Day 226: Yucatan

From the moment I was awarded the Fulbright, people have asked me how is Mexico. Many questions revolve around drug violence, indigenous people, … and the beaches. What many people fail to realize is that Mexico is an absolutely beautiful country rich in natural resources. The diversity within Mexico is simply astounding. As I mentioned earlier in my blog posts, Mexico’s history is composed of three major influences: prehispanic, colonial, and postindependence. As many people know, I have looked forward to my trip to the Yucatan all year long. I assure you, the trip did not disappoint. I hope the photos give you a glimpse of the Yucatan.

I started my trip at Tulum. Tulum is widely known for its ruins, which lie along coast. It seems to me that the ruins of Tulum served as a lighthouse that helped ships arrive at the peninsula. My goodness gracious, I had never seen so many tourists in one place. I can see how all the tourists can frustrate people. After seeing the ruins, I was able to go to a nearby ejido, communal land, where I visited in several cenotes (sinkholes). The Mayans used the cenotes as a source of drinking water. The first cenote that I visited is called mysterio maya. At the time, it had only been opened to the public for two months. I was able to avoid the large crowd of people and appreciate the natural formations of the cenote. It was pretty surreal to be swimming around as bats flew over my head. Not at a bad way to finish my first day.

On my second day I visited little-known Coba. Coba is in between Valladolid and Tulum. It is literally in the jungle. You have to ride a bike to get around. One of the most redeeming features of Coba is that you can actually climb some of the ruins. The view from the top of the main temple was breathtaking. Shortly after, I went ziplining for the first time! I am not going to lie, I was terrified. Somehow I mustered the courage to zipline across the lake and record it with my phone. From Coba I travelled to Valladolid. It is a small colonial town near Chichen Itza. I ended up visiting more cenotes there. Valladolid is severely underrated. It is a nice cozy colonial town that grows on you as you sit in the main center eating a raspado and watching the kids play with the main church in the background.

On my third day, I made the trek to Chichen Itza. I held several reservations before I went. Honestly, I had low expectations of Chichen as I thought that it would be a tourists haven. There were a decent number of tourists but it was not overwhelming. But in fact Chichen does live up its name. I think this is an exemplary site of many of the Mayan civilizations. Walking around you can get a taste for its grandeur. The kublak temple is as imposing in real life as it is in pictures. The ball court was by far much bigger than any other ball courts I had seen. The observatory was absolutely amazing. It gives you an idea on how advanced the Mayans were in terms of science, math and astronomy. I can see why it is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. 

My trip ended in Merida where I made a guest appearance on #rutamayagueras. It was great to run into Isabelle and Allyson (Fulbrighters!). I ended visiting uxmal as it was relatively close to Merida. Beware, make sure you have a reliable source of transportation or you will be waiting a long time to make it back to Merida.

All in all, it was a great trip. It exceeded my expectations of the Yucatan. I highly encourage making a trip to the Yucatan.

 

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Day 219: Queretaro and San Miguel de Allende

In my second post I will write about my trip to Bajio, which includes the beautiful cities of Queretaro and San Miguel de Allende. Both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites and they are known for their baroque & neoclassical architecture. As my friends would say, these cities “no tienen madre”. As my fellow BBer would say “ya tu sabes”

Aside from its beautiful architecture, Queretaro is known as an important city in Mexican history. It served as the home of Maximilian, the emperor of Mexico (1864-1867) during his final days. Maximilian is part of the famed Hapsburg family. If you have seen the Castillo de Chapultepec then you know where he resided during his early years in Mexico (European rulers have to do it big). In 1861, the French invaded Mexico. Napoleon III sought to legitimize his rule in Mexico and he came to an agreement with Austria to send Maximilian to Mexico to rule the territory. In 1866, the French withdrew their troops and Maximilian sought refugee in Queretaro where he was later captured and executed. Many of the popular attractions of Queretaro – el teatro de la republica, cerro de las campanas, and others – revolve around the life of Maximilian. I should also mention la corregidora, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, the wife of then mayor Miguel Dominguez. La corregidora helped Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende conspire against the Spanish and seek independence. You must also visit the aqueduct that lies near the centro historico. According to the legend, Marquis Juan Antonio de la Urrutia y Arana built the aqueduct at the request of several nuns whom he guided from Mexico City. In an effort to court one of the nuns, he built the aqueduct to provide water to the residents of Queretaro. Another fun fact, Queretaro has 21 industrial parks nearby which is one of the highest in the nation.

