Culture

Give Yourself The Local Taste Of Mexico City By Visiting These Often Overlooked Neighborhoods

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If you’re an avid traveler like myself, it’s most likely that you have already seen notable sites including Times Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Hollywood sign. Been there, done that. And, that’s just naming prominent locations in the U.S. So when I travel to other beautiful countries, I like the feeling of becoming a local, and not a tourist. On my most recent visit to Mexico City, I opted out of the usual spots including Chichen Itza, El Zocalo, Plaza Garibaldi, or Frida’s Casa Azul, because why go there again? This time around, I wanted to experience more of local culture, and what I found was mesmerizing.   

Mexico City is a lot like Los Angeles and New York City. There are pockets of flourishing neighborhoods, historic streets, and bustling boulevards that have so much to offer. To get to the heart of each hood, you have to stay there for at least a couple of days to feel it out. When you’re on vacation, that last thing you want to do is be stuck in traffic or a crowded subway. The remedy for that is to book a hotel or Airbnb and stay put. Here’s a round-up of some incredible neighborhoods in Mexico City. 

La Condesa

Courtesy of Araceli Cruz

In 2017, a 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico City (epicenter was in Puebla) and killed almost 400 people. It left several neighborhoods devastated in rubble and collapsed buildings. One such area was the neighborhood La Condesa, known for its tree-lined streets, hipster residents, and excellent restaurants. Walking around La Condesa, you can still see several destroyed buildings, but the area is back to its lively self.

I loved eating at the adorable Maque restaurant, known for its home-made Mexican bread, and Lardo, mostly for the people-watching and posh atmosphere. Other must-see stops include Avenida Amsterdam, where you’ll see stunning mansions, plazas, and lots of dog walkers, Galería Vórtice, full of contemporary Mexican artists, and Foro Shakespeare, to see the cool independent theater. There’s also great shopping, including my favorite, Carla Fernandez. One-stop that is definitely a must is seeing the house were Roma was filmed. It’s located in Roma Sur, not far from La Condesa at 22 Tepeji street. 

Santa Fe

Courtesy of Araceli Cruz

To get a state of one of the most modern and affluent neighborhoods in Mexico City, you must visit Santa Fe. Driving into Santa Fe, you’d think you were in Manhattan or Hong Kong because all you see are skyscrapers everywhere. You’ll also find a La Mexicana, a breathtaking new urban park that will take up your entire day. The grounds are very vast, so you’ll need a good chunk of time to see it all, especially if you’re taking kids with you. There’s also plenty to eat and drink there, as well as playgrounds, lakes, and sculpture art. 

At the epicenter of Santa Fe has to be the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton. The building itself stands out with its circle-shaped exterior, and the views from the top floor are magical. There’s also so much shopping around that very spot, from the Samara Shops to the Centro Santa Fe. About a 10-minute drive is also Cuajimalpa, which is home to the Museo Pedro Infante, a charming tribute museum that honors the tremendous Mexican film star. 

San Angel

Courtesy of Araceli Cruz

If you’re in the mood to walk around a quaint and historic area, nothing beats San Angel. Each cobblestone street has gorgeous homes. You may even bump into actor Diego Luna who lives there! I highly recommend visiting the Mercado San Angel (on Saturdays) where you will see unique Mexican merchandise at pretty reasonable prices. The highlight, in my honest opinion, has to be the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo — their separated/connected homes. For fans of Rivera and Kahlo, who’ve already experienced her Casa Azul, this studio visit will leave you in awe. You will see Rivera’s studio filled with his artwork and collection of Mexican antiques, as well as Kahlo’s smaller studio where she created some of her most famous artworks.

Mixcoac

Credit: Facebook / Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil

Walking distance from San Angel is Mixcoac that is true as local as it gets. I stayed there for a couple of nights and was able to take in great restaurant establishments such as Modesto Paniagua, with yummy Mexican bites. Other stops I made included visiting the home where  Mexican poet Octavio Paz once lived (now called Casa Alvarado), and the Arte Carrillo Gil Museo. You can also find shopping and nightlife, including the Cave Rodrigo de la Cadena where there’s always live music.

READ: Chefs In Mexico City Have Created The World’s Largest Torta And It’s Truly Enormous

What You Need To Know About The Magic Mushroom Tourism Craze In Oaxaca

Culture

What You Need To Know About The Magic Mushroom Tourism Craze In Oaxaca

For almost 70 years, since Maria Sabina, also known as Santa Sabina, spread the culture around the ritualistic consumption of magic mushrooms in the Oaxaca highlands, the world has been fascinated by these special fungi. The region near Huautla de Jimenez, particularly places like San Jose del Pacifico, has since been swarmed with tourists in the months between July and October, both from inner Mexico and from overseas, who want to experienced the altered states of consciousness brought by one of nature’s most powerful secrets. 

