Yesterday evening I got together with all the Gringos I know here in Mexico -- and a guy from Hong Kong -- to celebrate Thanksgiving. We had folks from Missouri, Arkansas, Washington, California, Oregon, New York, Utah, and Colorado gathered round the table together in harmony to stuff our faces with the classics. It was the first Thanksgiving in years that I've had turkey along with my cranberry sauce and green beans, and I have to admit it was really nice. Although it was difficult to transition back to omnivorousness after three years of vegetarianism, and I still can barely stand to eat anything that comes from a pig or cow, I think I really missed poultry. I'm not quite sure whether I'll return to strict vegetarianism when I get back to the States.
When we first sat down around the table last night, a great silence swept the room as we dug into our mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, salad, green bean casserole, fruit salad, cranberry-orange jello salad, and (of course) turkey. As our plates cleared we started up a nice little conversation, which was quickly quashed by the arrival of three pumpkin pies, a cheesecake, an apple cake, and dozens of chocolate cupcakes decoated like little turkeys. As the night progressed, though, several deep conversations developed: the legitimacy and purpose of religion, the solution to the financial crisis, etc. For a group of white, middle-class Americans, we have pretty divergent political, religious and social views. It's funny that I had to come to a different country to meet such a diverse group of Americans. I value my experiences with them almost as much as I do my experience with the Mexican culture.
I give thanks for that, and all the amazing experiences I've had here, and for the opportunity to study abroad again this semester, and for the two new opportunities that I wrote about yesterday. I give thanks that, although it is now definitive that Caelan and I will not be going to India this winter, we will be allowed to use our grant money to pursue another project. I give thanks that my family is alive and safe and well and happy. I give thanks that I'm going home to see them soon. I don't see them all that much, since I've been popping in and out of the country and spending most of the rest of my time in Arkansas, at Hendrix. But, thankfully, they are just as thankful as I am that I chose to go to Hendrix.
There's no sufficient prologue, so I'll just spit it out. I have great news: I got an Odyssey grant for a project I designed for Spring 2009! Short story: I will be coming back to Mexico for four or five days in February!!
Long story: I will be participating in the annual San Miguel de Allende Writer's Conference, learning about fiction writing in one of the Western hemisphere's most prominent writers' colonies (in a gorgeous colonial town that just happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site). I'll come back to Hendrix with a bunch of tips and writing exercises, which I will use to develop several short stories that I will present on campus in late spring. That last part really kind of terrifies me, but giving a public presentation is a prerequisite for an Artistic Creativity Odyssey project.
I've spent the last few days trying to nail down the prices for flights. As I planned, the trip will require a few hundred dollars of my own money, but Odyssey granted me the full $900 I requested. I have officially accepted the grant and signed the release form, and I am working to get all the details together. It's so exciting! I've already earned at least five Odyssey credits, but I've never applied for Odyssey funding before. I feel like I'm squeezing every opportunity I can out of my time at Hendrix, and it feels good. By the time I graduate, I will have at least one Odyssey credit in each of the six categories.
So far I've gotten credit for:
- Taking part in National Novel Writing Month (first semester, Artistic Creativity)
- Interning at George's Employment Blawg (summer after freshman year, Professional and Leadership Development)
- Studying abroad through the Hendrix-in-London program (third semester, Global Awareness)
- Taking an "Odyssey through the Odysseys" by profiling Hendrix students and their Odyssey projects for the college's website (summer after sophomore year, Special Projects)
- Studying abroad through ISEP (fifth semester, Global Awareness)
My Odyssey trip in February will earn me another Artistic Creativity credit. But wait -- there's more! I was also just accepted to participate in a Hendrix-Lilly mission trip to Shiprock, New Mexico, for Spring Break. That will provide me with an opportunity to serve the Navajo community, as well as with a Service to the World credit.
