Oaxaca Slideshow

Monday, April 16, 2012

Que Te Vaya Bien

Thank you all for following us on our journey. Some thoughts from us.....

"La comida es una verdadera manifestacion del amor" - Food is a true manifestation of love.

Being in Oaxaca has opened my mind and my heart to the richness of the culture, people, and traditions that are alive here. I have a much greater appreciation for food as a way of expressing and passing on traditions, recipes, and knowledge. It is also a social fabric that bring the community together through fiestas and celebration.I will never forget watching the women in Teotitlan grinding corn on the metate for hours in the morning, shape dough, and make tortillas. Here, the traditional way of life is held on to in face of modernization and globalization. I am forever thankful for this experience. Special thanks to Mary Lucia, all of our amazing professors, students who I shared this experience with, and all of the people I met along the way. Its been a delicious journey.


The last three months have been among the best in my life. Never did I think that I would have an experience like this. I knew this was going to be something great but this has been so much more than that. It has changed my life in so many ways with lessons learned, and friends made that I know will last a lifetime. This program is really something special and I would not change anything that I have done here, and I cannot wait to tell you all about it.
Con todo mi Corazon
Ashley H.
When I stepped off the plane
To this day now,
Where’d the time go?
Wow, holy cow!

Day trips and visits,
To weeklong stays;
The state of Oaxaca
Was like our maize.

We travelled together
And laughed all the time.
Guacamole is best
With a whole bunch of lime.

Studying abroad,
It’s life-changing stuff.
I know myself better,
And that’s no bluff.

The ups and the downs,
We worked through them all.
Let’s take all that we’ve learned
With us into the Fall.

It’s “hasta luego,”
Since we will return.
Because we know that in life
There’s always more to learn.

Oaxaca, I love you.
You helped me to see
The potential and value
That’s inside of me.

Thank you slash gracias
For this opportunity
Now on my way to Vermont
With a loving community.

While in Oaxaca, I was immersed in a culture defined by food, community strength and tradition. I ate my way through the deeply rooted cuisine and fell in love with every bite. The kindness of the Mexicans here, the arts they produce, and their sense of identity within a community is what I take with me to integrate into my life at home and I will never forget it.
While I'm stoked for cheddar cheese,
I can't help but feel unease.
I'll be so glad to be back,
But will cry when I unpack

Speaking English all the time?
Isn't that some sort of crime?
Español is clearly best,
We've all improved-- I'm so impressed!

Leaving now? It can't be done!
I still feel like we're on day one.
We'll have to return, very soon, I'd say,
Maybe next year? We can't delay!

I'll ask Mary Lu if I can come back,
Every year 'til I've done all the tracks,
I'll be a botany expert, and a Mexican musician,
Then be fluent in Spanish, in addition.

The next thing I'll do is move to Teotitlan,
Learn Zapoteco before the language is gone,
Braid ribbons in my hair and sport my mandil,
Shaking everyone's hands and saying 'zac xtili!'

But really, though, let's all come back,
Every single one of us, our entire gringo pack.
Maybe it will be like we never even left!
The people still nice and the food still hard to digest!

One thing, though, that makes me glad,
Is when I'm missin' Oaxaca real bad,
I can call you guys up and say,
'Don't you really miss mole?'

Queso fresco and tostadas,
Aguas, jugos, and limonadas?
Oaxacan food is hard to beat,
Just so many tasty things to eat.

When I'm craving a tylayuda
Or just want to dance at Barracuda
I'll know I'm not alone
And I'll call you on your phones
We have already lived,
We have yet to die,
And we're about to be born

Hey friends. Though difficult to express my feelings of Oaxaca in a few lines, I must say that it was a life-changing experience. My first time out of the country, I learned new customs and traditions I may have never been exposed to. Thanks to everybody who made this a great trip, because it is something I will never forget!
In Oaxaca, México I learnt a lot more than how to speak Spanish. I saw, heard, ate, and experienced things that I never had before. There is so much more to the world than anyone can ever realize.
This loud, raw, colorful, smiling country has taught me more about myself and what I live for than any other experience I've had to date. I leave with a strong sense of self, a confidence that I have seen honest beauty and greatness, felt passion, seen life, and am bringing home friends that will last a lifetime. ¡VIVA MÉXICO!

