The Cemetery at the End of My Street

Cemetery in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.
Courtesy of

Families in Mexico do not have the same funerals as typical North Americans, unless you live in New Orleans. I know this because the Chiapa de Corzo cemetery is at the end of my street; which means that on many days loud Mariachi music will pull me to my balcony. The first time this occurred I immediately wondered if I had missed some local holiday and scampered out of the door with my camera to be surprised by a white hearse, Mariachi musicians and a group of people slowly making their way along the street, followed by a caravan of 8 vehicles inching behind them.

This happened again today and has now (unfortunately) has become commonplace, and yet, I am always drawn to my balcony when I hear the music. Mexican culture has a different attitude towards death and funeral customs. All we need to do is to look at the customs around the Día de la Muerte/Day of the Dead; or as North Americans call it, Halloween; or, the Christian name of All Saints Day. This is a two-day event where families have a picnic at the graveside of their relatives; relating stories about the children, weddings, and other important events the dearly departed have missed attending. The most that many North American might do is to place a flag on the grave of a veteran on November 11th, or flowers on Memorial Day, but those traditions are slowly fading away for us Yankees.

Mexicans seem to accept death as a normal part of life and participate in regular communion with the dead. Catholic influences in Mexican culture are particularly prominent in their death rituals. Children are not shielded from death or dying so as they mature it become normal.

Families spend up to two days with their loved ones. The body is kept in the house mourning the loss (as my great grandparents did), usually laid in a simple coffin. During this mourning time friends visit, prayers are said, gifts of food or sometimes money is given to the family. This might be akin to a “quiet” Irish wake when people come together to eat, and talk of times “when”.

As in ancient Egypt, items of importance are buried with the person for use in the afterlife. According to Mexican belief, the deceased person begins a new life after they are buried. If we believe that we have a soul and that there is another dimension into which we pass, we might also want to take something with us. Often in the death of a child, we would put a toy or stuffed animal in the coffin to add comfort for the journey.

There is a “wake” after the death and before the burial when family members say prayers and make sure that there is a candle burning at each corner of the coffin to maintain good luck in the afterlife. This wake may last all night and many friends will come and share their memories with each other. Candles are a large part of this culture and you see them sitting on the grocery store shelves not far from the paper goods. I have candles in every room of my apartment, even the bathroom; but, only for power outages.

Another difference between North American and Mexican funerals is that emotions are encouraged, as it is good to release the energy of sorrow and loss. Everyone is free to “let their feelings show” at the loss of the person in the family or community; and after the burial people continue to say prayers for nine days (novenas) to assist in the journey to the other side; and. again the mourners unabashedly show their grief.

Not as loud or showy as a New Orleans funeral procession or as raucous as an Irish wake, but not as solemn as funerals in the “new world” either. It is as if they are leaving for a journey and friends an family are coming to see them off … Hasta Luego – you’ll be missed, but we will see you later!

Next Stop : TLAQUEPAQUE, Mexico

Where is Tlaquepaque? It is a city within the city of Guadalajara in the north central region of Mexico in the state of Jalisco. Known for its clay pottery and blown glass. I have heard several translations of Tlaquepaque – “land of the clay” or “place on hills of neighborhood land”. There are other opinions such as “mud tackle makers” (tlacapan). For others the word Tlaquepaque comes from the word Tlalipac, “on hills of red mud” which makes it perfect for pottery creations.

No matter what translation you choose the end result is the same Tlaquepaque is a community of artisans; today, the most important pottery municipality of Mexico and, it is known worldwide.

When you look at TripAdvisor for what to do in Tlaquepaque, Mexico you may be surprised that most of the suggestions have nothing to do with Tlaquepaque, but instead suggest you take tours to the surrounding city of Guadalajara, or further out to Ajijic or Lake Chapala, or further out to Tequila or further yet to San Miguel de Allende. TripAdvisor also tells you that you can go to a shopping mall, a skateboard park or take a cooking class.

Having recently visited Tlaquepaque I would tell you to take your time, admire all of the creative, eye-catching, thought-provoking sculptures, paintings, galleries and hand-crafted items on display; or simply sit for a while an people-watch.

Expand your food repertoire by asking your server to choose their favorite dish for you to try. I often do this because it forces me to step out of my daily rut. Besides, it will provoke some unexpected facial expressions as your server will be taken aback by your request. Often, I have been asked two or three times if that is actually what I want to do. You may need to do some convincing!

$8 U.S. dollar dinner in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico

I would tell you to do some research on the history of this interesting place which, when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, was being ruled by a wise woman who knew that her people would not survive if they made a stand for their land against armed soldiers – so she threw them a party instead.

Unlike the inhabitants of the area around San Sebastian who offered the soldiers gourds filled with water – and the poison seed – the native peoples from the area of Tlaquepaque came with gifts of chickens, eggs, honey, ahuacates (avocados), onions and some fruits to tell them that they already had news of their coming and that they were waiting for them amicably. The Spaniards were well received by a queen who knew how to negotiate.

