Kate in Mexico

Kate, a senior psychology major, is participating in SMU-in-Oaxaca during Winter Term. The group will spend two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and then travel to the Sierra Madre mountains for a week. While in Oaxaca, the group will take classes on ceramics, weaving and painting with talented craftsmen. The students also will engage in a service learning project, will enjoy Mexican traditions related to the holiday season and will collect oral histories.

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New Year’s Eve in Oaxaca

We have been going nonstop for the last few days, having lots of fun and also visiting some amazing places.

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We visited Hierve El Agua, which is a petrified waterfall in the state of Oaxaca. This waterfall is one of only two in the world; the other one is in Turkey.

HierveElAgua.jpgWe took quite a treacherous hike down to the bottom of the waterfall – the hike was incredible. It is really amazing to see how such a natural wonder is still so isolated in Mexico. We drove on a dirt road and hired a local guide to take us to the bottom of the waterfall. When we climbed to where the water was falling, it almost felt like snow falling on our heads.

Later that day, we traveled to Mitla, which are ruins.The Zapotec people built the ruins and then were conqured by the Mixtec and finally conquered by the Spaniards. The ruins were not destroyed but merely converted to whatever religious group was there.

It was incredible how open the ruins still are for exploration. We were able to climb on top of several structures and even crawl into an ancient tomb. Ester, our guide in Oaxaca, explained how the stairs were so narrow because it was considered offensive to face the Gods directly or to turn one’s back to the people below. So, we Americans walked up the stairs much like the ancient people did – one step forward, one step up. We were quite a sight for all of the visitors to the area.

NewYearsTradition.jpg We had a large lunch that day, so at night, instead of eating dinner, three of us opted for just dessert. We went to a little tent and had a pastry, which was soaked in sugar water. It was basically a very sweet fried dough, reminded me a bit of funnel cake. The tent was set up just for the Christmas holiday. In Oaxaca, it is a good luck tradition to eat this dessert and then break your bowl. While it is no longer considered safe to break the bowls in the street, a little area was set up and we got to break our bowls. The actual event produced quite an adrenaline rush!

The next day, New Year’s Eve, was quite a spectacle. We traveled to Monte Alban, which are ruins of the Zapotec people. These ruins were overgrown and deserted before the Spanish conquest, so they are preserved quite nicely. There are still many unexcavated ruins, as the process is expensive and people are more devoted to excavating the “famous’ ancient people, like the Aztec and the Maya.

MonteAlban.jpg The ruins at Monte Alban were also magnificent. Monte Alban is home to Structure J, one we have studied extensively for our course. The structure is built to align with stars and other buildings, as well as to let the Priest know when to move to another structure on the equinox. We also got to see many different carved stone structures, which depict Danzantes. There are several stories as to what the Danzantes may actually depict; regardless they are magnificent.

We went to the Zocalo and had dinner and watched the fireworks for New Year’s Eve. In Mexico, there are no regulations about fireworks, so very young children were igniting fireworks many different places. Our group tried some sparklers and other more benign fireworks.

We rung in the New Year’s from a rooftop, complete with Mexico’s national countdown. At the stroke of midnight, streamers and confetti came down from the sky and all of the girls were given beads and leis. The celebration started at midnight, as many places were opening up exactly on the stroke of midnight. The celebration reminded me a lot of Mardi Gras.

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