First impressions

Trip Start Mar 23, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Monday, April 16, 2007

Saludos de Querétaro!  This lovely colonial city in the high, rugged central plateau of Mexico has been our home for three weeks, and will be until mid-June.  To get here we flew into the megaMEGAlopolis of Mexico City, then followed thousands of semis full of exports headed north up the Pan-American highway towards Texas (NAFTA in effect), before dropping off and into the old city of Querétaro, where the bus stopped and we had to walk because the streets are too narrow for buses.  We immediately happened upon folk dances in a plaza next to a fountain framed by rows of square trimmed trees.  Most nights since then there have been dance performances, live music, or festivals taking place in the numerous plazas and gardens, with crowds of friendly, well-dressed people enjoying the cool evening air.  Particularly interesting was the Procession of Silence on Good Friday, wherein hundreds of people move slowly through the streets clad in pointed hoods like the KKK wear, but in many colors (and with a much different purpose).  They carried heavy crosses and icons of various Virgins, the streets silent except for the hiss of chains dragging from their ankles.  Heaviest parade we`ve ever seen.

Within days upon arrival we were settled in with our host family parents, Leticia and Jesus, feeding us fantastic soups, empanadas, pozole, eggs with chipotles, corn tortillas and fresh squeezed orange juice every morning.  One son, Gerardo, still lives at home.  He is our age and  has an adorable 1 year old named April, who loves to chase Goofy, the tiny tortilla-eating poodle around the house.  Gerardo`s two brothers and one sister stop by nearly every day to visit, and we feel very welcome and at home.

Our daily walk to Spanish class winds along narrow streets lined with colorful facades textured with a century of weathered paint, underneath bougainvilleas spilling off balconies and rooftops lined with potted agaves and geraniums.  By dawn the crews of sweepers clad in orange are at work, keeping the city impeccably tidy, and many vendors have already set up their stands with food, jewelry and clothing on the streets to sell their wares for the day.  Walking the narrow streets one must remain vigilant for trucks climbing the sidewalks to squeeze through.  Some sidewalks themselves are so narrow, we have to walk single file like ducklings.  To maintain chivalry and manners when these sidewalks become crowded, a protocol of sidewalk behavior has developed in which men always stay on the outside of the sidewalks, presumably protecting the women from traffic and bright sun (and eventually rain).  Similarly, youth yield to elders.  Clear enough when passing one person, but how to be polite when we together pass couples is unclear, and often we need to dance back and forth before choosing which way to pass.  We`re told most gringos are oblivious to this sort of thing, so we feel we`ve already made a little headway towards integrating culturally.

Peace Corps training is a busy time, with 8 or 9 hours daily of Spanish lessons and various talks on Mexican culture, history, politics and natural history, interspersed with endless regulations on how to be overseas as part of the US government.  Our group is only 13 people, aged 26 to 63, and we get on well despite the long days together.  In addition to lectures and lessons, we have gotten out several times into the countryside, to learn about the natural history and rural issues that make conservation such an urgent undertaking here.  Mexico is actually the country with the 5th richest biodiversity worldwide, and has the greatest number of cacti and reptiles, and among the most flowering plants of any country.  One of the greatest conservation challenges is soil erosion, caused by both rain and wind and accelerated by farming and logging on steep slopes.  Erosion has severely limited the productivity of the land in many areas.  Much of the world, of course, faces this same challenge.  As a group during our training we are drafting a management plan for a local watershed, attempting to address not only erosion and environmental degradation but to identify sustainable income generation activities for local communities as well.  We won`t get too far with this, but subsequent groups will build on what we started, and eventually the effort will move to other areas. 

This three weeks already feels like a long time, and we miss you all.  Hope some of you will consider visiting.  Stay tuned for news about our future home, Jalpan de Serra, in the Sierra Gorda of northeastern Querétaro state.
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charliesusan on

A very colorful and engaging description. We feel like we are there with you already, taking in the bougainvillea and learning to walk the narrow sidewalks. Can't wait! We'll be there for sure.
Sujibar and Kharlib

elbaracho on

Buffy and Ben at Home Again!
It is great to know that you are in such an accommodating place with friendly hosts and collegial co-workers. I hope it just keeps getting better.

colfrazee on

We are in Grand Cayman and are preparing to go to China in May (2007). We love hearing about your experiences because we also understand the excitement of learning about new cultures and customs. We just hope we don't step on too many toes along the way. (sidewalk joke) Bob and Fran

pparish on

Hey B-Squared!
Glad to see your new home is so beautiful and inviting! Off to France in the beginning of June. Will be thinking of you and move to the new place.
Have a wonderful experience in a rich culture. You two will do great!

emmanuel on

muy buena informacion
muy padre

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