Jennifer Pauline brought her story telling skills from Los Angeles to Mexico City, where she allowed the nation's fascinating cuisine, culture, and history to speak for itself. Read on as we experience the heart of Mexico with her.
My name is Jennifer Pauline, I'm currently based in Los Angeles, working in the creative industry as a community manager, storyteller and moderator. Travel for me is a form of escapism, you get a chance to be absent from the mind and fully present in a foreign space. I’m fueled by curiosity and discovery, so travel for me is the perfect opportunity to be inspired by something new. The first time got on a plane, I was 6 years old, and I haven’t stopped since.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
The gift of photography is truly the gift that keeps on giving. The ability to capture the right moment, at the right time, evokes the same feeling years later as it did when you took the picture. There’s something about pausing to take a picture that also allows you to savour the moment a bit more. You quickly realize, that moment will never happen again and you’d better enjoy it while it lasts.
How was this travel experience different from past trips you’ve taken? What surprised you most?
I was a solo traveler for most of my life but in the past two years I've found myself traveling more with friends. This trip brought me back to the solo travel experience and being introduced to a country I'd never visited was exhilarating. It reminded me of the reasons why I traveled alone before, there’s something about not having anyone else’s opinions or agenda to shape your trip. I often find myself traveling to Europe as I used to live in Paris, so going to a completely new territory was both frightening and exciting. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’d heard so many things about Mexico through stories both personal and public. To be completely honest, I had mild anxiety leading up to the trip. Would I get sick? Would I become the victim of some sort of crime? Would Zika come for me? This sounds completely silly in retrospect, but it was real. I would say my experience as a whole was a complete surprise because I had no idea how much I’d love it. In the end I couldn’t believe it took me so long to visit!
Please describe some of your experiences (did you have any transformative experiences? If yes, what were they? How did you interpret the local culture? Did you have any favorable/unfavorable culinary experiences?).
Visiting Mexico City I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d heard so many things about the city, from the drug cartel kidnappings to the bustling culinary scene. Thankfully I only experienced the latter. The rumours are true, Mexico City has the best cuisine. Now, I of course was afraid that I would also get violent stomach episodes (sadly I did) but that didn’t stop me from fully experiencing each meal. My culinary affair with Mexico City included jaunts with the rol de guyaba from Panadaria Rosetta, chilaquiles from Maque, ice cream from Yunik and much more I’m too ashamed to admit. I connect with cities through food, so it’s safe to say Mexico City and I are officially best friends. The architecture and parks in CDMX are also a part of my love story with this place. The day I arrived, my colleague and I walked to dinner through Parque Mexico and I was in awe of how green, lush and vibrant it was. Again, with limited time, I had to make the most of each moment. That being said, the time I spent in Ubers became a mini adventure, gazing out of the windows as the dilapidating buildings. There was something so captivating about structures that were barely standing but not torn down, beauty in strength is the best way to put it.
While you were in Mexico City for work, tell us about your time in Merida for some R and R.
I read about Merida only a month prior via Conde Nast Traveler, which crowned the city “Mexico’s most creative and affordable city”. Creativity and affordability? I was intrigued immediately. Through research I discovered a layered history of the city which was at one time the richest city in north America due to some local exports. Additionally, many creative ex-pats re-located to Merida to buy property that they could turn into a hotel. Sara and Neil who own the best hotel in Merida, The Diplomat, are just that. They came to Merida on a real-estate trip and found the location for their 4 room hotel aka my favorite place in the city. My experience at their dream retreat is comparable to nothing else. Together they have created a design oasis in the middle of a city that otherwise is not inclined to well designed spaces. With only 4 rooms on the property (in addition to their personal home) it made for the most peaceful getaway. I enjoyed exploring, but staying on property wasn’t a bad alternative. Being a sucker for discovery, I made it my mission to create an extremely local experience. I had mezcal at hole-in-the-wall cantina, La Negrita, oxtail at Apoala, watched couples salsa at Parque Santa Lucia, explored local retail shops (Color Amor is a must) and more. While Cenotes and Mayan ruins were only a mile away, I was in the city for 2 days and didn’t have enough time to explore outside the city.
What would you was the most gratifying about your experience? The most challenging?
The most gratifying part about this trip was the re-discovery of traveling solo. I was reminded of so many reasons why I used to do this in my early twenties and also got to re-connect with myself.
The most challenging part was not having enough time to explore, as well as really healthy food options. You’ll be hard pressed to find a green juice.
What recommendations do you have for future travelers interested in having a similar experience (places to see, things to do, foods to try, etc.)?
Mexico City: Luis Barragon architecture, Frida Kahla Museum, Maque for their Chilaquiles, Parque Mexico, Blanco Colima, Rosetta, Tea Connection
Try: Everything, especially besito de mezcal (with oranges and dried worm salt)
Merida: Stay at the Diplomat Hotel, eat at Apoala, drink at La Negrita, tacos at Wayan’e, shop at Color Pop, body scrub at Coque Coque
Try: Cochinita Pibil, Oxtail at Apoala
What would surprise most people about the region?
Nobody speaks English, brush up on your Spanglish before going or download an app for translation. I found myself conversing with someone via Spanglish and Google Translate on both of our phones before we each understood what the other was trying to say.
What is your favorite/funniest memory from a trip? Is there a particular travel moment you would relive given the opportunity?
The meal and experience at Blanco Colima was definitely one for the books that I would relive over and over again. I kid you not, my friend and I had a 5 course meal for $92. Not only was the food delicious (that’s an understatement) the service was impeccable, at one point I counted 3 servers at our table. Each dish was divine, starting with the strawberry infused cocktails; followed by grilled artichokes brushed with fresh olive oil to the apple-raddish-avocado-mango salad, the petit filet which included velvety truffle mashed potatoes and crisp veggies with a grand finale of fondant au chocolat a la berry sorbet. My mouth is watering just thinking about it and that was only meal #1. From the design to the service and the food, every morsel of the experience was savoured.
Can you tell us the story behind your favorite image from this trip?
The image of the older woman eating mangos on the street in Merida (see above) was a happy accident. I went for tacos at Wayan’e and they didn’t accept credit cards so I used my Spanglish to ask where an ATM was. They told me where to go and I thought I understood but I was completely wrong. I got way too adventurous and the map on my phone wasn’t working, so I made one too many lefts and one too many rights. I ended up in the middle of an extremely bustling local scene. I saw this woman on the street and she was just so happy, despite the fact that the humidity was unbearable. I remember noticing her and wanting to take a picture but a man was behind me so I couldn't stop. I turned around and walked past her again, with my phone in hand positioned to take a picture mid-chest because I didn’t want her to change positions if she saw me taking a photo. I wasn’t even looking at my phone, nor did I know if my finger was in the right place to take the photo. I kept walking, looked down and the perfect moment was captured, a moment of joy. Oh, and I realized I had walked 3 miles in 89 degree sub-tropical heat at this point. After taking the picture of the woman, I found a store with AC to catch my breath. I was still lost and still had no money, only to be taunted by a fridge full of ice cold water that I couldn't buy. After about 5 minutes, I trekked on and found an ATM, I shouted.
What’s next for you? Any final thoughts or advice?
In the Fall I’ll be back in Paris for Fashion Week, I’m also planning more adventures in cities where I’m least comfortable, before the year ends.
Images courtesy of Jennifer Pauline
To see more from Jennifer's travels, follow her on Instagram @jenniferpauline
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