Words and photos by Levi Walton
I knew something interesting had to happen on my 26th birthday.
They say every five years you go through a crazy change. I don’t know if this was supposed to happen at 25 or at 26, but I was ready for it. When travels to Rome, Marrakech and Rio de Janeiro all fell through, I pulled out the wildcard and embarked on a trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca to celebrate being one year closer to 30. I landed in Mexico City around 2 pm. It was chillier than I thought it would be, a pleasant surprise coming from New York City, where the heat and humidity are unbearable this time of year.
First things first—tacos. I had the best fish tacos I ever tried in the neighbourhood of La Condesa, where I stayed during my time in Mexico City. I had no idea what was coming… a week of lucha libre, mezcal cocktails, cheap tacos, incredible museums and breathtaking archaeological sites.
CDMX has an incredible energy. Its nine million inhabitants breathe life into the sprawling collection of neighbourhoods that make up the huge city. My fondest memories involve drinking several micheladas along with chips with lemon and chilli powder, and lounging under the scorching hot sun, only to put my jacket on once the cold night came rolling through.
Daily walks through crowded markets offered not only Mexican gastronomical staples, but also souvenirs, Mexican candy, t-shirts, what have you. Speaking Spanish made it ten times easier for me to haggle and, let’s just say, I got a great deal on everything. Visiting the Xochimilco canals was a beautiful experience, akin to a visit to Venice. Mariachis would float along in boats and offer to sing us a song for a few pesos. Vendors holding huge bottles of Dos Equis beers and ladies selling elote (corn on the cob) set the mood for one beautiful afternoon. I left Mexico City with half a dozen luchador masks for my friends, and with a longing for another creamy avocado and mezcal cocktail from La Clandestina (this drink will change your life).
Next stop was Oaxaca. My first priority going into Oaxaca was exploring its gastronomical scene. Everything from hole-in-the-wall spots to gourmet offerings, I knew the town had big things in store.
I was not wrong. Tlayudas, mole, tamales, tacos, empanadas, tostadas, even chapulines (Mexican slang for grasshoppers, a popular snack in certain areas of the country) rounded up my diet during my time in Oaxaca.
More breathtaking archaeological sites, churches and cathedrals with incredible architecture, and beautiful flora (you’ll never see as many varieties of cacti and maguey plants as you will here) made for an amazing change of pace from the intense energy of Mexico City. Hierve el Agua, a set of natural rock formations forming a calcified waterfall, is a sight to see. The trip up there is scenic as can be, with more than a few burros in sight. Once you make it up, it’s breathtaking. I had to double take to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
I was amazed by the change of pace—Mexico City has an energetic, young vibe. Hostile at times, but always interesting. Oaxaca, on the other hand, is its calmer counterpart. Beautiful cobblestone streets pave the way for millions of restaurants and shops that you can lose yourself walking in and out of every day. Oaxaca is so small, it is almost completely walkable. My fear of the lack of Ubers was remedied quite quickly.
After a week, I learned Mexico is full of magic. It had been a big item on my bucket list for a while, its cultural impact too huge to go unnoticed. I’m happy I took the plunge and saw it for myself and can’t wait to visit again and cross more cities off my list, enjoy the hospitality of their people, and eat my weight in tacos again. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy these chilli mangoes and Obleas I swear I bought for my friends, not myself.