top of page

Study Abroad Cancún, Mexico May/June 2015

Cancún Visit Blog & Photos


Thursday, May 28


The first day for the EL PUENTE (The Bridge) study abroad group was memorable. We began with a City Tour which included Market 28 for a peak at Mexican artesanias, followed by a visit to the Keeper of the Plains in Cancún, Mexico. This statue is miniature copy of the famously –tall one in Wichita. It was given to our sister city, Cancún, in 1975.

[photo 2, photo 3]

Next we went to Mirador Beach where many of us saw the sparkling Caribbean for the first time. Some got pretty wet because they wandered out too far an a big wave splashed them. It was super fun!

[photo 4, photo 5]

Then on to meet the top administration of our new university, La Salle University. We were met Rector Dr. Fernando Mainou and Vice Rector Efrain Calderon.

[photo 6]

We sang happy birthday to Dr.Smartt and enjoyed sandwiches, drinks, and a “cajeta” cake! We returned to our homes for a good supper and a good night’s sleep.


Friday, May 29 - Nicole Ujita


At orientation yesterday, it was impressed upon us that service, is a big part of La Salle University. And it that spirit, today was the first day that our group was really able to dive into the wonder that is CRIT or Centro de Rehabilitacion Infantil Telefon.

[photo 6]

This facility provides services for children with disabilities, cancer, or other special needs. The building itself radiates joy and hope as it is painted bright pink and orange, and as you walk in there, all you see are ways to make children happy. From bright colors, to games, balloons, movies, and face painting, the environment created cultivates joy for those who are going through rough times. After a quick tour of the building, we learned that there are only 15 full time doctors on staff and they offer a variety of methods for physical therapy. During the tour, we met several accomplished children who have learned how to live with their disability rather than making themselves victims of circumstance.

[photo 7]

We were split into two groups of five for the remainder of the time. Five were placed in charge of games

[Photos 9-14]

and five were placed in charge of coloring.

[Photo 8]

All of these activities were meant to ease the minds of children going in for tests. I managed to make friends with a child who had ADHD and was hoping for help in behavior therapy; I also met a young boy named Nelly who was wheel chair bound. Although in a wheel chair, it turns out that he was waiting for his brother who was also getting some sort of treatment that day. However, Nelly forgot where his Mother was and so I spent a lot of time helping him search for his Mom. The entire time we searched, he kept telling me that he needed to find his Mother. The only thing I could tell him was to not be afraid. After searching all of the visitor-friendly part of the facility, I had to muster up the courage to tell someone on staff that he could not find his Mother and we needed help. It was hard finding the right words to say but they understood and after another ten minutes, they were able to find her. I was also fortunate to meet another child who spoke English and was able to tell me more about the CRIT. I had a traditional Mayan meal prepared by my host Mom, who is Mayan.  After lunch, we had our second intermediate conversation class. This was a very entertaining class because, after a quick placement test and dissecting a story, we were given 20 minutes to convey the idea of a song by creating costumes and acting out the song. There were five songs and five groups of two, chosen at random. The first to present were Ashley and Alyssa, who made huge eye for the song “Malaguena”

[Photo 17};

Chloe and I made mustaches and danced like crazy for the song “El Marachi Loco”

[Photo 18].

Shelby and Haley choreographed a short dance for “La Bamba”

[Photo 19];

John and Allison created a full costume for their song 

[Photo 20];

Irfan and Emma swapped genders for their love song

[Photo 21].

All had a great time!  When I got home, my host Mom surprised me with a “welcome cake” and we celebrated me being in Cancún. I also met some of my host family’s friends and neighbors, which was a lot of fun. And that wrapped up a great third day in this amazing place.


