What I Did on My School Vacation

‘The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.’ – Lewis Carroll

I’m really only behind on these blogs.  The rest of life is right where it should be, I suppose.  Highlights of the past almost-2 months, Becky was here, I went to a fun wedding, I took a trip to Mexico City, I went beach camping and met some great people, and have been having some good times with said great people.  Some school and work, too, of course.  This is a long one, so you maybe you won’t read it all in one sitting…or maybe you just want to look at the zillions of photos.  You’ve been warned.

Twenty years ago this past February, Becky and I ditched our respective boyfriends (whose names both started with “E”) on Valentine’s Day and took a wild week-long trip to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.  The reunion visit dredged up some old photos of that trip that were fun to see (many of those photos are still “classified” but there were unclassified for release here:

 

It had been nearly 3 years since I last saw Becky at our going-away party in San Diego.

Of course we communicate frequently (not exactly all day, everyday…well, sometimes…) so it wasn’t like we had a ton of catching up to do. Although it was great to talk in person. We were able to get right down to the business of going out and having fun.  We hit all the beaches, walked all over town, cooked some great meals, ate out for some great meals, hung out with friends and even did a little work.  We packed an awful lot into that week!  Becky’s  an amazing photographer, so you might want to check out HER PHOTOS of our adventure – way better than mine….

We happened to sit next to famous fashion designer Betsey Johnson on Las Gatas beach. I may have run into her in the bathroom and said something clever about having sand in my bathing suit…

We made some amazing tuna dinners

I said goodbye to Becky on a Friday afternoon, and then immediately prepared to attend the wedding of Diego and Anahi.

What an experience that was – there was a very long and involved church wedding (which I didn’t fully understand) that even included a 7 piece mariachi band!  From the church we all caravanned to the fancy hotel and then there was a ‘civil’ ceremony – like a whole ‘nother wedding, overlooking the ocean.  We had a beautiful sunset, drinks (piña coladas and some tamarind drink, which I was misinformed about as being non-alcoholic and I drank it too fast and it clearly WAS alcoholic. Let the good times roll).  The only real let-down here was the balloon ceremony.  As soon as I saw the giant bouquet of balloons, my heart sank.  I knew what was going to happen and it took every bit of strength I had to keep myself from trying to stop it.  They weren’t just regular helium filled balloons, no these balloons also included a flashing LED light.  They were passed out to everyone who wanted one.  I made sure to get one…so I knew at least there would be one that wouldn’t kill a sea-creature…  When the countdown to let them go happened, I popped mine and threw it in the trash.  And watched with a mix of awe and nausea as I don’t know how many mercury-filled, battery powered LED flashing balloons meandered up into the sky and out to the ocean.

Eva’s sign said “And they lived happily ever after”

I was soon distracted by a fireworks show that concluded with a flaming A+D exploding on the beach.  I do love fireworks.  After all this everyone paraded into the hotel banquet hall that was lavishly decorated and ready for a big party.  Each table got a bottle of whiskey.  Interesting choice.  There was no wine or champagne or other drinks aside from water and apple soda.  Whiskey and apple soda isn’t half bad.  There was a wonderful slide show of Anahi and Diego’s life. Dinner was delicious when they served it at around 10:30 pm.  Then the music really let loose and the dancing got wild. There were all kinds of fun rituals and what I assume are traditional wedding activities.  At one point 2 groups were holding Diego and Anahi on their shoulders and women jostled around Diego and men around Anahi, seeing who could knock them down first.  There was a bouquet toss (I refrained) and a few other thing I could only half follow.  Sometime much later, Diego was terrorizing the dance floor, wearing what looked to be a backpack type pesticide sprayer device, only it was filled with tequila…he was going around spraying it into people’s mouths. There was the traditional Zihua iguana dance, among others, and other liquors being served to us as we danced (I think it was coffee liquor?).  My feet were killing me, but otherwise I was extremely grateful to have participated in this happy 9 hour event.  I mostly hung out with the crew from school (which included one student I knew).  We had a great time and Alex bussed a truckload of us home sometime around 2:00am.  I’m sure the party went on and on (Diego had told me he planned to dance until at least 3:00am!). 

The wedding was the first day of the school break, marking the Semana Santa and Easter holidays.  School was closed for 3 weeks.  After a couple weeks of working, kind of missing my schedule, and watching my little town get busier and busier, I decided I needed to do something. I need a shake-up, a distraction, something to keep me from going to dark places when tempted think about  “what am I going to do with my life without Jonny and Summer?”.   I knew going to the beach was less and less of an option, because almost every person in Mexico goes to the beach over Semana Santa holidays.  That’s the last place I wanted to be!  My friend Yasmin, who owns my favorite tienda organica, had earlier planted the seed that it would be a great time to visit Mexico City.  She said 40% of the city leaves (and I think half of them came here).   I realized I was coming up on a year of living in Zihua!  I peeked into the options for going to CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) and it turns out there was a new flight just created from Zihua to CDMX and it was being heavily promoted.  I was able to get a round trip ticket for less than a round trip bus ticket to Guadalajara! (around $70).  I looked into accommodations and decided it was time for me to give AirBNB a try.  I got a room in a good neighborhood for $11/night. Five days in Mexico City, here I come!  I also ended up buying an iVenture card, that allowed me to choose any 5 tours/events/services from a big list (most of which I wanted to do/see). It ended up definitely being worthwhile, although not without its challenges.

