Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mexico: Mexico City, Amecameca, Taxco, Cholula, Puebla, Teotihuacan, Villahermosa and Palenque

Judy's been trying to get me to Mexico City for years and I've resisted. I'd been superficially into Mexico: Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali, in the State of Baja California; Sonoyta, Puerto Penasco, Nogales, and Agua Prieta, in the State of Sonora; and even down as far as Nuevo Casas Grandes and Colonia Juarez in the State of Chihuahua. One of the best tour guides in Mexico City is the father of Judy's nephew by marriage, John, and he had been encouraging us to go there and use his father as a guide. I finally relented and I'm glad I did. The Mexico City vicinity is a wonderful destination, as good as many of the sexier destinations we normally think of. I highly recommend it. It has everything you want in travel: great and unusual food, interesting and varying culture,  a long and fascinating history and fabulous architecture and natural wonders.

Travel to Mexico City:
On Thursday, March 8, 2018, we flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City on a direct Delta flight, leaving LAX at 9:35 a.m. and arriving at CDMX at 3:15 p.m. (a 3 hour, 40 minute flight and two time zones ahead).

Mexico City:
John's father, Arnoldo Pedroza, and John's brother, Victor, met us at the airport and took us to the Hotel Maria Cristina, in the heart of Mexico City. The Maria Cristina is very nice, reasonably priced and close to the government center, financial district and Chapultepec Park. The Mexico City traffic is horrible. It must have taken 45 minutes to get to the hotel. After getting settled we ventured across the street to Mexitaco and had a chorizo taco, some lamb chopped into bits and various wonderful salsas, one with an avocado base, one from yellow peppers, and one with red peppers, onions and tomato that was very hot. A large mall was nearby and we got some gelato (hazelnut and pistachio - fantastic).
     Mexico: Arrival in Mexico City  (Judy)

Friday, March 9, Judy and I went down the block for breakfast at La Casa de Tono, a chain restaurant. Judy got pozole, a soup of mixed pork meat and pork head. I got sope cochinita, a spicy slow roasted pork. They had four salsas at the table: (a) habanero, (b) tomatilla and avocado, (c) red chiles, and (d) green chiles and tomatilla. We found one of the distinguishing features of Mexico City to be the varieties of salsa and the salsa tends to be quite spicy. Our guide for the day, Victor Pedroza, took us to a number of places downtown, including, Moctezuma's Palace, the National Palace, right next door, which included the amazing mural by Diego Rivera of the history of Mexico, and the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, also next door, the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. Then to El Hidalguense for a late lunch, probably the best meal of the trip. The main dish was lamb barbacoa wrapped in maguey leaves, but we also enjoyed strawberry guava juice and tacos made with blue tortillas with interesting ingredients including chinicuilles (little worms), gusanos de maguey (big worms) and escarioles (ant eggs). The salsas included habanero, adobo and green chiles.

Saturday, March 10, Victor Pedroza picked us up at 9:00 a.m. and we went to Pattiserie Dominque, a French restaurant, which is Victor's favorite. Judy got huevos rancheros and I got a croquette, a sandwich with pork, Gruyere cheese and an over-easy egg. It was okay good. Victor had recommended against El Hidalguense, so it just shows again that tastes differ greatly. From there we drove to Coyoacan. Judy and I walked into the plaza and visited the parish church of San Juan Bautista, built between 1520 and 1552, on of the three oldest parish churches in Mexico City. Then we visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, the former home of Frida, wife of Diego Rivera, which Victor and his mother stood in line at for tickets while we walked into the plaza area. Judy has since turned into a Frida Kahlo devotee, excited to see her anywhere she shows up (which is actually quite a bit). Then we drove a short distance to the Leon Trotsky home, home of the exiled Russian, now a museum, where he was murdered. It provided context and detail to a fun piece of world history I vaguely recalled. Then to the Museum of Dolores Olmedo, with the best collection of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera paintings, wonderful grounds and buildings, and best of all, home of a number of Mexican hairless dogs, called xoloitzcuintli or xolo, also the dog Dante in the movie "Coco." Xolos were found with the Aztecs and used by them, among other things, for food.  Finally, we went to the canals of Xochimilco to get an idea of what Mexico City was like when it was a lake at the time of the Aztecs. We got on one of many, many garish looking boats propelled by men using long poles and went careening down a canal full of boats. It was unusual and interesting, but I was happy when it was over. For dinner we went to the Casa de los Azulejos, or house of tiles, in downtown Mexico City, to eat at Sanborns. We went there specifically to eat enchiladas Suizas, chicken enchiladas in tomatillo and cream sauce, originated there. Judy got it and I ordered a poblano mole. Surprisingly, I found the enchiladas Suizas quite bland and the mole too dark chocolaty for my taste. One of the few meals we had in Mexico that was not great.
     Mexico City: Dolores Olmedo Museum  (Judy)