Saturday May 30th


Our group, Los Diez, started our journey to Chichen early and met at the bus stop around 6 in the morning. Our host families were gracious enough to get us there that early and on time. We got in the van and met our tour guide, Manuel Cortes Pech. He was a very fun guy with a lot of character. His grandmother was Mayan and he learned many things from her. He told us some things he learned and some traditions he received from her. The group stopped by a service station called an "Isleta" and purchased incredible smoothies with fresh fruits and vegetables. We finally arrived  at Chichen Itza and walked along a sakbe, a road, that was part of a system of roads the Maya built thoughout the Yucatan Peninsula. We saw many of the ancient ruins of the Maya. The group saw the famous principal pyramid (El Castillo), Temple of the Jaguars (we could still see some of the colors like red and yellow and green inside the temple), Temple of the Warriors, the Tomb of the Great Priest, the Sacred Cenote, the Pok ta Pok ball court (measuring 500 ft long, 120 ft wide, 24ft high) (the seats for the court are concave and invert downward and the court is built in such a way that you could here another person from the other side of the court), Caracol (an observatory) and visited a traditional Mayan house as well. The houses are built in such a way to keep a great circulation of air constantly throughout the house. It was quite a day of walking for the group but everyone enjoyed it. I personally thought it was incredible to have seen all these ruins in books and in videos and now see them in person. It was absolutely incredible. After touring Chichen Itza, we went to a cenote called "Ik Kil" and swam in the cenote. The cenote is 210 ft around, about 70 ft deep to the water and the water is about 140 ft and about 65 ft wide. A few of us were courageous enough to jump of a ledge that was roughly 16ft high. After swimming, the group had an excellent all-you-can-eat lunch near the cenote and headed back to Cancún, taking an alternative route. We went through a town called Valladolid, and had some incredible ice cream. Eventually Los Diez made it back to our families in Cancún and had great things to tell them about the day. 


Sunday May 31st - Alyssa Wiebe


Today we had some really amazing experiences. We have been working at the Centro Rehabilitacion Infantil Teletón here in Cancún, it is a center for disabled children. The very first day we arrived we were greeted by an adorable little boy. He seems like he is about 9

photo Capitan Gancho/Captain Hook]

There is a pirate ship show near all of the hotels and tourist area of Cancún and the ship is called The Captain Hook. This boy absolutely loves Captain Hook and Peter Pan and that first day when we walked in the doors he ran up to us to start a pirate fight! From then on he has been Capitán Gancho to us!  Yesterday Dr. Smartt had the beautiful opportunity to talk to the mom of Capitán. She lives a rough life. She is a resident in the poverty stricken neighborhoods of Cancún and has to take two buses to get to the center. Doctors have said her other son is deaf and blind. This woman proceeded to tell Dr. Smartt about how she only has 2000 Pesos to live on every week, which is about $135. Her husband does not want to participate in their family and especially with caring for their two disabled sons. But the most important part of this story is that this young woman and her two sons do not get to eat most days until six at night, and there are many days where this mother doesn't eat so her children can. This story struck all of us deeply. We decided to go buy her a bunch of snacks she would be able to eat. We tried to buy things with a lot of protein so they would feel stronger throughout the day.  It's difficult to describe the look on her face when we gave her the food

[photos giving food].

She was so touched. There was even a nearby woman waiting with her child who began crying because the event was so moving. Many of the students wrote personal notes of encouragement to her and read them aloud [photo students reading notes to Senora]. At night we have our classes at La Salle. Our teacher for Spanish Conversation is Maestra Martha. She is an absolutely wonderful. For those of you that are apart of Friends, you should just picture Mrs. Eubanks teaching Spanish. She likes to make us do activities where we talk in front of the class, I think so we begin to feel more confident speaking in front of people, especially in our second language. As much as all of us feel nervous sometimes, it's very good for us. Today we had to act out short little skits that we wrote. My skit was about a boyfriend hugging another woman for a little too long. It was very telenovela-esque.  Then we made poster boards about who we are and our interests but we could only use pictures. Then we had to present it to the class. This requires us to use several different verb tenses, which was beneficial.  We had a section about our families on our boards so a lot of us used pictures of celebrities that we found in magazines. My brother was Ben Affleck and Nicole's mom was Beyoncé, in case you didn't know. The day ended with us walking out of class to be greeted by a beautiful sunset.


Then Shelby caught a frog and tried to turn him into a prince.

[photo Shelby with red frog.]

Mexico has been amazing so far. 


Monday June 1st  - Shelby Echols


Today was our second day at the Centro de Rehabilitación Infantil Teléton (CRIT) and it was so far the best day ever. When we first got there we had to wait in the waiting area (which is a table with a cart full of games in the middle) before we got our assigned tasks. A young boy by the name of Santiago came up to me and I read 3 books to him

[photo 1-John’s].

He really enjoyed the books about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! After a while he had to leave so I read books with Allison and a little girl named Katie

[photo 2-“Katie”, Shelby, & Allison].

She was just a ball of energy! Allison and I read all the books on the cart, played with all the puzzles, went back to reading an underwater sea book where she fed us gold because she thought it was cheese, and colored. She then wanted to dance so Allison and I danced with her, lifted her in the air

[photo 3],

spun her around

[photo 4],

and put her on our shoulders

[photo 5].