The only category I'm missing is Undergraduate Research -- a credit I was planning to earn this winter on a two-week research trip to India with my friend and fellow Hendrix student Caelan O'Sullivan. My flight (Chicago to Mumbai, via Atlanta) is scheduled to leave in two weeks and two days, and the bulk of our journey was to be spent in Mumbai. Those plans have been majorly called into question, though, by the massive terrorist attacks yesterday in Mumbai. Tourist hotspots were particularly targeted, and I've read reports that Americans and Britons were singled out as hostages. I think the biggest thing I can be thankful for today is that I am sitting safely here in Monterrey. I'll keep you updated on our plans. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!
I have three weeks left. Counting today and the day of my flight, 22 days. Nine of which I will spend out of town, and many more of which I will spend frantically studying for my finals. (Today included in the later category.) I skipped a trip South to be able to tour the Monterrey bar scene once more and spend some final quality time with my UDEM friends. Highlights so far: romatinc déjà vu, Secret Santa shopping, the newest Bond movie, the movie Death at a Funeral, a musical medley, playing UNO, laughing until I cried, live rock music, and a tequila sunrise. Coming up soon: a flea market, a lounge bar, a coffee date with a good friend, and homemade cheesecake. All in all a good weekend.
I've also been reading through my old blog posts to try to figure out where the time went. It makes me laugh now to consider that I was already hyperventilating a month ago, when I still had seven weeks left. My dear friend Harmony, made famous in my last post, asked me what I'm most looking forward to about going back home. After hours of deliberation I came up with this complex list:
I AM TIRED OF:
- People walking into class 20 minutes late, laughing and talking and not at all ashamed. This is an everyday occurence, and classes are only 50 minutes long.
- People yelling, answering their phones, and interrupting the teacher in class.
- People begging the teacher for extra points, or to move the test back a few days, or to let class out early, or ... .
- My nice but incredibly loud and rather immature roommate, who spends EVERY NIGHT on the phone crying with her long-distance boyfriend.
- Calorie-laden Mexican food!
- People who think all American girls are like the Spring Breakers who think "What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico."
- Thinking people are saying my name all the time. "¿Qué dijo/ dijiste/ dije?" ("What did he/you/I say?") sounds just like someone is saying "Katie."
I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO:
- Seeing my Hendrix friends! We've had two semesters apart and only one together since freshman year. I really look forward to our joyful reunion.
- Seeing my family! This financial crisis hit our family hard, so I'll be coming home to a two-bedroom apartment instead of the four-bedroom house I left. I don't even know my new address. It's been hard to be so far away during these hard times.
- Taking serious, academic classes, where people usually sit quietly and respect the teacher.
- Living in an apartment -- I think. First of all, I haven't officially been assigned housing anywhere at Hendrix. Secondly, I'm really going to miss living in Couch Hall. I guess this is what growing up feels like.
- Studying in MC Reynolds and the library study carrels. The library here closes at 11, and the study rooms in the dorms are really more like social rooms. And my roommate, as I said, spends most nights in the room on the phone crying. I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet.
- My classes next semester: The American Presidency, Creative Writing Non-Fiction, Iraq War, and Literature of the War on Terrorism. I think it's going to be rather a downer of a semester, spending so much time thinking about war and death, but a very worthwhile semester nonetheless.
- Writing papers in English! It's so, so awesome to write in English, because while writing in Spanish has become a lot more natural to me now, it's still nothing like the ease of writing in English. My vocabulary is just so, so much broader in English!
- Letting boys come into my room -- completely platonically, of course. It's so weird to have a ton of guy friends who live in my dorm, but who (because of the university's strong Catholic background) are not allowed into the girls' side of the dorm, much less into my room. There are guards and security cameras to make sure. I miss hanging out in private, and I miss judging people by the posters on their walls or the color bedsheets they choose, or whether they make their beds.
- Being able to buy tampons. Mexicans, in general, do not use tampons. Grocery stores and pharmacies sell a billion brands and sizes and shapes of pads, but only one kind of tampons -- which comes in an eight pack. Eight! This experience has made me want to write my Global Studies senior thesis on feminine hygeine norms around the world. We'll see.
