At five months pregnant, people said, you’re crazy to go to Mexico! You’ll get Zika virus! The third world for a baby moon? Why?
I love the third world. Street food, families of four piled on motorbikes and clear mountain rivers claimed by elephants. (Diyaluma Falls in Sri Lanka.) Places that are super safe don’t feel like much adventure to me. Plus, during dry season and at high elevation, the risk of mosquito born Zika goes down to almost zero in the pueblo magico of Tepoztlan. With its public transpo connections we don’t need a car, and it’s big enough to have yummy food options and ancient sites to visit but small enough to still be quiet and put on some old town charm.
Sam and I had googled Mexico’s pueblos magicos in the high desert of Mexico’s innards for weeks. Tepoz emerged our common favorite, trailed by Tapalpa, which lost due to Tepoz’ pyramids, local ice creams, pre-hispanic food and jagged green mountains. Feeling good about Tepoz, we went ahead and booked the Airbnb that looked like the best deal, most beautiful, ideal location, etc., since we’re kind of research junkies and had to spend about 5 hours each comparing. We settled on the Zen Loft, here https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22359477?location=Tepoztlán%2C%20Mexico&source_impression_id=p3_1581975452_cGQdeDzIv3N%2BNESy
What no one was talking about online was the smog! Now I know Mexico City has bad air– I googled its air quality and saw their running man icon for “it’s okay to exercise outside today,” and the mom cradling a bundle, “keep baby indoors today.” Yikes! But I didn’t know how far the smog extended from DF, or districto federal. Tepoztlan being a good hour drive to the south of df, I figured it’d be fine. I figured wrong. Not the cleanest place to vacation while pregnant.
There are 22 million people living in DF and, as our Uber driver explained, about half (!) of Mexicans living in the capital city drive to various pueblos magicos surrounding the city on the weekends. Holy shit! Make sure to visit during the week if you can. I mean, national visitors are less irritating than international ones, but I’m no fan of hanging out at the top of the bell curve with hordes of any nationality. See how mellow this rooftop bar is? Weekday baby.
Luckily we got to forget about the smog because our Airbnb was even better than the pictures. We stayed at the Zen Loft on a fairytale like property with hand made adobe buildings, a pond, gardens and a domed temple where we participated in a candlelit cacao ceremony. The Zen loft is above and adjacent to two other units on the same property, Satori and Samadhi. They’re all walking distance from downtown but far enough away to shrink the firecrackers, revelry and frequent celebration of various saints over loudspeakers down to a manageable drone.
You can see the town’s pyramid Tepozteco from bed, the bathtub, anywhere really in the Loft, which was amazing for night gazing. One night a lightening storm passed through bringing lots of thunder but scarce needed rain, and we watched a bolt connect with the pyramid, lighting up the ridge.
The property is also a two minute walk to La Veladora, hands down the tastiest and most expensive restaurant in town. Vale la pena! The restaurant is behind the walls of the ivy covered hotel Casa Fernanda, part of an exclusive chain of Mexican hotels known as “tesoros,” or treasures. Here is their website https://casafernanda.com Whimsical bronze sculptures enliven the manicured grounds they have a spa across the street where we spent Valentine’s Day in the warm waterfall pool and tub, the hot shower that simultaneously sprays cold, eucalyptus oil sauna and steam room before our couples massage. Nice one, Sam.
Try the pork belly, the octopus and the smoky soups. I had one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted here.
The manager regularly travels to northern Baja where there’s an emerging vino scene to hand select bottles from small wineries. How small? The two wines we had were from batches of 50. We also had the best wait service of our lives at tiny La Veladora in Tepoztlan, Mexico. It was a royal experience, (ahem, every night) in the open air dining patio facing the gardens and sculptures, and the starry night we couldn’t see through the city lights and smog. Our experiences here helped make up for it.
My favorite eat in town for lunch and snacks is the pre-hispanic food stall at the edge of the mercado, off the main plaza. Everything is inspired by native foods from the time before the Spaniards’ ships reached North America for the first time and influenced everything we now think of as “Latin America food.” This is the real deal. It’s like eating history. Think chia, cacao, grasshoppers and cactus fruit. The creators of the pre-hispanic stall have won awards and notoriety but you’d never know it from the tiny space it occupies on the sloping asphalt and the one teenage employee announcing the ingredients in his best auctioneering rapid fire voice. Little translucent wings and furry legs jut out of one variety of the fried yummies, which are served topped in sauces, only one I recognized as mole.
