Querétaro Week 4

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On Friday we decided to watch a game of fútbol (soccer) because it is a very popular sport in Mexico. I have to admit, I honestly didn’t enjoy it a ton. It was fun, but it was my first time watching professional soccer and I didn’t understand what was going on half the time. Also, people just weren’t all that energetic and excited in the area we were sitting. I kept comparing it to hockey in Alaska, where the whole arena is often screaming and chanting, and there is loud music at every pause. Most of the soccer audience was fairly quiet, although there was one section that was loud, and they all were dressed in team colors and on their feet for most of the game. I kinda wanted to be in that section, because at least then  it’s more exciting.

 

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On Saturday Ayat and I went to a Mexican BBQ with some friends. It was fun to get to go to a real fiesta, and the food was delicious, if a bit spicy. I tried the chorizo first, which wasn’t a very good idea because I felt like my mouth was on fire for about a half hour after. They also had carne a la brasa (grilled meat) and nopales (cactus) that were delicious and not spicy. After eating everyone sat around talking and drinking, and when most were a bit tipsy the dancing started. The dancing was really fun, mostly Cumbia and Bachata with some other styles mixed in, and some “American Style” too. The party was in someone’s backyard, and thankfully it was partially covered because it rained a ton.

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On Sunday we went to a water park not far outside of Querétaro. It was cloudy and mild, so not exactly the warmest day to get wet, but there were a surprising number of people there. It made me wonder how crowded it gets on a hot and sunny day. The group only went on two of the rides at the park- first a roller coaster, and then a water ride. I went on the water ride, which was a bit chilly, but it was humid enough that we warmed up quickly. After the water ride I walked around in my swimsuit (I didn’t want to get my clothes wet) and I got stared at a lot, which caused me to notice that mostly only pre-teens and younger were wearing only bathing suits. I’m really not sure why, but it could be a modesty thing. After that we walked to the poolside though, so then it didn’t matter as much.

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On both Monday and Tuesday I went to a popular gathering spot called College Bar. Now, College Bar is interesting, because it offers a wide range of very American foods and drinks, yet is popular with the Mexican young people. On Monday nights they have very cheap beer and the place is filled to the capacity, quite literally. They have a huge crowd outside waiting to get in, pushing and squeezing and so tightly packed that they can’t move, and new people are only let in when others leave. I found it interesting how much closer they are willing to stand than Americans do- and for long periods of time. I got caught in that crowd on Monday, and it was my second time in two days being pressed against strangers in a crowd. On the way home from the water park on Sunday we rode an overcrowded bus, and ended up standing and jostled against strangers for the better part of the trip. I hadn’t noticed much of a lack of regard for personal space before that, but the tight squeezes obviously bothered me more than the people from Querétaro. Those from Mexico also have little compunction about shoving their way through a crowd, which in the US would be considered rude.

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On Wednesday I went to a summer Jazz festival, which was really quite neat. It was a free concert and there were a ton of people who gathered in the Plaza to listen. There were two different groups who played, neither of which I can remember, but one of them was Latin American and the other was from New Orleans (and sang in English). Audience behavior in Querétaro was very similar to audience behavior in the US, clapping after solos and at the end of pieces, but quiet during them. Both groups got called back for encores, although there everyone chants “otra otra.”

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Thursday was the anniversary of Querétaro, and there was music and festivities everywhere. In the afternoon there was a large banda in one of the Plazas, I think it was a Mariachi group, but I don’t know for sure. At night there were beautiful fireworks over the Centro Historico. I wasn’t able to be in the Plazas at night, but I could see the fireworks from my bedroom window.

 

Querétaro Week Three

 

 

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On Friday we all headed out to Mexico City, starting with an afternoon in Teotihuacan to climb the pyramids. It was interesting to learn about the ancient cultural practices of the area, although the thought of the many human sacrifices made there through the years was disturbing.

 

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The building ruins were quite interesting to me as well. You normally see pictures and hear about the pyramids and the sacrifices, but rarely about the surrounding buildings and the people who actually once lived there. I didn’t understand everything that our guide told us, but of other ancient civilizations where those of high status lived closest to the cultural centers- places of religious or governmental importance.

