The World Nomads Podcast: Mexico

In America and staying close to home during COVID-19? Revisit this episode and salivate over the tastes and ingredients of authentic Mexican food, go road trippin' with a local taxi driver and find out how to avoid jungle diarrhea.


Photo © Guanajuato Mexico Getty Images/ ferrantraite

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World Nomads Podcast: Mexico

With COVID-19 still affecting the way we engage with the world, it’s important to plan wisely and travel responsibly, both for your own safety and that of the places you visit. But as we reengage with the world you're likely planning vacations not far from home. World Nomads can help by providing travel safety tips, inspiring content, and travel insurance designed to protect you while traveling.

What’s in the Episode

00:12 Welcome

01:07 GM Chris Noble

06:35 “You can’t live and die an Apple, you can’t live and die a Red Bull but you can live and die a World Nomad.” – Chris Noble

07:48 Talking safety in Mexico

13:30 Ruben’s secret spot in Mexico (drum roll please!)

14:43 Group tours for people who don’t do group tours

16:36 Hitchhiking in Mexico

18:35 A bad case of jungle diarrhea

21:46 The taxi driver

23:40 Travel news

26:36 Tales of a backpacker

32:33 Kayaking Loreto Bay

38:25 Mexican food with travel and food journalist Kendall Hill

44:57 Can’t get enough of Mexico?

45:43 Next week

Who is in the Episode

Chris Noble is the former General Manager of World Nomads. Chris’ favorite travel quote is “There are only four ways to get unraveled; One is to sleep and the other is travel" - Jim Morrison. 

Kendall Hill is an Australian journalist specializing in travel, food, and people. A former travel editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, he is also the author of the best-selling recipe book Coast and a contributor to Gourmet Pilgrim’s Spain and Mexico volumes.

Follow him on Instagram at @misterkendallhill and read his article on Mexican food here.

Claire Sturzaker runs a blog Tales of a Backpacker and has published her own backpacking guide to Mexico. She has a bunch of other articles about Mexico & Mexico City too, including the best things to do and the Mexican guide to Lucha Libre.

Tim Neville is a correspondent at Outside and frequent contributor to The New York Times, Tim has scaled glaciers, scuba dived, and cycled hundreds of miles to report his stories. His work has been reproduced in The Best American Sports Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and Best Food Writing. Read his article on Kayaking in Baja’s Loreto Bay.

Cassandra Brooklyn runs EscapingNY offering group tours for people who don’t do group tours and helps solo travelers plan their own adventures. Read more about Cassandra's dose of diarrhea in Mexico.

Ruben Mora from Mundo Joven, an educational travel agency aimed at all types of travelers, especially first-timers, who are guided step by step in their process to go abroad to study.

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Resources & Links

Download our Mexico guide here. It’s designed to feel like a magazine, with big, bold images and full-page spreads. Grab a cup of tea, open it up, and read it cover to cover.

Top 10 safety concerns for travelers to Mexico.

Listen to our episode with Claire and Tenny, who walked the entire length of the US/Mexico border.

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

You can get in touch with us by emailing


Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast, it's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim Napier: Yes! Mariachi music, Phil. The sound of Mexico. We couldn't do it without that, the destination we're featuring in this episode of the World Nomads podcast. And it celebrates the launch of the World Nomads Mexico Guide.

Phil Sylvester: From lounging or partying on its beautiful beaches to exploring ancient Mayan ruins, Mexico's definitely an alluring destination, and it is also hugely popular. Outside the Caribbean, it's the second-most popular destination for Americans to visit, you know.

Kim Napier: Yep! Cool art, top-notch food, the music, sand, sun, sea, mariachi bands, what's not to love? We'll explore the Sea of Cortez in this episode, known as the Aquarium of the World, the cuisine, and a dose of jungle diarrhea, which is not a great segue.

For our first chat, with our boss about the guide.

Phil Sylvester: Yeah, indeed Kim, our Mexico guide. And look, we've actually done a bit of a change in direction with these. We've got ... This is our 22nd or 23rd travel guide that World Nomads has published. But we've taken a bit of a new direction because of the ... We're trying to do something a little bit different with World Nomads. I know people love what we do. We're trying to do it better. But I thought we'd find out about why we're trying to do all this and exactly what we're trying to do by speaking to our boss, General Manager Chris Noble. G'day!

Chris Noble: Hello, Phil. Hello, Kim.

Kim Napier: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This is, I was gonna say popping your cherry. This is your first time joining us.

Chris Noble: I have complained that for several months that my dulcet tones have yet to be recorded. So I'm very glad that finally, I get a chance to chat with you guys.

