It is mid July, and the Merida English Library’s two fundraising tours are filling fast. A few people (who have never traveled with Jorge and me) worry that the itinerary allows for too much free time. We like to include group activities, but we also encourage individual exploration. Upon our arrival in each city, we provide a map, and Sergio takes us on a walking tour so that everyone gets their bearings right away. During the time we are in each place, we visit the highlights as a group. But often when we gather for breakfast or for a glass of wine in the evening, we hear enthusiastic stories of discoveries that participants made on their own.
There will be an orientation session in January (date to be announced soon) when Jorge and I will outline optional sightseeing, dining and other attractions that can also be part of your travel experience. Those who cannot attend the pre-departure seminar will receive the info kit by email.
On the Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende trip (January 31 – February 7, 2019) we’ll see topography, architecture, and vegetation that is strikingly different from Yucatan – the music, food, shops and atmosphere are also a world away from what we see in this corner of the country. Although Jorge and I have visited both places multiple times, we always feel excited to go again. We know we’ll have unexpected encounters, eat at restaurants we haven’t tried before – and much to Jorge’s frustration – in at least one of the quaint shops or lively markets, I will find “something” I can’t live without.
We look forward to re-visiting all the places that are part of the itinerary. Dolores Hidalgo was the birthplace of Mexico’s Independence movement; it is also famous for its pottery and amazing ice-cream. Atotonilco, a world heritage site features indigenous art and a marketplace that always makes our eyes pop out. In Queretaro, more Mexican colonial history comes alive.
The day trip to San Luis Potosi will be new for Jorge and me. This city’s wealth came from the silver mines in the surrounding hills, not from sisal growing in the flat fields as we see in Yucatan. We’ll take in the newly-opened Leonora Carrington Museum, but unfortunately the home and gardens of her compatriot and fellow surrealist, Edward James (Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin who moved to Mexico in 1947) is too far away to see this time – a good reason to return yet again!
A painting by Leonard Brooks who went to live in San Miguel after WWII
In Guanajuato and San Miguel, art is everywhere. Many painters, sculptors, musicians and writers from all over the world have moved to these cities and become part of the creative community there. If anyone in the group would like to spend a few hours painting, sketching, talking about books or doing some spontaneous writing; I’ll be your enthusiastic companion.
Jorge, Sergio and I will always be nearby, and full of suggestions if you find yourself looking for something else to do.
Don’t worry – this is NOT the bus we’ll be on.
The second trip ( February 28 – March 7, 2019) all by bus from Merida to San Cristobal de las Casas and back again, is for women only. It will be different kind of experience than the first tour. Many of the women who previously traveled with me to Chiapas say it is as much an internal journey as it is an outward one. Everything about Chiapas is special – you will see majestic places – and you will be touched by the people who live there.
You can’t help but be impressed by the women working in the market and for me, a glimpse into their religious observance is humbling. On our last day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we’ll visit children’s home. The shelter was established about seven years ago in the middle of the night. Two brothers from San Cristobal de las Casas heard a knock at their door – a small boy stood outside, and in Tzozil Maya (he spoke no Spanish) he told them he was hungry and had nowhere to go – they fed him, and then they fed the next child who came along. Now there are more than eighty kids.
The two men knew nothing about looking after children. But they found a solution close by. In homes all around theirs, lived many women with their own children. They had no reliable way to feed their families, so in exchange for food and other necessities, they cook and help the brothers with childcare.
The installations are as basic as they come. The children sleep wrapped in blankets, on woven mats laying on the floor – and it is cold in San Cristobal de las Casas. If you think this communal arrangement sounds disorganized and in need of structure, you would be right. But the brothers and the neighbourhood ladies are doing the best they can.
Our group will take them an assortment of useful and fun gifts. Sweaters, knit hats, warm blankets and towels are much needed – they also love any kind of toys or balls – crayons, paints, drawing paper and other craft items. The first two women who signed up for the tour are taking paper and instructions in Spanish on how to make origami cranes. They will help the children make a colorful mobile for the communal living /dining/playing room. If you have an activity to share, you are most encouraged to do so.
Our BIG bus has room for each participant to bring two suitcases. The idea is to use one of them for Children’s Home donations. The items need not be new. On the first night, we will collect the donated items to sort and distribute later. The participants will then have an empty suitcase where they can put anything they buy along the way.
And it is easy to fill a suitcase. When I was in Canada, I went to a thrift store and told the manager about what we plan to do in Chiapas. She said I could go through the store and take anything I wanted – for free – she even gave me a suitcase to put it in. As well, Westjet allows their passengers to bring a free “humanitarian” suitcase. If you live in Mexico, it is not difficult to get people to help you donate, and you’ll find stores downtown where you can purchase inexpensive items. If you have house-wares you no longer use (pots, pans, bedding, etc) these too will be most welcome.
During your free time, you can be as busy or contemplative as you wish. Optional trips to other nearby towns are easy to arrange. You can have a massage; attend a performance at the local theater; visit the amber museum; or come with me to paint.
As I say, space is filling fast, so let the Merida English Library know if you want to come along.
Proceeds from both tours will be donated to MEL’s expansion fund. You can see full tour descriptions on MEL’s website: