Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Beer - Non Negiable

For our host family day, we went with our host fam out to the coast after a nice relaxing morning (our typical Sunday in Up with People). We started by going on a boat ride through an estuary that eventually led to a crocodile breeding area. When we got tickets, there was a sign out front that said something to the effect “With every ticket purchased you get a beer…not negotiable.” As we did not want to be offensive to our Mexican hosts, we took the beer and we road the boat ;-) It was such a beautiful ride where we saw some nesting birds, a crocodile and some beautiful landscape. We stopped at a crocodile breeding area, where they are working to maintain a healthy crocodile population in the area.

After this we made a trip to the beach and played with the host bro and sister in the water. Right after we arrived, it started to rain like crazy. This was such an amazing experience to be in the water and have a torrential downpour fall all around us.

When we had our fill, we came out and had a meal of ceviche, empanadas and pescado Santiago (a fish smoked over a special wood found in the mangrove forest). It tasted so amazing...I think I ate about 6 tacos.

Life continues to be great down here in Mexico. Thanks for reading about our latest adventures.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mexican show days

September 6th- I love show days, because the education department isn’t responsible for anything in particular, and are just there to support what all the other departments are doing. We’ve been performing in huge open spaces, baseball stadiums, and here in Tepic at the fairgrounds, and in all locations so far, we’ve set up at least 2,000 chairs. One of the things I love about Up with People is when you get a group of people helping, how quickly you can do something like set up thousands of seats in the glaring sunshine. I’ve spent my last few show days helping out at our merchandise stands, which I really enjoy. It lets me use my Spanish to chat with people about what they think of the show, help them pick out which T-shirts they want, and doing quick math in pesos keeps my brain on its toes. Also, because Matthew, our merchandise coordinator, is also in the show a lot because he has a great voice (and this cast doesn’t have many strong male vocalists) so he needs somebody to guard his stuff. So the past few shows Scottie sits at one of the merch tables and I man the other one. Last night was incredible, as I watched from the back of the amphitheatre, I could see the bright lights of the stage, the moon, and a huge lightning show silhouetted against the mountains. It was a lovely evening, and the few raindrops didn’t deter our audience… in fact, they rushed the stage (mostly to get under the roof that overhung the stage area by just a few feet), but to the cast, it felt like they were rock stars with everyone leaning in so close. The energy at the Mexican shows is just so fun, and last night, the cast got to do its first encore. “Otra! Otra!”

Feria Cultural

September 5- We’ve spent the week in the city of Tepic, in the state of Nayarit. It is about two hours from Guadalajara, 40 minutes from the Pacific coast, and set in the green, tropical mountains of western Mexico. We are partnering with three universities this week, and one of our community impact projects was to participate in a Culture Fair for university and high school students. We designed our booths the day before: we had an international trivia booth in a jeopardy-type format, a Music & Nightlife booth where you could learn about what going out with your friends looks like in different regions of the world (and where they had periodic dance parties and club music playing throughout the fair), and a Languages booth, where people could learn phrases in other languages, and get their names written in other alphabets (like Thai, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese). The universities had booths too- there was a culinary school that was teaching people how to carve fruits & vegetables, an art department that was screening Tshirts, and a representatives from the Huichol tribe that were demonstrating and selling their traditional beadwork. Part of the cast performed a mini-show, and we had an International Costume fashion show with about 15 cast members. What I love about events like this is the cast gets to create the content beforehand, so we are all more invested in the success of the event.

Cabo Contrasts

In coming to Los Cabos, we wanted to show the cast more than just the beautiful vacation community full of wealthy snowbirds that move south to spend their winters here. Part of the goal of our sponsor, the Los Cabos Children’s Foundation, was to educate the local Mexican community that lives and works here year-round about the services and support that the foundations partner agencies offer. So we were taken by the director of Ligamac, which is an agency that helps children get school supplies and uniforms so they can attend school, to a very poor, newer community on the outskirts of Cabo San Jose. In recent years, there has been a huge migration to Cabo because of the construction demand. But families are moving here too quickly for the community infrastructure, so there isn’t enough housing or schools or sewers or roads to handle the influx. As a result, there are squatter communities popping up in the desert outside of town, where homes are made of plywood and scrap metal, and in some cases are put up the dry riverbeds, where a strong storm can wash away an entire community overnight.

It was hard for the cast to drive our air-conditioned shiny coach buses into this community, to get out for less than an hour, to walk around, talk with the families living there, to play with the kids, and to learn a little bit about these people and their situation. To some it looked so bleak, yet there were small gardens, and homes that were well-cared for, and in the more established community, where most families have been there for a year or more, there are structures of cement with rebar sticking out the top as a sign of the 2nd floor addition that they’re planning as more money comes in. That’s what is incredible about the way this community is developing—its not that a big development company comes in and builds a complex, and then the families move into bright, finished suburbia. It’s one family at a time, building their houses from scraps that the husband brings back from the fancy condo construction site he works on all day, if he’s lucky enough to have found work. Every house has a water tank, and a truck drives through the community delivering water, house by house. It isn’t potable, so another truck delivers drinking water. Schools are overflowing and for many, the nearest one is over an hour’s walk away.

But as we talked to the women and played with the children in this dry, dusty village, they expressed their appreciation for us coming, and being interested in learning about their situation. So even though it feels horrible to get off the buses and take pictures—I heard comments about cast members not wanting to treat these people like we were at a zoo- but if we had ignored it altogether by not coming, and instead have only had the more touristy Cabo experience, we wouldn’t be doing the community justice either. And in visiting the community with one of our beneficiary partners who works with these people every day, it was an honor for us to see what the money raised from our show will benefit.

The irony was that we started the day in this poor, depressed community, and then visited a lush mango farm in the rain where we hurriedly hiked to a waterfall and rode back to the buses in pickup trucks full of mangos, with fresh mango juice dribbling from our chins. We had to rush back to Cabo in order to make our sunset boat cruise out to the famous Cabo arch. On the boat there was a band and an open bar, and we danced and ate sushi and saw sea lions, and had a wonderful, amazing time… all the while remembering the families we met this morning and how different our lives were from theirs. It was a day of huge contrasts, and one that this cast will not soon forget.

nuestro anniversario

August 30th, 2008: To celebrate our anniversary, we actually took a day off! It was August 29th, because we had to attend a VIP cocktail hour before the show on our real anniversary. It was so relaxing to stop and do nothing for a day… we hung out around two of the resort pools, went out to breakfast and to dinner, and walked along the beach. The resort sat almost at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, so you couldn’t actually swim in the ocean there. The waves were too dangerous, because of the riptides from the Pacific meeting the Sea of Cortez. I’ve never seen such powerful, intense waves in my life. We were up at the sky pool at happy hour, and enjoyed mojitos sitting on stools in the pool. We couldn’t have been luckier to celebrate here, to have that gift of a wonderful, peaceful day in the middle of this crazy busy life that we love.

Pueblo Bonito

In honor of our fifth wedding anniversary on August 30th, we requested to be in the staff hotel, which happened to be the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach resort in Cabo San Lucas. They were one of our sponsors in Los Cabos, and we were so spoiled! The resort sits on a steep hillside, with speedy oversized golf carts that drive guests around the complex. Our building was in the middle, so we could walk easily down to the lagoon pool and beachfront, and also up to the restaurants. The sky pool, which was above everything- a two-level pool with a hottub that sat above it, was where we spent most of our time when we were there… though most days we didn’t get home before dark. On our last day though, we went up to the sky pool at 3:30pm and stayed until 8pm. The sunset was incredible.