Into thin air

By Peter Hoffman

The air was a little thinner and a little dirtier in the city of Morelia, Mexico. At more than 6,000 feet in the mountains of West-Central Mexico, my morning jogs became a lot more taxing. After only 10 minutes of running through the park for the first time the thought crossed my mind to go back to bed, once I sit down and get some oxygen back into my system. It was too bad I couldn’t go back to sleep, because I had to go to class in an hour.

It’s early January and I have to go to class? That’s what you do on a winter break Study Abroad trip. With that realization I decide to finish my jog.

The park is full of people and the more I pay attention, the more I realize the amount of stares I’m getting. I was told that people-watching is one of the national pastimes here. I can only imagine what these people thought of a bushy-headed Caucasian kid, bolting through the park wearing flowered shorts (I had to resort to jogging in my surf shorts).

The stares didn’t end with my jog. As a photographer, I tend to have a camera with me on most occasions. When I travel, this fact becomes amplified. I already stuck out enough in this foreign city, but just to make sure people knew I was a tourist I had to carry two giant cameras around my neck at almost all times.

I’m not the kind of person that likes to attract attention, so all this took a bit of getting used to. I couldn’t run as fast, I stuck out like the tourist I was, and most of all my language skills were sorely lacking in this country. This was perhaps illustrated best by the time I was trying to buy a bus ticket to a national park, but seemed to be confusing the man at the ticket counter. I was asking repeatedly for a ‘card’ to board the bus. After a minute a friend chimed in and told me the Spanish word for ‘ticket.’ Yea, I’m an ignorant American. I did my best not to announce it by keeping my mouth closed but communication is sometimes necessary.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Essays and photos by Peter Hoffman Photo editor

As awkward as I felt, the people that surrounded me put me at ease and let me learn far more than I would have as a normal tourist. There is no way I would have made it to see the small towns of Salvetierra and Yuriria in the state of Guanajuato, without a gracious gesture from another student who invited us to meet relatives in these towns.

I wouldn’t have seen the Mexican artisans creating beautiful works of art from their home were it not for the organization of our professor.

The best part of traveling is always meeting and interacting with locals. The daily life of people in foreign lands is what makes these places so beautiful and interesting. The places I was able to go didn’t really seem to be on the tourist map, and I think that’s what made them so much more fascinating. Of course, the farther from the tourist map I ventured, the more I felt like I stuck out, but the more I felt like I was getting a truer picture of this area of Mexico. I was completely out of my element, and I loved every minute of it.