So any story about Oaxacan magic mushrooms has to start with the legendary Maria Sabina, the godmother of all things trippy.

Credit: Giphy. @Hamiltons

Maria Sabina was a Mazatec curandera, or witchdoctor. She was well versed in the ancient arts of magic mushrooms and introduced the Western world to their consumption. She soon became a magnet for the rich and powerful who wanted to taste her psilocybin mushrooms. She was born in 1894 and died in 1985, so she saw the world change dramatically during her lifetime. 

She allowed foreigners into her healing evenings, known as veladas.

Credit: YouTube / Vice

She became legendary, as City A.M. reported in 2018: “It was here that, in 1955, R Gordon Wasson, a vice-president of JP Morgan and amateur ethnomycologist, consumed psilocybin mushrooms in a ceremony presided over by the healer Maria Sabina. The article Wasson subsequently wrote up for Life magazine – ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ – transformed Sabina into a reluctant icon and caught the attention of scientists including Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary”. What followed is an enduring cult following of the plant. 

Mushroom tourism got a boost in the 1960s due to the high profile of some of Sabina’s visitors, who included The Beatles.

As EFE News Service reported back in 2007: “In the 1960s, the ‘high priestess of the mushrooms’ popularized this corner of Mexico located between the capital and Oaxaca city, a place visited by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan at the height of the psychedelic era”. We mean, the place has basically been a Hall of Fame! 

Consuming magic mushrooms is an ancient, ritualistic indigenous tradition that remains officially illegal.

Credit: High Times

Spanish friars first reported the use of psychedelic mushrooms in the region. Though magic mushrooms are illegal today, the authorities tend to turn a blind eye. This is due to the centrality to the customs and traditions of the Zapotecs, the area’s dominant indigenous group. Children as young as six participate in the ritualistic ingestion of shrooms.

However, tourism disrupts this long lasting understanding and ritual has turned into business.

Credit: YouTube. Vice

If you decide to try them for yourself, beware as the region is now swarmed with fake magic mushrooms offered by scammers. Anyway, San Jose del Pacifico is a natural joyita in itself, and you might get high just by taking in the landscape!

The state induced by the mushrooms is supposed to get you in touch with nature: with the soil below your feet and the celestial bodies above your head.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

According to man named Andres Garcia, he was introduced to the ritual ingestion of mushrooms by his grandfather. Just outside of Huautla, the man experienced mushrooms several times. He told High Times: “The first time I tried mushrooms I was 7 years old. And each time after that was different; each time there were messages and messages. Communication with the earth, the universe, the moon, especially the energy of the moon. The mushroom shows you everything—about your errors, your problems, all the good you’ve done, all the bad you’ve done. It’s something personal.”

Even though mushrooms are widely available in Oaxaca they are not for everyone, specially not for those who disrespect the ritual and want to do mushrooms just for some mindless fun.

Credit: Musrooms-in-Oaxaca. Digital image. Own Mexico

The magic mushroom tourism industry has brought an steady income to Huautla de Jimenez, the original stomping grounds of Maria Sabina. As reported by Juan Ramon Peña in EFE News Services, “visitors are greeted when they get off the bus by boys who offer to help them found the hallucinogenic fungi”. The wide availability of mushrooms is un secreto a voces. However, each person’s brain chemistry is different and you need to have an experienced guide to help you on a mushroom-induced trip. 

And tourism has put the sustainability of the species at stake.

Credit: User comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_XnzIYmUYw

The lack of regulation translates into indiscriminate picking. Of course, traditional owners of the land are affected and that is just not fair. 

Magic mushrooms have a good rep, but they are also unpredictable.

Credit: 2037. Digital image. The Guardian.

Several recent studies indicate that magic mushrooms could have medical benefits in people suffering from mental health issues. As reported by The Guardian earlier this year in relation to a study conducted at Imperial College London: “Magic mushrooms may effectively ‘reset’ the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests”. However, this study was done in a controlled environment. Doing mushrooms can have unpredictable effects that some people have described as a “bad trip”

Note: the consumptions of magic mushrooms is illegal throughout Mexico and only specific Indigenous groups can consume them for spiritual purposes. We do not condone the consumption of illegal substances. This article is for informational purposes only.

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history.