Dia de los Muertos

Not so long ago, November came to the end, which means that in Mexico finished the month devoted to the dead persons. And I would like to tell you about one of the most popular, and as for me one of the most ambiguous national traditions – celebration of the Dia de los Muertos.

Probably very few people know that in some pueblos of Campeche there is a custom to dig up the bones, wash them and put back. And once again I’m reminded how fascinating and distinctive world we’re surrounded by. Because if for us the death is always sad, for the ancient indigenous people as well as for the current population of Mexico the death is the life and transcendence which is reflected in rituals such as offerings of the Dia de los Muertos.

That’s why it’s used to make an altar of several levels, usually of three, each one with its own meaning. Altars start from the top to the bottom and the offering food is placed in bowls or in clay plates with some things in glass dishes.

The first level means the underworld. Here it is the place where people put a photo of the dead person to whom they will offer the things, one alcoholic drink, a glass of water and flowers.

The second level represents the ground and it is the main offering, which can be food, or drinks that ancestors liked, or food and fruits that they harvested when they were alive. It can be tamales, made from dough and chicken, drinks from corn like pozole and atole, lemonade, chocolate, water of rice, sour orange, pineapple, coconut, or melon.

In the third level are accommodated the sweets, or delicacies which the deceased people will like to sample on their visit to the altar. These are: merengue, arepas and sweets. In the same level the following fruits are placed : plum, papaya, coconut, guava, tamarind, orange, tangerine, banana, apple, corn, and in some special cases the grapes.

Since the altar has been built it is necessary to construct a cross with a lime as well as a path which dead persons will take to come, and to light it up with a few lit candles. After the set up of the altar with everything to offer to the dead people, one person usually prays in front of the altar to make the deceased souls to feel happy and secure. As well as in the ground can be placed a censer with carbon and incense to produce a scent that will attract the dead ones who are lost and do not know how to meet with their families.

Maybe you’ve already seen “Coco”, the American  musical fantasy film about 12-year-old boy named Miguel Rivera who is accidentally transported to the land of the dead, where he seeks the help of his musician great-great-grandfather to return him to his living family. Based on the concept of Mexican holiday, the film discloses some interesting details of this.


Es cierto que nuestro percepcion del mundo depende de estado emocional, pero de mismo grado es correcto lo contrario – que nuestros alrededores influyen a nuestro humor. Y otra vez me di cuenta eso cuando estaba paseando por las calles angostas de mi querido Campeche.
Creo que cada uno en su vida tiene lugares donde le gustaria a volver. Y a pesar de que solo 3 veces estaba alli, en este cuidad medieval con sus casas de diferentes colores, pintoresco Malecon y atardeceres increibles para siempre quedara una parte de mi corazon. Y ni siquiera si sea muy triste dar la vuelta a la pagina en tu libro de vida, pero cada medalla tiene dos partes. Y tu siempre sabes que en algun lugar en el borde de la tierra en otro lado del planeta te esperan la gente cercana quien te siempre tendran en su corazon como tu tendras ellos  en tuyo.

Una vuelta a Xpujil

Dicen que no hay nada mejor que volver allí, donde no había cambiado nada, para entender cómo has cambiado tu mismo. Probablemente, es la verdad.
Ha pasado casi un año antes que yo regrese segunda vez a Xpujil, un pueblito donde he vivido y trabajado durante 3 meses. Un pueblito donde hice buenas amistades y conocí mucha buena gente, con quien estabamos en contacto durante este año.
No puedo decir que aquí no ha cambiado nada. Se sustituyeron los estudiantes, ahora tenemos más niños comparando con el año pasado. Se han retirado algunas personas, aparecieron otros.
Se ha cambiado un poco y el mismo Xpujil. Cerrarron mi favorita cafetería, terminaron construciion de centro cultural, abrieron el hermoso parque y muchos cafés nuevos.
Y me recibieron muy bien. Volvieron los antiguos alumnos, que han comenzado estudiar ingles conmigo. Me siento como si estuviera de vuelta en mi familia.

A place called Xpujil

It is commonly thought that smaller places are also smaller in experiences, or have little to offer to visitors. I must admit that I had a wrong idea about Xpujil, its people and the way they live; I really forgot that this place is even older than my home town, yet wiser in many ways. This is a place with plenty to discover, but the lessons come only for those ready to understand its subtle language of signs, sounds and silences. The visitor should look at every aspect of the place that would normally be considered trivial, irrelevant or even unimportant.


