A Weekend in Tequisquiapan

Around 3 hours away from Mexico City in the state of Querétaro, Tequisquiapan is a great spot to get away for the weekend. It’s a cute town with a beautiful central plaza for strolling or shopping and dining at the shops and restaurants lining the plaza. One of the main focal points in the plaza is the salmon-colored church which is pretty on the outside though not as impressive on the inside. There are smaller streets radiating out from the central plaza filled with more restaurants and stands with ice cream or souvenirs.

Tequisquiapan is known for its cheese and wine and there’s a wine and cheese festival that lasts for almost a month in May and June. You have to buy a ticket to get in and try all the different wines and cheeses on display but even if you come at another time of year, there are plenty of wine and cheese shops all around that will let you sample their wares to pick out what you want to buy.

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If you get bored of drinking wine and eating cheese (which is pretty hard to do in my opinion), Tequis is close to the popular tourist attraction of Peña de Bernal. The jagged rocky peak is right within the town of Bernal which is also a great place for strolling and eating. You can even hike up the Peña, though I cannot personally speak to how technical the climb is. Bernal can get really crowded during weekends or holidays so going there for the day and then returning to the more peaceful Tequisquiapan is a good plan.

We made the trip to Tequis this weekend for Germán’s uncle’s 80th birthday party. His aunt also has a house there so the entire extended family crashed between the two houses and we celebrated all weekend long. Mexican families love to celebrate and this time family members even came from different countries for the party. We came home with two personalized bottles of mezcal as party favors and feeling great (though tired) from spending time with family. What did you do this weekend?

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10 Culture Shock Realizations I’ve Had in México

When I decided to move to México I thought I was very prepared for what it would be like. I speak fluent Spanish and had visited Mexico before and travelled throughout Latin America. But despite having interacted with the culture extensively there were still some things that surprised me.

1. You never need to be prepared

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I am a perpetually over-prepared person. I think it stems partly from my mom always being prepared and partly from spending long amounts of time in backcountry settings but anywhere I go I always have a liter of water, some snacks, sunglasses, tissues, gum, chapstick, a brush and any number of other odds and ends. Before road trips I tend to make muffins for to-go snacks but in Mexico there is absolutely no need for any such preparation. ANYWHERE you go there will be someone selling something. Getting off the metro in the morning there are at least five people selling breakfast; at a red light people walk up and down the road selling candy, drinks or, hey, do you need your windshield washed?? there’s someone offering that too. Someone boards every bus leaving the stations offering sandwiches and snacks for the ride but don’t worry, if you don’t buy something from them and are hungry later there are people walking along the lines at tolls selling sandwiches and snacks as well. I’ve literally been in the middle of a forest and found a vendor selling coffee and snacks.

2. There is excessive PDA

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Mexican couples have no shame in this regard. I’ve sat next to a couple two feet away from me at a restaurant engaged in the longest kiss I’ve ever seen and yesterday on the metro I was standing next to a couple who were pressed against each other so close you could barely distinguish one from the other. And it’s not just teenagers, middle-aged people engage in excessive pda just the same. Even being in a park surrounded by playing children does not dissuade couples from full out makeout sessions on benches.

3. Ahorita does not mean ahorita

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The Mexican word “ahorita” is definitely confusing at first. Ahora means now and Mexicans always like to add the diminutive “ito” or “ita” to almost everything (how do you feel? cansadita, enfermita, etc.). In theory, ahorita should mean right now but in practice it means maybe sometime in the distant future or even never. Mexicans hate to tell people no so ahorita is one of the ways they can feel better about saying yes while really meaning no. So don’t wait around for someone to do something that they said would happen ahorita, you may be waiting forever.

4. It feels like lunchtime will never come

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In the U.S. and even in other Latin American countries, breakfast is first thing in the morning, lunch happens around noon, and then dinner is the biggest meal of the day around 6. Mexicans are more similar to the Spanish way of waiting until 2 or 3 to eat lunch which is the biggest meal. You get four courses when you go out: a soup, “dry soup” (pasta or rice), the main course and then dessert. Dinner is a light meal eaten around 9 or 10pm. Of course there are various snack times between all of these meals where you can stop by a street vendor making tacos or quesadillas but in an office setting it is haaard to wait to eat lunch until 3pm.

5. There are (almost) no thrift shops

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When I first got here and Germán and I moved into an empty apartment (apartments btw don’t come with fridges and sometimes not even with stoves), I thought we would take a trip to a second-hand store to get some furniture to fill up the place. But alas, Mexico does not really have thrift stores. People here repair their 30-year-old washing machines instead of throwing them out or donating them so by the time things are discarded they have long surpassed their useful life. Luckily, you can find people wheeling around wooden furniture (tables, bed frames, chairs, etc.) on most corners which is cheaper than department stores but new is really your only option.

6. Everyone has a cleaning person

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Being from the U.S. I grew up helping my parents clean our house (it was really more like being forced to help). At one point we had a cleaning lady once a month since our house was on the larger side but if I were living in the U.S. now I would never think of hiring someone to come clean my house. In Mexico, labor is quite cheap which means that pretty much every middle-class person hires someone to come clean at least once a week. Families with younger children frequently have live-in help and well-off people who don’t even have children may have someone come daily to clean, cook and wash clothes. American culture is one that prides self-sufficiency so it was really strange for me to accept this, though a lot of people here feel like they are providing a social service by providing jobs which are desperately needed.

7. Chivalry is alive and well

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Chivalry is not dead in Mexico. I’ve had to get used to men holding open doors for me or letting me enter first if we walk in somewhere together. And this is not just limited to my boyfriend or people I know, men on the metro will offer open seats to the women nearby before sitting themselves or will step off the sidewalk to let you pass. Due to my feminist mindset and the fact that it definitely has something to do with the machismo culture, I was more annoyed than grateful at first but I’ve come to accept and maybe even like it a teensy tiny bit (but only if men will accept my opening doors for them as well).

8. The streets are noisy

It’s impossible for a day to go by without hearing about 3 different songs from vendors selling tamales, buying your old refrigerators, and selling more tamales. When the trash collectors come they ring a bell, of course the ice cream vendors play music, sweet potato vendors make an eery screech and fruit vendors blast out from loudspeakers what fruit they’re selling off the back of their truck. Literally as I’m writing this there is someone biking by playing the tamale recording.

9. Physical characteristics become your nickname

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People tend to refer to each other by their physical characteristics which is definitely a shock coming from a very politically correct place. When walking through a market vendors will yell out “moreno” (dark-skinned guy) to passersby and husbands will affectionately call their wives “gordita” (chubby) as a nickname. I’ve started answering to “güerita” which means light-skinned/haired girl because so many people call me that. People also tend to perceive slight differences in skin tone that I don’t even notice.

