MEXICO

Q&A With Mexico City Chef Rodrigo Carrasco

The talented man behind Bowie Cocina de Humo, Tirano and Kitchen6 explains his culinary vision and inspirations.

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco at Bowie

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco at Bowie

Wally and I had a delightful evening enjoying the smoky cuisine at Bowie in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood. It was a wonderful experience and made a lasting impression on us. So much so that I decided to reach out to its chef de cuisine, Rodrigo Carrasco. To my surprise, he kindly accommodated my request to answer some questions and share his story about the origins of his “Kitchen of Smoke,” why it was named after the British music icon David Bowie and what’s next on the horizon. –Duke

At our country house, we cooked on an open hearth. I saw the power of smoke and got the idea to open a restaurant cooking with smoke and coalfire in the coolest neighborhood in Mexico City.
— Chef Rodrigo Carrasco

bowiebar.JPG

READ OUR REVIEW OF BOWIE

Subtle smoke flavors, attentive service and a fun musical backdrop made Chef Carrasco’s Roma Norte restaurant our favorite dining experience in CDMX.


What inspired you to open Bowie?

At my family’s country house in Valle de Bravo, we cooked on an open hearth. I saw the power of smoke and got the idea to open a restaurant cooking with smoke and coalfire in the coolest neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world.

En la casa de campo en Valle de Bravo cocinando en una chimenea. Vi el poder del humo y dije háganos un restaurante de ahumado en leña y carbón. En la ciudad más grande del mundo en el barrio más cool.

A trip to Texas helped inspire Carrasco to perfect his barbecue methods.  Photo by Juan Carlos Valladolid

A trip to Texas helped inspire Carrasco to perfect his barbecue methods. Photo by Juan Carlos Valladolid

What’s your connection to David Bowie?

While traveling through Texas to learn about the various BBQ methods, I came across a county named Bowie, where the Bowie knife was created, and I’d been listening to the music of David Bowie. I didn’t need anything else to know that Bowie would be the name.

Bowie por qué estaba investigado en Texas el proceso del BBQ y llegue a un condado llamado Bowie, había un bowie knife y el playlist era de David Bowie. Dije no hay más bowie será su nombre.

When Carrasco’s not cooking seafood, he’s probably working with steak

When Carrasco’s not cooking seafood, he’s probably working with steak

Where’s the beef? Carrasco serves it up at his steakhouse, Tirano

Where’s the beef? Carrasco serves it up at his steakhouse, Tirano

Describe the aesthetic and mood of the restaurant.

It’s a contemporary Mexican space. Relaxed, but with elegant design touches, and a kitchen that’s visible from virtually anywhere within the restaurant. I love immersing diners in a theatrical experience.

Un espacio mexicano contemporáneo. Relajado pero con toques de diseño elegantes. La posibilidad de ver la cocina desde todo el lugar me encanta es involucrar a los comensales en una experiencia teatral también.

The chef’s recipes have been perfected over more than two decades of cooking

The chef’s recipes have been perfected over more than two decades of cooking

How did you determine the menu?

It’s a compilation of my best recipes after cooking for more than 20 years: European-inspired ingredients and techniques with a Mexican twist. Always with smoke as the foundation.

Es una compilación de mis mejores recetas luego de cocinar por más de 20 años. Siempre con el humo como fundamento e ingrediente y técnicas mexicanas y europeas.

The pulpo, or octopus, at Bowie is served up on the cutest little grill ever

The pulpo, or octopus, at Bowie is served up on the cutest little grill ever

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

Fish and seafood.

Los pescados y mariscos.

If Chef Carrasco cooks it, chances are it’ll be divine

If Chef Carrasco cooks it, chances are it’ll be divine

Where do you find your inspiration?

Music, nature, my Mexican heritage and to let the world know that there’s good cuisine and world-class restaurants in CDMX. That’s what inspires and motivates me.

La música, la naturaleza, mi cultura mexicana, hacerle saber al mundo que en CDMX hay buena cocina y restaurantes de buen nivel. Eso me inspira y me motiva.

How do you choose the music that plays at Bowie?

We have several playlists, I believe. I love music and am always tinkering with it, depending on the day, time and clientele.

For example, on Sundays we get families and grandparents who sing along to the classics of the ’60s. The young people also know these songs. But on Thursday nights we have an ultra hip clientele who prefer house, soul or something more progressive that allows them to dine, drink and enjoy the beat.

These are the basics with the music, and obviously there’s a lot of David Bowie on all the playlists.

Tenemos varios playlist que yo creo. Amo la música y siempre estoy renovando esa parte; la ponemos dependiendo del día, la hora y el target de cliente.

Por ejemplo, el domingo es muy familiar y hacemos que los abuelos canten los clásicos de los 60s y los jóvenes lo conocen, pero los jueves en la noche tenemos clientes ultra cool, que se sienten mejor con el house, el soul, y algo progresivo que les permita beber y disfrutar el beat.

Es así la mecánica con la música, obviamente hay mucha presencia de David en todas las playlist.

Carrasco garners some press

Carrasco garners some press

What’s next for you?

I’m the co-owner of two other concepts: Tirano, which is a Mexican steakhouse that’s also in Roma, and Kitchen6, a gastropub on Amsterdam in La Condesa that serves grilled food. In addition, our group is planning on opening a torteria sandwich shop later this year.

Si soy co propietario de otros dos conceptos. Tirano, que es un asador mexicano que reubicamos en la Roma también; y Kitchen6 un gastropub que está en Condesa en Amsterdam, que es cocina de grill. En el grupo, planeamos la apertura de una torteria este año de igual forma.

Bowie: One of the Best Restaurants in Mexico City

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco works his magic with a delicious smoke-themed menu at our favorite CDMX dinner spot.

The chic interior, fun playlists and attentive service helped make Bowie our best dining experience in CDMX

The chic interior, fun playlists and attentive service helped make Bowie our best dining experience in CDMX

Instead of a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, Wally and I decided to take a trip to Mexico City. If we were going to miss the traditional American meal, we wanted something equally delicious. So we took the suggestion of Magda, a manager at the Ignacia Guest House, where we were staying, and decided upon Bowie.

The restaurant is a stone's throw from Avenida Álvaro Obregón, the main thoroughfare in the hip Roma Norte neighborhood. Named after the memorable performer, Bowie is the creation of Mexican chef Rodrigo Carrasco.

Bowie straddles the line between restaurant and theater.

The dish arrived under a glass dome, concealed by a miniature cloud that hung motionless before vanishing in a wisp of woodsmoke.

This distinctive dining establishment is modern and fashionable, but not pretentious, and is devoted to using smoke as the foundation of all of its dishes — in fact, the words “Cocina de Humo” illuminate one of the walls. And you can’t miss the fantastic, custom-created portrait of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust made entirely from bottle caps.

Almost all of the dishes are smoked — but not overwhelmingly so

Almost all of the dishes are smoked — but not overwhelmingly so

The restaurant was already buzzing when we arrived, around 8ish. Diners can choose to order à la carte from the menu, but we decided to try the seven-course tasting menu and drink pairing. The first course of beet carpaccio arrived under a glass dome, concealed by a miniature cloud. It hung motionless in the air for a moment before vanishing in a wisp of woodsmoke once our server removed the lid with flair.

The visual appeal was matched by the deliciousness of the dish. The delicately flavored beets were topped with savory goat cheese offset by a surprising hit of brightly tart lemon dressing. A single bite — and boom! We had fallen in love with Bowie. We had never tasted anything like this, and it was just the beginning.

The dramatic reveal of the beet appetizer.  Photo by Jordana Btp

The dramatic reveal of the beet appetizer. Photo by Jordana Btp

Our first couple of courses were paired with an artisanal Mexican IPA. We don’t typically like American IPAs as they’re too hoppy, but this one tasted like a farmhouse ale — more our speed.

The following courses were served with Blanc de Pacs, an organic white wine from Penedès, Spain, and Bolero, a Mexican red blend from Valle de San Vicente in Baja California Sur.

Beyond the bar, you can peek into the kitchen at Bowie

Beyond the bar, you can peek into the kitchen at Bowie

Bowie straddles the line between restaurant and theater, and it quickly became clear that we were about to embark on a culinary adventure.

The pulpo came on an adorable tiny grill

The pulpo came on an adorable tiny grill

The truffled steak tartare was served in a vessel reminiscent of a glass mushroom. Filled with bite-size chunks of red meat and portobello mushrooms, it was like eating your way through an ethereal terrarium.

Another standout was the slow-cooked short ribs with a smoked pumpkin purée, dressed with a whiskey reduction sauce. It was smoky and sweet, and immensely satisfying.

The dessert, a riff on s’mores, arrived near the end of the tasting menu. Served it a small cast iron skillet, it was utterly delicious and topped with housemade marshmallows, layered with bananas, chocolate and a shortbread crust, toasted by our server with a handheld butane torch.

