Sunday, March 20, 2011


Well..... today was amazing.

We saw so many things - and learned so much... I had one student say today that school would be a lot more interesting if we could learn this way...... (I kind of agree!!)

Anyway, our day started out very well - a very long and traffic congested ride to Teotihuacan.  The Mexican people are in the midst of the construction at this present time, and with 8 million cars in the city, you can imagine the parking lot conditions that the roads must endure.  It kind of reminded us of Highway One - west of the Port Mann Bridge.... except - multiply the congestion by millions!  

Our arrival at Teotihuacan was awe-inspiring.  You can see the pyramids from quite a distance and I tell you - wow... amazing..... I was in the van with our Mexican superstars - Mayus and Martha - as well as pseudo- Mexican superstar chaperone Shelli (whose Spanish is getting much better! - inside joke.. I will explain later...) and one our student ambassadors, Nick. I hear from the other chaperones who traveled with the other ambassadors that the first peek of Teotihuacan generated many oooohs and awwwwws...... Not surprising from this group, as I am getting quite used to the looks and sounds of utter amazement as they continue to absorb this culture.....

Mayus and Martha have worked their magic again.  We were a small group today (just the 16 of us) - with an English guide who spent three hours with us as we traversed the Avenue of the Dead, climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, stood at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest pyramid in the world - Thanks, LB!) and learned about the people of Teotihuacan.  We were even lucky enough to observe an archaeological excavation in progress!  I am not sure if Mayus and Martha arranged that, but - wow.  That's all I can say.  The amabassadors were very well behaved and incredibly interested in everything that the guide was able to share.  One student ambassador even said, "Something very powerful went on here over 2000 years ago... I can feel the energy here."  You know things have made an impression with students (from a teacher's perspective) when students gaze into the face of what they are learning and cannot share their thoughts.  I experienced a lot of that today.  There was an incredible amount of thinking and reflecting going on today.  I was very proud of our ambassadors.  I won't take the time to tell you any more about the pyramids we saw today, as your children should be able to share what they learned too....... I will leave that discussion for the ride home in the car on Thursday night!  

Of course, the vendors were plentiful at Teotihuacan today.  From the pictures you can see that your children are getting very good at bartering.  I think it's time we come home, if they continue to barter, you're not going to have any money left....... As well as full brains of knowledge, we left with hands full of bags today.  I hope you all have a place for Mexican inspired masks, silver bangles, onyx pyramids and other such treats!  Clean off the coffee table, because you all are going to be sporting new knick knacks!

After Teotihuacan, we headed over to the Grand Tecall Restaurant for our full afternoon meal (comparable to supper in Canada).  Very fancy and very, very high class..... Our ambassadors did really well...... We sat at a large table and were priveleged to fresh tortillas that were cooked in front of us, a buffet meal that included bbqd ribs, fresh fish, and other such delicacies!  We had a very good meal and then were entertained by traditional Aztec dancers in full traditional dress!  The children were able to participate in the wearing of the traditional feather headress and as soon as I can figure out how to download still photos from my video-camera, I will post them to the Picasa site.  Funny photos!  But to the ambassador's credit, they rolled with it!  After the traditional dance, two members of a Mexican band appeared to serenade us with popular versions of Mexican songs.  I was sooooooo touched to hear our 12 (or so!) students sing the chorus to "La Bamba"...... it was a true Canadian moment!  

When the singing and dancing was finished, we headed out to the one of the largest cactus type plants to learn how it has been named the "perfect plant that gives us everything we need!"  Through an amazing translator, we learned that this plant (and I can't remember the name of it right now!) provides us with food, clothing, medicine and entertainment (in the form of a beverage)...... A very professional and entertaining presentation - you know the kids were interested because they were crowded aroung the presenter so tightly that he could barely move..... It was truly educational and inspiring.  Again, I am amazed at how proud these Mexican people are to share everything about their culture and history.  

Our ride back to the city was uneventful, although the parking lot analogy still held true.  I don't think Mexico City has a rush hour...... it's always busy!!!

