CHEF TRAVELS: MEXICO CITY

 
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CDMX | COYOACAN

First Day


This trip was one I was looking forward beyond explanation as I seem to require a subtle reset from time to time. With a bit of a lull in my motivation levels and a busy last few weeks, an impulsive purchase to visit my cousin proved to be just what I needed. After expediting my passport, I found different areas of Mexico that I wanted to explore, including cliff-side pools set in the middle of the Hidalgo jungle, along with restaurants I found nearly 5 years ago strictly for it's architectural design, and most importantly - putting myself into situations I wasn't familiar with.

The truth is, I needed a "reset" trip that put things in perspective and a trip that made me a bit uneasy. I remember @miamy saying this to me nearly a year ago when I told her I needed to get out of my head and reset my thoughts and emotions. She was spot-on with the way she described it. We all need a bit of a reset when it comes to the hustle and bustle of our every day lives, especially with the added stressors of running your own business, supporting someone else's livelihood, staying motivated, being bold enough to be successful in your craft, while keeping your own motivational spirits running at their highest capacity.

With two years in business being only a few months away, this trip was somewhat of a reset trip for me, but also a reminder that there's so much that TRULY meaningful experiences can do for your own wellbeing & be a marker to what inspires you to be your very best. Possibly, Mexico is my harbor that gives me this perspective.

I arrived in #CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) formerly #DF (Distrito Federal) on Thursday where my cousin picked me up from the airport. With Mezli as my cuddled lap co-pilot, we weaved through the streets with most of the drivers paralleling the similarities to most Miami drivers, we arrived safely to his place in Coyoacan, an area known for it's cobblestone streets and the famous Frida Khalo Museum.

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Immediately upon my entrance into my cousins courtyard I tasted this delicious, ripe & mini peach. It's a step up from last year's shots of mezcal 5 minutes of being together in my cousin's city. 

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After quickly catching up and giving my cousin's puppy (Mezli) another kiss, my cousin showed me the new artwork in his guest bedrooms, now adorned with a hummingbird mosaic. We planned to go to a cumbia party later that night, so I quickly unpacked my suitcase and threw another layer on (Mexico City gets COLD) so that we could walk  to the center square of Coyoacan to grab a bite to eat. Mezli followed along right next to us while making other pedestrians smile with her cute little mohawk, ombre ears, and matching necklace to what my cousin wore around his neck. 

 You can book this room on Airbnb here.

You can book this room on Airbnb here.

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When we arrived to the center of Coyoacan we sat down for a great dinner with my cousin ordering a stuffed hoja santa leaf which he showed me thriving in his apartment garden upon my arrival. I chose a Mexican ceviche, while we shared a tasting of various moles and an overflowing mezcal drink. Sorry Mexico, Peruvian-style ceviche is still my favorite, however you can win the mole race.

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While a group sang to us, Mezli sniffed her way through the square staying close enough for us to see her. My cousin and I caught up on on both of our busy schedules, businesses, and talked about our upcoming visit to PA where our other cousin would get married. 

With the altitude starting to give me a headache, my cousin reminded me to drink water. (Most adults will experience some form of altitude headaches when arriving to CDMX, which can often be confused as a caffeine withdrawal headache for coffee lovers like myself. I guzzle both coffee & water to help with the pain.)

With the words "don't drink the water" being played over and over in my head, my cousin reassured me that drinking the water would certainly be okay at certain finer dining establishments. What most American's dont know is that Mexico City put laws into effect that restaurants must have a bottle-free water option nearly three years ago. With my cousin being the president of Isla Urbana, a rain-water harvesting & filtration system company, I knew I could trust his word. "Montezuma's Revenge" got nothin' on you travelers. You're welcome.

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After being put into a minor food coma, we walked back to my cousin's place, drawing 3000 pesos from the ATM (about 150.00USD) which I was told would be sufficient for 5 days in Mexico.

With the food coma still being in full-force we contemplated going out to dance cumbia but we sat outside with his neighbor drinking espresso as the dogs played with one another. A few minutes in to our coffee conversations we decided we better get ready to go out. Marco, my cousin's best friend arrived with another friend and we were off. After discovering she spoke perfect English she shared that she was an industrial designer who now pursued the culinary arts. It was such a small world to hear this being shared with me, as I followed the same path nearly three years ago. 

