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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Hola to Happiness

Sangria + Tapas + Beaches = Inevitable Happiness. I was very excited to come here after the unexpected coldness that the UK presented, and couldn’t wait to return to the sand and sunshine. Similarly to Portugal, everything is cheap, the culture is alive, and both the people and the language are cheerful and beautiful. Would three weeks be long enough?

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Malaga

After getting off the bus to my hostel a stop early, I had to wander around in the dark for about half an hour before eventually finding my hostel. I fared better than Danielle though, who got super lost and didn’t arrive at the hostel until after 1am! We were staying at the Melting Pot Hostel, which wasn’t right in town, but we did have the beach literally on our doorstep so we were very happy girls.

We intended on doing a walking tour but we ended up conducting our own; walking down the main street, through the cathedral courtyard and then back along the beach to the hostel. We spent the afternoon on the beach before we met my friend Midori (from the Sahara Desert trip) for dinner. We then caught a bus to Feria (one of Spain’s largest festivals – conveniently on at the same time we were there) where there were rides, clubs, side shows, tapa places, performers, and people of all ages – everywhere! To my disgust on the way home, a middle aged lady riding the bus by herself puked everywhere, including on my feet.

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The next day James’ girlfriend Alex arrived at the hostel and we spent the day at the beach for some rest and relaxation before heading out into town to explore the nightlife. Being from clean, green New Zealand wouldn’t have helped; but there was rubbish littering the streets everywhere, and we were absolutely appalled! We located a cute little tapas bar where we enjoyed some inky squid and sangria before Alex and I befriended three mutes and then caught a taxi to Feria. To my delight Alex was also a bit of a thrill seeker so we eyed up the two scariest looking rides and had an absolute blast. The next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed we set off up to the castle to get some views of Malaga. One last stint at the beach and then Danielle and I were Seville-bound!

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Seville

Hostel Boutique was officially the flashest hostel I have ever stayed in. it was so modern, clean and spacious we felt like we were staying in a hotel. With a free breakfast that included waffles and crepes, as well as a gym (to burn off that breakfast) we were in heaven. Seville itself was also hard not to love. We saw the cathedral, castle (Alcazar), beautiful river, had a guided tour of the bull-fighting arena (free Mondays 3 – 7pm), watched a flamenco show at a local bar (Le Carboneria, on Calle Levies 18) and ate dinner at La Huenta Mediterranea (Plaza de la Terceros 9) which specialises in vege tapas – divine! Later that night we visited Bar Garlochi (Calle Boteros 26) which is a must-see; the entire place is decked out in paintings, photos and statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other religious figures. The interior is lavish, chintzy and holy all at once. The drink to try is the ‘Blood of Christ’, comprised of Granada, Whiskey and Vodka. We also explored the Jewish Quarter (known as Barrio Santa Cruz) and sampled delectable gelato at La Florentina (C. Zaragoza 16) – I had Crema de Flor de Azaha (orangeblossom) and Dule De Pestino (Caramel Pastry from Holy Week).

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Granada

Yet another gorgeous Spanish town, we stayed at a hostel (Sweet Albayzin, essentially a guesthouse) right by the Alhambra. Here we learnt to appreciate tapas the traditional way; buy a drink (Tinto de Verano became our firm favourite, basically a summer wine) and get a free tapa with it. Bonus that drinks were usually only €2! We established a local; just down the road ‘La Bella and La Bestia’ had a bagel menu with 84 differently flavours!

The main tourist attraction in Granada is the Alhambra. We were informed that because we hadn’t pre-purchased tickets we would have to get up at 6am and join the queue with the thousands of others who also didn’t have tickets. We thought we’d go for a wander and have a look at the situation before committing to the early morning, and we managed to fluke two tickets for the afternoon session! There were so many palaces and gardens to look at; it actually made for a really exhausting afternoon. The Alhambra was spectacular however; I now understand all the hype.IMG_2788

Time for a morning stroll(which soon turned into a half-day excursion); we walked up to the Alhambra and thought we’d come down an alternative route. Somehow we got lost, and ended up way out on the hills overlooking the Socromonte region. My main concerns were being attacked by snakes and getting chased by wild dogs; Danielle got to see her first real-life toad, but still came to the conclusion that “this walk makes the 500km walk look tame!” In the heat of the day, with no water or protection from the sun, we were exhausted, sweaty and just wanted to get back to civilisation. We could not find a way down the hill side and we refused to contemplate turning back, so we bush bashed our way down and ended up in someone’s backyard – a grandma with at least six children. They looked at us as though we’d just rolled in with the circus, however they kindly let us through their front gate and pointed us in the right direction. We stuck to the road walking back – passing through Socromonte (where there are house caves, and an excess of flamenco dancers) and through the historical, Moroccan influenced area of Albayzin.

