Monday, January 19, 2015

Visiting the Monarch Butterflies

I arrived back in the DF on a Saturday night and Sunday morning we headed out (somewhat) bright and early to see the Monarch Butterflies!

Our roommate had friends visiting and since they were going and Edson had never been, we made the last minute decision to join them for a day trip. (I went for the first time with Karen in 2011, which you can read about here).

We visited El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán.

Monarchs are the only type of butterflies that have two-way migrations, like birds do. They travel some 3,000 miles between Mexico and the Northern U.S. and Southern Canada. They spend November through March "overwintering" (ie - how insects spend the winter) in oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Michoacán and the State of Mexico.

On my first visit, I learned that their lifespan isn't very long, so the migration is completed over the course of multiple generations and somehow they keep returning to the same places. Whoa!

This time we learned that most Monarch butterflies only live 3-5 weeks, but when it's time to migrate a special generation is born, which lives 7-9 months. That's a big difference!

Confused about the two explanations? I was too. Thanks to Google (and the US Forest Service and Monarch Watch), I was able to clarify that the special migrating generation makes the trip all the way from the U.S./ Canada to Mexico, spends the winter in Mexico, and then makes part of the trip back before they die. New generations of Monarchs are born along the way, so the rest of the northern migration is completed over the course of multiple generations. Then, once again, a special migratory generation is born in time to make the trip South and, even though they've never been, they somehow find their way to the mountains in Mexico.

It was a pretty cold day (by Michoacán, Mexico standards), so there wasn't too much movement going on. However, it was still INCREDIBLE to see all of the Monarch butterflies clustered on the branches and trunks of the trees. In the photos and video below, all of the orange/brown "dead leaves" are butterflies!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Kings Day

Happy Three Kings Day! 

January 6th is el Día de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day / Day of the Wise men, the day that the three wise men arrived bearing gifts for baby Jesus. In Mexico, children write a letter to the magos, telling them what they would like as a gift, and send it off attached to a balloon on January 5th. 

The presents are left during the night for the children to wake up to the morning of the 6th. I'm told that years ago children received presents on Three Kings Day, but not on Christmas. However, blame it on globalization, t.v., immigration, or whatever you'd like, but nowadays most kids are visited by both Santa and the Three Kings bearing gifts during the holidays. 


On the 6th, people share a rosca, an oval-shaped bread decorated with candied fruit. The rosca represents the wise mens' crowns, with the candied fruit representing jewels. There's always  at least one baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. Whoever finds the baby Jesus in their piece is supposed to provide the tamales and the chocolate (like hot chocolate) or atole(a masa-based drink) for everyone on February 2nd, which is Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas or the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple). 

baby Jesus figure hidden inside the rosca

Why tamales and atole? While Mexico is a very Catholic country, many of its traditions and beliefs are the product of sincretismo, the combination of Catholic and Pre-hispanic religions and cultures. Tamales were used as offerings to the gods because they are made of corn, the material used by the gods to create humans. And atole is a masa (corn) - based drink. So, while February 2nd is a Christian celebration, it draws upon Pre-hispanic traditions to celebrate. 

Today wraps up the "Guadalupe-Reyes" holidays. Thought you had it good in the US with Christmas through New Year's? Here the holidays begin December 12 for the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (hence "Guadalupe") and end el Día de los Reyes Magos ("Reyes").  

Want to read more about holiday traditions in Mexico? Check out some of my previous posts, including: 

-Making piñatas 2010

-Pastorela and Posada with Rotaract 2010 and 2011
-the Posada song in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas 2010
-Christmas in Maltrata, Veracruz in 2011 and 2013, and other Christmas traditions like the Nativity scene"La Rama"posadas, and buñuelos
-Holiday decorations in the Zocalo 2010 and 2012 and Coyoacan 2014
-"Los viejitos" in Maltrata, Veracruz 
-New Year's in Maltrata, Veracruz 2012 and Minatitlan, Veracruz 2014

Back in the DF

I was home with family and friends for the holidays, but as of last Saturday, I'm back in the DF!

Edson greeted me at the airport with what is probably the most beautiful bouquet I've ever received! A very nice welcome back, indeed!

Now it's time for round two of thesis corrections and hopefully graduation!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe

On December 12th, Mexican Catholics celebrate the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe). Read more about it from previous posts (including my trip to the Basilica on the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe in 2010) here

Today also marks the start of the "Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon," an informal name for the holiday season, which begins with the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12th) and end with the Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day, January 6th). 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Video: "The Missing 43: Mexico's Disappeared Students"

And again...

