I wish this blog was scratch-and-sniff and that you could instantaneously order and receive a sample platter because the food was delicious! The servings were so generous and fresh! People would 'warn' you about particular sauces or peppers being spicy hot, yet to me, everything was perfectly seasoned. And by the way, I did not see the first 'taco'! Enjoy the photos & I hope you can go to Mexico to taste it for yourself!!
Thursday, June 26, 2014-- Making the most of our final hours in Mexico, we watched the sun rise. The constant breeze coming off of the ocean was refreshing--- just like this vacation. Coffee, breakfast, and packing completed our stay at this quaint get-away.
On the way to the airport, an unexpected situation with the van necessitated our switching vehicles. That challenging delay was handled with confidence and grace, which again confirmed the leadership skills of Mariana, Emily, & Juan. Making it to the airport in perfect time, we all said our goodbyes to our friends Juan and Mariana. Time on the plane was spent sleeping, reflecting, and looking forward to being with our families. I will miss my new friends / colleagues because have enjoyed their intelligent & honest conversations, their interesting personalities, and our laughter. Even so, I can't wait to see my family, show them my pictures, and tell them my stories. I look forward to sharing with friends, colleagues, and students.
Thanks to you for reading this blog! It's been a cool opportunity to communicate with you.
Adios y vaya con Dios, Mexico!
Tuesday, June 24-- This morning reminded me of getting ready for school at home- eating a quick breakfast, grabbing what I need for the day, & hustling out of the door. (Manuel fixed pancakes and a ham'n'cheese quesadilla. He bought fruit, granola, and cantaloupe juice too which was also good!)
Today we met our group again at the Na'atik Center before heading out to visit a public elementary school in a rural Maya town. There are three teachers who run the entire school of about 65 students. Parents volunteer once a month to clean and take care of the school. We asked each other questions about our educational system. The 'reform' for their country's new system is patterned after the US's system which we find interesting since we have many of the same challenges already. I was especially touched by a letter from a student that translated to: I am grateful for your visit and I hope you have a journey of happiness.
We ate lunch at a Maya home. The served us chicken soup, horchata and sandia (fresh fruit juices). We met a lady who is working to promote the Maya culture, encourage women to create their business, and writing books in Maya & Spanish. Her mother shared a tale with us she learned from her mother through storytelling.
People spent a few hours of 'free time' doing various activities before the fiesta such as taking naps, visiting a cultural institute, seeing a center that is 'off the grid', or going shopping.
The fiesta was fun with food, conversation, and dancing. Maya guests presented traditional Maya dances and invited us to join in. It was nice to meet the people my travel mates had talked about.
It's our last night with our host family and the last night rooming with Daphne. Just like the owl I've heard outside of my window each day, she's a hoot!! It's very late (1:40am) so it's time to go sleep!!!
Wednesday, June 25-- After another delicious seafood breakfast and their presentation of handmade gifts, we said goodbye to our host family. Even if we never see our host family again, we will still be connected and and have influenced each other's lives for the better. I am grateful for their hospitality and what I have learned from them.
With the mindset of gratitude, I must say 'thank you' to Person County schools for partially funding this experience for myself and Ms. Pentecost. By promoting experiences like this, PCS is supporting continued teacher growth and the importance of global awareness.
A huge GRACIAS goes to Mariana and Emily for planning and implementing such a wonderful trip. Their positive attitude, hard work and determination for a successful experience was extraordinary.
At Tulum, we walked through the beautiful ruins of the ancient city. If I were an ancient Mayan, I would choose to live here by the cliffs and gorgeous waters of the Caribbean Sea. Fresh fruit popsicles rejuvenated us for some haggling in the market for tapestries and other souvenirs.
In the town of Puerto Morelos, we made some quick last-chance purchases & enjoyed lunch by the sea. Marking it off the bucket list, we sang with musicos (guitarists - as close as we could get to a mariachi band.)
ASAP upon arrival at Rancho Sok-Ol, we hit the beach for snorkeling and 'just chillin'. After freshening up, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner compliments of Emily and Mariana. We were joined by one of the directors of UNC at Chapel Hill's Consortium of Latin American Studies & her mom who is a university professor in Puerto Rico.
At dinner we again reflected on what we will take with us from this experience. I cannot adequately summarize each individual's ever-important response so I must suffice it to say that it was life-changing for everyone in personal and professional ways. I asked each person to add whatever they wanted to say on this blog & here is what they wanted to contribute:
Claudia: I think that everyone should travel to another country at least once in their lives to learn about other cultures and to appreciate their own. What a truly wonderful experience!
