One of my favorite offerings at Escuela Falcon, my Spanish School, goes beyond the “escuela” (school) part. It’s the field trips. I still remember the excitement of a field trip as a kid…getting a break from school, time to hang out with other classmates, an exciting adventure, and even refreshments!
At Escuela Falcon, these are typically organized in the afternoon following the class schedule, and are led by one of the instructors. Though the instructors may not be official “guides,” they are a wonderful resource in helping translate and interpret exhibits, placards and directions that are offered only in Spanish. Students typically share the cost of transportation and pay their own admission, keeping the cost of the tours low.
Ideally, the purpose of these field trips is to give the students a chance at “intercambio,” or exchange to practice their newly acquired language skills in a casual setting. As a loner and part-time hermit, the social exchange does not interest me as much as the assistance with the logistics. Having someone along who can help navigate the buses, taxis, admission, etc. is a welcome exchange for a little “exchange.”
This post features two recent field trips I enjoyed with my fellow classmates from Escuela Falcon:
La Valenciana Mine and Templo Valenciana
Guanajuato was once a city of great wealth attributed to the silver mines that reached peak production in the late 1700’s. La Valenciana, just outside of Guanajuato City, was Mexico’s largest silver mine. Considered the world’s leading silver extraction center, the area once produced 70% of the world’s silver at its peak, leveling out to 30% over time. The mine is still in operation today. Many of the magnificent mansions, haciendas, and neoclassical style buildings that make Guanajuato feel more European than Mexican were built on the backs of the silver miners, most of whom were indigenous people.
There is a great tour that leads 200 feet down into the mine, complete with dioramas and hard hats. If only I spoke Spanish. Claudia, an instructor from Escuela Falcon comes along with us. We hold back at the end of the group while she translates some of the highlights of the tour. We learn that 10,000 people have worked in this mine. The most primitive of mining methods was to heat the rock, then blast it with water until the rock exploded. Judging from the expressions of the tour participants, there are tales of a grim life of the miners, complete with abysmal working conditions and a list of diseases that plagued the miners. I am spared the gruesome details by my lack of the language, and can’t get out of there fast enough. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia….until I can’t breathe.
One bit of folklore comes out of the tour. Legend has it that many men failed in repeated attempts to extract precious metals from La Valencia mine. Years passed with no success, until a miner who was a bit of a gambler came to town. He supposedly made a deal with Saint Cayetano that if he could be allowed to find a vein of gold, he would build the largest church in the land in his honor, ergo the Iglesia of San Cayetano, aka the Templo La Valenciana (1765-1788,) considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of the Mexican Churriguesresque style. Named for the Spanish architect Churriguera, this Spanish Baroque style is known for its gaudy, overly decorated facades and altars.
Just about the time I think “You’ve seen one Mexico church, you have seen them all,” I enter La Valenciana. Not one but THREE floor to sky-high ceilings, every inch decorated in gold leaf. Seeing the inside of the church is worth the taxi ride to La Valenciana Mine alone, even if you don’t go down into the mine shaft.
Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel Barrera
The following weeks activities include a field trip to Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel Barrera, a former hacienda built in the 17th century. Yet another example of wealth acquired from the extraction of silver from Guanajuato’s hills, this is one of four “ex-haciendas” that were owned by descendants of the La Valenciana mine family of wealth.
Not so much of a historical tour, this is more about wandering through the tranquil, lush green gardens…seventeen of them, in fact, each with a different theme; Oriental, Roman, English, Cactus just to name a few. I could easily sit listening to the many fountains where water cascading over the antique sculptures creates music that can only be eclipsed by the birdsong coming from the giant palm and eucalyptus trees overhead.
Inside the hacienda is a two-story museum containing period furnishings from the 17th Century. As I walk the halls admiring the grandeur, the craftsmanship of the recessed joints in the thick wooden doors, and the artwork and tapestries covering the walls, I ponder what the US equivalent would be of the price of admission to a mansion and gardens such as this, which is only 30 Pesos, about a buck fifty.
Not only did I wander this venue alone save for my three other classmates, we capped off the afternoon field trip with some really cold beers in the Hacienda Café. School field trips are a whole lot more fun than they used to be!
Segundo Dia in Classe de Cocina
On our second day in cooking class at Escuela Falcon, we make Chili Rellenos stuffed with cheese. I am surprised by the simplicity of this recipe as we roast the poblano peppers right over the open flame, then pop them into a bag to steam, then immerse in water to slip the peeling off the large, flat peppers.
The secret to the delicate coating is separating the egg white from the egg yoke, beating the egg whites until they cling to the bowl when turned upside down, then slowly folding the yolk into the egg white mixture before coating the cheese-filled peppers.