By the way. The state of Morelos is famous for its mole, of which there are great variations. From a bustling outdoor market in Cuernavaca, mid-journey to the ancient pyramids of Xochichalco were these piles of shit looking moles, just a fraction of a much greater mole mosaic, the girl on the clipboard taking mole orders:
Tepoz is the only town in Mexico where I’ve seen “missing” posters for dogs and cats. I’m charmed by a third world village that cares deeply for their domestic (not edible) pets. The political views in Tepoztlan are also on display in the streets: we support local businesses, we value art, and one mural that yells, “hey, our roots go deeper than Disney.” The place is truly cool. You can buy crystals of every sort, local honey, locally made sorbet (it’s kind of a specialty, many stores sport the “Tepoz nieve”) lamps made of stone or paper, feathered jewelry, and on and on. Sam had to stop me. Alternatively many storefronts offer steam healing treatments in adobe huts, which look sorta similar to a Native American sweat lodge but I didn’t get one so I can’t comment.
From Tepoztlan, you can access two ancient sites, Tepozteco and Xochicalco. One is a shrine to Tepoztcatl, the god of local booze and the other is one of the most important ruins in Mexico. For the first all you need is walking feet. Follow the signs with pyramids on them towards the jagged mountains and the edge of town. You can buy oversize beers, tacos and snacks off the vendors crowding the beginning of the path. As it get shadier and steep, the hawkers disappear, although I did buy cactus popsicles and some homemade chia brownie thing from a crystal-clad indigenous man toting his cooler up the trail. Even though it’s largely shaded, if you want to avoid crows set off before 9 am. Upon summitting this local peak, I was stupefied by the amount of work it would’ve taken to move this amount of stone so high above the town that church bells become ethereal summons and cars are ants- all to honor the god of pulque, or fermented agave sap.
The other ancient site within reach is Xochicalco, one of the oldest sites in mesoamerica and we strolled through it pretty much alone. Us and wind in the dry grass and pounding sun and lizard feet scurrying over rocks. To get to Xochicalco, we started early and took a series of local buses, forgoing an expensive taxi for the local experience, punctuated by the police climbing onboard in Cuernavaca to slowly pan a handheld videocamera over the passengers. So, you know, they’d have a record of us existing on this bus if one of us got kidnapped. Or maybe if one of our fellow passengers was the kidnapper. Um. We nibbled our peanuts in silence, rumbled over highways and finally got off near the entrance to Xochicalco, catching a 40 peso taxi to the entry proper.
The entrance fee admits you into the on-site museum as well as license to wander the ancient grounds. The museum includes an exhibit of the ancient ball game that was played here where the winner- not the loser- was put to death. Another exhibit explains that mesoamerican religion saw the cosmos as forming the world in dual, complementary forces: masculinity was associated with heat, height, the heavens, light, daytime, fire and perfume. Femininity was the cold, the underworld, humidity, darkness, nighttime, water, death, wind and fertility. Pictured below is the badass stone artistry of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.
According to Lonely Planet, this place is “a Unesco World Heritage site and one of central Mexico’s most important archaeological sites…the collection of white stone ruins, many still to be excavated, covers approximately 10 sq km.” So what we saw is only a fraction of what secrets are still buried. Carumba.
Side note: the Xochicalco museum has noting on Mexico City’s Museum of Archaeology, where we spent the better part of a day. Outside the entrance we happened to catch one of the daily performances of colorfully clad indigenous men climbing a pole that must be a hundred feet high, attaching some kind of chord to their feet, jumping off and swing out around the pole in a feat that made my butt clench while one of their land-bound posse taps the crowd for pesos in exchange for the demonstration of their cultural tradition.
Here is a mere replica of one culture’s building style outside one of the wings of the museum, which is organized by the different peoples who have called Mexico their homeland, from the Aztecs to Toletcs, Mixtec and the Mayans:
For our last act, we needed a bite on our way to the airport. Strolling around the Roma district we found Chetito purely by accident. It turned out to be a dark, plant draped taco wonderland, sitting just below sidewalk level, a locals only spot serving gourmet fare at casual prices. The menu offered page after page of tacos. All outrageously delicious, creative, fresh. This place made me want to eat more of Mexico City. I don’t think I’ll be back to Chetito, although they gave me one of the best tacos of my life. There’s something special about finding a new place by one’s nose or hunch or open eyes with no expectations that just tickles me. If you’re a planner, definitely plan on this place! But if not, it made me imagine that this is just one of many understated eateries to be found in Mexico City if you take the time and wander and give something a go without googling it first.