You better Belize it!

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog! Here it is, almost June of 2014, and I’m finished with my first semester of grad school and have been back in the U.S. for about a year and a half! Crazily enough, I was actually a bit nervous about taking my first jaunt abroad since THE jaunt abroad. And with a full-time job and grad school, I really didn’t have much time to plan this one out, so I pretty much just booked a ticket to Belize and did about an hour of research… seriously!

Why Belize, a few people asked me? Well, it was the only country in Central America that I had failed to visit and I had heard from friends that had visited that it was relaxing, beautiful and there were beaches… and that was about enough for me.

After finishing finals on Wednesday and working a full week last week, I hopped on the overnight flight to Belize City on Friday night and got there at about 11:00 am on Saturday. After taking a plethora of overnight flights (and deeming them the best option for optimizing time), I’ve finally realized the power of the sleeping pill. Now, don’t judge me, flying is really the only time I take them (just over the counter gel pills from CVS or Walgreen’s) and they work like a charm, especially alongside a little glass of airport cabernet…

Anyway, I actually slept most of the flight and felt pretty amazing when I got to Belize City. Upon arriving, there was a slightly longer than usual line at customs, but I made it through and hit up the ATM, acquired some Belizean dollars and quickly got in a shared cab with some rowdy older travelers from Denver. We chatted a bit and then I got off at the Caye Caulker water taxi terminal, and after some arguing with the driver about how much I should pay (a solo taxi from Belize City should be $25 USD, but with others you should split that cost at least a bit), I bought my ticket for the water taxi and was waiting in the incredibly humid heat to go to Caye Caulker.

After about a 50 minute ride, we were there! A beautiful little island in off the coast of Belize, in the clear as lenses waters of the Caribbean Sea. I checked into my little hotel and after trying to speak Spanish to the woman who worked there, I realized that pretty much everyone on the island spoke English and Creole (a local dialect) and there wasn’t much Spanish spoken at all! A bit of a bummer as I wanted to use my rusty Spanish a bit more, but it forced me to use less brain power while relaxing, I suppose. After that, I spent the day wandering around the island, had an amazing rum and coke and fish and chips lunch and then laid on the dock and tanned until sunset. I was out there for maybe 2 hours and it made me realize how impatient I’ve become as I was anxiously waiting for the sunset!

That night, I went out to a local restaurant and grabbed a few more drinks and dinner while chatting with a retiree who was on his last night out and gave me some tips about things to potentially see while in Belize. As I was getting tired and the check took a long time to come, I got a bit grumpy and apparently was walking too quickly home, as a local man told me to slow down and he did not seem happy… Important to note that the motto of the island is literally “slow down”, so I was committing a grave mistake by walking hurriedly!

As I laid in bed sweating that night, I decided that the man’s warning was something I needed to hear. I’m constantly on the go and really wanted to take some time to decompress, so I decided it was just what I needed for my little vacation and decided to try my best to relax… something actually quite difficult for me. I had initially planned to visit another region of Belize while there and do some cave tubing, but with only about 4 ½ days, decided to chill and slow down!!!

On Sunday, I slept in, felt great, showered, and decided to look for a new hotel as the one I was currently in was clean and nice enough, but I was sweating profusely every second I was in my room. I found a little place in my guidebook called Popeye’s Beach resort (fancy!) and went crazy and opted for AC and a beach view – hey, you have to treat yourself sometimes (especially in Central America, where it’s cheaper!). While there, I chatted with a nice German man named Richard who is looking to retire in Belize but is working at the hotel in the meantime. I then wandered around the island some more, walked a few miles and found the airstrip where flights come and go from the mainland (mostly bringing tourists as locals opt for the way cheaper water taxis). I saw a beautiful cemetery right on the beach, an iguana hanging out in the shade of a tree and giant lizards running around my feet. I also found the areas of town where the locals actually live, as there is a large part of the island pretty much dedicated to the tourists with restaurants, bars, and a lot of little hotels. I definitely became enchanted with the locals in my time on the little island – an interesting mix of transplants from other countries in Central America, a mix of English, Creole and Spanish, and so many beautiful people in all shades working and enjoying their peaceful little island.

And when I say little… I mean it. Caye Caulker is only about 5 miles by less than 1 mile. On the thinner part, you can literally see one side of the island from the other and the 5 mile stretch includes some swampy land as well (read more about Caye Caulker here)!

The rest of the day Sunday, I spent some time swimming, laying by the water some more, drank beer at a party bar by the “split” and then, of course, continued my daily ritual of watching the sunset. I spent a lot of time laying on a little dock by my hotel where I could actually see schools of fish swimming underneath me in the clear water – amazing! I also met a woman that day named Kyrie from England, also traveling alone so we went to dinner and drinks together, exchanging life and traveling stories. Oh, also important to note, the fish on the island was INCREDIBLE!!! I’m not often a pescatarian but this whole week was a definite exception. That night, Kyrie and I both ordered the Belizean special, which included an amazing piece of fish with fresh salsa, beans, rice and plantains – absolutely amazing!

