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A Guanajuato, Mexico Adventure with the Honorary Sam Hayes: Kaytee Norris, Animal Science

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Posted: April 23, 2013

TRAVEL: Explore, Embrace, Learn and Live
Posing by a cactus at The University of Guanajuato’s Division of Life Sciences

Posing by a cactus at The University of Guanajuato’s Division of Life Sciences

On Thursday, February 28th, 2013 I set out on an exciting journey to spend ten days studying abroad over spring break in Guanajuato, Mexico with two of my fellow College of Agriculture Science classmates, eight Penn State Lehigh Valley students, three fearless advisors – Mrs. Gail Good, Dr. Karen Kackley and Dr. Mary Hutchinson and the Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Sam Hayes.  This wonderful trip was part of an embedded short-term study abroad trip, BIOL 297E, geared toward Mexican agriculture and preserving the agave genome, which is an endemic plant. 

On Friday, March 1, we spend the day the University of Guanajuato’s Language School.  There we interacted with some of the students about life in American and in Mexico.  During this time we did face some language barriers; however most of the students were fluent in English.  We also toured the University and the town, followed by a lecture from Sam about Guanajuato, a walk around the city and a delicious supper with a magnificent view! 

On Saturday, March 2, we visited the Mummy Museum.  This was very different for me, but at least I can say that I experienced an important part of the Mexican Culture.  In Mexico, when you were no longer able to pay taxes on your cemetery plot – you were dug up out of the grave.   Our next stop was the Alhondiga Independence Museum – this is where the first battle of independence was fought.  After Alhondiga, we visited the San Ramon Silver Mines, where we actually got to go down in the mine, and then we headed to Santa Rosa.   In Santa Rosa, we ate lunch at the Santa Rosa Restaurant and then visited the Majolica factory!  At the Majolica factory there were so many beautiful hand painted pieces of Majolica and I could have spent all looking around! 

NorrisMexico2.pngOn Sunday, March 3, we traveled to Dolores Hidalgo.  In Dolores, we visited the Church of Father Miguel Hidalgo, which is very important because it played a major role in the fight of independence.  This is because Father Miguel Hidalgo ran the bell that was known as the “Cry of Miguel Hidalgo” and this cry called the soldiers to start the battle.  Next we visited the home of Miguel Hidalgo, followed by some cowboy boot shopping!  While in Dolores, we also sampled many flavors or ice cream.  My two favorites were pistachio and manticando and they both were very delicious. Dolores is a very nice town and I enjoyed our visit there.  

On Monday, March 4, we traveled to the University of Guanajuato’s Division of Life Sciences in Irapuato.  There we had a few short lectures about endemic plants, such as agave, mesquite and cactus plants, in Mexico.  After our lectures we visited The Agave Center, followed by the National Collection of Agave, and Mesquite and Cacti plantations.  Once we were done learning, we had the chance to sample some “polky” which is known as poor man’s tequila. 

On Tuesday, March 5, we visited the Corralejo Tequila factory. This factory is very, very large and is famous for the cobalt blue bottle.  The Corralejo Tequila factory is located on the hacienda and has been in operation for sixteen years.  After our tour of the factory, we had the chance to sample of the tequila that was produced here.  Our next stop after the tequila factory was the Indian Ruins.  Here we learned about some of the accident Indians in Mexico and we got to look at the pyramids up close.  I found the ancient ruins to be very interesting and unique.  Our final stop of the day was at a strawberry plantation.  Irapuato, Mexico is the strawberry capital of the world.  At this plantation, they used high tunnel for strawberry production.  These high tunnels were used as an inexpensive method to help control the environment.

On Wednesday, March 6, we traveled back to the University of Guanajuato’s Division of Life Sciences where we were lectured on water.  Water is a very important resource in Mexico; however their aquifers are depleting and they are trying to find ways to help solve this problem. After our water lecture we traveled to an eighty acre barley plantation where we learned about irrigation and the module associations.  Our next stop was the waste water treatment plant.  I found this treatment plant very interesting and it made me appreciate America even more!  Our final stop for the day was at the Purisima Dam and Farmers Association, where we learned more about irrigation and the farmers’ association.  The lesion of today was that water is a very valuable, limited resource in Mexico.  As the aquifers are being depleted, Mexico is very slowly running out of water and this is a major concern for the future. 

NorrisMexico3.pngOn Thursday, March 7, our first stop was at greenhouses were we learned about water harvesting.  Then we headed over to General Mills Irapuato, which is home to the Green Giant vegetable processing plant. At Green Giant, we had the chance to see how vegetables are processed.  While we were there, we had the opportunity to see broccoli and brussel sprouts being processed.  The Green Giant processing plant was one of my favorite parts of the trip!  I found this tour very neat and I really enjoy seeing what goes on behind the scenes in a vegetable processing plant.  After finishing our tour at Green Giant, we rushed over to Frugo which was a smaller, family owned vegetable processing plant.  Here we were able to see broccoli being processed and at the end of the tour we had the opportunity to sample from fresh broccoli and it was pretty tasty if I must say so myself.  As we grabbed lunch on the go, we traveled to a 150 acre asparagus plantation.  At the plantation, I learned about of interesting information about asparagus.  After we were finished at the asparagus plantation, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our final day in Guanajuato. 

Today, Friday, March 8, was our final day in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Our first stop of the morning was touring the National Genetics Laboratory.  Here we learned about genetics and viewed some of the high-tech machines that they use to replication genes.  After the Genetic Lab, we traveled to the ejido, which is also known as the rural village.  The rural villages in Mexico are very, very poor and here we visited with a family of a migrant worker.  Pedro, the migrant workers works in a nursery in California and he shared his story about being a migrant worker.  After visiting the ejido, it opened my eyes and I became even more appreciative of America for many reasons.  These people here in the village have the bare necessities and are only subsistence farmers which mean they only produce enough to feed their families.  I could never imagine living the way that they do here in the ejido.  Our final stop after the ejido was the Division of Life Sciences where we presented our assigned topics.  My topic was about the hacienda system and the ejido.  After our presentations were completed, we enjoyed an evening of Mexican Folk Ballet.  After the show was over, we said goodbye to our new friends and we headed back to pack up for our journey so we could fly back to the United States the following morning.

After spending ten days in Mexico, I learned so much and became more appreciative of America.  I also learned that being able to communicate is a very important skill in life no matter what your occupation is.  Now days it is very important to be bi-lingual as the world’s population grows with many different cultures.  I believe that experiencing different cultures is very important in helping you understand different ways of life.  Mexican was a once in a life time trip and if it was not for Mr. Sam Hayes this trip would not have been possible.  While I studied abroad, I made some new friends and I experienced an awesome opportunity that I will never forget!