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Cuernavaca, Mexico

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Spring Break, The Real Thing

Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico

The hostel in Oaxaca City was really nice too. After we checked in, we met up with some friends and went to watch the NCAA championships at a pretty expensive bar that we would have never picked out - not our choice, we were just tagging along. It was fun, but I just felt a little weird at first because there are about 8 of us, and we were all white people from the US who came either to study or do research. I couldn't really put my finger on what I didn't like about it, but I think it's because I feel like we (as people from the US) get a lot more out of the interactions than the people that live here. There are SOO many research thesis papers written about Mexico, but how does all this research give back to the people that share their lives for the sake of some nameless grad student from the US?

The next day we rented a car and drove out to Hierve el Agua, some natural Spring where we thought we were going to get to swim, but it was REALLY windy and REALLY cold. Still beautiful though. It was really interesting because it's a pretty touristy place, but you have to drive through a really poor town to get to it. A lot of people in the town worked at the place selling food or t-shirts, but obviously this type of tourism did nothing to stimulate their economy. We ate lunch there but it was really gross, so we had had enough of being cold we left for El Tule, where we saw this famous tree that's like 2 or 3 thousand years old. The pictures cannot do it justice - it is enormous.

The next few days we just spent wandering around the city and being tourists. In the mornings and early afternoons we would walk around and stop whenever we saw something cool. One day we went to the contemporary art museum, which was really cool and was in a really awesome old building. The next day we went to the pre-hispanic art museum, which i actually really liked, and was also in an awesome building. We went to a women's artesian cooperative and a couple artesian markets, where we each bought a few things. We ate tlayudas (giant tortillas with beans and cheese and sometimes tomatoes and avocado) every day. We would sit in the zócalo (the main square) and people-watch. We had smoothies or hot chocolate in tiny cafes. In the afternoons when we were tired of walking around, we would sit on the roof of the hostel and look at the mountains. One night we watched the sunset - It was absolutely beautiful to see the sun disappear behind the mountains.

permalink written by  Kimberly on April 11, 2009 from Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico
from the travel blog: Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Spring Break, Stop 1

Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico

Hello world. Welcome to Puebla.

This past week was our Spring Break, which was also during Holy Week, which is a holiday for most schools and businesses so almost everyone goes to the beaches. My friend and I wanted to avoid the crowds, so we decided to go to Oaxaca City. But there aren't any direct buses from Cuernavaca, so we figured what the hell? we'll just stay a couple nights in Puebla too. MISTAKE. Puebla is boring.

Our hostel was really nice and relaxing, and it was in a really cool old building with a nice little courtyard. After we checked in, we just got some tacos at a little place down the street and walked down to the center of town. There wasn't much to do so we just sat down and relaxed for a while. While we were sitting, a Mexican guy came up and asked us if we spoke English and if we had time to talk with him so he could practice his English. We literally had nothing else do so, so we talked for him for a while, but it got really frustrating because he wasn't even understanding basic sentences. We kept trying to ask him what there was to do in Puebla, but I don't think he ever understood the question because every time he gave a different answer that didn't have anything to do with our question. Haha, hope we don't sound like that. When we had enough of that, we went back to the room and watched Hook - dubbed in Spanish. Bed time: 9:30.

The next day was our only full day in Puebla, and I honestly don't know what we would have done if we had stayed any longer. After our nutritious breakfast of cornflakes and white toast (included with the cost of the hostel), we walked to a museum that we found in the guide book. There was literally nothing inside. So we just wondered around until we ran into a really cool artesian market with really cheap prices. Then we ate at a pretty nice outdoor cafe and listened to the jazz trio. We tried to find the contemporary art museum (that was also in the guide book) but when we would ask people where it was, some people literally had no idea what we were talking about - not a good sign. We finally found it (along with some random pre-hispanic ruins, which are all over the place in cities in Mexico), but they told us we had to pay 25 pesos to get in, even though it was Sunday when all Mexican museums are supposed to be free. So we went off to try to find the House of Cultures (recommended by the guy at the hostel), but we got a little lost. We found the tourism office, but they were closed so we just sat on the steps and talked. When we got up to find someplace to eat, the House of Cultures was just two doors down. Good thing we didn't look too hard for it though because it was also really lame.

permalink written by  Kimberly on April 6, 2009 from Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico
from the travel blog: Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Mom's Visit

Cuernavaca, Mexico

Sorry I haven't been writing very much lately, but I've been pretty busy. Also, now that I am settled in here, I feel less of the need to tell everyone what I am doing because it just seems like my everyday life.