I know that Oaxaca has not yet seen the last of me. I feel asthough I have become addicted to the culture, cuisine, art, and beautiful aswell as hospitable people of the area. Writing just a sentence or two about mysemester long experience here could never do it justice.
Here I am, leaving somewhere that has become a second home to me. I will miss the beauty of this place, the vibrant colors and people, the incredible cuisine, and unique art, and the sense of community intrinsic in the culture. But, I will carry these things in my heart back to Vermont until I can return here once again.
Not adios, but simply hasta luego Oaxaca
As I spend my last few hours in Oaxaca I'm thinking back to the very beginning and how far I've come, literally and figuratively. We travelled all over Oaxaca and each trip, day, and conversation has changed me forever, even if all those changes aren't completely clear to me now. The people and adventures I've encountered in this beautiful, colorful, unique place have taught me so much about myself and I will continue to hold onto these new relationships and all the things I've learned and I know I will continue to grow from them. So it's not really goodbye Oaxaca, because I know I will return to you soon!
Que te vaya bien,
Not only did I become a better Spanish speaker, but I learned, from the Oaxacan's, to be a proactive member of any community, to be a hospitable person, and to care for the ones that are closest to me. Oaxaca is a very special place, and my travels here has changed my global, regional and local perspective.  

Jack Laub 
Thrown out of our comfort zones and into the city life of Oaxaca, we have become an invaluable group of remarkable individuals. I have learned oodles from the academics, but even more from Oaxaca itself: the indigenous cultures, foods, conversations and daily life.  I feel so fortunate to be a part of the Oaxaqueño community as well as our own little VT and UVM family.  Que te vaya bien!Abrazos y besitos,

Van rides, mangos (and guanabana), beachtime, tantos amigos increíbles, making up stories, gettin a little hogwild, troubled poops, Español, being here now, chelas, botanizing the shit out of life, feeling good, bodysurfing with Rad Randy and the Naughty Naughties, running up stairs,being full, singing about Central Park after dark, San Vicente Lachixio, succulent plants and handsome ferns, loving each day because: why not?
Jack Litterst 

Luna, Joe, Jack Laub, Jack Litterst, Ashley Hill, Ashley Moore, 
Stefan, Ariel, Michaela, Sam, Danielle, Mickey, Peter, Marisa, Jocelyn, Whitney, Sarah, Soph, Shanita, Brittany, Sierra, Mary Lucia, Andrea, Aerin, Yayo and countless others: thank you for sharing your smiles with me over the past four months. Let's continue harnessing our curiosity and grabbing onto opportunity. Hasta pronto, Oaxaca - our dear home away from home.
Oaxaca has been an incredible cultural learning experience. I learned a lot not only about another country so very different than my own, but found myself along the way. I came to question why the world is the way it is and started to understand my place in it all. Oaxaca is truly a beautiful place and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to study abroad here and to share my experience with such amazing people.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Juchitan Music Trip and Health in Oaxaca

Above: The Berrelle orchestra!


This past week the music class went on quite a few adventures. On monday we met with an instrument maker and member of Pasotono Orchestra, Edgar Serralde, at the Biblioteca Infantil. With high energy we constructed simple instruments, like the one stringed sitar of the Hindu tradition, (made from two by fours and a tin can) hollow whistles made from clay, as well as a piece of wood attached to one string, which when wound and twirled, made the sound of a revving car engine. Our clay whistles are to be fired this upcoming friday! With our new toys in hand we set off to talk about how to go about doing Ethnographic recordings and research. Sergio and Ruben, our trusty instructors, explained in great detail, how to interact with subjects in the field, while playing the role of a participant observer. Finally prepared for our Juchitan trip, we set off in the vans once more to the fiery inferno that is known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Upon arrival we ventured to the Cultural Center where upon we viewed gorgeous art exhibits displaying sculptures, photography, and paintings from various artists. The building itself was founded by the artist, Francisco Toledo! After a brief discussion about the Zapotec celebration of the day of the dead, and the local culture's perspective on death; we headed off to their day of the dead celebration at the prime location. The cemetery we visited was full of women selling Iguana and turtle egg tamale's. Each grave or tomb had a cement house built upon it, where the families would gather in celebration of the lives of their dead loved ones. Many of the families were playing or hiring musicians who wandered around the cemetery, in order to listen to the music that their loved ones adored. We visited various sites, to hear a five piece brass and drum group, a troubador and not to mention the grave of a famous erotic Zapotec poet, Marcario Mathus. Lead by Victor Robless, we made our way through the labyrinth like cemetery,

experiencing the friendly salutations, and delicious food. The next day we returned to the Cultural Center/Ecological Forum to watch the Berrelle's or Calavana's, a large ensemble made up of youthful beginner's and advanced adults, who played flutes (recorders), bass and snare drums, as well as tortoise shell drums hammered with deer antlers. Their performance and information that they shared with us was magnificent!

