Letras de mi Corazon : Part 5 – Margaritas

THREE breakfasts in one journey was the first of many events in this memory studded vacation.  Our flight from Rio with Copa airlines was around three in the morning, coupled with a two hour transit in Panama, we landed after mid-day in Mexico. Budget wise, this was the most expensive internal flight (USD 898.50 per pax) but every penny spent to get to amor mio Mexico was well worth it.

Get a taquito and join me to colourful and flavourful Mexico.

How did we decide where to go and what to do?

We had nine days including the day of arrival. We each had our suggestions and frankly it did take some time to decide how to split our time there – we debated a lot whether we allocated too much time in one place or the other. One tip post the trip Tip #1 – do not sweat it out. Chart out the main places you want to go. Even if you have allocated an extra day in a city and you have finished doing what you want – there are always things to do. Apps like Culture Trip provide excellent suggestions and better still, ask the locals and they will be more than happy to show you their Mexico. Do hope that our itenary provides some inspiration.

Mexico City – four days on our own

Hotel Parque in the Condesa neighbourhood was our base. We picked Condesa for her hip and relaxed feel and this hotel for her Mexican casa look. We struck jackpot with this choice. Perfect location (restaurants, bars and bookshops were a short walking distance away), hotel was as pretty if not prettier than what we had seen in the website.  Mezcal and chocolates greeted you at the reception and rooms were very cosy and comfortable. Weather wise, it was also the coolest in Mexico city and we tucked in like babies in the layered sheets.

We explored Mexico city centre by foot based on the walking guide suggested in Lonely Planet and took rides on the hop on hop off bus. Check the Turibus website for route details, prices and other tours. I loved that streets and avenues were named after countries, historic days and celebrations – eg: Cinco de Mayo.

Next up, was the Xochimilco canals which reminded me of the floating markets in Asia but with a Mexican flair. The boats here are named, brightly coloured, not motored and have super clean waters which are almost drinkable. Our boat guy Eduardo shared a lot of fun facts about the place with the assistance of google translate and filled up an empty bottle to show us how clean the water was. Mariachi bands circle around the canals and you can invite them (for a fee of course) to sing a few songs in your boat. The sound of music and songs echoing around the canal makes this a truly festive ride. The canals are about a forty five minute taxi ride from Condesa each way and costs approximately USD10 per way.

Not to be missed is La Casa Azul or the Frida Kahlo museum. A preview into Frida’s life, La Casa Azul also shows Frida’s passion for all things Mexican. Her home is a celebration of Mexican culture and a lot of care is taken to preserve the place and the things as is. Pay attention to the audio guide as it points out artefacts to be taken note of, such as the two clocks depicting the time Frida and Diego were separated and remarried. Photography without flash is permitted. However, separate tickets must be bought for cameras and only one device is allowed per ticket and this includes phone cameras.

Huge thanks to my teacher, Ricardo Reyes for suggesting Guanajuato and Queretaro as places to visit. We couldn’t manage both and decided on Guanajuato. Guanajuato is accessible by car, bus and flight. As the bus route takes the highway, we decided to fly and save the bus trip for another day. We flew with Interjet, it was an hour’s flight and costs approximately, USD170 per pax for the round trip.

Why was Guanajuato one of our top days?

It was the prettiest Mexican city we visited and also the most local in terms of ambience. Walking is a breeze as most of the city’s traffic is diverted through the Guanajuato tunnels.  The iconic Basilica Guanajuato stands grandly in the centre of the square and the mustard coloured structure is distinctively visible from several viewpoints. We were fortunate to see the Basilica glow under the radiance of the full moon.

If you love guacamoles – Guanajuato is your place. The region produces the best avocados and the guacamoles here are so yum and creamy. The highlight of it all was the celebration of Guadalupe festival (Mother Mary’s birthday) during our visit. Children were dressed in their traditional Mexican outfit and carried baskets of offerings. Later in the evening, there was a parade in honour of beloved Mother.

Merida – two days

Once again with Interjet, we were off to Merida and settled at Hotel La Mision dey Fray Diego. Merida is a pretty little town. It buzzed with tourists as it was a popular transit to Chichen Itza. We were acquainted with Paloma the horse who gave us a little city tour and dropped us at a La Casa Azul inspired restaurant where we met Coco, a nacho eating rabbit.  I love travelling and the adventures it brings with each day.

