Tuesday, November 7 – Squiz the World goes to… Mexico

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

20 best cenotes in Mexico: https://www.roadaffair.com/best-cenotes-in-mexico/
Inside the Pyramid of Cholula: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCD__zVfChE
Mole poblano recipe: https://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/wprm_print/2190

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting the most popular holiday destination in all of South and Central America… a place famous for its beaches and its tacos… you got it, we’re going to Mexico!

Right now is an especially fun time to be visiting the United States of Mexico, which share a long border with the United States of America, because Day of the Dead is celebrated on November first and second. You heard all about that in this week’s Shortcut!

So, strap yourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner as we take off and take a squiz at Mexico.

Mexico has a rich, ancient history. Humans have been living there for more than 20,000 years!
Different civilisations developed and fell over the thousands of years, from the Olmec, to the Maya, the Zapotec, and then the Aztecs. Then, in 1517, Spanish explorers began to arrive… and in 1521, after killing the leader of the Aztecs, they claimed the land and called it “New Spain.”

For 300 years, the Spanish ruled the land… until, on September 16, 1810, a Catholic priest made a speech that set the war of independence in motion. 11 years, 1 week and 4 days later, the Mexicans marched into the capital, Mexico City, and declared victory.

Here’s a funny thing about the capital. The Aztecs chose its location for a sacred building, which happened to be on top of a lake. When the Spanish came along, they built their capital on top of the Aztec structures. But because there’s mud and water beneath the city, it is sinking! Parts of Mexico City lean like Italy’s famous tower of Pisa, and the city sinks around 12cm every year! Take out your ruler and have a look at 12cm… that’s quite a drop in just one year. How far would it have dropped over your lifetime?

Speaking of sinking, Mexico has thousands of ancient sinkholes, now filled with fresh water, that are called cenotes. I’ve put a link in your episode notes to some photos and descriptions of the most famous – as soon as you take a look at the sparkling underground water, caves, and jungle, you’ll understand why they’re one of Mexico’s biggest tourist attractions.

Whenever you do travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

The Mexican government recognizes 68 national languages, 63 of which are indigenous, including around 350 dialects of those languages. Most people, though, speak Spanish—perhaps not surprising, given that the Spanish ruled over Mexico for 300 years. We’ve got Squiz Kid Zara here to teach us a thing or two.

(kid audio)

A huge gracias to you, Zara!
Now that we can communicate a little bit, it’s….

Mexico is home to the world’s biggest university. An astonishing 300,000 students go to UNAM, which translates to the National Autonomous University of Mexico. That’s more than the entire population of Hobart!

But here’s the thing. Despite all those uni students, only two out of three kids in Mexico finish high school. (In Australia, more than 8 out of 10 kids finish year 12.)

Not only does Mexico give public schools very little money, and not enough teachers… another big challenge is a high percentage of Mexican kids live in rural areas, and need to help their families on the farm. That makes going to school full time really tricky.

Even though there’s a lot about Mexican schools that could be better, here’s something pretty cool. Partly because so many tourists come to Mexico, there’s a rule that students have to learn a second language. In most Mexican schools, the day is divided, with half being taught in Spanish, and the other half being taught in a second language. That’s called a bilingual education – “bi” meaning “two”, and “lingua” being the Latin word for “language”. There are a few bilingual schools in Australia, but they’re rare.

Speaking of learning new things, I discovered something really surprising about Mexico…

If I said “pyramid” to you, what country would you think of? Egypt, right?

Believe it or not, the biggest pyramid in the world is actually in Mexico… and there are another 32 pyramids dotted around the country.

Now, the Egyptian pyramids were built about 4,500 years ago, and the ones in Mexico are much younger. There’s no evidence of any connection or contact between the cultures, so the reason both places have pyramids is probably just that back then, it was the most sensible way of building a tall, stable structure: a wide base, getting narrower as it went up.

The giant pyramid of Cholula, in Mexico, has a base four times bigger than the Great Pyramid at Giza, in Egypt, and it has nearly twice the volume.

Not only is it the biggest pyramid in the world, it’s also the biggest MONUMENT ever constructed, anywhere, by any civilisation.

So… why haven’t most of us heard about it before? Well, one big reason is that it’s hidden under a mountain! The pyramid started being built about 2,300 years ago, and was added on to over the years by different civilisations – but each time, they used something called adobe bricks. These are made of mud and straw, and it’s easy for plants to take root… when the Spanish conquered the city of Cholula in 1519, the pyramid was completely hidden by vegetation.

The Catholic conquerors built a church on top of what they thought was just a mountain… and it wasn’t until 1910 that the gigantic pyramid beneath was discovered. Today, the city has built kilometres of tunnels for people to explore … I’ll put a link in your episode notes to take a tour of your own.

Okay, after a day spent exploring I’m starving! I think it might be…

If you like eating corn… tomatoes… zucchini… anything flavoured vanilla… or my personal favourite, chocolate—well, you have Mexico to thank for those foods. All of them, as well as many different types of beans, are indigenous to this Central American country.

And although you might know tacos the best, the national dish of Mexico is actually something called mole. It’s spelled m-o-l-e, but it has nothing to do with the creature that lives underground! The word comes from an indigenous word meaning ‘sauce’, and it’s poured over all kinds of meat dishes.
The most famous version is mole poblano, which comes from the town of Puebla and is made with chilli and chocolate – it’s not sweet, but rich and delicious. I’ve put a recipe in your episode notes… there are a lot of ingredients, but it’s not complicated!

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. What is happening to Mexico City every year?
Question 2. What did the Spanish build on top of the pyramid of Cholula?
Question 3. Name one of the fruits or vegetables that come from Mexico