Tuesday, March 26, 2024

36 Hours in Mexico City

Trip date: October 2023

This trip was all about finally getting to Oaxaca with my friend Aaron, but as I had to fly through Mexico City to do that I decided to spend a quick 2 nights there. The first night I'd be on my own, and then Aaron would meet me the next. It had been 8 years since I had been last!

Currently there is only one direct flight a day from Seattle, available thru the Delta website and on Aeromexico metal. The direct flight was not offered on points so I just bought an Economy Comfort seat. 

I got lucky and no one was in the middle seat. I hadn't flown Aeromexico before and was impressed with the hot breakfast served. But what I was very surprised by was when I asked for a glass of wine and they let me know that there wasn't any beer or wine, just tequila, vodka, & rum served from large liter bottles on the 5 ½ hr flight! 

It was late afternoon when I landed and it was very easy to request an Uber to pick me up and take me to my hotel. I was staying at The Red Tree House in the Condesa neighborhood. This 21-room boutique hotel had been recommended to me by multiple people. It books up extremely quickly as almost everyone I met there was a repeat customer. 

I absolutely loved this hotel! My room was good, I was in the Frida room, but it's more about the interior courtyard garden where Happy Hour is served from 6-8pm nightly and breakfasts are served in the morning, the multiple communal spaces in the main house, and the incredibly nice employees. I highly recommend, but book far in advance. 

The Condesa neighborhood is very safe, but being solo for my first night I took Ubers to my destinations. Almost all my rides were about $5! Amazing!

My first stop that night was in the nearby Colonia Juarez neighborhood at Handshake Speakeasy, currently #3 on the 50 World's Best Bars list. It's important to make a reservation here as it's small and you will only be given a 90 minute time slot. I don't want to give anything away about the speakeasy, so I'll just say that I loved it, loved my cocktails, and would absolutely recommend it.

For dinner I headed to #49 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Rosetta. It's a beautiful space with tables set up in an open courtyard and soft lighting. And the menu reads deliciously. 

I was very excited for my elote tamales, but when they arrived (about 3 minutes after I ordered) they were barely lukewarm. My fresh fish baked in a salt crust arrived right as my partially eaten tamales were taken away. This was cooked well but the fish was very plain and only served on a bed of watercress. I had 1 glass of wine and a bottle of water and was presented with the check having been there for just 55 minutes. To say I felt rushed is an understatement. 

Recently a friend of mine also ate solo and had a horrible experience, while others in a party of 2 had a wonderful meal. Personally I think you can do much better in this culinary city and I'm not sure how the restaurant scored a coveted spot on the 50 Best list. YMMV

I left to have a nightcap at Fifty Mils, in the Four Seasons Hotel. This property is absolutely gorgeous!! As is the bar. 

The team behind the bar was just ok, they didn't know much about the brands on their shelves when I inquired. They were definitely more interested in chatting with each other than in the customers. I'd say it's a fine place if you are in the area and have a thing for hotel bars, like I do, but otherwise it's an expensive place for just an ok experience. 

The next morning I had a delicious breakfast in the garden area of my hotel. I helped myself to a buffet set in the dining room with fresh fruit, breads, yogurt, juice, and coffee while the women in the kitchen made me the morning's dish of chicken "enchilada". The manager Victor delivered it to me with a bowl of salsa and instructed me to eat it like a taco, with my hands.

It and the setting were excellent! 

Aaron would be arriving later in the morning so I went on a little stroll around Condesa to see more of the area in the daylight. The streets here are lined with trees and sidewalks cut through a series of small parks. It was cool and quiet and I could hardly believe I was in a city of over 22 million people! Mexico City is the 6th largest in the world!

On the main street, I passed by lots of street vendors selling all sorts of food and drinks. It was almost lunch time and the neighborhood was starting to smell delicious!

I headed back to the hotel and met up with Aaron and then we walked the short distance to our own lunch destination, the very busy Contramar. Reservations are absolutely essential here unless you are ok with an hour + wait. 

This is one of Mexico City's most famous restaurants to lunch at. The entire menu consists of seafood that has been caught and flown in the same day. Everything on the menu sounded so good! We started with ceviche of sole, celery & chile manzano and an order of their well-known tuna tostadas with chipotle mayonnaise, crispy leeks & avocado. Outstanding!

Our main was their famous pescado a la talla, a whole grilled fish, half with red adobo rub & half with parsley rub. It comes with tortillas so you can make a fish taco or just enjoy it on its own. It was absolutely fantastic, even though we couldn't finish it all!

