Glover continues on to Mexico (after Colombia)

Old Mar 3rd, 2015, 08:08 PM
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Glover continues on to Mexico (after Colombia)

I posted a trip report on the first half of this winter's trip (to Colombia) on the South America board. Wrote more about some of the Mexico half there as well several weeks ago. Am now reposting that piece here under Mexico where it should probably be - and continuing with the rest of the report on last several weeks in Oaxaca, Puebla, and DF.

The following is a repost from South America board. If you've read that, skip down to
"Oaxaca continued." Sad to say we've back here in dreary wet DC now. More snow forecast for Thursday. We didn't stay long enough!!

From Bogota on to Mexico! We had an uneventful on time flight from Bogota to Mexico City on Jan.25th. Took a speeding taxi from airport to our old standby hotel in zocalo/Centro historico of MEX City - a very popular tourist hotel just behind the old cathedral - called Hotel Catedral. We immediately went up to their small rooftop and had a drink. The rooftop looks directly out on the cathedral dome. Beautiful view - day and night.

Next am we went out walking a bit looking for the Telcel store to get a Mexican SIM card for the phone. Part of the adventure of course was locating it, asking 6 different people and then trying to make sense of their directions. But we did find it eventually and got a nice walk around as city was waking up..... Then around noon we took a taxi back to the airport and flew to the Oaxacan beach town of Huatulco. Flew on Interjet, really nice cheap Mexican airline, new planes with cushy seats and leg room, free booze, etc. Our first time on
the Oaxacan coast.

Our first thatched roof airport! Hot and sunny in Huatulco. Took another speeding taxi down a two lane beach road for nearly an hour. Fortunately not much traffic on the road. Driver said he'd been driving since age 11. He had spent some time living in US, in fact IN Woodbridge and Fairfax. A funny guy. Wanted to be reminded of the English for "vomit/throw up" for future reference with English speaking passengers - as in "if you need to, get out of my car." Could see how this could be useful phrase as he tears down the road and around all the curves.

After a long ride on the mostly empty road we passed through the small town of Mazunte and then the even tinier village of San Augustanillo. Just beyond that town was the turnoff for our reserved lodging: Rancho Cerro Largo. The driver was quite uncertain that we'd reached the right place as the entrance is certainly inauspicious and there didn't really seem to be anyone around. Finally we found a guest who then called to someone in the kitchen. Congenial young Mexican man came out, checked us in, and took us down down down stone steps to our cabana. The Rancho is a series of thatched roofed stucco cabins built into a hillside over a beautiful beach, sited in such a way that each is completely private and has a spectacular 180 degree view of the beach and ocean, with a few rocky outcroppings. Comfortable small cabin with bed, fan, two big screened windows and small stone patio in front with hammock and two chairs. what a view! A few steps away was our private bath, a smaller thatched roofed structure that contained the composting toilet on one side and a stucco basin and large covered pail of water (the "shower") on the other. Believe me when I say that this was a small price to pay for the fabulous location. . . .

Unfortunately we didn't have the chance to meet the beloved owner Mario Correa as he'd gone off for several days to visit relatives in Sonora. Mario built the place about 20 years ago. He's a community leader and a very well respected yoga teacher. The Rancho is the kind of place that has a returning family of visitors, many of whom go there for yoga, massage, and to experience various forms of alternate healing available around the these beach towns. Price of lodging, for us about $80 a night, includes breakfast and dinner, all very delicious vegetarian fare. Carrot croquettes anyone? Very tasty. We really meant to post to one of the daily 8am yoga classes, but never made it. Instead we got our exercise going up and down the stone steps from our cabin to the outdoor dining area up the hillside. Charming rustic communal area up there. Dinner was a communal affair at 7pm with a revolving group of guests from US, Quebec, Germany while we were there. All nice interesting very well travelled people. Amazingly one of theM from Minneapolis (formerly of DC) turned out to be mom of a very close high school friend of our daughter's. We had a lot of fun reminiscing about the escapes of those two who somehow managed to survive high school.

Down more stone steps from our cabana was a beautiful empty beach. Walking 10 minutes and around a few rocks put you in the charming small village of San Augustanillo, just a collection of several casual beach side outdoor restaurants and a handful of small single or double story hotels. Also a single boat concession.

