Way Off the Beaten Path

 This week we had the opportunity to attend a “protocolo” for a humanitarian project the church was involved in. Michelle normally attends those, but she along with Gustavo and Alfredo were attending a training for all the communications teams in Latin America and the Caribbean. When they first told us they’d be going on this trip, Gustavo told us it would be a good week for us to plan a vacation. Then this protocolo came up, and he said, “There goes your vacation.” He didn’t need to apologize. It was such an amazing experience to see this project that it was better than any vacation we could have planned. Plus, we did take Friday off and have a quick two-day trip (more about that later) so we did get a bit of a vacation after all.

Protocolos are the formal meeting where Latter-day Saint Charities and its partners on projects make the official announcement of the project. They’re usually done when the projects are complete or nearly so. This one was for projects being done in little villages outside of Pachuca, which is in the state of Hidalgo north of Mexico City. We checked out a car from the church’s motorpool and drove to Pachuca Tuesday evening. Claudia from PSD went with us as our photographer. We’d met her before, but it was fun to have the chance to get to know her better as we drove. She is so cute, and enthusiastic, and fun! When we first checked, Maps told us the drive would take an hour and a half. However, we didn’t leave until about the time when people were going home from work, and the time went up to two and a half hours—most of that just getting out of Mexico City! Gustavo told us to be sure to try pastes while we were in Pachuca. They are similar to empanadas and are a regional dish in Hidalgo. As we got near to Pachuca, we saw signs advertising them everywhere. There was a paste (pronounced similarly to pasta) shop just up the street from our hotel, so we went there for a late supper before going to bed. They come with as variety of fillings, but the traditional ones have potatoes, beef, and chiles in them. We tried one of those and a pineapple one. Both were really good. I’m going to try to learn how to make them.

First thing the next morning we headed to the opening meeting of the protocolo, which was held at one of our chapels. The group we partnered with for this project is called Construyendo Esperanzas, which means Building Hope. One of the speakers was the woman who started this organization, and she is now my hero. She said that about twelve years ago she and some friends heard that the people in these little communities outside of Pachuca were very poor, so they collected clothes and food to take to them. They stopped at a house in the village they were going to, and while they were speaking with the people there, people came out from other houses. They were adults, and they were home in the middle of the day sleeping. She thought, “They’re lazy, that’s why they’re poor.” But as they spoke, she learned that during the dry season, they had to get up early and walk an hour each way to get water for the day. Plus, they only had enough food for one meal a day, so during the heat of the day, they came home and slept to conserve their energy and decrease their need for water. She realized, they weren’t lazy, they were on the verge of starving. She said most of the drive home with her friends was in silence. When they did speak, they said, “We have to do something.” Many people say that, but this woman actually did something. The organization she created has projects going on in multiple communities. The two we were involved in were building systems to catch and store rainwater during the rainy season so it’s available during the dry season and building little structures that are two-thirds gardens and a third chicken coops. These two items provide a reliable water supply, a source of protein, and a source of vegetables.

Following the meeting, we drove to the two communities. The first community we went to was in a mountain area right outside of a town which is a vacation spot in Mexico. That area also has large farms. It was sad to see that such need exists so close to such abundance. The second community was literally in the middle of nowhere. Most of our group was riding together in Construyendo Esperanza’s fifteen passenger van. We drove off the paved highway onto a dirt road and drove down that road for miles. Then we came to a little community, and I thought, “This must be it,” but we drove right on through it. We drove for miles more and came to another little community. Again I thought, “This must be it,” but again we drove through it. We drove for miles and miles more, and finally arrived.

At each of the communities, we met with the people and heard their stories. Latter-day Saint Charities provided the materials, Construyendo Esperanza provided the expertise and supervision, and the people in the communities provided the labor. The people from Construyendo Esperanza who worked with the communities on the projects spoke of the difference they saw in the people, especially the women. When they first came to those communities, the women held back and walked with their heads down. Now their heads are up, they are smiling, and they speak out as easily as the men do. It is obvious that working on these projects has given them confidence and hope. It was so touching to hear one woman say how thankful she was that she now has enough water that she can bathe her children. A man said how grateful they were to have a source of drinking water that they know will not make them sick. Another man said that they realized the skills they learned doing these projects can be applied to other things as well, so they have begun other projects in their community. Many people spoke of how these projects will not only bless them, but they’ll also bless generations to come. And over and over they said, “Gracias, gracias!”

