Many Months Ago In Mexico: Part 1

This blog entry is told by Kelly because Milo was back in Bergen, Norway completing the first semester of graduate school.

There were many reasons why I decided to go to Mexico. The original plan was that I would go to school in Ottawa, Canada where I was accepted into a graduate program starting in the winter term. In August, after spending only 10 days in Copenhagen away from Milo, I quickly discovered that trying to have a long-distance relationship for two years would be torture. I decided that our relationship was more important to me than rushing to get a graduate degree. We decided together that I would reapply at the University of Bergen for next fall. If I am not accepted again, we will spend the two years after Milo earns their master’s living in a city where I can earn mine.

Soon after our decision to stay together, the Norwegian visa dilemma quickly arose. The only options I had were to apply for a cohabitation visa, or spend a few months somewhere else and wait until I could legally re-enter. I also knew that I had to make myself a stronger candidate for the graduate school application. After thinking it over and talking with the friends I made the first time I lived in Mexico, I decided that I would spend two months in Cuernavaca brushing up on my Spanish and thinking of ideas for a thesis project. So, in October I boarded a plane that took me to Los Angeles. I visited with my family for 10 days before heading to Cuernavaca, Mexico.

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During my visit I got to see my family and friends. The most important part of my visit is that I finally got to meet my first nephew, Dollin Jack Bates. My sister, Maureen and her husband Jon had him 8 months prior and I had only been able to interact with him via skype. He quickly became the best part of my trip home. In the photo above and below he is wearing traditional Chinese clothes that Milo and I bought him in Xi’an and Beijing.

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I accompanied my sister to the park with the children she was watching and her dog, Lucy. We were lucky to meet up with Carson and his baby, Jacky.

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Dollin is a very well tempered baby but every once in a while he became fussy. In this picture, we talked about the things we could see from the front yard. He quickly calmed down while he inspected the flower we picked together. Lucy is a sweet dog who just wants to be close to humans. Because she is a puppy, she can get overly excited but quickly calms down and lies beside her friends.

10 days was hardly enough time but I planned on coming home for a month during the winter holidays. Early in the morning, my parents dropped me off at LAX where I boarded a flight to Mexico City. I then took a bus to Cuernavaca, Morelos, where my friend, Marisol met me at the bus station.

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We took a cab back to her house that she shares with some other friends that I had not seen in 7 years since I lived in Mexico as an undergraduate.

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Marisol and her girlfriend, Yuri, helped me get settled in at the house where I would spend the next two months sleeping on their living room floor.

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We went out to dinner because we were all too hungry to cook. It became a bit challenging to find food that I could eat. Traditional indigenous food to the area was mostly vegan but when the Spanish came and conquered the area, they brought with them cows, pigs and chickens. Today, it is more challenging to find traditional, meat-free food.

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Luckily, they live by the University of Morelos where an organic market/farm is located. Marisol showed me how to get there. I was ecstatic to find a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains all for a very good price. Marisol says it’s one of the most expensive markets in town, but coming from Norway, it was very cheap.
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The first trip at the market, I bought too much food because I’m used to shopping for two. Luckily I was able to get through most of it before it went bad. I had to shop lighter for the next two months, which proved to be challenging when faced with so many tasty, reasonably priced options.

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As I mentioned, part of my reasoning to spend some time in Mexico was to brush up on my Spanish. I contacted CETLALIC, a school that I attended during my last year of university. I truly love CETLALIC for so many reasons. Not only is it in a beautiful house with the backdrop of a lush barranca behind it, the school is dedicated to teaching Spanish through a social, cultural and political lens. Learning to speak Spanish is important, but learning the struggles of the people who make the country what it is, is also important.

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In the office, they proudly fly the Mexican flag next to the LGBT rainbow flag. The ornaments and photos represent some of the rich aspects of the Mexican culture and political atmosphere.

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At the time, I was off the habit of drinking coffee, but they offered organic, local, sustainable, fair trade coffee, so I started to drink a cup every morning.

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Looking out from my classroom on the patio, it’s easy to forget that we are in the middle of a bustling city.

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The first two weeks I was attending classes, I was the only student enrolled. It was great to have one-on-one attention from the teachers, but I was happy when other students started flowing in.

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Every Wednesday afternoon, the school organizes a field trip to local museums and points of interest. The first place we went was the Palace of Cortez located in the city center. It shares a rich history from pre-colonization to present day.

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One of the last pieces of history that visitors get to see is a mural painted by Diego Rivera.

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One of the reasons that Rivera’s murals are so incredibly important is the blunt depiction of Mexico’s history.

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Even for young children who have not yet learned to read, they can easily see the history of their country and their ancestors.

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This was especially important because when it was painted not much of the population was literate.

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Luckily, around the time Rivera was at the height of his fame, Mexico made school (and healthcare!) free. To this day one can receive an education, including bachelor’s, master’s and PhDs completely free. In fact, Mexico City is home to one of the best Universities in the world, UNAM.

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On Sundays, all national museums are free to the public.