We walked the beach, sat at one restaurant space and had guacamole, got in the water (carefully as the current is rough here). Sat on our patio and enjoyed the view from above of course.... A lot. On our last day we got up early, saw the sunrise! And walked down the beach for a 7:30 boat ride. We set off in an open outboard big motored boat with 3 locals and two young Swiss tourists. Saw lots of sea turtles, a few Dolphins, and a whale breach! Exciting boat ride too as we'd tear across the waves when one of the other boatmen would appear to have spotted a whale. Not to mention the beach landing, where the driver, after instructing us to hold on tightly, guns the motor, navigates a narrow channel between rock outcroppings, and lands the boat right on the beach. A little jar, but actually very well executed! As well as looking for whales, the boatmen are fishing. Fun to see one of the guys work to land a beautiful 35-40 lb dorado (indeed a beautiful gold color), as well as a smaller silvery Bonita fish. They took the fish then to their friend's seaside restaurant. An hour or so later we all sat down to a delicious lunch on the beach- a pile of wonderful ceviche, grilled dorado with chipotle sauce, grilled Bonita with garlic, and a pile of rice and tortillas. Beers of course. Spanish conversation. Great experience.

Stayed 4 nights at the Rancho. Difficult to leave. It was a little paradise there for sure....

Moved on to a a real hotel in town at Santa Cruz beach in Huatulco. Tomorrow we take a van over the mountains (9000 feet) and town to Oaxaca city. Supposed to be a beautiful SIX hour drive, hopefully not nauseating......

****** Oaxaca continued...... (new)
We had two unplanned days before we needed to be in Oaxaca City. Thought about just adding them on to our city time, but had enjoyed the beach time so much, we tried to re-up for a couple more nights at the Rancho. Alas, they were booked, so we needed to move on.

Didn't have a lot of time to research and ended up reserving at the large Hotel Castillo in Santa Cruz in Huatulco. We were pleasantly surprised by Santa Cruz/Huatulco. Santa Cruz is the area of Huatulco where cruise ships arrive - though apparently not that many lately. The area around the dock was nice - commercial without being super tacky. A small nice swimming beach nearby with lots of open restaurants. The area away from there was bright and clean and open. Lots of sparkling low rise white buildings - condos, restos, etc. A beautiful palm tree lined street takes you from Santa Cruz beach/cruise ship area to the typical small very Mexican town of La Crucecita.

Hotel Castillo is a busy large Mexican tourist hotel. It has a nice pool, big restaurant that serves buffets and modern motel style rooms. Not much English spoken. I think they gave us an upgrade to a suite like room. First eve we walked (about 25 min?) into the nice little nearby town of La Crucecita. Sat in the zocalo a bit and people watched. Had nice conversation with young local family with whom we shared a bench. Stopped in a busy
parilla like seafood restaurant and had a very good dinner (forgot the name). Took taxi back to hotel. Next am decided against eating breakfast buffet and so set out for a well reviewed breakfast spot called La Terrazza in Santa Cruz. Good food, very slow and unorganized service. Just a small place with a few tables outside.

Set out for hotel's "beach club". Several of the town hotels have additional club space on the beach - accessed by hotel shuttle or long hot walk. Nice beach club with changing areas, another restaurant, and private beach and pool. Unfortunately there were no chairs available with shade on the beach when we arrived around noon or so. Instead Took some chaises by the pool where we alternated reading and dipping in pool. Beach is lovely there - but tide is quite strong. Got in up to my knees. Find I feel much more vulnerable now as a 60 something than I did back in the day when I was quite quick to throw myself in and swim beyond breaking waves. . . Being knocked over and struggling back up isn't quite as entertaining and easy as it once was. . Eventually moved to restaurant area and had a couple beers and guacamole looking out at ocean.

That eve we walked back into La Crucecita and had wonderful dinner at Terra Cotta. Great food and initially great service - but then they got busy .. . ...

Also walked to (near) the bus station to buy tickets on "Colombo's Van Service" to take to Oaxaca City. I was dreading this trip, as many had posted that the 6 1/2 hour curvy ride over the mountains could be nauseating. We're not prone to motion sickness. .. . . but still it didn't sound all that appealing. We had thought of going half way and staying a night or two at the mountain town half way (San Juan del Pacifico?) - but decided we didn't need even a night of cold weather.

Had a single cup of coffee the next am and set out for the van on an intentionally empty stomach. Believe the trip cost us each less than $20. We were no more than 8 or 10 in the pretty decent looking Toyota van. It was a beautiful clear day and hence a lovely drive up and through mountains (supposedly as high as 9000 feet) Mr. G counted 200 some topes to pass the time - and estimated that there were not more than 120 feet between any two curves. Very very curvy road. We avoided reading and just watched scenery. Arrived in Oaxaca City around 4 or so none the worse for the drive.

