A Travellerspoint blog

On your next trip, leave Trip Adviser and Google at home.

I am such a fuddy-duddy. When it comes to cell phone technology, I am actually worse than my grandma (she has an iPhone idk, while I'm still punching buttons on a broken Nokia). Not only am I out-of-date, but I am "old-fashioned" in my attachment to these gizmos. They've run their course. I recently bought a regular watch and pulled out my point-and-shoot camera. Just put your smart phone away! You are in another country, for Pete's sake.

It has been proven that people who are constantly on their phones while alone or in a group, become social robots. They don't learn how to interact (if they haven't reached a certain age) or their ability to empathize is deadened. They can't be alone, by themselves, and sometimes they can't even function without it. (How did we ever drive without GPS?)

This is a phenomenon I've seen and experienced here at Casa HOY, not just read about. Connection with trip participants has declined drastically in just a few short years; instead of reflection and endless games of Mafia, students sit on their bunks updating their Facebook status. I've become party pooper that now has to say, "please leave your cell phone at home." Remember Tamagotchi? That's how people are with their phones now, except that I promise you, your phone won't die if you don't check your messages every 5 minutes.

Now, all this is not to say that we're not fashion forward here in Mexico. Everyone has smart phones, too, and we do know what Instagram is even if we pronounce it "Imstagram." But if you come to travel with Casa HOY, or even just on your own, seriously, seriously think about disconnecting and maybe not planning so much. Trust me, you'll enjoy it.

A few reasons why you should disconnect if you're traveling in Mexico:

First of all, safety. If you're texting and walking you will mostly likely step in dog poop and trip on the broken sidewalk; besides, spicy salsa, juicy limes and taco grease do NOT help you swipe very well. You are also more likely to be a target for pick-pocketers and people asking for money; and since I've already warned you in this blog post, you'll get no sympathy from me.

Second of all, interaction. One of my favorite words in Spanish besides pachanga, chapoteadero and chela is convivio, from convivir (notice a theme here, Spanish speakers?). Convivir means to spend quality time with someone. To hang out with people you WANT to be with. How are you going to practice your Spanish, learn some salsa moves, hike the Tepozteco mountain/hill, paint a school or play hand-clap games with the kids at your volunteer placement if you have your smart phone out? Save your exhausting "always available elsewhere" life for when you're back home. You're on vacation!


Lastly, spontaneity and adventure. Wait, you YELPED it? You GOOGLED it? You can't find a website so you're not going to eat there? I'm sorry, maybe I've been out of the US too long, but isn't the whole point of life discovery and adventure (and hard work and making money blah blah blah)?? One of my favorite memories with Casa HOY will always be when I first started working for them and a volunteer stuck his head in someone's garage door where they were having a birthday party. The hostess invited all 5 of us in, for food, drinks and cake- total strangers, but it was so much fun. Can you YELP that? Does your experience get 5 stars and 183 likes?

Ok, my rant is over. I know that technology has its benefits, but none of them outweigh face-to-face (no phone in sight) actual conversations and life experiences. You can blog about your trip, write reviews and post pictures AFTER your trip is over, or at least save it for a rainy day. Travel will change you, but only if you are open to it.


P.S.- the bit about "always available elsewhere" and losing the ability to empathize comes from an excellent NY Times op ed piece that I've been thinking a lot of about lately. I don't know how to neatly link to it in my blog, so here is the url: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/stop-googling-lets-talk.html?ribbon-ad-idx=3&src=me&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Most%20Emailed&pgtype=article&_r=0

Posted by UnMejorHOY 21:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged travel language alone tacos alternative_travel language_study mustaches disconnect no_phones turn_it_off read_a_book Comments (0)

Safety in Mexico. Update for 2015.

SAFETY continues to be one of travelers' major concerns when coming to Mexico. Ever since Mexican president Peña Nieto promised to reduce drug violence, he has been under international scrutiny, and his report card does not look good. We're not going to lie to you. There are still shootings, kidnappings, and disappearances, and they don't just happen in bad neighborhoods in the wee hours of the morning. But the violence is still pretty much targeted and isolated; tourists are not the target. Cuernavaca (Casa HOY's headquarters) is not a war zone, and you will not get caught in crossfire. We live here, raise our families here, and feel safe here, and we make sure that our trip participants feel safe, too!


Some tips for traveling in Mexico this year:

1) Safety in numbers. Don't go anywhere by yourself, especially at night. Casa HOY activities are scheduled and supervised, and you have access to an HOY guide 24/7.
2) Ask locals what areas you should avoid. Every city has its bad neighborhoods. On Casa HOY trips around Mexico, we tell you what colonias or areas are safe to visit and when.
3) Don't get wasted/trashed/smashed. It is much easier to get into trouble when you don't have your wits about you. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a few cervezas with friends. Heck, how else are you going to beat the heat right now? Just make sure you don't go overboard.

