A Flat Bottomed Boat Fiesta in Xochimilco

Have you been to Xochimilco? So sings the Mexican pop band Mariaxibit. The song, Boyfriend from Mexico, is silly and cheeky. I “discovered” this particular song when someone who wanted to be my boyfriend (from Mexico). Unfortunately – well, I guess it depends how you look at it – I did not want the boyfriend from Mexico. But… I did learn how to properly pronounce the party that is this series of canals and wonderful, colorful, flat bottomed boats in the southern part of Mexico City.

A long standing CDMX bucket list location for me, upon my first full day in CDMX I set out to experience these canals and spend part of a day in Xochimilco once and for all. 

Xochimilco is affectionately called the “Venice” of Mexico City. You might also hear people talk about the “floating gardens” of Mexico City and they are referring to here. While two’s company, three’s a crowd, and anything more is a fiesta or a brawl, my solo venture was a party of one. And that was mightily alright by me.

xochimilco

And party!

Yes, Xochimilco is one heck of an awesome party.

Yes, it is a monstrous tourist trap. But!! A visit in Mexico City would be incomplete without at least one ride on these boats drinking beer, eating street food, and partying to music by mariachis. In fact, I have it on authority that locals – chilangos – even venture here on weekends to unwind. Go prepared, and you can avoid paying an arm and a leg for the experience.

There are several boat operators who will be vying for your business. Most boats can be rented for around 350 – 450 pesos per hour. This is by boat. The more people in your party, the lesser cost per person.

xochimilco

I negotiated down to 150 pesos for an hour long ride in the canals. Now, that is quite low – ridiculously low and truth be told I don’t know how I pulled off that negotiation! The afternoon threatened rain and the canals weren’t very busy. In fact, the sky did open up almost immediately upon me getting back on land. I totally pulled a pansy move and rang an Uber, and trust me when I tell you the metro is mich cheaper and faster. Traffic doesn’t move quickly in Mexico City. And rush hour in CDMX makes LA’s 405 look like an efficient traffic movement system. At least I had quite the captive intercambio partner to practice my Spanish with for the nearly two hours it took to drive to my apartment in Condesa! 

But back to the cost of the boats…. Generally, if you can get a boat around 350 pesos per hour, you have a good deal. You may be able to negotiate the hourly rate down more if you plan to be on the boat for a longer time.
When you rent the boat, that is what you are getting. The boat. You can bring a pre-packed picnic of food and beverages (don’t forget the beer or wine, y’all) and you can purchase at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas before boarding your boat. You can purchase from vendors on the canals on boats but it’s more expensive and limited to sodas, cervezas, and elotes.

xochimilco

Once you are on your boat, it is all about the canals and collective celebrations! Mariachi bands float by on passing boats and you can hire them to come onto your boat and perform for you. I say do it! You can also bring your own speakers, or find some to rent in the stalls along the waterfront. Then, chill out and wave and call out to the other boats passing by.

I had far too much enjoyment playing with my selfie stick and dabbling in the water in between calling back and forth with the different mariachi bands and boats. I still hadn’t quite become accustomed to people taking pictures of me. That continues to be an awkward experience. They definitely aren’t taking pictures of my spectacular street fashion. I’m not ending up in any fashion blogs anytime soon unless as a “don’t.” 

Xochimilco

There are shops and greenhouses along the canals as well as a replica of the famous doll island, Isla de las Muñecas. The real island is several hours away, but the replica is a few minutes from the boat launches. You can request the driver of the boat to stop while you explore and shop.

Getting to Xochimilco

xochimilco

Mexico City is huge and traveling by car can take forever. You can get to Xochimilco very easily by metro, though! Wherever you get on, take the train to Tasqueña which is, literally, the end of the line. You then take a second train by following the signs to Tren Ligero which drops you off directly in Xochimilco.

When I went, Tren Ligero was under construction but there’s an easy fix. From the stop at Tasqueña, take a shuttle bus (bonus – it’s free) to Azteca Stadium. From there you can get back on a train to Xochimilco.

