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Mexico City: Recap 5 August 11, 2011

Posted by julesaturner in Travel Log.
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The last two weeks of the program seemed to fly by, most likely because our days were so busy. Getting back from Puebla, we all jumped head first into preparing for our debates. For this first debate, I was on the a contra side of CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños). The other group debated the legalization of marijuana. the debates were fun and a great way to practice Spanish, but the best part was that they were on Wednesday and Thursday. Mine fell on Thursday, and the same day we left for Sontecomapan, aka, the best part of the trip.

Sontecomapan is in Veracruz on the coast–it’s a 9+ hour drive in a bus, but beyond worth it. We stayed at Los Amigos Ranch, which is on an island in the coastal marshland. Los Amigos is a project in sustainable agriculture and living. The educational purpose of the trip was to learn about permaculture, and how Los Amigos was promoting it. We also got to experience mexica culture first hand in the form of a temascal and ritual dancing. We were guided in these ventures by a mexica shaman, Arturo. It was quite the experience. In addition to these educational bits, we went to the beach, canoing/kayaking, swimming, and had the chance to do yoga every morning (which I did). It was incredible. The yoga patio was half way up the tallest part of the mountain, and since we were on the Gulf Coast, when we did sun salutation, we really were greeting the sun. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I’m pretty sure we all wanted to stay, especially because we knew how much was between us and finishing the program.

The last week, we all were enmeshed in completing our final projects, studying for our last test, and preparing for our second debate. Looking back, I’m somewhat amazed that we were able to get it all done. By Friday, we were all exhausted, running on 4 hours of sleep or less, but we were finished. It was both a relieving and saddening realization. At our despedida dinner, we shared our projects with our families (commercials that “sold” Mexican culture), and shared with each other how much we were going to miss Mexico. Six weeks with the same 16 people will really facilitate the making of friendships. We were consoled by the knowledge that we’d be able to see each other in the fall–some of us were headed to Cusco, some to Madrid, and others back to the U.S.–and relive the best memories of our time in the D.F.

Mexico City: Recap 4 July 16, 2011

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Test week descended upon us again, but this time, we all knew what was coming. I felt as though I knew how to study for the tests better at least. Plus, we had a lot to look forward to at the end of these tests. They were Wednesday and Thursday, so while Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to class and then studying, Friday was a half day of class followed by a cooking lesson!

The trip to the restaurant where the lesson was to take place ended up being quite the epic journey. We must have asked for directions five different times. What should have been a 45 minute trip ended up taking almost 2 hours. Needless to say, we were all starving and exhausted by the time we finally made it. The thought of the amazing food ahead of us kept us going, though. We made nopal salad, mushroom-squash flower soup, ceviche (some of the best I’ve ever tried), tacos doridos, and guava in a syrup flavored with orange, cinnamon, and vanilla. Everything was delicious, and not just because it was almost 4 p.m. by the time we ate. I’m very excited that the chef will be sending us the recipes for everything. I want to try to make it all again!

As if the weekend needed to get better, we also headed to Puebla on Saturday for 2 days out of the city. Puebla is about 2 hours away from D.F. by bus, but it has a hugely different feel. This was our weekend to be tourists, so we were allowed to wear shorts! We got to Puebla around lunch time on Saturday, so once we got to the hotel, most everyone dropped off their stuff and headed back out to see the town. One group went sight seeing, aka church viewing (there are 365 of them!), but I was in the shopping group. We still saw a fair number of churches, though. The most important thing, regardless of how we spent the weekend, was that it was a relaxing break–just what we needed after 4 weeks of hard work.

Mexico City: Recap 3 July 8, 2011

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Our third week of the LBAT started out like any other: with 6 hours of classes. As per usual, I enjoyed the history lectures much more than the business, though I realize both classes are starting to converge into one. On Tuesday, however, the week began to get a little crazy when we attempted to visit five museums in one day. The goal was for us to see murals by the three great Mexican muralists who helped build the revised Mexican identity after the Mexican Revolution. Of the three (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orosco), my favorite is easily Orosco. His work is critical and challenges the audience’s preconceptions. He’s also the most universalist of the three, which, it seems to me, makes his work more relatable and multi-cultural. I find Siqueiros a little difficult to understand and connect with, and as for Rivera, I feel like his work is to obvious in its allegory.