But I was really excited when Mom came to visit :) It was fun to show her around Mexico City and Cuernavaca and really interesting to have to translate everything into English, which I don't usually do... First we spent two nights in Mexico City at a nice hotel that was only one block away from the main cathedral! The first morning, we made a flat Melissa, and I think the lady at the front desk thought we were crazy when I asked for paper and scissors to make her! We saw about a billion museums too, so we were both happy. We almost walked past the National Art Museum because the building was labeled as the Secretary for Communication or something like that. Good thing Mom made us go inside, or we would have completely missed it, and it had a really good contemporary art collection. It was in this really awesome and old building, but the entire floor on the second floor was covered with stripes of brightly colored and metallic tape! We also saw Diego Rivera's murals at the National Palace and we saw murals by Rivera, Siquieros, and Orozco at the Fine Arts Palace.

Then we took the bus down to Cuernavaca where Mom came to class with me, and we ate at a couple good restaurants and I got to see the Robert Brady Museum. I had been waiting for Mom to come visit, so I could go inside the cathedral complex which I haven't done yet, but it was closed on her last day here!! One day my host-mom, Catalina, invited me and my mom over for dinner, and we ended up talking for another couple of hours about politics and Obama. Here are some pictures with me and my two moms and Flat Melissa:

permalink written by  Kimberly on March 25, 2009 from Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Cuernavaca, Mexico

Friday night I moved in with my host family. My host mom, Catalina, is super nice, and luckily, it's really easy to understand her. :) She has four kids, two sons and two daughters, who are between 21 and 29. The two sons live in northern Mexico and only come home for holidays, so I've never met them. The two daughters, Marisol and Andrea, live together in an apartment in Mexico city, but they come home almost every weekend, so I met them last weekend briefly.

The house is super nice, and it's right on the baranca (ravine). From the street level, you actually walk onto the roof of the house, which has an awesome view of the waterfall. Then downstairs is the kitchen, dining room, living room, and two bedrooms. The house doesn't have any air-conditioning, but the weather in Cuernavaca is so nice that we just open the atrium doors when it gets a little warm. It's so nice, and you can hear the Salto (waterfall) from almost everywhere in the house. My room is on the bottom floor with another bedroom, bathroom, and living area. Off the living area is a really nice garden with a hammock where I do my homework :) Upstairs outside is where the dog, Julius, lives. He is pretty much the biggest dog I have ever seen.

My host mom really likes Zumba, so I went with her to the class on Monday night, but when we got there, they told us that the instructor had quit, and that the time had changed from 7 to 6. My mom was really mad because she had already paid for the month, so she organized a few of the other women that were there, and they wrote a letter to the club saying that they demanded a class at 7 or they would leave the club. It was really cool to see my host mom being such a community organizer, haha. Then she went back on Tuesday, and they had a new teacher, who she said was really cool, so I went with her last night. It was pretty hilarious. The first song was the macarena. And I though Zumba was supposed to be all Latin music, but one of the songs was a spanish cover of Twist and Shout...

permalink written by  Kimberly on March 12, 2009 from Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Palacio de Cortez

Cuernavaca, Mexico

Our history class went to see this mural today. It's way better in person, but here are some pictures anyway:

permalink written by  Kimberly on March 3, 2009 from Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Acapulco de Juarez, Mexico

Just kidding. It's not my spring break, but it was spring break for a lot of schools in the US. And I met about half of them in Acapulco. I had no idea so many students actually went to Mexico for spring break. Most of them didn't know Spanish at all, so they booked through this company called Student City, which organizes spring breaks for colleges students. I really don't know why they bothered to go to Mexico because they hardly even saw the country or interacted with Mexicans at all. They were only there to drink and do nothing on the beach all day (which isn't even that pretty).

It was the most stereotypical "Spring Break in Mexico" I have ever seen. The meal plan included unlimited drinks, so everyone starting drinking at 10, and the bar starting playing really loud rap music at 10:30 in the morning. One of the songs actually had lyrics like "I love college" and "Do something crazy, you're in Mexico." Most of the girls were already tan because they had obviously gone tanning before coming to Mexico. Some of the guys looked like they were going to fall over because they lifted weights so much but apparently forgot to work out their chicken calves.

I was really embarrassed to be a US college student because they make us all look really bad, and they fulfilled almost every stereotype about dumb US Americans. A lot of them were REALLY rude to the Mexicans that were walking around trying to sell things like dresses, towels, drinks, massages, and tattoos. (And some of the tattoos were just pictures of sex positions.) But maybe we sent of a vibe that we didn't fit in with the rest of them because a lot of the Mexicans actually approached us speaking Spanish and offering us cervezas.
It makes me sick that the people who work in Acapulco depend on the US tourists to make a living. And their income literally depends on how well they can cater to what the tourists want.

Oh, and we met a really cool guy on the bus. He asked Melissa what type of music she liked and she Reggatón. He shook his head and said he didn't listen to that because the words were so degrading to women. Then Melissa looked stupid. The end. Ha. But we tried to meet up with him at the beach the next day, and it didn't work out...