San Pedro Tlaquepaque obtained, from the Federal Ministry of Tourism, the certification of Magic Town on October 11, 2018 for a perimeter made up of 42 blocks in the historic center of the municipality, where the greatest amount of tourist services, craft workshops and gastronomic offers are concentrated. You can see that 42 blocks could possibly take up your entire day, not leaving you time for all of those other tour options.

Visit the Centro Cultural Refugio, a preserved original architectural building, highlighting its long corridors and large patios, long ignored but now given new life as a Cultural, Commercial, Artisanal, and Tourist Center.

You could also choose to visit the Regional Museum of Ceramics, Juarez Street or any of the below listed sites; plus a variety of exclusive restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries, canteens, craft shops, or churches. Or, watch for the woman who has the cart of fresh coconuts and have a swig right from the nut.

Still want to continue your adventure? Hail a taxi and go to the neighboring community of Tonala where locals shop for arts and crafts items at better prices – without the overhead or designation of Puebla Magico.

Tonala is the fourth largest city in the state, the other three being : Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque. It is best known as a major handcrafts center for the state of Jalisco, especially pottery, as well as its enormous Thursday and Sunday street market, (aka chamarilero, mercadillos, tianguis), when local artists and craftspeople come in from the surrounding areas for an “arts and crafts fair” in the world of the English speaker.

This market seems to not have an end. You can find everything from art, handicrafts, leather products, furniture, iron work, clothes, toys, household goods, glass and foods. If you are planning to spend the day, dress comfortably and consider an umbrella if heat or rain is predicted.

Before you head off to Mexico, educate yourself by watching some You Tube videos about Tlaquepaque and Tonala.

PS: Don’t forget your credit card – it IS a shoppers paradise!


I saw this story on ATLAS OBSCURA and had to go and see what this was all about while I was in Guadalajara. Of course, those of you who know me, understand that I love trivia and this was perfect. So, this story is not mine, it is taken directly from Atlas Obscura. If you like unusual things you might want to check out this website.

IN 1927, PLANS WERE MADE to expand Juárez Avenue. The Mexican Telephone Company building, which stood in the middle of the avenue, was protected from being demolished, however, so as not to interrupt the country’s telephone service. The building stood in place for more than 20 years, clogging the newly expanded avenue, until someone came up with the idea to move the building while the telephone operators worked inside.

Engineer Jorge Matute Remus proposed the idea of sliding a platform under the building that allowed it to be moved along a set of tracks. The proposal was cheaper than the costly alternative of building the telephone company a whole new building, and also prevented the telephone service from being disrupted for more than six months.

The historic procedure took place from October 24 to 28, 1950. With the help of mechanical jacks, the 1,700-ton-building moved about 40 feet (12 meters) while the communication operators continued to work inside. It was considered an engineering feat, and that is why a commemorative statue of Remus was placed in front of the building.

Biography of Jorge Matute (February 17, 1912 – July 6, 2002) a Mexican engineer from Wikipedia

His movement of a 1700-ton Teléfonos de México (Mexican telecommunications) building in 1950 to widen a main street (Avenue Juarez) in Guadalajara earned him a place in the city’s history. The building was moved 12 meters away from its original position with all the communication operators working inside. At 23 he designed and built a bridge for a federal Mexican road over Coy river in the Huasteca during a professional internship that gained him respect among engineers at such early stage of his life. He dedicated much of his life to the pursuit of a better urban planning, the provision of water for the city and the improvement of higher education. Matute was dean of the Universidad de Guadalajara (1949–1953) and municipal president (1953–1955) of the same city. He was given several honors by the University of Guadalajara (Masters and Doctoral (2006) Honoris Causa), UNESCO, the National Prize for Engineering, the French Academic Palms, among others.

The city of Guadalajara needed several modernization works and the state governor of Jalisco at the time, José de Jesús González Gallo, was dedicating plenty of attention to these changes. The broadening of Vallarta Avenue (a major avenue connecting Guadalajara’s downtown to the west) was included. Buildings along the avenue were demolished, except for the telecommunications building, which would have left the city without telephone service for at least a week. At this situation, Jorge Matute, then dean of the city’s university (Mexico’s second-largest in student population), proposed to move the building 12 meters with all the workers inside and functioning as normal in order to keep the telephone service working. The works started with a budget of only $100,000 USD, only 17% of the cost of demolishing the building and constructing a new one. In order to gain the trust of the employees he asked his wife to enter the building while the movement was taking place. On October 28, 1950 the building was set on its final position, where it still stands with a statue of Matute pushing the building.

Mechanical jacks used to move a building, Guadalajara
See the source image
TelMex building today in downtown Guadalajara. You can see the statue behind the woman with the bent knee in jeans.