10. Everyone is so polite

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When you go out to eat here, strangers exiting the restaurant will make it a point to say “provecho” (which means enjoy) to every table they pass. Most people say it back to them to be polite even though they have already enjoyed their meal. The same goes for saying “salud” (bless you) when you sneeze. We say it in the U.S. too but here it is practically a race by everyone around you to say it first. Of course there’s also the abundant use of the formal you (usted) but maybe the most confusing polite saying is that people will literally say “your house” when referring to their house. Mi casa es su casa.

Going “home” to El Chico

Going to the woods is going home…

-John Muir

While the rest of this quote talks about how harsh it is sometimes to be in the woods with the thorny branches that seem to be fighting against your entrance, going to Parque Nacional El Chico really embodied for me the comfort and easiness that going into the woods can inspire in your mind and soul. Besides, the smell of pine and the rugged rocky peaks jutting up from the forest brought my spirit back to where I grew up in New England.

We decided to go to El Chico for Semana Santa because it’s been a place that I’ve always been interested in and it seemed like maybe it wouldn’t get the same crowds for vacation as say the Sierra Gorda. Uncharacteristically, I only researched a small amount, maybe I was already channeling the spirit of John Muir who said that “people ought to saunter in the mountains.” Either way, we did plan enough to borrow Germán’s dad’s car and get everything ready on Wednesday night so that we could get out early on Thursday and hopefully beat the traffic. Luckily we only hit a bit of traffic and made it to El Chico (in the state of Hidalgo to the north of Mexico City) in about three hours. Before entering the park we passed through a small town where we stocked up on firewood, beer, snacks, fresh tortillas and homemade salsa. We were promised that from there to Dos Aguas, the campground we were planning on checking out first, there were no more stores. After our supply stop we entered the park through Presa el Cedral (a damed up lake), which seemed like a lovely spot to camp among the trees next to the water but it looked like it was already quite full and as the first campsite that most people get to, likely to fill up even more. So we kept going along the road which went climbing up with every twist and turn (and was surprisingly, actually as isolated as promised with not a chela for sale in sight). Because we had followed the road for Dos Aguas Campground, we didn’t pass another campsite along the way so when we arrived and saw the campsites nestled in private woodsy corners and listened to the camp manager warning of the possibility of it filling up if we left to check out another place we paid the $121 pesos for the campsite and set up camp.

Dos Aguas has about 5 cabins with space for four people each and probably 10 campsites, each offering a fair level of privacy from other campers. The bathrooms are very rustic pit latrines and the lack of lighting meant I had to hope no one came by while I was in the bathroom since I left the door open in order to not fall in. Supposedly there are showers but we only saw one water spout which was used to wash dishes and hands. Each cabin has a dedicated grill in addition to a firepit inside the cabin but the campsites just have firepits (we ended up buying a comal, a metal grill/pan for 20 pesos to cook on). Overall, I found it a very pleasant place to camp and despite the camp manager’s warnings, it never filled up. Because of Germán’s insistence on leaving early due to traffic I was a little sleepy by the time we set up the tent so I took advantage of our shady shelter to take a nice nap. I always relish camping trips that are more relaxing in nature as a lot of the camping I’ve done in my life has been during long-distance hiking trips or while working on trail crew. So we lazily enjoyed the rest of the day, heading into Mineral del Chico, a small old mining town right outside the park to eat lunch and get the rest of the food we would grill that night.

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Although the park seemed fairly calm for the vacation season, the town was quite crowded, with all the food stands that are normally in the mercado set up in the center of the main street. Even with the crowds, Mineral del Chico is an adorable town, with cute houses scattered up and down the steep hills and cobblestone streets leading you from place to place. The center has a pretty church with a fountain right in front and apparently the clock in the church was made at the same factory as Big Ben’s clock. Such a tiny town was able to afford such a fancy clock thanks to the (now defunct) lucrative mining business. As we walked around we noticed the quantity of hotels and cabins available in town, it didn’t seem like there’s any shortage of options on where to stay whether in town or in the park. On our way out Germán decided to stop at a carnicería (meat shop) to get some bistek (which means steak but is definitely not what we would think of as steak, its actually really thin slices of beef) to grill that night. I declined eating the meat after I saw the whole animal laying out behind the butcher and how he was touching the meat and the money with his same bare hands (apparently it was delicious though).

After we had our fill of town we head out and I thought it would be great to drive around the park and see the other areas that we hadn’t seen on the way in. So we took a different road into the park and followed what started out as a nicely paved road through the park. After a turn though, the road immediately changed to a dirt path with large rocks scattered around. I was a little disappointed that Google Maps showed the same thickness for both the nicely paved road and the steep almost unnavigable path  (normally the thickness tells you a little bit about the quality of the road) but it was indeed a lower-quality road and with the sun starting to set and a thick fog setting in we decided to abort our driving loop mission and return to camp. After a nice dinner of quesadillas (with bistek for Germán) we hung out around the campfire and tucked in early, probably getting around 12 hours of sleep that night.

We had a busier day planned for Friday so decided to get a big breakfast in town and then skip lunch to leave time for hiking and river/mine exploring. We had breakfast on a patio overlooking the main street which offered a breakfast paquete (which literally means package but it means that your breakfast comes with bread, fruit or juice or coffee) which I always love since I feel a little healthier having fruit even if I order chilaquiles.

DSC03379Despite our best intentions for getting an early start to our hike we made it to the trailhead, which is inside Dos Aguas, at around 1:00pm. Our plan was to hike up to a mirador (viewpoint), which was supposed to be very close. At the first intersection in the trail, I opened up a picture I had taken of the trail map at the base to see which way we should go.After many such turns, we were passing through beautiful forests full of flowers hanging off of trees but had hiked longer than we should have without reaching the mirador. We contemplated turning towards where we thought the mirador was but instead kept following the map and eventually ended up on a dirt road similar to the one we had driven on the night before.

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where we came out to the dirt road

We saw by the signs that we were near the Los Conejos campground and at a place called Cruz de los Negros but that did not appear in our basic map. After chatting with a few other hikers passing by we learned that the most visited viewpoint, Peña del Cuervo was back down the road in the direction we had came from but that there was a better and higher viewpoint on the trail that went to Los Conejos if you kept to the left at a fork. I’m always interested in off the beaten path places and after having hiked for hours with no view yet I wanted to try the better one. So we set off down the trail and after I started getting suspicious that this supposed left fork didn’t exist and we had resigned ourselves to just checking out the campsite, the fork in the trail appeared. Very soon after the fork the trail opened up and changed to a scramble over rock formations. After a bit of climbing we reached the peak, called Peña La Cercada (which seems to be labeled as Peña Cruz del Negro en Google Maps), where we found an old tower and supply shed and no other people, our “sauntering” had paid off! Sure enough, we could see Peña del Cuervo far below us and the town of Mineral del Chico a little beyond that. We seemed to be at the same level as Las Monjas (The Nuns), a distinctive rock formation that according to local legend were nuns that were changed into rocks due to bad behavior. El Chico is known for being a rock climber’s paradise and seeing all the rocks faces poking through the trees really made me see all the opportunities there are for climbing there.