Anyway, we didn’t make it to all the museums we needed to because the first museum took up a lot more time than the T.A.’s were expecting, mostly because they forced an arts and crafts time on us. While it was entertaining, I suppose, to make a tin foil picture frame and write about how I wanted to change the world when I grew up, the crafts were a little more focused toward children half our ages than to college students. Oh well! I was happy to not be in the group that had to make ceremonial masks out of construction paper…  In the end, this time suck caused us to miss going to Bellas Artes, which, naturally, was the museum most of us were most looking forward to, but luckily, we had some free time on Friday when we decided to try returning.

Wednesday was another day of full class, which was nice considering the amount of running around we had done the day before. Thursday, though, was one of my favorite days of the whole program. We had class first, and learned about the PRI period and the Massacre of Tlatelolco, and then we got to visit the square. Tlatelolco, during the time of the mexicas, was a large market place and a ceremonial center. Today, it’s a square with ruins from the mexica period and a Catholic church… and a monument to the thousands that died on October 2, 1968. A student protest occurred on that day, which the Mexican government considered a communist uprising. Mexican troops and paramilitary were sent to contain the protest, though the protest itself was actually peaceful. The government claimed that the students began the firing, but it was just an excuse to justify the slaughter that took place on un-armed civilians. The additional kicker is that the U.S. sent weapons and training to the Mexican government to help them put down this uprising. We got to see the square where it happened, and the museum that explains the events leading up to the massacre, events in Mexico and around the world. I don’t think anything has made such an impression on me.

Friday, after class, we headed back to Bellas Artes, but when we got there, they told us it cost money to enter. In fact, if we had shown our student IDs, we would have gotten in for free, but no one thought to ask; so we considered it fail number 2 for Bellas Artes, and made plans to visit again on Sunday (when it’s free for everyone). That afternoon, I got seriously sick, from food poisoning I can only suppose. I was really disappointed in the timing because I had to miss going to another salsa event at Mama Rumba, and I was still feeling poorly on Saturday, so I missed going to Xochimilco, the part of D.F. that still has chiampas and canals. Everyone tried to make me feel better by saying I didn’t miss much, but I was still a little upset that I had to miss it at all. That night we went to Doctora Galloway’s rooftop to watch one of the movies we had to write a review of, El Crimen del Padre Amaro. It was an interesting film about the corruption of the Catholic Church, mostly, though, I was just happy to be feeling better and out of my room again. So ended the first half of our program. None of us could really believe how fast the time was flying, but we didn’t have much time to mull over it because week 4 meant test 2 in both of our classes…

Mexico City: Recap 2 July 7, 2011

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This week the “study” portion of “study abroad” really hit us hard. We had a test on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I really don’t think I’ve study so much since my Calc II class freshman year. We just cover so much information in so short amount of time that it’s nearly impossible to absorb it all. On the bright side, since we started the test on Wednesday in the afternoon, I was finally able to make it to a yoga class at the studio on the corner of my street! It was really great (I got some ideas for my class next fall), and the teacher was very helpful. Miguel went with me, which was fun. I hadn’t expected him to be the type to like yoga so much, but I guess we all have little surprises like that…
So with the tests done, we got right back into learning new material. Our second batch of presentations started that Friday. We went to the Castillo de Chapuletepec, which was originally a fort, later was the residence of Maximiliano, Mexico’s temporary Austrian emperor, and then was renovated by one of Mexico’s many president turned dictators, Porfirio Diáz. It now houses a museum of Mexican colonial and revolutionary history as well as has rooms on display that are preserved from the renovation. My presentation was over the Mexican-American war, or the intervención estadounidense en Mexico, and the Niños Héroes, which I found way more interesting than the first one that I had over the city plan of Tenochtitlan.
Saturday we had an excursion to an interactive economics museum. It was obviously geared toward younger children, but we went because it had a lot of our business vocabulary in it. While it wasn’t the ideal way I would have spent my day, it was informative, and it’s always fun to hang out with the group from the trip. Since there are so few of us, we’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well, so when we’re in situations that are less than ideal, the company is always able to overcome the situation. Sunday, we once again had a day off to rest up for a week that was going to be full of excursions because we were going to start to learn about the three great Mexican muralists of the 20th century: Diego Rivera, David Alfonso Siquieros, and José Clemente Orosco.

