Aaron's blog

Xochimilco, Frida Kahlo, and hamburgers

By aaron.axvig, 23 December, 2006

I've been to several interesting things over the last couple of days:

Thursday Javier, Daniela & I went to an area of the town called Xochimilco.  We saw an old cathedral (not as nice as many that I've seen, and definitely showing it's age, but still impressive), ate at a market, and went for a ride in "trajineras."  There is a canal system in that part of the city, and the trajineras are the most common type of boat there.  They are propelled by pushing a pole against the ground, which is about 8 feet under water.  We went on a trip of about 1.5 hours.  It was very relaxing.  There are other trajineras that pull up along side you, offering a variety of services, ranging from taking your picture or selling you food to a real live mariachi performance (and even marimbas if you prefer).  Reportedly they are pretty popular for parties at night too.

Friday Aline, Angeles, Daniela, and I went shopping (Christmas shopping of course).  First we went to Suburbia, which is a lot like Herbergers, and then to Wal-Mart.  After that Angeles dropped us of at Frida Kahlo's former house, which is now a museum/art gallery dedicated to her.  She was a painter who lived a very traumatic life.  Then we went to a market and had quesadillas and sopas, which are tostadas with beans, lettuce, cream, and steak.  The museum is in a part of the city called Coyoacan (my third trip there), and we went to the market in the plaza area, where we tried some new candies.

This morning we went shopping with Aline's friend Miren at the same Suburbia as yesterday.  Well, that was after waiting "1/2 hour" (actually more like 1 1/2 hours) for Miren to dye her hair.  We had frozen yogurt at a place called Nutrissa, which was very similar to TCBY.  We dropped Miren off at her house, and then went home for a afternoon lunch of hamburgers, which were very good.

No special plans for tonight, but tomorrow will be busy with all the relatives coming.  It's a very large family.

Chapultapec

By aaron.axvig, 18 December, 2006

Yesterday Javier, Javier, Julia, Daniela, and I went on a trip to Chapultapec.  This is an area of the city that is sort of like a giant park/historical zone.  The first place we went to was the Anthropological Museum of Mexico.  They had a temporary exposition on Persia which was pretty interesting, and then we moved on to the main part.  It is arranged around a central courtyard area which is half-covered by a roof held up entirely by one big pillar in the center.

The first building we went to was about the beginning of man--not specific to Mexico.  They didn't have any clothes on the models.

The next building showed after man learned what clothes were (good thing too, because they were hunting woolly mammoths in the snow).  And it was more Mexico-specific.

The rest of the buildings were more interesting.  They covered the Mexicas, the Aztecs, and each of the regions of Mexico (North, South, and Central).  I thought the one about the construction of Tenochtitlan was really interesting.  The tribe was told by their god to find a place where an eagle is sitting on a cactus with a snake in its beak, and to build their city there.  As luck would have it, they found that eagle in the middle of a lake.  So they drove piles of some sort of water resistant trunk into the lake and built their city on top of that.  The problem here is that Mexico City was built on top of this city after it was conquered. Downtown Mexico City (located precisely over the center of the old city) has many heavy buildings, like...a cathedral and an art museum made of marble.

Daniela says that the art museum is actually sinking 5-or-so centimeters per year.  The government is considering moving it.  When I visited the cathedral, they had a pendulum hanging in the middle of it to show how much it was leaning to the side (a foot or so, with a pendulum length around 100 feet).  It is also sinking.

After the museum the Javiers and Julia went home.  Daniella and I went to the castle that's in Chapultapec, which was built by an emperor they had from Europe.  Mexico's presidents have also lived there, up until 1939 when it was converted into a museum.  We saw lots of paintings and murals inside, along with lots of old furniture and exhibits of old stuff.  I think my mom would have really liked it.

Then we went to the zoo (also in Chapultapec) and ate at the TacoInn.  By the time we finished the zoo was closing, so we didn't get to see much, except for some birds.  There were a lot of people leaving the zoo though--apparently it's very popular.

We got some cotton candy on the way out, and rode 3 buses home.

