So after nine amazing weeks in Spain and a month travelling here there and everywhere visiting family and friends back in England, I’ve finally arrived in Mexico! All in all it has been an fantastic summer; I’m so grateful to all the lovely people I’ve met for making it such an unforgettable experience. Despite having been in Mexico for less than a week there already seems to be so much to tell that it’s hard to know where to start! Here goes…
Our group of 15 arrived in D.F jet-lagged and exhausted on Tuesday evening after almost 24 hours of flying, queueing and generally hanging around, (including a cheeky group nap on the floor the departures lounge at Charles de Gaulle). We stayed three nights in Mexico City to get our bearings before heading off to our various destinations. It has all been rather full on since arriving and we’ve done lots of sight-seeing and touristy type things, such as visiting the anthropology museum and a tour bus ride of central D.F. I wasn’t anticipating how much of a culture shock coming to Mexico would be, but I’ve found that even ridiculously mundane things have taken me by surprise. One of the main differences has to be the madness that is driving, especially in D.F. Cars drive through red lights and switch lanes with no warning at all – crossing the road here is literally a death wish. This became slightly more understandable when we learnt that here in Mexico there is no driving test, in fact all you need to do is buy a licence. What could possibly go wrong…? Continuing with the driving theme, public transport here is ridiculously cheap (as is pretty much everything). I still can’t get over the fact that it is possible to catch a bus for the equivalent of about 40p – mental! And speaking of buses, you can literally catch them from ANYWHERE – I’m not even sure the concept of a bus stop exists here!
Whilst wandering around on Wednesday we noticed a worrying amount of riot police just hanging around the city. We were told by our guide that this was in preparation for demonstrations by striking teachers against education reforms. At the time it seemed a little unnecessary, however whilst watching the news back in the hotel we were shocked to see huge riots and violent clashes between protesters and the police where we had been only hours before. As we’ve had everything organised for us by the Anglo (the organisation through which some of us will be teaching English) it feels like we’ve been a little oblivious to the reality of life in Mexico.
The Mexico crew!
For our last night together in Mexico City we went to a little pub around the corner from the hotel with the teachers from the Anglo, where with the aid of some tequila I had a first attempt at speaking Spanish with a real life Mexican. I like to think it went quite well! I’m beginning to believe that it is possible to put chilli in just about anything. At the bar we tried a fun drink called a michelada (basically beer with lime, and salt around the rim of the glass – surprisingly nice!) and an even stranger version of this with tabasco and other unidentified sauces, which tasted strangely like tomato soup! Continuing with the chilli theme I’ve also tried chilli flavoured sweets, which the Mexicans LOVE and dried fruit with chilli.
We all left for our different destinations on Friday, with some of us heading as far afield as Colima in the west, and Cancún and Cozumel in the east (very jealous of these people!) However Helen and I have stayed quite central and are now living in Toluca, a city about an hour west of Mexico City. I was feeling pretty apprehensive about coming after having been told by numerous people that the best thing about Toluca is how close it is to Mexico City… not exactly encouraging! These fears were somewhat confirmed by the various people living here who have asked us, with puzzled expressions, why we chose to come to Toluca… So to be perfectly honest, we were feeling more than a little disappointed upon arriving here. Having excitedly researched Toluca when we were told our placements in April I have since discovered that google can be somewhat deceiving! However, now that we’ve been properly shown around by our host family it’s safe to say that Toluca isn’t half as bad as I’d first imagined! If anything, this will just give us more incentive to explore the surrounding areas!
Helen and I are staying with a host family (a Mexican woman, her daughter Julianna who works at the Anglo and their two dogs) who are absolutely LOVELY and have been so welcoming. On Friday evening we went to a really cool bar with Julianna, who introduced us to her brother and friends. I’ve decided it’s a very good thing that I actually like tequila! Everyone has been really keen to show us around so on Saturday we went to the shopping centre and for a wander around the centre of Toluca. Despite it being rather cloudy we also went to visit the Cosmovitral (some amazing gardens inside a building with huge stained glass windows, a lot more impressive in the photos than my description!) Having researched this whilst in England I was really excited to see it in real life, although it was quite surreal to actually be there.
Helen and I in Toluca
Another thing I’ve been struggling to get my head around is quite how much everyone stares, literally EVERYONE stares. It’s so weird as I’m not used to looking so obviously foreign. Sometimes I stare back just for the lols, although I’m not entirely sure this is a good idea. Whilst on the subject of being English I should probably mention the weather, which is crazy. Here in Toluca it starts off pretty cold, then by midday it’s boiling hot, then in the afternoon it suddenly starts raining and thundering, then goes back to being freezing at night time. I guess this means I won’t get bored!
Having somewhat struggled to grasp Spanish pronunciation this summer (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say ‘ascensor’ with a Spanish accent) I’m now finding it surprisingly difficult to unlearn it! Despite my best efforts the word ‘gracias’ ALWAYS comes out as gra-th-ias…
Today we explored Metepec (a town which is pretty much attached to Toluca) with Julianna, which was so much fun! We went to a street filled with shops selling all kinds of handicrafts and day of the dead skulls EVERYWHERE. We tried some proper Mexican street food called gorditas de nata (I can only roughly translate this as ‘little cream fatties’) which were kind of like sweet muffins and absolutely DELICIOUS.
El Día de los Muertos skulls
Gorditas de nata
View of Metepec
So all in all I’ve had an amazing almost first week here and am both excited and extremely scared to be starting my placement at the UAEM (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Mexico) tomorrow!