- Going on a Hendrix-Lilly mission trip! This fall was the third year I've applied and the first time I've been accepted. I'll be going to Shiprock, New Mexico, for spring break to work on the Navajo reservation.
I AM REALLY GOING TO MISS:
- Authentic Mexican food!
- Speaking Spanish! I am really worried I will forget everything I've learned here, although the Hendrix Today e-mail seems to indicate that the Students for Latin Culture club has initiated a lot of new projects that should help keep me in practice. Spanish singing nights, salsa dancing, etc.
- People being obsessed with the color of my eyes, since they're not just brown. Imagine a gorgeous Mexican guy staring deep into your eyes and telling you they're the most beautiful he's ever seen. That happens at least once a week here, I'd say. I will miss that!!
- My North American Studies and U.S. History professor! He's really smart, has amazing connections, is hilariously sarcastic, and really encourages the students to think critically about how they can help build Mexico into a greater country.
- A LOT of student participation in class (whether or not the teacher wants to be interrupted). People just shout out questions in class to clarify, which is kind of rude but also a good way to stay engaged and make sure you're learning.
- My RF (Residente Formadora, basically an RA) Othoné, who has been the most fantastic, supportive, kind, involved person I've ever met! She doesn't take on the policing role that Hendrix RA's usually play -- partly because the adult guards to the Residencias perform that job instead. She sends weekly e-mails just wishing us a happy week, leaves happy notes and inspirational quotations on our doors, plans events all the time, and just in general tries to keep us happy and involved in the community. It's really cool!
- The other exchange students:
- dear, dear Dutch Rick, with his winning smile and fantastically cool boots
- the ever-enthusiastic Canadian-American Jordan
- the super down-to-earth and fun Canadian Sam(antha)
- the Oregonian Holly, who reminds me of my grandmother in the best way possible
- the more-American-than-I-am Ronak from Hong Kong.
- Spanish whiz Jonathan of Iowa
- and the super stylish, going-for-her-dreams Canadian Nathsha
- The Mexican students. I've really made some really good local friends here -- Mario, Pollito Mio, Othone, Gabi, Gaby, Mara, Rebeka, Gonzalo, Mariana, Nancy, Sandra, Cehcy, Toy, Leo, Pika, Henry, Karen, Arrantza, Paola, and a billion more -- which is SO different from my semester in London! I have friends from the dorm, friends from my trip to Washington, friends who are friends of friends, friends I met at Orientation, friends who work in the cafeteria, and -- of course -- friends from class. Especially in my North American Studies class, people are super, duper friendly. One girl last week brought me a woven bracelet. I didn't even know her name. She was just like, "I want you to have this, Katie!" Another girl I met last week invited me to her house in Baja California, after knowing her for about 5 minutes. Comparing that to the British is just laughable.
- Being able to go out and get a piña colada or a beer, and generally being old enough to do whatever I want. I get more frustrated with the US drinking age with every day -- especially when being under 21 keeps me out of concerts or other events. I am 20 years old! I am a light drinker! Let me enjoy a freaking beer!
- The amazing variety of clubs and bars in Monterrey. I am a huge fan of the house party, and not a huge fan of getting dressed up to go out, so when I was in London I went out twice out of the whole four-month stay. Here in Mexico I've notched it up to, say a dozen times? I'm also really going to miss Mexican club music, both the bumpin' reggaeton and other Latin hits, and the irony of hearing the clubs play American oldies like the YMCA or songs from the Grease soundtrack.
- Having a bathroom and shower shower shared between 4 people instead of an entire hallway. I am actually ambivalent about this. I really like the sense of community inspired by seeing your hallmates in the bathroom every morning and evening, but the privacy is also a refreshing change of pace.
- My dorm room here, which is enormous and gorgeous. And a cleaning lady comes once a week! It's awkward, because I always feel guilty for letting someone else clean up my messes, but it's also AWESOME.
- Mexican social and dating life, where there seem to be well known and very respected ways of doing things, with no deviation. I will miss that kind of clarity.