One example is the symbolic value that public spaces have here. Even if private property is not despised, common property has the same importance because it enriches everybody. Common property is not regarded as “property of no one”, but as property of everyone alike, meaning that all have the same right to use and benefit from it. All care for the parks, public services and offices, and the municipal auditorium the same way they care for their own houses or farms. This idea comes from a tradition regarding the care and use of the oldest and richest property: the forest. The forest, up to these days, remains the way of living for most of the inhabitants in the region, as well as the source of identity of the town.


For these kids, it seems just normal to have a small depiction of ancient ruins in the playground. Just as normal as the trees and the benches any park has.

The isense of a community can also be found in the ruins found all around the place. These ruins are part of the modern landscape, peeking through the rooftops and tall trees. Nowadays, people not always regard itself as Mayan, and I do acknowledge how their lives resemble more the ordinary life on any modern society. Nevertheless, the weight of the past can be felt. One can’t visit about places like Xpujil without noticing the regular use of Mayan language, written and spoken, and references to pre-hispanic names, like streets named Balamkú, Balakbal, Xmultún, Halaltún, Silvituc.

Places like these require, above anything else, time: the visitor may not be aware of the richness hidden underneath the earth and trees, and more recently underneath the expanding houses. I feel one week has not been enough, yet I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed or learned a lot in this far away land on Mexico.



May brought rain, new experiences, and naturally, some challenges. The countryside has returned to beautiful, lush, green dips and hills. And flowers are blossoming everywhere. It’s as if spring is just beginning here.

The classes with the children continue to go swimmingly (well), but the groups of teenagers have been more than inconsistent. Throughout my teaching experiences, discipline has been a big challenge for me. I wonder if I haven’t put my foot down hard enough with some of the young people who still miss classes, arrive late, or have completely stop coming altogether. One of these groups was mostly made up of teens whose parents were really the ones who encouraged them to go. There were some breakthrough moments with these kids (the light bulb moment, as they say), but I had a hard time motivating them to practice and study what they were seeing in my class. When a student is in your class because of their own desire to learn, the enthusiasm is clear and it’s a completely different dynamic. This was a group I started with from zero English and I was extremely excited about learning with them. I have another group of adolescents, who already having gotten over the hump (those first sometimes painfully confusing steps of learning a new language), continue to move forward and practically devour the new material we see.

Hormiguero Ruins

Where’s Laura? Hormiguero Ruins after dark

My stay here in Xpujil is coming to a close, so I’m on a mission to see as much of this remarkable corner of the universe as I can in these last days! A few weeks ago, I went camping outside of the Hormiguero ruins. The dark masses of the Mayan structures rising with the backdrop of constellations and planets is a powerful sight. And this is normal life in Calakmul!

Between the connections with students, friends, and nature of course, being here has had a strong effect on me. I feel stronger in my independence than before I came here and independence was not something I was lacking in. But perhaps the strongest change I feel is a clearer interpretation of the balance between what we give and what we can get back in this life.

Water Weather


Laguna Bacalar “lugar rodeado de carrizos”

I’ve finally had some time to travel these past few weeks! With a friend, I made my way over to the kaleidoscopic waters of Quintana Roo’s coast. Between the ocean and the famous Bacalar Lagoon, these are calm waters that are perfect for exploring in a kayak or taking a long afternoon swim.  In appreciating the beauty and magic of the region (from what I’ve seen so far in Campeche and Quintana Roo), one also has to ponder the fine balance between appreciation and exploitation. Bacalar is a good example. Before becoming a popular tourist destination in the 1970s and 1980s, it was home to quite the menagerie of  flora and fauna – turtles, rays, crocodiles, sea snails and the tall cane that Bacalar is named for in Maya (place surrounded by cane), among others. Now the lagoon, as captivating as it is, sits comparatively lifelessly and quietly between the sea and the jungle. A few fish swim throughout the remaining reeds and lily pads. In recent years, there has been a great push for eco-tourism (an oxymoron to be sure, but if there’s gotta be tourism, it’s the way to do it) in Southern Mexico, which is certainly reassuring, but we also have the responsibility to educate ourselves about an environment in order to understand and curtail any impact.

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My Spirit Animal

I couldn’t turn down the offer last weekend when a student/friend of mine invited my roommate and me to trek through the night-fallen jungle to join a bat party with a group of biologists. So, truthfully, more of a survey than a party, the biologists had set up nets to catch a bat that they are currently studying, the False Vampire. Erroneously classified as a vampire bat at one point, the False Vampire is a large species of bat that can be found throughout the jungles of Southern Mexico all the way to those of Ecuador and Colombia that feeds on small mammals and birds. We didn’t end up coming across the holy grail, but we did get to see plenty of these cute little guys that feed on fruit and/or insects!