Hope you enjoyed today's entry........
We are off to the Palace National tomorrow as well as to do some visiting at the Zocalo (main square) - should be fun as the entire school is joining us on this field trip - (just a note - not just anyone gets to see this venue - reservations have to be made and Mayus had to apply to enter the National Palace way back in September!)...... Can hardly wait!  Tomorrow night will be spent with the homestay families and packing will be a major priority!

We're not talking about what is going to happen on Thursday (some of our girls were already sniffling today because they don't want to go home....), but suffice it to say that I will be stopping at the supermarket tomorrow to pick up a box of Kleenex.  

This has been an incredible journey..... Your children have been taken care of  so well and have been given the title of "honorary Mexican".

Have a pleasant night..... And wait for the final entry of Mexico 2011 - coming to you tomorrow night.

Me gusta Mexico....



Hello all!

I have found a new way for you to look at our photos!  I have uploaded them to a sharing site known as Picasa......

Thanks Mr. Roesler, for the idea!

Please click on the link below to see the picture albums - sorted day by day!

I hope this works!  Let me know!

Off to the pyramids..... we'll talk later!

Heather Briske


Well, pancake day has come and gone.

200 or some pancakes made, maple syrup poured and butter smeared.  Plates served, napkins wiped and forks handed out.   

What a day!  It was fantastic!  I could go on for hours about the batter making, the cooking and the servings, but I have written the long entry for the week (see yesterday's epic!)......

Suffice it to say that our ambassadors did a great job in creating "Casa de Hotcakes"......

I am going to send along some pictures to show you what the day looked like...... You can create your own captions!

This entry is a bit delayed tonight due to a city tour that one of the homestay moms arranged for our group.  You've heard the song, "the wheels on the bus go round and round...." well, that was us tonite..... a busload of Canadians with their homestay families...... driving through this massive city - seeing all of the cool things.......  I get an appreciation now for how big this city actually is...... It's huge!  So.... there may be photos of that tour too included in this next package of pictures that come your way......

It is very late in Mexico City and we are off to Teotihuacan tomorrow.  It is going to be a scorching day with little shade.  I am hoping that the kids have heard my "mom-isms" - lots of water, a hat (definitely - or no pyramids!) and sunscreen.  Sunstroke is not good... and I would hate for our last three days to be ruined by sunsickness.

So, wait for the pictures of the hotcakes..... and the city tour... they're on their way!



Well...... get your coffee ready, and perhaps order a pizza, because this entry is going to be a long one!

This weekend saw us be witness to the real Mexico.  Mayus has gone overboard with her planning of authentic events so that we make come home with the wonderful warm feelings of this amazing country.  
When you finish reading this email, you will wonder how we accomplished all of this in such a short period of time... (we've been gone for 36 hours!)

What an absolutely fantastic weekend.  Again, the ambassadors did not disappoint.  You would be so proud of them, as I am..... what an accomplishment they have achieved!

Here we go!

Saturday morning saw us all meet together at the school for a jaunt south to Taxco.  The entire community turned out to see us off.. actually, I would say that the community joined us on this trip - we had to rent two buses.....Yes, two!  69 people came to Taxco - families, children, homestays (even other kids who were part of exchanges in the past)..... It was unreal! This was the first real indicator to our children how important family is to the people of Mexico. Even int he busy times of this city, quality time with children is made a distinct and top priority. All of the kids went on one bus, and the adultos (adults) went on another....  Nice touch....... it gave the group of students a chance to bond with one another.  Mayus had hired a professional group of guides to work with the kids (it reminded me a bit of YMCA group leaders for grade six camp).  Let me tell you that they were absolutely fantastic with the group - they had planned activities, they were UBER-organized and had an unbelievable rapport with the kids.  

The bus ride to Taxco included a stop at the pyramids of Xochicalco (pronounced Cho-cicalco).... An example of an excavated ancient pyramidal community for aristocrats -flourishing after the fall of Teotihuacan.  It was incredibly hot, and lots of water was the order of the day.  We learned all about the ancient ball game and how the community flourished in separate classes.  Xochicalco is definitely the home of the gods as it is located on the top of a mountain range - built specifically for the recognition of the fact that the closer you were to the clouds, the closer you were to the gods......  We learned that the ancient people of this area were aware of the astronomical formations and built their communities to acknowledge the summer and winter solstices.....

