Living a Month in Mexico City
I fell in love with Mexico in Kindergarten when a Mexican classmate chased me around the playground, caught me, and kissed me.
I’ve studied Spanish my whole life. And I’ve dipped into Mexico many times, even living in Caborca for ten days on a short study Spanish trip. And I’ve even led 3, 10-day long hiking trips to Oaxaca to experience Zapatecan culture and the Day of the Dead.
Yet, I felt the need to live authentically as I could in this big, beautiful, delicious country. Thus, I jumped on the chance to live in Mexico City during my last month on my crazy 4-month Remote Year adventure.
A Month in Condesa Roma Hipodroma
If you’ve been following along on my Latin American adventure, you know that Remote Year schedules my housing and co-working situations. This month was no different; I found my apartment in Hipodroma, next to Condesa, near Roma. A pleasant two-person flat within walking distance of most daily needs, my South African roommate and I settled in for a month of tantalizing tacos and terrific tales of authentic Mexican folklore.
Mexico has tremendous patriotic pride, and I most wanted to do “Mexican” things. I tried my best to avoid the touristy places I knew too well from previous trips, and I focused on trying to answer the question of how Mexicans enjoy Mexico authentically.
Thus, I decided to escape the city for a few days and head to San Miguel de Allende, a hot spot for Mexican tourists and English-speaking ex-pats. After I got back from San Miguel, I did all the things in Mexico City you should do to get an authentic experience as an American in Mexico. Living in Mexico City for a month was the perfect amount of time to get to know Mexico City.
San Miguel de Allende for Non-Artists
An easy 3-hour bus ride in a luxurious bus with comfortable seats, wifi, snacks and entertainment took me to San Miguel de Allende. This picturesque mountain town, loaded with ex-pats and Mexican tourists alike, harbors some of Mexico’s best artists and art galleries. The town itself gleans with adobe-colored buildings punctuated by a giant pink church, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. After spending a half-day (and you could easily spend three full days at least!) in the art galleries, I became restless and looked for more interactive things to do.
First up, I attended the walking tour of the city, exposing me to why it’s got such a funky name.
Second up, I tried my hand at urban sketching to get a whole new perspective at how to see a town. I’m continuing this new hobby in Denver!
Third up, I vibrated through Tibetan bowls.
You can read all the details about these three interactive adventures in my article called Three Unusual Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende.
Temezcal in Tepoztlán
One of the frustrating things about Mexico City year-round, but especially in the summer, is the filthy, dirty, smoggy air. It’s relentless. Add in the elevation and Mexico City becomes unbearable. So I decided to once again escape the city and went to nearby Tepoztlán. A groovy, bohemian town somewhat equivalent to the U.S.’s Sedona, Mexicans flock to it for crystals, cleansings, and pyramid hiking. It’s Magic Fingers designation helps draw tourists.
Since I had previously done the Teotihuacan pyramids, gleefully I wanted to try some other pyramids. Tepoztlán’s lesser known pyramid, called El Tepozteco, dates from the Post-Classic Period. Sadly, the area around this quaint town was burning. Smoke filled the air, closing hiking trails and our hiking opportunities. But, happily, a friend opened his temezcal for us to explore instead.
Temezcal is an ancient tradition of sweating in a small adobe hut fueled by fire while meditating. We had a guide who lead us through a beautiful meditation of intention and clarity while vibrating to a Pachamama beat of unity and transition.
In Tepoztlán, you can find many businesses that have the huts where you can sweat on your own or with a guide. I recommend the entire experience, which is best done with a guide and intention. As you walk the streets of Tepoztlán, look for guided temezcal experiences.
Fighting the Good Fight, Lucha Libre
Nothing is more Mexican than Lucha Libre, the wrestling entertainment sport of Mexico. Masked crusaders of good and evil choreograph their battles to Mexican anthems and songs while crowds chow on tacos and throw pesos to the best entertainers. Think WWE combined with the splash of a good paint kit, telenovela drama, and small people rousing the crowds. It’s wacky, odd, and deeply Mexican.
We were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the spectacle through the Lucha Libre Academy. There we worked out with the luchadores through push ups, squats, leap frog, somersaults, and cartwheels. Many of the luchadores have wanted to fight since they were children, often being given their luchador name as childhood nicknames. Some follow in the footsteps of their fathers, while others even wear their masks 24/7. Their character is their life.
The Ballet Folklórico de México
After a raucous night in the Mexico Arena, I felt the need for a bit more elegance. Once again, thriving to the beat of Mexican tourism and away from Gringo events, my friends and I purchased tickets to the Ballet Folklórico de México held in the luxurious Belles Artes. We dressed as nicely as we could considering that our life of living out of a suitcase can be limiting, and we sashayed off to the Ballet.
My expectations were low–I thought it’d be some canned performance for the tourist trade. To my delight, I cried throughout a charming story about Mexico’s history told through ballet, mariachi, folk dancing and choral presentations of colorful scenes throbbing out “amor” and “Viva Mexico.” I loved it so much I bought the CD! Although told in Spanish, it’s a “don’t miss regardless” of your Spanish ability.
