Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Xochicalco Ruins and More

After a morning of meetings and activities, we packed our lunches for our afternoon trip to Xochicalco. This was the activity I most looked forward to: the ruins.

Xochicalco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is vast. It literally means, "in the place of the House of the Flowers" and was an important center for rice cultures: Toltec, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Aztec. It's height was between 650-900AD. This is an old place and full of terraces, plazas, and pyramids of various function.

A short hour ride and we were there, surrounded by tree covered hills. We walked up the long winding stone path and into the main plaza. There you looked up to the Great Pyramid and the two smaller pyramids in the square. Down in the distance was the large field and another ruin. Our main purpose lay up, so up we went, climbing the steps of the pyramid to the first level.

The vantage point kept getting better. From here there were remnants of various buildings and roads. There was the small playing field, the road where animals were brought up--the carved stones were still visible representing the various animals. The contrast of colors couldn't have been better: blue sky with intermittent clouds, green cut grass, flowers up and down the terraces, and the various colored stones. My camera eye was feasting.

Around the bend, the view was even more spectacular of the mountains and ruins. Atop the Acropolis, there were a group of little kids who all said HI in eager voices and bright smiles as they passed. Soon, I had fallen behind the group (taking heaps of photos) and found myself the only one up at the ceremonial plaza. I wandered around reading placards and feeling totally content in this solitude. I walked around and hiked up the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent, the only building with still decipherable carvings. A gorgeous structure right out of the history books. The steps up were steep enough that I decided to sit on my butt to get down. Knees got a little wobbly!

Once I was down, I took a look at a few more structures, and then it was time to take all the stairs back down. It was at that time that I wanted someone to be there to get help when I fell. Luckily, I didn't fall, and the feeling of climbing down all those stairs made me fully feel the historical experience of what it must have been like to be doing that everyday: exhausting.

Then, we all met back up and headed back to the shuttle. Those who went to the ruins outside Mexico City, Teothihuacan, while massive and impressive is crowded and not as accessible as Xochicalco, making it a more intimate ruin for the girls to experience. Since we are experiencing these activities and keeping in mind he girl experience, it was an impactful day.

On the way back to Cuernavaca, the driver took us to a nice ice cream shop, and sorbet was available for lil ole me. Then, it was dinner and our final evening wrap up session. While we talked, the clouds gathered and Apocalyptic Storm Part II arrived. So we huddled up and talked and watched segments of the new "Girl Rising" video off of YouTube. Eventually, it stopped the craziness and we could rush back to our dorms.

We woke up this morning to rain, but it was light and not frightening. After breakfast, we went to a local orphanage for a morning service project. A service project is a part of all trips, and this orphanage is their project for the summer.

These kids are placed in the orphanage primarily due to problematic family situations. The hope is that they will be reunited with their families when situations improve, but some may end up staying for a long time, even up until finishing school at 18. Only some children are up for adoption, and if they aren't adopted while babies or young toddlers, they may not be adopted and will also stay there most of their childhoods. He good news is that this appears to be a well run orphanage and school.

We all split up into different are groups. Those who worked with babies could tell how much the babies craved he extra attention and cuddling. I was with the 2-3 year olds, and we played with kids as they wandered around the room picking up little toys, showing them to you, and then dropping them or throwing them. Those with 6-12 year olds walked in to find all the boys physically fighting (a product of spending a lot of time indoors due to he storms) but once separated and he craft was started, all were happy.

It was a quick hour and a half. On the drive home and at lunch, we talked about the experience. We talked about whether this type of service did more for us or the kids, and if it was helpful or harmful to them. How much time is impactful without it feeling someone else is leaving them? Would this experience be meaningful to girls or too difficult for them?

Our afternoon was full of logistical work, with Ashley and I working on how to get our Chicago sponsored trip to Mexico up and running. So much to do for a 2017 trip. It's exciting that we have already been working together for three years and now we are here. Volunteering pays off in mysterious ways.

At 6pm the Cabana workers came in and "pinned" us with the official pin that you only receive by completing a program here. It was a great final GS Mexico moment.

Now it's time for our last dinner - a night out at a local restaurant. Tomorrow we are up and out early. Adios Mexico.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mexico: Exploring Cuernavaca

Three years ago, I went to New York in August to the Macy Girl Scout training center for a training on the new Global Action initiative. Three years and a good amount of volunteer work later, I am in Mexico with 11 other people talking about Global Action and bringing girls to Mexico.

I first crossed the border in 2008 with Rana, Juan, and a month old Leo. We crossed over from Arizona, had some food, and they made me sit on a burro and wear a sombrero. On the list of countries visited, it counted. It may have only been a few hours (like my experience on the Zambezi river booze cruise in Zambia), but it still counted.