Stayed 2 weeks in the basic but friendly and very popular Casa Arnel in the Jalatlaco barrio of Oaxaca (my favorite neighborhood there - narrow cobble stone streets one story stucco buildings). Casa Arnel is family owned and has been around since the 70s. It's located directly across from the old St.Mattias church in Jalatlaco - which makes for lots of good festival and wedding viewing. We met lots of nice people there - many of whom had been coming to Casa Arnel for long stays for many years. We had a small room at the corner of the center courtyard on the second floor with private bath for under $50. The hotel has a beautiful tree and flower filled center courtyard and a great roof deck overlooking the church.
The courtyard includes a half dozen or so caged (unfortunately) birds that are amusing if very noisy. Breakfast (not included with lodging) is served every am at two common big tables at the end of the courtyard. We often had breakfast there and lingered talking to other guests - many contemporaries. Breakfast was good, but coffee was bad, so I took to walking a few blocks down the street to Cafe Blazon (a coffee chain) for stronger and better coffee. We also had some great breakfasts, lunches, and small dinners/drinks at Xiguela/Ciabatta Cafe and Casa Arnel's own Cafe Agora - both within a two block radius of Arnel. It was just the most pleasant little neighborhood to stay in. Only con was having to cross the very busy
Republica street to access the rest of town. An easy walk except for that. . .

This was my fourth stay in Oaxaca and Mr. G's 3rd - including two other one month stays.
We began the search for an apartment in October - way late already we knew. Finding most of the good ones taken, I started searching on Airbnb. Found one available near Merced Market that looked good, though expensive. Wanted 2 bdrs since we had friends who were interested in joining us for a week. Reserved and paid by end of October. A week before xmas and about the same before our Dec. 28 departure for Colombia, I heard from our landlord that the apartment could not be rented to us due to a new provision in this year's lease that prevented subletting. . .. . . . landlord felt bad about it, but we of course felt much worse. Very little time to find something good to replace it. Must say that airbnb did a good and fast job handling the refund, suggesting alternatives etc. Even offering extra $$ to change up to another of their available lodging. Didn't like any of them though, so decided instead to stay cheap for first two weeks till friends' arrival and then upgrade to a nicer hotel.

Spent first day in the city schmoozing language schools to attend for a couple weeks.
We'd been to Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca and Solexico before. Enjoyed both, but decided to look at some others. Settled on Oaxaca International Spanish school. Just got a good feel for the place from Ileana the director. Liked her flexibility. We arranged to do two private hours a day of conversation - two of us with teacher. I'm a perpetual intermediate, Mr. G has only recently begun studying but is nevertheless an advanced beginner. We enjoyed our time with lively young teacher Karen for a week. Then Mr. G decided to opt out of further instruction and I continued in a small conversation class with new teacher Juan - excellent.
Also went on one of the field trips (free to enrolled students) to San Martin Tilcajete
to the studio of Jacobo and Maria Angeles - among the best doing alebrijes (colorful fanciful
carved wood creatures).

Unfortunately throughout this visit Oaxaca's lovely zocalo was occupied by protesters.
Annual teachers' union protest was intensified this year because of additional conflicts and the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero. In addition to the small tents inside the zocalo and the protest banners wrapped around the gazebo, there is now an unbroken ring of vendors' booths surrounding that space. One can still sit at an outdoor cafe there, but the view is now of vendors and tents. The historic buildings around aren't really visible and no concerts are taking place on the gazebo. Hence brick and mortar businesses and restaurants surrounding the zocalo are really suffering. Cultural events have been moved to other venues, though it's not easy to find out exactly where. The state band cropped up suddenly one day at the old Teatro Macedonia, but not many people knew in advance. Saw a small dancon event one eve as we happened by one park.. . just by chance.

But the protest was peaceful and life in Oaxaca went on. Beautiful blue skies and perfect weather every day. Cool enough for a sweater in the am and pm and warming up to low 80s in afternoon. Festivals and weddings and quinceaneras going on everywhere. We attended a wonderful free concert one eve at the San Pablo Cultural Center - a classical
saxophonist (from Oaxaca) - who knew? He was excellent, as was the Bellas Artes orchestra performing with him. Even had the chance to thank them all when we sat at the next table later in the adjoining restaurant.