Duke and Wally absolutely loved their experience at Bowie

Duke and Wally absolutely loved their experience at Bowie

In short, this incredible meal set a high bar and made us feel like kids again — though our adult palettes delighted in the impressive sophistication of the dishes as well. A meal at Bowie is an experience we would be happy to have any day. –Duke

Grab a bite at Bowie — especially if you’re in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City

Grab a bite at Bowie — especially if you’re in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City

Bowie
Córdoba 113
Roma Norte
06700 Ciudad de México
CDMX, Mexico



Biblioteca Vasconcelos: A Futuristic Architectural Marvel

Architect Alberto Kalach’s amazing library in Mexico City contains bookshelves that hang from the ceiling, and a whale bone sculpture by artist Gabriel Orozco.

Off-the-beaten-path CDMX: la Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Off-the-beaten-path CDMX: la Biblioteca Vasconcelos

After a visit to the labyrinthine and often-claustrophobic Mercado de Sonora Witch’s Market, Duke and I took a short Uber ride to the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in the Colonia Buenavista neighborhood. Dedicated to José Vasconcelos, a Mexican writer, philosopher and politician, the library’s interior is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Story after story of metal and glass bookcases defy logic, floating above like a science fiction version of Hogwarts.
Wally and Duke in ecstasy: Who needs to go to church when you’ve got a library like this?

Wally and Duke in ecstasy: Who needs to go to church when you’ve got a library like this?

The interior is like stepping into an M.C. Escher drawing

The interior is like stepping into an M.C. Escher drawing

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

From the building’s exterior — a fortress of concrete and steel grillwork — you’d never imagine the airy futuristic interior within. However, getting into the hallowed repository of knowledge was a bit tricky. Initially, Duke and I saw the gaping maw of the parking garage and wondered if we had to enter there. We skirted around to the right of the building in an attempt to gain access. When we realized there wasn’t an entrance there either, we paused to ask a local who was walking his dog. He gestured to the left side of the library. We thanked him and made our way over to a courtyard with a couple of smaller buildings and the main entrance.

The exterior of the library isn’t too impressive — but just wait till you step inside!

The exterior of the library isn’t too impressive — but just wait till you step inside!

When we first stepped foot inside the 400,000-square-foot Biblioteca Vasconcelos, designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, we could barely contain our giddiness. We looked around in wonder, our necks craning in every direction.

The floating stacks are a novel way, pun intended, to display books

The floating stacks are a novel way, pun intended, to display books

Story after story of metal and glass bookcases defy logic, while simultaneously offering a sense of complete order, floating above like a science fiction version of Hogwarts. Thin steel beams seem barely able to support the monumental stacks filled with books. Hazy silhouettes of patrons can be glimpsed through translucent sea-green catwalks.

Greenish-blue semitranslucent walkways connect the stacks

Greenish-blue semitranslucent walkways connect the stacks

Seating areas seen from across the expanse

Seating areas seen from across the expanse

We felt as though we had entered a sacred space, one that evoked the same reverence of the organic space-age architecture of La Sagrada Família church in Barcelona, Spain.

The exhibit  Vientos de Japón  ( Winds of Japan)  by master calligrapher Ryuho Hamano was on display when we visited

The exhibit Vientos de Japón (Winds of Japan) by master calligrapher Ryuho Hamano was on display when we visited

Duke daring to lean against the thin wire railing

Duke daring to lean against the thin wire railing

Wally chose a more secure spot for his portrait

Wally chose a more secure spot for his portrait

Sunlight plays a major role at the Biblioteca Vasconcelos, filling the interior with natural light. Ingenious louvered glass panels soften the sun's rays and keep the library from getting too hot.

The far ends of the library offer expansive views of the city

The far ends of the library offer expansive views of the city

As we passed by the first floor patios, we saw teens practicing dance routines, mimicking the choreography seen in some pop star’s latest music video. Beyond them, we could see the sprawling botanic garden that surrounds the structure. During our stay in Mexico City, we saw chilangos of all ages, from teens to seniors, dancing in public spaces.

A botanic park surrounds the structure

A botanic park surrounds the structure

Whenever I got too close to the cable rails on the upper floors of the library, my head would spin with vertigo. It became clear that this was a library for the brave. God forbid I needed a book located at the end of one of these stacks.

Looking down at Gabriel Orozco’s hanging sculpture,  Mobile Matrix

Looking down at Gabriel Orozco’s hanging sculpture, Mobile Matrix

A Whale of a Time: Orozco’s Mobile Matrix

Hovering above the central atrium hall is the striking Mátrix Móvil (Mobile Matrix in English), an intricately inscribed gray whale skeleton fitted onto a metal armature. Conceptual artist Gabriel Orozco and his team used over 6,000 mechanical pencils to etch concentric circles onto the bones, which stretch over 38 feet long. I learned that the whale had died after beaching itself on the Baja Peninsula during a migratory trip along the Mexican Pacific coast. The art piece adds a museum-like quality to the space.

A peek at the whale bone sculpture

A peek at the whale bone sculpture

There’s a lot to see in Mexico City, but the Biblioteca Vasconcelos is worth adding to your itinerary. It’s quite close to CDMX’s historic Centro. And when you’re done exploring this modern marvel (and have taken copious amounts of photos), head past the Buenavista rail and bus station and cross the overpass that spans the bustling Avenida Insurgentes. A 10-minute walk straight down Calle Salvador Díaz Mirón will bring you to the colorful Kiosco Morisco in the nearby Santa María la Ribera neighborhood. –Wally

A forest of paper cylinders with Japanese kana characters on display at the entrance

A forest of paper cylinders with Japanese kana characters on display at the entrance

Duke poses in front of the art exhibit

Duke poses in front of the art exhibit

There are elevators for those who don’t want to walk up all those stairs

There are elevators for those who don’t want to walk up all those stairs

One of the rooms along the sides of the library was filled with women knitting a cool cactus

One of the rooms along the sides of the library was filled with women knitting a cool cactus

Peek-a-boo! Duke looks through one of the stacks near the edge of the railing

Peek-a-boo! Duke looks through one of the stacks near the edge of the railing

Biblioteca Vasconcelos
Mosqueta
Eje 1 Norte S/N
Buenavista
06350 Ciudad de México
CDMX, México

 

The Magnificent Parroquia San Juan Bautista

Don’t miss la Iglesia de Coyoacán, a striking example of Spanish colonial history and one of the oldest surviving houses of worship in Mexico City.

Add la Iglesia de Coyoacán to your itinerary when exploring this boho neighborhood

Add la Iglesia de Coyoacán to your itinerary when exploring this boho neighborhood

After lunch at Los Danzantes, Wally and I made our way from the leafy Jardín Centenario and crossed Calle Carrillo Puerto, the street that separates the adjacent Plaza Centenario and Plaza Hidalgo.

Presiding over the south side of the Plaza Hidalgo and directly in our line of vision was the Parroquia San Juan Bautista, known locally as la Iglesia de Coyoacán, the Catholic church and former mission dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The Spanish first introduced Christianity to the indigenous Nahuatl people in the early 16th century.



In front of the church entrance is a cobblestone square that originally extended into what is now Plaza Centenario. During the colonial period, the square was used to host religious one act dramatizations known as autos sacramentales. Rather than completely abandon old beliefs, the missionaries adopted a strategy to spread the new faith by incorporating indigenous ritual practices that had similarities to Christianity.

A four-story bell tower, which was added later, in the 18th century, stands to the west of the main church and was once topped by a dome, lantern and cross. Sadly, the dome collapsed during an earthquake in September 2017.

The church was built on the site of a school for Aztec nobles

The church was built on the site of a school for Aztec nobles

San Juan Bautista was built upon the site of a calmecac, a school for Aztec nobility, whose ruins still exist beneath the cloister.

The relatively plain façade is in the Herrerian style, named after Spanish architect and mathematician Juan de Herrera. This architectural style is characterized by clean geometric lines and is almost entirely absent of ornamentation, with the exception of grooved classical pilasters, columns of the Ionic order set into the face of the church. An inscription in Latin above the door translates to, “There is none other but a house of God, and this a gate of the heavens.”

The exterior is plain, but the interior is anything but, as this ornate altar attests

The exterior is plain, but the interior is anything but, as this ornate altar attests

Above in bas-relief, are the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans. The petals of the fleur-de-lis cross symbolize the 12 apostles. Another carving depicts a sort of monogram of the Virgin Mary — a crown with the intertwined letters A and M for Ave Maria.

Gorgeous archways and ceiling frescos adorn San Juan Bautista

Gorgeous archways and ceiling frescos adorn San Juan Bautista

Construction of the church happened in fits and starts, between 1527 and 1552, on land donated to conquistador Hernan Cortés by the native Ixtolinque chief, who was baptized into the Catholic faith under the name of Juan de Guzmán. Under the direction of the Dominican order, San Juan Bautista was built upon the site of a calmecac, a school for the sons of Aztec nobility, whose ruins still exist beneath the cloister. The original structure was designed as a basilica, with a simple rectangular floor plan used in temple architecture.

In 1934, the church was declared a historic monument by the government of the republic.

