It’s been rather a long time since my last post so this could be a long one – you have been warned! I’ll try and progress through in some kind of chronological order…
I’ve had a pretty good few weeks at the uni, for some reason about 50 people turned up to my presentation on London, which was more than a little daunting! Despite being about to count the number of times I’ve properly been to London (as in, not the airport) on one hand, I like to think I was fairly convincing! It’s safe to say it was an interesting hour; all the more so when I received a request for a presentation on British drinking games. At least this is something I probably have more experience in…
So despite having been here for over four weeks now, I’m still not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be doing at the uni. Thankfully people are still coming to my classes and at the back of my mind I have a vague nagging suspicion I should be using all this free time to sort out the dreaded YARP… For the time being I’m living in wilful ignorance. Needless to say I’m going to regret that.
On Friday last week I got up bright and early (well, 8 o’clock..) to go to the zoo in Chapultepec, Mexico City with some friends from the University (I’m still surprised that people are inviting me to things). It was a really fun day out although probably one of the biggest zoos I’ve ever walked around (I’m used to negotiating Longleat by car). Here is a fun picture of some flamingos!
The following day I got the bus for another fun weekend in Coyoacán, courtesy of Charissa. We went out to a house party on the Saturday night, where I discovered (much to the surprise of everyone else) that dark rum and lemonade isn’t as gross as it sounds! Stopping at a proper sit-down restaurant for tacos at 4 in the morning (which for some reason was packed) made quite a change from the traditional post-Jesters Chickoland trip – significantly yummier! I discovered that I really don’t like horchata – this sweet rice milk drink with cinnamon. On Sunday we had a lazy day on the boats in Xochimilco, a huge lake to the south of the city. All the boats were really colourfully decorated, with some selling food, others with Mariachi, and the rest with mostly drunk Mexicans. What’s not to like!?
I didn’t do an awful lot during the week in Toluca. Helen and I went to the cinema to watch ‘No Se Aceptan Devoluciones’ – a Mexican film everyone has been raving about – I was both pleased and surprised to find I understood most of it, even the jokes! I think (well, I like to think) that on the whole my Spanish is improving! We were also very kindly invited to the house of one of the students to meet his family and try Hojaldra, or Pan de Muerto, a rather yummy type of bread traditionally eaten around Day of the Dead.
On Thursday the Languages Faculty put on a fancy dress contest for Halloween, which was really good fun, despite my somewhat shoddy attempt. My personal favourite were these guys, dressed up as Day of the Dead Catrinas (I really don’t know if there is a male equivalent of the Catrina, the female figure that is EVERYWHERE at the moment).
To bring something British to the festivities Ellie (the other English assistant) and I hosted an apple bobbing contest (or rather Ellie came up with the idea and I stole the megaphone at times). But yes, we got Mexicans to bob apples, and what’s more somehow avoided being forced to do so ourselves! Result. For some reason all the student were super-keen to take photos with me; I still don’t think the novelty of me has quite warn off. It’s rather hilarious. Later on I went to the languages Halloween party with some friends from the faculty which was pretty good fun! Although I managed to embarrass myself by getting considerable drunker than everyone else and attempting to dance salsa (still not quite there with the whole coordination thing…)
Last weekend we organised to meet up with some of the Southampton bunch for el Día de los Muertos, which is one of the main holidays here in Mexico. In spite of the gloomy connotations suggested by the name, it’s actually the complete opposite and is instead seen as a celebration of the lives of dead family members and a way to remember them positively. So to really get a feel for Day of the Dead we decided to go to Patzcuaro, Michoacan, as it is widely known as one of the best places to watch the festivities. We were quite aprehensive before going as there have recently been many reports in the news about violence in Michoacan, due to clashes between drugs cartels and the police. However I can safely say that I felt as safe in the parts we visited as I do here in Toluca. For the Friday night, which is the main part of Day of the Dead we visited the island of Janitzio, just off of Patzcuaro. After a short boat ride across to the island we wandered around for a few hours and visited the stalls lining the streets, selling a whole variety of traditional foods, as well as all sorts of different crafts. It was all rather beautiful and quaint! After leaving the island we wandered around for a while without really knowing what to do. Here in Mexico it’s normal for families to spend the whole night in the graveyard with the grave of their loved one. However as we have no Mexican relatives, and didn’t know of any graveyards nearby, or fancy traipsing around at 3am searching for one we decided to get some food! Enchiladas seemed like a great idea, however we quickly changed our minds when we saw the size of the portions. When I say that mine was twice the size of my face that is no exaggeration! It was pretty hilarious.
For the rest of the weekend we visited Morelia and the surrounding towns. I was surprised by just how different Morelia is to Toluca; despite only being 4 hours away it looked more like Spain than anywhere else I’ve been so far. On Saturday night we wandered around looking at all the ‘ofrendas’ and then went to a really cool bar in Morelia, where we were kindly given free shots of tequila and mezcal – being English has its advantages! Mezcal is another Mexican drink, made from the Maguey plant, however at 60% it is significantly stronger than tequila; you can imagine the consequences…
Ofrendas at night time
Some random observations… Everyone keeps telling me I have beautiful eyes, which is pretty lols. In Mexico I’m literally not allowed to walk on the outside of the road if accompanied by a man, nor am I allowed to open any door. Flushing toilet paper is bad. Buying baking ingredients is an impossible task. Chilli can be put in anything and everything, as in I have eaten a SWEET croissant with ham and cheese (weird enough as it is) also with chilli and carrot.
I learnt the difference between ‘gin’ and ‘ginger’ the hard way this week after repeatedly asking a very confused shop assistant for powdered gin. In my defence ‘ginebra’ and ‘jengibre’ are very similar words. Also after discovering that churros are also a thing in Mexico I made the mistake of enthusiastically declaring just how much I love them. Only then was I told that churros is slang for marijuana. Great.