Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Workshop Presentations - See part 8

Last night some of the students participated in a presentation of some of the things they learned in the workshops here at the UDLA. There were ensemble groups, cooking class slides, Talavera class slides, salsa class demonstration, ballet folklorico, and community service slides. It was an enjoyable night, especially when the salsa group treated the audience with a dance they had been working on. Some of the photographs are also of a few of the churches here in Cholula.

Dr. Segle

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cantona and Cuetzalan - see part 7

This past weekend was out last excursion together before we head home. The weekend was simply amazing; packed with stunning views, amazing people and a very unique culture. Our first stop was Cantona, an ancient Mesoamerican city founded around the late classic period - 300 years after the Christian era. It definitely had the most beautiful landscape of all the pyramids we've visited. The city is vast with pyramids spanning everywhere, most of which are still buried but the shapes are easy to make out as we walked through the ruins.

Cantona was known best for two things: Their craftsmanship in obsidian (weapons particularly) and the "ball game." There are twenty six ball courts throughout the city, all of which are of different sizes. Apparently, the smaller the ball court the more professional the game. There was even a micro court where I imagine young kids would have practiced. It should be noted that the ball games that took place were ritualistic in nature and served a religious purpose. The city fell into decline and all its inhabitants disappeared around the eleventh century so the city is ancient indeed, and in fact, the guide claims that at its height it was the biggest city in all of Mesoamerica, covering about twelve square kilometers. They have found obsidian from Cantona all the way south into Costa Rica and Northern South America, indicating the significance of Cantona's trade market.

Our next stop was to eat in a little town in the mountains called Apulco. We all ate in a big hall off the back of the restaurant, a place the cadets thought looked like the great hall from the recent movie Beowulf. We also went to some waterfalls, however, it turned out to be like a trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory because it was raining and the water looked like the waterfall scence from the movie.

Our final destination was Cuetzalan; a small indigenous mountain town famous for their culture, the market, artesanias, and their language. Most people here a bilingual, in that they speak Spanish and the old Aztec dialect "Nahuatl." Everywhere we went in Cuetzalan the indigenous people were trying to sell us their crafts, even while we were eating they would pass by the tables with their products. An eight year girl taught me how to say "no I don't want it" in Nahuatl. It is "ga nekniki" yet it didn't seem to deter the the indigenous zeal to sell their things. Notice in the slide show the dress of the natives, it was very uniform and very fascinating to witness.

Sunday morning we took off on a hike to find some waterfalls nearby. We rented a truck to take us most of the way and then we walked for another fifteen minutes until we reached the waterfalls. They were beautiful, clean and very powerful. The cadets enjoyed their stay and even took off their clothes (down to the boxers) and took a dip. Some of the other cadets decided to make their own mark on the world and find their own waterfalls. After wandering through the jungle they indeed, found another set of waterfalls and a cave system that sounds pretty amazing. Of course, by the time I saw them return they looked like they participated in a wilderness survival expedition (led by Cadet Dominic Pitrone). I'm still waiting for the photographs from that experience.

Overall, the weekend was a success. It was a beautiful area of Mexico and we were able to see Mexico as it was many many years ago. I hope you enjoy all 192 photographs of our experience!

Dr. Zane U. Segle

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Taxco and Xochicalco - see part 6

This past Saturday and Sunday we had our first overnight excursion. We left early Saturday morning for the silver mining town of Taxco. As you can see from the slideshow, Taxco is a small community built on the side of a mountain. The streets are tight and very steep, yet its cobblestone paved streets make climbing a bit more bearable. As Taxo is famous for silver (supplying a great majority of all the silver imported to the United States) this small town boasts over 500 shops that showcase a wide variety of silver products; even saddles adorned with silver throughout and sewn with silver thread.

One day a week (Saturday) there is an artisan market at the lower part of Taxco. Here, venders and artisans sell their silver crafts (mainly jewelry) for rock bottom prices. When you purchase a silver product the price is based on the weight of the piece, which is weighed right in front of you. The silver market is controlled tightly by Mexican authorities so grades of silver usually range between .925 and .950 (.999 being pure silver, but such a pure grade would be too soft for most products). .925 grade silver is what is typically found in U.S. jewelry stores.

