All Posts By

Adrien Behn

Latin America

10 Reasons To Visit Mexico City

Mexico City has always been loud. Colonial texts imply that they could hear Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, a day’s walk away.

Miles away from the urban center, the wind carried the sound of haggling and shouting of goods that traveled considerable distances to be exchanged at that very spot. Archaeologists have found materials from far reaching places, suggesting that tribes traveled from as north as Arizona and as south as Peru just to get a taste of the action.

This was sound pollution before they had speakers. And now they do have them. Merchants no longer have to shout over everyone else with similar hustles; instead, you will see speakers strapped onto on venders hips or balanced on bikes selling tamales or asking for your used furniture. Reggaeton blasts through car speakers and mariachi bands belt in city squares. This city is bumpin’. It is sometimes feels so loud that they can wake the dead, which they honor more than the living sometimes. Modern day Mexico City hasn’t strayed away from its original vibe.

It is a mosaic of Aztec cultures integrated with colonial Spanish influences while still able to keep up with the modern world. It is in constant contradiction and harmony with itself. It is magic and modernity.

Tacos +  Street Food

Mexicans still respect the dedication it takes to makes food good. It is a culture that can take any given ingredient and make it appetizing, from crickets to corn fungus. You don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat like a queen.

The street food in Mexico City is always delicious, always indulgent, and sometimes healthy. Stands perfume the streets with aromas of fried meat, onions, and peppers.

But the stands have more than tacos. Tortes, soups, hamburgers, tamales: any shape you want corn to take, you can have it. GOOD stands will have an array of other offerings to add to your meal: guacamole, beans, red+ green salsas, cucumbers, radishes, cilantro, bowls of lime wedges, fresh and pickled onions, pickled carrots and jalapenos. This rainbow of toppings will balances all your taste buds demands. You will not find cheddar cheese or Tostitos salsa here.

You must grab a quesadilla if you stumble upon a blue corn tortilla stand. They are a nuttier version of the classic yellow corn and typically made by women whose hands are stained periwinkle from making hundreds of patties in a day.

Regardless of where you end up, all eateries have a golden rule. When you approach a stand and are about to bite into your taco, you must pause your excitement, turn to your neighbor and say “provecho.” It is their bon appetite but with more social gravity. It shows that you are courteous of those eating around you, and you open yourself for conversation with your eating companions. You will be well received by the locals.

But Mexico’s gastronomical pleasures do not end there. Several vendors are on wheels, so you must hunt them down. There are carts with peanuts spiced in every way imaginable and make your own mix bag. There are mango men who sell cups of sunshine. You can have them sprinkled with lime, chili, and hot sauce, which looks like you are swallowing a sunset. There are sweet potato men who come out only at night. You can hear them streets away by the screeching sound of their ovens releasing steam.

The food in Mexico is always an adventure.

Lucha Libre

If you want to understand Mexican entertainment, you must experience lucha libre. It is  as theatrical and staged as a Shakespearean play, but with a tele novella plot line. There are two kinds of luchadors: technos and rudos. Their fight represents the larger narrative of good vs evil, and each has their own backstory. Technos are the good guys who have moral upstanding and play by the rules. The rudos are always the bad guys who cheat. However, they are only half the show.

The audience fuels the theatrics in ways where no Broadway show could ever function. They are loud and melodramatic as the characters they are cheering for and against.  

It is a place where everyone can release tension from the week, scream and shout, and hope that good will prevail. It’s like group therapy where you can drink and is significantly cheaper.

Luchadoras, lady wrestlers, have become more accepted have been in the spotlight more. Although sometimes oversexualized, these wrestling women are working hard to have the same respect as their macho male counterparts.  

Coffee + Chocolate Culture

What is the point of going to the land that made chocolate without breaking out a few bars. The Maya’s coined cacao as “the food of the gods”, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.

There are several places around the city that are supporting organic and fair trade bean to bar chocolate. Many of these bars have less processing and sugar than commercial counterparts. They may take some time to get used to because their taste is a bit stronger than the Western palate is used to. But, once you start understanding what real chocolate tastes like, you will never be able to eat Hershey’s again.

