Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Un Verano de Mexico

Now that my stomach is doing better, I am reviving Un Verano de Mexico. This is something that is near and dear to my heart, and I am excited to share my growing love of Mexican cuisine. But first I would like to share my personal experiences with this country.

I first saw Mexico at age seven, when my parents took me to Cancun on vacation. I had no idea what to expect, but I loved it. What I remember most was the brilliant blue of the ocean--it was practically mesmerizing. What I loved most was that the water was still shallow pretty far out, so I could walk along the ocean floor quite a ways and not feel unsafe.

Then one day we went to see Chichen Itza. It was a four hour long bus ride back and forth, which is unbearable when you're seven. But once we got there I was mesmerized. Chichen Itza was constructed by the Toltecs, a warrior branch of the ancient Maya.

One thing that astounded me was how small the doorways were. Even at age seven, I wasn't sure that I could have fit through them. Despite the diminutive height of the people, the temples and structures at Chichen Itza are enormously daunting. Perhaps that was the idea.

What sticks out most from my mind is the Great Ball Court, where two players would play while everyone watched. The main goal of the game was to get the ball through a rather small stone circle that was attached the wall. As is displayed in the intricate drawings on the walls of the Ball Court, the winner was beheaded. I remember looking at this depiction in horror, since there is a carving of the headless winner with blood gushing from his neck. Despite how we may feel about this, death as a champion was considered a great honor.

El Castillo is the large temple that is normally depicted whenever Chichen Itza is mentioned. It is a pyramid with a staircase on each side leading to the temple on top. I remember grasping the chains with my mother, trying to walk up the stairs to the top. The ancient Maya used to walk in a snakelike motion, walking upwards diagonally so that the trek wasn't too difficult. But I was too scared to let go of the chains that ran down the middle of the staircase, which were meant to help you climb to the top. I got about a fourth of the way up and looked back. Bad idea. I saw how high we were and had to stop. My mom walked around the base with me while my dad went to the top, and later he told us that it looked like you were floating, since you couldn't see the pyramid beneath you. We were told that virgins were sacrificed at the temple on top for each summer solstice, and the heart was ripped out and the body was tossed over the side. When I went back to school in the fall, I actually drew a reenactment of this to clearly show my best friend what I was talking about. I now tease my parents that that trip gave me a lifelong tendency for the macabre.

One story my parents love to tell takes place on the long bus ride back. I was then and have always been a chatterbox about things I love, and apparently a man in our group turned to me and asked, "So little girl, what did you learn today?" My parents say they looked at each other and thought, Now we're free for a few hours. Apparently I talked and talked and talked for about two hours, repeating everything our guides had told us and giving the man no opportunity to back out of the conversation. The only thing I remember from this was how quickly he bolted to the other end of the bus once I was done.

We also visited Tulum, the site of ruins from another branch of the ancient Maya. I honestly do not remember much of Tulum beside the fact that it was gorgeous. Much later, I took an Introduction to Archeology class where we discussed these and more ancient Mayan ruins, and they are incredibly impressive. The Maya had a very intense and brutal society, but they contributed much that has benefited Mexico and its cuisine to this day.

When I was twenty-one I went sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez with my parents and then-boyfriend. We started in La Paz, which is on the Baja Peninsula, and went further in the Sea, where we camped on the beach  every night. It was gorgeous, and we saw a side of Mexico that was humble, friendly, and beautiful. The last night of camping, however, my boyfriend at the time got very sick. He and I left early the next morning on a small boat our guides had set up for us that would take us to a place where we caught a truck to La Paz. I loved that boat ride because the sun had just come up and the sea was quiet. The two men with us spoke no English, so we sat in silence and enjoyed the beauty around us. I saw a small bat ray leap out of the water and soar in the air. Later I would spend hours sitting alone with our translator in a military-run hospital watching Mexican TV while they pumped my then boyfriend full of fluids, but that morning was the highlight of my trip.

I have only scratched the surface when it comes to Mexico. I would love nothing more than to backpack around the country for months and experience for myself the difference between each state, including the food and the people. Sadly, the current situation in Mexico is so dangerous, especially for a solo gringa, that I would literally have my life in my hands if I did so. But one day, hopefully not far away, I will get to see all of the places I have only heard about and be able to taste all of the street food my heart desires.

What I have learned from my experiences in Mexico is that there is more to it than meets the eye. It has a rich and complicated history, from the society of the ancient Maya to the colonial period to the revolutions that sparked up across the country. Despite the current events taking place, I believe that much more will come from this country than we could anticipate. Even something as simple as Mexican food has claimed our hearts and our stomachs, and it is now something many of us cannot live without.

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