I went to Mexico and Didn’t get Sick, Attacked or Kidnapped-Here’s What Happened Instead
When I was planning my recent trip to Mexico I was excited. It was my first trip to the country, and rather than head to a luxury resort I wanted this trip to be about the culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love a luxury resort as much as the next person (as you can see here and here), but the Mexico I wanted this time didn’t involve palapas or infinity pools. A few days at an immersive cooking school in the small mountain town of Tepoztlan, with mornings spent walking through town to the market to gather the ingredients for dinner that night all within view of dramatic limestone cliffs capped with the ruins of an Aztec pyramid; followed by the frenetic mix of modern and historic in Mexico City would be my introduction to Mexico. When I announced my travel plans to friends and family I was a bit taken aback, more than any other place I have visited I was deluged with warnings and questions about my safety.
“Don’t drink the water”.
“The food will make you sick”.
“What about zika?”.
“What about all of the gang violence?”.
“Aren’t you afraid of being kidnapped or raped?” (Yes, this is verbatim a question someone asked).
I’m happy to report none of the above happened. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people care about me and want me to be safe but I was shocked that this was overwhelmingly the primary impression people had of Mexico (especially Mexico City). Where I see a diverse culture blending pre-Colombian and European influences along with one of world’s most dynamic food scenes, others saw danger and violence. While I don’t want to discount any violence that does occur I feel it’s important to emphasize that Mexico is not a Mad Max-esque state of lawless banditos. Tepoztlan, while not on the typical American tourist trail, is a beautiful colonial town bordering a national park very popular with Mexicans; and Mexico City being the frenetic megalopolis it is, reminded me very much of New York with avenues of gleaming skyscrapers and pockets of distinct neighborhoods.
So if none of the awful things I was warned about above occurred during my trip what did happen? Let’s take a look.
I ate and drank. A lot.
Truth be told the advice to be wary of the water is a good one, not just for Mexico but for a lot of places around the world; but with most places using filtered water and bottled water available everywhere it’s not really an issue. I enjoyed a wide variety of food, from handmade corn tortilla (the best I’ve ever had, really) to homemade Chiles en Nogada that I had a hand in making to inventive tamale from one of Mexico City’s best chefs. Fresh salsas accompanied everything and I delighted in sampling new to me foods from the neighborhood market. Horchata, agua fresca, Mexican wines and mezcals filled my glass and I enjoyed every last drop. The only side effect from all of this gluttony? Temporary too tight pants syndrome.
I saw a different side of Mexico
I met abuelas making tortillas to sell from their homes. I carried corn to the neighborhood mill to be ground into fresh masa for our meal later that day. In shops and on the street I was greeted with a smile and a buenas dias, I genuinely felt welcomed wherever I went.
I was also invited to an underground salsa club in Tepoztlan, where at a time long after my normal bedtime, those in the know gather to watch musicians from the National Conservatory in Mexico City and dance long into the night. It was here I got my first sips of mezcal, served with the traditional orange slices and ground red pepper.
I never once felt unsafe.
I walked the streets of both Tepoztlan and Mexico City, day and night, and not once questioned my safety. Tepoztlan is a sleepy town with narrow cobblestone streets that comes alive on weekends and festivals. I, as a tourist (and one with limited time at that) stuck to the tourist areas in Mexico City. We stayed in the La Condesa neighborhood, an artistic enclave filled with art deco architecture; and explored the historic downtown , Chapultepec Park with its green spaces and world class museums and the upscale Polanco neighborhood.
While at the aforementioned salsa club I danced with a stranger. He was polite and respectful, sharing nothing but smiles, a few twirls on the dance floor and the occasional laugh when my two left feet revealed themselves.
I made some life-long friends.
I was first greeted by the owner of the cooking school in Tepoztlan with a margarita and a hug and this truly set the tone for my entire stay in Mexico. We became fast friends bonding over our love of food and travel sharing stories while cooking, eating and dancing the weekend away.
Also at the school I met a chef from Chihuahua, visiting the school the learn about the regional nuances of Central Mexican cuisine. I enjoyed learning about her life and food (especially while she made me mole Colorado and tamales) and by the end of the weekend she declared me her American daughter.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a lovely couple from Mexico City who took a keen interest in how I was enjoying their city and country. They gave me some invaluable tips for my time in Mexico City (as well as where to get a good cup of coffee).
Mexico is so much more than glittering five star resorts and drug kingpins that dominate the news. In my short time there I encountered some of the most genuinely nice people I’ve met anywhere and it’s this welcoming spirit of Mexico that left a lasting impression for me.