At a convivio or gathering between Mexicans and trip participants.

4) Don't buy or consume drugs. It should be a no-brainer by now, but that's what everyone is fighting over, so don't contribute to the problem.
5) Keep a low profile. As I've said in a previous post, don't be so wherever-you-are-from. Don't wear shorts, your Old Navy American flag T-shirt, speak loudly in English, wear your Nikon around your neck, flash cash all around town, or take selfies all over the city. Check out our tips for Women Traveling in Mexico: http://casahoy.travellerspoint.com/35/


Posted by UnMejorHOY 11:10 Archived in Mexico Tagged travel mexico volunteering safety alternative_travel cultural_immersion family_volunteering Comments (0)

Why your school should offer alternative break trips

Your school already offers study abroad and service learning- what can alternative breaks offer that these two programs can't? If you've been following the news, you know that shorter trips to more affordable destinations are the current trend, and more and more students are asking for opportunities to work in the community and make connections. Alternative break trips serve as an inspiration for all participants, challenging viewpoints, broadening perspectives and providing a chance to experience the world. The following are some reasons that participating students and professors have given Casa HOY to continue offering alternative breaks:


Affordability. Everyone’s tight with money these days, and travel is a luxury most people have cut out of their budgets. Universities are closing down programs, teachers are struggling to fill the quota for their trips, and a semester in Europe isn’t a key to experience for your degree in philosophy or communications. If you travel nowadays, people ask you incredulously how you can afford it. That’s where alternative breaks come in. Many schools subsidize the cost of an alternative break trip, offering fundraising, scholarship and grant opportunities to some or all trip participants.

Out of classroom experience. Many university students have started using the term “break the bubble.” It’s easy to get caught up in the theory or lab experiments of your classes. But they say that experience is the best teacher. What better way to compliment your class on the civil rights movement than going to protest with farm workers who espouse the values of Martin Luther King Jr.? One of my most inspiring classes in college was Latinos in the US which had a 30 hour community service component. It’s one thing to read the books and do your research, but when you have to sit in an ESL classroom or translate at a free dental clinic or fill out paperwork at the Hispanic community center, everything comes together. Alternative break trips can be national or international; Casa HOY loves to travel.

Casa HOY organized and led.
School staff, students and professors have a million and one academic obligations, never mind their extracurricular involvement. Where can find they find the time to plan one more activity? All a staff member, professor or even student has to do is give Casa HOY a trip theme and a location and we’ll do the rest. From the housing to volunteer projects to cultural talks, Casa HOY plans every step of an alternative break. And on your trip there is a Casa HOY staff member 24/7. This gives professors and staff a chance to better connect with students instead of worrying about travel details like where the group is going to get its next meal or how to catch the next bus.

Globalized view of the world for students.
Many schools think that by adding the word “global” to a class they are doing enough to prepare their students for this new world. But the world is getting smaller way too fast for your “Global Studies 101” class to even cover the coast of a continent. An alternative break easily connects students to other cities, countries and nationalities on a local level. For example, on a recent Casa HOY trip to Immokalee, students met other students from around the country, farm workers from Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti and activists that would help them start their own movement on campus. Some favorite Casa HOY destinations are California, New York, Florida and Mexico, with trips to Cuba and Costa Rica in the works. Your “101” class is a great start- but why not preface it or finish it off with a week where your students can see just how globalized our world is?

Leadership opportunities for students. An alternative break trip is like adding another club. Students that lead alternative break groups are faced with recruiting other students, planning reflections, learning about group dynamics and ultimately leading their peers. It gives students a chance to learn about how things work at their university and to connect with staff and professors in other departments. On an alternative break a student must lead their peers through challenging situations where the group is out of its comfort zone. This is the kind of leader your school wants to produce.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 07:48 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering international cultural volunteer voluntourism cuernavaca participatory intercambio alternative_travel participatory_travel english_teaching Comments (0)

Beat the Heat with Agua de Jamaica


It is 95* every day in Cuernavaca. Bet you wish you’d come here for spring break instead of going to Florida, right? Unfortunately you can’t run around in your bathing suit or cut-offs here like you can in Florida, so you have to find a pool to jump in or a frozen/iced/icey beverage to lower your body temperature. Most people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to drink a nice cold beer during their work day, and too many iced espressos will have you shaking out of your office chair. So I’ve invented a little twist on a typical Mexican drink to help you cool off under the hot sun.

