In Part 2, Janel continues sharing her recent experience as a solo female traveler in Mexico, from Mérida to Mexico City (be sure to read Part 1; cover photo from Chichen Itza).
One of her goals as an ESG blogger is to empower other women to take the leap: “Believe it or not, I still find that people see a solo female traveler of color as a novelty. But it’s helped me grow a lot as a person.” Follow Janel's journeys on Instagram!
Part 2: Adjusting to Mexico City
I said my final goodbye to Mérida, Mexico early on a Wednesday morning and headed off to the second destination of my trip: Mexico City. I felt proud of myself for navigating the airport on my own as one of the few English speakers in the building. Within 70 minutes from takeoff, I was transported from a quiet and colorful city to the hustle and bustle of la Ciudad de Mexico.
Mexico City was initially overwhelming. This is the capital city of the entire country, and has a population of over eight million people! Mérida was mostly clean, but Mexico City was very dusty and dirty. Call me bashful, but the amount of PDA I saw among couples was even more than I've witnessed in Southern Europe. I was stopped on the street by men who wanted to lure me into their restaurants or just felt the need to talk to someone. I do not know what it was about me, but I seemed to attract the attention of strangers. Perhaps it was because I was the only black woman around? Possibly. All I know is that once I arrived at the hostel, I could not wait to take a deep breath, relax, and decide what sights I wanted to see over the next four days.
My accommodation was the Mexico City Hostel. This building is located in Zócalo, which is the historic center of the city. On my way to the kitchen, I was stopped by an African-American man who was sitting at a computer and socialized with other hostel guests. He greeted me before sharing that he was on break for a few months from the army and was originally from Louisiana. Then he jokingly said, "You’re the second other black person that I’ve seen my whole time here," before we both started laughing! From then on, I felt very welcome. This man became friends with a Mexican-American male from Kansas and two sisters from Canada while at the hostel. Just hours after I arrived, the whole group took me to my first major grocery store in the country, showed me how to use the city’s Metro system, and offered me dinner in the common area. A woman named Patty cooked the chicken, rice, and vegetables we bought, and added a special sauce which gave the food a great flavor. We all sat and talked for a few hours before members of the group started individually heading to bed for the night. So far, Mexico City Hostel failed to disappoint. Former guests online claimed this was a hostel where guests would just come and go and hardly interact with each other. I was glad to be proven wrong by a friendly group of young tourists who opened their arms – and food – to me as a fellow traveler in the city.
On Thursday morning, I left the hostel to do a free walking tour of Mexico City. I was actually the only tourist who accompanied the tour guide and his daughter. I expected more people to be present, but the one-on-one interaction with them was very helpful for me to get better acquainted with my surroundings. I got to see: a meteorite (Meteorita De "El Morito"), the National Theater (Gran Teatro Nacional), the national post office, the shopping district, and a group of indigenous Mexicans performing ancestral dances all within the span of two hours!
I also made a last-minute decision to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum that afternoon. This sight was on the top of my bucket list for Mexico City and was worth every peso! I got to see some iconic paintings and photographs of and by Frida Kahlo. The house that she shared with her long-term lover Diego Rivera was very beautiful. It was a work of art all on its own. There was a huge garden outside out of the house with many places for visitors to sit and take in nature. I could not stop taking pictures and immediately shared photos of it on social media. Frida Kahlo truly left her mark on the art world, and seeing where she lived was magical!
Looking back, I am grateful to have seen and experienced one of the oldest cities in North America. This continent has much more history and cultures than most of us are even aware. I feel fortunate to have seen and experienced the sights and sounds of a place that pre-dates modern times and has changed so much to be what it is today...
Minerals and Pyramids in Teotihuacan
Friday was a big day! I was on my way to Teotihuacan, which is a famous pyramid city located 90 minutes outside of Mexico City. Our group visited a gift shop with minerals, aloe vera, and souvenirs on the first portion of the trip. A male employee at the gift shop let us touch and hold minerals like obsidian in both rock and sculpted forms. I learned that aloe vera was not only a useful material for making shampoos and lotions, but could also be shaped into a pencil, paper, and weaponry. He let us try a small, tasty samples of Mexican tequila and whiskey. The highlight of the gift shop was getting to try on a necklace made of real silver. I felt like a bona fide rich girl! Now, we were on our way to see the pyramids.
The Great City of Teotihuacan was massive. Both the Pyramid of the Moon and Sun – the two main attractions – were within walking distance of each other. The tour guide showed the whole group a museum with ruins on the site before leading us to the Pyramid of the Moon. This pyramid is 141 feet tall and had handrails for visitors to hold onto while walking up and down unlike Uxmal. I slowly started to climb up and felt relief I had this extra form of assistance.
Suddenly I felt scared. I starting thinking, “What if I fall? What if I drop my purse, water bottle, or phone?” The fear consumed me, so I decided to sit halfway on the staircase for about five to ten minutes. After sitting, I decided to persist, face my fear, and walk up the pyramid. Soon enough, I was on the top and could see the compound from above. The sense of fear turned into a feeling of relief. I made it up to the top, and the view of the sky above and the ground below was beautiful! I took my time to walk down the pyramid and truly felt proud that I overcame my fear of heights for once. This challenge was worth it.
The Pyramid of the Sun was even taller! The tour guide gave our group an hour to climb up and down the pyramid, which was 213 feet tall and very wide. Parts of the pyramid had handrails. Other areas required using all your body strength to climb up and not fall. Unlike the Pyramid of the Moon and even Uxmal, the steps were wide, steep, small, or even circular. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest when I reached the top. Drinking water helped my heartbeat to settle, and I marveled at the even better view from this high altitude.
I felt relief climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, but climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun made me feel like a champion...
I left the trip with a sense of pride that no amount of money could buy.