Our weekend trip!

Programs for this blog post

Leadership & Service in Youth Development

Authored By:

Doug LeBert

(Written by our group member, Maddie Schatz!)


The weekend of July 21st started early, around 7am for me, and then we began with the usual daily activities. Fresh breakfast, and then straight to the CIEE center for our leadership workshop. It is an hour-long classroom-style seminar consisting of a short lecture and then some interactive activities to put the day’s teachings to use. After that, me and the eight other students head over to AMANC, the organization that we volunteer with daily. While there, the volunteers help children with cancer to create art projects: drawing, painting, decorating piñatas or puppets, etc. Helping these children have a fun time is not always easy, as most of them only speak Spanish, which can create an awkward language barrier. However, we always have plenty of kids and their families come to join us regardless. I appreciate AMANC for the way they treat their beneficiaries. One of their main values is dignity, and they stay true to it. You won’t see any sob story billboards from this organization, nor anyone crying over some poor four-year-old telling them how strong they are. Rather, they do the absolute best with what they have (which isn’t a lot) to make sure the kids are living as close to a normal life as possible. Volunteering at AMANC is very fulfilling. Even when we are not hanging out with the kids we help to clean and organize, or just do whatever is needed. Being able to see the difference we make immediately after doing it is truly an amazing feeling.

After volunteering, we head back to the CIEE center for lunch, which is brought from our home stay. The day before, all students and program leaders had packed small bags of clothing and essentials to bring with us on our two-night trip to Chichen Itza and a nearby cenote (a natural body of freshwater formed due to sinkholes). After an hour-long lunch break, we all loaded ourselves into buses or vans and set off on the three hour long drive. We arrived at around 4:30 to a beautiful hotel, fully equipped with an outdoor pool and AC in every room (which is not always a guarantee in Mexico). We were given time to rest and unpack, and then we walked as a group to a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed nearly all our meals throughout the weekend in a beautifully decorated outdoor seating area.

The following morning, we got back on the bus and headed over to Chichen Itza. This wonder of the world is just as amazing of a landmark as it seems in the pictures. Although despite popular belief, there is more than just one temple in the area. There are acres of land surrounding the famous temple which contain pieces of astounding ancient architecture. We were introduced to a lot of historical information by a Mayan tour guide, who was incredibly knowledgeable and told us fascinating stories and facts about many of the structures. He showed us how if you clap in front of the main temple, Kukulkan, the sound that echoes back to you is that of a sacred Maya bird. We were introduced to Maya astronomy which was incredibly advanced, and to the traditional Maya ballgame in which the winner would be sacrificed. After some free time to explore and buy souvenirs, we got back on the bus and went to cenote Hubiku. The cenote was inside of a large cave with a hole at the top through which sunlight poured through, illuminating the whole area. Water also streams in from this hole, creating a mini waterfall in the center of the body of water. Stepping into the cenote and taking it all in was surreal, almost like entering a ginormous stone fishbowl. I doubt there is a more beautiful natural formation anywhere on the planet. The water itself was cool and refreshing after a long day of walking in the heat. We spent our time there swimming with the fishes and leaping into the water from the rocks.

The second day was just as packed as the first. After breakfast we headed to a different historical town called Izamal, also known in Yucatan as the Yellow City. This beautiful city has been continuously occupied throughout mesoamerican history. There are many hills there which are actually the remnants of ancient temple pyramids. We were shocked to see crumbling Mayan structures crammed in alongside modern houses and businesses. We were able to climb one of these structures, Kinich Kak Moo, which provided a stunning view of the surrounding city. Then, after being fed and exploring Izamal some more, we returned to Mérida to relax and prepare for the next week's activities.

Despite being tiring and full of mosquitoes, this whole weekend was truly an astonishing, once in a lifetime experience. We were able to be fully immersed in a fascinating ancient culture, try traditional Yucatecan food, and improve our Spanish-speaking skills all while being surrounded by friends and having fun as tourists in a new place.