ASB2010 in Mexico

Students are traveling to Xalapa, Mexico, as part of Alternative Spring Break 2010 to work at an orphanage, serve food and help at a clinic with the nonprofit organization Caritas.

Read more from ASB2010 in Mexico

Exploring religion, food and nature

An update from Katrina:

Today we had breakfast at 9. Breakfast consisted of tons of fresh fruit (papayas, bananas and a jello-type thing that tasted like mango) along with coffee, FRESH ORANGE JUICE, and more of the flat taco-type things that I can’t recall the name of. We left the house at 10 to go to Catholic Mass, as we wanted to experience the culture here and Catholicism is such a central part of Mexican culture.

ASB3.png Church was interesting. It was in a huge chapel smack in the center of downtown and there were people filling up all the pews. Here’s what I wrote during Mass (just my personal thoughts):

I’m sitting in Catholic Mass. All of the chandeliers are lit except for the one dangling in front of Jesus Christ, above the altar. A young woman just finished reading from the Bible, and now a little girl is singing the liturgy. It sounds more like the Quran than the Bible. The little girl just switched to the relative minor of the key she was originally in. Ah, the flat-screen TVs just switched from a view in front of the girl to a view from behind the altar. There are eight-flat screen TVs here. Why does the Church have money enough for eight flat-screen TVs, 12 chandeliers, and so many statues outlined in gold? Especially when its people are hungry and cold? The church was built basilica-style, not in the shape of a crucifix. So the priest is standing in the focal point of the arch behind him, sending out a sound wave straight at us. The two thin, rectangular speakers under every flat-screen TV are making a huge echo here.

There is a line of people to the left of the church. This line is waiting to confess. There is an open confessional during Mass. The priest, robed in purple for Lent, is speaking with lots of inflection. Tunks informs me that this is where the chant came from. But I can’t really pay attention to him because:

1. The doors all around the chapel are open, so I can hear the crazy sounds of traffic all around.
2. The severe crucifix hanging above the altar is so … awful. It’s so devastating and powerful. If I had grown up here going to this church, of course I’d believe in Jesus Christ because the image of that crucifix would haunt me.

That’s all I wrote when I was in Mass. I got communion because I figured that if I was there I should just go all the way, so yay. When Mass was over, I walked around to glance at all the statues. I thought back to when someone criticized the Catholic church for worshiping idols, but for some reason it didn’t affect me. I mean, there are so many ways that organized religion is good, and so many ways that it is bad and just plain manipulative, but I don’t care to count the ways and figure out if I like it all or not. Either way, it was nice to have a perspective into that part of culture and to experience Mass again.

When we left church there was a man at the entrance with a leg that was completely useless, begging for money, and another next to him on the other side of the entrance selling crucifixes and candles with images of the Virgin Mary on them. We met Rodrigo’s friend Ana, who stayed with us for the duration of the day. We walked across the street and some of us bought items from the vendors there. I really want some bright, insanely-colored dresses or shirts and a couple new pairs of earrings from a small vendor here. I didn’t get anything there but am DETERMINED TO EVENTUALLY!

ASB4.png After the vendors, Rodrigo, Aurora, and Ana took our posse to the Museo de Anthropologia. It was sooo fascinating. We got to see tons of old statues and pieces of artwork and pottery and the most interesting part of all: the Olmec heads. They were these giant heads that were found in the Olmec region, and they were just fabulously fascinating. Tunks (now referred to as Tomas) was the most fascinated with them, I think.

Anyway, the museum was architecturally beautiful and its inhabitants were all wonderful. The outside portion of the museum was, as Tomas put it, “tranquil.” It was a peaceful, beautiful place to be, and I probably could have spent all day there.

We left the museum to travel to Coatepec, a small city with a restaurant that Ana and Rodrigo and Aurora wanted to show us. We took the “new route” to get there, which according to Aurora is not as nice as the “old route,” but it only took half the time so that’s the way we went!

When we got to the restaurant, people had some troubles with their orders. There was no chicken breast, no this, no that. So almost everyone ended up getting empanadas. I, however, decided to be really adventurous and order something off the menu … that I couldn’t read, couldn’t identify, didn’t know what it was. When I told Rodrigo and Ana what I ordered (rather, I showed them, because I couldn’t pronounce it) they both had VERY concerned looks on their faces. Bernardo, who is from Mexico, told me that I’m the bravest person he’s ever met. Ana wished me luck.

