Tuesday, January 3, 2017

¡viva méxico!

I have been asked numerous times about my recent three day solo journey through Mexico City. That's right, solo. I went traveling by myself, and to anyone thinking of traveling alone, do it. Just go. You will never regret it.

I arrived in Mexico City (CDMX) from Fort Lauderdale on a Wednesday afternoon. I did set up free international roaming from my cell phone provider before I arrived in Mexico, but if you don't have international data, you can easily log into the airport's free wi-fi. I hired an Uber to take me straight from the airport (after hitting the ATM for some pesos) to my Airbnb hotel. About 40 minutes and 100 pesos later ($5) I arrived at Hotel Parque México in the Hipódromo /Roma/ Condesa neighborhood. The hotel, complete with rooftop bar and restaurant, hooked me up with a free margarita. It felt amazing to finally relax after a day of traveling. That evening, post-margarita, I didn't do anything specific. I wandered around and, though I was intrigued by the Roma Market, it felt like a tourist location, with overpriced fancy foreign cuisines. Not the Mexico City food I was truly searching for. Instead, I walked around the block, stopped at the first roadside stand I could find, and ate way too many tacos al pastor. They were delicious!

The Airbnb Hotel Parque México

On Day 1, Thursday, I was up early and out the door. The night before I purchased a ticket to the Frida Kahlo Museum for 10:30am (the museum opens at 10am). I highly recommend purchasing your ticket in advance. You'll wait in a much shorter, quickly moving ticket holder line. There was a minimal fee for purchasing the $7 ticket online but it was totally worth it.

Starting from my hotel, I took an Uber south to the neighborhood of Coyoacan. The ride was so quick that I had enough time to stop at the fantastic neighborhood café, El Beneficio, about 4 blocks from the museum. I had a delicious latte, along with free samples of decadent brownies. I spoke with a few patrons who highly recommended the egg dishes I was eyeing. If I had more time, I definitely would have ordered some breakfast.

Visit El Beneficio Café if you're in Coyoacan

Once I arrived at the Museum, I waited in a short line to get in to the Blue House, where Frida and Diego lived for decades. Their home has been converted into the Museo Frida Kahlo and it houses everything from recently discovered paintings and photographs to Frida's actual wheelchairs, braces, and even her ashes. 

Visitors can take photos inside the Museo Frida Kahlo

I also absolutely loved the additional temporary exhibit, devoted to how Frida dressed. Complete with every type of brace she used over the years, the exhibit included a sampling of each of Frida's clothing items. I spent about an hour and a half there and saw the entire museum. I then decided that since it was a quick walk to the Leon Trotsky House Museum, I would check it out as well. When I arrived the museum was empty. After a quick look around, I left Coyoacan via an Uber and headed downtown to the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is also a museum

I knew that the Ballet Folklórico was in the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a few more nights. I had looked into purchasing a ticket online via Ticketmaster the week before my arrival, but the fees were just too high. Also the ticket would have to have been picked up at an unknown location in Mexico City, not the box office. Instead I quickly ran into the Palacio, found the ticket window, and purchased a ticket for the performance later that evening. For $300 pesos total, no fees (around $15). The show would start at 8pm.

I then headed underground and took the Metro from Bellas Artes to Chapultepec Park. Although I had to transfer lines, the metro was easy to learn. A metro train arrives every 2 minutes. It's amazingly efficient and also happens to be the least expensive public transportation in the world (5 pesos or $.25 per trip, including transfers). The metro is also its own underground city. There are plenty of places to eat and kiosks to buy anything you may need. If you go to Mexico City, I highly recommend you venture into the Metro. It is an integral part of the city and is not to be missed.

Once back above ground at the Chapultepec station, I walked for a long time through Chapultepec Park, eventually entering the Museo de Antropología. After a quick tour of the museum, I grabbed some fresh cut fruit and freshly made potato chips from the vendors outside the museum. I also tried the Dorilocos for sale. If you get the chance, be sure to try them, as they are a Mexico City specialty. And very, very popular.

The Museo de Antropología is CDMX's highest rated museum

After leaving the museum and heading toward the Chapultepec gardens, I eventually found myself following the crowd and heading up a giant hill to Chapultepec Castle. The castle is was worth entering, albeit there are no English explanations of anything you'll see. Despite the hot, direct sun at the top of the hill, I loved the Palace, which happens to be the former residence of past Mexican presidents. I also got a 360 degree of Mexico City from the top of the Castle, which was really gorgeous.

It's a trek up to the top of Chapultepec Castle

After heading back down the hill and meandering through the Chapultepec gardens for a while, I walked out from Chapultepec Park over to a restaurant recommended to me, Delirio, located in Condesa, which happened to be not too far from my hotel. I had a fresh seasonal bocadito at Delirio, a fancy latte and wandered around the Condesa neighborhood. I ended up back at my hotel. I was exhausted. After a short rest, I headed out again. This time I headed back, via metro, to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. I walked around the plaza, taking in the monuments, the architecture and the sheer crowds of people out and about in the days before Christmas, finally heading into the Palacio for the Ballet Folklórico performance. The ballet was breathtaking; consisting of nine different types of traditional Mexican dances. I was mesmerized. After the ballet, it was pretty late, so I quickly took an Uber back to the hotel, but I just as easily could have taken the Metro. But I had already walked over ten miles that day.

