We had another free day to explore with our rental van after spending a few more days in our all inclusive resort. It was great to once again be able to leave our resort for a day out to explore the local Mexican life.
A few weeks prior to taking our trip we had been researching various places where we could help some children in Mexico that had a particular need. In our research we found out about an orphanage on the outskirts of Cancun in the suburb of Bonfil. I went online again to see if I could get any information possible on this orphanage but did not have any luck at all so we decided that we would just head to this little community and ask around until we found it. Once in Bonfil we drove around this rural suburb of humble and for the most part crumbling homes. The streets were were made of dirt and included many potholes that we had to navigate around.
After a short drive in the town we decided that we were going to need a little bit of help finding the orphanage. We rolled down the window and showed the name of the orphanage on a piece of paper to a lady at the side of the road. To our relief, she knew of the place we were asking about. Considering I don’t speak Spanish however, it was a little difficult to understand her directions. After about two tries of trying to understand her directions, she started using hand gestures to indicate the way, probably due to the bewildered look on our faces. With that we smiled and went on our way to go left and then right down a long side street. Just as we were beginning to think we needed to find someone else to get directions from, we came up to the entrance of the brightly painted orphanage with its name proudly painted on the front of the building.
We pulled around the corner, parking to the side of the street and walked to the front entrance. The gate was open and so we walked inside and were quickly greeted by one of the caretakers of this orphanage, Ester and some of the smiling children. Although someone had invited a number of the children to go to a movie that afternoon because they had helped do some volunteer work themselves, about half of the children were still there. The children were all quite curious as to why we were there and started to gather around to hear us speak in another language.
It wasn’t long before the children invited our five kids to tour their home. They walked around pointing to the various rooms, showing which bed was theirs with minimal commentaries in Spanish in hopes that we would understand. Although our Spanish was very limited to non-existent, we did manage to understand even more with hand gestures and finger pointing. The orphanage was simple yet well kept. There were not lots of things to clutter the home up, but was simple and clean both inside and out. Each of the children had their various responsibilities that were posted on a bulletin board. With 17 children currently in the home, there was a definite need for the organization that we saw there.
Each of the children of the orphanage were gracious and full of smiles. Some brought our younger children into their small courtyard where they shared their one bike with our kids to have a spin. They soon realized with a bit of a tumble that this prized bike did not have breaks. It was only a few tears later that my 7 year old son Orin wiped his eyes and was back among his new friends that were speaking a language he did not understand.
While visiting we discovered that Ester, the mother of the orphanage was sick and recovering from the first round of chemotherapy treatment. Only a month earlier had she been diagnosed with Cancer. It was evident that not only was the cancer a concern for her, but also the thought of what would happen to these young children that depended so much on her patient guiding nature, should something happen to her.
After only about an hour we could tell it was time to go and to leave this loving home so they could have their lunch. We stood outside for a picture together before saying our final goodbyes. After asking if there were any toys the kids would like for Christmas, Ester was quick to say that toys were not necessary but the kids could really use a good pair of shoes. They didn’t need toys but they did need some good quality North American shoes that would not fall apart. She said a couple of years ago someone brought some shoes from the United States for the children and even though they have gone through many pairs of shoes since, those shoes have been handed down and are still being worn by the children years later. Toys were not necessary, but good shoes were needed and would be a great Christmas gift.
We left the orphanage with a great appreciation for the simple things that we take for granted in our everyday life. These children did not need lots of toys or bikes or other things to make them happy. Perhaps out of necessity, they were just happy to have people who loved them watching over them, to have a roof over their heads and a good meal to eat. They were happy and vibrant children that depended upon each other and seemed to enjoy one another’s company.
We wound our way through the village of Bonfil before finding our way back to the main highway. From there we headed towards Cancun and managed to find a route to the main hotel section with its big resorts and white sand beaches. It was lunchtime and so we were starting to look fore a place where we could get a bite to eat. It was at this point that we saw another RIU hotel with the same brand name of the hotel where we were staying. What caught my interest was that when we booked our hotel, we were told that we could play and eat at 5 other RIU resorts. I quickly pulled up to the hotel to ask them if we were able to have lunch here and was informed to my surprise that yes we could. We parked the car and wound our way around the resort before we found how to get into the buffet area. We ended up taking the long route as we first tried entering the doors from outside that were locked and then were directed in a round-about way through the theater and exercise rooms before finding the entrance to the dining area. Cancun’s RIU hotel was almost as beautiful as our Resort but was more like a resort in the big city as opposed to a resort in a small town strip of beach.
We didn’t stay long but the kids were distracted for a while by the little turtles in the lobby’s pond before we dragged them out to the car to head off for a visit to one of the local marketplaces.
I had been told by a friend that the best markets are Market 28 and Market 23 and so we obtained directions from the hotel concierge and were off to get some souvenirs for the kids to take home. We were fortunate enough to find parking out on the street just outside of the Market area and so we parked our rental van. As soon as we parked and got out of our van, the store owners were quick to invite us and our children inside their stores that were just across the street from the marketplace. The children were easily tempted by the hand made toys that filled the entrance to their stores. It was obvious from the start that today was going to be a long day unless we trained our kids on the practice of bartering for your price.
When we first explained to the children that in Mexico you don’t pay the price asked of you, they were a bit confused. At first they could not understand why someone would ask a price that was not what they wanted for a product. But it did not take for them long to figure out that the original $9 asking price for a wooden hand made spinning top dropped as they didn’t accept the initial offer and then dropped even further to $2 when we were walking away and across the street. They quickly came to realize that this was going to be a fun way to spend the money that their great-grandmother had given them only two weeks earlier. They knew how much they had to spend and were going to make the most of it at this market.
We turned a lot of eyebrows as we walked from stall to stall in search of the most fun souvenir. The youngest ones were excited to try out the spinning tops, the wooden Mexican Yoyo’s and almost got their hands on some little bow and arrows before I stopped them. They were in trinket heaven and must have tried everything out in the first 10 stores before we let them know that we had to move along a bit faster.
The market was filled with Jewelery shops, leather goods, t-shirts and magnetic bracelets. There were plenty of trinkets for kids and adults. The young kids were especially intrigued by the gigantic sombrero’s and were sure to stop for a group photo by one of the stands, each wearing a 3 to 4 foot sombrero. Needless to say, the kids had a great time and all came away with a little memento of Mexico.
As we were finishing our shopping my wife was approached by a young lady selling hand-made woven bracelets. She had dozens to choose from and were only selling them for a dollar. With a baby in a sling slung over her back, my wife was not about to barter with this lady. After she purchased one, a few other ladies saw the result and tried the same approach for themselves.
It had been an exciting day where we were able to experience the many facets of Mexico and Mexican life. It was a day filled with memories that the children would always remember. One that they still talk about weeks later.