Teotihuacan

By aaron.axvig, 11 December, 2006

Yesterday I went to the pyramids of Teotihuacan with Laura.  I woke up at 11:00 (in know, in know, that's kind of late), took a shower, and all of a sudden Laura was sitting at the dining room table.  She showed me a bunch of pictures that Tom and Jean (my grandparents) and my family had sent her over the years.  There were a bunch of me and my siblings when we were really young, which was pretty neat. 

Most interesting I thought was the one of me and Laura (sister Laura) playing in the new sandbox, which I remember my dad building.  It had a date on it of July 1990, placing me at only 3-and-a-half years old. Then she asked if I wanted to go to Teotihuacan then or Monday.  Well, I didn't really have any commitments, so off we went.  We walked a few blocks, took the subway for 40 minutes, and hopped on a nice motor coach for the rest of the way (only 28 pesos, or $2.50 USD, for the 1 hour ride).

We spotted the pyramids from a long ways off.  When we finally got there, we started walking in the wrong direction (couldn't see the pyramids from there).  But Laura talked to someone and we found the right place.  The admission fee was 45 pesos.  I think the pictures I took would explain everything pretty well, but on the slow dial-up connection I have here I could see it taking me more than an hour to get everything uploaded right, so you'll have to look at my pictures when I get back.  I'll just say it was really cold, it was really windy, the steps were really steep, and Laura actually beat me to the top (I went walking around on one of the levels while waiting for her, and she got ahead of me).  The big one is 213 feet tall if I remember right.

The bus ride back was very nice, with only about 10 people on the very quiet, peaceful, dark bus.  So yes, I promptly fell asleep. Laura and I got off the bus in the middle of a traffic jam, took a short subway ride (2 pesos no matter how far you go), and had some quesadillas.  I really liked them--deep-fried bread around either meat or cheese, with cheese, cream, and salsa on top.  I really stuffed myself by eating four.  Then we went to Laura's apartment, which is pretty small but cozy.  There had been a lot of a special kind of cactus at Teotihuacan which they make pulque out of, which is an alcoholic beverage.  I had expressed interest in trying it, so we went to the pulqueria near Laura's house and got a half-liter of it.  The place smelled really strongly (badly) of fermenting.

It turns out that the smell is much worse than the taste.  I think it would be fair to say that it almost tastes like nothing (similar to my raw egg drinking experience).  Despite the unobjectable taste, I only drank about half-a-cup.  I stayed on Laura's couch for the night, which was actually almost long enough to fit me comfortably.

Saturday I didn't really do anything exciting until the evening when Aline, Angela, and I went to Angela's cousin's house.  Her husband really resembled a short version of one of my high-school teachers, Mr. Skytland.  We had an excellent meal there of spaghetti and pizza, and I stuffed myself almost to the point of sickness.  Afterwards we played cards and dominoes until 10:00 when we headed back.

Mexican immigration adventures

By aaron.axvig, 4 December, 2006

The study abroad office here at Tec was supposed to be tracking the progress of my visa application for me, and they had been doing an alright job.  Supposedly everything was done, and I just needed to pick the final document up.  Well, I had been in that state for 2 months without hearing anything.  So I headed over to the study abroad office, sat around for 10 minutes, and finally talked to someone who said that they were checking every day.  Upon hearing that I had been waiting for 2 months, he advised that I go to the immigration office to look for it (they recently relocated their offices, and I've heard of a few people who had their things go missing).

So went straight to the immigration office.  As I walked in the door, a voice in the back of my head whispered, "passport." Oops, I didn't have my passport with me.  Surely I wouldn't be able to get the visa without my passport, but I figured I would see how far I could get.  First the guy working at the desk told me to go check the list on the wall (a list of visas that are ready to be picked up).  So I got over to the wall, and there was a list of numbers.  The second time through the line (another 10 minutes), I got my number, and found out my name was on the list.

There-in lies the mystery: I assume this is the same list that the study abroad office at Tec checks.  Why didn't they know it was ready?  Well anyways, I waited in a new line (with chairs though) for 45 minutes until my number was called.  I walked up to the desk, and the lady asked for my passport.  Uh-oh.  I said no, but she picked up my file anyways, and made me sign the photocopy of my passport that I had on file (as some kind of substitution for not having the passport).  Within a few minutes I was on my merry way, visa in hand.  Mission successful.

