My 10 year old daughter and I set out on a journey to travel differently. Follow us as we laughed, loved, and lived among the people of El Papalote, Baja, Mexico.
Let’s face it. We travel for all the wonderful things we get out of it.
We try new things. Eat new foods. Make memories with loved ones. Meet new people. Deepen relationships. And, usually, RELAX.
These reasons and many more are why I love traveling.
However, I’ve been thinking for a while now about switching it around. Why not travel, instead, for what I can put into it? I’m talking about giving to a place. To a people. I’m talking about taking all that wonderfulness that makes up who we are and giving it away to someone else and then teaching our children how to do the same thing.
You know, travel differently.
We chose Mexico, just my 10 year old daughter and I. My husband would stay home with the boys. This was a girl’s trip. We ventured onto the plane with excitement in our bones. Excitement for the unknown. We had never traveled this way before…just the two of us for 9 days.
We took two days to get there: first a flight to San Diego, then a big long drive to El Papalote, Baja Mexico. If you look, you might have a hard time finding it on the map. That’s because the town is so small it doesn’t even have it’s own zip code. It exists deep in farm territory.
The only paved road is the main highway; everything else is dirt.
And by dirt I mean just that. Every “yard” is dirt. Every path is dirt. Every car is covered in dirt. There is one small grocery store, a hardware store, gas station, school and a church.
If you’re looking for the latest in spring fashion, you won’t find it here. Movie theatre? You’ll have to go to the big city. And lush tropical beaches with people to serve you margaritas with little umbrellas?
That’s not in El Papalote.
No, El Papalote is a worker’s town.
Most of the people who live here spend long hours in the fields for a mere $15 a day. In many homes, both mom and dad work the fields and the children take care of themselves.
We went to serve and help where we could.
At 10 years old, my daughter is old enough to learn about how others live and that not everyone has the same opportunities and lifestyle that she has. So we partnered with an organization doing just that….serving and helping the people.
They helped us know where the needs are and how we could get involved. They provided housing and food for us and of course translation help as well.
We took some baby and toddler clothes with us on our journey, so our first couple of days were spent finding the right people to give them to. It was here we learned our first two lessons.
Lesson 1: Mexico time is something to be cherished.
We had several attempts to give away these clothes, and several times we just missed the person we were trying to give them to. She never was quite where we thought she would be.
Lesson 2: Relationships matter….a whole lot.
They matter more than the task at hand. This is why we often missed the mother we were looking for. We would drive to one home where we learned she was cleaning. Lo and behold, she had just left.
But we can’t simply say “Hello, I’m looking for ________. Oh she’s not here? Okay thank you, goodbye.”
No, that would be rude. Instead, we ask about their family, their work, their well-being. We comment on their lovely home and we build relationships. We miss this in North American culture. We focus on the task and often lose the people in the process.
Once we finally found our friend and passed on the clothes to her, we visited for a bit, hugged and left richer in heart.
You see, something different happened. Though poor, she wasn’t destitute.
She works hard to provide for her three young children all by herself. But she takes joy in the little things. We gave her clothes for her toddler daughter, but she gave to us in return.
Not anything we could measure, just fuller hearts.
Clothes weren’t all we gave. We handed out blankets as well.
Homes with no insulation, in fact, homes with one room made of plywood or garage doors and a plastic roof, get quite cold at night. Blankets are a much needed item. We joined with a leader of the town who chose specific families in need and together we gave out blankets. Some didn’t understand why we chose them, yet they were all grateful.
A family with 5 children…a toddler with only a makeshift wagon for a toy…all happy to receive a blanket. Driving home after distributing gifts of warmth, my heart almost burst from within.
Lesson 3: It is so much more wonderful to give than to receive.
Every evening, we ate dinner with the locals. It was here I practiced my 3 years of high school Spanish taken close to 20 years ago. The food was cooked by Mexican women, and let’s just say I had to stop from gorging myself. Barbacoa, fresh tortillas, fish tacos, homemade salsa, oh. my. word.
The freshness of local food, created by local hands, and made with local love equals such tantalizing goodness! And that, coupled with sweet conversation, created rich relationships that I want to remember always. The people here are generous.
They are lovely. They care. They laugh. They filled us with sweet joy.
My daughter made friends with the neighbours of our dear hosts. The brother/sister combo came over every day and as they played, coloured and painted fingernails, they all formed a friendship.
A friendship not bound by language. They just figured it out.
We were only in El Papalote for 5 full days.
We went to serve and to help. But we came home with friends we may never see again that have impacted our lives. The reality of earning $15 a day and still content with what little you have, is a reality hard for us to comprehend. Yet it’s true of the dear people here.
They have virtually nothing by monetary standards. Their lives are difficult. They live day to day, with nothing left over to save for the future. But they are rich in relationships and they gave of themselves to us.
Usually when we return from vacation we joke, as many others do, that we need a vacation because of our vacation. We are exhausted. However, when we sought out to travel differently, we had no idea how blessed we would return.
Our hearts are full.
Our perspectives changed a bit.
And part of me feels we received more than we gave. I hope to one day return with each of our kids and to share with them this great truth. It doesn’t matter how much you have. It matters how you treat others and how you give.
You should try it. Travel differently.