We stayed in an old monastery that was converted years ago to an inn. It was called Los Arcos Inn and was very charming and relaxing. In fact, on the roof you could gaze down over most of Taxco. As you can see from the slide show, the Arcos Inn was a delight and quite cheap if you would ever like to visit ($50.00 US per night)

The next day we set out for another city of pyramids called Xochicalco. Let me say right off that NOT all pyramids are the same, so please take a look at the slide show and note the difference between this excursion and some of the others we've experienced. One of the more interesting aspects of Xochicalco was of course its location, as you can see, but also because it had three courts where they would play a type of a ball game, an observatory and steam baths.

Dr. Zane U. Segle

For further details I have added a narrative to explain more in detail about Xochicalco:

Xochicalco is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in the western part of the Mexican state of Morelos. The name "Xochicalco" means "in the house of Flowers" in the Nahuatl language. The site is located 38 km southwest of Cuernavaca, about 76 miles by road from Mexico City. The site is open to visitors all week, from 10am to 5pm, although access to the observatory is only allowed after noon. The apogee of Xochicalco came after the fall of Teotihuacán and it has been speculated that Xochicalco played a part in the fall of the Teotihuacano empire.

The architecture and iconography shows affinities with Teotihuacan, the Maya area, and the Matlatzinca culture of the Toluca Valley. Today some residents of the villages closest to the ruins of Xochicalco such as Cuentepec and Tetlama in eastern Morelos speak Nahuatl.

The main ceremonial center is atop an artificially leveled hill, with remains of residential structures, mostly unexcavated, on long terraces covering the slopes.

The site was occupied by 200 BC, with the most notable architecture built between about 700 and 1000 AD. At its peak, the city may have had a population of up to 20,000 people.

Of special interest are sculptured reliefs on the sides of some buildings. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent has fine stylized depictions of that deity in a style which includes apparent influences of Teotihuacan and Maya art. It has been speculated that Xochicalco may have had a community of artists from other parts of Mesoamerica.

Other monuments at the site include several other step-pyramid temples, palaces, three ballcourts, sweat-baths, an unusual row of circular altars, and a cave with steps carved down into it. The site also has some free-standing sculptured stelae; others were removed from their original location and are now on display in the INAH museum in Mexico City and at the site museum.

-Source -

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fiesta Mexicana - see part 5

Last night we had the thrill of going to a Mexican fiesta. It was put on by the university and was for all the study abroad groups attending the UDLA - Universidad de las Americas. The only caveat was the we had to "wear" something Mexican. As you can widely imagine, the cadets showed up wearing everything from thoughts of something Mexican to a full-fledged mariachi outfit (spurs included). We also had the pleasure of hearing Cadet Valentin Boza give the crowd of hundreds a live rendition of "Besame mucho." It left the ladies drooling and the men stunned with jealousy.

The fiesta came complete with a live band, great food like tacos arabes (a cadet favorite), tamales, churros, mexican punch (hot apple cider), horchata (a rice based drink) and cerveza. There was also a dance contest, which the Citadel came away with a resounding win thanks to the fancy footwork and "sweet moves" of Cadet Rodney Ferguson. There was also a costume contest that we should have won as well, however, given typical university political correctness and hyperbolic standards of fairness we were robbed of the costume crown!! Take a look at the pictures and you decide.

Dr. Zane U. Segle

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Teotihuacan and the Basilica - see part 4

Today we journeyed to a an ancient city of pyramids called Teotihuacan. It is located about 37 miles outside Mexico City. We also visited the famous Basilica located in Mexico City. The slideshow - Mexico 2008 Part 4 - for the most part comprises today's events, although there are a few errant photographs dispersed within the album.