On Monday, Kyrie and I met up for breakfast and then I went back to my new hotel and cooled off and relaxed in the AC of the hotel room for a bit. I then made my way back down to the split, drank a beer and laid out for a while. Then I headed back to the room again, napped (rough life, huh?!) and then went out to find food. I was feeling quite indecisive so I wandered around for quite a bit until settling on a place with giant frozen drink options. I ordered a banana colada and some food, chatted with an Australian for a bit who was heading to Chetumal, Mexico the next day and then headed back to my room and read and watched TV! I somehow stayed up pretty late and finally fell asleep hearing the loud wind beating against the building.

On Tuesday, I woke up in the morning to loud wind and pouring rain and felt a bit bummed as I had booked a snorkeling adventure for that morning. Honestly though, after my last snorkeling debacle in Honduras (read my blog about it here) after I went out in a stormy sea in a small and very bumpy boat and repeatedly threw up a peanut butter sandwich (until it was no more), I was a bit reluctant. But still, I was sad that the weather was so crappy! It had finally stopped raining, so I decided to still venture out in hopes that the snorkeling tour would indeed happen.

As I stopped to grab a little breakfast and coffee, miraculously the weather cleared up and the sun came out – snorkeling was happening! I walked by the water and started to feel much better and eventually hopped in my tour boat with a family and an older gentleman from Australia. We went out to the first spot only about a 5 minute boat ride from the mainland, where you could see giant sting rays and sharks swimming around. We even saw a lone barracuda! I was still pretty apprehensive (what a wiener) and thankfully the tour guide Major was very patient and even gave me his better goggles/mask to use. After a few minutes, I was snorkeling along with the rest of them! We went to two other spots after that and saw a lot of coral and every color of fish imaginable – a great experience. Then I chatted for a while with Major and the Australian before hopping out on the shore.

Again, the locals are so friendly and chatty here! It probably helps that I’m a female traveling alone, but they always said hi, asked me my name and made sure I was having a good time. I got to know quite a few of them by name and profession and would always say hi when I saw them. I stopped to buy some earrings from a guy I thought was a local but he ended up being an artist from Colombia and we ended up chatting for a bit in Spanish – hooray! After that I headed back to the hotel, cleaned myself up and went to talk to Richard and Chris about staying another night and ended up chatting with them about marketing, craigslist and various other dorky tech topics.

Afterwards, I headed off with the intention of going to lunch but ended up back at Lazy Lizard’s… ordering a banana daiquiri and soaking up the sun. After that I went for an epic walk around the island – it is seriously sooo beautiful on Caye Caulker – the sunsets, the water and just everything about it is postcard-worthy. I grabbed a beer at a little bar and sat outside to watch yet another sunset and then walked around some more with my beer and caught a part of a local soccer game. Then I headed to the restaurant I went on the first day and ordered some amazing white fish with coconut sauce. After that, I headed back to shower and relax a bit as I planned on heading to the nearby island of San Pedro in the morning.

On Wednesday, I woke up early and headed off via yet another amazing water taxi to the island called Ambergis Caye, often referred to as “San Pedro” as that’s the name of the main town on the island. When doing my minimal research, I discovered that San Pedro was actually the song that Madonna sings about in the song “La Isla Bonita” and that Ambergis Caye is the larger, more touristy destination and after visiting, was glad that I opted for Caye Caulker.

It was still incredibly beautiful – crystal blue water, white sand, a cute, happening downtown and there was even a local school event going on in the town center. But it was definitely busier, a bit more hectic (if you can call an island hectic) and was overrun with tourists driving around in their rented golf carts. I wandered around, shopped and grabbed a rum and coke at a little bar on the water and chatted with a local named Josh who said that San Pedro was definitely the place to party at night if I ever decided to come back and stay there. After that, I had an incredible lunch at a place called Wild Mangos that, for good reason, is highly recommended in all the guide books. I had a fish wrap that I ate so much of that I felt slightly sick afterwards… I also tried a local drink called the “Panty Ripper” but I never got around to asking the exact reasoning for the ridiculous name…

After that, I trekked further along the beach, realizing that Ambergis Caye is definitely a lot bigger than the tiny island I was used to and it was HOT! I made it a good ways down, but decided I was a bit drunk and too tired to go any further and plopped down on the beach and read and enjoyed the rays. After gallivanting around a bit more, I was missing my little island, and hopped aboard another water taxi and got to sit on the top deck, enjoying the amazing view, fierce wind in my hair and gorgeous water all around me.

After getting back to Caye Caulker, I stopped at a local iced coffee shop I’d been wanting to check out and chatted with the owners there about their business. They, a woman from Germany and her partner from Belize, had opened last November and said business was good! I drank an amazing iced coffee with locally grown coffee and they even gave me some free freshly made donuts!

As it was already my last day, I spent the rest of the night walking by my favorite locals, watching the sunset and ate dinner at what is known as the best restaurant (for tourists) in town – Habaneros. As I was actually a bit “fished-out”, I opted for the veggie coconut curry, which was still amazing… and then headed back to my room to pack and drink some rum in my room.

The next morning I woke up quite early, caught a glimpse of the sunset and then headed off on my water taxi back to Belize City to catch my flight. On the taxi ride back to the airport, I finally got a chance to use my Spanish again as I talked to the sweet taxi driver, Ernesto, who was originally from El Salvador but came to Belize as a refugee with his family when he was very little to escape the civil war in El Salvador – a great conversation and ride and now, here I am already back in my bed in Oakland, after getting in last night!

