This past week, I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my high school friends. After our first major reunion last year, we started to implement an annual girls trip. Last year, we went to Portland and this year, it was Puerto Vallarta! Gotta love a good vacation. But as I get older, the more I find myself wondering, what’s the point of taking vacations?
Is it to escape my everyday reality into an exotic locale? Is it to expand my mind and see how different cultures and peoples live everyday? Does it enhance my life or is it another distraction?
When we first picked Puerto Vallarta, I knew it would be cheap. I’ve visited Mexico a handful of times, mostly for volunteer programs, so this was the first time I visited for vacation. I knew our money would go far and we would stay at a pretty decent resort (Costa Sur). Friendly people would be catering to our every need and request. With all the hectic bustle of our lives, we went in search of relaxation where we would be treated like queens!
I got so wrapped up in that idyllic anticipation of paradise that when I arrived, I was deeply struck by the poverty of the surrounding area. The luxury resorts stood as a glaring reminder of the vast disparity between tourist wealth and local poverty. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as tourist police! They made rounds in the major areas to help make the tourists feel safe. Once we got to our resort, we felt that we should get to know some of the locals and do things that aren’t strictly geared toward tourists.
We walked around the historical district which was calmer and less touristy than the Nuevo portion. As we made an effort to listen to the people around us, we heard stories of deportation, of long distance relationships, and strained family finances. We learned that several of the staff, vendors, and entertainers used to be in America, lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and held positions in fields such as software engineering, IT, and healthcare. It was so heartbreaking to know that these people are just like us, but hard times and bad luck led them to where they are now.
Later in the evening, we happened to walk past a holiday recital of sorts. Some kids from the local school were singing holiday songs as a fundraiser for their after school English program. They made paper angels to sell and each angel was different from the next. One of my friends, a mom, remarked how there were very few parents in the audience, probably because they had to work. We listened to the speeches, a few songs, and bought a few angels to support the local cause.
Not everything was sad and depressing during our trip. There were moments of great joy and celebration! During the month of December, from the 1st to the 12th, there is a festival to celebrate the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every night, there was a parade to the downtown church with ceremonial dancers, people with lighted candles, and a entertaining night market. There was food and toys and lots going on that we were happily overwhelmed by it all. It’s amazing how the community came together to celebrate this special occasion. It makes me wonder how we, as Americans, get by without similar events that unite people together in joy and happiness.
As we neared the end of vacation, I kept thinking, how can I help? What can I do to make things better? Sure, there will always be people who need help everywhere, but since I’m in Mexico, this is where I want to devote my attention.
On the flight home, I received an email from my mentor, Kaycee. She was the one who got me interested in missions trips to Ensenada, to help build churches and support the local community. Kaycee has been participating and leading these trips for several years to the point where she’s taking the big leap. She’s going to be a full-time missionary in Ixtapaluca, Mexico for a year starting in January 2015! As a friend, I have provided some financial support but since I have this blog with some wonderful readers, I’m hoping you’ll be in the spirit to give and help make her journey easier! I’m leaving a link to her missionary page and feel free to spread the word. It would be amazing to fund her yearly expenses so she can fully devote her time to those in need in Mexico. If we all band together, we can surely make a difference!
It’s funny how something as simple as taking a vacation can lead to something bigger, so for this holiday season, I invite you to answer the question, “What are you living for and how do you want to make a difference?”