Other than the language classes and dinners out, Mr. G and I mostly chilled in town for the first couple weeks - planning to redo all the tourist sites when our friends (first-timers) arrived.
On Super Bowl night we happened upon the Ciao Italia restaurant on the Conzatti Park.
Game was on on big screen. We proceeded to have a jolly time with fans of both teams, as well as nonfans (e.g. me) yakking it up and sometimes watching over delicious salads, pizza, beer, and wine. We liked this little place so well we went back another night to try
pastas - also good and talked to the quite amiable owner. Had a good dinner at El Quinque, very nicely cooked fish - wish we'd known to bring our own wine. Ate twice at Biznaga - still one of our favorites - like the casual atmosphere and the inventive food - though agree with many that the service and friendliness/knowledge of staff isn't as good as it used to be. Really enjoyed Morocco (??!!) restaurant - cozy atmosphere and delicious
moroccan food. And managed to get to old standby Marco Polo for a late lunch of seafood cocktails and grilled fish one day.

Had chosen Hotel de los Pilares in Jalatlaco for our stay with our friends. Foolishly made a reservation with a cancellation penalty. When we arrived in town I went to check it out (just two blocks down from Casa Arnel) and discovered it had a huge pile of rocks and dirt in front
(ongoing street reconstruction in the nabe). oh no. Didn't look promising that work would be completed. Didn't want to lose deposit and inside hotel appeared charming. Fortunately it all worked well. Hotel has very nice though small rooms with big comfy king beds, lots of charm, nice bathrooms, pretty bar area and big covered roof restaurant area. Breakfasts
(not included) were wonderful - with wonderful coffee - and really friendly service. Reception staff OK - but no where near as congenial helpful as dining staff. Not much English spoken.
Lovely hotel really. Would stay there again. Only con - again - crossing busy Republica every day. Friends were happy with the place too.

On our last night at Arnel before moving to Pilares, the church ended its week long celebration of its saint's day. We were all awakened at 7am by the first fireworks.
Activity went on all day - concluding in late eve with BIG fireworks - in the air , on the street, etc. Constant music by small brass band with great female drummer. In fact, she was so enthusiastic she went on to do a drum solo after most spectators had left . . .. a talented woman! A great classic Mexico street party. Sorry our friends missed that!

Must also mention that earlier that same day I went to the weekly Sunday Zumba class outside at Parque Llano. Just like here in my DC healthclub the ladies had placed their water bottles etc on the ground to hold their place. 30 or so of us danced on concrete for a couple hours led by two very good male teachers positioned on one of the park statue platforms.

On another am Mr. G and I got up early and joined some other visitors for a casual birding outing in the close in suburb of San Felipe del Agua. Saw a couple new birds - and enjoyed a look at that neighborhood as well.

Once our friends arrived we went into high gear tourism. We women took a cooking class
with Nora from Alma de mi Tierra. Both Reyna, who gives a Zapotec class, and Pilar of Las Ollas Restaurant, were booked the week we wanted. Nora had great reviews as well, so we signed on. Can't fault the class. There were 10 of us. We started with a tour of the Merced Market, buying ingredients for our class - with Nora introducing us to interesting herbs, peppers, fruits, and other products. Walked over to her house near us in Jalatlaco. Lovely kitchen with plenty of space for us all to watch and participate. Plenty of hands on activity. Very well organized. Excellent food! Mango mousse, rice with mint, mole estofado, consome de hierb santa (like squash blossom soup), salsa de Miltomate con gusanitos de maguey (finally got to eat some of those maguey worms!) and empanadas de vegetales. All plus a few husbands who came later sat down to delicious dinner in beautiful dining area.

Next two days we reserved a driver to take us to sites in surrounding area. Day 1 we went to Teotitlan, Hierve del Agua, the Tule tree, and Mitla. In Teotitlan we visited the studio of Bulmaro Perez Mendoza - whom our driver characterized as "a very bright guy who does wonderful work." Bright guy indeed. I had een/heard the spinning, dyeing, weaving demos before, but Bulmaro's was excellent. He spoke at length in articulate English, Spanish, and Zapotec - great presentation. We learned a lot. Friends bought a beautiful small entry rug and we bought a smaller narrow wall hanging. We enjoyed seeing Hierve del Agua (boiling water), which we'd meant to visit on other trips. Long drive out there though for rather small reward. Maybe more worthwhile if you plan to swim in natural pool (looked cold!) or hike down to the bottom below the "falls" (45 minutes) to observe from below. Our driver seemed to want to downplay Mitla and we later realized why - he was concerned about his big suv. In fact, the car died as we started up from Mitla. He was horrified and embarrassed, put us in two tuk tuks and sent us to a tourist buffet resto outside of town and went off for car repair (Conveniently enough we were ready for lunch anyway). Though not exactly the place we'd have chosen ourselves, we had a decent collection of foods and drinks while we waited to hear from our driver. He arrived within an hour or so with a bad battery story and temporary repair. We zipped by the Tule tree on the way back home. He managed to get the car repaired that night and was back with us the following am.

