Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Three)

 If you're new here, or a little lost, you can find more of my Mexico adventures here and here.

 Sunday morning I woke up bright and early.  Because of both daylight savings and the new time zone, I was awake well before the sun.  The sky was just starting to lighten as I headed out to the hot tub.  One of the leaders had told about watching the sun come up from the hot tub his previous visit here.  Unfortunately for me, the hot tub had been turned off so it was lukewarm.  I was both disappointed and a little worried that the exposure to cold would cause a relapse.  Soon I started coughing again, although I tried to hide it. Being ill was not in my plans for this week!

                                                                         Daybreak at Estero Beach, photo by Graeme Smith

The view was spectacular!  The resort was designed around the ocean view, with all the rooms, patios, pool areas and walkways allowing for wonderful views.  As our group met before breakfast, we were able to watch seals playing and waves breaking against the breakwater.  Later we took some quiet time which many of us spent gazing at the water.  One girl found a cozy spot among the rocks.  Nestled in the corner, focussed on the waves, she didn't hear the call for breakfast.  After the first inspection turned up empty, Toe and I went looking for her.  We were both a little concerned that we'd already lost one barely 24 hours in.  Thankfully I "just happened" to stop at the corner and find her in a spot Toe had already passed by.  We took deep breaths of gratitude and, gathering up our lost girl,  went to enjoy a Mexican breakfast.

                                                                Oceanview at Estero Breach, photo by Graeme Smith

  Breakfast was superb.  It was also interesting and different and perhaps a wee bit intimidating.  Having a less than pleasant experience with the soup the night before, I was careful about what I ate.  However I am a relatively adventurous eater. My somewhat proven technique when presented with strange foods that have no English description is to smell them.  This technique landed me in very good places that morning.  And my habit for managing my blood sugar levels with dairy landed me in a very happy place indeed!  Having observed the large spread of carbs, I added some cottage cheese to my plate.  Now I'm not a hater nor an aficionado of cottage cheese, merely a practical eater.  Oh my word! It was heavenly! Mexican dairy is amazing! I savoured every mouthful and went back for seconds of that creamy deliciousness.  One of the hardest adjustments to being back in Canada is the lack of amazing dairy products. *gazes off into space*

 So..where was I? *wipes drool off chin* Oh, right! The breakfast buffet...So I went around smelling all the dishes that I couldn't identify.  Since I hadn't figured out that Mexican eggs seem to be mostly free-range and thus a bastion of awesomeness, I avoided all the egg dishes.  However, I tried a warm cinnamon beverage, fried bananas with what looked like devon cream, sweet potatoes in syrup, fried tortillas coated in cinnamon sugar, and chilaquiles.  There were several soups, but I wasn't so sure about eating soup for breakfast.  That's a little out of my comfort zone.  Maybe next time.  I think I was one of the most adventurous eaters there, and I pointed others to the delicious little tidbits I found.  Definitely different from a Canadian breakfast but oh so good!  I've never had real Mexican food but I'm now a  fan!

 After breakfast, we spent more time on the beach before heading out.  First we dropped our bags off at the camp, and then headed to La Bufadora, about a 45 minute drive away.  We weren't quite as tired as the night before, but the energy level in the van was still quieter than it would be at the end of the week.  Sitting all close together tends to break down barriers, but we still didn't know each other that well.  We mostly took in the very diverse scenery and some rather interesting sights.  We passed stands selling jars of green olives, a horse painted like a zebra and took in many beautiful views of ocean and mountain.  Soon our van followed the twisty road down the mountainside into a very small town.  At first, I couldn't believe that we had arrived.  But as men started competing for our parking business,  I realized that this was indeed the big tourist attraction.  Parking at the edge of the market district, our plan was to walk past all the shops to the Blowhole itself, eat lunch at a restaurant close by and then so our shopping on the way back.

