Where to Begin!

Well, it’s been a while!  About a month, I think, but it’s been a busy one! In short, here’s what I’ve been up to:

1.  My lovely boyfriend came out to visit me for two weeks from mid-October.  We travelled to the coast and spent a few days at the beach at Puerto Vallarta, relaxing a bit, swimming in the sea…we also went horse riding through a forest and waded through some rivers up to a waterfall.  And, we lay in a hammock, made our own tortillas and ate the yummiest tacos!

2. From Puerto Vallarta we went to Nayarit for an evening of baby turtle rescuing! They were only a day old and so tiny!  It was a bit of a touristy thing, but really interesting and fun – the guide told us all about the rescue programme, how they search the beach every night for eggs and take them to the sanctuary to hatch, and as soon as they do they need to be helped back into the sea, which is what we did.

3. We went to the zoo and met a very friendly giraffe (:

4. Took a day trip to Tequila, enjoyed lots of free samples and bought plenty of souvenirs.

5. At the end of Josh’s two week stay was the Day of the Dead weekend.  This was one of the things I’d most looked forward to about coming to Mexico – it’s unlike anything you’d find anywhere else in the world.  I’ll write a full post about it soon (hopefully!) but in brief, we went to Tlaquepaque, the artesan district of Guadalajara, to see the altars and street stalls.

6. …And then the essays struck! Apparently, in Mexico it’s possible for the term to be cut two weeks short, meaning deadlines are brought forward and six weeks of work has to be done in a month.  It was pretty stressful when ALL my lecturers announced that we had 10 page essays to write, presentations to do and exams to revise for…but now I’ve got about half of it done, it looks like it’s going to be doable!

7. Finally, last weekend I went with some friends to Leon for the International Hot Air Balloon festival.  Despite the absolutely horrendous organisation of the company we went with, the festival itself was good and I got to take some cool photos, which was the main reason I wanted to go!

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So, that pretty much sums up why I haven’t had much time to blog (or write for the other websites I’ve got article ideas lined up for…oops) but in two weeks time I’ll be back home for Christmas, and back on track.  As well as some Mexico-themed posts that have been stored up in my head for the last few weeks, I’ll be writing a lot about my favourite time of year, Christmas!

Corona Capital 2014

I turned 21 on Monday! Even though I spent most of the 13th sleeping on an uncomfortable coach from Mexico City, I celebrated in the best way possible – in a muddy field in the pouring rain (in true festival style) listening to some of my favourite musicians.  On the surface, it might sound like my birthday was a blow-out – I went alone, got extremely wet, cold and muddy and spent a grand total of about 24 hours on a crowded coach over the course of the weekend, BUT: I’ll forever have the memory of going to a music festival in Mexico City for my 21st.  Being cramped together on a coach is a great way to meet people – I’m sure I’ve made friends for life this weekend.

I first heard about Corona Capital when I was at home in England and was thinking for a while that I might go, but probably won’t – I knew if I went I’d probably go alone and the thought of going all the way to Mexico City with no idea where abouts the festival was/how I’d get there/where I’d stay etc. all by myself scared me a bit, but as the time came closer I figured, I came to Mexico all by myself with no idea where to go/where I’d live, I could probably manage! But the main thought that pursuaded me was: there are already too many concerts that I didn’t go to and wish I had, how much would I regret it if I didn’t go? I’ll never get this chance again!  The exact same thought that convinced me to come to Mexico!

So I spent probably a bit too much money (but hey, it was my birthday present to myself) on a package including transport, a night in a hostel and the tickets to the festival.  It was a good buy! An unexpected perk was that the hostel was right in the centre of Mexico City, so we spent most of the day on Sunday there, not wanting to see any bands until the evening.  I’ll definitely be going back to the capital when I can spend a bit longer there; it’s a great city! We visited an art gallery (another of my favourite passtimes) which had an exhibition all about art that relates to/influenced the author Octavio Paz, who I happen to be studying in my literature module.  So, now that I’m back in Guadalajara I’m very inspired to read, write and do some art!