A few takeaways from this solo trip to Belize…

Belize is seemingly a safe place to go for solo travelers, but you’ll be in the minority. It could have just been the places I went or the time of year… but, there was an overwhelming majority of tourist couples, retired old men, a few groups of friends, and then little, old me. While I wouldn’t take it back for a second, I did at times feel a little lonely (unlike my trip to Argentina and Uruguay where I meet a barrage of solo travelers). However, being alone definitely forced me to talk to interesting strangers all day long and I ended up getting lots of deals and free shots and food (go figure)!

It also reinforced my love for traveling and my hope of once again being able to be a bit of a nomad, even if only for short stints at a time. Seeing new, incredible places and conversing with people from all walks of life absolutely enriches your soul and I won’t stop doing it until I can’t do it anymore. I may be a bit more constrained now, with work and school, but I will definitely still be sure to pencil in some travel time as often as possible.

But honestly, in thinking about the fairly chaotic, social and fast-paced life that I currently live, the little island of Caye Caulker was likely just the thing I needed for a little soulful rejuvenation. I was forced to “go slow” and dammit, I did enjoy it. Although, after all that relaxing, I think I’m now ready for another 3 days off of potentially a little more action in the city by the Bay… 🙂IMG_2385

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City by the Bay… home sweet home again?!

So, I have this plane ticket tomorrow. An expensive one. To a country really far away. That I spent a year of my life getting to know. But… I don’t think I’m going to use it…

It’s a weird feeling, really. It’s not that I don’t want to keep traveling. I still have the same feelings about traveling – I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!! 🙂 I think I just need some time to re-group and really figure out where I want to go next and what I want to do. In addition to that(a pretty big addition to that), I need to start saving more money. I lasted a very long time on very little money, but at some point I have to be realistic and realize that my bank account will not last forever, or maybe not even a few more months… I love Chile and would love to go back and spend more time there, but don’t think I can live off the little money I have saved + the small income I would make teaching English there, although I’ll be really sad not to see all my friends there as soon as I thought I would(I’ll still be back to visit as soon as I can!!). I do, though, also have my amazing sister, friends, connections and opportunities in the Bay Area that have already come a knockin’.

So… officially… for better or worse, I will be in the magical Bay Area for a while. What is a while? I have absolutely no idea! Vamos a ver…

I also wouldn’t mind paving a more clear cut direction in the career sense. I have a lot of passions, but would love to turn one into something that actually makes me a little money(not too much, just to save for the next adventure/idea) and maybe allows me to do some travel or find work internationally. That being said, I’ve been applying to a lot of non-profits and for-profits and actually have(or already had) 3 interviews in the works since I’ve been back. Hopefully I’ll have even more, and hopefully from those, I’ll actually get some opportunities!

I have had an absolutely crazy mix of emotions since being here and still have quite a few of them every day. I really miss the constant Spanish, get really annoyed at the smart phones getting in the way of human face-to-face communication, and really miss Chilean onces(best bread in the world, alongside avocado, tomatoes, cheese and tea in place of dinner). But I really enjoy spending time with people I haven’t seen in far too long, being able to absolutely and completely express myself in my native language, and love re-visiting one of my favorite cities(and geographical areas) on the planet.

I am ready to attack the Bay Area once again…now all I need is 1) a job, 2) a place to live and 3) a musical project… let’s do this!



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Goodbye Chile, hola Mamacita, Peru and the U.S.!

I started this blog sitting in the Houston airport waiting for my flight to SF, and began to recap the last few weeks, but feel that so much has changed since I even began writing this post. First, to start with the emotions I felt while sitting in the airport… I felt a combination of depression, anxiousness, confusion and confidence that I still can’t quite define. As my overattentive ears subconsciously listened with ease to every English conversation(with Spanish I still have to focus a bit to understand) I didn’t feel as happy as I thought I would to be in the U.S., although I always aim to be optimistic. It’s been just about a year since I’ve been on U.S. soil and over a year of traveling in Spanish-speaking countries. It will be very interesting to see how I feel about people, situations, norms, etc. once I have spent a little more time back in the U.S. I’m still figuring it all out…
But to get back to the recap… I last blogged about the beginning of my final week at Colegio Fernando Duran. The end of the last week was pretty-action-packed as I was finishing up lesson planning, running around buying presents for my co-teachers and host family, working on a few songs to sing in front of my whole school, taking advantage of spending time with friends I wouldn’t see for a while and getting ready for my mom to visit. It always all comes at once, doesn’t it?! As I had 5th through 8th grades and 2 classes of each grade, I had a lot of goodbyes. I think I seriously said chau/goodbye to every student about 80 times and my cheek was sore from Chilean kisses by the end of the week. On Wednesday, after I finished watching videos on YouTube and eating snacks with my English Club, I got called into the library where I was surprised by a little goodbye party and cake put together by the teachers at my school. My co-teachers said a few words and teared up a bit, of course making me tear up a bit myself(but no crying on-the-record to report).My last day of school was a bit heavy. So many hugs, notes, presents, Chilean kisses, goodbyes, and why are you leaving us, Miss Ashley ‘s. The students and my co-teachers also put together a show where students from all different grades sang songs, danced and put on a play in my honor – I was humbled, appreciative and frankly, sin palabras(without words). I also had planned with the music teacher to finally sing a few songs to my students as I had told them throughout the year that I loved to sing and used to sing in a band… and promised that I would eventually sing for them. In the end, I sang L-O-V-E by Natalie Cole and Suerte by Shakira in a mix of English and Spanish. Due to the emotions of the day and a tad bit of nervousness I messed up a tad on the Spanish part of the Shakira song… but I think it went alright. The day definitely made me feel that I had made at least a sliver of an impact on their little lives and really made the whole experience even more worth it. After school, I went with one of my co-teachers and two teachers to eat amazing empanadas in Viña del Mar, but in the end, was so exhausted from the day that I couldn’t contribute too much. After that I went home and cleaned and got ready for my mom to come!

