Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our New Home (for now)!

Let me just start by saying that we're safe and healthy. Neither one of us are currently carrying the Swine flu, although Michelle thinks (jokingly) that I may have been the first person to carry the disease! Many people were in San Cristobal on vacation from Mexico City during Semana Santa and I did get really sick around that time. Factoring in the incubation period, and my symptoms matching the description of the virus, Michelle may be right! In reality though, most flu symptoms match the description of this flu virus. For my flu, after 1 week of feeling like garbage, I finally went and saw a homeopatica doctor who was highly recommended by a local Real Estate Agent. This man fit the description of some sort of true medicine man. He was so calm and collected and, I guess you had to be there, but I thought he was such an interesting person that after the initial consultation, I asked for a picture with him. By the way, the two medicines that he gave me totally worked and NO ANTIBIOTICS! That's the best part. Thanks Doc!

So much has happened since our last post so I'll try to bring you up to speed. We decided to hold off on our journey to Guatemala right now, and instead rented an apartment in San Cristobal de Las Casas. We just love this town so much that we decided to stop fighting it and embrace our life here. Our new apartment is more like a little house, and it will be hard to describe how perfect it is for us, but I'll give you the details. Its a 2 story loft with a perfect living room for studying including rustic furniture, a fireplace, lots of windows that open, and a beatiful kitchen with tons of light and a fridge and stove! Michelle's excited because she can try some new recipes that she's discovered on the trip, and I get to make cowboy coffee in the morning! There are beautiful flowering vines all over the property including several right outside our windows. We even get a little view out of
the upper room of the surrounding mountainside. It's perfecto! We may stay here for only a few weeks (we have a pretty flexible arrangement with our host which is nice), and we moved in on Friday, the day the Swine Flu was announced, but we didn't hear about it until Sunday (FYI).

Our studying is going well, and with the new apartment, we have lots more room to hang out and work at home. It's so much better than living in a motel room, and it's less money too. In between studying, we take breaks to the marketplace or to go and get fresh baked pan (bread) at Tierra Madre.

Some other things we've been up to: I (this is Mark) approached the director of a local NGO, "Natate" to see if I could follow along and watch the internal workings of an NGO. Nico, the director (the big guy in the picture) very graciously said yes and so far I have joined him on two days of meetings. The first day, we visited an indigenous zapatista community to check out a joint project with Habitat for Humanity. The second day he offered to have Michelle come along because it would be an overnight visit to a project that was being run by another NGO from France. What a crazy adventure this was. The trip started with an hour colectivo drive to a city called oxchuc where we met with a government official and then were treated to lunch. After this, we continued to the community where we were going to help out an organization for an afternoon and then spend the night. That's about all I knew before we left in the morning. We took a Nissan Tsuru (exact same car as the Sentra) cab from Oxchuc to this second very small community which was located in a beautiful, lush, very typical Chiapas mountainous valley. Upon arrival, we could see across the road and up a hill to a house where 15 or so foreigners were working on a house. It was a really sharp contrast to what you normally see on the side of one of these roads. That many foreigners really stand out in an area of mostly indigenous people. We walked up the stairs and were greated by people who were aparently of many different nationalites. The French people kissed us, we were introduced to everyone, and then a really nice Israeli guy, Noam, offered to take Michelle and I to the Camp area where we would drop our bags and settle in. We walked down a narrow single track trail to the beautiful river. Along the way Noam pointed out the different areas of the property, the bee area, the farm area, the jewelry making shop, the communal dining area, and the different lodging buildings. It was all kind of like a dream walking through the property......have you ever seen that movie "The Beach", well..........

