Language by Baptism: Parte Cinco

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2017 by timtrue


Each day here seems to get better. If that’s the intention of an immersion experience, it definitely applies in my case.

Yesterday began with a walk to our host family’s eatery for breakfast and then on to the AHA! campus for a half-day field trip. Our destination? Cañada de la Virgen, or Ravine of the Virgin, where in recent years archaeologists have uncovered a Mesoamerican pyramid unique in the world (so far), most likely from a Matriarchal culture–more on this later.

Back to AHA! by 2pm, Christiana and I were both feeling a little bushed. So, after lunch, we returned home; she napped, I did laundry.

But on the way home we’d stopped by the box office of Teatro Angela Peralta to purchase two tickets for an evening concert of opera arias for what turned out to be one of the best classical concerts I’ve ever attended. Admission was 100 pesos, or a little more than $5.

The performers were students of a summer program called Bel Canto, rising young musicians from Mexico, South Korea, and the United States; and this was their final event, the culmination of six weeks of long rehearsals and hard work.

That ended at about 9pm. A couple friends we’ve made at AHA! were there, who suggested we catch dessert together at a local panaderia; and a few minutes later, and 17 pesos poorer (<$1), we were enjoying churros deliciosos on the jardin (plaza) in the middle of this glorious city.

Great day! But where to go from here?

Entonces, I devote the remainder of this post to the incredible archaeological tour at Cañada de la Virgen. By the way, did I mention it was a semi-private tour, given by one of the chief archaeologists himself?


The tour began here, in this parking lot, looking out over a lake towards a tall mountain. I took this picture because of the scenery. Soon, however, I found out that the mountain on the horizon is a chief player in this story. For this mountain is a volcano that erupted some two million years ago; and the lava from this eruption formed into the stone used to construct the pyramid.


This is our group. The guy in the middle, facing everyone else, is Albert Coffee, our tour guide; a brilliant man with a wicked dead-pan sense of humor. The only non-Mexican archaeologist allowed to work on this site, he has been excavating, collaborating, and otherwise putting together the pieces of this mysterious cultural puzzle for the past twenty years.

This site, by the way, is on private property–with the exception of the road to the site and a sixteen-acre area including and immediately surrounding the pyramid, both federally owned. The landowner (a very wealthy German family who purchased an 11,000 acre parcel at the conclusion of WWII, knowing nothing at the time about the pyramid) controls access. We could only see the site by special permission. Together this means that this particular pyramid is pristine, with no hotels or vendors anywhere (unlike other, more well-known pyramids); we also had to walk the last kilometer or so just to get to the entrance.


On the walk to the pyramid now, looking back toward the Ravine of the Virgin, so named because a peasant farmer some years back, before the excavations began, found a cracked geode in the bottom of the ravine; inside, the crystals formed an image in appearance remarkably like the Virgin Mary, to whom many local miracles have been attributed over the years.

Or so the story goes anyway. The actual whereabouts of this geode today are unknown; but local rumors place it in a crude, country chapel within sixty kilometers. Albert might even go to look for it soon.

As for the road itself, it was built close to two thousand years ago and runs east to west, following the precise path of the sun on March 4 and October 7. In the above photo I am looking eastward. Beyond the horizon, precisely in this direction, is the city of San Miguel de Allende, leaving modern archaeologists like Albert to speculate that perhaps SMA itself was built on top of another pyramid, now lost. And, if speculations are to be followed, is the parroquia itself in the exact spot of the lost pyramid, the Spaniards’ attempt to overwhelm the old religion with the new?


Evidence intimates. Still, what are the chances the Vatican would let archaeologists dig around, even a little? We may never know for sure.


Continuing westward up the ancient road.


And the pyramid comes into view.

Mindbogglingly, the pyramid functioned similarly to the Jewish Temple. Priests mediated between the people and the gods, between the human and the divine. The priests lived in residential areas on the pyramid’s (temple’s) campus; whereas the people lived away, down in the ravine mostly. The people brought animals to the priests for ritual sacrifice. Moreover, with their secret knowledge of astronomical events, the priests were able to wield a kind of power–or control–over the people.

Are these all mere coincidences? It’s enough to leave me scratching my head anyway.




Of course, over long years the pyramid has lost some of its lustre. It would have been covered in stucco and painted to represent the four directions of the compass. Also, trees have grown up over time, some of them even growing out of the rock walls themselves.


The trees that grow out of the wall today, such as the one in this photo, will remain so; their root systems are necessary for the wall’s stability.