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More adventures to come…


Waxing and Waning in Calakmul

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Waxing and waning in Calakmul: Los días aquí fluctúan de llenos y fascinantes a bastante lentos. Por lo menos cada semana ha sido diferente! En la casa hemos tenido unos talleres geniales y muchas noches de documentales. Y después de los primeros pasos lentos, por fin las clases están moviendo. Tengo una base buena de estudiantes que (casi) siempre vienen a clase. Llega Semana Santa y ojalá esas dos semanas de descanso no interrupan demasiado el orden establecido. De todos modos, aprecio muchísimo la oportunidad de viajar un poco por la región durante las vacaciones!!

Crazy Children

Crazy Children

One of the best groups I have is a group of kids. For a couple of weeks, the students were constantly spawning new friends and cousins. They were 3. Then they were 5. Then they were 7. Now they are 10. At first I found it extremely stressful to have to review the basics every other class, but once I stopped obsessing over that, we began to move forward at a good pace. We learn new words and incorporate old ones. It’s amazing how quickly children pick up on things! When I started teaching English a year and a half ago, one of the first things I learned was to avoid underestimating the students’ ability to respond positively to challenges. This class is a great example. Spongy brains!



Naturally, it is trickier to engage the teens in conversation and activities. Patience and a good sense of humor have helped me greatly in keeping the rhythm in my classes. At this point, I think the students feel comfortable around me. I always try to act silly and make them smile. The lack of self-consciousness is contagious. The classes go more smoothly if everyone is in a light mood and enjoying themselves. And by the way, improvisation is nothing to be ashamed of in teaching – being in tune to the flow of each class is essential!

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“Quilitz Quilitz” cry the bats of Xibalba, the underworld, in Mayan text Popol Vuh

I was able to visit la cueva de murcielagos a few weeks back. Witnessing the formation of these clouds of bats is equally spellbinding and charming. They drop and swoop and dive and shoot and dance – what’s really most remarkable is that they don’t have more collisions with all the spectators standing in their way!

When I begin to feel isolated or a bit underwhelmed living in this small town of different customs and habits, I remind myself how much life there is outside of that of human beings. The garden behind Germina is practically a bird sanctuary. And lizards are regular visitors to the house as well. This, after all, is the jungle – there is no shortage on life.


Gracias, Germina. Adiós, Xpujil.

Seminario popular “¿Por qué somos pobres si somos ricos?”, otro evento dónde nos sorprendió el interés de la gente.

This article was published on http://unaduendecuriosa.blogspot.mx/ 13th of March 2017.

Aunque mi estancia como voluntaria en el Centro Cultural Germina oficialmente terminó hace tres semanas, eso no significaba que no nos volvamos a encontrar. La primera “excusa” que apareció hace más de un mes era el día internacional de la mujer. Para ese día quisimos hacer una marcha feminista y taller para lxs adolescentes y me parecía que no me lo puedo perder. Al final la idea de un taller se multiplicó por tres y al taller de género que planificamos para el 8 de marzo se sumaron un taller de reciclaje y educación ambiental y otro dedicado al amor tóxico.

Taller de reciclaje y de educación ambiental.

En algunos momentos antes de que se hayan realizado los talleres dudaba sobre si habrá asistencia y si el pueblo se va a interesar. ¡Xpujil sorprendió en grande! Junto con la coordinadora del centro, Sara y con la voluntaria actual, Laura,  íbamos invitando y avisando como pudimos y creo que la asistencia nos sorprendió a todas. Al final, el día de sábado hemos logrado reciclar y, con apoyo importante por parte de Frida (¡gracias!), tener una charla dedicada a la biodiversidad y conservación del medio ambiente. El martes hemos hablado sobre el amor en su variedad sana y tóxica y debido al apoyo de Jorge (¡gracias a tí también!) se sumaron al público de la secundaria también lxs estudiantes de la universidad. Nuestras ganas de hacer el día de la mujer “algo grande” se cumplieron de maneras distintas a las esperadas. Aún así hemos disfrutado de formar la parte reivindicativa de la marcha por el día internacional de la mujer y luego de impartir el taller de género con público literalmente “cazado” a última hora justo antes de impartirlo. ¡Gracias, Sharon, por estar ese día y compartir en el taller!

Charla con lxs adolescentes “Hablemos del amor”.