Jennifer: Opening yourself up and taking on new experiences to try to understand other people and cultures is an important responsibility everyone should take ownership of.
Linda: Hard to express in words what a journey this has been. I have learned a lot about a wonderful country but right at this moment I am appreciating being back in my own home country. Viva french fries and pizza!
Daphne:I came, I saw, I connected!
Betty Brandt:As all of my trip-mates know from our many debriefs, the word that has resonated most with me from this trip is "privilege." What a PRIVILEGE to have the means to come explore a new culture and learn. I live comfortably, have received a good education, and I know a language (English) that is guaranteed to have a speaker in almost every situation. Not everyone has this privilege. It has been a joy to go on this journey! And it's not over--- we will all be together again and will challenge each other to carry our experience into our classrooms and give everyone what they may not normally receive by inherited privilege, but what we know they deserve!
Courtney: This was the most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my life and I have absolutely no regrets. I was genuinely sad to leave Mexico! It is such a beautiful, amazing, historical place.
Possibly coming soon-- thoughts from Emily & Mariana & Tyson & Carrie.
For me, a deep truth concerning our interactions with people and places summed up in a simple saying (quoted by a librarian none-the-less) is "Don't judge a book by it's cover." Also, this trip reconfirmed that, as humans, we are more alike than different & that our differences should be celebrated.
Monday, June 23--- I awoke in the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto to the sounds of my family getting ready for school. The 'mom' is a kindergarten teacher & the 'dad' is a PE teacher in middle school. The 'daughter' is fourteen in intermediate school and hopes to become a doctor. They are a wonderful family!
After meeting our travel mates at Na'atik, we grabbed the necessary coffee at an Oxxo (a convenient store) and headed to observe in a Carrillo public school. A fifth grade teacher explained the educational system and answered our questions. The similarities are amazing--- teachers' concerns about the need for more parental instruction in character development at home, the struggle to motivate students to choose to learn, and the governments' lack of understanding the real-life educational system. Teachers in Mexico have similar issues with 'tenure' and pay and benefits as NC teachers.
We explored parts of the town by foot, quickly went through the market, and the toured the Maya Cultural museum. Some people dropped off and picked up laundry at such a reasonable price that I would consider recycling my washer and dryer!
Lunch and a cooking class at Sonja's house (a friend of the Na'atik Center) was fun! We each made our own tortilla and fried our own empanadas. We also enjoyed swimming in the pool at Sonja's house, and, to the sound of a bleating goat, watching Mexico win their World Cup soccer game.
Today feels the hottest with little AC time so there is little relief from the heat. The teachers who are staying in homes with no AC and more challenging sleeping situations are tired--- yet still having a great time!! Myself included, we do miss our families yet still again, we are loving the experience!! We all are learning to live in the moment and appreciate life.
To my family-- I love you!
My host family is so happy to share their life with me and my roommate, Daphne. They showed us beautiful clothes they made-- some by hand and some by sewing machine with cross stitched, painted, crocheted, or other seen decorations. They took us out to eat 'American food' at the market. We got hamburgers and hotdogs (both chicken), French fries, and a coke from a food cart. It smelled just like the state fair. When we got 'home', we sat outside where it was cooler with the breeze & talked. They shared photos of a family vacation and videoes of cultural events using their laptop and projector like a home theatre. They laugh a lot and it's nice to see people happy and enjoying life.
They have been very giving people-- sharing their time, ideas, and finances with us. They provide more than enough food for us, give us the only room with air conditioning, carry my way-too-big suitcase, leave work daily to bring us breakfast & get us where we need to be on time. I could not have asked for kinder or more interesting people to take care of us. I couldn't effectively say 'thank you' in English - more less in Spanish.
On Tuesday, our host parents weren't able to join us for the celebratory fiesta because they were busy with other tasks. The dad was busy cooking a pIg for a family reunion happening Wednesday. He and his brothers all learned this skill from his dad. The mom was sewing a flag to represent their family that they would carry in a parade of sorts At the reunion. The daughter went with us to the fiesta for a short while. Just before we left, I overheard the daughter ask her mom if should could wear a little makeup and her mom nicely said no. Then we had a limited-in-words yet universal conversation about being a mom. No matter where you go, sometimes things are always the same.
