With so many fantastic places to visit, it is highly unusual for me to return somewhere, but that is exactly what I am doing next week.
I visited Querétaro in February, 2015 as a member of a Global Volunteers’ team. Was it the work, the city, the food, the students, or our wonderful leader, Pam, that is drawing me back? Short answer–all of the above. What will make THIS trip even more special is that my cousin Kristy and two friends that I met on other Global Volunteer projects (Jeanne and Sally) will be joining me.
At first, I was going to just write an email to my travel buddies, sharing what I remembered from my prior experience, but then I thought why not blog so that the information is available to anyone contemplating volunteering?
In getting ready for the trip, I also realized just how much I had forgotten–and how helpful it was for ME to go back and look at my old posts to see what I was wearing, which luggage I took etc. When the space between my ears fails me, which happens quite frequently these days, I am glad to have an electronic memory to supplement the “organic” one.
The Hotel Hidalgo was once the finest lodging in Queretaro. It was so grand that in 1848, Santa Anna stayed there prior to signing the Treaty of Guadalupe with the USA. As one might expect of a hotel built in 1825, there is no elevator. There is also no staff to carry your luggage up the 31 stone steps to your room. (Yes, I DID count them the last time I was there).
I actually LIKE having a built in stair master. It’s a great way to work off all the excellent Mexican food I’m looking forward to eating.
It is always wise to travel light, and this trip is no exception. The good news is there is a laundry right around the corner from the hotel. You drop off your clothes one day and pick them up the next evening. The bad news is you may experience all three seasons in ONE day. So, the tried and true travel advice works here: Dress in layers. One clear advantage of being older–your days of making a fashion statement are a VERY distant memory. Clothing is chosen for comfort and utility.
In case you’re wondering what I am bringing, here’s a visual:
I will wear the heavy tan sweater and blue fleece on the plane, but everything else goes in my bag: Hair dryer (they are not supplied by the hotel), toiletries, long underwear (can double as pajamas when the one pair I’m bringing is at the laundry), 5 pants, 4 long sleeved cotton shirts, 1 long sleeved knit top, 3 short sleeved shirts, 1 long skirt, 1 windbreaker with hood, enough underwear for 8 days, hat, small purse, and travel meds (Airborne, Neosporin, motrin), 1 pair of sandals. I will wear sneakers on the plane.
My routine (as you can see) is to lay everything out on the bed, then determine whether I can get it all into my carry on. Total weight: a manageable 24 pounds
My backpack will hold my iPhone, iPad, chargers, money, credit card, passport, index cards, tissues, hand sanitizer, erasable markers for white boards (Pam tells me she has a good supply from volunteers leaving them behind, so no need to bring more), pens, notebook, facecloths (used to erase the white board), tea bags (water coolers on each floor of the Hidalgo dispense both hot and cold water) water bottle, and snacks for the flight.
There is no heat, so the rooms get a bit cool at night and in the morning. You can request an extra blanket for sleeping, but you need something warm for when you get out of the shower. A bathrobe is too bulky to pack, so I buy an inexpensive one in Queretaro, and leave it behind when I head home. That’s one of the advantages of being in a city. You can buy just about anything you need at either Del Sol or Woolworth’s (Yes, Woolworth DOES still exist. Just not in the USA). For me, the problem is I am WAY bigger than the average Mexican. This time around, I’m going to try shopping in the men’s department!
The high altitude dries your skin, but lotion is available everywhere, so I didn’t bother packing it in my toiletries bag. There is no need for insect repellant. I never saw a bug the two weeks I was there. A hat is important, because the sun is strong.
The hotel uses the same kind of plug and the same current as the USA, so no need for an adapter and converter. Even so, I’m bringing my trusty little gadget that I bought at Staples, because most rooms only have one electrical outlet. Notice the two USB ports, plus one regular plug? This little treasure allows me to charge iPhone, iPad and camera all from one socket!
If you are arriving at the start of the program, Pam will arrange for your transportation. I like to go in a day or two early, so I handle my own transportation to the hotel. It was 350 pesos to get to the historical center, (about $17 US). There is a booth in Queretaro airport, just outside immigrations and customs that helps with getting a taxi. I recently learned that Queretaro now has Uber service, but I think I’ll stick with the taxi to get to the hotel.
You don’t need to bring much money with you. There are ATMs at the airport and in town, so it is easy to use your debit card to get pesos. For those that want to exchange dollars, there is an office around the corner from our hotel, but ATMs are so abundant, I find it more convenient to just tap into my checking account.
Because the program fee covers room, board and transportation, you only need cash for shopping or if you plan on traveling on the weekend. Even then, credit cards are widely accepted.
Pam, our terrific leader, contacts all volunteers in advance of the trip. She explains that we will not be working with the same group of students every day. Instead, when we arrived at the school, we go off with whatever teacher we are assigned to. The students could be beginners, intermediate or advanced. Some teachers will tell you what they want you to work on–others will tell you to do whatever you want. This is where an iPad comes in handy. Last time, I took photos of common household objects so we could practice “what is this”, “this is a —“. For the more advanced students, we were able to talk about what was important to them: dating, family, work, food, entertainment, travel.
Because there are also evening classes, our hours vary. Some days we start early and end early, with a nice break before we get back together for dinner. Other days we have our mornings off, but pack food for dinner and arrive back at the hotel around 9 PM. I thoroughly enjoyed the varied schedule. It gave us a chance to experience the city of Queretaro, although I have to tell you — not much is going on before 10 AM!
I bring my backpack to school every day. It holds my meal (lunch or dinner), extra layers of clothing, teaching aids, hand sanitizer and toilet paper (there are no paper products in the ladies’ room) and water bottle. It also serves as my luggage for my weekend excursion.
Global Volunteers have their weekends free. You can book trips on the Primera Plus bus at the travel agency around the corner from the hotel (in 2015, it was open from 10-2 and 4-7). Last time, we took the 8 AM bus on Saturday to Guanajuato, returning on Sunday’s 3:30 bus.
This time, Jeanne, Sally and I plan to visit San Miguel de Allende on the weekend between our two work weeks. Pam, the GV team leader, warned us that we needed advance reservations in San Miguel if we wanted to stay in the town center at a reasonably priced hotel. Good thing she did! There weren’t a lot of choices left when we made our reservations a few weeks ago. Once again, we will head out early Saturday morning and be back in time for dancing in the town square on Sunday night. Maybe Uber will be a good choice for getting between the bus station and hotel.
That’s all I can think of. I hope it is helpful, especially for my travel buddies Sally, Jeanne and Kristy.