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Food, Mexico, Reflections

A few of my favorite things…

March 21, 2015

Given the fact that Mexico City has been my home for several months now, I’ve been meaning to make a list of my favorite things.  Whether it be amazing street tacos from a lady by my work, Sunday bike strolls on Reforma or fun events with my co-workers, here’s a list of things (in no particular order) that always seem to put a smile on my face.

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1. Churros rellenos. These lovely things are churros that are fried and made right in front of you and are filled with nutella, chocolate sauce, cajeta, caramel, strawberry sauce, the list goes on! These are most popular in the Coyoacan neighborhood.

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2. Jardin del Centenario in Coyoacan neighborhood. The fountain with the two coyotes is symbolic of the Coyoacan neighborhood, as it used to be called the land of the coyotes. Go Yotes! Around this fountain is a gorgeous square with great restaurants, artesanal markets and a beautiful church.

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3. The said beautiful church in Jardin Centenario Coyoacan called the Temple and ex convent of San Juan Bautista. It’s my favorite church in all of Mexico City.

 

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4. Mercado Medellin. This is a huge building and inside is a giant public marketplace. I try to go once a week to local food vendors who have the best and freshest avocados, bananas, mangos, eggs, peppers, etc. All of the vendors are so nice, the prices are reasonable, and it’s way more enjoyable shopping for groceries in this environment where you can build real relationships with your food providers.

 

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5. The view from MásNegocio, my workplace! This is from the top floor of the building and is such a gorgeous view when the pollution doesn’t cloud the view of the mountains in the distance.

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6. Berry cheesecake ice cream for 15 pesos (1 dollar), sold from a guy who makes homemade ice cream and posts up at a corner by my work everyday. Probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

 

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7. One of the fountains 1 block away from my apartment in Condesa. There are usually food vendors selling coconuts and other fresh fruit.

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8. My running route on Paseo de Reforma. The reason I signed up for my half-marathon is because I discovered this lovely path at the beginning of January and I look forward to my runs due to this view!

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9. Nutrista frozen yogurt. It’s 2 for 1 on the weekdays and usually a wonderful snack my co-workers and I take advantage of every once in awhile.

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10. Friday lunches with co-workers, the best! Most of my favorite restaurants have been fund when dining with my co-workers. We have a few beers, really good food, and take about 3 hours mid-day to chat about weekend plans. Mexicans know how to do Fridays.

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11. Riding bikes on Reforma on Sundays! Sundays are my favorite day of the week in Mexico City for this reason. From 9-2pm ish, this whole street shuts down for runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc. to enjoy the day off and the beautiful weather. There is always something fun going on along this street whether it be free bike rentals, Zumba classes, kick-boxing or food.

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12. Amazing street tacos 20 steps from my work, sold by a woman who carries many taco flavors and transports them in white tub containers. We call her the tubito lady for this reason. My two personal favorites are shown here: chicken breast with her homemade guacamole and pork with green mole sauce.  30 pesos (2 ish dollars).

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13. CUPCAKES BY TOM. This gem of a place is located two blocks from my apartment so I’ve had to exhibit some pretty solid self control to only buy something here once a week. Usually I stop by for a muffin and a coffee for breakfast, but their cupcakes are so good as well.

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14. Comida Combi. This man drives his VW van to the same spot everyday and supplies a 3-course meal for 50 pesos (3 dollars).

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14. Comida Combi continued. Soup, rice, bean, tortillas, main dish, and a drink for 50 PESOS. Puts a smile on my face every time I buy his food.

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15. My fellow Binational Business Fulbrights! I don’t know where I would be today without them. Living in Mexico City has had its ups and downs, and the amount of support and kindness this group has shown me has gotten me through it all. I’m so thankful for them!

Mexico, Reflections

I Wish You Enough

January 14, 2015

You know that feeling when you get when you’ve just had a wonderful weekend, but can’t seem to place exactly why?  That’s the kind of weekend I had, and it’s just what I needed.  My first week back to D.F. had been a little overwhelming, just like it is for everyone after a long break:  back to work, back to classes, jet lag, etc.  A week full of “starts” can be both exciting and overwhelming.

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder”, that lovely, awfully cliché saying, could not have been more true about my feelings for D.F.  Coming back from Germany, I was able to look at D.F. through the lense of a long-lost friend.  I went to a Theory of Everything (highly recommended) with my roommate on Friday, and Mexican movie theaters have this special type of caramel popcorn that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.  Yay, Mexico!

