As I left my hotel, the city grit coated my flip flops in a thin film of dust, exfoliating my feet. Not the usual pre-beach pedicure, but this was Cuba. Nothing could be expected—the power outages, the breathless accent, the street art.
With my book in hand, I planned to sit on malecón, the seawall separating Havana’s bustling city streets from the glittering Caribbean Sea. I would observe passersby under the guise of reading. Maybe I would buy some peanuts from a street vendor.
With much confusion the previous day, I had learned that un maní was a peanut, not un cacahuete as I was taught in high school. I was determined to use Cuban vocabulary until it stuck like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. For me, feeling different accents and languages on my tongue is part of getting a real taste of another culture.
“The appearance of art,” he told us, some dutifully recording the lecture while others caught flies with their slack-jawed mouths, “is how we mark the existence of the first Homo sapiens–the oldest evidence being the cave paintings at Lascaux in France.” Continue reading
There was a slight breeze weaving its way through the mountaintop homes and playing with the wisps of hair that had escaped my unkempt bun in the sweltering heat of the Mexican summer. All of the Spanish swirled together with the wind, composing an exotic melody I only slightly understood. Wondering how I would find my way out of this labyrinth, I navigated the lurching steps and passageways, which seemed more illogically placed and complicated than irregular verbs in the past tense. After a few minutes, I found myself halfway down the hill and in the middle of the Taxco market. There was no dearth of vendors who peddled hand-tooled leather sandals, bright woven bags, and glittering silver jewelry. Some of the younger men hawked their wares by calling out to the fresh-faced American women, telling the passing señoritas bonitas to stop, hoping for an opportunity to practice their English, make a few dollars, and get a shy smile out of a foreign girl.
During my second week of twenty in México, I visited Chichén Itzá. The ancient lowland Maya constructed El Castillo, the principal pyramid, in today’s Yucatán. There are no natural mountains to call the people in the area; they simply supplied their own centuries ago. Like a true mountain, Chichén Itzá’s stones draw their power and magic from within. Staring up at the monument, I half-expected the Chaac carving to spew wisdom from its decidedly rocky and un-kissable lips.