Mexico '13

Made it to Mexico!

Laura and I are having a blast at our first day of work today, after a tiring whirlwind of re-routed flights, lost luggage, and unauthentic tacos that made our arrival in Mexico yesterday quite eventful. After we finally landed in D.F. last night, we were greeted by the beautiful smiling face of Brenda Obando, one of Laura’s best friends about whom I’ve heard so much and whom it was so awesome to finally meet. 

Her family met us at the airport and escorted us to our apartment in Polanco, a gorgeous new residential complex nestled amidst several swanky malls and a welcoming supermarket. After meeting Adriana, the owner of our apartment, Superama was the first place we went, filling our new fridge with yogurt and mango juice and lots of guacamole.

Then, Adriana gave us a tour of the stunning facilities of our building -- gym, pool, hot tub, bike path -- before we took hot showers and settled in for the night.

We woke this morning at the crack of 6:30, did shots of espresso, and hopped in a cab to meet Isabel, our colleague with whom we’ll be commuting during our time in Mexico. She guided us to Centro Mario Molina, the non-profit think tank where Laura and I will be working on projects related to urban sustainability (my favorite thing in the world) for the next few weeks. 

Isabel introduced us to Ari and Ricardo, who are to be Laura’s and my respective supervisors at CMM, where Laura the engineer is working on the development of a Sustainability Index to be used for housing projects across the country while I am helping to review a Life Cycle Assessment of various commercial buildings in the city. Ricardo then introduced me to Angel, with whom I’ll be working closely on the project, and I dove right into the 151-page Spanish document I’ll be giving all my attention this month. The report is unique in that it looks at the emissions related to the entire "lifespan" of a building, from extraction and transport of materials to its actual construction and use, to demolition.

Well, almost all my attention. Too much intake of caffeine and not enough intake of food soon led to two distracted and hungry interns, who appealed to Ari to show us around the cafes in our beautiful office complex. Oh, by the way, this is the view from our office kitchen.

We strolled around this part of town for awhile before settling for a cafe just beneath our office, where Laura and I ordered some tortas to go before returning to work. I then set out to call the airport and implore them for my suitcase, which hopefully will be arriving soon (wearing yoga pants and sneakers to my first day of work was a tad bit embarrassing -- good thing it's a Friday).

Laura and I are looking forward to celebrating Ari's recent Fulbright scholarship over a second lunch outing, finishing up our day at work, and then going over to Brenda's place for the evening before a weekend packed with Mexico City sightseeing!

Cajeta-Pouring and City-Exploring

Laura and I had lovely and LONG day today, starting last night with a sleepover with some of her best friends here in Mexico City, Brenda, Lorena, and Marianne. We enjoyed lots of yummy Mexican sweets and a movie which Laura and I slept through, and delicious pancakes with cajeta (like dulce de leche) this morning.

We returned to our apartment with plans to take the Turibus, Mexico City's double decker tour bus, around the city with Adriana.

After stops at Auditorio Nacional, Museo de Arte Moderno, and Monumento de la Independencia, we took a coffee break at Centro Comercial Reforma 222 for a cafecito con cajeta at Cielito Querido, Mexico's proud response to the popularity of Starbucks.

Recharged with caffeine, we caught the bus again to Zócalo, the heart of the historic center of the city. We knew we were approaching by the beautiful sunset-colored dome of the Museo de Bellas Artes.

We disembarked here and strolled around the square and down Madero Street before Adriana and I decided to climb the bell tower of the Catedral Metropolitana for a new view of the square.

We hopped back on the bus around 8:00 and headed back home, bidding the Ángel de la Independencia goodbye on our way to Polanco. I write this post as Laura giggles over the curious culinary creation she's preparing in the kitchen.

I'm doing my best to keep my spirits up after spending more than I would have liked on some questionable clothing from a nearby supermarket to replace my luggage which is most likely lost. :( Looks like dinner is ready! I'm looking forward to enjoying a rowdy Saturday night with my best girl. 

Mariachi, Margaritas, Mesoamerican Mountains

I had mentioned half-jokingly that our night yesterday was going to be a rowdy one, but neither of us was prepared for the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the city shortly after midnight! A bewildered Laura and I ran down to the concierge and were arbitrarily assuaged by the security guard of our apartment complex. After our eventful night, Laura "coaxed" me back to our room, where we were thankful for some much-needed sleep.

We awoke today to freshly squeezed orange juice, and decided to take a girl power day trip to Teotihuacan, a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city, with our flat-mates Adriana and Erika.

First, the four of us climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, with audacious Laura scampering ahead as the rest crawled cautiously up the narrow and steep staircase to the top of the pyramid. Once we had arrived, we took a relaxing tan-and-photos break before descending (which was difficult!) and walking over to the Pyramid of the Moon.  Adriana, Laura, and I climbed this one, which we were allowed to ascend only halfway before returning. The weather was ideal for our adventure, and had our cheeks flushed and skin glowing. 

