Mexico for Joaquin's Birthday
Joaquin LOVES celebrating his birthday. He often plans trips and invites a huge group of friends out for something fun, which I love. For his 34th birthday, he did something for both of us—arranged a trip to Mexico City to celebrate the actual day of his birthday, and then a road trip a few hours south to the town of Miacatlan, where my all-time favorite organization has a house. The organization, NPH (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos) has houses for children in many cities, but I had been matched with a child from Miacatlan years ago when I signed up to donate to the organization, and I had been dying to visit ever since. It was literally a dream come true that I was able to go visit in person, and it was even more special that Joaquin thought of it, planned it and made it happen!
Before we left for our flight, I decorated our apartment and made a little bar crawl for Joaquin’s pre-birthday celebration, which ended in a donut shop (better than birthday cake in my opinion) with one of our best friends. We got up early the next morning to celebrate in style in Mexico—we arrived at our swanky hotel and immediately started exploring the city, first with a trip to Trotsky’s hideaway (I had to touch everything in his house to get some of his energy; especially his little yellow kitchen chairs). I had just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” and I’m already obsessed with Frida, so visiting was a must for me; and Joaquin is always down for anything!
Our next day in Mexico City, we visited two touristy spots that I recommend to everyone— Castillo de Chapultepec and Frida Kahlo’s house. Joaquin had been to Mexico City before, so I got to benefit from him showing me around, and then one of his best friends also happens to live in Mexico City (locals call it CDMX), so he took us out for a fancy dinner after our touristy activities at one of the best restaurants in Latin America- Dulce Patria. Major tips for both tourist spots: at Castillo de Chapultepec, plan for more time than you need. To get to the Castle, you have to hike up and down and mountain in a huge and beautiful park. Give yourself a half day!
At Frida’s—Tour the area before and after for souvenirs, coconut water and the best tacos you will ever have in your life. We did all three and I would do it again next time
Frida and birthday dinner at Dulce Patria:
After a few days of enjoying the city and discovering as many local al pastor taco stands as possible (plus eating about ten tacos at a time), we decided to do a day trip to Teotihuacan. I had only been to ruins in Chichen Itza and Tulum before, so my expectations were to see something similar, but Teotihuacan completely surprised me. So many of the ruins are in tact, plus they the tunnels between ruins are still in tact so you can crawl through, and the ruins in general are much higher and you are allowed to climb them (side note: due to accidents at Chichen Itza, tourists can no longer climb the ruins).
Getting to and from Teotihuacan is very easy from Mexico City—my only advice is be prepared to get up early! Most tours are twice a day, morning and afternoon. The morning tour is way better as less people sign up, and then you get the ruins to yourself!
After we visited Teotihuacan, we became hooked on the ruins. We had already planned out the rest of our trip south of Mexico City, but we started looking for other opportunities to find ruins to climb on- and luckily, there are a lot in Mexico!
Our next stop was NPH, in Miacatlan; a few hours south of Mexico City. Advice for drivers: you need a scan-able pass to enter the highway in Mexico City. Buy one and fill it up with money at a local kiosk. Otherwise, you are stuck on roads that will increase your travel time by 100 percent. We figured this out on the fly, but luckily got a pass fairly quickly and then we were on our way!
At NPH, we were greeted by the staff and some of the teachers that worked there. Upon entering, we were both overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness- all of the kids at the home were joyful and friendly, inviting us to do activities with them immediately upon meeting us. We got a tour of the entire facility, which included a farm where the children are tasked with helping out so that all of the food they eat, they grow directly on site! I also had the chance to hang out in one of the girls’ dorms while Joaquin kindly waited outside. I was able to see how they live their day to day lives, how the caretakers interact with the children, and what they like to do in their free time! During my visit, the girls and I named a few of the stuffed unicorns and watched a movie. One of my dreams is to return to the home for an extended period of time and be a caretaker or a teacher myself.
Visiting NPH was one of the most touching experiences of my life. First of all, I had been wanting to visit the house in Miacatlan for over 4 years; second, the way NPH runs their homes is truly inspiring and beautiful.
After visiting NPH, we decided to stay a few days nearby in Cuernavaca. Joaquin found- hands down- the best hotel I have ever stayed at in my life. When I told him this he didn’t believe me since I have traveled so much, but the more I keep confirming it, the more he is convinced! There is a magical villa off the beaten path outside of the city with beautiful grounds, several pools, an amazing restaurant with several types of mole- and- to top it off, plenty of cats.
Besides NPH, this is one place I definitely have to come back to in Mexico. Next time, I want twice as many days in both locations!
The other ruins we ended up finding near our hotel (or near enough to drive out for a day) were the Xochicalco ruins. These ruins are even more amazing than Teotihuacan because 1) there is no one else there, so you literally have them to yourself 2) there are no rules, so you can climb everything you want to, and 3) there are incredible views. The only downside is that the whole “no rules” thing might be slightly dangerous; Joaquin ended up suffering an injury that got worse throughout our trip and needed surgery when we got back to the US—so take care when climbing though ancient sacrificial sites!
After we climbed all day and Joaquin was a bit sore, we ended up finding what ended up being our favorite restaurant of the entire trip completely by chance. Back near NPH, you can turn off the main road and head down a steep rocky road towards a lake—which will end with a huge opening to the water, goats, free roaming horses and a tiny restaurant where you can buy fish, tacos and Corona.
After a hearty meal of almost everything on the menu, we headed back to our gorgeous hotel for our last night.
Of course, no trip to Mexico is complete without stopping at a store built into the front of someone’s home for tacos—luckily we got several in before our flight home!