Our travels start
Mexico City Travel Blog› entry 1 of 3 › view all entries
On the 14th of February this year two friends and I set off to Mexico to begin our travels around central and South America. Not being fans of planning we had nothing arranged except a one-way ticket and an insufficient supply of malaria tablets. This article is the first of three installments that will document our trip hopefully providing you with an insight into the countries we visited and the events we experienced.
As it turned out our travels were eventful from day one. We landed in a hot and humid Mexico City where we met up with Tom Budworth, a school friend from Hertfordshire who was coming to the end of his around the world tour. As the four of us piled into a taxi we were introduced to one of the more frightening sides of the city, the complete anarchy of its road traffic. There are no lanes, every car appears to have been in some sort of accident and the only form of signaling used is hazard lights. Turned on as a warning that they are about to do something reckless.
The cost of living in Mexico is very low and this enabled us to achieve so much with our time there. Whilst staying in Mexico City we ate from the numerous street food vendors and our meals were costing an average of 15 Pesos a time, which is around 70p. The food from the stalls was perfectly safe, with none of us falling ill, not to mention being extraordinarily tasty. My favourite was a tortilla made up of a finally diced chorizo with cheese, peppers, jalapeños and Mexican salsa, the latter quickly came to demand our respect ��" use sparingly!
Our hostel was located in the Historic Centre (Centro Histórico) which is the site of early 19th century governmental buildings and one of the largest plazas in the world; La Plaza de la Constitución also known as the Zócalo. I certainly did not expect to see such old and grandiose building on this side of the Atlantic. The buildings in other parts of the city take on a more austere nature, there are large areas of favelas similar to those that you find in Brazil. These half finished buildings cling to the surrounding mountainside and provide residence to a significant percentage of the city population.
Certainly our most surreal moment in Mexico City occurred in the large Chapultepec Park. The numerous tourists in the area seemed very curious to see four white men especially Tom with his blonde hair. Whilst taking in a street performance we were dragged into the centre and became part of the show. This involved balloon sword fights, Tarzan impressions and the general mockery of four skinny white guys. The humor was all in good taste and we received a huge round of applause for our efforts. Afterwards whole families came up to Tom asking to have photos of him holding their baby. As I have said very surreal.
From Mexico City we headed south taking in the historic colonial towns of Oaxaca and San Cristobel and both the Pacific and Caribbean coast. Oaxaca became infamous at the end of last year when the town became host to some violent rioting. Only a few short months before our trip the home office advised against travel there. So it was with some trepidation that we entered this town. As it turned out it was a very quiet and somewhat sleepy town with a noticeably slower pace than that of Mexico City. We soon adapted to the reduced tempo and spent our time strolling through the narrow streets and people watching in the Cafes.
After only a few days we decided to move on to the seaside town of Porto Escondido. We had no idea of the journey time but from consulting the guidebook’s simple map we calculated that it would take no more than an hour and a half. Five hours later we stopped for lunch in a mountain top village. It turned out that the map had failed to mark the expansive mountain range between Oaxaca and Escondido! Unfortunately Escondido had little to offer in terms of cultural attractions so we spent our time on its beautiful beach getting sun burnt like any good British tourist.
Our next stop of San Cristobel was in stark contrast to Escondido. We arrived early in the morning after a 13 hour bus journey wearing nothing but shorts and T-shirts. The temperature was only a few degrees above freezing, we therefore hopped about desperately putting on every item of clothing we had. To make matters worse our first night was spent in our worst hostel in Mexico. With more than a passing resemblance to a dilapidated shed, there was no heating or hot water and the night was even colder than the morning. The town itself however was very pleasant, boasting a large indigenous community, there are several different tribes who can be distinguished by their variety of differing garments. In one group all the women wear black fur skirts fastened with decorative waste bands and in another both men and women wear vibrant waste coats.
From San Cristobel we traveled to the Palenque the sight of ancient Mayan ruins constructed in 600 BC. The city itself does not merit too much comment but the ruins were by far the most impressive we saw in Mexico. Nestled inside the rainforest, these tall looming structures peek above the treetops. With the haunting sound of howler monkeys in the background, the whole scene reminds you of a Hollywood blockbuster such as Jurassic park or Indiana Jones. At Palenque we said goodbye to Tom as he flew off to finish his round the world trip. As it turned out this was not the last we were to see of him but that will all be explained later.
Tulum, our second beach town was our next destination, situated on the Caribbean coast it has a Caribbean vibe, both in looks and character. With it’s pearl white sands meeting an aqua marine ocean, the beach was even more impressive than Escondido’s, and we felt compelled to enter the warm waters to go snorkeling with the tropical fish swimming amongst the coral.
Our final destination in Mexico was Cancun. To describe it as a place that lacks cultural character would be an exceptional understatement. As the footprint guidebook puts it; it was ¨discovered¨ by the Mexican tourist board in 1972 and constructed in an American grid fashion. Instead of picturesque cathedrals and narrow streets you are confronted by large asphalt car parks and numerous fast food outlets. You may be wandering why we visited such a place, well the answer is that during February and March Cancun is host to American College students on spring break. On the sea front is a Las Vegas stile strip where every bar is populated with college football players and cheerleaders, as three ex students we decided it was an experience we could not miss!
Unfortunately our fun in Cancun ended rather abruptly. Being the three unorganized travelers that we are, we had made no preparation for our journey from Mexico to South America. When we finally checked the cost of both a direct flight and over land travel our hearts sank. Both options would put us massively over budget and lead to us cutting our trip drastically short. We spent the next three days researching in internet cafes desperately trying to come up with a solution, something we really should have sorted out before we left Hertfordshire. In order to find out how we overcame this hurdle and where in the world we traveled to next you will have to read the next installment in the Mercury.