Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! CEMAL students’ fall break full of adventures!

By Emily Denham

I consider myself so lucky to be amongst a group of people that have an unquenchable thirst and desire to learn. Fall break was no exception in that we pushed our bodies to hold off on the relaxing every now and then, instead, be active— to adventure to yet another beautiful treasure of Mexico, where we could continue to experience as much as possible, hoping to get our hands on whatever adventures we saw within our grasp; we set off for Zihuatanejo.

After an early start and long, bumpy bus ride, we finally reached our destination, a paradise bountiful of Vitamin D, green lush forests, and promises of memories to be made and knowledge to gain. After unloading, a few of the students and myself accompanied our CGE driver, amigo, Ismeal to Ixtapa, a nearby town. It was here that one of our students, Lorreal, not only saw, but experienced her first step into the beautiful ocean. It was quite an intimidatingly strong current, but by the end of it she was allowing herself to be tossed in tides like a pro.

The days to follow proved to be just as adventurous for us all. We visited an island of the coast of Ixtapa where we talked with locals, swam with fish in coral right along the beach’s shore, enjoyed fresh caught fish, pet a random deer, and collected shells. It was such a different experience than any beach in the States. Besides the different language of the people, there was a different language within nature there. It was not over populated with people, but instead with multiple kinds of fish and plants. In front of us we saw lush mountains, to our left the lingering moon and cactuses, up and to our right, the sun. It was like our own private place to enjoy conversation with people who had lived there their entire life, while taking in the untouched beauty of Mother Nature.

Another day, we kayaked around the bay closest to our condo at Playa La Ropa, coming upon coral, local fisherman boats, and a sea turtle! The following day we got to jump in the water and take a turn at looking at it all from underwater, up close and personal when we went snorkeling. Our guides took us to an island that only locals know about for our trip. You could tell this island was untouched by humans in the way that the fish were not timid to swim along-side of you, coming to take a gander at you, just as you were doing at them. It was an underwater rainbow scheme of colors with a vast amount of sizes and shapes. We also saw an eel and a few Pufferfish! We fished off that day and with the help of our guides’ muscles, the fish we had caught earlier that morning, were brought back to shore and cooked for dinner. Que rico!

It was truly an extraordinary experience, one not easily forgotten and spent with a group of people as equally unforgettable. I look forward to more adventures with the students and lovely people here in Mexico.

Rachel with the catch of the day

Not only did she just set foot in an ocean for the first time during this trip, but she went out and snorkeled amongst the beautiful sea life!

La Vista from our living room of Playa La Ropa

The group on the island off the coast of Playa Linda of Ixtapa, Mex.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Taxco's Sterling Heritage

By Mitchell Davis

A few weeks ago the students of CGE Mexico Fall 2014 headed south to tour the ornate town of Taxco, which is located in the state of Guerrero and known throughout the world for its production of silver goods.

Taxco de Alarcón, usually just referred to as Taxco, sits in a geographical basin surrounded by large and scenic mountains. The name “Taxco” is thought to have evolved from the indigenous nahuatl word tlacheco which means the “place of the ballgame”. In fact the municipalities coat-of-arms is an Aztec glyph of a Mesoamerican ball court with rings, skulls and players. “Alarcón” is in honor of the 16th century writer Juan Ruiz de Alarcón who was native to Taxco.

The original city of Taxco was first inhabited by indigenous peoples in a place about ten kilometers south of the city as its known today. In pre-hispanic times this city was thought to be the most important in the region as it held the seat of the Aztec governor who presided over seven districts.

The modern Spanish town of Taxco, located in an area once known as Tetelcingo, was founded in 1529 when Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés and his men happened upon the abundant silver mines of the city while looking for metal to make their weapons.

Because of the Spanish influence and its desire to transform and control the native peoples, all the buildings in Taxco were made to a certain code of conformity dictating white outer walls and red tiled roofs that is still in practice today. If someone wanted to design their house or building in a different way it would be possible but they would be forced to pay a ridiculously steep increase in taxes. Another interesting feature of Taxco are its sidewalk-less streets made of black stones and decorated with lines and designs of white stone.

Probably the most intricate architectural find in Taxco however is the Santa Prisca Church in the center of the city. Santa Prisca was finished in 1758 only eight years after its start, which is unheard of as churches of its kind averaged 150-200 years in construction.  José de la Borda donated the church with the rational that he made his fortune from the silver mines and wanted to give back to god. The church is filled with embellishments and intricacies of every nature as it was made in the Baroque style that is known for exaggeration.