Above: Israel and his 19 month old son, Max

That evening, Israel, a piano player and ethnomusicologist, took our group on a tour around the three most prominent churches of the Tehuantepec area. Each church stood in a different neighborhood and was exhibiting various performances. The performance's were reenacting the last days of Christ, in which he was captures, chained and tortured. The children were brought to the churches and adorned in the white and gold garb of angels or purple velvet cloaks. After the church celebration, we made a pit stop on our way back to the hotel, at the house of Israel in which him and his son, Max (1 year and seven months) performed various songs on the drums, recorder and piano.

Above: Ashley Hill giving our group a hip hop dance lesson in Juchitan's Ecological Forum.

On day three we watched the Via Cruz, or the stages of the Cross. Following three different processions, of the Virgin of Mary (as la soledad) and Jesus Christ carrying the cross. Unfortunately, due to heat stroke from the 100 degree sun, we returned to the air conditioning hotel! That final evening, we went to Victor Robless's house to listen to traditional troubadour songs set to Zapotec, and Spanish poetry. His wife, Lupita Ríos, also read some of her beautiful Zapotec poetry to us. We give great thanks to Sergio and Ruben for having such great friends to show us around the Isthmus and explain to us the cultural significance of each extraordinary genre's of music that we heard! We are all sad that our trip is nearing its end, and some farewells have already been made. Thanks to all that have made this program so special and informative!

Jack Laub

Health in Oaxaca: Last class of Food Systems

This past week we all began our final class here in Oaxaca, Food, Health and Culture… crazy huh? With the wonderful Jean-Harvey Berino, we took a deeper look at how the food system is rapidly changing throughout Mexico. Obesity is becoming a growing issue, while many impoverished families in rural areas are still suffering from malnutrition. We explored the main nutritional concerns present in Oaxaca and worked to figure why these problems exist, and possibly ways to combat that.

One activity to further investigate the food system within the city was to look at the items sold in small tiendas or convenient stores, the food sold in the supermarket, and the food sold in the market. As a group, we made some interesting findings. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the markets are less expensive than heavily processed foods found in the tiendas and the supermarkets. We speculated many things as to why consumers choose processed foods, but whether it is convenience, preference, or a status symbol, it is seriously jeopardizing the food system and health here.

As a class, we also did an activity to address our own nutrition while eating here and some of our findings mirrored some of the nutritional issues that are found across Oaxaca. Though we all are in love with the food here, most of us agreed that we missed choosing our own foods and cooking for ourselves to ensure a balanced diet.

In addition to the excitement of a new class, we also had the buzz of semana santa going on around us all week. Most of our homestays were filled with visiting relatives, and the city was filled with tourists from all over Mexico. There were activities in the city going on every night like food festivals, tours of churches, music, firework displays, and what I found most interesting, the Procession of Silence on good Friday.

This week we are continuing Jean’s class by going on several field trips then taking our final exam. Also we will all be hard at work on our independent projects this week because our final presentations are on Saturday. Wish us luck on all our work for the final week of the program!

Much love,


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rhythms, Drums, Spanish, and Farms!!

Music: Rhythms, Drums, and Organs

Monday morning brought the excitement of a new mission – our music of Oaxaca class. With only a vague idea of what to expect that evening (as class was not until 5 pm), we spent our day wandering around Oaxaca and wondering what our teacher, Sergio, might have in store. By 5pm we had made our way to the Zocalo to meet up and walk to our new class room. Between the Zocalo and our class we met at another park to meet Sergio and Ruben, who would be with us the rest of the week. After introductions we marched onward to our final destination—the class room. It was not your ordinary class room, as we would find out throughout the rest of the week with classes taking all across Oaxaca. The room was reminiscent of dance studio with full wall mirrors on three sides and light colored hard wood floors. As we gathered in the room we uncovered more information for our mission that night. We began doing group activities that included creating rhythms with your body, and later with your voice. Some of us caught on quickly, while others not only confused the rest of us, but themselves. We then moved on to activities where we mimicked a partner and filled our class room with wonderful music we were creating with just ourselves as we moved around the room.
On Tuesday we filled our day with things around Oaxaca as we waited for class again at 5. We had been told on Monday that if we have instruments to bring them to class. When we got to class we learned that we would be talking about Ancient music of Mesoamerica and music making with traditional instruments and rhythms. Ruben and his musician friends, the group PASATONO, played a few songs for us to help us understand the different sounds of different parts of Mexico’s music history. After, we were all given an instrument and taught a rhythm. We all then combined our sounds and had an awesome jam session.

On Wednesday, the 3 credit crew journeyed to Tlacochahuaya to see an 18th century organ preserved in its original style.
We also learned about the role of the church in music during the Colonial period and 19th century. After seeing the church and learning about the organ, we listened to the beautiful music that it creates. Then, we learned about the restoration of the church and had a tour of some of the restoration processes going on within the church. We discovered that over the years the church had been expanded and redecorated. Our tour included seeing parts of the church from different stages in its history.