These trees have become a part of the overall site too, not being a part of the original layout. But this photo shows something much more important than new flora: a patio.


In addition to no trees, imagine the rock walls around the sunken patio being six feet taller. This patio then forms a kind of amphitheater, where sound is kept within the walls and people of the community can gather.

Moreover, in the far corner, which you cannot tell from this photograph, is a kind of drainage pipe. Albert has concluded that this patio was actually a kind of pool. Strong evidence suggests that the drainage pipe could be plugged and water could be directed into the patio until the pool was a few feet deep.

Why does this matter? With the east-west orientation of the pool, the sky–and in particular the night sky–could be quadranted off; and the moon, stars, and planets could be observed quite intricately and carefully. Additionally, the heightened acoustic qualities of a six-foot wall would make it very easy for priests to communicate across the reflective surface of the pool to one another, collaborating, observing, and forming their secret knowledge together. Make sense?

By the way, in C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and his Boy, a volume from his Chronicles of Narnia, the protagonists encounter an old mystic who spends much of his time gazing into a reflective pool. There is a similar episode in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Another coincidence?

Scratch, scratch.

Whatever the case, these pools (there is another, see below), and not the pyramid, actually comprise the chief architectural features of this site.


We begin our ascent . . .


. . . only to encounter a kind of courtyard between us and the pyramid. The ground level of this “courtyard” seems to be the same level as the ground outside. The wall upon which we now stand is maybe 12 feet tall. What’s the deal?


Albert the archaeologist points out a similar drainpipe in the southeast corner. Ah! Another reflective pool–making a really short commute for the priests!


And now to begin the ascent for reals.


And here are four perspectives from the top.


Looking eastward, towards SMA.


Looking southward.

The edifice in the photo is one of three prominent tombs on the site discovered thus far. The woman inside the tomb was killed by a wolf or wolf-like creature, as evidenced by traces of fang and punctures in her bones. Whether she was mauled or sacrificed is open to debate. In any case, she was a prominent figure in this society.

The other two prominent tombs also contain the bones of females, one of a girl (7-10 years old is the guess) decked in the garb of a warrior, perhaps a princess who died young.


Looking westward.

Might there be more buried pyramids this way, perhaps under or beyond the mountains?


And north-ish.

It’s more northwest, actually: I didn’t have a clear view directly north. Still, it’s a good shot of the first patio/reflective pool.

Anyway, put it all together and something unique in Mesoamerica rises, eh hem, to the surface.

The reflective pools are the chief architectural features at this site. Pools are considered female symbols by archaeologists. Moreover, unlike similar sites in Mesoamerica, here are no phallic symbols. Additionally, all prominent tombs discovered here thus far house females. Could this actually be the only known (thus far) matriarchal society from Mesoamerica?

I’ve yet said nothing about syncretism. That’s what happens when the old religion is incorporated into the new, like when the padres from Spain incorporated Ancestor worship into Catholicism with the festival we call today Dia de los Muertos; or like when they incorporated worship of the god of the four winds into the four arms of the cross.

What, am I suggesting that some modern Catholic practices in Mexico might date back to the Mesoamericans?

Um, yeah.

Anyway, well is this matriarchal site named, then, after the Virgin, the Matriarch of Catholic Christianity!

Also, for what it’s worth, I mention vortexes. Lots of people speculate that there are special places on the earth with heavy concentrations of energy called vortexes. The jury’s out for me, just so you know. Point is, people who are into this kind of thing think SMA may just be a vortex, as well as Cañada de la Virgen, Make of it what you will.

To wrap this post up, I conclude with this photo, a tribute of sorts.


It was taken when I was unaware; and I think it captures well the profundity of this day. My daughter is in the foreground, standing still atop an ancient monument to architecture, astronomy, leadership, wisdom, and woman. I am in the background, walking eastward, having given to her what fatherly direction I’ve been able.

Indeed, may she and all my daughters rise to heights I can never imagine reaching! Go woman!


Language by Baptism: Parte Cuatro

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2017 by timtrue

Been a few days since I’ve posted. No photos this time. Rather, a quick update on progress. My perspective anyway.

Taking a step back, this program probably looks like a lot of other summer Spanish intensive courses you can find in colleges all over the United States. We’re cramming probably a year’s worth of something like a college course into four weeks, after all. We meet for five class hours a day: the first three to go through a course of study–grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and so on; the fourth for pure conversation; and the fifth for pronunciation and diction.