While Taxco is known as the city of silver it is also internationally known for ceremonies of self-penitence during holy week each year. Three groups of people the Animas, Encruzados and Flagelentes, wear black robes and black hoods with eyeholes to remain anonymous and make a two and a half kilometer procession of various forms of self-torture.

This sterling city of white houses, self-penitence, and decadent rooms of worship will be a hard one to forget.

(Descriptions for underneath pictures)

1.      sidewalk-less streets with intricate designs
2.      floral street pattern
3.      intricate street pattern
4.      ballgame street mosaic
5.      statues depicting the three forms of penitence for holy week
6.      side view of Santa Prisca
7.      Front of Santa Prisca
8.      German organ in Santa Prisca that was brought all the way from Germany and reassembled
9.      “exaggerated” inner walls of the baroque styled church
10.   rooftop view of Santa Prisca











Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Search for Great Cafes in Cuernavaca

By Dustin Stiffler

If you are a lover of coffee, you know what I’m talking about when I say that there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee. Whether it’s when you wake up in the morning, on a cold winter day in January, or just an afternoon chat with an old friend. Just as nice, is a cafe that provides great coffee, with a nice corner to lose oneself in a book or do loads of homework, and good music on the stereo.

I love finding the best cafe in town; whether it’s in my hometown or when I’m traveling. Buenos Aires had a number of great cafes, but there were some that set them apart from the others. Whether it was the ambience, the service, or just the food. I’ve been on the same quest here in Cuernavaca, and I have many more places to try. So far though, I have found a few go-to places to get work done or relax and read a book.

My top choice would have to be a place called, Larrosoir. This French wine bar and cafe could be characterized by some as very Brooklyn-esque or hipster. Others may just call it eccentric. Either way, the exposed brick walls, the repurposed wooden tables and metal chairs, rugs thrown upon a cherry wood floor, and used couches and reading chairs all contribute to a chic-industrial feel that is not overpowering. Menus are written in colorful chalk on boards that hang from the wall and bills are provided on reused pieces of paper often brought to you in a repurposed tin can of some sort. The high ceilings and large walls display artwork and decorations, and much of the space is lit by a large wall of windows that face the street.

Aside from many coffee drinks, whether it be an Americano or a cappuccino, Larrosoir serves a small selection of wines and cocktails. Typically, there is a breakfast and lunch menu served each day, as well as small plate dishes that are served throughout the day as well as during the evening. The cheese platter is a definite must-try. Composed of three cheeses that are strategically chosen. There is a smoked cheddar (I think it’s a cheddar but I could be wrong), that is not overpowering and pairs nicely with the bread that is served with the platter. You can taste hints of the wood that lined the smoker as the cheese lay in there. The second is a brie cheese that provides a light and creamy aspect to the plate. Soft and velvety, again it goes nicely with the bread provided. Lastly, there is an herb infused goat cheese. This cheese melts on your pallet. Honey is drizzled on top, providing a sweetness that is unexpected but fully welcomed. In addition to the three cheeses, there is a small bed of greens that completes the plate, and is dressed with a fruity dressing of some sort. At a price of $55 pesos, this plate offers a generous amount of gourmet cheeses to satisfy a slight sense of late-afternoon hunger or to share with a friend.

So, if you’re in Cuernavaca and looking for a nice place to grab a coffee, or share a drink with a friend, I would highly recommend Larrosoir. The staff smiles as you walk in the door, and provides excellent service and conversation. Whether you’re a business person looking to discuss prospective projects with a client or partner or a university student looking to get some work done, Larrosoir will provide a great environment for whatever your task may be.

The remnants of my Nutella crepes.

Looking towards the entrance.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No hay maíz, no hay país

No corn, no country

By Cora Thaxton, Evergreen State College

A full harvest moon was spent in the rural indigenous community of Amatlan, the birthplace of indigenous god Quetzalcoatl. For four days I was welcomed into the home of a wonderful family – the mother Maribel, father Alvaro, and their two sons, Alberto and Antonio, ages 5 and 11. They live in a two-bedroom cement home in a compound with their other family members. Chickens and kittens and perros running around, sweet smelling white flowers framing the house. We ate delicious food prepared by our host mother everyday, and managed to communicate well despite language barriers. It was such an honor to be hosted by such warm and open-hearted people. It’s evident that family is a crucial cultural value here. My Spanish is getting much better ~ I am able to understand the language pretty well, but speaking eloquently it is still a challenge.

