Midwesterner in Mexico Rotating Header Image

Natural Beauty

Malinalco with the visiting Nebraskans

Larry & Marcia came for a Mexico visit-- look how happy & unconcerned about violence they are!! ;)

Larry & Marcia came for a Mexico visit-- look how happy & unconcerned about violence they are!! ;)

My parents from Nebraska came for a visit last month, so we decided to show them some of rural Mexico in addition to the Big Taco, D.F.  We spent a couple nights in Malinalco, located roughly 40 miles south-ish of Toluca or 60 miles (but ~2 hours) from Polanco in Mexico City.

A view of the valley of Malinalco from above

A view of the valley of Malinalco from above

Malinalco is a cute little town in a gorgeous valley that has a small archaeological site that overlooks the town from the mountainside. I would assess it as a great place for a relaxing 1-2 night stay if you’re looking to lounge about in nice, warm weather. If you are a “dooo-sy” type person, meaning someone who needs constant stimulation & multiple sites to see & activities to do, Malinalco may not be the place for you. :)

After much research on lodging, we decided to stay at Casa Mora, a fantastic B&B located just east of the main “downtown” of Malinalco. While you could walk from there to the Centro, it is a bit of a trek, partially on a dirt road, that I would imagine getting a bit toasty during the midday sun. We generally opted to drive & had no issue finding parking within a few blocks of the restaurant/archaeological site/museum area.

View of pool & backyard at Casa Mora in Malinalco

View of pool & backyard at Casa Mora in Malinalco

I completely recommmend Casa Mora, a 5-room B&B purpose-built by artist Raul Mora. The grounds/common areas are lovely, rooms airy & spacious, bathrooms modern & convenient, and pool warm & beckoning! The breakfasts are served family style with fresh-squeezed OJ, fruit, pan dulce, frijoles, a different hot dish each day, and what appeared to be real coffee (unlike the popular instant coffee so pervasive throughout Mexico!). Two honor bars, one near the pool & one in the house’s living room, offer tasty beverages to quench your thirst. And the gorgeous green yard was a perfect venue for lying on a chair with a book. During our trip, the rooms were $2000 pesos a night (inclusive of breakfast & all taxes), so although it is not a cheap option, we felt we definitely got our money’s worth. The staff were all excellent & friendly, and very responsive to our email inquiries prior to arrival (unlike other venues in town that we attempted to look into). For non-Spanish speakers, Raul speaks flawless English so you don’t have to worry about any communication barriers.

Regardless of where you choose to stay, Casa Mora’s website has a couple of great maps that should help you both in getting to Malinalco & getting around town once you arrive.

John & the in-laws enjoying some tasty beverages at Los Pilares

John & the in-laws enjoying some tasty beverages at Los Pilares

Other spots we can recommend– for restaurants, Las Palomas and Los Pilares (both very near the central town square) had excellent food & drink. Also Nieves Mallinali had fantastic ice cream– try the Galleta flavor (the Spanish word for ‘cookie’, and there were chunks of cookie stuffed throughout).  Finally, I was a bit skeptical of the Museum of Malinalco, thinking “how interesting could a museum be in a town this size?”  Surprisingly, I thought the musem was extremely well done & I would say is actually worth a visit!

Here are a few other photo highlights from our time in Malinalco.

We did some pretty intense book-reading on the lawn of Casa Mora

We did some pretty intense book-reading on the lawn of Casa Mora

I realized how long it had been since I'd had the opportunity to walk barefoot on a nice, green lawn. Larry enjoyed the brightly colored flowers that have not been seen in NE for many moons now...

I realized how long it had been since I'd had the opportunity to walk barefoot on a nice, green lawn. Larry enjoyed the brightly colored flowers that have not been seen in NE for many moons now...

Another view of the lovely pool + thatched-roof hut for outdoor dining

Another view of the lovely pool + thatched-roof hut for outdoor dining

Here's one of the bedrooms in Casa Mora, with a second door for a nice cross-breeze + garden views...

Here's one of the bedrooms in Casa Mora, with a second door for a nice cross-breeze + garden views...

