Saturday, January 31, 2015

10 Years Since Mexico

It was January of 2005 that I went to Mexico for the first time. I did a study abroad on US-Mexico Relations and Labor Migration, and then traveled for a couple more months researching Mayan ruins and volunteering on organic farms.

It was a transformative 5 months, and I met wonderful friends that I am still close to today. Although I wouldn't start this blog until a couple years later, that trip to Mexico was truly the beginning of "AmberAnda." It was me, my desire to speak Spanish and travel, and a burgeoning love for Latin America.

I also met Josafat. We dated for a few months, but for the last 9.5 years have had a dear friendship. It feels especially full-circle to think back to that journey when I met him a decade ago, because he is getting married this April and I am lucky enough to get to go to his wedding.
Josa and I, Texcoco, Mexico, 2005
Since this blog didn't exist back then, I've never posted photos from that journey. So to mark the 10 years, here's a look back.

I don't know how I got the idea to travel the whole length of Mexico overland, but that's what I did. I flew to San Diego, bused to Tijuana, then all the way down Baja California. I volunteered on my first WWOOF farm near La Paz. On a day off, we hiked up a river valley and soaked in unmarked hot springs.
Next I caught an overnight ferry across the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico, and headed to Sayulita to visit a friend from home whose family has a place there.
My amiga teaches me how to surf in Sayulita
Then I headed to the lovely colonial city of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, to start school at the Universidad Latina de America.
Cathedral of Morelia
The study abroad was run through the University of Oregon, but the students were from all over the U.S., and they were awesome. I met my favorite professor I've ever had, a professor or labor and economics from the U of O. Little did I know that I would later visit him and his wife in Eugene, then again when he was on sabbatical in NYC, and that we'd meet for drinks several times when he was visiting Seattle years later.
The study abroad crew
In addition to the great classes, the program took us on some fantastic day trips and weekend trips around Michoacán and beyond. 
Carnival in a small town outside Morelia. It was a flour
and shaving cream fight all over the street.
The annual Monarch butterfly migration happens in Michoacán
Ruins of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City
Taking in a Diego Rivera mural in Mexico City
Ruins from the eruption of volcano Paricutin. This is maybe
one of my favorite places I've ever been. Lava covered the
 entire town except the altar and steeples of the cathedral
I also met Josafat while I was in school. He didn't live in Morelia, but he was there one weekend on a work trip from Texcoco (near Mexico City) about 4 hours away. It's a wonder we ever met at all. How did it happen, you ask? Well, I saw him on a city bus one Friday evening in downtown Morelia, and we kept looking at each other. I thought he was so cute that I got off the bus at the stop after him and followed him into a bar.

We struck up conversation and the rest was history. I will never forget our first conversation. He was finishing his 4-year degree in agronomy, a word I had never heard in English or Spanish. He was already working as an agronomist on rural food security issues. Basically, he was doing the type of work that I had always wanted to do.

He also told me the story of the legends behind 2 of central Mexico's big volcanoes: Popocatépetl (17,800 feet) and Iztaccíhuatl (17,100 feet). Popo means "smoking mountain" and keeps watch over his lover Izta who is the "sleeping woman". I also had no way to know at that time that 2 years later I would be back in Mexico teaching English and seeing Popocatepetl from my house everyday, with it's plume of smoke rising into the sky.

Josafat came back to Morelia for a couple weekends and was always willing to hang out with us big group of foreigners.
Josafat hangs with the study abroad crew in Morelia

After the quarter of school was over, I headed to the magical and new-agey town of Tepoztlan, and spent a week on another farm/homestead.
Part of the yard on the WWOOF farm, central Mexico
Making handmade paper with an Irish volunteer
Baking bread in the cob oven
I happened to be on the farm on my birthday, and spent the day pouring concrete for a fence post for my first time. By the time we went inside and cleaned up to make dinner, the farmer realized that we didn't have all the ingredients to make a cake.

"But," he said, "I do have cacao beans if you want me to teach you how to make chocolate from scratch!" So after dinner, with music playing and plenty of red wine, we set to work making chocolate. And then I put my hair in a ponytail and cut it off.
Hand-grinding the cacao beans
Finished product: birthday chocolate!

After that, Josafat and I met up again and headed to Oaxaca for a week together. We went to Oaxaca City where every time he asked me what I wanted to eat, I said hopefully, "mole?" While I also love the dark mole poblano, I simply couldn't get enough of the yellow and green moles of the south.
Bussing south-bound
Ruins of Monte Alban
Mazunte, coast of Oaxaca
After a visit to the coast, Josafat went back to work and I continued traveling on my own. Next stop was Chiapas, and the start of my study of Mayan ruins. I was still enrolled in college half-time, and getting independent study credit to make an art travel journal of ruins, including a watercolor rendering of each one I visited.
Palenque, Chiapas
Painting at the ruins of Uxmal, Yucatan
El Castillo at Chichen Itza
Caribbean from the ruins of Tulum
Tulum is on the coast of the Yucatan, very close to the border with Belize. At that point, I had bussed from San Diego all the way south through Mexico. I continued into Belize and Guatemala, but that's a whole other story!

I flew back to Mexico City from Guatemala City and had a last weekend to spend with Josafat, who was now working temporarily from Guadalajara. I explored the city, hung with him at his office, and took a day trip to do some tequila tasting in the tequila region.

Here's to another decade of good friends, new travels, and transformative experiences.

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