Somehow we managed to share a piece of gorgeous meringue pie with fresh strawberries after! We also asked our waiter about assorted mini brandy glasses we saw on a lot of nearby tables. He explained it was a "Mexican Flag". One glass has fresh-squeezed lime juice (green), one has tequila (white), and the 3rd has Sangrita (red). You take sips from each of the glasses, combining the flavors in your mouth. It was a very fun and boozy way to end our 2 1/2 hour lunch. This place is fantastic, I highly recommend! 

Back at the hotel we joined the other guests for glasses of happy hour wine, everyone comparing their days/trips/etc. It was a really nice group of people. Then we were off to check out another cocktail bar!

Hanky Panky Speakeasy, currently #22 on the World's 50 Best Bars list, is not easy to find! Luckily a passerby on the street pointed us in the right direction after we exited our Uber and started looking on the wrong side of the street. Again, I don't want to spoil anything so I will not comment on how to enter. 

We had a great time here, and really good drinks! Another one I'd recommend!

It seemed impossible but after a couple of rounds we both were feeling a bit hungry. So we headed to El Califa where you can order your tacos costras, cheese that has been griddled and is crispy. YUM!
The salsas here are also particularly good! This is a big, bright restaurant that stays open until 4am. But the food is really good and I'm a sucker for crispy cheese. I ate here the last time I was in town also!

The next morning we were up early for our flight to Oaxaca after a quick breakfast of fresh fruit and churros at the hotel. It was very quiet at the airport so we had an hour to hang out in the Priority Pass Lounge where I had some chilaquiles and a mimosa. 

Unbeknownst to me, I would be back in CDMX 5 days later for an extra night, thanks to Aeromexico delaying my flight out of Oaxaca causing me to miss my connection in MEX. They put me up in a really not-so-great hotel BUT it was right across the street from Handshake Speakeasy! 

I quickly made a reservation on OpenTable and spent the evening enjoying a few more of their lovely cocktails!

When I did fly home the next day, I checked out the Amex Centurion Lounge at MEX. There was a line to get in and it was very busy inside. I sat at the bar and had some really bad food. If you are in MEX I'd choose the Priority Pass Lounge over the Centurion!

I had purchased my return flight home by transferring Amex points to Aeromexico for a First Class seat. Even though they were able to put me on a flight the next day, it was only in Economy which was frustrating since I burned those miles. I reached out to Aeromexico when I was home, asking for reimbursement of the miles I spent and also compensation for the loss of a work day. They ended up giving me $300 but no miles. I will not willingly choose to fly with them again. I mean the fact that they don't offer wine on a flight alone is enough for me to feel that way!

All photos of Mexico City here

Other post from this trip:


Sunday, March 3, 2024

48 Hours in Waikoloa

Trip date: May 2023

I left Volcanoes National Park and drove Hwy 11 northeast to Hilo, about 45 minutes away. I've never been to Hilo, and really still haven't as it was just a good spot to have lunch on my way over to the west side of the island. I was going to spend my last 2 nights on the Big Island relaxing by the pool in Waikoloa.

A friend had suggested Suisan Fish Market for takeout poke and it was absolutely delicious! I ate at a picnic table with a view of the ocean at Liliʻuokalani Gardens. This park is just stunning and was donated by Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last Queen of Hawaii before being overthrown by the US in their move to take Hawaii. 

I didn't have a lot of time to stroll around but the park has a beautiful Japanese garden and great views of Hilo Bay.

I had chosen to take Saddle Road across the middle of the island, which cuts right between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It's about 62 miles long and hits 6,632 feet elevation around mile marker 28. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, it got dang cold at the crest!

I pulled over for views of Mauna Kea but that's all there is out here! There are no services at all on this road so plan accordingly. But the entire drive was beautiful.

I arrived at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort where I had booked 2 free nights which I got when I opened my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card. When I checked in they let me know they had also upgraded me to a big King room with a view of the pool and the ocean. They also gave me 2 free drink coupons. Mai tai with a view, lovely!

I went down to the pool for a while as it was still super warm and sunny. The pool here is great! There are actually 3; 1 is super shallow and has a little sand beach for kids, another has a water slide, and then there is a full length pool. This would do nicely!

That evening I walked about 10 minutes to Queens' Marketplace outdoor mall and met my friend Noelle at Kuleana Rum Shack where our friend Missy was working. Delicious drinks were had while catching up with these 2 lovely ladies.

The next day was absolutely gorgeous! I started the day with a hike along the beach trail where I saw both nēnē (Hawaiian geese) and honu (Hawaiian Green sea turtles)! 

