Thursday, August 28, 2008


Though you might think that “little bombs” or bombitas would be the result of eating too many beans here in Mexico, its actually the term for cannonball! In honor of the close of the Olympics, we did some synchronized cannonballing. Que padre!

La lluvia

(Sunday, August 24th) So it never rains in La Paz, except when there’s a hurricane. When I asked the advance team if we needed a rainy day plan for any of our activities, they laughed… until tropical storm Julio started rolling in yesterday. Our show was in a baseball stadium, and we built a stage basically on second base. Because its 110 degrees here everyday, we were worried about our equipment being too hot to function properly. That turned out to not be a problem at all, since it started to rain right when we started our afternoon rehearsal. It sprinkled through most of the afternoon, and rained hard enough for us to stop and get offstage for a little while. The tech team was busy all day… moving tents over speaker towers and wrapping lighting trusses in tarp. There was a canopy onstage all afternoon over the band. When the rain got heavy, all the microphones were covered with plastic bags, and the stage was full of gravelly mud from the baseball field. Thankfully, by some miracle, it cleared up about two hours before our show and was dry through the evening.

Our biggest problem during the show was that the air was steamy and humid, and dancers kept losing their grip because they were so sweaty!

We awoke this morning (Sunday) to a gray, steady rain. It cooled the temperature to about 90 degrees, and though our beach and boating plans were foiled, we instead got to relax around the house, and had a fabulous pool party in the rain with our host parents’ grandchildren. Every Sunday their children and grandkids come over and make a big lunch… we had a mix of Italian, Lebanese and Mexican food (since two of the daughters lived for awhile in Italy, and hostmom Magui’s family is from Lebanon). Caprese salad, shrimp and fish ceviche, spaghetti la carbonera and a homemade red sauce with a little bit of cream cheese. Also jocoque (which is like Lebanese sour cream- I don’t know the English word) with pita chips and salami. We ate and swam, and had diving contests, races, did cartwheels into the pool, played marco polo and “Tiburon” (shark!), and just had a wonderful day… and tomorrow we’re off to Los Cabos!

Volunteering in La Paz

(Thursday, August 21) Our beneficiary this week (who receives the proceeds from our show) is Mobilize Mankind. Its an organization started by an American couple who have been living here for five years. They bring used wheelchairs, that by law cannot be redistributed in the United States, down here to the Baja. They find the families that need the chairs, and they give them away. They fit the kids with chairs, and they do continual service, and trade them into new chairs as they grow or their needs change. They also work with schools to make facilities handicapped accessible, and they have just laid the cornerstone on an amazing playground that is over 90% accessible to wheelchair bound children. (Most playgrounds in the US are only required to be 10% accessible—you put up one ramp and a spinning wheel and you meet that minimum requirement…) their vision is for kids of all abilities to play together on creative, beautiful equipment that is fun for all. There is a castle and a pirate ship, water fountains and sprinklers… the designs are incredible. Our sponsor, the Los Cabos Children’s Foundation, that’s helping support Mobilize Mankind, is bringing us to La Paz to spread awareness of this project and to get the community excited about it.

The cast has also spent a lot of time on an anti-graffiti campaign in the city, painting the baseball stadium where we perform tomorrow, parks, and walls all over town.

We also managed to squeeze in a little fun: on our first day all together here (Tuesday), we visited the anthropology museum to learn about the history of settlers on the Baja, the cathedral, and ended on the beach to play in the sun. Coca-cola has been our beverage sponsor this week, and brings coolers of water, iced tea and powerade to our volunteer sites, along with a truck with huge speakers to blast party music while we work. It feels like Spring Break meets Americorps! Its hilarious, and oh so fun.

Peaceful La Paz

(Wed, Aug 20th) Scottie arrived in gorgeous, steamy La Paz, Mexico on Saturday with the majority of the cast, and I got here with the remaining 16 who didn’t fit on the first flight on Monday afternoon. We flew to the airport at the southern tip of Baja California in Cabo San Jose, and drove two hours north (and stopped for lots of cows and goats on the narrow highway) to reach the coastal community. La Paz sits on a bay on the eastern, gulf side of the Baja, though the coast wraps around to form 3/4ths of a circle, so we can actually look out west over the water to see the amazing sunsets every night.

We’re hosted separately this week- I’m with four girls at the house of Magui Valazquez Dipp, and her husband, the architect who we’ve never met. Magui (pronounced Maggie) lives on the bluffs at the edge of the city, and our spectacular pool patio looks out over the bay. We are so spoiled, coming home every day to tupperwares of fresh mango, quesadillas, and a dip in the pool to cool off after a day in the 110 degree sun.

These are the contrasts that come with our Mexican tour—your hosting situation is totally the luck of the draw. We feel overwhelmed with our lovely, spacious home, where there are others in the cast staying with families on the other end of the spectrum, who only have running water every few days.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Gracias Julio

Well, we are getting ready to leave La Paz and it is just in time for Tropical Storm Julio! According to host families it only rains about 2 days a year here, and we are here for both of them...lucky us. The weather here has been totally like fuego with daily temperatures around 110 degrees with humidity. It seems that whether it has been raining or not that my shirt is wet most of the time. Our first show in Mexico was very successful with a crowd in a baseball stadium totaling over 2000 people. We were pretty worried as the day turned into rain for several hours and the show was outdoors. We wondered what we should do if it continued to rain, but fortunately the answer was relatively simple. According to certain Mexican legend , if you take a knife and bury it point down in the area you are at, this will stop the rain. We tried this out and sure enough...the rain stopped for the show! This theory is hotly contested by the Venezuelans though who say that you need to take two knives and put that in the shape of a cross and then bury them. We will have to try this method out next time and see which country holds the gold medal for the best juju.

