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Living La Vida Loca at Our Cabaña
By Sierra Jenkins
Thick, warm air and the soft sounds of Spanish rolled around me as I stepped off the plane in Mexico City. I was 14 years old and headed to Our Cabaña World Centre in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with my Girl Scout troop. I'd never left the United States before. Over the next two weeks, I'd be confused and curious, nervous and giddy — often all at once.
Everything was different from home — from the look of the buildings to the smell of soap. The taxis were green not yellow, nobody had blond hair like mine, the markets were full of mysterious tropical fruits and nothing on the restaurant menus looked anything like American food or even the Mexican food at home.
Drenched in honey
Even the sunshine was different. In lazy late afternoons, it seemed as though the whole world had been dunked in honey, the sticky air slowing everything down – the normally rushing cars, the moms and kids strolling down the street, the swinging of a hammock.
I was hooked.
That first trip started a lifelong love affair with Latin America. At the Cabaña, I met girls from all over the United States, from Mexico, Honduras and Ecuador. When I came home, I threw myself into learning Spanish and I vowed return to Our Cabaña.
Five years later, summer 2002, I worked as a house volunteer for six weeks with a team of women hailing from Texas, New Jersey, Minnesota, Mexico, Great Britain, Canada and Argentina.
The Cabaña was every bit as fantastic as I remembered it and better every day as my Spanish improved poco a poco (bit by bit). I was able to chat with the Cabaña cooks, who taught me to make a killer tortilla casserole, trade barbs over a pickup soccer game with the Argentinean girls, and get to know some of the locals.
No two days were alike.
My duties included: setting tables for lunch and dinner, killing scorpions, singing, leading tours in Spanish and English, polishing the front gate, making sure we didn't lose girls on day trips to Taxco and Tepotzlán and working on any number of special projects I devised.
This time, I didn't feel like a visitor to Our Cabaña. It was my home. I relived my first trip there every time a group of girls stepped off the bus and I showed them to their rooms, answering a flurry of questions in English and Spanish along the way.
Our Cabaña is a beautiful place, a collection of adobe and stone buildings topped with brilliant red roofs, surrounded by bright flowers, palm trees and banana plants. On our days off, my coworkers and I would take a taxi to downtown Cuernavaca to sit out at the Plaza. In the evenings, it seemed the whole town was out to stroll around, sipping a fresh juice or munching on corn dripping with cheese and, of course, hot chili powder. Besides the vendors selling toys, flowers, and pork rinds, there were often musicians strumming away on guitars. One time, we arrived to find a handful of elderly couples dressed in their finest and dancing elegantly around the square.
We also had a chance to take longer trips in between sessions. We jet skied and suntanned on the beach of Acapulco, climbed the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon outside Mexico City and took a Swiss gondola into the hills above the small town of Taxco.
To Cuba and Back Home Again
My experiences also wove their way into my studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. I delved deeper into the history of Latin America and the United States' complicated relationship with countries like Mexico, Panama, Guatemala and Cuba. My junior year, I spent a semester studying in Havana, Cuba, which evoked all the same feelings as my very first trip out of the country. Learning Spanish has helped me get to know my own hometown, Sonoma, Calif., better as well. I've continued to use my Spanish as a reporter at the newspaper, where thousands of residents hail from Mexico.
My experiences at Our Cabaña aren't just treasured memories I keep in my scrapbook — they are part of who I am and have changed the way I see the world and my place in it. As they say in Mexico, Mi casa es tu casa (My home is your home). Come on down — friends are waiting for you in Cuernavaca.
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