In preparation for your
participation in the Cabo mission clinic, I am sending thoughts
before your departure for the sake of clarity. The project
remains a "work in progress" and as I bring Teams, I have
learned that some aspects require greater clarity to avoid
misunderstandings. While I hope that none of these thoughts will
be surprising (if not entirely obvious) I have come to
appreciate that it isn't always the case. This is my best effort
to make sure we are on the same page during your time here!
1. Transportation. Our groups need two cars to get around to and from the hotel and clinic. I want to recommend you rent from Thrifty, as they normally give us discounts, which is great since it is highly recommended to get FULL insurance. Even if you credit card says it will cover your insurance, the Mexican laws are different and it is advisable to get the full insurance package. It is expensive, but (in my opinion) worth it. As a courtesy, I drive out to meet the Teams so that it is easier to find the hotel where we are staying and I will accompany you to Thrifty so you can obtain the discount.
2. Social activities. The entire group is not attached at the hip. We don’t do everything together and there is no implication if some decide to "pass" on a given activity. There should be no hurt feelings or sense of rejection if some people take a side trip, go bar-hopping, want to para-sail while others do not. We will have time with each other at the clinic as well as some of the meals, but I recommend each person do whatever he/she wishes without expectations of others' wishes. I have been to Cabo more than 50 times and have done most of the “touristy” things to do there, so I tend to NOT participate in the activities that first-timers enjoy. It is not because I’m anti-social!! My goal is for each person to have a wonderful volunteer experience and some vacation time and that can take on many different forms. It’s good to agree that some things are shared and others are not.
3. Dinner bills are difficult. When we eat together (which is often) waiters are NOT very good here about splitting bills-- they usually present us with one bill so that everyone is trying to figure out how much she/he owes. Some people have pesos, others have dollars and still others have a VISA (when it is accepted) so the end-of-dinner ordeal can be trying. We have asked if the bill can be split and have had some luck, but generally not. It is very helpful if groups pay together and then figure it out later. We have literally sat at tables for a half hour trying to determine who owes what!
4. Clinic equipment and materials. The clinic has been set up according my normal office materials and equipment. That may not include everything that your Team uses in your office, so it is appreciated if everyone can be flexible and figure out a way to "make do" with what is here. It has taken lots of energy and time (and cost) for me to make the clinic a possibility and the focus is on the children who come to see us, not on which little widget is missing or which material a person wishes he/she had. Everything that is necessary to accomplish excellent pediatric dental procedures is here, but the clinic isn't a replica of yours. If you have any “must have’s” please let me know, but as a rule, you will find that the clinic is rather well equipped. I do recommend you bring your own loupes (if you normally use them) and your own masks (since there are so many variations with pink/blue, over-the-ear/cup, etc). There are some gloves there, but it is difficult to stock small/medium/ large in nitrile/latex/powerless, etc, so these are also items you may want to bring to suit your own specific needs. One item that has come up more than once is Isolite. There are some “Mr. Thirsty” units at the clinic but if you prefer Isolite to rubber dam, you may want to bring 1-2 along, as we do occasionally have patients who need only sealants. We have dri-angles and cotton rolls, but I understand that some prefer Isolite.
5. Scheduling is erratic but getting much better. The three-chair operations is a work in progress. We are typically busy and I have just shown the folks who call the parents how to best arrange appointments. Up until now, it’s been everybody who shows up, no matter the age, no matter the procedure. Hopefully things will continue to improve with the younger children in the morning and older ones in the afternoon. I am also encouraging most restorative visits in the morning and the “recalls” (as we have many children who have now had their care completed) in the afternoons. I am optimistic that the schedule will improve each time we go down, but we will be busy no matter what. We typically see about 35 children per day.
6. It is helpful if people coming down can read through my Cabo guide, which appears on my website (www.psaltis.info). It has lots of information about restaurants, things to do, etc, so that people can, at some level, plan out their stay, including which places sound most interesting to them. There are a couple of places that I consider "musts" but also many, many that can please various tastes and budgets, so I do think it's a good idea to at least familiarize yourselves. I might suggest you print off a single copy, which would give everyone some reading material on the flight.