As much as it hurts my heart to share negative news about Mexico, this is a pretty good overview of what's going on with the 43 missing students and current situation in Mexico. Violence at the hands of the police (and others) and impunity feel especially overwhelming today, on both sides of the border.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Xtoles" in Chichén Itzá

The choir singing "Xtoles" (a Mayan song to the sun) in Chichén Itzá:

(Don't bother looking for me - I wasn't there!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa

So far, I had refrained from writing about the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa here on the blog. Mexico gets a lot of bad press and my idea with this blog, in addition to keeping family and friends up to date with what I'm doing, has always been adding other types of stories (culture, food, holidays, travel, etc) to the conversation. Thinking about what's going on now, I didn't want family and friends to worry about me being here or, by writing about it, to help create more negative associations when people think about Mexico.

However, this is a reality that cannot and should not be ignored. 

On September 26th, students from a rural teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero went to nearby Iguala. The mayor, afraid they would interrupt his wife's speech, ordered the local police to stop them. After a minor skirmish between the students and police, the students left in "borrowed" buses. On their way out of town, they were shot at by local police and other gunmen, killing 3 students and 3 bystanders. From there, 43 students were taken by local police, and then reportedly turned over to a local drug cartel, Guerreros United. They have not been seen since. 

While searching for the students, multiple mass graves have been found nearby. It has been determined that the remains found in these graves do not belong to the students, though this obviously raises the question of, ok, but who are they? 

After hiding out for over a month, the mayor and his wife were found and arrested in the DF's Iztapalapa neighborhood on November 4. The situation is a bit fishy, with reports that they had been found in Veracruz and then were "planted" in the DF. 

On Friday (November 7), Mexico's Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, announced in a press conference that they believed the students had been executed and incinerated, with the remains thrown in a dump and the river. However, they have not been able to identify the remains they found (which have been sent off to labs in Austria), relying instead on testimonies by drug cartel hit men. The families of the students have rejected this story until they have proof. I've seen reports surface (though nothing official) that a fire with tires and gasoline couldn't reach the necessary temperatures to completely destroy all remains, comparing the reported actions with the cremation process, as well as reports of heavy rains that night. Murillo ended the press conference saying, "No more questions. Ya me cansé" ("I'm tired of this" or "I've had enough"), a phrase which has quickly been adopted as a slogan.

There have been protests all around Mexico -- against the violence of the State, impunity, corruption, and inefficiency of the investigations, and in solidarity with the students and their families. One of the main cries is "Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos" ("They were taken alive, we want them back alive"). There have been multiple large-scale protests in Mexico City. The UNAM and other schools went on strike (for lack of a better word in English), anywhere from 24 - 72 hours. In Acapulco (like Ayotzinapa and Iguala, also located in the state of Guerrero), protesters blocked the airport. There is another protest planned for Sunday in the DF.  

Sign on UNAM's campus 11/7/14: "Nos faltan 43" ("We're missing 43")

Sign on UNAM's campus 11/7/14: "Actua antes de que el próximo sea tu hijo, tu hermano, o seas tú."
("Do something before it's your son, brother, or you")

Signs on UNAM's campus 11/7/14

There have been some acts of destruction, though it appears that most need to be questioned. The metrobus (one of the multiple forms of public transportation in the DF) stop at the UNAM campus (in the south of the city) was burned while a major protest was going on in the center of the city. Was it the student movement? No one has taken credit for it and most of the students taking action would have been at the protest downtown. Was it a way to discredit the student movement? Maybe. Was someone just angry and fed up with the situation? Maybe. During Wednesday's protest, masked individuals lit the door of the National Palace (President's work place, but not where he lives) in the Zócalo on fire. However, photos have surfaced of one of the masked individuals hiding behind a group of police in front of the door, which obviously raises a few questions. 

There have also been reports of arbitrary detentions at the various protests in the DF (and in Mexico you're guilty until proven innocent). 

Tuesday night was "Una luz para México" ("A light for Mexico"), a movement spread through social media, calling for people around Mexico to light a candle and stand on the sidewalk, wherever they were, in solidarity with the students and their families. At an apartment complex close to the UNAM, a large group gathered with candles. They counted out loud from 1 to 43 (for each of the missing students), ending with calls for "Justicia!" ("Justice!") and "Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos!" ("They were taken alive, we want them back alive.") There was a group playing music, including a version of "La Bamba," with lyrics adapted to the current situation.

