Saturday, July 31, 2010

Final Day

Just when I thought I had taken all of the notes and seen all of the museums I needed to see, Jacques took us to Chapultepec Castle! Chapultepec means "Grasshopper Hill". It was the strategic site for presidents and the military with views of the city from all points above. The tour guide began to talk about the diversity of Mexico. Over 250 million Black slaves were brought to Mexico during the colonial period. They usually intermarried into the cultures, so you don't see a black person per se today in Mexico. However, African skulls were found to be included on the Tzompantli, representing captured prisoners back in the day. There are also "caste paintings" which illustrate the social categories implemented and emphasized by the Spanish based on intermarriage. Today, Mexico is made up of Spanish, Indian, African and Asian peoples.
Mural paintings also have captured the images of mulato warriors and Africans, standing beside Hidalgo and other leaders of freedom movements in Mexico.
I began this journey with a goal in mind to discover the African Diaspora here in Mexico. Yes, I have! Vicente Guerrero, a mulatto, has a state named after him. In additon, I was not able to visit, but found Yanga, Veracruz, a leading producer of sugar cane today, was founded by an African. I have so many ideas now for a curriculum project but I know that these images of Mexico will be included!

Ballet Folklorico

We had seen several performances of local dance, but this performance was amazing! The 10 dances performed illustrated the history of Mexico, including influences of fandango!

Mexico City

Mexico City

We arrived on Saturday, July 25th! Such a rainy day, but Benito is so skilled and so professional, he gets us safely to every location!
Sunday--Xochimilco, "the floating gardens". Vendors float along beside you to sell things, flowers, food, music, jewelry. It's neverending, but fun! Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's house and museum, brought her story to life. We had watched some of the movie on the bus, but the ending, we couldn't see!
Monday--Climbed the steps of the Basilica de Guadelupe! I have seen two Black saints in churches, Sto. Domingo in San Miguel, Oaxaca and now Sto. Benito del Palermo in Mexico City. I will have to find out about this! Uh oh, had to climb back down! Took a picture of the original Virgin de Guadelupe!
Teotihuacan is an amazing, metropolis of the Aztecs! I climbed the Citadel and several layers of steps to La Luna (the Moon temple). The Sol was just too high! Teotihuacan was the coming together of several cultures--aztecs, mayas, zapotec, etc., but always the Olmec influences.
La Gruta--restaurant in a cave! Wow!

On the way to Mexico City

We stopped at a little town called Tlapanal. It is a dry, hilly area that grows peanuts, corn and sugar cane. However, the families cannot grow enough so that families are left behind while the fathers go to the US to seek work and to send money back home. We actually get to talk to some of the women, children and grandparents who are affected by migration! The women left behind take charge and empower themselves by starting a recycling business. The grandmothers take care of the children. Families are willing to pay the coyotes to transport them to the border without papers to have a better life. This is such a complicated issue, but I was glad to hear first hand about the families. We shared a lunch with them. A children's book has been written by students and some adults to help preserve history and culture! A great idea!


Cholula, the widest Mayan site, covered with foliage, high on a temple--the catholic church!

We visited the Uriate Talavera house! Beautiful hand painted pieces of dining ware, pottery, etc. since 1624 when the Spanish brought over the style. Only 7 mineral colors are used. The pieces are black or white, then baked @ 850 degrees to become red. They are glazed, cooked again, stencil designs, hand crafted; then finally painted by hand!


In the museum in Xalapa, I encountered the colossal Olmec heads. There are about 14 in all that have been discovered. The Olmecs, dating back to 500 B.C. are considered the "mother culture". They had a number system including zero; social stratification and art which has influenced most of the indigeneous groups that followed. The continued mystery is where the civilization came from. Because of the resemblance to African features on some of the statues, it was first thought that the group was influenced by Africa; some say the resemblance is Asian or Mongoloid. This topic is quite intriguing and definitely requires further investigation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Xico, Coatepec, Xalapa, Veracruz

We visited the capital city of Veracruz, Xalapa, and some neighboring communities! Xico had the Texolo waterfall, a nice view, and a quaint little town, Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was preparing for the celebration of Santa Maria Magdalena with streamers of flowers and decorations on every street. We happened upon a parade of bulls and dancers and music! The bulls were made of paper mache and full of firecrackers on the top for later on that night! Each color group had a bull, carried on the shoulders of a selected one, and dancers--red t-shirts, blue, green, yellow, etc. They paraded down the street, dancers trying to avoid the spinning ¨bulls¨. We walked down the cobblestone streets to the bottom of a hill. We had a lovely seafood lunch there beside the babbling water.
Alas, we had to climb that hill to get back to the bus! We roamed the streets again and saw the crowd getting ready for a horse parade. Horses with men riders and beautiful little girls and women dressed in beautiful dresses for the procession!