Now, from the station you can walk or grab a quick cab. It’s important you specify you want to be taken to Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas. This is important! Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas is the main launch area and parking lot. Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas has loads of food stands from where you can purchase food to bring into your boat. Ignore the signs suggesting other entrance points. Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas is where you need to get your party started!

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Okay, guapas, tell me… have you ever been to Xochimilco? XO, Jennifer

 

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My Favorite Coffee Shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

I found my favorite coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas. Two things for which San Cristobal de las Casas is known: alpine chill in the air and out of this world good coffee. San Cristobal de las Casas is the heart of Mexico’s coffee industry.

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

For real, I thought the local coffee in Oaxaca was delicious. Chiapas has best coffee on lock! Cold nights lead to chilly mornings that warm into exquisite days… It’s like a perpetual mid-March/early-April even when not raining, which is another climate specialty of this sky high city. Both elements contribute to a perfect environment to drink hot coffee and chocolate to my heart’s content.

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

Whether a frequent tourista or a digital nomad, us wanderlust afflicted ladies know the value of wifi. One of my first searches upon finding a new city landing spot is where is the good wifi. And just as importantly, where is the good coffee?

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

If you have to sacrifice some of your vacation, or “vacation,” to work, it might as well be in a beautiful space with fast wifi, spectacular coffee, and a jamming play list. Frontera has all of this in spades…

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

While I call it my favorite coffee shop in San Cristobal, it is possibly my favorite. Coffee. Shop. Period.

Reclaimed wooden and glass doors function as tables. Linen upholstered wingback chairs frame a bookshelf stacked with board games and books. A Chippendale sofa upholstered in cobalt blue offers a perfect vantage point for people watching or reading up on the history of Zapatistas. Windows and skylights ensure the lighting is perfect for selfies. And working. Circa 1994 Counting Crows meets Bel Biv Devoe meets Cigarettes After Sex’s cover of Keep On Loving You. And the patio… … …

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

Oh, but the coffee, right? In addition to the tried and true espresso press, local artisan coffee can also be extracted by Chemex (my favorite), Aeropress, French Press, and Dripper. All of the coffee beans are from Chiapas, fair trade, and organic. And delicious! Holy roastery Batman. Amazing!

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

United Airlines is going to need to forcibly remove me from my seat. Frontera is the coffee shop of my dreams and for the time I have remaining in this magical little city, is hands down my favorite coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

I love to say the name of this city so much… San Cristobal de las Casas. You know, it wasn’t part of my original plan when I moved to Mexico. I’m so glad I cut into my Oaxaca time and came here. My regret is I only have one week.

The artistic and creative energy that this place emanates is crazy strong. If I were a better and more inspired writer, I think I could write a novel here. At least, I was able to finish my dissertation chair required edits here? Committee approval and defense, I’ve got you locked in my cross hairs. Finally!

Frontera coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas

What elements do you look for when seeking your coffee mother ship? XO, Jennifer

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My “Secret Garden” | Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

Have you ever stumbled onto – or into – a space and immediately inhaled in quiet glee and adoration of of whatever it is you find particularly beautiful? Such a moment occurred when I happened upon the Centro Cultural San Pablo (San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center) in the center of Oaxaca.

On a random Friday afternoon I found myself wandering through the Zocalo wondering how I wanted to spend the rest of my afternoon before my date with Mr. Tall Dark Haaaaaaandsome and Speaks Great English. I was floating high on the purchase of my new hat, which I still love.

I remembered the Textile Museum was close, so headed in that direction. Because I’m a get-lost-in-a-shoebox kind of gal, I wandered into the San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center by accident.

I allowed myself to be temporarily distracted by the herringbone bricks inlaid in the grass. By the succulents climbing a facade to make a wall of cacti. By the exquisitely curated art exhibit inside the center. And I haven’t even mentioned the cafe with the super fast wifi. Or the glass enclosed library which became one of my regular hot spots…. I know I mentioned the super fast wifi.