Best part of the Casa Mora bedrooms? HAMMOCK IN THE BEDROOM! Brilliant.

Best part of the Casa Mora bedrooms? HAMMOCK IN THE BEDROOM! Brilliant.

Here's the crew with the tasty breakfast @ the B&B-- featuring scrambled eggs with chorizo, as well as chilaquiles (the best Mexican breakfast food ever, FYI).

Here's the crew with the tasty breakfast @ the B&B-- featuring scrambled eggs with chorizo, as well as chilaquiles (the best Mexican breakfast food ever, FYI).

The exit from Casa Mora-- it's hard to get inspired to leave...

The exit from Casa Mora-- it's hard to get inspired to leave...

Our first morning, John & I made the 400-step trek up to the Aztec archaeological site that overlooks the town. This is the map of the site

Our first morning, John & I made the 400-step trek up to the Aztec archaeological site that overlooks the town. This is the map of the site

This was the main building in the archaeological site, which was allegedly some sort of initiation site for warriors. Inside, there are animals sculpted out of the stone around a circular room; this is replicated in the Museum of Malinalco.

This was the main building in the archaeological site, which was allegedly some sort of initiation site for warriors. Inside, there are animals sculpted out of the stone around a circular room; this is replicated in the Museum of Malinalco.

Here's me with the main building + the über-steep stairs leading up towards the mountain.

Here's me with the main building + the über-steep stairs leading up towards the mountain.

We later saw this worker carrying material down aforementioned über-steep stairs... Note the intriguing-but-effective headband support system... My neck hurts just looking at him.

We later saw this worker carrying material down aforementioned über-steep stairs... Note the intriguing-but-effective headband support system... My neck hurts just looking at him.

Here's the remnants of one of the jaguars that once guarded each site of the main building.

Here's the remnants of one of the jaguars that once guarded each site of the main building.

We were lucky to visit during the season of the purple-blossomed jacarandas, which made all views around the valley a bit prettier.

We were lucky to visit during the season of the purple-blossomed jacarandas, which made all views around the valley a bit prettier.

Another view of the Malinalco valley from the archaeological site on the mountain. You can see the main street coming into town above John's head.

Another view of the Malinalco valley from the archaeological site on the mountain. You can see the main street coming into town above John's head.

And here's John being the boss on top of another Aztec building... Clearly could have intimidated many an Aztec had he lived in the right era...  This site was created around 1501.

And here's John being the boss on top of another Aztec building... Clearly could have intimidated many an Aztec had he lived in the right era... This site was created around 1501.

Here's the crew at the top of a street in downtown Malinalco.

Here's the crew at the top of a street in downtown Malinalco.

If anyone can tell me what this magical pink flower is, I am dying to know. They look like they could hardly be real!

If anyone can tell me what this magical pink flower is, I am dying to know. They look like they could hardly be real!

Here's the courtyard at the Museum of Malinalco

Here's the courtyard at the Museum of Malinalco

Here's John & I at Las Palomas

Here's John & I at Las Palomas

And as a prize for any readers who actually made it to the end of the post, here is a shot of me seducing a statue at Casa Mora. Please refrain from comment.

And as a prize for any readers who actually made it to the end of the post, here is a shot of me seducing a statue at Casa Mora. Please refrain from comment.

Avoid a Reverse Mullet in Mexico City

Reading my friend Lesley’s post today that mentioned a recent crap haircut reminded me to share a secret gem with any local ladies in my blog audience. After 2 years in DC, I finally found a hairstylist I was happy with who charged reasonable prices (~$40) AND understood the fine balance between cutting-vs.-talking (visit Bubbles Salon at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, VA and ask for Tsigie–703.415.2040). 

You can imagine the tension, then, when I was forced to start anew here in Mexico after my hair reached a shaggy, straw-like consistency. I carefully (ha) selected the first hair salon I saw within walking distance, and prepped my piece of scrap paper with key Spanish hair-cutting vocabulary. The salon owner spoke English (¡Que suerte! I thought at the time), so we confirmed that yes, I was asking for what I thought (a simple haircut).

