A Travellerspoint blog

La Catedral, Restaurant and Bar

New restaurant in downtown Cuernavaca

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The search for the perfect enchiladas is an ongoing sport in our household. Although I have finally perfected my green salsa recipe, we are always looking for a restaurant that can compete with our homemade ones. In Cuernavaca restaurants come and go or the management frequently changes, so there’s always a new place to do some culinary critique.

Recently opened, just a few months ago, is La Catedral, a unique space that is kitty-corner to the cathedral in downtown Cuernavaca. It’s a hidden gem in the long line of storefronts along Hidalgo Avenue; you have to walk up some stairs to find it. The aluminum star shaped lanterns that hang above the stairs caught my eye, as well as the funky leopard and gold seats that are perched in the windows overlooking the street. La Caterdal offers three dining spaces: a cozy couch-filled coffee and drink room, a cafeteria like space packed with tables for public events, and several intimate rooms that look out on to the avenue. The décor is religious with touches of funk. As we ate, we were hungrily watched by large portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe and beta fish in hanging tanks on the wall.

Even though La Catedral has a varied menu, we had to get enchiladas. To change things up though, this time we got “Swiss” enchiladas. Creamy and cheesy, they are now in the top five best places for enchiladas. I tried chicken chilaquiles, which were so copious that I barely made a dent in them. We’re looking forward to what La Catedral will do in 2013. The owner explained that they have several music groups lined up for the coming months and that they will soon finalize their social event calendar. The cafeteria space is perfect for a movie showing or listening to a guest speaker. Casa HOY will definitely be planning an event there! In the meantime, enjoy a cappuccino or a glass of wine in this peaceful new space with attentive service before the rest of Cuernavaca discovers it.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged food travel mexico in tourism volunteer enchiladas voluntourism cuernavaca Comments (0)

Expect your Expectations to Change

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “let people surprise you.” I’m not totally Anne Frank, believing that everyone is inherently good, but I’m at least willing to give them a chance. That being said, I was pleasantly awed the other day when I finally got around to observing one of our Casa HOY volunteers, Kay*, at an English teaching project. When Kay had first arrived she seemed nice, but she was quiet and a bit nervous about diving into what teaching in Cuernavaca actually entails. The first few weeks were overwhelming for her, and frustrated observations included the lack of class organization and teacher support. And while those factors haven’t changed (and won’t change…that’s why we need more volunteers!), Kay, and her expectations of teaching, most certainly have.

I have honestly never seen a volunteer exude such confidence in the classroom. Sure, we’ve had plenty of cocky volunteers (guys, mostly- you know how they can be) that later get out into their project and then freeze up. Just because you’ve volunteered somewhere else or taught at another school doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same here with the projects offered by Casa HOY. What I saw wasn’t boastful confidence, but rather a comfortable assurance of how things were going to go during those 45 minutes. Kay walked into the classroom and was immediately swarmed by little four and five year olds, clinging to her knees and yelling maestra, maestra. She got the kids to settle down by starting out with some songs- a song about colors, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and the Hokey Pokey. Children that can barely say their own name, let alone spell it, twirled around and exclaimed in perfect English “Hokey Pokey” every time. She had divided the 45 minute class up into 3 or 4 blocks of activities and themes to keep the kids’ attention. After a month of living in Mexico she could do commands in Spanish better than me. (I suck at commands…that’s why I just say “please” a lot). Kay knew everyone’s names, when to pay attention to them and when to let things go. When one child started to howl in our second classroom she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders, saying that it was nothing compared to when the whole classroom started howling one time when the teacher left the room. Do you know what to do when a classroom full of 20 four-year-olds starts howling?

It’s typical for volunteers to be overwhelmed their first week, and second week, and maybe even third week of volunteering. And if you don’t learn to be flexible and spontaneous you might always be overwhelmed. As Kay said, the most difficult thing to come to terms with is that of having to change your expectations. You’re in a new country with a different language doing something that most people have never done before. For many volunteers it’s their first time leaving the country, their first time traveling alone, their first time living with other people, their first time living on their own, their first time in Mexico. At my highly experienced age of 26, I sometimes forget what it’s like to live through all of these firsts. So you do have to let people surprise you (and be patient!). Watching Kay was an inspiring reminder of why we at Casa HOY do this work, and that as a volunteer, even though you might be exhausted, tongue-tied and feeling like things are out of your control, you CAN do this.

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 09:05 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering international cultural volunteer voluntourism cuernavaca participatory intercambio alternative_travel participatory_travel english_teaching Comments (0)

Sol, Playa, La Arena, Vamos Ya!

Here is a guest post from one of our long-term volunteers. Enjoy!

This week was jam packed with fun activities, including the highlight of the week, which was the beautiful, sunny, and extremely humid Acapulco beach. But before talking about how burnt my bum got, I'm going to recap a bit on Monday through Thursday:

LUNES (Monday): Chloe was nice enough to bring me to the Ejército de Salvación (Salvation Army) where we played with the niños for the afternoon, kicking a ball around, helping them with their homework, and most importantly ripping them apart when they got in fights. Who would've thunk that entertaining kids for a few hours was so tiring!

