Hello from Cuernavaca – My last day of school and a visit to the Cuernavaca Spring Fair

This morning I headed off on the Ruta no. 2 to the Túnel area of town and started my last day at the Cetlalic Language School. We had a very interesting day, during the first part of the day we discussed the water shortage in Cuernavaca and that the city is going through extreme dryness right now. Our teacher only receives water twice a week right now for one hour each. And even then the water only comes out of the tap in a trickle. These types of things generally happen in the less affluent neighbourhoods of town. At the same time, Cuernavaca is also known as one of the cities in Mexico with the most swimming pools, so some people have better access to water than others.

One of my co-students mentioned that in Mexico City there is an extreme water shortage and the water is pumped up from surrounding communities into the city. In one of the communities, a former agricultural community, much of the water is pumped away to Mexico, so they are left with the residual water after the filtration process, resulting in a lower quantity but more contaminated water supply.

Beaming with pride after receivng my certificate of completion from Cetlalic

After a bit more torture with the Spanish subjunctive we finished our morning classes and for me this was the last day of school. Jorge Torres, the director of Cetlalic, called his team together and presented a certificate of completion to me, which I very much appreciated. Following the ceremony, my costudents and my teacher went on an exploration of the Museo Cuahnavac while I spent some more time with Jorge to learn more about the school.

Jorge explained that he comes from a working class background and that his father was very active in the union movement in the US owned textile company he worked in. His father and some of the other union organizers were dismissed and staged a 5-month long sit-in in front of the factory, and of course they received no salaries. So Jorge had to start to work at a young age, in construction. He also studied teaching Spanish as a Second Language and started to develop his political and activist interests (particularly his solidarity for El Salvador, etc.)

Jorge has been teaching Spanish since he his early twenties. At two other prior schools he was confronted with some students who didn’t really want to learn Spanish. They were more concerned with the latest romantic conquests they had made. A frustrating situation for Jorge who started to look around for other opportunity.

A group called the Committee for Solidarity for El Salvador started the Cetlalic language school and he began his work there as the school’s director. His language school markets itself primarily to activists and to politically interested people. At the beginning running the school was difficult since no one really had any idea about marketing. Cetlalic uses the Paulo Freire method of teaching Spanish, which includes learning the language in a social and political context.

It was interesting to find out more about Jorge’s personal background and what made him come up with such a unique concept for a language school I thanked him and handed him a little souvenir from Toronto and we said goodbye. As always, I took the bus downtown and sat down for lunch in a restaurant called Jardín de Cuernavaca where I had a simple chicken with French fries and salad and an asparagus soup. I have to admit this wasn’t the tastiest meal that I’ve had in Mexico.

Jorge, 2nd from the right

Appropriately strengthened I trotted off to an Internet café to check my messages and started to snoop around on the market area in front of the Palacio de Cortés since I wanted to buy some authentic Mexican CDs. I finally found 3 different types of music, one is called banda which somehow reminds me a little bit of polka, with its fast rhythms and brass instruments. A nice version of oompah music. Banda is a very popular style of music in Mexico right now and you hear it everywhere.

My good friend Roxana from the city’s tourism department picked me up at 5:15 to go to the Cuernavaca Spring Fair. We were to join a lady by the name of Maria José and her TV crew who were doing a special on the spring fair. Maria José hosts a weekly TV show called “Tacos y Caviar” and is a local celebrity.

Clowns at the Cuernavaca Spring Fair

The Cuernavaca Spring Fair is an annual event and last year it attracted 350,000 visitors. It includes various stands with different types of merchandise, a food court and various vendors throughout the fairgrounds, a midway with a large variety of rides for children, and various exhibitions. This year for example there was a special exhibition on Bolivian arts and crafts, there was also a stand illustrating the operation of dry toilets and the overall theme for the fair this year was cleanliness, ecology and garbage separation.

I had an opportunity to speak with the Head of Tourism and Economic Development of Cuernavaca, Mr. Rafael Jiménez Salazar, who indicated that the city is working on improving its operations to become a cleaner, more environmentally conscious city and that to this effect the city has put in place various councils to achieve a number of goals to making Cuernavaca a better place to live. Especially since the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City the city has experienced a tremendous surge in population and the administration is working hard on trying to deal with the immense population growh. Ecological issues are also being paid more attention to.

The Voladores de Papantla, just before they launch themselves on their ropes

Among the group of special performers was a group of 6 men called the Voladores de Papantla. This is a folkloric group of Totonac Indians from the State of Veracruz who are dressed up in colourful traditional costumes. They climb up a pole that can be up to 150 feet long, then they wind a series of ropes around the pole. Following this they tie their ankles to the rope and jump off. Then the performers “fly” around the pole as the rope unwinds. One of the perfomers playes a haunting melody on a drum and a flute and the musician is the last one to come down from the pole, gliding down the rope from the top. One of the men stays on the ground to collect tips. This is a phenomenal spectacle and it is supposed to be an ancient ritual representing the cycle of life that was first performed to implore the rain gods.

Some of the beautiful handicrafts on sale at the Cuernavaca Spring Fair

I had a brief chat with the voladores, or to be more accurate, with one of the voladores, since the other five men were either too shy or not interested in talking with me. The young man I talked to was very friendly and told me that they had travelled even to Michigan and Maine to perform their unique ritual.

I also had a chance to check out the merchant’s tent where a great variety of goods and services were being promoted. I ended up purchasing a little white handbag that was manufactured by the women’s artists collective from the Caminamos Juntos organization.

Then, Maria José, Roxana and I sat down to play a “Lotería” where every person had a unique picture card and there were about 30 or 40 unique photos that were being called out and you used a beer cap to indicate that you were able to match that picture. Whoever’s card was full of beercaps would win a nice little prize.

Playing La Lotería at the Cuernavaca Spring Fair (Maria José, Roxana & I)

Roxana and I headed out around 9 pm, and we were both pretty tired after a long day. We stayed up and chatted for many hours afterwards, and it was great to have such a nice local connection in Cuernavaca.

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