Of Course This Trip Is Academic

The week of September 19th-23rd,  our coordinator Lisette took 15 of us on trip to Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido. One of our number had to return to the States for a week of rest because of an injury. We left on a dark Tuesday morning. I say dark because we were awake, functional and on the bus before the sun even rose!

Our first stop in Oaxaca (after food, of course) was the city of Monte Alban. Having just received a lecture on it in my anthropology class (due to our awesome professor) the six of us proceeded to supplement our tour guide’s lecture with fun facts that we had learned. 

This is one of the pyramids dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. At Monte Alban, archaeologists found stones with carvings of people on them. Originally they were called Las Danzantes because they looked like people dancing but many other theories have surfaced. Our guide at Monte Alban suggested that they were used as teaching tools for anatomy based on one carving that showed a pregnant woman giving birth with the child in the breach position. My anthropology teacher’s theory (to which I ascribe) is that these stones emulated one of the traditions of the people here: corporeal mutilation. While not appealing to our modern palate, it was very common in Mesoamerica to see genital mutilation as homage to the gods. 

In this Danzante, you can see what appears to be flowing blood surrounding the area with the face of one of their gods. The danzantes featured both men and women with similar disfigurations. On a lighter and less uncomfortable note, some of the oldest samples of writing in Mesoamerica were found at Monte Alban and this included their numbering system.

While we cannot read their writing, we can understand their two numbering systems: one for everyday things and one for the Mayan calendar. The bottom of the left stone says 8, and further up it says perhaps 219. I promise I’m not pulling these numbers out of thin air. The system was based on twenties unlike our decimal system. Katelyn discovered this hidden tunnel and self captioned the photo, “Welcome to my crib!”. 

Monte Alban also features one of the oldest fields for the Mayan Ball Game (Juego de Pelota). Unlike what most people think, the circles that we often see with these courts are not for scoring but act more like markers like the 50 yard line on a football field. This court does not have them. This court is shaped like an I with each team occupying a side. The game was played by hitting a hard leather ball—much like a football—from side to side. The catch? You could only hit the ball with your hips or legs — no feet or hands. 

Our next stop in Oaxaca was a rug making factory where they keep the old traditions of creating designs by hand. Posing by the loom in our handmade woolen sweatshirts that we had just purchased seemed like the perfect thing to do. 

That night we went into downtown Oaxaca to explore and eat dinner with the coordinator of the programs that were to follow in the next few days. While I tried to capture images to record them in memory forever, a little mischievous person photobombed my cathedral façade!

At dinner, we sampled some traditional fare from Oaxaca which was like a pizza but with a hard tortilla and lots of beans. I personally partook of a different Mexican specialty: a quesadilla with la flor de calabaza. I find it quite tasty! It is grown on some kinds of melons and adds a very unique flavor to potatoes and quesillo in quesadillas. The next day was filled with curvy mountain roads and bumps and bruises as we traversed the state to Puerto Escondido. 

When we got to Puerto, there was a welcoming party waiting for us on the beach. To kick of the academics and lessons of the rest of the week, they taught us how to surf! I made it up once on my feet and rode a wave once on my knees. It was marvelous! We returned exhausted to a lecture on different species of mosquitos and dengue that I was interested in but put several people to sleep. 

The next morning we went out with a Vector Brigade to go house to house in Puerto looking for still water and mosquito larvae. Here you see my studious team checking out a cistern where the family stored water for drinking and bathing. We did find larvae in there and added some mosquito killer that is non-toxic to humans in small quantities to the cistern. The reason we went out on this brigade is that dengue fever is very common and can seriously hurt the population. My team ended up visiting five or six houses. It was really interesting to see how different people live and to understand how their ‘normal’ is so much more different than our ‘normal.’

After our hard work at the four hour one and 1/2 hour brigade, we took to the beach to relax away our tired and cramped muscles. 

Dinner consisted of rotisserie chicken that we bought at the store and girl talk in one of the upstairs rooms. The men all decided to have a spaghetti dinner and ate outside. We crashed their man party for a short while where I finally watched the Gangam Style video by Psy after hearing about the jokes and parodies for several weeks. 

But before dinner we had another adventure. Specifically one of the guys and I. We were supposed to learn about how midwives help women give birth in rural areas. My horrible wonderful compatriots started chanting my name and guess what? I had a nurse/midwife shove a plastic baby up my shirt and gave birth. This was no TV recreation, folks. It was intense. And violating. But that’s another story.

Friday morning was hot and humid as we ascended into a botanical garden. Truly, it would have been interesting if we hadn’t all been sunburnt and sweating through every ounce of clothing we were wearing. Needless to say, we were pleased when it was over and returned to the beach by our hotel to play volleyball and explore.  

After a calm afternoon at the beach, we retired to the hotel to rest by the pool and make our dinners. My roommates and I made Alfredo Kraft mac’n’cheese and combined it with mixed vegetables and marinara sauce. It was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Call it what you will—good timing, soul food—it was fantastic. 

Saturday we had the entire day free and went to a small secret beach which we had to climb down about 200 stairs to get to. 

We decided that it was beyond worth it. Our new group beach game is called Ebb and Flow. It is exactly what you think. We laid in the water and let the waves push us in to shore and pull us back out. Sand made several appearances in places that it should not have been. Our other fun beach game was the Human Chain. We linked arms and elbows and went to where the current was strongest and attempted to stand fast against waves taller than our heads. So. Much. Fun. 

Saturday night was the ND football game and we had saved up something special. PINEAPPLES! We cut open and hollowed out pineapples and used them as glasses for drinks! Later that night after the game, spurred by someone’s random thought, we decided to form synchronized swimming teams. Random, right? Even so, devising our routine even though we never ended up performing it was a lot of fun.

On the way back to Puebla, we stopped at the Arbol de Tule. This tree is around 2000+ years old and is huge! We had a little kid give us the tour and point out figures that you could make out in the branches and trunk.

Did I mention that we also had a STARWARS marathon on this trip? Courtesy of one of our boys, who is obsessed, we watched all six movies in their proper order (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, then 3) For the first three, we even had trivia! It certainly alleviated some of the boredom that comes from ten hours in a bus on mountainous roads! Although, we were all pretty STARWARS’d out. 

The trip was completely academic, don’t you agree?

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