On Thursday and Friday we ventured early to class for our drumming workshop. We met at the Zocalo to walk to Alebrije Ignacio Carrillo’s house. He is a musician that was teaching us about coastal music and rhythms. Each of us had a drum and we learned different counting techniques, and rhythms as we learned about music of Oaxaca and its intertwining with Afro, and Caribbean style flavors. We ended each workshop with a jam session and we ended

Fridays workshop with another guest, Lorena, joining us to sing while we drummed.

This week of music has been full of information and fun and we are all looking forward to the coming weeks and what they have in store for us.

Much love,

Ashley H.

Spanish Track: La Historia de México - Week 1

This week, all eight of us from the spanish track began a mexican history class at the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez. We began the first class learning about Mesoamerica and throughout the week each 4 hour class was dedicated to a different period in Mesoamerican history; the Preclassic (2000 BCE–200 CE), the Classic (200 CE–1000CE), and the Postclassic (1000 CE–1697 CE). Each night we are assigned readings from the book, Historia de México, and are asked to share a question we have with the class.

In lecture each day, we discuss the previous nights' reading in more detail, learn new material, and watch films about relevant topics such as the Olmec culture and influence on other societies, the advancement of various societies throughout the different eras, Tenochtitlan and the Spanish conquest of 1521, etc.

The classes are long and challenging, (especially since we're learning history in our second language!) but are packed with interesting information about important parts of Mexican history and are taught by two amazing professors, Francisco José Ruiz Cervantes and Edmundo López López.
By the end of the following week, we each have to write a paper about an important part of Mexican history and present for 10 minutes about one topic that we have learned in class. We still have much more to learn but have already accomplished so much.

Hope everyone enjoyed hearing about our week!

Abrazos y Besos,
Ashley, Sarah, Michaela,
Natalie, Mickey, Marisa,
Joe, Danielle


Where we had previously studied Oaxacan cuisine with Cynthia, with Vern we were able to delve deeper into understanding the systems put in place to allow for such Oaxacan cuisine, the successes and the struggles within the agricultural sector of Oaxaca. We have had a great week filled with many trips surrounding the concepts of a farming system, a food system, agro ecology, sustainable agriculture, and a better understanding the various systems of labeling (organic, fair trade, etc.). We have achieved a greater understanding of these concepts through various trips in and outside of Oaxaca City, through deep conversation with Oaxacans in various areas of our study.

On Monday we went to the Abastos market and observed the process of selling the various items. Each small group was assigned a section (vegetables, fruits, meat, other) to observe in the market and to ask vendors questions to better understand the value of price as well as the course food takes from its initial place of production to the Abastos market.

On Tuesday we went to Noxtitlan to visit CEDICAM, a non-governmental organization working to provide information on the sustainable agriculture and reforestation to about 30 indigenous Mixta villages. Here we learned from Eleazar and Phil largely of the characteristics and importance of corn. We learned about traditional agricultural practices and about milpa, recognizing how truly important it is to not sacrifice quality and mother earth for efficiency and profit. Community is the driving force that creates the most sustainable success.

On Wednesday we went to ITVO, a federally funded agricultural college and research institute. Dr. Javier Lopez discussed with us the goals of the organization and showed us a tour of the student-run tomato greenhouse. The main priority of the college is naturally education, secondly to apply their research to give technology to farmers. In the future they hope to sell such information to industrial agricultural companies. We also discussed with students at the college their possible futures in agriculture and we shared a bit about us as well. With less governmental jobs available for these students now, they will likely bring their knowledge back to their hometowns. In the afternoon we visited a local farmer who grows peanuts in particular and discussed his family’s particular diversified production practices that work well and discussed the challenges he faces in terms of water and land use as well in Oaxaca’s climate.

On Thursday we visited a wholesale tomato greenhouse grower where a farmer shared his knowledge of pest management and discussed the particular difficulties in terms of the market prices in Abastos, causing the farm to reflect on various possible strategies for future growth. Afterwards we returned back to the city and went to the Sustainable Harvest office, a company that works with coffee producers in Central America. In fact, they even sell their coffee to Vermont’s Green Mountain Coffee! In the office we learned about fair trade, and the various services the company provides to better the quality of production and life of coffee producers. At the end, we even had the opportunity to do some coffee tasting, yumm!