Alvaro, my host father, has worked in the US and Canada in agricultural settings with documents. Tomatoes, oranges, tobacco. He worked for racist employers, lived in houses with awful conditions ~ one fridge, no stove, bed bug infestations and 12 men to one house. By the grace of a church group, Alvaro was given help in communication with his bosses, and they helped fix the house he lived in. They also drove him to the hospital when his appendix burst and his employer did nothing about it. The next day, his boss expected him at work. When Alvaro said he could not work, his boss said “well rest for 3 hours and then work for 3 hours, and then rest and then work again.” When he didn’t have money to pay the hospital bills, as he was making barely enough to survive or send home to his family, the hospital said it was fine but then made him sign a contract, in English, that said he would pay the bill. He decided it was time to go home, his heart aching for his family. But his boss would not let him. He bought a bus ticket anyway, with the help of a friend, as he only had $200 to his name and the ticket was $300. He got the name of a lawyer and this man said that the company he worked for had to pay his hospital costs because he had a work visa, and they had to pay the taxes he owed as well. But he had already bought his ticket, and so he went to immigration, gave his receipt, and left with no problem. He went home to his family and to his culture. The reality is – immigration is an extremely problematic system, a form of modern day slavery. So many communities like Amatlan are suffering economically, are being pressured into receiving government programs and losing their land to mega projects like mining or energy.

While in Amatlan, we spoke with radical activists ~ their life’s work preserving the customs and culture of Nahua people. We spoke with curanderos and curanderas, traditional healers, who practice plant and spirit medicine. We spoke with an ecotourism community cooperative, Las Cabañas. They are a wonderful example of creating responsible tourism, keeping money in the community while retaining the values of those who live off this land. Among the radicals, we met Doña Irene, a smiling and strong campesina in her 70’s who embodies the idea of food sovereignty. Despite a monocultural, pesticide and GMO dominated agriculture, she continues to grow the heirloom seeds of her ancestors while maintaining organic farming practices. The corn seed has been in her family for 2,000 years. Her passion for the fields and for the history of her family is itself an act of resistance, her long silver braids falling down her back. Her fields were in the crux of the mountain’s cheek, and her soil the richest I’ve smelt. When she spoke about her life, about her corn, her hands flew in the air, and she would grab the leaves of the stalk that extended far past her to the sun. She retells a story of her childhood ~ when ants would eat the corn, her father said, “It’s okay, the ants are hungry. We can find them something to eat.” So they left ripe, open mangos next to the anthills in the field for them to eat, and lo and behold they no longer bothered the corn. If that isn’t responsible pest management, I don’t know what is! She plants squash underneath her corn as a form of companion planting, common in Nahua traditional methods of farming, and they were in flower at the time. As we left her field, she vanished off into the rows, completely disappearing, and reappearing a minute later with a handful of bright orange blossoms to pound into her masa dough for tortillas. Not many families are growing their own corn today in Amatlan, mostly due to NAFTA and modern globalized agribusiness. It was obvious there was a whole lot of love in her corn, because her tortillas were the most fulfilling, warm tortillas I’ve had yet. I hope to return to Amatlan in November to help her with la cosecha.

We were fortunate enough to participate in an ancient healing tradition called aTemazcal, or sweat lodge. The idea is that you are returning to the womb of mother earth; she holds us, cleans us, and then spits us out. When you exit, you have been cleared of bad energy and it is a new start. When you enter, you ask permission of the great spirits with purification and insense. You ask that the earth clear you of what is no longer useful, but that no one else in the ceremony receives this release. It is common that women do this after childbirth, but there are many variations of the ceremony. It is support to help the mothers hip bones realign, it takes away the cold that happens at the moment of birth, and it is a way of retuning the organs and bones into their place. Inside the earth womb is vapor of sacred plants and heat from stones. They believe that heat is a combination of all the elements. The leader within wafts the vapors with a bundle of sacred plants. We stayed in the womb for about 20 minutes, took a break to drink tea and went back in for another 20 minutes. We were told to honor our families, our ancestors and to ask for a good future. A member of our group is Ojibwe, and he shared a few of his culture’s ceremonial sweat songs and prayers. Just after we emerged from the earth, a strong and roaring thunderstorm, or aguacero, doused the village. It was one of the most profound moments I’ve had here ~ feeling so grateful for the internal emotional, mental and spiritual cleanse and then for the land to have a cleanse as well. Mexico synchronicity at it’s finest ~ thank you.