 It was an experience! Not only were the shops tightly packed with all sorts of eye-catching goodies, the vendors stood outside, yelling to attract business. As we were wearing our team shirts, the call soon became "Yellow people! Yellow people, over here!" It was hard to just keep walking.  I wanted to let them know we weren't ignoring them, but part of me didn't want to make eye contact later.  Sometimes we said that we would be back later, but this phrase caught up with us on our way back.  I was one of the last people coming up, and some vendors started yelling at us quite angrily, saying that we had broken our promise.  None of the team was in sight, so my young friend and I just put our heads down and kept walking.  It took only a few minutes to catch up with some other members, but those minutes  were scary.

 La Bufadora was an amazing place.  We just happened to arrive at high tide, so the geyser was spraying spectacularly.  I had trouble getting a good view, but I did see some very high blasts of water.  While we were there, Toe and I had a great conversation with a family from Alberta.  They were in Mexico for a year, helping at a school.  It was great to hear their story as well as to connect with fellow Canadians.  While we were talking, our group finished up picture taking and began to wind back towards the restaurant.  There were so many sights to see!  A group of musicians, a woman painting plates with her fingers, a baby tiger being fed from a bottle and kept in a crib.  There were drinks in coconuts, fried donuts, spears of mango, seafood and lots of samples.

 After a lunch at an interesting local restaurant, we began our shopping.  My eyes had been caught by some pewter and turquoise jewelry in a style I had been wanting for years.  The pieces I liked were at a vendor who was not only very friendly and respectful(some vendors were too aggressive), but was also connected to EOC.  While Toe engaged him in conversation, I picked over the pieces, finding two that I really liked.  It took some time to get his attention(which was unusual), and then I began the process of haggling the price down.  This custom was not something I have any experience or comfort with.  However, I felt happy with both my purchases and the price.  Those with experience advised us to pick a price in our head that we were comfortable paying, rather than worrying about being cheated.  Some of the teens did a great job haggling.  One girl calmly mentioned that she had been quoted a price significantly cheaper than what the vendor had offered.  Although he protested that his was much better quality, the price was quickly dropped.  I was very proud of my friend!

 Far too soon we had to make our way back to camp.  We were expected back to meet the family that we were building for.  After a brief introduction, we would share a meal together.  It was a special, but awkward moment.  We had known their names for over a month, had watched the video they had put together and been purchasing presents for the daughter.  Yet we were still strangers, separated by a language barrier.  At the first meeting, we also met Lucy who would be our translator for the week.  But when we got in the dinner line-up, Lucy disappeared.  It was up to us to find a way to communicate.  The daughter, Stephie(not her real name) was very shy.  I knew that she was about my daughter's age.  Using my very rusty Spanish, I asked how old she was.  Then I told her that my daughter was close to her age.  She stopped hiding and her mom began to talk to me.  As we ate, we slowly and carefully communicated.  I laughed inwardly as Lira spoke rapidly to me in Spanish.  I could have probably understood much more if she had spoken slower, but I couldn't remember how to say "slow down!"  My amusement came from remembering that many of my friends who are new to the English language accuse me of speaking too quickly.  I got a taste of my own medicine that evening!

 After dinner, our family left while we finished unpacking and settled in.  I was pulled into two different leaders' meeting, one all about the details of the build while the other focussed on who EOC is and what their ministry plan and philosophy is.  Having come with some questions, this session reassured me.  It was also great to get a sense for who the other teams were.(All four groups were from the United Church, which is both cool and unusual)  After the meetings, it was time for chapel. Again there was a quick introduction of the groups, followed by a time of worship and a brief message as well as an explanation of the camp rules and policies, including curfew.  Rhonda spoke about the other baggage we may have brought, things such as fear that might be holding us back.  She encouraged us to let it go, to embrace this new adventure.  After chapel, we met in our focus groups and discussed both our impressions of the first day and any rocks that might be holding us back this week.  I barely remember what we talked about, I was so tired.