Photos and video are permitted during the Ballet Folklórico

Friday, Day 2, began early as well, but was a little more relaxed. I walked a few blocks to Chilpa, a tiny cafe that specializes in Chilaquiles. I had the Chilaquiles rojos with a fried egg. And a cafe con leche soya. Next, I walked to the Metro (my hotel was about an eight minute walk to the metro) and took it all the way out to the end of the line at Tasqueña. At the Tasqueña station I transferred to the light rail (which costs an additional 3 pesos) and took that train to the end of the line at Xochimilco. From there, it was about a five minute walk out of the Xochimilco station to arrive at the Museo Dolores Olmedo

Dolores Olmedo was a Mexican businesswoman, philanthropist, and friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Dolores donated her estate and everything in it to create the public museum that stands today. The museum houses over 100 Diego Rivera paintings. I was blown away; photos of Dolores, Diego, and Frida. The art, including paintings, sculptures and photographs by Frida and Diego, was outstanding. And the estate even includes all the original furniture, stoves, and serving pieces from when Dolores lived there. Although situated slightly outside the city, this museum is a gem.

The gardens at the Museo Dolores Olmedo are stunning.

The Museum, located in La Noria, is part of the city of Xochimilco, which is also full of canals and boats and little islands. But since I don't like boats and I had limited time, I ended up taking the light rail and then the metro back to downtown Mexico City. This time I got off at the Zócalo stop. Zócalo is the historical center of the city, formerly the site of Tenochtitlan. It took me a while to find the entrance, but I eventually elbowed my way through the crowd and into the Palacio Nacional. The National Palace houses a large collection of Diego Rivera murals. Entrance to the Palacio is free, as long as you leave a photo ID at the entrance as you walk in.

The Palacio Nacional is an oasis in the middle of madness. Mexico City is, at Christmas-time, filled with people. And two ice rinks. And a giant ice slide. And a giant Christmas Tree. And lots of shopping. And lots and lots of people. The Palacio, on the other hand, is filled with gardens. And some of the most magnificent art I've ever seen. And just a handful of people. Suddenly, the day before Christmas, I found myself at peace. And falling even more in love with Mexico City.

The Diego Rivera murals are breathtaking

After the Diego Rivera murals, I walked around the old city of Mexico, grabbing a green juice from Frutos Prohibidos (orange, grapefruit and chaya) and eventually taking the metro back to the hotel. After a quick rest I took a long walk through the Parque España to Pizza Nosferatu. It was a treat to try different wood-fired pizzas, each covered with a random assortment of meat, vegetables, or greens and doused with balsamic vinegar; I was in heaven. Then it was back to the hotel to try to get some sleep.

On Day 3, Saturday morning, I woke up early and quickly took an Uber to the El Norte Bus Station. Once inside the station, I found gate 8, bought a ticket to the ruins at Teotihuacan, and got on the bus. About an hour later, the bus dropped me off at the entrance to Teotihuacan at gate 1. Once again, I found myself climbing up large pyramids in Mexico. After a few hours, I was hot and sunburned and ready to head back to the city. I walked out of the ruins via gate 3, through a parking lot and onto the side of the road. After about 10 minutes a bus heading back to the city picked me up and took me back to the El Norte station. From there I took the El Norte Metro back to the Zócalo. I had one more museum to see: the Museo Templo Mayor.

Teotihuacan is located an hour outside the city
After another quick tour of the Templo Mayor ruins at Tenochtitlan, I grabbed a fresh berry smoothie and took the metro back to the hotel. In the mood for more tacos, I wandered around the Roma/Condesa area again and found a tacos al pastor restaurant, El Tizoncito, open on Christmas eve. I ate way too many tacos, stopped for pan dulce at Panadería Lecaroz and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Me + Mexico = Ruins + Tacos

Sunday morning, Christmas day, I finally slept in, packed up, and checked out. I had enough time for one last chilaquiles meal. But first, I walked from my hotel to the Monumento de la Independencia, a long pedestrian pathway that runs on a diagonal across town. It starts at Chapultepec Park and is filled with large statues and roundabouts. It was a perfect last minute tourist stop. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped for lunch at Ojo de Agua, which was thankfully open on Christmas day. It was one the few places open and it was booming. I had chilaquiles, once again rojos with eggs, and a fresh squeezed juice in a giant mason jar. This place was swimming in fresh produce and loud conversation.