San Miguel de Allende is truly a beautiful city. The city has a large foreign population (15%) as people often move there because of its wonderful architecture, affordable cost of living, and tranquil lifestyle. It is very hard not to fall in love with “San Mike”. The moment you see La Parroquia de San Miguel, you are in instant awe. It has to be my favorite church that I have seen in all my travels. If you get a chance, I would make it to the viewpoint at the top of the hill. You get a fantastic view of the city and surrounding areas. I was surprised, although I am not sure why thinking about it in retrospect, at the number of weddings that I saw.  There were five weddings the day I visited and that was enough to book all hotels in the city. I am not surprised people would make the trek down to San Miguel in order to get married. While the economy is not as developed like other Bajio cities such as Queretaro and Guanajuato, it is definitely a wonderful city to live in. The food was great! If you like eating red meat, you are definitely in the right place.

If you ever want to travel and appreciate colonial cities, I highly recommend visiting the Bajio region. In my next post, I will write about my trip to the Yucatan!

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Day 198: DF

I’m back! So this will be the first of three posts. Amidst all my travels I often forget to talk about DF. I often take for granted that I live in such a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. One of my favorite things about DF is biking on reforma on Sunday mornings. Reforma is the main street in all DF. You can literally see reforma from anywhere in the city because all of the tallest bulding are on reforma (e.g. Torre Mayor). There is something soothing about biking on reforma on Sunday morning. It mainly has to do with sharp contrast between traffic during Sunday morning and a weekday morning, where the traffic is hectic. I have biked on reforma twice and I have been able to visit the Zocalo and the Basicilla of Guadalupe (about 20 km from Condesa). As you can see from the pictures, many people take advantage of the opportunity to bike or run on Reforma. I find hard to believe that a city of the size of Mexico City can put on a community event such as closing down reforma for bikers, runners and spectators every Sunday. It is definitely one of the things a a person living in DF must do. Image

 

Day 187: Chiapas

Chiapas, the land of unspoken beauty. Words cannot describe how breathtaking my trip to Chiapas was. If you ever travel to Mexico, you absolutely have to travel to Chiapas. Chiapas is home to the largest indigenous population in Mexico. It borders Guatemala and Belize.  It is has a wide array of biodiversity given its tropical climate and unperturbed land.

I will first start with San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal is a small colonial pueblo situated in the mountains.  At some point, it used to be the capital of Chiapas but that title now belongs to Tuxla. The beauty of San Cristobal lies in its surrounding areas. I went to a small pueblo called Chamula and oh my goodness I was impressed. Chamula is very small and it concentrated around one church. I went in and I was impressed. The people of Chamula blended their Mayan beliefs and rituals with Catholicism. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures (although I did sneak one in). San Cristobal had some interesting museums on Jade and Amber.  Looking through the pieces collected at these museums, you really get to appreciate the abundance of natural resources available in Chiapas. I took a trip down to Sumidero Canyon and it was absolutely great. They took us on a speed boat and showed us the canyon. I was able to see three crocodiles! The pictures speak for themselves.

Then for the main treat, the ruins of Palenque. I ended up taking an organized tour to Palenque that made stops the water falls of Agua Azul and Misol-ha. Walking around these waterfalls, you get to appreciate the richness of the area.

Palenque deserves a post on its own. The ruins are sight for sore eyes. Situated in the jungle, Palenque stands out with its magnificent architecture. I had the pleasure of visiting the ruins twice and the one word I will use to describe the ruins is mystical. It is truly astonishing was the Mayans were able to construct. There is literally jungle everywhere. It is estimated that only 5% of Palenque has been uncovered.  The obvious favorite is the Temple of Inscriptions, which houses the crypt of Pakal. Walking around Palenque you get to appreciate how the Mayans had the vision to create such astounding cities.

