We write this from a café overlooking the plaza in Puebla, Mexico. Before we describe where we are today, let us back up and explain what we have been up to for the past few days in Mexico:
The group arrived in Mexico City late on Monday night and headed straight to our hotel in El Centro Historico where we relaxed after a long day of travel. The next day, we woke up excited about adventures in one of the largest cities in the world. First, we loaded up on a typical Mexican breakfast of tacos of all varieties (some with eggs, different meats, and veggies) at a popular street hub. Then, with stomachs fortified, we started to explore all that DF (Distrito Federal aka Mexico City) has to offer. We started with a trip to La Torre Latinamericana, a viewing tower that overlooks the sprawling city of over 25 million. We took the elevator to the top floor and began to learn about all the different areas of this megatropolis. Next, we headed to one of the largest central plazas in the world, Mexico City’s Zócalo, which was brimming with activities including art shows, markets and protests.
From here we walked to El Palacio Nacional, a beautiful old governmental palace with lush gardens, fountains and tranquil courtyards. The highlight here was the series of Diego Rivera murals painted on the walls in the central plaza. The most famous mural tells the story of the history of Mexico from the Aztec empire to the Mexican Revolution to Rivera’s vision of the inevitable class war. The students took their time dissecting the painting and its relation to Mexican history and its social commentary.
Studying all this history worked up our appetite for more delicious local cuisine. Our Mexican culinary expert, Mr. H., led us to one of his favorite spots in the city. Some of us chowed down on tacos al pastor (pork), while others enjoyed seafood tacos, empanadas and tostadas. Everyone was willing and excited to try something new and all enjoyed a delicious lunch.
After lunch, we headed to a quieter part of town, Coyoacán, partly famous for being a former residence of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. We explored the plaza and market, enjoying the beauty of canopy-forming trees and pastel painted houses and ended the night with by maneuvering the great subway system after a dinner of arguably the most famous tacos the city has to offer.
Wednesday morning the adventure continued. The vendors at the street market recognized us from the previous morning and served up more delicious breakfast food and tested our Spanish. We then set out to visit Teotihuacan, an archaeological site containing some of the best preserved Aztec ruins in the world. A mere 30 miles Northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan has huge pyramids and impressive organization. We spent the better part of the morning and afternoon exploring the ruins and pondering the power on this once great empire. Wednesday night we ate more great tacos and treated ourselves to delicious chocolate con churros at an institution that has been open for more than 100 years without ever closing its doors.
On Thursday, we arrived to IPODERAC in the state of Puebla, where we will be spending the majority of our time here in Mexico. IPODERAC is truly a dynamic place. It is a home for boys, ages 8 through 18 whom come from the streets and have all faced tremendous challenges and hardships in their lives. Some have no families; others have families who cannot care for them. At this institution, the boys live in houses based on their age and grade levels and receive all the things luckier young boys grow up with: love, education, leadership lessons, food, shelter, guidance and much more. One of the most impressive things about IPODERAC is that it is completely self-sustainable. They make high-end cheeses and soap from goat’s milk, processes in which the boys are directly active. Not only does this provide funding for IPODERAC, but also the boys learn about teamwork, math, concentration, hand-eye coordination and much more through their participation. The directors helped explain the symbolism behind the work: with hard work and discipline, a piece of wood can be converted into a masterpiece. Similarly, in life, when you work hard, you get results.
We are painting all of the houses this program, and in one long morning we have already completed two! We spend the afternoons joining the IPODERAC boys in their daily activities and get to play soccer, basketball and trade stories with them in the evening. Within a day, the Bellarmine students formed friendships with the boys. It is clear that they are all gaining a great deal from the experience, and seeing things from a new perspective. They are also speaking tons of Spanish. The boys at IPODERAC have shared some of their stories, and they have impacted us greatly. Yesterday we brought the whole community to a water park and swam, played and bonded with the chavos.
We have done so much in our first half of our program and know the best is yet to come.
Gabriel, Tyler, and Jack
Walking Tree Leaders
Dear Parents and Family:
Hello from the beautiful town square of colonial Puebla, México, where our group is spending the day away from the normal routine we’ve already grown accustomed to at IPODERAC. We are thus far all having a rich experience with everything from the food to the communication in Spanish. My sincere thanks again for being so willing to send your sons away with me! They are in good hands; Gabriel and Jack are both exceptional leaders who relate well to them yet also keep them in line, so I rarely have to be the mean guy! I am the “food specialist” on the trip and it’s been joyful for me to watch them all try the local cuisine with such open minds and stomachs. You’ll hear all about it from them soon, but for now I just wanted to say hello and thank you again for entrusting them to Walking Tree and me. Their interactions with the boys at the orphanage have been especially rewarding to witness—they went from awkward to comfortable in just a matter of hours! Yesterday we accompanied the IPODERAC boys to a nearby waterpark for the entire day, where we all swam, played, went down the waterslides, and played soccer with much joy. It was a true experience of “kinship” that impacted everyone—and it could not have been more fun! True solidarity has been achieved and it is something we all reflected on the meaning of today in a small park here in Puebla before heading to have another great meal together.
After another 2 days of painting and manual labor, on Wednesday we’re heading to explore the colonial jewel of Guanajuato where I spent the summer between my junior and senior years in high school living with a local family and where I fell in love with this country. I have been taking many photos and shooting short videos, all of which will make for lasting memories that I’ll be sure to share ASAP upon our return. The trip is thus far a complete success and I am confident each of the boys is gaining much from it.
Mr. Tyler Hansbrough