MEXICO

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There is something about the Spanish culture that I absolutely adored when I was in Europe. A combination of the weather, the language, the food, people and music; a sense of happiness encompassed me in Spain, and I was hoping for the same in Mexico. I hadn’t been to Mexico since a childhood visit to Tijuana, so I was definitely excited to explore the unknown. I had been learning Spanish for the few months leading up to this trip, and I was enthused by the prospect of practicing these skills. It was also a cheap, chilled way to end my trip; a cheeky stop through the Riviera Maya, who wouldn’t say no to a swim in the Caribbean?!

Here’s where I visited: (click on each title to read more)

 

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10 useful tips to know before you travel to Mexico:

  1. The water is mostly undrinkable. Ask at your accommodation though, because sometimes they will have a filter.
  2. US dollars are a second unofficial currency. Most places will accept US dollars or pesos, and frequently both prices will be advertised. It pays to always carry some cash, as most places won’t accept cards.
  3. Mexico’s own aperitif – corn chips with various sauces. Whenever you go out for a meal, complimentary chips are brought out to start you off; I had to develop some serious self-control, and quickly – otherwise I never actually wanted to eat my dinner.
  4. Haggling is a thing. In department stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and the like, prices will be as advertised. However, if it is a flea-market type shop, then feel free to negotiate towards what you believe is a fair price.
  5. Getting around – welcome to the collectivo. Looks like a shuttle, effectively a group taxi; you wave them down and should pay about 25 pesos regardless of where you are going. We got ripped off a few times, but didn’t waste our time arguing over a few dollars.
  6. Obviously the places I visited were more touristy than a lot of other places in Mexico, but I was astonished at how well everyone spoke English and how willing everyone is to help.
  7. Mexican toilets and loo paper don’t mix well. Don’t risk it, save yourself a potentially awkward situation and when instructed, just put your loo paper in the rubbish bin provided.
  8. Being young, female and blonde meant I attracted a lot of unwanted attention. I soon learnt that the Mexicans thrive off banter, and if you are willing to move past their nonsensical chat, they are indeed great sources of local information, and unlike other countries, are absolutely stoked to have you practice your amateur Spanish-speaking skills on them.
  9. Mexico’s version of the Seven Eleven, OXXO stores are virtually everywhere, and sell virtually everything.
  10. Museums are often closed on Mondays, so check that first.

 

A beginners guide to Mexican foodIMG_4945

  • Everything incorporates tortillas one way or another. Whether it be fresh in a taco, toasted in a tostada, or grilled into a quesadilla, I suddenly found myself eating them on a regular basis.
  • Margarita. Tequila + triple sec + lime juice, served on the rocks. Nowadays, they are served in many different ways – flavoured, iced and all very delicious.
  • Paloma. Tequila mixed with sparkling lemon, what Mexican’s tend to think of when they picture drinks involving tequila.
  • Horchata. A traditional drink made with rice, almonds, cinnamon and sugar. To me it tasted like a chilled chai latte.
  • Tropical fruit. Usually in abundance in any tropical country, we saw mango, banana, coconut, pineapple, papaya… convenient, delicious, healthy snacks!
  • Tacos al pastor. One of the most famous dishes, ‘al pastor’ translates to ‘in the style of the shepherd’. To serve, think strips of meat are sliced off a spit, placed on a tortilla and topped with onion, coriander and fresh pineapple. My mouth is watering at the memory.
  • IMG_4522Tostadas. Simple yet delicious, basically they are baked/fried tortillas, served either plain or topped with cheese, meet, beans and anything else that tickles your fancy. Kind of like a pizza base, it is a great way to utilise slightly stale tortillas!
  • Chicharron. Unlike in New Zealand, where you only see pork crackling if someone successfully makes it when they cook a roast, you can find bags of crackling here, in amongst where you buy the potato chips. It is frequently found as a topping on salads, tacos, and of course, tostadas.
  • Enchiladas. An ancient dish evolved from when the Mayans used to wrap corn tortillas around small fish. Nowadays are enchiladas are filled with anything from meat to seafood, beans and vegetables, layered with cheese and chilli and baked until cooked through.
  • Quasedillas. Pronounced ‘kasss – aaaa- deeee- yaaah’.
  • Guacamole. Something I cannot get enough of, especially when tacos are in abundance. Combine avocado, onion, tomato, lemon juice, chilli, garlic and if you are feeling adventurous, a dash of tequila and devour with tortilla chips – one of my favourite foods in the world.
  • Frijoles. Translates to beans, I saw how popular these are with the Mexican people when I lived with Hector. They are usually cooked with water and onion very slowly, until they are soft. Sometimes they are mashed and recooked (ie. Re-fried beans).
  • Empanada. South America’s answer to the meat pie, it is a meat filled pastry.