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After hanging out for a bit at our superior viewpoint we turned back around and took a chance on another trail that seemed to lead more directly to the road that would take us down to the other viewpoint and then back to camp. Luckily, it did indeed lead down to the road though it seemed like it was definitely a social trail, not a formal one. When we got to Peña del Cuervo we chatted with the man checking entrance tickets ($36 to get into the entire park) who told us that to get back down to Dos Aguas we should follow the trail that starts at the sign with a cat (they have signs every so often describing the local wildlife). After checking out the view at this lower viewpoint (still nice but quite crowded) we turned back towards camp. We realized on the way down that our mistake climbing up was taking a trail that had a sign for Cruz de los Negros instead of an unmarked trail.

Back in camp, we quickly got changed in the hopes of being able to stop by Río de los Milagros before dinner. The river is a little beyond town but there are signs pointing the way. We parked near a sign for the river but to get to the waterfall we had to walk down the steep road for about 10 minutes which would normally be fine but my knee was starting to bother me after so much downhill hiking and I was wishing we had driven down the road which, though steep, was paved. The river was pretty but I felt it didn’t quite live up to its name, the River of Miracles, I was imagining a wilder and wider body of water though apparently the name comes from the fact that it flows year-round, even through the dry season.

After passing by the waterfall we saw signs for the mines which Germán had wanted to check out so we kept going down until we got to an area with food stands and music and painted signs over entrances into the mountains. It was around 7pm but there were still tours available for any groups that arrived so we joined up with a family of 6 to see the Mina de San Antonio. We were given hard hats and flashlights at the entrance and taken through various tunnels which were originally built by the Spanish but later expanded by the English who settled in the area due to the mining potential. I probably wouldn’t have done the mine tour if not for Germán but the guide was nice and told us about the history and at one point had us walk with our flashlights off to experience total darkness. I was impressed mostly by the slippery wooden ladders that they had us climb up and down to get to the different levels of the mine – this tour is definitely not for the mobility-challenged. We emerged from the mine into more darkness as the sun had set at this point and we luckily got a ride up the road from our guide’s boss. We tried to find a trout restaurant since Germán wanted to take advantage of being next to fresh water (I would have eaten enchiladas or something as I am not a fan of fish) but we didn’t see the restaurant open on the dark road leading farther away from town. So we turned back and since I was quickly slipping into a hangry mood, we entered the first restaurant that caught our attention.

Right next to the church to looker’s right, the restaurant was a super hipster bar with a mountain feel that served some basic food and it turned out that it was literally opening day. We got some craft beer from Cervecería Hacienda and ordered our food. Of course since I was the hungry one Germán got his first and he actually finished most of his food before my pasta came out. They still have to iron out some kinks but it seems like this place has good potential and the owner is a young, super-friendly guy who was very apologetic about my tardy meal. Since we were very hungry and our meals weren’t very big we went after dinner to get some pastes, the typical food of the area that’s like an empanada filled with potatoes or meat or beans. They say it was brought over by the English and was a preferred food of the miners because they would hold onto the curled crust with their dirty hands and then just toss that part after they had eaten the filled center. At this point our hands were also quite dirty but we ate our whole pastes and returned to camp to enjoy another bonfire and a peaceful night under the stars.

Our plan for Saturday was to break camp then drive over to Mineral del Monte (also known as Real del Monte), a bigger old mining town, then beyond to Los Prismas Balsáticos, a super unique volcanic formation and then over to an old hacienda nearby. So we bid farewell to our campsite and drove out through a part of the park we had yet to go through. We passed by Las Ventanas which is the most popular spot for rock climbing and although we didn’t go in because they wanted to charge us per person and per vehicle it seemed like there were some pretty easy routes to try there. We passed a few more campgrounds spread out over grassy fields which would have been nice if they hadn’t been lacking in shade and full of families blasting music from their parked cars. Finally, we passed by a visitor’s center which had a nice bathroom and a detailed and seemingly accurate map (though not available in print). The landscape changed in this short distance to more arid surroundings though the pine forests continued even beyond the park.

We finally hit the dreaded Semana Santa traffic in a big way as we were passing through Mineral del Monte and then on the road to the prismas. When we finally got there, we discovered that the almost untouched geological formation that Germán remembered going to 20 years ago had changed into a tourist mecca, complete with a pool and horse rides around the giant parking lot surrounded by food and artesanía stands. It was also quite costly for Mexican standards at $100 per person. But after driving all this way we paid to enter and walked down to the edge of the cliff which the river had cut out, showing the basalt prisms on either side. It would have been very nice to walk along if it hadn’t been full of families drinking micheladas and people ziplining across the gorge. After being in such a chill place for the last few days it was exactly the opposite vibe that I was looking for so we didn’t even get all the way down before turning around and heading out. We thought the hacienda turned hotel Santa María Regla, which is where they filmed Zorro, would be equally as crowded so we called it a day and set our GPS to Mexico City. On the way back we stocked up on pastes to eat that week as they are such a tasty portable snack. We made great time on the way back and returned home grateful for our flushing toilet and shower.

Parque Nacional El Chico has been one of my favorite trips in México so far. There are many places in México where I wouldn’t go hiking without someone who knew the way but in El Chico, despite getting a little lost, the trails are quite clear and if you had an accurate map they would be easy to follow. Basically the outdoor tourism infrastructure is a little more built up here than in other areas so that it feels friendly and approachable while the landscape is still dramatic enough to impress. It’s the perfect place to go to reset your circadian clock and slow down your fast-paced mindset, even if you decide to go hike and explore in addition to relaxing at camp. I hope I get back soon!

Getting around Mexico City

Traveling within Mexico City can possibly be the most daunting part of visiting or living here. Besides the massive amount of people (23 million in the metropolitan area), the city is spread out far in every direction. Getting from one end to the other takes about 2 hours without the traffic that the city is infamous for. I’m lucky to live quite close to my work and my commute takes 40 minutes door to door. Germán is not so lucky – his commute is upwards of 1½ hours one way and requires a combination of walking, three metro lines and biking or a bus at the end. If you’re here as a tourist and can choose when you use what type of transportation it can actually be somewhat pleasant and can give you a deeper look into the local culture. So here are your options along with some pros and cons to consider when choosing how to get around.

Car

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Image from http://www.conciertosmx.com/trafico-cdmx/

Whether you are driving or taking a taxi/Uber, the most important thing to consider with a car is the traffic. On a Friday before a long weekend that also corresponds to a quincena (paydays are every 15th and 30th of the month – so are called quincenas since quince means fifteen) the city will be packed with cars trying to leave the city and inadvertently getting on the highway at this time probably means sitting in the car for a half hour just to get off at the next exit. So check out Google Maps before getting a taxi, around rush hour as it’s very probable that driving somewhere will take you longer than in metro.

