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2013 and earlier

One and a half to Mexico

Susannah Strong, a former tour leader for Journey Latin America, rediscovers Mexico with her four-year-old daughter, Luz.

I first went to Mexico over 13 years ago backpacking with my best friend. Our goal was to climb every pyramid in the country.

The first day, half way up the pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacán, my friend was paralysed by vertigo. From that point on she sat coolly at the bottom of ancient monuments all over Mexico while I toiled up steep steps telling myself the views would be worth it at the top. And they were. That trip was to be the first of many, both through travelling independently and as a tour leader for Journey Latin America.

I have been plotting a trip to Mexico since my daughter was born four years ago. The only question was when and how to do it. I didn’t want to stay in one place - I love the journey itself - but I wanted Luz to enjoy it too. So I limited the stops and booked comfortable hotels.

We flew over and into Mexico City, this vast but somehow ‘local’ city of 20 million people. We stayed in the Hotel Majestic, right on the zócalo, the huge main square that is the heart of the city’s centro histórico.

We arrived in time for Mexican gay pride day (June 28). As the day wore on the Zócalo filled with stout Mexican men in pink stetsons, long blonde wigs, fairy wings and high heels, uniformed soldiers attempting to raise the Mexican flag and ‘Aztec’ dancers in feather headdresses. What a visual feast for a four-year-old with a passion for dressing up! I happily abandoned plans to look for playgrounds and museums to fill the day, instead buying pink balloons and joining the fray.

The next day we took the metro and bus to Teotihuacán. I felt a wave of nostalgia broken by a little voice - ‘come on mummy’ - and we were up and at the 248 steps of my old friend the Pyramid of the Sun. We climbed and rambled all day, before Luz fell asleep with her head resting on a vendor’s sack of rugs and shawls on the way back.

From Mexico City we took the five-hour bus trip northwest to Guanajuato. This gorgeous town was constructed by the Spanish on silver and gold rich hills laced with tunnels that are its main roads. Above ground the town is a maze of picturesque windy streets that criss cross and double back, head up hill and down, every bend revealing a tiled fountain, an ancient doorway or an old lady asleep in the sun. Perfect hide-and-seek terrain. In the evening the main Plaza del Jardín fills with locals, pottering, listening to the musicians who carry their huge guitars and double basses from square to square. No need  to plan entertainment here either...

We then travelled to San Miguel de Allende, a classic colonial town, an hour and a half down the road from Guanajuato. Just outside San Miguel are the balnearios or hot springs - warm mineral water swimming pools of all shapes and sizes including La Gruta, a cave lit by a shaft of sunlight. We spent a whole day splashing about here. Luz made friends with a vast family while I lay in the sun and read my first novel in four years.

We then left colonial Mexico behind and flew from Mexico City to Cancún in the Yucatán peninsula. We stayed at the Omni Puerto Aventuras, a small family resort 15 minutes outside Playa del Carmen and an hour south of Cancún on the Riviera Maya. I am not a resort fan at all - but faced with a hammock on the balcony, a Caribbean view, swimming pools, a marina, dolphins and manatees to watch I thought I could just about hack it. From now on trying to beat each other to the hammock was the only stress.

We took a minibus to Tulum, the only cliff top Mayan fortress. Tulum also has the added bonus of a beach with huge waves directly below it. As I watched Luz run in and out of the sea, waves chasing after her, the Mayan fortress above her, I thought of all my previous trips to Mexico, all the freedom I have had to go where-I-want, how-I-want in the past. None of them matched this moment. We’ll be back.

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