Travelling means different things for different people. It can symbolise freedom, knowledge, the pursuit of adventure or even the search for peace. For me, it’s about opening up my mind and experiencing things deeply, I would say. It’s about chasing the precise moment when a place is most awake in order to capture its full potential.
At the end of last year, I flew to Mexico City and embraced the internationally renowned event of “Dia de los Muertos”, celebrated on the 1st of November in accordance with Mexican tradition. After the James Bond film Spectre popularised it globally, the festivities actually now span a whole week and there are special events every day. This includes parades, night bike rides, film projections, gastronomic festivals and the walk of the Catrinas.
Before embarking on the trip, many warned me against visiting Mexico City during this period. Apparently, it would be too touristy, mega crowded, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy what the city had to offer. I disagreed with them. That was exactly why I was going then; streets and buildings don’t talk as much as a celebrating crowd does. This was the time that the country’s traditions were most awakened. You may call it touristy, I call it the greatest living experience that Mexican tradition can offer. Travel is highly personal. It’s all about your views and your personality. I don’t specifically look for large crowds, but I am all for sharing and exchanging and this sort of celebration is the perfect time for that.
On the first day, my best friend and I went straight to Zocalo, Mexico City hot spot and the centre of the action. There I had a rather strange experience, it was a purification dance. A half-naked man with a full face of makeup danced around me while burning incense and coating me with smoke. The scent reminded me so much of my grandmother praying at home and I felt peaceful; she used to deodorise her house with a similar fragrance. The tumult around me shook me out of my daydream; the mayhem became intense so we decided to escape for a while and enjoy a fresh cocktail at one of the rooftops overlooking Zocalo and the busy world downstairs. This little moment of plenitude was perfect before jumping back into the cheerful madness.
On the second day, we headed towards the famous temple of Teotihuacan, the temple of the sun and the moon. It’s a historical hub that’s laden with vibrant energies and beliefs. The architecture was just breathtaking and I caught myself dreaming of living in that civilization hundreds of years ago. Who would I be? Standing as a Goddess at the top of the temple? Would I be sitting at the foot of my queen feeding her grapes or maybe carving new sculptures into the stones? I like to let my imagination run wild and recreate entire scenes in my mind (especially when the guide is saying so many unpronounceable words). At the end, I was feeling pepped up and low on energy at the same time. My head was full of new imagery while my body was drained from the long walk in the heavy daytime sun. In short, I was happily exhausted.
On the third day we met up with some people we had met during our temple excursion: it was time to ride the colourful Xochimilco boats. There were 6 of us in total and it was one those blissful afternoons where you just laugh and laugh with great people. We started off as strangers but with some Michelada (a very peculiar local beer made with salt, sugar, lemon and tomato juice) it became much easier to talk about everything. We shared our dreams, our fantasies and then we even steered the boat ourselves. On the way back to the centre, we had the pleasure of tasting some grilled grasshopper. It was crunchy and not bad at all, especially when had with lemon juice and peanuts. This was the perfect night to end with some tequila and Mezcal shots. Did you know that both of them are made from agave? To further add to our day of leisurely pleasure, we relaxed and listened to some mariachi bands while still enjoying the (strong) local beverages.
Day four of our trip fell on my favourite party day of the year: the 31st of October. I always celebrate Halloween wherever I am (no matter what) though in Mexico City it was a bit different from my usual celebrations. My friend and I decided to play along with the law of the land and got dressed up as Las Catrinas: faces made up, black dresses and flowers in our hair. We were ready to parade through Mexico City’s streets. We didn’t go unnoticed, that’s for sure. There weren’t too many people dressed up and out and about on the 31st so we felt we stood out like superheroes on a mission. People were stopping us for pictures. We must have taken at least a hundred, no joke. We later stopped at a bakery to taste the oh-so scrumptious “pan de los muertos”, a delicacy made specifically for this festive period. It was so soft, so fluffy, so creamy and so delicious. We certainly deserved this sweet sop after all our “hard work” posing for pictures in our costumes. Our plan for the day was to explore the artisan food market. On our way there we found a taco food truck where I had THE BEST taco of my life, made with fresh products and an abundance of melted cheese. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water. The great gastronomic experiences didn’t stop there. Once we got to the market I literally lost my mind. There was just so much food and suddenly my stomach felt so small. It was tragic. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge so I carried on with some tapas, another small taco, some ceviche, pollo mole (a Mexican sauce) and a very lovely gentleman even gave us an entire lesson on all the fruits of Mexico. I wish I could remember all the names, there were just so many. This was an interesting afternoon of tastings, many I had never experienced before. I left with my stomach full, but I was so ecstatic from this profusion of flavours.
1st of November: Dia de los Muertos. It was finally time. We woke up and got dressed again but this time with different half painted faces. Mexico City’s streets were much more animated and we saw tons of people with on-theme outfits, make up and accessories. There were adults and kids too; everyone was out but the party really got going at night. I don’t remember precisely how or when it happened, but all of a sudden as we arrived at the main shopping street, the area very quickly became packed with thousands of people. INSANITY. Strange noises were popping out of thin air and people were trying to scare each other in their own unique ways. The youngsters were screaming loudly at each little scary move and the night was full of such good vibes. Within that scene I stood smiling and laughing with one of my best friends in the world; it was hilarious and refreshing all at once; an incredible moment I will never forget.
Travelling takes on different symbolism for different people. As with any good recipe, you need the right ingredients to get the best possible results. For me, it’s about embracing the culture and tradition and learning about heritage. It’s not about just capturing pictures of buildings, but tasting as much food as I can, sharing, wandering, and most importantly, enjoying the present moment.
This article was written by Sandrine Champagne, a Belgian entrepreneur currently living in Panama City, Panama. Follow her adventures on the appropriately-named BeYoa (Be your own adventure) and on Instagram. Club Elsewhere publishes travel and lifestyle design guides. Work with us here.
Sandrine Champagne is a Belgian entrepreneur living in Panama. She set up BeYOA (Be Your Own Adventure), an events and entertainment company in 2017. Follow her journey at www.beyoa.com.