The sides of the church’s interior are gloriously gilded

The sides of the church’s interior are gloriously gilded

Going for Baroque

If you’re like Wally and me, you can’t go to a city without exploring a few churches, and the Parroquia San Juan Bautista did not disappoint. Stepping inside, we immediately noticed the exuberant interior, modified between 1926 and 1947 to reflect the prevailing Baroque style and reduced to a single nave flanked by seven small chapels on either side.

If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it

If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it

The ubiquitous Virgin of Guadalupe

The ubiquitous Virgin of Guadalupe

Among the most striking works are the illusion-inducing ceiling frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ by Catalan painter Juan de Fabregat. Angels perch high above the column capitals lining the walls and culminate in the magnificent Chapel of the Rosary, with its lavishly decorated high altar embellished with the glow of gold leaf.

The ceiling depicts scenes from the life of Jesus, including the Sermon on the Mount

The ceiling depicts scenes from the life of Jesus, including the Sermon on the Mount

It’s certainly worth popping into Coyoacán’s main church for a quick wander

It’s certainly worth popping into Coyoacán’s main church for a quick wander

An angel guards over the dome at the front of the church

An angel guards over the dome at the front of the church

We paused to admire the vitrine with (the admittedly creepy) el Cristo de los Milagros, Christ of the Miracles, with a mystical assemblage of gold and pewter milagros, healing charms, pinned to a sea of red ribbons. Milagros of a specific body part, such as a leg, are used in a prayer for the improvement for some condition associated with a leg, such as arthritis or a bad knee. Some of the milagros had photos of the person to be healed.

The creepy, life-size Cristo de los Milagros

The creepy, life-size Cristo de los Milagros

If you want to be healed of an ailment, leave a milagro of the proper body part and maybe a photo, then tie a red ribbon and pin it to the wall

If you want to be healed of an ailment, leave a milagro of the proper body part and maybe a photo, then tie a red ribbon and pin it to the wall

Oh, baby! One of the strange icons to offer devotions to at the Iglesia de Coyoacán

Oh, baby! One of the strange icons to offer devotions to at the Iglesia de Coyoacán

Other works were designed to appeal to the emotions of the faithful and feature biblical depictions of the lives of the saints of the Franciscan order, including the Vision of Saint Teresa, the taking of the habit of Santa Clara, and the stigmatizations of San Francisco, Saint Domingo and San Juan.

Expect an inundation of elaborate ornamentation

Expect an inundation of elaborate ornamentation

Converting the infidels

Converting the infidels

Gold-painted statuary and frills line the sides of the church

Gold-painted statuary and frills line the sides of the church

Corpse-like mannequins can seem a strange inclusion to a church

Corpse-like mannequins can seem a strange inclusion to a church

One of the niches on the right-hand side of the church

One of the niches on the right-hand side of the church

We passed through a doorway into a small chapel, where a small group of students was sketching. This led out to an arched arcade of Tuscan columns. This was the cloister of the convent, perhaps founded by Friar Juan de la Cruz, an indigenous man who spoke Castilian Spanish. Within the convent’s walls, Nahuatl people were baptized and taught the tenets of the Christian faith.

Out back you can explore the quiet cloisters

Out back you can explore the quiet cloisters

This might have been where indigenous people were baptized into the Catholic faith

This might have been where indigenous people were baptized into the Catholic faith

A group of students was sketching when we visited

A group of students was sketching when we visited

Like the neighborhood itself, the church is a destination full of rich culture. So if you should find yourself in Coyoacán, make sure to spend some time exploring the Parroquia San Juan Bautista. Like us, you’ll be glad you did. –Duke

La Iglesia de Coyoacán

La Iglesia de Coyoacán

Parroquia San Juan Bautista
Plaza Centenario 8
Villa Coyoacán
04000 Coyoacán
CDMX, Mexico

A Perfect Afternoon in Artsy Coyoacán

Follow our six-stop walking tour of Mexico City’s bohemian neighborhood, including Plaza Hidalgo and Los Danzantes restaurant.

After visiting Frida’s house, explore the boho hood of Coyoacán and purchase some traditional regional handicrafts at the artisanal market

After visiting Frida’s house, explore the boho hood of Coyoacán and purchase some traditional regional handicrafts at the artisanal market

There’s much to do in the charming neighborhood of Coyoacán beyond La Casa Azul, the lifelong home and studio of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The municipality’s name comes from Coyohuacan, Nahuatl for “the Place of Coyotes.” This colonia, or neighborhood, features meandering streets filled with well-preserved colonial buildings, delicious restaurants and handicraft markets waiting to be explored.

You’ll see balloon vendors all over CDMX

You’ll see balloon vendors all over CDMX

All you’ll need for a perfect afternoon in Coyoacán is a comfortable pair of shoes and a sense of adventure — the area is walkable, and all of the stops listed below can easily be explored by foot.

The Fuente de los Coyotes in Coyoacán

The Fuente de los Coyotes in Coyoacán

Make a Splash

Stop 1: Plaza Hidalgo

Your journey begins in the historic heart of Coyoacán, just a few blocks from La Casa Azul. On Avenida Francisco Sosa, you’ll find not one, but two public squares: Jardín Centenario, which memorializes the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, and the Plaza Hidalgo. Together they form a typical colonial town square, complete with benches for people-watching, gazebos for music and vendors selling balloons.

Near the entrance of Plaza Hidalgo, a street artist was selling woven palm-leaf crickets. We purchased a pair for 50 pesos each (about $2.50), and as the vendor was handing them to us, a woman seated on a nearby bench offered her advice by telling us to use hairspray to keep them green.

People push crickets on you everywhere you go in Mexico City. These palm ones are more appetizing than the ones in the croquettes we ate

People push crickets on you everywhere you go in Mexico City. These palm ones are more appetizing than the ones in the croquettes we ate

Here you’ll find a circular stone fountain known as the Fuente de los Coyotes, or Fountain of the Coyotes, the animals from whom the borough takes its name. The iconic landmark occupies the center of the plaza and features two bronze coyotes by sculptor Gabriel Ponzanelli. Numerous spouts located around the perimeter spray graceful arcs of water into the air over the playful pair.

Be sure to stop into the exquisite Iglesia de Coyoacán, the large cathedral, across the way.

Ignacio Allende Esquina Avenida Miguel Hidalgo

Grab a bite on the patio of Los Danzantes, just off the park, for good food and people-watching

Grab a bite on the patio of Los Danzantes, just off the park, for good food and people-watching

Let’s Dance

Stop 2: Los Danzantes

On the periphery of the square is Los Danzantes, the Dancers, a multi-story restaurant in a colonial-era building with panoramic views of the park. Wally’s coworker Juls lived in Mexico City, and this is one of her favorite restaurants. We were seated outside on the patio terrace, and similar to the cafés of Paris, it was a great place to watch the world go by and enjoy a leisurely meal. While we were there, a guitarist paused for a moment as he passed by, looking to see if there might be an interested party willing to pay him to play a song or two. The restaurant also has its own mezcal distillery and grows seasonal produce in garden plots called chinampas in Xochimilco.

The bar at Los Danzantes

The bar at Los Danzantes

We had ceviche, cricket croquetas and hoja santa (holy leaf), a local specialty stuffed with goat cheese

We had ceviche, cricket croquetas and hoja santa (holy leaf), a local specialty stuffed with goat cheese

Mezcal and a mariachi are all it takes to make Duke happy

Mezcal and a mariachi are all it takes to make Duke happy

Plaza Jardín Centenario 12

Look for these yellow arches across from the Jardín Centenario to enter the handicraft market

Look for these yellow arches across from the Jardín Centenario to enter the handicraft market

Get Crafty

Stop 3: Mercado Artesanal Mexicano

After lunch, visit the Mexican Craft Market and walk beneath garlands of fluttering papel picado, colorful cut-tissue paper bunting. The two-story market has dozens of craft stalls featuring a wide variety of traditional Mexican handicrafts and regional specialties from all over the country, all in one place.

You’ll spot the coyotes for which the colonia is named all over the place

You’ll spot the coyotes for which the colonia is named all over the place

Colorful skulls on offer at the craft market

Colorful skulls on offer at the craft market

We headed upstairs first, but it seemed to be endless stalls of tattoo artists and not many handicrafts. The first floor, though, was more our speed. Wally and are were especially drawn to the colorful Oaxacan alebrijes, traditional folk art depicting fantastical creatures embellished with brilliant patterns and colors. (We have a thing for the surreal.) Each small wooden totem is carved by hand, often using nothing more than a simple pocket knife. We brought home a strange little skeleton, a green and orange insect and a black cactus with a bright pink flower and hummingbird on top of it.

When I purchased an unusual-looking doll made from a bulbous gourd with coarsely braided rope pigtails, two tiny breasts and coconut shell limbs (200 pesos, or $10), Wally replied, “You like things that look old, are a little bit cuckoo and are unlike anything we’ve seen elsewhere.” He knows me so well.

