“You went to Mexico?! Isn’t it really dangerous?”
In my two-plus months in Mexico and Central America, two people I met had been victims of violence or crime – one had his phone stolen from the leg pocket of his cargo pants on the metro in Mexico City, the other got beaten up by a taxi driver and a corrupt police officer in Cancun. So, yes, you’ve got to take certain precautions if you’re traveling there. but the same applies any time you travel, and in all major cities around the world for that matter. The region has its problems, but I was responsible and didn’t experience anything wayward. I also wasn’t involved in any drug gangs or political protests.
“Okay… So, why’d you choose to visit Mexico then? Where’d you go? What’s there to do?”
Going to Latin America had been a dream of mine for a long time, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I started doing some reading on the internet, when Mexico caught my eye. The two websites that got the ball rolling were Indie Traveller and Rough Guides. Both lay out popular travel itineraries, which gave me something to work with (check them out here and here). For no particular reason, I’ve never joined the Lonely Planet army (am I doing it wrong?). In my research, I relied heavily on websites like Wikitravel, Mexperience, Pueblos de Mexico, and Visit Mexico. TripAdvisor, Hostelworld and word-of-mouth also made planning things easier.
The more I researched, the more I realised I already had emotional connections to visiting Mexico and, soon, I was completely sold. As a young boy, for example, I loved playing as the Aztecs and the Mayans on Age of Empires II. I learned about the huge pyramids that were designed to worship the sun, that present-day Mexico City was once the island-city of Tenochtitlan. Besides this, I also remembered that I had contacts to visit in Mexico, people I’d met at uni and on Sharedtalk. Third, I’d been reading about Mexico’s rich cultural diversity from Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus and wanted to experience it first-hand. And do I need to mention Mexican food?
Click on the graphic below to get an in-depth look at the route I took on my trip.
In the first month of my trip, I visited four regions of Mexico:
El Bajío (Guadalajara, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and Santiago de Querétaro), the ‘heartland’ of Mexico. Looking back, this was the least-touristy region that I visited (with the exception of SMA) and therefore the best for practicing Spanish. In Guadalajara (the country’s second-most populous city and home of mariachi and tequila), I was stared at for looking different and struggled with the local buses. I could easily have spent longer checking out El Bajío’s colonial cities – in particular, Querétaro, where I was slowly overcoming the language barrier with a new friend Anaclara, whom I met through Couchsurfing. But I couldn’t leave my Australian friend Ariana waiting in Mexico City so onwards it was.
Mexico City, a big, busy, international city. Plenty to see and I could easily have spent more time there. Ariana and I explored the historic centre around the Zócalo, Chapultepec Park, and the yuppie suburbs of La Condesa and Roma. My Mexican friends took me for burgers and drinks in Polanco (the wealthiest suburb in Mexico City), and to the tamales festival in Coyoacán (the home of Frida Kahlo). Childhood dreams were fulfilled at Teotihuacan and Lucha Libre, and a fun day-trip to a Tepotzlán (a Pueblo Mágico famous for its pyramid and Tepoznieves – its ice cream company) was mixed in for good measure.
Oaxaca, a poor state rich in linguistic, ethnic and culinary diversity. Despite the sizeable expat/tourist presence, knowing Spanish was useful for getting around in Oaxaca City and Sierra Norte (hitching a ride in the back of ute is not uncommon here). Plenty of highlights here: Hierve el Agua, Monte Alban, hiking in the mountains, the lively markets, and the great people I met. By comparison, I barely needed Spanish at all along Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast, with its perfectly-warm weather. To generalise: Puerto Escondido is where you go to surf, fish, party, and release tiny baby turtles into the ocean; Mazunte is where all the hippies go to do yoga; and Zipolite is the one with the nudist beach!
Chiapas is another poor Southern state, and a favoured destination for richer, iPad camera-wielding Mexicans. My friends and I made the chilly mountain city of San Cristóbal de las Casas our base. From there, we made trips out to the impressive Cañón del Sumidero (photos don’t do it justice), a number of water features (Las Cascadas de Chiflón, Las Lagunas de Montebello, and Las Cascadas de Agua Azul), and the Mayan ruins of Palenque (Pro tip: Don’t expect to get your first choice of jungle hut if you arrive after sundown on Valentine’s Day – book ahead!). If that sounds like a lot of sightseeing, it was. The long mini-bus rides were tiring and the never-ending “reductores de velocidad” were the death of me. I felt mentally understimulated by Chiapas and, as a result, rushed through.
I didn’t quite master the art of blogging and traveling at the same time during my trip. I spent most of my limited internet time on Facebook or researching possible destinations; then, Instagram overtook as the preferred platform for documentation. So here I am, more than a month later – I’m not trying to be a travel or an advice blog – I just wanted to share my reflections on what really was an incredible trip.
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks a lot for reading. Part II will be published soon! Feel free to hit “Follow”, leave a comment below, tweet to me at @TimSpricht or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The YouTube videos in this post are my own.