The real treat is the hot chocolate. There are several places that are making hot chocolate with pre-Hispanic techniques. They have wooden molinillos, which can easily be mistaken for a handheld massager, but instead make frothy hot chocolate. These hot chocolate makers are used to make the beverage foamy and creamy, using the same hand motion as warming your hands on a cold night. You can watch your barista vigorously whip up a frothy cup and get an bicep workout at the same time. It is traditionally made with water, but you can have it made with milk as well and is not rich or thick as its European counterparts ( typically made with cream). Most places offer a selection of different spices to add to your drink. I recommend getting some with cardamom or orange.

Great places to check out are the chains Tierra Garat,  El Moro, La Rifa, and Central Cacao. Most of them serve hot chocolate and bars.

If your sweet tooth isn’t satisfied, you can also visit their Chocolate Museum.

Coffee, although did not originate on this side of the world, is still living its best life in Mexico and grows spectacularly here. Most places don’t serve drip coffee, so it will help you wean off your Starbucks coffee addiction and learn how to enjoy a proper espresso. Third wave coffee is booming here, focusing on locally sourced and higher quality beans. Lots of places are open late for you to relax after dinner. There is nothing like having a cake and nice espresso around midnight.

Floating Gardens

Back when the Aztecs ruled over this land, Mexico City was built on an island in the middle of a lake and was navigated by boat. Then 300 years ago, the Spanish drained the lake and the culture from the natives. However, you can still experience some of the ancient Ubers today in the neighborhood of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City. The name translates from Nahuatl to where flowers grow and is still an agricultural center.

Today, you can glide through these human made islands on giant, colorful, wooden boats. It can be a romantic trip for two but is ideal for a large group. Whole families and friends spend their weekend afternoons here. You can often see two boats linked up together where people will drunkenly hop back and forth between the two.

To help keep the party going, there are snack and taco boats that will paddle up to you and serve you food. Gliding along side of them are mariachi boats that will impressively to belt and balance on a boat at the same time. Although the water isn’t super clear or pretty, the surrounding view is interesting and reminiscent of how the Aztecs might have navigated from temple to home and partied themselves.

Museums

Mexico City beats out New York as having the most museums in North America and is second to London for most museums in the world. From the classic to hyperniche, they honor every facet of Mexican culture and modern interest. They are everywhere: parks, peoples homes, grand theaters. Any edifice can and has been turned into a museum.

Here are some of the must hits.

Historical

  • Women’s Museum
  • Memoria y Tolerancia  
  • Museo Nacional de Antropología
  • Franz Mayer + Cloisters
  • National Palace- Diego Rivera mural
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes
  • Casa del Indio

Art

  • Dolores Olmedo
  • Frida’s House- Casa Azul
  • Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno)
  • Folk Art Museum (Museo de Arte Popular
  • Museo Jumex – contemporary art
  • Kurimanzutto

Unique

  • Museuo Del Objecto
  • Mucho Museuo De Chocolate
  • Museum of Sound- Fonoteca National/ Octavio Paz’s House

Parks

The parks in Mexico City are wild. Although they are manicured, they still have the feeling that they are untouched by modern horticultural machinery. Long vines hang off of trees, flowers popup wherever they please, and cactus will take root between pine and palm trees. Although it sounds like a horticultural contradiction, when you see them, they somehow make sense.

There are always sculptures and secrets in the parks- from paintings, colorful kiosks, clock towers, or signs that remind you to breath.

They are typically filled with vendors selling peanuts, fruits, and other snacks because the Mexicans always have their picnic game on.

Their grandest park is Chapultepec: the lungs of body of Mexico City.  Named Grasshopper Hill by the Aztecs, it’s history is anything but tiny. From pre-Hispanic empires to European colonialist, it is the space that people have fought over in order to be in control of the city. But don’t let the souls of those who died on this land prevent you from enjoying this park.