My late-night plane flight left more than an hour late, with no explanation whatsoever (they didn’t even admit it was late – the screen never changed its “on-time” status or updated the departure time.  Huh. OK.  I got a cab from the airport to my AirBNB place – it was a VERY quiet and empty neighborhood and it was around 2:00 am by the time I arrived.  My cab driver was a super nice guy – we chatted the whole ride and he waited outside the cab while I rang the bell and made some calls to try and wake up my hosts (they were expecting me, but had accidentally fallen asleep!).  The place and room were not exactly as advertised, but my host was a very sweet woman (also not as advertised…it’s her daughter that does all the posting and responding online) but for the price, I didn’t have any complaints.  I had my own private room with a lock on the door, in a building separate from the main house.  I’m not sure how many rooms there were in this building (5? 6?) with other AirBNB guests and we all shared a couple bathrooms.  It was extremely quiet and I’m sure I would’ve slept great had the bed not been the worst saggy, springy thing I’ve ever slept on.  Plus, I was FREEZING!

Room as seen on internet
Room as seen in person

I got up as early as I could the next morning and tried to get oriented.  There was no food offered (also not as advertised) aside from coffee or tea (neither of which are my cup of tea).  But Clara got out a map and shared some helpful information with me (where to get the bus to get to the metro, not to take the metro after dark, etc.).  It’s always a little disconcerting getting on a bus in a strange city when you aren’t really sure where it’s going and where you are supposed to get off.  I asked the driver if it was going to the metro and he said yes.  He was kind enough to remember and let me know when I should get off – he also made sure I knew which way to walk to get into the station.  Very helpful!  I had a destination to find – the tour office where I was to pick up my iVenture card. I figured this would be a good exercise to start learning my way around and once I got there I could get a little more help for the next phase.

The women at the tour office were really nice and answered all my questions about the things I wanted to do and see.  I headed out to find the ‘hop on, hop off’ tour bus, figuring my first day  would be well spent seeing as much as I could at once and getting a ‘lay of the land’.

One thing I didn’t know and wasn’t at all prepared for, was the fact that Mexico City is at 7,400 feet in elevation.  I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so winded going up stairs!   My plan had been to ride one bus loop to the main Zocolo square, see that, and then take another bus loop where I could get off in Coyoacan and see that area and head home (I was staying in Coyoacan neighborhood).  Well, these buses take hours and hours.  By the time I got on the second bus I realized it was going to be like 4 hours before I got where I wanted to get off!  I was also started to get a migraine and feel very tired and a little sick.  Elevation! Who knew?!

That’s a horse, in case you couldn’t tell
Just a normal traffic circle…
Palace of fine Arts

Church on the Zocalo
Everything is GINORMOUS!

 

Ummmm…WHAT??

I finally asked the tour woman where I should get off to take a cab to Coyoacan, because I couldn’t handle the bus anymore (also I had gotten a little too much sun, riding on the top open-air part of the bus (great views though!).  I dozed off for, I don’t know, maybe an hour? In the lower part of the bus.  Eventually we were someplace and the tour woman said that is where I should get off.  I staggered down off the bus, blinking around a very quiet park in quaint neighborhood with cute shops and cobble stone streets.  Well, it wouldn’t hurt to look around a bit before finding a cab, right?

 

The neighborhood was called San Angel and turned out to be my all-time favorite spot in CDMX.  It has meandering cobblestone streets, beautiful parks with fountains, wonderful shops and one of the most beautiful church courtyards I’ve ever seen.  I never wanted to leave.  The first old building full of shops I wandered into had an incredible gourmet chocolate shop. I snagged a couple goodies and then asked for a dark chocolate-covered caramel – very expensive.  A young man wearing white gloves served it to me on a piece of mirrored glass and I’m sure he enjoyed watching as I stood at the counter and closed my eyes, making lots of yummy noises as I slowly devoured it.  There, that felt better!  The next shop I happened upon was an Eco-Butik.  Did they know I was coming or something?!?!  I went a little crazy in this shop, procuring a little goodie bag of things I simply can’t find in Zihua.  After that I found another lovely little shop full of beautiful, handmade gift-like things and artisanal treats.  I had a wonderful time chatting with the woman who owned it and she gave me a chocolate covered almond (first one is free…then somehow a bag of them found their way into my goodie stash).  I decided I was going to have dinner in San Angel – there was a restaurant that intrigued me, and an ice cream shop that intrigued me even more.

