Sunday, March 18, 2007

summer plans & three-day weekends

So the biggest news of the month is that I finally decided what to do this summer. I sent an email about this, so most of you have probably already heard, but just in case, here’s the scoop:

I applied to 10 astronomy research programs in the states and found two positions here in Mexico. Six of the US programs, three of which were national observatories (!!), accepted me in the first two weeks of March.

I've decided to go to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. I'm very excited to work at the radio observatory, surrounded by professional astronomers in the jungle of Puerto Rico. It should be an experience of a lifetime!

The radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. (photo from the Arecibo webpage:

I’ll be working with two professors on the following project:


The project will be to reduce neutral hydrogen data taken in the Taurus region of the Zone of Avoidance survey for galaxies behind the galactic plane and to search for galaxies in the data. Galaxies that are found will then be analyzed and cross-checked with existing catalogues through tools such as NED and the Virtual Observatory to see if they are new discoveries or previously known galaxies, and if the latter what is known about them. Optical and infrared surveys of the region will be examined to see if they give further information on the galaxies found, and galaxies properties will be cross-correlated to see what trends emerge.

Here is the PROGRAM DESCRIPTION we were sent:

We have made offers for 10 student positions at this time, of which 1 or 2 will be graduate students rather than REU per se. In addition, there are often a few other students from Puerto Rico universities that work on site outside the REU program. Housing is available at the observatory, complete with kitchenettes to prepare your own meals. Shopping trips into town will be organized, along with some weekend activities. There are regular seminars on a wide range of scientific research topics pursued at the observatory.

The Arecibo Observatory is set in tropical forest, limestone karst country, and is approached by a winding road along a valley between small conical hills. These isolate the site from radio frequency interference from domestic appliances, and much of that generated by population centers: a necessary protection for a radio observatory to function. The nearest residential area is 10 minutes away by car; the nearest town (Arecibo) about half an hour away.

Most REU students opt to stay on site, in Observatory visiting scientist's quarters (VSQ) accommodation. This provides them with the same experience as visiting observers to the site. You should think of an Arecibo REU internship as being a sample of the life led by a radio astronomer when he or she visits the site. Other examples of on-location REU experiences are (i) one run from the University of Puerto Rico for botanists in the jungle reserve of El Yunque, where students live in a typical base-camp for botanists on-location; and (ii) the program run at the US optical observatory of Cerro Tololo in the Andes, where conditions are broadly similar to those at Arecibo, but more isolated.

There are consequences. An Arecibo internship offers a lot of scope for a serious student to dig in to a project, and see what they can make of it. Many of our students are in their third year, and so may also use part of their time in the evening preparing for grad school exams. The point here
is that the Arecibo Observatory is not in an urban setting, and is not primarily setup to cater to students per se or to provide them with entertainment: it is a working facility for observers and engineers. And some of these will pass through the Observatory during the summer, and a few may offer talks.

We are aware that most students will be younger than 25, and so find it difficult to rent a car, which means that they cannot move freely about the island. At present (for the first time during an REU summer) the on-site cafeteria is not likely to be open on weekends, and may offer only a limited dinner service. Students may then need to use the kitchenettes in the VSQ to prepare meals. Some shopping trips will be arranged every week for necessities. We will also organize or facilitate an event about every other weekend to allow students to get away from the Observatory, and sample the life and sights of Puerto Rico. The students every year have some choice about these activities, and can, in addition make their own separate arrangements.

For example: many past groups of students have bonded together to share their summer at Arecibo. This has often resulted in many of them deciding to use their time in PR to get scuba diving certification, as there are accessible coral reefs at several comparatively nearby locations.
Their summer is then completed by a three-day diving trip to the nearby, unpopulated island of Mona. That is often the social highlight of the REU summer.

If you want to learn more about the Arecibo Observatory, check out their homepage at

Some of the TRIPS planned for this summer are:

- Visit to Culebra Island and its famous Flamenco beach, one of the most beautiful in the world,
- Visit to El Yunque, a tropical rainforest that is pretty much as it was before Columbus. This involves several hours of hiking, and swimming near beautiful waterfalls,
- Visit to the beautiful Camuy caves, where we can appreciate the underground river system of Puerto Rico
- Visit to Vieques Island, and its bioluminescent bay. If you swim there at night, the water glows. It is an amazing thing.
- Go to the great beaches of the Guanica dry forest and Cabo Rojo
- Visit Old San Juan, with all is nice Spanish architecture, cultural activities and (if you like it) great dancing places.

