasted, Chris thought. He had been on the edge of sickness during the night and was still woozy when we woke. Luckily, it was the first day in a while without a tour planned. I had hoped to return to Bellas Artes to pay and wait to see the murals, but it was Monday and shit was closed.
We got up and out later than normal, despite being hungry. I really wanted to try the famous food stand with chilaquiles inside a torta (basically nachos inside a subway sandwich). Unfortunately, everyone else wanted carbs too so we ditched the line within minutes and ate breakfast at a mediocre place down the block.
Another American couple also left the line and sat next to us, and the next 15 minutes were the worst of the whole trip. The woman started whining in a terrible, snot voice about her broken film camera, accusing her gentle speaking boyfriend for breaking it. She replayed what had happened, but didn’t understand why it had broken. He suggested she wait to worry or try fixing it, but the woman said, “I know, but I want it fixed now.” The man continued to listen, saying he was sorry that he didn’t know enough about those cameras to help. He suggested, in the least, that she not open the camera, for fear the light would ruin the film. She stuck her head and her camera in her oversized yellow sweatshirt, trying to avoid the light.
At one point, he offered to help and examined the camera. Eventually she told him he didn’t have a clue and snatched it back from him. She then complained about her food and needed “like, at least two tacos” and “a lot of water” to be ready for the “insane” New Years Eve party that night. A man next to their table asked if they were from New York, too. The woman instantly changed her tone of voice to too-fucking-cool-for-school and said she lived on 13th and something. He couldn’t believe they lived so close to one another. They then talked about Party Black and I got up and puked all over.
It was midday at this point and Chris needed a rest again. As he slept, I wrote for a few hours in the tiny cafe next door, sipping a latte and eating a spicy mollete like I was the cool one. It was a relaxing highlight.
As I wrote, the young woman who ran the counter retreated to the kitchen where she sang to James Blunt’s “Beautiful”. I took a break to look around at the ceramics and jewelry for sale. She approached me and spoke in Spanish about the jewelry from the sea. “Pulpo” she said as she put a silver octopus ring on my finger. She put another on my other hand, of an oyster and pearl. I pointed to the necklace I had spotted the other day, and told her I liked it. She explained she took credit card and I gestured to Chris upstairs, saying my dinero was sleeping. We giggled and I asked when she closed for the day. She said “tres” and held up three fingers. I told her I’d be back. And an hour later, I returned to the apartment wearing my new necklace. Chris frowned, saying I had ruined his birthday gift to me, as he had plans of buying it for me on his own.
That afternoon we walked around the city, trying to catch more street art and city life.
We passed Paseo de la Reforma where the NYE festivities were to be held. An army of police officers (the city has upwards of 90k) marched in unison on one block near the Angel of Independence. I was afraid to get close and take their photos and insisted we walk elsewhere.
Along the way, we took a quick pit stop for a shot of mezcal and a taco. We bought Mexican IPA’s at a tiny cervecería and bottles of mezcal from the liquor store. Everything was lively as dusk fell and we returned to our apartment to shower and get ready for the night.
When we returned to the streets, just an hour and a half later, every cafe was tucked away. It was dark at this point and we couldn’t find a place open that would take us for a drink. Everyone needed a reservation–which we had–but not until 9pm.
Luckily, we found a hipster hole in the wall bar near our reservation. We drank flat gin and tonics at a corner table, watching the bartender blow up blue balloons. A heavy set man in a flat brim hat poured a beer in a stemmed wine glass and continued talking to the elderly man in a turtleneck and eye glasses who sat across from him.
That night we drank and ate at a bougie rooftop bar called Belmari. We were seated at the bar, which was a bit odd, but we got two free drinks each for it. And anyways, we both were crushing on the adorable bartender. We enjoyed a yummy three course meal that tasted like Thanksgiving. It was a fancy place with a DJ and retractable roof. A tall, slim host in a black sleek dress sat people as they arrived. The man next to us told us to let him know if we had troubles with the menu. “Thanks…white guy.”