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I decided that these stone steps were bleachers, as they have the right configuration. Seeing as how they are facing another temple, I think they might have been for the powerful people of the day to sit and watch the sacrifices, but I don’t know for sure.
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An interesting thing about modern Teotihuacan is the over-abundance of vendors. There are people everywhere shoving their merchandise in your face and offering low prices. Further from the pyramids there are established stalls offering the same goods (mostly) for higher prices, and areas with swarms of waiters pushing menus in you face. The sellers are for the most part indigenous people but unlike the street vendors in Querétaro, they were not dressed in traditional clothing.

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The next day in Mexico City we took a walking tour of town, starting with the Metropolitan Cathedral which is as large and ornate as any in Europe, but a different style. It was constructed over a period of many years and contains many chapels dedicated to different saints as well as two beautiful pipe organs. It is still in active use, and there were in fact two different services in progress while we were visiting (Sat morning about 10am)

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This was very interesting, a representation of the original island Tenochtitlán made as a monument next to the cathedral.

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A representation of the original piece, done in the original coloring. This carving was in the original Templo Mayor, and tells a (fairly gruesome) legend from the Aztec beliefs. The stone depicts the moon goddess Coyolxauhqu who led an attack by her siblings against her mother, the earth goddess Coatlicue for becoming pregnant by a hummingbird. The child sprang out as a fully grown warrior to protect his mother and dismembered Coyolxauhqu, placing her head in the sky as a comfort to her mother. It is thought that after their hearts were remover, human sacrifices were thrown down the steps (to where the disk was placed) and dismembered as Coyolxauhqu was, and their heads separated to the skull rack representing her head.

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A wall of skulls covered over in plaster from the original Templo Mayor, now at the nearby museum.

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Like the nearby cathedral, the Templo Mayor was built is stages, but it is far older and was the central sacred place of Aztec Tenochtitlán. The first temple was built around 1325, and the seventh and last before Hernán Cortéz arrived in 1519. Thousands of human sacrifices were made here over the years and many ancient offerings have been found.

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The Palacio des Bellas Artes is an important part of the historic center of Mexico City. The museum is built in a style reminiscent of the French, castles complete with miniature gardens and abundant marble and statues. It contains the National Theater, and murals by famous Mexican artists such as Diego Riviera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

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Our last stop on Saturday was to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum. I have learned a lot about Frida Kahlo in various art and Spanish classes, so it was really interesting to see her house and her art. Some of her art verged on disturbing, but there was a lost of interesting history in her house, and some traditional art that she had collected as well. One thing that I found fascinating was an article framed on the wall talking about Mexican high society and comparing it to that of England and East Coast America, with “drawing room teas” and the like. Her clothing was neat to see as well, and I loved the blend of tradition and fashion that she exhibited.

On Sunday we went to the Chapultepec castle, and then the National Anthropological Museum. They were both fascinating and full of history, but we were all a bit tired by then.

In my ESOL class we visited an English class again, and interviewed them about their education in Mexico, especially their experiences with learning English. It was really very interesting. It was quite obvious from listening to them that there is a big difference between the quality of public and private education in Mexico. In the US, private schools often offer a more specialized type of education or are religiously oriented, but in Mexico they offer a much higher quality education. A Mexican public school might have 50 students in one class with one teacher, where a private school would have 20 students and offer English classes from elementary. According to the students (and logic) it is very very difficult to learn much in a Mexican public school because there are simply too many students for the teachers to provide any sort of one-on-one guidance or tailoring. I would really like to teach in another country some day, but I don’t think I could deal with having 50 students at one time. Even the thought of it is overwhelming.

 

Week Three: Macerata, Italy

My homesickness is gone-all I wanted was to hear my loved ones voices and words of encouragement. I am also used to the time schedule here, over my motion/sea sickness, and am really glad to be in a place that finally feels like a home. The group dynamic amongst us girls is great as well, and we all get along. I have become great friends with my tandem partner and I consider all of the adults at the school to be my family.

View of Macerata from the bell tower

View of Macerata from the bell tower

 

Macerata is very hilly

Macerata is very hilly

My tandem partner, Francesco, studied in Spain for a few terms and while there met a girl from England, a girl from Poland, and a guy from Germany. During this week they all came to visit him so we all ended up hanging out, which was loads of fun.