I started to get nervous when he broke out the razor on the back of my *shoulder-length* hair… My suspicions were confirmed upon returning to our apartment building, where another prior salon visitor saw my new do and piped up, “Oh! You got the reverse mullet from La Luna too!”   Yes indeedy: party in the front, an awkward 2 inches missing in the back.

Due to apparent lack of creativity, I returned to the same salon for my 2nd haircut, but had the wherewithal to request a different stylist. This time, my haircut took a concerning ~10 minutes and was executed in much the way I might have trimmed a Barbie doll’s hair as a child. The stylist also had not quite mastered the art of flattery, asking both if I was interested in getting highlights (I’ve never dyed my hair) and if I was interested in threading (a method of eyebrow hair removal). Erm, no, thanks; I’ll just go home and self-consciously spend 10 minutes in front of the mirror with a tweezers.

When my friend Joy passed along a business card to me for “An American Hairdresser in Mexico”, I was initially skeptical. “I don’t need a special American hairdresser,” I briefly thought to myself. Then I looked in the mirror at my Barbie/mullet mix. Oh, wait. Yes, yes I do.

It is with the hope of preventing another sketchy haircut that I pass along to you the name of Ronit, a lovely woman based in Polanco who is originally from the DC/Maryland area. She works out of her apartment on Lamartine and can be reached at 55.5250.2021 or ronitsabban [at] yahoo.com. It’s been a few weeks so I don’t precisely recall the price, but I know she offers a discount for your first visit & it was definitely <$600 pesos. She even has a monthly e-newsletter with hot discounts! Tell her Julie sent you & maybe she will offer you some magical pirouette chocolatey-wafery snacks. It was all I could do not to impolitely scarf down the whole can.

Best of luck, and may the reverse mullet not be with you.

Makes a Nebraskan feel right at home…

My parents are visiting Mexico this week from Nebraska. To help them adjust, we found this slowly-moving cow herd on the road outside our B&B in Malinalco. Mexico can always be counted upon for the random herd of livestock to help make a Nebraska farm boy feel like he never left…

To tie back in to my previous post, this was pretty much the most danger we came across during our trip to Malinalco, Mexico. Who knows-- these cows could well have been drug mules in disguise... making off with pounds of cocaine in their multiple stomachs...???

To tie back in to my previous post, this was pretty much the most danger we came across during our trip to Malinalco, Mexico. Who knows-- these cows could well have been drug mules in disguise... making off with pounds of cocaine in their multiple stomachs...???

This was my favorite artsy-livestock photo. Pretty purple flowers + soft brown cow in the sunlight, casting a suspicious eye towards the carload of gringos infringing on her territory...

This was my favorite artsy-livestock photo (there's a phrase you don't hear often enough). Pretty purple flowers + soft brown cow in the sunlight, casting a suspicious eye towards the carload of gringos infringing on her territory...

I’m pretty sure rural Nebraska is the last place that the gentleman on the horse would have guessed that I was from, with the rear window of our Maxima rolled down like a moron so I could get the optimal angle/number of cow photos possible…

Animal Highlights of México, Part 1

The plethora of unique animals here never fails to entertain me, so thought I’d share a few photo highlights of critters (or representations thereof) we’ve encountered over the last 7 months here in Mexico City and beyond!!

This dog in Condesa seems to be saying both "I just want a glimpse of the action" and "I know, seriously, I can't believe I'm wearing a man's polo shirt either."

This dog in Condesa seems to be saying both "I just want a glimpse of the action" and "I know, seriously, I can't believe I'm wearing a man's polo shirt either."

What's not fun about a bear pretending to attack your children?

What's not fun about a bear pretending to attack your children?

Whenever I walk through the parks here, I find it hilarious how much people seem to love squirrels. At least 60% of the time when I see a squirrel, there is someone taking a photo of it. Why are they so novel???

Whenever I walk through the parks here, I find it hilarious how much people seem to love squirrels. At least 60% of the time when I see a squirrel, there is someone taking a photo of it. Why are they so novel???

