After spending the morning exploring the Jungle Camp in Part I of our tour, we set off to visit a small Mexican town (Pueblo). Our guide became knowledgeable about the area by logging a lot of time in the village and getting to know the people who live there. This allowed us to experience the day to day lives of the people in the community and gave us a close up view that was inspirational (and broke our hearts at the same time).
We drove into town and parked in the main square, stopping off to look at the local market and buy some amazingly fresh orange juice to bring along with us. We also tried some freshly made tortillas sprinkled with spiced crushed pumpkin seeds (pepita molida) that we bought from a local street vendor which gave them a crunchy earthy-nutty taste.
Next we were loaded onto our own private trici taxi – the Mexican version of the tuk-tuk. These funky bikes, equipped with a platform and seat in front, are the main form of transportation within the pueblo. Some of these drivers have contracts with families to provide transportation for their children to and from school.
We rode with these guys in a mini-caravan, checking out the beautiful jungle scenery and homes along the way. In one neighborhood we stopped in front of a house and our guide showed us around the back. He was warmly greeted by the boys who who were using a machine to carve wood into gorgeous bowls.
Families are typically very large here. The children go to school in shifts (morning or afternoon) and help out in the family businesses. This family creates beautiful wood objects that they sell to tourist shops throughout the area.
Our little caravan continued around the town and stopped at a graveyard. Each of the above-ground graves had what looked like a small house on the top, which was the place where families historically cleaned and stored the bones of their loved ones. This was part of a practice designed to maintain the person as an active part of the family after they passed. In the tradition of the Dia de los Muertos, or Day Of The Dead in Mexico, locals visit their deceased family members, partying with them at the grave site all night long, telling them of all of the events that took place the previous year. Offerings are left, such as flowers, stacks of tortillas, toys for deceased children and perhaps a shot of mezcal for adults.
The next part of the tour was one I was very much looking forward to, but not really knowing what to expect. We pulled up in front of a small wooden shack.
A small boy about four years old burst out of the shack followed by two girls ages 10 and 12. The children are orphans who were taken in by a widow along with a 4 month old baby whose mother had died in child birth. The widow lost her husband when he was bit by a poisonous snake deep in the jungle. She has since then filled her life and home with the village children without parents. Volker learned about her from her neighbors in the village and he has since “adopted” the orphanage himself. We had stopped at a department store in the morning and were bringing gifts of clothing, diapers and food. But the thing they were most excited about were the flip flops! The kids helped carry their things inside and started going through their presents with huge excitement.
The kids seemed to really love the clothes we chose for them and were quick to show us other things that needed to be fixed – such as the broken bed that they sleep on. Volker has helped to raise money, partially from people who have met the family on his tour, to pour a concrete floor and build an outhouse. It was hard to feel like we did more than provide a drop in the bucket to fill the needs here. It will certainly give me pause next time I want to complain about…anything. We gave them a moment of joy, they gave us a life long supply of humble pie.
After this full day of visiting the Mayan Jungle Camp and the Pueblo we headed off for Part III – swimming in a cenote and lunch by the ocean. All the while thinking about ways that we might be able to do more for the orphanage. If you’re thinking the same, you can contact Riviera Maya Portal to learn more.
Thank you to Volker’s Private Tours for supplying us with this experience. Our story and opinions are our own.
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