Phil Sylvester: Just talk to us, alright? Because we've had a bit of a change in direction. So now, we're all ... This new guide and it looks fantastic and it reads beautifully. Because we've switched to the first-person. We're talking ... We've got people who are good travel writers and they're explaining a destination through their own experiences. But just tell me why we're doing that. What's the philosophy behind that?

Chris Noble: Yeah, look. I think it's been one of those things over the years that both as a traveler ... And I think that's the thing about World Nomads, that we are, we are world nomads and pretty much everything I think we've produced over the years has been done through the lens of ... And does it help us? Does it support us individually as travelers as well?

And I think for many years when you look at ... And there's some fantastic travel writing out there and some wonderful publications. And they give you fantastic tips and hints on where to go and what to see. And I think from my perspective ... And I dunno, maybe it's just me getting older, but I generally get moved by understanding what a travel writer felt when they were in a place. What motivated them? What were the experiences they had and how did they reflect upon them?

And it's always been that type of writing that I've loved. And I know a lot of us within the business have loved as well. So yes, you can get those great tips, this is where you need to go and what you need to do. And I think that there's certainly an element of that woven into it.

But I was really keen, and our team was very keen to understand what did that person feel at the time? Why was it such an amazing experience? What did they get from it? What did it mean to them as an individual? Because I think as travelers, we all have completely different motivations when we make a decision to travel to a place. And it's not always just about being able to stand in front of something and pull a selfie-and go, "I was here." For a lot of us, I think it's ... We're seeking something. We're looking to understand a place and understand ourselves at the same time.

So I thought this ... And the team thought this should be a better opportunity to try and explore some of those themes and see whether we could get under the skin of a place through that individual, through that writer. And really understand what do they feel when they were going through it. And that's something that I can connect with, something that I'm searching for.

Kim Napier: Picked a great destination to do it with. Mexico, where nomads go.

Chris Noble: Yeah, I think there are probably few countries in the world that are possibly as misunderstood as Mexico is. It's copped a lot of bad press over the years. But it really is an amazing place and it's an amazing destination. I think one of the other things that are key to the approach that we're trying to take is ... I know personally for me, very much the way in which the way that I travel now has changed in that seek out those people on the ground. I seek out local people to really give me a better understanding and a better sense of what's going on and not just take that third-person view of a place that you sort of wander into and you get a perception.

But really I think we all... those fantastic trips, those trips that you have that you remember that stick with you for years, are generally around those experiences that you've shared. Now whether that's with someone, a friend, or a loved one... a lot of the time it's when you share that experience with someone that actually lives on the ground. It can really give you an insight into their culture and their way of life that you just can't get through a guide book or by just standing on the outside.

I think that's ultimately what this new approach tries to do is to get our writers connected to people on the ground and really start to get people an inside out view of the destination. All of those preconceived views that you have and any of those stereotypes of a place sort of wash away when you really get to the heart of it and understand why the people are so proud to live in Mexico and so proud of their culture and history. It just gives you that further desire to want and go and experience that and, for me, that is the beauty of travelers getting on the ground and meeting people. Really understanding the destination you're in.

Phil Sylvester: One last question and it's a leading question, everything that you've just said -

Kim Napier: Have I got a job for 2019?

Phil Sylvester: Can I keep my job?

It's the leading question, you're no [inaudible]

All those things that you've just described, that you can do as a World Nomad, that's not something you can normally do with lots of other brands.

Chris Noble: There are amazing brands that do amazing things in the world but, you know, as I say to people within the team, you can't live and die an athlete, you can't live and die a rebel, but you can live and die a World Nomad. That's part of who we are, it's just part of our fabric it's part of our DNA and we love the fact that so many other people in the world share that vision and purpose. It's been a great work ride and we'll make it continue.

Phil Sylvester: Agree with that totally.

Kim Napier: Yeah, it's great. Another tattoo for you, Phil. You can't die an [inaudible], you can't die a rebel, but you can die a World Nomad.

Chris Noble: Thank you guys, all the best.

Kim Napier: Cheers, Chris. Well, let's kick off by addressing the elephant in the room, Phil. I know it's something you're really passionate about, safety in Mexico. You get quite frustrated when people say it's not safe.

Phil Sylvester: Yes, I do get very, very, frustrated. It is generally a pretty safe destination.

Kim Napier: Well we have all read about the gang and drug-related violence, in fact when you tune into Netflix, pretty much all the shows on Netflix are about that.

Phil Sylvester: Yeah that Narcos series is a lot to blame for that sort of attitude that people have. Great TV, but you know.

Kim Napier: Coming to the defense of Mexico. Who better to give us an idea just how safe Mexico is but a local and you caught up with Ruben from Mundo Joven.