 Quiet time came quickly, but we were so jet-lagged it was a relief.  Our group settled in quickly.  One of the girls led first a reading from the trip devotional sent by our church and then led us in group prayer.  I turned the lights out and silence quickly fell.  This would not be the norm  as the week progressed!  So ended the first full day in Mexico.  The next day would bring our first day on the build and our first time on KP.   Stay tuned....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Mexico Adventure (Part 2)

So...I've gotten on the plane and landed in San Diego.  I believe I ended the last post with us crazy Canadians taking pictures of palm trees and tropical flowers with great enthusiasm.  After we collected our baggage, there was about a thirty minute wait while the drivers fetched the rental vehicles.  At first we were content to lounge in the sun and take pictures of the local fauna.  But eventually we started getting antsy. Having lost two hours in Toronto, we were in a hurry to get our shopping done and cross the border before dark fell.  To save space travelling, we planned to purchase certain items(like pillows and shampoo) in San Diego that would be either used up or left in Ensenada.  Unfortunately, the lost time caused our shopping trip and stop for dinner to be much quicker than planned.  Instead of a sit-down dinner, something desperately desired after all those hours of travelling, we ended up with McDonald's.

 By the time we ate "lunch", I was tired, hot and coming down with a migraine.  I was also feeling very frustrated.  Getting 18 people headed the same direction is an awful lot like herding turtles. However, I have lots of practice doing this regularly, so I took lots of deep breaths, found my advil and sat quietly. Eventually pillows were bought, everyone was fed, potty breaks had been had by all and we were on our way to Mexico!

 I was going to write that the culture shock started at the border, but for me it started driving through the city.  Although I have read quite a few articles on the situation in California, I was not prepared for the homelessness I saw.  While we were at a stoplight, I glanced over to see some homeless people hanging out in a courtyard.  There was a man, looking in rather rough shape, sitting on a retaining wall. He may have been missing an eye.  Lying just inside the shrubbery, was a woman, passed out.  Although he appeared to be mostly asleep, the man kept glancing over to see if she was okay.  Further in was a table, with another man sitting there sleeping.  My heart broke to see such poverty and desperation.  Possibly because it's much colder here, I don't see as much homelessness where I live.  It is there, just not as prevalent.  While I was still processing this, we passed a tent city.  Again, my heart was shaken by the reminder of the great need in our world.  The other kids seemed to be fine, even brushing it off, but my heart hurt.  A lot.

 The border was another piece of different.  Instead of uniformed custom officers, there were military men carrying large rifles.  Instead of many scanners and electronic devices, there were spring-loaded spikes that would blow tires if someone tried to back out. And once inspection was passed, there were more men with guns standing inside a barricade made of what looked to be steel pipes with spikes. Apparently this wasn't so much to keep people out as it was to ram vehicles and keep them from leaving.  Although the noise level in the van had climbing, the sight of men with guns quietened things down a bit.

 We immediately saw the difference after crossing the border. Houses were significantly smaller, closer together and everything was walled, fenced and/or gated.  There was also a lot more graffiti, although some of it may have been officially sponsored.  Beautiful murals covered some of the walls along the roadway.  To our left ran a large wall, topped with barbed wire.  This marked the divide between the United Mexican States and the United States of America.  Someone commented that it reminded him of the Berlin Wall.

 Soon we were out of Tijuana and on the road to Ensenada.  We passed through three toll gates, at least one of which had a military presence.  Interestingly enough, some of my girls were freaked out about this while another didn't notice until the way home.  When she saw the guns she commented "But they won't use them, right?" I'm not sure how reassured she was by my answer.  "Ummm...of course they use them.  But we're not smuggling drugs, so they won't shoot us".  I'm such a good youth leader! (HA!)

