A Travellerspoint blog

Have Baby. Will Travel.

Getting around Mexico with a toddler.

I've gotten slightly disheartened lately by all of my single friends posts about not having babies. Everyone makes their own decision, or life decides it for them, and I know I shouldn’t take it personally. But one of the pros, people say, of not having kids, is being able to travel. And sure, it's cheaper and easier to jump on a bus, plane, train and sleep in a hostel, tent or floor without a baby on your hip. But at least in Latin America, traveling with a baby is your "IN" to connecting with people.

I was one of those twenty-somethings before. I wanted to fill up my passport before I had kids (if ever). I shook my head at the hip European couples who brought their kids along on the salt flats tour in Uyuni, thinking that they must have spent most of their time tending to their children instead of marveling at the moonlike, otherworldliness of the barren Bolivian landscape. I felt bad for the mothers being followed by their gaggle of geese around the marketplace, town square, city bus, who obviously weren't getting the most of the rich cultural experience I was soaking up. As much as it pains me to admit it, I was a childless travel snob.


So now I'm on the other side, as a mother of a 15-month old, trying to be a little more sensitive, compassionate, understanding, and HELPFUL to those who have also reproduced, and to provide a little perspective for those who haven't but might possibly or accidentally do so in the future. Here we go, traveling with a baby in Mexico: tips, pros and cons!*

Wear your child. We weren't ready when my baby was born. Not because we didn't have enough time; reality just never set in. So we had no car seat, no stroller, no carrier. I ended up getting a baby wrap/sling, which we got used to using when the baby was 6 months. Now at 15 months, I can take the baby everywhere- the market, on the bus, around town - without having to worry about navigating the crowds with a stroller. Not to mention the fact that strollers are not practical in Mexico (at least here in Cuernavaca). The sidewalks are a disaster, there are people everywhere, stairs, dog poop…the list goes on.


There are no seatbelts. Unless you have your own car, forget investing in a car seat. Taxis, buses, subway- the only way to strap your kid in is if you wear them, carry them, or lug them around in a car seat (we tried that once. Not only is there no where to buckle them in, but there is usually no space in restaurants to then set them). You will see parents carrying babies in the front seat, letting them hang out the window (my baby's favorite) or older kids sticking their head out the quemacocos (sun roof).

Let them try the tidbits. Mexican food is awesome for many reasons; in particular, when you have a kid, you can usually pick out things that are healthy and clean. For example, at a comida corrida, you can offer babies rice with veggies, chicken broth/soup, whatever meat you get, and your arroz con leche. If you go to a buffet, there are always soups, salads, and dishes with rice or pasta. Don't stress so much about preparing your own food to bring along with you. Just make sure you go to a clean place, and then let them explore the food on their own.

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People will touch your child. Today while enjoying some fresh-squeezed OJ and sun in the plaza downtown an old man came up and winked at us, then grabbed my baby's cheek. No boundaries. Bring hand sanitizer and baby wipes for when you're in public.
The up side of people noticing your child, though, is interaction. Even though I'm very smiley, I'm generally shy and don't interact much with other people. But now with a baby, everyone from the baker to the woman at the laundromat to the weirdo at the back of the bus says hi, waves, and comments on something. Babies melt boundaries, bridge borders, forge connections. If you are traveling in Mexico, allow your baby to help bridge that gap for you- asking about the other person's family, children, or childhood is usually something people easily share.

Nurse in public. I saved this one for last because I know this is a very, very personal decision, but if you are a nursing mother you can travel SO EASILY. You don't have to steam, boil, wash, measure, etc. And it allows your little one to enjoy more of the travel experience- a little milk will stave off any crankiness and let you wrap up things at the museum or your hike. It can also give you an excuse to step back and relax during a trip, especially if you are traveling with more people or trying to pack in activities.

Traveling with a baby is always going to be more stressful than it was when you were alone or with a friend, but the answer is not to sit at home and stack colored blocks all day. Babies take in so much of their surroundings, and exposing them to adventure at an early age will prepare them for all the trips you'll want to take them on as they get older. Plus distraction is seriously the best way to avoid temper tantrums (at least so far!) And like anything, it will get easier for the both of you as you learn what works for you and what doesn't. Feel free to share your traveling with a baby tips!