One big difference here, however, as opposed to taking a course like this in the states, is that we students are able to practice what we’re learning everywhere we go–restaurants, shops, libraries, churches, museums, etc.

A slight complaint is that SMA is actually a very English-friendly town, meaning I don’t have to speak in Spanish 24/7 if I don’t want to; and, believe me, sometimes, especially towards the end of the day, after five intensive hours of study already, it’s very difficult to keep thinking in Spanish. Mental exhaustion settles in. I really would rather communicate in English. So I do. Or, rather, I get lazy and revert to English a lot more often than I should.

Near the border, on the US side, there’s a common kind of dialect called Spanglish. Down here, it’s something like that around here in the late afternoons, only coming from the other side. Gringo-ish, maybe?

Another big difference is the cultural immersion. All around me are the sights, smells, and sounds of beautiful, warm, delicious Mexico. I took a field trip to Guanajuato last Saturday; will take another this Saturday to the only known archeological wonder in this area, La Canada de Virgen; and everyday simply walking to and from the school confronts me with it all.

Indeed, this is not just any old summer intensive Spanish course but truly an immersion experience.

Language by Baptism: Parte Tres Y Media

Posted in Education with tags , on July 3, 2017 by timtrue

Some more Guanajuato photos have trickled in from my closest traveling friends here in Mexico, including two from El Museo de las Momias (the photos, that is; to be clear, the mummies are not my friends). To round off the previous post then:

1. Christiana, Danielle, and I (R to L) enjoying a pre-Mummy Museum fuel up in a downtown café:


2. Christiana posing with a couple stars of the museum:


3. Me mimicking (not so well, except for maybe the facial hair):


4. And a final vista of yet another beautiful Mexican city before returning to SMA, with (L to R) Christiana, Danielle, and Helga:



Language be Baptism: Parte Tres

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2017 by timtrue


Enjoyed a spectacular visit to Guanajuato yesterday with several other students in the AHA! program.

The city of Guanajuato (Gto) began as a mining encampment in the eighteenth century. It was soon realized that the mountains around Gto held an especially large amount of silver. In fact, by the early nineteenth century, the Gto mines were providing a full third of the world’s silver. A full third! This was the motherlode! The definite article!

Lots of money meant it was time to build a city. Which the city’s founders did.

Situated in a valley with steep mountains all around, well, the city ended up being built in a river bed.

Not a good move, founding folks realized in time: floods ravaged the place; buildings’ foundations began to rock and sink.

Yet there were no options to rebuild elsewhere, somewhere up some slope out of the river bed; so city builders built up, above the first foundation, constructing streets to divert flooding waters and building up sixteen or so feet of new foundation around these streets, utilizing rubble from the mines.

What this amounts to today is a downtown area filled with architectural wonders (they once had a lot of money, remember), and a whole network of underground roads and tunnels–all built by hand(!) in the nineteenth century.

My day in Gto in photos follows. If you’d like to research this magnificent place more, it is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites here:

Entonces, Gto in pictures:

At the drop-off point:


Looking around a bit:



The granary, where a violent massacre took place in 1810, led by Hidalgo, a Jesuit priest. Notice the bullet holes (from this very battle) in the top half of the wall:



Next stop, the Diego Rivera Museum. It’s the house where this influential artist was born and lived until six years of age. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to photograph much:




Some downtown sights:










The above photo highlights a building designed by the architect of the Eiffel Tower. And inside:


By the way, lunch cost 12 pesos, or roughly 65 cents:


And now, to descend! A few photos are not the best–most likely due to the photographer’s limited skills. I include them nevertheless, to convey the idea:







After returning to street level, we concluded our day with a 20-minute walk to and tour of El Museo de las Momias, Gto’s Museum of the Mummies. I took no photos inside, but some friends did. Perhaps I will be able to pilfer a few for a future post.

Until next time then, Saludos!


Language by Baptism: Parte Dos

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by timtrue

As intimated previously, here are two food photos: of today’s lunch at our host’s local restaurante; tortilla soup followed by queso enchiladas con salsa verde:


Anyway, three days into it now, I’ve experienced a couple of minor disappointments.

In the first place–at the risk of sounding like Hermione Granger–the school decided to cancel its last class of the day for this entire Session. What this means is that we’re done at 5pm instead of 6:20, which is the positive way to look at it. It also means, however, that the Mexican history section has been cancelled, a section entitled “Mexican Literature II,” something I was really looking forward to.