Tequila, More Than Just a Beverage

When the word “Tequila” is uttered, many people picture a worm in a bottle or have a memory of their last guzzle of the beverage. Most, never associate Tequila with a place of residence for 38,500+ and covering 138 square miles of land to include the edge of a volcano.

Few people are aware that the Agave landscape and ancient industrial facilities of Tequila is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site of Humanity. Want to know more? Check out this link Tequila! A UNESCO World Heritage Site. (

You can read more about UNESCO and Tequila UNESCO through these links.

Tequila, Jalisco, World Heritage Site | Mexico Unknown (

World Heritage Center – (

And, the following link will educate you on the criteria needed for Tequila to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Interested in YouTube and Mexican television? Tequila, named a “Pueblo Mágico” in 2003 by the Mexican federal government, has also been famous for being the prime setting in the successful Televisa telenovela Destilando Amor, starring Angélica Rivera and Eduardo Yáñez. DISTILLING LOVE – YouTube

Tequila is definitely more than just a beverage. Keep reading!

Nor do many people know that for at least two millennia Tequila has been produced in this valley. Today, this agave culture is seen as part of Mexican national identity.

Tequila is a Trademark indicating that this product has been produced only in Mexico and only in these five locations: inside the Mexican state of Jalisco and in some municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Any agave-based distilled spirit outside those regions are called “mezcal.” So, if you want the real thing Look for the Declaration of Denomination of Origin on the label.

Some will tell you that the most important “Magical Town” of Mexico, is Tequila, where you will find there has been quite an effort done in rescuing the town by rehabilitating it and by incorporating several first-class hotels. Rescuing and rehabilitating the town was not “a walk in the park”. The story told to me by a guide in the Tequila Museum was initially surprising, but in the end, understandable.

When the government of Mexico created this program and approached the community of Tequila, there was noticeable push-back from some. You see, in exchange for money given to the community to improve infrastructure and promote new businesses the backside was that if you were a property owner in the “cultural center” you could not rehab/amend/change the exterior of your buildings. So, how would you feel if you were a property owner? Would you feel differently if you were a business owner? What did the city officials want? How to satisfy everyone?

Today, the majority of citizens of Tequila see the benefits to the community in increased revenue, new businesses, maintenance of the infrastructure projects and more jobs for local people. Every day people come by the hundreds to (1) experience the beverage “tequila” and be either educated or intoxicated, or both. (2) Tourists come to shop, to purchase knickknacks that they will probably never use, or to purchase as gifts for others. (3) and least likely are those who come for the history and culture, like me for instance.

Curiously, the night before my visit, I watched an old Burt Reynolds movie “100 Rifles”. I did not know that it was based on actual history. I thought it was just a spaghetti western. Surprise, surprise when I saw a painting of the movie poster in the Tequila Museum where the guide explained that it was based on historic fact when the Mexican government tried to steal the land from the indigenous people to build a railroad and were …. well, you can watch the movie! Isn’t it fun when you learn something new … when you didn’t even know you were learning?

Tequila is most widely known as being the birthplace of the drink that bears its name, “tequila”; and far lesser known for its rich history of the Nahuatl culture, who gave the area the name “Tecuilan” which means “place of tributes”.

One of these “tributes” is the tradition of the evening blessing where at nine o’clock in the evening, the priest blesses the locals by ringing the bells three times. The village stops at that moment, and stands gazing in the direction of the church.

Temple of the Immaculate and the Chapel of Calvary.

There is no doubt that to get to know the Magical Towns of Mexico in depth you have to visit them on foot and get lost among its streets. Tequila in Jalisco is no exception. Walk with me through the historic center.

To fully appreciate the history of the production of tequila, a visit the National Tequila Museum is suggested.

National Tequila Museum
100 Rifles Painting (really does not look like Burt Reynolds or Raquel Welch, does it?)
Guinness World Record for Largest Bottle Blown.
Famous bottles
Churros Anyone-hot, fresh, homemade. Yummmm

After crossing the village of cobbled streets, you will find colorful cafes and craft shops, food carts and street art.

Plaza Art Work
Divorced Eggs for breakfast

As I was looking over the breakfast menu I was really in a quandary sitting here looking at the Catholic church and wanting to order the Divorced Eggs for breakfast. Divorced Eggs are two eggs placed on either side of the plate, with two different salsas as toppings. You can see my dilemma can’t you? The desire for the eggs won out over the guilt from looking at the Catholic church. (breakfast $5.00 US, including coffee)

Hungry? Lots of options from these local stands to upscale hotel restaurants
Every Corner has a sign and arrow for easy directions
Casa Del Agave, street
In addition to the street directions, you will find history in both Spanish and English
Well, my bus (Tequila Express, from Guadalajara) has arrived, and it’s time for me to go … hope you enjoyed the visit.