We visited a family owned coffee farm and museum. It wasn´t a plantation exactly because these trees for arabica coffee are grown in the shade, usually near banana trees! The owner gave us a tour and of course a taste of coffee beans and fresh coffee. The beans are picked when they turn a red color; then the beans are skinned and dried and soaked in water. A mortar used to skin the beans came from Africa. Other easier processes are used today.
Wonderful coffee!

We have arrived in Puebla yesterday! Puebla is one of the oldest and largest cities in Mexico, mainly due to a Volkswagen plant here. We visited Cholula, the widest Mayan site. The food is different, but I do like those poblano peppers with cheese! The streets are busy with people walking and hanging out until late, but stores seem to close early here. I enjoyed a coffee
and listened to the sounds of a smooth, piano player in the lobby.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010



Late Sunday, we arrived in Veracruz, the port city of Mexico. We visited another middle school, Escuela Tecnica # 130. It was a pleasure to talk with educators and students about family, school and fun!
Veracruz is a busy place as well, with lots of people walking in the plaza and along the waterfront. Our hotel was beside the naval hospital and residences. We walked along the wharf and visited the Gran Cafe de Parroquia, known for its coffee. Believe it or not, I did not have any because I was full from the huge seafood lunch I had at Villa Rica. After the red snapper, shrimp soup, tastes of lobster and more shrimp, then ice cream, I could not eat another thing, even that night. I managed to wade in the water at the beach at Boca del Rio, it´s a hot tourist spot.
The aquarium visit was nice! I love the lazy manatees and the dolphins! Some of our group went in with the sharks.
Tuesday--On the way to Xalapa, we climbed to the top of the Totonac cemetery in Quaihuiztlan! Wow, the view was spectular from the top. The totonac tombs are made of stucco, then came the Toltecs and built larger ones, then still came the Aztecs and built their own style. We could see the Gulf and the mountain where Hernan Cortes landed and settled. Then we went down 120 steps to another area where Cortes met with the Aztecs. There they had a temple for the Gods of War and the God of Death. Unfortunately we had to climb back up the steps after seeing the ball court. I thought I was in good shape, but I was huffin´and puffin´by the time I got back to the top. Luckily, thank God, I recovered, so that was definitely my exercise for the day. Some of the others were much more adventureous and climbed further up the tall mountain. They talked about how spectacular it was, but I was happy for them!

weekend (Oaxaca)

Saturday--Free day, so we took the optional tour to Ocotlan and Coyotepec. In Coyotepec is the home of Doña Rosa, a woman who begin to make shiny, black pottery back in the 50s. Her grandson explained the process. The black pottery pieces were beautiful.
In Ocotlan, we visited the church and home of Rodolfo Morales, painter and philanthropist. He had some bright color interesting depiction of women. The exhibit also included the work of four sisters, Aguilar. Their pottery was alive with vibrant colors and sometimes, exaggerated, comical expressions of women. We walked to one of the sisters´homes, Josephine. She had some awesome work.
Sunday before leaving Oaxaca, we visited the Zapotec Mayan site of Monte Alban (white mountain). The Mayan history was explained for that site. The people planted crops by the sun and moon. The temple areas with "acoustics" was built for large gatherings and meetings. The buildings are aligned with the stars. The family dwellings were discovered to have areas underneath for family burials. We went down into such an area. The bodies would be buried there, maybe at different times. Little chambers of stone were built to hold urns or family offerings. The tour guide´s theory was that the Olmecs were connected to Mongolians ?. I will have to investigate more.

