What had happened was…

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Well, we have been VERY neglectful of our blog lately! For those of you avid fans (if in fact there are any out there:), my apologies. We have been really busy with various things including getting our internet fixed, which was out of commission for two weeks; trying to leave México, which is becoming increasingly more difficult (no really, that is a literal statement!); and making plans for next year. More on both of the latter things at a later time🙂

Besides those things, I have been busy actually doing what I came here to do! I have had a lot of performances lately and even more coming up in the next two weeks, and Jeff as well. More gigs with the rock band Mal’Akh:

On stage at the Fonoteca Nacional

Stage at the Film Club Café

And another solo recital, held at the Casa del Lago (House of the Lake) in the Bosque de Chapultepec:

View from the room where I played

We have also sadly had to say goodbye to some of our dear Fulbright friends whom we have gotten to know and spend time with during this year. Due to some conflicts, we missed seeing Liz once more when she left at the beginning of May:

With Liz in Xochimilco back in early November

But we did get to see Doug and Theresa before they left at the end of May:

Dinner with Doug and Theresa

And also Sara before she left at the beginning of June:

Sara came to my Casa del Lago recital!

We went to dinner with Sara her last night here in D.F. and we all tried something we’d never had before–helado de elote (corn ice cream)! It was actually quite good!

It even came in a husk!

And though we have not yet had to officially say goodbye to Chris, we did meet up with her and some of her friends for dinner and dancing/drinks. We opted out of salsa dancing after finding out how expensive it was so we just decided to go to a bar with some good music and have a great time, which we did.

Also, our dear friend Eric who was here in México in December returned for a visit, so we had a really nice time hanging out with him.

At El Colegio Nacional for a concert

Right now, the Foro Internacional de Música Nueva Manuel Enríquez is being held in D.F. It is an international festival of new music that happens here every year. Jeff and I both submitted applications to perform in this festival and were accepted. Jeff had his recital this past Wednesday, June 13, and he was awesome!! My concert is tomorrow so I am a little nervous, but looking forward to it. Jeff will write more about the Foro later but in the meantime, check out programs 8 and 17!

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Silver City

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When I say Silver City, I don’t mean Silver City, NM, from one of my favorite movies:

Really, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now!

Instead, I mean the city of Taxco in the state of Guerrero. Taxco is famous for its silver jewelry and it is *the* place in México in which to buy this type of jewelry. We had been wanting to visit and finally just decided to take a day trip there. It is about a 3.5 hour bus ride, so it is a long trip for one day but in the end, we were really glad that we decided to come back. Staying longer would have only meant spending more money!

After arriving at our bus station in Taxco (which was practically just a small house with a large parking lot), we hopped in a cab to take us to the centro of the town. I really wish I had taken a picture of the cab. It was a Beetle and quickly, I realized that all of the cabs in sight were Beetles. This particular one had no front passenger seat. It had been removed to allow more “room” for people in the backseat, I guess? Anyway, so that the driver doesn’t have to wait for his passengers to enter the vehicle in order to shut the door, he ingeniously rigged a rope tied to it so he can just sit in the driver’s side and when his passengers get in, pull the rope in order to shut the door behind them. So creative. Anyway, it was immediately obvious that practically the only type of car that can navigate the incredibly narrow and steep streets of Taxco is a Beetle, hence the reason that it seems to be the car of choice of the local cab drivers.

It really only took us a few minutes to get from the station to the centro and when we got there, it was as lovely as one would expect.

As always, there is a big church in the centro

Gazebo and garden

After walking around for a few minutes, we stopped at a tourist booth to get a map and made our way down to the silver vendors. You can certainly buy silver products in the centro, but they are actually real stores and though their products are basically the same, they are much more expensive than the silver vendors you find a little farther away. I really wasn’t prepared for how mountainous Taxco is. I tried to take a picture to show how steep and narrow the streets are, but it still doesn’t quite do it justice.

Trust me, we got our hiking in for the day

I also didn’t really get pictures of the silver vendors. Many of them were along the side of one of the main streets and all under tarps, so I couldn’t really get the camera at a good angle to show the sheer number of them. Let’s just say that as far as the eye could see, there was silver. Silver bracelets, earrings, necklaces, cuffs, pins, hair clips by the thousands (not exaggerating–thousands). We walked through the vendors on the street for awhile until we discovered that there were alleyways off of that main street as well, and they were also filled with jewelry. We made our way down one of them (not wide enough for one person to walk through at a time, so it was chaotic as well) and then discovered an entirely different building with two or three more FLOORS of silver vendors. It was completely overwhelming.