From left to right: Francesco,  Me, and Kris

From left to right: Francesco, Me, and Kris

School is in full swing now and is the main focus that we have. Sometimes being in the studio from 10 am-roughly 6 pm everyday can prove to be challenging but I just take a lot of breaks and venture off to the cafe for a cappuccino or a gelato.

Gelato!!!

Gelato!!!

 

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

This week we went to Urbs Salvia and saw the roman town there. This was really amazing and almost eerie to see these ancient roman ruins. We also were able to walk amongst an archaeological dig and saw the home of some Romans. Another part of the archaeological dig, was part of the roman road. And I learned that the road leads all the way to Rome. At this news I was excited, but Filiberto enlightened me by saying “It takes a lot of money just for one archaeological dig. And history has to be overridden to a certain degree for the present and future to take place.” It was just really interesting to me that underneath the earth I was standing on, were homes and roads where a civilization once existed. We also saw an Abby where we observed several monks pray or chant. It was really interesting seeing that Abby after the ruins because the people that built it re-used marble from the roman structures. I Really wish I had time to see Rome while here but perhaps that will be a good incentive to come back.

Roman Amphiteater

Roman Amphiteater

We also learned how to make traditional Italian pasta this week, went wine tasting, AAAAAAAND saw the Opera: Il Travatore!!!

At the Opera!

At the Opera!

-Jolene Johnson

Week Two: Macerata, Italy

The beach was great this weekend (not exactly the cliff side beach I was imagining, but a beautiful beach nontheless). Civitanova (where the beach is at) is a much larger city than Macerata. There is a lot of shopping and on Saturdays there is a massive market. I have never been to a warm beach or swam in the ocean. The water was sooo warm and salty! It was also odd bobbing along in the waves. Not to mention the amount of scantily clad Italians frolicking on the beach.

Civitanova

Civitanova

Sunday we went to a harvest festival. It was great fun watching traditional Italian dancing from back in history and then the now traditional Italian dancing. We also had an amazing dinner with fresh food from the farm-and I discoverd what REAL lasanga tastes like.

Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival

Monday we began our journey towards Venezia. It was much easier traveling with people who speak Italian. Venice is gorgeous!!! But I get motion sickness really easily though so the first few hours upon arrival were not very enjoyable. Actually most of the time there was not as much fun as I thought it would be. To get anywhere you have to go by ferry (for long distance) or foot. I was seasick a lot of the time there. Venice is also full of tourists which is really obnoxious and because of this things are about doubled in price in comparison to that in Macerata. We spent most of our time in the Biennale which consisted of contemporary art work. I was actually a little bit upset that this is the artwork we saw, because the states is full of contemporary art work and I was really looking forwards to seeing famous works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. We brought a sketchbook with us to Venice and were required to fill the entire thing with sketches from the Biennale and things in Venice in general. The weather was also continuously getting warmer but luckily (and this was a rarity) we had air conditioning in our hotel.

Venezia

Venezia

Me on the balcony of Basilica di San Marco

Me on the balcony of Basilica di San Marco

Typical art from the Biennale

Typical art from the Biennale

We got back on Thursday and Macerata finally feels like my home. I was so glad to be back in our apartment and in a place where I recognized things, places, and people.

On Saturday we went to Civitanova again. This was our first free weekend!!! Us girls ended up getting a hotel there and stayed the night. Civitanova really is a fun place. Filled with bountamous amounts of gelato flavors, warm sand and water, and shopping as far as the eye can see. I was also able to reach my family and boyfriend using the phone in the hotel (before departing the states I had purchased phone cards but in order to use them you have to use a land line phone. And the phone cards I bought did not work so I had to purchase one there-nontheless I was able to hear all my loved ones voices and this was such a relief).

-Jolene Johnson

 

Week 5 and 6

I am at the midpoint of this epic journey, so I think it will be a good time to reflect and see what I have done in India. This post is more geared towards people who want to travel to India

1. If you do not know the state or national language make an effort to learn some phrases. If you just try you will make instant friends.

2. The transportation system here can be confusing at first but if you know where you are going, and just tell the name of the village or town to the official he/she will direct you in the right place.

3. If you like spicy, this place is a Mecca.

4. Do not drink the water. Trust me, I got sick.

5. There are places in the city that are closer to western culture if you feel homesick. Cities like Pune and Mumbai have many nightclubs. If you are familiar with the transportation system, you can hop on a train for about 6 dollars American to the state of Goa. That is if you are living in the state of Maharashtra.