Dr. Zane U. Segle

I am adding a description of Teotihuacan taken from the internet (credited below):

Teotihuacan arose as a new religious center in the Mexican Highland, around the time of Christ. Although its incipient period (the first two centuries B.C.) is poorly understood, archaeological data show that the next two centuries (Tzacualli to Miccaotli phases; A.D. 1-200) were characterized by monumental construction, during which Teotihuacan quickly became the largest and most populous urban center in the New World. By this time, the city already appears to have expanded to approximately 20 square km, with about 60,000 to 80,000 inhabitants (Millon 1981:221). The development of the city seems to have involved inter-site population movements, exploitation of natural resources, an increase in agricultural production, technological inventions, establishment of trading systems and other kinds of socio-political organizations, and attractive belief systems. By the fourth century, unmistakable influences of Teotihuacan were felt throughout most parts of Mesoamerica. Teotihuacan was the sixth largest city in the world during its period of greatest prosperity, according to an estimated population of 125,000 (Millon 1993:33). The city seems to have functioned for centuries as a well-developed urban center until its rather sudden collapse, possibly in the seventh century. The place was called Teotihuacan by Nahuatl speakers several centuries after the city's fall, but its original name, the language or languages spoken there, and the ethnic groups who built the city are still unknown.

Many surveys, excavations, and studies of materials have been made for more than a century, employing different kinds of approaches and techniques. Since the first scientific inter-disciplinary investigation was carried out by Manuel Gamio in 1917-22, several explorations have revealed specific cultural traits and helped situate Teotihuacan prehistory within the Mesoamerican chronological framework. The Teotihuacan Mapping Project (Millon 1973; Millon et al. 1973) directed by Rene Millon contributed substantially to forming current views of the city. The Settlement Survey Project in the Basin of Mexico, directed by William Sanders, placed Teotihuacan in a regional context (Sanders, Parsons, and Santley 1979). Various explorations in the 1960s and 1970s in residential compounds in the city provided information about social life and categories. Meanwhile, monumental constructions were excavated by Mexican archaeologists from national institutions, most recently the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), since the beginning of this century. Most of buildings now seen in the Archaeological Zone in Teotihuacan were actually those excavated and consolidated by these national projects. The Feathered Serpent Pyramid was among these, first excavated in 1917-22. Before concentrating on the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, you may want to visit other major monuments placing the pyramid in the wider context of the city.

Narrative taken from:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mexican Traditions and Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl Pyramids - see part 3

The next slide show is a miscellanea of the events of this past week. One of which included an "interactive" play in which we participated in a theatrical dramatization of the new generation of Mexicans who forget their cultural traditions and threaten the family unit.

There are also photographs of an optional "adventure," where I invited the students to follow me in a quest to find the pyramids of Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl in the present day state of Tlaxcala, Mexico. The following are descriptions for both archaeological sites taken from Wikipedia:

Cacaxtla was the capital of region inhabited by the Olmeca-Xicalanca people. It is not known with certainly the origins of the Olmeca-Xicalanca, but they are assumed to come from the Gulf coast region, and were perhaps Maya settlers who arrived in this part of central Mexico around 400 CE.

The term "Olmeca-Xicalanca" was first mentioned by Tlaxcalan historian Diego Muñoz Camargo at the end of the 16th century. This historian described Cacaxtla as the principal settlement of the “Olmeca”, although what we today refer to as the Olmec culture ended ~400 BCE, that is, almost 800 years earlier.

After the fall of the nearby city Cholula (ca. 650 - 750) -- in which the Cacaxtlecas might have been involved -- Cacaxtla became the hegemonic power in this part of the Tlaxcala–Puebla valley. Its ascendancy came to an end around 900 CE and, by 1000, the city had been abandoned.

The centre of the city of Cacaxtla was the 200-metre-long, 25-metre-high Gran Basamento – a natural platform offering a fine defensive position and commanding views over the surrounding terrain. The city's main religious and civil buildings were located on this platform, as were the residences of the priest class. Several other smaller pyramids and temple bases stand in the vicinity of the main platform.

Because Cacaxtla's main basamento was not excavated until the 1980s many of the original coloured wall decorations have been preserved and can be appreciated in situ by visitors to the site. Of particular interest is the fact that most of the murals seem to combine the symbology of Altiplano cultures with influences from the Maya, making Cacaxtla unique in this regard.