And good thing too, because I got back to my dorm room to find that I was scheduled to fly out the next day.

Alas, I'm not the only one with such troubles.  A friend just sent me an e-mail warning of the difficulties she had with processing her visa upon leaving the country.  Hopefully I can learn from her mistakes.

Work with Javier

By aaron.axvig, 3 December, 2006

Today I got up for a 9:30am breakfast.  However, I couldn't find Javier, but ate some chilaquiles.  After I finally found him, we had a breakfast of tamales & atole (hot chocolate with cinnamon, but really thick).  Then Javier and I drove to a school with his photography equipment.

As we walked through the door, all they eyes of the students who were on recess in the courtyard swiveled around towards one of the tallest blonde guys they had ever seen.  The 5th and 6th grade girls quickly grouped together, started whispering, and then giggle and screamed like, well, little school girls.  Some of the boys were more daring and came over to ask me my name, and then asked me things like if I played basketball and where I was from.  And they all wondered if Javier was my dad.  Sometimes I said no, and sometimes we played along together and confirmed a father-son relationship.

Javier set up his backdrop in a classroom and took about 5 students pictures, and then talked to a bunch of other ones to have them ask their parents if they wanted pictures.  Sometimes the pictures are just for having, and sometimes they are for the certificate that they get upon graduating from primary school.

Traffic was horrible on the way to the next school.  Well, maybe we just had one bad incident.  We were on a one lane only road that twisted its way up a hill, and evidently they were replacing a traffic light somewhere up ahead.  Traffic was not moving at all for about 1/2 an hour, and we finally made it to a side road that we could turn off on and twisted our way around several roads.  We were too early to be at the school, so walked to a nearby park.  At the bottom of a path leading down the hill there was a small river, which Javier said used to power dynamos to generate electicity for textile factories.  Now the dynamo building houses government administration offices.

Then we went to the school, and it just happened to be recess again (probably this is what we were waiting for).  Once again I became a major attraction, and spent the next half-hour translating various words from Spanish to English and fielding questions.  Javier didn't take any pictures at that school, but spent at least an hour talking to students.

After that we went to a taco stand.  It was apparently an all-pork place, and by all-pork I also mean all parts of the pig.  I had two pig-cheek tacos, and one pig-tongue taco.  I also tried a bite of some other kind of meat, but Javier wouldn't tell me what part of the pig it was.  They all tasted fine, but I still don't think I'll be adding tongue to my daily diet.

Then we went to the third school, which was more of the same.  This time a lot of the questions involved naughty language and things like "King of Lice," which they promptly used on someone who had had lice earlier.  (The joke is actually on them, as they were calling a girl a king.  They didn't know this because in Spanish, there is just one word for both king and queen.)  By far though, the best thing was when I convinced them that I had green blood.

That was our last school, and we went to pick up Julia at work and Javier from his friend's house (where he went after school).  After getting Julia we went to the grocery store and got a lot of things, mostly for breakfast.  Javier was not at his friend's house twice when we went to pick him up, and a neighbor said they had gone to Office Depot.  So we raced over towards Office Depot, and just happened to spot him as he was walking back.  I was pretty tired by that time, so slept off-and-on for the 1/2 hour ride home.  I finished the night off by going through my e-mails (which really sucks on dial-up) and then going to bed.

Tags

Arrival in Mexico City

By aaron.axvig, 2 December, 2006

I got to the airport in Monterrey at about 11:40.  I had been unable to print my e-ticket the night before, probably because I didn't really know what airline I was flying.  All I knew was my flight number: MX1549.  So I guessed which line to enter, and AeroMexico was the right one.  When it was my turn, I was ushered into the Premier passenger area where I had a complimentary margarita and back rub.  Just kidding.  They gave me a different flight number--AM927.  Then I waited for 2 hours until the flight left on time.  I had a window seat, but it was over the wing.

They served a pretty good lunch on the plane, but I had to rush to finish it as the plane was already descending by the time I was half-way done.

On the way down I was treated to a spectacular view of Mexico City.  It is enormous.  As far as you can see (maybe 20 miles, which is pretty good considering the haze) it is pure city, mostly just 2-3 story buildings.  I'm sure you've seen pictures before.