The next day, I had to wake up at about 5:00 am to take a 2 hour bus to another bus to the airport to meet my mom! All went smoothly for both of us fortunately(except an hour + wait at the Santiago bus station) and we were catching up on not seeing each for almost a year instantly. I brought her back to my little Chilean world and she immediately loved my Chilean host family and house, although I spent a lot of time translating. 🙂  We spent Saturday and Sunday wandering around Quilpué and hanging with my Chilean fam and Hillary and Julian. Monday, we headed to Valpo to walk up and down the many staircases, took the funiculars up and down, visited the cemetery and ate delicious vegetarian food alongside Chilean wine. Tuesday, we headed to my school to say hello and another goodbye to all my students. It was great to finally show my mom what I’ve been doing all year. After that, we went to Viña del Mar to walk around and then hiked the amazing dunes at Con Con, where we found scalding hot sand and fierce wind, and headed to eat amazing empanadas in the center of Con Con covered in sand, but accompanied by a cute feline regular at the restaurant.

Wednesday, we spent the day running around Quilpué, buying presents for my host family and ingredients to make a cake for my host mom’s early birthday(as I would leave before her actual b-day). It was a nice day, except, when fully loaded with bags while on a little micro(local bus), I thought I felt a hand in my purse. I quickly moved my bag and the man next to me looked disinterested. I then discovered later that he had silently stolen my little coin purse(actually it was unfortunately my mom’s, but I did get her a new one!) Luckily, it only had a few dollars in change in it, but I still felt stupid as it was my first theft experience since I’ve been traveling(other than some credit card fraud, but that had happened to me in the U.S., as well). Anyway, later that night, we had a lovely once with my host fam with the chocolate-coconut, dulce de leche cake that we made, and exchanged presents and talked about memories from the year and all cried a little bit, as it was my last once with them until I return to Chile! I gave them a photo book that I had made with pictures/memories from the year and they teared up while recapping our many lovely, little memories together.

The next day, we woke up early to head on a bus to Santiago and said our goodbyes to lovely Quilpué. We spent the afternoon/evening exploring Santiago and enjoying our amazing, little hostel. Friday, we woke up early and got on our plane to Lima! In hot and humid Lima, we had to change airlines/planes to then head to Cuzco. We boarded our second plane and were sitting at the gate for about 30 minutes, when they told us that we had to get off the plane and switch planes as we were having technical difficulties…there’s a first time for everything… but after about another hour and a half, we were on our way to Cuzco!

When we arrived in Cuzco, we took a taxi to our hotel, and went by the beautiful downtown in Cuzco. Immediately, I could see the difference in the Spanish spoken in Chile and the Spanish spoken in Peru. Peruvians speak much clearer and with less slang, so I could understand everything almost perfectly! Unfortunately, though, we could also feel the altitude, as Cuzco is about 12,000 feet above sea level, higher than I’d ever been in my life. We had headaches and stomach aches, but quickly began drinking the recommended natural remedy – coca tea, which isn’t too bad, and definitely made us feel better, albeit slowly. We took it easy that day, walking a bit around town and finding a cute little Peruvian restaurant where we had amazing soup and a veggie quiche of sorts. The food in Peru is absolutely delicious (sorry, Chile) – spices and flavors I’ve never before tasted!

The next day, we headed out to explore a bit more of Cuzco and to find all of our tickets to get to Machu Picchu(which is not an easy trek, by any means). To go for the day(we didn’t do a backpack/camping trip due to time and money), you have to buy a bus ticket to a nearby town(we went to a town called Ollantaytambo first), then you have to buy a train to the town closest to Machu Picchu, called Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Town(as they have no roads at all going into that town), and then from there you take a bus along a windy steep mountain to get to Machu Picchu! It was crazy, but we eventually got everything all purchased, even though it was a public holiday due to a religious festival – the Day of the Immaculate Conception .