This was the cistern which was built outside the home of the man on the right
A completed cistern in the second community. Gutters along the roof collect rainwater to fill it.

Ron checking out the water level in a cistern

A woman demonstrating for us how her cistern works. And no it's not a funny camera angle that makes her appear so small next to Ron. She really is that little.

That same woman with her husband, standing in front of their new chicken coop.

One of the growing houses

Claudia doing her job

The amazing people who made this project happen!

In the materials we were given before we went to Pachuca, it suggested we take snacks with us. The implication was the people where we were going were very poor and would not be able to feed us. So that morning we had a big breakfast at the hotel. Then as we were driving, the discussion turned to which fillings were best in pastes, so the driver stopped at a paste shop along the way, and we had pastes. At that point, I was feeling comfortably full and figured I wouldn’t need the snacks in our backpack. When we arrived at the village center of the first community, we saw a long table set up, which was filling up with dishes being brought out by the people. They had planned a feast for us! One man proudly told us the chicken in a dish was one of his, and it hit me that these people hadn’t run to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for the food they were offering us. I’m not a big fan of nopales, but I knew the large bowl of nopal salad represented the effort someone made to go pick and prepare the cactus. How do you say, “no thank you,” to this kind of generosity? If there is a way, I don’t know it, and so I ate. After I’d finished my plate, they brought me a large piece of cake. After that, as we walked around to the people’s houses, they would proudly hand me a fresh fig right off their tree or a fruit right off the cacti. I was even offered the largest roasted ant I’ve ever seen. I’ve eaten enough bugs that the fact that it was an insect didn’t make it hard to pop that thing in my mouth, but my stomach which was about to burst did. About that time, Gloria Argueta (who is serving with her husband as a humanitarian missionary) leaned over to me and said, “You know they’re waiting for us in Píru with another meal just like this.” At that point I thought I might die. Fortunately, Ron came to my rescue. When we arrived in Píru he told the women there that my stomach was upset from the long drive. The worried over me, and one asked me if I could handle eating some fruit. I said, “Un poco,” meaning, “a little.” She brought me a heaping cup full of fruit. With Ron’s help, I was able to get most of it consumed, but it was literally 48 hours before I felt hungry again. That is the generosity of these people. They have so little, but they shared so abundantly with us!

The table filling up in the first community
The feast laid out at the second community
This was the size of ant I ate on a very full stomach.

Several weeks ago, the Cluffs told us they wanted to go to Taxco before they go home, which they do the end of July. Taxco is a colonial city southwest of Mexico City. We’ve wanted to go there too. We were once telling an Uber driver how beautiful we thought Mexico City is, and he told us we should go to Taxco. He said if we did, we wouldn’t want to leave it. So we took Friday off and went there for a quick trip. The Wrights went too. All the other colonial cities we’ve been to have been the historical center of a now modern city. That is not the case in Taxco. The entire city has a colonial feeling. All the buildings are white with red tile roofs. It is an old silver mining town and sits on a mountainside. I swear the only level spot in the city is the little zocalo. The streets are steep, narrow, and cobblestone. Even the buildings are adapted to the mountain side. Ones that look to be one story tall on the front are four stories tall on the back. Taxco seems to be the place old VW Bugs go to be reincarnated. They are so iconic there that the street vendors sell little replicas of them. Many of the taxis are white VW Bugs.

The view from a restaurant where we ate lunch


The end door on the wall on the right is the entrance to our hotel

We stayed at a cute hotel right on the zocalo. It is made up of multiple buildings which have been connected together. It’s not a place where you are handed your key and expected to find your room on your own. We never would have even if they had given us directions. We might have if they’d given us a map, but even that is questionable. We were down several hallways, up multiple flights of stairs, across a couple of terraces and through a small door beside the rooftop pool. The views all along the way were spectacular.
One of the terraces in our hotel on the way to our room

Another terrace on the way to our room
The terrace on the right is where the pool is located. Our room was behind that. By the time we'd reached this point, we'd already gone up a couple of flights of stairs. You can see the statue of Christ on the top of the mountain.