If you need a quiet space to focus and work with fast wifi, SP is definitely a space to consider.

Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

My selfie session was interrupted by a photography student who took some pictures of me. I like to think it’s because of my hat and not because he was horrified at the indignity of a selfie stick.

The interior exhibit of fine arts included a small collection of beautiful huipels. The skill and amount of dedicated patience that goes into the making of these gorgeous garments is beyond any I possess… of either.

Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

I walked through the photography exhibit documenting, through magnificent pictures, the relationship between the people of Oaxaca and chocolate. Chocolate is indigenous to the area and has been traded and consumed, even used as currency and in rituals since pre-Hispanic times. Heck, during my Temazcal I was instructed to pour chocolate on my body. Side note: THAT was an overwhelmingly outside my comfort zone experience!

Even though my Spanish is only good enough for me to read approximately one quarter to a third of what is written, the photographs were so dynamic I could understand the story and the importance.

Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

In the matter of a single functional space I found: two fine art exhibitions, a highly functional library, a restaurant, a cafe, an art space, a public performance forum (beautiful concerts by the week), a respite from the busy bustle of Ave. Indepencia, a creative work space, and a cafe with beautiful local coffee and many chairs for reading or gathering and talking with amigos. Look at their website or Facebook to see numerous workshops, concerts, and screenings they offer, definitely by the week and seemingly by the day.

Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

How have you encountered your “my little secret” spots, whether traveling or in your own home town?

Centro Cultural San Pablo:

Hidalgo 907, Centro Histórico
Oaxaca, Mexico

XO, Jennifer

Centro Cultural San Pablo Oaxaca

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Border Crossing: A Road Trip To Nogales, Mexico From Nogales, Arizona

Border towns on the U.S.-Mexico border don’t get much love. I “understand” the reasons people provide for why, but, frankly, I love Mexico. And I haven’t even spent as much time there as other destinations. But each time I go, I love it. My Pinterest boards are bursting with pins of my Mexico daydreams. Growing up in Phoenix, I, for one, always enjoyed day trips down to the sister cities Nogales, AZ and Nogales, SN. I looked forward to Coca Cola with real sugar – not corn syrup, purchasing new paper mache parrots, tin garden sculptures, and lunch at La Roca. I love road trips, and had not taken a road trip to Nogales in years, so….

Nogales, Mexico

When another 100-plus day taunted me, I knew I was NOT spending another sweltering monsoon Saturday in Phoenix. I *really* want to go up north. BUT — I also need to practice my Spanish before my move to Oaxaca. What better time and place than a morning border run to a long-missed trip to Nogales? I grabbed all the small bills I could gather, to make for easier bartering. Packed Edie’s vaccination and registration records, in case I was asked (I was asked but not required to verify — but why take the chance), and my passport & GOES cards. We left Phoenix and would be in Mexico by lunch time.

Once we hit I-19 from Tucson and started to pass the missions, San Xavier del Bac, Tubac, and Tumacacari. Further along, I spotted the warehouses where produce coming through the Nogales port waits for shipment to the rest of the U.S. Fun fact: an estimated 80% of U.S. purchased produce enters the country through Nogales. Another fun fact: the produce rests in those warehouses for up to a week before being placed on a transport truck in country.

A hillside view of Nogales, Mexico

Speaking of lunch… My favorite place is La Roca. I’ve been going there for over 20 years, and they do it right, every time. This is old school dining. Most of the staff have been there for decades and the service is perfect. The maitre d’ directed me to the patio where Edie and I sat on a balcony lined with potted geraniums. A perfect tamarindo margarita started to sweat on the glass… while the temperature was a sweet 83 degrees, the humidity was darn near tropical. La Roca has a near cult following and once you’ve been there, it’s easy to understand why. From the decor inside the cave to that service I mentioned, and the food…. the food! Seafood from the Sea of Cortez… and everything is fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh! The pico is so fresh, it’s practically sassy.

