Monday, September 22, 2014

USNA Mids Visit Mexico

A group of Naval Academy midshipmen visited Mexico last week to participate in a military parade honoring Mexican independence. They stayed with fellow students at the Heroico Colegio Militar, the Mexican military academy. Midshipman 1st Class Annie-Norah Beveridge writes about their experiences in the first couple of days after their arrival.

Upon arriving at the Heroico Colegio Militar, the first thing that you see is the huge Mexican flag.  It is definitely the biggest flag that I have ever seen and stands in stark contrast to the Space Age-looking buildings that form Mexico's equivalent to West Point. 

The inside of the barracks that we stayed in are just as institutionalized. For the next three days we shared the area with members of the Colombian, Argentinean, and Mexican militaries.

We started the next morning with a three-hour long parade practice followed by a talk from the Mexican chief of naval operations.  He welcomed each of the foreign delegations stressing that we were more than just “milirares extranjeros” (foreign military), but also friends who had been invited to participate in one of the most important events in Mexican history.

He told us how the people of Mexico City welcomed us with open arms.  After a presentation of gifts to and from each delegation, we headed out to see the Aztec ruins at Teotihuacan. Our lunch that was planned for 2 p.m., soon became a dinner and a dance.  Greeted by actors in elaborate feather headdresses, the meal was a banquet fit for royalty.  The entertainment was constant and the food was delicious.

While the schedule had us returning for another meal around 7:30 p.m., it wasn’t until 9 that we headed back to the academy.  But there was no stress, just a general “go with the flow” attitude, and the mariachi bands and salsa dancing helped us to realize this.  It didn’t take long for all of the delegates, no matter their country of origin, to start dancing and chanting together.  Inevitably, such an event was able to encourage relationships that may one day work in favor of diplomacy.

The ruins at Teotihuacan were impressive.  Our guide explained that they were built around 100 B.C. and used for hundreds of years after that.  Known as “The Birthplace of the Gods,” Teotihuacan was the largest pre-Colombian city, and its Mesoamerican pyramids still stand out as some of the most architecturally significant.

The long bus ride to what was once the center of a state empire offered us not only a chance to get some sleep, but also an opportunity to  see some of the different areas of Mexico City.  We passed by numerous plazas, and what struck us most was the contrast between western establishments – such as Walmart, Sears, and Burger King – and the more traditional street vendors, intricate street adornments, and stray dogs.  The juxtaposition of old and new is present in Mexico City, though for the most part the  image of the native Mexican selling furniture made out of pigs hide seems to be overshadowed by industrialization and rapid growth.

The cornucopia that awaited us at the hotel and reception area was impressive.  Our mouths watering, we raced to line up for the guacamole while inhaling the smell of grilled meat, relishing the sweetness of the platanos, and curiously trying every juice on the menu.  Tamarind, horchata, and jamaica are not often served in the United States. 

We went back for seconds and thirds, and yet the party was just beginning.  We conversed with our Latin American counterparts: The Brazilians told us that they would beat us in the soccer match tomorrow and the Argentinians taught us to roll our “r’s,” stating that “language must be music, speak like you sing!” 

Every country helped to chant for every other country.  We yelled “Pe-ru, Pe-ru, Pe-ru” for a while before shouting “E-cua-dor, E-cua-dor,” and so on before chanting “USA USA USA !”  There was an abundance of noise makers, confetti, and hollowed out spicy cucumbers with gum drops, a truly eclectic mix of sweet and spicy that is often found in Mexican cooking. 

The fiesta was not supposed to have an end time and we gladly followed suit, heading out into the city to experience more of what our welcoming host nation had to offer.  

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