- A million other things that I'll think of day by day when they're no longer part of my life. The crazy way the bus drivers speed around corners; the way stores are made of concrete and have their function painted on the outside in big letters ("ABARROTES" -- groceries -- is a common example); ridiculously cheap taxis; nice weather in November; having the walls of my room painted green; and, most of all, THE MOUNTAINS.
Pictured above is a typical necklace that Mexicans wear as good luck and religious protection. This particular one has an embroiderd picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe on one side. The other side reads, "Virgen, please take good, good care of me." Notice that instead of "por favor" the necklace uses the word "plis" -- a Spanglified spelling of "please."
I received a Facebook message today from one of my Mexican amigas, proposing a reunion dinner for all the students who went on the trip to Washington, D.C., last month. The message began (italics mine): "Que onda people espero que esten bien, bueno ...." ("What's up people. I hope you're doing well. OK, so ... .")
"Que onda people" ?! I laughed upon reading that, but the truth is that I am surrounded by Spanglish. Here's a round-up of phrases I heard in the past few days. The following are really standard, heard all the time:
- "¡Bye! ¡Nos vemos!" ("Bye! See ya!" This is the standard way to say goodbye.)
- "¡Qué cool!"
- "¡Qué random!"
- "¡Eres un nasty!" (You're nasty/dirty/perverted -- usually said by a girl pretending to be shocked and offended by something a boy says.)
- "Sorry, guys." (People say "sorry" all the time!)
- "Oh my God."
I've heard the following snippits only once or twice, but was impressed by the inclusion of a rather odd or surprising English word or phrase in an otherwise Spanish conversation.
- "I work for food."
- "¡Ay, te vas a poner happy!" (Used to reference intoxication, in the context of a girl using spray paint indoors.)
- "No clue."
- "¡Mira su backhand slice!" (Heard while watching a televised tennis match)
- "Un senior trip" (People say "un trip" a lot instead of "un viaje". Like, "Vas a ir a un trip?"
- "Los has-beens"
- "Era nada más un bluff."
- "Hard work"
- "Un Harvard-educated man"
- "Una tienda ma'n'pa" (a mom'n'pop store)
- "Es un asunto very straightforward."
- "Un know-how muy importante"
- "Tenían que hacer un catch-up."
- "Queremos lo todo ahorita -- NOW."
- "Somos un elite." (The speaker distinctly did not use the word élite, which does exist in Spanish and is pronounced quite differently.)
- "La corrupción es across-the-board en América Latina."
In particular, my U.S. history professor José Luis García tends to throw in some longer English phrases, since he did his doctorate at Johns Hopkins and speaks English quite well. Today he told a student in my North American Studies class that he didn't have much hope for a strong, integrated Latin America. "Not in my lifetime," he said. "Maybe in my lifetime," she snapped back, in English. "De tus nietos, tal vez," ("In your grandkids' lives, maybe.") he replied. That conversation happened today, and it made my inner linguist all happy inside.
The profesor even sometimes accidentally Anglifies his Spanish. Tuesday, for example, the whole class called him out for saying the non-word "igualizar" instead of "igualar," to mean "equalize."
Another Spanglish issue is that the fresa students (the really rich, snobby ones) tend to call their female teachers "Miss" (pronounced mees). The professors, who have worked long and hard to get their doctorates or at least master's degrees, do not appreciate this disrespect whatsoever. Teachers have been known to demand that students address them as maestra or profesora, which seems perfectly reasonable to me.
Another Anglicism: the word for a friend-with-benefits (a concept which most Mexican girls totally scorn) is "un free". As in, "Él nada más quiere un free." (He [that slimeball] just wants a friend-with-benefits.) There are tons of other Anglicisms I don't even notice, like saying "carro" to mean car. I feel like my Spanish isn't as pure as it would be if I had studied in, say, Mexico City. Nevertheless, it has been incredibly interesting to study in the border area, where the United States exerts a very strong influence.
UPDATE: Friday I heard the words el folder, el CD, el hot dog, los hotcakes, el shopping spree, el thanksgiving weekend, un free-for-all, human rights, present and voting, keep the change, and los headquarters.