When I got my dish, it didn’t look that bad. A piece of bistec (beefsteak, aka steak) covered in habanero peppers and a thick red spicy sauce, with frijoles negros y arroz. Can’t hurt that much, right? Well at this point I was pretty darn hungry, so along with my fiery meal I was drinking a lot of horchata. I guess that wasn’t a good idea. I started to get a thunderstorm in my stomach about ten minutes into the meal, but hey, it’s spicy food, so that’s okay, right? No. No, that is just not okay. Lightly put: that thunderstorm lasted for the rest of the day, and by the night I was sick sick sick.

We left the restaurant after about an hour and traveled to Xico, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Rodrigo wanted to show us a waterfall that he’d been to before, and we got SO much more than that out of it. The drive there was fabulous; we drove through beautiful JUNGLE where coffee is grown. Tomas and Aurora taught me that coffee grows on little red berries that have to be opened up before the actual coffee bean can be taken out, then those coffee beans are laid out in the sun to dry.

ASB5.png We finally arrived in this hugely humid place not knowing what to expect, and BAM! We saw waterfalls that were about 300 ft high – it was spectacular! I found a mama and baby dog, and fell in love with them (mi pero y mi perito!) and I carried mi perito around everywhere – until I crossed a somewhat shaky bridge over 250 ft of air above rushing water. THAT was an experience.

Rodrigo led us on paths through the jungle until we got to a second waterfall. This one was much shorter – he in fact has repelled it at least once. The waterfall crashes into dark green water that is approximately 24 ft deep and then flows rapidly into water filled with huge rocks. This all eventually feeds that giant 300-ft waterfall I mentioned earlier. This place though, really, is heaven on earth. There’s nothing else like it in the deepest parts of my imagination; it was just magical. Words can’t describe, and pictures don’t suffice. It was beautiful.

I broke off from the group and did some exploring of my own; when everyone else went on an impromptu hike, I stayed behind and tried to cross the river. I didn’t fall in (except for one foot) and I got to talk to Rodrigo a bit more. I was on this rock that leans out over the rushing water, with my hands in the air soaking up the rain that was falling from the sky to the trees and from the trees to me, and he said, “You’re kind of a … of a dreamer?”

It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. He said he can tell I’m a musician because I do these things. Coming from quite an accomplished musician himself, it meant a lot to me. I asked him if he can adopt me, and we decided that when I graduate from college I’m going to move to Xalapa and we are going to play music together forever and then travel the world. Sounds great to me!

When all was said and done in the jungle, we crossed the scary bridge back to civilization-ish again. I found mi perito y su mama in the rain, cold, shivering, and starving, just like I had found them before. Ugh, I loved that little puppy!!!!!! Rodrigo and I eventually gave some of the men working in stands there 70 pesos to take care of mi perito y su mama. The mama dog kept licking me and followed me until the minute I got in Rodrigo’s truck to come home. Awwww, I miss mi perito!!!!

I also got to try coconut milk and coconut meat soaked in lemon with chili powder. Both were mas a menos – just okay. I could go without ‘em. At this point my thunderstorm in my stomach had turned into a ravishing tornado, so nothing really felt good there.

On the way back to Xalapa we stopped in Coatepec again to get pan (bread) from a bakery there. Tomas and I shared a bread plate and got one of almost everything. I ate two bread rolls on the way home, and also sort of dozed in and out of consciousness. At this point everyone was wet and tired.

We got back to the house and ate bread for dinner because most of us were full. We had a great reflection time and talked about nearly everything under the sun until about 11 at night. Rodrigo was really great to me and went out and got me some Pepto Bismol because at this point I was about to die. haha! The night ended on a positive note, and day two in Mexico was complete. Everyone was anxious to begin day three, when we would finally meet our friends at Caritas.

Share this story:

    About Sarah Hanan

    EA-PubAffairs(Periodicals)
    This entry was posted in ASB2010 in Mexico. Bookmark the permalink.