The next day, we took the bus to Ollanta and spent some time there wandering around. Ollantaytambo is a beautiful little town, that is surrounded by Incan ruins, that is likely most famous now for being the start of the Inca Trail(the big 4-day trek to Machu Picchu). We had a magical day walking through the cobblestone streets and admiring the amazing scenery in part of what was deemed the Sacred Valley by the Incas. Unfortunately that day we ate some delicious fajitas of sorts that made both of our stomachs a little churny, but nothing too serious, and we were better again by the next day.The following day, we woke up at about 4 am to make the trek up to Machu Picchu. We first went on the amazing train ride to Aguas Calientes, going through some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve seen in my life. It was one of those moments when everything in your life goes into crystal clear perspective. We then took the bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu, which was also an amazing, twisty ride through foggy, green, majestic mountains. We then finally got to run around Machu Picchu, which was at first quite foggy but cleared up to be beautiful and definitely one of the prettiest sites I’ve ever seen. Imagine a civilization living at the top of some of the highest mountains in the world – with the amazing, green, foggy Andes greeting you every morning as you woke. Absolutely breathtaking. After taking a million pictures and walking all around the old Incan site, we headed back down to explore Aguas Calientes… which ended up not taking long. We ate lunch, drank some piscos, and ran all over the town, only to find that it was completely over-run with restaurants, shops, and hostels solely for tourists. The beauty of that town definitely died along with the onset of tourism – a bit sad, but we were glad we hadn’t decided to stay a few nights there. We then headed back and spent one more night in Ollanta, and then the next day exploring Cuzco a bit more, as we had to head to the airport on Wednesday for our flight to Lima!After a bit of a scramble of gates in the airport at Lima, resulting in them calling our names, along with quite a few others on the loudspeaker(bad communication on their part), and we were then on our way to Lima! When we arrived we were greeted by the parents of my mom’s good friends who live in Arizona. The parents, Pocho and Carmen, happen to be Peruvian and happened to be willing to open their home/lives to us for our stay in Lima. We also spent time with their son, Javiera ,and his wife, Mariana who were adorable and eager to practice their English with us. It ended up being an absolute amazing stay in Lima and now I feel like I have a little family in Lima, as well! They are all absolutely sweet and patient with my Spanish and took us all over town, showing us old buildings and new, taking us to the Indian market where we bought artesanal crafts, and taking us to the Club they belong to, where we ate some amazing seafood and had beautiful views of the beach.

We spent a lot of our time in traffic, as Lima seems to be the L.A. of South America in terms of traffic congestion. But fortunately, this allowed for plenty of time for Spanish chatter, as they don’t really speak English and I talked away to them in Spanish, translating as much as I could to my mom. On Friday, we went to downtown Lima and took a tour of the amazing old San Francisco Church and the Catacombs there. The church was beautiful, complete with monks still living on site and amazing architecture and history. And the catacombs were AMAZING! They basically had built and maintained a cemetery under the church for about 300 years and had put all the bones of family members together in little group plots. But when you visit you can see hundreds of human bones, skulls, femurs, etc. – a bit freaky but very interesting to see! After wandering around the downtown, we headed to eat Chifa – which is a combination of Chinese food and Peruvian spices – very good, but not too easy on the stomach – haha. After that, we headed back to the house to relax and pack and took in as much of their amazing company as possible.

My mom and I then headed off to the airport together, our flights to Phoenix and San Francisco, respectively, about an hour apart. After a long wait and some annoyance through customs, we hugged our goodbyes and were happy that we would see each other in about another week. After a fairly uneventful series of flights and some delayed luggage, I was back in the Bay… greeted by my awesome sister, who I hadn’t seen in entirely too long(about 7 months to be exact). My week in the Bay Area was kind of a blur – I worked for my sister quite a bit at her brand new, adorable retail shop in Oakland called Resurrect. I could never describe how I felt the first day I went in – a mixture of disbelief, happiness, and immense pride at seeing how she had made her dream a reality. But, I was also sad that I had missed out on so much of the initial stages of her store’s journey.
Obviously my experiences abroad were amazing and worth it, but one of my pillars of existence is definitely the people I care about, and I feel like I’ve neglected some of them in the last year, mostly by the simple fact of my absence from big events in their lives – weddings, child births, store openings, birthdays, etc… Anyway, it felt good to finally see it and tell her how proud I am of her, because seriously I am. But I spent a lot of time in the store, some time with some amazing friends that I haven’t had the pleasure of spending time with in too long, met some new, interesting people, and in all of this, only confused myself more in what the next steps in my life will be… Bay Area, Chile, or somewhere new… stay tuned, as all of that is still a work in progress… but for now I’m enjoying my time in Phoenix with my mom and dad, before I head back for a few more weeks in SF/Oakland!001 002 003 004 005 006 007 008 009 010 011 012 013 014 015 016 017 018 019 020 021 022 023 024 025 026 027 028 029 030 031 032 033 034 035 036 037 038 039 040 041 042 043 044 045 046 047 048 049 050 051 052 053 054 055 056 057 058 059 060 061 062 063 064 065 066 067 068 069 070 071 072 073 074 075 076 077 078 079 080 081 082 083 084 085 086 087 088 089 090 091 092 093 094 095 096 097 098 099 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 312 313 314 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 332 333 334 335 336 337 338 339 340 341 342 343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354
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Life in Chile, Phase 1, almost complete… what’s next?!?

And it’s been a month and a half since I last blogged… seriously, I don’t understand where the time goes. It seems like just a few months ago that I was getting accustomed to life in Chile, and here I am with a few days left in my program! Did I black out for a few months and miss a bunch – what the hell?! Anyway, I am obviously feeling a plethora of emotions at the moment, but mostly I’m excited about moving forward and continuing to attack life. As the thought of not coming back to Chile makes me very sad, I have started the job search here and am looking to find something here starting in January or February. I am really excited to visit the U.S. and see my family and friends, but I feel like this is my home for now and I’m not ready to leave it yet. However, things could always change and we’ll see how I feel after seeing all of your wonderful faces in the U.S.! I’m also keeping my eyes out for other international jobs. My main goal is finding a job/place where I can continue to speak Spanish and to teach/tutor in some capacity. But I am ready to make a little bit of money… it’s been a while!

