I’m not going to lie, I have fallen seriously far behind on the blog. As such, please forgive me for this fairly eclectic mixture of experiences that I have squeezed into a single piece to attempt to get back on track. I can’t find a narrative or a theme between these places and experiences other than that they were all in or around Mexico City, so bear with me while I shoehorn them all into this post!
Rafting in Jalcomulco
The first of our excursions from Mexico City was to Veracruz to fulfill a long held dream of mine – white water rafting in Mexico. Since I first experienced the thrill of white water rafting in Canada as a teenager and heard the instructor’s tales from this region, I had wanted to experience it for myself. As such, I was pretty excited as our bus wound its way through the hills to the city of Xalapa.
Arriving in Xalapa, we were greeted by some fairly miserable weather, but a considerably less miserable taxi driver to drive us through to Jalcomulco, our base for the next couple of days. The little of the landscape that we could see through the fog was pretty stunning, but the weather was only getting worse as we approached the river side town of Jalcomulco.
At the rafting camp, we discovered two things, we were the only people staying there and the camp really wasn’t setup for the unseasonably bad weather that we were experiencing. One positive was the tasty dinner spread, though a buffet for just us and the staff seemed a little over the top!
When we got out on the river the next day, things started to improve. The weather was still miserable and the water was absolutely Baltic, but the gorge we rafted down was stunning, particularly with the fog atmospherically gripping the mountain tops. Our guides only spoke Spanish, which suited us perfectly as it gave us plenty of opportunity to improve ours. It was the wettest revision session that we have ever had, but I can’t see us forgetting those basic rafting commands of ‘forwards’, ‘back’, ‘stop’, ‘floor’ and ‘careful’ ever again!
Over the course of our stay, there were a variety of activities thrown in with the package. That afternoon, we abseiled down a nearby cliff face and the following day we would do a small zip line course around the camp. However, the real highlight of these extra activities was the Temazcal, a traditional steam bath that was the perfect antedote to a cold day of outdoor activities.
After another trip down the river in the raft, we were back on our way to Mexico City, very much looking forward to some warmer weather. Except, when we arrived in Coayacan, a suburb in the south of the city, it was still really cold. This was particularly true inside the hotel, which due to its lack of sun was even colder than it was outside!
Coayacan was a very picturesque part of the city and was a pleasant place to take a stroll, but there wasn’t a great deal to do and with the weather the way it was, our couple of days there were more than enough. We were looking forward to moving on to warmer climes.
With our next destination of Valle de Bravo, we were in luck. Not only was the weather wonderful, but it was fiesta de la virgen de Guadalupe, so there was plenty going on in town too. It was also our base for what promised to be a truly once in a lifetime experience, the migration of the monarch butterflies. Potentially millions of monarch butterflies gathered in a single forest was a natural event on an almost unimaginable scale.
On our first afternoon in Valle de Bravo, we climbed the small hill of La Peña, offering panoramic views of the lake and the wealthy neighbourhood below, where every other house has a pool. We spent a very happy hour at the top of the hill, enjoying the views and more importantly the warmth!
That evening, we wandered the town taking in the virgen de Guadalupe festivities. As with so many of the events that we had been to in Mexcio, there wasn’t a great deal actually happening, there were just a lot of people gathered in a single place, seemingly just happy to be part of a crowd. There was a market, street food and a small amusement area, but the main activity seemed to be just milling about and soaking it all in.
The next morning, we took the bus to Piedra Herrada for the main event of our stay in Valle de Bravo, the butterfly migration. We arrived to a distinctly low key setup and were guided on a fairly energetic uphill climb through the woods to the main area where the butterflies gathered. As we climbed, the number of butterflies climbed too. Even with only 30-40 butterflies flying around us, it was a fairly spectacular experience, but there was so much more to come!
