Trajineras, Xochimilco, DF
So it’s Saturday (or Sunday), and maybe you’re feeling a slight touch crudo (hungover). But you’re on vacation, or traveling, or you’re just living in Mexico City now, and you need to see something and not waste the day! Not to worry.
But before jumping right on a boat, stop near the entrance for one of these blue corn quesadillas, to go:
I like the chicharrón or corn smut (huitlacoche) fillings, but they’re all going to hit the spot when you’re out on the water. Next stop, sodas or beer. Stop for a tall paper cup of michelada (beer, lime juice, and sometimes hot sauce, with the rim salted and/or powdered with chili), and go pick out a good looking boat.
Or, perhaps more importantly, a strong and energetic looking oarsman.
Once you get out of the landing area, you can start to really relax and notice all the extended families and groups of friends out enjoying good food, drink, and music all around you.
You can rent a mariachi band to tie itself to your boat for a few songs, when they aren’t taking a break:
Or a xylophone:
Or refuel with some more food or drink, there are plenty of vendors to choose from right on the water, even when it’s raining:
And if you go during the week, you’ll see that the canals are not just a place to enjoy the weekends, they are still used by the town’s residents to get around:
The rich history of the region is fascinating in its own right. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The trajineras are fairly easily accessible via metro and light rail.
Para todo mal, mezcal y para todo bien también.
Mezcal, when high quality, is simply the best liquor in existence. It has a melt in your mouth smooth smoky flavor, and a mellow buzz that is completely unlike any other. The above is a painting on the wall in Al Andar, a great little mezcaleria located on a strip of old downtown Mexico City called Calle Regina. The neighborhood is being revitalized with several bars and restaurants and a pedestrian zone, near Centro Historico:
Other favorite spots to get a nice mezcal (and a great meal) include Oh Mayahuel and Los Danzantes in Coyoacan, mentioned before:
And of course La Botica, with multiple locations in Mexico City. The picture below is of one of the smaller ones. They all have a great vibe, sell only great boutique mezcal and nothing else, and have really knowledgeable staff. They also sell full bottles to go:
Finally, the rooftop bar at the Condesa DF hotel, and La Cerveceria in Condesa, both offer great mezcal cocktails.
Oh, and that worm in the bottle? Just a relatively recent marketing gimick. Probably means it’s actually not high quality.
Me: Wow these are amazing. I’ve never had meat quite like it. What is it?
Hugo: It’s like the stomach.
Me: Weird, I don’t usually like tripe and this tastes nothing like it.
Hugo: Hmmm. Yeah. Not tripe though.
Me: But the stomach?
Hugo: Yeah, kind of. But kind of lower, I guess.
Me: Of what?
Me: Weird. I don’t care, it’s amazing.
Repeat this dialogue, over the span of almost two years, approximately once every three months.
As it turns out, this is apparently a fairly big mystery even on the all-knowing internets. This google image, supposedly from a Mexican butcher, offers the best clue! Suadero appears to be a cut between the upper leg and the belly:
So, Hugo’s unsatisfying answer was sort of right, in a way. In any case, suadero tacos are a Mexico City specialty, and can rarely be found outside of D.F. If you are there, you must try one, trust me.
Coyoacán was just short bus ride from my apartment in Copilco. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in Mexico City. In Náhuatl, Coyoacán means “place of the coyotes,” hence the statues frolicking in the fountain in the middle of Plaza Hidalgo:
We spent quite a bit of time wandering around this neighborhood — often landing at our favorite place for cocktails, Oh Mayahuel. The food is interesting and often decent, but the reason to go is for the atmosphere and the inexpensive Los Danzantes or Alipus mezcal.
Another highlight of an evening spent wandering through Coyoacán and its fun two-level arts and crafts market are the numerous hot, fresh churros relleno stands:
You pick from a seemingly endless list of fillings, from creamy to jammy. I always went for the lechero — a sweet condensed milk. Totally decadent, thank goodness they don’t have these stands in DC.
One day when I was exploring the neighborhood on my own, I stumbled on a wonderful, enormous used book shop, Librería El Volador, on Carrillo Puerto. There were dozens of island tables, loaded with stacks of English language books, mixed in haphazardly with every other language you could imagine. I found some children’s books that had been published in China, but in Spanish. The artwork immediately caught my eye and I bought several to send to friends with kids back home. I bought a couple for myself as well, thinking they may make some nice artwork for framing. Once in DC, I cut one of them up, framed some of the prints, and decorated my room. They turned out beautiful and a great reminder of my time in DF.
Even from many thousands of feet up in the air, you can see how green the city is:
And ringed by volcanoes:
UNAM - CEPE
My walk to Spanish class at CEPE, the school for foreigners at UNAM, was one of my favorite things about living in Copilco. I’d wind my way through the streets packed with printers, juice stands, bookstores and Pumas gear shops every morning, desperately seeking a decent cup of coffee that was never to be found.
Classes started early, 8 am Monday through Friday, and lasted until noon. My teacher was excellent, but very tough. She also gave a fair bit of homework. I wish I could’ve completed the course, it was incredibly effective. Unfortunately, I was only there for a few short weeks.
The class was an interesting mix of students. Two guys in their mid to late thirties had moved (one from France and one from Canada), to be with their Mexican girlfriends. Both had been able to find jobs allowing them to continue their careers in DF, one a businessman in technology and one an engineer in the oil business. There were also several people from Africa, Japan, Korea and China; a British guy in his thirties who was there just for fun; a fifty-year old photographer from London; a young U.S. veteran of the war in Iraq who was hoping to learn Spanish before embarking on a new career as a social worker; and a missionary from North Carolina, among others. All of us found the coursework challenging and worthwhile, and thought CEPE was very well run.
UNAM has a beautiful campus. There’s even an enormous aquatics complex, with water polo cages lining the large pool, and over a dozen lanes open for lap swimming.
I had hoped to get a pass, which I theoretically could have with my CEPE I.D., but the bureaucracy involved stumped me given the relatively short period of time I was there.
My apartment in Copilco was on a small cul-de-sac. That’s the kitchen window, behind the Bougainvillea:
The view from the kitchen was of a half-built three story building across the street, with bare iron rods sticking out of crumbling concrete and an overturned large couch on the roof, also covered in brilliant purple Bougainvillea.
The kids from that house would kick a soccer ball against the large steel garage door of my building, leaving dusty imprints for days.
Also just across the street, next to the roof-couch house, a woman had decided to sell candies and various baked goods from her window. A handwritten sign informed the neighborhood of her business.
Every morning, you would wake up to someone yelling “gaaas” or “tamales” or a rooster. At night you would often be serenaded by an amazingly diverse array of spirited dance music blasting from the upstairs tenant at the bright blue building kitty corner.
A short walk down two small streets led to a few shops and restaurants. Like these, selling fresh tortillas and chicken:
One woman sold tacos and quesadillas out of her garage, with a few plastic tables set up. And an old man would unveil a counter in a small space between two buildings late at night to sell questionable though tasty tacos for pennies.
Nearby was a student hangout, Cenote Azul, that had good food and a funky open courtyard with a 20 year old big screen tv that showed soccer matches. It was also a hostel. During big games it was packed with UNAM students ordering buckets of cold Indios and Pacificos.
There are also a few convenience stores in Copilco. They keep most items behind the counter so you have to ask if they have them. Very few people in this neighborhood speak English, so it was a bit challenging at times. Creative sign language was called for more than once.
It’s hard to describe the smells, sounds, and overall feel of vibrant Mexico City life. I just hope to come close!