On my way to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, I had a layover in New York for eight hours–on purpose! I explored Manhatten on foot, including a visit to the Top of the Rock. The 70th floor, I believe (?), yielded the view from the picture below. Far in the distance, one can see a strip of the Atlantic ocean. At least, that’s what I think it is.
I got stuck at the Mexico City airport overnight, because the time to get to my connecting flight was very short and my previous flight was severely delayed. This was a blessing in disguise in many ways except for my wallet. I got to try out their Izzzleep capsule.
A big market in San Cristobal de las Casas, every day. Things are quite cheap compared to Canada, but I can’t say the same about shelled macadamia nuts. I wonder why.
Can’t beat this for a hostel, and can’t beat this for a town view. I recommend the hostel, Qhia, Tonalá 5.
Eight hours of being part of a dozen students in a van later, we were in la selva Lacandona. A fragmented tropical rainforest where I spent ten crazy days with a bunch of more-or-less-cuddly, and bright, students and a few Mexican and Brazilian professors. In short, those ten days can be described by the following: (1) A military camp of three research projects in groups of 3-4 students, all including field work to collect data, a presentation and a written abstract. For one of the projects, we also wrote an entire paper with several review rounds by multiple professors. A lot of staying up until 2 am and/or waking up at 4-5 am. (2) Parties and swims in the river at the start and end of the course, and many ‘Hotmail’ love letters/poems taken out from a box and read by an MC host professor every night. Sometimes, someone would write a message about two other people to surprise them. I wrote two letters: one telling everyone that my place in Canada welcomes them and, another, that the course changed me for the better. Not particularly romantic, but quite exciting.
One of the projects involved setting up mistnets and banding birds (yay!) and another involved identifying ants. I really like ants, but I preferred to observe them from afar with binoculars (joke). The ant expert kept on saying ‘oww’ because of ants biting him, and enjoying those moments (see picture below). I can’t relate.
A few more nature walks and spotted creatures, and the last day approached.
On my way back from the tropical forest, I stayed in San Cristobal de las Casas for a day and a bit. I decided to explore the fringes instead of staying in town. I hoped to go to Palenque (about four hours away), but tour tickets were sold out. Cañón del Sumidero turned out to be remarkable in its own ways.
After I got back from the canyon, we, the students and professors who haven’t flown back to our respective town yet, partied a few more times in San Cristobal de las Casas. A museum visit, a birthday celebration, a few restaurants, and then I took the bus at 4 am to Tuxtla Gutiérrez–to the airport and eventually, back to Ottawa.
Being in Mexico changed me in three main ways.
- 15 days of only talking in a certain language can do wonders to learn that language. You know what they say–the fastest way to learn a language is to throw the person among those that (maybe could but) do not speak any other language. It can be scary (it is scary for many), but a step towards fear is a step towards growth…did I convince or did I just scare people more with that statement.
- The culture and people were shockingly eye-opening. By being there, I realized how much I had become closed off throughout the years. Closed off to different ways of thinking and of interacting with people. At least the people I met, most into nature and a few hippies, were incredibly open and joyful. This is where I learned there was term for the way I am a lot of the time. A hippie, in a lot of sense of the word.
- I learned more about my interests. One of them involves including people in nature studies, like in the field of Ethnobotany. What is the relationship between people and medicinal plants? How do (indigenous) people use plants and what does it mean to them? The Lacandón forest is a hotspot for this field of study, and it includes the Lacandón mayas. I briefly presented about Ethnobotany and the Lacandón Mayas at Toastmasters shortly after coming back to Ottawa. It was invigorating.