UPDATE II: Mandar un mail (send an e-mail), checar (to check), and sexy are all very, very common Spanish phrases.
One of my best friends, fellow Hendrix student Harmony Hudson, is currently studying abroad in Ghana. (If you are not Sarah Palin, you might know that that's a country in Africa.) Every week or two, she sends out the spunkiest, funniest, most interesting and descriptive e-mails. Every time I get one I feel bad for not describing my adventures to you the way she does. So, here is my best effort at a Harmony-style travelogue:
This weekend I went on a trip to Real de Catorce, which is actually called Villa Real de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Guadalupe de los Alamos de los Catorce (phew!) -- a "picturesque, ruined silver mining town" according to my Rough Guide. It's where the movie The Mexican was filed, incidentally, and I hear there's a shrine to Brad Pitt somewhere. In the early- to mid-1900s, after all the silver got all mined out, Real became an all-but-ghost town with a few hundred residents. Now that tourists have figured out how beautiful it is, it's been reinhabited and moderately renovated. Apparently TONS of people come during Holy Week and during weekends in October, but on a temperate early November weekend the town was rather empty and very calm.
We left Monterrey really early (7 a.m.) Saturday morning and arrived to Real in early afternoon. The majority of the trip was made by your average long-distance bus, but Real de Catorce can only be entered via a 2.3 km tunnel that is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, and not tall enough for a standard bus. So outside the tunnel everyone had to unload from the first bus and pile into a smaller shuttle bus. At times even the shorter, thinner bus only had a few inches of space on each side. And there were people going through the tunnel on foot and by bicycle at the same time -- brave, brave people.
So we get to Real, hop off the shuttle, and start walking past a huge market (it was SO hard not to stop, but the guys wanted to get to the hotel and put their stuff down). Almost immediately a 30-something guy walks up to us -- "us", by the way, was me, my friends Jonathan, Jordan and Ronak, my suitemate Gaby, and two other exchange students from the UDEM: an Austrian named Alex and a 28-year-old German named Percy -- and offers us a good price for a tour of the outskirts on horseback. Percy, who turned out to be both incredibly stingy and incredibly good at bargaining, haggled him down to 100 pesos (like $8) per person for a 2-hour tour. On horses! The guide then helped us find a cheap hotel, and after Percy haggled for at least 15 mins with no real success, we agreed to pay 100 pesos each to stay the night there. (I don't really understand the goal of haggling when the base price is 100 pesos, but Percy is very persistent.) After a bunch of dawdling, we finally all put our stuff away in our rooms, locked up, and left the hotel.
Our guide was super patient with us all weekend, in fact. We took another tour with him the next day, Sunday, originally planning to leave at 9 a.m. But Saturday night we ran into him again and pushed it back to 10 a.m. At 10 Sunday, though, we were sitting on the porch of a cute cafe downtown, still waiting for our crêpes and omelettes to arrive. The guide just happened to walk by, and we apologized and asked to move back til 11:15. We actually left around 11:30. We are definitely, definitely living on Mexican time now.
So: back to Saturday afternoon. I was super excited, having not ridden a horse since I was about eight years old. We hopped aboard our horses (mine was an unfittingly tall horse named Lucero, but we called him J-Lo because of his fantastically huge pompis) and headed off into the sunset -- literally. When we arrived at the ruins of the mine after maybe a 30 minute ride, the sun was just sinking behind the mountains. The light was fantastic, and I wanted to take a billion photos but I was afraid of dropping my camera and letting it get trampled by horses. So. The landscape was so cool! I've actually been really happy to have taken the Plants and Human Affiars class, since it made me really notice and appreciate the huge aloe plants, the ENORMOUS asparagus-looking plants, and all the varieties of cactus we saw.