After we left Xochicalco, we headed towards Taxco.  You think the windy roads of the old Sea to Sky Highway were curvy?  It has NOTHING on this highway.  Unbelievable.  We stopped just outside Taxco because the tour buses are too big to travel through this city of 80 000 people.  A word about the town - it is built right into the side of the cliffside.  It has many levels and the only way to navigate through the town is to either walk (which we did, more about that later!) or hop into the town transportation - 1970s VW Bugs (they were all white - every single one of them!).... We hoofed our way into town and then migrated toward (okay - we followed Mayus) our location for lunch.  However, the walk was more than just a walk - picture VERRRRY steep roadways - us going UP them, made entirely of cobblestone).... for an extended period of time.... (like at least 45 minutes in I would say no less than 32 degree weather)..... Thank goodness the guides had arranged a way for our luggage to get to the hotel.  You're probably thinking, how extreme could it have been?  Wait until you see the pictures - coming soon!

Anyway, we arrived at the Real de Minas Restaurant for lunch, but not before walking through the town palazza - complete with the Church  - I must say that the Santa Prista is probably the most beautiful church I have ever seen..... We also had to walk past many silver shops - great for the group to scope out what and where they would be spending their pesos.... (okay, Ms Briske too!!)

Back to the restaurant - again we were divided - adults upstairs and the kids downstairs - complete with guides.  What a fantastic lunch - oh my...... soup, salad, beef, tortillas, fresh bread - it couldn't have gotten any better!  Complete with the view of a lifetime - This truly is a beautiful part of the world.  The ambassadors ate well.  We all ate well... It was a good thing, because we needed to hit the stores after lunch.  And that we did.  I still think that Taxco didn't know what hit them.  Canadian kids EVERYWHERE.  If the silver jewellery that was being sported today (Sunday) was any indication of the amount of pesos that were spent, I would say that Taxco did well by us.  The kids look great..... shiny, and it isn't because of the perspiration.  They had a great deal of fun, I would say.  I have it on good authority that the smiles that were being shared as the first purchases were made was worth the price of the trip alone.  

Anyway, after shopping, we headed off to the hotel.  You remember the walk UP the streets to get into Taxco?  Well, we had to walk DOWN the same streets to make our way to The MonteTaxco......our hotel.  Lugging purchases in high heat, proved to challenging for some, but with some gentle prodding, we were able to make our way to the funiculaire (a tram) that literally crossed a valley to get to the hotel that was located on the opposite cliffside.  VERY cool - I won't spend much time talking about it - the pictures speak for themselves.  Coming soon.

The hotel itself was amazing.  Again Mayus outdid herself.  She arranged to have us in a separate area of the hotel - actually in the villas!  We were arranged in groups of 6 - 5 kids and an adult to each room.  Outstanding - complete with the modern conveniences of life - kitchens, two bedrooms, and pullout couches (two bathrooms!!!).....  The kids loved it and were so excited!  It was like being grown-ups!

Saturday evening was complete with a campfire, an outstanding dinner of bbqd chicken in the hotel restaurant and plenty of other good things.  A sit down meal at 8 oclock (as is the custom in Mexico) certainly was a wonderful experience... Sitting in a restaurant overlooking the city of Taxco with the lights flickering on the cliffside made this experience one I (and the kids) will never forget.  IF anything, this culture is proud of who they are, and will do anything to share it with others.  Our ambassadors are very fortunate.

As with any hotel, there was a pool at this one.  Actually there were two.  Our schedule was so packed that Saturday didn't allow us to play in the pool, but Sunday would bring a dip in the pool prior to our visit to the underground caves.  

Because the day had been sooooo packed with activities (and heat!), getting the kids to settle down on Saturday night did not prove to be difficult at all.  Lights were out, snoring was abundant and everything was quiet by 1030 at the latest.  Did you know that snoring is the same in both languages?

