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Saturday
Sep262009

Vacationing In Three Mexicos

By Edward Britz

Mexico is an amazing place, an eclectic mix of the Spanish blood and the passionate and wild vibrance of the original native cultures. It is a world of economic and social extremes. Walled-in gorgeous homes tower over brick and corrogated metal shacks that carpet the hillsides. And Mexico’s middle class, though growing, remains a slight blur between the two. Permeating these classes is a world of music, food and tradition. One only needs to envision a band of Mariachis playing traditional “ranchero” music. For various reasons, these strong class systems exist. Experiencing them all is the key to gaining an accurate view of this colorful and complex culture.

It is certainly easy to visit Mexico and stroll among the middle and high class, for by default, that is what most all Americans are, so it is what we naturally do when visiting. Our dollar goes further here, and our definition of poor is quickly adjusted to a different level. However, having visited and worked among the various classes, I urge you to step out, take a real adventure, and get off the beaten path. But my views aside, for now, let’s take a tour from the typical to the adventurous.

A quick drive along a scenic tollway (very generous tolls) takes you from Mexico City to Acapulco, the city that never sleeps. Start at the heartbeat and mainstreet of the city, the “Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán” – the rest of us refer to it as “The Costera” – and take in the legendary atmosphere. Whether you are looking for beaches, dining, discos or shopping, it is here. Venture to the jagged cliffs of La Quebrada and witness some amazing cliff jumping. These guys time their leaps with the incoming waves to cushion an otherwise fateful landing on the beach 150 feet below.

Too much glamour and glitz in Acapulco? Try Veracruz, a more adventurous old-world alternative. This enchanting sub-tropical climate is where vanilla is grown, where banana trees cover the landscape and where pristine beaches introduce you to the gulf of Mexico. You will find $20-$30 per night rooms and great seafood restaurants from $5-$10. You may even find yourself to be one of only a few foreigners as you sit in one of the many outdoor cafés and watch the Carribean-like culture dance by. You will likely hear steel drums, see street performers and notice the many dance halls. Those familiar with Spanish will notice the accent, too, is very Carribean, due in part to a heavy Cuban influence.

Teotihuacán is your next stop to visit the world that was. The city’s origins, religion, people are as mysterious and debated as its fall, but at one time, this cultural center of perhaps 250,000 people was the largest city in the Americas, and was the hub of a culture whose power possibly would have rivaled that of the Roman Empire. Located a quick 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, you will see the Pyramid of the Sun begin to dominate the landscape. The Pyramid of the moon, its slightly smaller cousin, is at the other end of the “Avenue of the Dead”, the city's main avenue. Be ready with cash on hand to bargain with the many vendors that mill about the area.

Are you ready to take the road of adventure? Come with me to a border town called Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas. Let’s choose to hover about the lower income people who generally have little or no access to education, who live in shacks of spare building materials and dirt floors. Children here rarely grow up with fathers, and substance abuse is high. In and among this vibrant culture is need. And need is an opportunity to help provide what is missing and walk away blessed.

There is an orphanage here in the lower-income side of town where I once spent 2 weeks helping to lay the foundation of another dormitory. It was gritty cement work, but I had the privilege to work along side some amazing local masons. The days passed quickly as we learned more about each other’s cultures, as we  laughed our way through the communication barriers, inspiring me to learn the Spanish language. I lived, slept, and ate among a beautiful people and came away feeling like I got more out of the deal. Perhaps the old adage is correct, when you give, you receive.

There are a number of reputable organizations, religious and secular, that are looking for volunteers to help build orphanages, teach, play with children, provide health services, and distribute donated goods. After vacationing in all other ways, are you ready to vacation on the wild side? Rest assured, you will walk away having been blessed by a gracious people.

There are many ways to enjoy a foreign country and since Mexico is right next door, I suggest you try them all. It is indeed a colorfully, complex culture of vastly different social and economic classes. Its people are energetic and full of life. Visit and learn, but in that learning, challenge yourself to do a little “hands on.” The existence of a need brings an opportunity for you to receive something greater. Don the work gloves, a willing heart and an attitude to serve. Enjoy our fantastic neighbor... just don’t drink the water.

¡Tengas un buen viaje!

If you would like more information on what Mexico has to offer, you can find it all at this exhaustive and multilingual site: www.visitmexico.com

Looking for volunteer opportunities? Visit: www.volunteerabroad.com/Mexico.cfm

 

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