So, to catch you up on my life… I’ll start with the present then go back in time a bit to give you a little description of all the events that have happened in the last little while. This Friday is my last day at school and although I think I’m ready for my next endeavor, it will be hard to say goodbye to all the little faces I’ve gotten used to over the course of the school year. Before coming here, I genuinely had very little experience or even exposure with kids, so I think it’s been an eye-opening experience for me to see how their little minds work and to teach them a little bit about myself, my culture, and of course, some English! I definitely had some issues with discipline, being an untrained teacher that made a lot of mistakes in their language, but in the end, there are a lot of students that absolutely impress me, inspire me, and that give me hope for the future… and of course, I will miss them a lot!

But also on Friday, my mom leaves from the U.S. to come and visit me!!! I am SO excited to see her after almost a year without seeing her face! She will be here on Saturday and we will be spending a week here in Chile, a week in Peru and then I’ll be headed back to the U.S. for about a month to see friends, family and work at my sister’s store. I am excited to spend time with all of you and to eat every type of international food I encounter…

I also only have two more weeks of living with my host family! That probably makes me the saddest of all. While I am ready to travel for a bit and see my family and friends in the U.S., and to live on my own again(I am 28, after all) it has been an absolutely unforgettable experience here and I hope to stay in touch with them forever and ever! I have also made some amazing friends here, both gringos and Chileans that I will be really sad to say goodbye to even for a month, and some for longer…

So to catch you up on a few events, that have corresponding photos below… here goes:

Teacher’s Day Mid-October my school celebrated Teacher’s Day. Myself and the rest of the teachers got flowers and the students at my school put on a performance with dances, songs and lots of desserts. I felt very appreciated! 🙂 They also had the carabineros(police) in Chile come to the school and put on a show with their police dogs… not sure how it tied in but it was fun to watch and the kids LOVED it!

Norman’s Birthday (2 celebrations) My host dad celebrated his 30th birthday… 😉 in October and we had two different birthday celebrations here, both involving lots of delicious cake, friends and music. What they are lacking in tofu and spices, they definitely make up for in delicious desserts and good times. If I wasn’t running a few times a week, I would be about 25 pounds heavier.

Aprovechando el sol (taking advantage of the sun) As it is Spring, quickly turning to Summer here, the weather has been amazing!!! I’ve been making frequent visits to the beach in Viña del Mar,  running around Valparaiso whenever possible and trying to capture as much sun as humanly possible, before I head to Winter in the U.S… que fome(how lame) :).

Halloween/ Día de las brujas While it’s not anywhere near the magic that it is in the U.S., Halloween is growing increasingly popular in Chile and I even saw quite a few kids dressed up and trick-or-treating around my neighborhood! I made myself an elaborate parrot costume and went out with a group of gringos and Chileans to Valparaiso. While it wasn’t quite the amazingness that we experience in the U.S., it was still fun to dress up and celebrate my favorite holiday!

Election Night First of all – yes I voted! It was actually way easier for me as I just had to print out my ballot, scan it and send it via email to the Dept. of Elections. But it was definitely weird being out of the U.S. on Election Day, although any time I went on Facebook I was quickly reminded… haha. The night of the election, I got together with my gringo friends at my house and we watched election coverage in Spanish, English and on my computer, while drinking delicious Chilean wine. My host dad, who is also a huge Obama fan, was proudly sporting his Obama t-shirt, so I definitely snapped some pictures of that!

Fiesta Cubana A few weeks ago, I went to a Cuban-themed event with my host family at my host sister’s school. If you haven’t heard it before, Cuban music is amazing!!! There were Cuban singers, salsa lessons and we ate black beans and rice and drank mojitos! It was a lovely time with my Chilean family & friends and, of course, my gringo friends, as well!

Night Out with Charo (my host mom) Two weekends ago, I went to a concert with my host mom and afterwards we went out for some drinks to a local bar in Quilpue and had a great time! She is such a sweetheart and so much fun!

La Cumbre de Rock Chileno/Santiago The weekend before last, the gringos, my good Chilean friend Yose and I headed to Santiago for a wonderful all-day festival of Chilean music. We saw some fantastic groups/artists that we’ve come to know quite well here in Chile. A few that I really liked are Astro, Camila Moreno, Fernando Milagros and Francisca Valenzuela. The only bad part about the festival was that it was’t very well-organized and didn’t really have enough food, water, bathrooms, or a way to get out of the massive crowd to get water/go to the bathroom, etc….kind of typical of music festivals… but after staying in the same spot for about 8 hours with very little water and no food, we left a bit early in search of satisfying some basic human needs. The next day, we wandered around Santiago a bit in the warm sun and took in the busy, bustling city!

