One reason people love the Riviera Maya is the sense of and participation in community. Whether you are a local or a visitor, community is what sets the Riviera Maya apart from other vacation destinations. Did you ever feel a part of the Las Vegas Community? Did you feel a part of the St. Lucia community on your last vacation? Unless you really dug deep and had a serendipitous moment with a local, it is unlikely you felt connected to the community on your last vacation.
I have a story that I want to share about how community happens in the Riviera Maya, and really things like this happen all the time. This is a beautiful story of volunteerism, connections, local culture, friendships and seniors. For me, and others that have heard this gem of a tale, this story truly reflects what happens in our local communities. This is not a one off story, it is just one of many things that happen day to day in Riviera Maya communities.
A friend of mine filled a request at the local seniors community center. This group of 70+ yr olds wanted to learn English, but did not have the resources to do it on their own. When asked why they wanted to learn English of all things, their response was, we want to be able to talk to the visitors that come to our town. We want to be able to give directions to those who ask us. None of these seniors have businesses. They just wanted to be able to connect to the people they came across in their town and be helpful.
A volunteer teacher was found, a local expat who understood their need to connect, and English classes started. The seniors meet every day from 8 am to 10 am. They study hard, they ask questions about other cultural customs, they take out maps to see where visitors are coming from. They are deeply engaged in their mission.
English is the motive but these English classes have become a wonderful place to exchange cultural traditions. Canadian holidays, foods, history and geography have become a part of the information exchange. Additionally, the teacher and any volunteers that come into the program during their vacation or longer winter stays have loved the exchange of local cultural holidays, foods, history and geography.
One class in late January there was a long discussion about tamales….yup tamales. With El Dia de Candelaria around the corner, the seniors, who come from all parts of Mexico, had a heated discussion about the best tamales. El Dia de Candelaria is the official Federal Holiday for Tamales, Mexico’s comfort food. Though this is a religious holiday, the focus is tamales. Each student had their opinion of the best tamale…but there was one tamale that none of them had made, the Zachahiul Tamale from the state of Veracruz. This is the mother of all tamales, a great big tamale fit to serve a small tribe, a small pueblo, a big extended family.
A local chef, who has lived in Veracruz, heard this story. He contacted the English teacher and suggested he conduct a Zachahuil tamale class for the seniors in both English and Spanish as a volunteer! The seniors jumped at the opportunity to learn more English, learn a cultural food tradition and share this experience with the volunteers who help in the class.
So the English Culture cooking class happened! The seniors dove into the experience, the local chef loved his experience, the volunteers enjoyed a cultural experience money can’t buy and everyone was a winner!
This experience would not be complete without photos! Chef Cristobal who owns the Riviera Maya Food Tours is the local chef who volunteered his expertise and knowledge. You can check out his tours or an intimate food tour or have a similar cooking experience at the Little Mexican Cooking School.
If you would like to volunteer while on vacation, just send Paulina an email and she would be happy to refer you to some of our friends who are deeply committed to community volunteer projects, English just being one of many options in the Riviera Maya.
The English class continues and I hear the last cultural get together was an Easter lunch where each student and volunteer brought one small dish that represented their Easter holiday traditions. If we hear more we will let you know…
Check out Cristobal’s Food Tours in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Cancun. He is a the master at cultural food experiences and a super great guy as well.