Tuesday was probably the most eye-opening and humbling day that I've experienced so far whilst being in México. We went to a neighborhood in Cuernavaca called La Estación, which is essentially a slum smack dab in the center of Cuernavaca. It used to be an area where train workers would stop to spend the night, and eventually it evolved into an actual neighborhood (I believe its called La Estación because there's an actual train station, and it's a historical area). La Estación is a very controversial area within Cuernavaca because the government wants to physically move the people living there (which one of the sisters at CCIDD estimated that there are 5,000 families living there). The reason to do this is because the surrounding area is very developed. There's a Mega (big grocery store), a Costco, and one of the main bus stations in Cuernavaca, i.e. the area is prime real estate, and the government wants to further advance the area in order to clean it up. In theory, "cleaning up" the area would be ideal, but displacing thousands of people to who knows where would be difficult, and immoral to say the least. Here are some pictures of the area.

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Every 10 minutes, Cathy, who is part of CCIDD and has been working in La Estación for seven years, would stop and explain to us the good, the bad, and the ugly that was happening in the barrio. The good is that CCIDD has been working with La Estación for 35 years, providing funds, workshops, and most importantly shelter and access to social welfare for people in the community. Cathy explained to us that she and other volunteers had helped numerous community members to build walls and roofs to protect their houses, while for other people they had provided funds so they could get surgery or take care of certain illnesses. The bad is that many households don't have access to proper sanitation (including toilets and water), so the water running through the streets is extremely dirty. Also, a large number of women in the community have more than five kids, and lots of them are single mothers because their husbands have either left to work in the United States (and some stay because they have new families there), or some of them have died. There's a lack of sexual health education in the community, so a majority of the women don't use protection and get pregnant... Which leads me to the ugly: There are many people in the community who have HIV/AIDS and don't know about it, or don't talk about it because it's a taboo subject in La Estación. When I first heard this, it was horrifying, and I think it's mainly because in my culture I've grown up knowing about this, and talking about this with my family. It was definitely a shock being in the community, and many of the volunteers talked about our tour all week.

On a more positive note, Cindy (the volunteer coordinator) and I went to La Huerta de Lucía on Wednesday. The huerta, which is owned by a lovely frenchman named Jean Louis and his wife, was one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I've visited in Cuernavaca so far. It's a farm located a little bit on the outskirts of the city, and they grow everything from your regular everyday crops like lettuce and corn, to medicinal herbs such as Arnica, to fruits I had never seen or heard of before (zapote, chirimoya). They also have rabbits!

The really cool thing about this huerta is that they use it as an exchange place, where people from other local communities can exchange their goods for crops from the farm, and then Jean Louis and his wife sell their goods at a few organic markets throughout the week. Other local products include soap, dressings, fruits, vegetables, grains, cheeses, meat, eggs, sweets, alcoholic beverages, pasta, etc. It's a localvore's dream!

Here are some new spanish words I learned at la huerta: chiquihuite (little basket); higo (fig); zapote (sapodilla plum); arándano (cranberry); huitlacoche (corn fungus); maracuyá (passion fruit)

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On Friday, five of us embarked on the journey to Acapulco, the closest beach resort town. The bus ride was easy peasy, and we got to watch some action packed films (Face Off!) We had a killer view of the beach from our hotel room! We ended up relaxing everyday in lounge chairs, getting heckled by beach vendors, and trying as hard as we could not to get burnt while getting the perfect tan :)

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We ate some delicious food and had some exotic drinks. Probably the most exciting event was when we watched the clavadistas, the cliff divers, jump into the turbulent dark waters at a height of 35 meters!!! We had an awesome view from this hotel called La Quebrada, where we not only got to watch the divers, but we also got to see a few traditional Mexican dances from various Mexican states. Estuvo padre!!!

Another REALLY big event that happened while we were at the beach was that we moved houses! And when I say we, I mean the other volunteers and Casa Hoy staff were nice enough to grab our bags for us and move them to the new place while we were soaking up the sun (Gracias, guys!). We're a little further outside of the center, but it's a really cool volunteer house, and we have the chance to cook our own food here! So I'm pretty excited :)

There are FIVE new volunteers this week, which means we are 12 volunteers for the time being. It's a packed house, but very fun to get to know new people from all over the U.S. and Australia!

More volunteering activities this week to keep us hustling and bustling! Hasta luego :)

Posted by UnMejorHOY 07:39 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering international cultural volunteer acapulco voluntourism cuernavaca participatory intercambio alternative_travel participatory_travel english_teaching Comments (0)

Mexican Independence Day Food Must-Haves

For me (and most of my friends), Mexican holidays are all about the food. While you can eat the dishes below during any time of the year, the foods on this list are even more popular around Mexican Independence Day (September 15-16th). Try them out on the street or get yourself invited to a party, or make the attempt in your own kitchen. This year at Casa HOY we made esquites, which were exquisite and quite successful.

