Friday, December 22, 2006


Jenna, Corinne and I left for Chiapas on Monday night after everyone else left for the DF. We got back from Chiapas last Sunday, early in the morning. Our trip went fabulously; we didn't run into a single hitch. We first went to San Cristobal de las Casas were we stayed in the backpacker's hostel some friends recommended. We met some cool people, enjoyed the campfire the hostel had each night, and sauntered around the town for two days. We got to see the last, and most important, I think, day of the fiestas for the Virgin of Guadalupe. San Cristobal has a church in the virgin’s honor so people do pilgrimages there from all over the region.

Masses of people visiting the Temple of Guadalupe.

Men in traditional dress walking to the temple.

We saw lots of tired, dirty people trekking into town, some jogging, some walking, some barefoot, some with shoes, and of all ages. They were shouting and chanting cheers for the Virgin. It was quite a sight.

Pilgrims arriving by foot.

The truck that accompanied the running pilgrims.

San Cristobal was quite the eclectic city, with lots of foreigners from around the world who have settled there. Many also seem to have opened alternative restaurants (i.e. not traditional Mexican fare). We ate a couple delicious vegetarian meals in cool restaurant or cafe environments. Our basic approach to the time in San Cristobal was relaxed. We spent lots of time sitting in restaurants chatting after meals and then heading out to meander around. We spent a good bit of time in the market looking for the perfect gifts at the perfect prices. We also visited the Mayan medicine museum, which was super cool. It was really interesting to learn about various treatments and rituals, especially about the process for delivering a baby.

We also visited San Juan Chamula, a little town outside San Cristobal. The church was as amazing as our friends had said it would be. It was cool to see the people walking around in their traditional sheep fur coats and skirts. They kind of looked like gorilla costumes, to be honest.

A family in traditional dress. The man's vest and the woman's skirt are of the sheep skin I mentioned above.

The police force in San Juan Chamula appointed specifically to to keep the peace during the fiestas of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

After San Cristobal, we headed to Palenque. Having been warned about the twisty road, we all took Dramamine and proceeded to spend the day totally drugged. We slept like rocks and could hardly open our eyes for the entire 5-hour trip. We arrived in Palenque and found the tourist cabin haven we were looking for. We paid a completely unfriendly woman to stay in a grass-roofed cabin, had lunch, and then zonked out again for the entire afternoon and night.

The next day we got up early and headed to the Mayan ruins. We spent four hours wandering around resisting the temptation to pay a guide to tell us what we were seeing and consequently making our own *very scientific* interpretations/speculations of what we were observing. The ruins were absolutely amazing. They were HUGE and there were TONS of them. It was right up there with Teotihuacán and the fact that it was also in the jungle probably tipped it over and made it the number one ruins site for me.

Various temples at the ruins.

A carving of a mayan figure.

Jenna, I, Corinne on top of one of the temples with more ruins behind us. To the left are the temples in the first picture and to the right is the palace.

After the ruins we went to two waterfalls, one really tall one with a huge swimming hole in front called Misol-ha (which apparently means waterfall in chol, the main indigenous language), and another wider one called Agua Azul. In both, the water was a beautiful sea foam green color. We got wet going behind Misol-ha and then at Agua Azul we wandered upstream, passing tons of little waterfalls, until we found a nice place to swim.


Corinne, Jenna and I in front of Agua Azul.

Looking downstream at Agua Azul.

We returned to Palenque for the evening, dropping Corinne off at the bus stop, and then Jenna and I spent time at our cabin site. We ate in the lively restaurant, listened to the band play, and watched the "fire show," people swinging ropes with burning charcoal-type things on the end in pretty patterns, before going to bed.

Our last day we got up and talked to Paco, the friendly tourism man, about taking a tour through the jungle. Paco works in Mayan medicine so he had offered us a plant tour of the forest. We headed off on what was supposed to be a three-hour tour, but ended up being a 5-hour trip. We trampled through the jungle, usually off paths, and Paco showed us useful plants and told us about all the people he'd successfully cured. He also showed us ruins that aren't preserved by anyone. We saw lots of stone structures covered in trees and undergrowth. There were pieces of pottery just lying around on the ground, which was neat to see. We also got to see a temple that is still almost totally intact, an underground aqueduct and underground temple.

Jenna in the jungle temple.

As far as jungle life goes, we saw a huge, spider, apparently it was poisonous, and a bunch of monkeys. The monkeys were really cool. Paco made these weird monkey sounds and they started to come down the trees closer to us. We saw a macho, two females and a baby. We also almost got peed and pooped on by one of them, which was kind of an interesting experience.

Howling monkeys in the trees above us.

