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Mexico City: Recap 1 June 13, 2011

Posted by julesaturner in Travel Log.
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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.