Virtual Dance Class: Travel from Colombia To Mexico through Cumbia

It’s Fall season, when spirits are said to come back to roam our realm. In honor of the Mexican holiday of “Dia de los Muertos“, our founder Ale will be offering a virtual Rumbaterapia dance class on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021 at 8pm EST / 5pm PST to commemorate our ancestors through dancing Cumbia. This begins “Travel through Dance”, a new virtual dance class series where we explore different cultures in this unique way.

She will lead a 1.5 hour session beginning with a trip that starts in Colombia during colonial times when folkloric Cumbia was born on the Caribbean coast. Join her as she travels to land in Mexico to see the progression of the dance & music of Cumbia throughout Latin America. Of course, no such event can go without honoring La Santa Selena, Techno-Cumbia Queen.

Participants will be encouraged to prepare an altar honoring their ancestors (and/or Selena) before the dance class begins, and close to where they will be dancing. We will start with an introduction to the theme of the class, stretching, music & dance progression from old school Cumbia to modern Cumbia, and then we will end with a ritual to honor our ancestors, a breathing exercise, and then close out with a meditation. Feel free to dress in folklórico outfits, Selena impersonation costumes, and/or overall get as creative as possible to celebrate the dead through dance. It’s suggested to load up on incense, candles, sage, palo santo, or anything that you would like to incorporate into this dance therapy ritual.

There is a minimum $10 donation required for this class since all funds raised will go towards the Mochila Fundraiser to help us monetize our website. Send your payment with your email, and we will send you the virtual class link. Accepted forms of payment are: 1) Venmo @Travel_Latina, 2) Paypal aletracy4@gmail.com, or 3) Zelle aletracy4@gmail.com.

Conectando con Raíces Ancestrales en México: Las Queer Enamoradas

On April 19th, a photo of one of my favorite influencers, Brown Badass Bonita’s Kim Guerra wearing a vibrant red dress with the backdrop of a turquoise blue ocean, grabbed my attention because it was tagged as located in Mexico City, Mexico. BBB usually commands my attention with her colorful graphics and empowering poetry, but this was different. I was confused because I knew that there weren’t any beaches in DF, but I also know that many of us women don’t always like to immediately disclose our current location for safety concerns, especially for someone with such growing recognition like Kim. It suddenly hit me when I quickly remembered some of her recent posts in the past few months, “¡Kim está viviendo en México!” So of course I perused all of her recent posts, none of which I had realized where she actually was, or that she announced or explained outright what she was doing in Mexico with her partner Ana Sheila, the co-creator of Tamarindo Podcast. I was instantly determined to find out their story, as I felt it in my soul that they were living and traveling there to connect with their ancestral roots. And as a queer couple, how must that be for them? I had so many questions already! I can spot the radiating glow of not only empowered mujeres like them, but ones who further this empowerment by making the decision to go back to live in their motherland. Their story is a perfect addition to our “Conectando con Raíces Ancestrales” series, as we share inspiring stories of Latinxs who connect to their land in their own deeply personal way.

Kim’s Artesania Necklace

I had the distinct opportunity to interview Kim Guerra and Ana Sheila via Zoom while they were in their comfortable apartment in Coyoacán. Las Queer Enamoradas, their new joint IG account, provides a space to celebrate queer mujeres in love, the epitome of this perfect pair. I had to calm my fan-girl squeaking right off the bat. Down-to-Earth, free spirits, chingonas. I already knew I wanted to talk to them for hours about their experience in Mexico. Kim was wearing a gorgeous indigenous bright yellow beaded necklace sprinkled with other colors, reminding me of the Indigenous Colombian Embera Chami necklaces from my motherland. They sat comfortably next to each other, embracing with such burgeoning love for one another.

Kim and Ana are from the Los Angeles, California area, and met during the pandemic on a socially distant Zoom call. By January 2021, after dating 8 months, they both agreed that they wanted to live and explore México lindo y querido, something that was possible because of their ability to complete their work remotely. They took their dog Chanchito, and arrived in Mexico City (aka Distrito Federal, aka DF) with their adventurous yet COVID-conscious spirits ready to explore. Ana was actually born in DF, so going back was like a coming home to her roots to connect with her ancestors like her Dad who was raised there but unfortunately passed away just 2 years ago. She still has family in the Mexico City area, a tremendous resource to help navigate the city and travel outside of DF. Kim has family in Guadalajara, Jalisco who they plan to try to visit. Since arriving, they’ve explored 6 remarkable locations thus far: Tepoztlán, La Condesa, Coyoacán, Mazunte, Zipolite, and San Agustinillo.

Tepoztlán
Kim and Ana first visited a pueblo 1 hour outside of Mexico City, Tepoztlán, Morelos considered a Pueblo Mágico or Magical Town, awarded the label in Mexico for maintaining their original architecture, traditions, history and culture. These pueblos normally hold great relevance to the country’s history, and many times hold remarkable symbolism and legends. Tepoztlán is best known for the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent god. The town is also known for its weekly artesania market, and a hiking trail that leads to the Aztec Tepozteco pyramid.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many of the public sites were closed, including the Pyramid,  but it was still possible to do and see many things out in nature and from afar. Kim and Ana spent the greater part of their short trip hiking. Kim describes this location as a perfect spiritual getaway to exercise on the trails, self care with massages, experience an indigenous Temazcal sweat lodge, and to learn about herbal practices via a tea cleanse. Ana described that she felt she connected spiritually with her deceased Abuela and Dad during the Temazcal experience, physically feeling their presence.

La Condesa
At this point, Kim and Ana were ready to figure out their long term living arrangement in the Mexico City area. They chose La Condesa, a colonial borough in DF just 4 km south of Zona Rosa. They booked an Airbnb only for a month to try it out. Although the area had its own charm, Kim and Ana felt that it catered towards the extranjero or tourist, and felt culturally disconnected. After one month living and working there, they decided they were interested in an area where they would be able to interact more closely with locals. This led them to the bohemian burrough of Coyoacán.

Coyoacán
I was not surprised that las Queer Enamoradas fell in love with the area that once was inhabited by Queer Diosa, Frida Kahlo. In Nahuatl, Coyoacán means ‘the place of coyotes’, known for its bohemian colonial style, open artesania market, and La Casa Azul – Museo Frida Kahlo. The burrough is located about 12 kms south of downtown Mexico City. They found an apartment, met with the landlords, and decided to secure 3 months up front. The place has a charming patio shared with neighboring apartments, and it provided a perfect comfortable space for both of them to work remotely. 

Anasheila and Kim at the Frida Kahlo Mural in front of the Mercado Artesanal de Coyoacán

They both reflected that they acknowledge their privilege in living there, expressed their gratitude, and explained that they saved money on rent and food alone by living there instead of expensive California. Even their black labrador, Chanchito, demonstrated having a higher quality of life as they enrolled him in incredibly affordable “doggy day care” every day during the week. As a dog mami myself, I was pleased to find out that Kim had also seen a psychiatrist to certify Chanchito as an “Emotional Support Animal”. She had to prepare to travel to Mexico with him by making sure he had his paperwork in order: a travel certificate, a health certificate with all his vaccines up-to-date, and the Psychiatrist’s note.