A picture of part of the first floor of this building

This particular vendor was across from the crazy street of vendors. It was nice to look at her things because the atmosphere was much calmer!

After looking around for awhile at all of the many options, we finally were able to do a little shopping. And by we of course I mean me🙂

Purchases by lunchtime (some gifts not pictured as to not give anything away:)

We walked back to the centro for lunch and ate on the top floor at a nice restaurant with a lovely view.

View from our lunch table

One thing that really struck me about Taxco is how all of the buildings look the same They are all white with red rooftops and brown trim. It is particularly noticeable because every other place that we’ve been to in México has been a collage of different brightly colored houses.

Still gorgeous!

And because I am feeling a little nostalgic, a shot from what I was doing this past weekend a year ago: graduating from KU! What a year!

Dr. Thompson and Dr. Schubert

“Tacos don’t look like tacos”

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Soon after we returned from our Oaxaca trip my mom came to visit! We’ve been excited about her visit for a while now, especially because ever since I was a child my mom and I have always wanted to visit México! I think that 15 (or so) years ago when we were realistically discussing this trip, we thought more of crossing the border by car or public transportation and spending time in the north of the country, but now for many obvious reasons Mexico City is the logical destination.

My mom’s visit was very relaxing. We took our time and really enjoyed the sight-seeing, shopping, eating, traveling via public transportation, visiting some museums (Anthropology), etc.

In front of Bellas Artes

Of course we spent some time in the historical center of the city, and as a bonus we got to see some parts of the Cathedral that are usually not open (Mary E took photo documentation):

Guadalupe’s Chapel

My mom and I walked around Chapultepec Forest and visited the Anthropology Museum, which never ceases to impress.

Mom and the moon temple

We did a lot of shopping, visiting 2 markets: Coyoacán and San Angel. All-in-all we traveled on the metro, metrobús, and in paseros, but above all, I am proud of my mom for tasting lots of the local cuisine. We had mangos, papayas, and pan dulce for breakfast, arrachera, chorizo, enchiladas, tacos, etc.

Also, while dining and overlooking the Zócalo, for the first time we saw the military take down the large Mexican flag that overlooks the centro.

Rally round the flag

From a conversation on my mom’s first night when we visited a local taquería:

[Our order arrives: alambre de bistec and some assorted tacos al pastor and chorizo, to taste]

Mom: These don’t look like tacos! (referring to the small corn tortillas and above meat options, with chopped, grilled onions, bell peppers, pineapple (on the pastor), and assorted salsas and lime.)

Yepts: No, actually TACOS (in the USA) don’t look like tacos!

***

We had a great time and hope that my mom did too. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she got to experience some of our Mexico City adventure with us!

Last-xaca, pt. 3

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OK, so I said this Oaxaca series would be in two posts but as you can see, we did a lot, so it really deserves three!

On the last day of our trip, we decided to take touring matters into our own hands. One of the all-day tours that we looked at (but ended up not choosing) included a trip to the nearby pueblo of Coyotepec, famous for its barro negro (black pottery). This pueblo is famous for this craft just as Teotitlán is famous for its woven goods. We talked to someone at an information booth in the zocalo of Oaxaca, who assured us that if we went to X intersection in town (which we did), a bus would come by that we could catch to Coyotepec (which it didn’t). Luckily, this scenario is very familiar to us so after watching the scene for a bit, we figured out that there were taxis which said where they were going, and Coyotepec was one of the destinations. So, we hopped in one. It turns out that these taxis are colectivos, which function kind of like a bus, but obviously smaller. The taxi driver goes to the destination listed on his car and along the way, he picks up as many people that are going to the same place as he can fit in his car. Though it might sound uncomfortable, it was actually very easy and extremely cheap!

We got dropped off in the centro of Coyotepec, which is quite lovely.

Fountain in the centro of Coyotepec

There were several shops that sold the barro negro in the area but also, there was a big tent set up in the centro where different vendors sold their pottery as well.

Time to shop!