Stalls often sell the same crafts at different prices, so shop around — but don’t expect to bargain for a lower price.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto 25


coyoacanchurchaisle.jpg

BONUS STOP!

Pop into la Iglesia de Coyoacán (aka Parroquia San Juan Bautista) across the square.

The façade looks plain, but the inside is awash in gilded niches, sweeping arches and hand-painted ceiling frescos, with a peaceful cloister around back.

If that hasn’t convinced you, you can hunt down the creepy life-size mannequins of Christ and a dead baby!


Grab a coffee and snack at Panadería Pública

Grab a coffee and snack at Panadería Pública

Take a Coffee Break

Stop 4: Panadería Pública

If shopping has worn you out, we recommend stopping for a delicious pastry paired with a great cup of coffee at the Panadería Pública for an afternoon pick-me-up. There’s an array of options here, including traditional conchas, campesinos and orejas, as well as French baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat to name a few. I ordered a café con leche and Wally got his latte con leche light. We also purchased a pastelito de guayaba, a puff pastry similar in size and shape to a turnover, filled with cream cheese and guava paste. Stop to chat with the friendly staff.

Higuerra 22
La Concepción

The marigold yellow façade of La Conchita has seen better days but still has charm

The marigold yellow façade of La Conchita has seen better days but still has charm

Goin’ to the Chapel

Stop 5: Plaza de la Conchita

A short stroll southeast is the leafy Plaza de la Conchita in the colonia La Concepción, a quiet sanctuary that feels worlds away from the crowds of tourists visiting La Casa Azul just a few miles away. The small square contains a pale yellow, timeworn and weather-beaten beauty of the 16th century, the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque-style, chapel known as La Conchita. One of the oldest in Mexico, it’s said that the conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered the church to be built on top of a Toltec altar soon after he settled in Coyoacán. The village was used as the base for the conquistadors after they conquered the Aztec Empire.

The church is designed in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style

The church is designed in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style

Duke sits on the steps around back

Duke sits on the steps around back

Unfortunately, the chapel was closed, so we couldn’t venture inside, but the building itself is a charming example of colonial architecture.

The fellas love to take jumping shots

The fellas love to take jumping shots

Golden hour made the church walls glow

Golden hour made the church walls glow

Fernández Leal
La Concepción

Teenagers practice salsa moves at the end of a striking, geometrical arbor

Teenagers practice salsa moves at the end of a striking, geometrical arbor

Park It

Stop 6: Frida Kahlo Park

Just steps from the Plaza de la Conchita is Frida Kahlo Park. Here you’ll find a menagerie of topiary animals at the entrance and a fountain with a bronze sculpture of a nude woman with her legs drawn up, also by Ponzanelli. A group of teenagers was practicing salsa routines under an arbor of bougainvilleas.

Like the coyote fountain in Plaza Hidalgo, this woman was sculpted by Ponzanelli

Like the coyote fountain in Plaza Hidalgo, this woman was sculpted by Ponzanelli

Wally loves Frida

Wally loves Frida

Is Diego jealous of Duke’s attention to Frida?

Is Diego jealous of Duke’s attention to Frida?

The park is a bit small in scale, but it’s worth stopping by to take a photo with the larger-than-life figures of Frida and Diego and to see the brightly colored mural by Dan Silva aka Polvoe, across the way on Tepalcatitla street.

The mascots of Coyoacán, as depicted by street artist Polvoe

The mascots of Coyoacán, as depicted by street artist Polvoe

A colorful mural across from Frida Kahlo Park caught our eye

A colorful mural across from Frida Kahlo Park caught our eye

Fernández Leal and Avenida Pacifico
La Concepción


Coyoacán was easily one of our favorite places we visited in CDMX. You can see why this enchanting and storied part of the city has attracted artists and intellectuals over the years. –Duke

 

The Island of the Dead Dolls – La Isla de las Muñecas

How to visit this haunted Mexico City tourist attraction on the Xochimilco canals, and the tragic ghost story of a little girl’s spirit and the strange offerings to appease her.

Rent one of the colorfully painted canal boats on Xochimilco and make a stop at this strange attraction

Rent one of the colorfully painted canal boats on Xochimilco and make a stop at this strange attraction

She was just lying there on the sidewalk, scuffed up and abandoned, behind the massive Uptown Theatre. We knew we had to save her. So Duke and I picked up the dirty baby doll and took her home.

We knew that our sad little toy had a larger destiny: She’d become an offering to the ghost said to inhabit the Island of the Dead Dolls, or la Isla de las Muñecas, on our trip to Mexico City.

Everywhere you look, dolls fill your vision, like a nightmare come to life.

Most have been stripped of their clothing. Dirt and black mold cover their naked lifeless bodies, as if they’ve contracted some sinister plague.
Can’t you totally imagine this guy coming to life?!

Can’t you totally imagine this guy coming to life?!

Dolls lay damaged on the ground, like casualties of some horrific catastrophe

Dolls lay damaged on the ground, like casualties of some horrific catastrophe

These dolls have been nailed to a tree, creating a macabre tableau

These dolls have been nailed to a tree, creating a macabre tableau

The Legend of the Island of the Dead Dolls

Along the canals of Xochimilco (pronounced So-chee-meel-ko), a young girl drowned under mysterious circumstances. One day a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera left his wife and child, and moved into a tiny cabin on one of the small islands between the canals of Xochimilco to live out his life as a hermit.

Shortly thereafter, he made a gruesome discovery that would haunt him for the rest of his life: He found a girl floating face-down in the water. But, try as he might, he was unable to revive her.

Not long after, he saw a doll bobbing along nearby. He fished it out and tied it to a tree as a way of showing respect to the spirit of the drowned girl.

Off with her head!

Off with her head!

A fence with various offerings. Note Captain Sandro in the background

A fence with various offerings. Note Captain Sandro in the background

It didn’t work, though. The girl’s ghost haunted Julián. In an effort to appease this restless wraith, he continued to hang more and more dolls, now joined by mangy stuffed animals, plastic dinosaurs, action figures and even a likeness of Santa Claus. The offerings hang from branches, wires and fences, while others have been cruelly nailed right into tree trunks. A couple lay face-down in the dirt, as if they perished mid-crawl, trying to escape the horrors of la Isla de las Muñecas. Over time, the entire island became a bizarre shrine dedicated to this lost soul.

Fifty years later, in 2001, Julián drowned — in the exact spot where he had found the little girl’s body. Was it an accident? Did he commit suicide? Or did the little girl’s ghost finally claim her victim?

Dolls of all shapes and sizes hang in offering to the restless spirit

Dolls of all shapes and sizes hang in offering to the restless spirit

Ghost Hunters

The Island of the Dead Dolls is just the type of creepy, quirky destination that appeals to our warped sensibilities. We knew that we wanted to take a boat out on the Xochimilco canals, but once we saw pictures of the dolls loosely dangling from branches on la Isla de las Muñecas, that became my number-one priority.

Duke’s only pretending to be scared — he loved the Island of the Dead Dolls

Duke’s only pretending to be scared — he loved the Island of the Dead Dolls

Locals say that the dolls have lured them to the island. They swear they’ve seen the chubby limbs of the dolls move on their own, that the heads, with their dead, unseeing eyes, will turn slowly toward you. They even say that they’ve heard the dolls whisper to each other, momentarily possessed by the spirit of the doomed little girl. It’s easy to imagine the dolls coming to life at night and causing mischief.

I placed our doll on the steering wheel of a toy car. Looks like she’s in good company

I placed our doll on the steering wheel of a toy car. Looks like she’s in good company

Our Offering to the Ghost

While we were on the canals, I had a one-track mind: I wanted to make sure we’d get to see the Island of the Dead Dolls. Our boat captain, Sandro, consented and took us to the haunted isle. I grabbed the doll we had brought and scrambled off the boat onto the small jut of land.

No Pasar means Do Not Enter. As if!

No Pasar means Do Not Enter. As if!

Purposefully ignoring the “No Pasar” sign, we walked past a life-size doll that might or might not be Pee-wee Herman, its neck bent at a sickenly unnatural angle, as if it had been snapped. He hangs there at the base of the path, like a gruesome warning of the dangers ahead.

Is that Pee-wee Herman (with a snapped neck), greeting you to this creepy island?

Is that Pee-wee Herman (with a snapped neck), greeting you to this creepy island?

Everywhere you look, dolls fill your vision, like a nightmare come to life. Most have been stripped of their clothing. Dirt and black mold cover their naked lifeless bodies, as if they’ve contracted some sinister plague.

Disgustingly dirty dolls dangle from branches and wires all over the small isle

Disgustingly dirty dolls dangle from branches and wires all over the small isle

The island is steep and narrow, and we had to be careful not to lose our footing and topple into the canal. Duke and I wandered around, snapping photo after photo while our boat captain got stoned in a nearby field. It’s such a bizarre setting — you can’t really imagine it until you experience it firsthand. Dolls are creepy enough on their own. But they’re downright terrifying when you see a bunch of them, deformed, dirty, missing hair, limbs or heads after being exposed to the elements for decades.

