I got on the bus in Oaxaca at the very modern bus station. The Bus was full as everyone was traveling for the Holidays. I was tired from all the walking and excursions of the previous day. I fell asleep after about a ½ hour, and dozed off then looked out the window all the way to Mexico D.F. After arriving I got a hostel room right near the Zocólo, strolled around the center a little and crashed. The next morning I had breakfast at the hostel walk around a bit and then caught a bus to Cuernavaca, then took a taxi to the family I was staying with. When I take language courses, they often offer a “live with a family” package, and I really enjoy the contact and conversations with the family.
The woman who was accepting students, was separated from her husband, and rented rooms to make some extra money. Although the contact was never like it was in other places such as Guatemala or Cusco, she was nice and the room was super. I had a private bathroom, pure luxury. There was an American school teacher staying at the house also. She had stayed there several times before and had a good relationship with the landlady. She was just taking a type of advanced refresher course, and her Spanish was very good. We went to town for dinner together, and I think I was a bad companion, because I was starting to feel very bad.
I slept with a fever and extreme bone pain the whole night. It was a real effort to go to school, register, and take the first days classes. I was registered to take special classes, just to prepare me for the exams. It was at the Universidad International Cuernavaca. The university was much larger than it seemed as they had several campuses, and the language department was on only a small campus. The classes and instruction were very professional. Well worth the money. I was there for 3 weeks the last 2 days reserved for the DELE exams for B2 (21st & 22nd) . The first week was horrible, because I was in extreme pain, and did not sleep well. Towards Friday, things started to improve rapidly (Thank God!). In the morning I had classes with 3 other students, also there for their exams. And, in the afternoon regular classes with a larger group of students just taking intensive Spanish lessons. I visited a Dr. at the University, she thought it might be the flu, but when I think about the symptoms and pain, I am pretty sure that I caught Dengue Fever in Palenque.
A lot of my friends say I have a talent for languages. I do not believe so. Learning a foreign language is work, if you are over 12 years old and taking classes to learn it. It requires study and discipline. So often I have seen people who were disappointed if they could not carry on a conversation after just a semester of study. Most of the time they admitted that they didn’t study much on their own. I also met a lot of people who say they can speak a foreign language, but in reality only know a few words. It is so much different to travel when you can converse in normal conversations. And my new way of defining fluent, is when you can watch television or films, understand everything, and enjoy it. My Spanish is now fluent, not just B2. The highest level you can achieve in any language by European standards is C2. My wife recently told me my level was now Z2. I know it is not as good as my German, but that really made me happy.
The classes were intensive with a lot of homework, which I like. So during the week I did not have a lot of free time. But I manage to get out for an hour or so a day (after I started feeling better), and found Cuernavaca to be a very nice town. A lot of rich people have residences there. Big residences! There are a lot of nice buildings, murals, and things to see. The barbacoa on the street is wow, great! Almost all the students where much younger than I. I made friends with a Swiss gynecologist (Stephanie) who participated in the afternoon classes, she was really nice, and we started taking excursions together. So on the weekends, we would either participate in the excursions organized by the University, or go out on our own. She had friends who had a residence in Cuernavaca, just down the street from my home, and let her stay there. I visited her there once, and let me tell you, she was not living on the lower end of the totem pole. This gave me some insight as to how some of these residences look behind their high walls.
Anyway on Friday I finally felt halfway good enough to get out and walked to the waterfalls and explored around a little. That night I caught a French movie (in French) at the cinema.
Cuernavaca Xochicalco ruins (8.Nov.).
On Saturday, Stephanie and I caught a local bus to the Xochicalco ruins. They are located about 40 kilometers from Cuernavaca, near the town of Miacatlán. You hop off the bus and must walk a little to the ruins. The ruins/park is well kept and very interesting. It took about 40 minutes to get there Xochicalo is a pre-columbian culture first occupied around 200 BC. It reached its height between 700 and 900 AD. The name means “the house of flowers” in Nahautl, the language indigenes of the area. It is believed that it might have had some influence on the fall of Teotihuacan the major ruins site northeast of Mexico D.F. The reliefs are very interesting and still very visible.
The observatory is very interesting, and the little museum full of nice artifacts. It was a nice excursion, and we returned in the early afternoon.
Teotihuacan (9 Nov.)
