KK: Like all decent thinking adventurers LK and I have sworn not to visit the USA again until that lying idiot orange baboon they have for a president is dead or in jail. But where to go to emphasise the point?
Mexico baby. Yes Mexico: the other side of the proposed wall Trump wants to build. Mexico: with the express intention of shouting abuse in a northerly direction, with large glasses of tequila in our fists, Mariachi music in our ears and our faces painted for The Day of The Dead.
So, we went to Mexico for two weeks. Not to one of those resort/compounds people lock themselves away in because they think they are too good for Spain. Actual Mexico where we had to learn some lingo, eat some food that might make us ill and sleep on a bus that set off in the middle of the night to avoid the protesters who sometimes block the mountain roads. It was so bloody brilliant we spent the first week back in the UK sulking because we weren’t in Mexico anymore. We’re writing this because you should go too (or again). You should go to spite Trump, you should go to love the people, the food and the drinks (especially the drinks) and you should go because Mexico is bursting with life and noise and history and culture and is full in your face crackers.
LK: It’s a massive country – we didn’t visit the north and the border deserts of Westerns and cartel anarchy, instead starting our journey in Mexico City where the evening descent of our plane banked across its spectacular megalopolis sprawl. We stopped by in beautiful Puebla on Halloween, then onto vibrant Oaxaca for the Days of the Dead. An overnight bus trip saw us up into the Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, then moving across to the jungle howls and heat of Palenque. Another bus journey through the night delivered us to Capital of Culture Merida, finally ending up in Playa del Carmen which successfully hid its charms under sheets of torrential rain and tacky shops.
Day of the Dead
KK: Like Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas LK and I had grown tired of being brilliant at Halloween, so thought we’d crash someone else’s festival for a change. We landed in Mexico City in time for a massive parade, inspired by the one in the recent James Bond film, Spectre. This isn’t a joke: Mexico City didn’t used to have much of a parade until the film and now it seems most of the 23 million people who live in and around the world’s busiest city head onto the streets surrounding the Zocalo to see it. Most of these people were trying to squeeze onto the same Metro as us and most of them would end up with their faces painted.
We were already frazzled because the fireworks from the night before didn’t stop going off until 8am. Fireworks, with the deep boom of a howitzer, that continually wrenched us violently out of sleep despite our being jet-lagged and quite drunk. This is our excuse for not seeing the parade at all. A couple of our new Aussie mates who are tall and who were prepared to wait for 3 hours said the parade was great. We lacked the height and the patience but later, after it got dark, we wandered through the park and marvelled at the amount of people, in elaborate costumes with intricately painted faces, whose preparation must have taken hours.
LK: Day of the Dead imagery has been increasing in Halloween celebrations elsewhere on the globe, but cultural appropriation is also happening in the other direction. Among the fluttering rainbow tissue paper garlands of skeletons in sombreros, la Catrina, and fancy skulls were floating ghosts and bright orange pumpkin designs. What this seems to have achieved is an extra day of partying before the Days of the Dead, and a three day festival in the UK for Halloween seems only fair. We fore-armed ourselves with a visit to the local confectioners before heading off into the joyful crowds in Puebla on Halloween night. Fantastically turned-out children were quick to spread the word among their friends on who to ask for sweets (very politely). A two-floor display of altars in the nearby Casa de la Cultura displayed an astounding range of painted miniature figures all brash and goth and kitsch and wow. The nearly full moon shone down on the central square and we smiled from the depths of our cobwebby hearts.