One last chilaquiles meal after a walk around Condesa

I quickly walked back to my hotel a few blocks away, grabbed my luggage, took an uber fast Uber to the airport (there is little traffic on Christmas Day) and said goodbye to Mexico City. I still had a lot more traveling to do, so I tried to recharge myself for Mérida and the next leg of my journey.

In the end I took over 700 pictures during my 3+ days Mexico City. And I still feel like I could have taken more. Mexico City definitely has my heart. The people. The culture. The history. The beauty. CDMX has it all. While there were only a few things I did not get to do because of the Christmas holiday, almost all of them revolve around restaurants I wanted to try. So I will have to come back and try them. Hopefully it will be someday soon. Until then, hasta luego, México!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


About six hours into the first of many flights from San Francisco to Bangalore, India a few weeks ago, my left calf started to hurt. By the time we arrived at G's cousins' home in Bangalore, the pain had spread from my knee to my toes, which were now numb. Instead of easing, the pain continued day after day. By about day three, I decided to call my mom. She quickly offered advice for icing the leg (my calf to be precise), keeping the leg over my heart, and using heated compresses. But what I really wanted to know was if leg/foot pain and numbness was something she usually encountered when traveling long distances. Despite her own foot pain, my mom is an avid traveler. She didn't think this was a normal occurrence.

So things didn't seem to be quite right. I had not experienced this level of pain while flying before. And it didn't seem to be easing up anytime soon. While at lunch on day four, the pain was so acute, I didn't know what to do. Fortunately, the restaurant was above a hair salon. Down in the salon, we convinced the pedicurist to massage my calves and feet. But nothing seemed to help. Where could I find a foam roller, my usual go to cure for leg cramping and pain? Surely Bangalore had its fair share of gyms and yoga studios. Maybe I could talk my way in? But then I thought, maybe at this point I should just leave the calf alone and try to enjoy India.

(this man definitely seems to be enjoying Bangalore)

Still writhing in pain, unable to sleep, I came out into the living room (where I got wifi signal) at about 5am on day five. Just then my phone began to beep. A lot. The messages started coming through. Mom had talked to dad (a doctor) and it seemed to them that I had a common traveler's condition: a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot. I had all the symptoms. And I was taking a medication that additionally put me at risk. It seemed to them to be a no brainer: get to a hospital and get a doppler (ultrasound) of my left calf. But I'm in Bangalore. This is a lot easier said than done.

I called my mom. She started to tell me that I needed to seek medical attention asap. "This must be serious," I thought. My family has never been one to actually go to the emergency room or even the doctor's office. I basically have to be unconscious before having myself checked out my a medical professional. And then mom started telling me about all the people she knew about who had blood clots and died. Friends of friends. Friends of friends' children. Even famous journalists. Do you remember David Bloom? He died of a blood clot. Each name pushed me further and further into panic mode.

I immediately woke up Rama and Neetu. "I need to get to the hospital," I said. "I might have a blood clot." We jumped into the car for a quick (by India standards) ride, eventually walking into the Emergency Room of Apollo Hospital at a little past 6am. I walked right up to a Doctor. "I need to get checked for a DVT," I said. Then I sat down on a bed. I put on a gown. And I immediately spoke with two very sympathetic doctors. They ordered an EKG and a doppler.

Making the best of a scary situation

The key to the doppler (ultrasound) is to compare legs; one in significant pain against one without pain. The tech rubbed the wand up and down my leg, taking photos. The assistant positioned my leg for the tech and did as he said. When the tech first said "compress" the assistant squeezed my thigh. When the tech again said "compress" the assistant squeezed my calf. I immediately screamed out in pain. I'd never felt pain like that before. The assistant looked at me. "What happened?" she asked. I was speechless, trying to mouth the words. "The reason, I'm here...the pain...is here...don't squeeze...the pain...is here." She gave me a quizzical look and continued on. "Oh well," I thought, "at least the photos will be accurate."

A copy of the doppler ultrasound of my legs

In the end, there was no blood clot. I would be in and out of the hospital in less than three hours. There was no admission to the hospital during our vacation; no damage to my heart, lungs, or brain. So why the pain? Why the unending, un-ignorable pain? No answer. The prescribed treatment for my pain? Ibuprofen. Plus a referral to see a neurologist back in the US. Because the pain is most likely neuropathy related.

After checking out of the hospital, handwritten intake forms in tow, I stopped by the pharmacy for yet more ibuprofen. "How many do you want?" the pharmacy tech asked me. I pointed to the sheet of six pills in her hand. "5 rupees," she said. I handed her a 10 rupee note. When I went to take my change, she began to hand me a handful of candy. "No change," she told me. I was quick to reply. "No candy," I said. "I'll take six more pills." So she handed me five more pills and a piece candy. India, where you get change in the form of candy.

That night, before going to bed, I quickly checked my email as I usually do. In my inbox sat an article "sent from mom" entitled, "The legacy of reporter David Bloom - News." It's actually an interesting read.

Thanks, mom.

To see more of our non-hospital related photos from a somewhat epic journey to India, they can be found online here.