Chapultepec is so big it can fit 9 museums, a zoo, a theme park, AND a castle. It can fit two Central Parks inside of itself and still have room for tres leches. It is massive. With so much to do, it is also perfectly ok to enjoy the pleasure of doing nothing ( they have an entire section of hammock for that purpose exactly).

It’s not just their parks that are lush but their streets as well. Any empty space on a balcony ledge or front door must be covered with flowing vines or terra cotta pots. You can stop on the street and stand next to an agave plant as tall as you that fortunately no one decided was a nuisance. Or maybe they are doing to balance the rampant air pollution in the city. Nevertheless, as reflective as they are on death, this is a city that cultivates life.

Street Art

If you don’t have time or find any of the museums to be too pricey, just take a walk through the streets. They are an outdoor art exhibit on their own. In the 1920’s, artists were commissioned to paint the streets to renew national pride and identity. They are bright and bold and thought provoking. The art pulls from every facet of Mexican culture, from Aztec gods +symbols to Catholic iconography, with a flair of modernity and contemporary issues. They cover the city like rainbow sprinkles on an ice cream cone. Even locals are still finding new ones. The best neighborhoods to find street art is Roma Norte, Roma Sur, Juarez, Downtown, La Condesa, and Coyoacan.

Nightlife

If there is one thing Mexicans know how to do is throw a good fiesta. Like all the elements Mexico city has, you can jump from one mood to the next in a single night.

You can bounce from cozy bars, hop over to Reggaeton gay bars or get intimate at a salsa dance floor. If you find yourself circled by a mariachi band belting and professing their love to you at three in the morning, lean into it.

Clubs

If you are looking for a packed dance party, go no further than Patrick Miller. You might think you have walked into a temescal when you enter: it’s that steamy in there. Rico, a gay club, has three levels of dancing with different music played on each, including a rooftop. For great Reggaeton, another gay bar is Divina, which hosts great drag shows on weekend nights.

Salsa

If you are more in the mood for classic Latin dance, Mama Rumba is your go to. There are two floors with a balcony and a stage for live music, typically played on Friday + Saturday nights. They have a wider variety of music. Salón Los Ángeles is perfect if you are a beginner you want to take classes and dance after. This is a more traditional salsa center where you will find elderly couples salsa dancing and dressed to the nines.

Bars + Cantinas

If you are looking for a chiller vibe with nicer cocktails and a chance to chat, head over to El Departamento. They host downtempo DJ nights every first Wednesday of the month and have a spicy selection of mezcal cocktails.

Casa Franca is a jazz club around the corner that is so homey you might think you accidentally walked into someone’s living room. It calls back to the 1920s and has incredible live jazz music every Friday + Saturday. Bosfero, closer to downtown, is ideal if you want to get a great taste of mescal. Hidden behind a curtain ( there is no actual door), the dim lit and edgy place is perfect for philosophical conversations over garlic peanuts and the iconic Oaxacan liquor.

Nevertheless, you can’t leave Mexico city without getting serenaded by a mariachi band, and Garibaldi Square is exactly where you want to go. It is lined with canteenas that have several bands belting and boasting inside and outside. You will almost feel like you are in an old timey western.

Bookstores

Mexican literature is unique in its own. Their influences of magical realism, views on poverty, mortality, and the struggle of existence seeps through their literature like agave pouring out of a plant. But damn do they know how to make existentialism look pretty. Mexico City has some of the most beautiful bookstores, decorated with plants, local art, and wide open windows. There are as many as there are museums.

Here is a list of some you must walk through

  • El Pendulo- multiple locations through the city.
  • Under the Volcano Books- Roma Norte
  • EXIT La Librería- Cuauhtémoc.
  • Bookstore Fondo de CulturaEconomica- Hipodromo.

Regardless of which one you stumble into – you might find yourself aged significantly by the time you walk out- and still feeling like you don’t have enough time to read everything.

When you have finally made a decision on which book to buy, there is even a spot in Chapultepec where you can sit quietly and read. Audiorama is a quiet space with a mini library, and you will find people seeking some silence to read quietly in this obstreperous city.