Kim explained how she purchased her gorgeous artisanal necklace at the local open market. I was in awe with some of the activities she already had planned, like that of posing as a muse for a circle of artists in the area. How much more of an experiencia Frida Kahlo can you get!? What was clear to me was that both Ana and Kim were interested in making deep connections in the area. They highlighted their desire to contribute to the economy there in a meaningful way, and these statements and intentions gave me escalofríos from the good vibrations. 

Mazunte, Zipolite & San Agustinillo
After a couple of months living the city life, Kim and Ana decided to plan a trip to the beaches of Oaxaca for 4 days. The flight was about 1 hour and 20 minutes from DF. Apart from relaxing in paradise, the most majestic part of the trip was whale-watching – so powerful for them, that both teared up at the sighting. Notably, they visited Zipolite as an LGBTQ-friendly nudist beach they felt welcomed to explore and be themselves. However, they observed that the area was overrun by White Hippies who have lived there long term but barely interact with the local population. 

Living and Traveling in Mexico as LGBTQ
Kim and Ana smiled bright as they explained to me how they loved taking up space as a couple. They walk around often holding hands, and they never feel unsafe. Furthermore, they did note that people do stop to stare often, including people who stop their conversation to stare, and people who nudge “mira” to point them out. Overall they feel proud to take up space as queer enamoradas, unapologetically queer and in love.

Living and Traveling Mexico during Pandemic Times
They made sure to get tested anytime before getting on a flight, wore masks when indoors and around place with people around, and followed the strict regulations enforced in Mexico. They avoided crowded places and destinations like Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, etc and made sure to stay at small, private boutique hotels to avoid having to deal with too many people.

I can’t wait to see where else this lovely pareja will travel to in their motherland. The opportunities are boundless, and I feel that they will make unforgettable connections, catalyze collaborations, and have life-changing experiences enough to write a book about. Let’s hope that in a couple of years we get the opportunity to interview them again to debrief. Who knows, maybe they will live in Mexico for the rest of their lives! May their story inspire you to connect with your native motherland in this unique and unforgettable way. ¡Que viva el amor, y que viva la oportunidad de conectar con tus raíces ancestrales!

Dominican Heritage Tour by Gerry Isabelle

About Gerry Isabelle

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Gerry Isabelle is a Dominican-American traveler, writer, artist and tourism entrepreneur from the Bronx, New York. Her childhood dream of traveling has taken her all over the world, cultivating a particularly strong love and connection for the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Her writing and photography on travel, society and multicultural identity can be found on her platform: Dominican Abroad (website and Instagram).

About Dominican Abroad:

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Dominican Abroad is a digital media platform and provider of immersive travel services. On the digital side, that means articles, videos, and photography, related to travel and society. The content includes how-to travel guides and cultural insights through the lens of a multicultural, multilingual, and remote millennial from NYC.

The travel services provided include trips around the world with a focus on Cuba and the Dominican Republic, including a Dominican Heritage Tour that launched in February 2019 and was featured in the New York Times. Dominican Abroad values sustainable and ethical tourism, and strives to lead tourism business into the hands of local small business owners (including local women of color). 

About the Dominican Heritage Tour:

The Dominican Heritage Tour is a culturally immersive and holistic travel experience into different corners of the island. Rather than staying in a gated resort, we are taking you to experience an in-depth side of the country, from countryside rural living… to local hot spots in the country’s capital… to the island’s natural wonders. We’ll get a taste of everything DR has to offer.

untitled (6 of 38)-2This curated experience aims for travelers to more deeply understand and connect with the multicultural influences (African, Taino, and European) that make up much of the rich Dominican heritage. Travelers will learn about more about the complex history of the island while culturally immersing themselves through experiences like cooking lessons in Monte Plata and honoring our Afro-heritage with a Fiesta de Palo or los Congos in Villa Mella. Along the way, we will also meet local Dominican activists and community leaders who we can connect and share with.

For 6 days and 5 nights we’ll explore the following: 

Santo Domingo, Monte Plata & Villa Mella: 

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  • Take cooking lessons in the campos of Monte Plata
  • Afro-influenced Fiesta de palo dance ceremony or los Congos in Villa Mella (UNESCO)
  • Walking tours and visits to historic sights
  • Learn a less colonized version of Dominican history
  • Discuss topics in today’s Dominican society with local social activists, community leaders and researchersuntitled (4 of 5)
  • Engage in sustainable travel as we collaborate and work with local entrepreneurs, including WOC
  • Explore Monte Plata’s Socoa Waterfall

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  • Discover the Dominican southwest
  • Road Trip through the Dominican Riviera
  • Making stops along the way in Barahona for the best mangos in the world, larimar shopping (unique gemstone only found in Barahona, Dominican Republic), and epic views of the Dominican Riviera
  • Los Patos beach & river
  • Boat tour through Laguna de Oviedo + Isla Iguana + natural mud spa
  • Crystal clear Arroyo Salado natural pool
  • Private boat to visit Bahia de las Aguilas — ranked as one of the best beaches in the world

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Price & Payments

Cost: $900 – Everything included except flights, alcohol, travel insurance, and two meals.

2020 Dates: February 15 to February 20.

The non-refundable deposit is $200 in order to reserve your spot. 

A note on payments and Installments: Dominican Abroad accepts payments by installments, so pay the trip off as you go – the deadline to pay the full amount is January 15, 2020.

Optional Add-On: Wellness Retreat in the Dominican Alps

created by dji cameraSince the tour runs from Saturday (2/15) through Thursday (2/20), travelers will have the weekend to: fly back home, spend time with their families in DR, solo travel on their own, and/or join our long weekend wellness retreat in Jarabacoa. After the Heritage Tour, from Thursday to Sunday, we will be in the quaint Jarabacoa mountain town in the Dominican Alps; staying in a gorgeous hotel by the Jimenoa river. We will embrace wellness by: relaxing, getting massages, checking out the local gastronomy (including gorgeous mountain restaurants) and embracing the Dominican mountainous outdoors. 

Activities include: meditating, yoga, relaxing, horseback riding, hiking, visiting the many nearby waterfalls, paragliding or water rafting, and/or massages.

Early Bird Special

If you book before November 2019, you save $50 off using the code: TRAVELLATINA

Return Policy: The deposit is non-refundable. The rest of the payments are refundable up to 50% if you cancel before January 15, 2020.

For full tour details email isabelle@dominicanabroad.com for the booklet brochure. 

 

Mijx: Sigue Tus Sueños, Listen to Your Gut and Go

 

 

by: Elisabet Raquel

Una noche, soñé con mi bisabuelo and only a couple of months later, I found myself by his side in the ranchito where he was born and recently returned to. This pueblo is where my paternal family originates from, a place that I had never known before, located in La Concepción, Jalisco, México. One hundred-and-four-years old, my bisabuelo returned back home to live out the rest of his years after having spent about two decades in the United States with us. A couple of days after I dreamt of him, I was scrolling on my Facebook newsfeed when I saw that a cousin of mine from México (that I had never met in person or really interacted online with) had posted pictures of her family celebrating his one hundred and fourth birthday with him. I commented on her post, mandándoles saludos a todos and asked her about him. She let me know that he was doing well – he still walks, plays cards, has an occasional beer, and even dances. She then invited me to her wedding that was to take place in the rancho and I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Two goals in my life were to meet my whole family and to attend a wedding in México. I was able to complete both aspirations at once with this experience.