Turns out we needed him to translate some shit, so we got mildly friend and learned that he was from San Francisco, in town visiting his wife’s family. He reminded us three times he was from “San Fran,” to which I asked the universe, WTF. The music grew louder, the bar filled, and the waiters made it their job to go in and out of the bar right next to me and San Fran. With time, I had lost almost all my room at the bar. We ditched before midnight, full up of the scene.
We got to the Angel of Independence where families were crowded along the avenue, dancing and singing to the live music that played from a massive stage. A short, round man wearing a white jumpsuit and a jet black mustache sang to the crowd. The living embodiment of the salsa emoji twirled on stage. Grandmothers salsa danced with their grandsons. Grandfathers sat in lawn chairs holding sleeping toddlers. Small children ran around chasing more inflated candle balloon things. A cop tapped his feet and swayed his hips to the music. When the clock struck midnight, people kissed and cheered. And that was that. But we didn’t come for a big bang, so even though it was less climatic than TV, we happily scootered home and were happy to be one day closer to sleeping in our own beds.
On our last day in Mexico City, we knew much would be closed. We indulged ourselves by sleeping in and then getting stupid delicious baked goods from Esperanza Bakery in the Polanco neighborhood. The Polanco neighborhood is for the rich and/or famous. We scootered around passing shops like Gucci, Hugo Boss, Tesla, and other fancy brands I know nothing about. We scootered through their manicured parks and passed mansions that reminded me of California. It wasn’t very inspiring, hence the lack of photos taken that day.
Chris was still feeling woozy so we stopped and ate pizza and afterwards, went back to our apartment to rest. That evening we took one last stroll through the neighborhood and through Chapultepec Park. Families were having picnics, playing soccer, and cheering for street performers.
The sky turned and as we returned to our apartment, we felt very full and complete. We ate leftover pizza for dinner, packed our things, and rested well knowing we were one sleep away from our own bed.
In the morning, as it seems to go, a little cockroach greeted me in the bathroom (It’s always the last day). We made it to the airport early (6:15am). Our Uber driver rounded the bend as we neared the airport, pointed outside to the thick fog and said something. We muttered a comment of understanding, not knowing at the time why it was relevant.
We scanned the screen for our flight but when we didn’t see it, we figured it was too early. It was curious though that every flight listed said “delayed.” Instead of worrying, we found the airport lounge and sat at a round table in a crowded room, wasting some time and watching the local news (which did not look pretty). We left the lounge in hopes of finding our gate, which ended up being the biggest fiasco of all time. The gates displayed numbers, but Chris’ phone said “Gate G.” Because, of course.
The airport was becoming more and more crowded. Someone had spilled what looked like a chocolate milkshake on the floor and no one was picking it up. Poor, lovely Chris was yet again carrying us with his limited Spanish, asking where “Gate G” was. We were told to walk this way and that way and back again. Worried we would miss our connecting flight, he called Chase to see what options we had. At some point, we could see that our connecting flight was luckily pushed back, but not so lucky was that it was pushed back 9 hours. When we finally found what “Gate G” was, I asked a woman standing in line where she was headed. Confused and annoyed she said she was going to some other place in Mexico. I backed away, “So not North Carolina…” She didn’t think I was funny. But neither of us were laughing.
Luckily, Chris’ phone undated with a gate number. Even though the gate number changed a few more times, we had already spotted a large herd of disgruntled people bound for North Carolina. One woman was sobbing. And the last bit of excitement was that our plane was finally here and ready for us, but couldn’t cross the runway due to traffic. So we waited. I bought some chocolate and last minute mezcal tasters before we finally boarded five hours later. Once in North Carolina, we dropped our checked bags for connecting flights and raced to security, only to realize we didn’t have tickets for our NEW connecting flight, which was to leave at 10:30pm. With some help from the airline, we changed plans again–we would be flying to Chicago, then to MPS, and arrive an hour or two sooner. She assured us our bags would find the right plane.
We grabbed some quick BBQ, found our gate and caught our bumpy flight to Chicago, and ultimately home. From Chris’ cellular tracking, we knew at least one of our bags would arrive late. Luckily, the MPS airline staff were awesome and shipped it to our house the very next morning.
The stress of getting home and Chris’ unsettling stomach overshadowed the week of fun, but if you’ve read this far, you and I both know it was all worth it.
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