Finally on Friday we went to a very inspiring land not far from the city with aninteresting history. We discussed with a man not much older than us named Renee about his ability, along with 24 other young community members, to reclaim land, start a quale farm and a vegetable garden, raise many cows among other animals, reusing the compost from the animals as fertilizer, build a greenhouse to provide free sustainable and organic gardening practices, started a publically owned market for local farmers, and are in the process of building a new restaurant! They also have an office where they use their technical skills to create communal projects and have been very successful in their own project of governmentally funded reforestation in the area. Though they have had their struggles over the years with the government and with massive flooding, they have a wonderful philosophy that we can learn much from. This group is called COVORPA, or Comité Voluntario de Reforestación y Protección al Ambiente (Volunteer Committee for the Reforestation and Protection of the Environment). Afterwards we went into the city and discussed the week over pizza!

Thank you professors Vern, Oliver, and Louisa for a great week! If you would like more information or would like to see some great pictures, please go to this website that Vern has assembled: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Oaxaca/class_images.html

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spanish, Food Systems, Earthquakes, and Malia Obama!

Learning from the Women of Teotitlan

This past week in Food Systems we put to the test our knowledge and understanding of cooking, as well as Spanish. We started the week off with a series of trips to Teotitlan to learn from the women of Vida Nueva. Each day began with trips to the local market to buy supplies that we were going to need, as well as plenty of pan dulces for breakfast. ¡Orale! We then watched Pastora, Isabel, Rufina, and Patrona as they prepared dishes that were rich in history. All of what they cooked had been passed down from generation to generation. There were no written recipes to be followed. Our job was to watch and record every ingredient that was used and every step that was taken to create such delicious tasting Oxacan foods, so that they can be replicated and enjoyed by all. This certainly got tricky, as we needed to fully understand the language of the kitchen in Spanish. That is hard enough in English!

The process that these women went through for hours was amazing. They used hand-kindled, open fires and comals for nearly everything, from dry-roasting chilies to heating cacao beans until they de-shelled themselves. Comals will certainly be missed when we go back to the States. You really can’t cook without them!

On Thursday we compiled all of our freshly learnt knowledge and created a masterpiece of a comida for our friends and family. We used this as an opportunity to perfect the clarity of the recipes that we had written, as well as get feedback on the results. All of the food turned out to be absolutely delicious, ¡claro! Now it is time to put them all together and make the first cookbook containing some of these recipes. We are all anxious to bring the knowledge that we have gained back to the States to cook for all of you. Start making room, there are only a few more weeks left.

Hasta siempre-


p.d.: On Tuesday we got to experience something other than delicious food and time in the kitchen- un temblorcito! ¡Híjole!

Earthquakes and the President's Daughter, Oh my! and Spanish too!

This past week saw the end of our class with Alejandro, some earthy quaking, and the sighting of a rather note-worthy politician’s daughter. All very exciting and tear-jerking, indeed.

The beginning of our week began like any other–Alejandro’s inquisitive questions throwing us for a loop and getting our brains working again after the weekend. We learned about the Zapatista movement and the teacher’s strike in Oaxaca in 2006 and discussed the social and political conditions here in Oaxaca and its place in the world context. Tuesday, however, marked two big events: our farewells to Alejandro, easily one of my favorite Spanish teachers so far, and the earthquake. During that day, we were discussing life as usual, sipping on our coffees purchased at Café Brujúla during the break and then everything stopped.

I remember Alejandro saying something intelligent and deep (I don’t actually remember the exact words but it was likely something of the sort) and he stopped mid-sentence, looking out the window. Then a piercing sound hit our ears and I heard Alejandro mention the word “sísmico” and then it clicked: we were in the middle of earthquake. At first, it didn’t feel like anything but then I started getting this dizzy feeling (later on, others mentioned the same) and watched the tree outside shake as if there was someone taking a giant jackhammer to it’s trunk. It was after this first shake (which seemed to be very quick, contrary to other experiences) that I started freaking out. Of course, everyone else was calm as can be as I motioned a little desperately for us to move outdoors into the Zocalo, just in case there were any aftershocks. Walking down the stairs my knees were a little shaky and when we reached the square, I started looking for good places to hide in case one of the trees decided to change it’s upward ascent (i.e onto my head). But, of course everything was fine and after 10 minutes we all went back inside.

It was a few more minutes after this that the aftershock hit. I almost didn’t believe it because my limbs were still shaking and I thought I was imagining things but, nevertheless, that seismic shock alarm started it’s annoying drone. Being sufficiently shaken by the last one, I was full on freaking out at this point. As soon as I heard the alarm, I jumped from my seat, ran to the door and started hanging on for dear life and pleading with everyone else in the annoying-girl-who’s-irrationally-freaking-out whine that, in retrospect was probably hilarious to everyone else.