In addition to all of these perks, the REU program will pay me $4,500 USD for the ten-week internship (minus the $625 for housing and whatever I spend on food) and provide me with a plane ticket to and from Puerto Rico.

This is an amazing deal for the US, but comparing it to people’s opportunities in Mexico, puts a whole new perspective on it. The pay is unreal in Mexican terms. With the money from the summer and the money I’ll make during the school year next year doing work-study, I’ll make more money than an educated, Mexican adult with good salary. As an undergraduate student, I’m going to earn about what my university professors here earn in a year!! It’s incredible the huge difference in incomes in the US and in Mexico! Just to add a bit more to the idea, in my history class a couple weeks ago, we were discussing the minimum wage here in Mexico. We learned that it is close to $5 USD a day for a 10-hour day and many employers don’t pay the minimum. This means that a Mexican worker being paid the minimum wage, which is more than many receive, is making less money in a DAY than a US worker makes in an HOUR. That’s incredible! It’s true food and commodities are less expensive here, but not more than 10 times less!

With this perspective, it’s easy to see why so many Mexicans immigrate to the U.S. Even if the employers in the states don’t pay them as well as a U.S. worker, they’re still going to make a lot more than they would in Mexico. Building a wall or increasing border control isn’t going to change this situation; it’s not going to control immigration. If we really want to curb Mexican immigration into the states, we need to do something to improve the lives of the people in Mexico, help their country grow so they have good opportunities here to prosper and more forward. That’s the only way we’re going to stop them from going to the US in such large numbers!

* * *

In other news, the season of breaks from school is starting here. Last weekend we had a three-day weekend due to the university workers’ day. This weekend is another three-day weekend. We get money off to celebrate the day the Mexican government took the petroleum industry out of foreign hands and made it a government business.

Last weekend I thoroughly enjoyed the long weekend. On Saturday, Gerardo and I went for a LONG bike ride. We rode for about two hours to a small waterfall. We did the trip back in an hour and a half, pedaling really hard at some points. We arrived exhausted at his house. After a short nap and dinner we went to visit our friend Lauren who had just gotten back from Acapulco. Afterwards, somehow, we had enough energy to go out to dance for about an hour.

Sunday we went with Gerardo’s parents to Tepoztlán, a small town near Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. Tepoztlán is situated among craggy mountains and is still quite a green area; somehow it’s been saved by the deforestation that has taken place in almost all of central Mexico.

My favorite tree in Mexico, called jacaranda. I love the purple of its blossoms.

The highlights of the town were wandering the Sunday market and, the biggest highlight, climbing one of the mountains to arrive at a small pyramid at the top.

The mountain seen from the the town below. You can just make out the pyramid on top. It looks like a small white box on the left side where the ridge dips down and levels off.

The hike to the top took Gerardo and I about 45 minutes (we heard it would take about an hour unless we were young and fit, so we were pleased to do it in less). It was basically like climbing stairs for 45 minutes. When we arrived at the top, we had a beautiful view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

The view from the top of the mountain.

The pyramid was small, but still impressive due to its location.

Me on the pyramid.

Me on top of the mountain with the pyramid behind me.

Gerardo’s father also hiked up. His mother started to but after about fifteen minutes, she decided to stay behind. While Gerardo and I fiddled with our backpack and tried to decide what to leave with his mom, his father went on ahead. I think we were with his mom about 10 minutes before starting up again ourselves. The whole way up we were passing people, not a single person passed us, but we never caught up to his dad. When we arrived at the top, his dad was there waiting on top of the pyramid. He said he’d been there for a bit. He must have hiked just as fast or faster than we did! We were impressed…and glad he’d started first so we were saved the possible embarrassment of him leaving us behind in the hike.