  • I understand that these same experiences can happen in the US, or anywhere in the world. This is only a piece about my personal situation.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:37 Archived in Mexico Tagged bus backpacking community fiesta alternative communication family_travel cuernavaca mexican_food travel_in_morelos travel_in_cuernavaca volunteering_with_children family_volunteering things_to_do_in_cuernavaca travel_with_baby Comments (0)

Nesting Turtles, Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Part One in Tortuguero

When we planned our trip to Costa Rica we, well, we didn't. We flew into San Jose late at night, got lost on the way to our hotel, and spent the evening deciding which coast to go to. We picked the east coast because I thought it was going to be sparkling turquoise Caribbean waters- which it wasn't, because it was the rainy season. But we also decided we wanted to see the turtles in Tortuguero, and looking back, that was really one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

I described our adventure getting to Tortuguero, the Region of Turtles, here: [link]. And although we had a list of hotels to check out when we got there, we were drawn to the crashing waves on the coast and ended up bunking at the first weather-beaten but cozy hostel we could find to drop our stuff. The actual rooms at La Casona are nothing to write about- in fact, there was no ventilation and the rooms were simple, but the hospitality, tourism connections and food were superb. This family run B&B helped us get our bearings in this north-south little town. Just a few blocks (yards? I'm bad with distance) from the beach, and right off of a soccer field that was busy with games from late afternoon till dark, it ended up being the central location for all of our activities.


First off, turtles. Tortuguero is the most important nesting site in the Western Hemisphere
. All sorts of turtles come to lay their eggs here- leatherback, hawksbill, green and loggerheads. The Tortuguero National Park offers an extensive shoreline (22 miles!) for turtles to nest. During the summer is when they lay eggs, so we didn't see the little babies, but egg-laying was almost cooler!

Apparently there is lots of competition among tour companies- turtles are the main attraction, obviously, and there are locals who run tours from a little kiosk by the water and then many other operators. Locals complain about outsiders taking away their business, but many of the local guides we heard later only led tours in Spanish and didn't seem to interact much with their groups. We really didn't know who to go with, and we wanted to support the local economy, so in the end we decided to do a tour with a guide who some other girls at our hostel had booked on the second night of our stay. Seeing the turtles cost about $20 per person at the time (2013), and included a sticker whose cost was supposed to go to turtle conservation. However, the owner's son, Andrés, is also a tour guide and runs his own eco-tour company (Aventuras Neotropicales, although their Facebook page doesn't look active anymore), and just happened to have 2 open spaces on one of his tours the first night we were there, so we jumped at the chance to be able to see the turtles twice!

Seeing a turtle lay eggs is awe-inspiring. I've held turtles before in the Cayman Islands and seen them on countless occasions, but seeing them here, vulnerable and in the wild, is just amazing. First of all, these creatures are HUGE. Not the little turtles they sell at the pet shop or even the ones you might see at Sea World. They are enormous. They drag themselves up the steep shore, slowly, majestically, and find just the right place to lay their eggs.

Any number of things can convince them to turn back- light, for one. If there is a full moon or a particularly bright moon, or any light on the beach. Which is why developed beaches full of sky-rise hotels can completely decimate a turtle population. Another issue is predators- big cats love turtle eggs, and unfortunately so do humans. Luckily there is enough movement on the beach here in Tortuguero that sneaky humans are rare. I kept my eyes out for felines as we walked through the jungle, but they must wait until the tours are over to stalk their prey.

We got to see several turtles over the two nights we went out. It was so cool to see them come up from the water, or to see them lumber back from the tree line. They dig with their enormous flippers, and drop eggs like ping-pongs balls. Hundreds. I just wanted to hug these big mamas and say thanks making this journey, for making these little turtle babies! It was definitely an amazing experience. They are so peaceful and wise, and I actually teared up both nights as I watched this ancient ritual.