I explored the cobblestone streets and had a nice rest in the tranquil churchyard until it started to get dark and it seemed like dinner time.  I went back to the restaurant that had a sign saying they make ALL traditional Mexican foods.  It was very nice, but not super expensive fancy.  I was the only one there and the waiters were very friendly.  I ended up ordering chiles en nogada – an incredibly complex and delicious treat that is traditionally only made for Independence Day (and that is the only time I’ve tried it – and loved it).   It’s a chile stuffed with a meat and fruit and spice mixture and covered in a walnut cream sauce with pomegranate on top.  It’s wonderful and I couldn’t believe they serve it every day of the year.  I was expecting it to not be as good as the homemade dish I first tried, but it WAS!  Delicious!  I was a bit too full for ice cream, but I’m a trooper and after a short walk I was ready to give it a go.  Just a small cup.  Sufficiently stuffed, and relaxed, I decided it was finally time to find a cab and head back to my quiet little room.  I had NO idea where I was, but finally caught a cab out on a main street (the first cab I hailed started to pull over and then took off. Why?).  The driver had his phone mounted on the dash like a GPS and took me home like a pro (and sadly the last one I would encounter…).

I could hardly wait to revisit my little goodie bag when unpacking from my day.  There was no bag! Where was it? Did I leave it in the cab? No, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.  Why wasn’t it in my pack? For some reason, I’d decided to carry it separately.  I remembered stopping on my way out of the ice cream shop to buy some yogurt I noticed in their cold case (so I could have breakfast in the morning).  I must have set the bag down when I paid and then walked out without it. So stupid!!  The shop was closing when I left, so I’d hoped it would still be there in the morning, if only I could find their phone number (it was not on my receipt) and call for them to save it for me.

I was due to be up early the next morning for a tour I wanted to go on.  I had to take the bus to the metro to Zocolo.  I was out the door and bobbing along the metro in plenty of time to catch the 9:00am Frida Kahlo (museum and neighborhood) and Xochimilco (boat ride through floating gardens) all day tour.  Aside from the pyramids, this was the one thing I was most excited about!  The tour company said I couldn’t go because they didn’t have the machine to read my iVenture card! What?!?! We went round and round, me trying to problem solve (how can we get me on this bus?) and them being less and less helpful.  I finally reached the end of hope with these mean tour women and tried to call the tour office (which didn’t open till 9).  I got some woman from some corporate office on the line who was very nice.  In the end we finally figured out that there were 2 tour bus companies running the exact same tour and I should’ve gone with the other one (who wasn’t open/set up when I arrived, so I only saw 1, advertising the exact tour I wanted…).  By this time all the tours had left and there was nothing I could do.  I decided to go back to San Angel and retrieve my goodie bag, and then do my own tour of the Frida museum and Coyoacan area, maybe even get all the way down to Xohcimilco? (dare to dream).   The woman at the ice cream shop located my bag and said she would have it waiting for me (yet another experience with me being a dingbat and folks being honest).

“You gonna eat all that?”

I got the goods and had my yogurt in the adjacent park.  A fearless squirrel tried to get a taste.  I decided to walk a bit more in my new favorite area and when I was over it, I’d catch a cab to Coyoacan and find the Frida Kahlo museum.

I visited a great little gift shop and treated myself to a beautiful pendant (I haven’t been able to wear my usual necklace since it broke and I got a new chain that was too big for my old opal and shell combo). I couldn’t believe it was only 100 pesos (around $5).  The shop also had a collection of t-shirts with very strange sayings in English on them.  It turns out they are common Mexican sayings that have been literally translated into English and they are just hysterical!  I had the girl explain each and everyone one to me. She was very patient and it was great fun. Farther along, I happened upon a cute little salon and popped in to check the prices on a pedicure.  I don’t get salon pedicures unless I’m with my Mom these days.  But it was super reasonable (around $12) and I decided to treat myself (hey, I’m on vacation, right?).

The women in the salon were very excited to have me use their special computerized tool to help me pick my color.  I didn’t really need any help choosing a nail polish color, but I couldn’t take away their fun.  I answered a bunch of silly questions, the first being “what is your favorite color?” and they finally brought me a ring full of colors that were supposed to all be good choices for me. I choose a nice blue. I settled into the fancy massage chair while they put a heated neck pillow on me (did I mention it was downright cold up there?? Was grateful for the warmth!).  It wasn’t until I’d fully relaxed and settled in before I noticed the name of the salon.  “Manura”.  Hmmmm… I asked what it meant in Spanish.  No meaning, just a name the owner made up.  I did not have the heart to tell them what kinds of images “manura’ conjured up for me.  It was hard not to tell them, really, but they were so sweet and I didn’t want to bum them out (afterall, they had to keep working there).   As the woman was trimming my toenails she was really digging in and cleaning them out.  Turns out I had a lot of sand embedded in my cuticles. It was more funny than embarrassing.  Yep, I live on the beach!

I got to Coyoacan with another friendly cabbie, in time to find some lunch.  Another really adorable area with super funky and cool shops, kind of a hippie place, featuring a huge square with fountains and restaurants.  Very lively place.