Sunday, March 11, we were on our own. We walked to and from Chapultepec Park which was quite a long walk. Some kind of a marathon was going on and crowds lined the street. We first visited the Chapultepec Zoo which I have heard about since a boy as a great zoo, one that has pandas. I was quite disappointed in it. The crowds were so thick that it was difficult to move around. We did see quite a few African animals, but I was glad to get out. We visited an outdoor food area and I had a torta Cubana, a huge sandwich which many different kinds of meat. It was very, very good. We visited the National Museum of Anthropology which was pretty amazing and then the Modern Art Museum which was just okay.
     Mexico City: Paseo de la Reforma and Chapultepec Park  (Judy)
     Mexican Gray Squirrel  (Bob)
     Inca Dove  (Bob)

Popo, Izta, Amecameca and Tlalmanalco:
Monday, March 12, we ate breakfast again at El Tono. I got several tostadas and a tamarind drink and Judy got enchiladas verde. Arnold Pedroza, our guide, picked us up at 9:30 a.m. and we headed south out of the city and drove up to the 11,159 foot saddle between Popocatepetl ("Popo") and Iztaccihuatl ("Izta") called the Pass of Cortes. Popo, the second tallest mountain in Mexico at 17,802 feet, was closed to climbing because it was erupting, but we stopped at a visitors center and got some views of it, although cloud covered. Then we drove over to the trailhead for Izta at about 13,000 feet. Izta is the third tallest mountain in Mexico at 17,160 feet. It was a rough dirt road and we walked a short distance and felt the effects of the high altitude. We drove back down the mountain to Amecameca and ate at Panes Y Pasteles de Tenango. We enjoyed tlalpeno soup, cecina (beef with guacamole, beans and cheese), tortilla soup, Aztec soup, enchiladas verde and cajeta crepe (got milk dulce) which was very good. We walked over to the nearby Templo de la Virgen de las Asuncion, which had been greatly damaged by the earthquake earlier in the year and was undergoing extensive restoration. On our way back to Mexico City we stopped in Tlalmanalco at the Church of San Luis Obispo, which also was significantly damaged by the earthquake and closed. It was one of the early churches built by the Franciscans. 
     Mexico: Amecameca and Tlalmanalco  (Judy)
     Church of San Luis Obispo - Tlalmanalco  (Bob)

Cuernavaca and Taxco:
Tuesday, March 13, we were picked up by Arnold at 9:00 a.m. for a trip south to Taxco. On our way we stopped along the road for breakfast, then in Cuernavaca at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, one of the 14 monasteries of Popocatepetle. Taxco is a beautiful city on a hill of white houses and red roofs populating winding streets. We learned about silver, what Taxco is famous for, then had a wonderful lunch at Del Angel Inn, where our guide arranged for us to have salsa made of jumilies (stinkbugs), something Taxco is also known for. We visited the Church of Santa Prisca, right next door, then a silversmith next door to that, where Judy got a necklace, then we walked down the road to our vehicle for the long drive back to Mexico City.
     Mexico: Taxco  (Judy)
     Del Angel Inn Restaurante - Taxco  (Bob)
     Jumiles (Stink Bug) Salsa  (Bob)
     Church of Santa Prisca - Taxco  (Bob)
     Mexico: Fine Dining at El Hidalguense, Casa de los Azulejos, and Del Angel Inn  (Judy)

Virgin of Guadalupe and Teotihuacan:
Wednesday, March 14, Arnold picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for a visit to the New and Old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They were fascinating and I wish we'd had more time there. Then we drove out to Teotihuacan, visiting the  Temple of the Feathered Serpent, walking the Avenue of the Dead, and seeing the spectacular Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Both of these activities were much better than I'd anticipated. Arnold took us to lunch at a nearby buffet restaurant and then drove us to Benito Juarez Int'l Airport for a flight to Villahermosa, leaving at 7:38 p.m. on Volaris and arriving at 9:13 p.m.
     Mexico City: Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe  (Judy) 

Our friends, Kasey and Julia, serving as heads of the Mexico Villahermosa Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, met us at the airport. We picked up a rental car, then stopped for a wonderful dinner at Tacos de la Estancia before going to the Hilton Inn by Hilton Villahermosa where we stayed while there.