This three-day weekend hasn’t been nearly as fun. I woke up Friday with a fever of 100.4. I didn’t go to any classes and spent the day in bed taking Tylenol and drinking lots of fluids. My fever didn’t go down all day, fluctuating between about 100 and 102.5. At night it reached 103.4 and I decided I’d better go to the hospital. It was the first time I’ve had to go to the emergency room for a fever and only the second time in my life I’ve been for me (the first time was when I had appendicitis in high school). It wasn’t a bad experience, but I still hope I never have to do it again. We got to the emergency room, they took my temperature, did a quick check up, took a blood sample, and immediately hooked me up to an IV with antibiotics. I was there for about three hours, with an IV in my arm and a cold towel on my head, waiting for my fever to come down and for the results to come back from the test. They let me go at about midnight. In three hours my fever came down from more than 103 F to normal, thanks to the antibiotics and fluids they pumped into me. I learned I had a serious throat infection and a urinary tract infection. I was sent home with antibiotics and a fever reducer, in case my fever came up again.

I woke up Saturday feeling much better. I was congested and had more of a cough than before, but hardly had any fever and the whole-body-ache from the day before, especially strong in my head and neck, was gone. I spent the day sleeping, watching movies, and relaxing. A couple friends came to visit, which was nice. We also have two Smith girls staying in the house this week on a visit. They were here last year and are back for their spring break and a conference we’re hosting at the end of the week. I haven’t spent much time with them, but they seem nice enough.

I think the rest of the weekend is going to be spent pretty much in bed, trying to recuperate. Tonight several of the girls in the program have a folkloric dance performance, so I’m planning to go see that. It may be my only excursion all weekend. I’m trying to take advantage of the time in bed, while I’m awake with energy, to do little things I haven’t gotten around to, such as writing in the blog, filing my taxes, etc. Now that the worst is past, it’s not so bad I guess. It’s lucky I have a three-day weekend to recuperate.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

March news so far

The biggest two bits of news from this month, as little of it as has passed, are that I (finally) cut my hair, which I’ve been wanting to do since December, and that I’m beginning to get summer, research internship offers.

My new haircut.

I started thinking about next summer during the fall when I began scheming for how I could stay in Mexico longer. At the inauguration events for the new telescope I talked to the director of astrophysics about the possibility of working at the institute during the summer. As I was waiting to hear back from him in January, I applied to many astronomy Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in the U.S.

In January the director of the astrophysics institute here wrote to me with a couple offers: one to work with him on some solar system research and another to work with a collegue on extra-galactic research. I got in touch with the other professor and her project on the formation of galaxies in the early universe sounded interesting.

Just this past week, I heard from two of the REU programs. I’ve been accepted to a program at the Florida Institute of Technology and to another at Wyoming University. At Wyoming University, the same professor that accepted me last year, with whom I wanted to work until I decided to work in the museum in Portland instead, accepted me again. In the past two days I’ve spoken on the phone or through the internet with both professors. I have until Thursday to decide. It’s still possible that other REU programs will contact me during the week as their first choices decline the offers. As of now, I’m thinking of going to Wyoming, but Mexico still has its appeal. I also have my fingers crossed to see if anyone else makes an offer this week. Wish me luck!

some quick words about my classes & other daily activities.

This semester I’m taking two physics classes and two humanities classes. In the math/physics facultad I’m taking Introduction to Contemporary Physics, which is an introduction to relativity and possibly quantum mechanics, and Mathematical Methods for Physics II, the continuation of the math methods course I took last semester. I’m also taking the History of Mexico and Borders and Geopolitics of North America in the International Relations facultad.

My physics classes are both good, though more difficult than my classes last semester. Both professors are quite the characters. One looks like Benito Juarez, one of the first presidents of Mexico, and can talk math faster than anyone I’ve ever met. The other smokes like a chimney throughout class and practically barks his questions to us. He has a tendency to shout random words, which keeps anyone who might fall asleep in class from doing so.

Both of my international relations professors are decent. In my Borders class the students participate a fair amount and everyone seems to like the professor. In the history class, I feel like I’m in high school again as far as the students are concerned. They participate because their grade depends on it, but there are pockets of students that talk through class, something I find highly annoying. The professor however knows his stuff and enjoys having foreign students in his class because we “are able to see things Mexico that the Mexicans can’t because they’re accustomed to everything.” We bring “a fresh look at Mexico which everyone can learn from,” or something like that. We have a tutor session with him once a week. I actually enjoy that more than the class itself because we can ask questions about current politics and culture in Mexico.