At one point a little boy whom the group calls "Captain Gancho" or "Captain Hook" came over to play with us too (photo 3- ask John). Captain Gancho was one of the first kids we spent time with when we first arrived to CRIT. When we left CRIT, Professor Smartt told us the story of “Captain Gancho”, his mom and brother. Apparently both the “Captain” and his brother are disabled and his mom takes care of them both by herself. Every Monday and Tuesday she walks 2 hours just to get the bus stop so she can spend the day at CRIT. There are also days when she doesn't eat so her children will. The group agreed that since we all love Captain Gancho we wanted to buy a few snacks and food for the mom to make her life a little easier. We hope she likes what we got her. She's a strong woman and deserves everything for taking care of these young boys.


Friday June 5th


How to tell the story of the events of the second class Mayan history? It was so nice to simply stand in the walkway and allow the afternoon breeze to surround you.

[Photo 1]

The first thing Professor Celarie said was that there was going to be a “sorpresa” but first we would take a tour of the campus to see the numerous  sacred “ceiba” trees. They were beautiful and healthy and we saw up close the thorny trunks and huge roots that were searching for the water below.

[photo 2]

Then we went to see a spectacular example that was located on the other side of the football field. As we entered the large area, you could hear the faint sound of a flute. As we got closer, we could see that it was a Mayan dressed in the ancient costume of a Mayan warrior. For a time he played various flutes and a conch shell and we sat on the ground to enjoy his concert on the hill below the ceiba tree. Then......suddenly there were four more who appeared dressed in the same fashion but their bodies were painted in the four cardinal colors of north (white), south (yellow), red (east),  black (west), and green for the earth and life.

[video 2]

After they danced, they came forward to answer question

[video 2] 

and then we took pictures with them.

[photo 3 & 4].

Later, the “warriors” came to our class and we asked many, many question. It was interesting and informative .


Saturday June 6th  


Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico Today we went to Playa del Carmen for a relaxing day at the beach. Seven of us decided to continue on south for a visit to the post class site of  Tulum. The bus trip was very pleasant and it took us right to the archeological site. After a brisk walk to the entrance, we visited the Principal Priest’s house and saw the remains of a cenote that used to be under the house. Some were especially excited to be there {photo 1 & 2}. Then we saw the port of entry, the light house,  Temple of the Descending God, the Castillo, the Temple of Frescos and other sites. The best was when we were able to walk up to the edge overlooking the Caribbean. The sight was beautiful and the breeze was so welcome! It was a very hot day! [photo 3]. This is a photo of  John Gray, Allison Newport, Alyssa Wiebe, Chloe Chen, Shelby Echols, and Emma Schmatzman standing in front of the beautiful Caribbean! Allison was especially glad to be there because she is writing her paper on a comparison of the archeological sites of Chichen  Itza and Tulum [photo 4]. We treated ourselves to a quick train ride back to the entrance. It was hot; we were sweaty; we decided we deserved it! [photo 5 & 6]. Before the bus back to Playa arrived, there was time to shop (Chloe) and grab a bit of lunch (John, Emma, Allison, Shelby, Alyssa). The bus was on time and we arrived back in Playa with 2 ½ hours to enjoy the beach and “Fifth Avenue” for shopping. The other 4 members of Los Diez stayed in Playa and snorkled and ate lunch. They had a good time too! Nicole didn’t go to Tulum because she will be going with her family on Sunday. Ashley had had the unique opportunity to go to a town called Holbox with her family. She will have lots of adventures to tell us about on Monday!  So at 6:36 we boarded the bus back to Cancún and our families were waiting to pick us up at 8:00 P.M. It was an eventful and very relaxing day! Next week? Crococun animal park (zoo science majors are excited!),  Cooking classes, more Mayan culture with Professor Celarie and we end the week with Conversation classes with Professora Martha.  Los Diez is an extraordinary group of very diverse students who move very well as a cohesive group. This makes for lots of positive experiences and eventful days! Stay tuned for more adventures!


Sunday June 7th


Sunday, June 7 was “family day” and each student had a special experience with his/her family. Some went out of town (Holbox, Tulum); while others went swimming at local hotels, attended family gatherings, ate outstanding food, and went snorkling.


On Monday, June 6 we spent the morning at Playa Mirador, a fabulous beach right at the edge of the clear, blue Caribbean Sea. It was hilarious fun and very relaxing as we played frisbee, swam in the ocean, got slapped by the waves, laughed out loud, and relaxed under the palapa. [photo 1]


The afternoon was spent in our interesting Maya History and Culture class with Professor Celarie. The class is a fascinating walk through the Mayan civilization with a very enthusiastic teacher!