Two months later, I arrived at the airport in Guadalajara, Jalisco where I met with my tío abuelo and tía abuela who flew in from Los Ángeles. We were picked up at the airport by my other prima (the sister of the bride whom I had never met before either) since she was heading from the city to the rancho for the wedding too. At the airport when I heard my name called, I looked to see her face for the first time and her resemblance to another cousin I have back home was so striking that I almost mistook her for this other prima. In that moment I knew that we were definitely related. During the two-hour car ride from the city to the rancho, I got to know my prima a bit and asked my tía abuela and tío abuelo about their stories and how they came to the U.S.. We see each other every now and then at family parties back in L.A., but I only recently became more fluent in Spanish and able to really converse with them. They are so pleased that I continue to dedicate myself to learning the language that allows us to communicate, and I am too, for it has granted me access to worlds across geographies and generations. They shared their stories with me guided by my never ending but careful curiosity and I learned so much about the sacrifices they made in the search of a better life and future for themselves and their families. Taking the risk of a lifetime by walking the desert from México to the U.S. in the 1970s, working as a janitor among other odd jobs in downtown L.A., my tío abuelo funded the studies of his youngest brother who chose to stay in the country. The first teacher arrived to the rancho in 1968 – that was only 50 years ago. Today the youngest brother of my abuelo’s siblings is a professional who studied at a university in the city, as are his children, and he is able to offer a comfortable lifestyle for his family in the rancho that is their origin and was able to throw an extravagant wedding for his daughter.

When we finally arrived to the rancho, family welcomed me with open arms and I seemed to be no stranger to them at all – at the immediate sight of me they told me that I am the mini version of one of my tía abuelas who has never returned back to the rancho since she had left to the U.S.. She was the first person in our family to leave in order to work as a caretaker, and she is the reason why we all ended up in L.A. as her younger siblings followed her steps and met her there later – I am honored to embody her gracefulness and courage. Everyone was excited to meet me – the little sobrina nieta from Los Ángeles they knew to speak only English a couple of years ago who now studies, travels, and speaks multiple languages – and I was just as excited to meet them too. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world – I took a week off from school and work and sacrificed weeks of sleep by late nights, early mornings, and drinking toxic amounts of caffeine to stay on track with my coursework. It was all worth it – this truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew I had so little time, so I had to make the most of it. Who knows when we will all be able to be together again in the same place on this earth. Each day I made the time to sit down with different family members and talk about our shared histories and personal stories. I also took down everybody’s general information to make a family tree. I was able to do this with my bisabuelo too, though because he is nearly deaf, I asked him one main question – to tell me the story of his life. I let him talk without interruptions while I simply listened and took notes. His memory is sharp and he spoke for a long time, giving me insight to his life and our shared family history even six generations back. This was such special and important work for me to do and all my family members were enthusiastic to share their stories and help me with the information for the family tree.

Between wedding errands and getting to know to family, the week flew by and the day of the wedding came. The wedding was incredible – elegantly set-up, in the open air, on a sunny day, accompanied by Mariachi serenades. There were 800 guests invited and about 1,000 people (or more) came to enjoy birria & cubitos to celebrate. Unexpectedly, mi prima la novia, whom I had just met a couple of days before, made me a bridesmaid in her court of 14 women who live on both sides of aquí y allá. We were all glammed up with hair, make-up, and nails done – all of which only cost me a total of about $60. It was the first time I ever got prettied up like this and I felt like a true princesa del pueblo. There was live music all night, food & drinks, beautiful decorations, and cakes. Everyone was dressed in their most elegant clothing and many different people came up to ask me who I was, who my father is, and who his father is. When I would tell them, they would respond “I haven’t seen your father in thirty years!”, or “I grew up with your abuelito!”. Everyone was a tía or tío or primx, from one generation or another. I even made friends with one person with whom we later realized at the trips’ end that our bisabuelas were sisters, making us related 4 generations ago – so we too are basically primas. My bisabuelo had told me that we were going to dance together at the wedding, but we both ended up falling asleep at the beginning of the night’s end.

The day after the wedding, a couple of hours before having to catch the bus, I said goodbye to all my family members. My bisabuelo gave me some dulces and a bendición –  I told him about the dream I had of him that brought me there in the first place. I cried in the garden, struck at the difference in which our families’ lives have unfolded though we share the same origin – this special place, the ranchito, la Concia, la Concepción Jalisco. My cousin, the bride, is now embarking on her own leaving of this origin place, moving to San Antonio, Tejas to live with her husband. She invited me to come visit her, and together with her siblings, we discussed the possibility of organizing a giant family reunion in the rancho for 2020. So many of us who live in the U.S. have never been to the rancho, and for the ones who grew up visiting every summer as kids, haven’t been back in over 30 years. We hope to unite our families across the two countries.

This coming home was truly una experiencia única and I am so glad my bisabuelo visited me in my dreams to call me home. We must follow these intuitive calls. Now is the time to listen closely to what our dreams, hearts, stomachs, and souls are telling us to do – to go home to our places of origin (if we have the privileges to do so because not everyone does) even if it is our first time. We musn’t be scared. Let us honor our families, our ancestors, and ourselves by knowing exactly who we are and where we come from. Also, there are people, earth, and culture that love us and have been waiting for us to reciprocate this love through action. People and places don’t last forever but what do are the seeds of love that we plant that can keep us connected to our homelands in life and in spirit.

 

 

 

Travel Hasta La Raíz

by Elisa R. García

I am a young Latina, a nenita in her early 20s who is the first one in my family to go to university and the first one to have opportunities to study and travel freely. With Mexican-Chilean roots and a mother who is from Bolivia, I took full advantage of study abroad opportunities and my financial aid situation to go to all three of these places that have played roles in the histories of my families. I wanted to go hasta la raíz to really understand how we became to be who we are today. Reconnecting with my these histories, families, cultures, and language – all that I have found lost to me in these past two generations away from my countries of origin – has spiralled me onto an unexpected journey of solitude, soundness, and soul therapy. I imagine this kind of journey could do many of us good, though I understand that this is a very privileged opportunity that is not a possibility for many people. This journey was only made possible to me because I found myself in an ideal situation for it to occur as a college student with near full funding for my studies, who was ahead of credits, giving me the freedom to study abroad for about two years in total. If you are finding yourself in a situation where you can realize these homecomings and reconnection to your countries of origin, I highly suggest taking the opportunity. Though I will give a fair warning, this type of journey back to the homelands, learning about who we really are, where we come from, and why we are not ‘from’ there anymore can be a deeply intense and painful, but a beautiful process nonetheless. I was being called back to my roots, so I looked into the study abroad programs offered in these countries – Mexico and Chile. Then I went, and I took the opportunity to go to Bolivia too.