Back at the bottom, I took a break to buy some "indigenous swag" (as Priya and I like to call it) and a pair of turquoise earrings that are the definition of my favorite color (I'm treating myself since my luggage is still floating around somewhere in San Antonio). As it started to rain, we piled back in the car, happy and exhausted, to return to the city. Adriana thought today would be a perfect day to sample a typical Mexican late lunch, so we headed to Villa María, a lively and lovely restaurant with tongue-in-cheek aphorisms painted on the walls, mariachi men serenading patrons, and enormous margaritas that are famous city-wide.

We ordered a sampler of typical Mexican dishes and chatted over the din of "La Vecina," which Adriana requested that the mariachi band play for our table. She urged me not to get carried away and join them, thinking that I know every mariachi song because of my guest performance with Harvard's mariachi band. It was difficult to resist, but luckily I was so tired from the day's hike that I could barely walk back to the car after our lunch. 

We've come home absolutely wiped out by the awesome activities of our day, and are planning to call it a night soon...perhaps after a brief Panda Express run. 

¡Viva la Mexico!

Sitting, Waiting, Blogging

Laura and I sit listening to the sounds of the street at a Starbucks in “Polancito,” the posh office district near our apartment in Polanco. We’re waiting for our lovely colleague Isabel to join us before we all take a cab to work. My luggage finally came in last night, so I’m a happy camper in my favorite white lace shirt and turquoise Toms, and excited for my half day at the office today.

Our office’s culture is awesome. Centro Mario Molina has this air of progress, with people on the third and fourth floors working on literally ever issue related to sustainability imaginable -- from marine biology to nuclear energy to education for children.

We go in around 8 most days, and as people trickle into the office, they walk around and greet each of their colleagues with a kiss on the cheek and a “buenos dias,” quite a refreshing and affectionate deviation from the nods behind laptops I would expect to get at any other internship. The office space itself is very uplifting: plants and color fill the office of advanced technology and books on a range of awesome topics. It’s especially cool for me to walk around the office glancing at book titles, because every topic seems like something I would be interested in learning about, especially since so many have to do with sustainable cities. 

Every so often, a title like The Fountainhead will pop up, and I’ll grin at how much it goes with the air of the office (not in a capitalist way but in a continuous intellectual advancement way).

The office also has a cool tradition of desserts every Friday -- one which was very welcome to us last week, when it was Isabel’s turn and she made two trays of tiramisu for all of our colleagues. ¡Que delicioso!

CMM is full of some of the brightest minds in the city, it seems like, with many of our colleagues having just gotten Fulbright scholarships, and going abroad to study at Cornell and Harvard -- two of our favorite schools! It’s awesome to be surrounded by such strong minds and warm hearts, and we’re truly having a great internship experience thus far.

¡Feliz cumple, Laura!

Our “postre of the day” initiative got a bit out of hand today, as it is Laura’s birthday, and we have been doing nothing but celebrating since last night. After work yesterday, Laura checked out a nearby museum while I hit the gym, and then we both headed over to Isa’s place with Adriana for a night of rump-shaking and tiramisu-making. Isabel and Laura remained hard at work preparing Spanish cuisine while Adriana and I salsa-ed and meringue-ed to my favorite Latin American playlist (purveyed by the beautiful Colombiana Diana Morales). It was truly a lovely evening exchanging laughs, stories, and dance steps with some of the sweetest people I know.

Back home, I waited until midnight to present Laura with what I thought was a Kinder Sorpresa, her favorite type of chocolate which is readily available in Mexico and not elsewhere. But to my horror, I had purchased several of these little chocolate eggs with surprise toys inside, but by the wrong brand. My first attempt at a birthday present was a disgrace.

In the morning, I sprung out of bed in typical clumsy Ratna style and threw together a birthday breakfast of musical cake and decaffeinated espresso for my best friend before we set out for work, I still reeling from my chocolate mistake.

I led Laura, Isa, and Ari in our daily morning meditation, and then Dani taught Friday morning yoga -- what a way to start the day! And what an incredibly unique office community to be part of.

The day has been a rush of birthday wishes for Laura and editing emissions calculations for me. We just returned from a late lunch at Japanika, a nearby Japanese restaurant, which was so wonderfully enjoyable: we got to hear the life stories and philosophies of a few of our colleagues. One notable pair was the enviable Ricardo and Daniela, who told us about a trip they took to India and Thailand for a total of 8 months four years ago, traveling around India for 2 weeks before spending 2 months at an ashram (SO legit) and then touring around Thailand before they ran out of money and started working for 6 months as diving instructors, and leading tours to swim with sharks, jump from cliffs, and snorkel. If Laura and I thought our gap years were intense, these two are on a whole different level.

What followed was a conversation with several members of the table about loving one's work and figuring out ways to do what one wants in life, without fear of anything. If this is truly the philosophy of our colleagues at CMM, as it seems to be, then I can't think of a better group of people by whom to be surrounded.

Lunch ended with a lovely Spanish serenade for Laura, with Ari singing her own tune and our loving table erupting into laughs. Friday is the day when everyone in the office gathers round for dessert brought in by one person, but Laura and I are too stuffed to even consider going to the kitchen for our fifth dessert of the day right now.

We are so happy to be here, and even more excited for the office party tonight in La Roma, a swanky part of’s time to continue the celebrations!