Thursday, March 15, we went to a zone conference that Kasey and Julia were involved in and stayed for an hour or so. Then we drove out to the Mayan ruins at Comalcalco, built of fired red bricks. It was spectacular, but what really stood out for me was the humid heat (my shirt was drenching wet at the end of our visit) and the number of large iguanas lounging around the ruins. Afterwards, we visited a small chocolate plantation and purchased some chocolate, then drove back to Villahermosa where we met Kasey and Julia for dinner at Macario, which had wonderful barbecue.
     Mexico, Villahermosa Day 1: Missionaries, Comalcalco, Cacao, Groceris, and Barbecue  (Judy)
     Comalcalco - Tabasco State, Mexico  (Bob)
     Black Spiney-Tailed Iguana  (Bob)

Friday, March 16, Kasey and Julia picked us up to drive to the Mayan ruins at Palenque. The amazing lime stone buildings set in a mountainous green countryside were spectacular. Afterwards, they took us to a tall, thin waterfall, known as the Cascades de Misol-Ha which we were able to walk underneath and behind without getting wet. We drove into the City of Palenque and enjoyed dinner at the Restaurante Estado de Cuenta in the Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque and then got to visit their home afterward.
     Mexico, Villahermosa Day 2: Palenque and Misol-Ha  (Judy)
     Palenque - Chiapas State, Mexico  (Bob)

Saturday morning, March 17, we went for a drive with Kasey and Julia around Villahermosa, in some rural portions where Kasey often rides has bike. We saw some herons and odd cows in the fields. We went to lunch at someone's home, they knew, and got wonderful grilled whole fish (that looked like tilapia). They had to leave to attend a zone conference some distance away, so Judy and I went to La Venta (zoo and archaeological park) and saw Olmec heads and other archaeological artifacts, jaguars, peccaries and other local animals in cages and coati-mundis walking the grounds. Afterwards we went walking along the lagoon and saw a crocodile and tried some boiled corn covered with cheese and spices from a cart (it was great). We dropped off our rental car at the airport and flew from Villahermosa back to Mexico City, leaving at 9:39 p.m. on Volaris and arriving at 11:25 p.m. We took an Uber back to the Maria Cristina Hotel where we'd stayed before.
     Cattle Egret  (Bob)
     Great-Tailed or Mexican Grackle  (Bob)
     White-Nosed Coati or Coatimundi  (Bob)
     Morelet's (or Mexican Crocodile)  (Bob)

Huejotzingo, Cholula and Puebla:
Sunday, March 18, Arnold Pedroza picked us up for a trip south again, this time to Puebla. Our first stop was in Huejotzingo to one of the 14 monasteries of Popocatepetl. It was probably my favorite church in Mexico, one of the early churches built by the Franciscans with a wonderful mural of the 12 apostles of Mexico. From there it was a short drive to Cholula where we saw the shocking (beautiful) yellow Church and Convent of San Gabriel surrounded by a huge courtyard. The church had lots of murals relating to the Virgin of Guadalupe. We bought some dried grasshoppers in front of the church which we used later in the day on a taco. We visited a small museum about the Great Pyramid of Cholula which is mostly covered by dirt and appears to be a hill with a church on top, the Church of Our Lady of Remedies. The line to go inside the pyramid which is underground was too long and we decided to forgo the hike up to the church in order to get to Puebla. I want to go back to Cholula to visit those two sites and to get one of the iconic photos of the church in the foreground with Popo in the background. We drove to Puebla and had a wonderful meal at Pepita en Comal. Judy had a green mole, I had red mole and Arnold had chocolate mole. I used a tortilla, some guacamole and then added the dried crickets to have a cricket taco - not bad. We walked through the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Puebla, the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman and its very richly decorated chapel with gold everywhere. Puebla is another place we could come back to and spend some time. Lots to do and see which we missed. It was another late drive back to Mexico City after a magnificent day of sightseeing.
     Monastery of San Miguel Arcangel - Huejotzingo  (Bob)
     Church and Convent of San Gabriel - Cholula  (Bob)
     Chapulines (Grasshopper) Taco  (Bob)

Mexico City:
Monday, March 19, we were on our own without a guide. We contemplated much and did very little. We got an Uber to Hosteria de Santo Domingo which we'd called and were told was open, then nobody would open the door. So we started to walk to another restaurant we'd seen with Victor that he said was one of his favorites, Casino Espanol. We got a very nice chocolate drink and one dish of red chilaquiles with a beef steak and another with an egg, beef steak, cactus pad and beans. We'd frittered away most of the morning and had to get back to the hotel, pick up our bags and take Uber to the airport.

Mexico City to Los Angeles:
We left Mexico City on Delta at 4:52 and arrived at LAX at 8:22 p.m.

Mexico is an A+ destination. Much better than more exotic sounding places further away. We'll be back. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so excited to read those last words: We'll be back. I loved everything about this trip - except getting my camera stolen at the airport. However, I still hope to do a few blog posts with what I had on my phone and the pictures sent to us by Arnold. Such a great trip.