This action was in vain, however, since the aftershock quit after a few more seconds. It was then, I decided, that I hated earthquakes. In fact, my Facebook status later that day stated exactly that. After this incident, I spent the rest of class on the ground, my mind leading me to believe that there were more little earthquakes happening every two minutes or so. Everybody else, of course, happily resumed class, discussing the course and giving an informal review: likes, dislikes, things to change etc, etc. After goodbyes with Alejandro and Judith (our director), we all left with our first big earthquake and another great class under our belts.

The next day, considering the amount of work we were assigned (4 essays in 5 days, what!!??) we all spent the day snuggled up in a corner of Café Brujula, the unofficial (as of now) Spanish class workplace. Mickey and Natalie were rushing through their essays in order to finish before Thursday night when they would return to the beach and hang with the botany crew, many of whom decided to spend a little extra time studying plants over the weekend (I mean, what else would you do?). This left Ashley and I representing the Spanish track in Oaxaca city. Luckily, too, since the next day we came back from another morning session in Brujula to find a bunch of white men with floral shirts and black sunglasses crowding our doorway and street. Walking in

to our room (which is right next to the kitchen) we noticed a bunch of young girls chattering away with Magdalena and a translator as she explained the art of cooking. After lunch and a brief nap, Ashley and I headed back to Brujula for Round Two and asked me if I noticed that Malia Obama was sitting at our kitchen table. Of course, I didn’t believe her but she persisted. Didn’t it seem weird that there were a bunch of middle-aged white men on our block and in our house just hanging out? Or that there was a girl resembling the president’s daughter in our kitchen? Or that she was in Oaxaca with a school group? Well, sure enough, it was her. On our way back in, I sought her out (as inconspicuously as possible) and confirmed it. I waited until the group left, as a courtesy to Obama, before spouting it on Facebook.

First, we had an earthquake, then we had Malia Obama sitting in the same chairs we have breakfast in every morning. It was an exciting week, to be sure. Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

Hasta Pronto,

Sarah and the rest of the Spanish track crew!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Botany Adventures & Exploring Yagul


Hello everyone back home!

The last few days of this Spanish class have flown by, but not without excitement and a lot of fun. On Friday we met at the Xochimilco market where we had our morning discussion of the day before as well as shopped and learned about the types of products they have there; such as their tasty coffee, chocolates, and prepared foods. After the markets, having eaten plenty of food, we visited the Botanical gardens in Santo Domingo. The gardens were incredible, consisting of various plants, trees, shrubs, and corn plants. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the plant species and their histories, and was able to answer all of our eager questions. After the Botanical garden, we made our way to the Llano Park for free drinks and ice cream in observation of a local holiday.

On Sunday, we had a very busy and exciting day. Our first stop, at 9 in the morning, was Yagul, one of the many ancient ruins here in Oaxaca, about 40 minutes outside of the city. There, our two welcoming guides led us through the entire ruin. We experienced first-hand how the ancient architecture and stone work was applied as we walked through the ancient home of those pre-Hispanic habitants. After the tour, we were off to Tlacolula. Here we experienced the biggest street market in Oaxaca. In a maze of shops and stands, we were amazed at the enormous size the market. One could spend the entire day just looking at the hand-made crafts and food. At about 6 in the afternoon, we were home, and just in time to be confronted with one of the heaviest rains many of us have seen before. Although only lasting for an hour, we were soaked. It was a good welcome to the rain seasons, which begins sometime in May.

We all really enjoyed our classes and appreciated our professor’s efforts and his immense knowledge of Oaxacan history. As many of you parents back home already know, Tuesday was also the day of a 7.8 earthquake which shook Oaxaca for just only a minute. It has been a truly incredible and fun two weeks in our first track of Spanish. Through amazing field trips, friendly teachers, and eager students, we participated in a fun class while experiencing the nature of Oaxaca. We are all excited to see what the next class has in store for us, and if Oaxaca will give any more surprises.

Hasta luego,

Mickey, Ashley Moore, Sarah, and Natalie


The ten of us had an amazing, botanical week to different pueblos in Oaxaca in order to explore their diverse plant life. We started off Monday in the classroom, with two separate lectures during the day, in order to get our gears grinding for the week. Tuesday morning was when the real adventure began; we boarded a van to return to Capulalpam for our second time this semester. Capulalpam is a majestic little mountain town about two hours north of Oaxaca City, which is involved with ecotourism. After arriving in Capulalpam, we were greeted by a local guide, who shadowed Michael, our botany professor, as he taught us about the plants of the area, while we scribbled in our lab notebooks. After our hike we were given a short break, before having our daily lecture, which was followed by a beautiful dinner at the town’s ecotourism center. We spent the night bundling under the covers in our cabanas, as the climate in the mountains tends to be cold, especially after the sun has set!

