Six weeks in Puebla, Mexico, a once unknown fruit unpeeled

Columnist

Some might envision Mexico as a country, just like any other, with people who share a culture, eat exotic foods, go to school or work and live a life similar to their own. 

For others, Mexico might as well be on Mars. They fear its unknown borders as they sit in front of the TV each night, being fed negative thoughts about this place located far away with people who talk in a different language.

When I see Mexico, I picture a mango. When I entered Mexico City I found it mysterious, almost undesirable, for its skin is rough and unforgiving. Then, I let it ripen and sit in my heart. When I was ready I peeled its misjudged coverings. I opened it to find the most beautiful, bright colors and I fell in love with its sweet, juicy flavor. 

This is my Mexico. Fifteen students spent six weeks in June and July together building friendships, studying a beautiful language, and week by week peeled off another layer of this country and fell deeper and deeper into its beauty. By the time I left Mexico with my suitcase heavy with gifts and new recipes, I had discovered and tasted what so many times is left hidden and untouched, which is the heart of Mexico—Puebla. 

For the last 50 years students from Wichita State have traveled to Puebla, a city with more than 2 million people.  Located in the southern part of Mexico’s mountainous region, the climate is always fresh and cool, and the food seemed to turn ripe as soon as I touched it. 

When I arrived at Hotel Colonial, located in downtown Puebla, we were greeted with margaritas (which now I think should be mandatory for every hotel). As I climbed to the roof, the whole city unfolded before me. I saw the volcano, el Popocatepetl, in the distance, smoking his large pipe and a range of mountains keeping him company. Everything felt so tranquil.

The streets were filled with life, people rioting against the education system or the new president, others cancelled out the angry yells by playing saxophones, flutes, harmonicas or accordions. Each morning I would listen to Mexico, while sipping on chamomile tea and overlooking the buildings that outlined the sunrise. 

Once I finished my advanced grammar and composition class, I was paired up with a Poblano, a resident of Puebla. It seems unimaginable that I got credit for exploring a new country, sitting in cafes, visiting grandiose cathedrals covered in gold, visiting museums, eating delicious cactus (yes, cactus), getting covered in juice while eating a mango on a fork and experiencing authentic churros with chocolate sauce. 

I didn’t touch a kitchen for six weeks, (Much longer and I would have made myself believe I was a long, lost descendant of Queen Elizabeth.) The only food that I had to avoid was papaya and dark green chili sauce, and I learned that rather quickly. 

Besides the occasional stomachaches, I found it most difficult to leave the places on the weekends I had just met: Oaxaca, Mexico City, Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, Tula, Cholula, Teotihuacán, Cacaxtla and Tlaxcala. Every city had ancient ruins, pyramids and a story that lived within its walls. Every pyramid I climbed was constructed by people who had fewer resources than I have, yet with a passion and a determination so rare to find in a person today. 

This explains the soul of the people in Mexico, people so full of passion and love. Their hearts are always at ease, but once they have a mission they don’t let anything get in their way. I admire that. 

I admire how hard they work, but how they never let their work enslave or control them. 

Overall, the most memorable stop for me would have to be La Casa Azul, the house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; two Mexican artists that might as well have been war heroes, because their faces are found on currency and their artwork covers Mexico’s streets and buildings.  

Honestly it is the simple things about Mexico that I will never forget.  I will never forget the walks with my roommate to our bus stop, with a piece of sweet bread we bought for a sixth of a penny. If I had died in Mexico, it would have been in a bus. We paid fifty cents twice a day to get thrown around and spit out at the end of our trip like an undigested meal.

The faces will never leave me, and the beautiful glass, handcrafted clothes and pottery so unique I could see the fingerprint of the person who made it through the fired-on glaze. 

I guess all I have left to say is thank you, Mexico. Thank you for the nights full of salsa music and dancing, for the street names that did not exist, and the thunderstorm that paused life every day at six. Thank you for the bad Internet so I could ignore my emails and the constant quizzical looks to help remind me I am, for once in my life, a minority.