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Tourist Spots in D.F.

Mexico City Airport- Terminal 1 Meeting Point

After 30 minutes spent on the innerwebs trying to find an answer to this question, I thought I would share it with any other impending Mexico City airport visitors. (Consider it a follow-up to my “Navigating the Mexico City Airport ” post from last year.)

If you are trying to either go pick someone up or meet another arriving friend at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport (AICM), Terminal 1, you will discover that there are two doors from which people arriving on international flights can leave the secured area. I am not 100% clear on how they differentiate who goes out which door (either E2 or E3, which are just on the other side of baggage claim & customs). If you get there early enough, the TV monitors outside the door should state which door people from a certain flight are exiting. However, if you get there after the flight’s arrival time, it probably won’t be on the TV monitor anymore.

So, you may be wondering, where is a good place to meet someone if you am not sure which door they are coming out of?? There is one restaurant on the lower level of the airport in Terminal 1 that is located BETWEEN the E2 and E3 departure doors. I thought I had this all figured out from the map on the AICM website, which is why I confidently directed my dad to come meet me at the name of a restaurant that I discovered no longer exists– it’s now called something different. :(

BUT NOW I know the name of this restaurant as well as location, so I can share with any inquisitive readers a definitive meeting point in Terminal 1!  And even if the name changes, you can at least describe with precision its location to any arriving friends and family.

So here's the map of the international arrivals section of Terminal 1 at the Mexico City airport. People will arrive through either E2 or E3 on the ground floor. You see the icon of the fork & knife, right next to the "You are Here" sign? That is where the restaurant is. At present, it is called Baron Rojo. Its entrance faces the E2 exit door.

The restaurant is Baron Rojo (at least as of July 2010). It has a bar, so you could go sit there & just order a soda if you don’t want to pay for food while you’re waiting. Or, you could meet right outside the restaurant. This would be basically right where the “You are Here” map is located (of which I took the above photo).

Here's one view of the restaurant, taken when I was standing in front of the E2 exit doors. You can see the restaurant is literally right next to where people come out of the E2 exit (those white glass doors on the right are in front of the secured baggage/customs area). If people end up arriving at E3, they just have to walk forward towards the long hallway & look for the overhead sign that says E2. It is a 1-minute walk.

And here's another dark shot of the inside of the Baron Rojo restaurant.

That’s my hot tip on an easy meeting place inside Terminal 1 of the Mexico City airport. Good luck & happy flying!

Sluggy McSluggerson recounts some Mexico Highlights!

Ok, so I’ve been a slug. Every now and then, I like to do a blog post outlining all the riveting topics I’ve been meaning to write about, promise you that I will actually write about them, and then never execute on this.  Which sucks, because we have been some really amazing places in Mexico that I would highly recommend, if I ever got around to recommending them. :)

As a temporary fix to this, I thought I’d quickly highlight the best of my “Haven’t Blogged About Them” Mexico spots (and then vaguely promise to elaborate on them at an unforeseen later date).

IXTAPA: When I was trapped at school one weekend, John abandoned me for a much more glamorous weekend with a former boss of his who was in Ixtapa for the week with family. They stayed at this crazy-pretty house on the beach called Casa del Sol. It is located right next to a ski-lift (essentially), so he didn’t even have to exert himself going up & down to the beach, and the live-in staff of 3 took care of every food & drink need. If you have money to burn & a week to spare, this sounds like a great place to do it.

The view over Ixtapa's bay from Casa del Sol

The view over Ixtapa's bay from Casa del Sol

A glimpse of the pool & house that John had to suffer in for 3 painful days... :) So jealous!! (see the house website for more pics)

GOOD VIEW OF MEXICO CITY + GOOD TACOS: To enable friend Kim to experience the monstrosity that is Mexico City, we drug her up to the top of the Torre Latinoamericana, which holds the impressive distinction of “used to be the tallest tower in Latin America”! What excitement!! But, they have a good viewing platform (once you get outside so as to avoid sweating to death in the greenhouse portion). We recovered by stuffing ourselves with beer and tacos at El Huequito, top contender for “best tacos al pastor” in DF.

Kim observes that Mexico City just won't quit!!

Kim observes that Mexico City just won't quit!!

This tower is so cool, it even has a mascot...?

This tower is so cool, it even has a mascot...?

After that rigorous multi-story elevator ride, we relax with beers & tacos al pastor galore at El Huequito.

After that rigorous multi-story elevator ride, we relax with beers & tacos al pastor galore at El Huequito.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE: During the swine-flu frenzy, we escaped town to check out San Miguel de Allende, generally known as “Hub of Retired Gringos”. This place has some of the most beautiful B&Bs I’ve seen in Mexico, but know that you will be paying US prices for the privilege of staying in them. :) The town is lovely & rife with tasty restaurants and trendy galleries. Food was amazing at a spot called “The Restaurant“.

The iconic pink Parroquia of San Miguel de Allende.

The iconic pink Parroquia of San Miguel de Allende.

"The Restaurant" (aptly named, eh?) is a good place to go for a manly man's drink.

"The Restaurant" (aptly named, eh?) is a good place to go for a manly man's drink.

GUANAJUATO: The second half of our swine-flu trip, we stayed in Guanajuato– town of crazy tunnels & colorful houses. It was cute & felt v. European with loads of plazas to lounge about outside. If you drive, abandon your car at first apparent parking garage below the city & walk everywhere.  Stayed in Hotel Casa del Agua & were v. pleased with it. Employee walked with us to get our car & rode with us back to the hotel parking lot (a standard service at that hotel, which gives you a feel for how much of a cluster the roads are in Guanajuato. This hotel also created our new Mexico travel requirement of “hotel bathroom must have solid toilet that flushes plus a vent that vents outside of the room”.  During the 1.5 days of food poisoning aftermath, we realized how lucky we were that Hotel Casa del Agua had exactly that.

I ate at La Capellina repeatedly while John was MIA; food was great. Go to the fancy-pants Hotel Refugio Casa Colorada on the hill for drinks but no need to spend the money/effort to stay there.

The view from the Casa Colorado restaurant terrace (note fall-preventative glass paneling).

The view from the Casa Colorado restaurant terrace (note fall-preventative glass paneling).

And another shot of colorful Guanajuato

And another shot of colorful Guanajuato

HUATULCO for our ANNIVERSARY: Huatulco, aka Las Bahías de Huatulco, is made up of 9 bays along the Oaxaca coast. Some of the bays are part of a National Park & hence untouched by development, resulting in some of the most amazing, pristine beaches I’ve seen in Mexico. (e.g. if you’ve seen the Mexican movie “Y Tu Mamá Tambien“, its famous beach scenes were shot here on Bahia de Cacaluta“). You can rent a small boat at the marina, and the captain will take you as many bays as you want & stop as often as you want to snorkel/check out the beach. I recommend getting one with a roof or the sun will roast you. Not sure how much we paid, but I want to say around $800-$900 pesos for as long as we wanted to be out? But I could be way off. The very last bay is developed & has loads of restaurants where you can eat amazingly fresh shrimp cocktail & fish.

The boat we rented to peruse the beaches & bays of Huatulco

The boat we rented to peruse the beaches & bays of Huatulco & its trusty captain.

Tasty seafood at Bahia San Agustin in Huatulco

Tasty seafood at Bahia San Agustin in Huatulco

One of the pristine beaches along the Oaxaca coastline

One of the pristine beaches along the Oaxaca coastline

We stayed at a gorgeous house called Villa Escondida located on the eastern-most beach (La Bocana). Whoever designed/built this house did an amazing job– infinity pool, hot tub on the roof, water feature in the entry way, master suite w/amazing views, a secret bar down on the beach. It’s a bit spendy, but we lucked out negotiating a deal due to post-swine-flu tourism slump. This place would be brilliant to rent out w/8 people, though you would have to battle for who gets the Mar Vista suite.

The couple, Elsa & Armando, that care for the place are super friendly & accommodating, picking you up from the airport in an air-conditioned SUV (so you can slowly acclimate to the humidity) & whipping up welcome drinks once you arrive.  Armando’s mango mojitos & hamburgers are both to die for– best hamburger I’ve had in Mexico to date. This beach was only marginally developed when we were there in May 2010, so it was v. quiet & private, yet had a great “meat & booze” restaurant around the corner. Only caveat– the Copalita River meets the ocean here, so it’s not a great beach for swimming- more for surfing, so if you are a “must be able to swim in ocean outside my door” type, be forewarned. But I personally found the beach to be absolutely beautiful.

