A Travellerspoint blog

Hostel Moneda

Mexico DF

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Hosteling is not for those sensitive to sound. However, with a good set of earplugs, passing time in hostels is not only economical, it's a great way to meet people from around the world.

Upon our return to Mexico City, Thollem and I decided we would spend a couple of days at different hostels to check them out. Well, at the third hostel, we left our bags unpacked and reserved for the weekend. So much for good intentions!

Hostel Moneda is in an old building whose original name, Hotel Moneda, is carved into the stone entryway. This 6-year old home for travelers is young in comparison to its 50-some year old predecessor. It is located on La Calle Moneda, two blocks from El Zocalo, the center of the city since the Aztecs. Here, we checked our e-mail while outside vendors cried out their wares to the hoards of people squeezing by. Hostel Moneda is a five floor, two terraced great deal for any 'mochilero' , that is: any backpacker wanting to see the City. At 14 US dollars for a bed per night, one can get a four-hour free tour of El Zocalo (including the Palacio Nacional with the Diego Rivera murals) or various great deals on tours to the pyramids, la lucha libre (wrestling a la funky mexican in a mask - popular entertainment), and more. This hostel also provides free Internet services, breakfast and dinner, clean linens and towels, free luggage storage, laundry and kitchen facilities, and a bathroom for every 6-bed dorm room. (Other hostels in the downtown area charge almost the same rate and provide less.) In addition, the staff is absolutely awesome, from the clerks dealing with the madness at the front desk, to the cooks and the many people keeping the place clean and shining. I have yet to be in a hostel that lacks an outgoing, helpful staff - that is a given. Besides making friends with them, we look to hostels for a chance to make friends with other travelers, other "mochileros". Some of the characters in this segment were:
- Gal (pronounced gahl) who is from Israel and would be in Mexico, Central and South America, surfing and soaking up all he could for 8 months. Beaming from all the adventures he'd had thus far, he was a tall, black-curly topped youth whose smile proved contagious. He told that in Israel it is traditional for people to travel after their 1-2 year mandatory military duty.
- Mark is from Belgium and was on vacation from teaching. He had been studying Spanish at home, and came to Mexico last year for practice. We met him on his second, and last, week - after he had studied in Oaxaca for a week. He admitted that he would've liked to travel longer, but his family obligations and homesickness only allowed for two weeks.
- Rodan lives in Virginia, but he is from Bulgaria. An intense, thoughtful guy around our age, he was seen up at the terrace relaxing with many stories of all the diverse things he did that day, as well as stories about his memories of Bulgaria and his grandma.
- Naomi's address is in Sydney, even if only for 4 months out of the year. She works like mad during that time so she can travel the remaining eight throughout the world, visiting friends and family along the way.
- Then there's the guy who caught the attention of anyone looking, since half of his face had red, puffy abrasions and some stitches. Groggy from pain medication from a hospital nearby, he sat down with us on the Internet room floor and told his tale... Two days before, at the end of his three month Mexico adventure, he was riding up a ramp on a motorcycle. The first five times were awesome, but his friend failed to get a good vid of it - so up he went a last time, not concentrating and too sure - in retrospect he realized he wasn't focusing and was going too fast the moment he began the ascent. He was heading home the next day to a doctor with whom he could communicate in English.

Most of the characters we meet are in their early 20s, but some are parents traveling with their children and others are professionals. A Canadian and her two teenage children had returned for their second summer month in Mexico. It was obvious that they traveled well together.

For most, the City is a starting or ending point from their travels throughout southern Mexico and the Mayan lands. I dormed with a young German couple who were just beginning their four month tour of Mexico. Like them, many 'mochileros' we met know little to no Spanish. The hostel default language was English. For Thollem (whose memory is reliable) this was the perfect atmosphere to practice the greetings he knows in a variety of languages. (One language new to our ears was Maltese - beautiful!!!) When travelers like these unwound at night up at the bar on the terrace, I found the earplugs most useful. Most evenings, I was too tired to climb to the fifth floor, let alone speak above Marley and 'musica romantica'. Even after the bar had closed at 22:30, the sounds throughout the building danced up and down the marble staircase. Ears tapped, I slept with ease. The earplugs also helped when dorming, since people came in at different times. Thollem and I didn't have to worry about coming in and waking anyone since we had been assigned to a private room. With large flowers painted on white walls towering over the two twin beds that were made for us (another treat, since we usually have to make our own beds) and towels and soap in the bathroom, this felt like the hotel it once was. If you happen to meet the owner of the hostel or pension, you may find him or her to be as interesting and full of stories as the travellers passing though. He or she may even share a top-notch bottle of tequila with you over the course of an afternoon full of stories and the best tortas in town...just don't forget those earplugs unless you want to stay up with the owner to sing or tell the same stories over again!