On Saturday I went to el Bazaar Sábado, located in San Ángel.  This special artesanal market is located in one of the oldest and most calm neighborhoods in D.F., and I’ve always been wanting to go.  One of the things I’ve grown to love about Mexico is that there is always something going on in the streets.  You never have to walk more than a block to find street food with everything ranging from cactus quesadillas to freshly sqeezed pineapple juice, or street vendors selling socks to cell phones to art easels.  You name it, they have it on a corner somewhere.  This market was very similar to Mexico’s bustling streets.  Besides a large building open only on Saturdays, many artists had swarmed the nearby park and plaza, posting up their art to potentials buyers.  The weather was gorgeous as we walked among the cobblestone streets of near the park and into the bazaar.  I ended up buying some organic coffee grown in Chiapas and a tapestry made of tree bark.

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San Angel Bazaar Sábado.

 

That night we went to an amazing restaurant called Butcher & Sons, located in Roma.  Known for it’s incredible hamburgers and specialty gin menu, they definitely didn’t disappoint.  I’m biased because I think my Dad makes the best burgers in the world, but this place came in at a close second.

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Cheeseburgers, cheese fries, gin out of mason jars, what more could a girl need?

 

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I’m always happy with chocolate cake in my hand.

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to run a half-marathon this year, so I went for a long run along Reforma, one of D.F.’s busiest main streets, with my roommate.  It was gorgeous weather, and once we hit Reforma, we realized that it is closed for runners and bikers every Sunday.  Such a great surprise!  We were in the midst of families teaching their children how to ride a bike, determined runners and bikers, and other families just enjoying the weather.  The energy coming off this space was so lively and cheery, it was impossible not to be in a great mood.  I look forward to training for this half-marathon if I’m able to run with all those people every Sunday.

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One of the many fountains about a 2-minute walk from my apartment.

This first weekend back really helped me appreciate Mexico for what it is.  The first trimester was difficult for me because I wanted D.F. to be something it wasn’t.  I wished the traffic weren’t so awful, my schedule weren’t so busy, the city weren’t so large and chaotic, etc.  In my mind, I felt like my time in Mexico wasn’t enough of what I was expecting it to be.  After returning from Germany, seeing the juxtaposition of cultures between the two countries has helped me appreciate Mexico more than ever.

I came across this poem written by Bob Perks:

I wish you enough

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

As a girl who is happiest with a busy schedule to keep her hands and mind busy, I often struggle finding the fine balance between when my schedule is “just right” and when my plate is just too full.  In a world where businesses and organizations strive for innovation, efficiency, and always striving to be better, it’s easy for me to carry this concept over into my personal life.   “What more can I do?” and  “How can I make this better?” are awesome questions to tackle on the job or in the classroom, but are harder to answer in a personal setting.  The way for me to make my experience an amazing one in Mexico is to let this experience, this city, and my life, be enough.

Mexico

A Weekend in Cancún

December 7, 2014

Hola chicos!

I was able to be a beach bum this past weekend, and it was awesome.  Two fellow BBs (Deirdre and Lauren) and I were able to go to Cancun and Tulum for the weekend as an excuse to get out of the city and enjoy some beautiful weather along the beach.

On Friday and Saturday morning we were able to roam around Cancun to lay by the beach and have some good food.  Cancun didn’t feel like the “real Mexico” to me.  Vendors were negotiating their product in American dollars, there weren’t huge micheladas being drunk by people in the streets, and all of the landscape was too perfectly polished and manicured.  It was great to get out of Mexico City and into such a tourist destination, but I had gotten used to (and had been somewhat enjoying) the chaotic messiness that I associate with Mexico.

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On Saturday night we camped at a campsite along the beach in Tulum!  Tulum had more of a Mexican feel.  We pitched a tent at a campsite and were able to go to sleep listening to the waves of the beach and wake up with the sunrise.  We even had a mini bonfire from a fire in a can on the beach.  It was an incredible weekend to get out of the city and relax with great company before our first finals at ITAM.  Here are some pictures from our weekend.

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Mexico, Reflections

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28, 2014

Hola chicos!

Happy Thanksgiving from my heart to yours!  Being away from home during Thanksgiving is always a surreal feeling.  Two years ago when I was studying abroad in Spain I had to celebrate the holiday away from the homeland, and I find myself in the same situation this year.  I may not be in the US, but I’ve still been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with lots of food, friends, and technology and get in touch with loved ones back home.