Tuesday June 9th


Parque Crococun This morning we visited the incredible Parque Crococun. It is a lovely, safe place for endangered species of the area as well as safe haven for animals that were pets when they were small but were donated to this park when they began to grow. We saw beautiful birds like the elegant Macaw

[photo 1],

held young crocodiles

[photo 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9],

saw an albino boa

[photo 10],

held a rattle snake

[photo 11, 12, 13, 14],

saw the older crocodiles in their habitat, and fed some tame deer

[photo 15, 16].

Since Ashley Easley, Shelby Echols, and Nicole Wiebe have worked in Wichita zoos, their insights were valuable. (Read further blogs from their perspective.} In the afternoon, we continued our intriguing class in Mayan history and culture. It was a long class (3 hours without a break!) but we were captivated by its content and the methodology of Professor Celarie.


Wednesday June 10th - Ashley


Tuesday, we were lucky enough to visit Crococun wildlife park. It was a great experience because we had the opportunity to interact with animals that I haven't had the pleasure of working with. Working at Tanganyika, I am able to feed some animals. However, it was incredible to hold a crocodile and learn about its unique features, such as a tongue that doesn't detach and a throat that only opens when the membrane is pulled! After holding some parrots and crocodiles, a few of the members of our group held a snake and let it sit around our necks, which everyone surprisingly enjoyed! Learning all about the different types of snakes was really interesting as well because there are several that we do not get to see in the parks in Wichita. The next interactive station was fun for those that didn't like the snakes and crocodiles, too. Johnny, our guide, gave us leaves and berries so everyone could pet and feed the deer that surrounded us. It was great how friendly they were, where even the timid ones would eat out of our hands before running away. A monkey eating out of our hands would have been a great experience as well, but we still got to watch them grab food from a bucket hoisted to the trees so they didn't become too aggressive.

The animals we got to see were a unique and interesting mix, and Crococun made for a great day 14 in Cancún.


Wednesday June 10th – Irfan Shah


Today we woke up bright and early to group up and head out just in time to use the grand kitchen at the breath-takingly beautiful La Salle University here in our gorgeous sister city, Cancún. After greeting a past head chef of the Ritz Hotel, José Hernandez, and his swift paced companion, Chef Cezar Ramirez

[photos 1 & 2, 3, 4, 5],

Los Diez split into three groups to tackle our food challenge of the day. On the menu is an array of traditional Mexican dishes; Guacamole [photos 9,12,17), Salbutes con Pollo

[8,23,18,19,20, 21,11,24,25,26,31),

Caldillo Rojo (a rich red salsa),

[photo 7,27,28]

and Agua Horchata (rice milk?

[photo 6]

As we split up there was actually no mistakes! We understood, if not everything, nearly everything they asked of us, which made for a truly inspirational experience. As Emma the Amazing Schatzman says "At least now I won't be stuck eating Peanut Butter and Jelly all my life." Emma was among the first group who conquered a magnificent blend of cilantro, jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, a touch of salt, pepper and cream, and of course, fresh avocado

[photo 10, 13,15,16,11].  

While group One was working on Guacamole group Two was preparing tortillas [ balling up the corn maize dough and flattening it to perfection for the Salbutes

[photo 14, 15, 23]

just before Chef Cezar and his spectacular assistant Haley finished them off with a scorching oil bath


Group Three must have been working at double the pace to dish out a double dose of Caldillo Rojo


and Agua Horchata. With the skilled shredding talents from Juan Anaranjado [29,30, they also conquered some amazing chicken

[27, 28].

By this point our mouths were watering from the wonderful aroma filling the air [29. After Group One finished their Guacamole blend they teamed up with Group Two and Three to lend a helping hand , and I must say for our first kitchen experience here in Cancún ¡la comida fue deliciosa!

[31,32,33,34 ]


Thursday, June 11th


Today we had the immense pleasure to cook tamales Quintana Roo-style. Quintana Roo is the name of the state in which Cancún is situated. You can imagine that they had a lot of fish, specifically bass and shrimp. First Emma and others made the “masa”

[photo 1, photo 2].

After Alyssa, Nicole, Irfan, and Nicole chopped the chaya 

[photo 3],

it was mixed with the masa

[photo 4]. 

Shelby, Ashley, and Chloe cleaned the shrimp

[photo 5, 6,]

and cut the bass filets

[photo 7].

Meanwhile, Haley began washing the banana leaves

[photos 8, 9]

and John and Allison separated them.

[photo 16].

The chef pushed the masa through a sieve [photo 10]. John and Nicole warmed the banana leaves on the stove

[photo 11, 12, 13].