 The road we were on wound its way between the mountains and the coast.  What scenery we could see was gorgeous, but dark was quickly approaching.  Unfortunately the most scenic views were the ones we passed in the dark.  Our ride was rather uncomfortable as we had been sitting for most of the day already.  My tailbone was complaining, as were many other backs and shoulders.  As it was a hot day and a 15 passenger van, it was a struggle to properly regulate the air temperature.  As the drive wore on, we were all tired, and grumpy. Driving through Ensenada, observing the nightlife was interesting, but even people-watching barely took the edge of my exhaustion.  As we finally arrived at the resort, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

 Gathering in the gravel parking lot, we were quickly given room keys and broken up into our groups.  There was a fair bit of whining.  Even though we hadn't eaten properly, everybody was pretty miserable and just wanted to sleep.  But Toe, the youth pastor, decided we would meet by the pool area  in 15 minutes.  Until I opened the door to our room, my plan was to put on jammies and go straight to bed after the meeting.  But then I opened the door.

 Our room was spacious and appeared to be tiled in marble.  Upon later reflection, it may have just been nice ceramic, but oh did it look nice! There was a large bathtub, also tiled the same way.  And the large patio door opened up facing the Pacific Ocean.  Confronted with such beauty, we all suddenly found new energy.  Instead of jammies, bathing suits were put on and we raced off to the pool.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the hot tub was actually hot. (I take very hot baths, so often find hot tubs on the lukewarm side).  We hung out in the hot tub for quite awhile and then some of us jumped into the pool.  Even though I was recovering from pneumonia, I decided to swim in both pools.  It was lovely!  This was an interesting experience, because we were swimming after dark.  The area was well-lit, but it was still unusual for me.  My former-lifeguard husband frowns on swimming after dark.  I sometimes horrify him with my childhood stories of swimming in the Great Lakes after midnight.  Consequently, swimming after dark felt slightly naughty and wonderful all at the same time.

 Swimming revived me enough to be hungry.  I really wanted vegetables, having not eaten much of them, but ended up having a tortilla soup instead.  It did come with avocado and some other vegetables, along with queso fresco.  The cheese was the real reason I ordered it.  I have to be honest, the cheese in Mexico was fantastic! I'm not sure what everyone else thought, as not only did I thoroughly enjoy the cheese, I raved about it to everyone in earshot. Many times. With great passion.   Unfortunately, there was something in my soup that didn't agree with me, so I ended up not finishing it.  My flan, however, was creamily delicious.   The food wasn't the only exciting thing about our dinner experience. I was also enthusiastic to note that I could accurately translate a large portion of the menu.  It was a good sign that my three years of Spanish weren't entirely gone to waste.  As the week wore on, more and more of my Spanish skills would return.  Some people may have complained about that...

 Refreshed and with full tummies, our group headed off to bed.  My girls settled down fairly quickly. As soon as we quieted, it became obvious that there were rooms overhead.  The chandelier rattled each time our upstairs neighbour walked across the room.  After what felt like forever, he/she went to bed and so did we.  The next day promised to be busy as we were to visit La Bufadora and head to EOC, where we would spend our week.

I apologize for the delay in presenting this installment. It's taken me two days to write.  Hopefully the next one will come faster. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Mexico Adventure-Part One

On Saturday, March 10th I woke up super-duper early. Like 5am early. I recognize that this isn't early for some, but for was a stretch.  I was so excited that I had barely slept, so nervous that I set two alarms...just in case one didn't work.  When I finally did fall asleep, I dreamt that I was getting ready to leave, but that my possessions kept getting lost, my hoodie even disappearing off my back.  I woke in a panic, convinced that I was running very late, but was only 4:30am.  Eventually the alarms rang and I leapt out of bed, ready to go.

 Our team was heading to Mexico, thirteen teenagers and five adults.  I was excited and yet, so very nervous.  Five days before, I had been diagnosed with pneumonia.  I had been unable to move, racked by coughing spasms and just generally miserable.  Now here I was, boarding a plane to fly across the country and then go build a house.  Somehow this didn't sound like the best idea.  But the doctor said I was able to fly and I really really wanted to go, so off I went.