Sunday morning saw the kids get up early for breakfast (715) and then move to the pool for activities and a swim.  Doesn't matter where you go in life, - kids are kids!  Give them water, and a pool - and there are no divisions in culture!!!

After the pool, we headed out to the caves.  A bus ride on a very windy road in significant heat produced some interesting results...... More on that later......
The underground caves were certainly something to see!  85 million year old dripping water droplets produced amazing results.  A 2.4 km walk underground into massive caverns produced breathtaking visuals of beautiful things - highlited and spotlighted.  Still in shock as to the power of Mother Nature.  Pictures to come.......

I have had to remind the students to remember to drink twice the amount of water they would normally drink at home, to eat well, and also to get lots of sleep. I know that they are excited, and that things are definitely new to them, but taking care of themselves is top priority.  We are into day four now, and the heat, coupled with lack of sleep, and new food, may begin to take a toll.  Instructions were quite specific tonite - go to bed early, eat a good meal tonite, and drink lots of water.  They are all doing tremendously well, but signs of being overtired are starting to show.......! to be honest, I think the windy road on the way from Taxco today helped to accelerate the feelings of overtiredness, and maybe a little bit of motion sickness too.... Enough said.

Have you finished your pizza yet?  Well, quickly chew the last piece, because I am finished editorializing about this weekend.  In a word, it was Precioso!  Unbelievable... Oooops, that's two.  You know what I mean.

If I can leave you with one sentence that was uttered on the bus on Saturday morning as we were leaving Mexico City for Taxco - it would be the following uttered by a young Mexican boy of 7 years after being asked if he liked having Canadians here........

"Nick and Kyle are my new most best, best, best friends."

If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what does.

We're all having a great time here and everyone is doing well...... Hard to believe that we will be home in four days.

I am off to upload my 276 pictures from the last 36 hours.  It may be awhile before I get them off the camera and to you, but I will choose a few to post later tonite.

Take care......


Hello all.......

Well, it's two oclock Mexico City time and we have said goodbye to our new friends for today.

It was a very busy day, complete with classroom visits, a welcome ceremony where we introduced ourselves (Shamsher, Akheil and Kailley won the support of the crowd when they included how much they loved Mexico in their introduction), and our Reader's Theater presentation.  Understandably nervous the first time, amazingly the presentation got more interactive as the times went on..... Having a sea of faces who you KNOW don't speak the language often helps to increase your dramatic effects and motions to ensure understanding!

I continue to be impressed with the willingness of this group of ambassadors to fit into this new culture.  Smiling faces and "high fiving" was the order of the day.  I am so incredibly proud of this group to assume the role of ambassador so willingly and so proficiently.  This isn't an easy task to do - especially when you are 5000 miles away from home - and in surroundings that are not familiar.  Despite that, these ambassadors have embraced the opportunity to learn new things and not be phased by the unknown.  They work really well together as a good group.

One of our ambassadors said it best this morning as we were having our debrief - "we all look really different, but kids are kids; we all smile in the same language."......

With that, I will sign off.......
My camera battery appears to be dying (what a surprise!) and I will need to charge before I download more photos from today......  

So, to keep you in suspense, I will let you know that some of the pictures are good ones - that fact alone should have you checking your emails until I post!

Take care..... it's beautiful here by the way..... about 24....... and SUNNY.......

Sending cheery thoughts your way......
Hasta la vista!



Hello, hello, hello!

We are officially in Mexico City.  The flight was wonderful, the flight attendants ADORED the Chimney Hill ambassadors and the transition to the school and homestay families has gone smoothly.

We are somewhat like movie stars right now....... the kids love it!

My main goal for this email is to let you know that we have arrived safely and that all is good.  We were able to clear Mexican immigration with no incidents and the famous "red/green light" custom screening didn't identify any of us for a secondary look at our luggage.

I am off to download some images from the camera to send to you all, but, I felt it necessary to let you all know that we have arrived safely.

Stay tuned for more images, coming shortly!

Hasta la vista!

Heather Briske

Thursday, March 3, 2011

WAITING FOR YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can´t believe it is only 7 days for you to arrive here to México City