How many dolls does it take to appease a little girl’s ghost?!

How many dolls does it take to appease a little girl’s ghost?!

A doll hangs, missing its head, its skin a grayish hue from years of sun and rain. Another’s eye has popped out. One has been defaced, with an arcane symbol scrawled upon its forehead and a dark smudge over one of its unblinking eyes.

We wouldn’t be surprised if this dolly was used in Satanic rituals

We wouldn’t be surprised if this dolly was used in Satanic rituals

Underneath a bower constructed of wood and dried leaves, I found a large red toy car with a giant dead-eyed, bloated Holly Hobby type doll behind the wheel. I decided this would be the new home for our dolly. I placed her on top of the steering wheel and offered her as a companion to appease the girl’s ghost.

Say hi to “la negrita en el carro” from Chicago when you visit the island

Say hi to “la negrita en el carro” from Chicago when you visit the island

Out front of the island, a couple offered quesadillas for sale. We got the impression that they stationed themselves there every day to catch the tourists. The man called out something to our driver, who in turn translated the query: Did we leave a doll on the island?

My first instinct was to lie, not sure that adding to the collection was encouraged. But I found myself saying, “Si.” I was relieved when this response delighted everybody. The questions came in a frenzy: Where’s the doll we left? Where are we from? Are we sure we didn’t want more quesadillas?

After I pointed out our offering, Captain Sandro exclaimed, “Es la negrita en el carro.” (“It’s the little black girl in the car.”)

He informed us that there are only two foreign dolls on the island: one from Argentina, and now ours, from Chicago. Duke and I beamed at each other. We hope we’ve become part of the legend of the Island of the Dead Dolls.

This man and his wife sell snacks by la Isla de las Muñecas

This man and his wife sell snacks by la Isla de las Muñecas

Wally thinks he saw a ghost!

Wally thinks he saw a ghost!

How to Get to la Isla de las Muñecas

There is apparently more than one of these creepy islands. We were told the original island is about a four-hour round trip if you leave from Embarcadero Cuemanco or Embarcadero Fernando Celada.

Be careful of the plants — and one-eyed dollies!

Be careful of the plants — and one-eyed dollies!

Luckily, there’s another version of the island that’s much closer if you hire a boat at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas. Be sure to mention the island before you make a commitment to a particular captain.

And consider bringing a doll to help keep the spirit of the little girl at peace. –Wally

Dolls are creepy enough on their own. But they’re downright terrifying when you see a bunch of them, deformed, dirty, missing hair, limbs or heads after being exposed to the elements for decades.
Don’t pass by the Island of the Dead Dolls — if creepy attractions are your thing!

Don’t pass by the Island of the Dead Dolls — if creepy attractions are your thing!

Island of the Dead Dolls
La Isla de la Muñecas
Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco
16036 Mexico City, CDMX
Mexico

6 Reasons to Visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo

The legacy of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo remains alive in this hacienda that’s as pretty as a peacock — which, incidentally, is overrun by them.

The Museo Dolores Olmedo hacienda is as pretty as the peacocks that roam its grounds

The Museo Dolores Olmedo hacienda is as pretty as the peacocks that roam its grounds

I had read that Mexico City is sprawling, but you don’t truly begin to understand this until you’re actually there. And although Uber is a cheap mode of transportation, our advice for exploring CDMX and its many sights is to plan your days according to mayoralities, or municipalities. Since Xochimilco was the farthest destination on our itinerary, we put a day aside to experience the canals and visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo located nearby.

Peacocks strut about the lawn, perch on branches and sit in rows like sentinels on the hacienda’s rooftop.

We were fortunate enough to see a few of the males fan their shimmering iridescent plumage in the hopes of getting lucky.
The original structure dates back to the 1500s

The original structure dates back to the 1500s

Often overlooked by tourists, the estate was once owned by philanthropist and self-made businesswoman Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Known as Lola to her friends, Olmedo purchased the 16th century colonial hacienda in 1962 and resided there until her death in 2002. It’s worth noting that the five-building complex contains the largest private collection of works by Diego Rivera.

A statue of Doña Lola, patroness of the arts, with one of her beloved Xolo dogs

A statue of Doña Lola, patroness of the arts, with one of her beloved Xolo dogs

Olmedo met Rivera when she was 17 and he was in his 40s, when she accompanied her mother, a school teacher, to the Ministry of Education, where Rivera was working on murals in the building. Rivera asked Olmedo’s mother to be allowed to make some drawings of Dolores.

Olmedo amassed the largest private collection of Rivera’s works

Olmedo amassed the largest private collection of Rivera’s works

“My mother gave her permission without knowing I would pose nude. I never told her about it. It was like magic watching how such beautiful shapes came forth from his tiny hands and how, without lifting the pencil from the paper, he could draw such long, smooth lines. The time went by without my noticing it while I posed.” –Dolores Olmedo

That was how the unique lifelong friendship was born. Under the guidance of Rivera, Olmedo amassed a vast collection, which she donated to the people of Mexico.

Here are six reasons to add the Museo Dolores Olmedo to your Mexico City itinerary:

Don’t miss the Frida gallery at the museum — we walked past it at first and had to convince a guard to reluctantly allow us to backtrack

Don’t miss the Frida gallery at the museum — we walked past it at first and had to convince a guard to reluctantly allow us to backtrack

The Colonial kitchen is covered with hand-painted Talavera tile from Puebla, with a swallow bird motif, and was preserved from the 16th century hacienda

The Colonial kitchen is covered with hand-painted Talavera tile from Puebla, with a swallow bird motif, and was preserved from the 16th century hacienda

1. The setting itself is worth the entrance fee.

Formerly known as Hacienda La Noria, which translates to the Water Wheel Estate, the grounds are as impressive as the villa. There’s a variety of fowl, including ducks, geese and peacocks. Lots of peacocks. Peacocks strutting about the lawn. Peacocks perched on the branches of trees — who knew they could fly? Even peacocks sitting in rows like sentinels from the hacienda’s rooftop. We were fortunate enough to see a few of the males fan their shimmering iridescent plumage in the hopes of getting lucky.

The estate is surrounded by spacious gardens with a variety of native plants and flowers: dahlias, bougainvillea and colossal blue agaves. Fun fact: The potent liquor can only be categorized as tequila if it has been produced from the piña, the heart of this varietal.

Giant blue agaves

Giant blue agaves

This is where tequila comes from!

This is where tequila comes from!

2. There are some strange-looking dogs known as Xolos or Mexican hairless.

Close to the hacienda is a spacious pen, home to several bald, wrinkled, dark-skinned canines. Commonly known as the Mexican hairless, the Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo, are descendants of a pre-Columbian breed of hairless dogs. Their name comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and is a combination of two words: “Xolotl,” the name of the Aztec god of lightning and death, and “itzcuintli,” meaning dog. According to Aztec belief, the breed was created by Xolotl to protect the living and guide the souls of the deceased through the dangers of Mictlán, the underworld of Aztec mythology.

Doña Lola was fond of Xolo, or Mexican hairless dogs. Dante, the pup from  Coco , is one of this breed

Doña Lola was fond of Xolo, or Mexican hairless dogs. Dante, the pup from Coco, is one of this breed

Looks like someone gave this dog a bone (IYKWIM)

Looks like someone gave this dog a bone (IYKWIM)

Dogs carved from volcanic rock adorn the house

Dogs carved from volcanic rock adorn the house

Believe it or not, the so-ugly-they’re-cute canines were a delicacy enjoyed by the Spanish conquistadors, who ate them to the brink of extinction.

Although the breed is revered for its loyalty and intelligence, we don’t recommend dangling your toddler over their pen, as we witnessed a family do while we were there.

Wally sitting on a bench in the style of Frida Kahlo’s painting  The Bus , her recollection of the moment before her tragic accident (that’s Frida to the far right)

Wally sitting on a bench in the style of Frida Kahlo’s painting The Bus, her recollection of the moment before her tragic accident (that’s Frida to the far right)

3. You can check out some of Frida’s artwork.

Part of the allure of the museum was to see the surrealist works of Frida Kahlo. In a separate room, located off the interior arcade of the hacienda, were several small-format works by the prominently browed artist. In life, Doña Lola had little regard for Kahlo as an artist, but purchased 25 of Kahlo’s paintings shortly after her death at Rivera’s insistence to ensure his wife’s work remained in Mexico under one roof.

One of Frida’s native Tehuana dresses looms large from a glass case in the corner.

It should be noted that Frida’s works are frequently traveling. Two of Frida’s most famous works, La Columna Rota and Self Portrait With Monkey, were absent on our visit.

The postcard-sized works we saw are suffused with symbolism. She frequently depicted suffering and loss, using her broken body in her art, having suffered from childhood polio at the age of 6, which left her a semi-invalid, exacerbated by an accident when she was 18, when a trolley car collided with the bus she was on.

Keep an eye out for peacocks in the trees!

Keep an eye out for peacocks in the trees!