Next Stop: Tlaquepaque (say that 3 times)

GET THE REAL THING- REMEMBER: Tequila can only be produced in Mexico, in principle, because it is a drink that originated in the country with agave, which grows only in our region, however, with the passage of time it may be possible that in other areas of the world wants to replicate the distillation of this drink, so it has been necessary to protect it with laws. According to the Official Mexican Standard NOM-006-SCFI-2005, for a drink to be called tequila it must be produced with the agave Tequilana weber, blue variety. In addition, on tequila there is a declaration of Denomination of Origin that indicates that for a drink to be named “tequila”, it must also be produced in Jalisco and some municipalities of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.

Welcome to a Different Culture

I decided to share this quote because I have overheard, over the years, a number of visitors and snowbirds from the United States, making statements like “We don’t do that in Montana” and “.. back home it was acceptable to ..” or “I didn’t know that here, it was the custom to..” It is SO important to consider this when you visit another culture – how would you react if someone from Mexico, Egypt, Poland, Greece or any other country were to do the thing you are doing; or, wear what you are wearing. Would it be appropriate, for instance, in a Catholic country to wear a bikini or shorts with your butt cheeks hanging out on a main street or in a store? Would you want someone to arbitrarily take photos of you or your family at work, at a funeral, wedding or family celebration? As a woman who has lived in Mexico and lived/traveled in more than 15 countries I would consider it rude, impolite, crude, or unmannerly to not consider the culture, religion and customs of the community in which I am a “GUEST”.

I believe that you, my lovely readers, would never do these things, but ask you to keep your ears open and be willing to “school” people you know about courtesy when traveling to places with culture and customs different from theirs.

Not long ago a local person told me the back story of the phrase “Moctezuma’s Revenge”. It explicitly describes the above. We think of this as a bad case of diarrhea but, the in the case of the conquering Spaniards, it turned out to be deadly. You could say that the indigenous peoples of Mexico killed the Spaniards with water and you would be correct.

When Cortez and his crew invaded Mexico, Moctezuma/Montezuma was the leader of the empire of the Aztecs. He first tried to befriend the strangers who arrived across the big waters in a ship with strange animals that they sat upon. You see, the Aztecs had never seen a ship nor had they ever seen horses, burros or donkeys on their lands.

Moctezuma/Montezuma soon realized that these men were not about to become friends, but that they were there to find the city of gold, to enslave his people and to rape the land (food/farms). He then tried to buy Cortez off with gold. That also did not work because Cortez had swords and swift horses. Cortez made Moctezuma/Montezuma his prisoner instead. Cortez knew that if he held Moctezuma/Montezuma he also held the capital city and its inhabitants.

During this time; and before, “runners” – men who had been trained from childhood to run were spreading the word about these strange men and what was happening in the southern part of the Aztec empire. Indigenous tribes from the north were ready to meet and defeat these men when they arrived. They wanted no part in changing their belief system; they wanted no part in learning a new language; they wanted no part in being ruled by strange men from across the water.

One of the many mistakes made by the Spaniards was to not learn from the local people; but, instead, try to impose the Spanish way upon them. However, some of the Spaniards did learn. They learned that by using dried gourds to hold water, they could travel long distances over arid land.

The locals took advantage of this and willingly gave the soldiers gourds filled with water AND, a seed that was poisonous. After a few days of travel, the soldiers began to drink the water from the gourds. They quickly became ill with diarrhea, causing rapid dehydration, necessitating them to drink more water, and get sicker; and, die within a few days.

Our tour guide “jokingly” said that if you are in a restaurant and are an obnoxious tourist, the kitchen staff may dip the seed quickly into your beverage and you will be spending the remainder of your vacation looking at the walls of the toilet in your hotel.

Since all of my readers are above reproach, it would be unnecessary to give this advice to you – but to, instead, ask you to pass it on: Treat everyone with the respect you believe you should receive.

Mexico’s Magical Towns

Although I had lived in Mexico for almost three years, I was unaware that Mexico had designated 132 towns as “Mexico’s Magical Towns”. Did you know?

What are “Magical Towns” and how did these places earn that designation?

The cultural, historical, architectural and gastronomic value of Mexico’s destinations is as huge as its territory.

The Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) designation is awarded to those communities that over time have maintained their original architecture, traditions, history and culture. As well as to those that have been of great relevance to the country’s history.

The Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) are defined as places with great symbolism and legends, they are towns whose historical importance has been fundamental for the development of history and that enhance the national identity in each of its spots. These places have a special magic that connects the visitor with our roots and traditions. With exceptional beauty, these are destinations that will most definitely captivate you.

Currently throughout the territory there are 132 Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns), whose attractions generate great admiration among both domestic and foreign visitors from all around the world.

For more information see this URL: Visit México | en | Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) (

Having an opportunity to be in Mexico until the end of 2021 (or longer) gives me time to visit and share some of these “Magical Towns” with you, until you, yourself can come and experience the history, culture, and legends connected to them.