The prickly pears were bearing fruit, and when we got to the ruins and got off our horses, our guide cut a few of the red, spiky fruit knobs (called tuna, oddly enough) off of the cactus, skinned them, and let us taste them. The flesh was melon-like in texture, but raspberry red, with edible but thick seeds like blackberries have. It tasted ... unmemorable, it seems, since I can't really remember. The cactusy part of the cactus, called nopales, is also edible. They serve it at the school cafeteria for breakfast, as a taco filling. Cut into bits and cooked, it tastes like asparagus but feels squeaky on your teeth like squash does. You know?
After the horseride, which ended just as night fell, we toured the city and finally got to poke into some of the artesanía shops. I think my favorite thing about Mexico is how darn cheap all the crafts are! I have bought roughly 2.5 million earrings, which I tell myself I will give away as presents but will probably keep. I'm also a big consumer of necklaces, bracelets, scarves, shawls, and purses. And cajeta, haha, a liquidy caramel that they sell in plastic cups. ¡Qué rico! I have really surprised myself with my penchant for (compulsion to?) buying Mexican jewlery and crafts. I am feeling very, very ambivalent (read: depressed) about the fact that I leave Mexico in less than a month, so I think I'm just trying to bring as much of the country as I can back home with me.
After a 3-hour-long spaghetti dinner that made me miss my momma, we walked back toward the hotel and were mobbed by about 20 drunken Mexican teenagers from the nearby city of San Luis Potosí. The girls circled around Jordan, a blonde, and insisted on taking a picture with him. The rest of the group split up and chatted up the rest of our group, frequently pausing mid-sentence to coagulate back into a blob for yet another group picture. Mexicans love group pictures!
The next morning, as I said, we dawdled around, breakfasting and shopping until 11:30. One of the shopkeepers I visited was ecstatic to see the Obama pin I had on my purse. She talked to me at some length about how she and everyone she knew was so happy to see America elect a black leader with a softer edge on foreign policy. (I'm paraphrasing.) It was really cool. I feel like the whole world automatically thinks more highly of America now, which is a much needed change! Anyway, then we met up with the horses, and were off!
This time we headed for the hills southwest of the city. The trip started off badly, as we passed a dead horse lying rigor mortised in the middle of the dirt road, its bloated organs hanging out and flies starting to gather around. It was really terrible. I realized that our culture values and respects horses almost as much as Hindus worship cows. All our horses got spooked, so the guide had to help us pass one by one. Rafael, another Austrian who actually slept through the Saturday morning bus ride and caught up with us in Real de Catorce on Saturday night, never got the instructions on how to handle his horse. Breaking into a canter (or was it more of a gallop? Heck, I'm no rancher) he quickly took the lead. My good ol' Lucero and Jordan's horse Payaso felt compelled to chase, and we (and a guide) broke well ahead of the rest of the group. The scenery was surreal: rows and rows of thick prickly pear cactus with their bulbous, red fruit on top; fields of pale spring-green grasses; and more of those enormous asparagus. I wear Transitions lenses, which totally obscured the green colors and made everything look weirdly purple. When my horse slowed down periodically, I would tilt my glasses back to try to get a feel for the real colors of the landscape, which were somehow even weirder.
When we got to a viewing area near the top of a mountain (OK, maybe not tall enough to be a mountain? Heck, I'm no geographer) we dismounted. My knees about buckled out from under me when I got down, and my butt was about as sore as you would expect after an hour of riding a fast horse on rocky, uneven terrain. We took a big, long look around and waited for the rest to catch up. Rafael, incidentally, had (unbeknownst to us) raced up to the tippy top of the mountain and was nowhere to be seen. Somehow that didn't seem to worry our guide. Percy had brought a six-pack of beer to share (for the minimal fee of 10 pesos per beer), so a few of us cracked open a chilly Tecate and toasted the moment. I, being a ridiculous lightweight and desiring to survive the ride back down to the city without falling off my horse, abstained.