Zapotec Weavers, other updates

Friday, July 16th---Mescal is made from the roasted agave plant (tequila is made from blue agave). The plant is roasted, then ground, then distilled. It comes out from the vat pure 60% to 80%. It is diluted to 40%, then flavors are added. We tasted coffee, coco, coconut, pineapple, peanut, herbs, strawberry and others. Take a shot of mescal with a slice of orange and worm salt!

Teotitlan del Valle--The Zapotec women´s cooperative welcomed us so warmly with a wonderful lunch, then they explained to us about their group of about 14 women. They weave handmade rugs and tapestries, but most importantly, they have worked on several projects over the years to improve their community. 1. Making cook stoves for local women, raised on platforms, so that fewer burns result from fires on the floor of the house. 2. Placing trash containers around the community to encourage preservation of the environment 3. Care baskets with essential supplies for local elderly women 4. Currently, they are planting 600 trees and turning some donated land into a park. Wow--these are beautiful, dynamic women!
We participated in a group Mayan cleansing--incense burning, rosemary and water, flower petals on the floor. I prayed for peace and anything not in God's spirit to be bound!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


We arrived in Oaxaca on Wednesday night. The next day, we had a full day. First, we visited the Universidad de Tierra, a learning space. This university facilitates learning for the needs of a varied student population. It is a radical approach--no teachers, no graduation; but a lifelong learning process to develop the skills that an individual wants (and needs) to be successful in his or her community. Some of the research projects are being developed to assist with recycling, water purification, media, etc. The goal of education should be that we prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. I wonder when we will embrace such a concept in totality.
Next, we walked around the market to sample roasted chapulines (grasshoppers)--a really big seller on every corner. I tasted a tiny bit. It tasted like smoked sawdust. Oh well, the saying goes if you eat some, you will return to Oaxaca. Let's see if my taste does the trick. The market also has lots of activity--selling clothes, shoes, a fish section, shrimp, yellow chickens with feet attached :-); other meat; fruits, breads, etc.
We stopped at La Soledad where we sampled and watched the chocolate making process. I sampled moles as well--black, red and reddish. The mole tasted pretty good, so for lunch I ordered this dish with mole. The pork and beef, potatoes and string beans were covered with the black sauce. It tasted like sandy saucy something. I know not to try that again.
Okay, last stop was the OLLIN school, run by Omar Nunez. Omar is a former Fulbrighter working to teach young people English to better prepare them for the future. I have learned so
much about indigeneous people and some of the challenges facing the young people today. Identity text is being used by Omar to assist students in acknowledging their roots and embracing their multilingual abilities through artistic expression. I am thinking of ways to use this information about the many languages and indigeneous groups when I return. We need more effective ways to communicate with our Mexican students and families.
I can't wait to share my experiences with the Zapotec women's cooperative in Teotitlan, but next post.......

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

1st Evidence of African Presence--Marimba!

We visited the Mandayapa family of Marimba makers and he mentioned that the African slaves brought the instrument with gourds for resonation to the Maya. They put their ideas together to come up with the percussion instrument they have today. Cedar blocks with pig intestine (chitlins!) over the screws are used to make resonators!

Amatenango, Sumidero, Catorras

On Monday, we visited a village in the highlands, Amatenango del Valle, where women make pottery. We met a lady and visited her house. She made a paloma (dove) while we observed in about twenty minutes. She would bake it and let it dry later. I tried to photograph a hummingbird right in front of us at the fuschia flowers, but it was way too fast! I purchased a jaguar (my Mayan birthday symbol).

The Sumidero Canyon in Chiapa de Corzo is breathtaking! We took a boatride down the Gijalva River to view the spectacular creations of nature---many butterflies, waterfalls flowing out of the sides of mountains and crocodiles! We cruised over to get a better view of some sunning crocodiles and spider monkeys playing in the trees! Our boat got stuck in the mud there and we had to shift some people to another boat until the boat could move out! :-) A disturbing sight was an area of the river with a tremendous amount of debris, trash, garbage. This happens when there are many rains! God has blessed us with so many wonderful resources to take care of!