Markets and Miscellaneous Meandering

Today could not have been a more tiring or beautiful gym-tan-laundry day.

Laura and I rolled out of bed late after a night of birthday festivities and got to work on some matters of housekeeping: laundry, groceries, and fruit-iodizing (produce has to be soaked in water with iodine here in Mexico to compensate for the less-than-ideal water quality). With our things in the dryer, Laura and I headed down to the gym, where we inched our way through the most tiring workout we've done since being here (the effects of last night were clearly tangible).

We met at around 3pm with Louise; our amazingly kind, accomplished, and well-traveled French colleague; at Balderas Metro Station, having kept her waiting for over half an hour. Her patience was not in vain though, as while awaiting for us she found the grand open air library Biblioteca de México where we wandered on the way to Mercado Artesenal de la Ciudadela, a large market where Mexican handicrafts are sold.

We all searched for gifts for our families as rain started to pour, soaking the outfits Laura and I had chosen for today in optimistic anticipation of sunshine, and leaving my summer sandals slimy and slippery for the rest of the day.

All I ended up buying from the display of curios was a fresh bag of scrumptious sunflower seeds covered in a mystery confection that I could smell from feet away and could not resist.

Adequately drenched, we trudged our way through the street (which was basically one big puddle) toward Zócalo, the city center which we explored with Adriana last Saturday, stopping en route to dry off and enjoy some flavorful tacos at a nearby mall and refreshing coffee at Cielito Querido.

Once the rain had died down, we ventured up Calle Madero once more, then doing some more poking around the square, enjoying new views of different parts of the plaza through Louise's eyes.

We basically ambled around for the duration of the afternoon, talking about work and education and travel and love, and before we knew it, it was 8pm and our stomachs were grumpy! Laura and I elected to hail a cab rather than attempting to walk home, but not before Louise showed us one more special spot -- the Museo Franz Mayer, a museum displaying mainly "boring" furniture, but with a stunning and romantic exterior courtyard. We walked there a few minutes enjoying the onset of nighttime before flagging down a taxi.

Feeling like rags after an exhausting day, Laura and I slumped into Chedravi to buy the ingredients for tonight's dinner, a delightful butter chicken masterpiece which Laura cooked up as I washed the day away. We have now gorged ourselves on this brilliance, complete with rice and raita and a tiramisu dessert, and are utterly prepared for bed before another exciting day of exploring tomorrow.

Xochimilco and Coyoacan

We had another hectic and enjoyable fin de semana this week, spending Sunday hitting up not one but two huge tourist spots in D.F. You can trace our route on the map below from Polanco (A) down to Xochimilco (B) for the day before an evening in Coyoacan (C). We've been wanting to explore both of these places since we set foot in the city, so it was ultra exciting to do them both in one day!!

We made our way after a morning of smoothies and gymming first on the metro to Tasqueñas, a stop in the south of D.F., where our colleague Andy picked us up and drove us to our destination, collecting Rebeca on the way. Isabel and Jaume met us in the main square of Xochimilco, which Laura aptly describes as the Venice of Mexico.

We were met at the dock by a host of hyper-colorful traijineras, the flat boats which hold picnic tables for 14 to navigate the canals of Lake Xochimilco.

Floating along on these boats is such a spectacle!

Groups of friends sit snacking and drinking and soaking up the sun as smaller boats pass by selling food, souvenirs, and even plants!

If you want something, you just holler and the canoe will follow your trajinera preparing whatever you would like.

Many vendors and mariachi musicians also hop from boat to boat selling their wares and their serenades. What a sight!

Above, see a woman selling freshly roasted corn on the cob, and at right, see a full-fledged doll-and-shawl stand atop the water.

The gang stopped a boat preparing fresh tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas while I ate my turkey sandwich from home (trying not to take any more chances with my stomach) and pulled over for a bottle of coke at one point.

We sat lazing in the sun as I prepared many a charro negro for my comrades until our journey was through.

Isabel and I lay posing on the "prow" of the boat until we were joined by the other chicas.

Our afternoon was fun, relaxing, vibrant. Having disembarked, Laura and I bid Isa and Jaume hasta luego and hopped back in the car with Andy and Rebeca for our "express" evening tour of Coyoacan, an absolutely charming village home to the homes of Hernan Cortes and Frida Kahlo!

With Rebeca as our tour guide, Laura and I strolled all about the three main plazas -- Santa Catarina, La Conchita, and La Concepcion -- stopping to imbibe the colors and take pictures at every corner, I receiving another reminder about my love for the layout and architecture of many Latin American towns.

I was especially struck by the Parish of San Juan Bautista, a grand edifice in the middle of the main square, receiving attention from the sun at several splendid angles over the course of our evening.

We also visited two small markets in the vicinity, and met our friends Louise and Alejandro for dinner at Los Danzantes, a nice traditional restaurant in the central plaza.

After a plate of mole verde for me and one taco al pastor for Laura, it started to drizzle just as we prepare to say goodbye to the beautifully pleasant place.

Louise and Alejandro drove us home to Polanco, we all exhausted, and Laura and I reminded again of how lucky we are to be fortunate to travel to such sights and see them with such people.

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