KK: For Dia de los Muertos actual we were in Oaxaca: the graveyards where the families and gawping tourists gather were closed due to earthquake damage, so the town was the party. There was no parade here or central entertainment area, just a happy strolling kaleidoscopic riot weaving through and around itself on a hot dusty night. Everything and everybody looked magical under the lights, there was music blasting out of packed cantinas, where patrons handed each other drinks across balconies. Street performances spontaneously happened, bands were just striking up and on one occasion a great crowd of people of all ages climbed onto an unused stage to start dancing. My face paint was on so thick that even after a long shower I still looked like I had failed an audition for the part of Nicky Wire in a Manic Street Preachers cover band. It was a good, if somewhat grotesque, look. Day two: 7 am and what sounded like a barrel being rolled quickly across a cobbled street turned out to be the drums warming up an entire, fevered, brass band. False endings aplenty with each re-start more frantic as revellers reeled around in the street in bizarre fancy dress. One guy was dressed up like a fat priest riding on the shoulders of a goblin – he had a bottle of beer in his hand and he looked like he was coming straight for us. He wasn’t. He wasn’t going straight anywhere.
LK: I was delighted to drop History as a subject as soon as I could at school. Dates, kings, some boats battling other boats, ludicrous combat hats throughout the ages. And then your proper education begins and you wonder why you weren’t told about everything else in the world that was actually interesting. Mexico has plenty to keep you captivated; the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is an impressive introduction to Prehispanic cultures, but our first site visit was to Teotihuacan, around 50km outside the City. Not sure who founded it (let’s say aliens) but it went into decline over 600 years before the Aztecs came to prominence around 1300AD. One line of thinking is that an ecological disaster struck, people got hungry and died. Oh, if only we could decipher this mysterious lesson and apply it to our modern-day planet. Flat open expanses between gigantic Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon leave you with nowhere to hide from the intense sun, or the traders with squawky terracotta instruments that mimic a jaguar, albeit a poorly jaguar with a high-pitched cough.
KK: There would be other pyramids and other archaeological sites and a diversity of quality from the guides employed to pontificate on their meanings: Juan lost us inside ten minutes by trying to tell us the big tree at El Tule definitely weighed “six thousand million kilo tonnes” so by the time we reached the Zapotec site at Mitla we had grown tired of his rambling nonsense and had entirely stopped listening. Especially as we were in the company of a former guide on our tour who used to tell Japanese tourists visiting Africa that giraffes can walk on their hind legs. Our guide at Palenque however, Francisco, helped bring the place to life, despite stifling jungle heat and LK having a fragile constitution. Like the rest of us she was eagerly scrambling over ancient, overgrown Mayan ruins (of which only 3% are actually excavated) trying to keep up with Francisco as he pointed out animals and plants amidst a tale of the rise and fall of a mighty empire. “The Skull Temple”, “The Red Queen Temple”, “The Temple of The Inscriptions” – all very Tomb Raider. If you prefer more up to date history of a slightly less guessy nature: in Puebla we visited the Museo Regional de la Revolucion where The Revolution kind of started in 1910. There are bullet holes in the wall outside from where the troops of dictator Porfirio Diaz opened fire on the family and friends of Aquiles Serdán from the nunnery across the street. Just re-opened after earthquake damage it was a beautiful and haunting experience.
LK: The past reaches right into the present in Chiapas state, creating and fuelling resistance. The town of San Cristobal de las Casas was founded by the Spanish in 1528, subduing and impoverishing the rebellious indigenous population. While hardly an immediate response, San Cristobal was occupied on the first day of 1994 by the Zapatistas, seeking redistribution of resources to the poor majority and raising the issue of indigenous rights within a wider population. A nominal ceasefire was agreed in 1995 but differences rumble on.
The Tzotzil Maya have long been subverting the Catholicism imposed on them by the Spanish occupiers by retaining traditional animist beliefs in their worship. The San Juan Chamula church has statues of saints to receive offerings, but no priests. It’s laden with copal incense and candles, but the darker the colour of the candles the more intense the purification ritual. There are no rows of pews, but an open floor covered with pine needles to clear a space for your praying area. No pure white doves, but a black chicken being waved around a suffering woman to expel evil spirits. It doesn’t end well for the chicken.