A big group of Fulbrighters and friends in D.F. celebrated Friendsgiving last weekend.  It felt so great to connect with everyone and enjoy awesome food that we all pitched in to bring.  We even went around saying things we were thankful for, which is a typical tradition my family honors.

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Today for Thanksgiving I arrived to work with cupcakes from my favorite cupcake place conveniently located 2 blocks from my apartment (dangerous, I know) and shared them with my co-workers and explained how I usually celebrate Thanksgiving with family back home.  It was a great opportunity for me to share a part of my family traditions back home with my co-workers who have been so attentative and supportive to all of my random questions about Mexican culture.  It felt really good to return the favor for once!  I went home and skyped with my parents and extended family for awhile.  It was almost like I was there!

Tomorrow, COMEXUS (the Fulbright commission here in D.F.) will be putting on a thanksgiving celebration at their office.  Who knew that being away from home could still mean having a busy holiday schedule?

Being away from home for the holidays is always hard, but in a way it has made me feel even more appreciative of the wonderful things happening in my life.  I’m so thankful for my family being patient with me and taking the time to navigate FaceTime, Skype, and other video chatting services to that I can be in touch with them when I need them the most.  I’m thankful for friends, both here in D.F. and everywhere else, for allowing me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and for tolerating the questionable food dishes I had brought to Friendsgiving last weekend.  I’m thankful for technology that allows me to communicate for free to all of my loved ones.  Finally, I’m thankful for this opportunity to be in Mexico City on a Fulbright for 10 months.  Yes, it’s had ups and downs, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here and I’m excited to see where I’m headed next thanks to Fulbright.

Mexico

First visitor in D.F. – Mom!!

November 19, 2014

I had my first visitor here in D.F. this past weekend – my MOM!  I was a little concerned how she would feel in the big city, but she pleasantly surprised me 🙂 My goals for my mom’s visit was to show her as many of my “favorite things” about Mexico City, which basically translates to FOOD and any green space that offers some peace and quiet away from the bustling city.  My roommate’s mother was also visiting over the puente, so we decided to have a mother-daughter date night on Friday.  We went to a really nice restaurante in Condesa (Azul Condesa) and we had our moms try the mole (a complex, chocolate-flavored sauce that is usually spread over chicken or other meats) that we had fallen in love with the previous weekend in Oaxaca.

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On Saturday the four of us went to Teotihuacán, the pyramids located about an hour outside of Mexico City.  We had a wonderful time, and we were able to bask in the sun (and even got a little sun-kissed!) as we walked around the massive archealogical site for a few hours.  Here are some photos:

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On Saturday night I took my mom to the Zocalo so she could see the cathedral and the square, which was being prepared for the Día de la Revolución celebration on the 20th.  We walked along Calle Madero (a street for pedestrians only that links the Zocalo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes) until we reached Torre Latinoamérica, which is D.F.’s version of NYC’s Empire State Building.  For those of you that know this part of Mexico City, it is always one of the busiest and packed pedestrian streets in the city.  It was quite an experience, I was a little worried about my mom’s reaction, but she passed with flying colors!

On Sunday we went to my favorite neighborhood (besides Condesa – where I live) called Coyoacán.  We were able to shop around the artesanal markets, eat lunch at a restaurant adjacent to a square, tour a beautiful church, and enjoy each other’s company.  Coyoacán is my favorite place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon (something I admire about the Mexican culture – Sundays consist of precious time devoted to family) and we had such a wonderful day.  That night we went to the Ballet Folklórico at the Palacio de Ballas Artes.  I had seen it during orientation, but I was happy to see it again!  My mom really enjoyed it, and we were even able to get a good picture in front of it.

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Goodbyes are hard.  Having my mom here for a weekend was so wonderful because I was finally able to show someone from my life back home what my “new life” looks like here.  After traveling abroad I realized that many sites or cities that I had visited aren’t as enjoyable if you aren’t sharing the experience with someone else, whether it be a friend, a family member, or a random stranger.  Of course this is a personal opinion and of course I have many friends here to share Mexico, but there was something extra special about visiting the pyramids for the first time with my Mom and showing her my favorite parts of the city.  Thank you, Mom for always being my rock, my support system, and a wonderful travel buddy.  Next step is convincing Dad to visit!

