9:00 AM. The sun is already strong and two new university crews stumble out of bed and make their way to the kitchen where Imelda has chilaquiles rojas, fresh bread, eggs, cheese, and coffee waiting. Virginia Tech and Michigan State students have just begun their alternative spring breaks, ready to learn and work. But first thing’s first—an introduction.
The groups began their ‘cultural day’ by attending Catholic mass in St. Gabriel Church on the zocalo. Next, a tour of the local market, where we tried agua de cacao (a chocolate drink with thick sweet foam on top), saw pigs heads hanging from hooks at the butchers’ stands, gazed at rows and rows of fragrant lilies, discussed the yellow color of free range chicken skin. Everyone was trying to imagine what nopales, the edible cactuses that the señoras were de-thorning, taste like. The most curious, brave souls tried chapulines, crickets seasoned with lime and chile.
After that we took a stroll through Cholula’s history museum which primed the students for what came next. Arturo met us at the pyramid, where he gave rich background on the ancient ruins and the people who made them, entertaining questions about anthropology and colonialism. The next hours were spent visiting vendors and hiking to the church on the top of the pyramid which boasts a panoramic view of Puebla and the volcano. As the sky turned from peach to lavender we walked back in the direction of our casa. Hungry (and a bit sunburned), we were all glad to stop for dinner at a family-run restaurant where everyone chatted enthusiastically about the events of the day and the work to come.