Although this turtle-watching business seems to be pretty well regulated, there were still a few issues we saw. People don't follow the rules. Both nights our tour guides told us that we shouldn't turn on any lights while out on the beach and that we should be respectful. But there are always dingbats who turn on flashlights or cell phones, or who make noise and disturb the turtles.


Also, there are way too many people on the beach. A turtle can get spooked for many reasons, but I definitely wouldn't climb up onto a beach full of dark silhouettes milling about. People were walking across the turtles paths and of course, we get up in their rear end to watch them lay eggs. Cool, but embarrassing at the same time. And finally, alcohol!? The second night our tour guide picked us up for our tour with a beer in his hand. He drank it as he walked us to the waiting area. We didn't have the chance to really connect with anyone in town to ask if this was typical or just our guide, but it was very unprofessional and caught us off guard.

All in all, turtles are a must-see in Costa Rica, and I'm so glad we were able to do it. If you do your research, you might actually be able to volunteer with a nonprofit that works with turtles, or donate more money to their conservation. Dropping your money around town at different shops and supporting tiny B&Bs on the coast will also help support the turtle population that comes back to this mud-colored, sandy coast year after year.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 11:59 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged turtles costa_rica tortuguero conservation family_travel into_the_wild nesting_turtles Comments (0)

Zacatlán de las Manzanas, Puebla

A family outing

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to visit a new place in Mexico. Not a new museum or just driving through another state, but actually visiting a new place and getting out of the car and walking around. I had to specify, because with a one-year-old running around it is hard to even get out of the house and my husband might think that take-out from the new sushi place qualifies as "a new place."
So a few weeks ago we went to visit my in-laws and I gently but daily planted the seeds of the idea of going somewhere fun.
My sister-in-law picked Zacatlán de las Manzanas, a "pueblo mágico" or a "magic/al town," which is a designation given to many quaint places in Mexico based on certain characteristics, such as history, symbolic attributes, legends, or just a certain magic. (Read more here in Spanish: http://www.sectur.gob.mx/pueblos-magicos/)

Our first stop was the waterfalls, marked by a faded, rusty billboard depicting zip-liners flying through valleys. We went to the Tulimán waterfall off a gravel road that turns into a dirt road that turns into a freshly plowed series of switchbacks down into the heart of the ravine. The park costs 50 pesos per person and was much nicer in terms of facilities than anything I had ever seen at parks in Mexico. There are three levels, each one sporting clean, toilet-paper providing bathrooms, a snack hut and stand offering hot-off-the-comal quesadillas and other Mexican antojitos.

The first level takes you to two viewing platforms of the Tulimán waterfall. There is a short path heading down, and the place reminded me a lot of Monteverde, Costa Rica: high humidity, dense vegetation, the constant sound of water running somewhere. Bring your raincoat or a windbreaker because you're bound to get wet! The second, higher platform brings you right to the base of the waterfall where an abundance of waterfall spray soaks everyone trying to take their selfies. We were lucky enough to have "good" weather for Zacatlán- no fog and mild temps.


The second level is even cooler: a much longer and steeper path down to a hanging bridge over the river and awesome rock formations. There is also a hollow tree, which I didn't venture to see, and some mineral water baths you have to pay extra for (which were a strange color and nobody got in). The rope bridge swings enough to scare you, and everyone enjoyed clambering over the rocks. Strong gusts of wind blew up and down the river, emphasizing the precariousness of our perch on the crumbling rock face (as I struggled to hold on to a toddler!)


We didn't make it down to the third level, because by then everyone was hungry. So we all climbed back into the car and drove another 15-20 minutes into town. Zacatlán was nothing like I expected. The other pueblos mágicos I'd been to were tiny, quaint, cobblestone streets. The mists sliding inland from the mountains did give it an eerie, magical look to it, but the larger size of the town and the lack of hippies and street musicians gave it more of a big city feel. One thing everyone commented on was how clean everything was. No trash on the streets, no dog poop. At least not in the touristy downtown part. There were two prominent churches, one painted a yellow that reminded me of my favorite church in Lima, Peru, and plenty of pedestrian walkways.

