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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tamales, Mines, Museums, and Tequila

When I last left off I had just visited the Hospital de Plaza Mayor. Shortly after that, I had arranged to meet with Pedro, another Guanajuatense Couchsurfer. Pedro had a car! He also brought a friend of his along, and the two of them brought me to this amazing and famous restaurant which no tourists go to, called Tamales Purepecha.

I have no idea exactly how we got there, but one of my Spanish teachers, Vicente, confirmed the next day that it was the best place in Guanajuato for traditional food. They had all types of tamales, I had the one with strawberry in it which was very very good, and then a quesadilla con flor de calabaza (with squash flowers in it). To polish that off, we had champurrado, which is like a hot chocolate drink with atole in it (a corn based porridgy thing that gives it texture). Ultra yum. And no tourists sighted. And though Pedro speaks English, his friend did not, so the entire night was spent speaking in Spanish only, which was great practice. He insisted on treating me to dinner, and then took me on a lovely driving tour of parts of the city that are more uphill that would have been quite difficult for me to get to on my own, including the beautiful Paseo de la Presa neighborhood, and something that closely resembled a castle but which was a hotel, and all the ambassador´s homes. It was really super nice of him and an experience that none of the other students at my school had had.  :)

I have spent almost no time alone; the other students at the school have been so friendly that I have done all kinds of stuff with them. The next day after school I had a private medical Spanish tutoring lesson with Carolina who was the mother of one of my teachers at the school, and she taught me some stuff I didn´t know which included "me hace un corraje" which is used to signify that getting upset and/or angry has no doubt caused some GI distress. Then I was supposed to go on a tranvía (tram) tour with some other students which didn´t actually happen as the tourist office here is fairly lame. Andres and Susan and I ended up going to the Mercado Hidalgo instead (the lovely old market here which sells foods and a few souvenir items) and eating some tostadas de camarón plus some cerveza Victoria.

Walking back later with Susan, we came across a complete obstruction of the pedestrian mall -- blocked by a huge dance festival which was in preparation for some other festival/celebration!  I got a great spot to stand and watched amazingly costumed groups of dancers representing many of the different states of Mexico. I got some great photos and even shot some video!

After I parted ways with Susan, I bumped into Andres and Craig again, eating at a wonderfully divy shrimp taco place, with coconut-shrimp tacos, so I sat down again with them and tried one which was terrific.  We ended up buying some sort of random ??lottery tickets/fundraisers from some cute school children.

Friday was my last day of language school. Very sad because I loved my teachers and the other students in my very small classes. I traded email addresses with most of them and in my culture class we played the Mexican version of Trivial Pursuit which is called Maratón.

I was very impressed with myself because I got an answer right that involved knowing which Mexican woman had fostered the Revolution in her own home -- which I only knew because she was from Queretaro and there is a street there named after her! She is nicknamed La Corregidora. Anyway, Michael and I came from behind to win the game! We named our team Los Quejumbrosos (The Whiners), and prevailed against Los Mucosos (The Snot-Noses) and Los Tardios (The Latecomers). Victory never tasted so sweet!

After school, a few of us went out to El Midi, the South of France restaurant, for lunch. They had a great plum tart for dessert, after some lovely quiches which included almonds and squash in them... Then we went on a school trip which had been organized to La Valenciana mine and the nearby church as well. This was a mine that used to operate, largely silver which is what made all of Guanajuato state so wealthy, and we were able to climb down into it with hard hats. It was hard to breathe in there! And they had used slave labor hundreds of years back. No wonder why -- not sure anyone would voluntarily work in a place where they were likely to develop silicosis (which by the way is the same word in Spanish) and had to carry 100 kg weights. The church was apparently spectacular, but after I spend a few minutes in one, that´s kinda enough.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guanajuato Gems

This is just an amazing town.  I have settled into the Spanish classes, the level has sorted itself out, am with other students who I really like, and only 3 or 4 to a class.  I am SOOOOOOOO sorry I can't stay longer!  It is difficult to squeeze in tourism activities between so many classes!  Oh yes, and medical emergencies (read on toward the end...)

On a more touristic note ... on Tuesday night I hiked up to El Pípila with Claire, the flaky other student staying with the same family. Our hike was delayed by my needing to try to explain to her how to use Skype in order to quiet her constant complaining about how the phone cards cost so much to call the US. Finally we started climbing up the little streets and reached our destination right before sunset.  El Pípila is a statue of a man overlooking the entire city that has something to do with war ... but whenever I heard the word ¨war¨ I just turn off. So I'll have to insert a link to a Wikipedia reference here. The view going up was just spectacular -- as I have mentioned, the houses are all different colors and at different levels.

Just above El Pípila we went further looking for El Hotel Casa Colorada which was a stunning mansion like hotel with desert plants and views that were perhaps only slightly more stunning than the ones on the way up. We got lost a few times, but kind people helped re-direct us. On the way down, a different but equally spectacular view of the city lights.

After that I met up with Barbara, an Austrian woman from Couchsurfing who is living here for a year and a half and teaching German at the university, and I brought along Silvia, another student at my school from Austria because I thought it would be nice for them to meet each other. We ate at a cool restaurant (which I later found out was Austrian-owned, what are the chances of that??) and then Barbara told us that our lives could not be complete without having tried mezcal, so she took us to a cantina that featured it.   Note on cantinas: they are not the kind of places which ¨nice¨ women go to. Apparently it's more acceptable to go there if you're a prostitute and don't mind being groped by drunk slobbery men. However, there ARE two cantinas in town which are ok for women, and we went to one of them called "El Incendio." It was over 100 years old, covered with murals all along the walls, and full of different types of mezcal, some bottles of which contained worms.