The entryway into Villa Escondida

The entryway into Villa Escondida

And a view of the house from the beach

And a view of the house from the beach

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: This is not in Mexico. However, they did have lucha wine.

Luchador Shiraz: I recall it costing just enough to prevent you from buying it as a joke gift.

Luchador Shiraz: I recall it costing just enough to prevent you from buying it as a joke gift.

THE PYRAMIDS a.k.a. TEOTIHUACAN: In June, I finally made it to the pyramids with visiting friend Emily. If you come to Mexico City, it is totally worth the trip. Teotihuacan is located about 45 minutes north of the city, assuming no traffic drama. You can take a bus from the Terminal Central del Norte (reachable via metro to “Autobuses del Norte” on Yellow Line #5 ), just confirm it’s going to the Zona Arq. Teotihuacan or Teotihuacan ruinas or Piramides. Rumor has it tickets are ~$70 pesos for return trip. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi for the day for maybe $600 pesos to take you there, wait for you, and bring you back at your convenience. Obviously more spendy, but not bad split amongst 3-4 folks.

Here're Emily & I in front of the Pyramid of the Sun. This is the one you can climb up to the top.

Here're Emily & I in front of the Pyramid of the Sun. This is the one you can climb up to the top.

Other tips:

  • Bring water with you, as it isn’t sold within the ruins (just at stores outside).
  • Wear a hat/sunscreen; there is *no* shade out there & you will burn the crap out of yourself.
  • Leave early to beat crowds & the heat– I recommend leaving DF at 7:30AM.
  • I like to start near the Pyramid of the Sun (Puerta 5, if you drive). You can climb all the way up this one, which is much cooler if done before every other tourist & their pet dog arrives. Here’s a good map.
  • If you’re not going to pay for a guided tour (they do have them in English), I strongly recommend reading up a bit before you go or buying a book. Otherwise you will have 5,000 questions that the 10 plaques will not answer & you might not find the experience as interesting.
Our guide pressured us to act like morons while on the Pyramid of the Moon. Hot tip: if you stand on that lower platform (just above Emily's right foot) & yell your name, there are cool echoes. That is basically the only thing I recall from our guided tour.

Our guide pressured us to act like morons while on the Pyramid of the Moon. Hot tip: if you stand on that lower platform (just above Emily's right foot) & yell your name, there are cool echoes. That is basically the only thing I recall from our guided tour.

OAXACA: It’s pronounced Wah-ha-ka for anyone wondering how that combination of letters can possibly form a word. The drive between DF & Oaxaca City through the mountains was actually quite beautiful– duration of 5-6 hours depending on time required to escape Mexico City. The town is lovely, the food/mezcal are fantastic, and the archaelogical site (Monte Alban) offers sweet views over the whole valley. Another town with lots of cute B&Bs/hotels. We stayed at Los Pilares Hostal, which was very nice & cost ~$1000 pesos, but is a few blocks away from the action. The Centro Cultural Santo Domingo (an ex-convent) is worth checking out. For food, hit La Olla for comida & La Biznaga for dinner; Los Danzantes is good for the mezcal but I’d skip the food… not amazing for the $$ (except for the magical Hoja de Santa appetizer– a crazy-big leaf stuffed w/cheese). Also, La Farola was a great cantina for further mezcal sampling.

The toll road between Mexico City & Oaxaca is well-maintained and takes you through gorgeous scenery-- cactus forests, vibrant red soil, mountains, etc etc.

The toll road between Mexico City & Oaxaca is well-maintained and takes you through gorgeous scenery-- cactus forests, vibrant red soil, mountains, etc etc.

The vegetation outside the convent in the city of Oaxaca.

The vegetation outside the convent in the city of Oaxaca.

Me perched atop one of the many formations at Monte Alban, just a few minutes from downtown Oaxaca.

Me perched atop one of the many formations at Monte Alban, just a few minutes from downtown Oaxaca.

MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY IN COYOACAN (SEPT 16): The festivities for Dia de la Independencia start the nite before (Sept 15) at 11PM with the El Grito (the cry of independence). If I teach you nothing else, let it be that Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican Independence Day. :) Instead of joining in the craziness in the Zocalo, we went with some friends to the plaza in Coyoacan. In a nutshell, there is much excitement, food, carnival rides, fireworks, music, dancing, yelling, etc., though all of these to an even greater degree when it isn’t raining out. (boo) It is worth experiencing at least once– though try to learn some of the relevant songs/chants in advance to better blend in. 😉

We are all decorated-up with my stars & John's flag pin. Sandro is Mexican so apparently he doesn't feel like he needs to prove his support for Mexico by cheesily wearing patriotic colors... ;)

We are all decorated-up with my stars & John's flag pin. Sandro is Mexican so apparently he doesn't feel like he needs to prove his support for Mexico by cheesily wearing patriotic colors... ;)

They had an impressive fireworks performance in Coyoacan that included words, dates, and profiles of famous men depicted in flame! Here is a shot of the spinning fireworks, as the crowd (who is tightly pressed around the base of the fireworks) tries to avoid being sprayed by a flurry of sparks.

They had an impressive fireworks performance in Coyoacan that included words, dates, and profiles of famous men depicted in flame! Here is a shot of some spinning fireworks, as the crowd (who is tightly pressed around the base of the fireworks) tries to avoid being sprayed by a flurry of sparks.

ALEBRIJES ON REFORMA: If you’ve been to Mexico, you’ve likely seen for sale crazy-looking, multicolored animals made of paper-maché or wood. These are called alebrijes, and were originally conceived of by a guy in Mexico City in the 1930s. For the last two years during October, Mexico City has had an impressive display of gigantic alebrijes along la Avenida de Reforma (the main east-west drag through town). I hope they do it again this year, because these things are the coolest.

This alebrije eating a dragonfly rules. I am impressed at his ability to stabilize himself on his curled-up tail.

This alebrije eating a dragonfly rules. I am impressed at his ability to stabilize himself on his curled-up tail.

This one reminded me of some kind of deformed Trojan Horse...

This one reminded me of some kind of deformed Trojan Horse...

Ok, now we’re marginally caught up through the end of October 2009…. Please comment if you would specifically like to see more details/photos on any of the above topics, & I’ll see what I can do! 😉

Farewell for now from the blog slug!

Farewell for now from the blog slug!

Dia de los Muertos celebrations around DF

Some of the seasonal candied fruit/veg here in Mexico... I was not bold enough to eat a whole pumpkin

Some of the seasonal candied fruit/veg here in Mexico... I was not bold enough to eat a whole pumpkin

As many of my fellow bloggers have discussed, this is one of the best times of year to be in Mexico City– during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Preparation for this fascinating holiday begins during the last week or two of October, with activities reaching their peak on November 1 & 2. Wikipedia offers a decent general overview of the history, but in a nutshell, it is a time to remember & honor deceased friends and family. Visually this takes the form of ofrendas (offerings, or altars) in people’s homes & on display in many public venues as well.

One of the traditional images of Catrina, the classic skeletal, elegant female associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

One of the traditional images of Catrina, the classic skeletal, elegant female associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. (here depicted with flower petals, salt, dirt, etc.)

These altars are beautifully decorated with flowers, petals, other brightly colored elements that form designs, sugar skulls, the favorite food/drink of the deceased, etc. Additionally, market vendors are in full force selling Dia de los Muertos-related decor & food, particularly Pan de Muerto (a.k.a. “dead bread”, a tasty sugared bun or loaf w/a light orange taste to it). We didn’t make any major treks out of the area to the most popular venues for celebrating this holiday (i.e. Patzcuaro in Michoacan and Mixquic just southeast of DF). However, we did manage visits to Mercado Jamaica, Coyoacan (incl. the Frida Kahlo Museum & Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares– thanks to Ruth for the recommendation!), and the Edgar Allen Poe-themed ofrendas on display at UNAM.

A few photos of all the action below!

I bought several of these "papel picados" (cut paper) in various colors with a variety of fun, friendly skeleton themes...

I bought several of these "papel picados" (cut paper) at Mercado Jamaica in various colors with a variety of fun, friendly skeleton themes...

These were just a few of the calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls) for sale at Jamaica. The chocolate ones looked good enough to eat...

These were just a few of the calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls) for sale at Jamaica. The chocolate ones looked good enough to eat...

My favorite little white flower dogs from my last visit to Mercado Jamaica were now decked out in their festive Halloween best.