In terms of street taxis vs. Uber/Lyft/Cabify, the ride hailing services win due to security concerns. Street taxis have been known to rob or even kidnap passengers so it’s not a good idea as a foreigner to hail a taxi off the street. Plus, most of the time they are more expensive than an Uber, which will cost you anywhere from $2 to $8. An exception to this are taxi sitios, basically a collective that you can call and schedule a taxi pickup. These taxis will have the sitio information painted on the rear window and use radios to stay in touch with the dispatcher and are considered safe. If you don’t have cell service then pretty much any place you are at can call a taxi for you from one of these sitios.

Metro

If there’s a ton of traffic or you want to experience the authentic CDMX commute, then the metro is the best option to get to most areas of the city. It costs 5 pesos (or 25 cents) per ride so it’s used extensively by the working class and those of the middle class who are sick of the traffic. In my opinion it’s one of the easiest to navigate metros that I’ve experienced with a system of colors with a name and picture for each station (due to high levels of illiteracy). Overall the trains and stations are slightly to very dingy though the newer lines are a lot nicer in terms of cleanliness and conveniences like verbal announcements for the stops and TVs. In true Mexican fashion, you are able to buy anything from hair elastics to gum to pirated CDs from the vendors who walk through the cars yelling out their sing-song announcements. You can also hear music which varies from blind people singing karaoke style with a backpack speaker to a solo didgeridoo player to three person bands with electric guitars covering 90s rock. There are also all kinds of beggars walking around barefoot, occasionally with children in tow, either making speeches or handing out little slips of paper which tell their story then coming back around to collect the papers and any money that you feel inclined to give them. The stations can also be experiences in and of themselves, complete with murals, museums, cartoons and vendors of food and hair accessories.

There are, however, definite security concerns on the metro. Due to the high volume of people passing through it is the favorite hangout for pickpockets who are mainly on the prowl for smart phones. They work in groups and will usually scope you out on the platform then as the train arrives they’ll start pushing and shoving you, which does sometimes happen when the metro is really crowded and everyone is trying to get on. But in these cases they’ll take advantage of your distraction to grab your phone from whatever pocket or purse compartment it is in then turn around to go sell it in the places that buy used electronics. The metro police aren’t too much help with this as some of these groups give them a kickback for doing nothing. To avoid being a target for these groups it’s a good idea to not take your phone out once you enter the metro and to keep it in a place that’s hard to get at.

Despite the prevalence of pickpockets there’s something special about the CDMX metro that makes me feel comfortable using it daily – the women’s only section. The first few cars are reserved for women, children and elderly people (although usually only during peak hours). Although this started for the unfortunate reason of women being sexually assaulted on the metro, it has resulted in an area that is usually much less crowded than the rest of the train so you may even get a seat or at least not have to be crowded in like sardines with the hot stale air providing no relief. Especially after I got my phone stolen by a group of men on the metro I’ve come to cherish the women’s section even more.

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The other downside of the metro is that it does not reach every neighborhood in Mexico City. Luckily, there are more options for getting to places where the metro doesn’t go.

Metrobus

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The metrobus is a newer addition to the transport options in the city and is noticeably cleaner and more mechanized (a machine sells you tickets instead of a person). The cost is slightly higher than the metro but still only 6 pesos, or 30 cents. The main line (Red or 1) runs through Avenida Insurgentes, the main thoroughfare through the commercial/business areas and will get you all the way to Tlalpan, one of the southernmost areas in Mexico City. It gets to be even more crowded than the metro though you do get some fresh air through the windows and once again, the women’s section is mostly less crowded (though it can get to be really full and the women are really fierce getting on and off). The metrobus travels through a private dedicated lane so you’re able to breeze by the cars sitting in traffic although crowded intersections will still slow you down a bit.

Peseros/Microbuses

Peseros are privately run microbuses that used to cost one peso (hence the name) that have sprung up in areas where there are no city-run transportation options or for more local transit. Being more informal, there are no maps available online to show where they go, rather, they have signs on their front dashboards that say the places that they will pass by. You really need to know the area where you are going in order to use peseros because in addition to not having published routes, they also don’t have established stops. When it’s time for you to get off you have to get up and approach the door where there is a button to press to request a stop (or if it’s broken you have to yell over the cumbia music to the driver to stop and let you out). To get on you have to hail a ride as you would a taxi and between everyone getting on and off the peseros will swerve back and forth to stop on the side of the street then speed up to zip through traffic in the middle lanes. Drivers are financially incentivized to crowd in as many passengers as possible so they also fill up to the point where you’ll see multiple people hanging out the door as the pesero speeds along. Trying to get out at these moments is quite the challenge though when people get on through the back and can’t reach the driver other passengers are very accustomed to passing the money for the fare up towards the driver and then passing back the change. Peseros cost between 5 and 6 pesos depending on the size or more if you’re going a far distance. I feel like peseros really encompass Mexico City culture but I wouldn’t recommend them to tourists unless they have a deep knowledge of the city.

Trolebús

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Image from Quinto Poder

The electric trolley bus travels through and to the outskirts of the city with the main line running parallel but on the opposite side of the city as the metrobus. Unlike the peseros, this is city-run transit so there are programmed stops and you get a slip of paper for your ticket as you enter (I’ve heard that you should hang on to this because if you were involved in an accident on the trolley bus this would serve as proof that you were a passenger and your medical costs would be covered). On the cleanliness spectrum it’s less clean than the metrobus but generally a little cleaner than the metro. At 4 pesos it’s even cheaper than the metro and although it has a semi-dedicated lane to use, cyclists, peseros and parked cars tend to occupy this lane as well so you get the same swerving back and forth as in the pesero and sometimes get slowed down by traffic.

Biking

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The biking trend has definitely arrived to Mexico City and you’ll see expert bike commuters zipping through traffic and occasionally through intersections. I have attempted to commute to work on a bike when I worked closer to my house but I only did it once as I am honestly not the most comfortable with urban biking on main roads during rush hour. There are definitely areas (like Roma and Condesa) which are more bike friendly but the city is creating bike lanes all around. Another great option if you don’t have your own bike or if you are linking together metro and biking within your commute is the Ecobici. It’s a bike sharing program that has 480 bike stations around the city. It’s not in every area but in the areas where it exists there are stations evenly and frequently spread out to make it a popular option for local travel. You need a pass (annual with a Mexican bank account or daily for tourists) and with the pass you’re able to check out a bike free of charge for up to 45 minutes at which point you have to return it to a station. There’s an app you can download to see the stations near you and even if they have bikes or not or if there are only a few. The bikes are usually not in the absolute best shape but they all have lights and are comfortable to ride. It’s a great way to take a quick trip to the bank or to get around the hip neighborhoods that have tree-lined bike and pedestrian lanes in the middle of streets.

Walking

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Due to the sprawling nature of the city walking is not a practical option if you want to go to another area of the city. Within neighborhoods, walking can be a great option in some areas (Del Valle, Condesa, Centro, Roma, etc.) or practically impossible in others (Santa Fe, Xochimilco or some areas of Tlalpan). However, mostly all the touristy areas are pedestrian-friendly and strolling around can be a great way to experience the city.

