After over three weeks in Oaxaca where we spent the holidays, it was at last time to move on. We were moving north, to el Monstruo (as Mexico City is affectionally called), but decided to stop off in Puebla on the way there as we heard good things about this old city. It was a big city in and of itself; at over 1.5 million people it is the 5th largest city in the country. I’m not much of a big city fan, but it was just a couple day stop over, mostly to see if we could find some good food!
We checked out the massive cathedral in the centre of the town, took one of those cheesy open concept bus top tours, and stopped in at the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, a gorgeous library founded in 1646 , making it the first public library in colonial Mexico. Some even consider it to be the first public library in all the America’s! The Bishop of Puebla at the time was a total book nerd and donated over 5000 books to San Juan college under the stipulation that they be made available to all the public. Over 100 years later the library was created and given the name of the Bishop, Palafoxiana in honour of his donation and love of books. We paid the small fee of $40 pesos and quietly and reverently stepped into what is always for me, a sacred space: the library. It’s a small library by today’s standard, but utterly stunning. The domed white ceiling covers three levels of books, ranging in age from 50 years to over 400 years old. The books are kept protected by a mesh of sorts so people can’t touch or take them out, seeing as how old some of them are. Several are opened in glass cases on display, and ornate tables with old globes fill the centre of the room. You walk around whispering excitedly (okay, that was just me) to yourself and anyone who will listen.
A highlight of our time here was undoubtedly finding Krispy Kreme. An American doughnut joint that I continuously crave ever since I saw my first batch of original glaze travel through the glaze waterfall and took that first melt-in-your-mouth-bite. I actually screamed in delight when I saw the little stand in the mall! We bought two, then two more and hey, why lie, we bought yet another two: #noshame.
We wandered the streets and parks and gardens and markets, and even made the trek to walk through the tunnels of Puebla. These 500 year old tunnels were just opened in 2016 to the public and were thought to have been used in the great Cinco de Mayo battle between the French and the Mexican’s in 1862. It was a neat experience to walk so many kilometres through the town and end up at the site of battle, where we were treated to great views of the city and could even seen Volcan Popocatepetl smoking in the distance. To end our time in Puebla we ate some of the best tacos to date in Mexico at Los Ranas – you must eat at this popular local joint just off the main zocalo square. The al pastor tacos with cheese will change your life!
We took a short taxi ride to Cholula, just 15 minutes away, pretty well the same city if you ask me! We heard about a rather large pyramid ruin here as well as much better views of Popocatepetl. That rather large pyramid turned out to be the Great Pyramid of Cholula, or Tlachihualteptl, which is Nahuatl for Made-by-man-mountain. You may have heard of it, you know, the largest pyramid in the world today. It slips under the radar because the pyramid isn’t exposed like the pyramids of Giza – most of it is left covered by the ground, with only some parts having been dug up and exposed. The pyramid is the work of many different civilizations that came and went for over a thousand years before the Spanish arrived. But the best part? About 100 years ago they began to dig excavation tunnels under the Pyramid to explore the substructures, and you can pay a meagre fee to explore them yourselves, which I highly recommend!
We walked to the top of the pyramid where now stands a Spanish church, and took in the gorgeous spectacle of the sun setting behind Popocatepetl, a perfect way to bid goodbye to Cholula and Puebla before we headed off to our next big stop: Mexico City! We took the evening bus in and I had my eyes glued to window for the two hour ride as the city lights spilled across the land like and endless universe. Sprawling metropolis doesn’t even come close. We had booked a week in an Air BnB in the Roma neighborhood and our host suggested taking the metro if we were up for it – why not right? I mean there’s only about 4.4 million people per day who ride this metro…! But the tickets were an insanely cheap five pesos per person (and you can change lines multiple times) so we decided to give it a try. Riding one of the worlds top ten busiest metro systems in peak hours (7-9pm are peak hours in Mexico, not our usual 5pm rush hour) with a humongous backpack on your back and another on your front is…. well not exactly easy. We got our tickets, and Travis got stuck going through the turnstile with his grotesque bag situation, but was immediately helped by a local.
Then we watched the first train whiz passed up, absolutely packed with people and gawked at each other. We watched people rush on to the train and push with all their might to squeeze on. There was no way! We were the size of three people with our backpacks on! We walked to the end of the platform and waited for the next train. The end cars were a bit less busy and we were able to squeeze on. But then we realized we were going the wrong way! This is what you get when two people who grew up without metro systems try to navigate one of the world’s largest!