My favorite little white flower dogs from my last visit to Mercado Jamaica were now decked out in their festive Halloween best.

Next, off to Coyoacan… On Saturday, activities were still underway to finish assembling the ofrendas, so it was interesting to see the creation process in action.

We first stopped at the Frida Kahlo museum, aka her "Casa Azul" near the heart of Coyoacan. Despite not being a Frida history expert, I must say the museum was quite interesting & really well done... Seeing her house & gardens and getting a few snippets of her life w/Diego Rivera was time well spent.

We first stopped at the Frida Kahlo museum, aka her "Casa Azul" near the heart of Coyoacan. Despite not being a Frida history expert, I must say the museum was quite interesting & really well done... Seeing her house & gardens and getting a few snippets of her life w/Diego Rivera was time well spent.

Here's Diego del Muerto at the ofrenda in the garden of the Kahlo museum

Here's Diego del Muerto at the ofrenda in the garden of the Kahlo museum

...and another one of the folks hanging out at Frida's place...

...and another one of the folks hanging out at Frida's place...

Next, we wandered through Hidalgo Square where a number of ofrendas were in progress…

We saw this intricate design being filled in with copious amounts of table salt...

We saw this intricate design being filled in with copious amounts of table salt...

Ironically, many flowers died to create the amazing images for this holiday... particularly marigolds and cockscombs...

Ironically, many flowers died to create the amazing images for this holiday... particularly marigolds and cockscombs...

This ofrenda won points in my mind for its subversive, "government sucks" messaging

This ofrenda won points in my mind for its subversive, "government sucks" messaging

The fountain in the nearby Centenario Garden was taken over with this gorgeous display

The fountain in the nearby Centenario Garden was taken over with this gorgeous display

Next, onto the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares, entrance shown above. Entry was free on Saturday, but normally it is a mere 11 pesos and they had an interesting exhibition about sugar that could still be worth a peek post-holiday.

Next, onto the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares, entrance shown above. Entry was free this Saturday, but normally it is a mere 11 pesos and they had an interesting exhibition about sugar that could still be worth a peek post-holiday. Here's John bonding w/his mother-in-law. :)

Inside the museum, they had some excellent vendors selling Dia de los Muertos food & crafts. We were particularly impressed by this table of Catrinas.

Inside the museum, they had some excellent vendors selling Dia de los Muertos food & crafts. We were particularly impressed by this table of Catrinas.

In fact, we liked them enough that we made purchased two new little friends (for a grand total of $460 pesos, which seemed reasonable despite our lack of calavera-price-benchmarking)! I have to say, it is fascinating how the more you see things as a normal part of culture, the more they grow on you... If you had told me before we moved down here that I would someday purchase an 18-tall well-dressed skeleton woman + a fat cowboy skeleton with a dead rooster at his feet, I wouldn't have believed you for a minute. :)

In fact, we liked them enough that we made purchased two new little friends (for a grand total of $460 pesos, which seemed reasonable despite our lack of calavera-price-benchmarking)! I have to say, it is fascinating how the more you see things as a normal part of culture, the more they grow on you... If you had told me before we moved down here that I would someday purchase an 18-inch-tall trendily-dressed skeleton woman + a fat cowboy skeleton with a dead rooster at his feet, I wouldn't have believed you for a minute. :)

 

One of the hot controversies in Coyoacan is that after they remodeled the main square, they kicked all the street vendors out & relocated them to the Frida Kahlo Garden, a few blocks southeast of the square. The vendors are displeased, but I will say they are in a lovely area--especially when the main fountain is covered in flower petals.

One of the hot controversies in Coyoacan is that after they remodeled the main square, they kicked all the street vendors out & relocated them to the Frida Kahlo Garden, a few blocks southeast of the square. The vendors are displeased, but I will say they are in a lovely area--especially when the main fountain is covered in flower petals.

The wee skeleton figurines are always good for a laugh-- my mom purchased one of the dog+vet options that was the spitting image of our Jack Russell terrier Dave back in Nebraska. Note the pile of cheery horse-drawn hearses in the back...

The wee skeleton figurines are always good for a laugh-- my mom purchased one of the dog+vet options that was the spitting image of our Jack Russell terrier Dave back in Nebraska. Note the pile of cheery horse-drawn hearses in the back... (From the main mercado in Coyoacan)

Also inside the Mercado Coyoacan, we visited the Tostadas Coyoacan stall for a late morning snack. My mom's guide book informed us this is *the* original spot & not to be fooled by the mimics nearby. I can vouch--both the drinks & seafood here were AMAZING. I recommend an agua de sandia (watermelon) and a tostada de camaron (shrimp). Look at those piles of seafood, people!!

Also inside the Mercado Coyoacan, we visited the Tostadas Coyoacan stall for a late morning snack. My mom's guide book informed us this is *the* original spot & not to be fooled by the mimics nearby. I can vouch--both the drinks & seafood here were AMAZING. I recommend an agua de sandia (watermelon) and a tostada de camaron (shrimp). Look at those piles of seafood, people!!

My mom headed back for Nebraska yesterday, and then today John & I drove down to check out UNAM (the largest university in the Americas) & the ofrendas in homage to Edgar Allen Poe set up outside near the library. We gave these the verdict of “amusing, but we’ve seen better”.  Here are a couple of the more interesting ones, however…

A massive book display in the spirit of "The Black Cat"....

A massive book display in the spirit of "The Black Cat"....

I should know my Poe stories better... Anybody know the story where someone is cut in half or loses a head via an improvised guillotine?

I should know my Poe stories better... Anybody know the story where someone is cut in half or loses a head via an improvised guillotine?

One of the popular themes was a cemetary with headstones citing each of Poe's best known works. We were able to quickly identify "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum"... Some gravestones seemed a bit redundant; not sure if the students got a bit lazy in their Poe research?

One of the popular themes was a cemetary with headstones citing each of Poe's best known works. We were able to quickly identify "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum"... Some gravestones seemed a bit redundant; not sure if the students got a bit lazy in their Poe research?

The Pumas are the UNAM soccer team; here, John brings life to a player's body...

The Pumas are the UNAM soccer team; here, John brings life to a player's body...

This is just a smattering of the Dia de los Muertos action here in Mexico City, and as you can see, it’s a really interesting time to be here & learn more about one of the most important holidays in Mexico (second only to Dia de Guadalupe, we’re told!). Mark your calendars now for next year, people!! In closing, I’ll leave you with a decorating idea in case you have any blank walls in your house waiting for a theme…

This is a subtle interior design technique that I think will easily stretch both across the calendar year and across cultures... Any takers?? ;)

This is a subtle interior design technique that I think will easily stretch both across the calendar year and across cultures... Any takers?? ;)

A Mariachi-filled Night Out in Plaza Garibaldi

You may have heard of Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, best known as the local hub of mariachi action. I posted back in March about our visit there after the Cantina Crawl, but I thought I’d follow up with a bit more detail on how to spend a night out in Garibaldi (for those suspicious of/curious about the area).

Plaza Garibaldi: lotta dudes hanging out in a lotta tight pants...

Plaza Garibaldi: lotta dudes hanging out in a lotta tight pants...

We had heard rumors after arriving in DF that the Garibaldi area was a bit dangerous & best avoided at night. Based on our multiple experiences, we’ve had no issues nor felt remotely unsafe while hanging out in the Plaza. I do agree wandering off the beaten path onto sidestreets is best avoided. However, walking there on Lazaro Cardenas (coming from the cantinas around Calle Simon Bolivar) seemed fine (plenty of lighting/traffic around), and we’ve had no issues with getting a taxi from the sitio stand directly in front the plaza at the end of the night. John & I have taken both my brother & my parents there on separate occasions, so I would say it is an amusing, autentico Mexico experience for friends/siblings/parents alike. :)

Some of the gentlemen you may have the chance to meet at Plaza Garibaldi

Some of the gentlemen you may have the chance to meet at Plaza Garibaldi

We certainly have not explored all of the restaurants/bars/clubs around the Plaza, but what follows is a suggested Plaza Garibaldi itinerary based on what we have sussed out to date. Note: we have only visited on Friday or Saturday nights; you may want to stick with those nights for maximum bustle of activity.

Timeline A: best for visiting parents or folks who will be ready for bed by 11-12PM

7:30PM: Arrive at Plaza Garibaldi via taxi or metro (Metro Garibaldi station on line 8 or line B). There is an underground parking lot, but a) rumor has it that it’s fairly spendy and b) driving will limit your ability to drink tequila. Perhaps do a quick wander around the perimeter to suss out the available options for the evening. Head over to Mercado San Camilito for dinner. If you are facing Plaza Garibaldi from the street where the taxi dropped you off, walk towards the far left side of the plaza. You will eventually an encounter a passageway between the buildings, and the Mercado lines the left side of that walkway.