However you chose to get around there’s lots to see and experience in Mexico City, even the transportation itself if you let go of your strict timeline and take it all in.

Escaping to the Sierra Gorda

A downside to working in Mexico is that when holidays fall on the weekend you don’t get the next Monday off in celebration. What makes up for that though is that Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is pretty much a national vacation. You’re guaranteed to have Thursday and Friday off and a lot of workplaces will give their employees the whole week off (this also happens around Christmas-time for a week or two so I guess I can’t really complain about working the random holiday). In my current job I only get off Thursday and Friday and we’re planning this year on going to Parque Nacional El Chico, I’ll definitely write about that once we go. But last year we both had the week off so we set out early in the week to beat the crowds to the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro. For those who do not know any Spanish, sierra means mountain range and gorda means fat. Querétaro is a state whose capital is about three hours to the north of Mexico City with the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda in the northeastern tip, taking up about a third of the state’s landmass. I had been living in Mexico for about six months at this point and had yet to go camping so I was ready for an outdoor adventure. So Germán called up his outdoorsy cousin and asked for some recommendations. His dad’s side of the family lives in Querétaro so this cousin is very familiar with the Sierra Gorda and was so excited that the normally urban-minded Germaán was interested in camping that he and his girlfriend came along.

Despite having a local expert as our guide, I nevertheless made an immensely detailed itinerary, complete with GoogleMaps of the route for each day. We ended up modifying the itinerary a fair amount to accommodate our travel partners but we made it to all the major spots I had been excited about. First we went to Querétaro on the bus to meet up with Germán’s cousin and the next morning we drove off towards the Park. After a few stops for gas and cash at the ATM we finally got on the road. We stopped for lunch on the way at Bernal, a small adorable town known for the rocky peak rising up behind it, called the Peña de Bernal. Fully fueled in every sense, we set back out and approached the park. An amazing quality of this place is that there are at least three different ecosystems that you pass through. If you approach heading toward Pinal de Amoles it starts off as dry hills covered with brush. As you continue ascending the mountain range the landscape becomes a green lush forest prone to cloud cover and in other areas the forest varies from almost tropical to high and dry. With all these changes, it’s amazing to just stare out the window and notice the differences in the landscape in each twist and turn.

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the virgin looking over us at the start of our adventure

Due to our slow start that morning we made the decision to camp that night at the Cerro de la Media Luna (also known as Mirador de Cuatro Palos). The road to get here was a little rough and since we were not traveling in anything resembling a 4WD vehicle we had a little difficulty getting in an out. At the base is a tiny town, we parked right in front of the trailhead (a very open and visible ascent), grabbed our gear and hiked up the short but occasionally  steep path. When we got up we were unable to see the view of the mountains in the shape of a half moon (hence the name) due to some low cloud cover but there was an area with firepits and some latrines and a fair amount of street dogs (can you call them street dogs though if they live on a mountain?). There was a family up there selling firewood and the woman even offered to bring up breakfast for us in the morning, which we declined. We ventured back down to the little town in search for some beer, eventually finding someone who sold us some warm cans and we watched a pack of teenagers walking around trying to look cool with music blasting from the boom box they carried. Once back up to the Cerro the clouds cleared out for a moment and we had a fun night around the fire with our warm beers. The night, however, was not quite as pleasant as the wind ripped across the unprotected peak and for the first time in my life I was fearful of my tent breaking. We woke up in the morning to find that the stray dogs wandering around had taken advantage of the noisy wind and had gotten into our food which was right next to but not in our tents, strewing whatever they hadn’t eaten all around the campground. They had even chewed through the tent of a fellow camper to get at their pan dulce. It made sense then why so many of them had decided to live upon this open hill.

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After packing up and heading back down to the car we set out for Pinal de Amoles, where we found a little roadside restaurant that served a delicious breakfast. Pinal de Amoles is a cute town, seemingly clustered all along the ledge of the road that runs through it so as not to fall down into the valley below. We passed by a sign for homemade liqueur and thinking of our warm beer predicament the night before we decided it was better to be prepared and stopped by to stock up for the night. We walked down the steps and into a house which had the front area set up as a tasting room. An older friendly man appeared and offered us tastings of whatever flavors we wanted. He had a wide varieties of fruit and other flavors like coffee which we also quite delicious. We got a few bottles for around $7 each and continued on our way. We kept twisting and turning on the mountain pass until we started to descend a bit as we got to Puente de Dios, a natural rock formation dripping in stalactites that bridges over the River Escalera. You can park your car at a tourist-friendly area complete with restaurants and stands selling beer and quesadillas. From there you need to hire a guide since it is a protected area to go with you on the trail along the river to get to the Puente. Our guide had his dog with him, who was so accustomed to this hike that he could climb up and down the primitive ladder by himself. It’s not a particularly difficult or long hike but you definitely need to be able to climb up and down ladders and be comfortable on uneven rock. When we got to the Puente we were quite warm so left our things with the guide and got into the water to walk under the rocks. It is a pretty amazing phenomenon but I think I just loved being in a river with lots to explore. The others thought the water was too chilly so got out and ventured up the river on the rocks but I forged upriver half swimming through pools and scrambling on submerged rocks. I really really love exploring rivers in this way so I was in my glory and by the time we returned back to our guide I felt physically and emotionally refreshed. We took advantage of the food stand next to our car to grab some quesadillas and drove back up out of the valley towards Jalpan de Sierra. We didn’t stop on our way through since we were trying to get to Las Adjuntas that night to camp. We got to Campamiento Los Sauces after night had fallen and chose the campsite that seemed as far away from the action as we could get, right next to the Ayutla River. In true Mexican fashion, the campground had a restaurant so we had dinner there and then retreated to our isolated campsite to try the liquor we had gotten in Pinal.

The next morning we lazed around our campsite, enjoying the sun and the water. In the afternoon we got out to explore the actual junction where the rivers meet, seen best from the bridge up above. The two different colored rivers coming together is really a sight to be seen though I was disappointed in the carnival-like atmosphere down on the banks of the rivers here. I feel like the outdoor culture here hasn’t gotten to the point where families want to truly escape into nature but rather appreciate having entertainment and convenience when they get away. We kept going north until we arrived at Concá, another small town with one of the Franciscan missions which are scattered all throughout the Sierra Gorda. We parked in town and went to the church, where an outdoor mass was being held. This mission is the most mestizo of all, incorporating artistic compromises to the indigenous people in an effort to get them to worship there. After we had our fill of the mission, Germán’s cousin Hector told us that he knew someone that lived a little outside of town and that he had an amazingly beautiful piece of land along the river. After walking for awhile, Hector realized he didn’t completely remember how to get to this friend’s house but we didn’t really mind because we had arrived upon a stunningly beautiful view from a bridge overlooking the river with the mountain ridge behind. The water looked amazinngly turquoise and clear so we scrambled down a little path to the river where Hector and I took a dip. This was definitely the most isolated and maybe the most beautiful spot of the whole trip, I’m so glad we agreed to go find this mysterious friend.