Since I am currently living in the Mexican state of Nayarit, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta with bus access to 7 of these “Magical Towns” ; getting at least three of them explored before leaving for the state of Chiapas at the end of June should be possible. Once in Chiapas a visit to the Yucatan will be easy. There are four “Magical Towns” to explore in the states of Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Campeche.

First on the list is SAYULITA a few jungle miles from Punta de Mita. (Compostella bus from Puerto Vallarta or Punta de Mita) Surfers know this place well; it is a magnet for them, but Sayulita has charms for the land-lovers as well. Although there is no church or cathedral to visit and no amazing architecture, there is art in all forms. Art on and in buildings, signs, Huichol art galleries, clothing, gastronomic art in several noteworthy restaurants and unending photo opportunities.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park by Deigo Rivera (

There is also a history dating back 5000 years, they say, when the god OZ declared Sayulita the place of the perfect wave. Or, it could be the place of the perfect beach and the perfect margarita on the beach. There is not one beach, but three if you love beaches. Sayulita does have a turtle camp so between June and November, at sunsets, you can enjoy the Pacific Ridley sea turtles release. And, you could be one of the volunteers aiding in the release of the baby turtles. January to March is the season of the humpback whales.

Oh, you like some “off the beaten track” sites. Well, a 20 minute walk on the cobbled road along the waterfront will bring you to both Los Muertos beach and the local cemetery where you can wonder about who “Cory” aka “Monkey” was. A gravesite flanked by two surfboards and a small monkey plaster statue are all that is said about this surfer. I have Googled this but have found no information about “Cory”.

Thirsty from your walk? Step right up and get a wet one from either of the two concession stands between the cemetery and the beach. Where have you ever seen a concession stand at a cemetery?

Alternative activities offered in Sayulita (and nearby San Fernando “San Poncho”) include horseback riding, bird watching, adventure tours, zip-lining, boat trips to the Marianna Islands to see the pink or blue footed boobies, hiking Monkey Hill, or relaxing Yoga in the jungle.

Next stop San Sebastian. Get your cameras and let’s go!

Specific Volunteering Opportunities (YouTube Program)

I have talked about HelpX, WorkAway and Trusted Housesitters in previous sessions and about volunteering and work exchange in general but today I will address specific areas of interest where you might want to look for “travel” volunteer opportunities, now and in the future.

Let’s start with close to home opportunities in the United States.

I found a multitude – more than 50 opportunities for short term volunteering for people who like the outdoors. Here are some:

Appalachian Trail Conference, specifically for people who want to work with threatened or endangered species.

Friends of the Tonto Forest, Oregon

Missouri State Department of Conservation looks for volunteers to lead hikes and maintain trails.

Washington Trails Association has 8-day vacations working on forest projects

Pacific Coast Trail Association has back country crews and overnight crews that are volunteers.

If you live in Sacramento, you could volunteer at the PCTA office. Or if you live anyplace where there is an office for a “tree hugger” organization you might want to volunteer in their office or warehouse facility.

In Las Vegas volunteers lead hikes and trail maintenance projects on Mt. Charleston

American Hiking Society has listed volunteer vacations. This does require a membership and park fees which can be up to $500, but if you are an outdoor person this may not be an issue for you.

Every state that I looked at had some volunteer opportunities, some states more than others. Additionally, many state parks and county parks as well, offer volunteer opportunities. Enter the state name and the word “Volunteer” and you should be able to access what I saw.

Go to for opportunities in federal parks, with the Corp of Engineers which all involve waterways or BLM Bureau of Land Management, or the US National Park Service. These opportunities are especially good if you own an RV or are an avid camper or hiker.

Some of the opportunities I saw listed included volunteering at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, campground hosts, trail maintenance, office positions at the Presidio of San Francisco, and lighthouse docents.

Would you like to be a “Trip Leader” for hiking groups? Start with HF Holidays.

Would you like to be paid to work in a marina or on a lake, or in a park? Check out “Cool Works” and “Caretakers Gazette” sites where many of the jobs are paid.

If you live in Southern Florida and are dive certified, you might want to contact the Coral Restoration Project.

More opportunities for water enthusiasts include crewing on yachts. You can find crewing opportunities by starting at:, or
“CrewSeekers .com” looks for both amateur and professional crews.

You will need to purchase a membership through “OnBoard Space” to look at their opportunities.

Crews job finder also requires a membership fee.

Consider Yacht delivery opportunities. If you live near a yacht manufacturing company, contact them directly.

Again, if you live in port cities like Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charleston, or San Diego you could do day volunteering on historical ships in your harbors.

Are you a Yoga enthusiast? Look at Yoga for opportunities both voluntary and paid, around the world. Positions listed in Bali, Greece, South Africa and more. Spain in October is offering volunteer positions with Mindful Yoga and in the United States in North Carolina, Washington state, Hawaii, and New Jersey on the first page of multiple pages on the website.