I wouldn't call these Telcel moose mascots the brightest bulbs in the pack... Luckily I am old enough to know better, but for most children, seeing a photo of themselves next to a moose who is sticking its hoof into its neck & having 2 beady eyes staring back could cause some serious trauma...

I wouldn't call these Telcel moose mascots the brightest bulbs in the pack... Luckily I am old enough to know better, but for most children, seeing a photo of themselves next to a moose who is sticking its hoof into its neck & having 2 beady eyes staring back could cause some serious trauma...

John & co went on a horse-riding trek in La Marquesa, just a bit west of Mexico City. My favorite photo was the one of this wee, little horse looking optimistically towards Emily while John got a bit too close for comfort.

John & co went on a horse-riding trek in La Marquesa, just a bit west of Mexico City. My favorite photo was the one of this wee, little horse looking optimistically towards Emily while John got a bit too close for comfort.

I enjoyed this majestic-looking rooster and his colorful backdrop... If only it weren't for that pesky house-arrest bracelet.

I enjoyed this majestic-looking rooster and his colorful backdrop... If only it weren't for that pesky house-arrest bracelet.

I decided being a fat bee was not worth $180 last Halloween.

I decided being a fat bee was not worth $180 last Halloween.

Obviously, if a pig is on display for Día de los Muertos, it just makes sense that the pig's bones would be pink.

Obviously, if a pig is on display for Día de los Muertos, it just makes sense that the pig's bones would be pink.

Mexico seems to enjoy making their dogs appear as tough as possible, even when it is a lost cause. The other fan-favorite I see at mercados is an "FBI" doggie sweater, which I think may actually have the reverse effect of putting your dog in danger... Though to be fair, I have yet to see a "DEA" doggie outfit...

Mexico seems to enjoy making their dogs appear as tough as possible, even when it is a lost cause. The other fan-favorite I see at mercados is an "FBI" doggie sweater, which I think may actually have the reverse effect of putting your dog in danger... Though to be fair, I have yet to see a "DEA" doggie outfit...

This Christmas pig seemed so.... lifelike...?

This Christmas pig seemed so.... lifelike...?

Mercado de Jamaica– the flower market of Mexico City

This Sunday afternoon, we decided to go for a exploration of the wholesale flower market of Mexico City, Mercado de Jamaica. This massive market is apparently *the* place for purchasing flowers for basically all flower vendors in Mexico City and for locals looking for fresh, gorgeous, bargain-priced flowers. We decided to go here with John’s dad Bob (who’s visiting along w/John’s stepmom Pam) because he’s a certified master gardner (I’m told this is an actual title? Who knew!) & thought he would be amused. If I was holding any sort of celebration here in Mexico City, I would definitely hit up Jamaica to stockpile on stunning flower arrangements in advance, since I cannot arrange my way out of the proverbial paper bag. 

We were initially somewhat skeptical of how different this would be from the other bazillion mercados here in Mexico, but I can confirm: it is definitely worth a visit & also a good spot to bring visitors. (Most of the aisles are quite large/spacious, making it both easy to gawk & take photos from afar, and less stressful for disoriented gringos as you are less likely to be run down by locals with small grocery carts or men carrying sides of beef.) That said, there is plenty of the standard market fare as well, so if you are looking to see piles of avocados, hanging pig heads, or the best damn carnitas stall I’ve experienced, you will still be in luck.

Bob poses with roses (as well as bags of pre-plucked rose petals, in case you are too lazy for a full-fledged game of "He loves me, he loves me not")

Bob poses with roses (as well as bags of pre-plucked rose petals, in case one is too lazy for a full-fledged game of "He loves me, he loves me not")

John's favorite-- pollen-laden lillies. That said, by some act of God, we managed to get through this whole market with neither John's nor Bob's allergies acting up. A small miracle.

John's favorite-- pollen-laden lillies. That said, by some act of God, we managed to get through this whole market with neither John's nor Bob's allergies acting up. A small miracle.