7. At the strong recommendation of one of the previous volunteers, it is a good idea to bring a cell phone that has a Mexico plan to enable you to access google maps. We do our best to drive in a two-car caravan so that nobody gets lost, but if the second car has the ability to enter the destination’s address, it takes a load off both drivers.
8. Speaking Spanish is not essential. It is helpful, but not critical. My dental Spanish is now good enough that I can generally help out as needed, but I do have a couple of sheets with important phrases that the non-Spanish speakers can study and learn. I don’t want this to become a point of concern, but all who have gone have said that they wished they had known more Spanish. As we all know as pediatric practitioners, it is our ability to communicate with the children that drives our visits. Knowing a few key phrases and words makes a difference.
9. Regarding money, I generally think it is best if you have a credit card that you can use internationally without a fee attached. The best rates you will get are with a credit card. However, some places only accept pesos, so bringing an ATM card is also a good idea. Dollars are accepted almost everywhere, but with the fluctuating exchange rate most restaurants do NOT convert their charges at the most recent rates. For example, a restaurant may present a bill to you for 200 pesos (which at the November, 2017 exchange rate) would be about $11 in American dollars. However, they will give you the option of paying the bill in pesos (200) or in dollars, but at the rate of (for example) 16 pesos/dollar, so that you end up paying $12.50. This may not be a big deal in situations like this, but for bigger bills, it can run the costs up. I do not recommend getting pesos ahead of time, as the US banks will sell them to you at a far lower rate than you can get them at ATM machines in Mexico.
10. The airport. You will go through immigration and then pick up your luggage. When going through customs, you must each go individually, not as a group. You will be asked on the customs entry form (on the airplane) if you have brought any professional materials or samples and you should say “no.” In the airport customs area you will push a button that will either light up green or red. If it is green, you are good to pass through without further stops. If it is red, they will open your bags and look through them. If they find anything that may appear unusual (like an Isolite) you should have a good response prepared, such as it is a device for your personal use. Gloves could be for “allergy issues,” etc. You do not want to say they are for dental work! If you say that, the material(s) will be confiscated and/or you can be asked to pay duties on them. It is for this reason that I suggest you minimize any dental gear you bring. Once through the customs area, you will then pass through two rooms that are filled with salesmen who will claim to want to help you with taxis, etc. Keep your eyes down (to avoid eye contact) and walk through both rooms. You will emerge into a large reception area where I will be waiting. If you do not see me it’s best to wait right there. I will do my best to arrive before your flight lands, but construction occasionally slows me down. We’ll go to pick up your car rental and then head out to the hotel.
11. Work schedule: we typically work from about 9:00 until about 2:30-3:00, but this varies from day to day. We have no form of sedation, but the children are really quite cooperative. Most groups arrive on a Wednesday, work Thurs-Fri, have the weekend off and then work Mon-Tues. There is plenty of time in the afternoons and weekend to relax, shop, sight-see, etc.
12. Lunches are provided on working days by the Amigos de los Niños (the non-profit with which we work) and are delicious. We will take you to a grocery store to buy snack items (for the work days) but otherwise you will either eat at the clinic (work days) or go out to dinner. Breakfast is included at the hotel that is provided by the non-profit.
13. Passports. Please be sure everyone has a passport. “Enhanced drivers licenses” do not work for flights into Mexico. I just learned this one with one of the previous groups!
14. Safety. I feel entirely safe in Cabo, so I would suggest that you not make that a concern at all. If you have concerns, let me know.
Last of all, if you have any other
questions don’t hesitate to ask. My intention with this
information is to flesh out the reality of the experience a bit
more. Most of the above is written following the first five
groups that came and what I learned. All groups have enjoyed the
experience and I’m confident you will, too, but as “issues”
arise, I came to realize that I needed to prepare the groups a
bit more than I had. Hopefully with the thoughts here, you will
have a clearer idea of the how the days go by.