(Updated June 2020)
It’s finally time to start my 9-day Mexican Fiesta adventure with Contiki. Before heading to Puebla, we’re taking a small tour around the massive Mexico City or Ciudad de Mexico.
Contiki tours for Mexico are changing starting March 2021.
Located in the heart of Mexico, this capital city isn’t part of any one of the 31 states. It is part of the Federal District, similar to Washington D.C. and it is the country’s largest city. In 2014, Mexico City was the 3rd largest metropolitan area (population included) in the world growing to nearly 22-24 million people during the work days. It’s hard to fathom until you experience it.
The morning started very early for breakfast . We had a packed day and needed to get on the road before it became too crowded. Once breakfast was finished we boarded our home away from home: the tour bus.
It took less than 5 minutes for everyone to get comfortable in our own seats. Our tour was a very small group, which meant we were able to have double seats to ourselves for the whole trip.
Once on the bus, as we headed around the city, Ish talked us through the “boring” mandatory part of the tour; the rules. Ish also gave us the option to select the traditional morning song.
Our Morning Song
On every Contiki tour, the tour guide selects a song to be played first thing on the bus. It’s designed to trigger memories of the trip long after the trip has ended. I still smile each time I hear the song from my first ever Contiki trip, 6 years later.
Ish, however, isn’t your typical tour guide. Instead of selecting one song for us, he gave us a choice of three songs to be selected by majority vote. Our song choices included “Happy” By Pharrell, “Get Lucky” By Daft Punk, and “#Selfie Song” by Chainsmokers. By a sly margin of hands, “Get Lucky” was our final selection. Unfortunately, we did end up listened to “#Selfie Song” more than once.
The Contiki Crew
After the rules, it was time for us to cozy up to each other and learn more about one-an-another. We were told to sit next to someone we don’t know and ask 6 questions. Then, we each stood up and introduced the other person to the bus. The questions include: name, age, location of residence, career/job, favorite alcoholic beverage, and why Mexico. I introduced Jimmy, a young Australian, newly graduated who came to Mexico for something different from Australia.
Aussies were the bulk of the travelers on this tour. In fact, 13 of the 20 of us were from Australia. Aside from Jimmy, there was Stefani and Stephanie, commonly referred to as the Stiffs. Amy and Kristie, best friends who grew up in different cities but remained close and travel the world together. Nick and Jessica, who our staple couple who are traveling the world together for the next 6 months. Bec, who was my roommate for this trip, was just coming off of a 5 week adventure from America. She became my music guru on our trip. I finally had to tell her to stop asking me if I knew songs, because 9 times out of 10 the answer was “no” (I’m not very music savvy)
Then we had Glenn, who roomed with Jimmy, and their new found friendship turned bromance ended up providing us with good stories and many laughs. Finally, there was Rochelle, Aimee, Natalie, and Troy to round out the Australians.
The other travelers including our sole Brit, Darren, who ended up with the most nicknames; Dazzla, D-money, D-train, Chief Mole-Mole, the oracle, etc. Nicola, our only traveler from New Zealand, who had one of the greatest sense of humors I’ve been around!
There was Markus and Nora from Nova Scotia, Canada and the South African brothers, Mark and John. Mark is in the film industry while his brother raises, trains and races pigeons. Talk about different career paths.
Together with Ish and Marco (our bus drive), we made up April’s Contiki Mexico Family.
The drive from Mexico City to Puebla was pretty traffic-filled. Ish explained that we were driving past a location known for Haciendas, which are Mexican Ranch style homes. These Haciendas are also where filming of the famous Telenovelas take place. Growing up in Phoenix, I’m very familiar with telenovelas, which are Mexican-style soap operas.
Cholula, Pueblo Magico
Before arriving into the main city of Puebla, we ventured into the historical city of Cholula, Pueblo Magico. Cholula was once second to the Aztec capital of Tenochitilan, now modern day Mexico city. Here, we visited the great pyramid dedicated to Quetzacoatl, mesoamerican diety meaning “feathered serpent”.