Pyramids

One of the best day trips out of the modern metropolis is to go visit the ancient one.

About an hour drive away, the remnants of the indigenous tribes still stand as tall as the contemporary skyscrapers.

Teotihuacan was the largest pre-hispanic city in the Americas at its time with an estimated population of 125,000. It is believed to have originated as a religious center, but its origins are still unknown because it was built before the Aztecs. BEFORE. The Aztecs claimed relations to the original creators, usurped the pyramids, and created their city.

You can still walk this arid landscape. As you explore the full breadth of the area, you will probably be starved for shade, and people normally don’t take more than an hour or so to stroll around. Walk down the avenue of the dead to the Sun and Moon pyramids, which are both geometrically and symbolically impressive.

You can hike the Sun Pyramid and envision what it might have been like to rule all that you can see. If you are a morning person and have the dinero, you can splurge and do a hot air balloon over the pyramids.

Advice Solo Travel

“Where’s Your Boyfriend?” How To Handle Micro-Aggressions Towards Female Travelers

“You’re traveling alone?” a curious local asked me while I boarded a bus to southern Peru.

“Yup!” I respond.

“What does your boyfriend think?” he continues, unprompted.

“I don’t have one,” I reply, not as spunky as my initial response.

“Why don’t you have a boyfriend? You are attractive?”

Regardless of how well I speak his language, I don’t think I would still be able to explain that I prefer to travel alone, and I truly don’t need a boyfriend in order to do so.  

It wasn’t a big deal,  and I politely smiled and found my seat. I stared out the window as the bus began to move and tried to roll the microaggression off of me.

Micro-aggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.”

But, these are little comments that can build up over time, like salt on a wound. Micro-aggressions can frequently make people of marginalized groups feel confined to traditional social roles. Women can be faced with questions or assumptions that make them feel inferior or sexually objectified. We can begin to question our decisions; am I doing the right thing? Should I be focused on a career? Should I be having children?

These micro-aggressions can build up over time and hit you at your most vulnerable moment, where you find yourself calling your ex-boyfriend at 2am New York time shouting that you’re on the next flight to be with him and settle down in West Chester. The decisions we make as women to pave our own unconventional path by our own footprints and intentions can be scary. Then hearing other’s question our abilities or our choices can lead to doubt and inhibit us to go farther.

With a large upswing in women using their independence to travel more fiercely, there will always be those who tenaciously hold onto societal norms and question our ability to travel without the shadow of a man beside us. If you haven’t faced any yet, fantastic. And if they come up in the future, here is a handy little list of the most popular micro-aggressions and how to politely dismantle them.

“Why Don’t You Have A Boyfriend?”

This seems to be the most common one women face. It’s a personal favorite because as soon as I reply “I don’t have one” the inquisitor will quickly proposition the closest man with a pulse. Like either of us are that desperate. This seems to be the most common because women, historically, have been defined by the men in their lives. Our roles have been that of wives and mothers, confound to the home. We have needed permission from men to navigate the world, and to be able to make true decisions on our own is a relatively short-lived concept.

Your relationships status is not anyone else’s business, regardless of the cultural differences. There are women who travel without their husbands, who are intentionally single, or don’t prescribe to heterosexual relationships.

There are plenty of stories of women being wives and mothers, and we can begin to incorporate more options to the female experience.

What To Say:

  • If you are comfortable, take a moment to explain your situation.
  • “I would rather not discuss that.”
  • “I feel empowered by traveling on my own.”

“Isn’t That A Honeymoon Spot? Don’t You Want To Wait To Go With Someone?”

Sure, some places are traditionally thought of as more romantic or are swarming with honeymooners. But just because you are traveling solo does not mean that certain places are roped off to you. There is no need to wait to have someone to be with (unless you of your own volition want to) and limit the opportunities you have now to explore the world.

People go to beautiful places to honeymoon so they can bond before their next great adventure- there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that with yourself.

You can have times of self-care and reflection anywhere in the world and knowing how to have intimate moments with yourself is a valuable skill to hone.  

