Centro de Esperanza Infantil in Oaxaca

I am in Oaxaca, on my way to Guatemala. It is the last place I am going to visit in Mexico. Exciting!

I wasn’t looking forward to another set of churches and pretty buildings so I decided to skip that altogether and volunteer in a children’s center instead. So, this morning I did a bit of research and headed to the centre that’s only a short walk from the hostel.

I read about it in the Lonely Planet guide book, and then came across a lady’s blog describing her experiences with the centre.

I went there and asked if I could help with something and that I had two days. They immediately told me they needed help in the kitchen. So, I spent most of the day with Juanita (the cook) washing/drying dishes, serving lunch, helping out with the cooking. Juanita showed me how to make agua de jamaica.

Then later that day I was joined by an Australian girl and a New Zealand lady. They left after lunch but I stayed and got to talk to the children a bit. That’s when I also met a couple of Dutch people.

I spent most of the time talking to a teenager called Marco, who was rather cheeky, not to say rude at times. Anyhow, it was an experience. The reality of doing good is not nearly as glamorous as we think. I willbe spending another day with them tomorrow, helping in the kitchen and later anging out with the kids, making Christmas cards.

A bit more about the project. It was founded by Jodi Bauman in 1985 and it’s aim is to help the Triquis – the poorest indigenous people in the Oaxaca region.

The center operates through sponsosr, mainly from Western countries, who take care of a child’s school expenses. The center also looks for volunteers and donations. Another part of the expenses is covered by a German NGO.

The center has a dining area, which is visited by roughly 70 kids per day; a clinic, operated by a volunteer; and a nursery for the younger siblings of the ponsored children.

One has the opportunity to sponsor a child throughout school which only costs bout $150 per year.

To be continued…

I left the center at 4pm, got some food and thought I could have a look around. As expected churches, gardens, pretty buildings, bustling artesanias markets, intresting indigenous people. Charming pedestrian streets, full of life.

The highlight of tonight’s walk is Templo de Santo Domingo. One of the most beautiful churches I have seen. If not the most beautiful one. It looked more like a palace on the inside than a church. Rich gold carvings and scultures covering the walls and the ceiling. I overheard a guide saying that it is one of the most beautiful curches on the continent. I am glad I took tat walk, even if it’s just to see the church.

I walked through a market street that was so low, even I couldn’t walk through without bending. The women wore beautifully hand-woven red robes dotted with yellow, orange and green. The artesanias are goregeous. There’s everything from little wooden turtles that move their heads to luxurious, expensive jewelery. I would buy so much if I could carry it with me. For now I’m ony buying little dolls dressed like the indigenous from te different regions.

I wanted to see a traditional dance performance but it didn’t happen so I ended up going to a free cinema to see a very weird movie.

Day 2 at the center
Another day at the center. I got there at 11am just in time to help Juanita prepare the lunch. I got to prepare the drinks again but this time it was more fun as we were making agua de tamarindo.
At first I didn´t quite understand what we were doing as Juanita asked my to mash this mushroom thing (brown). So I mashed and I mashed, until it turned into a pulp. This we mixed with water and sugar and voila! Agua de tamarindo. We put the pulp in a cif but the water wasn´t draining properly the way I did it. So Juanita, helped out and made a huge mess.
Then we made tortas with frijoles, cheese and letuce. Juanita kept telling me that I was using too much letuce nd it wouldn´t be enough for all the bread. I did have great difficulty putting less letuce as I wasn´t using much to begin with (at least that´s what I thought). I was trying to make sure it covered the bread.
Anyhow, it was lunch time and the kids came. A busy one, all of us running around.
Each kid could have not more than 3 pieces (a bun and a half). One of the older girl had two to begin with and came back to ask for a third one as she was still hungry. Although there were more, Juanita refused to give her one saying that it´s not the way they worked.
Then there was a boy, who felt uncomfortable asking for 3 pieces despite the fact I asked him if he wanted 3.
While working I told Philippa (a girl from New Zealand) about my troubles with the teenage boy from the previous day. She said I should report him to the principal and I was wondering whether I should do it or not. I didn´t want to tell him off as he was just your average teenager (despite the things he said). At the end I didn´t say anything. But I didn´t talk to him all day, and I think he got the message.
I hope he doesn´t carry on like that as his sponsor would be very dissappointed knowing they are wasting their money. A kid like that could put you off from sponsoring as it nearly did in my case.
Anyhow, after lunch I got to play a bit with a few kids in the backyard (including twin brothers). They were very cute, full of energy, constantly laughing, running around. They went mad with the cameras, both mine and a an Italian couple´s one. Some of the photos they took were pretty cool.
Before I left I spoke to the principal and asked her for more information regarding sponsoring, volunteering and donations. The process is very straight forward: you pick a child (a girl or a boy, younger or older) and make sure you send them the money every year until they graduate. All is done online with minimum fuss.
Some kids go all the way through university and graduate with medical, engineering or business degrees. Other finish high school and either start working (as money seems to make more sense than school at the time) or get married (girls).
Those kids deserve it and I am glad I got to help and be a part of en extremely close community.