 

Living on the Edge

 P1010215 - Edited P1010216 P1010211One thing I love about Mexico is the combination of the ‘manana, manana’ on the one hand, and the not messing about and getting the ball rolling on the other.  I’ve learned to put into practice the idea of ‘better late than never’ when it comes to turning up to class or having done the reading, but not to wait around when there’s something fun to be doing!

Yesterday I managed to accomplish something I’ve been dreaming of for many years which would have taken me many more months if not years and cost me a lot of money – but I did it in less than an hour here.  I went horse-riding.  I knew more or less how to walk and trot (months of lessons when I was in primary school taught me that much – but no more), and especially over the last year or two I’d been wanting to learn properly how to ride, but wouldn’t be able to afford – or put up with – the hours and hours of practicing the basics before being able to move on.

Well, yesterday I caught a bus to Bosque los Colomos with the intention of doing a bit of pony trekking, paid for an hour (about £5).  The cowboy who owned the horses asked me if I knew how to ride, and I explained that I knew a bit but hadn’t been on a horse in about 10 years, so he said, ‘okay, I’ll lead you for a bit’ and off we went (no helmets or anything here, by the way!)  As soon as I’d got the hang of controlling the horse, which is done a bit differently here, he says, ‘do you know how to gallop?’ and I say, ‘no, I’ve never done it before!’  Salvador replies, ‘okay, we’ll just do a little bit!’ and off we go, galloping through the woods, with me clinging on for dear life (no helmet).

But it was so much fun!  By the time the hour was up I was doing it without Salvador leading me, probably not doing very well to control the horse, but at least I was doing it!  I’ll keep going back to learn the proper technique but I’m confident that progress will be fast, and I’ll be riding like a true cowgirl in no time.  Just need to invest in a hat and some boots.

So riding without a helmet might not exactly be ‘living on the edge’, but it’s a good place to start.  I’m not about to do anything outright dangerous but it’s great to not be inhibited by ‘health and safety’ regulations that prevent anyone from doing anything.  People don’t need to be constantly reminded what could go wrong in any given situation – I think that people would do well to take a risk every once in a while.  Chances are, everything will be fine and you might end up with a great experience.

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Mexico Bucket List, Part 1

Sometimes, I find myself looking forward to all the things I’ll do when I finish this year – truth be told, I do look forward to going home, back to Cardiff, having my own house again and making a start on my own future (thinking about internships at the moment!) I sometimes think of that life as my actual life, and this year is a year out from that life, and sometimes I think I could really use that year (if that makes sense!) Anyway, when I find myself thinking negatively about being away from home, I try to remind myself that I’m getting way ahead of myself, and to use the time I have here to, yes, prepare myself for life afterwards, and that the best preparation I can do is to make the most of everything Mexico has to offer.  To focus on living here – the time will pass either way, and I have my whole life to do the things I’m missing.

When I need to stay positive, I remind myself how I felt looking out of the window of the coach on the way to Morelia – just driving through wilderness and thinking about how lucky I am, thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get to live here!’ and that gets me thinking, there are so many things I want to do here and I only have a year to do them.

So, I thought I’d put together a bit of a bucket list of the places I want to visit/things I want to do before the year is up.

1) Go to Corona Capital in Mexico City and see Conor Oberst.

This is first on the list because this is the plan for my 21st birthday – I was thinking about not going but I’d regret it so much if I didn’t! Living in the moment, and all!

2) Go to Puerto Vallarta

Another concrete plan for October – my boyfriend surprised me by announcing he’s visiting for two weeks (yipee!), so we’ve arranged a few days at the beach, including horse-riding up to some waterfalls, swimming in lakes and working with a conservation project to release baby sea turtles into the ocean.

3) Temazcal at Tepoztlan

 

Tepoztlan is otherwise known as “the mystic valley” – I’d go for the name if nothing else! It’s a tiny town but very beautiful, surrounded by nature and home to many rumoured UFO sightings.  A Temazcal is a Mesoamerican sweat lodge, a bit like a sauna but with the addition of body-and-soul-cleansing, purifying herbs.  Here is my place for a spiritual break.

