Back in February, my wife Bekah and I packed up our things and left the United States for Puebla, Mexico. We left Colorado last year after I began working remotely and my wife began working on her online master’s degree full time. But with no job holding us to a location, we saw an opportunity to spend a few months traveling in Latin America.
We have already lived in 3 different time zones in the past 3 years in the states. Each region has its own demographic mix and I’ve appreciated being able to get to know people in each of these areas. However, one thing Bekah and I both realized over the past few years is how much of a barrier language is when getting to know our Spanish speaking friends and neighbors. We have tried to build on our high school level Spanish while in the states, however our progress has been slow.
One thing that we were repeatedly told is that immersion is the best tool for language learning. We also began to learn more about the Latin American cultures that some of our Hispanic friends identified with and wanted to learn more. As our time in Colorado drew to a close we talked more and more about how we could make an extended trip to some Spanish speaking countries. Several months later, here we are.
We looked at many different locations for where we would travel first. We knew that initially we would have very limited conversation skills, therefore we would need to have people we could lean on to get settled. We knew we would need help learning the language so we considered the availability of language schools or tutoring. Finally, we also wanted to keep our living costs down to allow us to buy plane tickets, pay for spanish lessons, afford to go out where we can practice spanish, and still have some money to put into savings.
When hearing about my travel plans, my employer, SitePen, was supportive. They simply asked that I be able to overlap online with the team, remain productive with my work, and retain US residency for tax and payroll purposes. This worked out well with our timeline and list of possible destinations.
After weighing our options we settled on starting our trip in Puebla, Mexico. We had a friend that offered to show us around. While Puebla has a lot of cool places, it is more than just a tourism destination so the prices aren’t inflated and we are forced to use Spanish much more. There’s a lot to like.
What’s in Puebla?
Puebla has a rich history as a colonial era city on the route from Mexico City to the coast of Veracruz. All across the city are hundreds of Catholic churches, some of which are extremely ornate. It holds the oldest public library in the Americas. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo celebrates the defeat of the French army in Puebla. Nearby is the indigenous city of Cholula which has the largest pyramid in the world(now topped with a Spanish church).
Puebla is known for many great foods such as Mole Poblano, a chocolate and ground chilli sauce often served over chicken or enchiladas, and Cemitas, a type of chicken sandwich. So far on our trip we’ve really enjoyed getting tacos from the many street vendors and trying different fruits from the local market.
Between Puebla and Mexico City sits one of the largest active volcanoes in Mexico. Since we’ve been here, there have been several significant eruptions, and we frequently can clearly see a large plume of water vapor rising from the peak of Popocatepetl . But just a few blocks from us is an extinct volcanic vent that’s considered “the world’s smallest volcano”. The 75 foot diameter “volcano” has a staircase so you can walk down into the crater.
What have we been up to?
In Puebla, we have been staying at an Airbnb just to the west of the city. From our rental we have internet so we can continue to work and study. However, our main goal is to learn Spanish so our tutor comes to our house several times a week to teach us.
When we can, we head out into the city to explore new areas. We don’t have a car but it is relatively inexpensive to get a ride via Uber. One weekend, we went downtown and visited the Zocalo, or main city square, and wandered around between the shops, chapels, and restaurants. Another weekend we visited the The International Baroque Museum and learned about the history behind many of the paintings that hang in the many local catholic chapels before checking out the view of the city from La Estrella de Puebla, a large ferris wheel. We’ve also gone to the nearby towns of Cholula and Atlixco, each of which have their own attractions and unique culture.
Our farthest solo trip outside the city so far was to the tiny town of Cuetzalan on a four hour bus ride through winding mountain streets. We had a wild time crawling through caves, hiking the valley to gorgeous waterfalls, and checking out ancient pyramids. We also had fun exploring the city itself which has a busling Sunday market. It was definitely off the beaten path but it was a unique experience and a chance to really test how far our spanish skills had come.
We are loving getting to know the culture of Puebla more each week. Our friends have shown us great places to eat, like “Tacos del Puente” a tiny stand under an overpass not far from where we live that boasts the best tacos in the city. We’ve witnessed traditional dances and loud parades. As we get more comfortable here, we are able to explore more places and try more things.
We’ve also made some great friends through the youth group of the church we are attending. They’ve welcomed us into their homes and helped us out when we’ve been in a bind. They’ve taken us on tours of the city and out to eat where we never would have visited. They have taught us culturally, linguistically, and spiritually. Bekah and I have been so grateful to have met them as they have greatly enriched out time here.
What’s Our Plan?
We plan to stay in Mexico until mid April. Before we leave, we hope to travel a few hours north to visit some old friends. In April, we will head back to the US for a short time for a friend’s wedding and to celebrate Easter with family. I’m looking forward to getting to see familiar faces so it’ll be a great break. Unfortunately, we won’t be near our home so we won’t be able to see our dog or access our things; so even in the US, we’ll be traveling with our suitcases, including a 4 hour Amtrak train ride.
After a week with family, we’ll be leaving the US again for Peru. We will be staying with my cousin and his wife who are a missionaries in Lima. I’m looking forward to spending time with him and his family and checking out the work they are doing there. I’ll still be working, but we are hoping to find some time to visit Machu Picchu and continue taking spanish lessons.
Following Peru we would like to visit at least one more country in Latin America, however we don’t know exactly where. Unique cultures are a big draw for us but having a good connection is critical for us to be able to enjoy our time. If you know of a great city for us to visit and learn spanish, please let us know!
Will you ever return?
This trip certainly isn’t forever. We will eventually return home to the US sometime in late summer. While seeing different parts of the world is fun, I doubt Bekah nor I will be able to sustain the constant transition too long. Our current plans are that we’ll be back in Southern California and by the end of the year Bekah’s master’s program will be nearing an end. From there we’ll be looking for a more permanent place to live.
Thanks to everyone who has inquired about our trip. We want you to know that we miss you all and that community is one of the hardest things for us to leave behind. Please keep up with us on social media or reach out directly if you want to know more about how we are doing.
What I am grateful for from 2018
Looking back, the past year has been filled with transition. My wife and I knew that she would be finishing her fellowship program. We knew that we would likely move to California at the end of the year. We didn’t know that half way through January, I would learn that...