On the bus ride back, we watched a really cool movie called "Vitus." It was in German with Spanish subtitles, and I read the whole movie and understood it :)

permalink written by  Kimberly on March 2, 2009 from Acapulco de Juarez, Mexico
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They just don't make them like they used to...

Amatlan, Mexico

Yesterday we went to a nearby indigenous village called Amatlán, where we met with the partner of one of the staff people. Our speaker (who doesn't want his name shared) was a Nautl man whose family has lived on the same land for a thousand years (give or take a few). Their land is communal, which means that each one of the 226ish families has between 3 and 4 hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 acres). If a family goes without using their land for about 5 years, the land council (of which Nacho is a member) decides that they don't really need it, and they will give it to another family that needs it more.

He talked to us about Nautl culture, history, and present-day struggles. Our speaker went to college, so he understands how the Mexican government and the tax systems work, but he said that most indigenous people don't understand their rights in the Mexican constitution. This is how the government is able to take advantage of their people. The government has been trying to build a highway that connects both oceans, and the proposed route would run through the land of Amatlán. The government offered to pay 4 pesos per hectare (about US $0.25) - this would make an hectare of their land "worth" less than what they pay for a bottle of Coke! This community is only able to keep the government away because they had the title to their land from when they bought it back from Cortés in 1530-something.

At the house where we had the talk, Lisanne showed us the kitchen, which had a microwave right next to an indigenous tool that was over 900 years old and still used every day. It is made from volcanic rock and her mother-in-law still uses it to roll out dough for tortillas and such. She said that her mother-in-law was looking for a new one, and she was testing them in the store by scratching them, but they all flaked off because they were made from concrete and just stained to look like rock. She sighed and said something like, "They just don't make them like they used to..." I can't even imagine using something everyday that is 900 years old, but their sense of a "long time" is so different from ours. They have been living on the same land for over 1000 years! We ate lunch at Lisanne's sister-in-law's house, and they fed us delicious sopes made from corn that had been grown on their land with the same seeds that their family has used for a 1000 years.... Oh, and this is the view from their backyard:

After lunch we went on a short hike to a sacred Nautl site, where we performed a short Nautl ceremony. It was so interesting, and our surroundings were so beautiful. And our speaker said that they was so open to other religions that the Dalai Lama had even visited the same place. When our speaker spoke about religion, my favorite quote was something like, "I am catholic because I was told to be, not because I was asked." At the same time, it amazes me the their people can accept Catholicism after everything that the Catholic church has done to them...

permalink written by  Kimberly on February 23, 2009 from Amatlan, Mexico
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Mexico City!

Mexico, Mexico

Ok, so yesterday we went on a trip to the US embassy for a briefing about what they do there and such. We've been hearing a lot about migration from the perspective of Mexicans who migrate to the US (both legally and illegally), so it was really interesting to hear about US-Mexican relations from the US side. I was really surprised by how much I agreed with the men who spoke in the panel. There was a guy from each of the following sections: agriculture, economics, politics, press, and visas. The only thing I really didn't agree with was that the agriculture guy was very pro-NAFTA. But he was also really careful to point out that he was only speaking from his knowledge of agriculture and trade, and he admitted that there obviously problems with the agreement too.

It was really interesting to hear from the guy who worked in visas. I've heard that almost anyone in foreign services has to work for at least a year issuing visas, which is kind of how they weed out some people. But the guy we spoke said that he loved his job because he got to meet so many interesting people and hear about their very different life stories. And he also admitted that most people don't really know what the US visa people are looking for when they issue visas, so that was really frustrating to hear. No wonder so many people migrate illegally - no one understands the legal processes.

Then after the visit at the embassy, me and two friends decided to hang out in the city for a while. The city was absolutely beautiful, especially because we were walking around at dusk. We got to the Palacio of Bellas Artes right as they were closing, so we couldn't see any of the murals, but I really want to go back. And we walked to the zócalo where the main cathedral was, and we went inside there. I took one picture, but I felt really weird about it because it was in the middle of a church service...

Then we went to eat at a place called Sanbourns Azulejos, which was in a really beautiful ex-palace that was covered (inside and out) in blue tiles. (We found out later that the chain "Sanbourns," which there are a ton of in Mexico City, is owned by the same guy that owns Telmex, the Mexican phone company, who is also the richest guy in the world. I felt a little gross supporting the guy that needs it least, but the food was really good...) And it had an Orozco mural right next to the bathrooms. That was one of my favorite things about downtown Mexico City - there is art everywhere! Even the park benches were beautiful, and there is so much more public art in Mexico City. Instead of being locked away in museums (as it mostly is in the US), art is much more accessible to everyone.

permalink written by  Kimberly on February 14, 2009 from Mexico, Mexico
from the travel blog: Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Ixtlilco el Grande and the ex-hacienda

Tepalcingo, Mexico

Sorry I haven't written in a while, but I haven't had access to a computer since Saturday. We left Sunday morning to go to a small rural town called Ixtlilco el Grande, where we stayed with host families. I was with Katelyn and Kay, the other two vegetarians, haha. Our family was really awesome, though. We stayed with Don Evelio and Guadalupe and thier dog, Bobi. And Guadalupe was an awesome cook. She joked about coming back with us to the US to cook for us. My favorite thing we had was called a tole - it was a warm drink that you can make with different flavors. Cinnamon was my favorite, but lemon was really good too.