Double decker parking lot! Talk about doubling your income.
Not my father

I ended up at a sort of organic and natural kind of deli place.  Good wifi and a delicious turkey sandwich.  Just what I needed.  I relaxed. Perhaps a little bit too long?  But I did find out how to get to the Frida museum.  It took me even longer to get there as I kept making unscripted turns to check out this street, take that picture, duck into this shop…  By the time I got to the museum, it was around 3:30.  There was a line to get in and I could not see the end.  I was told it was about an hour-long line, and the museum closed at 5:00pm!     I was in no mood to wait on line that long and probably miss out anyway.   It was around this time that I started to lose it for the day.  I got a bit lost/turned around and I was tired of walking.  I knew I was not that far from another organic market I wanted to check out, but I just couldn’t get the direction right.  So I hailed a cab.  A very old man who did not turn on his meter.  I didn’t say anything because I knew we were close-by and I kind of wanted to see what was going to happen.   He didn’t know where he was going but ultimately we got there (thanks to my phone GPS).  He asked me to pay a ridiculously high price and I scoffed and we finally agreed on something more reasonable.  Smarmy fella. I had a hunch about him!

The Green Corner was a wonderful store, but there wasn’t much that I needed, mostly just wanted to see the organic options available.  I was downright beat.  I got a juice and just wanted a cab to take me home for a nap before I figured out what to do for dinner.  Three, count ‘em THREE cabs refused to take me home!! The first said he didn’t know where I wanted to go and made me get out, the second said he didn’t have time to go there (or something along those lines? My Spanish still isn’t great you know!)  and the last guy said something about not being allowed to go to that area?  It was all very confusing and a bit upsetting.   One of my friends had warned me not to take cabs in CDMX because I was going to get kidnapped. HA! I couldn’t pay them to take me!!  I knew it was only about a mile walk, so I trudged on.  I was so tired, so cranky, so disappointed and possibly near tears (and yeah, heavily, heavily PMSing…).  But I finally made it back.  I stripped off my clothes and climbed into bed and had a blissful hour-long nap.  I got cleaned up and refreshed and headed back out to the happening area of Coyoacan to hunt down a meal.  The main square was packed with hundreds of people out enjoying the evening.  I ended up at a wonderful Italian restaurant with a fountain view.  I even splurged on a glass of wine.  I ate ALL the herbed butter they served with breadsticks and general indulged myself to the max.  Vacation, right?  I really have a ridiculous amount of fun by myself.  It’s just a little embarrassing when I make myself laugh, though.

Another struggle to get a cab home.  One cabbie finally told me that I couldn’t take the pink and white cabs where I wanted to go and needed to look for a red and gold one.   Then a pink and white one insisted he could take me.  He had NO idea where he was going and we drove all over hell and of course I had to pull out my phone GPS. It was so frustrating and weird, and then he made me pay full fare even though he had no clue what he was doing.  I was too exhausted to argue. I tend to believe his cluelessness was for real and not just a ruse to up the fare, but maybe I’m wrong.  No tip for him, either way!

The next day I had planned to go to the Anthropology museum and whatever else I had time for in the area. I was starting to feel like a pro with the bus and metro system.  You can ride the metros for hours and they don’t even cover the entire city.  Walking from one line to another in a transfer station can take 30 minutes. But the metros are clean and efficient and only cost 5 pesos to ride (that’s like 25 cents)! Crazy cheap. Everything in that city is just on a massive, massive scale.  I guess with 21 million people, it kind of has to be.

The Castillo de Chupultepec was in a huge park-like area, close to the Anthropology museum, and the whole area reminded me of San Francisco around Golden Gate Park.  It was a green, flowery beautiful and artsy sprawl.  When I passed through on the tour bus I could hardly wait to check it out.  I spent 5 hours in the Anthropology museum and I didn’t even get up to the second floor!  I took a lunch break halfway through and realized if I saw the whole museum I’d see nothing else that day.  So I resolved to see the rest of the main floor and then head over to find the Castillo.

Amazing street food just outside the museum

The museum actually bans selfie-sticks!
No one here but us monkeys!

  It was quite a walk up to the top of the hill where the Castillo was situated.  My feet were definitely getting a work out on this trip (in the end it was over 32 miles of walking in 5 days!).  It was late in the day and I didn’t have much time at the Castillo, so I did a quick run through and had a rest in the garden area (I was exhausted!).

The first and only water fountain I’ve ever seen in Mexico. I filled my water bottle and crossed my fingers…I’m alive to tell about it!
There was a pretty neat art exhibition inside the castillo – all about the Mexican revolutionaries history

He didn’t listen to his mother when she warned it would freeze that way…

  

After the castle closed and they kicked us all out, I kept wandering around the park area that went on and on.

The park has tools to fix your bicycle!

