Thursday, December 17, 2015

That time I didn't WWOOF in Argentina.

Location: Argentina
Generally, I like to travel slowly. A couple weeks here, a few more weeks there. I like to get to know people, discover some favorite spots, and people-watch in parks without feeling like I'm wasting precious time. That's why I decided to split my five weeks in Argentina between only two places: Buenos Aires and Mendoza.  Argentina is huge and diverse and spectacular, I realized, but cramming as much as possible into five weeks would not be enjoyable to me. I preferred to skip some places in order to really enjoy others. I'd explore Buenos Aires first, then spend a week with a friend exploring both Buenos Aires and Mendoza, then stay in Mendoza to WWOOF at the end. Or so I thought.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I love Buenos Aires. Asterisk.

Location: Buenos Aires, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina
As sad as it was to say goodbye to Bolivia, I really expected to like Buenos Aires. I'd always heard good things, and I'd always wanted to visit. I was ready to be wowed.

I booked a hostel in Buenos Aires for five days, then quickly decided to extend it another week. Then five days more. When I left to explore other parts of Argentina, a big part of me wanted to skip all that and just stay.

I wasn't surprised that I loved it. But I was surprised by just what I loved...

1. The parks.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Reflections on Voluntourism.

Location: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
The newly-named but long-existent voluntourism industry is rife with potential problems. People project their culture's values on cultures they view as "lesser." People start initiatives that matter to them, without listening to what matters to the community. Even when a project is responsive to community voice and values, it is often not sustainable. The privileged among us like to view ourselves as white knights who can swoop in and make everything better, when often we are really just bulls in china shops: wreaking havoc, interrupting functional systems, creating dependencies, and leaving things worse off than when we got there.

So if we tourists want to find some useful ways to fill our time, how do we go about doing it conscientiously?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Traveling while Vegetarian.

Location: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
People always ask me if it's hard to eat vegetarian when I travel. Spoiler alert: it's actually not hard at all. Finding meals that aren't meat-centric may seem challenging to those of us from the U.S. (or other countries where excess is king). But the truth is, lots of other cultures know how to create delicious plant-based meals much better than we do. Chances are, if you already enjoy vegetarian food, you won't have much trouble at all.

But for those of you looking for concrete tips, here are my rules for eating vegetarian on the road...

 1. Eat your veggies.

Talk about preaching to the choir, right? But it is easy to fall into the rice-and-beans routine, especially at places that serve mostly meat dishes. Make a point of including veggies in each meal, even if it's not convenient. Figure out how to safely cook produce in your kitchen, or ask your vendor if it's possible to add vegetables even if you don't see that on the menu.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How I Bolivia (and how you can help!)

Location: Palacios, Bolivia
Centro Medico Humberto Parra is a sliding scale clinic in Palacios, a tiny town outside of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Patients commute to the clinic from far and wide because of the scarcity of free healthcare. The clinic hosts many volunteers, in addition to their staff of one doctor and several nurses. These clinicians see patients and treat all sorts of ailments.

Right now the volunteers are three medical students, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, and me. As a biology and public health teacher, I am hardly a traditional volunteer, and I am obviously useless when it comes to treating patients. But I loved the sounds of the clinic, and I hoped to find some way to make myself useful.

That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 2.

Location: Playa de Guanabo, Havana, Cuba
...continued from That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 1.

After another delicious breakfast (why did we ever eat anywhere but our casa??), move to Guanabo, a nearby beach town. Check into our next casa, then explore. Have already heard from multiple sources that Santa Maria, the neighboring beach, is better, so head that way. It's definitely busier, but we don't think it's any better than beautiful Guanabo. So after speaking English with a new Mexican friend who wanted to practice, and then swimming and relaxing for a while, we leave Santa Maria for good.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 1.

Location: Havana, Cuba
Last night in Oaxaca. Enjoy a bittersweet last night out with a few of my favorite new friends. One of them is particularly impressed at how laid back and easy going I am about traveling to Cuba. Me, laid back and easy going? You know this doesn't end well.