What To Say:  

  • “I enjoy traveling anywhere I go at my own leisure.”
  • “I’m treating myself!”
  • “I like doing exactly what I want to do.”
  • “None of my friends or family wants to go with me, but that is no reason to wait!”
  • “I thought this spot would be perfect to recharge in.”

“Won’t You Get Lonely? Don’t You Have Any Friends To Go With?”

People often believe that traveling alone is synonymous with being lonely, when they aren’t, which makes being alone look like it’s a problem, when it isn’t.

Being lonely is being saddened by your isolation, whereas being alone is being comfortable, if not joyful, that you are by yourself. If you have ever traveled alone, then you know how freeing it is and wonderful it can be at times to do exactly what you want to do at that moment. No need to compromise with someone else’s bucket list or impatiently wait for someone to get ready in the morning.

What To Say:

  • “I’m perfectly happy being alone for a while.”
  • “I enjoy my own company.”
  • “You don’t ask me that when I’m home. Why would you ask that when I travel?”

“You’re So Brave / Aren’t You Scared?”

I have gotten this question while I have been actively traveling for months, and people still seem incredulous. I can see their brains scanning through all of the unfortunate things that can happen to me when I am alone. But am I supposed to pause my life for potential risks that I would be facing?  Am I supposed to stay at home and find myself crying uncontrollably during an Anthony Bourdain episode because my urge to travel hasn’t been satiated? No one grew without taking some risks.

This question is laden with double standards because I highly doubt that men are told that they are brave for traveling solo. Being brave is expected of men, and it isn’t of women. It is assumed that men can probably handle themselves, whereas women are historically perceived as unable to defend themselves and are vulnerable to attacks. The limitations of the female strength are only a societal pressure- not a personal one. We need to travel solo to show the world evidence of our strength + wit to travel safely alone.

So women traveling alone are seen as brave, and honestly, it is. But the challenges that most solo travelers have faced are not someone attempting to attack me but having to work through their internal issues and grow as an individual in ways that they can’t at home. So yes, it is brave of us to travel alone.

I have also found that the world is often more protective than predatory and people tend to watch out for you, whether you know it or not, when you are traveling alone. People recognize the risks that you might face and keep an eye out for you.

What To Say:

  • “Bad things happen everywhere. Am I not supposed to take risks?”
  • “I’ve researched where I’m going and know how to take care of myself.”
  • “Do you worry about my safety when I am home? The world is dangerous for women in general, regardless of whether I’m traveling or at home.”
  • “Why are you surprised that I am brave?”
  • “Would you say the same thing to a guy?”
  • “Do you doubt my strength?”

Unwanted Sexual Advances Or Comments About Your Looks

Just because you are alone does not mean that anyone has the right to solicit unwanted sexual advances. Enthusiastic consent is the same in every language.

This also goes for when people (men) make comments on your looks. Your looks have nothing to do with your ability to travel safely and independently. Your looks should not influence how great of a time you have. Regardless of your size, don’t believe that your body has any influence on whether you are able to travel safely and happily.

What To Say:

  • Thank you (or nothing) and then walk away. If there is someone making you uncomfortable just separate yourself from them and start talking to someone else nearby.

Isn’t That Irresponsible ForYour Age?

No one is in any position to question how someone else chooses to live their life. However, if you are “too young” people might be questioning your choice to start a career late or “all the good men will be taken” by the time you’re done traveling. If you are too old you could, again, ruin potential growth in your career or miss the time to have children. Like our life is defined by the work that we do, not the peace that we find or the experiences we have.

We can always get another job, but we can not get our youth, energy, or time back. These are finite resources.  

I think that travel allows times of deep reflection of where you are going in life, and it is an opportunity to find some clarity and direction, regardless of your age.

Additionally, everyone chooses what to do with their money and time differently, if your savings is going to a plane ticket instead of a college fund, don’t think that your choices are wrong because everyone is doing different things with their money.

