Travel Guide Part 2: Mexico City and Oaxaca
Mexico City is one of my favourite cities I have visited (so far) and I think you will love it too. It’s dirty, sweaty, colourful, tasty, historic, modern, dangerous and fun all at the same time. I visited in March 2011 and was lucky enough to have a knowledgeable local to show me around however, the tips that follow (along with the Wallpaper City Guide) are the next best thing.
We arrived in the city late at night and went to a street vendor for quesadillas, which were cheesy and spicy with the obligatory salsa. In Cancun you will find these delicacies are available around the clock in certain residencies.
The next day we strolled through the Coyoacan neighborhood. This will be enough to make you fall in love with the city as you take in all the brightly coloured houses with their overgrown courtyards. See if there any are on sale for me. In Coyoacan you will find Frida Kahlo’s house, La Casa Azul, where the artist grew up and later spent her last days. I have read that there is now an exhibition of Kahlo’s wardrobe on display, which sadly wasn’t on when I visited so you will have to tell me all about it… I’m refraining from booking a flight as I type. The way Kahlo dressed, flowers, ribbons and monkey included, was as much of an art form as her paintings. This is a woman who was not ashamed of her mono-brow but embraced it as her most distinctive feature; a woman who wore indigenous Mexican clothing, demonstrating pride in her heritage, whilst her contemporaries were embracing modern Western styles of dress. Whether it was dressing up in a man’s suit to disrupt a traditional family photograph, or painting her body cast after a bus crash that left her in pain for the rest of her life; Kahlo made a statement through what she wore.
I didn’t get the chance but I’m sure Kahlo’s other house, built for her and Diego Riviera in 1931, is also well worth visiting. It is in fact two houses, one for each artist, each with its own studio space (the smaller blue structure was Kahlo’s). A bridge joins the two buildings together, Kahlo described it as the couple’s love, and it’s symbolic of a desired separate-togetherness. A cactus fence surrounds the buildings.
You will also be interested in Dolores Olmedo’s house turned museum in Xochimilco. Olmedo was a close friend of Kahlo and Riviera’s and in her museum you will find works by both artists, as well as other varied works from her impressive collection. Also in Xochimilco sample some shrimp fajitas from the food market and then rent a colourful boat to take you down the river at night and host a private party on it.
Walk around UNAM and you will see fine examples of modernist Mexican architecture. There are excellent examples of the Mexican love of integrating art and architecture; the 3D murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros are impressive and embody a revolutionary spirit, as do those by Diego Riviera.
Enjoy the bustle of Zocalo square and get a tour of the towers and bells of the Cathedral where you can take in the view. Head to Coyoacan for dinner, try ensalada con flor de jamaica and a mango margarita.
The next day head to Teotihuacan, an awe-inspiring ancient city, where you can get a workout climbing a pyramid. Prepare for unrelenting heat. Back in town in the evening try Mezcal (cactus alcohol!) in a little bar in the Condesa neighbourhood, you deserve it. The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is also worth a visit, again for the fantastic Mexican modernist architecture, and for a thorough history of Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish.
We then got an overnight bus to Oaxaca, a beautiful traditional town. After a breakfast of tortilas and salsa in a market we checked into the Pochon hostel. A day is well spent strolling around the town. Perhaps the most memorable meal of the trip we had was in the courtyard of the restaurant Los Danzantes – highly recommended. Then find somewhere to go salsa dancing. The next day we got a bus to the nearby, smaller town of Ocotlan, the glory of the market here has to be seen to be believed, it was a real Eat, Pray, Love experience to rival the one we had at the farmer’s market in North Park, San Diego. I had my hair braided and then we had lunch at Frida’s Cocina, run by a modern day Kahlo incarnation. Back in Oaxaca that night I had a blackberry chicken mole for supper, mole is a traditional Mexican dish made with many ingredients including chilli and chocolate.