Clean Queretaro

I am not gonna spend to much time describing Queretaro. We have seen many churches and historical buldings by now and this one was no exception.

I got there late as the bus was rather late. It was raining, but luckily the taxi driver was cool and very talkative. Because of the weather there was a huge queue for the taxis, so I ended up sharing a taxi with a couple. So we all started talking, sharing stories, etc. It’s funnu how most Mexicans know Bulgaria. They are still getting over the ’94 World Cup when Bulgaria beat Mexico. Of course they all know Hristo Stoichkov (although they call him Stoikov here). We dropped them off at the main church and continued to the hostel. It turned out that the driver didn’t quite know where it was and we ended up going to another street with the same name (that’s what the driver said).

We did make it eventually. Orlando (taxi driver) helped me carry the luggage to the door only to find it locked. So we knock, and this non-Mexican looking guy comes out saying he doesn’t work there, and I need to call this number and ask the owners to come. A bit unusual. So I do call, and nobody picks up. I call this other number, and I get through voicemail. 2s cost me 2 pounds (the joys of roaming). So, I start looking around for phone, and there’s none.

That’s when mu knight in not so shining armour comes in and saves the day. Orlando walks through the door, holding his personal mobile, dialing the number on the door. He gets through to the owners and gets them to come. The nicest taxi driver ever!

So, I got settled in, got some food, and spent the night chatting to a lovely American couple who have just moved to town. They told me about their jobs, and how they are gonna live and work in Queretaro for at least a year.

Next day, I got up and explored the city. Saw everything in 5h. But before that I had some interesting encounters. First thing I saw soon after I left the hostel was an old, interesting looking house. So, I was getting ready to take a picture, when this elderly lady (wearing bright red lipstick) from across the street tells me to wait for her so she can tell me the story of the house. It turned out it belonged to Maximilian, a big political figure in previous yaers. Now the lady and her family live there. The Rabell Family started their own theatre some years back and are successfully running it to date. The lasy woudn’t stop talking, and told me all about her sons, her husband, the performances, the house. She gave me cooking tips, and asked if I wanted to take a cacti back with me. She had many despite the storm that destroyed a lot. She told me about this fallen tree in her garden that could be used to prepare many things. She gave me healing tips and brochures listing their performances. She oncluded her full contact details as wel as those of her son (Paco Chico). Her husband was Paco Grande. She took me to the very back of the house, to what seemed to be the family office and told me about the antiques, and the tropheys. That’s when she mentioned a restaurant that also sold antiques and called her son to ask for the exact address. She also gave me the name of a place that made local marmalades , jam, snacks, and off course sold antiques. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it just by the name.

I did have breakfast in the first place she mentioned (good food) where I met a guy who gve me a lecture in American history. It turns out the Americans are not actually Americans, they are all Germans, Irish, etc. A very good start of the day.

I went back to the hostel hoping to get my deposit back and leave but it was completely empty. Not a soul. I didn’t see the couple’s luggage and I thought they had found an apartment and moved out. There was no personel or any other guests. I was completely alone in the big, dark house. Freeky.

It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going anywhere, so I went out in search of Inet and other people. I was relieved (and so happy!) to find the couple at the hostel when I went back. It turned out they had just changed rooms. Later that night, a lovely French couple came as well. We had dinner together.