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”
― Kristin Hannah, Summer Island

Mexico

Oaxacan Wonders

November 6, 2014

During our trips to Oaxaca for Día de los Muertos (view that post HERE), we were also able to take an excursion to five surrounding villages for a day to relish in the beauty that is Oaxaca!  Our five stops (aside from Oaxaca) consisted of the following sights:  Arbol de Tule, a visit to a traditional carpentry shop, Mixtla, Hieve el Agua, and a visit to a traditional mezcal farm.

Oaxaca – Our humble abode for the weekend!  Oaxaca was filled with so much life during the Día de los Muertos celebration.  We had a mezcal tasting to learn about the creation of mezcal (a type of alcohol made from plants similar to tequila, usually made in small batches by local farmers).  We were also able to view the main cathedral with attached monastery, shop among the bustling markets, and enjoy the incredible food that is signature to Oaxaca:  Tlayudas, queso Oaxaca (quesillo) Oaxaca chocolate, and MOLE.

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Friends in front of Templo de Santo Domingo.

 

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Templo de Santo Domingo.

 

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Templo de Santo Domingo

 

Árbol de Tule – A giant tree.  We didn’t stay for longer than 20 minutes to admire the massivity of this beauty.  It has the stoutest tree trunk in the world and was planted around 1,600 years ago.  According to the most recent measurements in 2005, it’s circumfrence is 137.8 feet wide and 116 feet tall.

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Árbol de Tule next to the church to show how massive this thing is!

 

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We had to take verticial panoramic photos in order to get the entire tree.

 

Carpentry shop – I’ve learned this for quite awhile, but usually I’m targeted by salesmen.  I guess you could say I don’t have a poker face at all.  Therefore, when the owner of the carpet store needed a volunteer, he eyed at me and coyly asked if I would help him for a demonstration of how they create dyes from natural resources.  These carpets are incredible, and each piece of work usually takes 2-3 months to make them by hand using a loom.

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Mixtla:  Ancient ruins – incredible!  We had an incredible tour guide that was able to give us the scoop about the ruins that were built between 900 BCE and 100 CE.  These ruins were once the main religious center for the Zapotecs, and indigenous group in Mexico.

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Mitla.

 

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Our group of Fulbrighters on the steps of Mitla.

 

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Hierve el Agua:  Favorite stop off all.  Petrified waterfall.  Words can’t explain this place.  Hierve el Agua is a set of two petrified waterfalls that have been formed over thousands of years.  We were able to hike the trails around both waterfalls and some of the group also brought their swimsuits to swim in the nearby pools.  The views were incredible.

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Hierve el Agua

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Roomies Christmas picture!

 

 

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The longer we stayed the more gorgeous the views had gotten. We were able to watch the sunset from this beautiful place.

Mezcal Tasting:  Learned the ins and outs of artesanal mezcal.

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Mezcal tasting

 

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Mexico, Reflections

Día de los Muertos – Oaxaca

November 4, 2014

This past weekend a large group of us BBs ventured off to Oaxaca, Mexico, as we were told that Oaxaca was where some of the most traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations and traditions are still honored.  In Oaxaca, the weekend of Día de los Muertos is split into three events.  October 31 is the day honoring the angelitos – little angels.  This day specifically honors the children whose lives were taken too early.  November 1st is the day honoring the adults.  Finally, November 2nd is the day that celebrates All Souls Day.  The whole weekend is a celebration of life, and it was incredible to witness first-hand!

We took a bus on Thursday night and arrived in Oaxaca early Friday morning to explore the city.  Oaxaca is known for having a strong prevalence of indigenous cultures, so we were really excited to see how those cultural traditions blended during Día de los Muertos.  One of the BBs, Lauren, had made Oaxaca her home a few years back, so we loved having her as a tour guide!  During the day, we were able to tour Oaxaca and view all of the beautiful ofrendas (offerings) that are made to honor the dead.  Families, businesses, all sorts of entities create ofrendas to respect loved ones no longer with us.  Here are a few photos of some of my favorite ofrendas.

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Ofrenda located in D.F. created by my co-workers at MásNegocio!

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca – created by sand.

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Ofrenda in Oaxaca honoring Benito Juarez – a past Mexican president, whose hometown resides in Oaxaca.