 We gathered at the church at 6am, weighed our bags, were prayed over by the minister, kissed our family members goodbye and then headed out.  Strangely all of the adults ended up in the same vehicle.  Although we laughed a lot, it felt a wee bit awkward as I didn't know any of them well, except for the youth pastor. That would soon change!

 It soon became obvious that trying to get 18 people anywhere quickly is a losing proposition.  And it didn't help matters that one of the girls decided to put her contacts in just as our group was being led somewhere to check in.  As the group "mom", I also became the designated herder and the one who brought up the rear.   Eventually we got everyone checked in and then started filling out customs forms.  Slowly we made our way through customs and security.  One of the younger girls was the first from our group to go through customs.  The poor girl approached the officer with much fear and trembling, prompting him to ask for the guy in charge.  They exchanged words, seeming all official-like. It turns out the officer was just asking if the youth pastor was nuts to take a group of teens on a trip. That became a somewhat recurring theme.  As for me, the customs officer greeted with a "And where are you going today, young lady?" I grinned extra large as I answered him while passing over my passport.  He kept his facial expression impassive, so I'm not sure what he thought when he saw my birthdate.  However, I was pretty happy. This again became a recurring theme as I was mistaken for a teenager multiple times on the trip.  I was not complaining!

 We hurried to our gate, only to find that our plane had been delayed.  We were raring to go, so it was frustrating to wait for almost two hours before finally leaving.  The flight itself was lovely, with clear skies. With a window seat, I was able to pick out landmarks.  The onboard map wasn't working, so I had to guess but I correctly identified Lake Huron, Sarnia, Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, the Rockies, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.  It was very interesting to fly over parts of the US that I had only read about previously. I had fun taking pics out of the window.

 As soon as our group landed, we began to strip down.  It was below zero(celcius) with snow on the ground when we left.  In San Diego, it was a beautiful sunny day.  It sounded almost indecent as this group of Canadians walked into the sunshine.  As a group, we involuntarily started emitting groans of pleasure.  Frankly, it was a bit awkward.  But oh did that sun ever feel good!  We had lots of time to soak up the rays as the drivers went to fetch our rental vehicles.  After laying in the sun for awhile, we began to take pictures of the greenery around us, especially the palm trees.  I may have exclaimed over the palm trees multiple times, to the general amusement of the group.  Apparently I don't get out much.  I also really liked the birds of paradise.  I'll leave you with these pics and the promise of more tomorrow.  I simply must get to bed! :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

On Return

 The silence seems deafening.

 I sit, mostly alone at my computer, catching up on emails.  The boys are being tucked into bed, the girl putters around upstairs getting ready.  I feel so isolated.

 The past week has been spent living in close community, pressed up against seventeen other individuals.  Personal space was found only in the tiny cubicle of the washroom as others waited noisily outside.  We slept eleven in the girls room, and travelled with 15 squished into a van and 3 in a pickup, exactly as many seats as bums.  The idea of personal space quickly became a foreign concept as we embraced the lack of space.  There was much spooning, hand hugs, and squishing.  We hugged a lot.  And, until I turned the lights out at night, there was always noise.

 Now that I've left the land of dust, mountains and ocean behind, I'm readjusting to living with space.  We've been released back to normal living and I for one am finding it challenging.  I miss the laughter, the tears and prayer, the odd, meaningful or silly conversations that speckled our days.  Now instead of sitting outside drinking apple pop(sooo goood!) listening to my teens, I'm sitting here at my computer desk ridding my inbox of email and catching up on correspondence.

 There is blessing in the quiet, in the space to think and breathe.  But the blessing of quiet tends to be the obvious one.  I am sitting here missing the blessing of noise, of community, of wrapping our lives hard around one another.  We started slow, unsure, with some definite groups.  But we ended strong and loud, our walls broken down, wrapped in love.

 I don't know where we'll go from here, how those bonds will change outside of the pressure cooker of Mexico.  It will be different, I'm sure, now that we're no longer the crazy gringos.  So I'll cling to the good memories and embrace the quiet even as it feels so very very odd.