Last stop before spending the night in Tuxtla (capital city), was a long, long trip down a dirt road to the Sima de las Catorras (Parrot abyss). We were to see thousands of birds there in the late afternoon, but alas, again we were out of look with birds! I saw about 6 bright green parrots altogether, but the scenery, a deep canyon with trees inside, and the hike around the perimeter was good exercise!
Today, we leave for Oaxaca!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

San Cristobal, Chiapas

In San Cristobal, we have learned so much about the various indigeneous groups of the Maya. There are nine groups & languages here in the highlands of Chiapas. We visited a veterinarian, Sergio Castro, who shared with us his knowledge and display of Mayan artifacts. He has authentic traditional dress of each indigeneous group. Most importantly, he works to treats local women, men and children who suffer from severe burns from campfires in the homes. He supports his work through self-supported resources. He should be a saint!
The Maya Museum of Medicine taught us about the different natural plants and trees used for treating anything that ails you! Aloe, of course, but leaves for diarrhea, hypertension, stuffy ears, coughs, etc. Mayans believe that the body is connected to the soul. There are cleansing rituals connected with prayer to do away with evil spirits. Eggs, herbs & Coka Cola are used to purify! I'll just stick with the prayer!
The Mayan cross is seen everything! The North end represents the universe (celestial); the south--the underworld, and east to west is the Sun God. It may be represented with different symbols, but to me, it is still the cross. We all answer to a higher power!
We visited a church today (Sunday) in the Chamula community. The Church and the Market are adjacent to each other. No photos could be taken in the church, but let me try to describe this:
We entered to weave our way through the crowds of people in different groups, kneeling on the floor with candles (altars), coke bottles, praying; others, waiting with babies in white to be baptized, tables of candles, images of saints (John the Baptist) in glass cases, a mariachi band playing and singing and fresh flowers around the front of the church, incense and smoke burning all around. If you had on a skirt, you could possibly catch a blaze by cancles on teh floor, so you have to be careful! I prayed!
The market is another crowded scene! the Chamula dress in sheep-skin huipils (men) and sheep-skin skirts (women & children). The vendors sell piles of wool, black & ivory color; cabbages, potatoes, household products, fruits--various types;other vegetables, pork rinds, used clothes and shoes, and let me not forget, roasted ants! I did not taste that!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Palenque, Chiapas

Palenque, Chiapas, is a very interesting site with lots of history! Over 2000 buildings and some not yet uncovered in the mountains. We climbed around the temples and saw the burial places of the red queen. Red, choc, is a color used for royalty. An interesting fact is that the 3 Mayan temples are aligned with the Orion belt just as the pyramids of Gaza, Egypt. So many mysteries and connections yet to unfold. Corn is a symbol of a productive harvest.

The road is San Cristobal de las Casas was full of twists, turns, perpendicular curves and the mountains! Wow, everyone had to take some dramamine. We all made it without getting sick. Our driver, Benito, can drive that bus! The mountains are really beautiful with speed bumps through every community. Some of the women block the rode so that the buses can stop to buy bananas! They were delicious!
No wonder there are so many dishes with corn!
Corn, the food of the harvest
The food of the Gods,
growing on the mountainside, along side the road, in the front yards and back yards of the homes!
Roasted and boiled on the street! Corn!
It is said that the Mayans worshipped corn and tried to shape their skulls to resemble corn!

The weather here is much cooler. We are grabbing for our jackets and jeans! We visited a photographer and a place where the ladies recycle paper and make their own unique books!
I´m having difficulty uploading photos today. Check out, she has some of our group! Attending a jazz festival tonight!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Panama Hats

On the way to Campeche the other day, we stopped in a little town called Becal, known for making Panama Hats. We visited a weaver who makes the hats by hand. The itpyhopi plant is dried and used to make the hats. But because the fiber has to be damp to work with, they weavers have a cave right in the yard where they go underground to weave the hats. A fine Panama hat takes about two weeks to make. Who knew!

On the way from Becal, we stopped again on the street and bought a drink made from pitaya. Pitaya is a fruit, similar to dragonfruit or kiwi. I had eaten some on the buffet in Merida. It was very good. It looks like a cone though. In the Walmart, we saw a whole bin of pitayas and a bin of limones. Limas and limons are lemons & limes used in a soup we like--sopa de lima (chicken, broth & lima ).