This intriguing arrangement has complements its roses on top with another set of roses upside down, dipping into the water in the vase

This intriguing arrangement has complemented its roses on top with another set of roses upside down, dipping into the water in the vase

The boxes of brightly colored gerberas were some of my favorites

The boxes of brightly colored gerberas were some of my favorites

I have never seen such a vibrant blue dye-job on a calla lily

I have never seen such a vibrant blue dye-job on a calla lily

Whatever your religious ceremony needs-- wedding, funeral, baptism, you name it-- Mercado de Jamaica has you covered

Whatever your religious ceremony needs-- wedding, funeral, baptism, you name it-- Mercado de Jamaica has you covered

For those of you who find individual flowers a bit dull, but love dogs, do not fear: Mercado de Jamaica has something for you as well…

In case this isn't immediately obvious to you, these flowers have been formed into a white dog carrying a rose in his mouth.

In case this isn't immediately obvious to you, these flowers have been formed into a white dog carrying a rose in his mouth.

Pam has a little white kick-dog named Teddy back in Florida, and since she was trapped in our apartment today with a displeasing illness, Bob brought her back a white Teddy look-a-like made from flowers. These are brilliant-- cost $2.10 USD in Mexico, but I bet you could sell these puppies for $30+ in the US. :)

Pam has a little white kick-dog named Teddy back in Florida, and since she was trapped in our apartment today with a displeasing illness, Bob brought her back a white Teddy look-a-like made from flowers. These are brilliant-- cost $2.10 USD in Mexico, but I bet you could sell these puppies for $30+ in the US. :)

 And finally for those of you who hate flowers altogether, still do not fear: like I said, you can always just eat. :)

For those of you familiar with the fruit-like vegetable jicama, this was a stand that sold "paddles" of jicama (note round, white thing on a stick in the back), which were then dampened & dipped in various colored/flavored sugars. A fan favorite with the kids.

For those of you familiar with the fruit-like vegetable jicama, this was a stand that sold "paddles" of jicama (note round, white thing on a stick in the back), which were then dampened & dipped in various colored/flavored sugars. A fan favorite with the kids.

And finally I think we found the best stand for a late lunch-- "Carnitas Paty". The carnitas tacos (braised/carmelized pork) were fantastic. Though we were a bit more skeptical when the client after us ordered what appeared to be several pig penises chopped into taco filling. Concerning.

And finally I think we found the best stand for a late lunch-- "Carnitas Paty". The carnitas tacos (braised/carmelized pork) were fantastic. Though we were a bit more skeptical when the client after us ordered what appeared to be several pig penises chopped into taco filling. Concerning.

John & Bob, mid-pork festival. A productive market trip on all fronts!!

John & Bob, mid-pork festival. A productive market trip on all fronts!!

HOW TO GET TO MERCADO DE JAMAICA IN MEXICO CITY: It is conveniently located right on top of the Metro stop of the same name (Jamaica) on the brown line (#9), whose endpoints are Tacubaya & Pantitlan. By taxi, it is just north of the Viaducto east-west highway and about ~2 miles southeast of the Zocalo.

Mexico’s Monarch Migration: bazillions of butterflies

Monarchs enjoying a sunny Mexican winter day

Monarchs enjoying a sunny Mexican winter day

This weekend, John & I took advantage of the Friday I had off of work in honor of el Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe to drive to Michoacán to see the annual monarch butterfly migration! In a nutshell, millions of butterflies migrate from the US & Canada each year starting in November to spend their winter in the oyamel fir tree forests in the mountains of central Mexico. This entire journey is a fascinating process, with the monarchs somehow knowing where to go every year despite multiple life cycles elapsing during the trip. The monarchs normally live for sub-2 months, but those that make the trip south live closer to ~9 months.

Nice job John on the artsy lone-butterfly shot

Nice job John on the artsy lone-butterfly shot

The other cool part is that the very first butterflies arrive in Mexico right around Dia de los Muertos (Nov 2), when Mexico welcomes the souls of the dead back to Earth. It is said that the monarchs’ arrival is the souls of the dead returning for their annual visit. Outside of that hypothesis, no one knows exactly why the monarchs come to Mexico, how they know to return here, or why they like this specific type of tree.