I knew I was on the side of town somewhat near the Cheesecake Factory – and I was determined to get there. I know, I know, you’re thinking I should be doing all this Mexican culture-y stuff, but come on! I live in Mexico, and in a place were I can’t get many things that the big city has to offer.  One of those things being Linda’s Chocolate Fudge Cake, which is only my favorite chocolate cake in the world, and it’s only at The Cheesecake Factory.   I know, I don’t believe it either, but it’s just true.  Being “near the Cheesecake Factory” meant walking to a metro stop, taking the metro up 5 or 6 stops and then taking a cab from there.   I had guessed from maps what stop I should go to, and popped out in a completely unknown area.  It looked safe and I had a vague idea of the direction I wanted to go, so I hailed a cab and off I went.  Yet another super friendly cabbie to chat with.   He dropped me right in front of the big, shiny restaurant, which happened to be a cornerstone of a gigantic mall.  It was still light out and I wasn’t feeling dinner quite then, so I had a spin through the mall, just to see what was what, and because, you know, I needed to walk more.  Every fancy mall store you could image from any big city in the world beckoned.  I marveled at it all, but felt no pull whatsoever to enter any stores.  I didn’t shop in these places when I lived in the US and I certainly had no interest in them now.  I have no doubt everything was just as out of my price range there as it is in the US.

The number of chain stores and restaurants I recognized in CDMX was overwhelming – pretty much everything!  I even saw a “Hooters”.   My mind went to imagining how the initial meeting went, when the US based businessmen met with the Mexican businessmen to pitch the concept of Hooters… Were they in a meeting room, with a board and a pointer with a picture of a typical Hooter’s waitress? And he’s saying “You know…the waitresses have great… “hooters”…that’s why we sell thousands of WINGS!” And the Mexican guy is scratching his head and finally, “OH! Is that why the owls are endangered?” (yeah, that’s one of those things that makes me laugh when I’m all by myself…maybe it’s best if I kept it to myself?).

I finally went and got my buzzer to wait my turn for a table at the world’s best chocolate cake place (am I the only person who goes to the cheesecake factory for NOT cheesecake?).   I’m not usually one for chains, either, but the times I’ve eaten at these restaurants have always been pleasant and fun.  I’m sure it’s not the healthiest place to eat (nor is it the worst in the realm of chain food), but I was on vacation and I was going to eat whatever the hell I wanted and enjoy it!  The prices almost made my eyes pop out of my head.  I think they were the same as US prices.  Yikes.  I almost faltered in my resolve, but I stayed strong to order whatever the hell I wanted. I had a credit card.  I had the signature lemonade, the cheesy spinach dip and a steak Diane dinner.  I only ate half of the dip and dinner and got the rest to go – lunch for the bus ride up to the pyramids the next day!  That made the high price seem what less painful.  I was too full to eat my cake, and I always prefer to have my fancy cake late at night in bed anyway…so I ordered it to go.  I might have had a taste before putting it into my to-go bag with the other treats.  It looked and tasted exactly as I remember – I had some doubts as to whether it would be just the same, and ohhhhh it was!

I again had several cabs turn me down before I finally got another friendly but clueless driver to take me home.  Had to pull out my phone GPS to give directions. The city is just so ridiculously huge that I guess even the cab drivers don’t know all of it.  I only ate half my cake and felt quite satisfied and ready to crash into my horribly uncomfortable, but now-familiar bed (with the extra blanket I found in a cupboard somewhere.  Did I mention it was COLD up there?)

The next morning I had to be up early and make my way to Zocolo for my much anticipated trip out of the city to Teotihuacan, site of the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.  I arrived plenty early and was first in line to get my wrist band and stand waiting for the buses (waiting and freezing, I might add!).  I hadn’t quite paid too much attention, but the tour also included a stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I learned on the bus that this was the church that was built near the hill of Tepeyac where Our Lady of Guadalupe supposedly appeared to Saint Juan Diego way back when (1500’s).  People have been making pilgrimages to this spot since the 1500s and it’s a whole giant holiday just before Christmas where people make pilgrimages/parade to their local churches.

One of the tour guides on our bus spoke English and took on those of us wishing to be shown around in English.  That turned out to be me and two Germans (who of course spoke excellent English).  We seemed to have similar sarcastic comments to make and I was instantly pleased with my group.  Our guide Miguel was also wonderful, he gave us the lay of the land and let us have about 45 minutes to wander around on our own.   Marc and Kristian were a great surprise for this day and I enjoyed having companions. They were pretty easy on the eyes, as well.  At first, I thought they were a couple, but then I learned they were co-workers on a business trip, taking a day trip before the work week began.  We saw the grounds, the old church and we rode the moving walkway to view the miraculous shroud that the image of the Virgin had appeared on, after she made a rosebush appear (not just any rosebush, but roses normally found only in Spain! Proving of course, it was a miracle perpetrated by the virgin).

Someone’s not having a good day

 

The giant church square had this humongous clock tower thing, it looked so… soviet to me!
Random traditional dancers in the church square
The original church that was built to commemorate this miracle

The famous shroud – the image you see here appeared miraculously on this cloak that previously was blank…

Back on the bus, we had about an hour to ride up to Teotihuacan.  I had 2 seats to myself and was very happy to look out the window (with periodic narratives from Miguel over the speakers). I enjoyed my Cheesecake Factory meal yet again (complete with cake) and was ready for adventure.