In addition to my regular classes, I’m still taking guitar lessons. Max also continued, so we still have class together. We continue to learn Mexican folk songs. I’m also still running on the track team, though only four days a week this semester due to my packed class schedule. (I have more hours of class this semester.) Running is a nice release and is my quality time with Lauren, one of my two best friends here. I’ve started teaching English to another college student. He worked with a girl in the program last semester and she handed him off to me. I’m actually splitting the work with my friend Merilie; we each teach him one hour a week. He’s pretty much an ideal student. He’s studying English on his own initiative. He works hard on pronunciation and watches TV in English between classes. He comes to class with questions and wants to be corrected. He’s very patient with himself and with me as a teacher. I enjoy working with him.

Other than these planned activities, I usually spend an evening or two during the week and a day of the weekend with Gerardo. Many times we hang out with my friend Merilie. It’s interesting to have such a strong three-person relationship between one of my best friends, my boyfriend and I. It seems to work well though, so I’m happy with it. I try to find time to spend with my friends from classes as well, though that’s more difficult. As physics students they’re all studying during the week and then they all go home to their families on the weekends. We had such a good time at my birthday party though that I think we’re all going to start making more of an effort.

Life continues to be busy and good!

Big Events in January & February

I knew it had been a long time since I wrote in my blog, but I just looked and realized I haven’t written ANYTHING since December. Sorry to leave you all in the dark for so long. The good side of the fact that I haven’t had time to write is that, in part, it’s because I’m having a ton of fun! I’m going to do my best to catch you all up one the big events.


Orientation in the DF
January started with the program orientation in Mexico City. Lauren and I decided to go to the orientation even though we did it last semester. We wanted to meet the new students and see the site again. Below are some highlights of our week in the capital:

Greeting Lauren at the airport. We are great friends and it was wonderful to see her again!

Greeting my friend, Merilie, from Smith at the airport. I went with the director’s son to meet her at almost midnight. It was wonderful to see her after a semester away.

Meeting the other new students. It’s always fun to meet new people and Lauren and I enjoyed hearing new voices speaking in Spanish, were impressed by the level of Spanish spoken by many of the newbies.

Getting to see some historical sites we didn’t get to see last semester due to the protests about the elections. I finally got to see the famous murals by Diego Rivera in the National Palace. I wrote a report about them last year, so I’d wanted to see them for quite some time. They were just as impressive as I’d hoped. It was also nice to revisit the sites we saw last semester. Being here for a semester gave us a different perspective on things. Instead of getting and introduction to the history of Mexico, we got a review and were able to make connections we couldn’t before. Mexico City was quite different this time around without the protests. It was neat to see the dance performances in the zócalo that couldn’t take place in the fall.

Corinne and I in front of Diego Rivera's famous mural about the history of Mexico in the Palacio Nacional

On the last day in the DF, Lauren and I decided not to go with the group to a couple museums. Instead we hung out with our friend Julio, Gerardo’s cousin, who lives in the DF. We went to the modern art museum, which we hadn’t seen, and to Coyoacán. Coyoacán was once a small town outside of the city. Many famous artists, including Frida Kahlo, lived there. It is now a neighborhood of Mexico City, but it has maintained its small-town feel in the center. Our visit was quick, but we got to hear and dance to drummers in the park, drink delicious hot chocolate, and eat some tasty sandwiches. It was definitely a highlight to the trip.

Lauren, Julio and I in Coyoacán

As always, it was nice to get back to Puebla after the week and see my host family and Gerardo again. Living in a hotel and meeting new people is fun, but gets tiring. By the end of the week both Lauren and I were ready to get back to our normal Puebla lives.

Classes had already started by the time we got home, so we missed the orientation activities in Puebla in order to start attending classes. Though we didn’t go to the official orientation activities, we did do quite a bit of showing the new students around the huge university and helping them use the bus system.