Esta semana que pasé en Xpujil me hizo ver cuanto realmente aprecio mi tiempo vivido allí. Y no es poco. Era una buena oportunidad para recapitular y cerrar la experiencia. Estas son las conclusiones a las que llegué. La parte de ser profesora de inglés no siempre fue fácil. Sobre todo al principio del año cuando después de regresar de las vacaciones como si la regularidad que por fin se estableció antes de las navidades nunca hubiera existido. Se tuvo que volver a empezar por segunda vez. Aunque algunxs alumnxs decidieron abandonar las clases definitivamente y otrxs tomaron su tiempo para regresar, también aparecieron unas personas nuevas con interés de involucrarse. En aquellos momentos me di cuenta que volver a impartir la primera clase tantas veces sin realmente saber si la persona está dispuesta a seguir puede resultar algo frustrante. La continuidad que es imprescindible para poder enseñar de manera constructiva un idioma a un grupo de personas es un factor casi imposible de controlar en este contexto. Y en vez de querer controlarla hay que armarse con buena dosis de paciencia, la cual, no voy a mentir, a veces me faltaba.

Momentos dispersos.

Este era el lado real (fuera de los unicornios y colores rosa) que costaba trabajo. Más allá de él se encuentra el compartir, crear lazos y aprender mucho. En la dinámica de la clase se aprende como persona y como profesora. Se aprende a escuchar mejor, adaptarse más, abrirse y dejarse guiar por el instinto que muchas veces me valía más que haberme preparado la clase hasta el último detalle (que no voy a mentir, pocas veces lo hacía). Se aprende de los altibajos de lxs estudiantes a explicar con paciencia y a dejar que el espacio sea seguro para compartir cualquier duda. Y sobre todo, más tarde o temprano se acaban compartiendo trocitos de las vidas personales y se crean lazos y amistades. Por lo tanto, ser profesora es una experiencia que fácilmente le vuelve loca a una, pero también se puede disfrutar mucho.

El día internacional de la mujer, 8 de marzo.

Estar en Germina, que es un espacio de cultura, oficina compartida, lugar de encuentros, casa de lxs voluntarixs y mucho más era un gusto. Disfruté mucho de poder contribuir con ideas que se me ocurrían y de poder compartir con las personas que están alrededor del centro. Todas las conversaciones repletas de pensamiento crítico me han abierto los ojos en muchos aspectos, me han inspirado y pude aprender sobre varias realidades de México (.. y del mundo) escondidas a primera vista. Por lo tanto, gracias Germina y gracias a todas las personas con las que tuve la oportunidad de compartir mi tiempo en Xpujil.

Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

First Impressions

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I’ve been in Xpujil, Campeche for two weeks now. Xpujil is a pop-up town that seemed to form mostly as a hub, connecting other more inspiring destinations. I’ve realized that it’s a place where many paths cross. And while the town leaves much to be desired, there are some pleasant breaks in the facade, surprises even. One of those surprises is the Centro Cultural Germina, where I’m working. Located in an unassuming, but cute bungalow, it is a hole in the wall, but an oasis in the desert. Besides the English classes, Germina organizes small workshops for those in the area and events, like movie-debate nights. The idea is to promote open, respectful discussions about social and environmental topics related to the region. I’ll be teaching English here for the next four months!

Vibrant, floral street corner in Xpujil

Vibrant, floral street corner in Xpujil

Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

I teach to lovely groups of children, teens, and adults, some of whom seem to suffer from a most curious condition in which they exhibit signs of fleeting and ephemeral existences. There is certainly a different conception of time here. Of course, Dalí perfectly captured this ambient in his now famous landscape of Xpujil, “The Persistence of Memory” 🙂  The students don’t always make it to class, but when they do, it’s clear that they’re happy to be there. Sometimes you can even tell when they are on the brink of disappearing, because they begin to slightly flicker in and out. The color fades from their faces and their voices become noticeably more high-pitched and soft, as if they were whispering after sucking a helium balloon. An extreme case the other morning involved a new student who had begun the lesson with earnest enthusiasm. We went along with the first vocabulary words, learning and repeating the body parts in English: Nose, Eyes, Mouth, Arms, Toes. At about the hour mark, I noticed her hands were losing their saturation and flickering in-and-out between opaqueness and complete transparency. She no longer had the capacity to copy the new words in her notebook. And after a few minutes, there were not enough visible body parts for us to play our game of Simon Says. The episode progressed rapidly and by the end of the class, all that was left was a pair of dusty New Balance sneakers. I calmly picked them up and set them outside of the classroom door and by the next morning, they were gone, so one would hope that our dear student will be back. So, my goal right now is to promote the classes, as well as reach out to current students and encourage them to take full advantage of the lessons by 1, coming to class and 2, by making the effort to learn. One benefit of the small size of the groups (the largest class I have is a group of 7 kids), is that each student gets the attention they need. Campeche has a solid tourist industry, so knowing English provides a lot of opportunities close to home for the people here.