Food & Drink
LK: But, as we should all know by now, chickens make the world go round. I was fuelled up for the start of each day by huevos that were either revueltos, a la Mexicana, or rancheros. Top work, ladies. Enchiladas smothered in either salsa verde or mole poblano were excellent lunchtime snacks. The regional dishes are rich and varied, and in Oaxaca I tried a tlayuda which is called a Oaxacan pizza but it’s actually a thin crispy tortilla filled with a mild cheese and, in this case, spicy chapulines (grasshoppers). They were crunchy and a bit peppery, and I’m only getting in some practice before we all have to start eating insects after the Trumpocalypse. The fleshy cactus leaves on blue corn tortillas in San Cristobal were definitely my favourite, and the very next day I graciously accepted a homemade tortilla filled with beans from a local family of weavers; twelve hours later not very graciously I projectile vomited it back up again in our hotel room. I lost interest in food after that for a couple of days, which meant I passed on the chance to eat carrot-flavoured ants in the Palenque jungle. Maybe they do them in Waitrose.
KK: Corona and Sol are local beers but Mexican bar folk don’t jam a lime slice in the top like we insist on. You can get flavoured Sol and one of the flavours is lime and salt: the first and last swigs taste like sea water but otherwise it really works. Unlike the Salsa flavour which tastes like fizzy Worcester Sauce and is so vile that I actually anti-shoplifted a couple of cans, in that I bought some, tried one and sneaked the others back into the fridge of the shop I’d bought them from.
A hefty shot of tequila works out at about £2 in a bar but one of the guys on our tour picked up a bottle of silver Jimador (good tequila) for £6 in a supermarket which was a stroke of genius we copied. Mescal comes from a different cactus to the ones used for tequila and it comes in many guises. I bought a litre of Montelobos from The Tequila & Mescal Museum in Mexico City because it has a cool label and got appreciative nods from the staff. We also bought Day of the Dead shot glasses and, with a little help, saw the bottle off on a Oaxaca rooftop in two nights. On a mescal tasting evening, we sampled about 15/20 different mescals ranging from rich and smoky to smooth and milky. We carefully selected our favourite and carefully transported it all the way home without breaking it and … it tastes like petrol.
KK: Night time animals at Aluxes Ecopark Reserve – jaguars, manatees, crocodiles, tapirs, ocelots!
LK: Frida Kahlo’s blue house – I want a house flooded with daylight and with a central courtyard filled with lush plants!
KK: On our first night, outside Bosforo, a secret bar in Mexico City a local said to us, “This place sells the best mescal in Mexico, do you know mescal?” we said yes and thought, “everything is going to be ok”.
LK: Metro journeys for 20 pence each, carriages so full people have their faces pushed up against the glass, exits that spit you out onto massive junctions where you can have arguments with each other about which way we need to go next.
KK: Speed bumps on the mountain roads and sometimes absence of mountain road on the mountain road. Like, just a massive hole and a vertiginous drop that our bus driver edged round while we held our breath.
LK: The sassy riot cop in Puebla leaning on her shield, beautifully groomed and made-up, smoking her cigarette, nowt’s a bother.
KK: An open top tourist bus where we had to keep diving under the seat so as not to be decapitated by electrical wires or bashed in the face by tree branches.
LK: “So basically they want £600 for a small mat?” after doing the currency calculation at a, admittedly, highly skilled weaver’s home.
KK: I learned enough Spanish to get a haircut and a shave for £4, half of which was the tip.
LK: The mischief in the eyes of the Mayan guy in Merida when he told us: “American are stupid, they walk around in the sun when it’s 45 degrees in May, and they are fat and they fall over.”
KK: At the Lucha Libre, Mexico’s acrobatic, preposterous but very entertaining pantomime wrestling, one of our party cried, “That man just kicked a midget.”
LK: Colours! Embroidered shawls, blouses, skirts all in the purple voted as next year’s trend by the women in Zinacantan. Vivid yellow and orange butterflies floating by on the breeze. Low roofed buildings in primary colours against skies so deep blue they make you want to stay.