Next day we went the opposite direction to San Martin Tilcajete and Ocotlan. Got another carving, color, and painting demo at Angeles studio in SMT - though this time no Engish speakers were available so our driver Roberto did a great job of simultaneous translation
during the demo. We schmoozed the store for a long time - finally settling on an alebrije each. It was market day in Ocotlan- so we stopped there briefly for light lunch and a look at the market - always fun. Then I wanted to go to see the famous knife maker - the Aguilar family nearby the market. Roberto knew just where to find him and how to convince his wife that he should show us around after he showered. Wonderful experience. They make beautiful knives of all sorts/swords/other cutlery from recycled steel - car parts etc - making all the pieces by hand with no industrialization. We were the only visitors that day, got a great demo (well, once Apolinar got out of the shower), and bought a few knives. Loved that studio - a hoarder's dream.

Next day we did the English tour of the Ethnobotanical Garden of the Santo Domingo Church.
The former convent attached to the church had used by the military for decades. When military vacated in the mid 90s the state wanted the space for a hotel and parking. Local artist/hero Francisco Toledo helped save the space from that fate. Instead it became a wonderful cultural museum and huge garden filled with cacti and other local trees and plants. The garden is huge and impressive - an interesting 2 hour tour . On an earlier day we had spent several hours in the cultural museum itself - extensive and interesting historical exhibits - but the best part may be the building itself, which is grand. Also on day 1 we visited the Rufino Tamayo museum - not of Tamayo's works - but Tamayo's collection of pre-Hispanic art. Really wonderful pieces beautifully displayed - this may be my favorite of Oaxaca's museums.

On our last day we lingered over our last hotel breakfast, then went to a concert by a youth orchestra outside next to the Santo Domingo church. Kids were so cute - including a few who stood and delivered poems (?) in Spanish. Did a final stroll down the main drag (Alcala),
had a salad at a zocalo cafe and watched the tents. Walked over to the grand Soledad Church where we sat outside in the big plaza and bought ice cream from one of the many ice cream vendors in the plaza. Then went on to a concert in the courtyard garden of Casa Colonial - a well-known b and b. Here we saw the largest gathering of ex-pats we'd seen during our stay. The concert was local jazz singer/chanteuse Marta Saenz. A good voice when she was singing (a lot of chit chat).

Last supper: A wonderful dinner sitting outside at Casa Oaxaca. Excellent food and service, lovely atmosphere. (We had also stopped by another eve for a drink when we noticed there was live music. Wish I knew who that group was because they were terrific - kind of Cuban/jazz sound. Don't think they had a name - great guitar player and singer.)

Can't conclude my Oaxaca report without mentioning that we four met yestravel and spouse from here on fodors for dinner another night at La Teca Restaurant. And we were there thanks to a recommendation here on fodors from ekscrunchy who writes so well about food wherever she goes! We 6 sat outside in the restaurant "back yard" and had great conversation over beer, wine, and the tasty varied items on La Tecla's tasting menu. A really fun evening!

Really - we never had a bad meal in Oaxaca - and we left so many places untried! Origen!
Danzantes! Mextiza! Itanoni! Pitioni many more . . . . . . .. . . ah well, next time

After 3 weeks in Oaxaca - on to Puebla!
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Old Mar 4th, 2015, 11:00 AM
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Thanks for this fabulous report. It is a great resource for our upcoming trip. Cannot wait to here about your Puebla experiences.....
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Old Mar 4th, 2015, 11:54 AM
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It was hard to leave Oaxaca, we felt like we could have lingered longer. Our driver Roberto insisted on driving us (at no charge) to the bus station (all of maybe a 1/2 mile). Know he felt badly about the car breakdown and was grateful for our laid back reaction to it all. .

We had bought tickets for 9am ADO bus from Oaxaca to Puebla.
Bus was comfortable and easy as usual. Seems like it took 4 1/2 hour or so. Read, watched some movies, enjoyed scenery - particularly the mountainous part of the trip with hills and hills of cacti.

Checked in at the Hotel Colonial - big old colonial hotel where we've stayed before. Super location near zocalo and very reasonably priced. Lots of charm. Big room with very high ceilings. Clean and charming - but not luxe.

