Tacos, Tequila and Turtles: Volunteering in Mexico

My year abroad found me on the pacific coast of Mexico in sleepy surf town San Pancho, little sister and neighbour to one of Mexico’s lively “Magic Villages” Sayulita. Here I volunteered in a centre called EntreAmigo’s that acted not only as the heart of the community but my home.

EntreAmigo’s is a community centre whose roots lie in providing education, protecting the environment and building an active community. The community centre includes a library, sustainable shop and extra-curricular activities for children and adults, as the hub of San Pancho it was a great way for me to get involved with the village and meet locals. My role was English tutor, sales assistant in the eco-shop and tour guide to visitors. Here I practised my Spanish with other volunteers. As San Pancho is only just making its way onto the tourist scene, there are still lots of people who can’t speak English – ideal when learning a language!

“I would help in a turtle sanctuary taking on evening shifts”

As my placement with EntreAmigo’s didn’t include accommodation I had to find my own. Since flights swallowed a considerable amount of my savings I chose to take on another volunteering opportunity that would provide me with a bed. I found Proyecto-Ecologico online and signed myself up. In exchange for a beautiful shared apartment just four minutes from the beach, I would help in a turtle sanctuary taking on evening shifts patrolling the beach, collecting turtle eggs and safely relocating them in the nursery.

A downside to this blissful exchange was that I wasn’t speaking Spanish. Living with an Australian, American and a Scot didn’t provide much opportunity to practise! Although this wasn’t counted as part of my year abroad qualifications it was some of the most fun that I had. Since you are only expected to work/volunteer for twenty hours a week during your year abroad, you’re left with a ton of time to make the most of wherever you are – so use it.

“San Pancho’s relaxed routine was a bit of a culture shock”

That said, for someone who’s used to being busy, San Pancho’s relaxed routine was a bit of a culture shock. But in-between volunteering work I soon realised a true Mexican day revolves around the tacos you’ll sample at dinner, how many margaritas you can have with lunch (answer: as many as you like) and spending as much time as possible in the water. A lifestyle I was more than willing to engage with. Everyone warns you about the difficulties of adapting to a foreign country, what no one tells you is that it will be so much tougher coming home!

Lois Barton

Featured image courtesy of stevenson_john via Flickr.

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