This was the stall we chose for our tasty dinner of birria, tacos, agua de jamaica, and amazing salsas.

This was the stall we chose for our tasty dinner of birria, tacos, agua de jamaica, and amazing salsas.

Upon finding the Mercado entrance, you will enter a very long hallway (or gauntlet, if you will) lined on both sides by fine dining options galore. At this hour, the vendors will likely be caught somewhat offguard by your arrival, so you may not receive “the full treatment” as you walk down the line. Being barked at by every waiter/waitress, handed menus, touched on the arm, and pleaded with to sit down & eat is not uncommon, especially later in the evening.

The colorfully-decorated ceiling at Guadalajara de Noche

The colorfully-decorated ceiling at Guadalajara de Noche

9:00PM: Walk over to Guadalajara de Noche, located at the far back of the plaza (when looking from the taxi-drop-off street) for their 9:00PM show (or espectaculo, as it is more glamorously known here). If you have a larger group/want good seats, ideally you called or emailed them earlier in the day or the day before to reserve a table. (This can be done here.) Since you are going there to watch a show, it’s worth having a table where you don’t have to crane your neck around someone to see the action.

You even get the chance to pose with a saddle, as my dad did admirably.

You even get the chance to pose with a saddle, as my dad did admirably.

This spot gives you a taste of Mexican music/entertainment at a very reasonable price with plenty of tequila options also at reasonable prices. If I am recalling correctly, the cover charge for the 9:00 show is $30 pesos (<$3 USD). If you have a quorum of tequila fans, I recommend buying a bottle of tequila which comes with 6 refrescos (I recommend Squirt to enable palomas). I think we paid around $600 pesos ($46 USD) for a decent bottle to share among 3 of us, which was, uh, plenty of tequila to go around. :) Guadalajara de Noche also serves food, but we have yet to test it out.

The entertainment consists first of a random cover band playing songs until the official show begins. Then a solid mariachi band steps out on stage, with trumpets & an assortment of guitars. (They take requests, but it is kind of a rip at around $90-100 pesos/song, I believe).  Dancers make appearances ~3 times (2 women, 2 men), clad in a variety of gorgeous traditional outfits doing a variety of traditional dances (or so we assumed). A female singer & male singer, both with impressive vocal chords, make separate appearances to accompany the mariachi band. And last but not least, a cattle-roper dude comes out with his lasso (not sure what the proper term is here… lazador,  perhaps en español??) and makes that rope dance like a varmint. The only thing you are missing at the 9:00 show that happens at the 11:00 show is the fake cockfight between two heavily-petted roosters. That is not an event to be taken lightly, but I suppose you can live without seeing it.

The mariachis make an appearance to get the crowd revved up.

The mariachis make an appearance to get the crowd revved up.

 

The dancers had these amazing, brightly-colored dresses...

The dancers had these amazing, brightly-colored dresses...

 

...but also managed a few costume changes during the performance.

...but also managed a few costume changes during the performance.

 

I too would like to be able to dance around a quickly moving rope.

I too would like to be able to dance around a quickly moving rope.

Reference aforementioned bottle of tequila & Squirts.

Reference aforementioned bottle of tequila & Squirts.

I am a fan of this place to bring visitors because a) it’s a little kitschy but not over the top, b) the music is pretty good, c) it combines the best of Garibaldi (mariachi music) with comfort (sitting indoors in chairs), d) the tequila seems reasonably priced, e) the actual show is only about an hour, making it quick & painless and f) there are generally no other loud gringo visitors, only tourists from Latin America. Between the 9PM & 11PM shows, the cover band plays popular Latin dance songs, and everyone gets up and dances on the stage. This is why having the Latin American tourists is key– they are all amazing dancers that I could watch for hours. Note: if you arrive at 9, it’s a little dead, but the audience fills in steadily as the show goes on & it’s usually full on the main floor by the 11:00 show.

10:30PM: After watching the impressive dance skills of the audience members for a while, settle your bill & wander outside back into the heart of Plaza Garibaldi. The crowd should be picking up a bit now, but this place doesn’t really hit its stride until midnight & beyond (and then goes until 5-6AM!!). Go hang out in the central bit where all the mariachis are putting out the vibe, and eavesdrop on a few songs or try to negotiate one yourself. The going-rate for a mariachi song varies widely, and seems to be driven primarily by # of band members and # of songs you buy, with a small variance for ‘quality of band’. Tip: If you are bringing guests here, look smart by doing some research in advance so you know the names of a few mariachi songs other than Cielito Lindo. I am a fan of Mariachi Loco and El Rey, to name two.

11:15PM: Head to the taxi stand and attempt to negotiate a decent rate for your trip home. For going to Polanco, we have come to be happy with anything <$100 pesos. Your visitors should be in bed by mighnight!

Timeline B: best for visiting friends, 20/30-somethings, or when you do not have plans to be functioning before 10AM the next day.

Brother Tim is well-entertained after 1/3 a bottle of tequila.

Brother Tim is well-entertained after 1/3 a bottle of tequila.

10:30PM: Arrive at Plaza Garibaldi & head directly to Guadalajara de Noche to catch some of the dancing prior to the 11:00 espectaculo. (If you’ve not eaten dinner, arrive 45-60 min earlier & hit the aforementioned stalls in the Mercado.) Order bottle of tequila ASAP. 

The more glasses you are holding in Plaza Garibaldi, the better of a night you are having. Left to right: random guy we were buying drinks from, random guy John befriended who bought John tequila shots, John

The more glasses you are holding in Plaza Garibaldi, the better of a night you are having. Left to right: random guy we were buying drinks from, random guy John befriended who bought John tequila shots, John

12:00PM: After the show wraps up, head outside to the now more-bustling plaza. You will be immediately solicited by a random dude to buy a beer/michelada/tequila shot. Plaza Garibaldi is one of the few places of which I am aware where you can drink outside while wandering around. Take advantage of this, ideally after you first find a good spot to stand & people watch. Order a huge michelada (you may want just a cerveza if you are not a fan of the added spicy sauce, or as for a michelada con limon y nada mas- just lime juice). Pause to consider your stomach strength before subsequently deciding to mix in some tequila shots.

Next, attempt to identify a competent mariachi band to perform for your group. Note: this will be challenging because all the good ones will have already been hired to go play at private parties for the evening, will already be playing for large groups of Mexicans in the plaza, or will be charging more than your tight-fisted gringo tendencies want to pay. You will be left to choose between 3 possibly-homeless men without any trumpets who are wearing trenchcoats, or 5 men whose outfits don’t match and are slightly intoxicated. Regardless of who you choose, it will make for a good story/pictures.

Despite Bertie's hopeful appearance, these guys sounded like dying cats.

Despite Bertie's hopeful appearance, these guys sounded like dying cats.

Alternatively, just eavesdrop on other mariachi performances and instead spend your pesos on the Balloon Dart Toss, the best game ever. This is located on the far right side of the plaza (when facing in from the street), near the building overhangs. Last month I finally broke my winning streak of “3 for 3 balloons popped”, thereby capping my number of horrible ceramic figurines at 2. Prices begin at $20 pesos for a chance to win the crappy ones, and increase to $40/50 pesos for the “good” ones, I think. Note: be prepared to win while using darts as sharp as a pillow.

Just look at all those amazing prizes I didn't win!! This certainly merits a return trip...

Just look at all those amazing prizes I didn't win!! This certainly merits a return trip...

Drink additional micheladas/cervezas until you realize that you have not properly assessed the available bathroom options prior to ingesting this much liquid. Momentarily panic. Then recall the bathrooms available inside & just outsidethe Mercado San Camilito, or sneak into Salon Tenampa to use theirs. (John claims there are bathrooms in the parking garage as well, but I vote for staying above ground level.) When people in your group start to complain about their feet hurting, consider going to Salon Tenampa for a drink & a sit. There is also a pulqueria in the plaza, but it closes at midnight. Over in the direction of the Mercado entrance, look for a grandma sitting on the ground with several baskets around her. These are filled with tamales; ask for a tamale verde. Alternatively, order some esquites from the corn guy in the same vicinity & try to figure out what happened to the rest of this chicken:

Esquites are an excellent street food choice of cooked corn covered with lime juice, mayo, powered chiles (perhaps Tajin seasoning) and cheese. Mmm. Shown here is some corn before the final, deliciousness-inducing steps, as well as the odd chicken foot.

