Mexico City to San Cristobal, February 2022
Hygge: The warm feeling you get while enjoying the company of great friends and all life has to offer. The conscious appreciation of recognizing everything you have and enjoying to the present moment. (Origin: Danish, pronounced hue-guh)
The morning of Sunday February 6th we woke feeling foggy after too many margaritas with our new Dutch friends. However, my younger brother Brendan had landed in Mexico City early that morning and the anticipation of seeing him helped get us over the hump! We hopped in an Uber and paid $14 USD for the hour-long drive to the neighborhood of Roma Norte where we had booked a hotel for a few nights. Once united we spent the day walking beautiful tree-lined streets and exploring parks. A few hours in we grabbed a drink and unanimously decided our mom needed to be here with us. After a bit of flight searching and some convincing (we did not have to twist her arm too hard) we had her booked on a flight to meet us in Oaxaca the following Sunday!
From Left to Right: Will giving Brendan a big welcome hug; tiled façade in Mexico City; the moment we decided we needed our mom with us; Salvador Dali art installation in Centro
We loved the energetic urban sprawl of Mexico City, from the museums and parks to the cafes and wine bars, best (and cheapest) street tacos in the world, markets, good vibes, great music, colorful street art and warm people. We spent our time in the neighborhoods of Roma Norte, Roma Sur, Condesa, Coyoacan, and Centro. We kept our wits about us and felt very safe. In fact, the scariest thing I endured was having a rat run over my foot on a walk one night. The city is at an elevation of over 7,000 feet and we felt the impact of the elevation walking and running. That also meant the drive in and out of the city provided insane mountain views. We left the city wanting more, so no doubt we will be back.
An Uber took us back to Francine waiting at the RV Park in Teotihuacan, and we walked to check out the majestic Pyramid of the Sun. Brendan enjoyed luxurious accommodation in Francine’s fold down dinette (and later moved to the more spacious floor for his 6′ 4″ body). Early the next morning we departed for the eight-hour mountainous drive to Oaxaca. Traffic was ridiculous when we arrived in the city, and we spent an hour looking for a suitable place to park on the street to camp for a few days.
Settled at last, we were ready to soak up Oaxaca….food, mezcal, markets, street art, and handmade crafts! Throughout Mexico when we would find glassware, rugs, pillows, etc. that we liked and ask where they were made, we were always told, “hecho en Oaxaca (made in Oaxaca).” We were excited to get here and find some treasures. We met a silkworm farmer at a market, and he invited us to his workshop an hour outside the city, in an area that is also known for wool rugs. We drove out the next day, learned the silk-making process and helped him feed his worms. He let us sample mezcal, which is an excellent sales tactic because we ended up purchasing several items from him! We all went home with beautiful wool rugs as well. On the way back to the RV park we sampled mezcal cocktails and local cuisine, including soup made from the locally grown black beans and grasshoppers!
It was Superbowl Sunday and Brendan had checked into a hotel to work for the week. We talked him into sticking around our RV park for a Superbowl party. It was quite the scene to be sharing food with people from all over the world, watching the game on a tiny, old TV in the common area and having the game broadcast in Spanish. Brendan was the only person at the party who resides in America, and knew much about the teams (or the game, really)! I was tuned in for the half time show…Snoop Dogg!!!
The only thing on the agenda the next day was get laundry done and prepare for Mom’s arrival. Little did I know that two loads of laundry would consume the entire day. The words from the man we met in Tequila came back to me: “Nothing is easy in Mexico!”
Brendan collected our Mom at the airport and we celebrated our first night eating street food and drinking margaritas. She spent the next few mornings walking and drinking coffee with Brendan, and then we would taxi in from the RV park to meet her for explorations, shopping, food, and cocktails while Brendan worked. Spending this time together, having deep heart to heart chats, making new memories, and having quality time together were priceless. We will forever cherish these times.
Brendan collecting Mom, our first cocktail together, trying new food at a market
Will recently shared a couple articles that put into perspective the value of the time we have left with family and friends once we are full-blown adults. One includes a color-coded graph of our life in weeks. It is a way to quantify a life’s experience, and it shows, in an explainable, visual way, that what we have is finite. It certainly hit me, especially the comment, “Life is short, your special moments are much fewer than you think.” (Link to articles: https://twitter.com/punk6529/status/1507787390114488322?s=20&t=7jJk667Tsh-O_ne9ivxdFw & https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/life-weeks.html)
The incredible street art of Oaxaca
Embracing these special moments, we booked a tour to learn about the local arts Oaxaca is famous for. We toured a black pottery studio and got our hands dirty giving it a try. Next stop was an alebrije studio where we watched them intricately carve wood into animal shapes before painting detailed designs on them. We learned the history of this handcraft and the spirit animals that inspire their art. They asked for our birth dates so that they could identify our spirit animals in life and death (Will = badger & butterfly, Mom = ant & snail, Beth = jaguar, but all of us were a deer in the after life!). The culture is fascinating and left us wanting to learn more about the the famous celebration of el dia los muertos (the day of the dead). They suggested we watch the movie CoCo to understand more. We watched it and are now determined to return in November one year to experience the lively festivities! (https://www.disneyplus.com/movies/coco/db9orsI5O4gC)
Our guide ordered us massive platters of mole, sauces, meats, plantains, and Coronas at a market before continuing on to a sword and knife making studio that was famous for making swords used in Conan the Barbarian. It is a woman-owned business, and a bold woman she was! We bought a knife from her, perhaps out of intimidation! Last stop was at the home of a sweet and talented woman skilled at backstrap weaving. Will gave it a go and we were blown away at the memory and time involved in this craft.