Tourist guides from the information booth pointed us to La Parroquia, a restaurant not unlike La Maga in Cuernavaca. Just like my favorite restaurant, a narrow staircase leads up to a second floor crowded with wooden tables and smelling delicious. La Parroquia faces the side of the yellow church, and has tables out on balconies that overlook the busy street below. They have a buffet (like La Maga!) but for half the price (50 pesos). After running along rivers all day we had worked up quite an appetite. I'm sure the kitchen staff wasn't happy to see us go back for thirds (and in my husband and brother-in-law's case fifths and sixths). They had pancita, pasta, rice and veggies, hearty vegetable soup, salad, chicken in adobo sauce, etc., and for dessert, cookies, arroz con leche and applesauce. Buffets are perfect when traveling with a baby, because you never know what they might be in the mood to eat. Here I was able to pick and choose some healthy options that weren't full of spicy salsa, and the baby gulped down a full glass of agua de sabor.

After almost two hours of serious nomming, we rolled ourselves down the stairs to stroll around the town square a little more. There was a giant mosaic apple people were taking selfies by, a good-sized park for kids to play on, apple strudel-type pastries to munch, and oh- I forgot to mention- Zacatlán makes artisanal apple soda. We got a few bottles when we were at the waterfall. It's crisp and refreshing, kind of like my old Coca-cola favorite Manzana Lift. I wish I'd gotten some bottles to bring home, but the baby liked it too and even though it's "artisanal" I wasn't going to share it with her (or listen to her cry for it).

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Soon after we left the restaurant, however, a thick fog came rolling in. Like right out of Sleepy Hollow. I'd never seen fog come into a town like that, creep along the church stones and around vendors' wooden carts. It was time to go! A quick ride back in which everyone fell asleep but me and the driver, and I realized that we had gone to not one but TWO states! Puebla and Tlaxcala. I don't know about other expats living in Mexico, but I feel like I never get enough Mexican culture. Musings for another post. ¡Hasta pronto!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 13:09 Archived in Mexico Tagged family_travel alternative_travel travel_with_baby Comments (0)

Chicken Enchiladas in Creamy Spinach Sauce

We're spending the week with my Mexican in-laws, and I'm trying to soak up some Mexican culture and flavors while we're here. At home (still in Mexico) I cook mostly pasta and veggies, rice and veggies, meat and veggies, so it's nice to enjoy the flavors of Mexico that I am so lazy to prepare. My sister-in-law generously allowed me to share this recipe, repeating it five times for me to get it down right, and allowing me to document the process. Everyone had seconds, and my 14-month-old even wolfed down her own little plate.

a bunch or bag of spinach
3 TBS butter
1 TBS wheat flour (to thicken salsa)
1 can Carnation evaporated milk (250 ml)
3 small chicken breasts
10-15 tortillas
3 teeth of garlic
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1 cube of chicken bouillon
1-5 Serrano chilies (however spicy you want it to be!)
1/2 kilo of Oaxaca cheese (or any kind of stringy cheese)
Mexican cream
salt and pepper to taste

The easy part:
1. Boil chicken in a large pot with garlic, onion and a dash of salt. 2. Wash spinach well and boil or steam in a separate pot. 3. In a blender, add evaporated milk, chicken broth, a dash of black pepper, Serrano chilies, and, when ready, the spinach. 4. Blend until ingredients are mixed well and the spinach has become a runny paste. 5. Heat butter in frying pan, then add mixture from blender. 6. Slowly add wheat flour to thicken. 7. Heat until boiling, and then simmer on low for flavors to mix. 8. Once the chicken is boiled and has cooled, shred it.


The part that's up to you:
Now, when my husband makes enchiladas, he fries the tortillas first and then dips them in salsa. But my sister-in-law has two hungry little ones running around, so she skips that step. If your tortillas are warm or at least fresh, you can just put them in a shallow bowl or plate, add the chicken, roll or fold over the tortilla and top with spinach salsa, cheese and cream to taste.