4) UFO-Spot at Popoctapetl

Whilst we’re on the subject of UFOs, another hotspot is Popocatepetl, the (still active) volcano.  It’s also surrounded by indigenous villages and neighboured by Itzaccihuatl.

5) Celebrate the Day of the Dead

Probably Mexico’s most internationally famous festival is El Dia de los Muertos, celebrated on the 2nd of November – it will need a post of it’s own which I can’t wait to write!

6) Go to the Hot Air Balloon Festival

7) Dive in Cozumel

8) Visit Archaeological Sites: Chichen Itza, Palenque, Teotihuacan, Uxmal…

 

9) Be a tourist in Cancun and Playa del Carmen

 

10) Lie on the beach for days in Tulum

¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!

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Guanajuato was at the top of my list of places to go in Mexico, and this weekend I got to see it!  My photos don’t even come close to doing justice to this amazing city – I’d heard it was one of the prettiest in Mexico, but I’m certain it’s one of the prettiest in the world.

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As well as Guanajuato I went to Morelia, San Miguel de Allende and Queretaro to celebrate Mexican Independence Day (September 16th).  The highlight of this day is “El Grito (de Dolores)”; again, it’s hard to put across what exactly goes on, but I’ll do my best.

Hundreds, probably thousands of people are gathered wherever they choose to gather, in San Miguel de Allende we were out in the square in the centre of town.  There are Mexican flags flying wherever you look.  Towering above the crowd are interesting sculptures; it’s not immediately obvious what they are or what they’re made of but we’ll soon find out…

Then for “el grito”.  El Grito was first uttered in the town of Dolores on September 16th, 1810 by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, marking the beginning of the war of independence.  Last weekend, in towns all over the country, El Grito was recited over a loud speaker, with the crowd responding to each line with, “Viva(n)!”

¡Mexicanos!

¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron la patria y libertad!

¡Viva Hidalgo!

¡Viva Morelos!

¡Viva Josefa Ortíz de Dominguez!

¡Viva Allende!

¡Viva Galeana y los Bravo!

¡Viva Aldama y Matamoros!

¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!

¡Viva México!

¡Viva México!

¡Viva México!

…Followed by fireworks.  A lot of fireworks.  That’s what the sculptures in the crowd are made of (it was quite scary when they were lit!)  It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Just amazing.

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The Power of Persuasion

 

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I made a friend today – this is Don Juan de Dios, hard at work at 8 in the morning preparing corn in all different ways.  The street is lined with people like Juan, all doing the same thing, starting before the sun comes up – it looks like very hard work, and I would say, because of the number of them, they can’t be making much money – but perhaps they do.  They eat a lot of corn here.

 

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That is actual corn.  It’s PINK!

 

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The large, flat leaves are what they use to wrap tamales.

 

Anyway, what I really want to write about is the smell.  To my friends and family back at home, I wish you could smell the street I live on – as weird as that sounds!  You probably don’t think corn smells of much but it does – already, to me, it’s the smell of Mexico.

Sometimes a scent is more evocative than a photo or an image. It is a primer for the deflagration of sensation, emotions, desires, uncontrollable atmospheres, deja-vus that flood and wrap us like honey, until they make us drown in an unrepeatable moment of well-being… olfactory hallucinations that lead us anywhere: to the North of any South, to the East of any West…

Scents are powerful when it comes to triggering memory, but, I think, probably quite overlooked.  Everyone has certain songs, places, pictures or words that remind them of a time or event or person, but I wonder how many people can think of significant scents?  Maybe it’s something you don’t know about until you’re there, and you smell someone’s perfume as they walk past.  The only thing I can think of at the moment is my best friend’s house when I was in primary school – I can remember it even though I haven’t been there in years, and I’ll probably never come across it anywhere else.  I’m just wondering whether that house still smells the same even though the family have moved out, or if their new house bears a resemblance.

I hope, in years to come, I’ll have lots of memories attached to scents, even better if they’re ones I’m likely to come across again (unfortunately in England, sweetcorn really doesn’t smell of anything)!

What are your favourite smells?  What do they remind you of?

Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.

Patrick Süskind