Posted by Iancela 10.08.2005 18:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Ernesto's Tour

Mexico DF

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Hungry, we waited the appropriate few minutes of greetings before asking Ernesto where we could find a good torta, a style of sandwich I can only find here. Once a chilango himself, this Mexico City-raised friend paused momentarily to get oriented from our Zocalo flag pole position. Soon we were off, trying to follow him through the crowded narrow stone sidewalks, oblivious of the streets we were taking. A few laughs and dodging of cars later, we sat down at the narrow counter in the bustling, stuffed small restaurant - La Casa del Pavo. Ernesto had brought us to the place he always comes while visiting Mexico (as the city is called outside of it): House of the Turkey. To the cooks (in constant motion) just over the counter, Ernesto ordered turkey tacos and a torta... First bite and I know I wanted to return tomorrow, if I could find the place! Moist turkey breast with a slosh of guacamole wrapping within a bolillo (french roll, of sorts). Full, with others waiting for a place to sit, we left the hot griddles to enter the cool afternoon and continue what had become Ernesto's tour. First stop: the bullet hole that Pancho Villa shot in the ceiling of La Cantina La Opera when he met with Zapata in Mexico (we were told it was the only time they met). Next, the circular piece of volcanic rock, a carving, in the wall of an old building - it was one of the stones from the pyramids that stood right here and later used to reconstruct a Catholic Mexico. Ironically, this reminder was next to a sign marking a street remembering a Spanish Mexico. Both were on a building where a McDonald's now resided. Later, we took a break at a cafe to drink tea, looking at a wide pedestrian stone-paved street, shaded with trees. We rested here, giving Thollem and Ernesto the chance to talk about a future tour and me the opportunity to people watch. Vendors approached at varying intervals to sell us large coloring pencils, a shoe shine, chiclets, turtles (not real - but big!). A musician passed, playing the flute and small drum while shaking seed pods around his ankles. Other musicians stood with their peg-legged harmonipans, cranking classic tunes while their cohort, young and old, collected donations. Originating in Russia, harmonipans aren't made anymore. Mexicans have taken to playing even the ones that don't play well. The money they collect pays for the repairs of these antique instruments. They are like walking museums. After light rain had come and gone twice, we continued our tour at the corner of the City Museum, where another pyramid stone sat, bulging its quetzacoatl head out into the sidewalk. The light faded as people packed up their wares along the street. Traffic dodged not only the sellers but also the pedestrians, who took to the streets since the sidewalks were full of hand trucks, tarps, goods and vendors. The sun sat behind puffy gray clouds. The lights in the Plaza shone up against the government buildings, the flag no longer billowed, having been taken down for the night. Ernesto saw us to our hostel, just a couple blocks from where we had met earlier today, and ended the tour with a "Buenas noches".

Ernesto Martinez is an excellent musician Thollem and I met while in Queretero, with whom Thollem performed the first day we were there, and whose beautiful family hosted us the two days we enjoyed that city just north of this City. See 'Hocketing' blog.

Posted by Iancela 08.08.2005 18:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged educational Comments (0)