Do you want to teach English, but do not have a degree? These opportunities exist everywhere in private language schools in most countries.
As an example, look at the “Sudan Project”.
The Sudan Volunteer Program (SVP) is a London and Khartoum-based charitable organization sending graduates and near-graduates to Sudan to teach English at public higher education institutions around the country. They bring new volunteers to Sudan year-round and always want to hear from suitable candidates. These are some of the benefits SVP offers:
 No application or administration fees – you shouldn’t have to pay to volunteer!
 Accommodation and a stipend equivalent to the local salary for a teaching assistant.
 Support and guidance throughout your teaching placement.
 The opportunity to rapidly learn or improve Arabic language skills.
 A unique chance to work in a friendly, safe and fascinating location at the intersection of the Middle East and Africa, where you will meet and help local people from ordinary backgrounds.
What does SVP look for in a volunteer?
 Are you a graduate or near-graduate in any discipline?
 Are you a native English speaker?
 Are you enthusiastic about the idea of teaching English?
 Are you resilient, resourceful, patient, good humored and culturally sensitive?
 Are you prepared to commit to at least six months in Sudan?

For those of you who want to work with special education it is a pretty open field for volunteering, IF you know where to look.

Some opportunities require a commitment of 6 months or more and others less. Most of these positions want you to speak the language of the country in which you volunteer.

In the UK look at Camphill. This is a world wide organization of small communities where you would live in the community and assist in the café, store, gardens, arts and crafts projects or with geriatric clients, participate in outings and/or teach general life skills.

L’Arche organization also uses volunteers in the UK. There are eleven L’Arche Communities based across the UK, where persons with and without learning disabilities live together. Volunteers and care workers are providing support. They try to promote Jean Vanier philosophy. All faiths are welcomed.

When searching this topic on HelpX and WorkAway I found that the best descriptive word was “disabled”. “Special needs” results were not working. You might also use the words “animal therapy” which will give you groups that utilized horses or dogs for children with disabilities. Downs Syndrome and mental retardation also gave me some additional results mostly working with families.

Check out various countries “charities, trusts and foundations” for additional resources. In the UK you can begin with “Premier Guide to Charities in the UK” website.

Here are some other suggestions .. a bit farther from direct volunteering where you get to travel. Check out your local “Meet Up” groups for those who travel, learn, or improve a foreign language during your down time.
You can also look at what is available through volunteering with the United Nations and Peace Corps, a long process for sure.

Another place to peruse would be Transitions Abroad. Make sure you are in the official site location as there has been someone using the name which is a scam.

And, always be scanning opportunities on World Packers, HelpX, WorkAway, WorkStay. Apply with Vaughntown, Just Speak, Diverbo, English Stay and other English Immersion Programs, even though you are not currently traveling from the U.S.

I hope this gives you some additional food for thought during our current travel restrictions. Join me each Thursday on Travels With The Red Suitcase, YouTube Channel for more conversations about frugal and independent traveling. Thanks for your interest in this blog.

Chapter 4: Do The Math!

OK, let’s get down to brass tacks.  The question most often asked is “How do you finance your travel?”  The answer is … I live totally from my average Social Security income.  Yes, it is cheaper to do what I do in Europe than to live in the United States.

I severely downsized my life before taking on this adventure.  I own nothing! My roommates took over the lease on our townhouse, they bought my car and adopted my cat.  And, I owe nothing!  I have no bills, or monthly payments other than  my credit card.  I try to put all of my expenses on the credit card because I get travel miles for my expenditures.

Really, you say!  Yes, Really!

In Seattle where I was living a small studio would cost $1200 a month at a minimum.  This means that if I want to eat during the month, put gas in a car, or go to a movie I need to go to work.  No thanks, I’d  rather have this adventure instead.

And, the follow up question is usually – does it take all of your monthly SS income.  Answer:  Not usually.  I have been able to put money aside and still have a splurge every couple of months,  Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland; birthday in Casablanca at the replica of Rick’s Cafe Americana from the movie Casablanca.

And, 4 days in the Blue City of Chefchaoen, Morocco.  I don’t live like a pauper, but I also don’t throw money away.


If you have a close knit family, a pet, or other obligations like a mortgage, traveling like me would not work for you.  But reducing the size of your travel agenda to what is manageable could be a fun project.  For instance, you could travel to Spain and do 2 back-to-back English Immersion Programs based out of Madrid.  Add one week on the front end to visit interesting cities within an hour or two of Madrid, like Segovia, Toledo, Avila, or El Escorial.  Then take a few days on the back side of the program and discover the real Madrid, not the “tour guide” version.

You might also be able to find a “Trusted Housesitter” or other volunteer one week gig in or near Madrid and take your day trips from there.  This would also mean you are not paying for a hotel or other lodging for that week.

I was able to rent a furnished apartment, 10 minutes walking distance from the Nile, in Luxor, Egypt for 250.00 US Dollars a month.  I stayed 3 months. I was not volunteering.  Just spending a warm winter there.