During the day we had a lot of activities with the whole group, and I was always really exhausted at the end of the day, even though I took a nap every day. One of my favorite things was when we went to visit the fields. A lot of people living in Ixtlilco depend on agriculture for their income, so it was really important that we saw them. It was really cool to get to talk with the people that actually grow the crops, a lot of which are sold to the US. We saw the sugar cane, the fig trees, and the greenhouses with the tomatoes.

We also visited this really awesome farm that was owned by a cooperative. Their main purpose is provide local jobs so people will not have to migrate to the US and Canada. We talked with some of the people that worked on the farm, and they were all really glad to have jobs that are close to their families. They grow a lot of different crops and have a fish farm and lambs and chickens. They sell organic eggs directly to people in the community so that they can keep the prices down.

We also spoke with a panel of people that had migrated to the US and returned. It really made me realize that there are so many more reasons to migrate than just financial. One person just talked about wanting to go to the states because he wanted to visit his grandchild who was really sick. Our family had never been to the US, but we talked with a lot of people who had. One night we had dinner with Guadalupe's mom and brother and his family. Guadalupe's brother, Jorge, and his wife, Amalia, had all their children living in Minnesota. The saddest thing was when Jorge said that now we had become friends, we could come visit them whenever we wanted, but they couldn't come visit us in the US. It was really terrible to talk about the privilege that we have as "Americans" just because of where we were born and the lack of privilege they have for the same reason. And there was/is nothing we could/can do about it.

Ok, so I don't want to end it on a bad note, so here is one of my best recent stories: Friday morning I woke up at 5:45 to walk up the mountain with some friends so we could see the sunset. We were trying to find a good place to watch it, so we asked a guy who was on his front porch (whose dogs also tried to kill us) where would be a good place, and he just said we could climb up on his roof! It was the most amazing view, and if it didn't take so long to upload photos, I would add one here. But I added an album on my facebook, so you can see some pictures there :)

permalink written by  Kimberly on February 7, 2009 from Tepalcingo, Mexico
from the travel blog: Cuernavaca, Mexico
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Intro to Socioeconomics in Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico

Ok, well I was going to try to upload some new pictures, but the internet here can be REALLY slow, especially when a lot of people are trying to use it.

Yesterday, we went to the market for an activity in small groups. We had to buy certain items and price some others, and then we did some calculations to figure how many hours a person earning the Morelos minimum wage would have to work in order to be able to buy them. Then we figured out the price U.S. consumers would have to pay if they had to work the same number of hours as a Mexican worker in order to purchase the same thing. Each group had a different list to buy from, so here are my groups results:

1 kilo avocados = 25 pesos = $1.92 = 4 hours of work = $26.2
1/2 kilo green chiles = 8 pesos = $0.62 = 1.3 hours of work = $8.52
Magazine "Uno más uno" = 10 pesos = $0.77 = 1.6 hours of work = $10.48
Kids school shoes = 120 pesos = $9.23 = 19.3 hours of work = $126.42
Shampoo = 50 pesos = $3.85 = 8 hours of work = $52.4

People think that the cost of living in Mexico is really low, but that is only because things are really cheap compared to what we would earn in U.S. dollars. In actuality the cost of living here is really high if you are living off of the wages paid here. Also it is estimated that 50% of Mexicans work in the informal sector, which means that they are self-employed and don't receive a pay check or benefits.

The minimum wage in Morelos (the state Cuernavaca is in) is 49.5 pesos per day ($3.80/day in the U.S.), which is the highest minimum wage in Mexico. So even if Mexican immigrants to the U.S. don't earn minimum wage (which many don't) they can earn more money in an hour of work than in an entire day working in Mexico. And people wonder why the come to the U.S....

Also, there are some really kickass murals around the two houses that have been painted by former students, so if I can think of something cool to do, I might paint one before I leave :) Here is a picture of one of m favorites:

PS: The rest of the students in the program came in this weekend, and they're all really awesome. A lot of them are from Minnesota, so don't be surprised if I come back with an accent, dontcha know.

permalink written by  Kimberly on January 27, 2009 from Cuernavaca, Mexico
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