Obviously the main focus of my time here in Mexico is school and learning Spanish, however I have made it my goal to also soak up as much culture as possible by traveling to different areas of Mexico whenever I can.  In the middle of March we had a three-day weekend to celebrate the birthday of Benito Juarez (a past president and progressive reformer) so a few of us made plans to visit the nearby towns of Chignahuapan and Zacatlán.  The drive was only two hours by bus, and the area is known for its wine making, hot springs, spas, and waterfalls which sounded like a perfect relaxing escape for us.  Our first day was spent attempting to take a tour of what we thought would be wineries, I mean, they make wine so there have to be wineries right? Wrong.  We kept asking where we could take tours and getting very strange looks until we came upon one store where the woman waved us into the back and gave us a (clearly unprepared) “tour” of where they manufacture their wine which very closely resembles a moonshine distillery.  After this experience we gladly accepted all of their free samples and even purchased some wine in some of the more eccentric flavors like apple and blueberry.  While in town we also hiked down miles of stairs to get an up close view of one of the many “cascadas” or waterfalls.  The view was absolutely gorgeous and the spray from the water was refreshing after such a hike.  Without even knowing it, we also happened to be visiting during the carnaval (a large celebration with music, food, dancing and parades that almost every Latin American town has.)  We got to watch the dancers and the parade and eat all of the delicious street food from the vendors lined up all the way around the center square.  I tried many different types including churros, and fried plantains, but I don’t think I will ever love any street food more than the infamous street corn that I have grown so accustomed to.  Boiled corn mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice, cheese, and chili powder may sound awful but you must try it before you decide street corn is not for you.  I find it so delicious I think I might just hire a vendor to come back to America with me!

With all of the sight seeing and wonderful experiences we didn’t think that the trip could possibly get much better, however on Sunday night the other two girls and I signed up for a “temazcal” at one of the local spas.  We didn’t really understand the concept going into it, we just thought that it was some sort of spa package that included a facial massage and herbal teas.  What we quickly found out upon arrival was that we had agreed to an ancient cleansing ritual done in the traditional sweat lodges of the Mayan and Aztec culture.  We proceeded to spend almost two hours in a very hot, very steamy brick igloo heated by an outside fire where we went through the four levels of chants and prayers to the ancient Mesoamerican gods and goddesses.  While one of the most difficult and physically exhausting things I have ever done it was also one of the most cleansing and spiritually empowering.  As most of you know, I do not follow one organized religion or attend church every Sunday, but I do have a strong sense of spirituality learned from my mother and her beliefs in parts of many different religions.  Because of this background I found it very easy to completely immerse myself in the experience and fully put my soul into the prayers and the meaning behind the rituals.  After the almost three-hour process came to a close, I felt more relaxed and at ease than I believe I ever have before.  As we rode back to the town our hotel was in I found myself feeling honored to be a part of something so ancient and so meaningful to the indigenous people of this country.  It was an experience that will be with me forever, and a feeling I don’t think I will forget any time soon.