Chopped onions were mixed with oregano and lemon.

[photo 14].

Nicole and Emma made Jamaica tea.

[photo 15].

Then Shelby, Haley, Ashley, and Allison cooked the shrimp and bass in a yummy tomato sauce.

[photo 16, 18].

Some couldn’t wait and just HAD to taste the yummy shrimp!!

[photo 17]


Now it was time to put two scoops of the chaya-laced masa in the middle of a lean banana leaf and one big serving of the tomato sauce.

[photo 18, 19, 20,21].

Then wrap them in banana leaves

[photo 22, 23, 24]

and put them in a big pot to steam for one hour.

[photo 25].

The final result is the most delicious tamal EVER, full of steamy shrimp and succulent bass with onions on top and accompanied with cold Jamaica tea. It was an amazing morning!

[photo 26]


Friday June 12th


What a day!! At 10:00 we arrived at the Cancún City Hall as guest of Mayor Paul Carrillo de Caceres. Our first photo was in the entrance plaza with a statue of Benito Juarez, the first indigenous President of Mexico.

[photo 1]

When we entered the meeting hall, there was a huge sign welcoming “students from our sister city of Wichita Kansas’

[photo 2].

Members of the Cancún Sister City Committee were in attendance.

[photo 3].

Dr. Smartt gave some introductory remarks

[photo 4, 6],

followed by Mayor Carrillo de Caceres.

[photo 5, 7, 8]

Then Irfan Shah delivered the letter to Mayor Carrillo from our Mayor Jeff Longwell

[photos 9, 10].

Photos were taken by the press

[photos 11, 12].

Shelby designed a creative pose to close the event.

[photo 13].

Visiting City Hall was informative and productive.

Then we were off to see “Jurrasic World”. It opened in Cancún on Thursday so we decided to miss the crowds and go on our off morning on Friday.

[photo 14, 15].

Half of the group went to the all-Spanish version and half attending the English with Spanish subtitles. It was scary and fun.

Afterwards, half of the group ate lunch at 100% Natural and the other half went to Labna Restaurant for a Yucatecan buffet. All were happy with their choices and we headed to La Salle University for Spanish conversation class.

The skits were especially funny today. Here is a picture of Irfan, the narrator

[photo 16].

Here are pics of Irfan, Haley, Chloe, and Ashley

[photo 17 . 20],

John, Shelby, & Allison

[photo 18],

Emma, Ashley, Irfan, and Alyssa

[photo 19, 21]

Today was a fabulous, fun day. Tomorrow it’s off to the beach!!!


Saturday, June 13th


Today should have been a day of sun and fun at Isla Mujeres. John Gray should have gotten to see the sanctuario of the goddess Ixchel. But I was awakened by a horrible nightmare that it was raining very hard….and…..IT WAS! We have had a long day of constant rain and it is still raining!! It is forecast to continue raining all day tomorrow.


So we spent the day at the Las Americas mall…shopping, eating, trampolining, and eating again. In the mall, Chloe Chen met a Mexican Taiwanese and they spoke in Taiwanese and  Spanish!


The most interesting and exciting news is that our experience at City Hall yesterday was featured in at least two newspapers today!!! One paper called QUEQUI shows on the front page a picture of John Gray, Irfan Shah, Healy Flickinger,  Alyssa Wiebe, Shelby Echols, and Allison Newport surrounding Mayor Paul Carrillo. The headlline reads, “Paul Moves toward Tourism”. The full page article on page 6, which shows the full picture of all of the group including Public Relations Director Lydia Portilla, Fire Chief Tom Hurtado, and some members of the Sister Cities Committee, reads “Paul Strengthens Ties With the United States”. The article reveals details of Mayor Paul meeting with students from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, USA. They are completing a month long  cultural  program. In the article, Mayor Paul was especially pleased that these young adults were being received in Cancún homes. He further commented on the establishment of the sister cities relationship in 1976, just a few years after Cancún was founded (1973). That was a pleasant surprise for all and we madly tried to find copies of the newspapers.


In another newspaper, NOVEDADES, on page 6, a picture in color with John taking a group selfie was printed. A similar article followed the picture.


This was our day today. . . not as planned but a good day nevertheless. In Mexico, anything can happen and in the Caribbean, any kind of weather can suddenly occur. It’s part of the experience to be ready for whatever happens….planned or unplanned.


Tomorrow is Family Day. Nicole Ujita is in Merida with her family; some have plans to go to a movie. Some plan to go to open Market #28. Family Days are fun because anything can happen.


bottom of page