We spent about 20 minutes there, soaking up the view and letting our legs and buttocks recover. Then we were back on our horses, headed back toward the city. We left Percy and Alex at the lookout point with one of the guides, haggling over the 20 peso (~$1.60) fee to ascend all the way to the top. (Rafael actually had to pay extra, too, for having gone ahead to the top without permission.) The trip down was even bumpier, as the horses hopped down rocks unconcernedly and we tried desperately to hold on. As we reentered the city on horseback, we had to navigate between rows of parked cars and other moving vehicles, which was enjoyably anachronistic.
After a few hours in the city, using Percy's haggling tips to buy some more earrings and a really beautiful purple scarf and some commemoratory gifts for family members, I was back in the shuttle bus, back in the tunnel, back on my way to the "real world" of Monterrey. Upon arrival into the city at midnight, seven of us shared two taxis back home. Percy himself saved about 35 US cents by walking the 15 minutes home -- alone, in the dark. At midnight! I'm going to set up a charity for this guy, because he's the cheapest person I know!
I am currently sunburned (with a tan line from my darned glasses), blistered (from hanging on desperately to the horn of the saddle), bruised on my legs and incredibly sore all over. But with each hobbled step I remember the magical ex-ghost town of Real de Catorce. Check out the pictures (and some old ones, too) on the Facebook album.
We left Wednesday night at 9 p.m. After two stopovers of varying lengths and one confusing time zone switch, we arrived in Batopilas, a tiny city at the bottom of the Copper Canyon, at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. We left Monterrey on a rather classy night bus, with fold-down leg rests and everything. The second leg of our journey, from Chihuahua City to a town called Creel, was taken by a less comfortable but still totally legitimate passenger bus. The third leg, a five-hour journey from the rim of the canyon down into the very base, was made by an twelve-person van with no seatbelts. Scary!!
The travel time was totally worth it, though, for reasons including:
- the fantasically cute and cheap jewelry I found in Creel during our 18-hour stopover. I'm telling myself they're presents, but I probably won't part with them. Sorry, guys.
- gorgeous vistas descending into the canyon
- the best tostadas I've ever had, in a restaurant on our way back to our guesthouse after a long, sweaty hike up the side of the canyon
- swimming in and sunbathing on the shore of a river -- in mid-October!
- getting to see an indigenous tribe, the Raramurí/Tarahumara, and how the "real" Mexicans interacted with them. It wasn't pretty. For example: as I waited to check out at a tiny grocery store (more like a dry goods store you'd see in old Westerns), the shopkeeper banged on the counter to get a Raramurí woman's attention, addressed her as "tú" (the informal, disrepectful form of "you"), gruffly took her money and hustled her out of the store as quickly as possible. When I checked out right afterward, the shopkeeper was sweet as could be, using the formal "usted" form with me and waiting patiently as I fumbled for the right change.
- getting to use my travel Spanish. My academic Spanish is good, and I am fully understanding the lectures my professors give, but I still sometimes struggle to find the right words to use in class discussions. It was so nice to get back to phrases like, "Excuse me, could you tell me where the bathroom is?" Three separate people commented on how good my Spanish was.
The guys I traveled with, two fantastic gentlemen from Iowa and Washington, are both super Christian. I'm really not. One of the most interesting cultural aspects of the trip was actually just spending a full week with the two of them, watching them pray before meals and read their Bibles before bed. On our last day in the tiny town of Batopilas, one of the guys and I trekked out to a deserted mission church. Inside a 15-year-old girl was waiting for us, holding a laminated letter stating that she was epileptic and needed money for the medicine she takes. Upon scanning the letter, Jordan opened up his wallet, handed over a sizeable bill, and asked if he could pray with the girl. Which he proceeded to do, out loud, with his hand on her shoulder, without hesitation or awkwardness. I was so impressed. It was honestly one of the most foreign moments of my study abroad experience, and one that has challenged most my ideas and assumptions.
For a fuller idea of my trip, check out the pictures at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2031186&l=569b3&id=1299990023.
UPDATE: The New York Times just published a photo slideshow of the train ride through the Copper Canyon. We didn't actually take the train, but the slideshow shows the Casa Margarita, a sweet hostel where we stayed for $10 -- breakfast and dinner included. Best deal EVER.