On Sunday we had both booked an excursion to the famous site of Teotihuacan, 48 Kilometers to the northeast of Mexico D.F. We left early in the morning, and the bus stopped at a small tequila distillery on the way to give everyone the chance to snack. The little tour was interesting, and you could walk around and look at everything.
Teotihuacan is huge, and one of my favorite sites in Mexico. There is a lot of mystery about the culture that inhabited it, etc. to this day. The pyramids are huge, and it takes some time to get to the top for a fantastic view. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about AD 250. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD. A great tour, and well worth the time.
Monday back to school and the old Grind, The morning classes were nice because we were only 4 students, and a couple of times we would take an excursion into the city. Otherwise it was learn, learn, earn. The teachers did not laugh the least if you “forgot” to do your homework.
Parque Nacional Grutas de Cacahuamilpa (14. Nov.)
On Friday afternoon I took a short trip with the school to some caverns about an hour away from Cuernavaca. The caves were OK, but a long drive after a long week at school. And, tomorrow, Stephanie and I book the school tour to Taxco, the silver city.
On Saturday we took a trip with the school to Taxco. I must say they really offer a lot of excursions, and they are well organized. Taxco is a pretty town, you can see that the town has money. There are silver mines and lots and lots of jewelry stores. The church is also very nice and very flashy. For me it was a nice excursion, just to look at the houses and talk to the vendors. Because there were stores and vendors everywhere. But, I would not call it the most interesting city in Mexico. The girls loved it.
We got back late afternoon, and I went to get some dinner and the to bed.
Cuernavaca (16 Nov.)
Next Saturday is my last day, and I am sure the week will be busy, with me studying for my exams. So on Sunday I walked around the city to see some things I had not seen before ran out of time. I went to the cathedral, to the main government building where there are some fantastic murals by Diego Rivera, and again to the Salto de San Antón ravine to see the waterfall again.
Later I visited a small exhibition over Emilo Zapato. Lots of old photos, etc. really nice. I stopped by the Robert Brady house on my way to the Borda House & Garden. I really did not know what to expect.
Robert Brady was an American artist who purchase the house in the city and lived there for several years until his death in 1986. The house has been kept as it was then. Originally it was part of a monastery. Today it is a museum with lots of wonderful art from all over the world. But also it is an example of how houses used to be. I really, really enjoyed it. The bath tubs, the kitchen, and on and on. But the original self portrait of Frida Kahlo with a monkey was a real highlight.
Later I went to the Borda House & Garden, to see what was being exhibited. The house had an exhibition with representations of Catrina made for the “dia del los muertos”. While strolling around the park I notice a concert being prepared for the public at one of the lake/ponds. A music school later played classical music. It was quite good, but I decided to return home and finish my homework. The music “ain’t what I call rock and roll”.
On the way home I stopped into a restaurant in the loby of a very small hotel. It was another big surprise. The food was typical to the area, and delicious. And as dinner rolled along a group of traditional dancers put on a very interesting show.
The last week in Cuernavaca (17. Nov).
Monday things really started to intensify. I think the hardest thing to learn were all the idioms (expressions that have a hidden meaning). One part of the test was about idioms from all over the Spanish speaking world. There are literally thousands of them. I found this a little ridiculous, because there was no way anyone knows them all. But, if you flunk one part of the test, you flunk the whole test.
Tuesday our teacher took us for an excursion and we ate barbacoa and pastry at 2 of his favorite places. I have to stop because I am getting hungry. The rest of the week we studied and studied and studied. On Friday the first half of the examinations were given. They were very formal, very strict, and very hard. After the first day, I thought it was a breeze, and that I should have signed up for the advanced tests. Saturday morning the second portion was given. I started out with the audio interpretation. Basically you listen to interviews, or reports from anywhere in the world, and are then asked questions about the contents. First of all we were given a desk in a large room that had a bad echo. Then the examiner, started playing the tapes from a huge getto blaster. The first tape was an interview by an Argentinean reporter. I don’t know if you know, but the Argentine accent/dialect is horrible. The first thing I thought was oh my God, shi……….. Then the test continued on with the idiom portion, and finished with the grammatical test.
It took 3 months for me to get the results, and I was sure I had flunked several parts. But, in the end, I passed everything with flying colors, except the idioms which I failed by 1 point. What a disappointment. I had never heard of any of the sayings.
All in all it was as fantastic experience, and I would recommend the university to anyone who is serious about learning Spanish.
Next, back to D.F. and off to the south again…..