I also saw dolphins in a hotel pool that you could swim with. How is that even a thing still??? I was shocked. 

Back at the Marriott, I rented a cabana at the pool for the day. It was absolutely wonderful!

Sometimes you I just need a whole day by the pool! I had some very good Kalua pork nachos delivered to my bed for lunch, soaked up the sun, swam, read... heaven!

I did go for a short afternoon walk along Waikoloa Beach to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach... to the Lava Lava Beach Club for a mai tai!

And then later there was the most incredible sunset! 

I had planned to go out for dinner that night, but I was just feeling so relaxed hanging at the resort so I decided to have dinner at their restaurant as it was "Taco Tuesday". Unfortunately when I arrived I was told there was a shortage or something and there would be no tacos that Tuesday. Bummer, but I had some fine catch of the day and a wedge salad.

The next morning I woke up to a text from Alaska Air letting me know I'd been upgraded to First Class for the flight home! What an absolute cherry on the top of such a great trip!

My flight wasn't until late afternoon, and as I'm Gold with Marriott I had a 2pm checkout, so I had a very indulgent breakfast at the resort, took a few more laps in the pool, worked on the tan a bit more, and had one last poke bowl before heading to the airport for the 6-hour flight home.
Aloha until next time Hawai'i! 

All Big Island photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Volcano Lessons on Hawai'i

Trip date: May 2023

After 5 nights on Maui, I took a short Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kona on the Big Island. In 2018 my plans to hike around the Kīlauea volcano were thwarted by the volcano actually erupting, so I was on a mission to finally do all things I had planned 5 years prior!

I had booked another convertible, thru Thrifty this time, and stood in line for over an hour waiting to pick it up. Not sure if that is normal or if they were just very short staffed, but it screwed up my plans for a late lunch at the Honaunau Poke Shop before my 2+ hour drive.

I stopped at a gas station for some snacks and drove south on Highway 11, (also known as Māmalahoa Highway or the Hawaiʻi Belt Road) top down, breeze blowing through my hair. Then it started to dump rain like only the Hawaiian Islands can do! Luckily it cleared up by the time I was at the very south tip of the island, which is also the most southern part of the United States. I stopped at mile marker 75 to take a look at the massive ancient lava fields from the eruption of Mauna Loa in 1907. 

Mauna Loa is one of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island and is also the largest active volcano on earth. She's sent lava flows across the road in this area in 1868, 1887, 1919, 1926, and 1950 also!

Up to this point, and after, the southern part of the island is so green and lush! The towns here are tiny, I drove through each in the blink of an eye. 

My next stop was at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach where there is usually a very high chance of seeing the resident honus swimming close to the shore. I didn't see any turtles though as it was crazy windy when I stopped! It is beautiful though!

30 minutes from here I reached Volcano House, the only hotel inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where I'd be staying for 2 nights.

I had booked a room with a view of Kīlauea's Halemaumau crater and was so excited to see the steam rising from it right from my bed! The hotel is rustic but cute; there are 2 gift shops, 2 restaurants, and absolutely amazing views of the crater. The Visitor's Center is just across the street, so if you are there you can walk over and take a look, you don't have to be a guest to come explore the hotel and its views.

That first night I ate at The Rim, the nicer of the two restaurants. My drinks and dinner were ok and as these are the only restaurants inside of the park, the prices were very inflated. But I was happy to take my wine to my room after dinner, just steps away vs driving home.

I only had 1 ½ days in the park and I had a lot I wanted to see and do, so the next morning I was out of the hotel at 8am and off to hike the Kīlauea Iki trail. I parked at the trailhead lot across from the Thurston Lava Tube and followed the trail counterclockwise, starting through a lovely rainforest with views of the crater floor below. Kīlauea's much larger crater can be seen in the distance.   

This pit crater last erupted in 1959 and I could clearly see the trail on the crater floor that cuts straight across what was once a lake of molten lava! It was a little over a mile to the far end of the rim, then there was a 400 foot descent to the floor. The trail was very steep in parts; I followed the dirt path, stairs, and lots of volcanic rocks.

Now I had to get across the floor to the other side! It's very hard to make out the trail but I knew to follow the ahu (stone cairns) and stone markers. Even knowing that, they were hard to make out sometimes! Everything is varying shades of black with the random overachieving plant trying to break through. And the crust is very uneven with cracks that look like they can swallow you whole!