6. If you like history or just the countryside there are many historical places in the countryside. For example, Loghad fort in Malavali and Shivineri fort in Juner. I have been to these forts and it was a pretty good trek.

7. I want to place a warning for two things.First thing is that If you like meat, well you can still get it here, but not cow.  A little bit over half of India is pure vegetarian. Second thing is that there are no traffic laws which means that the road is a death trap. Do not let that scare you because if you have your eyes and ears open you will be safe.

9. As for work I am doing in the NGO, I can say that I am enjoying it. I have learned so much from admin work to fieldwork. I do like fieldwork a little bit more just because you actually get to see your work in practice. Admin work is more of you just sitting in a office drawing up logistics and researching information that could help you strengthen your program. I do like learning the work because I know it will become handy in the future.

10. Embrace the ambivalence of India.This country has 1.2 billion people in a space that is smaller than the US. You can learn  a lot just by listening to these people and understanding where they come from, and you will realize that they are not so much different from you.

To end this post, I want to point out these are my ideas and not someone elses. I like to experience traveling by hanging out with the locals and hearing what they have to say. Some other do it by going to museums. and others go out drinking. I have done these things but I just prefer to have my own experience.

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Hike to Shivneri Fort

Hike to Shivneri Fort

Shivneri Fort

Shivneri Fort

 

 

 

One week in London

My first week in London was as amazing as expected! The city is huge, a lot bigger than I would have thought. But they use public transportation here so it is easy to get around the city quickly by bus, underground, or train. I feel by the end of this trip I will be an expert at public transport. It is hot here, much hotter than a London summer normally is. I love it because it lets us all explore the city without worrying about rain.

This is a city street in London near where I am staying. I love how the flats are built over stores on ground level.

This is a city street in London near where I am staying. I love how the flats are built over stores on ground level.

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One of my first meals out I had to get London’s famous fish, chips, and mashed peas. It was fantastic!

On my first field trip with my Myth, Horror, and Legend class we stopped by Stratford upon Avon to visit Shakespeare's old home.

On my first field trip with my Myth, Horror, and Legend class we stopped by Stratford upon Avon to visit Shakespeare’s old home.

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My first week ended with a trip to Stonehenge. It was really amazing! It is all roped off so you can not go up and touch the stones. On the 2 solstices of the year they let people go up to them for a pagan holiday so I must try and come back then.

One week down and four to go. So much to see and do left, I’m excited!!

Week One:Macerata,Italy

The first time I arrived in Germany (where I was catching my connecting flight to Italy from) was when I noticed that I was the foreigner. Everyone around me was speaking in German and it all just sounded like gibberish. But the real culture shock happened when I landed in Bologna, Italy. At least in the German airport there were a lot of things in English. Here mostly everything was in Italian. The airport was super relaxed and security seemed very slim. I didn’t even have to go through customs-unlike when you land in the US. My first encounter with an Italian was when Sarah (my traveling partner) and I caught a bus to the train station. When we went to pay we didn’t have exact change and the bus driver was very confused. He was also a really crazy driver. Driving down the streets was gorgeous and surreal because it was exactly like the photos I had seen of Italy. Tall and narrow old buildings lined the street we were on. They were colorful with plants and laundry hanging outside different windows.

Getting to Macerata was such a struggle. Our flight from Washington DC to Munich, Germany was delayed 2 hrs which threw our entire journey off. Not only was it challenging figuring out the public transportation system but there was the language barrier. This was such a greater deal than I anticipated.

At the deserted train station...just hoping our train comes

At the deserted train station…just hoping our train comes

We managed to get to our hotel in Macerata at 11:30pm (or should I say 23:30 because they use military time) thanks to the help of many kind people. It thundered in the night and poured rain all the next day…not really what I was anticipating summer in Italy to be. But luckily I packed a few warmer clothes and a rain jacket.

Rainy Italy

Rainy Italy

Once we met up with the two other girls in the program (Marissa and Kris) and our site director (Filiberto) though, things (including the weather) started to turn up. Although I am very homesick and due to this find it hard to eat. Wish my laptop hadn’t broke on the way over as well…but the internet access here is very slim so not like that would change anything. I am also having issues finding a phone so I can just say hello to my loved ones. At least we are in our apartment, have started classes, and are starting to get settled here.We have also been assigned tandem partners to better learn the language so I now have an instant friend. We have been on many tours of the town, but I am tired, jet lagged, home sick, and due to this have a detachment of interest in all the things we are seeing. This weekend we are going to the beach!