There were so many pieces in countless shapes, sizes, and designs.

We bought a LOT here! Everything was absolutely beautiful and very cheap. Though we found the same kinds of pottery in the city of Oaxaca, it seemed to be much cheaper to buy everything here and the quality was overall better than what we had seen in the city.

After returning to Oaxaca, we were pretty hungry and decided to get something to eat in the market, which we had done the day before. However, we entered the market from a different side and stumbled onto this awesome eatery.

It was a little confusing at first to figure out exactly what to do because the room was very full and people were shouting in all directions. However, someone shoved a basket of onions at us and we more or less figured out where to go from there. The idea in a place like this is that there are several stations set up in the room. The first one is to pick out what vegetables you want with your meat (hence, the onions). Then, you go to a stand and choose what kind of meat you want, which they grill for you right there on the spot.

Meeeeaaattt

While you’re waiting for your meat to be cooked, you find a seat. In this particular place, there were long booths that were meant for at least 8 people if not more, so we picked an empty one and were soon joined by a nice family on vacation from Puebla, MX. When your food is ready, someone brings it to you and usually that person is followed by a host of other people, selling you things to go with your meal such as tortillas (a must, obviously), salsa, guacamole, and possibly a delicious side dish of chapulines. Which are grasshoppers, cooked to death (thankfully, that is literal) and covered with salt and lime.

crunch crunch

Chapulines are very popular in Oaxaca and once we saw the little girl at our table chowing down, we decided we had to at least try them. One grasshopper each was enough. To be honest, they really just tasted like salt and lime and were crunchy. Maybe a little tooooo crunchy. At any rate, we can now say that we’ve tried them!

Just think, we are in this Mexican's family's photo album of their trip to Oaxaca, just like they are in ours!

And that folks, is a run-down of our trip to Oaxaca! If you ever have a chance to go anywhere in México, we would definitely suggest going there! All of the wonderful things that we heard are absolutely true–there is no other place quite like it!

 

 

WOW-xaca, pt. 2

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Our first full day in Oaxaca was a long one, and we slept well that night.

The next day, first we decided to walk around the centro for a good place to get desayuno (breakfast). We found a clean little restaurant that is also a tour place and a bike store! We had tacos de canasta (basket tacos).

This restaurant is also a bike store

Since we had a generally good time with our tour, we decided to use the same people again to go to one more attraction out of the city: the ruins at Monte Albán!

Monte Albán grounds

It was nice to see both the grounds at Mitla and Monte Albán in the same trip. Mitla is a small ruin with lots of detail because it is about 95% original. Monte Albán is vast with many edifices and groups of buildings, danzantes, tombs, and even a ball-game field,

A stadium for the game of "ball"

but the ruins at Monte Albán are only about 10-15% original. By that I mean that archeologists and scholars know that the site was there, actually there are even more ruins of the perimeters of houses and buildings being excavated as I write this, but earthquakes, colonization, and other phenomena required the buildings to be almost completely rebuilt. Also the only vendors that they let inside the site grounds are indigenous and actual descendents of the civilization that once thrived there.

Geographic explorer!

For the rest of the trip we decided to ditch the tours because we wanted to take our time at some of the other places, and the tours often rush you along at certain stops. We knew that there was some good mole to be tasted, and tamales to be devoured at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

According to this source, “Mole more or less translates to “concoction”, and is derived from the Nahuatl word Molli.” Mole is made primarily from using dried chiles. You can buy the chiles to make your own, or buy it in paste or powder form. For some dishes you dilute it with cooked veggies and other things, other times you just cook the meat and veggies in it. Virtually every restaurant serving traditional Mexican food has a Mole Negro (black mole) dish, which includes cocoa with the chiles, but there are also other kinds of mole native to Oaxaca, and harder to find outside of the area including: verde (green), rojo (red), amarillo (yellow), almondrado (almond), coloradito, and many other varieties to be sure. Oh, and it’s delicious. Well, I have yet to encounter a mole that I did not enjoy.

We also had some authentic Oaxaqueñan Tamales, which are kind of steamed corn meal and pulled chicken, pork, or beef in a mole sauce, encased in either a corn husk or banana leaf. They are hearty and delicious. I don’t know if the concept of “comfort food” exists here, but they automatically skyrocketed into my top 5 comfort foods. It’s too bad that they’re difficult and time consuming to make, and even hard to find good ones in the city, although there is a man who rides a bicycle by our apartment daily who would beg to differ. This is the recording he plays over and over again!