This past Saturday I had the chance to visit the beautiful ruins of Calakmul or “the city of two adjacent pyramids”. I went with a small group, led by a student of mine, who is a professional tour guide. Wandering the sinuous paths, we saw tiny toucans (!!!!), oscillated turkeys with their colorful feathers, and lizards darting along the forest floor. The intimidating roars of the howler monkeys reverberated in the distance. This is the heart of the jungle.

Imposing temple in Calakmul

Calakmul’s imposing North-facing Temple

Stele depicting a powerful woman in Calakmul

Stele depicting a powerful woman (perhaps a governess?) in Calakmul

Life in southern Mexico is surreal. It offers moments of contemplation, of unfastening oneself from the arbitrary limits of time so far instilled in the mind. For the Mayans, time was a cyclical measure of change where each day invited fresh, yet antecedent (or experienced previously by ancestors) sentiments. Living here is a lesson in patience, as well as personal initiative. Dreams walk alongside us in the shadows cast by the sun. With some work, I know it will be possible to bring those to fruition.

English class

Broken noses, the “Xpujil effect” and more

Calakmul ruins.

It’s incredible how much can your perception of the place you’re living at change in a relatively short time. As described before, Xpujil is one of these places where you need to work your way towards liking it. It doesn’t come automatically. Part of the young people working there either in some of the environmental organizations or at the university actually consider it only a “half-home” as they live between Xpujil and other places. Also, after staying for a while you notice what we call “The Xpujil Effect”, which means feeling overly excited when visiting other places, that are somehow different, beautiful or interesting. Xpujil brings you towards appreciation. That’s where my inflection point began. First you appreciate, that you re-learn to appreciate. Then people get used to you and you get used to them. Nobody dares to scream “guerita” anymore. You learn to say “hi” anytime you walk into a store, taquería or to the people on the street, when your looks accidentally cross. You can’t behave as if you were anonymous anymore.

The adults class.

One of the hyperactive moments.

When it comes to the progress of the volunteering, many ups and downs happened over the past weeks. Even though volunteers are commonly motivated by good ideas such as to help, to share, to learn, it’s dangerous to have expectations, that are more big, than realistic. My expectations were big and my motivations maybe way too noble. That was a perfect combination, that shortly led to a disappointment and feeling of impotence. Even though I was trying to do my best, go to schools, talk with people on the street, and let everyone know about the possibility of receiving English classes, almost nobody new showed up. In that point I started asking myself what meaning does this all have. As if there was this magic formula to understand how things work and I still wasn’t getting it. When sharing this experience with others, the response, that I would be getting was: time and patience. Little bit frustrating. Somehow I realized, that the volunteering is probably just a part of the experience and maybe I can try to learn some other new things, when surrounded by so many beautiful communities and initiatives.

Learning how to do candles out of orange peel in Mancolona.

Ironically, just in the moment when I decided to participate in other projects, new students started appearing. Then we had the “problem” of finding an appropriate group for everyone. Nevertheless, even though it’s nice to have more students now in my classes, I definitely learned that it’s not about the quantity. Even though it sounds like such a cliché, it’s so truth. If you manage to get at least few students excited for learning the language and widening their horizons it’s worth it. So it’s definitely about the little things.

What you can see when passing by Germina.

Teaching isn’t easy. There’s no right way of doing it. I believe more in a unique dynamics that happen in every class and in understanding the vibe of each group of students. Personally I realized, that it’s more about me adapting to the students, than them adapting to what I want. It’s not about imposing what should be done, but more about dialogue about what we can do together. And as my hands are not tied by any educational system (and that’s actually quite a luxury!), it’s possible to do it this way. This would be the theory and the lessons I’ve learned. Nevertheless, the practice can be pretty frustrating sometimes. Especially in the “blackout” moments, when it looks like after weeks of learning, all the knowledge has just evaporated. Then we have to understand and practice all over again. But when one leaves the pressure of “idyllic progress” aside and opens the door for patience and little steps, everything flows better.

Running into toucans is quite normal in the Calakmul jungle.

Now I am traveling through the Central America as it’s Christmas/vacation time and I must say that even though I obviously enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people, at the same time, I am really missing Germina, Xpujil and all my students and new friends I’ve made. It took just month and half and I am already in love with the place and it’s people. It’s quite a paradox, the more difficult it felt in the beginning, more affinity I feel to Xpujil now.