I participated in a field research program in Mexico offered by my university that allowed me to live there for four months. This was only my second time visiting and my first time returning in about fifteen years. I had gone for a month when I was about five years old and stayed with my family who lives in Guadalajara, Jalisco. I was placed for a month in Ciudad de México to study, then in Oaxaca for three months to conduct my field research, and I then visited my family in Guadalajara for a week at the end (where I was prohibited to visit during my program due to travel restrictions). Living in the country for those couple of months, I learned much about about the country, the people, myself, and our shared histories. The Spanish I had lost after having been fluent as a little girl developed so much with dedicated study, immersion, and dating a local. In Ciudad de México, I was introduced to the fast-paced Chilanga lifestyle and enjoyed all the street food. While in Oaxaca, I was given the freedom to design my own schedule, allowing me to realize more than just my research (that is to say that I also spent a lot of free time falling in love and on the back of my partner’s motorcyle getting to know the city and living my best life). Later in Guadalajara, when I was finally able to visit my family, I sat in my bisabuela’s house and tortería, eating all my favorite home-cooked foods and learning a little bit more about my personal family history. The memories of my childhood visit came back to me in Spanish, from when I was more fluent. At this time, I was still developing my Spanish and I started trying to converse with my family about topics I always wondered about – like how and why my grandmother left home as a teenager on her own to the U.S., for example. With time, practice, and use, my Spanish has improved immensely, and I am proud to say that I am now nearly fluent. This renewed skill has allowed me to communicate fully with my family, which has been the most important for me. I’m sad to only have been able to visit my family for such a short amount of time, but I am already planning a three-month return to just stay with them in Guadalajara to really get to know the whole family and our history.

The semester after my study abroad in Mexico, I started my year-long study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. Though the family I have here is mostly from the Valparaíso Region (which is about two hours away), being in Santiago was the closest opportunity available to me and I made frequent weekend visits. I didn’t know much of my Chilean family at first, but they definitely knew me, and showed me all the pictures and letters my grandmother had sent them throughout the years. Everyone welcomed me into their homes with open arms and it was during these initial visits that my search through my family history and the past grew more profound. They shared stories with me about my grandparents and about their childhoods. This led me to ask questions to which led to interesting stories and even more questions. Then I began taking notes, collect data, conduct informal interviews and search for more family members that were introduced to me for the first time in theses stories. I started reconstructing my family history and making a family tree, with the goal of meeting them all and sharing our histories with each other. I would travel to meet each person for the first time and each of them gave me a new perspective, new information, and put me in contact with even more family members I hadn’t previously known about. Así que, with each new person I met, the family and our complex history got bigger and bigger. All this was done in my free time when I wasn’t studying at the university in Santiago, partaking in my internships, or attending events with my exchange program. Balancing all of this work on top of trying to keep mentally, physically, and financially stable was a feat that sometimes I lost to, but am proud of myself for having been able to pull through by means of immense self care and seeking out the support I needed – but that is a whole other story.

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Lisa at the Casa de Frida Khalo in Coyoácan, Ciudad de México

During the break between my two semesters here in Chile, I went to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia where I met up with my mom for her first time returning home in thirty-three years. I was there for only a short time and spent my time and energy there looking for the missing pieces to the my family history while trying to navigate its sensitive relationships and complicated dynamics. Here I sat down with my family members, trying to get them each alone so we could speak honestly one on one because I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to share the truth with one another. Some of my family members don’t have cell phones, What’sApp, or Facebook and live in remote regions so visiting them in person was truly the only way. Bolivia is where all the pieces began to come together of the history of my grandparents leaving Chile, building a new life in Bolivia, getting lost in the drug trade, brujería, and Evangelism, and the long and harsh journey that brought my grandmother and mother to the U.S after having been abandoned by my grandfather. After all this searching, I now became the family keeper of oral history, knowledge, and secrets that could have been very well forgotten – leaving my siblings and I, and the generations yet to come, less confused about where we come from and why and how our life became to be the way it is in the United States.

I think the most rich yielding from my study abroad experiences has been the reconnecting of my family and the healing process I have undergone in learning the roots of my family’s unresolved traumas and of my own personal traumas. We might not be able to undo whatever harm was done to our families along the way of leaving our countries of origin and starting anew, but we can come home and do some deep searching, honor our histories, and heal. If you are finding yourself in a time where you are able to and it’s safe for you to do so, I encourage you to take a wholesome look at the possibility of travelling to where we come from – para realmente conocerse hasta la raíz. It’s time to know our stories and to tell them now before they are forgotten.

Ir y Volver Son Lo Mismo

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My son Lito and daughter Violet.

In July, after years of dreaming and months of planning, I went to Cuba, my Patria, for the first time. I was 29 years old and had a head filled with stories of machetes and fire in the sugar cane fields. I, my children, my boyfriend, and his mother hopped on a plane in Ft. Lauderdale and landed in José Martí  International, the very airport my father and his family left behind, where guards took my abuela’s wedding ring as they left for Madrid.

It was a short trip, all of 3 full days and nights, bookended by travel days. It’s a trip I never thought I’d be able to take, a trip I’ll never forget. Below is a series of essays I wrote about my experiences after returning to my home in Florida.

On rolling a tabaco in Viñales with my family.

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Me, my daughter, and my cousin, Celene, before our hike to the farm.

We entered the dark, thatched hut used for drying hojas. Our guide knew that I needed to practice my Spanish, so he asked me to translate The Farmer’s words. I understood nearly everything except for the terms specific to his work.

The Farmer stood proud in his olive green coveralls, straw hat tilted up so we could better see his expression.

His family played dominoes in the house nearby, like how my family played dominoes on a card table during cook outs and Sanksgibing.

He took us to a covered area with a wooden bench and passed out bunches of hojas. He then pulled out a tabaco from his front pocket and cut the tip with a browning French farming knife. He dipped the freshly cut tip into a capful of honey and lit and puffed and lit and puffed until the edge glowed the way the sun glows in clouds of smoke during a forest fire. He then passed the tabaco to my boyfriend Louie, the honey sweetening the taste.

Lito, our son, found his way to the vegetable garden, spying on the lazy gaticas lounging along the fence. Our daughter, Violet, scarfed down all the pieces of mango the farmer’s wife brought us, the juice staining her shirt a pale orange, her neck glistening in the evening light.

I ripped the vein from the first hoja, wrapping the leaf around my wrist as The Guide taught me. It came out in one clean swipe, him saying, “This is in your blood.”

Louie passed me the tabaco and I puffed and rolled and puffed and rolled, The Farmer helping me hold down the hoja to keep the structure tight.

My cousin (whom I had just met the day before) explained how we were coffee farmers before the revolution; how we were raised in nature.

I thought of my Taino ancestors, how they started this tradition of smoking cigars, how we were reunited through this movement and prayer.

The Road to Varadero Beach

Bleary eyed and swollen, we hopped in the taxi to the Viazul station.

We passed the national cemetery, and I asked our driver about the Chinese lettering over one of the gates.

He told me about the Chinese Cubans who were once so populous, who scattered from the island rather quickly after the revolution.

He asked me how I knew Spanish, and I continued with the song and dance of my father’s birth in Camagüey. He smiled and asked what took me so long to get back to the island.