Phil Sylvester: Yep, Mundo Joven.

Kim Napier: At a conference in Scotland, last year.

Ruben: I was raised and born in Mexico, 33 years ago. I've been traveling around the world. I've been in this industry for 15 years, and I've been, always, next to this story about listening all the time when... "where are you from?". Mexico and immediately it's [inaudible] "how do you survive?". I don't know, people immediately is feeling that I'm landing in Damascus, probably, every time that I get home. But it's not like that.

Of course, there is a problem, of course, I would be lying to you if I don't consider that we have a problem. We have a big drug problem, probably since... ever. Bigger and bigger in the last 20 years, or it was more obvious in the last 20 years. It's really simple to understand. We have a big neighbor, with a big demand, and we're a big producer. So in order to exist, any conflict has to... you need to have two parts. Otherwise, couldn't be just one.

I think Mexico's first big problem is we have a terrible PR, terrible PR condition, in terms of the news. You can see the worst president ever in history that we've had, is right now. Thank god he's gone this administration, considering so many facts. Considering corruption, things that we've been involved in. Terrible, terrible.

Phil Sylvester: It's pretty simple to say that there are lots of places which are fine, but there are some places which are not.

Ruben: Correct.

Phil Sylvester: So it's very localized, in a way. So if I was to go to Mexico, how would I find out the information about what are the safe places to go and the not safe places to avoid?

Ruben: Border is always the hot spot, not in the right way. Because geographically positioned next to the U.S. border is where, probably, you're going to get the biggest conflicts. Natural conditions of these people trying to get in all this stuff, into the country. And then, about the cities or about the destinations, the most demanded destination which is Mexico City, Cancun, or all the other beach destinations. You're going to have this... how do I say? Possible problems because all the interactions there is involved around. There are always people looking for [inaudible] and there is always people having to suffer. So if you're looking after this, and you are looking after that kind of action...

Phil Sylvester: You will get into trouble.

Ruben: You will get into trouble. But that is something that is going to happen in Mexico or anywhere else.

Phil Sylvester: Tell me about your favorite parts of Mexico, which part of your country do you love the most?

Ruben: I love my city, I love Mexico City. Then my second favorite of Mexico is Chiapas which is in the South, South East Mexico. They have a beautiful, beautiful, landscape. It's green, a lot of community, and local community people. They have beautiful, beautiful, green zones and it's a mix between jungle and a lot of art and a lot of traditions. All the zones around, for me, is one of the most beautiful parts of Mexico, close to Yucatan. Yucatan, as well for me, is one of my favorite places and it's my Grandma's home town. Which, obviously, put it in the hot part of the list.

Phil Sylvester: Indeed. Well look, Mexico City has changed a lot. The medium-term it was once not a very nice place to go. So what's changed there? How did it become such a great destination? How did it become a hot spot?

Ruben: It's been a lot of investment in the city, in the last 10 years, I would say. Much more efficient communication and PR, a lot of big brands. Hotels and big luxury brands around the city. And developing. You feel comfortable when you're next to the city or walking around the city. And there are so many things to do, and so many things to see around.

Phil Sylvester: The last question, I want you to tell me a secret spot in Mexico City. If I was to visit there, where would you send me that's not the usual?

Ruben: My secret spot in Mexico... San Angel. For me, San Angel is one of the most non-well and amazing neighborhoods that perfectly shows you how it used to be, the real Mexico City. So get lost in San Angel, take a look at the houses, and you're going to know exactly how is Mexico, and how is Mexico City.

Phil Sylvester: Mundo Joven is an educational travel agency aimed at all types of travelers, especially first-timers, who are guided step by step in the process to go abroad to study. All the links in the show notes.

Kim Napier: Plus our very own safety guide, too, for Mexico, we'll put that there as well. Now Cassandra runs Escaping NY group tours, I really like this, because when you hear the term group tours... [crosstalk]

No doubt, please. Because she does group tours for people who don't do group tours. And she helps solo travelers plan their own adventures and Cassandra has spent a lot of time in Mexico.

Cassandra: So I started in Baja, California, and I did a whale watching road trip all along that peninsula, camping, and stopping at different locations to see whales. I then completed my scuba diving certification, in Baja California, then I went to Playa Del Carmen about two years later and did my advanced scuba diving certification, there.

Kim Napier: So what's scuba diving like in that area?

Cassandra: Oh, it's amazing, it's amazing. I'll say in Playa Del Carmen it's one of the best places in the world. You see turtles, you see large fish, you see algae, you see... I saw a gigantic eel, that apparently just lives in this shipwreck and I was so surprised to find him and was told after the dive that he's just always there, every single day, waiting for divers to come down and say hi.