Esquites are an excellent street food choice of cooked corn covered with lime juice, mayo, powered chiles (perhaps Tajin seasoning) and cheese. Mmm. Shown here is some corn before the final, deliciousness-inducing steps, as well as the odd chicken foot.

2:00AM: Consider going to one of the Latin dance clubs along the plaza or across the street. We visited one that is just on your right when facing the plaza from the street, where they tried to stick us with a fairly high cover charge. Be prepared to pay fairly high cover charge or convince some silver-tongued devil in your group to try to negotiate a hot discount. Once inside, you will witness more amazing Latin dancing that people from the Midwest are not programmed to be able to do. Try to dance to a few songs with your husband until you realize you might maim someone with your flopping around & you get frustrated because the ceiling is too low for him to actually spin you without whapping your arms on the roof. (Note: last directive may be unique to me)

3:30-4:00AM: Depart the dance clubs & make a final assessment of any additional purchases needed. Have you given sufficient consideration to a cowboy hat?

John & Ben drink their micheladas while assessing cowboy hat options.

John & Ben drink their micheladas while debating cowboy hat options.

Send your group’s most fluent/sober member to negotiate the taxi, and pile in to head home. Congratulations, you’ve just spend a nite in the land of mariachis.

Navigating the Mexico City Airport

I recently received a reader request (yay!) for an overview on what happens when you get off the plane in the Mexico City Airport, so I thought I would share a few tips I’ve gathered thus far from my trips.

Airport Code: MEX
Possible Aliases: Benito Juarez International Airport, or AICM (Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México)
Website: http://www.aicm.com.mx/ or for English click http://www.aicm.com.mx/home_en.php
Location: Here’s a map from Streets and Trips showing where the Airport is located (blue circle) in comparison to some of the more popular neighborhoods (red circles). Also highlighted in purple squares are a couple of the main roads taxis use to get to/from the airport from the west side of the city (i.e. going to/from Polanco).

Location of Mexico City Airport

Location of Mexico City Airport (click image to enlarge)

Metro Stop: Terminal Aerea on the yellow line #5.

Map of Terminals: Check out this wild-though-slightly-confusing interactive map.

Terminals: There are two Terminals, 1 and 2.  Unfortunately it is not as simple as one is the domestic, one is the international terminal. International flights arrive into both terminals. You can see the full list by airline here on the AICM website, or here is a quick list of the big names:

  • Aeromexico: #2
  • American: #1
  • British Airways/Air Canada/Air France: #1
  • Continental: #2
  • Delta: #2
  • Mexicana/Mexicana Click: #1
  • Northwest: #2
  • United: #1
  • US Airways: #1

What happens when I arrive on an international flight into Mexico City? (I will answer this from the perspective of Terminal 1, since that is where I have flown into from the States. The process should be the same for Terminal 2, but I imagine the layout is slightly different.)

After you get off the plane, you’ll walk through the main area of the terminal & follow the signs downstairs towards customs/immigration. First you’ll go through Immigration, where you’ll turn in the immigration form that you likely received on the plane. Note: US citizens need a passport to travel to Mexico as of June 2009. Only note-to-self here is don’t be talking on your cell phone in the immigration area.

Next you’ll pick up any checked luggage you had at the baggage claim. IMPORTANT LUGGAGE NOTE FOR BOTH TERMINALS: MEX is the only airport I’ve been to that actually checks to see if your luggage claim ticket matches the luggage tags on your bag before you leave the baggage area. This is true for both domestic & international flights. So make it easy on yourself & be sure you save that little claim ticket that you received when checking-in your bag before your flight!!

To leave the baggage claim area, you’ll pass through Customs, where you’ll hand over your import declaration form & you’ll put all of your bags on a belt through another scanner. Then you press a button & either get a green light or red light, signifying whether you can continue on your way (green) or customs is going to search your bags (red).

Yay, now you’ve made it past all the checkpoints. Next step: getting a taxi. When you exit the secured area of Terminal 1 after customs, turn and walk to your right. Below is another map showing the path you’ll take.

The red line shows the path through Terminal 1 in the Mexico City airport from Immigration to Baggage Claim to Customs to taxis

The red line shows the path through Terminal 1 in the Mexico City airport from Immigration to Baggage Claim to Customs to taxis

Getting a taxi at the Mexico City airport:

Your next task is to find a taxi. You will be fine if you go to one of the stands inside the airport terminal. There are several authorized taxi companies (see list here) and the prices are set based on a system of which “zone” you are going to. Approach one of the stands and tell them the address to which you’re headed, including the colonia (or the name of the neighborhood). IMPORTANT NOTE FOR NOT WASTING MONEY ON A AIRPORT TAXI: Ask for a sedan taxi. Otherwise, they will charge you for an SUV (or ejecutivo) taxi, which is $300 pesos instead of <$200 pesos to go to most colonias. That said, if you are with a group of more than 2 people with large luggage, you may want to consider the SUV/ejecutivo taxis simply from a space/comfort perspective… The sedan taxis generally don’t have a ton of space in their trunk for crazy-big American-sized suitcases, and leg room can be limited if you are stuffing 4 passengers into one car.

I have never had a taxi stand try to screw with me on the price to get to my address once we got past the sedan vs. SUV topic. However, if you want to check what the price should be, this taxi company website lets you type in your colonia destination & tells you what the price should be for that zone. (Note: some colonias span 2 zones & that website won’t tell you which specific zone your address is in.)

For any future visitors of ours, our apartment building is in Zona 6 of Polanco, so I just ask the taxi stand for “un sedan a Polanco, zona seis”, which is $190 pesos.

If you have pesos, you can pay in cash; if not, most of the taxi stands take credit cards & I consider it safe to use one there. (Just make sure your credit card operator is aware of your trip to Mexico & is expecting to see purchases from Mexico, so your card doesn’t get denied.) The taxi stand will give you a receipt with two parts, and then you walk outside where the taxis lurk. At this point, a random dude will usually try to grab your luggage out of your hand to drag it the 100 feet to the taxi area. Feel free to resist this effort if you don’t want to give him a tip (and believe me, he WILL pressure you into giving him a tip of maybe $5-10 pesos).

There should be another gentleman standing outside who will look at your taxi receipt & point you in the direction of the taxis from the company you chose (again, multiple taxi companies operate here). You can usually figure this out as well by matching the colors/logo on your receipt with the colors/logo on the taxi.  When you get in the taxi, the driver will keep half of the receipt & you’ll get the other half. Now is when I tell the driver the specific address I am going to (the people at the stand indoors don’t really care, other than to make sure you’re paying the right price for the right zone). Once you arrive at your destination, you don’t need to tip the taxi driver since you’re in the spendier, safe sitio-type taxis (I never do). However, you can give him a few pesos if you feel like he was über-helpful with your luggage or tolerated you trying to chat with him in Spanglish for 30 minutes.

And that’s it! You’ve made it from airplane to the taxi without issue!

Other random Q&A:

I have family/friends flying into the Mexico City airport; should I pick them up or is it safe to have them use the airport taxis? As my parents and brother can now attest, I am a big advocate of visitors just getting one of the taxis at the airport. There is no negotiating required, they are safe, and they are fast. We initially tried sending a taxista to meet our visitors at the airport, but finding an obvious place to meet/ensuring said taxista arrived on time was not as easy as we hoped. As friend Emily can attest (who we decided to pick up because we thought Saturday afternoon would be “easy” to grab her from the airport & head directly to a neighborhood down south), our trip to the airport took at least an hour due to traffic/accident blocking a key lane of traffic, and then it took us about 2 hours to get to our destination because we didn’t realize the eastern half of the city is under construction. Alternatively, I estimate it would have taken her <30 minutes to get to our house via airport taxi.

What if I want to go on a fool’s mission to pick someone up at the airport? There is fairly cheap parking available outside of both terminals, and finding the parking garage entrance is even pretty well marked! Check out aforementioned map to suss out where the parking is.

How long does it take to check in for a flight at the Mexico City airport/what is security like? In our experience, the larger Mexican airlines are extremely efficient/quick getting people checked-in (i.e. Aeromexico & Mexicana). It should take you <30 minutes to get checked in & go through the loosest security checkpoint ever. When we have flown US airlines back to the US, however, it has taken about an hour to get checked in (due to minimal # of staff trying to check in 3 int’l flights at once), so plan accordingly.

