By Kelsey Akee
When I was first thinking about traveling to Mexico, my mother and I were searching all-inclusive resorts in Cancun. I picked out several within our price range; they all included a meal plan, staged shows, and a standard beverage package. The beach looked beautiful, and there was actually a chance I would never interact with a person who was not a tourist or employee. Wait. Is that what I really was thinking of when I decided I wanted to travel to Mexico?
Although the thought of the beach and being herded like cattle was at the same time enticing and mind-numbing, I knew that this was not the experience that I wanted. Not only did I desire to improve my Spanish skills, I wanted a place that would give me a chance to learn about myself. I needed a more authentic cultural experience, and after a conversation with classmate who planned to study in Guanajuato over the summer, I decided to buy a flight.
Being in Guanajuato is like being on the side of the road during a parade, in a good way. Someone is always playing music, wearing elegant clothes, carrying fresh, colorful flowers, or dancing. You can wander the streets, eating a fresh gordita or nieve, and admire the beautiful architecture at every corner. But the best thing about Guanajuato is that it is the perfect place for person who loves company AND likes to be alone. As an introvert who likes to eat meals with others, Guanajuato and Escuela Falcon were exactly what I needed. There are opportunities to socialize, but at your own discretion. It is easy to make friends so you do not have to travel to cities or museums alone, however if you want to spend every day sitting at a cafe or park bench writing your memoirs, you can find solitude and peace.
I have never traveled to another country alone before visiting Guanajuato. I have sometimes been mystified, intrigued, and hungry, but I have never felt alone. I have been to see a German film with Spanish subtitles that had Spanish actors. I drank Mezcal in a Reggae bar that showed naked rock videos in the background; a nice-looking young woman offered me edibles. I ate so many courses and sweets at a ranchero party celebrating a baptism that I was glad we were at a high elevation, so I could roll downhill after it was over and land somewhere near the Plaza de Paz.
After all this eating and drinking, I usually find myself grateful that Lucy’s house is located muy, muy arriba, on the side of a small mountain. If the calories burned and shapely calves are not enough of a gift, sometimes I climb to the third floor to see what must be one of the best views in the city. In the mornings, you can hear music echoing from other parts of the city (really at any part of the day you can hear music, but in the morning it breaks the cool silence). The washing machine is on the third floor outside, which is convenient because the lines to dry are there as well, and it gives me one more excuse weekly to enjoy the view.
Staying with a Mexican family is undoubtedly the way to go if you would like to practice speaking Spanish and learn more about the culture. I decided to stay with «Tía Lucy,” an older, Mexican woman whose husband was a well-known painter in Guanajuato. I have spent many hours at her kitchen table, listening and speaking, but always learning. The first thing she asks me when I come in the door: «¿Ya comiste?» Just like my grandmother, she worries I will starve to death if she does not feed me.Nothing says love like wanting to cook for someone.
As much as I like drinking Chamomile tea and chatting with Lucy, every morning I looked forward to walking to Escuela Falcon. Every so often in our lives, we are privileged enough to be somewhere we have a sense of family. At Escuela Falcon, every single teacher and member of the staff has a warm and welcoming spirit. By the second day, I felt like I was among old friends, and by the end of the week, I had been adopted! I will not elaborate more on this feeling because I will undoubtedly include some serious clichés, but the Escuela Falcon was the perfect place to learn more Spanish and be a part of a great group of human beings.
Spending time in Guanajuato reminds me of what is most important about traveling: immersion into a different way of life. Often in the U.S., I would have every minute of my day scheduled from seven in the morning to eight in the evening. Although I am sure some do live this way in Guanajuato, my experience is that it is not the norm. Having drinks can turn into dinner with friends, and dinner is a relaxed event, without a stopwatch nearby. Since we are on the subject of cervezas, I recommend a Michelada with Tecate Light, but really a Michelada with any type of beer will do.
Tomorrow, I am leaving Guanajuato. The city has a freshness that I will miss: the smell of newly baked bread drifting from small bakeries, fragrant, vibrant flowers being sold on the corners of plazas, women slapping gorditas into shape before cooking them in the streets. It is the middle of July and the mornings are still cool and crisp. Guanajuato attracts students of all ages and walks of life. Why is this? There is a curiosity, a mystery that lives here in the legends of the city and tight callejons. You feel the need to explore, to try. Often when reading in a café or walking through a plaza, I think of Don Quixote, the central figure of famous Cervantino festival here in Guanajuato.
“El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.”
“He that reads much y walks much, goes far and knows much.”
By Kelsey Akee
We were very fortunate to work with Kelsey as our intern this past Summer in Escuela Falcon. Kelsey is from Arkansas in the United States and enjoys dancing, traveling, taking pictures of and exploring colorful Guanajuato, and we also found, is an incredible babysitter. We already miss her a ton and hope that the magical effect of Guanajuato of pulling its former visitors back to the city someday somehow will soon take effect on her. When it does, we will be waiting with open arms!