 

We arrived in the center of town to go to what was the equivalent of Miami's Mangos, Mexican-style with only cumbia and salsa being played and no zebra, leotard-wearing dancers taking over the stage.

With many Mezcal drinks starting to flow & a few friendly jokes underway about my height & the majority of everyone else, we immediately started dancing, praying I wouldn't get hit during the spinning process...

(My UV Latin Dance Academy family would be very proud that I successfully socially danced salsa and a foreign dance without even speaking the language!)

Following our night out until nearly 4AM, I woke up to make a bit of coffee, sit in the garden, and do a bit of yoga on my cousins roof while he was off to a meeting via motorcycle. Mezli and I walked around Coyoacan looking at brightly painted homes, wild cactuses, and thriving bougainvillea plants that adorned some of the homes. Birds chirped so loudly, while "buenos dias" was exchanged with almost every passerby. 

With only a few hours in Mexico City, and not feeling totally at ease with my broken Spanish I decided to go home to make some lunch. My system was craving veggies. My cousin didn't have a ton on hand, except for what was in the garden and what hung in the baskets of his kitchen. I found limes, carrots, ginger, onion, tomato, & a multitude of rice, along with sesame oil and various spices. I chose to make a fried rice with freshly picked veggies from the garden which I later took over to his neighbor to enjoy.

A few hours later, and my cousin was back at home and we were off to Hidalgo, a state near Mexico City where we would soon be camping.


TOLANTONGO CAVES & POOLS + La Gloria

HIDALGO, IXMIQUILPAN, MEXICO


We were off! We headed to Tolantongo caves in Ixmiquilpan, about 4 hours north of Mexico City which I found on TripAdvisor and later stalked all of the photos on Instagram.

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During the trip to Tolantango, we blasted Reggaeton, cumbia music, and a bit of salsa. We rode through a great deal of small towns that were so rural that my thoughts on the issue of water in Mexico really came to the surface. I felt so lucky. While on the phone with my aunt, she urged my cousin to have us stay in a hotel once we arrived. It was going to be dark shortly and that meant we'd be hiking down the mountain in complete and total darkness, aside from the small light from our phones.

With not knowing what was ahead, and realizing how much I stuck out as a 6 foot blonde foreigner, I was'nt exactly sure how safe it would be. You can't possibly know what to expect especially when the trek to Tolantango was as rural as the towns we traveled through. While my aunt and mom's concern spakred a little cousinly banter back and forth, and my cousin's remarks about the dangers of being on the road at night due to drug cartels, I was a bit nervous to get there. I explained to my cousin that I'm not Mexican, I don't speak the language, and I've never been to anything remotely like this, especially in another country. He assured me it would be fine and we established that we'd decide what we were going to do once we got there. 

Once we started to make our way down the mountain, the gravel road twisted and turned around the mountain-side that had been chiseled away at to make room for the road. I grasped tightly to the side of the car as if that would help me if we skid off of the road. It was nearly large enough for two cars to pass and thankfully no one did as we made our way down.

Finally, we arrived at the park with one dim light that lit the small restaurant and one that lit the hotel. If we were going to camp we'd have to hike about 15 minutes to the camp site. Although I was a bit unsure it seemed quiet, and so deserted that any animal or cartel looking to snatch us would throughly have to go out of their way to do so. Dalé, we decided to camp. We paid a worker to help carry our, what seemed to be a weeks worth of camping equipment down the mountain which he strapped to his head. Mezli followed closely and I scurried down the mountain trying not to properly eat it if I fell. It was so dark that I had trouble seeing what was around me. I heard water pouring from every direction. As we got close to the site we saw multiple pools that couples and families soaked and played in. After setting up the tent we decided to eat something and hang out in the pools as well as the caves.