My Italian Family

My Italian Family

So far I have learned that I am more independent than I thought, and more dependent than I thought. What I mean by this is that during all of the travelling I was able to figure out a lot of things and not afraid to try talking to people or asking people for help, which is something I have issues with back in the states-perhaps under pressure it forced me to do this? And being more dependent is in reference to how homesick I am feeling-and just within the first day I noticed it! During school in the states there are times when I go months without even talking to my family and yet here I severely miss them. Is it just the greater distance?

-Jolene Johnson

Week 4!

And it’s down to only one week left in Mexico! I’m a little sad but am ready to head home! It’s hard being abroad and hearing about everything my family and boyfriend go out an do. I’m having a wonderful experience here but just always feel like I’m missing out. If only I could be in two places at once! Today my older sister is giving birth to her first baby and I’m so sad that I’m not there to see my first niece. But I will meet her in one week!

As I’ve been here I’ve noticed many differences between my culture and the one here. For starters couples, no matter what age, are very affectionate in public. Not something you see very often in the US. I have become more use to it than the first week I was here but it still surprises me. One professor helped me understand why by telling me that children here typically live with their parents until they get married so they don’t have as much privacy when it comes to relationships. In the US many children move out at 18 or go away for college and have more private time which explains why they are more open about it. Makes much more sense now!

The time here is very different also. Being late isn’t a big deal here and everyone is okay with that. Personally I find it very frustrating because I’m use to American time where it’s important to be on time or let people know in advance that you are running late. This morning some friends and I went to grab breakfast at a restaurant and it was a little crowded so we waited but they didn’t seem to be trying to hurry for us to be seated even though there were open tables. Not the worst thing in the world but when when that happens almost every time you go out it gets a little old..but that is just part of the culture here!

All in all week four was a little stressful as were all the others but I’m down to my last week! Three days of classes and then finals! I decided not to go anywhere with the group this weekend since it is my last weekend here. I just wanted to rest and buy gifts for my family and friends and hangout in the Centro. I love Queretaro and hope I can come back to visit after this trip!

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Two Weeks!

I cannot believe I’ve only been in London for two weeks, it feels like much more time! I have really gotten in a rhythm here which has been nice. Classes are all going great and the field trips have been really fun. I’ve definitely had to learn some patience when traveling with such large groups, but we’ve seen some great sights so it is worth it. The big trips I’ve taken so far are to Stonehenge and Scotland. I’m in Scotland right now for the weekend and it is amazing. Beautiful country and I wish I could spend more than a weekend here! London is great, but very very busy and Scotland is much more relaxed which is right up my alley. I think that’s why I have enjoyed my Downton Abbey class field trips so much, because we go see these county homes that are miles out in the country and we have to walk to them and it is just so peaceful to be surrounded with nature.

There is a nice balance with the city and the country though so it’s nice to see both sides. Somethings that I’ve learned about the city that surprised me were that the street performers, and the performers in the tube, have to audition and then are licensed to perform in certian spots and at certian times. This just surprised me because at home we have people downtown who just play what and whenever they want, but I like it this way. The players in the tube are not playing during rush hour traffic which is smart because during rush hour the amount of traffic is crazy! And they would just be in the way, plus people would be stopping all the time. Instead they play at night and it is so much fun to hear them and their music floating through the tube. The other crazy thing here are all the motorcyclists who have these clipboards and paper set up on their handle bars while they are driving. Turns out they are studying for the test to become a taxi driver. The tests here to become a taxi driver are very intensive and it takes years before you can be an official taxi driver! Just a few interesting things I’ve learned about the city so far!

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Penshurst out in Kent. Very beautiful house and land!

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Stonehenge

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The tube

Querétaro Week 2

Well, the last post ended up a bit long, so this time I think I’ll just start with the pictures and add captions from my journal as I go.

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Friday July 5th was my 22nd birthday, and though at first it was a little bit sad to have my birthday here without my family, I was very spoiled and had a wonderful day. This was my breakfast, a delicious chocolate cake that was somewhere between tres leches and mousse, but definitely purely awesome.