We awoke, somewhat refreshed, on Wednesday morning and had a quick lecture before heading to a small town called La Esperanza Comaltepec, in Ixtlan, Oaxaca. On our way to La Esperanza, we stopped for a brief hike that was in the misty mountains, at 2,993 meters, just below Cerro Pélon (“Bald Mountain”). We had an opportunity to learn and view species of plants that are restricted to high elevations, or mountain environments.

We ate lunch at “ El Mirador” restaurant, where our guide was gracious enough to collect the flowers and plants that were transformed into dishes for us to eat. It was a unique, yet fun lunch, a precursor to our dessert. Our guide brought us whole honeycombs, pollinated from his own bees, and we had had the task of sucking out the honey ourselves. We made one more stop before we called it a day, which was very worthwhile. We were able to see Las Cascadas (waterfalls) in the middle of a forest, which were truly beautiful. We learned about the plant life that surrounds this type of environment. We spent the night in the municipalities’ headquarters, sleeping in the two separate rooms where the town holds all of their important meetings. It was beautiful how gracious the townspeople were to set up beds for all of us, which were covered with their own blankets.
Our third day and night were spent in the warm, humid, tropical ecotourism town of San Mateo Yetla. Conveniently, our cabañas were situated on a peaceful river, which we all took advantage of during our free time. We maximized the usage of the beautiful landscape in front of our cabañas and, as Michael would say, we “botanized” it; picking apart banana and mango trees in the afternoon heat. As always, we ended our night with a lecture and some of us followed up with a scary movie. The next morning we woke up to take a hike, just across the river. We split up into two groups
and boarded a little wooden boat, which was steered with a long wooden stick. Just across the river we encountered multiple types of plants, as we hiked along a man-made trail. But, as is customary with the guides of San Mateo Yetla, we sat quietly as our trail leader led us in a prayer in order to ensure our safety in the forest. Following the hike in the forest, we had some free time to swim in the river. We had managed to find a picturesque swimming spot. With a little encouragement from the group, nearly all of us took a jump or two into the water. We ended our trip with one last lunch in San Mateo Yetla, and then proceeded to board the van for our four and a half hour journey back to the city. All in all it was an exhausting, yet overwhelmingly enjoyable week. Looking into the horizon, we have all become excited for our next excursion that is rapidly approaching on Tuesday. ¡Vamos a la playa!

Much love to all of our family and friends,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Plants in Oaxaca and more Spanish!


So what seemed like a nice break from classes finally came to end and the food systems and botany students started taking classes with botanical enthusiast and genus, Michael Sundue. We (the food systems students) and the botany students that will be continuing with Michael for the next two weeks were excited to be able to take this Botany of Oaxaca class together for the week.

Each day we had lecture in the morning and a lab in the afternoon where we were able to learn and experience Oaxaca’s diverse plant life in the city. We started Monday with a general lecture on plant biology and throughout the week we learned about fruits, seeds, seed dispersal, secondary growth and much more while getting more acquainted with the plants of Oaxaca, particularly those of the city. Monday’s botany lab was held in the Llano park where we learned many names of city trees and plants. On Tuesday, we went for a little adventure to the Botanical Garden which is situated in the center of the Santo Domingo church in downtown Oaxaca. All of the plants in the garden are native to Oaxaca but came from all over Mexico. We walked through the garden with our insightful guide, Diego who informed us that the famous Agave plant’s flower has merely, “a month to live and a month to die”. This was brought up while looking at an Agave that made us feel as if we had been transported into a Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie.

We saw many other plants that wowed us like the Agave such as the Pseudobombax in the Bombacaceae family that has unreal looking flowers.

The week seemed like it kept getting better because on Wednesday we went to the large indoor market called Abastos in order to get oriented with edible plants. We ventured through the market in groups and went on a miniature scavenger hunt where many students were wowed by the Mango-Piña and Guayabana fruits that tasted even better than they looked. In the afternoon, we reconvened to dissect our findings and, of course, munched on our delicious dissections. Thursday’s lab led us to the textile museum in the city to find different things composed of certain plants of which Michael had written down for us. The museum was filled with ancient textiles from all over the world. Students that didn’t gather all of the information needed from the textile museum were led to another indoor market, 20 de Noviembre where they could finish their fibers and dyes scavenger hunt. Finally, on Friday we were excited to climb part of the large mountain in Oaxaca called San Felipe de Agua. However, to our dismay, the men who appeared to be rangers barred us from entering because we weren’t members of the community and they had decided to close the mountain to outsiders a few years back. So, we decided to “botanize” (thank you, Michael) the road leading to the gate.