On Friday night, our group went to a village outside of Oaxaca called Xoxocatlan to experience the celebration of life in the cemeteries (panteones).  Traditionally, families go to the cemetery to create unique ofrendas over the tombstones of their lost loved ones.  For the remainder of the night (and into the morning) families and friends remain in the cemetery celebrating life.  The two cemeteries we toured were filled with so much life, vibrance, color, and respect as all of the families flocked to the cemeteries to decorate their loved ones’ tombstones.  We were able to walk around the busy cemetery and admire all of the gorgeous ofrendas.  As I walked through the files of the cemetery, the mood differed greatly from family to family.  As I walked past some ofrendas, I felt like I was intruding on a quiet, intimate moment among the families:  A family mourning the loss of a child taken too early, a man sleeping at the foot of his wife’s tombstone, a widow toasting to her husband, a woman in her 40s sitting with her brother who had passed when he was 7.  In these tender moments, I felt as though I were intruding on a moment that couldn’t be (or didn’t want to be) shared with outsiders.  On the other hand, other families were having quite the fiesta:  Bands with trumpets, guitars, etc. performing exuberant songs, families drinking their loved ones’ favorite liquors and toasting to a life well-lived, friends dancing to the band, enjoying favorite foods, etc.  Although there were some somber moments, the majority of the families were celebrating – celebrating – in cemeteries.  Such a beautiful sight to see.

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Tried to get a photo of the cemetery rows. Each grave was beautifully decorated with flowers and candles.

 

On Saturday night, we went to another village outside of Oaxaca called Etla to participate in a Comparsa.  Saturday was ALL fiesta in these villages.  These comparsas are similar to parades.  3 other local villages have bands come while village members dress in symbolic costumes and the whole community parades the streets from 11pm until noon the next day (talk about commitment).  Around 11am the next day, the 3 villages all meet in one of the village squares and the bands have a “battle of the bands”.  The whole night/day is a celebration of costumes, music, food, plays, etc.  So many people and so much life!

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One of the only photos I got of the comparsa.  Video coming soon!

Clearly the US and Mexico’s tradition of Halloween and Día de los Muertos are quite different.  How many times have you seen this concept of community and celebration of life in the US?  Communities relishing in life and death together by creating this beautiful understanding of passion – the mixture of joy and suffering of loving and losing.  In the US, mourning is understood to be felt or expressed solidarily.  In Mexico, the thought goes more like this: “I have lived, I have loved, I have experienced loss of a loved one.  Here I am exposing myself through vulnerability, grief, suffering and joy; but I do not feel exposed because everyone has lived, everyone has loved, everyone has experienced loss; so we’ll celebrate together, we’ll grief together, we’ll share in this moment together”.  Death is a part of life, and life is lived by all.  The concept of death clearly differs, and I think the main difference resides not in the day, not the celebrations, but the fact that this tradition is celebrated and shared within Mexico’s communities and cultures.  In the US, we feel that we can’t publicly mourn, we feel uncomfortable grieving in front of others, that we’re supposed to grief and then get on with our lives, that we can’t share these tender, vulnerable moments with others…but why can’t we?

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One last ofrenda made of colored sand and flowers. Each color is symbolic of a part of life.

As I walked among this beautiful exhibition of celebration, exuberance, grief, and suffering, so many questions filled my head.  I took a class in my undergrad called Justice and Compassion.  The point of the class was to study compassion based on radical displacement; a group of 12 willingly throwing ourselves into situations we had never been in before; situations of tenderness, hardship, joy, grief, passion.  Walking around the vibrant cemeteries reminded me of one of my Justice and Compassion outings.  How close can we get to someone else’s grief?  How close can we get to feeling their pain without experiencing it firsthand in that moment?  On the flip side, how close can we get to experiencing someone else’s joy and celebration of a life we had never met?  How close could we get to feeling like we were apart of those moments and cultural traditions having never experienced them before?  We can’t we in the US come together for a day once a year to celebrate, commemorate, and honor life together in such a way that Mexico does?

Cervantino helped my change my attitude and perspective about Mexico; Oaxaca left me feeling extremely grateful and profoundly appreciative for the opportunity to witness these beautiful traditions of community, honor, celebration of a life lived instead of a life lost.

Mexico

I left my heart in Guanajuato

October 21, 2014

Hola chicos!