Kim Napier: When you're in Baja California, you then hitchhiked with a couch surfing friend?

Cassandra: I did. So I met her actually the previous year in Tijuana, she lives in Tijuana. And she wrote to me and she said: "I go to see the whales every winter, would you like to go with me?". So I did, I flew back to San Diego and then I crossed the border into Tijuana and we made a plan to go down the border. We actually found another couch surfer to go with us and he drove for the first couple of days, which was really nice because when she went to pick up her tent we realized that there were no poles in the tent. So we would have been in for a terrible surprise when we went to go set up the tent at night.

When he had to go back up to Tijuana, we hitchhiked! We hitchhiked the whole way down the peninsula with a lot of Canadian retired couples who, I would learn, vacation in Baja California, Mexico, every winter. And there's these massive RV camps and lots all along the peninsula so they would drive us to wherever they were going, we would spend the night, and then we would find someone to take us the next stretch.

Kim Napier: So jumping in with Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa, seems a lot safer than what I was envisioning.

Cassandra: It was, it was very safe. We did have other offers and we just used our best judgment as two single women. There were offers from... we had an offer from a truck with three men in the front and we decided they might be very nice, but we didn't think that was the best option for us, so we let that pass. At one point we had a Mexican couple, a male and a female probably in their 30's, that was driving on a short vacation they took and so they gave us a ride to one of the cities, as well. We ended up staying at their hotel that night, just because we got in too late to try to find any accommodations.

Kim Napier: We're going to chat about safety in Mexico later in the podcast but generally, did you feel safe?

Cassandra: Yes, 100 percent. I've been in Mexico at least a dozen times, I've traveled all the country and I've always felt extremely, extremely, safe there. I mean there are areas I won't go to, like around the border, and there are pockets of violence and that violence is real. But, it's also in very specific places for the most part, so it can be avoided.

Kim Napier: Now you mentioned last these surprises... jungle diarrhea.

Cassandra: Oh, wow.

Kim Napier: Why I'm so interested in this is that Phil and I are pretty sure we're going to have to do an episode on, you know, pooping around the world. It's kind of one of those things that happen to everyone but no one talks about it.

Cassandra: Oh, I talk about it. I send out a monthly adventure newsletter that talks about my personal adventures, and upcoming group trips that I lead, and travel tips, and everything. One of them that I sent out was jungle diarrhea in Mexico and one of my mentors was like "You can't use that as the title". I was like "Oh yes I can", people want to know and if they don't, they shouldn't subscribe to my new slater because I want to keep it real and let them know what's going on. It's a part of travel, it's a part of travel. Unless you're just going to stay in your house for the rest of your life. I've gotten sick at restaurants in New York City and across the country.

So this particularly awful bout of the jungle diarrhea happened when I was going on a road trip with a friend of mine, Pedro who's a taxi driver in Mexico City, and we drive his taxi all over the country on road trips. We were going through San Luis Potosi and we stopped in a small town because they were tired, and we went to a little street fare and the food was good. Pedro had me sample his drink, it was sweetened tamarin water, I was like "Man, this is good!". I should get my own, and I did. I was like this is really good, I should get another! Then I had another. And the next morning, I woke up, just sweating. I'm like "Isn't it hot in here?" And he was like "No, it's not!".

I sat up and I was dizzy and it was really bad but, we had hiked to do that afternoon so we went hiking and we went hiking the next day, through these ancient ruins in the middle of the jungle and it was, I think in the '80s or '90s that day. It felt to me just boiling, it felt like my blood was boiling hiking through these mountains. No bathrooms in site. At night, we were camping, and we found this really cool campground with teepees, so we had this nice teepee but I had to climb out of it and run to the bathroom, which seemed like it was a kilometer away. I was grateful for it.

Kim Napier: So any accidents, or did you make it to the loo every time?

Cassandra: I did make it every time. I'm surprised because the next campsite we went to I had to cross a river I had to hop over rocks to get to the other side of the campsite to get to the bathroom. But I was so grateful that there were lights and there was toilet paper. A couple of days later, I was able to do this waterfall jumping tour in San Luis Potosi Mexico, with no accidents, thank goodness.

That would have been interesting for some underwater GoPro filming. That would have been the video to go viral, I know every travel vlogger and every business person wants some viral video. That would be the viral video that I would be subjected to.

Kim Napier: So tell us about this friend in Mexico that is a taxi driver, and you'd drive the taxi around the country.

Cassandra: I also met him on couch surfing! I met him ten years ago, and... I've been talking about couch surfing for years, and I've gotten so many more questions recently about it. I recently hosted a guy from Iraq, and I want to do some more writing about that. I met him in Mexico City and he had responded to a dancing group, I dance salsa. So he wrote me in that group and said: "Hey, I can't host you at my house but I'm a driver if you need I can pick you up from the airport and take you to wherever you're going to be staying". I said, "Oh, that works out great".