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Finding Paradise in Phi Phi

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An early start and a smooth taxi ride saw us ready to fly to Krabi in plenty of time. From the airport we bussed to the pier where we had lunch whilst waiting for the ferry. It was so hot and sunny on the ferry across to Phi Phi – we were relieved to finally arrive. We stayed at Stone’s Hostel – new, modern and on the beach; a definite party hostel – we could feel our beds vibrating at night from the music downstairs. I was incredibly broke (as I’d left my credit card with James in Bangkok) so was very lucky to have Summer virtually empty her pockets in order to enable me to go diving with Island Divers. For dinner we indulged in scrumptious pizza at Cosmic before enjoying the fire show at Stone’s.

The following morning we climbed the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint. It was hard work, but needless to say the view was incredible. After we went our separate ways – Summer came back down into town and around to Long Beach – I took a more rugged track through a small village and coming out at the far end of Long Beach. We spent the day reading, swimming and dozing in the sun – it was glorious.

The cost of my diving meant that Summer and I were forced to move to a cheaper hostel for our last two nights. We did a full day cruise – met at 10.30am and cruised around the island and it surrounds. First stop was Shark Point (just out from Long Beach); no sharks, but plenty of colourful fish which made snorkelling a lot of fun. Next we saw Bamboo Island – white sand, clear blue water and a jungle backdrop – literally, my kind of paradise. We also visited a beautiful lagoon, Monkey Beach, saw Maya Bay (which is where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach) and then watched the sun set from the boat.

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The next morning I had to get up really early (I had a restless sleep panicking about what I couldn’t remember about diving) where I grabbed some breakfast before meeting my instructor (Darrius – an over the top, stereo-typical Australian who was just awesome) and the rest of our group. Everyone in our group was really experienced, and were all really kind to me about my nerves. We kitted up for the first dive – 27m down through a ship-wreck. It was awesome. As we were moving to our next location, rumours rippled through the water to the surrounding boats that there was a whale shark in the vicinity. Just like that, our crew members jumped ship. Everyone had snorkels, fins and a massive rush of adrenaline as they kicked their way to the shark. A few of us girls waited for the boat to get slightly closer before we took the plunge. We swam for as long as we could – it was incredibly hard work; but entirely worth it. I felt like I was swimming for my life as the whale shark just glided effortlessly through the water. The entire experience was magnificent. Our second dive saw us hit 30m, as well as the spotting of a TURTLE. I was over the moon. My lack of funds meant I couldn’t do the afternoon dive, but I was quite happy to sunbathe on the boat’s deck in the sunshine. My buzz carried me through my tiredness and well into the night, where we headed to Stone’s Bar for a few drinks with some of our room-mates. These drinks turned into a few more buckets and I think a fun night was had by all.

We both woke up feeling a little seedy; so we checked out, grabbed some breakfast-to-go from the bakery and hit the beach past the port. I finished my book; Summer dozed in the shade, until eventually it was time to get some lunch before boarding the ferry to Phuket. On arrival we caught a shuttle to the airport, where we then asked the driver to just drop us at some nearby accommodation – and although we struggled a bit (it was overly expensive as we seemed to be in quite a fancy area) we eventually found somewhere right by the beach. We watched the sunset, before spending up a storm at dinner – I felt sick and couldn’t decide what I wanted, so I ordered everything and ate nothing.

We caught a taxi to the airport where we flew to Don Mueng airport – caught a free shuttle bus to Suvarnabhumi airport and then the airport train in to the hostel to collect our bags. We found a little market, where we accidentally spent the last of our money – bags, wallets, mortar and pestle – we ended up having to withdraw more money for lunch! We had our last Thai massage before heading back to the airport for our departure. Bangkok to Sydney saw us arrive in Sydney for a day of exploration. We caught the train into town where we wandered around the harbour-side, before I crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and ate a fresh, healthy Western lunch. Back onto the plane – this time New Zealand bound – it was home sweet home, baby.

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