The main security checkpoint at the airport is almost a non-issue and typically quite fast. I’ve had no issues with liquids, only with the nail file portion of a nail clippers I had, which the security woman simply broke off from the nail clippers (which had been through about a zillion other flights without issue, than you very much). On international flights to the US, you will have the “US-style” security check at your gate right before you board. That is where they will check to make sure you comply with the US liquids rules of <3oz. Also FYI, you can’t even bring unopened bottles of water onto the plane for flights to the US, even if you just bought it at the store right next to your gate.

Should I take the metro to get to the airport? I can’t really speak to this since I’ve never tried it. However, I can offer the commentary that I would probably not feel very comfortable taking the metro to the Mexico City airport if I was dragging any measurable amount of luggage. The metro can be pretty busy/packed depending upon the time/day you are on it, so it may make me a bit nervous to try & monitor a combination of backpack/purse/carry-on/big suitcase while surrounded by a crush of people. I would also factor in how many subway-line changes you have to make from your starting point to get to the airport. From our house, 3 different lines are required & I imagine it would take easily an hour+ door-to-door, plus getting fairly sweaty before you board a multi-hour international flight. That said, if you’ve tried it & it was super-easy, please advise!!

How do I transfer between terminals?

Conveniently, the airport has an AirTrain (aka AeroTren) that will zip you between the terminals. Rumor has it that it runs between 5AM and 10PM & the ride takes about 5 minutes. Just look for signs with a train-looking icon & follow those. Also, this website has a great summary of going from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 via the AirTrain.

UPDATE–> looks like the above link is dead (thanks for the alert, Kire!), but there is some commentary on this page regarding the Aerotren. The salient points are basically:

  • “To take the Aerotrén from T-1: take the moving staircase by Sala D (1st floor), turn left and walk to the middle of the bridge, from there you can take the trip to T-2.”
  • The Aerotrén leaves from T-2 on the first floor: access is to the left of the check-in desks, at the entrance to the ‘dedo sur – southern finger’ – of T-2.”   (info courtesy www.aeropuertosmexico.com)

Readers, please holler if you have any additional guidance that I’ve missed or further questions that I’ve overlooked!

UPDATE #2–>> Check out my new post to discover a good meeting point if you are meeting friends or family inside Terminal 1 at the Mexico City airport.  (There are two doors from which people arriving on international flights can leave the secured area, so it’s nice to have a meeting point just in case you aren’t clear which door they will be exiting.)

El Chopo: Mexico City’s goth/metal/ska/punk mercado!

Last week my boss tipped me off to TWO new Mexico City markets with which I was previously unfamiliar:

  1. Tianguis Cultural del Chopo, a Saturday-only market dedicated towards all things rock/alternative/punk/ska/goth/weed/hippie
  2. Centro Artesanal Buenavista, “La Tienda Mas Grande del Pais con 100,000 articulos finos en 24,000 mts2″ (The largest store in the country with 100,000 fine items in 258,000 square feet)

These two mercados are located right next to each other, both fascinating in their own way & definitely worth a couple hours spent on a Saturday afternoon. Also, they are easily accessible via public transit– take the Metro to the Buenavista stop on the gray line B, or the Metrobus up Insurgentes to the Buenavista stop (just a bit north of Reforma).

The “cool” prize definitely goes to El Chopo. Their website (may I interject– well done you, tianguis [street market] with a trendy, informative website!) has a great history in Spanish. In a nutshell, the market’s been around for nearly 29 years and you can find “CDs, DVDs, records, goth clothes, sweatshirts, punk fashion, stickers, artsy stuff, live bands ploaying, emo, metal gear, urban, jamaican style, fotographic exhibitions, band members wandering around, and all that you’ve imagined in only one place!”  Additionally, the people watching (which is good in Mexico City to begin with) may rank on the “excellent” scale here. (On that front, my photos pale in comparison to one depicted above from their website, contributed by user “massiel”.) We did not have the priviledge of observing any dachsund-licking during our visit, not even dachsund-licking by flat-haired people. [Editor’s note: the Chopo website seems to have taken a dirt nap. Sorry…]

I discovered reading the website tonite that you are *supposed* to get badge to take photos in El Chopo, but we somehow managed to snap a few pictures without incident. Of course, their website also requests that drugs and alcohol not be consumed in the market, and a few sniffs of the air indicated those rules weren’t being followed tooo closely…so perhaps these are all just *suggestions*…. 😉

El Chopo pics below followed by Centro Buenavista.

Ahh ska... how you remind me of my college days, when I tried to learn how to skank (ska dancing) to impress my freshman year boyfriend, until finally I realized that everyone looks like an idiot doing it.

Ahh ska... how you remind me of my college days, when I tried to learn how to skank (ska dancing) to impress my freshman year boyfriend, until finally I realized that everyone looks like an idiot doing it.

John does his best, government-employee "tsk tsk tsk" glare towards the marijuana-decorated backpacks.

John does his best, government-employee "tsk tsk tsk" glare towards the marijuana-decorated backpacks.

It is basically only a matter of time before I break down and buy one (or more) of these lucha libre mascara keychains...

It is basically only a matter of time before I break down and buy one (or more) of these lucha libre mascara keychains...

On the end of the mascara spectrum, we have these slightly more severe masks... I will leave up to your imagination what is happening there on the left...

On the other end of the mascara spectrum, we have these slightly more severe masks... I will leave up to your imagination what is happening there on the left...

Third time's the charm: these were my favorite masks-- some enterprising merchant capitalizing on the conflicting need for healthy precautions + style with wittily-decorated flu facemasks (the sign read tapabocas de moda-- fashionable facemasks).

Third time's the charm: these were my favorite masks-- some enterprising merchant capitalizing on the conflicting need for healthy precautions + style with wittily-decorated flu facemasks (the sign read tapabocas de moda-- fashionable facemasks).

You can even find heavy metal vintage Playboy mags...

You can even find heavy metal vintage Playboy mags...

I was entertained by the "McMuerte" logo (McDeath) until I remembered that I don't have any clothes/bags/coats to iron decals onto...

I was entertained by the "McMuerte" logo (McDeath) until I remembered that I don't have any clothes/bags/coats to iron decals onto...

All the clothing you could possibly need for your next rave, seduction, or re-enactment of The Matrix.

All the clothing you could possibly need for your next rave, seduction, or re-enactment of The Matrix.

As well as all the studded bracelets and animal print belts you were hoping for...

As well as all the studded bracelets and animal print belts you were hoping for...

And as per usual, we blended in seamlessly.

And as per usual, we blended in seamlessly.

After buying some random purses made out of old records at El Chopo, we moved on to Centro Artesanal Buenavista. I was expecting another massive outdoor market, but this one surprised us by subtly lurking in the goddamn biggest low-ceilinged warehouse I have ever seen. The “What the Hell is Going On Here” prize definitely goes to Buenavista. 

First to clarify, this is not a traditional artisan market; rather a freaking-massive store. I still expected it to be bustling with people, the way every other artisan market tends to be around here on a sunny Saturday afternoon. NO. Not even close.

I think we were one of three other couples in the 250,000+ square foot store for almost the whole time we were in there. At least 50% of the overhead flourescent lights were off. If it hadn’t been for the occasional lurking store employee, I would have been convinced that we either had gotten locked in a 70’s department store afterhours, or we had walked into the movie Mannequin. Only the mannequins didn’t look like Kim Cattrall. They looked like this: 

Did someone install this mannequin's eyes upside down? And if this is a boy, should he really be wearing that much eyeliner?

Did someone install this mannequin's eyes upside down? And if this is a boy, should he really be wearing that much eyeliner?

and this:

I anticipate this mannequin being featured on the Mexican spinoff of "What Not to Wear: Your Kids"

I anticipate this mannequin being featured on the Mexican spinoff of "What Not to Wear: For Kids"

 and these two terrifying gems: a surprisingly tall hand-less male mannequin wearing what can only be described as a “doo-rag”, and a bald, handless female mannequin who appears to be in ecstacy despite that fact that her wig is lying behind her in a pile that best resembles a long-haired guinea pig.

As you can see, the well-lit clothing section was simply mobbed with people wanting to take advantage of this great assortment of ponchos

As you can see, the well-lit clothing section was simply mobbed with people wanting to take advantage of this great assortment of ponchos

I was also struck by the liberal use of space in a country where most stores fill every available inch with saleable merchandise. It felt both wasteful and luxurious (?) to see individual plates displayed on massive, astroturfed, Teotihuacan replicas:

It almost felt like I was at Aztec ruins...if the Aztecs had degrees in Turf Grass Management...