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14
Video from Tuesday's "A light for Mexico":

People have been taking notice internationally as well. In addition to news reports, I've seen photos posted regularly on DesinformémonosFacebook page of protests and signs of support and solidarity from around the word and the Youtube video "The World is Watching" of 135 students from 43 countries and 5 U.S. Universities raising awareness and showing their solidarity, for example.

The situation is tense in Mexico. What has happened is terrifying and infuriating. It's not just about the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, either; the current situation has reopened a larger conversation and outcry for the many other cases of disappearances and violence (especially at the hands of the government) throughout Mexico, both recently and historically. I think there is hope in that people aren't just sitting it out or saying, "Well, it didn't affect me." People are angry and (using the phrase unintentionally coined by the Attorney General) "have had enough." They're making themselves seen and heard, demanding answers, justice, and an end to the violence, corruption, and impunity. 

For further reading (in English):
"Crisis in Mexico: The Protests for the Missing Forty-Three," by Francisco Goldman. The New Yorker, 11/12/14.
"11 Numbers To Help You Understand The Violence Rocking Mexico," by Eline Gordts. The World Post, 10/31/14
"Enough! Mexico Is Ready to Explode," by Homero Aridjis. The World Post, 10/28/14
"Disappeared Youth Spark Protests in Mexico's Worst Political Crisis in Decades," by Laura Carlsen. The Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, 10/26/14.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chicken and potato enchiladas with mole

On Saturday Edson and I enjoyed homemade enchiladas for lunch (he cooked, I watched and took mental notes). They were delicious!

chicken and potato mole enchiladas 
He boiled the chicken, with a bit of garlic, onion, and salt. Once the chicken was cooked, he added the potatoes to the broth to cook. When they were done, he shredded the chicken and peeled and mashed the potatoes. In a pan, he added chicken broth to the mole paste (that I brought back from Maltrata), mixing until it boiled and attained the right consistency. From there, it was time to assemble the enchiladas: chicken, potato, and a bit of mole inside corn tortillas (folded in half), with mole, queso fresco, and onion on top. Yum!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Back in the DF

I'm baaaaack. I'd been away from the DF for a bit (and from the blog even longer), so let's recap a bit...

Back in September I (finally!) finished the draft of my thesis and was able to go back to the U.S. for a bit while my thesis mentor was reading it.

Before I left the DF, I had an awesome visit with Karen, one of my first and best friends I met in Mexico, and my travel buddy those first six months. We only lived in the DF at the same time for one semester, but we've kept in touch and she's managed to make her way back to visit  twice now. It is so fantastic and refreshing to have friends that, even though time has passed, it feels like nothing has changed.

Me and Karen

I also made sure to eat my annual chile en nogada: a poblano pepper filled with picadillo (usually a mix of ground beef and/or pork, fruit, nuts, and spices) and covered in a walnut-based cream sauce with pomegranate seeds on top. This dish is typical in September, partially because its red, white, and green colors coincide nicely with Mexico's Independence Day celebrations and partially because pomegranates are season.

My chile en nogada

My chile en nogada, cut open
I had a fantastic time in the States and was able to visit lots of family and friends and attend two friends' weddings. I really enjoyed being home in the Fall as well: the colors and flavors of Fall are pretty high on the list of things I miss from home while I'm in Mexico.

colorful Fall leaves at the park

I've been back in the DF for two weeks now, just in time to go to (another!) wedding, make a day trip to Cuernavaca to visit a friend and meet her baby, visit Maltrata for Día de Muertos, and get started on thesis corrections.

Me and Edson at the wedding reception
in the DF

As for the thesis, I'm still waiting to get the last few sections of my draft back to finish corrections and, once that's done, I'll need four other professors to read and approve it and to jump through some bureaucratic hoops before I can have my thesis defense to graduate. Here's to hoping that the graduation process goes quickly and smoothly!

Friday, August 29, 2014


Edson was in the mood for pozole yesterday so we went to Potzollcalli for lunch. It had been a while since I'd eaten pozole and I'd never eaten at Potzollcalli. It was a good day for it too: Thursdays are 2-for-1!

Here I am with my white Guerrero-style pozole (there's also red and green) with chicken (options are chicken or pork) accompanied with a tostada with crema (Mexican cream = similar to sour cream).