We walked into the bus station and wandered through hallways until we found the ticket counter which wouldn’t be open for another 15 minutes despite the warning time on our tickets. We sat in the cafeteria and waited for our bus.

Soon we picked up our tickets, the sound of the dot matrix printer reminding me of the smoke monster from Lost. Louie had to chug his steaming café con leche before boarding the bus.

*             *             *

The bus was like any other charter bus I’d been on. The air was too dry and cold, the bathroom was locked up so smells wouldn’t choke us on the ride, the driver professionally impersonal.

Backpackers, families, young professionals, and all around bargain hunters lined the seats as we made our way towards the back.

I stared out the window facing North, watched as the Malecón turned into unharvested jungle. Men with machetes and oxcarts gathered grass. Campesinos stood in the shade, stepping out onto the shoulder of the road whenever a taxi would pass by, hand lined with pesos to encourage kindness from a stranger.

After 3 hours and a few stops along the way, we made it to Varadero Beach. We walked out of the bus station and through a few city blocks. We creeped under the vegetation and trees, careful not to disturb the sleeping locals who hid themselves under towels and t-shirts.

Then we saw it. The blue water my father described. The creamy white sand. When I told my father I was going on this trip, he said this was the most beautiful beach he had ever seen. The waves were calm and steady, like a river bank’s. The water was a perfect aquamarine. I dove into it and opened my eyes, still able to see the sand below and the bodies of my boyfriend and his mother. My daughter sat in her float for hours, lulled to sleep by the gentle rhythm of the tide. My son joined me in swimming, pretending to be a pirate finally finding shore.

I thought of my father in these moments, how the last time he was at this beach, it was probably a scene similar to this; his parents making camp with towels and gear, him and his brothers running along the sand and jumping into the water.

After eating a large lunch and wandering through an artisanal market filled with wooden and leather goods, we spent one last hour at the beach. Down the eastern portion of the shore, hotels blasted salsa and reggaeton for the moneyed guests, the sounds of drums softening in the wind. We packed our belongings and waited in the bus depot for the return ride home.

The thought of returning to this place with my father filled me with sense of sadness and joy only the blues and duende could express. We road in salted silence, the sunset guiding us back to Havana.

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Sunset on the way to Havana.

Art Class in Havana

The rain came as quickly as our trip was ending, a down pour that pushed us down the flooded streets into an alley way where Carlos and Leo met us with umbrellas in hand, hurrying us up the way to the apartment on the top floor guarded by wrought iron painted a flaking, rusty white.

I thanked them for letting us in and stared around the room, a small living space with a caged atrium, rainlight and potted plants framed by the same flaking white filigree from earlier.

After changing Lito and Violet’s clothes into outfits not sopping wet, Carlos and Leo showed us how to make engravings using the options they selected.

I chose an underwater scene, painted a man in a scuba suit from the 40s tangled in purple seaweed.

Soon they taught us how to make our own out of chunks of rubber and PVC piping. Louie carved a cartoon hand while I struggled to make a coffee table scene. Soon the young men were entranced by Lito’s focus, the way he mixed colors and used his face and hands as brushes and canvases.

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The artist is learning.

“He is a true artist,” Leo smiled.

Carlos and I puzzled together a conversation using broken Spanish and English, and I learned he was from the same city as my father. He asked a question I’d been asked countless times since we’d gotten to the island—what had taken me so long to come?

And I told him about my father and his fears and my grandmother and how she never brought me. And he nodded and said things were different now, not like back then when the revolution was still new, still had teeth.

I asked him if there was anything he wished he could do.

Leo explained that while they could live as artists, the living was still hard. Carlos longed for a chance to travel and see a world away from his island. Both described the challenge of being an artist in a place where even food could be scarce at times, of trying not to inhale fumes from spray paint while they covered their faces in rags, of giving students like me an authentic artistic experience while saving enough for themselves.

I nodded, wishing I’d thought to ask them if they needed any supplies before I’d come, thinking of the extra bag we could have checked.

Carlos called me a taxi after our time was nearly over, and I thanked him and I walked with Violet on the balcony while Louie and his mother cleaned up and helped Lito.

I thought of my abuela’s sister who lived in Hialeah decades ago, how she had a balcony similar to this— red, stone-like tile patched into mosaics with a plastered wall overlooking a courtyard. Violet ran her hand along the bumpy surface as she waddled towards the stairwell, her round, brown fingers slightly jumping at each pass.

In Havana there was so much of home, even if it was my first time there.

My Cuerpo de Paz Service Reflections

One of the proudest moments in my life was when I began Peace Corps training in August of 2016. I was still working on Travel Latina, however difficult it was to access the internet. I was ecstatic to share a very special article by Danica Liriano called My Narrative as an Afro-Latina Peace Corps Volunteer. Nothing could make me happier to publish and share this article on our blog and Instagram account. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I ran head-first into an unexpected comment made on her article that made me question everything I was doing. Name is changed to initials in order to protect identity:

“[DFV]: thanks for sharing this piece! i definitely validate the authors experiences, but i think their critique is incomplete, since they ultimately place faith and believe in the peace corps’ agenda. peace corps was a geopolitical tool designed by JFK and part of his alliance for progress to stifle anti-colonial revolution (following success of the cuban revolution) through reform that masked foreign, largely US, penetration of national economies and cultures across the third world, especially in latin america. i expect more of the author frankly. nameley, i expect them to expand their critique in order to indict the peace corps as a neocolonial, humanitarian, white saviour institution that inflicts violence on the countries and communities it interacts with. i believe we need to be more mindful of the need to center subaltern voices and stop believing the west can provide the answers, since it has only played, and continues to play, oppressor!”

I was floored. Not even 1 month into my service training, I questioned everything that I thought about my international development career, and everything that I thought about the Peace Corps (PC) ever since my Dad inspired me to do it. I began obsessing about the Saviour Complex, and how I could avoid any imperialistic, white supremacist, and/or neocolonial practices. I decided that I needed to try harder. To make sure to community organize and perform my work with integrity, with full support or in collaboration with the community, and with sustainability in mind. In international development, I truly believe that Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is the best, most sustainable way to work with communities. The ABCD approach “builds on the assets that are found in the community and mobilizes individuals, associations, and institutions to come together to realize and develop their strengths. This makes it different to a Deficit-Based approach that focuses on identifying and servicing needs” (Nurture Development 1). In addition to that, it’s necessary to implement effective impact evaluation to see if an international development service or aid is actually working, or in order to look at ways to improve it.

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Our Peace Corps site placement in Dibulla, La Guajira

Moreover, there were even more problematic PC stereotypes to work through. There was a comment made when I announced on Facebook that I was about to leave the country to begin the PC:

AJ: Felicitaciones! Sabes que lo dicen Cuerpo de Pasear 
Translation: “Congratulations! You know they call it Travel Corps ”

Peace Corps in Spanish is Cuerpo de Paz. Pasear means “to travel or take a promenade out on the town”, so the play on words turns Paz, or “Peace”, into Pasear. In other words, my FB friend was poking fun at the infamous way that PC volunteers use their time in their assigned host-country to travel rather than actually do work.