When we got back to our campsite that night we found we had new neighbors filling in every spot along the river on both sides. At this point it was Thursday night so all the people who only had Thursday and Friday off were arriving for their vacation. It’s really a positive and a negative in that sense that the Sierra Gorda is so accessible, it’s easy to get to but in popular vacation times (like the end of Semana Santa) you may want to find a more isolated area if you don’t like crowds. The next morning we packed up early and went back to Jalpan, this time stopping to see the Jalpan Mission. Both of the missions I saw were of similar style, their orange hues and elaborate carvings a sharp contrast to the green mountainous backdrops. We kept going along our return drive, this time stopping at El Chuvejé Waterfall. It’s a very short hike to get there and again in true Mexican fashion, entrepreneurs have set up food and coffee stands in the woods along the way in case you are seized by the need for food and drink. I always laugh about the fact that in Mexico you don’t really need to be prepared when you set off somewhere as there will always be someone on the side of the road, or in this case the forest, selling you whatever food or beverage you might need. The waterfall is impressively tall and narrow but like our campsite, it was filled up with families swimming and even trying to camp in the middle of the trail. On our way back through Pinal de Amoles we stopped in again at the liqueur place to get our only souvenirs from the trip, a few more bottles of the flavors we had particularly enjoyed (we later dropped one in the parking lot of the bus station in Mexico City, I was so sad). Feeling content with our trip and filled up with fresh mountain air we went back to Querétaro, where we took the bus back to Mexico City. Overall, I really loved the Sierra Gorda. Mexico is not really a country known for its mountains but the Sierra Gorda offers amazing high altitude views all within reach with a semi-decent car. If you’re more interested in culture, there’s the missions and all the history that goes along with the Franciscans converting the indigenous people, though the indigenous culture is still maintained in some areas here. In this trip we only explored about half of the Park, there’s much more I want to see like the Swallow cave and Las Pozas, a surrealist garden nestled in the forest. I’ll definitely be back, hopefully soon rather than later.

And since I had trouble identifying places on GoogleMaps as I was planning this trip, here’s an itinerary of my trip with the destinations marked, feel free to use it!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Puebla Beer Fest

I really love good beer. Although living in Mexico can be exciting beer-wise because the craft beer scene here is just starting to blossom, it’s also a little harder to find a good selection at your local store. So when an ad for Puebla Beer Fest popped up on Facebook (good job Facebook advertisers), I knew I had to go. I had also never been to Puebla (outside of the bus station) so it was a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone so to speak. So we bought our tickets to the festival, booked an Airbnb and head out on Saturday morning. It’s only about a two hour drive from Mexico City so totally manageable for a weekend trip. When we got to Puebla we went to our Airbnb, a pleasant roof terrace apartment that was above the main house with a separate entrance. We should’ve been able to see the volcano clearly from the terrace but the air pollution in Puebla (along with the traffic) has worsened in recent years to make it almost on par with CDMX, much to the dismay of the poblanos. Besides the limited visibility, the day was beautiful and sunny so we decided to walk to the beer fest. Puebla has two main tourist areas, the downtown area and a newly built-up area featuring a giant ferris wheel (la Estrella de Puebla) and a mall , Angelópolis. This area was also where the Beer Fest was and very close to our Airbnb. Despite the short distance, this area of Puebla is definitely not designed for walking. There was a river between us and the Estrella so we had to walk around to where there was a bridge for the main road and navigate the dusty sides of the road with the sun beating down on us as cars zoomed by. As soon as we got closeer though a pedestrian walkway lined with trees and shaded picnic tables led us toward the Estrella.

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We had heard that the ferris wheel is really slow so we decided to skip going for a ride and just took a few touristy pictures before heading into the beer fest which was right in front in an open grassy area. There were lots and lots of white pointed tents with an area in the middle with a stage for music. Our first stop of the day was at Cervecería Calavera, a CDMX brewery. I had tried their American Pale Ale before which was quite tasty so this time I opted for their Breakfast IPA, Morning Star, which was appropriate because I hadn’t eaten much of a breakfast. I had never heard of a Breakfast IPA before and it made me think of a thick bready sort of beer but that was definitely not the case, it was an IPA light on the hops but with the sort of refreshingly floral taste that you get with IPAs. After our liquid breakfast we went searching for a solid one, intrigued by a handout we had gotten at the entrance for a choripan stand. Choripan is a Argentinian chorizo sandwich which you can heap high with chimichurri – yum. Before we found the choripan however, we found Eurosalchicas, selling German and Polish sausage sandwiches and beer. Despite being an almost vegetarian, I do love a good Eastern European sausage so we decided to split one and picked a Polish beer to accompany it. We chatted awhile with the proprietor of the stand, who was also Polish, about my Polish ancestry and how the only words in Polish I know are pierogi and kielbasa, which also happen to be delicious foods. He thought I should go to Poland to visit my roots which I have always wanted to do, Nick and Ally, let’s go! Apparently he goes to lots of events in Mexico City and is opening a restaurant soon so we’ll see if we meet again! I did really enjoy the polish beer and thought about putting it into Untappd but as the label was entirely in Polish I had no idea where to start.

We tried a Pale Ale from Cervecería Cholula which was also quite tasty before finding the choripan place we were originally looking for. Since half of a sausage was not a sufficient meal for Germán we got a choripan which they topped with provolone cheese and was probably one of the yummiest I’ve had (though to be fair the only time I eat choripan normally is before the Puma’s soccer games outside of the stadium so I may not be the best judge). They had also created their own beer for this event and were donating the proceeds to rebuilding someone’s house that had fallen in the earthquake so we were happy to help (I love chelas con causa). We passed through a few more stands, trying to pick beers with lower alcohol percentages as the first two we had had were about 7% and we needed to pace ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. We tried a new wheat beer from Bocanegra, one of the only commercial microbreweries in Mexico. It hasn’t been publicly released yet so it was fun to get a sneak peak.  As we were strolling past more stands, I heard someone yell out in English, “Hey I like your shirt!” I was wearing a New Belgium Shift t-shirt since it seemed appropriate to wear a beer shirt to the beer fest plus I miss CO craft beer. Turns out the brewer at Three Dog Brewing is a fellow gringo who lived in Colorado for a bit when New Belgium was much smaller. And totally fitting for a fellow New Belgium fan, he had a sour beer!! It was the first Mexican sour beer I’ve tried and it was delicious! Their brewery is in Cholula, right outside of Puebla and are still a pretty small set up but sell their beer at Jazzatlan, a jazz club/brew club. When we get around to visiting Cholula we’ll definitely check it out. The brewer and his Mexican wife (the reverse of Germán and I) were super pleasant and what they lack in branding/design they make up in passion for brewing. Later, as we sat in the Cucapa space, the main sponsor for the event and a big microbrewery for Mexico, the sun sank and we got some relief from the hot sun.

