Hello From Cuernavaca – The Most Intense Day Of My Trip (Part I)
I have a habit of cramming a few too many things into my schedule, and I think yesterday was such a day.
I started my day with a nice breakfast and then took a taxi to the Cetlalic language school. Cetlalic is known for its dedication to political activism and strongly supports the causes of indigenous people, women, gays and lesbians and other marginalized minorities.
My two co-students from Germany, my teacher Mario and I had a very interesting conversation about Mexico and its political system. He explained the 3 major political parties (PAN, PRI, PRD), two of which are rightist parties, and the last of which is leftist. In 1988 apparently there was an election scandal, where the PRD party was leading, but for 20 minutes all the computers experienced a failure counting the votes, and when the TV cameras returned to the vote counting process, the PAN party was suddenly in the lead and ended up winning the election. This echoes many of the comments about political corruption that I have been hearing widely from people in all walks of life here.
Mexico is an interesting country, since I am here I have heard a multitude of people refer to the entrenched corruption that is part of the way of doing things here. The term “mordida” means “bribe”, and a mordida might be required when you get stopped by a policeman on the highway or when a large international company might want to build a shopping centre in a historically significant part of town that might affect archeological sites.
A variety of people have commented that many politicians start out poor, but end up being millionaires by the time they leave office, and confidence in the political system is generally low. This is particularly interesting since national elections are coming up on July 2 of this year. By the way, the Mexican presidency is only elected every 6 years.
Our teacher went on to tell us some examples of active local citizen resistence where village residents prevented a gas station from being built., using a variety of tactics. To this day the fully functional gas station has never been put into operation.
After this interesting 2 hour discussion, we returned again to more mundane Spanish grammar topics such as the difference between ser and estar, and we practiced how to form conditional sentences, using the beloved Spanish subjunctive.
At noon it was time again for my other explorations while my colleagues with their Spanish practice. I had a meeting with a young gentleman by the name of Ruben Cortes who runs a local adventure travel and sightseeing company as well as a local budget hotel. When we met he told me that he has a degree in international commerce, and that he just loves outdoor activities. His company provides sightseeing tours, guided tours to local museums, a variety of outdoor adventure activities (hiking, mountain climbing, rafting, rappelling, SCUBA diving – they are certified PADI scuba diving instructors) and many more.
The Mexican State of Morelos is a wonderful area for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. There are a variety of mountains, most of which are former volcanoes, and the region offers boundless nature adventure opportunities. His family’s hotel, the Hotel Royal, is located right in Downtown Cuernavaca and offers budget accommodation between 240 and 350 pesos a night in simple hotel rooms with TV and private bathrooms. After the interview was finished, Ruben suggested that we meet later on today and that he would give me a sample of his services in the form of a brief hike through a nature area on the outskirts of town.
At 2:30 I had my next interview. I met Pablo Buitron from a local non-profit organization called “Fundacion Communidad”. Pablo has a doctorate in management from the University of Texas as well as an MBA from the University of Buffalo, NY, so he speaks excellent English. His non-profit organization focuses on fundraising for local community projects and for supporting micro-business activities. The interesting thing in his business is that he focuses on his community’s assets (rather than on the “problems”), and that to him the term “community” is far more important than the term “market”.
Pablo and I had a great connection, we both have business backgrounds, but we both believe in the importance of social enterprise and real entrepreneurial responsibility to our communities. Pablo mentioned that since the inception of his organization, they have raised funds in the neighbourhood of 15,000,000 pesos (about US.5 million) and more than 40,000 people have benefited from their programs. Apparently, 90% of the people they work with are women and he says in his opinion by far the greatest change in Mexico’s culture has taken place in the last 50 years in terms of the status of women. At the same time he admits that the status of women in Mexico, particularly in the rural areas, can be 100 years behind other countries.
Pablo was kind enough to drop me off downtown at an Internet café and after that I made my way to the next appointment: Casa Vamos. Casa Vamos is a non-profit organization funded by a couple from Vermont who had fallen in love with Mexico and its people and who wanted to do something about the poverty that still exists in its country.
So I went to the beautiful mansion that Casa Vamos runs on Francisco Leyva Street and sat down with its caretaker Agustín to chat. I was also supposed to meet a gentleman by the name of Alejandro who is the executive director of the organization, but unfortunately he had had a car accident and wasn’t able to make it. Agustín was kind enough to give me a brief overview of his organization, that they have more than 20 projects that help children, adults and older people who need it the most. For now, Casa Vamos, the mansion, is used to generate funds for the non-profit foundation. It’s a very unique concept: Casa Vamos is run like a bed and breakfast, it has 4 guest rooms, all very large with private bathrooms, in a wonderful stylishly decorated mansion. The price is reasonable, between and 0 per night, and all revenue goes to the charitable foundation.
Agustín also told me that even though he is an agronomy engineer, he spent five years in local mountain villages as a social worker, helping the poor people and in the 5 years he was there, the mortality rate in this particular location went from 80% to less than 30%. His work made a huge difference in the community and whenever he goes back to visit them, and he does so frequently since he gets invited to weddings and other functions, all the local inhabitants welcome him enthusiastically and show their appreciation for the help he gave them. Whenever Agustín talks about this time in his life, his eyes light up and it is obvious how much this time meant to him. He is very happy to have an opportunity now with Casa Vamos, so he can continue to make a difference in the community.
Roughly around 6 pm my adventure travel specialist Ruben came to pick me up and we drove from the central area of town to the outskirts on the north to go on our eco-hiking adventure. We went to an area called Santa Maria, and on the way Ruben pointed out all major points of interest. I asked him how come he knows so much about the city and he indicated that since his company provides tour-guiding services as well, he spent a lot of time educating himself about the city, its history and its natural environment. He even consulted some local archives and historians.
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