This creekbed was a fan-favorite butterfly hangout for socializing & drinking

This creekbed was a fan-favorite butterfly hangout for socializing & drinking

We visited the sanctuary called El Rosario, the most popular option of the three publicized spots. (You can find a decent map here.) For Spanish speakers, the WWF México website has some good background info; alternatively, About.com also provides an overview of the trek. (Note: Updated Sept 2012 to fix broken links) Logistics-wise, we left at the crack of dawn (6:30AM) to avoid Mexico City traffic, and it took us about 3 hours to get there (with no traffic). The only slightly confusing part was getting through Ocampo, but between following the signs for “Mariposa Monarca” & looking for the touristy road with 4 tracks of bricks interspersed with stones in concrete, we figured it out. Be prepared not to go more than about ~20mph on this road due to the omnipresent topes (speed bumps).

There is a random $30 peso “toll” on the touristy road to the sanctuary (read as: a few people draping a rope across the road), which we couldn’t be bothered to argue. The road leads directly to the parking lot of El Rosario, which helpfully has a $3 peso bathroom option before you start your trek. After running the gauntlet of a dozen shacks selling quesadillas & tacos, you reach the official entrance, pay your $35 pesos each, and follow your guide up the mountain.

We resisted the urge to try & simulate a scene from a Lifetime made-for-TV movie by sitting on this log & waiting for butterflies to perch us, causing us to suddenly realize how short life is & how we should dance like no one is watching

We resisted the urge to try & simulate a scene from a Lifetime made-for-TV movie by sitting on this log & waiting for butterflies to perch on us, causing us to suddenly realize how short life is & how we should dance like no one is watching

I feel like the old Lonely Planet may not sufficiently stress how steep the hike is, particularly given its ~3000m altitude (aka 2,300 feet higher than Mexico City’s ~7000 feet). It is marginally uphill for the 1.5km from the parking lot to the entrance, at which point you may start to think “Hmm I could be in better shape”. Once you start the 2.5km up the mountainside which progresses from stairs to just dirt, be prepared for a little huffing/puffing & possibly even some heavy glowing (for those of us who don’t sweat).  But it was all worth it once we arrived at the clearing with a very small stream running through the grass, where thousands of monarchs were out for a drink in the mid-morning sun.

The monarchs aren't particularly afraid of John, but they did dislike his shadow...

The monarchs aren't particularly afraid of John, but they did dislike his shadow...

I have never heard the sound of butterflies’ wings flapping (arguably as elusive as the sound of one hand clapping), but that is exactly what we heard as they fluttered all around us. Absolutely beautiful. We then hiked up a little farther to see a few of the fir trees where many more thousand were still napping. :) Unfortunately (but understandably) you can’t get too close to this section, but you could still see what looked like giant clumps of brownish feather-dusters attached to the branches. I can’t even imagine how many butterflies were perched on a single branch to give that visual effect from afar.

Behind John, you can see the bazillions of monarchs hanging in clumps on that tree.

Behind John, you can see the bazillions of monarchs hanging in clumps on that tree.

As many better photographers than me have pointed out, photographing butterflies flying around on a sunny day is a challenge at best, but hopefully these photo snippets have at least enticed you to schedule a visit to see for yourself! To that end, below is a brief video that may give a slightly better feel for how much monarch activity will be surrounding you! (May be more effective to watch the higher-res video on YouTube directly here. (Click “watch in high res” just to the lower right of the screen.)

Crazy black sheep on the loose: merely one of the hazards on the road down from the monarch sanctuary.

Crazy black sheep on the loose: merely one of the hazards on the road down from the monarch sanctuary.

In summary, the monarchs of Michoacán are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area between November and March. Just be prepared to work for the experience (my calves still hurt from walking down that many stairs three days later) and also to fend off a number of other vendors/children/parking lot attendants/people selling all-things-butterfly along the way. :)

And more road hazards on our trip down from the sanctuary.... ya herd of cows?

And more road hazards on our trip down from the sanctuary.... ya herd of cows?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...