So we ended up hanging out, I went down there like two years later and we met up again and we decided to take a day trip to Puebla, which is like two hours from Mexico City. It was just going to be a quick day trip, go there come back. And on the way, he says "Hey, what do you think about spending the night in Puebla, and then driving another six hours to Oaxaca in the morning?". I thought that sounds like fun, it also sounds like something we should have planned for before we left Mexico City because we don't have our clothing, our toothbrush, or anything. But it sounds like fun!

When we got to Puebla we went to the internet café and we posted on there and we actually found some hosts that were going to take a bus to Oaxaca the next day. So they let us stay with them, they had a spare bedroom, and we all drove in his taxi to Oaxaca, had a great time, and then we had a bunch of adventures since then in his taxi. And now he's the taxi driver on my group tours to Mexico. He has a million stories to tell on his own.

Kim Napier: Now, Cassandra's laugh alone would be enough for me to join the traveling. She's great fun, links in show notes. To avoid jungle diarrhea, she suggests making sure the water is filtered, which makes sense but it's not often that easy.

Phil Sylvester: Easy to do in small towns, yeah.

Kim Napier: So she carries a water bottle with a filter and the brand that she recommends is gray. What's travel news?

Phil Sylvester: Okay, it looks like one of Europe's longest-running parties is about to come to an end. City of Prague, where beer is cheaper than water there, you know?

Kim Napier: I've been to Prague, and I drank slivovitz, not beer.

Phil Sylvester: Oh my god, how was the hangover?

Kim Napier: Mmmmm.

Phil Sylvester: That stuff's rocket fuel.

Kim Napier: It's deadly, isn't it?

Phil Sylvester: Look, drug possession is only a misdemeanor in Prague as well so it makes it the ultimate party town. But locals have got sick of waking up with a hangover and having to clean up after the twenty million guests who come there every year. After years of complaints about noise and disturbance, the residents of the old city are being heard at last. The city has appointed a nightmare to address their concerns, Paris has done it as well and New York's done it.

Now I think we've discussed the airfare hack known as hidden-city tickets before? You book a flight to a less popular destination, which is therefore for a cheaper ticket, but you get off at a stop-over at the more popular destination. But the airlines are cracking down on this because they claim it deprives them of thousands of dollars.

Lufthansa is the latest airline to take a stand, and they're suing a passenger who booked to Seattle to Oslo flight, but got off at the stopover in Frankfurt and then bought a separate airline ticket to his home in the city of Berlin. He saved a little over two thousand euros by doing that. That's exactly how much Lufthansa is going to sue him for.

Kim Napier: Well, how could that be successful?

Phil Sylvester: Suing? Well, that's the whole...

Kim Napier: On those grounds?

Phil Sylvester: I know.

Kim Napier: Seriously, someone being a bit clever.

Phil Sylvester: Yeah, but now there's a site that will find these tickets for you called Skiplagged. So they're going now it's institutionalized. It used to be a few people knew about it, and it was a small hole in a big bucket and they didn't worry about it. But now it's like, you know, a gaping hole in a damn wall that so many people are taking advantage of it. Whether they are actually... I mean, they claim that you've actually broken the conditions that you've agreed to on your ticket. And you're also depriving another passenger of a seat because an empty seat goes on.

We've got time for one last one?

Kim Napier: Go for it.

Phil Sylvester: A company that helps European travelers acts as compensation for delayed flights is predicting 2019 will be a hurry year, especially for U.K. travelers. Air help is predicting that infrastructure problems and Brexit could cause as many as a quarter of a million flight departure disruptions throughout 2019. Nicely for the Brits. They're calling on airlines and airports to get it together on infrastructure and on what they're going to do about post-Brexit and do more to protect passengers' rights. So standby for a bit of disruption.

Kim Napier: If Brexit goes ahead.

Phil Sylvester: Who knows?

Kim Napier: Exactly. I do know that Claire Sturzaker has a blog... thanks for the news!

Phil Sylvester: Pleasure.

Kim Napier: It was great.

Phil Sylvester: I'm here every week.

Kim Napier: She has a blog, Tales of a Backpacker, she also has her very own backpacking guide to Mexico, which we will share in show notes. She's a big fan of the places a destination having spent months there.

