Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BERNAL!!!, Parties, Food, and Friends (August 21, 2011)

Well...these past few days have been a fantastic attempt to gain a sense of normality as I become more comfortable in Querétaro. The major event of the week was the start of our classes. It is really interesting because I usually have a class at 9 or 10 in the morning until around 12. Then we come home for Comida, and return to school from 4:30 to 6:30 or 7 every day except for Friday. While this sounds like a completely dreadful schedule, I think it makes sense in the context of the Mexican lifestyle. We don't have to wake up too early, which is good because EVERYONE stays up until at least midnight, and we are the loser Americans who choose to go to bed around 10 or 10:30, if we can. Usually I get roped into sitting at the table with my family for a few hours in the evenings, so I am lucky to be asleep by 11 on a school night. I love them so much, so it's ok. Later in the evenings is usually when I get the scoop on where good places to go to eat or study, so it is time well spent. Then, coming back home in the middle of the day is so nice. It gives me a few hours to do my homework before Comida, or take a nap (usually a combination of both). What starts out as homework time, usually evolves into ciesta. But it's ok, because as previously mentioned, evenings are quite late here. It is nice to get my work done before the evening so we can just stay out after school and hang out in the centro, which is my favorite part of the day. Class itself doesn't seem like it is going to be that hard. My two classes at the UAQ (the big university) are phenomenal. I am going to learn so much about the language and how it relates directly to the culture of today. The professors speak clearly and are easy to understand. The history and art classes are a little more difficult because the professors talk really fast, and they both talked straight through the full hour and a half, so three hours later my brain was a little fried. But I think that is largely because it was the intro day, and especially the art class will have us doing projects almost every time we meet. History is infamously the hard class of the semester, and that is largely because the book is written in very complex Spanish. So, once we figure out what it is about and how much we actually have to read, it should be ok. 

That's enough about school. So many things that are WAY more interesting have been happening. On Wednesday night, I went out with Marcia, a Mexican student who is studying as an exchange student at the UAQ. Her room is right next to mine. We didn't even leave the house until 8 or 8:30, and took a Taxi to the Centro. There, we met one of her friends and 2 students studying here from Finland. Yeah...I made friends from Finland. It was pretty cool. So we started out at an Irish pub, where they had the soccer game on TV. Soccer is SUCH a huge deal here, and I'm pretty sure that the entire city (maybe even the entire country) stops to watch a game. Sadly, Mexico lost in the last 15 minutes of the game, which was a bigger deal than usual because they were playing their rival, Brazil. So, after the game, 85% of the people left the bar and a band started playing. It was a rock band, and they were pretty good. They played covers of popular American songs, which I thought was interesting. My favorite was their impressive repertoire of Maroon 5 and Black Eyed Peas songs. Of course, these two groups are very different, but here they know it all; and are not afraid to cover every genre, and give it a rock spin. Then we went to a restaurant called Harry's and sat on the patio for a few hours just talking and passing the time. Some more of her friends met us along the way, and we wound up having a group of 10 or so. Let me tell you...Mexicans can drink, and drink, and drink some more. I have never seen so much booze on every single table in a restaurant.  We didn't return home until 1:30 in the morning. 

I don't have class on Tues or Thurs until the afternoon, so it was nice to be able to sleep in after a late night adventure. After we got done with school on Thursday, we went to the centro to watch what we thought was going to be a dance show in the park. It turned out to just be an open space for people to come and dance if they wanted to. Some were taking lessons while "performing," others were just there dancing for enjoyment. The people who danced were mostly older (from late 40s to wayyy too old to walk...let alone dance). There were a couple younger couples there, but the majority were older. People gathered around the plaza to watch as the night went on. By the time we got there, quite the crowd had developed. Families, teenagers, anyone who was around just stopped by for a few songs to watch. Towards the end of the event, two men came up to us and asked a couple of the girls if they would dance. Of course, they accepted and twirled around the floor for a few songs.