The art of knife making, running trail outside Oaxaca, Will learning basket weaving
Winding Road to Puerto Escondido
Feeling full of all Oaxaca had to offer us, we left Brendan to finish his work week and loaded Mom up in Francine and took off for the 160 mile journey south to Puerto Escondido on the coast. Though it was not a long distance to travel, it would take us over eight hours and two days to get there!
A necessary pit stop at a mezcal distillery was required just outside Oaxaca. We were in search of ancestral mezcal and had heard about a legend named Antonio. We walked into what appeared to be a gathering of friends and family, but was just another work day at Palenque El Conejo. Antonio greeted us and served us mezcal samples straight from the burning still before we went to his shed to try the other varieties. Despite the communication barrier, we were thoroughly entertained. He, his wife, and son bottled and labeled mezcal in front of us. As we walked back to Francine to leave his entourage followed us to get a look at our house on wheels. Francine was a hit!
Late afternoon we drove into the mystic beauty of San Jose del Pacifico. Sunset would have been amazing had the clouds not rolled in, but any disappointment about that was quickly dissipated by the herd of puppies that greeted us at our camp. We walked the steep hills exploring the little village, chatted with European travelers camped next to us, and had wine and dinner over a bonfire. We were tempted to take a puppy with us.
We resisted the temptation to kidnap a puppy and continued on our winding mountain road. It was a motion sickness inducing drive, so it took us some time to get to the coast. We landed at Mazunte to catch the sunset and park in the drive of a nice family for the night. We felt the hippy vibe of the village and Mom and I enjoyed a coffee walk to Punta Cometa in the morning.
Family Time in Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido was to be our meeting point with Brendan for our last two nights together with Mom. Unfortunately, after he checked out of his hotel he learned his rental car was unavailable. After some scrambling, he booked an overnight bus to get to us the following day. While our time was short, we made the most of our last day together in the sunshine, playing in the waves, walking on the beach and enjoying conversation over delicious Mexican food and drink.
We spent a couple more days parked next to the beach in Puerto Escondido after our mom headed back to snowy Minnesota, enjoying the sunsets while swimming. More street art was discovered, including a favorite “Beware of Comfort,” which we identify with. If we had remained in our comfort zone, there is no way we would be on this incredible adventure.
Last Stop In Mexico: San Cristobal
Back on our own, we put in another long day on mountainous roads to get to San Cristobal where we would spend our final days in Mexico. More skinny streets lead to more bickering, but we landed at an RV park near town and met some awesome people. The town center was full of history, food (including several gluten free restaurants & barbacoa tacos they are famous for), art and drink. We found a wine bar and enjoyed several glasses of wine…each, olives, peanuts and popcorn for $14 USD. On the walk back we came upon an opening party of a new art gallery and spent hours chatting and drinking with interesting locals and expats. When we arrived back at the campground we realized we were locked out with another Dutch couple. They climbed over the fence to let us in, as they needed to get to their baby crying in their camper! We were lulled to sleep (and pulled out of sleep) by the sound of crazy birds and barking dogs.
On what was meant to be our last day in Mexico, our new friends from the campground took us on an adventurous day to the tiny village of Chemula to check out an intriguing church and culture. We first stopped to get COVID tests for our entrance to Guatemala, but being Sunday the testing sites were closed. I would later be thankful for this extra day in Mexico…
We arrived in Chemula early to find crowds of people dressed in traditional attire, playing music and drinking beer. Turns out it was Carnaval and none of us had realized we would get to witness such a party! We wandered the town, walked through the church to witness animal sacrifices happening before us, candles stuck to the floor burning everywhere, statues surrounding us, and intense believers deep in prayer. Photographs are not allowed in this church. They will either fine you or smash your camera (or both) if you are caught taking a picture.
Outside the church we drank gigantic micheladas and participated in dances with the locals. They enticed us to buy them beer and to try their delicious looking raw fish and peanut snack. I love sardines, and one of our friends and I gave it a try. After all, we had just talked about how important it was to participate in the traditions with the locals! It was only a small bite, but I would pay for this decision for four full weeks.
We walked the 10 kilometers back to town and had another amazing taco dinner. I then spent the entire night and the next day sick as a dog. Will was able to slowly escort me to get our COVID test, and remind me along the way that he told me not to eat the raw fish. I nursed electrolyte drinks and was grateful to have another full day to rest in Francine before hitting the Guatemala border. It may not have been the way we wanted to end our time in Mexico, but certainly was an ending to remember!