Loaded with museums, it’s hard to pick where to spend your time in Mexico City. On your first trip to Mexico, you must do the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Since I had experienced it previously, I had the luxury of focusing on others. The Museo Soumaya’s building held my attention more than its collection. The museum I loved the most was Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul.
Be sure to get your Frida Kahlo tickets online for your timed entry, and you may even want to watch the movie, Frida, before attending the museum. You’ll have the choice to pay extra so you can take pictures; I declined. I’m glad I did because I concentrated more on the exhibits and less on their insta-worthiness. Don’t miss the excellent video as part of the exhibit. By the way, let me know if you smell roses and gardenias when you visit Frida’s death bed. No one else around me did; but I smelled them as fresh as just picked.
A Castle to Behold
After three weeks in Mexico, I felt I was missing the big picture. So in my fourth week, I visited the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico’s largest park, Chapultepec Park. Mexicans love sharing that their park is bigger than New York’s Central Park. I agree. It’s loaded with lakes, ponds, monuments, and museums.
Within the Castle, which once homed Mexican presidents, Mexico’s history unfolds in giant folkloric murals. Filled with emotion and innuendo, I enjoyed understanding the story of Mexico through picture, as my Spanish, although good, was not good enough to understand all of the interpretation.
While walking the streets of Mexico City, I passed many dressmakers displaying fantastic dresses to celebrate 15th birthdays, called quinceañeras. This practice is all over Latin America and is not exclusive to Mexico (see my article about Lima). But what I hadn’t seen in all the bakeries I had visited was the extreme, over-the-top quinceañera cakes of Mexico.
Pasteleria Ideal is Mexico’s largest bakery of Mexican goods. It has two giant stores in the downtown area separated by a few blocks. Both are two story. One store’s second story is production; the other’s is a demonstration museum for customers to see finished cakes and to place orders.
Cakes taller than me and weighing almost as much (if not more) stood proudly, dripping with volumes of chantilly and icing. Colors exploded off the cakes like melted crayon piles, capturing the hearts of 15-year olds, first birthdays, and grandiose weddings.
I sincerely think the Pasteleria Ideal was my favorite place in all off Mexico City. And yes, of course, I treated myself to a bag of Mexican pastries loaded with sugar, spice, and everything oh-too-nice.
Vegetarian Tacos in Mexico
After traveling throughout Latin America for four months, I couldn’t wait to eat a taco and find some flavor in my food. Mexico’s cuisine arrived just in time, yet I was a bit skeptical I’d find any really good vegetarian tacos beyond a tortilla, cheese, and a few veggies. I figured I’d easily find your typical squash-blossom, calabaza options, which I did, but whoa, what a surprise to find an abundance of choices. A vegan/vegetarian taco tour helped me uncover some of the best flavors I’ve ever had, but three really stood out.
At Pujol, a famous taco-house that requires reservations, I had a Santa leaf wrapped in a tortilla, filled with avocado and an onion salsa. The Santa leaf added a nice crunch and earthy flavor that melded with the creamy avocado. At Pitahaya, a totally vegan taco stand, the pink tacos held coconut curry cauliflower that sent me swimming to India by way of a salsa of tomato and cilantro.
Finally, I found several “unnamed” taco stands that served me flavor without meat or lard. I just had to use some Spanish to explain being vegetarian and the chefs catered to my palate. Don’t be afraid of the taco stands–they are magical islands of taste adventures awaiting your arrival.
A Word about Montezuma
By the way, many Gringos will avoid street food for fear of Montezuma’s Revenge. I never got it. That’s not to say you won’t. But it is good to know that Mexican inspectors come by each stand at least twice a year, and all operators must attend health and food safety classes every six months. I drank filtered water and ate anything I wanted.
The Dogs of Mexico
I feel the need to comment on the dogs of Mexico. On previous trips to Mexico, the strays seemed to outnumber the citizens! Heartbreaking. But on this particular trip, strays stayed away. I didn’t see one even though I did frequent many neighborhoods, parks and income areas.
One of the most joyful parts of my day was walking through the local park and stumbling across an “escuelita de perros”– a dog school–where over 20 pups lined up on their tarps, waiting patiently and obediently for their next lesson. It was so endearing, and it helped me not miss my Giant Schnauzer, Zeus, at home. Additionally, walking the dogs at the local, well-run shelter also helped.
Five Fun Mexican Things to Do in Mexico City
So, if you’re traveling to Mexico and want to get out of the touristy rat race, avoid the pyramids (although you really should do these and the Anthropology Museum), the Xochimilco boats, and the downtown zocolo (a must-do as well.) To find authentic Mexican adventures, do these next five things.
Get a real “Mexican” view of Mexico City; be sure to eat at the taco stands, grab churros from El Moro, go to Lucha Libre, visit the Folkorico, buy a pastry and see the cakes at Pasteleria Ideal, stop in the Chapultepec Castle, say hello to Frida Kahlo, take time in a temezcal, and speak Spanish to everyone.
You’ll have a blast.
~See you in the world.