Since it happened to be my birthday (and a big one at that) I felt well within my rights to insist that we have an immediate lunch at Las Ranas tacaria. It's a small casual very busy place that serves mainly tacos al pastor - tacos made with marinated pork cooked on a spit. (you'll see the spits in front of the restaurants). The delicious pork is folded in the taco (corn, flour, or pita bread like)along with fresh chopped onion, cilantro, lime, and pineapple.
So delicious. We each eat about 4 and wash them down with a beer. The place, as usual, is hopping. Can hardly think of a better birthday treat! Do a little walking around center of town and then take in the Amparo Museum. Lovely space as usual. Small but nice museum.

Rested a little and then went to dinner. Had thought to go to Meson Sacristia de la Compana, a cozy little place where we'd had some great meals on previous trips. But then thought we ought to try somewhere new - so went for La Casa del Mendruga - because it was very close to our hotel, advertised good wines and appeared to be a beautiful space.
It is a beautiful space, but cavernous - especially if you're practically the only table. Food was good enough, but not memorable. They were out of a few wines we asked for.. .
So, overall we were underwhelmed by that place.

We were practically the only customers in our hotel's cavernous courtyard at breakfast the next day. OK breakfast, nothing special. We set off after breakfast to look at Talavera pottery. Blanking on the name of the studio we went to at the moment. Talavera de la luz? Walked several blocks outside the historic center to get there. There were several small studios surrounding a courtyard. Talked to a very nice employee there. Looked around in the showrooms but didn't see anything that caught our eye. Friend had seen a plate in the hotel she admired so we asked if it was for sale.
It wasn't but they sent us to the store a few blocks away from whence it came - Cafe Celia - a cafe in front - and shelves of pottery in back. Needless to say she had lots to choose from. I wasn't in the market for any myself, having bought a few items on past trips. We two women took that opportunity to stop in a few other shops along the way.

Had a great dinner that night at El Mural de los Poblanos. Just a beautiful and colorful restaurant. Wonderful food and great service.

We've always liked Puebla, but this time I was particularly struck by its beauty - nice wide clean sidewalks, gorgeous old buildings - tiled and not. Seems classy and elegant.
As ekscrunchy said in her foody report recently - it's surprising that it's overlooked by many tourists - perhaps just written off as another large city - but really the historic center is gorgeous and food is great. Could have lingered there longer, too . . . but we were off to Mexico City!
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Old Mar 4th, 2015, 03:59 PM
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Welcome home! Wonderful weather to greet you...ugh! Nice reading about your time in Oaxaca and Puebla. Yes, a good meal and great company at La Teca. I think they had my favorite mole of the trip.
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Old Mar 5th, 2015, 09:59 AM
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We asked our hotel if it was possible to order a cab large enough for 4 of us and luggage (light for us, the two month travelers - heavy for friends, the two week travelers - but then they did look better). Thought that might be easier/cheaper than 2 cabs. Imagined them sending an upscale expensive SUV affair - in the way that hotels often arrange. Reception said she'd call something that sounded like a camioneta (small truck) - but a different Spanish word that I didn't recognize.Though we'd certainly taken plenty of cabs in Bogota and Puebla - and an occasional one in Oaxaca - this ride began the first of many taxi adventures in Mexico.

What arrived to take us to the bus station in Puebla was pretty much a regular sized taxi with a slightly larger than normal trunk and luggage rack on top. Hence the 4 of us crammed into taxi once again - but lucky me I always got elected to sit in front as the best (a relative term indeed) Spanish speaker. Hotel reception said luggage on top would be seguro - what that turned out to mean was that the driver would string a few ropes across the top to ensure the bags on top didn't fall off. Interesting too was the manner in which this driver had "pimped" his taxi. His car was just the usual old taxi model - but pimped out with the whole "glass pack?" and gauges and modified muffler etc going on. The ride did, on the other hand, cost only 20 pesos more than a "normal" taxi.

Bus ride on ADO to Mexico City was uneventful. Time enough to watch at least one more movie (this may have been the ride we watched "Saving Mr. Banks"). Some nice views of volcanoes. .

Somewhat wiser by experience, we decided to take 2 taxis from the bus station to our lodging in Mexico City. Fortunately our Airbnb host had provided some very specific instructions - including several sentences in Spanish - to his home in the neighborhood of San Miguel de Chapultepec near the park.