Play with the measurements- you might want to make double the amount of salsa to have extra for later. It tastes yummy over rice or meat. Fill enchiladas with whatever mix you like- diced mushrooms, tomatoes and zucchini or rice and beans are also great combinations. ¡Provecho!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 12:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged waterfalls mountains beaches animals spanish south costa rica america backpacking community mexican_food olas convivio alternative_travel participatory_travel voluneering_in_mexico Comments (0)


Paradises visited so far

In high school I remember my mom listening to the song "Just Another Day in Paradise." It didn't matter where you were, as long as you were with the people you loved. It was a sweet song, that made me feel like even though I wasn't dating one of the Backstreet Boys (okay, I had really bad taste in music) or beating Venus Williams (my idol at the time) at Wimbledon, that my ordinary, boring life was still something special. But what is paradise, really?

Since we've been working on a short film called Paradise (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/694362253/paraiso), the topic has come up quite a bit in conversation. Some people prefer to visit paradise, stay a few days, and then return to their reality. Maybe their goal-oriented, work-hard mentality just won't let them be lazy and subsist on Coronas and coconut. Other people think that it's hell to actually live in paradise, because unless you are on vacation, you still have to work and clean while you watch everyone else being happy.

Although I still have quite a few paradises on my map of the world that I'd like to visit (Cuba, Brazil, Bora Bora, etc. etc.), here's a list of 5 places I've visited so far that I would call Paradise. It just so happens that they're all beaches, but one.


1) Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. PV comes in number 1 for several reasons. Mangoes, dreadlocks, flat roads for jungle bike riding, hammocks, big waves, chocolate, oh and SLOTHS! My favorite day in this sleepy, Afro-Caribbean town was when we woke up, got breakfast at Bread and Chocolate, and rented bikes to go explore some beaches. I hadn't been on a bike in years, and I felt like I was in a Hardy Boys book, about to discover some unknown territory listed as a side note in my Lonely Planet.


2) Siesta Key, Florida. Been going here since I was a child, but never really explored the town until I was in my 20s. This beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida is best before most snowbirds arrive. Rated the #1 beach in the US, the yards of fine white sand lead you to calm, turquoise waters that almost always promise you a dolphin or two. Town eats include Big Olaf's for ice cream and the Salty Dog for a beer and corn dog bites.


3) Puerto Escondido, México. One of those paradises that have become more popular since I last went there: now you can get cheap flights within Mexico to this surf town on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca. With an undertow to kill (SERIOUSLY) and fresh seafood to boot, this beach offers lazy days and thumping nights. Also, it's a great base camp to then explore more isolated beaches such as Mazunte and Zipolite.


4) Peñitas, México. Although these two beaches share the same coastline, Their vibe couldn't be more different. Peñitas, on the Pacific Coast of Guerrero, is more for families, although you still drink the same amount of beer to beat the heat. Here, we camped, lazed in hammocks, ate freshly caught seafood and ripe plantains, and then followed the heavily palm-treed coastline to watch the sunset. Football and yoga on the beach and bonfires at night.


5) Cuernavaca, México. This is where I've chosen to call home, along with a few hundred other expats. We wake up to green parrots squawking and birds chirping, it's appropriate to have a barbeque and drink a beer at lunch every afternoon, and we can enjoy a view of the smoking Popo volcano in a hazy pink-purple afternoon. Trees flower year round, and in every neighborhood you can smell the local comida corrida and piping hot tortillas fresh off the comal.


Yes, I know I'm painting a pretty picture for a place that is now one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. But as you actually get to know a paradise, you realize that each place has its dark side. It's up to the people who live there and the tourists who visit to make sure its a paradise for everyone. Where have you been that's paradise, and what makes it a paradise??

Check out our Kickstarter project, an exploration of the War on Drugs in Mexico and one couple's search for Paradise: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/694362253/paraiso

Posted by UnMejorHOY 09:03 Archived in Mexico Tagged waterfalls mountains beaches animals spanish south costa rica america backpacking community mexican_food olas convivio alternative_travel participatory_travel voluneering_in_mexico Comments (0)

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