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There were two different pools that we were able to see with one that had a large waterfall and a more natural appearance. We hopped in all of them, Mezli included! We met a few people while pool and cave hopping, realizing it was nearly 1AM. During our conversation, or my cousins translation - I learned that we weren't actually in hot springs. We were in a very hot river that started at the top of the mountains and ran all throughout the center through a channel of caves, which in turn heated the water. It was like bath water and the crisp mountain air made me feel as if I was back in Pennsylvania as a little girl daring my cousin to go make snow angels in his bathing suit when family visited for the holidays.

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 Primo & Mezli

Primo & Mezli

The following day we had plans to go to a larger cave which becomes quite saturated with tourists, therefore we knew we needed to get some rest as it was already 1AM. 

I woke up the next day to light rain and a very excited Mezli, along with a completely new perspective to my surroundings. It had been so dark the previous night that I had no understanding of how gorgeous the setting was. We had mountains all around us, while we seemed to sit in a small crevice of what seemed to be the start of a Mexican jungle. Everything around us was thriving.

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We quickly got ready to head over the river to the other cave via a suspension bridge. It was a cold morning and I couldn't wait to get into the warm water. We arrived to the cave without a great deal of people. It seemed as if this was a true family affair as there were a great deal of kids, some of which couldnt be more than a year old. This cave was so popular people brought their infants to hang out in it!!

 We camped not even 20 feet from this river!

We camped not even 20 feet from this river!

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While the babies swayed in the arms of their parents, we grabbed a rope and pulled ourselves into a dark cave that multiple people seemed to propel out of due to the rushing water's current. I had no idea where these sense of adventure came from all of the sudden but I was happy to be letting go and realizing this was exactly what I needed as my reset trip. I thought about how I was so incredibly uncomfortable nearly 24 hours ago during our cliff-clinging trek down the mountain. I had done a lot of thinking even before getting here but there's something about taking yourself out of the norm that does so much for your livelihood. It legitimately resets your viewpoint on how you live your life. Maybe it's because I'm turning 30 this year, or maybe I'm starting to realize that this is what it truly means to LIVE. Sometimes I question if I'm floating through life waiting for it to hit me. While it's not always easy to grasp ahold of every adventure, so much happiness came from these experiences and I think that's what it really comes down to when you look at the full picture. The experiences that you have, create, and cultivate are what makes an imprint on your happiness. This made that reoccurring thought crystal clear.


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After the large cave we grabbed some breakfast at the restaurant that sat on the side of La Gloria, overlooking a few of the mountains that surrounded the area that we camped. We ordered Huevos Rancheros with a side of avocado, nopales and onions, a traditional Mexican breakfast. After we finished, we took our coffees to one of the cliff-side pools and soaked in it with Mezli until she found a stick and quickly became distracted.

Deciding it was time to get packed up to head back to Mexico City, we had another worker help us carry our equipment up the mountain. Earlier that day I had spoken to a Hidalgo local who spoke perfect English and told me we needed to see the pools that were a few minutes from the restaurant. My cousin had never been to this section of the mountain and we decided we'd explore it with the helpful worker, along with excited little Mezli. With more paths leading to secluded pools, we came to the final pool which was set in the middle of a ravine. I had already changed for our drive home, and that quickly resulted in being soaking wet due to the deep water you had to travel through to get to the largest pool. Security gaurded visitors belongings while they hiked to the final pool. Mezli wasnt allowed to follow along with us, which meant she'd sit patiently mimicing the guard's stance.

The only difference between the pools that we dipped in earlier was that this one was absolutely freezing cold which let us know that it had to have come from a different source.

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With the day at Tolantango coming to a close, we headed back to Mexico City to make sure we were back in time for a dinner at Tori Tori and another night out dancing with friends.


MEXICO CITY, MEXICO


After a reggaeton-filled ride home, were back in Mexico City and went out to dinner in Polanco, an area that would be the closest thing to Miami's downtown or Brickell area as it's saturated with newer architecture while it feels somewhat Brooklyn-esc for much of the surroundings having lush greenery, making it a beautiful area to explore on foot.

Tori Tori is a restaurant I found nearly 5 or 6 years ago in search of architectural inspiration when I was still working in interior design and architecture. I made my cousin scope it out when he moved back to CDMX which proved to work out nicely as it was a great dinner with wonderful service!