The second disappointment is the other afternoon class, beginning at 3:45, “Folksinging and Folkdancing.” Now, I’m okay with singing, especially folk singing, especially in Spanish. Trouble is, so far it’s only been a social dancing seminar, stress dancing and neither singing nor Spanishing.

Morning classes are nonetheless substantial, solid from 8:30am to 1:45pm.

Entonces . . .

We decided instead of “Folksinging and Folkdancing” today to take in a local botanical garden.


Leaving the restaurant, we mapped out our walk to some botanical gardens whose name I can’t remember right now (brain’s kind of full at the moment . . .), some 1.5 miles distant. What we didn’t know was that this distance would be entirely uphill, sometimes at a 20% slope. We saw two medium-to-large men try and fail to ride a motorcycle up this slope. Most motorcycles around here have smallish engines, like 150ccs. Still, it was that steep!

Here are a few photos from our ascent via (steep) city streets:


Looking back. AHA! is directly left of the white sedan. La Boganbilia, our host’s restuarante, is at the other end of the street, several blocks away.


So, up we go.


Another look back, SMA’s skyline is quite spectacular.


And, huffing and puffing (at above 2,000 m/ 6,600 ft in elevation), we make it! Entrance fee, by the way, is 40 pesos, or about $2.20, a US penny per acre.


Inside we find a trail around the garden and several plants you might guess are in the region.


Mesquite (for my Texas friends).


Gatillo (for my friends who like mimosas).



And agave!–specia Magna in the top photo; specia Tequila in the bottom (for my friends who like margaritas).


The property includes a wetland area.



And what do you call this? A cactus pond garden?

But the real surprise comes when we encounter the ruins of an eighteenth-century aqueduct, to deliver water to the town once upon a time:


This is the water source for the aqueduct.




And some of the ruins.


Here you see the gorge down which the aqueduct traveled. Near the top of the gorge on the far side there is a newer system of pipes to deliver water to SMA, however now also defunct.

A few steps away, I conclude today’s self-made cultural and historical experience with a couple more shots of this beautiful city. Stay tuned for parte tres.



Language by Baptism: Parte Uno

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by timtrue

Entonces! A few photos to get us going:


#1: Christiana standing in AHA!’s courtyard. This is our school for the next four weeks. The door behind and to her right belongs to a classroom. (By the way, notice how tired she looks.)


#2: looking across the courtyard at AHA!’s entrance.


And #3: outside a second-floor classroom, taking in SMA’s skyline. (Looking tired here too!)

I don’t recommend traveling as we did, with a takeoff time of 1:52am, a landing time of 6:55am, and a shuttle ride directly to our residence followed immediately by orientation at AHA!, the language school.

We thought we could sleep on the plane–which we did–un poquito. I also thought we were dealing with only a one-hour time difference, not two, meaning I thought we had a four-hour flight, not a three. Another also: I assumed legroom on Volaris would be the same as on Southwest. But it wasn’t. Thus (entonces), we slept maybe two hours. Uncomfortably!

Not a good way to start off.

For all that, I think I learned more in my first few hours at AHA! than in a whole semester of high school Spanish. Maybe a whole semester of seminary too.

Jessika taught us how to carry on a bona fide conversation; Jorge led us through diction and pronunciation in a class akin to choir warmups.

And as for our main meal today–well, it just so happens that our host family also owns a restaurant in downtown SMA, just down the street from the school. I’ll likely join the fad and post some fabulous food fotos soon. For the food was fabuloso.

We opted to head home and catch up on some much needed sleep rather than return late this afternoon for folk singing and folk dancing.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a great experience. Muy bien!

Language by Baptism: Introduction

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2017 by timtrue


Looking forward to spending the next four weeks in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), immersing myself in the Spanish language and Mexican culture (and taking a grateful break from crafting sermons). I hope to make several posts during this time highlighting the experience.

Joining me on this adventure will be my oldest daughter, Christiana. We plan to meet in a few hours on the San Diego side of CrossBorderXpress, a skybridge by which we will cross the Mexican border and arrive inside the Tijuana airport via foot. From there it’s a six-hour plane flight to Leon followed by a ninety-minute shuttle ride to SMA. We’ll be staying with a host family about 1.25 miles from the school, meaning walking about 5 miles a day. Morning classes are language-focused; afternoon cultural and historical–all in Spanish.

Hoping to begin a weekly Spanish service in Temecula some time in the near future.

It all begins now. Stay tuned!