Next morning just before I left, I met the personel – Rodolfo. A nice guy, asking if I had any foreign coins to give his two boys as they were collecting them. I didn’t unfortnately. He told me about the yeallow bus that would take me to the station, and asked how I liked Queretaro.

I said it was pretty, he said: ‘It’s clean, no?’.

Guanajuato and Cervantino

The first thing I thought when I got to Guanajuato was ‘Wow! What an atmosphere!’. The streets were packed with people, street vendours and performers. Lights and food kiosks everywhere!

I made my way to the hostel thanks to the directions of many tourist info guides that were very helpful. I quickly got settled in and went out looking for some food. I picked a place from the Lonely Planet guide book, which I kept visiting for the duration of the trip.

Later that night I wandered the streets a bit trying to find this one performance I was gonna see. Now this is the time to mention that Guanajuato is home to Cervantino-an international arts festival. It all started small, with a few local performances all to do with Don Quijote and Cervantes, and grew into an extremely popular international festival drawing artists from around the world.

So, the first thing I saw was acrobatics meat clowns. A skinny, bendy guy and a strong girl doing all sorts of felixbility and strength tricks while joking. It was fun! A good start to the evening.

Then I made my way to the other end of the city, to a place called Pastitos, and waited for the next performance to begin. I was stupid enough to go out wearing shorts and slippers, and was freezing soon after I sat down in the park. Eventually I found a way to keep warm, and that’s exactly when they told us that the performance is best seen from the middle of the square.

The performance was worth the wait. It was done by a German theatre called PAN.OPTIKUM. The whole performance was about football. Pretty boring, I know! But they way they did it was amazing. Very simple and creative. By no means cheap though.

The stage consisted of 4 separate squares that all moved. There was a band. Constant motion, cool visual and sound effects. They took advantage of the whole square-moving, climbing, jumping, singing, rolling, going in circles, hanging from the metal frames. They did it all. It is hard to describe but luckily I have video.

The finale was magnificent. The trainer was locked in this hamster like wheel running around. Around him the 3 ladies were spinning around him and around themselves. Behind them a bunch of fireworks were lit. Around them also. They came from everywhere. Very close to their backs, heads,arms. And if that’s not enough, they let hundreds of white doves into the sky.

A great performance, one of the coolest I have seen.

Right, the next day I went around, exploring the streets of Guanajuato. I took several of the local buses to get places – I enjoyed riding them, they were cheap and I didn’t feel like walking at times. I visited the Mummuy Museum, where they told us about the tombs they use to burry the dead. That´s where I got the idea to look for a cemetery and see tem with my own eyes. That´s why I climbed this hill, thinking that the cemetery was at the top. It turned out to be a church, called ‘Santuario…’.

I went to the market, and took a bus to the outskirts of the city in search of Templo de Valenciana. The church itsels was beautiful, both inside and out. The walls were covered with golden carvings and wall size paintings of Jesus.

A string quartet was practicing for the nights performance and I got to listen to them a bit. An opera singer was also practising with them. It was very nice, the location was stunning.

Next day I got up nice and early (well, that was the plan at least) and took a bus to visit Cristo Rey. A 20 meter statue of Jesus, about 25km away from the city. Again, the trip there was fun, for some reason I really enjoyed the run-down local buses. Everytime, there was a bump on the road, they all made horriffic noises threatening to fall apart at any minute. The city buses had so much trouble changing gears, and barely crawled up the hills. Anyhow, back to Cristo Rey-the bus-tank made its way to the top and there wasn’t anything too exciting to see. The sort of temple was an ugly, concrete building lacking imgination and creativity let alone spirituality.

I’m not gonna go into details as there are none really. The views were pretty and that’s about it. What was interesting though were the numerous families making there way to the covered areas near the statue to….camp! Now, when I first saw one family, I thought they were living there because they were poor. But then all these well to do families, well dressed, well groomed started coming up, children running around, elderly people being helped out up the stairs.

Then I saw people kneeling at one end of this marble path leading into the temple. Again, well to do people. I didn’t have time to ask what they were doing, but it looked like they were on a pilgrimage.

The reason I went to see the statues, and which probably explains the above is that it is situated in the very middle of te country. And having Christ in the middle is a big deal for Mexicans.