It almost felt like I was at Aztec ruins...if the Aztecs had degrees in Turf Grass Management...

and a whole wall allotted for merely this small a number of nightmare-inducing owls:

This Owl Wall scared the crap out of me. Though it appears that no actual owls died in the making of these Owl Replicas... Maybe this is where all that hair went that we damaged with hot crimping irons back in the 80's?

This Owl Wall scared the crap out of me. Though it appears that no actual owls died in the making of these Owl Replicas... Maybe this is where all that hair went that we damaged with hot crimping irons back in the 80's?

One thing I was impressed with was how the store tried to teach its customers about Mexican handicrafts, in case they are not familiar with Mexican culture. For instance, maybe there are some people who don’t know about hammocks. I know for me, this carefully, artfully-arranged display really helped to show me what a hammock might be used for:

This display certainly helped to alleviate my concerns of "Is this hammock strong enough to hold me". If it is good enough for a nude, limbless, plastic mannequin and a doll COMBINED, it should easily hold my bulk.

This display certainly helped to alleviate my concerns of "Is this hammock strong enough to hold me". If it is good enough for a nude, limbless, plastic mannequin and a doll COMBINED, it should easily hold my bulk.

Also, the store used fun characters like friendly frogs to help visitors understand proper drinking habits in Mexico:

Dear God: If these frogs actually died of alcohol poisoning, please forgive me for mocking them on my website. Amen.

Dear God: If these frogs actually died of alcohol poisoning, please forgive me for mocking them on my website. Amen.

The last thing we learned about was who we would have to talk to if we were caught shoplifting any of these little treasures:

So, uh, is this thing really for sale? Can I rent it for a Halloween party?

So, uh, is this thing really for sale? Can I rent it for a Halloween party?

And finally, we perused the housewares section, also full of surprises…

I loved this "Tequila Rack"... because who among us doesn't have 18 bottles of tequila to display in our home?

I loved this "Tequila Rack"... because who among us doesn't have 18 bottles of tequila to display in our home?

For those of you considering a bathroom remodel, perhaps you have not given fair consideration to a conch shell spout + 2 rock nubbins for handles??

For those of you considering a bathroom remodel, perhaps you have not given fair consideration to a conch shell spout + 2 rock nubbins for handles??

This decorative rooster helps to lighten the mood of any room...or at least when someone tries to emulate his mannerisms.

This decorative rooster helps to lighten the mood of any room...or at least when someone tries to emulate his mannerisms.

I don’t know that I would include Centro Artesanal Buenavista (open daily from 9 to 6) on your wedding registry per se, but I would definitely add it onto a trip to El Chopo….particularly as the store has free bathrooms that John indicated were “adequate”.  As for me, another trip to El Chopo is definitely in my future… After all, you can never have too many fashionista facemasks in a place like Mexico City. :)

Commuting to work in the Centro

Just your average commute to work here in downtown Mexico City…

Another day, another dollar, another web

Another day, another dollar, another web

What, did you think Spiderman would take a taxi?

Mexico City Cantina Crawl Report

As a follow up to my previous post regarding the map of cantinas in the Centro Historico, I am delinquent on an report on our Cantina Crawl findings! Good times were had by all, and we managed to hit 4 cantinas prior to walking over to Plaza Garibaldi, hub of mariachi action. I wasn’t sure how busy the Centro Historico would be on a Saturday night, but there were plenty of folks walking around & we didn’t feel any more conspicuous than a group of 16 gringos + latinos normally would. :)  Since several of the cantinas close a little on the early side, we started our activities around 8PM. I think it might be even better to do the crawl during a Saturday afternoon to perhaps maximize the # of local patrons + chances for free snacks.

Stop 1: La Mascota. Definitely would recommend this spot. Plenty of tables, a good crowd, a two-piece band playing hits of the 80’s, a jukebox, attentive waiters, free food (aka botanas). If it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain & David Lida, it’s good enough for us.

At La Mascota I introduced Susan to one of my favorite drinks, the bandera-- a trifecta of tequila, sangrita, and lime juice.

At La Mascota I introduced Susan to one of my favorite drinks, the bandera-- a trifecta of tequila, sangrita, and lime juice.

No one was exactly certain what was in this drink called "Hierbabuena" (recommended to Ben by our waiter). It was mint-licious, but gave his belly a good coating of cream that was not the best way to start a night of drinking...

No one was exactly certain what was in this drink called "Hierbabuena" (recommended to Ben by our waiter). It was mint-licious, but gave his belly a good coating of cream that was not the best way to start a night of drinking...

 

We even secured some free botanas! (gorditas de frijol with a tasty salsa verde on the side)

We secured some free botanas! (gorditas de frijol with a tasty salsa verde on the side)

Stop 2: Bar Mancera: wouldn’t necessarily rush to this spot…given that we were the only people here outside of two older ladies working the bar + a random cat. The architecture was cool, the paintings were fascinating/disturbing, and the drinks were cheap, but I think our large group slightly terrified the 2 employees, who seemed perfectly content to sit and chat without concern over their lack of customers. :) Perhaps it sees more traffic during the day??

 

One of Bar Mancera's helpful servers pouring tequila while in a slight panic stemming from multiple, simultaneous orders.

One of Bar Mancera's helpful servers pouring tequila while in a slight panic stemming from multiple, simultaneous orders.

 

The elaborate bar at Mancera

The elaborate bar at Mancera

So...this painting was on the wall in Bar Mancera....I'm not exactly sure what is being depicted here, but it seems a little sketchy...

So...this painting was on the wall in Bar Mancera....I'm not exactly sure what is being depicted here, but it seems a little sketchy...

Stop 3: La Puerta del Sol. I might rank this as “not a hot spot but friendly service & cool seating”. I am a sucker for half-moon booths. :) Additionally, it was a high point for me personally as I had my first photo opp in a cantina with swinging doors. I felt like a might have been in a Western/Mexican historical movie, (except for the fact that I was a woman in a cantina for a reason other than prostitution).

Yes!! Thank you swinging cantina doors! I am almost a movie star

Yes!! Thank you swinging cantina doors! I am almost a movie star

The bar at La Puerta del Sol, filled with bargain-priced Negro Modelos galore

The bar at La Puerta del Sol, filled with bargain-priced Negro Modelos galore

The sweet booths at Puerta del Sol, plus the slightly-odd open kitchen with pots-o-mystery-meats

The sweet booths at Puerta del Sol, plus the slightly-odd open kitchen with pots-o-mystery-meats

Stop 4: Salon Corona. As it turns out, there are actually two Salon Coronas. We first went to the one marked on my map at Bolivar 24, el original. This little hole in the wall was *packed*, much to the chagrin of our large group! However, an attentive employee informed us of Salon Corona II and personally escorted us over there to a table set for 16. Salon Corona II (at Filomeno Mata 18) is a 2-floor establlishment with a patio & was also pretty busy, but didn’t have quite the same über-bustling feel as the original. However, they did have sweet-ass beer mugs, cheap cerveza, and magical tacos al pastor.  A fine choice for a “We’re out for a night of drinking BUT we should probably eat something at some point” stop.

The outdoor seating at Salon Corona II... see and be seen!

The outdoor seating at Salon Corona II... see and be seen!

Very tempted to liberate one of these mugs from the bar, but it would have violated my cardinal rule of Beer Glassware: don't steal mugs from places you intend to come back to.

Very tempted to liberate one of these mugs from the bar, but it would have violated my cardinal rule of Beer Glassware: don't steal mugs from places you intend to come back to.

Final stop: Plaza Garibaldi. A must-do! We walked to Garibaldi via Lazaro Cardenas, which is the main drag lined with mariachis decked out in their suits, chasing down cars that drive by (end goal: to get their band hired for a gig that Saturday nite). I’m not going to lie– seeing grown men in tight pants chase after cars makes the trek at least semi-worthwhile before you’ve even *gotten* to the plaza.

Now as I’ve explained to others, Plaza Garibaldi is not the best place for people who are looking to “see it” and get on their way. There is no official performance or specific must-see/must-do there. It is much more of a “go, stand around, buy a $25 peso chelada (beer), do some people-watching, negotiate with a few mariachi bands, sing along to a few songs, and eat a tamale purchased from an elderly woman sitting on a step” kind of place. If you are lucky, you will find a carnival game set up on the sidelines where you will have the opportunity to win fabulous cash and prizes. And by “fabulous cash and prizes”, I mean garish ceramic animal-shaped banks worth <$1 USD.