Los estudiantinos

Guanajuato, Gto., Mexico

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Stone walls rose to a pink and red stuccoed cupola, alit against a deep blue Guanajuato night. In front of the church, some estudiantinos gathered, while their audience sat and stood around them on the stairs, creating an impromtu mini Greek theatre, with the church's hand-carved stoned facade looming in the background. Other estudiantinos roamed nearby, tamborines and guitars in hand, waiting in their dark cloaks and frothing gold striped sleeves... A voice and tamborine focused the crowd's attention: "Aplauso para..." and the voice started listing different states, cities, that people shouted out. He was interrupted only by the applause he demanded. A little, high voice yelled out, "Toluca!" and she was rewarded: "Aplauso para Toluca!". When the steps were completely filled and bodies stood four deep, the student musicians started. Tamborine in hand, one estudiantino stepped in front of the rest, dancing and playing his small tamborine against his fingers, hands, knees, elbows, hip, heel, chin. The others dipped forward and leaned back in time as the crowd clapped to the rhythm. An bent, apron-clad, worn-shoe matron slowly entered the stage and danced with the harolder. She was the life of this party. Even when two other couples were invited to dance yet another tune, she was the one to receive the loudest applause in the end. Dark and sprinkling, the six estudiantinos, singing and playing, became pied pipers - leading their burgeoning audience up into narrow and yet narrower streets (for which this capital of the state of Guanajuato is famous). There was no fear of tripping in the darkness on the stairs leading ever upward, nor on the stone stoop steps that usually trip any tourist fascinated with the many beauties skyward. We were creeping slowly forward, closer together with every slow step. By the time we had reached a street five feet in width, I felt I had made good friends with the people next to me (they were visiting from the state of Hidalgo). I had to look up into the raindrops to see the harolder - he stood on the roof of the building I was leaning against. He continued to crack jokes while people squeezed in tighter. The next phase of the journey was open to only those with a boleto - a ticket I had failed to purchase. I watched, squished against the plastered stone wall as others filed by. The lights of the city glowed against the different colors of plaster as I walk down into the Plaza Jardin Union in silence, swinging my arms freely.

Posted by Iancela 31.07.2005 18:20 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hocketing

Queretaro

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'Caer en blandito' - to fall out of nowhere onto a soft bed; an expression of luck

Ernesto Martinez was a name Thollem was given by a colleague in San Francisco, who owned a CD of this Mexican composer/performer. With a few exchanges of emails and a phone call, he not only agreed to a visit, he was as excited about it as we were. Many laughs and amazing coincidences later, we look back to marvel at that miraculous encounter. Perhaps I wax too greatly, but it was an amazing experience to witness: two musicians meeting for the first time but brothers separated at birth. Their thinking was similar, their styles of composition were parallel, even the way they joked was familiar. Ernesto showed us directly to his studio - a faded blue cinder-block box that loomed in the courtyard of their old downtown adobe house. This was his sanctuary, and we were instantly invited in. We sat closely around his computer set-up, and my eyes wandered to the guitar with piano keys while Ernesto spoke music with Thollem. He and another musician had spent a year perfecting a technique known in older times at 'hocketing' - playing between each others' notes, back and forth, in this case, very quickly. We listened to his compositions performed most recently in New York, and I could not bring myself to believe, to fathom, that one person was playing the piano between every note of the other! I knew that Ernesto would see truth in my words - hermanos separados al momento de nacer - when he heard Thollem's music and the speed with which he played. But before that could happen, we needed to eat. Passing into the house, we walked through the kitchen into the dining/living room area - a huge rectangular room with a table full of food and people at one end. Normally a quiet house of four, cousins and in-laws were visiting for a couple of days. David, the brother-in-law, prepared spaghetti with huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn stalks. Contrary to how it sounds, the dish was tasty. It was accompanied by a lively bantering of jokes and many laughs. Dessert was homemade chocolate from Guatemala, by way of a friend. Sweetness and chocolate perfectly blended melted upon our silenced tongues. Ernesto broke the awe by following up on a thought he had back in the studio. A friend of his, playwriter and actor, had invited Ernesto to perform that same night at a space in an up-and-coming barrio. The neighborhood was poor, and the actor and his wife/colleague spotted it as a great place to get a community space going. They moved their theatre from downtown, and were hosting a concert that evening, with Ernesto opening, and later, DJs. Ernesto's thought was to perform with Thollem that very night. A few minutes later, into a little car five adults went with synthesizer and drum machine, and other electronic instruments. While they set up, I talked to the wife, learning that her husband's plays had won various awards, and all the plans they had for this new space. On a bench along the wall, I took in the whole scene as she went to chat with local women who had come with their children. A cinder block building, it had huge cement beams running across the ceiling, and three columns from ceiling to floor. At one end were Thollem and Ernesto running a sound check while the DJ guy tried out his set-up. In the mad combination of sounds, I observed the mural (painted by community members long ago) behind the stage...but now don't remember exactly what it depicted. Too much going on in front of it, I think. Kids started to run about on the linoleum floor, having a great time. Going outside for a change of soundscape, I found the playwrite donning upside-down angel wings (with feathers) and a monster mask, smoking. A fun soul, he was dressed to attract the attention of passing neighbors. (Usually, they paraded around the neighborhood in costumes to let people know it was time to go see the show.) As he went about promoting, I struck up a conversation with an animated social worker who entertained me with the story of how he met his girlfriend. (I always enjoy those stories!) While he spoke, young men and women, kids, and mothers were going inside the performance space. I got the whole amazing tale just before the concert started. Our first night in Queretaro, and here I was, seated against the column, on the cool floor, to listen to my husband play with another awesome musician! I was one huge smile. After two brief speeches, kids and adults alike sat listening as Ernesto and Thollem entertained us with varying rhythms and textures. At one point, Ernesto gave Thollem a 'look' and Thollem quickly switched his fingering. I was laughing. Another time, Ernesto had Thollem start with a certain sound, and mid-way through the piece, gave the 'look to Thollem, then ended up motioning to him to switch places. The music didn't miss a beat as they stood and moved, in front of an audience now in histerics. Later, the antics were remembered, accompanied by many teary, belly-aching laughs. ("Where should I put which fingers?", Thollem joked.) Invited to stay at their place (since the relatives preferred a hotel room), we went to sleep after late-night left-overs. The next day I wandered around 'el centro', leaving Thollem and Ernesto in the shaded courtyard with their minds and a bottle of Spanish tequila (that's what Ernesto called it, at least). When I returned in the afternoon, they were all in the same spot, only the liquor had grown shorter, and the list of ideas for performing together had grown long. An intriguing instrument sat on the dinner table: a large horizontal harp with piano keys perched above, such that each key plucked a string. Ernesto had made it (he also fashioned the guitar with piano keys in his studio). A piano technician, he had other tricks up his sleeves... an inventor of instruments! A day later, when I left with Thollem, he was filled with plans for a tour of the West Coast with Ernesto, his colleague and invented instruments... and indeed, the October tour was a success.