Off to the bus station and a 6h ride to Queretaro.

Zacatecas: Colonial architecture and more

I have been in Zacatecas for two days now. Not because I wanted but because I had to. I had only planned one day, but I got sick and decided to rest for a day before I continue my journey down south.

Anyhow, the city has been a joy. Very pretty! Many cobbled streets and colorful houses. Magnificant churches and great views. The people have been very kind and helpful. There’s always someone suggesting an interesting spot to visit or a good place to eat.

I took the teleferico (it’s a bit like a ski lift, going through and above the city) up to Cerro de la Bufa (one of the few surrounding hills) and spend a day wandering around and climbing rocks. The top of the hill makes for a pleasant weekend walk and has a pretty church, some viewing spots, statues of important revolutionaries, artesanias shops, a museum, a meteorological tower. I visited the church, wandered its courtyard. Took photos of the statues, browsed the shops, went up the hill to see a mausoleum, and finally climbed the hill. By the time I as done, I was starving and it was time to make my way back to town.

The local street theatre festival came as a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed almost 3 performances (the 2nd one I couldn’t quite see as there were too many people). I saw a circus performance and a traditional Mexican theatre to do with their main ancient God Quetzcuatl. It was a bit weird at times, and a bit borring, and I do have to admit I didn’t get it all but it was pretty to watch.

I fogot to mention that I met a Mexican guy while I was having lunch and we spent the day together – chatting, sightseeing, eating. Very cool guy!

Today, when I was wandering the streets I stumbled upon the actors preparing for another performance at a local hotel. The atmosphere was nice – arty, lively, warm.

Today, I saw the bits of the city I couldn’t see yesterday despite the continuous rain. It rained during the night, then twice or three times during the day. I saw some pretty parks, and a food market. That was cool! A bit surreal, it’s hard to believe that food doesn’t always come fom the well-arranged supermarkets. I stayed there for a bit, waiting for the rain to pass by. It was fun to just watch people.

Then I felt pretty tired so I went back to the hostel for a nap. The sound of music woke me up, there was a doll parade on the main street, again part of the festival.

A light lunch followed and some more sightseeing. Now, it is time for dinner.

Barranca del Cobre and the last train ride in Mexico

Hi All,

Here we go again. This is my first post from the road. I’m writing this from a beautiful colonial town in central Mexico called Zacatecas. I’m gonna divide this into a few sections as quite a lot has happened in the last few days.

1. Mountain-biking
2. Canyon trip
3. Horseback-riding

Mountain – biking

After a day of travel I finally made it to Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon), one of the 13 natural wonders in Mexico. I took it easy that first day, as I got there late, and there was no time for anything but metting my roomies and eating dinner. Speaking of the roomies, they all turned out really cool, two Australians, a German, and a Finish guy. We all had dinner together and got to know each other a bit better. Later that night we went to the next door cafe and the owner (ex-banker from Guadalajara) kindly let us watch a movie there. It was weird…despite his assurance that it was a good movie!
At about 9.30 we were all knackered and headed back to the hostel. A few minutes later, all of us were fast asleep. Well, almost all! I couldn’t sleep as a) my feet were cold and b) the guy sleeping above me was snoring like a bear! I was trying to fall asleep before he did for the rest of my stay there.

Anyhow, next day, nice and early (woken up by church bells) we all had breakfast and wanted to go horseback-riding together (all 6 of us). However, there weren’t six horses available, so the guys went and me and Miguel (snoring guy) rented bikes and spend the rest of the day exploring the surounding areas. We visited a Tarahumara (name of local indigenous community, also called ‘Raramuri’ in their language) living quarters (read as ‘cave’), we saw some interesting rock formation in the Valle de los Hongos (Mushroom Valley) and Valle de los Monjes (Monk Valley), a Tarahumara mission, and we chilled near Lago de Arareco (Lake Arareco). We managed to get lost on the way to Valle de los Monjes and came across a four-petalled flower plantation 🙂 I had never seen anything like it before and I guess I’m the luckiest person in the world.

The whole day was kinda slow, not only because we took our time but because Miguel walked uphill and hardly moved downhill. Me, as a good cycling buddy had to walk with him, to keep him company, not that I was tired 😉

Speeding downhill was exhilarating though, I tried to do as fast as possible.

