A Week in Mexico City (part 3)

Day 3

Teotihuacan

The Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan. Pre-Hispanic. Think about that for a minute. Pre-Hispanic refers to the time before the Spanish “discovered” the Americas and, in the case of Teotihuacan, going back to 100 BCE. Just about everything we commonly think of as Mexican comes from after Spanish contact. Sombreros, Mariachi, Tequila, even Tacos. If the Spanish showed up in the 1600s and Teotihuacan was built in 100 BCE, that leaves a lot of time unaccounted for.

The #1 tip for your visit to Teotihuacan? Bring bottled water. Expect to spend the better part of a day on the Avenue of the Dead, yeah, you read that right, Avenue of the Dead, hiking up and down the three pyramids, in the blazing Mexican sun, where your senses will be assaulted by dozens of vendors selling carved turtles, jaguar whistles, and flutes but, oddly, no one sells water.

The jaguar whistles are super cool and I really should buy one but don’t want to carry a bunch of heavy souvenirs. Carved from wood in the shape of a jaguar head, when you blow into it it sounds exactly like a wild cat roar.

There are three pyramids – the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Pyramid of the Moon. They say sensitive visitors may be contacted by the souls of the hundreds of human sacrifices buried beneath the temples.

Around 3:00 pm, the sunlight has taken on the warm golden glow of late day. I’m out of breath, thirsty, and hot. The vendors desperate to sell their trinkets before the crowds disappear blow jaguar whistles sending wild cat calls into the distance. Barefoot children play flutes. Huge stone carvings of the Feathered Serpent God seem to be whispering to me.  The air is heavy with the blend and melt of sounds and colors and some undefined presence. The pyramid of the sun towers over me.

The Pyramid of the Sun is the 3rd tallest pyramid in the world. It takes us about an hour to hike up, moving elbow to elbow with a huge crowd. Did I mention it’s hot as hell and we have no water? The steps are steep and narrow but we vow to reach the top as much for the challenge as for the amazing view of Teotihuacan whose layout is a representation of the universe as envisioned by ancient architects. It’s pretty cool.

As for being contacted by the souls of the dead I can’t comment. My journal for the day contains only three words. Exhausting. Hypnotic. Eerie.

La Gruta

A day of wrestling jaguars and climbing Pyramids can make a girl hungry. And what better place to eat than in a cave. Whoa. Wait. What?

La Gruta is a restaurant built into a cave or rather a cave converted into a restaurant. We enter the mouth of the cave and descend down a narrow staircase. Remember that movie “The Lost Boys” where the vampire’s human captives live in a tricked out cave? It’s a lot like that but with great food, impeccable service, and it’s refreshingly cool after a day under the sun.

Pre-hispanic seems to be the word of the day, with a menu containing grasshoppers, caterpillars, and other traditional Mexican foods you won’t find at Taco Hell. I choose the Mexican Platter which is just plain delicious tamales, enchiladas and other typical Mexican foods. To be a little more daring, I have an appetizer of sopes de aguacate y chapulines (thick bread-like tortillas with avocado and grasshoppers). I’ve had grasshoppers before so this wasn’t all that daring. No they don’t taste like chicken… more like shrimp. But I really had to pass on the ant larvae.

And, like everything in Mexico, it has it’s own legend. There’s a area of cave wall covered with flaming votive candles. The story goes you light a candle, pray to the gods of the cave, and they will cleanse your soul. In christian parlance all your sins will be forgiven.

Cool! I can start over again and vow to be less of an asshole this time around.

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A Week in Mexico City (part 1)

Day 1

“Wow it’s so clean!” is our first spontaneous group exclamation. Of course, any city has its best foot forward in the tourist areas but the crumbling infrastructure of TJ and SoCal is conspicuous by its absence in CDMX. You can actually drive around the city without the constant shocking jolt and swerve of negotiating pot holes.

Even so, I recommend hiring a driver. You’ll avoid the crowded metro and when I say crowded I mean body-crushing crowded like that Star Trek episode “The Mark of Gideon“. Locals say it’s not safe for naive travelers and, if you can’t haggle in Spanish, cheaper than taxis/uber. The typical traffic day in CDMX is worse than the worst traffic day in TJ so tackling it could ruin your trip.

We are staying at Hotel Fontán. Not a luxury hotel by any stretch of the imagination but located on Paseo de la Reforma within walking distance of so many cool sites you could do a walking tour and never need a car. It’s perfect.

We check in, then walk to Café de Tacuba for lunch, passing through Alameda Central park lined with vendors of colorful artesanía (handicrafts). The area is closed to cars on Sundays so it’s a bustling hub of bicyclists, tourists, and families enjoying a day in the park against a backdrop of stunning cultural landmarks too numerous to name. But including, el Palacio de Bellas Artes, el Museo National de Arte, and the park itself.

Getting into Café de Tacuba is our introduction to the ubiquitous crowds. Everything is mobbed. But the Tortilla soup and Enchiladas Especiales Tacuba are delicious and the atmosphere… Estudiantinas (musicians) line the staircase, serenading you as you go up, museum worthy paintings line the walls, along with intricately painted tiles, Spanish arches, and wrought iron touches… is magical.

In the evening, we walk to La Cervecería de Barrio for a few beers. Of course the conversation turns to politics. The United States seems to be on everyone’s mind. Maybe in response to the Trump Presidency, his “Mexican Wall”, and fears it will escalate the U.S./Mexico border humanitarian crisis. Or maybe just because the U.S. still rules the free world despite its problems.

I haven’t even been in Mexico City for a whole day and I’ve already been told three times by three different people how much everyone the world over hates the United States. Gosh thanks. The honesty is refreshing?

Despite the causal throwing about of the H bomb people are gracious and welcoming and my less than great Spanish receives a kinder reception here than in TJ. So far so good.

Birria de Pollo

Gather your ingredients
1 whole chicken (or equivalent pieces)
1/2 carrot
1/2 celery stalk
1 small onion
1 fresh poblano chili
3 large cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
4 to 5 cups water
1/3 cup white vinegar

1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
4 or 5 Whole allspice
1 tablespoon cumin

1 cube caldo de pollo (Knorr)

Dried Chilis:
2 chili ancho
1 chili guajillo
2 chili arbol
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Remove stems and seeds from 1/2 the dried chilies (if you want it spicy leave the seeds). Toast all dried chilies on a hot skillet until they blister (but don’t let them char). Soak them in the Caldo de Pollo for 10 – 15 minutes then puree well in a blender.

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Peel and rough chop carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Remove stem and seeds from poblano chili and rough chop. Put all chopped vegy in bottom of a stock pot.

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Place chicken in stock pot and cover with water. Add all the spices. Stir in chili puree. Simmer until chicken begins to fall off the bone (4 or 5 hours) stirring occasionally.

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Remove chicken. Separate the meat from skin and bones and discard. Shred the meat.

 

Strain the broth and salt to taste. Add broth to chicken just enough to cover.

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Serve with tortillas, chopped cilantro, onion, limes, in tacos. Also makes a good tortilla soup.

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