Being in Spain (home to both Zara and Mango) we thought we’d better hit the shops. We also discovered ‘Lefties’ – last season’s Zara stock at ridiculously reduced prices. Somewhat successful we left Granada with our bags a lot fuller than when we arrived. Before we left we met up with our gal pal Lorena, who we hadn’t seen since Milan. She had just moved to Granada to learn Spanish, and we had a wonderful catch up over dinner and drinks.

After talking up my overnight train experience from Napoli to Milano, I was dismayed that the train Danielle and I were to catch to Barcelona firstly had no air-conditioning and also had a rocking motion that left us both feeling rather sea sick! I can vouch for us both when I say it never felt so good to arrive at our next destination.

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Barcelona

I was very excited for Barcelona 2.0. Danielle and I were joined by my friend Lisa (who I’d seen in Ireland) for a few days of fun in the sun, as all of our times in Europe were slowly coming to an end. Our first moment of fun was when we were photobombed at the cathedral by a headless man, who then proceeded to chase us wanting money – and when we refused he pulled the fingers! Typically, Danielle was forbidden entry into the cathedral (inappropriate dress) and Lisa snuck in, but then got kicked out. I showed them my favourite spots from last time, visited some new ones (Olympic stadiums + Montjuic), and gave them a personalised Gaudi walking tour – which was extended when we visited Park Guell as well as the Sagrada Familia – perhaps Gaudi’s most famous, and definitely one of Spain’s biggest attractions. We had pre-purchased tickets, which were €25 and included entry, climbing the tower, and an audio guide. It was genuinely one of the best things I did in Spain.

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We indulged in some divine food; we were told that the 1.5 hour wait at Barcelona’s best tapa bar was well worth it, and we were glad we did: we had a range of tapas, the most interesting being “angry eggs” – French fries with a smashed egg on top! Danielle and I introduced Lisa to Haagen Dazs after dinner, a new-found love for Baz. The next night we walked down to the waterfront for dinner, and enjoyed delicious burgers and fresh juices at Makamaka Burger Bar – vibrant and delicious, I would highly recommend.

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Menorca

Danielle and I walked down to the port where we caught an overnight ferry to Menorca, creating makeshift beds for ourselves in the on-board cinema. We were potentially in for a difficult morning; we had to walk to the car-hire place where we’d hired a car (despite neither of us having an International Drivers Licence, contrary to Spanish law) and we wanted to arrange for the deposit to be made on Danielle’s card, even though the terms and conditions strictly required the card used must match the name of the designated driver (me). Somehow we glided through this without difficulty, and I drove on the wrong (right) side of the road to San Parco where our accommodation details had been provided to us solely in Catalan. Thankfully we found an information centre where the lady translated for us, and we made it to our apartment in high spirits, and in good time! We’d used Air B&B to score an apartment to ourselves; splurging on our last weekend!

We began the beach hopping almost immediately; first up was Sant Tomas. We had been warned it was touristy, but we were early enough to avoid the crowds – the white sand and turquoise water made us feel like we were in Fiji. We crossed the island and visited Ciatudella, on our way to Cala d’Algaiarens. The beach was beautiful, and we both swam before we realised there was jellyfish – that were stinging people! That night we enjoyed chicken burritos on our deck, after swimming in one of our two pools, and exploring the beach nearby.

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The next morning we visited Pregonda (highly recommended by locals) – being on the northern side of the island the beach had red soil which contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and green surrounds. We stopped for lunch at Platja de Cavalleria (where people were doing DIY mud-masks with the clay on the beach) and headed back across to Cala des Talaier, which featured lots of nudists, turquoise water and white sand.

Menorca was one of my favourite places for beaching the whole time I was in Europe. A car is essential, but it had a real holiday feel – and you could stay there for two weeks, visiting a new beach every single day! Neither of us were ready to leave, but I don’t think we ever would have been. Danielle was headed for the UK, before leaving Europe for the USA; and I was off to Paris to meet my mum and my aunt before beginning my journey back to Aotearoa.

Adidos for now Spain; but do not fear, I WILL BE BACK!   IMG_3348