If you want to see a full-on technicolour town then Puebla is the place to go. After all, it’s pretty hard to miss the bright orange church located on top of the Pyramid of Cholula (well, actually now a hill ever since the Spanish covered it because they thought it was used to worship the devil). We were lucky enough to get a weekend in Puebla, so aside from exploring the church and the historical city centre, we spent the rest of the time doing things like eating a three course meal in a restaurant whose interior looked like something straight out of a medieval castle, then having thick hot chocolate… then dulce de leche from the markets… then pizza with assorted alcoholic beverages… then freshly made churros smothered in melted chocolate… you get it. If it wasn’t for all the walking and many, many flights of stairs this trip I swear I would return home at least twice as heavy.
Acquiring cardiovascular disease aside, there was also plenty to learn; with Arnoldo guiding us, we were taken through the home-turned-museum of the Serdán family.They were heavily involved in the political turmoil of early 20th century Mexico – Carmen Serdán fired the first shot of the Mexican Revolution. Many of the rooms were left as is, so details like the walls riddled with bullet holes and intricately painted tiles in the kitchen were on display just like they were over a century ago.
Upon returning to Mexico City, we continued to learn more about the health care system (and attempt to get a start on our final presentation). As well as lectures on mental health, child health care, and nutrition, we also got a cooking lesson and learned how to make sopa de tortilla, a tomato-based soup ladled on top of crispy tortilla chips and drizzled with cream. I’d had it elsewhere topped with avocado cubes and some chilli oil as well, and it’s pretty damn good.
Our program shirts were also ready this week! Four of the girls had a printmaker in their host family, so they suggested we get shirts made for each of us and our professors, Arnoldo, and Fernando to commemorate our time here. They turned out really well! I was lucky enough to have my logo design get the majority vote, so that was an amazing bonus.
Around this point I became more aware that time was going by faster than I realised – in a few days the last week would start, then before I knew it I would be flying home. So I think that was why I really began noticing way more of the little things. There’s a lot of amazing street art around and often with a theme of sustainability, even in the quickest bit of graffiti; one construction site tarp had the words “mas arboles menos concreta (more trees less concrete)” crudely spray painted on it and another, “no + trafico (no increase in traffic)”. Plants I thought native to Australia like eucalypts, bottlebrush trees, and wattle shrub look-a-likes were growing in more than one delegación, or suburb, we travelled to. Dogs are everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere. If they’re not much-pampered pets like in La Condesa, where you can see dog walkers holding ten leashes in one go, then they’re one of numerous strays. Most houses have flat roofs, which when combined with having a dog means that often you’ll see a furry face looking down at you instead of up. The street performers, too, really pull out all the stops. We routinely spot a boy juggling flaming hoops for backed up traffic on our way back from afternoon classes.
Apparently I missed the memo about the Australian Ambassador to Mexico requesting to meet us, but on Thursday night we rolled out with the Immigrant studies students to do just that. Since there were over forty of us and only one David Engel it was pretty difficult to get all our questions answered, so I mostly contented myself with admiring the decorations collected from his time as Ambassador to Indonesia (my favourites were a dragon-shaped metal tobacco pipe the length of my forearm and a painting of warriors and demons battling it out), drinking red wine, eating chocolate brownies that turned out to be spiked with chilli (amazing - Mexicans really do put it in everything), and chatting to everybody else about exactly how screwed we were for our respective presentations.
This week our site visits were to a community health clinic and homeless shelter in the delegación of Benito Juárez. I was pretty amazed at the services (and prices!) available – AUD$6 for a dental check-up? Ridiculous. However, the staff informed us that Benito Juárez was the most well serviced delegación in terms of health care due to their governing party and therefore was largely an exception to the rule. As each party handles their delegación budget with far more autonomy than in Australia, there can be huge differences in where the money is spent; I left with the same vague frustration about unequal service provision I had felt in most lectures and other site visits. The homeless shelter visit was a quick one, but had a really cool hydroponic set-up where residents could learn a useful trade and sell the excess produce.
And then it was time for a Friday night out on the town. If WWE involved deliberately “beating up” the referee, flips off the ropes to dogpile opponents into the ground (both inside and outside the ring), and bright masks that near completely cover a fighter’s face then you have Lucha Libre. Since it’s clear much of the fighting is scripted and played up for effect there’s minimal chance of the fighters being seriously hurt, so unlike most other forms of combat I could really relax and enjoy it. Although it was good fun overall some parts were a little unsettling, like a few of the fighters accompanied by people with dwarfism who acted like mascots.
On a lighter note, the bus witnessed some killer dance moves on the way back to Condesa – shamelessly sculling Dos Equis, Tecate and Indio to fuel said killer dance moves just seemed to happen every time we were collectively en route during an unscheduled night out. It’s one of countless things I’ll miss about Mexico, especially now that there’s only one week left.