We made it to two of my favorite places as the night set in. Utopia Microcervecería is based in Oaxaca and is a new brewery started by two friends. You can tell that one of them is a designer because their logo/branding is on point. After a whole afternoon of drinking beer, their Pura Frescura Australian Sparkling Ale (what does that even mean??) was refreshingly delicious. I feel like they have big things coming their way so I’ll be keeping my eye out for them.

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Lupulosa

Finally, we passed by Cerveza Insurgentes, a Tijuana brewery that makes probably my favorite Mexican beer, La Lupulosa. Lúpulo means hops in Spanish and this IPA delivers on all the hoppy goodness that I love so much. They were also the only brewery that had schwag which I consider a totally necessary part of any insert whatever food or product is being featured fest. After making the rounds of the whole festival we decided to call it a day and instead of heading downtown to go get more drinks and food, we decided to see Lady Bird at the movie theater right there then headed to our Airbnb to rest after a day of beer and sun.

Our plan for Sunday was to wander around downtown and see what there was to see then head back to Mexico City in the evening. We went downtown for breakfast and went into El Mural de los Poblanos on recommendation of our Uber driver but we found the atmosphere quite stuffy and pretentious so when they told us they were no longer serving breakfast (we had slept in a little bit that morning) we left to try something else. There was a small cute place down the street that turned out to be really nice and we both got a Puebla breakfast with tortillas, refried beans and eggs smothered in poblano mole. Then we went to the Zócalo, the main plaza surrounded by the cathedral and other colonial style buildings. I happen to love the feeling of all Mexican plazas but this one was especially nice with the colorful ornate buildings surrounding it.

The site I was most excited for in Puebla was the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest public library in the Americas located inside of the Casa de la Cultura. It was a little confusing to find it and we stumbled upon a folk dance performance at the entrance of the Casa de la Cultura but at the top of the stairs in a corner of the central courtyard is the ornately carved wood entrance to the library. It is remarkably well preserved and reminded me of some of the old libraries in Spain (not surprisingly). The whole place smells like there’s incense burning but its just the strong scent of all the old old books. The music for the dance performance downstairs sort of dampened the library experience but it was still amazing to see.

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Germán insisted we go to see El Señor de las Maravillas, where people come daily to worship. It was a little while outside of the main central area and the church had actually been damaged in the earthquake. The small viewing area was packed with people and in typical Latin American fashion the Señor was a sculpture complete with fake hair and real clothes, something I always find kind of creepy.

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On the way back towards downtown we stopped to buy some typical Puebla sweets (jamonillo and cremas, both incredibly sweet soft bars made with pine nuts, walnuts or other things and milk) as Germán’s mom had specifically requested some. Close by is Los Sapos which turned out to be my favorite area of Puebla with cobbled streets and brick stalls on either side filled with art and handicrafts.

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Puebla is the home of talavera, the typical colorful Mexican tiles so of course we had to get a mirror lined with talavera for our living room and a magnet for our fridge. Our final stop in Puebla was a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Zócalo called Azotea del Royalty. Although the name is fancy the roof deck has a great feel to it and the craft beer and food options ranging from tapas to entrees were not as expensive as you might think from the name and location. I’m glad we randomly popped in for a quick bite before leaving, I would recommend it to anyone visiting.

With that we wrapped up our weekend in Puebla and returned home a little bit later than we were planning to catch the tail end of the Oscar’s (go México for representing so well btw). Overall I really liked Puebla. Before we went I hadn’t really had super high hopes as you don’t normally hear people rave about visiting there but it is a very pretty city that is the birthplace of some traditional Mexican staples. Next time we head in that direction I need to make it to Cholula, a university town nearby that’s home to the widest pyramid in the world! Until then I’m stretching out my sweets as long as I can possibly manage.

Visiting the Mariposas

Last year in mid-February Germán and I took a trip to Macheros in Estado de México to see the monarch butterflies in their winter home in the oyamel fir forests in the mountains of México. The butterflies make the 3,000 mile journey from Canada or the U.S. to México in the fall and spend the winter in warmer temperatures before returning in the Spring (they’re in México from mid-November until mid-March). What blew my mind when learning about the butterfly migration is that they will literally return to the same tree except that it’s not the same butterfly; their lifespans are so short that from one year to the next four generations have passed! Seeing monarch butterflies in México is different from seeing them in the U.S. or Canada because they only come to a few spots in México and even then only to small sections of the forest so the concentration of butterflies is incredible. There are a few different places in México to go see the butterflies, all of which are protected as butterfly reserves:

  • El Rosario
  • Piedra Herrada
  • Sierra Chincua
  • Cerro Pelón

The reserves are mostly in Michoacán although Cerro Pelón, where we decided to go, is over the border in the Estado de México. We chose to go to this reserve because Lonely Planet describes it as the most pristine of all the reserves. As a traveler who doesn’t like being a tourist and a nature enthusiast, I will always choose the most pristine option so we went to Cerro Pelón.

We rented a car and head out on a long weekend to Macheros, about two and a half hours drive from Mexico City. The drive to Zitácuaro is on main highways and easy to navigate, from there to the town of Macheros the drive changes to a paved but bumpy small road. We lost service so had to rely on the printed out directions from the B&B which included pictures of the forks in the road where we should turn. When we got to the town we went first to JM´s Butterfly B&B to check in and drop off the car. No one was there to check us in but we were able to leave our things in the living room and head out to the edge of town to start the climb to the butterflies. The B&B provides English-speaking tours but they are quite expensive for Mexican salaries so we opted to head to the beginning of the trail where a line of local guides are waiting. They probably don’t speak English but that is not a problem for us and they are much cheaper. You also have the option to rent a horse to climb up for you but being young, reasonably in shape people we scoffed at the idea. About halfway up the climb we wondered to ourselves if maybe it would have been better to get the horses as it is quite a steep climb at times and the ground was loose and very dusty, provoking slips and frustration (as well as extreme dirtiness). We marveled at how our guide (wearing dress shoes) was able to scramble up easily and never slipped once. When the terrain finally leveled out at the top the trees opened up as well, showing some pretty incredible views of the forest and mountains. An issue in this area that is threatening the butterflies is illegal logging. The lack of economic opportunities means people take advantage of the forest to make a living for their families but the loss of winter habitat is a problem for the butterflies. Luckily, in this reserve that hasn’t been too big of a problem so the views had trees in every direction.