Thanksgiving/ Día de Acción de Gracias Although I unfortunately didn’t have any time off for Thanksgiving, the gringos and I decided to make our own little Thanksgiving feast this past Sunday. We bought and made just about all of the traditional fixings, including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, corn, apple pie but had to compromise a bit and make sugared carrots instead of yams and squash pie, instead of pumpkin pie, due to the lack of availability of certain products in Chile. I must say, though, that I was very impressed with what we came up with and this is the first time I’ve ever made a “pumpkin” pie from scratch – starting with the raw gourd(funny word) and it was all soooo delicious! I also dabbled in a bit of turkey and did NOT regret it. 🙂 And the photo with the thumbs up is of myself and the mayor of Quilpué. Mauricio, at our Thanksgiving feast – he tried pumpkin pie for the first time and loved it – jaja!

Final Ceremony for English Opens Doors Program Yesterday, I had my final “ceremony” of sorts for my program. I met with the regional coordinator and all the other volunteers in my region to talk about our experiences and to get my certificate of completion. Again, I cannot believe that I am just about done, but am SO incredibly grateful for all the amazing experiences that I have had. This year has absolutely changed my life for the better in so many ways.

And now, here we are in the last week of school, before my mom comes and experiences my little Chilean life, before we embark on a little journey to Peru, before I say a lot of temporary goodbyes and before I hug a lot of you! Enjoy the photos and I’ll write more soon – from the U.S.!!!


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Chilean Independence, Fainting at the Metro Station, Chilenidad, Broken Camera and Horcón – oh my!

Well, hey there! A few things have happened since I last blogged… most notably the amazing and epic celebration of Dieciocho(the 18th/Chilean Independence Day)! Chileans do things right and take an entire week off to celebrate their Independence!!! Or at least a lot of schools/businesses do, including my school – sa-weet!

The last few weeks have been incredibly fun and entertaining with a lot of fun and a little work! We started off the celebrations the Friday before the full week we had off. At my school, the kids put together some dances, performances and little speeches, and after that, about 100 of my students marched in a parade! I got to walk alongside them snapping photos of them in their brightly colored yellow shirts along with some of the other schools marching as well. The weekend before the 18th was also really fun – the gringos, myself, and some other Chilean friends went to festivals, barbeques(called asados here) neighborhood parties and regular old bars where there was notably something special in the air as people were excited to celebrate their independence day. Chileans have a great sense of pride and Chilean flags and colors could be seen as far as the eye could see, decorating cars, light posts, and front yards.

As I wanted to fully open myself up to the Chilean experience, I told myself that I could throw all inhibitions(and my vegetarianism) aside and try whatever looked appetizing to me. Although there was plenty of meat I didn’t want to even touch, let alone eat… blood sausages were one example… blech! I did manage to dabble in some of the following Chilean customs – drank some terremotos – a drink concoction of white wine and pineapple ice cream, had a few tiny bites of a pino empanada(beef, onions and eggs in an empanada), ate some chicken fresh off the parrilla(grill) made by my host dad, sang some Spanish karaoke(albeit badly, as I need to brush up on my Spanish songs), and had a little fashion shoot in a traditional cueca(dancing) costume.

The night before the 18th, my gringo friends and I had gone out to celebrate by watching some amazing fireworks in Valparaiso and met up with some other Chilean and gringo friends. While walking up the steps of the metro, I somehow managed to stub my toe/foot so badly that I passed out at the metro station(I think from pain?!), luckily only for a few seconds and was quickly awakened by my friends… After that I was dizzy for a bit but was still able to rally and enjoy a lovely evening of fireworks, beers, more karaoke and great times!

The actual day of the 18th, my host family had a huge get-together of about 40ish people – family, friends, co-workers, political figures, etc. and what a lovely day it was! I was still hobbling around a bit as my toe was in bad shape, but I managed to help out around the kitchen and have numerous conversations in Spanish, countless glasses of red wine, and lots of fooood! Chileans absolutely love their meat, so there were plates of it everywhere. I only dabbled in a bit of chicken, but it was indeed quite delicious(no, I’m not becoming a meat eater again). The celebration lasted likely more than 12 hours, with an aggressive game of Spanish Scrabble ending the evening(I came in 2nd of 5, with two Chileans playing)! The next day we just relaxed, had a little lunch and laid around – much needed after all that eating and drinking!

That Friday, my Chilena friend Yose, my gringo friend Julian, and I decided to head to a little beach town called Horcón about 2ish hours away from Quilpué. After such an exhausting week of eating, drinking and celebrating, we really needed to relax… 😉 We were fortunate enough to catch a ride with Jules’ host mom, who was also headed there for the day, so we had a fast and wild ride to the little magical surf town. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I was back in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua or Santa Cruz, California – both amazing little beach towns. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we immediately found an amazing little restaurant with delicious fish and crab empanadas and then went and laid on the beach for most of the afternoon, sipping beers and soaking up the beautiful weather. That night, we drank piscos, wine, ate more empanadas and found a little artesanal fair to peruse. The next day, we spent more time on the beach, ate more empanadas, and drank more beer and wine – so exhausting! We headed back that night, and definitely plan to return to Horcón again very soon!