That evening we joined the camp for their communal dinner. Met lots of nice people, and were also invited to some kind of Temescal Sweatlodge event. This took place about 9: and was one of the most unique experiences of my life, both of our lives. Michelle was unsure about going because she caught a hint of clothes being taken off (it's the Mormon in her). I talked her into it, and we were both glad because it was a life changing experience. The participants were Nico, Michelle, myself, and an Austrian lady, Helga as well as the Indian priest person. We did an initial prayer around candlelight outside and performed ritualistic movements for about 15 min, or so. Then our Indian Priest led us into the sweatlodge, and we all stripped down to our undergarments afterwhich we all crawled into this tiny crawlspace and sat on the floor. I think they consider passages in this ritual to be "doors" and we passed through 5 doors in our experience. All this really means is that it took 2.5 hours of some of the most excruciatingly hot air I have ever experienced in my life. Each door featured a prayer and blessing to certain elements in nature.....air, water, the ground, etc., and each door featured steamed water with a different cleansing scent, lavender, citrus, and other wonderful herbs I have never smelled before, with the priest chanting and blessing all the while. It was a glorious process, partly because we all finished without running for the door. I'm sure the fear of communal shame kept any of us from doing that. Michelle's glasses warped a little even though we put them out partway through the experience, so we have to find an optrician to heat them back into place. At completion, we all went down to the river and cleansed the layers of sweat that we had accumulated - lots of sweat. It was glorious! I'm glad we finished at the river also, because it was all I could think about from the first door that we passed through during the experience.

The next day Michelle and I helped in the rebuilding of a tiende (store) for the local community outside of the property boundry and on the road. I ended up getting covered in tar paint because my job was to seal the wood beams, and also ended up with a little of a sunburn where the tar hadn't hit my back. Michelle was a great help on the ground carrying wood, etc, until there was no more to do, and then she took the time to befriend a cute little boy named Rodrigo. I had fun working around a corner and out of sight, but still within range to hear Michelle work her magic with him. That connection that she made with the little boy is really what this travelling experience is all about. Even on these volunteer work projects. It´s not about the work as much as it is about making connections and relating to different cultures. We love it! The picture above is Rodrigo's Father.

We spent one more night on the farm, and so were able to experience all the communal meals, as well as the regular schedule of the group. Friday morning we said our goodbye's over the morning coffee, caught a colectivo at the road and returned to San Cristobal which was only about 1.5 hours away. The person hanging off the back of the camioneta (a camioneta is a pickup truck with seats in the back and a vinyl tarp over the top) is the "ticket collector". Some of the things these people do are CRAZY! We arrived just in time to make a meeting with another NGO called AlSol which specializes in microcredit, and which also has an office here in San Cristobal. I had forgotten about this meeting, and it was pure luck that we made it back in time, because the meeting was set much earlier in the week with one of the directors. The way we met this dynamic person is a whole different story for another post, but I will say that we met her sister who was visiting town, and she put us in contact with her. Basically the gist of the meeting was that she, Pilar, can use us if we can learn Spanish, because so much of her work involves speaking directly to indigenous women about complicated financial arrangements. There is also a potential upcoming project where they will teach the women who receive credit about public health, and Michelle is very interested in this. I'm more interested in the Micro Credit aspect, just because this is my line of work and I'm familiar with lending, just not this type of lending. We're both going to study hard on Spanish. We are still asking around for some sort of volunteer clinical work for Michelle, but so far we only have a lead in Guatemala for that.

Just in the news today......."In opening remarks to the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, Clinton called climate change 'a clear and present danger to our world', and told envirionment ministers from the world's 17 largest economies that the Obama administration is 'fully engaged in negotiations toward a global emissions treaty'." (NY Times). My comment: It's about "&·@!% time we took a leadership role on this issue. I just can't believe it took this long! I'm relieved and yet reminded of my exasperation at the same time. Thank you & let's get going!

Thanks for reading all this info. If you have a comment to make, please post it. It lets us know that people are reading the blog, and that all this uploading is worthwhile. I think you need a gmail address for the login, so if you don't have one, just create a gmail account.

Ciao for now!!!!


  1. thanks for the post! I've been following the adventure and enjoying it.

    I was thinking of you two while listening to NPR about the flu. Please be careful!

    All's well in Redding. Some much appreciated April showers today but the warm weather is not too far off.

  2. Thanks for the info, I was wondering how the flu "rage" was affecting your travels and opportunities...keep well! Dahnia

  3. Neat pictures. I LOVE your home! Sound like you guys are having a blast & thanks for taking us along with you.
    Love you guys!

  4. Keep the posts coming. I enjoy reading about your adventures and look forward to the next one. Miss you two and hope you are staying safe.

    Love ya


  5. Great stuff. Thanks so much for taking the time to share.

  6. Wow! I love the place your renting! Looks like you guys are having lots of fun. Love all the updates.