All in all it was a fabulous week with Michael. He filled our heads with so much plant knowledge and exciting facts about the wonders of nature. Food systems students are looking forward to starting our two week cooking craze with Cynthia Belliveau and Botany students are looking forward to their field trip into the mountains.



Hola Friends and Family!
After we got back from our indigenous village stays the four of us started our final stretch of the program: the spanish track. Because of teacher strikes at the main campus of the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO), we have been taking our Oaxaca Culture, Civilization and Development class in an affiliate building in the main square called the Zócalo. It’s a beautiful space with tons of natural light and exposed stone; it was once a monastery.

Last Thursday we went to the Regional Museum of Santo Domingo where we saw everything from tomb artifacts of indigenous royalty to present day paper maché sculptures that are brought out for the holidays. This week we will be going to the market in Tlacolula (Natalie’s favorite market in Oaxaca!), the Botanical Gardens, and the Yagul Archaeological Ruins.

The class would be nothing without Alejandro, our quirky and passionate professor who is constantly challenging our opinions. We have gotten into a great routine, and truly feel like students now that we’re on a first name basis with the doorman. We continue to deepen our relationships with one another, and those in our community whether with our homestay parents or our adoptive street dogs.

The last four weeks of the program will fly by, but with bucket lists and curious friends, we will be sure to continue exploring what Oaxaca has to offer in our home away from home.
Sending our love and happy thoughts to all of you and the UVM community. Avi, you’re always in our thoughts and hearts.

Con Cariño,
Natalie, Ashley Moore, Mickey, y Sarah

Monday, March 5, 2012

Village Stay at Vida Nueva

Zac xtili! ('buenos dias' en Zapoteco) We are feeling a little strange adjusting to life in Oaxaca city since spending our past week in the small weaving community of Teotitlan. We still find ourselves wanting to shake hands and say hello as we pass people on the streets. When we first arrived to Teotitlan we were graciously welcomed into the Vida Nueva Women's Weaving Cooperative by our moms: Pastora, Petrona, Senaida, Rufina, Teresa, Isabel, Maria, and Sofia. They all made us feel like part of the family and community the minute we got there. We had a brief talk about how Sofia started the cooperative to provide new opportunities through weaving for the women of Teotitlan, and how these progressive ladies were able to learn
and be open about the traditionally taboo subjects like domestic violence, sexuality, and alcoholism. We also got to hear about their annual service projects like planting trees, painting buckets with positive messages to encourage trash separation, and delivering baskets of food to mothers on Mother's Day.

Each mother took in one (or two!) of us eager children for the week and allowed us to participate in daily activities with them. Some of our activities included dehusking and degraining corn, doing dishes, cooking meals, planting seeds, making tortillas and shopping for food at the market. Because each of us had a different family and we didn't have many pre-planned activities, our schedules varied. Every morning at the market we would see other UVM gueros shuffling along behind their tiny mothers, and exchange a brief 'zac xtili!', handshake, and smile before buying the rest of our food for the day. You could be sure to spot Danielle with her mother and little sister (Milca) selling their fresh tortillas that they had made earlier that morning. You could also always spot Stefan and Joe towering above all the petite older Mexican women. If one of us was unfortunately separated from our mother in the market, it was nearly impossible to relocate her among the other Zapotec women wearing identical dresses, mandiles (aprons) and rebosos (scarves) that covered their baskets. Other activities included a talk about traditional healing and another about the weaving process using natural dyes.

We ended our week with a really great talk with Charlie (aka Carlos) about his migration story. We drove to his one room brick house that he is building by hand and sat on his concrete floor while listening to the twenty-eight year old man recount his life story to a bunch of us white kids. While he looked so young, he had so many experiences and hardships that he was willing to share with us. He first went to the United States at the ripe old age of three because his mother fled from his abusive father. He grew up in California amongst gangs and violence, and he found himself in a bit of trouble. He was in a getaway car during someone else's robbery, so while the trial was pending, he spent more than six months in jail. However, when released from jail, Charlie was deported and therefore, he was unable to report himself to the parole officer. He is now unable to return to the States for twenty years, where he had to leave behind his two daughters. Despite all that he has gone through, his face lit up when we started talking about basketball. Even though his is so young, he has had a lot of time to reflect on his life and change into an honest person that the community of Teotitlan can depend on and trust. He is currently working on building a home for his daughters on the land that he inherited from his uncle. It was quite an experience listening to his story and hearing about his impressions of our country. Although we didn't have many traditional classes throughout the week, we certainly learned a lot about Teotitlan, family life and Vida Nueva by living in home stays and being a part of the community.

Brought to you by Stefan, Joe, Sophie, Sam, Shana, Ashley Hill, Marisa, and Danielle!