A little bit of background re our choice of lodging. After several visits to Mex City staying in zocalo area, Mr. G proposed that we stay in a different area this time just for change - perhaps near Chap. park. Looked into lodging around there and what I liked look of seemed expensive. I was in my airbnb mode then (this was before the Oaxaca host cancelled us!), so noticed a great looking open modern house with lots of excellent reviews - near the park. Went for it. It is the rehabbed home of young professional couple - they live in a suite on the third floor and rent rooms to guests on second floor. We each had a nice modern room on second floor and shared a small new bathroom. There was a nice little seating area in front. A third room (with its own bath) was also off the seating area - occupied by 3 young Brazilians while we were there. House also came with two well behaved dogs - a sleepy St. Bernard and a smaller shitzu like one. No trouble at all, and great for dog lovers like our friend.

Our host met us at the door and gave us a great orientation to the area, map, and cell phone programmed with a few useful numbers. Except for not being able to walk to enough restos, etc. the house worked well for us and was quite reasonably priced. It also gave us the feel of living for a time in an upper middle class nabe in the city. Think this neighborhood is in process of being rediscovered. It was quiet for Mexico on a short narrow street.

After we settled in we walked several blocks to a small Italian cafe resto and had a light lunch. Then proceeded over to the park for a quick look around - lovely and quiet there late on a Wednesday afternoon. We were all so pooped later on that we couldn't bear the idea of hassling over
restaurant choices, taxis to Condesa, etc. We walked back to the neighborhood Italian joint and ate pasta and salads. Definitely had the feel of a neighborhood restaurant - old couple with their dog, younger couple with baby in stroller.

Next am we ate continental breakfast set out by our host. Good coffee, fruit, cereal, toast, yogurt. Nice modern open kitchen and big dining table. Small open courtyard in center of house. Very pleasant. Then we walked back to the park for more serious museum visits (Tamayo Museum and Contemporary Art Museum) and the Chapultepec Castle. Since it was yet another beautiful day - and clear for Mex City - views from the Castle were wonderful.

Walked back "home" and collapsed on the patio. Made a reservation for dinner at Azul Condesa. They were very busy on this Thursday eve. Don't know if it was different on lower floor, but upper floor where we were seated was full of "us." Appeared mostly to be gringos working in the city.
Service was somewhat slow, but professional. Food was quite good. Taxied over there of course.

On day 2, after breakfast at home, we taxied to the newish Folk Art Museum. This took some doing, as the taxi driver didn't know where it was - despite our being armed with 1) address 2) cross streets 3) map to show him. Initially frustrating, we eventually came to expect drivers not to know.
The more I thought about it the more unsurprising it seemed. Not sure how many tourists to city - going to museums etc - actually hail taxis on street. Many locals use taxis but may not be going to museums etc. just going about their business. And then there's the fact that the city is ENORMOUS! As we grew what we knew to be very near the folk art museum, the driver stopped and asked another driver about location.

Spent several hours in the folk art museum and thought it was wonderful. Walked over to the Bellas Artes - such a beautiful building. We'd all been in before, seen the Tiffany curtain etc. Overcome by hunger we plopped down in the lovely cafe there and had a nice light lunch that took wayyyyy too long - slow service despite not many diners. Wanted to get to the National Palace before it closed. On the way out we were waylaid by several students who wanted to do the proverbial interview in English - my third of this trip. As an ESL teacher, I feel obligated to comply. So I sat with a young woman while she asked me name, where from, what I like/dislike about Mexico, how it's different from my country etc. Meanwhile her friend videoed us. . . Then we ran across to Sears to check out a recommended view from 8th floor there. There is a cafe up there that looked nice enough. But having viewed the city from the Chap. castle the other day we decided not to linger. On to the zocalo, which was nicely "unoccupied" when we arrived.

I never get tired of viewing the murals in the palace - and the beautiful garden outside the palace. We spent the remainder of the afternoon there - ending with the military lowering of the big flag in the center of the zocalo. Taxied back home. By this time we're having driver drop us
off on main street between two specific cross streets - as our home is on a narrow short street unknown to all. Still we often need to get out the map etc etc.

After a little restaurant research on line, I made us a reservation at another Condesa location - Vineria. This turned out to be a delightful place. Small cozy very attentive service. Great food and wine. Quiet with just a few other diners. Had them call us a taxi for way home.

Next day Mr. G was feeling a little under the weather, so we 3 left him home and set out in taxi for the new Soumaya Museum in Polanco. Wonder of wonders, we got in the cab and I started with "Museo de Soumaya" - and he KNEW! This seems to be a love it/hate it kind of museum for many. Very modern building, free to all. Carlos Slim's collection. Hence a bit of everything. I thought it odd that paintings were suspended from ceiling so that fronts and backs were exposed. But my friend, an art historian/appraiser type, enjoyed learning a bit about the provenance of the pieces from the backs. What do I know . . .