A large bust of Diego sits in the gardens

A large bust of Diego sits in the gardens

4. The museum houses the largest collection of Diego Rivera’s art in the world.

Displayed within the cavernous rooms of the main house is a gallery displaying pieces from different periods of Rivera’s work. Arranged in chronological order, the collection starts with early works, including post-Impressionist and Cubist style paintings.

Not to be mean, but we can understand why Rivera called himself Rana-Sapo, or Frog-Toad

Not to be mean, but we can understand why Rivera called himself Rana-Sapo, or Frog-Toad

Cover the kiddies’ eyes! This is a portrait of the dancer Maudelle Bass Weston

Cover the kiddies’ eyes! This is a portrait of the dancer Maudelle Bass Weston


Diego’s  Portrait of Dolores Olmedo (La Tehuana),  1955

Diego’s Portrait of Dolores Olmedo (La Tehuana), 1955

El Picador , a painting of a seated Spanish bullfighter, shows the influence of Diego’s time in Spain under the tutelage of one of Madrid’s leading portrait painters, Eduardo Chicharro

El Picador, a painting of a seated Spanish bullfighter, shows the influence of Diego’s time in Spain under the tutelage of one of Madrid’s leading portrait painters, Eduardo Chicharro

A guard told us we weren’t able to take photos here — until she spotted the sticker that signified we had paid extra for this privilege. We’re not sure if the same rule would have applied with the Frida collection.

If you pay a little extra, you can take pics of the artwork

If you pay a little extra, you can take pics of the artwork

Portrait of Pita Amor , 1957, the year Rivera died

Portrait of Pita Amor, 1957, the year Rivera died

In the Outskirts of Toledo (The Old Men)  reflects the influence of El Greco, whose work Rivera studied while living in Spain

In the Outskirts of Toledo (The Old Men) reflects the influence of El Greco, whose work Rivera studied while living in Spain

Prized pieces from Olmedo’s pre-Columbian collection are distributed among the museum’s rooms — a result of her relationship with Rivera, whose passion for these artifacts is as legendary as the man himself. An entire wall holds effigies known as Colima dogs, depictions of Xolos in terracotta, an essential accessory found buried in ancient tombs throughout Northwestern Mexico. As mentioned, these totems were used to protect and guide the deceased’s spirit through the dangers of Mictlán, the Realm of the Fleshless, or to continue to serve their owners in the afterlife.

Olmedo’s collection of pre-Columbian Colima dogs, which were buried with the dead to guide them on their journey in the afterlife

Olmedo’s collection of pre-Columbian Colima dogs, which were buried with the dead to guide them on their journey in the afterlife

In a room that was once the hacienda’s chapel are preliminary concept sketches for murals that illustrate the extensive planning required for these large-scale works. A mobile fresco, Frozen Assets, which Rivera did for MoMA, the New York Museum of Modern Art, in 1931, which was his commentary on capitalism and its inequality. The skyline is composed of NYC skyscrapers, the Daily News Building, Bank of Manhattan Building, Rockefeller Building and Chrysler Building among them. A steel and glass structure filled with scores of sleeping men, or possible corpses, (the “assets”) are watched by a guard. Beneath it all is a bank vault with a man seated on a bench, waiting to examine his earnings.

Rivera was a fervent collector of ancient Mexican artifacts

Rivera was a fervent collector of ancient Mexican artifacts

Frozen Assets  by Rivera, 1931

Frozen Assets by Rivera, 1931

The final gallery contains a series of sunsets painted from the balcony of Olmedo’s house in Acapulco, which reminded us of Claude Monet’s Impressionist study of haystacks.

Adam and Eve are depicted on this massive Tree of Life, a common theme reflected in traditional Mexican folk art

Adam and Eve are depicted on this massive Tree of Life, a common theme reflected in traditional Mexican folk art

5. You can take a tour of Mexico at the Museo de Arte Popular, or Folk Art Museum.

The gallery that houses this collection is named for the curator Fernando Gamboa. Filled with artifacts acquired by Olmedo from Mexico’s diverse regions, the folk art collection is touted as one of the most important in the world. In the 1920s, when Mexico’s roots were mostly rural, the popular arts and crafts movement became widespread, and was part of the new definition of national identity. On view are masterworks in glass, ceramic, papier-mâché, wood and tin, folk techniques passed down through generations by village craftspeople.

An ofrenda to Rivera concludes  The World of the Dead  exhibit

An ofrenda to Rivera concludes The World of the Dead exhibit

6. End your visit with whimsical ofrendas from various historical epochs.

The Day of the Dead is a popular festival for families to remember and celebrate departed ancestors, and Doña Lola was known for her elaborate ofrendas, “offerings” dedicated to the deceased. Olmedo explored new ways to incorporate the traditional with the world of contemporary art. The theme at this portion of the museum, near the entrance and gift shop, varies from year to year, and on our visit was El Mundo de Los Muertos, The World of the Dead. The exhibit takes you on a journey through the funerary legacy of civilizations throughout history: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Nordic and Mayan, complete with a priest performing a human sacrifice atop a temple.

We found ourselves comfortably spending about two and a half hours at the Museo Dolores Olmedo, delighted by the peacocks, the grounds, folk art and, of course, the works of Mexico’s most famous artist couple.

Duke enjoying the gorgeous setting of the Olmedo estate

Duke enjoying the gorgeous setting of the Olmedo estate

Cost for admission is about $5, with a small additional fee for photography. The museum is free on Tuesdays, though it’s certainly worth 5 bucks not to deal with the extra crowds. –Duke

Stop by the Museo Dolores Olmedo after a morning along the Xochimilco canals

Stop by the Museo Dolores Olmedo after a morning along the Xochimilco canals

Museo Dolores Olmedo
Avenida México 5843
La Noria
16030 Ciudad de México
CDMX
Mexico

The Creepy Witch’s Market at Mercado Sonora

Head to the back left corner to enter a world of magic potions, Santeria, brujeria, voodoo dolls and Santa Muerte.

When you start seeing skeletons, you’ll know you’ve found the witch’s market

When you start seeing skeletons, you’ll know you’ve found the witch’s market

Ever since Duke and I stumbled upon a witch’s market in a corner of the souk in Marrakech, Morocco, we’ve been addicted.

What’s a witch’s market, you ask? It’s sort of like a farmer’s market — only with a lot less local produce and more skulls and potions. Filled as they are with often disturbing items, witchcraft markets appeal to our warped sensibilities.

Our Uber dropped us off at the sprawling Mercado Sonora in Mexico City in front of a line of yellow awnings. At first we wondered if we would even be able to find the section that contained the witch’s market. Stall after stall stretched out before us, filled with brightly colored, super-sized stuffed animals like those you hope your honey will win for you at a carnival. Some stalls had lights swirling like a discotheque and housed banners and other decorations that screamed, “¡Feliz Cumpliaños!” Women sat under large cutouts of Disney princesses, Mickey Mouse and superheroes. Piñatas hung from the ceiling. Men tried to tempt us with rows of technicolor candies.

The back right corner of the Sonora Market has live animals in cages

The back right corner of the Sonora Market has live animals in cages

As we wandered toward the far right-hand corner of the massive market, we started noticing a disturbing trend: This was where live animals were sold. We witnessed a young boy dump a cardboard box of full of puppies onto the floor and hastily put them into a cage near crates packed with birds, lizards, cats, rabbits and goats.

I stopped to take a picture of a cage full of mangy-looking puppies, but a man wagged his finger at me, saying, “No fotos” in a stern voice.

“I’m not surprised,” Duke mumbled. “He doesn’t want documentation of how inhumane this is.”

It really was quite depressing. So we were relieved when, as we moved to the left, still at the back of the market, we noticed a life-size skeleton wearing a wedding dress, a string of pearls around its neck and a tiara atop its skull.

We knew we were in the right place. We had found the witch’s market.

The Catholic church isn’t fond of Santa Muerte and has called her worship blasphemous

The Catholic church isn’t fond of Santa Muerte and has called her worship blasphemous

Santa Muerte and Santería

The figure we happened upon is Santa Muerte, the goddess of death, a popular figure in Mexico. The stall took up a corner space, more of a small boutique. We looked around, seeing strings of beads, skeletons carved from bone (Duke still regrets not having bought one), candles in glass containers and a stone head with cowry shells for its eyes and mouth. I called Duke over. This last item was just the type of unexpected and slightly disturbing thing that he would love. We of course purchased it, for 100 pesos, or $5.

By the way, at markets in Mexico City, unlike those in Southeast Asia or Morocco, for instance, you’re not expected to bargain. The prices are set, but that’s OK, as you’ll find that most of them are quite reasonable.

The man who ran the stall was friendly, and grabbed a pen and paper when I asked him to write down what the head is called.

“Elegua,” he scribbled. I later found out he’s the god of beginnings and endings in Santería. He’s a bit of a trickster, which explains why I was so drawn to him.

