Ciudad de México

On the short flight from Houston to Mexico City, I had ODESZA’s La Ciudad on repeat. To me, it was apt- dreamy, descriptive of a journey. Artistic. Yet one of the things that was going to be most clearly brought to my attention on this trip was how different our perceptions of a place can be.

People in the US will often warn you about Mexico, in general. There is a belief that it’s unsafe, unclean, or whatever else is so frequently portrayed in today’s media.

I’d like to challenge that notion.

I returned to Mexico last week for another trip with Aire Libre. In the past I’ve traveled with them to Oaxaca and the Copper Canyons, and have always come back rejuvenated. I also now host a podcast with them called Beyond Running, so check it out if you haven’t already! We have some amazing conversations about mindfulness, running as a way of life, its impact on society and more.

But back to the trip… because of a flight delay I ended up with some free time in Mexico City. After taking myself on a tour of coffee shops in the gorgeous neighborhood of Condesa, I’d noticed there were dozens of tattoo shops… so I met up with a friend and added a beautiful rose to my arm, designed by Angelica at Ink Inc. Roses might be cliche, but the symbol of a beautiful flower protected by strength of its own thorns has never been lost on me. Among the flowers of Mexico City, too, it was fitting.

One of the experiences we headed to on the trip took us to a paradisaical hillside above the city. The point of the excursion was to spend a few hours in a sweat lodge as a spiritual experience. As I’m the kind of person who gets dizzy after ten minutes in a hot bath, I sit out of these sessions. So while everyone else was being spiritually transformed, I walked around and explored the surroundings with one of the women who worked at the garden we were in, and was transformed in my own way. She pointed out the butterfly garden, the different herbs and flowers surrounding us, and the view over the top of the hillside.

We were surrounded by flowers and fire, which was roaring to heat the stones for the sweat lodge. The intense heat of the flame from this fireplace and the pungent, varied scents of the flowers we were allowed to pick and rub on our skin brought me fully into the present. There is something grounding and sensual about scent, about heat, about breathing in fresh, cold air with the smell of fire layering itself upon your skin.

I loved being immersed in the softest and strongest of mother nature, so close to flame that burns and takes away but gives light, shares heat, and touching flowers that sometimes seem to exist solely for their beauty. Both fire and flowers are grounding, light, beautiful, bountiful… I was handed cup after cup of a hot cacao drink, grateful for it in the freezing air. Cacao, we were told, is something to eat to elevate your senses (in other words, an aphrodisiac).

Of course, this wouldn’t be an Aire Libre trip without the trails.

I’m a confident traveler on my own, but I travel with Aire Libre because of two huge things. One is for the people I meet on every trip, some combination of fellow travelers, explorers and runners with huge, open hearts. The other is because of the places we get to play in.

On this trip we explored a crater at Nevado de Toluca, and the trails in Desierto de los Leones. Both were stunning, high in the trees and nestled into mountain peaks dusted with snow and ice. The sky was a bold blue each day, showing off for us visitors. We stumbled up and down dirt paths, across sun-splattered trails and across open roads behind dust kicked up from trucks rumbling past. We peered over cliffs into cavernous skies filled with mountains and soft clouds, stumbled or flew down cobblestone paths and leaped across trickles of water. We ran like nothing mattered but the moment we were in, whether it was glorious and free, painful or ugly. We were in the present, whatever it felt like.

There is nothing like the wild beauty of trails, but Mexico City was an experience in itself, too. We ran through the city a few times, exploring local parks and running around what was once an old stone racetrack. Mexico City is colorful, vibrant… there’s more street art here than I’ve seen in most places in the world, and it’s true art, too. People are out and about walking dogs- and, here, no one has just one dog, they’re all walking two or three or seven. There is a sense of calm about the city, though we are told this is because the holidays are not yet over, and the city will return to its notorious busy state in a week or so.

Then there was the food.

Conversation is more readily shared during a meal enjoyed together. One of the things I found most beautiful in Mexico was the fact that we sat one night in a crowded restaurant and ended up engaging in a long conversation with the couple at a table next to us. Sitting down to eat together fosters a sense of community- in the US this seems to be a lost art.

I could eat Mexican food forever- and I mean true Mexican food, the salsas and moles and sauces, the seasoned meats and cooked peppers draped across fresh tortillas… Not the piles of beans and packaged cheese you’d find in an American burrito.

The street food options here were endless, from vegan taco stands serving almond cheese to piles of corn drizzled with lime juice and chili. I would love to come back and just eat my way through the city…

As always, I was amazed by how quickly over the course of a handful of days the group on this trip bonded. We shared not just our living quarters, but our stories and experiences, our food. We shared our spirits and energy with each other. There’s nothing quite like throwing yourself into the unknown to bond with those taking the leap with you.

Mexico is full of beauty, some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met, and experiences that will change you. If my passion for these experiences is unable to convince you to ignore whatever the media is telling you about Mexico, then go with a group like Aire Libre. Go with a Spanish-speaking friend. Go on your own.

Just go.

You will not regret it.

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