Claire Sturzake: Oh, I loved it, I loved it. I didn't really have many expectations of Mexico City, to be honest. I'd heard all the stories that it was big, it's dangerous, it's dirty and polluted. But actually that wasn't my experience at all. I was in a really nice area of the city, a place called Roma. Leafy avenues, there are loads of cool bars and restaurants. I had a whale of a time, I really didn't want to leave actually. I'd originally only planned to be there for like, a month, and I just liked it so much I decided to stay as long as I could.

Kim Napier: So give me four reasons you decided to stay for four months?

Claire Sturzake: The food. Mexico's food is ridiculously good. The street food, actually, is amazing. You can buy, sort of, three tacos for a dollar and it's really, really good. The people, I actually found the people really friendly, kind, and open. Again, sort of not really what I'd expected from Mexico given all the stories I'd heard.

The culture. I was actually really amazed by how many museums there are in Mexico City, apparently, there's only Paris that has more museums than Mexico City. So there's so much to learn in Mexico, there's an anthropology museum that's absolutely incredible. It's huge, and it has exhibition halls of every pre-Columbia civilization in Mexico. They have this... they call it the Aztec sunstone, this huge massive stone that's like three and a half meters across and apparently it weighs over 20 tons. It's got amazing carvings on it, they don't really know what it was used for but they think it might have been a calendar or for astrological purposes. That was just incredible for me to see that and considering how long it'd been there for, and that they've actually designed this thing. I was just blown away by it.

That's three things... what else, four things. Being somewhere that was just... it was just fun! There's a square in Mexico City called Plaza Garibaldi and you can go there and there are mariachi bands playing everywhere, they can serenade you. There's an area called Xochimilco which is where you can go on a boat, like a really colorful boat, around all these canals. If you go on a weekend, or on a holiday, it's just a massive party. All these boats are filled with people drinking all their beers and singing, and there are mariachi boats that come alongside and serenade you. There are little boats that come past the house that are selling tacos and a little corn on the cob. I just loved it, everything about it really, I just really really enjoyed it.

Because my expectations were pretty much zero, it just totally blew me away.

Kim Napier: Perfect, but can you expand on what you do? Because it isn't just Mexico.

Claire Sturzake: Yeah, no, it's not just Mexico. I decided... it was about three years ago now, I was working in Spain. I couldn't take an office job anymore so I decided to quit my job and go traveling. I went around South America for about ten months that I was backpacking around South America. I loved it, and when I came back after that, it was only supposed to be a sort of once in a lifetime trip, and when I came back the thought of me working in an office then was just awful. I decided to work a lot harder on the blog.

So tales of a backpacker it's solo female travel, I travel all around by myself. Budget travel, but still spending money on unique experiences. Because I think if you're going to travel, and there's something incredible that you can't do anywhere else in the world, that's worth spending a little money on if you can. I just want to inspire people to take the plunge and do it. When I created my job, there are so many people that said to me "I wish I could do what you're doing". Obviously, if you've got a family and mortgage and stuff it's a lot harder. I think life is short, you should just take the plunge, and if you can then just do it.

Kim Napier: Which is great, but the big question though, Claire, is you must have had some money in your pocket before you headed off?

Claire Sturzake: The first trip that I went on, this ten-month adventure to South America, I actually had some inheritance from my grandparents and they passed away. Before I went I was working two jobs, and saving up everything I could for that. When I was out there I was volunteering at hostels and stuff like that, and staying in hostels. I'm not spending very much money.

Kim Napier: And that is good to hear considering Claire's mission, Phil, is to share with you the very best of a destination without breaking the bank.

Phil Sylvester: Good. Okay, Tim Neville is a travel writer and we featured him in previous podcasts, he's a great bloke to have a chat to. He went kayaking in Baja's Loreto Bay. Jacques Cousteau called Mexico's Sea of Cortez the world's aquarium.

Tim Neville: Yeah, when I found that he said that I thought "Man that is just absolutely perfect". It was my first trip to that part of Mexico and I am just dying to go back. I just can't describe what a wonderful feeling it was to go down there, especially when the weather up here in Oregon is not so great. To go down there and have just wonderful temperatures and so on. When we first arrived, of course, the weather wasn't so great, but it's Mexico! It's always going to be better than where you are, at least generally speaking I would say.

To jump into a place with just crystal clear water, just spectacular scenery, it's very desert very arid. Then this cool refreshing waters in the contrast are just wonderful. You pack in all this wildlife, and you think "Wow, there's no place else I'd rather be right now".

Kim Napier: Now you saw a marlin, I can't imagine what that would be like to see marlin swimming when you're not actually fishing for one, if that makes sense?