It's funny how nice the people are here. It is very easy to point us out in a crowd. People here don't typically have blonde hair, blue eyes, and are usually a head shorter than people at home. Needless to say, we attract a lot of attention, though not necessarily in a bad way. People are more intrigued by us, and want to ask us a bunch of questions about anything and everything. I've had multiple kids come up to me and ask me how to say something in English. Most of the students take English starting in elementary school, so they like the practice. They are fascinated by our accents (in Spanish and English both), and want to know what we think about Mexico. They are very proud of their city and country, so they want to ensure that we are having a good time. At the end of almost every encounter with a stranger, we get invited to parties or asked if we want to meet them somewhere later on in the week. It's really interesting to go sit with a book in the centro and wait and see how long it takes for someone, usually a student, to approach you and start a conversation. Usually, it doesn't take much more than a few minutes before you have a new friend. While this makes it nearly impossible to do homework in public, I really like this element of the culture because it makes us more comfortable with approaching other people when we have a question or need directions. People here don't seem bothered when you approach them, like they do at home. Everyone wants to be your friend, if only for 5 minutes. And those 5 minutes can prove invaluable because it is the best way to learn about where to go for certain foods, or what store sells the best version of whatever we are looking for. The past few days, I started to realize how those random encounters have been some of my favorite moments of the whole semester thus far. So, I am making it a point not to be constantly surrounded by a group of Americans. Of course, sometimes this is not practical and we are going to stand out as the group of 15 white kids wandering around and standing in a giant circle. But during down time, I love to go out and just see what happens. Querétaro never fails to provide an interesting interaction of some sort. 

Friday night was interesting because we got roped into attending another dance performance. I wasn't too stoked to be seeing more dancing...I was kinda danced out from the previous evening. Luckily, once we arrived it became apparent we wouldn't wind up being a part of the performance again because there was a legitimate theater and stage with performers in costumes. So, I was relieved not to have to participate in the event. Unfortunately, that was where my luck ran out. It turned out to be a dance recital for a local company. The dancers weren't professionals of any sort. Actually...there were a few girls that weren't much more than 8 or 9 years old. So...it was one of those events that parents love because they get to see their kids perform, and everyone else dreads because it is just plain awful. Although it was not the ideal way to spend a Friday night, there were a few interesting elements. Very few of the numbers were set to Mexican music and were traditional dance genres. Instead, we were all surprised when the opening numbers contained dancers in very flashy and scandalous attire, dancing in traditional Bollywood style with the little bells in their hands and everything. This was more than 80% of the recital...Bollywood. Who knew that Mexicans liked Asian things too? It looked like something we would see in Santa Barbara, but never would have expected in Mexico. But wait...it gets better. There was a dubstep number. Yep...they blacked out the theater and twirled lights for an entire song. Like the rest of the concert, there was a lack of talent, but I didn't fall asleep, so that was good. Right? So, even though none of us had much use for the event, it was interesting to see that people here have interests in things other than just traditional Mexican culture. 

Saturday was one of my favorite days thus far. We went as a group to Bernal, about an hour away from Querétaro. It is basically this giant rock that sticks out of the ground in the middle of nowhere. They told is it is the 2nd largest and 3rd tallest monolith in the world. I know...who cares about the technicality, but a monolith is a single consecutive rock top to bottom. There's a fairly well defined trail that goes about 3/4 of the way up the rock. I guess it is illegal to climb the top part without ropes and proper gear and licences. It must be harder than it looks, because several of us agree that it would be TOTALLY doable to go all the way up. Maybe one time we will return without a professor and hike it all the way. :) What's the law in Mexico, right? It's all up for debate here. We were talking the other day about how we can't decide whether to be afraid of the police or thankful to see them roaming around the neighborhood at night in their car (lights flashing...no matter what, even if they have nowhere to go). They just don't have the same upstanding reputation like they do in America. Anyways...back to Bernal...it was awesome. The plants that naturally grow are very similar to what you would see in a desert mountain range in Arizona or California. Things manage to stay pretty green, despite a serious lack of water most of the year. And...the flowers are gorgeous. There aren't many, but they stand out because they are so bright and colorful amidst the dust that covers everything else. The rock is mostly shale, and is covered in a fine white powder, making it slick to climb in places. So, after we hiked in the morning, we went into town for Comida at a local restaurant and to explore. It is more of a puebla (village), which was interesting to see after spending the week in Querétaro. They have one plaza that is in the centro, and the various shops and restaurants surround the plaza. There is also, of course, an elaborate church (painted bright orange). The shops are less influenced by modern cities, and are more local arts and crafts. Blown glass and lace were the most common. Bernal is known for their gorditas, mole, and apple beer. So, we tried mole and apple beer. An interesting combination to say the least, but people were right, it was good. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough room to try a gordita. Oh! And...people there eat grasshoppers. Like fried grasshoppers. It's the grossest thing ever. We got an order of them, and some people tried them. I had no intention of ever touching one...but they made for some good pictures. I loved our outing to Bernal. It's a slower pace than being in the big city here, and more indigenous, so it was totally different in what people appreciate. I want to return and stay in the hostel, built in the old castle below the monolith. If for no other reason than to say I spent a night in a castle in Mexico (and summitted the rock). Again...who knew that was possible? 