When you can plan your travel around volunteering (free lodging and often your food provided as well) your costs end up being mostly about travel ONLY!  A month in sunny (mostly) Spain where you meet new native English speakers at the program plus, the possibility of creating some new friendships with your Spanish participants sounds like fun to me.  What about you?

Back to cost.  Research your flights, travel off season or shoulder season.  Do not pay for a seat.  If you have purchased a ticket, they will assign a seat to you.  Do not choose hotels as your lodging, but have a little adventure by staying in a hostel (lots of young people); or checkout Couch-Surfing, Air B&B,  SERVAS, Hospitality Club or university dorm rentals in off season only.

Instead of eating in restaurants, try sidewalk vendors.  The trick is to watch and see where most of the locals line up, and get in that line,  Buy some munchies at supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl,  Mercadona, or local open air markets like this one in Valencia, Spain where there is everything from Serrano ham to wool socks.

Mercado Central

Since transportation will be your primary expense, educate yourself using Google to find trains or inexpensive buses from airports to your destination.  Keep in mind that some cities have 2 airports.  I didn’t, and had a problem in Brussels when I ended up at the Ryan Air (ugh!) airport.  Won’t make that mistake again.

If you are going to be traveling for 30 days in any one country check and see if they offer a senior discount train card. Don’t overlook daily and weekly bus or tram/light rail discount tickets.   Find the visitors center in the airport, ask your hosts, hostel bulletin boards, other travelers, or get familiar with online resources.  Spain has the gold card which allows 40% off LONG DISTANCE TRAINS Monday thru Thursday and 25% off on the weekends.  It is always cheaper to purchase tickets on line.  DO NOT PURCHASE a Europass because it is expensive and will not meet your needs.  Travel like a local instead.  Most people who work in train stations and airports will speak English,

Here’s a tip someone gave me – I’ve not used it but I could.  If you are a member of Toastmasters International, lookup club meetings in the city you are visiting.  Contact the club early and arrange to attend a meeting. You may be invited to stay in someone’s home.  My friend was!  I think this might also work for “Meet-Ups” as well.

I hope this answers some more questions for you.  Please feel free to ask for other information.  I will gladly share whatever I can.  This is the final blog about this subject.

Keep an eye open for our book “The Big But”  dedicated to people who say “I want to travel, but…” to be available on Amazon soon.

Happy trails to you…..



Chapter 3

Schengen Zone: In Europe 22 countries agreed to have open borders. These countries also agreed that visitors from outside of the EU/European Union countries which would include the United States and Canada would have a limited time to travel within the Schengen Zone.

This means that you, dear readers, really do need your calendar if you plan to travel in Europe for more than 90 days.

Rather than list the 22 countries, you can simply type in SCHENGEN COUNTRIES and get the list. The UK which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland PLUS the Republic of Ireland are NOT Schengen countries.

As an American you can stay in the UK for 90 days and the Republic of Ireland for 6 months, which gives you 9 months in English speaking countries to volunteer.

But there is a small monkey wrench in this plan. These countries are not happy to have “foreigners” taking jobs from locals. And, actually you are not taking jobs because you are not getting paid … but, it is a thin line. This is why I said in a previous chapter to be sure you speak frankly with your host about what you say to customs agents. A volunteer from Brazil was refused entry to my host family in Galway because she gave the wrong answer to a question. The customs officer actually called and spoke to my host about the situation.

So, back to scheduling within Schengen. Some travelers [young people] would tell you to “never mind the rules” or ” avoid customs and go by boat” don’t believe it.

Look at your map. Highlight the Schengen countries and plan your adventure from west to east, because you want to be on the border of a non-Schengen country at the end of your 90 days. I spent one winter [90 days] in a furnished flat in Luxor Egypt with an English speaking landlord for $250 US dollars a month. I spent my time visiting Luxor and Karnak Temples [in biblical times known as Thebes] and across the Nile in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens and the Artisans Village. I would not recommend Cairo or other touristy places but Luxor was pleasant.

You could also spend time in Moroco, Albania, Kosovo or other Baltic or North African countries where living is cheap, food is purchased at outdoor markets and where you could also earn a bit of money tutoring English students. Additionally, I spent a month at a private language school in Ukraine and was provided a sparcely furnished apartment and all of my food.

BONUS FOR US CITIZENS WHO WANT TO SPEND MORE THAN 3 MONTHS IN POLAND. Lets say that you want to do 8 English Immersion Programs in Poland over a 4 month period. You want to visit Posnan, Warsaw, Krakow and Turin. Well, Angloville or Just Speak (Gosha) would love you for starters.

This is how it works: You enter POLAND from a non-Schengen country and you stay in POLAND for your 90 days. You leave POLAND for 24 hours on day 90. You go to a non-Schengen country for 24 hours, get a receipt from a hotel, train, plane ticket proving you were out of POLAND. [I went to Lviv, Ukraine for a week] You re-enter POLAND from the non-Schengen country and you are good for another 90 days, at which time you must exit SCHENGEN totally for your 90 days out.