I didn’t really have an idea of where the butterflies would be but I was slightly confused when our guide led us along a path that went into a dense section of forest and pointed to trees where the butterflies supposedly were. It actually took me a few minutes to figure out that the giant brown beehive shapes hanging off the branches of the trees were masses of monarch butterflies. On a warm day you can see them flying all around but it was chilly the day we went so they were huddled up together in the trees with the dull backside of their wings showing. If their sheer amount of them weren’t so impressive I would have been a little disappointed to find them like this. But it is very impressive, the weight of all those almost weightless creatures making the tree branches sag. A few times we saw brief clouds of butterflies rising out of the trees and that was really incredible to see, it would be amazing to be there on a warm day with them flying all about. After struggling (and ultimately failing) to take a picture that really captured the scene, we headed back out the path to the clearing where our guide was now waiting. All along the sides of the path were dead or dying monarch butterflies (which is how we got the pictures of us holding them), creating little orange mounds. The trip down back into the town was even more slip-inducing than the way up and we arrived in the afternoon to the B&B with our shoes full of dirt and our legs a dark shade of brown.

JM´s Butterly B&B is owned by a couple made up by a Mexican man and an American woman, Macheros being the man’s home town. They came back to this place to run the B&B and try to encourage ecotourism in the area (promoting the preservation of the butterfly habitat and using tourist dollars to spur the local economy and hopefully then preventing illegal logging). Their prices are a little expensive for México but they really make most of their money for the whole year during the butterfly season (they talked to us about trying to set up mushroom tours during the summer rainy season to have more year-round income) and they are being responsible tenants of the reserve. Our room at the B&B was actually a casita (a separate little house) owned by Joel’s parents (the J in JM Butterfly B&B). It was on the other side of town than the B&B (but it being a very small town it was only maybe 5 minutes walking) and on the edge of a ledge that dropped down to a river. It was a a very peaceful spot that had a nice view of the town and surrounding mountains. That evening we went to the restaurant next door to the B&B (where breakfast is served) for dinner and chatted for a bit with the B&B owners. We admired their coffee table made out of a slice of tree trunk with a live edge and they told us that they had bought the slice of wood from someone in Zitácuaro and made it themselves. I had always wanted a table like that and Germán was equally impressed with it so we got the man’s number and they gave him a heads up that we would be calling him the next day once we got service. Once back at the casita we were visited by our tour guide who tried to sell us some homemade fruit liquors that his mother made (made from rubbing alcohol so we declined) and little trinkets that his sisters made (which we bought because we felt bad for refusing the alcohol). The night was quite chilly, being at such high altitude and next to the river. In the morning the sun warmed everything up and we spent some pleasant time on our mini deck overlooking the river.

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the view of the town and the mountain range surrounding it

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After breakfast we set off for Zitácuaro, enjoying the last of the fresh mountain air on the drive there. We were able to get a hold of the man who had sold the wood slices to the B&B owners and we met up with him on a corner in the city. We followed him to a house on the outskirts that didn’t seem to actually be his but where he had stacks of trunk slices piled up. He assured us that he had sustainably sourced this wood (apparently there are rangers who mark the dead trees and check to make sure that those are the ones you’re cutting down). We picked out one that was a good coffee table shape and loaded the very heavy slice into the rental car and headed out.

On our way back to Mexico City we stopped in Toluca to eat lunch and spend a few hours of the afternoon. Toluca has a cute downtown area with nice restaurants and cafés and a central square with a botanical garden called Cosmovitral. It was originally constructed to be a market and the walls are made up entirely of stained glass. The combination of amazing colorful artwork and the different plantscapes make for an incredibly beautiful place to explore. The garden is broken up into different ecosystems, with desert plants together surrounded by sand and ponds filled with aquatic plants that you cross over on cute bridges. It is definitely a great place to visit and relaxing to spend an hour or two wandering around.

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With that we drove the hour and a half to get back to Mexico City and were home by Sunday evening. It was a long weekend so we even had the next day to do all the “adulting” weekend activities but it felt like we had been out of the city for much longer than two days and one night. Overall, this was a great trip, even though the butterflies kept their colorful splendor to themselves it was great to get up in the mountains and to experience being in a rural town for a night. Plus Toluca really was a fun place to visit and now we have a beautiful coffee table which is one of my favorite pieces in our home and a great conversation piece 😉

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La Cineteca Nacional: A Hidden Gem in CDMX

Every year when the Oscar nominations come out I say to myself that I’ll watch the movies nominated for Best Picture. Then every year I end up not watching any. I’m not a person who goes to the movie theater very often and I don’t know how to safely (or remotely legally) download movies online. But this year has been different because of the Cineteca. It’s located in Coyoacán, the same neighborhood I live in so I’ve been going pretty frequently in the last month or so to finally fulfill my Oscars resolution. But even when I’m not trying to see Oscar nominations I love going to the Cineteca for a lot of reasons.

First is the unique architecture which stands out even as you pass by on the street. It really feels more like a park than a movie theater, with grassy areas, open air walkways connecting the buildings and a space for outdoor movies. It’s a great space to go wander around and catch up with friends, even if you’re not seeing a movie.

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Second is the movie selection which combines indy international films, high-quality mainstream movies and traditional Mexican cine. The two Oscar nominated films I’ve seen here are Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. This week I also saw Bosque de Niebla, a documentary about Las Cañadas, a cooperative in Veracruz who collectively manage their land in the cloud forest using permaculture principles. Next on my list is Call Me by Your Name which it seems like they brought to Cineteca after its Oscar nomination. Darkest Hour is also showing but I’m not as interested in that (the one movie I wish was playing there but isn’t is Lady Bird, I’ve heard such good things). Cineteca obviously skews towards cultural movies rather than action-packed blockbusters but it’s also not so high-brow as to inaccesible to the average movie goer.

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Third is the ridiculously low prices! Even for mexican prices it is cheap to see a movie here. As you may be able to tell from the name, la Cineteca Nacional is government sponsored so they don’t charge as much for tickets or even for popcorn (plus they combine butter with caramel popcorn to make the most delicious sweet and salty mix). For example, this week I paid 30 pesos (about $1.50 USD) to see Bosque de Niebla and spent 40 pesos (about $2 USD) for a medium popcorn. In a country where the salaries are low but the cost of entertainment is comparatively high, it’s nice to have a place where even the most broke friend can join you for a night out.

Finally, whether you’ve come to Cineteca for a movie or just to enjoy the peaceful oasis in a busy city, there are fun little shops and restaurants lining the open air area to complete your experience. This week my friend and I who went to the documentary met up with some more friends afterwards at Señorito, an informal restaurant that serves cerveza artesanal (craft beer) as well as mini pizzas, sandwiches, charcuterie, etc. The microbrew scene in Mexico is still pretty micro so I always relish going to a place that serves IPAs (I tried the Piedra Lisa from Cervecería de Colima which is probably one of my new favorite mexican IPAs). The vibe at all of these places really compliments the laid back hipster feeling at the Cineteca.

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Basically, the Cineteca is a great place to go, even if you’re just visiting Mexico City. And if you prefer to watch a movie in the comfort of your own home, there’s also a permanent setup of pirated movies right in front of the entrance because #thisismexico (also ezquites, yumm). But in all seriousness, this is one of my favorite places here that I feel really represents Mexico City in all its cultural diversity, check it out.