We had to leave for Palenque yesterday. We went to Xpicod, a sea turtle conservation, run by Miguel Medina. We held large and small sea turtles, then our group went out on a boat to the sea and set him free! The water was wonderful. I got in, it was only waist deep, but felt so good. I could float. We all stood around in the water, eating fresh sweet watermelon and pumpkin seed hummus!
We had seafood in Sabancuy but there was a storm so we could not get in the water. The ride to Palenque was long.....rainy and bumpy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celestun, Campeche

We walked the streets of Merida and viewed the sights--street vendors, shops, street cafes and music and a street festival on Saturday night. A Michael Jackson was dancing in the plaza. We had more ice cream! I have tried guanabana, mamey and zapote, all delicious sorbets that I had not tasted before. But we had to leave the capital city of Yucatan!
Ah, again, Celestun was the wonderful, tranquil beach--crystal clear, green water! The boatride was thrilling with the wind at our faces, but on the way back the water was so choppy, we got soaked. I collected some lovely shells from the shores and waded in the water. At Sotuta de Peon, we saw the making of rope from sisal (the hennequen plant). We visited the fields of plants on a mule driven wagon( I felt like I was back in the tobacco fields.) The saving grace from the hot weather was the sink hole (cenote) out there in the ground. I didn't have my bathing suit, but I put my feet in the cool, crystal water underground, a few bats overhead.
Last night we arrived in Campeche, another coastal city. The view is spectacular. We visited San Miguel a fort now museum and learned more history of the Maya. The view from the top was so beautiful, crystal water as far as the eye can see. The sunsets.....
I tried octupus last night (a tiny piece), then had it in my seafood soup for lunch. I am really trying everything! It was okay. Ednza, a majestic Maya site. I managed to climb to the second level. The mosquitos were fierce! Photos to follow....have to upload. Ciao!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chitzen Itza, Merida

How could I forget to describe the magnificence of Chitzen Itza. The Mayas were truly an amazing, gifted people. The calendar, the temples were all created according to their study of the celestial universe and their beliefs. It is not just a temple with steps marking the days of the year. It is whole city with many different areas and buildings. The observatory was built first and after studying, the temple to sacrifice to the Gods was built. The ballcourt was described to us--the loser or winner, depending how you look at it, was decapitated in the end to meet the ancestors, etc. The tour guide was a walking, talking historian with a passion for telling the stories. What a people!

Hacienda Teya--an real hacienda of old, now a restaurant hotel. We had the best food/ meal with the US Consul to Merida. I had Ixmatiques relleno de carne (yellow peppers stuffed with beef and pork, cheese, salsa). I tasted some deer. The appetizer was gouda cheese with meat, salsa, etc. eaten in tortillas. I will be walking this food off!
In the morning, the visit with local teachers was very animated and fun. We talked about many issues concerning education--overcrowded classrooms, parental involvement, resources, attitudes of students today. One teacher spent four years in Colombia, SC, it was great talking with him.
Ciao until I post again. Winding down after a lovely day at the beach and boatride in Celestun. The flamingos were not there, but I did see some white and pink spoonbills.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

CECYTE, Cenotes, etc.

Wow, it does not seem that a week has gone by already. After Cancun, we visited a CECYTE technical school in downtown Cancun (real people do live there). The high school students study for careers in tourism, electronics, food & beverage, or maintenance. They may go to college after that. The students performed traditional dances for us, sang contemporary in English and Spanish, and did some modern dance as well. They prepared a meal for us--salbutes (like little tacos, my favorite), tamales with pumpkin, chaya leaves, etc. The flan for dessert was good. We drink rice milk drink and one with hibiscus flowers. Wonderful! The English teacher there has been a Fulbright Scholar to Houston. The school is doing an excellent job to prepare students for the future.
Valladolid is a small town, the hotel was very historic and nice. The dining area surrounded a fountain. The historic church there was used as a fortress it seems as well back in the day (1500s). I said the friars were priests but they would fight if necessary!
Cenote Zaci is a magnificent natural sinkhole in the town. It reminded me of the Blue Hole in Belize.
We are now here in Merida! Merida is a busy city! We found a favorite ice cream spot near this hotel, the Conquistador. Guanabana is a great flavor! We walked downtown to the Universidad de Yucatan to see another Ballet Folklorico performance. These students were more advanced. It was an excellent performance with the mariachi band.
Breakfast is calling!! Ciao!