This loophole exists because the US had an agreement with POLAND prior to the signing of the Schengen agreement. You can find this information on the US State Department website. and

This is why having an up-to-date calendar is a necessity.

End of Chapter 3.

As I sit here in Lisbon, Portugal I am at the end of this 3 year adventure. Leaving on a Jet Plane tomorrow for the US, for the summer.

I will be in the Gig Harbor, Washinton area and would make myself available to anyone who would like to know more about this. I could speak to your group, Meet-Up, class, senior center, church or just a group of friends for coffee. Contact me at

“The Big But”… dedicated to those who say they want to travel, BUT … is scheduled to be available as an ebook on Amazon at the end of March.

My writing partner, Greta Hughes, a 5 million mile traveler will be in the Los Angeles area this summer and would also be available to talk with you or your group.

Please let us know if we can be of service to you.

This is not the end of the Blog .. the adventures continue!

Chapter two

First my apologies for the late reply but I have been sick with the flu thing going through Europe.


Calendar check

Map check

Travel books check

Volunteer sites check

So, now it’s time to decide how long do I want to travel?

For the timid – 2 to 6 months and close to home- may I suggest you begin in the US, Mexico or Canada.  You could travel to a region you’ve never visited like Cajun Country,  Popcorn, Indiana,  Laredo, Texas, the Carolinas or Washington State.

Canada as well has many beautiful places to visit like Victoria, Toronto or the province of Saskatchewan. Or find a volunteer position during the Calgary Stampede. Want to practice your French try Quebec.  Interested in a UNESCO City go to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Just find a Workaway  –  Trusted Housesitters – HelpX or Workstay assignment that fits you and apply.  You may happily find new friends, interesting places to explore or a new skill like harvesting honey or trying to balance on a unicycle.

For those who are interested in places farther away or a longer stay get ready to travel.  Grab your passport, look at your map and your calendar.  Find a volunteer position that you would enjoy – apply –  actually apply for more than one. Be sure to check the reviews on your volunteer choice before you apply.  You might want to check with people who have written reviews for additional information before you apply.  Note: not everyone writes a review and not every review is perfect.

Check flight prices.  Be smart and travel in low /off-season or shoulder season.  Remember that you do not need a round trip ticket a one-way ticket is acceptable.

When you have found the perfect assignment and before you accept make sure you understand everything about the position – hours – tasks required and free time. You also want to know how to get to where you are going.  Some countries are not 100% acceptable to having Volunteers in their midst.  The Republic of Ireland and the UK are two of these countries.  You need to have an understanding with your host as to what to say at Customs when they ask you why you are traveling in their country.  More on this later when I talk about the Schengen Zone.

The majority of your volunteer assignments will be lovely, but people are people and once in awhile you will find a host who is less than 100% agreeable.  My first host complained about every volunteer eating him out of house and home. And he complained that the Spanish couple needed a siesta everyday after lunch. My friend Megan was volunteering in Scotland at a restaurant and bakery and she found that the restaurant people volunteered 4 hours each day but the bakery people volunteered 7 hours each day. And I also had a host who was more than willing to allow me to work as many hours and as many days as he could get away with- you must be assertive with your host when necessary. These examples are not the norm they are exceptions to the rule – expect the best!

Life is not perfect as a volunteer but sometimes it can be pretty close.  My three Italian hosts took me everywhere to see historic sites – to Verona and Juliet’s house – a tour of museums, palaces and art galleries and at Christmas to not one but two Christmas festivals. I was exhausted I needed a vacation – they were the most wonderful hosts to that point in my travel schedule.

Now. One of my favorite volunteer things to do is the English immersion program.  It can be fabulous for some not so not so much for others.  You can get a good sense of the program by looking at my previous blog on English immersion programs.

In my experience the best of the best is Vaughntown, right up there with it is Diverbo or Pueblo Ingles in Spain.

Next best is angloville with programs in Poland – Hungary – Romania -Czech Republic – Malta – Dublin and the UK.  With angloville you can get a TEFL certification which will allow you to tutor English for a fee.

Another program called Just Speak is also located in Poland.  It is casual and rustic.  She uses word games + one-on-one situations like the other programs.  If you decide to go to Just Speak give Gosha my warmest regards thanks.

Ok!  Get busy!

And I will leave you with this thought.  I’ve seen and experienced things I never would have had an opportunity to do – met kind interesting and curious people. I watched an old Mariner carve a ship from a block of wood.  I met the Google guy mapping Ireland and tried on the revolving camera.  I stood on the only remaining section of Hadrian’s Wall in England and gaped with open mouth in Trinity University and learned the odd and interesting history of King Zog of Albania.  All of these stories and more are on my blog.  Enjoy!

Chapter 3 coming soon.