You absolutely have to visit Chiapas and Palenque! I will be traveling to the Yucatan for Semana Santa so stay tuned for more on the great Mayan ruins. Please do ask if you are at interested in Chiapas. I did not really go into much detail in this post because quite frankly, it would be a lot to cover. Of all my trips, Chiapas has been the best. I believe that it has a lot of culture that for some unfathomable reason is not often talked about in Mexican history. I am absolutely fascinated by the Mayan civilization and the development of their culture. Best of all, Chiapas and much of southern Mexico is still inhabited by indigenous people who are strongly connected to their history and lineage.

Now back to studying for my final for marketing….

 

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Day 173: Taxco

This past weekend, I took a day trip to the beautiful city of Taxco. Taxco is widely known for its mining of silver. It is one of the oldest mines of the Americas. The Spanish conquistadors (i.e. Hernan Cortes) took large sums of silver from the area.

 

The silver was beautiful and there is a ton of jewelry. If any of you avid readers take a trip to Taxco, make sure to get Silver .925 as it is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Translation: the silver is durable. It was interesting to walk around town as I would often hear people asking ambulantes (street vendors) how much an item cost in US dollars. Several of the vendors that I met were kind enough to let me take pictures of their collection. If you were looking to buy jewelry, I would stay away from the main plaza as the prices are through the roof. There are tianguis (bazaars) where you can find family owned businesses and jewelry at a much more reasonable price.

 

It was nice to walk around the city and soak in the scenery. While there may not be big touristy places to visit, sans Santa Prisca, like other Pueblos Magicos, Taxco is a great city to walk around. If you have a chance, I highly recommend going up to the Cristo monument as it provides a great view of the city. Again, if you go to Taxco you have to try the Pozole verde. It is a soup with maize, pork or chicken, avocado and tortilla crumbs. It is a tradition dish that is delicious. Before I forget, I highly recommend you attend a taller (workshop). It really is more informal than a workshop as you can walk into some stores and ask the artisans how they make jewelry. In my experience, it seems like most would be willingly to show you how they make the jewelry if you ask kindly. Make sure to this visit this gem of a city that is situated between Acapulco and Mexico DF.

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Day 143+:Cancun, CU and misc.

 

Okay so I am apologizing in advance and my commitment to “quality” posts may not exactly hold true with this post. This post will have a mixture of pictures from Cancun and CU (Ciudad Universitaria). Regardless I still have some thoughts I would like to share about ambos lugares.

 

Cancun’s sandy beaches were to die for! It was a ton of fun spending time with the bbers on the beach doing nothing. Honestly after 3 weeks of traveling, it was nice to fit some R&R. I forgot to mention happy belated birthday to Chris! We made sure he had a great birthday weekend. In my blog posts, I usually don’t touch the subject of security. As my friend Mark always says, you have to have situational awareness when you travel. It was unfortunate that when we arrived at our hostel there was a Singaporean gentleman who had been assaulted and robbed in a taxicab. I am glad that only his money was stolen. Honestly, that could happen to me or any of my fellow bbers. It made the perils of travel tangible. I thought I would comment and say how thankful I am that nothing has happened to any of us. Always be cautious when you travel!

 

Cuidad Universitaria is the home to UNAM, one of the largest and oldest universities in the Americas. It is unfathomable to think that over 300,000 students are matriculated at UNAM. Recently named a UNESCO world heritage site, I thought I would visit the famous UNAM campus. The murals on these buildings are absolutely amazing. Pictures don’t do them justice. El Estadio Olimpico is the current home to the football club Pumas. The stadium was the home to the 1968 Olympic games. You can also see the sculpture garden that is found in the southern part of CU. It is a nice change from the chaotic urban life that is Mexico City.

 

The Fulbrighters had the privilege of having breakfast with the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Evan Ryan. It was a great discussion on how to increase bilateral relations between the US and Mexico and how to promote their 100k strong campaign. There is a picture down below of the Fulbrighters with Evan Ryan.

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Day 136: Guadalajara

 

 

 

 

 

Hey all! I am starting to increase the number subscribers to my blog so I should probably post more substantial material. I hope they don’t judge my blog based on my recent posts because quite frankly, my entries have been piss poor. So here is to trying to get a “quality” post.

