The first in a series of articles about how to travel to another country without leaving home.
More than 1.9 million Canadians visit Mexico annually. On a good year, I’m one of them. This is not one of those years. This is the year you Google “Can Canadians travel to Mexico during Covid-19?”. And then you don’t go.
Mexico was where I fell in love with travel. With the thrill of researching the best places to stay and the joy of adventuring off beaten paths, trying new food, practising a foreign language. One week in and around Cancun eventually led to a six-month cross-country backpacking adventure exploring archeological wonders of the world. I’ve gone back again and again.
If I had my way, right now I’d be lazing in a hammock drinking a Fresca toronja after a busy morning climbing pyramids. Hell, I’d even suffer through one of those 13-hour motion sickness-inducing bus rides up and around the mountains just to eat a real Oaxacan cheese sandwich and have a local kid hassle me to buy a handmade bracelet.
I have no idea when I’ll see it again. For months, I’ve watched in horror at the country’s Covid numbers — it currently “boasts” the fourth highest death toll in the world — all while North American tourists flock to party on its beaches. Whenever I grab my passport to travel again, it’s tough to imagine heading to a country that doesn’t require a negative Covid test to enter, or any quarantine, and is filled with throngs of people who think that’s awesome.
I decided I would bring Mexico to me.
So for one weekend this winter, I pretended that I was in Mexico instead of Toronto. I thought of the best things about Mexico that I could do at home and isolated myself with them. Here’s how I recommend you too can enjoy the flavours, sounds and culture of Mexico from the comfort and safety of your own home.
Listen to Mexican Radio online
Whenever I travel, I tune into local radio stations. They are the perfect way to immerse yourself in the vibe of a place, whether that’s retro easy listening of KWXY in Palm Springs or the classic Canadian rock of 104.1 The Dock in Ontario’s cottage country. So I started my “Weekend in Mexico” by dialling into a Mexico City radio station on-line. The rapidfire Spanish of the announcers, who deliver everything with Monster Truck / WWE level gusto — immediately transported me back. I used the app Radios Mexico but you also find several streaming here.
Stock up on Mexican Snacks
If I was truly going to pretend to be on vacation, I would need a lot of snacks. Lime and salt and chili flavoured snacks. Most big supermarkets carry some Mexican food products now, but Toronto is also fortunate to have many excellent Latin American grocery stores selling authentic foodstuffs. At Perolas Supermarket in Kensington Market I stocked up on a bunch of favourites — Sabritas peanuts, Abuelita hot chocolate, Jarritos soda and some staple spices and salsas. Across the street at Pancho’s Bakery I got my vacation diet started with some warm churros to go. (Both these places offer delivery so if you’re local, hit ‘em up.)
At home, I also made my own favourite Mexican frozen treat – chocobanano. Basically, you take a banana, cut it in half, shove a popsicle stick in the middle, dip it in melted chocolate then throw it into the freezer. Later, you have a dairy-free ice cream alternative. You can toss some nuts or candy sprinklers on there, too.
Make your own Tortillas
Sourdough is so 2020. For my “holiday” I treated myself to a tortilla press to make my own corn tortillas at home. They cost about $25 and up. It couldn’t be simpler. Maseca corn flour is available in most supermarkets now. Just add water, mix, roll into golf ball, flatten in your handy new tortilla press, heat in skillet. In minutes I had a fresh, warm corn tortillas. Here’s a good recipe/run-down.
Learn a new recipe from a Mexican chef
Now, no judgement if your Mexican weekend menu is brought to you by El Paso. I grew up having white people taco birthday parties with grated cheddar and I turned out fine.
But if you want to try authentic Mexican recipes (and don’t know any Spanish), I recommend Pati Jinich, the Mexico City-born host of the award-winning PBS cooking show Pati’s Mexican Table. Or the cookbook Tu Casa Mi Casa by Enrique Olvera, arguably Mexico’s most famous chef as seen on this inspiring episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
Order In (but skip the burrito)
And if you don’t want to cook at all? Yeah, I feel this. Which is why on Day 2 I ordered in for delivery instead, but went looking for food that I typically eat in Mexico, not here. In Toronto, Tortería San Cosme does classic torta sandwiches perfect for lunch. And I tracked down one of the only places offering chile relleno – cheese-stuffed poblano peppers – which is my go-to Mexican dinner splurge. Gracias, Mad Mexican!
If you’re thinking “wow, that’s a lot of food for two days.” Yes, yes it was! But it was all for the good cause of making me feel like I was on vacation, delighting in my favourite Mexican food flavours and rituals. And you know what? It really works! Although I may have needed to spend most of the weekend recovering on the couch, thankfully there’s plenty to watch.
Watch a Mexican horror movie
One of my favourite vampire movies is 1993’s Cronos, the first feature from Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro. It’s about alchemy, power and immortality, featuring the namesake Cronos device, an antiques dealer named Jesus Gris, and Ron Pearlman as the bad guy. So I was happy to revisit that on my pretend Mexican getaway. I followed that up with 7:19, a 2016 disaster film about a Mexico City earthquake in 1985 currently on Netflix that is definitely not for the claustrophobic and possibly not the best idea before bed!
Or a Mexican Comedy
There’s a lot of Mexican content on Netflix, you just need to search for it. Through browsing I discovered the Mexican version of Nailed It!, the baking competition show for people who can’t actually bake. I think I laughed more binging this than during the entire pandemic year. I also got to learn some new vocabulary about cooking but you honestly don’t need to understand a word of Spanish to enjoy this hilarious show.
Rock Out en Español
One of my best memories of Mexico City is wandering the El Chopo market – a hive of alternative culture filled with T-shirt vendors, used record shops, and anarchist punk zines. So I spent a cloudy afternoon searching for what the Mexican punks are up to these days. Landed on Los Cogelones, brothers from Nezahualcóyotl who play punk wearing traditional Aztec garments and singing in both Spanish and the indigenous Nahuatl language. Their 2020 record Hijos del Sol is noisy and urgent and helped me get some pandemic-induced aggro out. (Sorry, neighbours.)
For an extensive history of Latin rock ‘n’ roll, including how Mexican rock was shaped by the country’s politics, check out the documentary series Break It All on Netflix right now.
Visit Frida Khalo
There’s been a lot of talk since pandemic lockdowns started about virtual museums. It’s wonderful to see important collections digitized for the public to experience for free without travel, but they are not the same.
I checked out the virtual tour walkthrough of Frida Khalo’s Blue House museum, which I haven’t had the chance to visit before. Using Google’s Street View technology you can get a 360 view of the grounds and interior, which is somewhat interesting but lacks context.
A much better on-line art project is the Frida Khalo exhibit Appearances Can Be Deceiving. This collection of her clothing, like corsets, dresses and footwear, was rediscovered in 2004 after being locked away in 1954 after Khalo’s death. It has been touring the world (currently on display at the de Young in San Francisco) but you can really immerse yourself from home, scrolling the high resolution images and accompanying curatorial notes, plus a behind the scenes video interview in English. It’s more than just eye candy for fans of Frida or fashion. It’s a window into the culture of Mexico.
Embrace the Siesta
You don’t need a hammock to enjoy an afternoon nap. Vacations can sometimes feel like boot camp, racing from attraction to attraction. With a staycation, you can toss on the sound of ocean waves and drift off for as long as you need.
Here’s to dreaming of travels to come. And if you have a favourite Mexican recipe, record, or film to recommend I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.