I spotted the first pyramid off in the distance, like some run of them mill landscape feature.  I was somehow in disbelief and nonplussed at the same time.  It seemed unreal, but there it was, just sitting there surrounded by regular life!

The pyramid is just to the right of the top of the telephone pole – by a red and white tower. Just sitting there. Like no big deal.

 

At the beginning, Miguel oriented us and took us through some archeological sites and explained a number of things to us.  It was great to learn how the archaeologists reconstructed certain areas and how they clearly differentiated between original and reconstructed – it made it easier to know what to be in awe of!

Miguel the Guide

The city was built around 100 BC, coinciding with the Mayans (and before the Aztecs). But the Teotihuacanos were a culture unto themselves, somewhat mysterious, possibly even a multi-cultural group.  These pyramids are some of the most architecturally significant of the era.  The surrounding city and monuments were systematically destroyed around 550AD.

We were told what time and where to meet the tour bus and set free to climb pyramids.  The Pyramid of the Moon was our first climb- we were only allowed to go halfway up on this one, so it seemed like a good warm up.  The steps were extremely tall and very steep and narrow.  You had to walk up kind of sideways and it was quite a work out.  When we reached the middle stopping point, I looked back at all the evenly spaced shrines and the layout, and I became convinced that it was actually an ancient circuit training course.  The pyramid we just climbed was clearly a stairmaster.  I may have been a little out of breath (we were still at almost 7,500 feet elevation before climbing!), but the view was breathtaking at any elevation!

Marc, the handsome German

We all made it down without any face-plants and walked the main promenade toward the pyramid of the sun.  That one we were allowed to go all the way to the top and the three of us were eager to do so.  There were a LOT of people, like swarms of ants crawling up that pyramid.  But it wasn’t until we got to it and walked around the side to find the entrance to the climb that we realized just how many people… it was quite a long walk just to get to the beginning of the line that wound back and forth, herding the masses to the base of the pyramid. We were cheerful and joking until we got about a quarter way up and realized we were crammed in the middle of this mass of people moving slower than molasses…and there’s no way we were going to make it to the top and back down again and make our rendezvous point in time.  Marc and Kristian were a little nervous and trying to find ways we could get back down.  There was a middle point where you could cross over to the down lane if you wanted to.  I didn’t want to and I honestly didn’t care that much about the meeting time.  I felt sure that this was not the first time this had happened and that the bus was not going to leave us. They had clipboards with our names, afterall!  But, knowing that I tend to err on the side of too much risk-taking, I didn’t push my opinions.  I pointed out the options of turning back, but finally when pressed, I had to admit that I was not the right person to be asking about a safe and responsible decision here.  I wanted to go to the top of the pyramid.  I swear I didn’t push anyone into it, but the guys heard my logic about how we were unlikely to be left – and look! There’s 2 people from our bus way behind us in line!  It was decided…schedule be damned, we were going to the top!  I pointed out how going so slowly was keeping us from getting all sweaty.  Kristian said, with a somewhat accusatory tone: “You’re one of those people who’s always positive, aren’t you?”.  Who? Me?

We did it!

The views were really cool from the top, even if the top itself wasn’t all that. We took our pictures, looked around and then quickly joined the downward trudging masses.  The sole of my leather Teva started coming off and was flopping dangerously as I was packed in the crowd going down the steep steps.  I thought “oh no, what if I fall?” And then I started laughing hysterically because I envisioned the domino effect of 300 people falling down the side of a pyramid. I was glad to have someone to share my reason for laughing, so this time I didn’t look like a lone lunatic.  When there was a bit more space, I took my shoe off and hobbled half barefoot and finally pulled the sole all the way off and just wore my sole-less sandal.

When we arrived at the meeting point, there was no bus.  But there was the other tour guide woman waiting for us. She said the bus had taken everyone to the restaurant and was going to come back for us. See? I knew it would all work out.  We didn’t have much time to eat at the restaurant (and I didn’t eat anyway, still full up from my fancy leftovers), so I just had a limonada.  There were a couple of guys performing some traditional dance for us, which was fun to watch.

We were soon hurried off to a nearby compound to learn how agave plants are grown and taste some mescal and tequila.  Right at the start of the tour, I realized that in the hustle and bustle of leaving the restaurant, I never got my change from my drink.  It was kind of a lot!  I ran back to the bus and found Miguel.  It wasn’t that far, so he said he’d walk me back to the restaurant.   Although I missed all of the tour, I got my change and a whole lot of interesting information from Miguel.  I got to try a sip of pulque and then we were whisked off to the gift shop for a spell. I just wanted to buy some gum as I had a brilliant plan to re-attach the sole of my shoe…(it didn’t work).