We hear this ad nauseum http://youtu.be/AhhM2F2S8tk

According to our friend Diego, we should not try their tamales, and so we have not (though we’ve tasted a few tamales in the city.)

The other main food items that we investigated is pan de yema (literally “yolk bread,” or an egg bread, which is delicious) and cocoa –> chocolate!

Pan's Labyrinth

cocoa in the raw

Which turns into this yumminess!

After we ate and shopped a bit we went back to visit some of the amazing churches where we could see them in better, natural lighting (since we had only really previously seen them at dusk.)

the cathedral

the Spanish didn't do anything on a small scale

We also visited the ex-convent-turned-hotel CAMINO REAL

It's a really lovely place

And we spent a good bit of time in Mary E’s favorite church (and I think that it’s lovely too), the Sto. Domingo.

Sto. Domingo

It really is impressive on the inside

The last things that we did was shop at a really amazing craft market that sells only authentic handmade items by women of Oaxaca and its surrounding pueblos. Then we had a nice late dinner on the rooftop at a funky restaurant. The food and drinks were good. We didn’t get back to the hotel too late because we had yet another day in Oaxaca before we headed back home.

Authentic, handmade crafts

Cool lights/decorations made from colored plastic salad spinners

Until next time, tune in again Mexifriends…same oaxaqueñan time, same oaxaqueñan channel!

Oaxaca, pt. 1

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Semana Santa–usually spring break for those in school here in the D.F. For most schools, it lasts for two weeks-Holy Week and the week after. (For my school, it was sadly only Holy Week.) Semana Santa is a huge travel time here. Pretty much everyone in D.F. goes to the beach and the city is very quiet. Ever since we arrived here, practically every person that we have met has said, “Oh, you MUST visit Oaxaca!” After the third or fourth person to say this, we were convinced and we finally made our way to Oaxaca for Semana Santa, vacating D.F. like true chilangos🙂

Oaxaca is a state on the southern coast of México. It has wonderful beaches that many Mexicans go to instead of the more touristy places, such as Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. Though I would love to go to the beaches sometime, we went to the city of Oaxaca, obviously appropriately named and located in the dead center of the state. We woke up early on Monday morning and went to the bus station to get tickets for the 6 hr. bus ride. We had planned on taking the first bus out, thinking that we would beat the rush. Not so! Luckily, we were able to get tickets for the noon bus but the five or six buses that left before noon were definitely completely sold out, and I’m sure that continued to be true for the rest of the day (and week)!

The bus terminals here look just like airport terminals

So, we boarded our bus and had a nice drive to Oaxaca. [As it turns out, there was actually an earthquake in Oaxaca, felt all the way in D.F., while we were on the road. We didn’t feel a thing!] The drive was beautiful but for the last two or three hours, we were just winding up and up mountain after mountain. And it wasn’t like driving in the mountains in the U.S. Though I’m not an expert, my experience with driving in the mountains in the U.S. is that you generally see the occasional house in the valley or on the mountainside, or that you pass a tiny town now and again. There was NOTHING and I mean NOTHING in these mountains!

Winding up the mountains on the way to Oaxaca.

We finally arrived in Oaxaca around 6:00 in the evening and checked into our hotel, which was a decent walking distance from the center of town. That turned out to be nice though because it was very quiet.

Our hotel, Hotel Santa Lucia

The first thing we did of course was to head to the centro of town, which is just absolutely gorgeous.

Santo Domingo, a beautiful church near the centro of the city

I loved the colors on the buildings and the palm trees!

These wooden statues were on side streets all over the centro. Of course, Jeff needed to pose with them--doesn't he blend in well?

As I said before, it was spring break for all of the kids, and we saw so many of them at all times of the day and night in the town square with the crazy balloons that are pictured below. I have never seen any quite like these before but the kids were having a blast, running around and playing with these things. You could buy them in any color imaginable and most of them had popular cartoon characters, cars, Disney princesses, etc. on them.

Very colorful!

Though Santo Domingo (pictured earlier) seems to be the most famous of the 40 or so churches in Oaxaca, it is actually not the cathedral in the centro of the town–the one you see below is. It is of course also very old and beautiful.