Stalls filled with Catholic icons are side by side with ones selling Santería and brujeria totems

Stalls filled with Catholic icons are side by side with ones selling Santería and brujeria totems

We made our way through the labyrinth of stalls, surprised that they didn’t connect in any sort of logical manner. You would wind through a narrow space and then find yourself at a dead end, having to backtrack. The market was pretty crowded when we were there on a Sunday morning — “These are all the naughty people who should be in church,” I told Duke — and there was still a bit of jostling in the corridors as people stopped to look at goods or tried to pass by. Every now and then, a vendor would appear, carrying a stack of large boxes, and you’d have to press yourself against the wall to let them pass. It wasn’t long before Duke was feeling claustrophobic.

But I wasn’t done exploring this weird and wonderful market.

You can buy a baby Jesus in all sizes and skin colors

You can buy a baby Jesus in all sizes and skin colors

Brujeria Meets Catholicism

What’s strange about brujeria, or Mexican witchcraft, is that it exists alongside Catholic beliefs. Whereas the mere whiff of something witchy prompts Christians in the United States to scream, “Satan,” Mexicans are much more sanguine. In the heart of the witch’s market, you’ll find statues of saints and baby Jesus dolls, Virgins of Guadalupe and crucifixes galore right next to the scythe-wielding Santa Muerte, looking like the Grim Reaper’s soulmate.

Santería and similar religions started amongst descendants of African slaves in the Caribbean

Santería and similar religions started amongst descendants of African slaves in the Caribbean

Mexican Catholics don’t see any problem with mixing the worship of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with magic potions

Mexican Catholics don’t see any problem with mixing the worship of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with magic potions

As we wandered down a narrow corridor, something caught my attention: what was obviously a Barbie doll, entirely covered in red ribbon with a few nails stuck into it. The vendor told me it was a voodoo doll, but an expensive one, he said, apologetically. You see, it cost 100 pesos, or a whopping $5. He showed me a package of smaller, cheaply made dolls, pointing out how much more affordable they were. But I had to have the other one, of course.

You’ll see quite a few of these creepy but artistic dolls hanging in stalls. They’re representations of Santería deities

You’ll see quite a few of these creepy but artistic dolls hanging in stalls. They’re representations of Santería deities

Here’s Lucero Mundo, god of the crossroads and bestower of spiritual power

Here’s Lucero Mundo, god of the crossroads and bestower of spiritual power

At stalls in the witchcraft market, creepy dolls hung on the wall, some with their eyes and mouths sewn shut. One that immediately appealed to me had its face painted half red, half black. Sage smoke from a burning smudge stick filled the dark corridor, making me a little lightheaded. The vendor appeared intimidating — an intense young man with long hair, numerous piercings, tattoos down his arms and triangular studs in his earlobes. But he turned out to be friendly and wrote down the name of the god represented by the red-and-blacked-faced doll: Lucero Mundo, or Star of the World. He’s a deity from Palo, a Santería-like religion that originated in Cuba amongst descendants from the Congo. A god of the crossroads, Lucero witnesses everything, and without his consent, no spiritual power will flow.

Whether you want money or love, there’s a potion you can buy in the witch’s market

Whether you want money or love, there’s a potion you can buy in the witch’s market

Potions and Notions

Brightly colored bottles and boxes promised the solution to any problem. Got a crush? Spray some Ven a Mi (Come to Me). Want a successful small business? Spritz some Llama Cliente (Call Customers).

I’m not sure if you’re supposed to drink these potions, but I wouldn’t put those toxic-looking, neon-colored bottles to my lips no matter how desperate I was.

Head to the back left corner of the Mercado Sonora to find the witch’s market

Head to the back left corner of the Mercado Sonora to find the witch’s market

“I was thinking there’d be more desiccated animals,” Duke sighed. These are the types of things that disappoint us. But then, as if he had conjured it by sheer willpower, we almost walked right into some sort of flayed ball of fur, which looked more like a cross between roadkill and beef jerky. It was hardly recognizable as having once been a small animal. We have a taxidermied squirrel climbing our wall, a dried-out bat in our living room and a desiccated chameleon inside our glass-topped coffee table. But this macabre monstrosity was too much, even for us. –Wally

Nacimientos, or nativity scenes, galore

Nacimientos, or nativity scenes, galore

Mercado Sonora and the Witch’s Market
Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419
Merced Balbuena
15810 Ciudad de México, CDMX
Mexico

The Colorful History of the Kiosko Morisco in CDMX

Take a step back in time and visit this Mexico City hidden gem, a relic from a world exposition.

The Moroccan Pavilion is a fun place to spend part of an afternoon wandering Mexico City

The Moroccan Pavilion is a fun place to spend part of an afternoon wandering Mexico City

After visiting the futuristic Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Wally and I made our way over to the neighborhood of Santa María la Ribera in search of the 19th century Kiosco Morisco, the Moroccan Pavilion.

It’s an unusual sight for Mexico City — something you’d imagine seeing in the South of Spain. Moorish in style, the octagonal edifice is supported by slender columns crowned by a dome of glass and iron in the center with a bronze eagle devouring a snake on top, the symbol of Mexico. An elaborate relic from the long-forgotten World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition held in New Orleans in 1884, the Neo-Mudéjar landmark can be found at the intersection of Dr. Atl and Salvador Díaz Mirón, in the center of the Alameda de Santa María de la Ribera park.

The Kiosko Marisco earned the nickname the “Mexican Alhambra Palace,” as stylistically it incorporated elements that reflected the palace in Granada, Spain.
Wally can’t say no to fresh fruit sprinkled with chili powder

Wally can’t say no to fresh fruit sprinkled with chili powder

Since we were both a bit hungry when we arrived, Wally ordered diced watermelon, topped with chili and lime served out of a large plastic tumbler from one of the park vendors. He had been hoping for mango, but the friendly woman running the cart told him it was out of season.

A drawing of the Kiosko Morisco when it was part of the world expo in New Orleans

A drawing of the Kiosko Morisco when it was part of the world expo in New Orleans

From New Orleans to CDMX

The kiosk was conceived by architect and engineer José Ramón Ibarrola, and made its first appearance as a part of a large-scale exhibit representing Mexico on the word stage. Ibarrola had spent several years studying metallurgy in the United States, where he became friends with Andrew Carnegie. When it came time for the structure to be manufactured, it was agreed that it would be forged at Carnegie’s Union Mills Steel Foundry in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, and then shipped to Louisiana for the exposition.

The style is Mudéjar, a mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture

The style is Mudéjar, a mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture

The pavilion is the centerpiece of Santa María la Ribera Park

The pavilion is the centerpiece of Santa María la Ribera Park

Duke in the kiosk

Duke in the kiosk

Wally hanging on one of the columns

Wally hanging on one of the columns

Comprised of several Mudéjar-style arches and slender columns, the attraction was a hit and was originally known simply as the Octagonal Building. However, it soon earned the nickname the “Mexican Alhambra Palace,” as stylistically it incorporated elements that reflected the Nasrid dynasty palace in Granada, Spain.

Tropical foliage framed by the pavilion’s arch

Tropical foliage framed by the pavilion’s arch

The kiosk served as the mining pavilion at the expo and contained large glass vitrines used to display precious stones and minerals. Visitors could only see them by circulating around the center, where the apex of an elevated pyramid culminated in a large onyx stone.

In an excerpt from La Memoria de la Exposición de New Orleans, Eduardo Emilio Zárate was quoted as saying:

The building, generally known as “The Mexican Alhambra,” is extremely popular. It is a beautiful miniature that imitates the historical palace of Granada well. Here are to be found the countless beautiful samples of the rich and almost inexhaustible mineral wealth of the country of Moctezuma.

After the expo closed, the structure was dismantled and shipped to Mexico City, where it was rebuilt in the grand Parque Alameda Central in the Centro Histórico. While there, it briefly served as the location where locals came to witness the announcements of the winners of the National Lottery draws. In 1910 it was dismantled once again and relocated to its third and current location. (President Porfirio Diaz ordered the Neoclassical Juárez Hemicycle monument to be built on the site where the kiosk formerly stood.)

During transport, it lost the stained glass windows that enclosed the bays, transforming the kiosk from an enclosed space to the open pavilion seen today.

In 1972 the National Institute of Anthropology declared the pavilion a historical monument, and it underwent restoration in 2003. It’s fitting that the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Geology Museum, containing cabinets filled with fossils and minerals, is located nearby, given the kiosk’s past history.

Atop the dome, an eagle attacks a snake — Mexico’s national symbol

Atop the dome, an eagle attacks a snake — Mexico’s national symbol

Be sure to look up

Be sure to look up

Bright colors, pretty patterns and perfect symmetry add up to a visually pleasing attraction

Bright colors, pretty patterns and perfect symmetry add up to a visually pleasing attraction

A girl scoots past a cornhusk wreath seller

A girl scoots past a cornhusk wreath seller

Inside the kiosk we sat for a moment and simply enjoyed people-watching. A young couple and their choreographer caught our attention as they practiced their salsa routine. Outside the pavilion, local seniors also danced to salsa music, pausing only briefly after each song ended. While we waited for our Uber (you should Uber everywhere — it’s dirt cheap and safe), we watched a quaint vignette play out before us: A young girl on her bright pink scooter paused in front of a man selling handmade wreaths woven from cornhusks.