When we arrived at the top, it was easy to see hundreds, if not thousands of butterflies fluttering through the trees, but it took a moment for my eyes to adjust and to appreciate that the trees aren’t full of leaves or nests or anything else that you would expect to see in trees, but hundreds of thousands of butterflies clinging to every available space (those brown clumps in the photo below are butterflies). It was breathtaking, even if there was an obnoxious tour group ruining the ambience, despite the countless signs telling everyone to be quiet so as not to disturb the butterflies.
After half an hour of taking it all in, we began our descent. Far from being the end of our experience, if anything, the best was yet to come. As we descended, so too did the butterflies, flooding out of the forest and along the paths to the field at the bottom of the hill. We could barely move for butterflies! The photos don’t really do the experience justice, I can’t emphasise enough, just how many butterflies there were.
Fully descended, we sat on a log in the field at the bottom of the hill and contentedly watched the butterflies continue to flood out of the forest.
On the road, we flagged down a shared taxi and made our way slowly back into town, as the cab driver carefully tried to avoid the butterflies that were now all over the road.
Back in town, we walked to a nearby waterfall along the edge of the lake and reflected on an incredible day. We had lost a bit of momentum from the trip during the last couple of stops due to the cold and a fair bit of waiting about, but seeing things like the butterfly migration are exactly the reason we love being able to travel the world and with some warmer weather too, we felt like we were back on track.
Mercado de la Merced
When we arrived back in CDMX the next day, we had an Air BnB booked and I had some serious cooking planned. As such, the first stop was Mercado de la Merced to buy some ingredients. The abundance of chillies, both dried and fresh, guaranteed that I would be cooking some spicy food over the next few days. The tomatillos and avocados grabbed my attention as always, as did the huge piles of peeled onions. The next few days of cooking would be all about the salsas! The whole shopping trip was a bit of a test for my Spanish, as market sellers aren’t exactly renowned for speaking slowly and in text book language the world over! At points, I was feeling great about my progress as I was having a bit of back and forth with people, but there were also a couple of mistakes along the way.
The first of these mistakes involved me nearly buying 4kg of Jalapeños instead of 250g, due to the similarity between “cuatro” and “cuarto”. In a classroom environment or practicing at home on my own, I wouldnt make that mistake, but trying to remember my mental shopping list (which was changing each time I saw an exciting ingredient), trying to keep an eye on my mobile in an area notorious for pick pockets, trying not to get in anyones way in a busy market and trying to work out what was a sensible price for everything in another currency meant that I said it three times without noticing. It was only when the vendor scooped up a frankly ludicrous amount of chillies that it dawned on me what I had asked for! Fortunately, we were able to share a joke when I told him my mistake, which made me feel slightly less daft.
The second mistake was a bit more annoying, but still not exactly life or death! I bought a whole chicken, which the butcher then prepared for me. And when I say whole chicken, I mean whole chicken! This is where the confusion arose, I thought he had asked me if I would like the feet removed (“pie”) but he had actually asked me if I wanted the skin removed (“piel”). I looked away for a second to find some money to pay for it and turned back round to find half my chicken missing its skin. No roast chicken for us then!
Over the next few days, as well as churning out a lot of salsas, I made some real progress on some additional Spanish tenses. This proved to be a bit of a double edged sword in the short term. My range has exploded, but in real life situations this makes conversation considerably more difficult. Instead of having a small amount of go to tenses (which may or may not be grammatically correct) I had a whole list to trawl through to find what I needed, which is not necessarily conducive to off the cuff conversation. Two steps forward, one step back!
Our final few days in Mexico City weren´t all language learning and cooking, we did also venture out of the house to see some more of the city! As well as a second trip to Chapultepec park, we also took a visit to Xochimilco, a canal system on which you can ride colourful boats to a soundtrack of Mariachi bands.
From Mexico City, we would, be heading onto Oaxaca (wahaca) for plenty of its world famous cuisine. Hopefully, it won’t be quite so long in between posts this time!