The food has been amazing as you can imagine. We have eaten serious quantities of real Mexican food, which beats the heck out of the ham sandwiches of last tour. We are off to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo tomorrow where we will have more adventures on the peninsula. Lucky us, we will also be celebrating our 5-year anniversary!!! Have a great day and thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Phoenix Mine

We are setting our standards high for regional learning! On our way up to Breckenridge, we stopped at the Phoenix Mine in Idaho Springs. A third generation gold miner named Al spoke to the cast about what it means to be a miner today, and then we had tours through the still functioning gold mine. These miners were characters... and the cast had a fabulous time. We panned for gold in the creek, looked for a packrat named Jerry Garcia back in the depths of the mine, and heard the ghost stories from these crazy old men who supplemented their mining income by doing tours through the top layers of the mine.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

time to go!

And we're off again...
Cast B's dress rehearsal was yesterday afternoon, and after four quick weeks, they've got the show down pretty well. There's some extra pressure on this group, because they only have one week in the USA before their show changes to Spanish in Mexico. That's new lyrics to three current songs, plus adding in a seven-minute medley of popular and traditional Mexican music.

Tonight everyone is packing, weighing their suitcases, and then repacking, before our first travel day as a cast! We are headed to Breckenridge, CO, with a stop first at a gold mine in Idaho Springs. Stay tuned for adventures from the road!

Jammer - not a job for me!

With my pending job search looming in a few month's time, I've decided to begin by eliminating those I definitely do not want. Top of my list at the moment for career paths I will not be pursuing is being a "Jammer" for a women's roller derby team.

Our fab host fam took us on Friday night to see a scrimmage of the Denver Roller Dolls (where Julie's hairdresser, Gabe, is an announcer named Evel Con Evel). If you have never been to a roller derby, YOU MUST GO. There is nothing quite like it...

Women, some big and burly, others sleek and speedy, dress in fishnets and rollerskates with matching colored wheels, and have names like Enya Biznass, Fonda Pain, Judo No and Angela Death. They race around a tiny track, trying to help their team's Jammer, while hindering the path of the opposing Jammer.

The Jammers, who start 20 feet or so behind the rest of the pack of skaters, have to make their way through the pack, then get around quick to lap the pack. They get a point for every person on the opposing team that they lap.

Now officially, its illegal to throw elbows and trip people, but roller derby a bit like hockey, in that the penalty-causing behavior is exactly what the PBR-drinking crowd is there to see. Plus, there was a frisbee-catching dog show at halftime. The trainers tossed a constant stream of frisbees to frolicking dogs who would jump on the trainer's back, or knee, or in some cases over their (sitting) heads, to grab the frisbees. (Let's talk about another job I don't want...)

The whole evening was entertaining, and if you can handle the baudy side (like Dump Truck, Scott's favorite announcer, who wore a pink cutoff t-shirt, a diaper and cowboy boots, with a mohawk and a tattoo that said "ridiculous" in three-inch letters that arched over his beer belly), it is well worth the trip.

If you're in the Denver area, swing by the Fillmore Auditorium next month when the Denver Roller Dolls battle the Minnesota Roller Girls! How I wish I could be there...

Friday, August 1, 2008

wildfire recovery

In 2002, the largest wildfire in Colorado's recorded history burned through a valley southwest of Denver. The Hayman fire, as it is known, burned 138,000 acres of land. This land is part of the Upper South Platte River watershed, and the erosion and debris severely affected the water supply to the city of Denver.

Since 2004, Up with People has worked with the coalition of the upper south Platte (or CUSP), to do wildfire reparation work. On Tuesday we took the cast up into the mountains near Buffalo Creek, CO, to do some fire maintenance.

We divided into three groups of about 35 people. One group planted 100 trees across two acres of private land, below the border of the national forest (where the wildlife, burned and dead as it is, can't be touched).

Ellen's group planted native grasses on two more acres. It was a three step process: first we cleared burnt out trees, branches and bark from the land, throwing it into the drainage ravine, where it will be fully burned in the winter. Then we raked the hard-packed, gravelly earth to loosen it up for seed. Two people walked over the property with seeders, which spit eight types of seeds of native grasses on the ground, and we followed behind and covered the bare, patchy areas of seeded gravel with hay. When it rains, the hay will hold the moisture for the seeds to take root.

Scott's group worked to pull a noxious weed that poisons the ground around it. Knapweed is from Russia, and came to the US in a bin of grain in the early 1900s. It releases a toxin that kills off anything around it, so the native plants and grasses, that are crucial to the forest growing back, are getting squeezed out. Scottie's group pulled weeds until they ran out of garbage bags (they filled over 60!) The bummer about knapweed is that the chemical irritates your skin, so lots of people are nursing itchy, rashy arms. The remedy recommended by our contact was to rub salt on your skin and then rinse it off with cool water. Its had mixed reviews on its success.

We worked for about four hours in blazing Colorado sunshine, with sweat pouring from our hardhats. We were covered in dust, dirt, ash, and hay. At the end it was satisfying to look around and see how much we accomplished on our five acres in such a short time, yet so humbling and sad to drive for over 45 minutes to the site through the barren, brown mountains that were in the fire's path. It was a drop in the bucket, but our work will help prevent erosion, which means cleaner water for the city of Denver.