Tim Neville: Right, right, exactly. And that's the first one I had seen not mounted on a wall in a seafood restaurant. I couldn't believe, I'm just paddling along and look down and it's kind of a disturbing feeling when you... it's almost like your body can sense there's something there before you really realize something's there. Something just looked a little different down underneath the boat and all of a sudden I realize it was moving, and then I realized oh my gosh, this is a giant fish. I really couldn't' tell what it was, even though it was probably four feet below me, something like that, until it turned. And when it turned, the sunlight hit its sides and it just lit up like an alien space ship or something, just blew electric light and poof, it was gone. Yeah, that was definitely a highlight for me.

There are so many turtles, and birds and things like that you begin to get a little used to it let's say? So to have something like a marlin go by, which is still the only one I've ever seen, pretty special something I won't forget that's for sure.

Kim Napier: Does it live up to Jacques Cousteau's theory? That it's the world's aquarium?

Tim Neville: Well I'm not a marine biologist but just an average guy that likes to go down there and go kayaking, it is certainly one of the more spectacular places you can go. You see tons, and tons, of wildlife. There are great places to go snorkeling, we would stop off into these little coves. That's the fun thing, right? About kayaking? Is that not only do you get to ride in your backpack but let's also say, so you don't have to carry anything, it's all in your boat. But then you get to use it to go explore these fun little nooks and cranny's that are otherwise pretty difficult to get to.

We can pull into these little coves, beach the kayaks and then swap out for snorkel gear and go play around with the fish for a little while.

Kim Napier: You described that it goes kind of from this desert feels into this beautiful crystal clear water, but you also in the story that you wrote talking about some charming little seaside towns. How does it all connect?

Tim Neville: It's definitely a mix of the two... there are several places you can start but they're in the [inaudible]. It's just a wonderful little town, just that whole portion of Mexico. I think Mexico is so big and diverse, but that particular area of Mexico, the Baja peninsula, just has this unbelievably chill vibe to it. It's like we've got this great weather, we've got these great beaches, and all these animals, awesome food. Why worry? So everybody just seems naturally happy and relaxed, so you can go hang out in these sidewalk cafes, sidewalk restaurants. You can have fish tacos, or margaritas, whatever it is that you want. Just really, really shed some of the daily stress that you have in your normal life.

At the same time, it's culturally fascinating and historically so rich. You've got to remember that these areas have settled long before, by Europeans obviously that's what I'm talking about, before anything where I've lived. You have these old missions, you know these towns are old, you have just this cool, very very colorful culture. It permeates everything. So to have both this wonderful urban vibe and this wonderful natural vibe, you put those two together and man, it's paradise. It's right there on our doorstep, it's so wonderful, fascinating culturally. The food... you need no excuse to go, you know? It's right there. I plan to spend a lot more time down there, for sure.

Kim Napier: Well Phil it's not fair to say we've left the best until last, but we cannot have an episode about Mexico and not explore the food.

Phil Sylvester: Absolutely. I think Mexican food sometimes has a bad reputation. I've heard it described as pre masticated food, but I think that's a western version and I'm aware that there is an entirely different Mexican cuisine.

Kim Napier: We're about to find that out. Who better to do that with than Kendell Hill? He's an Australian journalist, he specializes in travel food and people features, but he's also the author of the best selling recipe book Coast and he contributes to Gourmet Pilgrim's Spain and Mexico volumes. So I'm guessing, Kendell, you know what you're talking about when it comes to Mexican cuisine?

Kendell Hill: Kim I wouldn't ever profess to be an expert in Mexican cuisine because it may take a couple of lifetimes, I think, to get across everything that's involved there. But I've eaten quite a bit and traveled around quite a bit for the Gourmet Pilgrim book as you've said. I know something about it, yeah.

Kim Napier: Phil seemed to sum it up as pre masticated food.

Phil Sylvester: Well that sort of refried beans tex mex stuff that you get in cheap chain outlets, that sort of stuff I'm talking about. It's not proper Mexican food, is it?

Kendell Hill: No, it's not. And talking from an Australian perspective, we don't get great Mexican food, we think it's just sort of a hot mess of things. But in Mexico itself, it's so diverse. Mexican cuisine is actually an amalgam of all sorts of different influences, not like when the Spanish invaded they brought pork and, you know, the sort of common mates that we're aware of that Mexico didn't have beforehand. Then you have [inaudible] terrain and [inaudible]. There's a sort of treasury of ancestral customs that informed the way Mexican cuisine is prepared and the way it's developed, but also they have the most incredible ingredients in Mexico.

Avocado comes from there, chocolate comes from there, chili's, beans, tomatoes, pumpkin. All these incredible ingredients that we couldn't imagine living without. Tomato, for example. Those are all Mexican, so for anyone who thinks of Mexican cuisine, it adds sort of a lack of understanding of how much those United States and Mexico have brought to the world in terms of our food trade.