One of the workers proudly showed me some of the murals and told me the history (they moved 44 years ago but are settling into their new location nicely). A few friends of Barbara´s came by so we could all drink together. Also, some men at the next table (who could have been 70, or a well worn 55) introduced themselves to us and told us they were butchers, and if we were in the market for meat they were at our service ... ;) I still don't know if this was designed to be a double-entendre in Spanish! Anyway, I tried mezcal flavored with oranges, mezcal flavored with guava, mezcal that was pure and transparent, and I think the one kind I didn´t try was the kind that was supposed to be "good for your stomach" -- I avoid that kind of thing at all costs! The glasses are not big, but cost barely more than $1 USD each! And they are served along with free snacks such as popcorn and jicama with red pepper sprinkled on it. An important cultural experience :)

Of course the next morning I woke up with a big headache and still had to go to school, but was able to medicate myself appropriately, enough so that during my one hour morning break I was able to grab in the museum that is right next door to where I live -- El Museo Iconográfico -- devoted to paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other depictions of Don Quijote and his trusty sidekick Pancho Sanza. To be honest, I had never read Cervantes' novel, but Guanajuatenses are obsessed with the myths surrounding this character! They even have a "festival Cervantino" in October to celebrate all of Cervantes' works. Weird, given that he was from Spain, not Mexico... Anyway the museum was really more interesting than I was expecting, they even had copies of the novel translated into Braille and into Chinese and some of the paintings were fascinating. The idea for the museum, and apparently the seed money, came from a man named Eulalio Ferrer who was Cervantes-and don Quijote-obsessed, and it was the one fantasy that helped him cope with being in a concentration camp in France in the 1930s. I'm not completely sure how he got put there or how he got out, but I'll have to look that topic up a bit more. In any case, the larger than life horse-riding figure and his buddy dominate the Mexican mythological landscape....

Back to class. I have 2 grammar classes, one in "practical Spanish", and a class which is a lecture on cultural issues in Mexico, led by Vicente. He is nothing if not very animated and passionate about the issues! We have discussed the health care system, the economy (I didn't know before now that in actuality more people are currently sending money from Mexico to the US than vice versa), the war in which Texas was stolen by the Americans, and today a fascinating discourse on the tradition of Day of the Dead. More on that to follow. The other classes are great too. Luis especially is the kindest most lovely person when one makes a mistake... I really wish I could spend another few weeks here.

Now -- many of you who are not first-time readers know that calamities tend to both precede and accompany me wherever I go. These can usually be divided into the climatic-disaster, political upheaval, and medical types. My last trip to Indonesia activated a lot of earthquake activity, in Java before I arrived, and in Sumatra while I was there. I just want to say here that I cannot take any responsiblity for the Chilean earthquake -- too damn far away for it to be my fault! On the other hand, there were some weather conditions that involved massive flooding here in Mexico a little bit west of where I am in mid February and those most likely were my fault.  Sorry.  Because of them I am vacillating about whether or not to go on the school field trip to Michoacan to see the butterflies that make their migration from Canada to breed here. The thing is, they're usually done (breeding and living) by March.  So -- not sure if it's worth it. Dear readers who might know, please feel free to weigh in on this subject in the next day.

Anyway, on to the medical excitement.  2 days ago, a woman who is another student at the school (who I hadn't yet met) had a seizure in the street right between the school and the Bagel Cafetín (the surprisingly excellent bagel cafe right near my house). Another woman who had heard I was in the school found me an hour later and told me about it. I went to see this lady, in part to try to determine seizure vs. syncope as she had no real history of either before. She was clearly mentally a bit confused still, though nonfocal on exam, so I decided it had probably been a true seizure. I advised her that with a first time seizure, and being in her 50s, she really needed imaging of her brain. I also told her about neurocysticercosis being a possibility after having lived here in Mexico for 2 months (this is a condition caused by a pork tapeworm called Taenia solium that can form cysts in the brain, with surrounding edema, and cause seizures. I've seen it in immigrants from Mexico to the US). I wrote down all that she needed in Spanish. I was later told by other students at the school that she had been admitted to the hospital not far away. I went to visit her last night. HIPAA be damned! A large sign downstairs announced the names of the patients. She was the only one there. I climbed up the stairs to her room; the whole place looked rather medieval! She had an antechamber and these enormous oxygen tanks which I suspect could not be moved, which she didn't need in any case. They were giving her seemingly unnecessary IV fluids and insisting that she stay for 72 hours of observation despite no repeat seizure activity. She showed me the CT of her head, which looked normal, and her lab tests, which were normal too. They wanted to put her on an antiepileptic drug which they had not told her the name of, till she returned to Texas. And they concluded that the whole problem "was probably altitude related" -- which made no sense whatsoever since she's already been here 2 months and no doubt already acclimatized. Plus, the hospital is at the same altitude so keeping her there made no sense except to jack up the bill. Which, by the way, is going to come to a shockingly crazily expensive $800 for three days including the CT scan. Anyway, it was an interesting little adventure to visit the hospital, learn a little more about the private health system here, and I discussed it with my family who of course were quite familiar with cysticercosis, which the lady doesn´t have.

More adventures to follow -- this email is getting too long!
:) Carol