My semester started out normally, but didn’t stay that way for long. At the end of the first week of classes, Gerardo’s family invited me to go with them to the beach in Acapulco. I couldn’t resist the offer! I arrived a couple days after them by bus so as not to miss too many classes. His whole family was there the first two days, his mom, dad, and two sisters, and the second day his younger sister headed back home to work. Though spending five days in one hotel room with Gerardo’s whole family was a bit stressful, we managed to have a good time (how can you not at the beach?).

One day we went on a little excursion to a nearby town. There are lots of lagoons around Acapulco. The one we visited is separated from the ocean by a large sandbar. In the fall, the water level of the lagoon rises and the people of the village have to dig a ditch to connect the lagoon with the ocean. This helps the water break through and the ocean and lagoon are one for a few months. If the people don’t dig the ditch, the lagoon floods their whole village.

We took a motorboat tour around the lagoon and saw all sorts of interesting water birds. We spent the afternoon lounging in hammocks on the sandbar, drinking coconut water straight from coconuts, and playing in the ocean.

The lagoon and sandbar with the huts of the little restaurant.

We spent the next day on the beach in Acapulco. Gerardo and I went running in the morning along the beach, swam in the hotel pool at midday, and spent the afternoon enjoying the sun and the sunset. In the evening we walked on the beach and checked out the nightlife along the main boulevard. We never went into any club because the prices are ridiculously high, something like $40 just to get in, but we enjoyed wandering and people watching.

On the beach in Acapulco

Gerardo and I in Acapulco

Sunset on the beach

We took another excursion to a smaller bay another day. The water was very calm and the weather was perfect. At each beach we visited, we had to try the coconut ice cream, searching for the best one. I’m not a big coconut fan, but I got into the ice cream. Unfortunately, I think I might have had an allergic reaction to eating so much of it. I got funny bumps on my legs and the only thing I was eating that was different from usual was large quantities of coconut.

Man selling coconut ice cream on the beach.

The weather was perfect the whole trip and it was good bonding time for Gerardo and me. It was great to see another part of Mexico and a bit crazy to think that I was at the beach in January!


The first week in February we had a three-day weekend from school. For years I’ve wanted to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuaries here in Mexico and so I and the five other girls here from Smith decided to take the opportunity to go. Most of the girls left on Thursday and went to see more sites, but Abby and I, the two Americans in the math/physics facultad here, had class until Friday afternoon. We left Friday night with Julio and Gerardo. We spent the night in Julio’s house on Friday and on Saturday set out on our adventure.

Our first stop was the Valle del Bravo in the state of Mexico. Gerardo and Julio had heard wonderful things about the lake there and we wanted to check it out. The trip was LONG, with quite a bit of traffic and windy roads. Fortunately, the second part also meant it was beautiful. We passed through a state or national park on the way and saw a new volcano.

The Valle del Bravo’s main attraction is a large lake. We drove around the towns around it, in truth because we were lost trying to find the main dock area, and saw many HUGE, modern houses with well-kept gardens. The Valle del Bravo is a vacation spot for Mexico City’s richest. We finally found the docks and spent a good hour and a half I believe, laying on the dock, listening to the live music from one of the floating restaurants along the shore and enjoying the movement of the water. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy, so the water wasn’t as beautiful as it could have been. On the flip side, there was a good breeze, so there were many sailboats out: always a pretty site.

Gerardo and I in Valle del Bravo

When we had seen enough of the Valley, we got back in the car and drove to Zitacuaro, a town near the butterfly sanctuaries. We hope to get a good bite to each for dinner, but were thoroughly disappointed when we arrived. No one, even the locals, could recommend a good place to eat. We made do with some ok tacos from a street stand. We then proceeded to wait around until the bus with the other Smith girls arrived from Patzcuaro. Fortunately, Zitacuaro was having a small festival, so we were entertained my some bands and children’s games in the zócalo while we waited.

We picked up the rest of the group in Julio’s van and headed to Angangeo, which was going to be our base for butterfly viewing. We arrived in the rain at night and, after a couple tense hours of waiting to see if the people who reserved the last two hotel rooms in the whole town were going to arrive, we finally booked into their rooms (they never showed). We were glad to have them because the night quickly turned very cold.

The five Smith girls and Gerardo in Julio's van.