(Yes, I went to a reggaeton fiesta in what appeared to be me dressed as a ballerina with salsa heels on)

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We started the dancing at a small hole in the wall cuban salsa restaurant where the maximum capacity of guests couldn't be more than 30. The dance floor was probably only about 10x10 which meant the span of my steps and my cousins was almost the entire dance floor. 

As some of his friends arrived we decided to go to a touristy cumbia club as well as a local bar called Pasagüero to listen to  local DJ's.

Following the next morning, Marco & I walked around Coyoacan, picking up a coffee along the way to the largest market in Coyoacan. We had plans to go out on the famous boats of Xochimilco. This meant I had planned to make enough guacamole to feed 15. We picked up all of the ingredients and even purchased my very favorite fruit that typically goes for $9.00 per pound here in Miami. Guanabana was only about $2.00 per pound, which taste like a mixture between pineapple and banana! 

While the small woman that sold us the Guanabana yelling for Marco to carry all of the bags, we were off to breakfast. 

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After breakfast we headed back to my cousins to start on the guacamole making. We all sat outside while my cousin shared water with some of his neighbors (a common gesture he graciously responds to due to the water crisis in Mexico, as well as his type of work.)

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After munching on guacamole as friends arrived we were off to Xochimilco. While this is a very touristy thing to do my cousin had planned to take us to an off the beaten path area which was known for it's agriculture, something he assumed I'd enjoy. He was right!

We arrived to a very rural area, where cars had to take turns climbing small roads between little towns with narrow roads. We brought snacks and drinks for the day, while blasting salsa music as we traveled down the river. The unique thing about these large wooden boats is that the way they travel through the water is with a large wooden pole which penetrates the mud below. The history behind this agricultural area of Mexico stretches far back into Mexico's history with water surrounding man-made islands known as Chinampas or "floating gardens." 

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We had a few families pass us on their boats with most families having one of the sons or the strongest male push their way through the shallow water with the wooden pole.

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The 16 year old that took us out on the boat explained to us that the islands were perfected due to the vegetation that was selected to help form the islands. The vegetation used has an invasive and elaborate root system that helped the ground form around it. Most of the areas that made up these floating gardens were that exactly; gardens, nurseries, and farms set within a vast valley of mountains surrounding it. It was absolutely beautiful. 

We traveled down another small channel to make our way to a nursery where everyone purchases small succulents, and more products for my cousin's garden. We also set up camp for a little where we danced salsa & snuggled a small farm puppy that greeted us almost immediately.

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After getting off of the boat we drove to another area close by which required being let in by a guard to another agricultural area, something that would be hard to do as a tourist. As we road through the area we noticed water on each side of us with some areas being small channels and others being large reservoirs of water where the channels likely pulled from.

Rows of greens grew perfectly in the soil with mountains all around us. We stopped at one of the larger bodies of water to watch the sun set. It was the perfect closing to such an amazing trip.

This trip gave me so much clarity when it comes to my happiness. Everything about it was so carefree, fun, & yet very simple. Everyone enjoyed eachothers company and the simplicity of just being with people you enjoy made it such a pleasant experience. Nothing remotely fancy nor anything over the top was exactly what I needed and realized something that was lacking in my life here in Miami. A fantastic weekend has become characterized as being a night out where we spend too much money on poorly made food, and a night where we pay an entrance fee to a mediocre bar. That's never what's brought me happiness in the past and being with family again was a nice reminder that giving someone your time and energy is such a fantastic feeling, not just for you, but for them. 

This trip also served as a reminder that I have to let go and detach myself a bit more from my work. The hard work that my cousin and his friends do was so evident as many of them get off at 9PM and immediately share time with one another. We'd likely define that is "work hard play hard" here in the states but that's not entirely what I mean. It was very apparent to me that without working to define their relationships by spending valuable time with one another, that would result in this work hard play hard mentality. There was something different in Mexico and I think that was the connection with the people you value most. 

This trip was truly a reset trip and exactly what I needed because there's nothing more rich than the ability to cling to new experiences and the added value of a new perspective.

Thanks primo.