Phil Sylvester: I think you just named all of my favorite foods, then.

Kim Napier: Oh, yeah, yum.

Kendell Hill: Any country that gives you chocolate has got to be... there's some debate that it might have come from further south in Latin America, but certainty the Mayans were one of the first ones that were able to turn those things into something delicious to drink.

Kim Napier: Okay, now I'm going to impress you here, both of you probably more so Kendell. When I cook a chili con Carne, I put chocolate in it.

Kendell Hill: Ah! Interesting. You know mole, which is the staple sauce of high Mexican cuisine I'd say, because it takes a long time to prepare, 24 hours or more, and often has more than 30 ingredients. That often has chocolate in it, so you're on the right track in putting a bit of chocolate in, a bit of... you'd want the sun-dried chili's, as well, that gives it more of the smoky flavor, too.

Kim Napier: Okay, now I do use the fresh so I'll take on board that advice.

Phil Sylvester: Do you spend 24 hours preparing it, Kim?

Kim Napier: It's twelve hours, slow-cooked.

Phil Sylvester: Twelve hours? Okay, okay.

Kim Napier: Twelve hours, slow-cooked. I put the time in. Speaking of avocados, I can't imagine what a guacamole dip in Mexico would taste like compared to what we whip up ourselves in our kitchen, based on the recipes that we're given. Or even in some of the restaurants. Is there a difference?

Kendell Hill: I think there is, in the same way, that there's a difference in a lot of countries with their native cuisines when you go there and eat them. It's got a lot to do with the freshness, and guacamole is never quite prepared and mixed up the way it's made fresh. It's [inaudible] of the onion, and tomato, and the lime juice, and the avocado all together. They do, I mean avocado comes from there, but one of the states say they're the best avocados in the world so. It's that quality of ingredients that all hails from this place, I think that does make a difference.

The freshness and the fact that those ingredients are Edenic to the place, they probably turn out better there than they do anywhere else. That you'll see across all sorts of dishes in Mexico, it may seem very simple... Phil, you mentioned earlier about beans and cheese and what have you, but there are millions of different ways of preparing things. So many different types of cheese that they make in Mexico that there are just too many of the many ingredients they have.

You can travel around Mexico and you can have a similar dish in each place, but it will never taste the same and it will be... for me, when I've been here it's just been a series of revelations that you can have every day, and not get bored of them and still be surprised and delighted by some of the ways they present it. I mean, beans Mexican style, are presented [inaudible] it's equivalent of rice in some Asian cultures because it's their staple [inaudible] I guess.

Kim Napier: Well your article covers all bases that you've written for us, we'll share that in show notes. But Kendell, is it all washed down with a little shot of tequila?

Kendell Hill: If that was your thing. When I was in the coast looking at tequila production, it was early morning and I had to stand there and do, not shots of tequila, but taste the stuff. It's not really my thing, I think I'd probably go for a beer, and probably a Michelada which is beer sort of served tequila style with salt around the rim, bit of lime juice, but they put some Worcestershire and Tabasco.

Kim Napier: Chili?

Kendell Hill: Yeah, a bit of Tabasco. So it's a mix of Worcestershire, Tabasco, and something they call Maggi sauce which is kind of close to soy. And then you put the beer on top of that, top it with some ice especially on a hot summer day. It's so refreshing, it's sort of a little bit blood Mary ish, but not quite. It's really great.

Kim Napier: I'll go that and I'll have two tequila shots and a margarita, thanks! All the food you can fit on the table. Kendell, thanks so much for chatting.

Kendell Hill: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Phil Sylvester: Sticking with the Mexico theme, you may like to listen to our amazing Nomads episode with Claire and Tenny who hiked the length of the U.S. Mexico border, taking six months to walk 2000 miles.

Speaker 10: We were really nervous, we had heard a lot mostly form people who hadn't been there themselves, a lot of myths about what's down there. We had a lot of fear going on but we had this trust that people are the same no matter where they are and that it maybe wasn't as bad as people made it out to be, and that's overwhelmingly what we found. We really had no instances that were even remotely dangerous or scary, or anything like that.

Phil Sylvester: That was a bumper episode celebrating our Mexico travel guide and we'll share a link in show notes so you can download it. Next week we're going rogue, with a special episode on urban exploration.

Kim Napier: Urbex. Until then, you can get the World Nomad's podcast on iTunes or download the google podcast app. Make sure you subscribe and if you have any feedback, it's always welcome. Or suggestions for guests, get in touch with us.

Phil Sylvester: Please.

Kim Napier: Get in touch with us at

Phil Sylvester: See yah.

Kim Napier: Bye!

Speaker 11: The World Nomads Podcast, explore your boundaries.

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