Posted by Iancela 27.07.2005 17:58 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

The Heart of Mexico City

El Zocalo

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We had moved to the center of the city - El Zocalo - and it was packed with people. Into the little ten by ten room with two computers that the hostel provided, through a metal-framed, iron-barred horizontal window, flowed a constant stream of voices calling out their wares for sale. It was a rhythm of calls and whistles, interspersed with baby cries and conversations. Great music! I was reminded earlier of something I have always believed about this city: never expect to do more than one thing in a day. Given that, my list of possibilities for the day consisted of visiting the Palacio de Bellas Artes (and a few places on the way), the Palacio Nacional (the presidential seat which features Rivera murals on the walls) as well as the Templo Mayor (Mesoamerican ruins with a fabulous museum)... Only three. We felt up to the challenge. Lunchtime, and we found ourselves listening to a tenor singing Italian arias accompanied by a pianist as we ate a delicious meal and looked out over one busy street off of El Zocalo. These two music students were giving us a real treat. 17:30 found me resting my feet after having been awed by the Palace of Fine Arts and the surrounding areas (including the main post office, a piece of art unto itself with glittering gold and marble) as well as walking through masses of people walking and selling in the streets around El Zocalo.

Posted by Iancela 26.07.2005 18:16 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Tenochtitlan (under construction)

The heart of the Aztec Empire

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The heart of Mexico City was built over the heart of Tenochtitlan, where the Aztecs settled and built their empire.

Posted by Iancela 26.07.2005 18:13 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Coyoacan

Mexico D.F.

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Coyoacan = place of the coyotes
According to a local legend, a coyote used to bring chickens to a friar who had saved the coyote from being strangled by a snake. Coyocan was founded by the Toltecs in the 10th century and later settled by the Aztecs, aka Mexica /mesheekah/.