The next morning we headed to the sanctuary. We chose to go to the more remote of the two. To reach the butterflies, we had to hike for about 2 hours. I was happy to be out in the air and being active. When we arrived at the area of the butterflies’ we were a bit disappointed to find that it was still cold and cloudy. We saw lots of butterflies but the weren’t covering the trees, filling the air in flight, and landing all over us as we’d heard they do. I don’t think I saw a single butterfly fly. They were all on the ground, inching along, trying to maintain their balance in the breeze, or were in their nests out of sight. There were also many dead butterflies on the ground, as a friend had warned me there would be. Still, we made the best of the experience, taking photos of the butterflies, trying to step carefully lest we stepped on one that was still fighting for its life.

A monarch.

A monarch and I.

Julio took advantage of the trip to film some for his TV show. He interviewed various visitors as well as doing and “interview” with a butterfly.

The interview with the butterfly

Gerardo with the camera and a butterfly that stayed with him as we hiked out. We had to remove it from the bag before we got too far away from the other butterflies so it wouldn't be totally lost.

We hiked back out and returned to Angangeo, where we found the only restaurant with cable in order to watch part of the Super Bowl. It started to pour while we were in the restaurant and right at halftime, the best part of the Super Bowl in my opinion, the lights went out. It took a while for them to come back on and when they did and we turned the TV back on, they went out again. They were back on again before we left.

In the hotel that night we all crammed into my bedroom for a mini party, which was livened up by the extensive period without light when they went out again. We passed another cold night in the hotel.

The next morning we drove back over the mountain of the butterfly sanctuary. It had snowed overnight! I felt bad for the butterflies but we all had fun throwing snowballs.

Everyone was enjoying the snow, even the police, who built a snowman on their car.

Trying to stay dry when the snow turned to a wet hail-like drizzle.

Climbing the Malinche
The week after going to Michoacán, I woke up in the morning and my host mom said “I got up this morning and saw that the Popo, Izta and the Malinche (the three mountains here) are covered in snow. If we didn’t have things to do today, I’d say we should go climb the Malinche.” I looked at her and said, “I only have one class today, and if it means we can go to the Malinche, I’ll skip it.” There was a contemplative silence and then she said, “I’m going to go ask Adolfo and Moises if they want to go.” In the end we decided to go in the afternoon so I wouldn’t have to miss class. Moises couldn’t go, so I invited Gerardo and Merilie.

We arrived at the mountain around 4 pm, with only a couple hours before sunset. The goal was to reach the snow. Gerardo, Merilie and I set off at a faster pace than my host parents. We quickly lost them and climbed up, up, up. The Malinche is a mountain of pure up on the way up and pure down on the way down. There were long stretches of almost straight-up climbing. Puebla is already at about 7,000 ft and the peak of the Malinche is at about 14,400 ft. The going was slow, but we pushed on and on, I think mostly out of pride, until we reached snow. We were still quite a ways from the peak. We climbed up for and hour and forty five minutes. I think we would have had to climb at least that much more to reach the top, but Gerardo was convinced it was less to the top. Besides being exhausted (in addition to the hard work of the climb, we hadn’t eaten lunch), the sun was setting and so threw a couple snowballs, took our picture and turned around.

Merilie, Gerardo and I on the Malinche.

We made it down the mountain in about an hour, literally running in parts to save time and, I think, our muscles. At the bottom we ate some delicious quesadillas, I think the best I’ve had in Mexico, and drank hot chocolate.

We made it home in time for the second have of the national selection soccer game between the US and Mexico. Gerardo and I went to my friend Max’s house to watch it with a group of Americans and Mexicans. To the Americans’ excitement and the Mexicans’ disappointment, the US team won.

My birthday
I had a FABULOUS birthday. My host mother threw me a small party on the 13th. I invited the Smith girls and my friends from physics. We had a wonderful time. It was great to spend time with my physics friends because they all go home on the weekends, limiting our opportunities to go out together.