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At school Laurie brought a wide variety of pan dulce because I love bread, and a candle that played happy birthday. I even got a present, a stationary set since I write so much :). (spoiled)

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In my Lengua en contexto class we took a walking tour of Querétaro where we were the tour guides using our research on the different monuments in the city. Alejandro had interesting information to add, and he was much easier to understand than the tour guide from Saturday. Before returning to the school he sweetly bought us drinks as a birthday gift, and didn’t even give us homework. (definitely spoiled)

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That night we went out to dinner at a place with amazing fruit smoothies and sandwiches, and then went dancing at La Mulata. At first it was weird because they were just playing music videos (mostly english) and it was a bit pricey, but around midnight we all started dancing and it was a blast. We met a group of students from a different university and ended up combining and all dancing together. They spoke some English and since we spoke some Spanish we muddled along ok. It was amazingly fun, and I even got free Manzanita! (Did I mention I was spoiled?)

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On Saturday we met up as a group (session 2) and explored the street markets a bit. We were supposed to do more, and go on the trolley, but the WOU group split off early since we’d already done the tour and it started to pour. We walked all the way across town in the rain and got thoroughly soaked since we all left our jackets at Josh’s house.

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These are our “Do we really have to go back out there? We aren’t even dry yet!” faces.

The first week we were here was warm and sunny and beautiful, but that Saturday marked a definite change. It is apparently Querétaro’s rainy season and when it rains here, it tends to rain hard. Like, dumping buckets on your head for 30min to a couple of hours at a time hard. It isn’t miserable (usually), but it definitely is a lot more rain than I had been expecting. I wish I had brought more cool weather clothes instead of all summery, especially since it continued to be rainy throughout the week.

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That Sunday was thankfully a beautiful day, and we all went to Bernal. The town of Bernal is small and picturesque, and situated at the foot of la Peña de Bernal. It really is about as tall as it looks, and though it isn’t bad for an afternoon’s hike, I’ve really never been much of a hiker.

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I made it up about 2/3 of the way to where they had a lovely little view point and a warning sign. Apparently, the hike is much more dangerous after that point, and I decided to be satisfied with the view from where I was. I actually was the only one who chickened out and didn’t go all the way up, but I didn’t mind. I sat in the shade up on a comfortably shaped rock and talked to the people who stopped to rest there. Most families with kids stopped there too, so sometimes one of them would come sit by me :)

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The sign in the left hand corner said something about being careful if you value your life, but all the people pictured made it back safely. Oh, also, a *lot* of people were hiking it in nice clothes! There were girls in fancy shoes, guys in dress-shirts, and even infants in cute little outfits. It made me feel like a wimp whining about the climb when there were groups of people of all ages cheerfully climbing in Sunday clothes.

After coming back down off the Peña, we had lunch at a pretty neat restaurant where you eat under the spreading branches of an old tree, and then went shopping. There were a lot of interesting things that we could buy, but they weren’t especially cheap, probably because it is a very touristy area. We decided to leave when the thunderclouds moved in, and it was good that we did because as soon as we got on the bus it started raining *hard*. Part of the freeway of the way back to Querétaro was badly flooded- to the point where the guardrail was completely underwater. It made me thankful that we were on a very large, very tall bus.

One thing about coming to Querétaro that was difficult to adjust to was the food. I love it, but it was difficult for my body to handle, and little by little the symptoms got worse. On Tuesday I finally gave up on ignoring how I felt and went to the doctors. I had an intestinal infection and a fever, which wasn’t at all dangerous but not fun either. I slept for pretty much all of Wednesday, and by Thursday I could get out of bed without my head swimming. Yay!

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On the eleventh we all went to a “cooking class” that was actually just a cooking demonstration. It was still interesting, but not really what I was expecting. The chef was obviously very good at his job and it was interesting to watch, but it would have been nice to get to make something.

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There was an option to participate by chopping ingredients… yay. Oh, and this lesson was at Las Monjas, which had good food, but a lot of people got sick after we ate there last time so we were all a bit leery of the food.

Also, if I study Abroad again I am taking less classes. I don’t really need the credits, and taking 3 intensive classes while wanting to enjoy my time and explore another culture is a difficult balancing act.