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A bird friend in Montes de María, Colombia

I’m not going to lie, some of the most necessary trips I took out of my site placement was our official PC “Weekend Aways” to the nearby cities once a month. Never have I stared my privilege so closely in the face, and been so ruefully aware of my U.S. born & raised, U.S. passport-holding, light-skin Latinx, privileged self. Never had I felt so disgustingly and embarrassingly fragile, with my time in the PC having the worst impact on my mental health, which I believe had a direct negative impact on my immune system. I am wary to admit that my trips away were not only to “pasear”, rather to attend to my mental health. So much so, that I didn’t even realize the extent of my poor mental health state until PC doctors demanded that I pack up and leave site on an official ‘Medical Evacuation’ just two months shy of finishing my 27 month service.

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The view on Santa Marta and the Caribbean sea from Minca, Colombia

Don’t get me wrong, I got to know my motherland in a way that was unforgettable, especially when visiting other volunteers in their assigned sites, and visiting my family in Bogotá. Unlike most other volunteers, I did not have the budget to visit the USA as often as they did (read: once in 2 years, while most PCVs visited 2-3 times), which did not bother me too much except for being 30 meant I missed a lot of weddings. Unfortunately, I did observe that many fellow People of Color in the program struggled with not being able to visit their family as often as non-POC. WOC, in my cohort particularly, dropped out more often than everyone else, which I think is a sad, yet clear, sign at how difficult it is to complete service with little means or support, along with poor treatment. At the end of the day, most locals at my site did not have the resources to travel in-country the way we did, or even access to certain medical or psychological treatment that we had, and many times I allowed it to eat me up inside. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that I was a volunteer with no real income, and furthermore, that I could not have the pretentious saviour complex.

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A coffee farm outside of Salento, Colombia

I’m far from perfect, the Peace Corps is far from perfect, the United States is far from perfect, no one is perfect and EVERYONE is problematic. I’m willing to get called out, receive constructive criticism, and become a better volunteer and overall person. I needed to make sure to work in the best way that *I* could in order to avoid the aforementioned issues. At the end of the day, I taught, I had important conversations, I facilitated, I empowered, I led, and I did everything I could to share what I hope is beneficial knowledge in Dibulla, La Guajira with the utmost mindfulness. There is no true way to measure whether I was successful in any way, or whether I was *woke* enough. However, I feel satisfied when I observe the way people in Dibulla talk about race more positively, seeing past stereotypes (i.e. how US citizens are supposed to be), increasing savings and personal money management awareness, less bullying among students, and overall more interest in entrepreneurship. If I did anything at all, at least I am satisfied to know that I created connections that will last a lifetime.

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Trekking to a cacao chocolate farm in Montes de María, Colombia

Do I recommend the PC? It’s not for everyone, in fact I wonder if it’s best for those who have money or their families have it. Perhaps, it’s better for the fresh college grad who’s use to living on a very meagre budget. I was neither of these, but the reality is that I want an international development career, and the jobs I desired weren’t hiring me because I needed at least 2 years of fieldwork experience. It was my only option, even if I had giant student loans to attend to, even if I put my physical and mental health at risk. I was determined to struggle through it all, while trying my hardest to stay “woke”. The BEST part of it all? I got to explore my ancestral roots in a way even my family couldn’t guide me through.

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My altar honoring my ancestral roots in Colombia

 

Into The Wave

I’m grateful to be born in one of the most beautiful states in the country. I will admit this statement may be a little biased, but there’s a lot to back it up!

While many people’s first impression of Arizona is a hot, desert wasteland (they’re not completely wrong), the natural beauties of this state are plentiful. We have the well-known landmarks of the Grand Canyon and Sedona Red Rocks, but there’s also a plethora of lesser known, just as incredible sights: Havasupai Falls, Antelope Canyon, Kartchner Caverns.

A few years ago, I heard about another hidden gem; The Wave, a spectacular sandstone rock formation that is a result of centuries of sand and wind erosion dating as far back as the Jurassic age! The Wave is just one of the beautiful sites within the Navajo Country and Coyote Buttes southwest region that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. Navajo Sandstone, as this geological area is called, is is known for spectacular rock formations and natural beauty.

One of the first things I learned was that it was extremely hard to get to, not only because of the rigorous 6-mile hike, but also because of the permit process. Sandstone is soft and easily damaged; only 20 people a day are allowed access. Given that this is an internationally known travel destination, with thousands of people seeking the opportunity to make this hike, the odds for entry are extremely low. According to Bureau of Land Management, in 2013 the chances of actually obtaining a permit were between 4%-8%, depending on the time of year.

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There are two ways to obtain a permit to hike The Wave. The first is through the online lottery system – applicants must apply for a permit four months in advance, and pay a non-refundable fee of $7 (you can apply to your permit here). The second way is through a walk-in lottery – hopeful applicants must visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kenab, UT in person, and a drawing will be held for permits the following day.

So how did I get so lucky to obtain such an elusive permit? Well that was thanks to a very dedicated friend, Bryan Soto. Bryan is an avid outdoorsman and traveler and had been applying for permits for over a year. Finally, after trying and failing many times, luck was on his side and he was granted 4 permits for a Thursday in the beginning of June. (Read more of Bryan’s application process and experience on his blog – La Onda). With four permits in hand, Bryan and his girlfriend Marisol (AKA my Little Sis) were deciding who to bring along this adventure with them. Marisol suggested they take me and my partner, Oscar, along as a graduation gift to me.

All it took was a couple of text messages, and we were on board! Oscar and I requested the days off of work, booked our flights to Phoenix, and were ready for our adventure.

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Oscar and I flew into Phoenix Wednesday night straight after work. Bryan and Marisol were there right when we landed, and we embarked on the four hour drive up to Page, Arizona. We spent the night in a local motel and woke up early in the morning ready for our hike. The trail head for The Wave was about an hour and a half drive away from Page – 40 minutes down the highway, and another 40 minutes down a dirt road. We finally arrived at our starting point at about 8:30am – and full disclaimer, this was already MUCH too late to start. We had hoped we would have started before the day got too hot, but the notorious Arizona heat had already started to settle in.

We weren’t exactly sure what to expect on our hike, but the complete lack of a trail was not one of them. When Bryan obtained the permits, he was also sent a map of how to get to The Wave. The map entailed of photos of landmarks with notes on how to navigate. We were basically on our own when it came to figuring out how to get there, it’s no wonder that some people who embark on this journey never find the final destination. The Wave is hidden, I was expecting a simple walk to into a canyon, however it was a difficult hike up and down the Coyote Buttes with The Wave located in a small mountain range.

It took us about an hour and a half to hike the 3 miles to The Wave. If you are not an experienced hiker, I would NOT recommend this trail.  It’s very easy to get lost, the heat is oppressive, and with only 20 people allowed each day, your chances of finding help are slim. However, if you’re up for the adventure and challenge, then the frustration of the permit process is totally worth it.

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Finally the pathway opened up to The Wave. Cut out from centuries of sand and wind, we were surrounded by walls of orange-red rock that shone vibrantly in the mid-morning sun.

We were in awe of the beauty that was all around us. It was as if we were on another planet!

We spent about an hour and a half at The Wave – eating lunch, taking photos and taking in this beauty that we were privileged and blessed to see in person. Once we noticed that the sun had started to settle comfortably on top of us, we decided it was time to head back.