Back on the bus, it looked like I might make my reservation at the Bellini Restaurante – the revolving restaurant at the top of the world trade center building.  A meal there was one of the options on my iVenture card, and I figured, what the heck! I loved the revolving restaurant in San Francisco.  In the tour bus bathroom, I changed into some nice jeans and a black shawl to replace my grubby sweatshirt and I was ready for a fancy dinner.  I told Miguel where I wanted to go and he had the bus let me off somewhat near a metrobus stop (not to be confused with the metro, the metrobus is an above ground line, but on a track, not a loose bus).  I got a little lost but eventually found it and got my plastic card and climbed aboard.  I wasn’t sure what stop to get off at and I tried asking people but eventually got pretty close searching on my phone.  I ended up getting off one too far and walking back. Then it turns out I didn’t actually know which building was the world trade center.  I thought it I did but the top didn’t look right! No revolving restaurant that I could see.  I finally located it and getting to it and inside was a whole ‘nother challenge! The city is like a jungle!  In the end, I was only about 20 minutes past my reservation and it was no problem.  The view was incredible, although it was kind of overcast (it was actually raining when we were coming back on the bus).

The waiters were friendly, if somewhat perplexed as to why I was alone.  I had the set 4 course dinner, which was kind of lousy, except for the creamed corn soup.  But I was mesmerized by the view and the slow-motion rotation.  I sat for a couple of hours just enjoying myself and also because I was too exhausted to face the ordeal I knew was coming –  trying to get home.

 

But I finally rode the elevator back down to earth and wandered a little.  I figured it’d be safest to take the metrobus again, since I knew right where it was and I could get a little closer to my destination before having to find a cab. All this in-city long distance travel was getting expensive!

I had no idea where to get off the metrobus and I was a little confused and turned around.  I knew I went in the right direction at any rate.  I finally just got off and figured “whatever” I’ll get a cab.  It was pretty late and I was kind of at a huge confusing intersection. I didn’t really know which way to go for a cab.  I waited and waited and there just were none (the couple I saw coming got snagged by other people). I didn’t feel unsafe in my surroundings, but I was tired and Just wanted to go home!  I decided to try another street.  I finally snagged a cab and the young driver was great, but yet again I had to use my phone GPS to direct him. It was quite a ride, but we got there and I got to practice my Spanish conversation for yet another long stretch.

Monday was to be my last day in the city before my late-night plane back to my tranquilo Zihua.  I was feeling ready to be out of the city and back home.  In truth, I’m not a city-girl.  My city instincts and metro-riding thighs all came back, but the fast pace, crowds, and dropping wads of cash at every turn, really wear on me.  I was supposed to be going on an electric bike tour, but I never received the email about where to go, and I was relieved (I did, however, receive an email 2 days later asking me if I’d enjoyed it). I wanted to just chill, maybe ride a tour bus again and try to organize a ride to the airport (yet another iVenture option).

I made my way back to the office where I got my card to see about arranging the airport ride.  I had also seen a LUSH store I wanted to check out (“Fresh handmade cosmetics” a wonderful store I first discovered in Scotland back in 1998. I didn’t have time to stop the day before as I was trying to find the metrobus stop to the world trade center). The woman who spoke English was not in the office, but we managed to get it sorted out.  She said the driver would not go to Coyoacan, but that I could get picked up at a hotel.  She helped me to figure out how I was going to get to the hotel –I would take the bus to the metro to the metrobus and then it was a short walk to the hotel. No problem!

I realized I’d forgotten my ticket for the tour bus, so there’d be no riding around on that.  I didn’t really mind. I was mostly just ready to get home.  I had a fun visit to Lush. I had planned not to buy anything, well, maybe ONE thing…but it was too much fun and I was so deep into my “Treat YOSELF” (name that show) vacation…I came away with a little bag of goodies.     I did a bit more wandering and then decided to make my way back to my place to relax, eat and get my stuff ready to leave.  I had PLENTY of time.  All I had to do was find the metro station.  I took the metro bus to the stop nearest the station I was aiming for.  It’s around here that things got a little wonky.  I guess I lost my bearings?  It was a busy part of the middle of the city and I finally got a map on my phone and was heading for what seemed to be the right place (each neighborhood has all the same street names and there are a lot of neighborhoods. It’s a little confusing).  I was walking through some interesting parts.  I even came upon a Chocolate Museum.  I very nearly bought a ticket to go in, afterall, I still had plenty of time, right?  But something told me I shouldn’t dally, so I forced myself to only visit the gift shop and get on my way.   I still wasn’t sure exactly where I was or if I was going in the right direction or to the right place.  I was having a lot of trouble with my vision and my tiny phone map, having to stop often to take out my reading glasses, take off my sun glasses, try to get oriented and figure out which way to turn next.  I was getting a wee bit frustrated, but I pressed on.  I thought I was almost there and the street I was on dead ended at an unpassable spot (city ravine?).  I finally stopped to ask someone.  While I’m very capable of asking for directions, it’s understanding the answers where I get tripped up.  I can usually get the first part and set off in the right direction and then have to ask someone else.  I don’t know how many people I talked to from there to the metro, but it was a lot, and they were all super friendly and helpful.  There was some construction around the metro entrance, which didn’t help things, but I finally was making my way down into the tunnel.  About 50,000 other people were also making their way down.  It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen pretty much anything in my life.  OH Right! It was Monday, Semana Santa was officially over and 40% of the city’s population was now back to work.