La Roca Mole

Following a delicious meal of mole and more margaritas, Edie and I crossed back over the tracks and pedestrian bridge to start some shopping. The general absence of U.S. tourists made for easy bartering. Alleys filled with steer skulls, punched tin, pottery, and woven textiles in an array of colors were reminiscent of trips before the border frenzy and fear of drug cartel violence when walking across the border required my driver’s license, at most.

Friendly shop keepers invited me in and were eager to sell their wares. Whereas I usually start a barter at about 30% and haggle up to an agreed-upon price, I found myself walking out with a serape and dress for my niece for about a third of the starting price. The bartering was easy and of everything purchased, I paid around 30-40% for everything. I had the advantage of being one of very few shoppers that day.

Nogales day trip shopping

I was on a mission for a statue of St Joseph to aid in a current real estate struggle (living in an on-the-market house can be a daily struggle of constant tidiness). Repeated pop ins to curios looking for San Jose resulted in empty hands or only giant plaster statues. Finally, the smallest one I could find I bartered down to $7 USD from the asking $22 USD. He, too, was bigger than I wanted, at nearly 10″ tall.

U.S. Mexico Border Wall

Crossing back into the U.S. was easy. I had my large tote of purchases and Edie in her sling. The customs agent asked me my purpose of my visit. “Lunch and shopping,” was my response. There was no further inquiry or inspection. He asked me if I had current vaccinations for Edie, and when I offered to show them, he politely declined. Like that, I was back in the U.S. A quick walk to the paid parking lot ($4 right across the street from Burger King on the border side of the road) and Edie and I headed toward Phoenix.

Nogales Mexico street art

Crossing through the more northerly border patrol checkpoint was a breeze. Somehow, my 7.6 lb rat of a dog manages to get the highly trained border patrol canines to lose their minds. I’ve seen one do a back flip on his handler’s leash – granted, Edie tends to start the aggression with her (fierce and imposing — in her mind, only) growls and barks as we start to pull to the check point. At this stage, usually they just wave me through so their dogs will calm down. If Edie weren’t so annoying, I’d probably find the scenario amusing. But, alas, we’ve been through the scene too many times.

We stopped at Tumacacori, but alas, no dogs allowed at the mission! Sorry, Edie!

Tumacacori National Park

I made it back to Phoenix in about 2 1/2 hours. Pete balked at the size of St. Joseph and I assured him I endeavored to find a smaller statue. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of St. Joseph before he went into the ground… We had an accident. When Pete put him in the hole he dug, head first (always), he was decapitated. It remains to be seen if that is going to motivate him to help the house sell quicker or if we are in for a longer sell. This is very much a sort of groundhog day conundrum!

But what about safety, right? 

Visit Nogales

With all the talk about the “great, great wall” a particularly provocative presidential candidate continues to tout, the border – and existing wall – remains a controversial topic. I hadn’t been to Nogales since the Sinaloa cartel and smugglers (human and drugs) descended upon the area with increased violence. A couple of friends and I recklessly camped on a beach along the Sea of Cortez during the height of the violence, but we were not disturbed, threatened, or observant to any activity.

There are varying reports of safety. The biggest risk to U.S. tourists is probably wrong place, wrong time. My thoughts on that are there are plenty of places in Phoenix and any other large U.S. city where wrong place/time can play out. Granted, I’m a bit more adventurous than a majority of my friends, but I’m by no means an adrenaline seeker!

I felt safe my entire time, even when venturing outside of the Obregon corridor (which is generally not recommended). To be fair, though, I only saw one other U.S. couple during my entire day. I sharply observed changes and noted that this was not the Nogales I knew from shopping marathons with my mom and day jaunts with ASU sorority sisters and friends. While the squares and sidewalks were bustling and lively, I found curio shops primarily empty. Vendors were eager and flexible with negotiations.

Overall, from what I saw on my solo shopping excursion, general safety concerns apply. Don’t be a fool, and you’ll be ok. As for my day trip with Edie, I am content with my purchases and think we had a day well spent.

Shopping in Nogales

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