As difficult as the hike into The Wave was, it was nothing compared to the trek back. At 1:00pm, the sun was directly overhead and there was no shade in which we could take refuge. The lack of trail meant that we were backtracking against the landmarks we had used to guide us in. At one point, we hugged too close to a butte and on the way down we completely lost sight of where we were going. We spent about 30 minutes in the hot sun trying to figure out how to get back on track. We knew we were only about a mile away from our car and did our best to keep calm. Eventually Oscar, the master navigator and savior, found the way and we were back on track.

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The Wave was by far one of the most difficult hikes I’ve been on. Although the terrain was fairly easy to climb and scale, the lack of a trail and the overwhelming heat made it extremely challenging. Despite the difficulties this was one of my most memorable hikes.

If this hike is on your bucket list, I highly recommend applying for a permit, getting your gear together, and waiting for your lucky day.  I will always cherish this experience, knowing that I am one of the few people in the world who has gotten to witness this beauty first hand. I am forever grateful.

Con Mucho Amor,

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Location: The Wave – Northern Coyote Buttes, Arizona/Utah Border

Photographer: Bryan Soto – La Onda

Dress: B.Yellowtail (Previous Collection)

 

 

 

Back to the Motherland

I haven’t been back to México in many years, since I was a preteen. The following is my account of happily exploring and learning more about my history and culture.

STARTING OFF IN THE YUCATAN:

PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa Del Carmen is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, pretty close to Cancun. The ocean waters tend to be much warmer on this side of Mexico since it’s near the Caribbean, and on my second day I took a group Catamaran snorkeling tour to visit Isla Mujeres. The small city itself is touristy but the beach is pretty.

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Snorkeling in Playa Del Carmen

The water is unimaginably bright blue! It was a bit cool in the morning but I felt wonderful in the hot sun. I stayed in a very affordable hostel in the center part of town, just a few minutes walk from the beach.

It’s a great place to sunbathe and lounge with a margarita, but if you are feeling adventurous you can windsurf, jet ski, kayak, or go diving. (If you’re into diving, check out the Underwater Art Museum!) 

Full day, bus group tours are available to the nearby  Chichen Itza, the famous site of Mayan ruins that’s a UNESCO site.  Seeing it in person was a dream come true for me because the ancient legends of perfectly aligned temples built by ancient aliens has always been fascinating. If you want something really unique, you can even swim with Whale Sharks nearby!

MERIDA

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Cathedral de Guadalupe

Merida surprised the heck out of me. I honestly hadn’t heard much about this town before going to visit and all I knew was that it had some ancient ruins. Naturally, I added it to my list as I made my way inland.

It’s a small town probably best known for the Mayan city of Uxmal. The ruins at Uxmal are an UNESCO-listed archaeological site in Yucanta, and you can take tours to the city during the day.

I had barely done much research before going to see Uxmal, and was in awe of this spectacular and HUGE place. It took all day to see the city of ruins. So glad I had comfy walking shoes with me.

Merida has an old world European feel and is often said to be the safest city in Mexico. Check out the Great Museum of the Mayan World for a massive collection of Mayan artifacts, or watch players reenact a Mayan Ball Game live in front of the Cathedral and Plaza Grande. The Pok Ta Pok, as it’s called, event in Merida is free and begins at 8 PM. If you enjoy leisure people watching, hang out at the Plaza Grande, a giant park in the middle of the square, where the city offers free wifi!

Local Dishes:

Cochinita Pibil – the most notable Yucatecan dish, this tender slow-cooked pork is marinated in sour-orange, achiote, and other spices. There is also a chicken version called pollo pibil.

Sopa de lima – a hearty soup loaded with shredded turkey in a deliciously tangy broth with lime juice.

PUEBLA

Being my mother’s hometown, I felt it was my duty to put this on the list of cities I passed through on my journey. It’s a colonial town with a rich culinary history. Well known for the Cathedral de Guadalupe, legend has it that after the construction of the Cathedral, engineers and architects wondered how to carry a bell of 8000 kilos. One morning, residents awoke to the news that it was already at the top. This legend is responsible for this beautiful city being called Puebla to los Angeles. I highly recommend a day trip to the nearby city of Cholula to visit all of the ancient churches in the city.

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Main square in Puebla

**TIP**

A great souvenir to pick up will be the famous Talavera tiles. I recommend supporting the small local street vendors, but be wary that your tiles are authentic by taking a coin and firmly striking the tile, if it’s legit it won’t break or scratch it.

LOCAL DISHES:

The MUST TRY local dish is definitely the Mole Poblano!

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Mole and mango con chili

Mole is a sauce made up of different spices and CHOCOLATE. It’s a fusion of Indigenous and European cultures. Mole is a time consuming and labor intensive dish to prepare that requires many ingredients such as different chiles, tomatoes, bread, tortilla, onion, garlic, chocolate, chicken stock, banana, lard, almonds, sesame seeds, salt and spices such as pepper, clove and anise.

Chiles en nogada is another popular dish which has a poblano chili pepper filled with “picadillo” and local ingredients such as “manzana panochera” and “pera de leche”. The chili is then dunked in egg batter and fried. Finally topped off with a creamy walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley. The dish’s three elements generate the colors of the Mexican flag: the green parsley, the white walnut sauce, and the red pomegranate seeds.

For a tasty street food try the Chalupas, lightly fried corn tortillas that are topped with salsa, onion and shredded chicken or beef. Typically an order comes with four chalupas.

MEXICO CITY

By now it’s been a couple weeks into my journey through Mexico and I have been traveling by bus with many stretches being over 20 hours long. Thankfully the buses are modern and well equipped with comfy seats and TVs.

La Ciudad is a wonderfully diverse and huge city with so much to see and EAT! My first couple of days there I stayed at an Airbnb near the central part of the city near transportation. The couple I stayed with provided a nice private room with a balcony in a local neighborhood. I spent my first night walking around the area and exploring where to find some yummy food and there happened to be a local outdoor market nearby with all kinds of goodies. They were mostly selling holiday decorations since it was the beginning of December, but they also had plenty of street food. I could smell the carne asada being grilled for tacos and the sweet smells of baked bread and my personal fav, churros.

Walking through the city brought back so many wonderful memories from my childhood. I was fortunate enough to have my older cousin meet me for a fun day of sightseeing.

We took a bus to the main square, the Zocalo. It was used as a ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Today, it’s formal name is Plaza de la Constitucion. This morning, it was packed with tourists from all over the world and locals wandering around taking photos. Then we walked to begin our tour of some of the biggest museums in the area.

Tempo Mayor, according to Aztec legend, was considered the center of the universe, so naturally it was our next stop. A UNESCO site, the construction of this main temple first began in 1325 and it was rebuilt six times before being destroyed in the Spanish conquest. This site was thought to be the exact spot where the ancient god gave the Mexica people his sign that they had reached the promised land: an eagle on a nopal cactus with a snake in its mouth. The museum itself has a vast collection of artifacts for viewing. They also do short reenactments of certain ceremonies throughout the day.

The rest of my time in la ciudad, was spent visiting my cousins and telling them all about my travel adventures.

