What do tres leches cake, the pyramids at Teotihuacan and corn from a street vendor all have in common? They’re all aspects of Mexico I thought I hated until the last three days.
When I was in sixth grade I lived in a small Mexican city named San Miguel de Allende for a year while and, well, let’s just say didn’t have the best time. I think a combination of culture shock, middle-school angst, and complete isolation (no one in my family spoke Spanish) led to a situation where I could not wait to return to the U.S. In turn, I channeled a lot of these feelings into disliking an entire swath of Mexican culture. From a refusal to eat corn tortillas to an irrational displeasure at hearing my name pronounced Trebin, I had made up my mind: Mexico was not the place for me.
Then along came this class, a marine-based conservation course focused on community involvement and sustainability. I was hooked. The only problem was the second half of the course title: “…in Baja California.” Nevertheless, I signed up, certain the area around the Gulf of California would be nothing like San Miguel and even if it was, I could suffer quietly. Then, after our first preliminary class meeting, a few of the students decided to visit Mexico City before the class started and I was somehow talked into it. We arrived three days ago and just stepping off the plane into the red light/green light security system I was reminded of San Miguel and started to worry. By the time we arrived at our AirBnB, I was convinced I had made a mistake – Mexico just wasn’t for me and that’s ok. Then we all rested for a little while before we headed out into the city, certain I was destined for a bad experience.
By the time we reached the Zócalo, or the main city square, I had forgotten all about my reservations as I laughed with friends and stared open-mouthed at the beautiful buildings. Suddenly, I had an ear of elote in my hands, a food which I had managed to completely avoid eating despite seven years of visiting Mexico, and couldn’t wait to see what else the city offered. Then came dinner, my first major test. I was feeling good; I had conquered the elote; I could do anything, so I tried mole sauce and even ordered tres leches cake for dessert. I should explain further: tres leches cake was my arch-nemesis in San Miguel. Why would a cake ever need three milks? I can’t even name three milk’s off the top of my head! Why put them in a cake? It’ll just get soggy! While I can say mole sauce is still kind of gross, I’m happy to report I’ve been converted when it comes to tres leches cake, each milk is vital to the whole and I wouldn’t have it any other way, even if it is a little soggy.
In non-food related changes (I swear I do things other than eat), we also decided to visit a nearby Mesoamerican pyramid site known as Teotihuacan. I had visited Teotihuacan once before, on a day trip from San Miguel in high school, and I distinctly remember two things: extremely tall stairs and more extreme heat. Nonetheless, if tres leches cake wasn’t out to get me than maybe neither were a group of millennia old pyramids. After a long bus ride we arrived and just stepping off the bus I could confirm one thing. The time to visit an enormous plaza full of shade-less pyramids and lots of people is an early April morning, not mid-day in July. The temperature was wonderful and we were able to climb the pyramids with no trouble at all – meaning either my legs have gotten longer or my memory just conflated heat stroke with very tall steps. Either way, Teotihuacan was spectacular and I was now fully convinced of the wonders Mexico has to offer – which brings me to the future and what I want to get out of this course.
I can now say I am ready to take on Mexico. There’s so many things I want to try again, or try for the first time, and that means throwing myself head first into Mexican culture. I want to learn from the fishers of Kino and the Seri population in Isla Tiburon – people for whom Mexico is home. What does it mean to be Mexican to them? What more can I learn about this country and culture that I never bothered to ask before? Maybe Trebin does have a certain ring to it after all.