This is the second installment in a series about my favourite things about some of the countries I’ve traveled to (see Part 1: Cuba). The views expressed in these posts are subjective but I explain my choices so that you can determine if my favourites could become yours.
In 2004 I participated in an exchange program through my university to the Instituto Technológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (“the Tec”) in Monterrey, Mexico. Although I had been studying Spanish for about five years, this is where I became conversationally fluent and it’s also where I made some of my best Latin American friends.
Favourite City: Oaxaca
The zócalo (main square) of Oaxaca City is symbolic of everything that I love about this mountain valley city: quaint colonial architecture, vendors selling delicious Oaxacan food and beautiful crafts from nearby communities, traditional music always to be heard, and frequent political protest. When I was there, there was a sit-in to protest McDonalds’ request for a permit to set up shop on the zócalo (the protest lasted for a year and in the end, the permit was not granted).
Favourite Town and Beach: Puerto Escondido
All of my friends told me I would love Puerto Escondido and they were right! On the Oaxacan coast, this town is famous for surfing but has remained relatively escondido (hidden) from the wrath of tourism. It has three beautiful beaches that range from the calm, turquoise waters of Carrizalillo to the never-ending sands and famous waves of Zicatela. The town has diverse restaurants and all the amenities one could need but it retains a small-town feel with no large hotels.
How can I pick just one Mexican food? Beans and tortillas always hit the spot for me. Favourites include classic (soft shell) tacos, rolled up and fried taquitos, and the hard-shell tostadas offered on many Monterrey street corners waiting to be piled high with the delicious toppings of your choice.
Favourite Drink: Mezcal
A distilled alcohol made from the maguey cactus, mezcal is similar to tequila but better. Once the maguey is harvested, it is cooked for several days in pit ovens underground which gives mezcal a distinct and delicious smokey flavour. As the Mexican saying goes, “Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, también!” (“For the bad times, mezcal. For the good times, same!”).
Favourite Music: Rodrigo y Gabriela
Let their hands do the talking. This guitar duo specializes in fast, rhythmic, flamenco, fusion which is spectacular to watch. Plus they support animal rights.
Favourite Bargain: Street food and beer
Have a craving for a taco? A tamale? Corn on the cob? Most can be found on a local street corner for extremely low prices. There are also some stands that sell beer in a milk jug for only a few pesos. Or maybe that was just that one street corner in Monterrey… but the street food and drink in Mexico is cheap and delicious!
Favourite Tourist Activity: Exploring ancient ruins (Monte Alban y Chichen Itza)
I never made it to Teotihuacan near Mexico City but there are many other sites to explore the impressive city ruins of the Aztec, Mayan, and other ancient peoples of Mexico. I was able to explore Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula and Monte Alban in Oaxaca. I highly recommend both!
Favourite Thing about the People: La Lucha
No I don’t mean wrestling (although Lucha Libre fighters do wear amazing outfits). I mean the dedication with which the Mexican people have struggled and continue to struggle against oppression. From the War of Independence to the Zapatistas, the people of Mexico have continuously fought against injustice. Groups like the indigenous collective CIPO-RFM continue to struggle for their autonomy and rights with members near and far – including the comuna CIPO-VAN in Vancouver.
Favourite Piece of History: The Founding of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City)
According to an ancient prophecy, the wandering tribes of current Mexico were destined to build a great city where they found an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. The Aztecs found just that… on a swampy island in Lake Texcoco in 1325. Despite the less than favourable terrain, they built their city on islands in the lake and it truly became a great one. It is now Mexico City. And the eagle eating a snake on a cactus is now the central figure on Mexico’s flag.
Most Incredible Moment: Looking over Monterrey
On my last night in Monterrey, my friends took me to a look-out point over the whole city. Cerro de la Silla towered over the glimmering lights of the city and it was beautiful. I was sad to be leaving but grateful for my experiences there. Mexico remains one of my favourite places in the world.