Waite students sojourn to México
By Josh Flores
Special to La Prensa, part 1 of 2 parts
It has not been since 1992, that students have traveled to another country as part of their foreign language studies at Morrison R. Waite High School, located on the east side of the Maumee River in Toledo.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of ending that drought along with three of my students by traveling to México City and the Yucatán Peninsula for a week. Why such a long time without student travels at Waite?
Two reasons, first a teacher has to initiate such an excursion. Since 9/11, restrictions have been placed upon student travel and often teachers have chosen not to risk traveling out of the country with students. The other issue is money; it is no secret that times are tough and a $2,000 price tag per student is not easy for parents to come up with.
Thanks to the support of some local businesses and individual donors this dream became a reality. It is critical that I express gratitude to all those who contributed to our cause: Associated General Contractors, Michael’s Café & Bakery, All-American Screen-Printing, Wal-Mart, Mr. Gary Johnson, 2000 Waite High School alumna Monica Pérez, and of course La Prensa. As a result of the generosity from these companies and individuals, an experience of a lifetime was had by all of those who took the trip, including myself.
The trip began in the early morning hours of Friday, February 17, 2006. We assembled in the Waite High School parking lot at around 5:45 a.m. and proceeded to caravan to Detroit Metro Airport. This was the first time that my students—Justin Spann, Samantha York, and Nicole York—had ever flown. They were a bit nervous initially but quickly became as comfortable as a seasoned traveler like myself.
The views as we approached México City were incredible as Samantha York stated: “When we were flying into México City it was amazing, like the city never ended and it was like nothing I had seen before.”
Once we landed and deplaned, we had no problems passing through immigration and customs. After doing so, we were greeted by our tour director Raul Reynoso. Upon exiting customs, we quickly joined up with another group of students from up state New York. We were then whisked off to our hotel, Fiesta Inn Centro Histórico, located directly across the street from Parque Alameda, one of the oldest in El D.F. (Districto Federal).
At the hotel, we quickly learned the meaning of the word hospitality. From the bellmen to the receptionists and security director, everyone treated us with extreme warmth and courtesy. Their response to ‘gracias’ was reflective of the treatment we received our entire time in México: ‘A servirle.’
After settling in to our rooms, we were pretty eager to get out and explore our new surroundings. I must admit that leading up to the trip I was a bit apprehensive about being responsible for three teenagers in one of the biggest cities in the world. However, within a half-hour of leaving the hotel I felt very comfortable with the area and that put me more at ease, yet my parental instinct was never disengaged.
Among the places we first visited were: El Monumento de Benito Juárez, El Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Parque Alameda. In addition to exploring these sites, we embarked on some shopping with local vendors.
La Plaza de Tres Culturas
Saturday was our first full day in México; we set out early and first visited La Plaza de Tres Culturas. This is very significant archeological site in the history in the formation of the present Mexican culture. The area contains ruins of one of the ancient Mexica (Azteca) pyramids that the Mexica people were forced to disassemble and use the materials to construct one of the first churches in Nueva España.
The site also houses the first-ever school erected by the Spaniards in México; the purpose of the school was to educate los españoles about the Mexica culture and history. Also, of historical significance is the fact that when Cuauhtémoc, the last emperor of the Mexicas, left to surrender to the Spaniards in an attempt to cease the suffering of his people, he departed from the pyramid that once stood there.
After leaving La Plaza de Tres Culturas, we headed to La Basílica. For many Roman Catholic Latinos, this is a place of great importance; it is the home of the original image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, which appeared to the humble peasant Don Diego. Whether you are Catholic or not, it is hard to ignore the significance and aura of the area. There were literally thousands of people there to pray, pay homage, and simply get a glimpse of the storied cloth baring the Virgin Mary’s colorful image.
After leaving La Basílica, we headed towards Teotihuacán, the location of Las Pirámides del Sol y La Luna. The journey took us about an hour and a half from El D.F. and as we approached, the spectacular structures rose from the feet of the mountains beyond them.
I felt their energy immediately. For years (17 to be exact) I read about and studied these wondrous creations of my ancestors; to finally be amongst them was an incredible feeling. The climate was hot and arid but my students and I were determined to climb the pyramids.
We decided to scale La Pirámide de la Luna, the smaller of the two, first. The thin air had me laboring a bit to breathe but the reward was well worth the work; the view from atop the pyramid looking down La Avenida de los Muertos was awe-inspiring. After capitalizing on some great photo opts and simply absorbing the aura of our locale, we began our descent. I found climbing down to be much more difficult than climbing up due to the sharp steep slope and narrow width of the steps.
Next, we made our way through the gauntlet of artesiano vendors, hawking everything from beautiful obsidian carvings to small clay flutes shaped like animals. Los vendadores were very persistent and if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “almost free” in reference to their products I would able to retire from teaching.
Reaching La Pirámide del Sol
Upon reaching the base of La Pirámide del Sol, we suffered two casualties in Justin and Samantha; nevertheless, Nicole and I continued onward and upward. Being quite a bit larger, this pyramid had me gasping by the time we reached the top, but yet again it was well worth it. From the pinnacle of this pyramid, you could see the expanse of the ancient city and if you closed your eyes you could imagine how vibrant and teaming with life this place once was.
For Nicole, this was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, “It was breathtaking, like nothing I had seen before. I felt free as I was standing there looking at the outline of the city, as if I were on top of the world.”
After touring the pyramids, we ate lunch and were privileged enough to meet a family of Mexicas, who were carrying on the tribal traditions of their ancestors including dance and ritual. After enjoying this remarkable cultural experience we headed back to the hotel.
On Sunday, we woke up early and began a walking tour of the city. We ended up at El Zócalo, which is the location of El Palacio Nacional and La Catedral Nacional. While we were not allowed into El Palacio Nacional for security reasons, we did tour La Catedral Nacional, which was truly a work of architectural wonder.
From El Zócalo, we left for El Museo Antropólogo. This was among my favorite places that we visited. The history and rich culture were everywhere you looked, from Olmec artifacts dating back to thousands of years B.C. to the massive Calendario Azteca.
This was the one place I wished we had more time to explore. Justin Spann expressed: “I liked all the things that we learned about the Aztecs,” when recalling our visit to the museum. Justin further stated that he was surprised by “How advanced and smart the Aztecs were, to be able to build such big cities with no machinery and how they kept (such an advanced) calendar.”
From the museum we traveled to Xochimilco where we floated along the canals—the sound of mariachis filled the air and the sweet smell of elotes roasting teased our taste buds. Familias y novios alike enjoying the tranquil excursion; it was truly a spectacle, unlike anything that I had experienced before. This was a wonderful way to spend our final day in the megalopolis known as El D.F. Next stop El Yucatán.
Editor’s Note: Josh Flores is a Spanish teacher at Waite High School, teaching at all 4 levels. He is a graduate of the University of Toledo and has taught at Waite High School for 7 years. He is also the head of its foreign language department.