I'm Abram's mom. I've been posting his letters and pictures to this blog for almost two years now. I know that when searching google for terms like "Xalapa mission" or "LDS missionary mexico" a lot of traffic is sent to this blog. I'm hoping this might help some of you who are preparing to serve in Xalapa, or the Veracruz and Tampico missions as well.
What clothes have been the best? We got all of Abram's shirts at Costco. 12 short sleeve and 1 long sleeve. They have lasted entirely longer than the shirts that other missionaries bought at one of the predatory missionary stores along the Wasatch front. Those shirts won't last six months. Six of the twelve that Abram took are still holding together, although getting a bit tattered. They aren't pretty, but they are still working. I'm glad we bought 13 shirts so he could rotate out the really gross ones.
Buy the cheapest suit possible. Your missionary will only be wearing it at the MTC and to zone conferences on the mission. Luckily Abram and his dad are the same size, so we just sent him with one of his dad's suits, and it has been perfect.
We got all of Abram's dress pants at Ross for less than $20 each. I bought 10 pairs, and five of them are still in existence. They were Calvin Klein brand, and they have help up remarkably well.
The mission material said to bring a raincoat, umbrella, jacket and a sweater. There are areas of the mission that do get cold, and there is a definite rainy season. My advice is to go ahead and buy a good quality lightweight and WATERPROOF rain jacket (Mt. Hardwear has an excellent one). The missionary will need it in most areas of the mission. However, umbrellas, sweaters and jackets can all be purchased for a good price on the mission, and aren't worth the space in luggage to haul to the MTC and all around Mexico.
The most important purchase is shoes. If a missionary needs a new shirt or pair of dress pants, those can be found in Mexico. But the really good shoes he or she will need....not so much. Don't even look at the missionary mall or Mr. Mac. Those shoes will not hold up, and will likely not offer the comfort and support that two years of being actively on your feet will require. Abram took three pairs of shoes with him. First, a good pair of typical Sunday dress shoes. We bought these at Nordstrom Rack. They were excellent quality and very comfortable. Those shoes he has mostly worn just to meetings and church. They are completely worn through. His every day shoes were the Danner Romeo office 4" boot. They have endured countless days of walking dirty, rocky streets. They are made to be comfortable and to hold up under severe conditions. The nice thing about these besides the sturdy sole is the higher top that keeps the rocks and dirt out of the shoe. He has had a problem with one area of one sole coming off of the shoe, but that is easily repaired in Mexico. The very best purchase for sure was the Danner Striker Torrent 8" (non-insulated) police boots. It might not be the most fashionable shoe to wear with dress pants, but let me tell you, these boots will survive anything. They are entirely waterproof and are made to withstand extreme wear. If you take one piece of advice, please get these boots.
Everyone should also bring a pair of soccer cleats. Futbol is a way of life in the Xalapa mission. Be prepared to play. You can buy them down there (they are called tacos...no kidding), but you might as well bring some with you. If you don't play soccer, go outside and start kicking a ball with your brothers and sisters. You need to play soccer in Mexico.
Sister missionaries, you should not listen to any of that stuff above, other than get a good raincoat. Putting together things in my head, if I were going to serve in Xalapa, I would take a bunch of cotton knit skirts and dresses. Lands End is your friend. Their cotton knit skirts and dresses are really comfy and well made. I would also buy every color of t-shirt available at Target. You are going to sweat a lot. Really right now the knit fabric skirts are everywhere, and they are super cute. For shoes, I would probably buy Sorel shoes. I'm not talking snowboots. They have an amazing collection of flats and other office shoes and booties that are made to last, and made for comfort. Many of their styles are waterproof, too. The other shoes that I would recommend Also a pair of Keen sandals. Hair accessories will be a must as well, so ribbon headbands are something I would also bring in every color. That tropical heat is no place to try to have fancy hair, so pull it back and put in a cute ribbon headband.
How do I mail stuff to Xalapa?
As far as mailing boxes to Mexico, we have been very lucky. I sent a package every month to Abram, and they all made it. Keep in mind the mission office only delivers the mail on the first Wednesday of each month (including pouch letters), and a USPS package takes an average of 3 weeks to arrive at the office from the US.
For every package I shipped, I printed a 4" color image of Guadalupe and taped it to the top of the box. One thing you need to know about Mexico is that nobody messes with Guadalupe. Abram has not even had a package opened or inspected. They just move on through. I print the postage online through the USPS website. This saves about $5 per package. You can also just click a box and the post office will come pick up your box the next morning from your doorstep. You fill out the customs forms online, just say what you are sending is a gift, itemize it, and you are set.
For postage online, you can choose Priority or Priority Express. The express will add about $10 to your package, and it will arrive about a week earlier, but there is no guarantee. Postage for regular Priority is about $30 for the first two pounds. Each additional pound is $2. This works for packages up to 9 pounds. So if you are already spending $30 to send 2 pounds of sour patch kids, you might as well get some more treasures to fill the box up a little more!
From time to time Abram needed things available from the LDS online store. In this case, you can use the Mexico LDS online store--and even shop in English. Everything will ship from a warehouse in Mexico and will get to your missionary very quickly. Twice Abram had companions who did not have adequate scriptures, and I was able to order scriptures for those missionaries right from the Mexico website and not have to ship anything myself.
Abram's favorite things to get in packages was candy. Also fruit snacks and random US snacks. He said it helped him remember that his family at home was real, and the gringo candy was fun to share with his Mexican friends. I also from time to time would send Matchbox cars and bouncy balls for Abram to give to kids he met.
It's crazy how a place you've never heard of can instantly become your favorite place in the world when your kid is called to be a missionary there. Abram has loved all of the areas in the Xalapa mission, from the high mountains of Puebla to the coast of Tuxpan, he has loved all the people and the members of the Xalapa mission! Good luck. You are going to love Xalapa.