I was extremely grateful I don’t have claustrophobia or panic attacks, because this situation would surely have set me off.  I was in a sea of people getting swept down to the metro.  A train was just coming in and everyone crammed onto it.  Well, not everyone, maybe half of everyone, and then the cars were jammed packed and people were trying not to get clipped at the doors closed.  The rest of us would just have to wait for another train.  I managed to squeeze my way into the next one.  Luckily all of the metro stops have a little icon specific to each stop.  I had begun to memorize the pictures that went with my stops, because, the aforementioned vision issues also affected my distance sight (it was really apparent in the city) and I couldn’t read the maps posted on the topsides in the metro cars.  I got off at my usual stop, realizing I’d only ever gotten on there and had never taken the bus BACK to my place.  I swam through the masses, assuming it was all going to work out.   I had NO idea where I was supposed to get off or where the bus was taking me.  Luckily, I recognized a bakery in my neighborhood and was let off right next to it.  Perfect, I thought, I can get a rotisserie chicken for lunch and maybe one of those gigantic bimbuñeulos I had seen on my first day (I can never resist browsing through a pastry shop).

Yes, I WAS feeling a little psycho. What’s it to ya?

I was looking forward to relaxing for a bit and eating and then heading out to catch my airport shuttle.  When I got back to my room I realized I had NO time whatsoever and had to grab my stuff and run.  It had taken me hours just to get there!  Did I mention how huge Mexico City is?

I turned in my keys and said goodbye to Clara. She walked me out to the street to catch the bus back to the metro and gave me a hug, like I’d been her visiting niece.  Too bad we didn’t get to visit more.  Back to the metro, one transfer and then try to find the hotel.  When I got off the metro, I sat down outside to try to see if I could figure out which direction to walk.  I couldn’t, but I knew it was only a 2 minute walk either way!  I sighed in desperation and rolled my eyes to the sky.  OH! There, towering above me was the hotel!  I had to laugh at myself, relying on the stupid phone when all I needed to do was look around.  I got to the hotel and had some time to relax on a fancy lobby couch until my driver arrived.   I hadn’t realized it, but I was heading to the airport at rush hour.  Glad I wasn’t driving.  My driver was wonderful and again I got to practice my Spanish conversation, this time for more than an hour.

Finally, I was safely checked in and just waiting for my flight.  I had time to get a salad (and put some of my rotisserie chicken in it).  The bimbuñelo didn’t survive the trip. I had a few bites on the bus, but it got decimated and I tossed it.  It was a fun idea anyway.  I spotted a Krispy Kreme donut shop, and while I am not a big fan in general, I was intrigued.  While Mexico produces some top notch pastries, I’ve never once had a satisfying donut in this country.  Couldn’t hurt to get ONE, right?  I was messaging with my friend Page in Zihua and I mentioned it to her…she said “bring me some!!!”. How could I resist? I managed to get 6 of them home.

The flight again left more than an hour late with no explanation whatsoever.  The airport is so ginormous that when you go through your gate you are not actually going to a plane.  Your gate takes you to a bus, which then takes you out to a plane.  Ours was several miles away, it seemed.  I joked to a fellow passenger “They’re driving us to Zihua” (actually what I said was “nos estan manejando a Zihua!”).  It’s fun to be able to make people laugh in a different language.

At last on board, in my seat, with no one next to me.  I blissfully dozed for the short hour-long trip.   Being clever and savvy as I am, I knew to leave the airport and walk out to just off the airport property, where I could get a cab for quite a bit less than the airport rates.   I went straight out there, anxious to just get home already.  Not savvy enough… the taxis and buses give up on that venue late at night.  There was nothing out there, just me, in the dark with my bag and Krispy Kremes.  I trudged all the way back to the ghost-town airport and got in line to get a cab with the rest of the poor schmucks from my flight.  I opted for a shared cab, which costs much less and I was the second one dropped off.  It was after midnight and I couldn’t be more grateful to fall into my own bed.

6 thoughts on “What I Did on My School Vacation”

  1. Wow, what an awesome adventure, Jenn. Love all the descriptions and humor. You are a true explorer and plucky to say the least. Glad you’re back in familiar environs. Cuidate. Kris oxxox

  2. Holy Moly Jenn, you are an adventurer. Just reading your post sent me to bed with relief. No, just kidding. What a wonderful city and I was happy to see all the pictures you posted. You will never forget your time there and Tokyo will be a piece of cake (if you can find a Cheesecake Factory) after getting around CDMX. I thought it was FDMX (Federal Dept). Are you still enjoying Mexico? Will look forward to hearing about your work and the friends you have made.

  3. Hey, I came over from your Summer adventures. Googled Baja Los Angeles. Going there for a short visit in Sept 2017. Anywhoo, you were talking about the mosquitoes in July ’16, I think and wanted to give you some help.
    We live in California in the foothills of the Sierras next to a river, Kaweah. The mosquitoes were bad this year so my husband put up a hummingbird feeder. The mosquitoes disappeared. Hummingbirds eat mosquitoes. Give it a try…love your writing, so honest.

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