PUERTO VALLARTA

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Malecon in Puerto Vallarta

After all that culture and history I now wanted some more ocean views in my life so I headed to the port city of Puerto Vallarta. Time for some sun bathing and relaxation!

The beautiful beaches on the Pacific coast are less crowded than the Yucatan and there is nice mile long boardwalk to stroll down. It’s called the Malecon and it’s filled with lots of stores, restaurants and street performers. P.V. is well known to the LGBT community to be welcoming and feel at home to party. I certainly did.

Originally I planned a week long stay but I really felt at home there so I ended up renting an apartment, just a few minutes walk from the beach, for a month. I enjoyed the beach and has one of THE MOST BREATHTAKING SUNSETS I’d seen in a long time, but there were plenty of other things to do as well…

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Sunset in Puerto Vallarta

Whale watching, tequila tours, surfing, boat tours, snorkeling, shopping, festivals, and of course – day drinking.

I happened to arrive in P.V. on the week of a major holiday celebration – Guadalupe processions is a 12 day long event. On the 12th of December, “Guadalupe Day”, is when it all culminates and all those around the city walk in the parade to the main Cathedral de Guadalupe. There’s dancing and music and lots of celebrating.

Whale watching season is from December to Mid-March and I had the pleasure of going on my first whale watching tour. We saw about 7 different whales that day, it was amazing because we were close enough to not need binoculars.

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Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta

You mustn’t miss the shows! Even if you’re not a big fan of musicals or drag shows, just stop in for one show, I promise they won’t disappoint! If you are a fan of the gay culture, then you might even get to see a celebrity like Jay Rodriguez!

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Drag shows in P.V.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For an even less crowded and hippy feel, check out the tiny surfer town of Sayulita. You can take a bus from the mall in P.V. it’s about an hour ride to the beach town. Tell the driver where you want to stop and he will announce it once the bus arrives. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the center of the town, just follow the crowd and the smell of the ocean.

 

I had a blast getting in touch with my roots, drinking tequila, and gorging on all the fantastic local dishes. Have you been to México yet?

 

Featured photo credits to discoveryvallarta.com

I’m as Migratory as a Monarch Butterfly

Dear friends,

I wanted to share a journal entry I wrote in 2011 during a family visit to Morelia and Leon, Mexico. While I’m a little late, the message of migration still rings true, and most importantly, of embracing change. I’ve been back to Mexico a few times since, and one of the things I look forward to the most is staying with my grandma and enjoying her company and the delicious tacos, menudo, and pastries of León, Guanajuato.

When I think of my top ten favorite places in the world, I think of her kitchen. It’s a place where we can sit and peruse her family albums. It’s during one of our memory recovery sessions that I found one of my favorite pictures of my family (the cover photo). Having albums is a tradition I wish my generation continued with as well, but with facebook, we’re leaving our memories online, and who is to say they will be preserved there forever?

 

 

 

 

I’m dedicating this post to the Monarch butterflies which I was lucky enough to see in the state of Michoacan in November 2016. I was born in Morelia, Michoacan, but it wasn’t until I finished my Peace Corps Nicaragua service at age 26 that I ventured by land up to Mexico to finally witness the millions of butterflies swarming around and coating the trees in what at first glance looked like leaves–but no, they were butterflies.

 

 

 

Change has always been a part of my life. At three, I emigrated to Washington State. At 17, I moved across the country to Boston because that’s where it was the cheapest place for me to go to college. At 18, I came out as a lesbian. At 21, I became a U.S. citizen. At 24, I moved to Nicaragua. At 27, I swam at the edge of Victoria Falls, hiked Table Mountain in South Africa, and finally ran on Ipanema Beach in Brazil. I underwent top surgery due to gender dysphoria and am exploring the fluidity of my gender identity.  2017 was scary, but it taught me so much and I learned that I have much to look forward to. This month, I just took the GRE (after 6 years of self-doubt) and am considering getting an MBA.

 

This year will be just as stressful as it is exciting. I know it. The butterflies remind me of how easily they accept change and migrate with this intense, innate sense of purpose that I like to think that I share with them. My goal is to just accept things for how they are, and not as they should be, just as the Monarch butterflies do.

Enjoy!


December, 2011

I flew to Mexico and arrived in Morelia, Michoacan my birth town, at about midnight. Finally. It had been two years and I’m always restless to go back to Mexico. I stayed there for about 4 days and saw family, hiked, and basked in the sun that I missed so much. It was hard to believe that the beating, hot sun down here is the same one that teases us in Boston, where it begins to set at 3:30 pm.

One restaurant that stuck out to me was the San Miguelito, where my aunt and cousin went. It’s famous for basically being a museum to San Antonio, the saint that women turn over so that they can find boyfriends. There was even a life-sized one there, turned on its head, accompanied by several advertisements of women seeking good men to marry. All of my photos of the place seem annoyingly upside down. I looked at the menu and decided to try Huitlacoche, which is the cooked fungus that grows on corn. It’s a delicacy there, but after a bite of some in my quesadilla, it tasted and looked just like cooked spinach.

The day before I left, I took a stroll past the huge aqueduct through the historic downtown, which has been around since the 1500s. I really missed the concept of a town plaza where people go to sit and relax, as they listen to the constant flow of water ebbing from the fountains-or children crying loudly, asking their parents to buy them that unnecessarily large sized tweetie balloon. I was basking in the 70 degree weather, and everyone could tell I was not from there because I was making a conscious effort to sit in the sun while they wore their hats and long sleeved shirts. “No, I’m not cold,” I’d say to them. “Your winter is my summer!”

Then came the bus ride to Leon. I thought I loved to recline in my seat but these Mexicans had me beat. Halfway there, I turned and saw half of them knocked out, reclining one after another like dominos. There was a movie about a cave playing (the only actor I recognized was the man who blew the whistle at the end of Titanic in search of survivors) but I lost interest after the only female lead died. How Wellesley (my women’s college) of me.

My favorite part of the 2.5 hour long journey to León is the ride over Lake Cuitzeo. It’s this large expanse of grayish blueish water teeming with white herons all over it, and the road glides right through the middle of it. The environmental studies side of me wonders how badly contaminated it is at this point, as there weren’t many fishermen out there at all.

I should stop here in order to describe León in its deserved detail, but I’ll leave with one thought. This morning I heated up my egg, tortilla and salsa and broke my fast with abuelita (grandma). Somehow the topic of the monarch butterflies emerged, and she marveled at the way in which four generations of them migrate each year from Canada to Michoacan (the state I was just in).

She lamented at the fact that deforestation is leaving them with less places to land, and how blood has been lost over the land that these creatures deserve to call home. On a brighter note, she asked me “¿Como deben saber a donde ir, año tras año, desde Canada hasta aqui?¿Que maravilloso, no?” (“How do they know where to go, year after year, from Canada all the way here? Isn’t it marvelous?”).

Well, the monarch butterlfies are just like me, I thought. They always just want to come back to Mexico.

I don’t know why, but I’m as restless as any one of those Monarch butterflies to leave the North for a while and join family here and there, and ultimately to stay at my grandma’s house for a while. I thought by now this urge would die down, but it seems just as strong as ever.