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Yuri, Marisol’s girlfriend of 9 years, spends her work week in Mexico City. She comes home on the weekends. The first weekend I was in town, a festival called, “The Taste of Morelos” made the city center fill with people wanting to take part in the delicious smells, sights and tastes of their state’s food. Yuri, Marisol and I headed downtown to take part.

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There were a lot more options of food for me to eat because traditionally, the food from this area of the world was mostly vegan.

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Behind Marisol and Yuri is the Palace of Cortez. The centerpiece of the city is actually built on top of ancient Aztec ruins. You can see some of the ruins that were preserved while visiting the museum.

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I got to taste coconut snacks, Mexican cereal snacks, local wines, mescals, salsa, moles and much more!

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The Day of the Dead was coming up quickly and we could see signs of it everywhere.

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The Jarabe root is pressed and out comes a sweet concentrated liquid. Mixing a capful with carbonated water makes a tasty and refreshing drink.

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But of course, we wanted something a little different than “root” beer.

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From Left to right not including myself: Julieta (Yuri’s sister), Mera, Marisol, Yuri, and Paula. I lived with all of these women except for Julieta.

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After just a couple beers, we went to check out more of the food offered at the festival.

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After eating and dancing, we headed back to the house. In almost every intersection is a traffic circle with a piece of art.

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A lot of the time there are different depictions of horses with Mexican revolutionaries.

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These are the two dogs that I came to love very much. Nicolas and Peki.

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Like I previously mentioned, CETLALIC is a progressive Spanish school that wants to teach Spanish and share with its students Mexico’s current social atmosphere. I told the school I was searching for research topics to potentially study at the University of Bergen that involved a struggle of the people.

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The school arranged that one of the field trips would be to a near by town, Tepotzlan during an event aimed to spread awareness of the importance of the barranca that runs through the town. This town is filled with many incredible and socially conscious citizens.

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What made this rally so incredible is that it moved around the town. This, I believe, is a great idea because it creates a marching protest that enables everyone in the town to participate. We heard from the organizers of the rally and the neighbors would come out and listen to what was being said and then dance along to the music of the local, yet nationally famous musicians.

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After a long day of school and rallies, I went back to the house to rest. Every morning before I left the house, I would pack up my belongings and store them neatly. Even though I monopolized the living room at night, it was theirs again during the day.

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My friends were so accommodating and thoughtful. They knew that I didn’t eat meat and tried to avoid all animal products, so they racked their brains for traditional dishes that I could eat. They introduced me to a corn soup called, Pozole.

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A women around the corner makes homemade pozole and potato taquitos every sunday. Needless to say, I found it delicious. If ever one visits central Mexico, pozole should be on their need to eat list.

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One day, my friend Marisol showed me a tattoo that she got recently. I told her that I had been meaning to get a tattoo since I was about 17 that represented my sisters. Since I shared the idea with my 3 sisters, two of them got it before I did! I decided it was time.

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I asked Marisol to contact her tattoo artist and ask for an estimate for the tattoo. He quoted that the tattoo would cost the equivalent of $38 US dollars, so I went down the same day and got the tattoo.

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SEEK represents my sisters because each letter stands for the first letter of each of our middle names.

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This is me and the tattoo artist. Puntas de Jade is a very clean, fully certified and highly reputable place. I am very satisfied with my tattoo and recommend it to any other travelers who yearn for a tattoo.

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The next Monday back at school, two more students arrived. Monica (left) lives in Portland, Oregon and works for Sisters of the Road , a non-profit organization that “exists to build authentic relationships and alleviate the hunger of isolation in an atmosphere of nonviolence and gentle personalism that nurtures the whole individual, while seeking systemic solutions that reach the roots of homelessness and poverty to end them forever.” To find out more, click on the link above. Julie (right) lives in NYC and works for a non-profit organization that provides legal support for immigrants who are being taken advantage of. Both of these women taught me so much and reaffirmed my ideals.

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That Wednesday, we went to the municipal market to prepare for the upcoming Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

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In a bustling and noisy market, a lady selling tortillas is able to get some shuteye.

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Cactus for sale to make nopales, another traditional and vegan dish.

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The market has a shop that is dedicated to coffee from around Mexico. We were happy to support this stand as the money goes directly to the farmers, rather than being syphoned from a middle man.

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Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, is the most famous of Mexico’s unique traditional holidays. For the week leading up to the holiday, the market comes alive with items sold specifically to celebrate it. Sugar skulls and marzipan offerings fill up entire shops.

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Candles in various sizes are sold by the dozen, so visitors can offer presents to the families who have lost a loved one that year.

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Papier mâché  figurines of calacas or calaveras (skeletons) are everywhere. The most famously depicted calavera is that of
La Catrina.

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At least 7 types of flowers are sold for the occasion. Though they are available all year round, the price of them skyrockets for the week proceeding the holiday.

This concludes part 1 of the post, Many Months Ago in Mexico. Stay tuned for The Day of the Dead celebrations and more, including visits to Taxco, Mexico City, and Tepoztlan!

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