The week after the 18th I was back at school, and did my usual routine of teaching, soccer practice, running and enjoying the company of my lovely host family! Although, a hilarious but unfortunate event happened on Monday… I had let my host sister borrow my fairly new camera(bought it about 2-3 months ago) for the weekend and she had left it in her bag, and somehow her bag had made it into the washing machine, and somehow my camera got washed in the washing machine… needless to say it is now out of service, and after much apologizing on my host family’s part and a lot of laughs, I’m over it and am now borrowing my awesome friend Hillary’s camera until I get a new one!

Last weekend, many of the schools here celebrate what they call “Chilenidad” which is a celebration of Chilean culture, from the North to the South. Last Friday night, I went to an event at my host sister’s school and watched her and a bunch of her classmates dance, sing and perform some amazing traditional dances and songs from all parts of Chile. The next day, at my school, we had the same thing, complete with cueca dancing, traditional dances from all around Chile, and a Mapuche (indigenous tribe in Chile) tree planting and dance demonstration. It was a beautiful day and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it! I see my students every day in their little uniforms but it was very cool to see them taking pride in their culture and showing it off to parents and teachers. My co-teacher and I also got to put on display for parents and students various projects that my students have been working on – travel pamphlets and translated recipes on posters – in English! That night, I headed to my friend Hillary’s apartment for a little gringa once and dyed my hair red!!! After that, we went out to a fun little neighborhood pub and drank beers and spoke Spanish until way too late…

This last week has brought me back to “reality” as I’m back to teaching and just received an email from my program that I have a little less than 2 months left of teaching English at my school! However, I’m not sure if in 2 months I will say a permanent goodbye to Chile… Vamos a ver(we will see)! Although, I am in the process of buying tickets to travel with my mom to Peru and to come back to both San Francisco and Phoenix in December/January for a month! That’s all for now – hope you enjoy the pictures and have a lovely week!

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One year of traveling and a lifetime of memories. Life is absolutely rad.

After looking at a few of my really old blog posts, I, number one, realized that I have been traveling for over a year! I left San Francisco on September 8th, 2011 and have been a-movin’ ever since! The second thing I realized is that my blogs as of late have just been playing catch-up. I did this, I went there, I ate that. While all of that is good to remember, I definitely want to remember to put some substance into what I write.

To reflect back upon an entire year of traveling and experiences (to reflect back on a year of anything is difficult!) and to think of all that it has contained is pretty wild. I heard a quote the other day that I think is probably my current mantra. I have no idea who wrote it but it says…Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. I absolutely agree with this whole-heartedly – and a lot of times the only thing you have to “buy” is a bus ticket(train ticket, plane ticket, whatever – or just hop in a car).

I know that it’s likely that eventually I will have to lead a normal life somewhere, and live off something other than a measly volunteer stipend… but I can’t even explain how fulfilled I feel in life right now. Maybe it’s partly knowing that you can completely uproot your life and everything that’s comfortable around you and then set up a whole new life, just as lovely (but obviously very different) as the life you had before. This leaves me feeling overly optimistic as I now see that there are absolutely amazing people, opportunities, landmarks, foods and experiences all over the world. There are also crappy people, bad situations, gross food and bad things as well, but I choose to see my glass as overflowing with some very colorful life liquid. And the best part about it, is you still have all the experiences, family, friends(if you’re good about staying in touch!), memories and knowledge that you gained from the last chapter of your life!

The older I get, the more I just look at money as a means to an end. It’s not that hard to make, and it’s not hard at all to spend, so I try to do a little combination of both. You can’t let saving for another day get in the way of living right now. You can’t make a list of things you want to do before you die and set it aside.  We all obviously can’t do everything we want to do all at once, but make little steps to get there, and do a little something that makes you happy every day. Don’t push anything to the weekend or say you don’t have time. If today is your last day on Earth, you damn well better enjoy it! Hopefully it’s not, though… 🙂

Anyway, with all that said, I am so happy to still be on this journey and get excited about what every new day will bring.

Now, to still play a tiny bit of catch-up… Since my last blog, I turned 28 and celebrated an amazing weekend with my awesome gringo friends, my Chilean family and some assorted Chilean and Argentinian friends. I went out to Viña and ate Thai food with my co-teacher and friends, had beers at a little bar in Quilpue with my awesome friend Hillary, got some amazing b-day packages and presents from my parents, sis and friends, and received many birthday wishes from my students and friends from afar. My host mom(along with the principal of my school) made me possibly the most amazing cake I’ve ever seen in my life, with dulce de leche(caramel of sorts), coffee, and chocolate filling and we had a little family gathering at the house. My 27th birthday I spent celebrating with my amazing sis, and great friends, speaking English in San Francisco, and my 28th, I spent in Chile with a second family, new friends, all while speaking Spanish. It’s truly amazing what a year can bring!

Recently, I also joined an all girls soccer team, took cueca lessons(the national Chilean dance) and have been continuing my half marathon training. It is seriously amazing how open and inclusive Chilean people are to a gringa coming in to play soccer with them, how willing they are to help you overcome your horrible dancing skills to learn their national dance and how patient they are when you’re struggling to get certain points across in Spanish. Needless to say, it’s been a lovely few weeks!

That’s all for now. I have many new updates and pics to come from this week, as we’ve been celebrating Fiestas Patrias or Chilean Independence – woo, but I’ll save that for another day!!! Kisses and hugs to you all! 🙂 And a very happy 30th birthday to my lovely and beautiful mom!!! XOXO