However, before entering this archeological site, Ish encouraged us to try traditional Mexican snack known as chapulines. Chapulines are bugs, most commonly grasshoppers, which are seasoned and roasted to give them a bit of a crunch. I don’t have any adversaries towards food, so I tried one. I must say they don’t taste all that bad.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula
In order to reach the the great pyramid archeological site, we had to walk 1-by-1 through a long tunnel lined with dome lights. If your claustrophobic, I would recommend having someone walk with/in front of you.
The pyramid of Cholula is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the modern world. It stands at 180 feet and has a base of 1300 feet. x 1300 feet. We spent approximately 30-45 minutes learning from Ish, about the various components of this pyramid. For example, the differences between markets for selling food items vs. goods. It was quite fascinating to hear the historical components of this specific locations.
On our way out of the Great Pyramid and before heading back to the bus, we gathered around a centre with a giant pole standing tall and up top stood 5 men dress in costume; 1 in the middle and 4 with ropes tied around their ankles. The leader does a ritual honouring the earth’s elements and then begins to play his flute and beat the drums as the four men fall, with arm outstretched. As the spin, they make 13 circles around the pole, totaling 52; the number of years that comprise the pre-Columbia religious calendar. It was quite the performance.
Puebla City Tour
Once on the bus, we drove straight into Puebla. We were dropped us off right in the centre square and had some free time to explore. Ultimately, we just followed Ish to a local buffet style restaurant to try our hands at Pollo de Mole (Chicken Mole- pronounced mo-lay).
Chicken Mole is a traditional Mexican dish popular in Puebla and is a dark brown sauce with flavors consisting of chili peppers, spices and a little bit of chocolate. I thought it was very appetizing and not too spicy, as most of the Mexican cuisine tends to be.
After lunch, Ish took us on a walking tour of the city of Puebla. We explored a few of the local churches, which are designed in the Baroque style, including the Puebla Cathedral. This Cathedral is located in the center of the town, a square which became a World Heritage Site in 1987 in part due to the heavy influence of Talaveras.
Pottery in Puebla
Talaveras are ornamental tiles used on the facades of buildings and is also a style of pottery. You can distinguish talaveras by a milky-white glaze, which is common throughout Mexico. However, the most authentic type of talaveras comes from the city of Puebla and its surrounding communities. This is due to the quality of the clay and the traditional production that ages back to the 16th century.
We were privileged to visit a local pottery mill, where we got a chance to see the stages of production. It was a unique experience entering into an authentic 16th century style home. The owner maintained the original structure of the home and is it still in pristine condition.
A sweet treat was next on our list. We ventured to a sweet shop to taste a Camote, candied sweet potato. Although an interesting grainy texture, think taffy mixed with apple sauce, I found this treat to be rather enjoyable and not too sweet. We also enjoyed leche cookies and a few other selected items (I couldn’t keep track).
The handicraft market came next and by this point of the day, each and every one of us were beginning to feel the beat down from the sun. Having been to Mexico many times before ,I spent most of my time here walking around looking for items different from what I’ve seen. I came up empty-handed, which I didn’t mind.
After we arrived back at the hotel, we all decided against a nap. Although a nap probably would have been the adult thing to do. Many of us girls gathered in a room and chatted for the few hours, getting to know each other more. I brought my favorite Mexican beverage, Manzanita (apple soda), for them to taste and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.
Our family dinner was at a local restaurant. I was famished by this point so my dinner consisted of a cup of soup, some meat dish, and a locally brewed beer. Conversation flowed freely around the dinner table and continued at a local bar until just past midnight. Contiki trips are often stereotyped as the “party tours,” however, our time spent at the bar was most us talking. Puebla was a beautiful little city and I thoroughly enjoyed my time. Tomorrow’s adventure takes us to another city called Cuernavaca, Mexico. Stay tuned.