After emerging from the jungle quite tired and hungry, we had lunch and then headed back to the woods to swim in a waterfall we'd seen. It was a neat little one, easy to climb up and with lots of little pools to sit in.

We arrived home Sunday morning after our 11-hour bus ride. Getting out of the bus was quite the shock. We left Palenque on a warm, humid evening, and arrived in Puebla on a COLD, dark morning.

Jenna left about midday Sunday and I returned to my house with the hopes of sleep. However, my friend Gerardo called and invited me to go with him and his cousin, Julio, to some little town on the other side of the volcanoes and I felt like I couldn't turn down the chance to see more of Mexico. I went and spent the whole day trekking around with the two of them and his cousin's mom. We were officially looking for land for his cousin to buy, but we really spent most of the time doing other things. We went to a market for some special meat my host mom wanted, ate there (I didn't get sick afterwards, yea!), and went to a park to film something for the Julio's comedy show on TV. Julio went swimming in the sulfur baths, we ate at a restaurant run by some friends of their family, and then went back to Chipilo to eat a cake with Gerardo's family. At midnight I finally got home exhausted.

I slept all day Monday, through the banging and shouting of construction workers redoing my bathroom. I was exhausted and head a headache so I spent some of my hours awake trying to ignore my fear that I might have contracted dengue fever in the jungle. I took malaria medicine, but there isn’t much you can do for dengue fever except wear bug dope and hope for the best. Fortunately I woke up feeling much better on Tuesday (I guess there are a million explanations for being tired and having a headache, a perfect one being an overnight bus ride followed by a day that didn’t end until midnight), so my fear has passed.

Tuesday was the wedding anniversary of my host parents so the evening was full of surprises. Gerardo and I made an apple crumb pie for them, which turned out to be my best apple pie yet, and my host sister from Tijuana and her two kids came early for Christmas to surprise my parents. It was a fun evening.

I think my next blog entry will be dedicated to Christmas festivities, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's been a long time

Wow! So I’m way behind on blogging. That seems to happen easily. I just realized the last time I wrote was November 18. That was a bit over a month ago! I’ll try to give a quick run through of things that have happened since then:

1. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at our director’s house. We made pumpkin, apple, and chocolate pecan pies; they all turned out deliciously. We also had homemade cranberry sauce (very tasty!) and Pillsbury crescent rolls. Each of these items required an ingredient from the states: the canned pumpkin, the canned cranberries, the cranberry relish, and the dough for the crescent rolls. We didn’t trust a Mexican chef to make the pies following an American recipe (they don’t really have many pies here) and since pies are one of the most important parts of the Thanksgiving meal, if not THE most important part, we decided we’d better do them ourselves. Plus, making pies is fun. I made an apple pie with a crumb topping and my mom’s crust recipe and it was a big hit. I think I’m finally getting the hang of making the crust right, even without all the exact ingredients and utensils!

A caterer provided the rest of the meal. It wasn’t the same, of course, as a Thanksgiving dinner in the states, but it was still tasty. Mostly it was just nice to spend a family-style evening all together.

2. We had our first dance performance. We danced with the Ballet Folklorico during Puebla's international arts festival. We only danced one dance, the wedding dance, but it was still fun. Performing is what inspired most of us to take the class, so it was nice to finally see our work pay off.

Before the show: Jenna, Me, Christina, Maribel, Cassandra, Lauren, Naihomy. Maribel is one of our student helpers. She is also in the dance group and is an amazing dancer. She's dressed for a different dance. The rest of us are ready for the wedding dance. Jenna and I, in the multicolored shals, dance as part of the grooms's family. The three in the red and white are in the bride's family. Cassandra, in the white blouse with the colored embroidery, is playing the part of the bride.

The wedding. The priest is marrying the couple in this part.

Here, the groom's family is dancing in a circle around the bride. This happens after the two are married.

3. After having such a wonderful time at our Halloween costume party, we convinced Patricia to let us host another party in her house. We had an Alice and Wonderland un-birthday party for all of the students who don’t have birthdays while we’re here. We made the decorations and food and invited all our friends.

Some of the decorations.

The party was a big hit! Almost all of us and some of the guests dressed up as Alice and Wonderland characters. We had some pretty good costumes!

My host brother, Moises, as the nine of spades, and I, as the Cheshire cat.

Lauren, Queen of Hearts, me, Cheshire cate, Sarah, white rabbit, Cassandra, Mad Hatter, Naihomy, Queen of Hearts.

We had good dance music and danced all night long. I also made a few new friends; people others in the group invited.