At the airport I tried the usual practice of following the crowd to get to the baggage claim.  But it thinned out after a while, and I found myself trailing 5 business executives that looked like the probably didn't have luggage.  So I asked some shop workers where to go, and they pointed the wrong way (towards immigration, I think).  But I didn't know that, and went that way.  After a few minutes, I asked a janitor where to go, and he pointed me to immigration.  So I went downstairs to immigration, where I admitted to the lady that I was in the wrong place.  She finally told me the right place to go--gate 12.

So I went back upstairs, and saw signs for gate 20-26 this way, and 27-33 that way (those aren't the exact numbers, but close).  I went  in the direction of the lower numbers.  After walking about 3/4 of a mile, passing through security, and severely doubting myself, I finally found gate 12, and the baggage claim was down the stairs.  It took me a while to find the right conveyor, and by then my two bags and another one of someone else's where the only three left.  So off I went to find these people that I wouldn't even recognize.

Fortunately Laura was there and picked out the tall blonde one carrying a sombrero (me).  Unfortunately, no one else was there (I had sent Daniella an e-mail on Sunday saying I wouldn't be getting my ticket switched to this Tuesday instead of the next Tuesday, which I figured was reasonable because how could you switch a ticket with such late notice?  And then no one except Laura had read my e-mail Monday afternoon saying I would  be coming this week.  Plus, the flight number I had sent them was wrong.).  So we found a phone and she called her sister, who called Javier, who called Laura's cell phone (it could only receive calls, not make them).  Laura had taken the subway to the airport, so Javier said he would be there in 40 minutes in his car to pick me up.

Laura and I split a Subway sandwich and talked a little, and then Javier showed up with Amile (age 18), who is the daughter of Laura's sister, Angela.  We drove for about 15 minutes, stopped at a little store to get something to drink, and went to their house.  I found out that I will be staying in Angela's house, in Amile's former room (she'll be staying in her mom's room).  Amile and I talked for a little while in their sitting room, and then Daniela, Stephan (her boyfriend of two years) and Javier (her 13-year-old brother) showed up.  After talking for a while more, we went to a taco restaurant.  Before we went there, Javier (the dad) cautioned that they shouldn't let me eat the meat that is cooked out on the sidewalk (the "trompo" that I've written about before) because it's not very clean.  So of course when we got there they recommended the trompo for me.

When we got back, I went over to Javier's house.  They have at least 9 cats, which all live outside.  We talked a little bit more, but I guess I was visibly tired, and they gave me some unneeded encouragement to head to bed (at 8:20).  My room is on the 3rd floor, and has it's own bathroom and closet (although I have to shower in the room downstairs).  There is a lot of noise outside from the busy road, but I suppose I'll get use to sleeping with it.

Tags

More card games

By aaron.axvig, 1 December, 2006

This afternoon we went to Angeles's niece's apartment.  We visited there for about an hour.  Then we came back and ate rice with meatballs, and played cards afterwards.  We played some Frederico, and also a new game called "Media Cochina."  The game works like this:

  • Everyone is dealt 2 cards (standard card deck), and tries to get a pair.
  • There are beans in the middle of the table.  One less than the number of people that are playing.  Everyone also has three beans of their own.
  • One person counts to three, upon which everyone slides one of their cards to the right and picks up the one from the person on their left.
  • If someone now has a pair, they yell "Media Cochina!" and grab a bean from the middle.  Everone else also then tries to grab a bean.  If no one has a pair, count to three again and swap cards until someone has a pair.
  • The person without a bean becomes the media cochina.  No one can talk to them.  Anyone that speaks to them becomes the new media cochina.  They can use any sort of tricks to get people to speak to them.  They also must get rid of one of their three beans.
  • For the next round, each person gets three cards, and someone needs three of the same number in order to grab the first bean.
  • The next round is four cards.  Possible winning hands include 4 of a kind, 2 pair, or a straight of four.
  • The next rounds are with five, six, and seven cards.  All cards must be used by the first person to grab a bean.  They can be used by an sort of hand from poker.  For example, a straight of seven, 2 pair and a 3 of a kind, a 7 card flush, and a full house plus a pair could be used for seven-card hands.  The seventh round goes back to using 2 cards.
  • The game is over when there is only one person with beans remaining.
  • Jokers are always wild, as are the cards of the same number as the number of cards in each person's hand (2's for the first round, 3's for the second round, etc.)

