A Travellerspoint blog

Barhopping in Downtown Cuernavaca

In your free time...

Recent HOY volunteers have found their favorite places to drink- chic lounges and rooftop terraces. But everyone comes with a different budget, and if martinis poolside isn’t what you had in mind for your participatory trip in Mexico, we’ve got a list of low-key bars that will quench your thirst with a cold one.

The Plazuela. The perfect place to start or finish, they’re usually open anytime after 11 am. These bars that line the cobblestone street of Las Casas are one of my favorite places in Cuernavaca. You get to sit outside and people watch, beers are usually 2 for 30 pesos and even if you’ve only been here for a week, chances are you’ll see someone you know. Music ranges from rock to salsa to pop, even romantic ballads. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the bar will serve you botanas- popcorn or rice chicharrón.

Es3. Comonfort, a street perpendicular to the Cathedral. Don’t be misled by the people hanging out on the sidewalk, usually there’s an empty table you can squeeze yourself into. Here you can get a tarro, or a mug, of beer or a liter. They also serve sandwiches and appetizers. Cool artwork lines the walls, it's cheap, and there’s usually lots of hippie/artsy types here. A typical place for Casa HOY to get beers with volunteers.

Feisbuk. Right next door to Es3, on Comonfort. A bar that I had never really given a chance, I mean, who names their bar Feisbuk? And I didn’t actually go in, but this is the perfect place to hang out on the sidewalk or on the step into the bar, acting like you’re the cool kid on the block. If Es3 runs out of beer, this is the place to go.

El Barecito. Comonfort 17 corner with Morrow. Opens after 4 pm. This is a gay friendly bar, which Casa HOY has worked with on our LGBT themed trips. They have beer and also offer absinth. El Barecito is a meeting place for lots of artists and activists.

Now remember, Casa HOY volunteers must drink responsibly and be back at their housing on time. Even if you speak fluent Spanish, you don’t want to be wandering around late all good and drunk. Plus doing volunteer work hungover is NOT fun. Believe me. If you’re looking for some new flavors, be sure to try a michelada- you can get a simple one with lime and salt, or if you’re feeling brave one with lots of different salsas! http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Michelada

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:25 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Balkan Music in Mexico

Casa HOY director, aka, DJ Gadjio

I have to admit, much to the disappointment of many a drunken man, that I really, seriously don’t like dancing salsa. Or cumbia, or banda, or any other rhythm that requires me to move my hips and feet and arms at the same time. I know it’s basically a crime, living in Mexico and all and not moving to Latin rhythms, but this is the music I grew up with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjvurgYXqGk, and you can’t teach this gringa new tricks, no matter how much tequila she’s been drinking.

Thank goodness for the arrival of Balkan music here in Mexico. You can jump around and look all whacked out, and you’re still considered a pretty good dancer. I was first introduced to Balkan music through Casa HOY director Gerardo, who DJs when he’s not out changing the world. It was such a relief to find music in Mexico that got me on the dance floor.

What is Balkan music? Coming from the gypsy culture in the Balkan region (Romania, Greece, Serbia, Turkey, Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia), this genre includes instruments such as the accordion, clarinet, brass instruments and the violin, as well as others that you’ve never heard of and I can’t spell (doumbek, gajda, kaval, santouri, tambura, tupan). This culture has started to become pretty popular in Mexico; last month, in March, there was a Balkan music concert in the “hippie-fresa” community of La Condesa, in Mexico City. And yesterday, Gerardo DJd at the Pulquería in Mexico City for another great Balkan party.

Independent movies like “Underground” by director Emir Kusturica and even douchy-ish movies like “Borat” with Sacha Baron Cohen are increasing the popularity of Balkan music.

If you come to Mexico, obviously you’re going to want to have a few nights out being spun around by greased up dudes looking to get some. Who doesn’t? But when you’ve finally accepted the fact that you have two left feet, look up Gadjio Dromalo (Gerardo, in DJ persona) on Facebook for the next Balkan fiesta here in the Cuernavaca/Mexico City area.

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Sources:
http://www.garuyo.com/musica/festival-balkan-de-los-balcanes-para-mexico-y-el-mundo

Posted by UnMejorHOY 08:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Volunteering with the Salvation Army

A Typical Day for Casa HOY volunteers

I mentioned in an earlier post that Casa HOY had just started working with the Salvation Army here in Cuernavaca. This month’s volunteers, from England and Australia, have continued their volunteer placement there. Although this placement falls under the category of “childcare,” it could also be considered a great place to teach English and other subjects. Here’s a typical day at the Salvation Army with Casa HOY:

Volunteers arrive at 1:30 to join the elementary school kid crowd for lunch. They say grace, and we join them for the meal. The food varies, although you can be sure that a lot of it is donated from Costco because they always have the Costco rolls. I could eat those with every meal. Starting the volunteer work day with lunch is actually the perfect approach to getting to know children. I thought it might be a little awkward showing up to eat without knowing anyone, but as soon as you walk in the door kids are clamoring for you to sit with them. Lunch is a chance for chit-chat, to get to know the kids- what they like, what music they listen to, how their school day was, etc. For me, it feels like the kind of table talk I used to have with my parents after every school day. And even though the answer might be “nothing” to the question “what did you do today?,” you know you’re starting to make a connection.

After lunch, the kids at Salvation Army sit at different tables according to grade level. First and second together, third and fourth at another table, and fifth and six. Casa HOY volunteers divide up so that each table can get help and attention. The Salvation Army is strict about the children finishing their homework before they can play. It’s a good system, helping the children to focus on their work and get it done without too many distractions.

