Latin American Spring Break ‘09

At the end of March, three A.C.E. Central Office members embarked on separate journeys to Latin America. Jennifer Jameson, our Senior Accountant, headed to the Yucatan. Davey Young, our Admin and Enrollment Assistant, set off to Panama. Shirley Henderson, our Enrollment Services Manager, visited Brazil, and was the only among them there on business.

Jennifer reports:

“I recently took a trip with my boyfriend, Harry, to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Our travels took us to a wide range of places, from the tourist destination of Cancun, to ancient Mayan ruins, a Spanish Colonial city, small villages, and a coastal town with access to beaches, and wildlife preserve.

mayan“At the famous site of Chichen Itza, our guide taught us about the ancient Mayans and their sophisticated knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. Here we learned that peoples from other regions of Mexico such as the Toltecs joined the Mayans, and the different cultures influenced each other in significant ways.

“A highlight was discovering the existence of a geological feature peculiar to the Yucatan. A cenote is a natural sinkhole in the limestone shelf, connected to the underground rivers of the Yucatan Peninsula. Some are very deep pits, with vines and tree roots trailing down to the water, while others are enclosed or domed caves. Called dzonot by the ancient Mayans, they were considered the gateway to the underworld, and were the main water supply for the original inhabitants.

“Tulum, situated on the Caribbean coast, was the location of the only Mayan city built right on the ocean. South of the spectacular ruins is a strip of “eco-hotels” along the beach that operate entirely off the grid. Most of them rely upon solar and/or wind energy to provide electricity for part of the day, but some of the resorts also employed generators.

“Just south of the “hotel zone” is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve. This vast area of wetlands is best toured via boat. We were lucky enough to meet a native tour operator, and he brought us on a boat through the lagoons and waterways. The tour includes a “body float” through a canal lined with mangroves and orchids – very serene and beautiful.

“Although this was a short visit, we managed to gain a great appreciation for the history, culture and natural beauty of this region. By avoiding tour-buses and organized groups, we were better able to make connections with local people and support their community run enterprises, as well as engendering a sense of adventure and discovery. ”

Davey reports:

waterfall“My girlfriend, Joanna, and I flew into Panama City before taking a flight to David in the southwest province of Chirqui. We spent most of our trip in this region, first heading up to Boquete, a town at the base of Mt. Baru, Central America’s only active volcano and tallest peak. From here, we explored the high cloud forest via scooter, went hiking, and took a zip-line canopy tour.

“After a few days we headed back to David to catch a bus to the town of Horconcitos, where we then took a cab to the fishing village of Boca Chica, and finally a water taxi to the Isle of Boca Brava. We were lucky enough to get a room at the island’s only hostel, and it was a good thing, too, since they didn’t take reservations. Exploring the island was a lot of fun, and we saw more than our fair share of howler monkeys along the way. We also ate a lot of excellent seafood, and everyone we met was exceedingly friendly.

“My favorite experience was hiring a local fisherman to take us to an uninhabited island where we snorkeled along pristine white sand beaches. Joanna found it very rewarding that her Spanish carried us the whole way. (I hardly speak a word!) Our last day was spent exploring Panama City, notably the Causeway and Casco Viejo. The vast differences among wealth and class between these neighborhoods was stunning. It was disquieting to see a place with so much wealth and that allows so many people to live in utter poverty.

“Eight days hardly seemed enough, but we left with a great appreciation for Panama’s natural beauty and complex culture.”

Shirley reports:

rio“Escaping the cold-cloudy-drizzle of the Pacific Northwest to bask on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the well being of A.C.E. Our Language Institutes have been lacking a Latin American presence, and with Brazil as an up and coming economic power, the trip to visit my family in Brazil turned into a great opportunity to do a little marketing.

“In between touring the countryside and seeing the pristine beaches of Ille Grande, I also had the opportunity to visit four different agencies in Rio with very promising results. I met with the Business Development Specialist, Genard Burity, working in Rio for the US Department of Commerce. In our meeting, Genard informed me that nearly 100,000 US student visas are issued annually to Brazilian students, most of whom are coming to the States to study English! I will be maintaining connections with the contacts I made while there and hopefully we can begin to tap into the river of Brazilian students coming to the US.”

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