My birthday party

My birthday gifts seemed to have a theme this year. Moises and Rosa bought me two new pairs of jeans, one of which is of a Mexican brand. They had noticed that all my pants here have holes in them that I’ve had to patch up. My friends from physics and Lauren gave me chocolates. My physics buddies bought me a tequila bottle filled with chocolates filled with tequila. I still have about half the bottle left! Gerardo arrived and gave me a birthday gift and a Valentine’s Day gift, the latter of which I decided not to open until the 14th. My birthday gift was another pair of jeans! They are my favorite of the ones I received and fit me like a glove. I have no idea how he managed to find jeans that fit so perfectly. Even I have trouble with that! After my friends left, my host mother gave me another gift: a pack of new socks. A good number of mine have holes in them. I felt like I’m really a part of the family here; they take care of me, notice what I need, and give it to me for a birthday gift! It was great.

The next day, my actual birthday, Gerardo planned the day. I told him this was what I wanted; it didn’t matter what we did, but that he thought of something. He and my two best friends, Merilie and Lauren, did a wonderful job!! In the morning Gerardo took us all to a small amusement park outside of Puebla. The park doesn’t have any real roller coasters, but we had fun on the rides it has.

Merilie, I, Lauren faking sick on the pirate ship ride.

The day was perfect. The sky we perfectly clear, the sun was shining, and it was warm. We spent the day in tank tops and it was hot enough that Lauren, Gerardo and I wanted to ride the log ride. We watched people getting off and didn’t think they looked too wet. However, when we arrived at the front of the line we realized the reason they didn’t look wet was that they were TOTALLY wet. It was impossible to tell where they were wet and where they were dry, so they all looked dry. We still rode the ride and got off it wetter than I’ve ever been after a log ride. It was as if we’d jumped in a pool with our clothes on!

me, Lauren and Gerardo after the log ride.

After having our fill of rides, we went to Patricia’s house. She made strawberry shortcake and invited me to come eat it for my birthday. It was delicious. After the mini party in her house, we all headed home. I spent the evening reading birthday wishes in my email and talking to a friend from last semester through Skype.

I was hoping to go to Veracruz to celebrate Carnival, but life was too hectic, so I didn’t. Instead we had a Carnival party at Patricia’s house. It was a costume party as always. I dressed as some sort of bird, using my luchadora cape from the fall semester as wings.

Lauren, Moises, and I in our costumes before leaving the house.

Everyone’s costumes were fabulous and we had a great time dancing half the night. Gerardo and Julio took the cake again on costumes, just like they did when I met them at our Alice in Wonderland party last semester. Gerardo came dressed as a jester and Julio was a super hero named “Super Beer.” We had a blast.

Gerardo, me, Julio, Merilie in costume.

We had our first weekend-long program excursion at the end of February. We went to the state of Veracruz. We went to Xalapa, the capital first. There we visited the anthropology museum of Veracruz. It was a very nice museum, well kept and interesting. It is home to many of the colossal stone heads made by the Olmecs, one of the first organized civilizations in Mesoamerica.

Leslie and I with a colossal head.

We spent the night in the port of Veracruz. We had a lovely view of the harbor from our hotel room. We didn’t have much time there, but Lauren, Max, and I, the three who stayed for the second semester, made sure to eat our favorite ice cream before leaving.

We spent most of our time in an ecological reserve on the Catemaco lagoon. It was almost like paradise.

in boat going to reserve.

We stayed in little cabins that sat over the lagoon. Included in our weekend was the following: a massage, use of the reserves canoes and kayaks, a mineral mud bath, and swimming in the pools fed by a spring. I, of course, took advantage of all the offerings and it was wonderful.

mud bath

In addition to the included perks, I chose to take part in the Temazcal, a ritual sweat lodge. The ceremony is an old indigenous tradition of cleansing and rebirth. It was quite the experience, much more intense than I expected. I figured I’d done hot saunas before so this would be similar. It turned out I wasn’t as prepared as I’d thought I’d be. We spent about half an hour or 45 minutes in a small, pitch-dark, sweat lodge, shaped like an adobe oven, with huge, red hot, rocks. The guide poured water with herbs on the rocks throughout the ceremony. The heat was intense. We chanted and sang. At the end covered ourselves with mud before leaving the lodge to symbolize our leaving the mother Earth to be reborn into the world. It was quite an experience and I’m glad I did it!

Well, I think that catches you all up on big events in January and February. Sorry to have left you hanging for so long!