Off we get and head upstairs to sort ourselves. A tsunami of hundreds of people then storm passed us and we scramble to get out of the way as the wave of humans subsides. We stand there with our packs, studying the map intensely when a gentleman approaches and asks us in English if we need help – we gratefully affirm so and tell him where we are headed and he points us in the right direction. On we get to the correct train, and a gentlemen encourages me to take a free seat with my heavy bags. Okay, so far Mexico city metro people are the absolute nicest ever!
We make it to our stop around 8pm and then have another 10 minute walk with our bags to our place, but we make it safe and sound. I admit, I had preconceived notions about Mexico City – in fact, we even thought about skipping it all together – it was too big, too dangerous, from what we heard. Thank god we didn’t make that terrible mistake – we loved Mexico City! We definitely chose a great neighbourhood, thanks to the recommendation from Julius, a German we met in San Cristóbal who was living in Mexico City.
Just before we turned on to our street, we saw the road had been barricaded off haphazardly with rubbish and tires. I was a little spooked that something was going on and perhaps we weren’t supposed to be here. But then I looked up and around me and saw the greatly damaged building with huge cracks crawling up all of it’s walls – the earthquake just this past September had been a bad one, and we were seeing some of the first hand effects of its devastation.
We had a few things our our Mexico City bucket list and the top one was seeing Star Wars since it had just come out, and we were hoping to see it in 4DX, but sadly it had left the 4DX theatre, so we settled for the regular theatre, but made sure we still saw a 4DX movie as Travis had never seen one before – Jumangi it was! Julius and his friend Sandro joined us for some good laughs (they really did a great job on this classic reboot!) and some shifty chairs! The next thing on my bucket list was getting a tattoo! I had found an artist in Mexico city who’s work I loved, and arranged a session for my book and teacup tattoo and to discuss another appointment for when we came back through on our last few days before leaving the country – in order to fix up my sunflower tattoo. My anxiety was out of control – I nearly passed out several times while waiting and once during. This happened last time I got a tattoo as well. The waiting is the worst part for me, my nerves get so shot from the anxiety overload! However, Diana from Gallo Negro was a dream, she was gentle, and had the most calm demeanour that helped me a lot. Her work is amazing and I highly recommend her – check out her Instagram here!
After taking years off of my life from the anxiety of getting my little tattoo, we had our next big bucket list item for DF (another name for the big city): a Taco Crawl. This one was all Travis’s idea, and he did all the research and arranging, which was great for me to be able to sit back and relax! We rounded up Juluis and Sandro and Fernando (another traveler we met in San Cristóbal) and his girlfriend and hit the town. We ventured to seven spots all within a couple of neighbourhoods so that we could walk:
- Las Parados – Al pastor with cheese – yum!
- Tacos Hola – guisado tacos (stewy)
- El Kalifa – best wheat tortillas!
- Alipús Endémico – mezcal and chapulines (grasshoppers) tacos and our first queso fundido
- Random street taco stand
- Tacos Roma – The winner! Best tacos of the night!
- Super Taco – took the metro to this local joint under the bridge – so many toppings
Travis even made an awesome video of our night, check it out here! And yes, that is the greatest song ever and will be stuck in your head for forever now!).
We did the usual touristy things, walked to Parque Mexico to watch the dogs (seriously, highlight of Mexico right here for me!), wandered through historic downtown, over to the Angel of Independence and of course a long stroll through Chapultepec park, where we visited the free zoo and I fell in love with a snow leopard. We discovered Rosetta’s, a hot spot in town known for their sandwiches and doughnuts. Sorry Krispy Kreme, but Rosetta’s chocolate and/or hazelnut doughnut takes the cake (er, doughnut?!) for the best doughnut of life!
It would be a shame to miss some of the biggest and best ruins in all of Mexico, so we made an easy day trip out to Teotihuacan, the largest pre-Columbian city of it’s time in the America’s. They still allow tourist to climb the steep stairs atop the gigantic Sun Pyramid (you can no longer climb the pyramids in Chichen-itza) so this was a treat and it gave awesome views. But the even better views were from atop the Moon pyramid. It’s always so strange and fascinating to be sitting atop remnants of ancient cities more than 2000 years old. To wonder what life was like back then, and to wonder – will people sit atop structures from my time in 2000 years? We spent the whole day exploring the site and learning about the history before catching our bus ride back to DF.
We had one last grand adventure in store for us in Mexico City – Toluca de Nevado – but this adventure deserves it’s own post! Coming soon!
Alas, we bid goodbye to dear old El Monstruo, but not for long, as we knew we’d be returning in about six weeks for a couple more days before ending our time in Mexico. But of course, one last thing to do in the big city – treat ourselves to one more Mexico must- churros and coffee at El Moro.