For yet another time, I answered 'no' when Thollem asks if I recognized the area. We were in Colonia Nino Jesus, where I had lived 16 years before, where I walked around like the natives. However, now everything was unfamiliar. I remembered a plaza... Spotting a large map in the median of the busy Miguel Angel de Quevedo Boulevard, we crossed carefully and looked up to find a small plaza not far away, in the neighboring colonia. Could that be the one? We walked among trees, past narrow cobbled streets and high walls enclosing residences. Entering the plaza, I knew at once that it is not THE one, as it lacked my favorite sweet bread shop, and was covered with manicured bushes in triangular patterns. (However, it did have a huge, stone church. Then again, every plaza had one, no matter how tiny the square.) Now a quest, we continued onward, enjoying the beautiful streets of this old town that once was so far removed from the City, only to now be engulfed by it. After a few streets, we rounded a corner. Determining that the next few steps were free of stone to trip on, I looked up, and stopped to see four arched entrances in a row, familiarity overwhelming me. This was it: my route into THE plaza of my memories. Further around the bend, the center of vendors, cars, people, music and, of course, a towering stone church, greeted me with open arms. Here was where I came to buy pan dulce (although my favorite were the biscuits), to attend a mass at Templo de San Juan Bautista (one of the first churches to be built in New Spain), where I people-watched while buying school books and spoke about the state of Mexico and the world with classmates over cafe con leche. Only now did I realize 'my' plaza was La Plaza Hidalgo, the heart of Coyoacan, the zocalo only second to the downtown Zocalo in popularity and importance ... History that never stuck in my memory. The pan dulce did, however, so the panaderia was the first place we enter today. Not all the shelves are full at this afternoon hour, but what is there proves tantalizing: orejas with and without chocolate, pan con mantequilla y azucar, conchas, elotes, galletas, bolillos, cuernos, ... and of course, biscuits. Passing the kiosko (no band in this gazebo today) to sit on a bench near the Templo, we spied a man walking by, spouting a pile of leather hats atop his head, and leaning to one side to counterbalance a large bundle of leather purses and bags. He passed the harmonipan player (the harmonipan originates in Berlin). A man selling balloons entered the scene. Children chased an unseen object jump near a tree in the background. The oreja with chocolate was okay, but didn't compare to the biscuit I gobbled, giving Thollem only a bite. I save the flat, brown paper bag, complete with logo. As we leave, pigeons landed to clean up after us. We crossed the narrow street, weaving between the cars like natives, to the Jardin Centenario, a tree-filled area where the shade enticed everyone to sit and relax. A fountain in the center donned two snarling, beautiful bronze coyotes. This was our second day in Mexico, and I had found a memory. I was left wondering how many more were hiding amongst all the changes I had yet to encounter.

Posted by Iancela 25.07.2005 18:10 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

El Cenote Azul

Mexico D.F.

11:20 - El Cenote Azul

Scalloped cobblestones supported my aching feet, a swinging pillowed platform (complete with dining table) offered my body a chance to rest. House music blared through my headache, drowning out the traffic we had just shut a door to. We were in the courtyard of El Cenote Azul, a hostel near la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), the university so large it was called University City. We were three metro lines and a few blocks from the airport where we had landed that morning at 6:30. (A good way to be immersed in a city is to ride the public transportation. As the metro here isn't completely underground, it offers a tour of regular city places: bus stops, cinder block buildings, stadiums, etc.) El Cenote Azul is a brick building, fronted with a high, solid blue metal gate, which opens onto the courtyard where we were relaxing. The red of the brick and the blue of the flat walls, plus tall green plants created an invitingly cool atrium in which to wait. As with most hostels, check-in occurs in the afternoon. This particular hostel I had found on the Internet, and made reservations, hoping that these were received. As it turns out, they were, much to our relief. No sooner had we dumped our two backpacks alongside the linen and towels on two of the four beds in the dorm room, we went in search of pesos. I recognized the neighborhood in which we walked, since not an hour before, we had been "misplaced" and wandered that same barrio. At the time, we weren't thinking earlier about looking for a Bancomat where we could get some money. Walmart loomed beside thel bank, Bancomer... and we avoided the former like the plague. 20:30 In the rain-cleansed evening, we were faced with the challenge of finding a mercado other than Walmart (to which every native referred us)...Not believing the international chain store had abolished all of the local markets, we waited 'til morning to find at least one.

Posted by Iancela 24.07.2005 18:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged lodging Comments (0)

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