 

 

 

This past week, I crossed the mid-term point of my Fulbright. It is simply astounding that half of my grant is completely finished. Honestly, it seems like just yesterday I boarded my flight and came to Mexico with my two suitcases. As I reflect on what I have learned in those 5 months, I have two words for you: relationships matter. My experience here as a fulbrighter would be much different if I did not have the friend group, mostly bbers, I have in place. One of the benefits of having a Fulbright fellowship is the built-in friend network that it provides. Despite having never met the other bbers, the bond of being a bber is something unique that we each carry with us. My friends, as I have the privilege of calling them, have been with me through my highs and lows. It is remarkable that they have not gotten bored of me yet! Being the youngest one of the group always provides a fun dynamic as I always feel that I have older siblings looking over me. My friends are my family here in Mexico. We travel together, we eat together, and we hang out together. That is not to stay my family has not been important in this whole process. Honestly, without my family this grant would be much harder. I never studied abroad and I went to school relatively close to home so this is really the first time I ventured outside of Southern California (gasp!) on a permanent basis. My family is my backbone. So here is my shout out to my family! For being there as I take my first steps into adulthood. Baby steps…

 

 

 

In the last couple of weeks, I have been fielding questions from potential fulbrighters as to what to say during an interview with Fulbright and how is Mexico really like. Let me answer the first part of that statement; know why are you applying to Mexico. The “Why Mexico” question will undoubtedly appear during your interview and it is important to have given this question some thought. For me, I always wanted to live in Latin America, as my parents are from Latin America, and what better city than Mexico City. Mexico City is the political, economic, and cultural hub of Mexico and the gateway to Latin America. Honestly, there are not many cities comparable to the DF. As my friend described it, it really is hard to find a city of a similar size that has such a strong culture and nice people. The ties between the US and Mexico continue growing. I’m sorry but the simple answer is not immigration. Economic development is fueling this partnership. I was surprised to find out that Mexico is currently schooling more engineers than the United States. While there may be questions about quality of education, it remains clear the Mexico is focusing on manufacturing. For all the news we hear about the drug violence and bureaucracy, it is impossible to ignore that Mexico is trying to seize its moment. The recent energy reforms, “el gran pacto para mexico”, NAFTA, reduction in poverty and inequality, and education reforms have left many with higher aspirations for Mexico. I would recommend reading some of Duncan Wood’s pieces if you are sincerely interested. He gave a talk to a Fulbrighters on Thursday and that man is very knowledgeable about Mexico. To answer the second part of the question, I would say try to learn about Mexico’s cultures and subcultures. Currently, Mexico has 32 UNESCO world heritage sites while the US only has 21. Looking quickly through my blog, it is astonishing that I have been able to visit many of these places. Yes, there is drug violence going on. However much of the violence is concentrated in several states in the North and I would recommend avoiding those areas. I would not let that deter you from visiting Mexico, it would be a shame to lose out on everything Mexico has to offer. Be cautious and have situational awareness.

 

 

 

These pictures are from Guadalajara. Guadalajara, or the Tapatios (like the chile brand), is the second largest city in Mexico. It is drastically different than DF as the city is very flat. It reminded me a lot of Los Angeles, as it was difficult to move around without a car. The city center has a huge walkable area and it was great to admire the churches and government buildings.

 

 

 

The group eventually headed down to Tequila, Jalisco. Yes Tequila as in the drink. Tequila is about an hour away from Guadalajara. It has an old rustic feel to it. It is not as colonial as other places I have visited but it has a lot of character. People in Tequila take pride in their distilleries and the agave that grows near by. If you were anywhere near Tequila, I would recommend taking Tequila express and it was a great way to get around. The tour guides are great as they provide a detailed history of Tequila and describe the process of how tequila is made. If you ever want to drink tequila, please drink 100% agave. The quality is much better as the agave is not mixed with sugars that gives you the awful hangover the next day.

 

 

 

On Sunday we ended up at Tlaquepaque, the hip trendy neighborhood in Guadalajara. Just strolling around a Sunday afternoon in Tlaquepaque soothes the soul. It was nice to see families out and people heading to church. Seeing people doing everyday things is quite the change from my fast-paced touristic centric life. We ate at a great restaurant (try tortas ahogadas!) and we saw a live mariachi band perform. It reminded me of May 5th and Sept 16th back in LA as many of friends performed in mariachi bands. I have to give a special shout out to Isabelle for being a great tour guide and host. I am sure I missed several places in Guadalajara but it only provides an opportunity to go visit Guadalajara yet again.

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