Back to the Tarahumara people – amazing to look at but not very friendly at all.

Ok, that was Day 1.

Canyon trip

On my 2nd day in Creel, we went to explore the surrounding canyons. We went to several mirradores (observation points). The first and the smallest canyon of all was the most impressive in my oppinion. Maybe because we were able to admire it from the nearby rocks instead of organised observation points.

Next we carried on to some mirradores from where one could see all three canyons at once. Some amazing views!

On to lunch, where I had gorditas y chille relleno (stuffed pepper). The tortillas were black and red (different types of corn) and rather expensive.

On the way back home we got stuck in traffic as all road in and out of the village were blocked due to a local race. I’m glad we got stuck as we got to see it. It was pretty amazing – you could see Tarahumara women running barefoot and wearing traditional costumes (a very long skirt and a shirt, both very colorful). We also saw a Tarahumara man wearing a traditional costume ( a long short, a sort of a hair band, and sandals made of old tires and leather straps. Speaking of the sandals – I picked them up at the market, just so I can look at them. They were very heavy, because of the tire bottom, I can’t believe people ran in them.

Anyhow, a Western girl (someone I saw at the hostel the night before) also ran the race. We later became friends and went out for the night.

We were back at the hostel around lunch. I went out for a walk to kill some time, but it started raining and I quickly went back to the hostel. That’s when we met the runner girl (a Portuguese named Brigida), a lovely Mexican girl – Carmina, and a Japanese guy (Gandji). We started talking, went for coffee and cake, dinner, and drinks. At the bar we met some Americans who were travelling the canyon on motorbikes. Pretty cool!

Rewind, after the rain stopped, I heard the train coming. Now this is a special train as it is the last one in Mexico. The original idea was to take the train through the canyon before I make my wy down. However, going where I was headed turned out to be very difficult that way, and after much consideration I decided to take the bus back instead. So, at the end I didn’t ride Mexico’ last train (‘El Chepe’) but I sure ran from the hostel to the station to take a picture of it. The railway is an engineering mirracle with its 650km, 36 bridges, and 87 tunnels (all that through a canyon at times deeper that the Grand Canyon in US).

Time to sleep.

Horseback – riding

This was the most memorable part of my trip to Barranca del Cobre, and by far the most memorable part so far. We rented horses and a guide who took us to the Tararecua Canyon and Rukiraso Waterfall. AMAZING!

The first time the horse galloped was one of the best things I have ever experienced! That was also when we had a rather major accident. Me and Roberto (our guide) were galloping next to each other when we ran through some paddles of water and moist dirt. Roberto’s horse slipped and fell down dragging Roberto down. Luckily, the horse didn’t roll over him, and he ended up just wet and dirty (and so did the horse). For the following gallops, I made sure I was far from anyone else and avoided moist ground. It gave me a serious scare. Who know what would have happened if it were me…

Now is the time to mention what a great guide and a person Roberto is. He helped us with the horses, took us to amazing spots, sang for us (we all did actually), told us stories and all in the cool, calm manner of a down-to-earth, peaceful cowboy.

The singing bit was so cool. It all started the night before when Oscar (a tourist guide from Chihuahua, interested in foreign cultures) asked me to sing a Bulgarian song for him. I chose ‘Nazad, nazad mome Kalino’, a dramatic song about love. I didn’t sing much that night, but I told Oscar I would sing for him the day after. So, he sang in Spanish, I sang in Bulgarian, and Roberto sang a beautiful, old Mexican song. Apparently, it was a favourite of his grandfather’s (very suicidal too).

Ok, after about 2h of riding we got to the canyon. I couldn’t find my words when I saw it. Despite being only a small one, the feeling was intensified by being able to stand on the edge of the rocks falling deep down the canyon. Going to the edge of a rock, sort of balancing on the edge of the canyon was an amazing feeling!

This was followed by some relaxing time by the waterfall, where Roberto told us his story. Although, I only spent 5h with Roberto, he is the one person that I liked the most.

Time to make our way back and get ready to depart for Zacatecas.

PS I have been trying to upload photos as well, but haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet.

Check them out on FB: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=331135&id=752200606&l=19f5e851ad