This past weekend was magical.  My friend Alyssa (another fellow BB) and I ventured off to Guanajuato, Mexico for the 42nd annual Cervantino Festival!  Cervantino is a music and arts festival, and according to Wikipedia, “El Cervantino has grown to become one of the most important  international artistic and cultural event in Mexico and Latin America, and one of four major events of its type in the world.”  This festival, funded by the Mexican government, hosts a different country each year.  This year’s host country was Japan, so we were able to see a ballet from a Japanese dance company that was very interesting.  Aside from viewing grand assortments of artwork, dance and food, we were also able to explore the beautiful city of Guanajuato!

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BB Fulbright friends after watching a ballet put on by a Japanese dance company.

Guanajuato, a World Heritage Site since 1998, is a gorgeous colonial town that has prospered due to the mining industry that had produced 30% of the world’s silver for over 250 years.  Presence of the mining industry can be seen everwhere:  systems of underground tunnels for vehicles, ornate detail of precious stones in the walls of our bathroom, and tons of silver and gold shops among the winding streets of Guanajuato.  If you haven’t noticed, I fell in love with this place.  The weather was gorgeous and the city was small enough to walk around to see all of the sites without feeling overwhelmed.

 

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Plaza de la Paz and the Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato.  We had lunch under the umbrellas on the right.

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Inside the Basilica.

Some of the must-see sites within Guanajuato that we had the pleasure of visiting are: Teatro Benito Juarez (cultural center of Cervantino), Mercado Hidalgo (a huge artesanal market), Pipíla, many churches, Callejón del Beso, and mines among the outskirts of the city.  Lucky for you all, I have pictures.

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Teatro Benito Juarez showcasing the festival. This is the central location of the city and Cervantino Festival.

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Beautiful church/museum and brightly colored houses.

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Me being a cheesy tourist in front of El Callejón del Beso (Valley of the Kiss). Couples that visit are supposed to stand on the third step and kiss for 15 years of happiness (what the couple behind me is doing).

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Two blondes take Guanajuato! We’re in front of the Pipíla, a large statue overlooking the city.

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Before we departed on Sunday, Alyssa and I toured one of the mines on the outskirts of the city.  Although this mine tour wasn’t originally planned, we felt fortunate  to understand the miners’ harsh and painstaking working conditions, whose efforts led to the success of the city.  The amount of effort put forth to produce precious minerals is astounding, and it definitely made us think about the jewelry we frequently wear and the impact our demand has on the supply of these precious metals.

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Tacky tourist picture in the mines with our hard hats.

 

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This past weekend was one of those weekends that made my heart sing.  I can’t explain it, but there was some type of refreshing energy coming from the people among the streets of GTO that was so different compared to D.F.  Maybe it was because of the festival, or maybe everyone was in such a great mood (because how can you not be in this city?), but my weekend in Guanajuato really changed my perspective on my time here in Mexico.  Now that we’ve approached (almost) two amazing months here in Mexico, many of the Fulbrighters have had many instances where they could picture themselves living in Mexico for an indefinite time after the Fulbright program concludes.  I hadn’t hopped on that train until this past weekend.  There’s something beautiful about the Mexican perspective of cherishing time with one another over long afternoon lunches, Saturday morning coffee or while roaming the streets of GTO during an arts festival; a token I hope to bring back with me whenever I return to states.

Mexico, Reflections

Throw Yourself

September 25, 2014

Throw Yourself

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

― C. JoyBell C.

 

Last Thursday marked one month from my arrival in Mexico City; it wasn’t different than any other day.  I went to work and got assigned a big project I’m very excited about, I had some awesome food (a cupcake, a 4- course meal for lunch from a van called “combi” for 50 pesos with Karen, and some awesome street tacos), and I spent time with some wonderful company.  Some of us Fulbrighters celebrated surviving one month here at Julie and mine’s apartment with a few friends over wine and watching Beyoncé music videos.  I’m finally feeling more settled at work (remembering names, getting used to the 2:30pm lunchtime, speaking more freely in Spanish without thinking in English first) and I’ll start my MBA courses next week Monday and Tuesday.

Now for the…

Bad News.  On Friday night, my phone and wallet were stolen from my purse.  My roommate Julie also got her phone stolen.

Better News.  5 minutes before leaving my apartment for the night, I remembered to take out my passport, immigration card, important credit cards, ID badge for work, and other documents I had needed that afternoon while I was opening a Mexican bank account.  I would be in much, MUCH worse shape had I forgotten to remove everything except my iPhone and 200 pesos.  I have insurance for my iPhone and will have a new one sent to me when I return to the US in October.

