Exploring new cities and cultures!

This week was our 3rd week, meaning we are over halfway through our time here at uni, which is crazy! Our topic for the week was indigenous studies in Mexico, taught by the lovely María. We have discovered that there are many Marias, and many are twins. We have two teachers who are called Maria and whose twins are also called Maria! It seems crazy for us but very normal here.

Our lessons this week focused on introducing us to the many different indigenous groups that have lived and currently live in Mexico. And yes, there were more than the Aztecs and the Mayans! Currently, 68 indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico, and many more dialects of languages as well. What interested me was how separately these communities have developed, despite their proximity. We were told of a lake around which 4 or 5 communities live, none of which can communicate with each other! As many indigenous cultures can be understood through art and artefacts, we visited the national anthropology museum on Wednesday instead of having a traditional lecture. This is one of the most well-known museums in Mexico, and everyone we met had recommended us to go, so we were excited to finally have the chance. Our first impression was that it was massive!! The rooms on the bottom floor are dedicated to past indigenous groups and, on the top floor, and dedicated to current groups. It’s impossible to visit and make the most of the museum in one day, so we chose to visit the Teotihuacan and the Mixtec rooms. It was awesome having Maria (our teacher) guide us around as she could tell us the history of different pieces, and we got greater insight into the cultures than we would have otherwise. The Mixtecs, I learnt, originated from the Aztecs but renamed themselves once arriving in Mexico, where Mexico City is now (Mexico gets its name from them, rather than the other way around). Another common misconception I had was that surrounding the ‘Aztec calendar’, it is a story of the beginning of the Earth, how its creation failed four times, and it was on the fifth try that it was created. To keep the earth alive, there needed to be sacrifices of blood and hearts. Human sacrifice was thought to be required so that they could receive gifts from the gods. We learnt about many other gods on our trip, and I loved seeing the different customs and beliefs that people had. So much thought and representation went into everything.

On Friday, we also visited two other indigenous museums and learned more about current indigenous communities, how they’ve adapted to modern society and their relationship with the government. It seems that there was a similar colonisation technique used here as was in New Zealand. The Spanish language was pushed in schools and public institutions to form ‘one Mexican culture’. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder to revitalise the indigenous languages due to the sheer number of them and the difficulty in implementing a national curriculum that will be followed.

At the weekend, I had the fantastic opportunity to go to Taxco and Tepoztlán. No one else from the Social Realities group went, which was slightly nerve-racking but gave me a chance to meet and get to know a lot of other exchange students. Fortunately, a French couple from our hostel were also going on the trip, so I knew some people and was able to uber with them too and from our meeting spot, which was safer and cheaper! We met at 7:30 am on Saturday before driving two hours to our first stop of the trip – the caves of Cacahuamilpa, a massive underground network of caves. We walked 2 kilometres through the caves, which were between 70 and 120 metres tall, and ended up around 800 metres underground. It was very different to anything I had experienced in New Zealand caves. It was completely accessible, with a wide flat path and lights guiding the way. At points throughout the tour, the guide would flip a light switch to highlight different features. There was also a stage with staggered seats in the middle (which would be amazing to see a performance at!) and fully running toilets there as well!

After our two-hour tour, we hopped back on the bus to Taxco, where we would stay the night. At the hotel, our rooms opened out into the pool area, which looked over the whole city. It was stunning and felt so different to Mexico City. We went to lunch at a rooftop restaurant, and it started to feel like I was on holiday. While we have been doing a lot of sightseeing during our time here, there has also been a lot of uni work and learning, which I love, but it was nice to have time to relax! After lunch, we went on a walking tour around the city; it is known for its silver mines and cheap jewellery, so a lot of the tour was about how to tell real silver from fake and the best places to buy jewellery. Taxco is a ‘magic town’, meaning it has to follow strict aesthetic rules, such as no logos and a colour scheme. The result makes it feel like you’re walking around a movie set, and I would definitely recommend visiting if you ever have the chance. After buying jewellery for myself and the girls who couldn’t come (obviously we needed matching bracelets!), we returned to the hotel. The rest of the night was spent hanging out by the pool with a few drinks and eating pizza. Most people on the trip spoke Spanish as their first language, so I spent most of the night concentrating on understanding the very quick conversations and participating when I could!

On Sunday, after a yummy breakfast, we drove for two hours to the town of Tepoztlán. It is known for its beautiful mountains and, specifically, the pyramid at the top of one of them. We had to see it but were on a slightly tight schedule as the walk was supposed to take 3 hours. We stopped for ice cream and then headed up the hill. What the teachers had ‘forgotten’ to tell us was that the walk consisted entirely of very steep stairs. In 27-degree heat. After 45 minutes of battling the steps and the crowds at quite a fast pace, we reached the top. Unfortunately, I was as red as a tomato, so I didn’t get any photos by myself, but I have attached some pictures so everyone can experience the views without any of the associated pain! When we arrived back at the bottom (with shaking legs – I’m going to blame it on the altitude), we had time to quickly grab tacos and walk through the town back to the bus. After arriving home at 8:45 pm, I was exhausted and collapsed into bed after dinner, ready to start my next week of uni at 6:15 the next morning!

I loved getting to see another side of Mexico which was more rural and so different from Mexico City. The places we went were stunning, and I wish I could have stayed longer to explore more. I guess I’ll have to come back!

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