We hired a driver and he drove us about 40 minutes out from Taxco to the Pozas Azules de Atzala, which are natural blue pools you can swim in. The ride was through gorgeous scenery to the opposite of the mountain. We were warned that since it is the rainy season, the pools are not as blue as normal and the current much stronger. It also meant it was not crowded, and we enjoyed having the place almost to ourselves.
Heading into the pools we passed these boys arm wrestling, so of course Ron had to stop and challenge the winner

This boy offered to guide us to the pools. When he was done, Jerry asked him how much people usually paid him for doing it. He said 100 or 200 pesos ($5 or $10.) We knew that was pretty high, but you can't blam him for trying. Jerry gave him 100 pesos.

A lot of  parts of the path into the pools would not meet the safety standards in the U.S.

Notice the rainbow in the waterfall behind us

The current was pretty strong here, so it was good there were ropes to hang on to.


After we were done swimming, we drove to the giant statue of Christ which overlooks the city. The view from there was amazing, and it was a great vantage point for taking photos. However, some of my favorite photos came from the teleferico, which we went to next. It is a gondola just like they have at many ski resorts, and just like at ski resorts, it takes you up the mountain. At the top is a little resort community. We walked around it to see what was there and found a group of musicians walking down the street, gathering followers as they went. We asked what was going on and were told they were going to have a fire. We explored a little more, then went to the plaza where the musicians were playing. A fire had been built on top of some metal sheets and people from the resort were handing out skewers with large marshmallows on them for roasting. So we had a marshmallow roast in the middle of a cobblestone plaza on a mountain in Mexico. After that, we rode the teleferico back down the mountain and found a little place for dinner. It was right on the sidewalk and a woman was making fresh tortillas right on the spot.





We ate dinner just to the left of the blue building

The cathedral by the zocalo in Taxco



  Since Taxco is an old mining town, there are silver shops everywhere. Saturday morning, we decided to go shopping for silver. We knew the stores right on the zocalo were the most expensive. Every taxi driver we met promised they could take us to a place that was cheaper, but we weren’t sure how much to trust them. Pat knew of place she’d heard recommended twice, so we told our taxi driver it was where we wanted to go. He asked, “The factory?” Ron said yes, and off we went. When we arrived, it was the Zanfeld factory, which was not the one Pat had heard of. We debated whether to stay or try to find the other one. We finally decided to stay, and we were glad we did. They gave us a tour and showed us how they make their silver jewelry and figurines. After the tour, we went into their showroom, and were told we would get 25% off anything we bought. Some of the stuff was really pricey, but some was reasonable, especially with the discount, and it was all high quality. The other two couples found things they bought, but Ron and I didn’t have much luck. We were looking for rings because Ron’s wedding ring was in dire need of being replaced and I just like rings. However, every ring we found we liked, they didn’t have in our size. Eventually we gave up and figured it just wasn’t our day.

We had an interesting thing happen in connection with that. After Ron gave up looking for a ring, he went and sat on a bench to wait. While he was there, the manager went over and started talking to him. The man noticed Ron’s name tag and said, “I think I know your minister.” He described the man as walking with a limp and asked if Ron knew him. Ron wasn’t even sure the guy knew what church we are, and since we had only been in Taxco a day, we didn’t know anyone. However, the manager went on and on about what a great guy this “minister” was. Later that day as we were exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Taxco, a woman came up to us and said she was the wife of the branch president there. We had a lovely conversation with her, and it came up that she, her husband, and their relatives had several silver stores. We said we’d love to go to her store, so she took us there, and I was able to find a ring I liked. (Ron found one later at one of their relative’s stores.) We asked her for a recommendation for a restaurant where we could eat lunch before heading home. She told us about one, and we said we’d love to have her and her husband join us. She told us she’d get her husband and meet us at the restaurant. We waited for them on the sidewalk out front, and as we watched them walking towards us across the zocalo, we noticed the pronounced limp her husband had. He was indeed the “minister” the manager at Zanfelds had been speaking of. And after only the short time we had with him, we had to agree that he was a great guy! It was so delightful to share lunch with him and his darling wife. He was disappointed that we were heading home that day and wouldn’t be there Sunday to go to church with them, but Ron promised we’d come back another time and stay for Sunday. So I guess that is not the last we will see of Taxco. Our Uber driver had been right in saying that Taxco is beautiful. However, despite that, after spending so many nights in hotels that week, I was happy to return to Mexico City and our cute little apartment.



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