Monday and Tuesday
We had the first two days of this week off due to Constitution Day on the Monday and free time on the Tuesday. I think everyone was relieved to have a break after the busy weekend in Puebla, and we each dispersed in our own direction. Some went to visit Taxco, a Mexican town renowned for its silver jewellery. Another girl organised to do work with the Mexican Red Cross, a truly amazing experience! Myself and three other girls took it upon ourselves to visit the butterfly sanctuary, Mariposa Monarca, in Valle de Bravo. After an early 6:30am start it took us two taxis and a bus to reach the base of the mountain, where a guide took us on a 50 minute hike to reach the plateau. I won't lie, it was a tough trek, and the altitude left us huffing and puffing, but it was well worth it! For when we reached the top we were met with millions upon millions of butterflies, and a sense of audacity and accomplishment like no other. Everywhere you looked, butterflies filled the air and scattered the earth, landing on our fingertips and noses, it was truly reminiscent of a fairytale. We spent the remainder of our afternoon sitting by the lake at Valle de Bravo, indulged in a beautiful lunch of freshly caught trout, and wandered aimlessly through the cobblestone streets, decorated in white flags to honour the saints of the light that represent constitution day.
On Tuesday we had breakfast in a cafe, followed by a short gym workout, and then spent the remainder of the day smashing out our less adventurous assignments.
In the night, Mexican wrestling! Where we put our swearing abilities to the test, belting out profanities to a truly spectacular and elaborate performance of macho vs macho, and even chika vs chika, a pretty wild night to say the least!
This morning we visited the national Mexican Red Cross headquarters. They commenced the visit with a short PowerPoint about the aims and mission of the institution, followed by a tour of the facility, including the ER and emergency wards. They then took us to the transmission tower and let us all check out the inside of the ambulances, including the original 1920's model, often borrowed for movies and blockbusters. It was a cool experience.
In the afternoon classes were cancelled so we relaxed and caught up on little errands such as sending postcards and buying groceries.
In the evening we had a Mexican cooking class, where we made 'sopa de tortilla'; a rich tomato based soup served with crispy pork and tortilla chips, used in nearly every Mexican dish. Followed up by stuffed roasted chillies, so hot they could set an ice cube on fire. It was just basic cooking but fun nevertheless.
Today was a fairly relaxed day. In the morning we had an interesting lecture on child healthcare, a true eye opener into the poverty cycle.
And in the afternoon we had our final salsa class, where we mixed things up with two new styles of Latin dance. The first, bachata: a slow sensual rhythm involving the mirroring of body language and merging of two people into one. The second, merengue: a fast paced quick step of energy, sensuality and audacity. We mostly just paired girls with girls, but we all walked away laughing and smiling, with some new smooth movies to pull on the 'd floor'.
Today we visited the Bonito Juarez Community centre, including the associated drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, and the homeless shelter for vulnerable members of society who lack social security. The experience was a juxtaposition, a heart-warming peek into martyrdom, the rehab centre where 14 year old alcoholics are given a support group and a offered a second chance, and the shelter where Mexicans with no roof over their head are taught to grow and sell their own vegetables and even taught how to cook and learn trades. On the other hand, there was the reality of a harsher world of substance abuse, disadvantage and divorce.
On a lighter note though, one fun fact learnt today... apparently disadvantaged people, and really most Mexicans, prioritise their pets before their family! The centre spends a huge portion of its resources on accommodating the pets of the residents. We were told about a lady who said she loved her dog more than her own children! And apparently when collecting funds and resources for the centre, people donated almost three times more money for animals living on the streets than homeless people. Sad but kind of funny I guess.
On Saturday we visited Xochimilco, the floating gardens, otherwise known as Mexico's own little Venice. On the way we passed the huge stadium of UNAM, the National University of Mexico. And also a museum of one of the richest aristocrats in Mexico. Her massive house was stuffed from floor to ceiling with elaborate jade and ivory sculptures, hundreds of self-portraits, a huge garden where peacocks and Mexican hairless dogs graze the grounds, and private art galleries complete with the original paintings of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera.
At the entrance to Xochimilco, we were greeted by a large fiesta, complete with costumes, parades, rides, stalls, and music. Xochimilico means lugar de flores, as it is known as the place where any flower can bloom. After a brief lunch on the riverbank, we embarked onto a 'trajinera', like a larger version of a gondola with table and chairs in the middle. Complete with our very own mariachi band, we danced and belted our traditional songs, drank cerzevas and soaked up the sun as our fluorescent boat made its way down the canals, colliding with other barges in a bumper car like fashion.
A very enigmatic day!
We had free time on Sunday, some went to visit the Chapultepec castle, a historical site known for a battle between Mexico and the USA. Meanwhile, a group of eight of us organised to go to a Mexican soccer game, Pumas vs Leon at UNAM stadium. The crowd was wild! What an event! At the entrance we were instructed that it was customary to put our bottled water into plastic bags which looked like something you buy a goldfish in, as bottles are a safety hazard. So there we sat, clad with our bizarre water bags, drinking cervezas in the hot sun, and enigmatically screaming any swear words we'd learnt over the past weeks. Beer was sprayed over the crowd, a fight almost broke out behind us, and new friends were made from Mexico and New Zealand.... It turns out soccer is a universal language. We left the stadium exhausted but happy, and with an appetite to boot we finished the day chowing down burgers in a cafe in la Condesa. A truly great event, I would recommend a Mexican soccer game to anyone. Go Pumas!!
These weeks have been so jammed packed, I'm exhausted but so incredibly happy. There have been so many remarkable experiences, and I cannot believe we only have one week left. Time has truly flown by, and now crunch time with assignments...
You can read more about my adventures in Public Health in Mexico, Week 1