Best News.  I have the best support system, and I am feeling especially grateful for them after this whole debacle.  I Facetimed James right away and he was able to call my parents for me, aside from listening to my bickering.  My mom was gracious enough to stay on Facetime with me for a few hours the next morning as she made calls to the phone insurance company to send me a replacement.  My Fulbright BB family, whom I was with on Friday night, took me out for tacos immediately after we found out what had been stolen.  Aside from lending supportive hugs and words of reassurance, they also paid for my tacos con nopal y queso.  For those of you who know my love for cheese, it makes any bad day better.  The situation is crummy, but I’m so grateful for everyone who has been there for me the past few days.

Aside from me having a mini pity party, Friday night was also a learning experience for me.  Having my wallet and phone taken from right underneath my nose left me feeling exposed.  I thought I had been taking all of the precautionary steps – only taking what I needed in my purse for the night, always keeping a hand on my cross-body, keeping my iPhone in my purse, traveling with a group of people, etc. And yet, when I looked down and noticed my un-zipped purse with nothing in it, I felt like I had been careless and exposed.

Many of us Fulbrighters have been asking each other, “What do you want out of this experience?”, and I have yet to produce the right words to describe my goals and intentions.  Lately I have prided myself on not knowing A) what I want to do with my life, and B) what I want out of this experience, hoping that I’ll begin to find the answers here in Mexico.  But how can I truly find these answers if I’m not growing, changing, and exposing myself to new opportunities and ideas?  “Growing, changing and exposing” sounds easy and enlightening, but the truth is it´s not.  Instances like Friday night have left me feeling awfully crappy, but at the same time it gave me an opportunity to learn about myself: how I reacted, how I coped, how I might be a support to someone else who might face a similar situation in the future.  Instead of throwing myself out there, my things got thrown by someone else.

After reflecting about my first month here in D.F., C. JoyBell C’s quote is a great summary.  If I want to really live and throw myself I have to continue to move forward experiencing times of discomfort, times of exposure, and times of transition.  These times of removing myself from my comfort zone certainly aren’t what I would call fun or easy, but I think they are absolutely essential and inevitable during my stay in Mexico.

Here are a few other observations I’ve noticed during my first month here in D.F both personally and culturally….

1) My Spanish is improving…slowly.  I’m finally getting to the point where I can have a conversation with someone and not have to think in English first.  My next goal is to improve this darn midwestern accent!

2) A 40-minute commute now seems short.  My daily commute is about a 10-minute walk to the metrobus and then I take the metrobus 16 stops down to MásNegocio, which is considered a piece of cake here!  Quite different then the 10-15 minute car rides in good ol’ SD.

3) Mexicans are extremely friendly and patient people who value family, relationships, and sitting down together over wonderfully-cooked food (my kind of people).  The only main thing I’m still getting used to is that I stick out like a sore thumb, which leaves me victim of being charged a higher price for street food, market items, taxis, etc. However, as my Spanish improves and I get a better feel for the costs of things, I hope I will be able to combat over-priced items.

4) Many of the Mexicans and other Fulbrighters I’ve met have never met someone from South Dakota, and I always get a weird sense of pride as I attempt to explain little details about my home.  Apparently chislic, cheeseballs, and pickles in beer are only things us South Dakotans consume, but I have also talked about ice fishing, cruise control on the interstate, and my limited knowledge of agricultural products and yields (thanks, Dad), with anyone who cares to listen.

5) Tacky as it sounds, distance makes the heart grow fonder.  I miss being able to run in the open spaces back home, peace and quiet, bonfires, and sunsets unobstructed by buildings.  This probably goes without saying, but I miss my family, boyfriend, friends, but I am so thankful that they are only an email away for now.  On the flip side, I am growing to LOVE Mexico and the large metropolis that is D.F; it is certainly beginning to feel like home.  The juxtaposition of where I´m from and where I am now has helped me appreciate both locations equally, and I´m ooking forward to seeing what the next month brings.

Mexico

Nevado de Toluca

September 23, 2014

Boy are you guys in for a story!