After returning from Bernal, we had an hour or two just to relax and shower after a long day in the sun. Then, we all met up at Dr. Montgomery's house to celebrate a birthday. It was a great way to end a long day, just hanging out, laughing, and looking at pictures. Of course, the brownies and ice cream were pretty magical too. :) It was only a couple of hours long because we all had to get back home and sleep because Sunday was going to be an early morning.

At 5:45 Sunday morning, my alarm woke me up. I threw on some running clothes and rushed out the door. Outside, I met 3 other people and we hopped in a taxi that took us to a race that we all decided to run. One of our señoras has a son who coordinated a 5k/10k race "por la paz" (for the peace). None of us know what exactly the cause is beyond the Paz, but we all ran for it! And...150 pesos (just under 15 dollars) later, we all got metals, t-shirts, and a great (though early) workout. It actually turned out to be really fun. We ran in a couple of bigger groups, and just laughed and talked through the whole thing. It was really funny to see 1500 Mexicans and 15 white kids running a race through the streets of Querétaro as the sun came up. It was actually quite pretty. And who knew that many Mexicans liked to run? They are certainly almost all stalky to say the least, so we were surprised to see that many enter a race. Maybe "the paz" was just such a valiant cause that they couldn't resist. We may never know. After the race, we all came home and just took it easy after such an eventful morning. 

It was my intention to take it easy for the rest of the day...however...intentions in Mexico are always just ideas, never plans. When I came downstairs for Comida around 2, I was surprised to see 3 of Hugo's (Carmen's son) friends crowded around the table waiting to eat as well. It caught me off guard because the last thing I asked Carmen before my extended ciesta was "are people coming over today?" And she was like "nope...just us." So, I was a little surprised to walk into a fiesta after my ciesta. They were super nice, and the party just kept going after Comida. After successfully polishing off a few liters of beer, Hugo ran to the store and returned with not one, or even two, but THREE bottles of Jose Cuervo. Yep. Three. I was surprised too. Remember how Mexicans don't buy things to save them for later? The same is true with their booze. Those three bottles were all empty by the end of the evening. We hung out in the kitchen from about 3:00 until at least midnight. Needless to say, as time went on, the friends got funner and funner to talk to. ;) 

That's about it for now. Now that school started, my week should look kind of similar to last week, which is good. Routine is good. But I can also assure you that the stories will remain plentiful. The best ones come from the most unlikely of situations, like when I sit on a bench in the park and open a book, or when I walk into a fiesta instead of just a meal. One thing is for certain, I have no idea what crazy things will happen. But I can assure you it will not be a boring week. :) Here are some pictures so you can see what we've been up to. 

Group shot at the base of Bernal

One of the stores in Bernal

view of the monolith from town

from the top of Bernal, the view of the city was awesome...

and this is what we were subjected to instead of professionals...

birthday partyyy!!!

birthday girl

grasshoppers??? eww.

another group shot from Bernal

after the race...

before the race...it was still dark

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