Tried to go then to the Jumex Museum next door, but it - like several others on this trip - was mostly closed for mounting of future exhibits. We did have light lunch in the Jumex Cafe outside. Stepped into the big mall behind the museums and found it to look like - a mall. Walked a few blocks in Polanco nearby just to get a feel for the upscale residential area. More tree lined streets, some nice houses - had read that many are considered to be "California Colonial" built in the 50s.

Home mid afternoon so we could get ready to go to a concert that night at UNAM - Mexico City's big university. (Enrollment some 330,000 students!) When I had emailed our host several months ago I mentioned that we'd all been to DF before and visited Teotihuacan, Anthro museum, etc. and would be interested in doing some different cultural things - depending on what was happening. He told me he would be buying tickets for what he thought promised to be a very interesting concert at UNAM on our last night - and offered to buy us tickets as well. Googled the performers -
a Chinese pipa player and the UNAM Philharmonic and also read that the UNAM concert hall was considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world. Also tickets were cheap!
Under $20 each. Went for it.

On our host's advice we went out to the university early enough to take a look around and have dinner at Azul y Oro
next to the concert hall. It was long taxi ride out to UNAM, but interesting to see that area - the stadium, etc. Went in yet another contemporary art museum on the campus. Continuing on a theme, it was a nice space that was mostly empty except for a few very strange things. Had a good dinner at Azul y Oro - same chef, management as Azul Condesa.
Though it got quite warm in there as the restaurant filled up.
Here was a funny thing about the Azuls: in Condesa two of us ordered pear and roquefort salad with cashews. no cashews.
At UNAM I ordered green apple salad - half way through I realized there were no apples. Pointed out to server who then brought me a dish of apples. Not a huge deal for me - but a pretty major slip for a "name" restaurant. . . .

We all really enjoyed the concert. It was indeed a great concert hall - festival seating - hard to imagine a bad seat.
Three beautiful Chinese women (in gorgeous sparkly long dresses) played the sheng, the zheng, and the pipa. All these instruments were new to us. At first we liked the zheng most - looking more like a horizontal harp or autoharp - with a much sweeter sound than the other two instruments. But the second solo by the pipa player was truly amazing, if only because of the technical competence of the performer - amazing hands - and variety of sounds produced. (When I told a relative that we'd heard these instruments - he said "Don't those sound like someone strangling a cat?") just another view. ha ha. But all four of us thought it was intriguing.
And loved the opportunity.

Then came a trip lowlight. We had blithely neglected to ask our host an important question. How do we get out of UNAM after the concert at 10pm? I suppose we foolishly imagined many taxis waiting in front of, or cruising by, the concert hall,. not. the occasional one passed - having been called by someone else. Most people drove it seemed. While we had a radio taxi number programmed on our phone - it was from the stand near our home neighborhood far away. We called our host but he didn't pick up. As time ticked by with no taxis, tempers began to fray and all had the predictable different ideas about the best place to find taxi, next steps, blah blah. Stopped several locals, and all seemed to agree that a taxi passing through the campus would be a fairly unusual occurrence even after big cultural event. They all directed us off campus to the main street. So there we were walking on the UNAM campus at 10pm pretty much alone - about 10 minutes to a main thoroughfare. Then we were passed by many cabs. But, at last, one stopped. As luck would have it, he turned out to be the most clueless taxi driver of all. He drove in right direction, but ultimately went farther than he needed to. Don't think he was trying to scam us, rather he was just clueless, despite address,cross streets, and map (well it was dark). When we realized we'd gone too far, we let him know. With new directions he backtracked and ....eventually . . . we made it home.

We had meant to take the Metro a time or two in DF, but stops were 10 or 15 minutes walking from our house so never got around to it. And we were four . .

We were clearly scammed though by one driver who took us home from the zocalo. At some point the meter hit 100 pesos and rolled over - not to 101, but to 127 and continuing. Oh well, that was his tip. But what the heck, they were all cheap cab rides by our DC standard.

And speaking of DC. . Needless to say we were thrilled to return to gray, icy, rainy, snowy, cold weather here. I'm seconding yestravel assessment above - ugh.

Bwwaaahhh. .. take me back to Mexico.
glover is offline  
Old Mar 5th, 2015, 11:02 AM
  #6  
 
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Sounds like you had a nice time in Mex City.
I'm with you - back to Mexico until Spring really comes to DC and stays.
yestravel is offline  
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