Esquites/elotesNot just corn on the cob. This typical Mexican street food is always popular, but especially so around the “grito” because everyone just happens to be mingling outside in the downtown plaza or on neighborhood street corners. Esquites are corn off the cob (on the cob it’s called elote)– coated with mayonnaise and shredded cheese, doused with lime juice and sprinkled with chile piquin (red chile flakes that can either be spicy or just tangy). The corn is boiled (or roasted) with a variety of spices and herbs, including epazote, a savory plant frequently used in Mexican cooking. I prefer it on the cob, because it’s all the more fun to make a mess of yourself.

Pozole – perfect for the slight chill in the mid-September weather, pozole is a pork or chicken based soup with hominy (giant corn kernels) in broth. Like all great Mexican food, it’s very “make you own.” You can add pork rinds, avocado, chile powder, onions, shredded cabbage lime, and cilantro. You can then eat it with tostadas (crunchy, baked tortillas) and a dollop of cream. There is red, white and green pozole, depending on the color of the chilies added, and a pozoleria (a pozole restaurant, of course) will usually have all three colors. Pozole is a dish commonly served on the weekends because it takes several hours to simmer on the stove, and there’s always so much that you must have a small party to finish it all off.

Tamales – made from corn-based dough, tamales cover any antojo (craving) you may have. “Salty” fillings include beef, mole, chicken, pork, rajas (Poblano chile strips) and pork rinds in red or green salsa, while “sweet” fillings include pineapple, raisin, chocolate and strawberry. The list goes on, but that’s what our tamale man up the street sells. Tamales wrapped in banana leaf are usually square-shaped and called “oaxaqueños,” and those wrapped in corn husk that look more like an actual ear of corn are called “de hoja.”

Papas y rajas con crema – my favorite. It can be a filling for your quesadilla at the local market, although most people eat it as a side dish at lunch. Small potatoes with strips of Poblano chile cooked in a white cream sauce is such a tasty mix of spice and salt that I’d be happy eating straight out of the frying pan. Some people get creative and toss in corn kernels to add a little color.

Pastel de elote – a sweeter, less crumbly version of corn bread. In case you haven’t noticed, corn is the staple in Mexican cooking, so why not finish off a corn-based meal with a corn dessert? Pastel de elote is made with condensed milk, milk, cinnamon, eggs and corn, giving it a thick, moist consistency.

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged culture mexico party volunteer fiesta celebration mexican_food independence_day mustaches mexican_mustaches revoluntion travel_in_cuernavaca Comments (1)

Mexican Mustaches and other Independence Day Fashion

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Independence Day in the United States is, with my family, a daytime, non-alcoholic celebration that no longer even involves a barbeque cookout due to its potential carcinogenic properties. When we were kids it was full of water balloon fights and pool parties, topped off with magical, deafening fireworks in some park. In Mexico, now as an adult, Independence Day is a completely different experience. Obviously it involves a lot more tequila shots and beer, but that’s not even the fun part.

Mexican Independence Day has lots of funky traditions that you just have to partake in- food and fireworks being huge, of course (later we'll write about the best foods for Independence Day). My favorite, however, is the required dress code. In the US you can get away with jeans and an Old Navy flag t-shirt to cover your red, white and blue. In Mexico, the flag colors are green, white and red. These aren’t necessarily flattering colors, so how can you show your patriotic spirit without looking like a red tomato (or a green one, at that)? Red high heels seem to be the choice for many women, along with long green dresses or tight white pants. Men don’t apparently care too much. Our volunteers went decked out in traditional Mexican shirts in a variety of colors. Jewelry includes gaudy green, white and red beaded rings, beaded necklaces, hoop earrings with mini sombreros on them, hair bows with giant green chilies and patriotic ribbons for the mandatory braids. Face paint comes in crayon form, all three colors on one little eraser size stick that you use to draw football-player-style lines under your eyes or down your cheekbones.

And it gets better. Many schools require children to dress up as an Independence character or in traditional dress: throughout the day you see little girls in long green, white and red skirts with off-the-shoulder white laced blouses, dark hair plaited in two braids. Or you see little boys dressed up as Father Hidalgo, the first Independence war hero, who was going bald at the top. Stores actually sell balding head pieces so your child can be as authentic as possible. And the array of head-wear is astounding. You’ll see giant sombreros that say “Viva México,” farmers’ hats with ribbons, as well as green, white and red mohawks. The last, but most important, Mexican Independence Day fashion piece is the awesome bigote (mustache). That’s right. You must wear a mustache. The popularity of mustaches most likely stems from the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, not the Independence movement; however, everyone wears them regardless of this historical anomaly.

“And where can I get all this cool Independence Day bling?”- you may ask. In downtown Cuernavaca and on any popular street corner where the vendors won’t get run over. Every block is staked out by a little carrito (cart) decked with Mexican flags. There you will be able to bargain down your own Independence Day jewelry and knickknacks. Our purchases this year included rings, hair bows, a green, white and red chicken with a sombrero to hang from the rear-view mirror, face paint and of course, several mustaches.

Read more about the importance of Mexican mustaches here: top-5-mexican-mustaches

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged culture mexico party volunteer fiesta celebration mexican_food independence_day mustaches mexican_mustaches revoluntion travel_in_cuernavaca Comments (0)

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