Also, be aware that Plaza Garibaldi is under construction at present, as the Mexico City government actively works to spruce it up a tick to make it look a bit more welcoming in the light of day. Do not be dissuaded by the ample chain-link fences because remember: you are not going so you can see a thing. You are going so you can experience the culture. A culture of men in tight pants and manly hats.

The first mariachi band that we hired may or may not have been sleepwalking.

The first mariachi band that we hired may or may not have been sleepwalking.

Someone proposed that perhaps I had hired the shortest mariachi band possible in order to make myself feel taller. (God knows that is a constant quest of mine...) ;)

Someone proposed that perhaps I had hired the shortest mariachi band possible in order to make myself feel taller. (God knows that is a constant quest of mine...) ;)

 

We later found a superior mariachi band who was both awake AND had trumpets (*key* to any successful mariachi band). Segio had an instant bond with the lead singer & promptly initiated a sing-off.

We later found a superior mariachi band who was both awake AND had trumpets (*key* to any successful mariachi band). Sergio had an instant bond with the lead singer & promptly initiated a sing-off.

We were excited to spot 1/2 of the band Duran Duran hanging out in Plaza Garibaldi. They have fallen on tough times.

We were excited to spot 1/2 of the band Duran Duran hanging out in Plaza Garibaldi. They have fallen on tough times.

We all tried our hand at the balloon dart toss. All the men failed to puncture 3 balloons with as many darts. The balloons tried to take their revenge on Sergio by eating half of his face.

We all tried our hand at the balloon dart toss. All the men failed to puncture 3 balloons with as many darts. The balloons tried to take their revenge on Sergio by eating half of his face.

I was careful to ensure that all 3 darts actually had sharp tips. (savvy dart player, this one)

I was careful to ensure that all 3 darts actually had sharp tips. (savvy dart player, this one)

Yes!! I hit all three balloons, but then a giant earthquake emerged and almost swallowed me up in a crevasse!! Or that's what this photo was meant to depict, had you actually been able to see the crevasse. Damn.

Yes!! I hit all three balloons, but then a giant earthquake emerged and almost swallowed me up in a crevasse!! Or that's what this photo was meant to depict, had you actually been able to see the crevasse. Damn.

And finally, here is John drinking a chelada while wearing his new birthday hat that Luis kindly purchased for him. I was excited about it until we got the hat home, where John proceeded to wear it the entirety of the next day in our apartment while shouting out demands at me in a southern accent and making shooting noises/gestures with his fingers. The term "varmint" can indeed be overused.

And finally, here is John drinking a chelada while wearing his new birthday hat that Luis kindly purchased for him. I was excited about it until we got the hat home, where John proceeded to wear it the entirety of the next day in our apartment while shouting out demands at me in a southern accent and making shooting noises/gun gestures with his fingers. The term "varmint" can indeed be overused.

In summary, I would say that while there are a couple minor errors on my cantina map (most notably, El Nivel is closed), if you wander around those general streets, you are sure to find something to keep you entertained! Have fun & please report back with any new cantina discoveries to add to my list for the future!!

Animal Highlights of Mexico, Part 2

Despite the wealth of mercados here in México, our non-edible purchases thus far have been quite restrained (if I do say so myself). I continue reminding John how lucky he is to have a wife who is not obsessed with pottery / Dia de los Muertos figurines / vessels made out of copper / traditional silver jewelry, since if I was, our peso outflow would be considerably higher. :)  That said, the one area in which we both seem to have a weakness is animals.

To that end, I thought I’d share the montage of animal figurines that we’ve acquired over the last couple months (with the bulk being extremely recent acquisitions from yesterday’s Bazaar Sabado down in San Angel).

While others may leave Mexico with pottery and dishes, we will leave with a veritable stable of ceramic/wooden/lacquered Mexican animals.

While others may leave Mexico with pottery and dishes, we will leave with a veritable stable of ceramic/lacquered Mexican animals.

To introduce you to our stable of little friends (from left to right):

  1. Ferdinand, the bull. John was drawn to him due to the slightly-crazed look in his piercing yellow eyes. Source: San Angel 
  2. Vato, the duck. You can find these peering-over-the-edge-of-the-counter ducks all over the place here, but they tend to be decked out in tacky golden armor. We preferred Vato’s subtle, blue design. Source: San Angel
  3. Spidey, the Spiderman bank. I suppose one could argue this is not an “animal” per se, but I feel like half-man/half-animal (or arachnid; whatever, let’s not split hairs people) is a high enough percentage to include him here. This was my big prize for hitting 3 balloons with 3 darts at the fan-favorite Balloon Dart Toss game while slightly-tipsy. Source: Plaza Garibaldi
  4. Pooh & Eyeore, also a bank. When we returned to Garibaldi this past Friday night with the parents, we were thrilled to see the Balloon Dart Toss set up once again on the fringes of the plaza. It was hardly a question as to whether I would gamble another $20 pesos on another gem here. Although Marcia & John failed to bring home the bacon, I would say this bank is obviously worth the $60 pesos spent in total among the 3 of us?? Source: Plaza Garibaldi
  5. Hop-a-long, the heavily lacquered dead frog playing a guiro. We came across this gem in a mercado in Morelia, where there was a whole band’s worth of instrument-playing frog carcasses. John hoodwinked me by claiming he was buying Hop-a-long as a gift for his mother who “loves frogs”. As soon as Hop-a-long made it back to our apartment, John informed me that there were in fact no plans for Hop-a-long to depart our home. He is now shown off to every visitor with the pride of a new parent. Unlike with babies, however, most visitors recoil in horror upon observing that Hop-a-long was once able to hop on his own volition. Source: Mercado de Dulces, Morelia
  6. and 7. and 8.  Jackie, George and Herman, the pigs. We had been eyeing these guys for a few weeks now at gorgeous furniture store Toca Madera, located on the west side of Plaza San Jacinto in San Angel. (address: Plaza San Jacinto #15, phone 55.5616.4748)  Upon our return with my parents yesterday, Marcia revealed that Jackie, George and Herman fit perfectly into her plan to buy a little gift for John. Therefore, he became the proud Papa Pig to these triplets yesterday at about 12:30PM.

We will keep you appraised of any further additions to the Herickhoff Family Farm.

Map of Cantinas in downtown Mexico City!

After a few “bottle service” episodes at the über-trendy clubs & lounges here in Mexico City, we have been itching to check out the more autentico cantinas in the Centro Historico. (For those not in the know, most of the glam spots here are big fans of the “buy a whole bottle of liquor” approach to drinks, which then comes with various mixers like Coke, OJ, tonic, etc. and you/your waiter mixes your drinks at your table. I find it expensive/slightly pretentious but I suppose arguably more cost-effective if you’re out with a large group.)

Anyway, we are making a trek to the cantinas of the Centro Historico of D.F. this Saturday night. More details to follow… if I have the guts to break out a camera in any of these places…  Since I’m not making any guarantees, I thought I’d at least share the Streets & Trips map assembled by John and I after an evening of online/guidebook research!  Hope this is of use to anyone else looking to make a similar exploratory voyage to the cantinas of Mexico City!! (click on the map to enlarge for a printable version)

Mexico City's Centro Historico marked with all the hot cantina options!

Mexico City's Centro Historico marked with all the hot cantina options!

For the less-bold, the Secretary of Culture here actually hosts a 2-hour cantina tour (paseos de cantinas) on Thursday nights at 8PM for $100 pesos, as blog Wagamama Wonderings tipped me off to. I dropped them an email a while back to confirm details (at paseosculturalesdf@yahoo.com.mx) and was told the $100 pesos includes a glass of wine as well as a narrated history of pulque, wine, and other booze. The tours leave from near the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Wish us luck!!

***UPDATE***: View commentary/photos from the Cantina Crawl here: http://www.midwesternerinmexico.com/2009/03/31/mexico-city-cantina-crawl-report/.  Also note that El Nivel is now closed, and we were unable to find an open entrance for La Terraza del Zocalo post-10PM. Gallo de Oro was either closed that night or shut down, but there is another bar on its street quite nearby. Also, La Faena seemed popular but had a cover charge so we skipped it on principle. Finally, I neglected to mark La Opera, which still has bullet holes in the ceiling from Pancho Villa. It is located on Av. Cinco de Mayo #10 between Lazaro Cardenas & Simon Bolivar.

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