Next day, we took a guided tour to Chichen Itza with Viator. The tour costed us about USD70 per pax and included pick up and drop off from the hotel, guided tour and buffet lunch.  Chichen is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and it was really exciting for us to visit three of the said new wonders during this trip.  Frankly, I was distracted with the souvenier shops that were dotted along the walk and had to re-focus to the guide. Chichen was the last stop during our walk and it gave us time to marvel at this historic masterpiece.

Tulum – three days of chill time with some activities (cenote, Mayan Ruins and cooking)

The trip from Merida to Tulum was epic. We were looking forward to our bus ride and did all things right. Bought our tickets the day earlier, reached the station in time, got snacks, boarded the bus (after checking with the counter assistants) and took our selfie. A short while later, we were told to leave the bus as our bus had departed L Tip#2 – if you speak minimal or no Spanish, it is hard to be clued on to the announcements. So, keep a close look at the watch and check with the staff often as you are approaching the departure time of the bus. Do not assume that the bus is delayed; it has most probably left the station. J  Tip #3 -you have to take things in humour and do not let small setbacks like this get the best of you. Thanks to Uber, we got a ride fixed to Tulum in five minutes. Our driver was the cutest – at each intersection, he would recheck with us if Tulum was our last destination or we had changed our mind. Bless his soul, we eventually reached our hotel, Maria Del Mar and to a much deserved chillaxing time.

With so many choices on cenotes (natural sinkholes), we picked Cenote San Actun as reviews suggested it was less touristy and also one of the most beautiful cenotes. Do not worry about buying a waterproof camera – these can be rented at the entrance and the memory card can be purchased.

The Mayan Ruins in Tulum are spectacular sight – the ruins are scattered across the park which is edged with a coastal view of aquamarine waters. Outstanding!   Our Mexican cooking class with Lily was equally a lesson in Mexican culture which I’ll share in the next section.

What other starry events during the trip?

The airport

It was a scene out of a game show. As we collected our bags, we had to declare if we carried any liquids in our luggage. After responding, we were requested to press a button – if the buzzer lighted up in green, your hand luggage was checked and if it lighted in red, the checked in luggage or all luggage items were checked. This is serious business peeps –follow the process and a beautiful Mexico awaits you.

Food glorious food – Mexico is a foodies’ paradise – Taquito galore

Everything tastes super yum and is bursting with flavour. Corn tacos are the norm, about palm size, hold well to the fillings – do not crumble, and are not dressed with sour cream. Take the scoville scale challenge when you try the salsas. Tip #4 try a little drizzle before deciding on your favourite – otherwise, a delightful meal may quickly turn to a very loud scream 😉 I enjoyed tacos the most and had them whenever I could. Plus, calling it a little taco, i.e. taquito made the eating experience even cuter J  and resisting a taco was almost criminal.

Margaritas – you can always be assured of a great drink

You can have margaritas with mezcal or tequila. Tequila is a type of mezcal but given a separate shout out as its distillation is regionally specific, in the city of Tequila.  Margaritas with mezcal were more popular and usually served in a cordial or whiskey glass (not the margarita glass most of us are used to).  For old times sake, we visited a Chili’s outlet and had a Presidente Margarita. Without sounding dramatic, it was quite a sentimental moment. Having a margarita vacation, I did the socially responsible thing and tasted as many as I could during my visit and my favourites were the margaritas at PataNegra in Condesa @ Mexico city and Gitano in Tulum.  Tip #5 – If you are feeling a little Mexicana, snack on some insects, crickets (protein bites) whilst enjoying your margarita J  Tip #6 – Smiley faces feature quite prominently on bills including the suggested amount you should leave as a tip.  Tip what you feel is appropriate for the service received.

Mezcal tasting and revelations of Mexican cooking and customs

Tequila or mezcal shot is not a Mexican thing but a fun act popularized by tourists. During our cooking lesson with Rivera Kitchen in Tulum, Lily started the class with a video presentation of Mexican culture, spices and traditions and infused this with personal stories. She shared that mezcal was a drink enjoyed amongst friends and also served as a digestive. Sipping it slowly enables the conversation to brew and made each sip more enjoyable. Quoting Lily, she said that ¨mezcal should be treated like a lady, with respect and sweet gentle kisses¨. That quote transformed my mezcal tasting experience. Lily shared the ABC’s of Mexican cooking with us and I’ve applied some of this in my cooking experiments. If you are keen on learning authentic Mexican cooking and experiencing Mexican hospitality, Lily’s classes come highly recommended. It costs approximately USD75 per pax and you can suggest the dishes that you would like to learn. Check out my review ‘Mexico Reflected’ at Trip Advisor.

Every day in Mexico was a starry event and to sum it all up, Mexico MUST BE EXPERIENCED.

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