Agua de jamaica
(pronounced huh-MY-kuh), or Hibiscus water, is one of the many flavors of “water” that you’ll see lined up at a juice stand. It is commonly served as one of the drink options at a comida corrida (typical Mexican restaurant), and you feel cooler just seeing the waiter set a pitcher of it on your table. Agua de jamaica is proven to lower high blood pressure, and many people drink it in hot tea form for its vitamin C and minerals. For me, it’s the midday beverage, after my morning coffee and before my late afternoon beer (on the weekends, Mom).

There are several different ways to make the drink, and here’s Casa HOY’s spin on this tasty classic:

6 cups of water
2 cups of dried Hibiscus petals
White sugar to taste (I used ½ cup)
10-15 fresh mint leaves
Powdered ginger to taste (I used 1 TBS) (a Jamaican touch, not Mexican)
Cold water to fill up the rest of the pitcher

Boil 6 cups of water. Once water is boiling, add hibiscus petals and sugar. Turn off the heat, sprinkle in powdered ginger and cover pot. Allow the mixture to steep for 30-45 minutes. Once cooled, strain liquid through a colander into a pitcher. Add extra cold water to fill up the pitcher.

When you’re ready to serve the agua de jamaica, fill up your glass halfway with ice. Pour your drink, and garnish with 4-5 mint leaves. Find yourself a shady place outside and sip that heat away.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:35 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

5 Things to Do at the Borda Garden

The Borda Garden is a popular place for Mexican and foreign tourists alike. Across from the Cathedral on Morelos Avenue, the garden is best visited on the weekend- Sundays, if you’re on a budget (it’s free then!). The Borda Garden was built in the 18th century by Manuel de la Borda y Verdugo, son of a wealthy businessman and miner from Taxco, don José de la Borda. It is a cultural center full of history and art, and a central point of celebration for holidays such as Day of the Dead and Holy Week. If you're visiting Cuernavaca, you can't miss it; if you live here, you should visit it more often. There's something for everyone, and here are Casa HOY's recommendations to keep yourself entertained at the Borda Garden:

Enchilarse[i] and [i]empalagarse. (Enjoy spicy and sweet to the max). You could spend the afternoon eating your way around the garden. Corn with chile in on the cob, tacos, ice cream, sandwiches, snacks, crepes. The food food vendors are at the bottom of the garden on the left around one of the lakes. And then you have the artisanal food vendors who aren’t making food on the spot but have packaged or pre-made goods, such as mezcal, chocolate, breads and desserts. The artisanal food vendors are spread throughout the garden, usually along the paths leading down to the lakes. Typically they allow you to try a sample; bring money because you won’t want to walk away empty-stomached. The best place to combine spicy and sweet is at the smoothie stand- get a mango smoothie topped with a strawberry and pineapple, doused in chile and chamoy. Que rico!


Rent a lanchita, or a little rowboat. Splash around the second, right-hand lake at the bottom of the garden. Only about 2 ½ people can be packed into these rickety green boats, 2 adults and a child. Usually the boats are taken over by couples who sit knees to knees and talk about sweet nothings under the hot Cuernavaca sun. Occasionally there are ducks to race.

Enjoy a show or concert. Guayabos, or people from Cuernavaca, don’t seem to realize the amount of shows and events hosted by the Borda Garden. Every week there is a musician or a dance, and you can enjoy them from the stadium seating lining one lake, or from the steps around the other lake. For Holy Week the crowds enjoyed folkloric dancing and the Burning of Judas. One of my favorite concerts was a battle of the bands, where local Cuernavaca fusion group and battle winner Maria Cantu had everyone dancing in the stands.

Get lost. Seriously. Don’t pay attention to where you are or where you’ve been. Everything looks the same anyway. Follow the paths, go under the troll bridge (most foreigners have to stoop to go under), lounge by the trees and dip your fingers in one of the many fountains that line the walkways. The botanical garden is full of fruit trees and plants and flowers, and sometimes you have to step off the beaten path to explore the different varieties. Look for the giant amate tree that graces one of the walkways and gently filters the sunlight. The Borda Garden also includes the maze of rooms at the front of the property which usually house an art gallery that changes themes frequently.


Make-out. Okay, you don’t have to. But if you go with a significant other, especially during the week when there is less of a crowd, that is what people do. The number one complaint about the garden by Casa HOY volunteers was that even if you're not single, the sight of all those lovey-dovey couples is enough to depress a lonely traveler’s heart. So be prepared. Lounging, cuddling, canoodling galore. If you’re alone, bring a book or your journal or something to distract yourself. During the week you can grab an empty spot on the stadium stairs and enjoy the quiet of it all.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 11:13 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourism voluntourism borda_garden things_to_do_in_cuernavaca Comments (0)

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