Underground pools of fresh, clear, cold water. Stalactites and stalagmites. Fish.
It’s quite another experience swimming in a cenote. It’s recommended during the hottest and sunniest hours of the day though, because the sunlight that penetrates the holes in the roof is the only element warming up the waters.
Cenotes come in all varieties. The famous Cenote Dos Ojos required us to strap on some life vests and waterproof torchlights and follow a guide deep into a cavern. Cenote Zaci (in the center of Valladolid) was like any other outdoor public pool. (Try not to have a vivid imagination of sea monsters as it’s wide and very deep in the center and you can’t see the bottom.) Cenote Samula and Xkeken are at the ends of steps that lead deep into the underground.
Overall, a very new experience for me, one that is truly unique to Mexico.
That’s what they’re calling “escamoles” or ant larvae. Cooked in a buttery sauce and priced the same as actual caviar (not that I would know), escamoles is a delicacy that one has to hunt around a little bit for around Mexico City. Or visit one of the restaurants listed on Lonely Planet.
At Los Girasoles, a fancy joint on Calle Tacuba near the Zocalo, I feasted on a plate of escamoles, chapulines (tiny fried grasshoppers), and gusanos (grubs). While the escamoles was delicious (butter makes everything delicious), the chapulines was crispy and sour, due to all the lime it’s soaked in. The gusanos, devoid of innards, was fried to an oil-soaked moist crisp. It’s funny how bugs are cheap streetfood in SE Asia but here, it was $25/plate. Yes, $25. By Mexican standards, that’s the cost of about 50 chicken taquitos I could buy from the local market.
Nonetheless, it was an interesting dining experience. I would take a fresh hot corn tortilla, spread some black bean paste and guacamole on it, then sprinkle the bugs onto my taco, wrap it up, and enjoy the various textures and flavors; a little crispy, a little chewy, a little creamy, a little salty, a little sour, a little spicy.
Frida Kahlo. She of the unibrow and colorful dresses. Although I recognized her name and have seen multiple pictures of her work, usually self-portraits complete with unibrow and colorful dresses, I never actually paid close attention to who she was and why she was such a big deal. They even made a movie about her, starring Salma Hayek.
A blue-walled museum dedicated to her located in the cozy neighborhood of Coyoacan opened my eyes. This museum was formerly the home of Kahlo’s and her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. I dislike large museums because I lose interest about an hour in and realize I only covered 25% of it. But the Frida Kahlo museum was just the perfect size. After all, it was a home, albeit a large one with plenty of rooms, halls, and a massive backyard, perfect for any creatives who need space, fresh air, and solitude.
So what’s the big deal about this museum visit and why am I writing about it?
I think it’s because I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick and this museum showed me what made this person tick. I walked past her self-portraits, smirking inside my head at how self-absorbed she was to focus on painting herself most times. (She was the original queen of selfies. No doubt that if she had lived through our age, her Instagram would be filled with plenty of selfies taken by her iPhone.)
But I started reading excerpts of her life story spread across the museum. The more I read, the more my perspective changed about her.
I did not realize she was disabled. She had polio as a child, causing one of her legs to shrivel. She had a bad accident at 18 which broke her body badly resulting in a lifetime of surgeries and also the inability to have a child within her loveless marriage to Rivera.
And she had to hide it all; the pain, the embarrassment, the hopelessness. She wore corsets designed to support her spine and hid everything behind her beautiful dresses which covered up her broken body. But one thing that stood out was her steely-eyed determination you saw from her self-portraits. Her spirit was not broken. Her whole life, she was supposed to be just another woman who would become a wife to a husband and bear kids and stay home. She was supposed to fit a stereotype. But she didn’t want to. She wanted to become someone. And life wanted to break her but she didn’t let it.