The colonia of Santa María la Ribera was designated a Barrio Mágico (a “Magical Neighborhood”) in 2011, and after visiting the enchanting Kiosko Morisco, you could easily spend an afternoon wandering the pedestrian-friendly area, enjoying its nostalgic feel and low-key vibe. And if you get hungry, maybe grab a beef stroganoff-filled empanada at Kolobok, a restaurant serving Russian fare on the corner of Dr. Atl. –Duke

The pavilion has been moved around but has found a home in Santa María la Ribera

The pavilion has been moved around but has found a home in Santa María la Ribera

Kiosco Morisco
Calle Salvador Díaz Mirón S/N
Sta María la Ribera
06400 Ciudad de México, CDMX
Mexico



Ignacia Guest House: A Colonia Roma Gem in Mexico City

Looking for Mexico City hotels? Book one of the color-themed suites at this charming and chic boutique hotel in one of CDMX’s safest neighborhoods.

The back courtyard of Ignacia, with its cactus garden and fountain, lies between the old house and the new suites

The back courtyard of Ignacia, with its cactus garden and fountain, lies between the old house and the new suites

In Chicago it had begun to feel a lot like winter and we’d already experienced our first snowfall. So the opportunity for Wally and I to temporarily escape the cold weather for sunshine and 70-degree temperatures in Mexico City (aka CDMX) was just what the doctor ordered.

The staff serves up a different cocktail each evening at this al fresco bar

The staff serves up a different cocktail each evening at this al fresco bar

The Ignacia Guest House

The first thing I do when planning a trip is secure lodging. In my research, I had discovered a couple of charming neighborhoods, or colonias — one of which was Colonia Roma.

This charming tree-lined neighborhood, filled with a mix of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture, is the setting for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest movie, the critical darling Roma. Located on Jalapa Street, one of these historic gems is the Ignacia Guest House, which was our home away from home for five nights. The stylish boutique hotel takes its name from its former beloved housekeeper Ignacia, who lived and worked at the house for more than 70 years.

This woodcut, off the check-in area, shows the beloved housekeeper-cook-nanny Ignacia as a young woman

This woodcut, off the check-in area, shows the beloved housekeeper-cook-nanny Ignacia as a young woman

And here’s the other woodcut of Ignacia, as an older woman. Note the signature cows below

And here’s the other woodcut of Ignacia, as an older woman. Note the signature cows below

Inside the former estate, the palette is restrained to pale pink-colored walls, which truly allows the custom furnishings, lighting and artisanal objects chosen by interior designer Andrés Gutiérrez to shine.

The front sitting room at the hotel

The front sitting room at the hotel

A variety of magazines and other publications are available

A variety of magazines and other publications are available

(Make sure to check out the super-chic bathroom with its oxblood channel tufted wall panels and illuminated vanity mirror located next to the reception desk — you’ll thank me later.)

On every trip I become obsessed with a particular item, and in this case it happened to be the burnished terra cotta vacas, or cows, that could be seen atop the console table beneath a woodcut image of Ignacia in the main house and on the countertop of the patio bar. Romina Argüelles, one of the guest house managers, told us that the artisans who make these only create one or two per year. Needless to say, there’s quite a waiting list.

Across from the breakfast seating area is the small library

Across from the breakfast seating area is the small library

Elements of the historic mansion, which dates to around 1913, have been lovingly preserved and restored, including the window frames, doors, wood floors, ornate plasterwork and pressed tin moldings. That’s thanks to Fermín Espinosa, architect and cofounder of Factor Eficiencia, a Mexico City-based design and construction firm. While the common rooms have been repurposed, the largest and most luxurious suite, Negra, is the only one located in the former mansion and is connected to the additional rooms by an enclosed steel and glass corridor.

This glass corridor leads from the original house to the new modern wing

This glass corridor leads from the original house to the new modern wing

Between the two structures is an intimate central courtyard patio containing cacti typical of Oaxaca, with ivy-covered walls and a rectilinear steel-clad fountain gently gurgling in the middle. The garden also contains a pair of majestic orange trees planted by Ignacia herself after she began working at the house in 1929.

Looking down upon the courtyard patio

Looking down upon the courtyard patio

Wally and Duke, mimicking a shot they had seen of a gay couple taking wedding photos the day before

Wally and Duke, mimicking a shot they had seen of a gay couple taking wedding photos the day before

The view from our room’s door. You can see Ignacia’s orange trees to either side, along with the balcony of the Negra suite

The view from our room’s door. You can see Ignacia’s orange trees to either side, along with the balcony of the Negra suite

The modern two-story addition stands just beyond the original home and is a geometric combination of glass and steel where the other four monochromatic suites, Rosa, Amarilla, Azul and Verde, are found. The palette was inspired by Ignacia’s memories of growing up in the town of Guerrero.

Breakfast is made daily from scratch in the kitchen, the recipes culled from Ignacia’s extensive repertoire. Each breakfast comes with freshly squeezed orange juice, a choice of coffee or espresso drink, seasonal fruit with muesli, yogurt and honey, and a basket filled with buttery puff-pastry orejas — as well as a main dish. One nice touch: They remembered how we liked our coffee the following morning, and every morning thereafter, bringing me a café americano and Wally his latte with leche light, the local colloquialism for reduced fat milk.

Where breakfast is served each morning

Where breakfast is served each morning

The curlicue pastries they call orejas, or “ears,” a main dish (this one with cecina, rehydrated salted dried beef) and coffee

The curlicue pastries they call orejas, or “ears,” a main dish (this one with cecina, rehydrated salted dried beef) and coffee

Another delicious breakfast from Ignacia’s recipe book

Another delicious breakfast from Ignacia’s recipe book

After our first breakfast, the delightful Romina checked in with us to see how our flight was and gave us a quick tour of the guest house, pointing out the two woodcut portraits of Ignacia by the artist Pau Masiques and commissioned by the property’s co-owner Gina Lozado. One depicts the Ignacia at the age of 16, the other at 87. “She was the heart of the home,” Romina told us. As she finished the tour, she let us know that cocktail hour is held between 5-7 p.m. “Maybe we’ll have some local snacks,” she said with a grin. I had a sneaking suspicion of what that might mean.

The Azul room

The Azul room

Azul Like It

We stayed in the Azul suite located off the central courtyard to the left. Our room included a screen print of the Castillo de Chapultepec by graphic designer Miguel Alpulche and maple flooring with inlaid dark walnut arrows that led us to guess, correctly, that it was reclaimed from bowling alley lanes!

There’s plenty of storage in the rooms, including this dresser

There’s plenty of storage in the rooms, including this dresser

A Nespresso machine sat atop the dresser and we were told that the television is set up with Netflix, a nice feature we didn’t bother to use. There’s artesian bottled water from Casa del Agua adorned with line drawings of whimsical steampunk contraptions (never drink the local water, and use bottled water even when brushing your teeth!), and natural bath products by CDMX brand Loredana inside the bathroom, which is covered floor to ceiling in Carrara marble.

When we visited in November, the weather was in the 70s, so we spent a lot of time in the courtyard

When we visited in November, the weather was in the 70s, so we spent a lot of time in the courtyard

Courtyard Cocktails and Our First Crickets

The courtyard patio was also where we returned in the evening to enjoy cocktails and snacks at the bar. Our first evening, the cocktail was a refreshing combination of freshly squeezed fruit juice, mezcal and an ancho chile liqueur rimmed with sal de gusano, pulverized maguey worms with chili powder, and garnished with a sprig of mint, which reminded me of the rebujitos Wally and I enjoyed in Seville during Feria.

We struck up a conversation with Magda Navarrete, another one of Ignacia’s managers, who asked if we’d be interested in trying a local snack. I perhaps too eagerly agreed. When she returned from the kitchen, she had a small ramekin filled with crispy, salted chalupines, or crickets. She was so endearing, we figured what the hell, we might as well try it.

I popped the cricket into my mouth. “Respect!” Magda called out. Wally, meanwhile, grimaced as he swallowed his chalupine. “It’s not bad — except when you feel the little legs catching on your throat,” he said.

If you’d prefer to embark on a hands-on culinary adventure, you can take a cooking class and spend the day with chefs Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz at Casa Jacaranda, located in the same building as the Ignacia.

Duke and Wally imitating Ignacia’s pose

Duke and Wally imitating Ignacia’s pose

With so much to see, it was impossible for us to fit everything on our original itinerary into one trip. Wally and I are already dreaming of our next visit to CDMX and staying in one of the suites at 208 Jalapa Street. And while the spirit of Ignacia may have lent the property its character, it was the incredible staff that made our experience memorable. –Duke

A chic and friendly option in one of the safest neighborhoods in Mexico City

A chic and friendly option in one of the safest neighborhoods in Mexico City

Ignacia Guest House
Jalapa 208
Roma Norte
06700 Ciudad de México
CDMX
México