On Saturday a few of us went to Nevado de Toluca, which is an old volcano located outside of Toluca, Mexico.  On top of the summit there are two lakes that used to be craters and also several other hiking trails around the area ranging from 2 – 3.5 hours in length.  The elevation of the craters reach 15,350 feet (the highest I’ve ever climbed) and we were told that the top of the summit would be very cold due to the elevation.  According to many locals within D.F. and other articles, we were told these trails were the most accessible and that the craters (aka the starting point for the other trails) were just a 20-minute walk from the entrance of the park.  We met at a metro early Saturday morning, feeling prepared with plenty of food and the heaviest clothes we had (for me it was a thin rain jacket with a measly scarf, but I’m from South Dakota so I thought I was tough).  From there we took two 1-hour buses to the entrance of Nevado de Toluca park, which cost us no more than 75 pesos a person (around $6.00 US dollars).  We scoffed at the taxi driver that offered us 800 pesos to drive us to the entrance of the park, wait for 2 hours, and then drive us back.  We thought this offer was way too expensive and were confident that the public transportation would be the cheapest and best option.

Once we got off the bus and saw the Nevado de Toluca sign, we thought “Great!  Just a 20-minute walk on this road and we will be at the craters”.  An hour later we arrived at another entrance of Nevado de Toluca, thinking we must have mistaken the first entrance with this one.  We asked a man at the entrance where the trail was that would lead us to the craters, thinking THIS time that it was just a 20-minute hike as we had been told.  We were told to follow the trail that was led by sets of wire electric cables until we reached the top, and then follow the road until we get to the craters.

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Photo of us thinking we only had 20 minutes left to go at the entrance of the park.

After hiking about another hour later and not seeing any crater in sight, we were getting awfully confused.  We kept hiking towards what looked like an open valley, thinking that might be where the craters were.  Nope.  Turns out the open valley was just the tree-line mark where the trees stop growing, meaning that we had just reached 11,000 feet.  The craters were at 15,350 feet.

At this point we wanted to keep going because we had already been hiking for about 3 hours.  We walked the entire length of the cables until they stopped and we came upon a road.  From there we were able to find reception and Google mapped where the heck we were.  From the road we were still a 5K to the REAL entrance of the crater, followed by another 40-minute hike to the actual craters.  At this point it was 3pm.  We were tired, confused, and just wanted to see these darn craters!  All in all, we decided to keep going because we had already gotten this far and we kept thinking that the hike down would be so easy compared to the way up.

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We climbed that!. At the time this picture was taken we had already been hiking for a few hours.

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Right at the tree-line, 11,000 feet.

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We should’ve known the clouds weren’t a very good sign, but still a gorgeous view.

About an hour later, we FINALLY arrived at the top of the crater, and what a beautiful view it was!  Everyone knows that I’m an avid picture-taker, so I was adamant about getting the perfect “insta” photo to showcase how beautiful the view was, and we’d climbed all day to see this thing for crying out loud.  They weren’t lying about the temperature.  As thin as the air was and as little cover as there was around the crater, it was very cold and we wished we had mittens and thick coats that the other tourists had been wearing.  We had also noticed how difficult it was to breath throughout the hike as the air became thinner, and we had to stop frequently to let our breath catch up, but the view was so worth it!

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The 5 of us who braved the trek! We’re on top of the crater eating peanut butter out of the jar in the rain. It has never tasted so good! We were a sight for sore eyes; the rest of the people around the crater were in winter wear.

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Gorgeous view!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 10 minutes after we had all sat down and were eating, it started raining.  We had come prepared with umbrellas and such because it was rainy season.  The rain passed and we thought we were in the clear for awhile.  Not true.  About 10 minutes after the rain had passed, it started HAILING.  When we were located without cover on top of a CRATER.

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Hail.

We tried sprinting down the summit in the painful hail, not being able to see in front of us.  At this point we were all soaking wet and cold, not knowing whether we could make it down the trail we had ascended do to the mud that had inevitably accumulated.  A group of locals had noticed how miserable we looked in rain jackets and sweatshirts, and offered to drive us down the mountain back to the bus station in Toluca.  They were truly a God-send.  They safely drove us to the bus station in Toluca, and we were able to arrive back in D.F. around 8pm.  What a day!!  I would love to return to actually hike the trails around the craters, but next time we will probably take the taxi driver’s offer of driving us to the ACTUAL entrance of the crater instead of hiking the 5+ hours it took to get there instead 🙂 All in all it was one of the most challenging days I’ve had in awhile, but I couldn’t have asked for a more positive and determined group of friends to hike with.  This day could have been much worse if we had poor attitudes, but we all persevered together and we now have a great story and a few great “instas” to prove it.

 

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One last photo before it started hailing.