South of South of the Border


Admittedly, I was hesitant to leave for vacation. Work commitments.. a newly listed property.. not to mention travel advisory warnings on the internet. But after getting approval from my manager, a firm sale in four days, and a desire for adventure, I found myself with my wife taking off from Pearson International, crossing the 49th parallel, flying past the land of opportunity, and landing at the Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City. Dashing towards the immigration counters, I felt short of breath and slightly dizzy. Heart, please don’t fail me now. Seems like the travel advisory failed to warn me about the effects of high altitude, 2,250 meters above sea level, over 2 kilometres difference in elevation compared to Toronto.

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So there we were. Greeted by our long-time friend Audrey. My wife Dee had promised to visit the country of her former class friend. I was mentally and physically prepared for anything. We were in Mexico not to get lazy and fat at a beach-hotel. As they say, those all-inclusive resorts are for the newly-weds, over fed, and almost dead. We were in Mexico to experience road trips, take pleasure in local foods, and discover the colonial past of what the country has to show. We were introduced to Audrey’s husband, Alex, a man of limited english but endless kindness. From that point on, I felt secure in the knowledge that we were in good company, traveling with locals who spoke Spanish and in touch with the culture.


Mexico City is a bustling, non-spectacular but very clean metropolis. It is apparent that the city is not as multi-cultural as many other cities of the world, but despite the lack of foreigners, the Mexicans are friendly, laid-back and helpful in providing direction to clueless tourists. A casual stroll in the Centro Historico found us at the Zocalo Square where the Metropolitan Cathedral of Assumption overlooks the plaza.

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Our first trip outside the capital was to Guanajuato. On the way there, we stopped at a roadhouse to enjoy breakfast of barbacoa, pulled lamb with salsa and guacamole wrapped in tortilla straight from the grill. Orange juice to complement black coffee is always freshly squeezed, not concentrate, no preservatives. Hmmm.. a good beginning to our travels. 

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The historic silver-mining city of Guanajuato is a maze of hill-penetrating tunnels, colourful landscapes, narrow alleyways, and mariachi madness. Every other song heard on the the sunny restaurant patios was Cielito Lindo. 

Ay, ay, ay ay,

Canta y no liores

Don’t ask me what it means, but I couldn’t erase from my mind that catchy tune in 3/4 time.

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Our next desitnation was San Miguel de Allende. Hues of yellow, orange, terracotta, red and the occasional blue, paint the picturesque homes and establishments of the city. Not surprisingly, more foreign tourists could be seen walking the stone walkways of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The Church of San Miguel is the centrepiece of the town and we were most fortunate to stay at a hotel within stones’ throw of the steeples and earshot of the bells.

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An evening meal of tamales under open skies brought about an unforgettable experience. Mysterious lights flying in unison caught our attention. There must have been about ten objects traveling over our terrace, soundless and moving much too fast for helicopters. Alex asked the locals the following morning and learned that the people of San Miguel are familiar with the sightings and believe the lights to be angels who watch over the city. Such was our close encounter of the first kind.

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Our third day of the road trip was spent in Queretaro. Hometown to our host Alex, Queretaro had many monasteries and churches, with interiors and columns lined with gold, religious effigies and strange ornaments such as we see here..

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On the day we were in Queretaro, a political campaign for Manuel Pozo was being held in the main plaza. The party organized a big band in the city-square’s gazebo, playing Glenn Miller classics, which consequently had Pozo supporters "in the mood”. So much activity was going on in the public areas and so many people were gathered in and around where we stayed.. so much so that we were struck by how clean and pristine the plaza was when we opened the balcony windows the following morning to greet the Mexican sunrise...

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So now let’s talk about the foods we ate along our journey. From breakfast of barbacoa consisting of pulled meat of sheep wrapped in tortilla as mentioned above, lunching on veal and enchiladas with guacamole on the side, Spanish influenced paella for dinner, snacks from roadside vendors in the form of cassava chips, a corn and coconut mixture, as well as a shaved-ice treat, and late night supper of tamales under the starlit skies (and UFOs). Many foods were corn-based, either as tortilla wrap or as tacos dipped in salsa (red and green) or the peppered avocado dip. As expected, the solid foods were helped down with liquids of Corona, Dos Equis XX or Sol. A wondrously fresh concoction they call Jamaica is Mexico’s claim to the hibiscus ice-tea, while the milky Rompope is their version of egg-nog. Oh, and might I suggest the dessert treats called tumbagon? Made of sugar and cinnamon, the melt-in-the-mouth tumbagon is so delicate that the tube-shaped delight can only be picked up and lifted to the lips by the pinky. A trip to the sombrero country is not complete with a sip or two of tequila, regular and sweet. Produced from the agave plant, we were given a crash course on the correct way of applying salt and lime to the repertoire.

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The highlight of the trip were the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Situated 50 kilometres from Mexico City, it is still considered a mystery by scientists on which civilization built the metropolis. The Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon are the two main structures in the compound. Many animal and human sacrifices were thought to be performed on the altars.. so it’s a wonder why the archeological minds are still trying to figure out why and how this civilization disappeared. Personally, I have my own theory on the creation of the pyramids and the demise of the society.. think extra-terrestrials and Erich von Daniken.

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So here’s what I hafta say about traveling to Mexico. With no disrespect to tourists that my have been victims to crimes while holidaying in the country, Mexico is a nation of friendly, laid back, hygiene-conscious, well-dressed people. And no matter how the Gringos portray this part of the world, it is NOT a lawless country with machine-gun toting banditos and sleepy sombrero-covered amigos. I understand that not everyone is fortunate to have Audrey or Alex as traveling companions who can talk the local tongue and demonstrate the native customs. But that is my challenge to those travelling to this country.. get out from your sheltered resorts and get to know Mexico, the people, the culture, and all of what the nation has to offer. You’ll be better off for it.

April 2015

© Prakoso Sastrowardoyo 2012