It was truly one of the coolest hikes I've done! It was like being on the moon, but with parts of it steaming! Once I got to the other side I still had to climb up another 400 feet to where my car was parked. The entire hike took me about 2 hours and was just over 3 ½ miles. I highly recommend this trail if you are in the area, it's like nothing else!

When I got back up to the parking lot, I crossed the road and entered the Thurston Lava Tube. Tubes like this are all over the islands, and once were the highway to 2000 degrees F molten lava!

It's dark and creepy and totally cool!! Maybe not for people with claustrophobia however. 

I hadn't been able to get a quick breakfast at the hotel before I left so I was very ready for lunch by this time. I drove to the Kilauea Lodge and had a really good brunch of their Volcano Loco (take on a Loco Moco) which came with house make pumpkin bread and coffee. It was a super cute dining room, with a big stone fireplace and really nice service. 

Then I was back in the convertible and on the Chain of Craters Road. It's a 36-mile round trip drive down to the Pacific Ocean and back. There are no services on the road so it's important to have plenty of gas, snacks, and water!

The craters along the road were formed after magma below the earth receded (rather than by the eruption of a volcano) and the surface collapsed. One of the craters, Ko'oko'olau, hasn't seen lava in over 200 years and is now filled with greenery, while the others are quite barren.

Past the craters the road cuts through old lava flows all the way to the sea. It's pretty incredible to see the massive flows all around and imagine how it was when it was flowing! 

The elevation goes from 4000 feet to sea level, and the road is very steep and twisty in sections. The views are just incredible! At mile marker 15.9 I came to my short hiking destination- the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field. There is parking on either side of the road and then it's just a short 3/4 of a mile walk out to the ancient stone carvings.

The Big Island has the most petroglyphs of the chain, and this particular field was just full of them. There's a boardwalk built around the field to keep people from destroying the artifacts. I find them fascinating!

Back on the road it was just 3 more miles to the sea. There wasn't any active lava when I visited but in years past you could come and watch the flow enter the ocean! That would be amazing! But the views of the Holei Sea Arch were still impressive, as is the force of the waves that crash against them. Sea arches like this are formed when lava is continuously pounded by the surf until it is undercut in the shape of an arch.

Time to turn the car around and head back to the hotel! Driving straight at the hills with clear sight of the lava flows was incredible!

It's just such an amazing area to explore! I spent about 3 hours on this road, taking time to stop to read about the various craters, lookouts, etc. Coupled with my morning hike, it was a long day and I was exhausted when I returned to Volcano House. Luckily they greeted me at the front desk with a complimentary mimosa which I enjoyed while I got cleaned up and ready for a casual dinner in the other restaurant Uncle George’s Lounge.

The next morning I was up early again as I still had a few more things I wanted to see before I left Volcanoes National Park. It's a very short walk from the hotel over to the Sulfur Banks to see the fumes escaping from the deep cracks in the earth produced by the magma pocket below. 

Continuing my way on the 1+ mile trail, I then came upon the Steam Vents. There are actually many of them throughout the walk and on the banks of the cauldron. These are shallower cracks with rocks underneath that are being heated by magma. When rainwater hits the hot rocks it produces all this steam.  

Most of the steam vents are clearly marked but there have been instances of people falling into them so it's important to stay on the trails around here!

Throughout this area I saw so many ʻōhiʻa trees blooming! This is the Hawaiian state tree and is generally one of the first plants to grow through old lava. They are also very prone to disease and have been dying off in past years. Don't touch the ʻōhiʻa!

After checking out of Volcano House, I got my car, and drove over to the Kīlauea Overlook for some last views of the steaming crater. This is Hawaii's youngest and most active volcano and it doesn't seem like Goddess Pele is anywhere near playing with it!

I took a short walk from here to Uekahuna, which is actually the chosen site that Native Hawaiians honor Pele. There are fantastic views of Mauna Loa, Kīlauea, and the old Jaggar Museum and Observatory. This had been on my list of places to visit in 2018 but unfortunately it sustained considerable damage during that eruption and is now being razed. 

On my drive out of the park I decided to do one more short hike to Pu‘u Pua‘i. The parking lot is on the opposite side of Kīlauea Iki and it's just a mile out and back to see this odd mound of cinders that was formed during the eruption in 1959. The cinders were the result of 1,900 foot high lava fountains, cooling and falling back to earth, but today it just looks like a very barren hill.

And with that I said goodbye to this amazing national park and started my drive to the other side of the island!

All Big Island photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Pre-Disaster Maui

Weekend in Boise

Trip date: July 2023 My friend Aaron has been to almost every state in the US, he's only missing a few and Idaho was one. So last July, ...

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