The most famous of Cacaxtla's preserved paintings is the "Battle Mural", or Mural de la batalla, located in the northern plaza of the basamento. Dating from prior to 700, it is placed on the sloping limestone wall of a temple base and is split in two by a central staircase. It depicts two groups of warriors locked in battle: on the one side are Olmec jaguar warriors, armed with spears, obsidian knives, and round shields, who are clearly trouncing an invading army of Huastec bird warriors (some of whom are shown naked and in various stages of dismemberment).


Xochitécatl is a small ceremonial center located on a hilltop overlooking Cacaxtla, about 1km (a half mile) to the east and in plain sight of Cacaxtla. It was probably inhabited, at least in the classical period, by the same people living in Cacaxtla. A curious circular pyramid stands atop this hill, 180km (590 ft.) above the surrounding countryside. Beside it are two other pyramids and three massive boulders (one about 3m/10 ft. in diameter), which were hollowed out for some reason. Hollowed boulders appear to have been restricted to the Puebla-Tlaxcala valley. Excavation of the Edificio de la Espiral (circular pyramid), dated between 1000 and 800 B.C. (middle formative period), encountered no stairways. Access is thought to have been by its spiral walkway. Rounded boulders from the nearby Zahuapan and Atoyac rivers were used in its construction. Rounded pyramids in this part of Mexico are thought to have been dedicated to Ehecatl, god of the wind. The base diameter exceeds 55m (180 ft.); it rises to a height of 15m (50 ft.).

The stepped and terraced Pyramid of the Flowers, made of rounded boulders, was started during the middle formative period. Modifications continued into colonial times, as exemplified by faced-stone and stucco-covered adobe. Of the 30 bodies found during excavations, all but one were children. Little is known about the people who built Xochitécatl. Evidence suggests that the area was dedicated to Xochitl, goddess of flowers and fertility. The small museum contains pottery and small sculpture, and a garden holds larger sculpture.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tepoztlan, Morelos Mexico - see part 2

Our fist big excursion was to a place called Tepoztlan. Perhaps the best way to describe where we went today is from a flyer given to us by the university. The description reads as follows:

Tepoztlan is a town located in the state of Morelos. The name Tepoztlan comes from the Nahuatl word "tepuztli", meaning "copper axe above a hill.” This town was named in 2002 a “Pueblo Mágico” or magic town by the national government, because it is absolutely magical and holds a vast culture and beauty. The 1,300-foot high Tepozteco Mountain is located on the northern side of the town and on the peak you will find the Tepozteco archaeological site, dedicated to Tepoztecalt, the name of the main god of pulque; an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the agave plant. You will have the opportunity to hike up this mountain and look at breathtaking sceneries. The climbs up is about an hour long, but most certainly worth it (bring comfortable shoes!). Other deities worshipped in the site were the gods of Fertility and Harvest. The site was therefore, considered to be a sacred place and it is visited bye many pilgrims from as far as Chiapas and Guatemala. Another attractive feature is that the town is famous for the exotic ice-cream flavors prepared by the townspeople. These are flavors you have never tasted before, prepared the traditional way and as delicious as can be! You can´t miss the chance to try them and feel out of this world!!

There are 107 photos in the slide show and although some of them are not from Tepoztlan, the vast majority are, which vividly illustrate our experience today.

Dr. Segle

Saturday, May 17, 2008

MEXICO 2008 - see part 1

We finally made it to Mexico!! I wanted to provide another forum for posting pictures and discussing our study abroad experience for parents, family and friends without having to go to Facebook.

The main photo on this page is unique because in the background is the logo for Real Madrid, which happens to have a very nice training facility at the UDLA - Universidad de las Américas - in Cholula (complete with a plush weight room, locker rooms, cafeteria and a helipad).

I will upload slideshows about once a week containing very select photos for your perusal. Please feel free to comment and discuss our experiences.

The slideshow "Mexico - Part 1" contains photos of our orientation day at the UDLA. The process lasted most of the day and consisted of a great bienvenido from the staff, skits demonstrating what not to do in Mexico, registration and verification for workshops, local excursions, weekend excursions, great food and Ballet Folklórico just to name of few.

Dr. Zane Segle