All right, I'm not an expert but this picture with the color of the clouds turned out really cool!

While we were walking around the centro the first night, we passed several people out on the street trying to draw people in to their tour businesses. We finally went in one and saw that we could take a tour of several places around Oaxaca for a very reasonable price, so we chose one to do for our first full day. The tour left at 10:00, so we found a nice, extremely colorful little restaurant for breakfast.

The red walls together with the bright blue plates was a little overwhelming.

Many of the places to see in Oaxaca are actually outside the city limits, so taking a tour was very convenient. Our first stop was the little town of Tule, which is home to El Árbol de Tule. This tree is the largest in diameter in the world and is probably around 2,000 years old. I can’t even begin to describe how ridiculously enormous it is!

El Árbol de Tule from a distance. As you can see, the gardens and church surrounding it are lovely.

It's impossible to get the entire tree in a picture up close, but at least here you can kind of see the scope of the trunk next to a person.

The next stop was the pueblo of Teotitlán, famous for woven goods. This community of indigenous people, the Zapotecs, still retain their language and customs, though they do speak Spanish also and allow visitors into their pueblo for tours and to buy their products. We had a short demonstration of how they dye material and how they weave the rugs. It takes about 25 days at 7 hours per day just to make one of these!

A rug in progress on the loom

From there, we drove about an hour to Hierve el Agua, an area of natural springs and a natural salt rock formation that looks like a waterfall.

A view of the springs

Salt rock waterfall. We *might* have been a little out of breath by the time we got to this point to take a picture. We were even higher up in elevation in Oaxaca than we are in D.F.

There were a lot of people there besides our tour group. Many people brought bathing suits and were soaking in the springs and swimming because it was a very hot day. But, the springs are not hot–the water was a little cold!

There are no fences or anything in this area. We are standing right in front of the edge of a cliff!

Just one more because it's pretty

After lunch at a Oaxacañan buffet, we visited the ruins at Mitla. It is not the biggest site of its kind in México, but it is the second largest in Oaxaca and the most important to the Zapotecs. It still has many of the original symbols carved into its structures.

Until 1970, this ancient ruin was actually the town market!

There are still Zapotecan symbols all over the outside and inside of the buildings.

Finally, the tour concluded with a tour of a fábrica de mezcal, which is a popular alcohol in México. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant and this fábrica is one of the many that make mezcal in this area. Of course, the tour concluded with a free sampling of any type of mezcal one could want🙂

The maguey plant

The is used to crush the hard outer shell of the maguey and get the material out for making mezcal.

Drinks all around!

More on the rest of our trip to Oaxaca very soon!

Be our guest, be our guest

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Back in February we had our second round of guests visit us here in Mexico City: my brother Brian and his fiancé Niki. Because we had such a great time when Mary E’s parents came to visit in December, we were anticipating a repeat performance. They did not disappoint; the whole four days were a lot of fun!

This time, however, instead of being strictly tour guides in taking Mary E’s parents to places that we were mostly familiar with (except for our first visit to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. Previously, we visited the one in Xalapa), we were able to go to some places that were new to us like the nearby ruins in Teotihuacan and a Lucha Libre match! Overall, we had a great time being with them and showing them around our new city for this year. We wish that it could have been a longer stay, but we tried to jam-pack the days with as many activities as possible, probably to the chagrin of our travel-weary, yet extremely adventurous family. Here are some photographic highlights:

We visited the market, of course. Niki found a piece of pottery to buy and I got to show Brian the different versions of Homer Simpson in action figure/doll form (e.g. Spiderman Homer!). We also got bebidas calientitos at El Café Jarrocho! (por supuesto!)

We went to our first Lucha Libre match. It was fun and quite some culture shock, but it wasn't really to any of our taste. Still, it was definitely a cool experience to see all the street vendors around the Arena México.

We visited the ruins at Teotihuacan, which involved a very adventurous bus ride followed by lots of climbing. The view from the top was amazing!

Feb. 4 was Brian's birthday so we got him a pastel de tres leches from our favorite bakery!

Adventurous bus riders. All-in-all we had a great time, we hope that they did too, and we can't to see them again this summer. And also we can't wait to have more guests! so what are you waiting for??