Fun fact: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, how successful or not, we are all faking it to a certain extent. None of us truly know what we are doing. Those who flaunt success might have used work to escape the inner issues that harbor within them, the issues that show themselves day one of traveling alone. So get out, become better.

What To Say:  

  • “You spend your money on your house and your children. I spend it on myself and travel.”
  • “Travel is a priority to me.”
  • “I can always get another job.”
  • “I need some time to refocus and re-center.”

Conclusion

Don’t let the micro-aggressions get you down. Personally, I think for the majority of these questions come from ignorance – not malice.

We are still told stories about what “women” and “men” are supposed to be like, and when we see people outside of those roles, people question it. That is why it is imperative for us as solo female travelers to go out and show the world our strength and abilities to explore the unknown parts of the world independently. Let’s rewrite our story.

Journal Stories Travel Planning

Introverts Abroad

Our world is becoming increasingly extroverted. We are always chatting, texting, calling, Snapchatting, Tweeting, or emailing people about our lives. And for introverts, it can be tiring.

Introverts are people who need time away from others in order to recharge, whereas extroverts gain their energy from social events. Classic introverts tend be more reticent, work independently, and have a smaller, but closer, group of friends.

It seems daunting to be an introvert who has the dream to travel intrepidly. There are the fears that you won’t make friends or be to overwhelmed to take real adventures. But this is your time, and you can choose to enjoy it however you want.

You Won’t Make Friends

If you are an introvert, you might fear that traveling is exhausting enough on its own, let alone having to meet new people. First timers seem to believe that no one will want to talk to them when they are traveling. However, it is almost impossible not to make friends while traveling abroad. If you are staying in hostels, couch surfing, or volunteering, you will be surrounded by new people who are just as curious to meet you as you are to them. You can probably find the other travelers who also don’t need to go out dancing until 4am every night if that is what your body and energy needs. And you don’t have to make friends with every person you meet. You will find your tribe of like minded travelers, and they are looking for you as well. However, this is also a time to experiment with who you are! Maybe staying up until 4am is exactly what you need every once in a while.

You also might feel an ease of social pressure because if you mistake a social cue, you might never see that person again. Since most of your interactions with other travelers are short lived, you might be able to be more of yourself.

As women especially, people tend to be curious of the female traveler who roams alone. If you travel alone, you seem more approachable instead of being surrounded by a pack. So open yourself up to the moment when you are feeling social.

You Will Be Overwhelmed

There is the fear that you will feel more worn out or be too overwhelmed by all you are ingesting. Introverts tend to experience novelty fatigue faster because they feel more intensely and tend to be empaths- people who absorb others’ energies more. This can make one exploration day feel like 12.

Remember to take your time and travel at your own pace. If you find that exploring or doing activities one day is enough, then go snuggle up at a cute bookstore or coffee shop the next. You can control your own schedule because this is your time.

Introverts tend to know when they need to take time for themselves. Podcasts, books, music, or journaling are great ways to take time to yourself and recharge without feeling completely alone. Know when you need that time to yourself.

But What Will Everyone Think?

Don’t be concerned about other people’s Instagram stories or all their Facebook likes. Just because you stayed in a museum while your friends trekked across the savanna doesn’t mean that they had a better experience than you. There is no right way to travel as long as you come out feeling energized and satisfied by your own adventures. Everyone has their own limits and needs and it is important to be mindful of your needs. No one else will know how to take care of you better than yourself!

Personally, I find that my most joyful experiences are when I am meandering through a city at my own pace. This allows the place to open itself up to me organically. I like to take in the unique milieu of a city or landscape without the influence or perception of someone else. It keeps me present and being present leads to happiness.

If you are an introvert, be proud, and take care of yourself! I used to feel embarrassed that I needed time alone and felt obligated to travel with people when I would have rather been alone. However, I’m much more comfortable with myself and expressing my needs for solitude with a city and know how to respectfully decline invitations to explore with others. Once you accept yourself and learn how to articulate your needs, politely, you can go anywhere.

You can, peacefully, enjoy your travels on your own terms.

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