Mexico City: Recap 1 June 13, 2011

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My blogging skills are severely lacking, but let’s see if I can go back to week one of this trip and recreate the experience as best as possible. First arriving in Mexico City was a little overwhelming: the traffic, the noise, and the inability to breathe! I don’t know whether it’s the altitude or the pollution or a combination, but my respiratory system has never had to work so hard before. We arrived at the school from the airport in the early evening to wait for our host families to pick us up. While my host mom did come, I was able to meet Maria Elena, Emilie Wurmser’s host mom, and walked to my house with them (because the two are literally only a few doors down on the same street). I met my host mom, Olga, who is a dress designer but has a few problems with her health which is why she couldn’t walk to the school to meet me. I ended up having dinner that night with Emilie and Maria Elena, though.

The next morning we got up early and headed to our first Mexico adventure: Teotihuacan. Definitely vale la pena, that place. The temples (not pyramids!) are impressive, especially when you walk all the way to the top: the steps are super steep, and our guide told us the only respectful way to climb them is by walking in zigzags (something to do with always keeping you head and back bowed to the gods… if I recall correctly). They were quite the workout, and the view from the top of the Templo del Sol was increíble.

On the way back, we stopped at a restaurant that made its own mezcal. We were able to get some samples of the many beverages that the maguey plant offers as well as learn about the other useful resources it provides including paper, soap, and needles. Our guide was an interesting character and very excited about telling us about all the essentials maguey can provide.

Then the week started: classes from 8:30-2:30 followed by excursions in the afternoon! Monday was not quite as exciting because we only went to the mall to get phones, but Tuesday we made our first venture into the heart of the city: el Zócalo. Our intention was to go to the Museum de Medicina to give presentations; however, due to its being closed for mother’s day, we ended up giving them in the Zócalo near the Catedral Metropolitana. Afterwards, we had lunch at a restaurant with a beautiful terrace view and excellent traditional Mexican dishes.

Wednesday found us back at the Zócalo, this time to see the ruins of Templo Mayor. The city itself is actually built on top of the ancient Mexica city of Tenochtitlán, and the ruins are the the result of excavations that began in the middle of the the 20th century. The best part of this program has definitely been the fact that we learn about the history of this country in class, and then get to go see that history in the city itself. The visit to Templo Mayor was our first real example of this, and it was really impressive.

We got this opportunity to an even more intense degree on Thursday when we went to the Archaeological Museum. It was massive. We had a guided tour for the room dedicated to the Mexicas, because that’s the main group we’ve been studying, but they had rooms for every period in pre-Columbian history. While I enjoy seeing museums and learning from them, my favorite excursion from this first week was easily the visit to the Basilica de Guadalupe on Friday. The church and hillside are beautiful. I really like the symbolism behind the Virgin of Guadalupe–the fusion of the Christian and Mexica feminine deities, Mary and Coatlicue. Plus, the older basilica is actually sinking into the ground (like many buildings in Mexico City, since it’s built over what used to be a lake). We spent so much time looking around the old and new churches, though, that we didn’t get to go up the hillside where Juan Diego was supposed to have first seen the Virgin. 

To close out the first week, we went to Frida Kahlo’s home in one of the northern districts of the city on Saturday. I’ve never really studied her work, but my favorite part of the museum they’ve made the house into were the rooms with her paintings in them. She is a woman with a very interesting point of view, I think, and she has been a really important symbol for Mexico ever since the mid-20th century. Sunday was our first día libre, and it was much-needed. With two tests coming up in the following week and barely any downtime, I finished my first week in Mexico exhausted, but 10 times as informed about Mexican history and culture than I had been before I came.

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