Two of Aline's friends came over later, and we played cards until 1:30am.

Off to Mexico City

By aaron.axvig, 28 November, 2006

Well, I was going to write something nice about what I did yesterday, because I thought I had an hour to get ready.  But my watch was actually incorrect (again), and it was already time to go.  So this is all you get until I'm there...

Frisbee and flight changes

By aaron.axvig, 25 November, 2006

I got a bloody nose tonight playing frisbee.  The disc hit me from the side, sharing the stinging between my cheek and nose.  Now my nose is really really really sore (the cheek is not quite so sensitive apparently), but no bruise so far.

Tomorrow my mom is going to be looking into changing my flight ticket to Mexico City to this Tuesday instead of next Tuesday (my last test is this Tuesday).  So, if that works, I'll be busy packing on Sunday and Monday.  But it should be fun to have an extra week in Mexico City (I'll still be going home December 28th).

Trip to Saltillo

By aaron.axvig, 18 November, 2006

Today I went to the city of Saltillo.  Our intelligence showed that Saltillo is renowned for its blankets and linens and things, and my mom had recently placed an order for some of those items.  Plus it would make a nice little day trip.

We (Christin, from Tennessee, and I) left at 7:00am in a taxi to the bus station.  It was a 1.5 hour bus ride to Saltillo, in a very nice bus.  The route was very scenic, with jagged mountains on both sides.  It was pretty cheap too--just $5.50 for each of us each way.

Outside the bus station:

Landscape

We then crossed the street and walked past a bunch of shops and stores.  One was Waldo's Mart, which we felt horribly inclined to go check out.  It was just a discount store.  We didn't stay long, primarily because of the Christmas music that was playing, composed of meowing and barking sounds.

Waldo's Mart

There were no blankets too be found.  We decided to head downtown, where there would be markets.  So a local told us to get on bus 17.  Annoyingly, a different bus 17 would drive right by us every 5 minutes (no matter how hard we tried to flag it down), and after four times we asked and found out that we had to go to a different corner to get on it.  10 minutes later we were downtown.

The first market we went into had a lot of jeans, shirts, and bootleg movies and music for sale.  After walking around for 1/2 hour, we went looking for something else.  On the way, I saw a man standing by some sticks that were angled from the sidewalk to the building.  They looked kind of like a broken picture frame (a very thin one).  So as I went by, I stepped in between them, being VERY careful to not knock them over or break them.  I guess I should have been as observant as I was careful.  The man standing there hollered something, and I looked down to see wet concrete.  Luckily it wasn't very deep, and really only the sole of my shoe went in it.  But the guy still had to re-smooth the surface.  Note that I successfully managed to not touch any of the sticks.

On we went, making note not to go back down that street lest we get mugged.  A couple of stores later, we were ready to eat, and found a quiet little place.  There were some nice old ladies working there, and when we asked what some of the items on the menu on the wall were, instead of explaining she took us back into the kitchen.  She practically gave us a tour of the place, showing what went into each item.  Very interesting.

At first I ordered 7 gorditas, which are tiny little tortillas (but thicker, like bread) that are cut to create a pocket in the middle and stuffed with meat, cheese, or beans.  But then I saw chilaquiles on the menu.  I've been a fan of the chilaquiles at the cafeteria on campus (fritos and cheese melted with lots of grease, slopped on a styrofoam tray), but my mom said the chilaquiles she had in Mexico City were entirely different.  So I went back and revised my order to chilaquiles.  This time they were like this (soft chips, frijoles, and some cheese):

Chilaquiles

They were just as good, but I'm sure more nutricious.

The ladies then tipped us off to where we could get the linens, and off we went.  There seemed to only be one store in the market that had them, but they had the variety of selection that I needed so the mission was accomplished.  We asked a policeman which bus would take us back to the bus station, arrived there 15 minutes later, and were soon on our way back home.

Large Mexican blanket

Mexican blankets