Two of them showed up in full donkey costumes (they said, “We know there are no donkeys in the movie, but it’s all we had”) and were quite the hit, dancing with everyone all night long.

Julio and Gerardo, the two goofy cousins in donkey costumes.

They were super goofy, so I got their phone numbers and have been spending quite a bit of time with the two of them since then. They’re cousins; Julio lives in the DF and Gerardo in Chipilo, a little cow farming town about 30 minutes from Puebla that was started by three Italian immigrants I don’t know how many generations ago (not too terribly many). The town still maintains a lot of Italian culture and many of the families who still live there just recently started marrying Mexicans from outside the town. For example, Gerardo’s dad is the first in his direct line to marry a Mexican woman. I’ve found that the two cousins are good people to know because they have lots of family events in various places around the region and they’ve invited me to go to several of them. For example, I went to a baptism, though actually we missed the baptism and just got to go to the big lunch afterwards. I was kind of disappointed because it was going to be my first baptism.

The end of the baptism, the part for which we arrived: Gerardo's sister, the happy couple and their baby, Gerardo and Julio.

The dinner was still fun though and I tried some weird foods made of various parts of cows: stomach again, blood, intestines; I don’t really know what all there was. It’s neat to see other parts of Mexico and to learn about various traditions through them. They’re also both super goofy and are always laughing and joking. They’re great friends to have.

4. I finished classes on December 8. The last week was a bit of a push, as always, though really nothing compared to the last weeks at Smith. I had a couple final papers, one of which my friend, Sarah, and I spent pretty much the whole weekend organizing and editing, a presentation, and some problems to do in lue of an exam. Our grades had to be turned in before the actual last day of classes, so I couldn’t take the scheduled calculus test. I had to get the problems done ahead of time as a substitute. It was a bit stressful to get everything done in time and I was finishing my dance paper up until the exact hour it was due, but in the end it all got done, as it always does. I also enjoyed myself at the physics end-of-the-year party. There was a piñata contest and a salsa dance contest. Both were neat to observe.

The salsa contest and piñatas.

Two of my friends from Math Methods, Carlos and Claudia, and I at the end-of-the-semester fiesta.

5. We had our end of the year party on the 8th. I played guitar with the two others in my class and danced with the others in the folkloric dance class. The guitar performance actually went pretty horribly for me, but the other two were amazing in covering for me. I had the melody and at one point just totally freaked and lost where I was. I stopped playing and they kept going. I came in later at a change in the song, but apparently came in with the wrong part. They however, were able to switch immediately to where I was and I don’t think anyone in the audience, except our teacher noticed. All the audience noticed was the part where I dropped out. I couldn’t thank my classmates enough!

The guitar class: Katy, Max and I.

The dance performance fortunately went a million times better. We performed three dances, two of them for the first time.

Naihomy, Christina, Jenna and I dancing picotas, a dance full of hopping.

The wedding dance. I'm on the far right.

The last and longest one was the one we were worried about, as we’d never done it with all the parts: our partners, our skirts, our high heels, the stone floor, light, and music. Amazingly, it went really well. I think everyone actually enjoyed themselves and there were no obvious flubs.

Dancing Sinaloa with all the components.

More Sinaloa.

My partner and I.

The rest of the dinner was a lot of fun. We broke open a huge piñata, though I don’t think anyone in the group got much candy because the professors stormed the goods and took everything. That was kind of strange.

Me trying to break the piñata.

The people I spent the most time with throughout the semester: Sarah, Lauren, Cassandra, me, Naihomy.

We also danced a bit and just generally had a good time together. Afterwards some of us finished the evening by watching “When Harry Met Sally,” one of my all time favorite movies, at Max’s house.

Raul, Max's host brother, Gerardo, me, Cassandra, and Jenna at Max's house.

6. Saturday night and Sunday I think we were all spending as much time as possible with the others in the group because almost everyone left on Monday the 10th. We made S’mores at Courtney’s house Saturday night; I had my last coffee date with Cassandra Sunday morning; we danced our last performance at midday; I spent the afternoon shopping and buying bus tickets to Chiapas with Jenna; we all got together in a café for a few hours in the afternoon; and then I was at Naihomy’s house until 2:30 in the morning, hanging out and sharing music.

Monday morning we all went to the bus stop to say goodbye. Everyone except Corinne, who was in the program two years ago and now works in the program office, Jenna, and I boarded the bus to Mexico City on the road home. It was really sad to see everyone go. I have had such a wonderful time with them and built some strong friendships I hope to maintain.

I spent the rest of the day getting ready for my much-awaited trip to Chiapas with Jenna and Corinne. We left that night at 7:00 to spend 12 hours on the bus. See the next post for details. :)