Adventures with Wildlife
This week, fifth grade has been learning about endangered species, so I decided to make a trip to the El Cimatario National Park in Querétaro. The park is not accessible by bus and is not located on a walkable road, so I had to take a taxi. It was a little expensive at 7 USD, but the driver was nice enough to offer to come back and pick me up in 3 hours after my visit. 🙂
This park has made strong efforts in preserving local wildlife and educating the public about the importance of habitat preservation. Here is a short video of my trip to see the cute critters.
Wildlife at the park includes caracara birds, coati, great horned owls, white-tailed deer, falcon and invasive red-eared slider turtles.The park offers a winding three-mile trail up the hill of Cimatario, all the way to a lookout, which offers breathtaking views of the city.
Of course, not only did I have to conquer this mountain, I had to conquer one of my fears: SNAKES.
As I approached mile three and I was nearing the lookout, I came across this frightening sight.I wish I was kidding, but as I was gleefully strolling along, a 4-foot-long cascabel came darting across my path. No worries, he wasn’t after me. He was most likely just slithering along, but his impressive size and markings was enough to send chills down my spine. Luckily, I was smart to stick to the very wide, paved walkway and avoid all narrow dirt paths. I had plenty of room on both sides to avoid unwelcome animal encounters.
Anyway, on a more humorous note, the cab driver I met there actually drove by me yesterday on my walk home. He pulled over to say hello and ask how I was doing. That shows you that even in a city of 2 million people, Querétaro is still a small town at heart and the people of Mexico are also very friendly. 🙂
Welcoming the Spirits
Day of the Dead is a very traditional Mexican holiday that dates back to pre-Columbian times. During this celebration from October 31st to November 2nd, it is believed that the spirits of our loved ones return from the grave.
In preparation for this celebration, families create altars in order to provide the proper atmosphere to encourage these souls to visit. The 6th graders prepared an altar for Nelson Mandela this week as a way to showcase symbolic offerings and honor Mandela’s purpose-driven life.Essential components of the altar include smoke, like incense or candles, which help guide the dead back from their graves. Salt and water are essential to help cleanse their thirst after a long journey and purify their soul. You can see the outline of the salt lining a path to the altar. Pictures of the deceased along with prized possessions and favorite foods help to distinguish the altar. Proper adornments include bread of the dead, candy skulls, and marigolds.
The candy skulls can be made of either sugar, amaranth or chocolate. Amaranth is a grain that is mixed with brown sugar or piloncillo to form this day of the dead treat. The chocolate skulls were not at the school altar, but I did spot a few at the market stands in town.Other sweet treats include puchas of piloncillo, which are molasses cookies that are a traditional treat of Toluca, Mexico. This pucha is shaped into a skull and topped with frosting and sprinkles. 🙂Pan de Muerto is another sweet treat during Day of the Dead. It is a soft and spongy bread made with cinnamon and orange zest. The top of the bun is shaped into small bones to represent the deceased and the bones are formed into a circle to represent the circle of life. Once baked, this semi-sweet dough is sprinkled with sugar. Yum! 🙂At school this morning, I awaited a few spirits as well: my students. 😛
Many of them were dressed like La Catrina, who is known as the dame of death in Mexico. She is typically dressed like a wealthy upper-class woman, which is symbolizes the neutralizing effect of death. Regardless of status, everyone faces the same fate and becomes equal in the end.In order to learn more about this mysterious fascination with death, I headed over to the Centro Cultural Atrium of Querétaro.This museum showcased an exposition of skull artwork, which was representative of famous social figures in Mexican society. The artwork began as hand-carved neolite rubber that had been filled with black paint and stamped on craft paper. Very unique!Now with another week in the books and a slight sugar coma, I await the weekend. There is a great getaway planned for All Hallows Eve. Have a happy and safe Halloween. Stay tuned. 🙂