Sunday, June 22, 2014--
Hey to my family and friends and students!! Hello also to my fellow travelers' family and friends!! I hope you are enjoying keeping up with our trip!
I slept in a hammock last night!! It was very comfortable! The homestay family is very nice and so is their home. We had breakfast with our host families. (Pairs of teachers are staying at different home stays with varying levels of 'comforts' like wifi or air conditioning.) Our host family took us to a restaurant in the market for breakfast. They are very funny and welcoming people.
We are learning more about the culture and education through the Na'atik Center, teachers, and students involved with the program. We started with a celebration of Carrie's birthday with singing and a delicious cake!
Joined by people from the Na'atik Center, we went to the Sijil Noh Lagoon and cenote. It is a beautiful place off the beaten path. Some of us trekked through mud and 'jungle' and someoif us canoed to another beautiful cenote (not in a cave). Snorkeling in the cenote and seeing small, colorful fish was fun! The climb up & down the wooden fire tower was a little frightening yet the view was well worth it!
Another fantastic meal was prepared for us there at the lagoon/cenote. I am so impressed at their ability to be such wonderful hosts at places with only the very basic essentials. Someone picked a fresh watermelon for a delicious & impromptu snack.
We are all just arriving back to our host families for the evening. Buenos Noches!
Friday night--- We all went out for a late dinner which surprisingly included karaoke. The laid back and chill atmosphere was very enjoyable!
Saturday, June 21--- This morning started with reflective conversation with all group participants while we enjoyed coffee and breakfast in the hotel's courtyard. We have been challenged on this trip to think about what we are learning and what we are questioning. The exchange of ideas causes us to think on a deeper level & consider how this experience will apply to us professionally and personally.
We set out early for an amazing experience--- swimming in a cenote! (Everyone reading this---put that on your bucket list!!) The rivers and water sources are all underground in the Yucatan. A cenote is a sink hole that I can best explain as a freshwater natural pool in a cave. The water is crystal clear and refreshingly cool & about 16 feet deep. Bats fly overhead in the cave that's complete with stalagmites. One hole in the 'ceiling' lets in a beam of light with the reflection dancing on the ceiling of the cave. Everyone participated in the experience.
We had lunch in Vallodolid and had a final stroll / shopping spree through the town. The best shopping was done in Juan's family's market booths where we purchased hammocks, blouses, and other items made by his relatives.
Today we leave the state of Yucatan and enter Quintana Roo. Today we will meet our family that we will stay with for four nights. We have been told that are experience is about to change. We all are wondering what is ahead.
Day 4--- Friday, June 20--- After a delicious breakfast at the hotel with bags and people packing the van totally full, we said adios to Merida. We experienced Chicken Itza and Ek Balam through self- guided tours. Both are ancient Mayan monuments built about 1000 years ago. Chichen Itza is one of the 7 Wonders of the World! The monuments are spread out over a large area with many tourists and vendors. The monuments are impressive with amazing carvings on a grand scale. A scavenger hunt for particulars such as serpents, skulls, feathers, Mayan gods, and geometric designs helped us pay attention to detail. I wish I could go back in time to see this area to see it alive in color with daily and ceremonial activities. The most adventurous and bonding experience so far was climbing to the top of several buildings including the Ek' Balam Acropolis.
We had lunch at Las Mestizas in Piste. Again, delicious foods, sauces, and drinks (like jamaica) were everywhere! I am grateful to our group's 'guides' for their recommendations, explanations, and interpretations.
We were so pleasantly surprised to go to Juan's house to meet his wonderful family, delicious ice cream, and learn about his wife's craftwork with hammocks and embroidery. The experience was extremely impressive and their charming hospitality unforgettable!
We are staying one night here in Valladolid which is the hometown of our driver and protective friend Juan. The hotel, Casa Quetzal, is dreamy with authentic furnishing and decorations.
Gotta go enjoy a pool side chat!!
Last night when posting my blog text and photos there was 'technical difficulties', so this morning I am summarizing quickly before we leave wifi--
We went to two different schools in Merida and Progresso. One private school and one public. It was great to see incorporation of art and creativity, freedom of speech and movement for students, and a relaxed environment. I even saw use of graphic organizers & project- based learning (if you look closely at their papers & projects)!
The day was full of fun with planned and unexpected events in Mexico and along the coast of the Gulf if Mexico!