Finally, I'm making it legitimate with a trip to the interior. We all flew into Mexico City from various US locales and identified each other by the Girl Scout scarf/shirt we were all sporting. I felt 13, wearing my uniform to attend a GS trip, easily spotted by the GS on the other end. We found our shuttle driver, and he drove us the two hours to Cuernavaca. Traffic, Mexican music on the radio, the mountains around us. We weaved through a mountain pass and soon found ourselves pulling into the entrance to Nuestra Cabana.

Nuestra Cabana is one of three international world centers for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. I've been to two overs (London and Switzerland) but still need to visit India. It was built in 1957 and has these beautiful terraces on four different levels. Palm trees, birds of paradise, cacti, and manicured lawns with flowers everywhere. Except for the faint traffic noise, you'd think you were in an oasis.

We were shown into our door rooms where there are 10 twin beds, sheets and towels embroidered by guides from different countries and large window views into the gardens. A large water filter cooler is here for us to replenish our water bottles. We can't drink the water or brush our teeth with it, so I'm getting used to brushing with my water bottle in my hand so I don't forget. I'm even getting used to putting the toilet paper in the garbage can and not flushing it (clogs their water system). A dip in the pool both yesterday and tonight. I could get used to this-but not getting any water into your mouth.

The food has been unexpectedly great. Apparently, the guides who work here have a vegan friend, and she has made some delicious meals for me. A potato casserole with some sort of tofu purée/cheese substitute thing, breakfast waffle, pasta, amazing stuffed peppers, and desserts: Nutella-like vegan spread, cookies, carrot cake. I mean, wow.

Meals are served family style, and the person at the head of the table serves, another person fetches the food (the hopper), and the person at the end pours drinks. It's an intricate camp system. Small tables with lots of talk and sharing of personal stories, GS history, etc. it's social time and quite fun.

This is mostly a working trip with lots of meetings, so a quick one last night, the next two morning, and a final afternoon. We are sharing ideas, brainstorming, and thinking towards the futures trips. The afternoons and one morning are devoted to showing us a bit of what the girls can experience.

Today, downtown Cuernavaca. We piled into taxis and winded our way there. I would have never remembered how to get back. Soon, we were getting out at the foot of Cortes' palace. We headed straight to the cathedral, passing stores and restaurants to be visited later. The cathedral square was a fiesta. Last Thursday was the holiday remembering/celebrating survival over the Spanish conquistadors. There we'd people everywhere, and food, drink, and men in the costumes meant to mock the Spanish, looking funny in their clothes, beards, and Diablo faces. It made me think about the importance of rethinking Columbus Day in the US, which is happening In some places. They posed with us and we took heaps of photos.

We saw the cathedral and the Guides told us some of it history. It's a gorgeous, eroding, working church. We then headed back towards the palace, where we split up. Some went shopping, some hunted down tacos, and most of us went into the palace museum. The museum was an understated collection of artifacts and history of the area, mostly in Spanish, but kind of a relief to not compulsively read everything.

Then, on the second floor, great views and an entire large wall with a Diego Rivera mural. Fascinating mural that I'd like to know more about, as it's scenes were clearly of the conquest, slavery, and cruelty. The mural went up and over and around the windows and doors. I wish I could have seen some Frida Kahlo...anything.

Having gotten our cultural activities taken care of, we went to the craft market to shop. Traditional, handmade, and some things less authentic, but so much color. We bought a few things, then Ashley and I ran to a shop where one of our leaders had just bought some cool earrings. It was a quick shopping spree.

Tonight was International Night and Mexican Fiesta Night. Since the other group here is made up of Canada and five Caribbean and South American countries, they had planned activities and booths on their countries for the night. We started off with an amazing Mexican dinner. Lemonade in brown ceramic mugs, a special vegan plate set aside for me: stuffed peppers and toasted mini bread squares  with veggies. Then, we wandered the booths and talked of their cultures.

Then it was time for the Mariachi band. Incredible! There were three guitarists, three violinists, and a trumpet player. They played and sang, we danced and danced, and Congo lined, and the limbo stick, and danced and danced.

The Mariachi band left and we began our International night with presentations from all the countries present. We were asked at the last minute to do something, so we rallied with "This land is you land." I could have swore the Canadiens in the back were having a guessing contest as to what song we'd pick and one girl mouthed, "nailed it." Then there were great presentations from

There is no better way to end a party then with a piñata. We trekked to an outdoor area where it was strung up between buildings. A few people were blindfolded and took some swings. Finally, the leader ripped it Open further and the candy was fetched.

It was almost ten and time for a dip in the pool. The perfect way to cool down after a hot afternoon. Around 2am we were woken up by the most intense rain/thunder/lightning storm. Perhaps because we are at 5,000feet, it felt like we were right in the storm itself. Our swimsuits and towels got another soaking on the line. This morning, we were all tired from a long night, but grateful it didn't happen during the day while we were exploring Cuernavaca.

Today: more meetings and then an afternoon at the ruins of Xochicalco.