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Published: August 18th 2010
July brought the perfect opportunity to head to Mexico for a five-week adventure!!
My mom and I started our time together in Mexico City with a visit to the Templo Mayor to see the ruins of Tenochtitlan, which are kept in fantastic repair and rather well explained. The accompanying museum was also helpful and filled with impressive artifacts that we were all too happy to explore. We also took in the Museum of Anthropology, which is massive and awesome! The museum is divided into various regions of Mexico and has two floors within each section. The lower floor has ancient artifacts- including the Aztec Sun Stone- while the upstairs floor explored more recent history and cultures of the regions- we gravitated to the upper floor.
To change our pace we moved from our hotel in the center of Mexico City, which is bustling!, to Coyacan neighborhood where Frida and Trotsky lived. The neighborhood is much more manageable and more subdued than the center and had an easy slow pace to it. A day trip took us to the Dolores Museum where, sadly, the Frida collection was on tour in Europe- another time! From here we visited the canals of
Xochimilco where brightly colored boats tour the canals. Unfortunately we were there on a weekday and so the canals were pretty quiet, but there were some floating mariachi bands and vendors and the natural beauty was wonderful to be immersed in for a bit. We could not resist heading back to Frida’s house and the Trotsky museum even though we had been to both last year. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna we just had to be in the spaces again. Our time in Mexico City proved a fantastic introduction into our weeks in Mexico.
It was then off to Cuernavaca for three weeks of study at Encuentros Language School and a stay with the fabulous Del Canto family. Though I had only stayed here a week last year, it felt a bit like a homecoming opening up the door from the noisy street and steping into the secluded garden.
Our adventures in eating started quickly here as we munched on tlacoyas (sort of like a quesadilla but with a thick blue tortilla shaped in an oval) topped off with cactus and some seriously spicy salsa. From here we enjoyed many other foods including figs and mangoes from
Enjoying the canals
trees in the garden, yum!, chilies stuffed with meat and topped with pomegranate seeds, prickly pear fruit, and so on.
Classes were awesome for both of us. Because of my French, Spanish started to come quickly to me and so I was thankful for the flexibility of the school who gave me private classes... that is, until my second week when I was with my mom! She is a riot in Spanish class. In the afternoon we studied a different theme each week so we learned about the history of Mexico from colonization until the revolution (no small feat!), then the crafts of Mexico, and finally, the food of Mexico (including a taco tour!).
Never having lived any place where there is a rainy season I was certainly caught off guard by the weather in Mexico! I knew it would not be like the blistering heat I left behind in New York City, but I was not prepared for what a rainy season means! Due to the tropical storms, Cuernavaca had an unusual season where it did not just rain at night, which is the norm, but for days and nights and then days again. Ugh. It was
a little wearing. On the whole though, out of our three weeks, we only had 5 days of really debilitating rain where just getting to school and home again was a real task.
Cuernavaca brought many great opportunities to connect with locals. Through my mom’s previous times here she has developed a wonderful friend base. This meant that we were invited to a birthday party, afternoon tea, crafting sessions, choir concerts, and dinner. It was a real treat being able to converse with people and to share various experiences. Everyone was very patient as we communicated and so very generous with their time, homes, and cooking.
We did slip off to Taxco for a Saturday day trip. The town is set up on a mountainside and is very reminiscent of some village on the Mediterranean... just missing the water! We hiked our way up from the bus station and spent the day wandering the tiny windy streets, getting lost in the stinky and a bit oppressive market, and finally finding our way to our destination- a silver market. Taxco is known for its silver as it once had a working silver mine. All the various styles of jewelry
were really interesting to see, though after a while everything started to look the same.
For our last week in Mexico, Mama and I made our way to Oaxaca. Over the course of the four preceding weeks we had been told that the food and art of Oaxaca were going to bowl us over. Indeed, the arts and crafts from the various regions of Oaxaca state were exquisite and a real pleasure to be able to see. The food, on the other hand, left us a little cold because this region is known for its moles and we just do not have the appreciation of moles. We did find one type of mole that we enjoyed and so we stuck pretty closely to that. Throughout the week we took in museums, craft centers, markets, parades, churches, and a bit of time in the central plaza appreciating the milling people. Most exceptionally, we went to the Guelaguetza which is a festival of giving thanks. Here we saw various performances of traditional dances from many of the regions of Oaxaca. It was really special being in the city at the time of the Guelaguetza as the fun spreads outside of just
the dancing event into parades and other smaller festivities around the town.
Most out of the ordinary, we decided to take a cooking class in Oaxaca. We met our group of about 8 students and made our way to a neighboring town where we spent the morning being guided around the market trying different foods- 7 different tamales, 3 different cheeses, 2 different traditional drinks, and ice cream—in spite of the fact that we only had a taste of each it was quite filling! Our guide through the market taught us about the different chilies and ingredients for the moles and about the various pieces of pottery used in Oaxacan cooking. The afternoon was spent cooking up a storm culminating in a scrumptious meal. It was excellent learning to cook some new dishes, but, for me, the time spent in the market was so fascinating.
Before heading back to the states, we traveled to Monte Alban, the first metropolis in Mesoamerica dating back to 500 BCE. Wow. It was so impressive! The surrounding hills and villages were so picturesque and the pyramids were astounding! We only spent two hours at the site, but could have easily lost ourselves
there for longer just soaking up the natural beauty and taking in the massive ruins.
We left Mexico very satisfied with our time spent together and impressed by how much we learned about the culture, history, food, and language. Of course, I know that we have just scratched the surface of the complicated and large country making it very inviting to return another time.
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