Helping kids with homework: The most important thing to remember is that you CANNOT do the work for them. Sometimes the students will have really mundane tasks, such as copying lines or coloring a picture of a dog for their history class. Fight your urge to help them do it quickly, and save any rude comments about Mexican public schools for drinks with Casa HOY staff afterward. (I love to talk about that stuff). It’s their work, let them do it. Many students, especially third grade and above, have math homework. Math is actually a crucial skill, one that you can teach with a limited Spanish vocabulary. Learn your numbers and the basics: add, subtract, multiply, fractions and so on. Kids need help practicing their multiplication tables- I remember how much help my Mom gave me learning those dang numbers. Weeks, people, weeks. And these kids don’t get private tutors, they don’t get flashcards, they don’t get Sesame Street.

Once children have finished their homework and had it checked by the supervisor (around 4 pm), they’re allowed to play. And while playtime at the Salvation Army is a little less dramatic, it doesn’t mean it’s less chaotic. Kids can play soccer and tag on a property adjacent to the building, and there isn’t really any adult supervision. That means balls get kicked at heads and off the property and there’s usually someone crying or at least teary eyed.

Fortunately these kids are super sweet and adorable, and they’re young enough that you can brush the dirt off their scratched knee, give them a little hug and they’ll move on. They’re not hardened against life, and that kind of attitude is inspiring, especially for a cranky judgmental girl like me. Creativity and personalities abound, and as long as yours isn’t lacking, you won’t be left with a dull moment.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Making Green Salsa

My Mexican husband always complains about the green salsa on green enchiladas. There's never enough, and it's never spicy enough. In Cuernavaca, you're not likely to get very spicy food (at least in my experience) at popular, touristy restaurants because (they think) foreigners just can't handle the heat. I beg to differ. But if you want to start sweating and cleaning out your sinuses, you're going to have to find a hole in the wall comida corrida where the locals go.

I've spent the past 4 years of our relationship trying to learn to make the a green salsa that is at least better than the artsy cutesy restaurants downtown, and while I always mess up some part of the process, I figured I'd share the recipe so you can start learning to perfect it as well. The fun thing with salsa is that you can always add more or less ingredients- more chile, less salt; more onion, less water. Play around to find the combination that's right for you. Provecho!

You will need (for 4 people):

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1 kilo of green tomatoes
1 big white onion
4 serrano chilies
2 cuaresmeño chilies (more chilies = more spice!)
Salt to taste
Purified water
Blender
Frying pan
A splash of canola oil or your choice of cooking oil

Peel off outer paper skin on green tomatoes. Wash all veggies. Some people in Mexico actually use sop to wash their veggies. Green tomatoes usually have lots of dirt on them anyway, so scrub well. Fill up a large pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When it’s about to boil, add tomatoes, chilies and a few slices of white onion. You can also add a little salt, too. When the green tomatoes have turned a darker, murkier color green, they are done. Let cool.

Put tomatoes, onion slices, and chilies in the blender. Chop up a few more slices of raw onion, and toss these as well. Add some of the water from the pot, or use purified water. This part is crucial- if you add too much water, your salsa will be runny and tasteless. If you add too little water, your salsa will be chunky and thick. Start by adding a little water. You can always add more water later. Blend ingredients, adding salt to taste.

When you’re happy with the taste of the salsa (not too spicy, not too bland), pour it into a frying pan with a little cooking oil. Heat salsa to a slow boil. From this step, you are ready to use your salsa for enchiladas or other Mexican dishes, or just in a bowl with tortilla chips.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 08:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

Speak Spanish, You're in Mexico!

Unless you're teaching English...

They say immersion is the best way to learn a language. And while that may be the case for many people, there are some of us that won’t learn a dang word until it’s written down, studied for hours on end, then used in a few sentences. It’s just how we operate.

So even though it may say on the IVHQ website that Spanish language skills are not necessary for this volunteer participatory trip, you be trippin’ if you think that at least conversational Spanish isn’t indispensable. Cuernavaca is not Cabo or Cancun, and while many people speak some English, the population you work with, especially with childcare or teaching English projects, probably can’t say more than “pollo is chicken.”

Learning Spanish will enrich your volunteer experience. Casa HOY is connected to the “ASLI Spanish Language Institute,” that offers affordable, private Spanish classes. While other schools in Cuernavaca charge up to $600 a week, classes at this school are less than $250. You can take classes in the morning or in the afternoon, 15 hours a week. Studying Spanish in Mexico means that you can take what you learn in the classroom and apply it during at volunteer project. Teachers at ASLI focus on grammar, conversation, reading and/or writing- whatever your need may be. They’ll even continue on with you after you’ve left Mexico. Several volunteers still take classes with their teachers on Skype.

Practicing your Spanish at your volunteer project is also very rewarding. Most Mexicans are very encouraging, and children/adolescents are the most patient of all. They appreciate you at least making the effort. I remember one volunteer that sat down with a little girl, and she took about 10 minutes to focus on his accent for the words “Harry Potter.” Roll them “r’s!”

Now, I’m not saying you can’t have a thoroughly amazing experience if you don’t speak Spanish. You will find other ways to communicate and that can be really cool, too. Some of the best connections are nonverbal. What I am saying, is that if you have the time, the money, and the motivation to learn a little, you should take advantage of the opportunity. If you don’t take classes, you should at least learn basic vocabulary, such as please and thank you, greetings, introductions and a few food words. Talk to Casa HOY about studying options and schedules.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 07:48 Archived in Mexico Tagged parties travel mexico de reyes international traditions community cultural volunteer casa voluntourism casa_hoy participatory rosca Comments (0)

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