Arrive in Mexico City. Visit a friend from Spanish school at his girlfriend's French bakery (yum). After some wandering, spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking and reading at a great restaurant on a great roundabout.

Spend about 30 minutes researching how to get into Cuba, which obviously I should have done earlier. After some last minute jitters and messages to friends, rest easy knowing everything will be fine because they won't stamp my passport.

They stamped my passport.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Empowering women entrepreneurs in Mexico.

Location: Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
En Vía is a microfinance organization serving the villages surrounding Oaxaca City. I had the pleasure of taking their tour and meeting several of their inspirational borrowers. The tour costs about $45USD, 100% of which becomes microloans. Allow me to share my experience in the hopes that, after this virtual tour, you might be moved to fund a microloan as well!

On the road to San Miguel, Andrea, an En Vía volunteer, introduced us to the program. She explained that the founders of En Vía did a lot of research before committing to the model they use today. And it shows. The program has been hugely successful -- they have a 99% loan repayment rate!!

The basic model is this: three women form a triad of trusted peers, then enroll. They take a business course that covers everything from basic money management to business development. They then receive their first loan. This loan is relatively small, and must be paid off within 15 weeks. All the while, they continue to attend monthly workshops for support. All of this is free: the classes, the workshops... Even the loans themselves are completely interest free.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How I Oaxaca.

After exploring Oaxaca for four weeks so far (plus four days last year), I don't claim to be an expert. But I've found a handful of places that I absolutely love! If you find yourself in Oaxaca, I highly recommend you check out...

Restaurants and Bars

Calabacitas Tiernas is a charming little hole in the wall. Always vegetarian, often even vegan, the four-course menu del dia is a steal at 90 pesos. Instead of relying on rice, beans, and tortillas to satisfy us vegetarians, Calabacitas Tiernas stuffs their dishes to the brim with fresh produce. Each course is much more fruit and veg than it is filler, and all of it is both delicious and disinfected. My favorite combination!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Week 1 in Oaxaca.

I fell in love with Oaxaca the first time I visited, so it was an easy choice for 5 weeks of language school. Now, one week in, I know I made the right decision!

I've settled into an awesome routine...
Breakfast and coffee in my cute apartment (usually while scrambling to finish my homework), then a 30 minute walk to school.
9:00-1:00, class with a genuinely skilled educator and a handful of new friends.
1:00-3:00, wander around until I find a (relatively) indulgent restaurant for a leisurely lunch.
3:00-4:00, "intercambio," conversational language exchange with a super interesting woman from Oaxaca.
4:00-6:00, cooking class (in Spanish) with a friendly and talented woman who even lets us eat the yummy food afterward!
After that, too full for dinner and too brain-fried for much more Spanish, I've either been going out with classmates and/or locals, or going straight home to rest my brain.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Countdown to Travel.

How do you prepare for a big trip?  I've made about fifteen different lists, mental and otherwise, and would love to share what I've learned!  Let's get all this logistical stuff out of the way quickly and painlessly so we can all get on to the real fun!!

T-6 Months

1. Make sure your passport is current.
Your passport probably needs to be valid for a few months after you return home.  Look up the rules for your destinations, and renew your passport if necessary.  Some travelers even choose to request a second passport so they're not without one when mailing in the other for a visa.  Speaking of visas, if you are renewing your passport, now's a great time to stock up on passport photos, as many visas will require them.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award.

What exciting news!  I was thrilled to find out on Twitter that Elizabeth from Elizabeth and Dale Abroad nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award!  Thanks so much, Elizabeth!!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Faith in Humanity Restored.

I was so honored when the authors of Once in a Lifetime Journey offered me the opportunity to write a guest post for their blog. They are doing a series on moments that restored travelers' faith in humanity. I wrote the following piece for the series. You can see my feature here.

I started getting nervous in Chicago.  I had traveled before, but rarely by myself.  And never without some sort of in-country contact.  So as I waited for my connecting flight, I got nervous.

And then the flight attendant told me that my checked bag was not on the plane.  “Nervous” became an understatement.  My backpack hadn’t made it, she said.  Ground crew is off duty in the middle of the night, she said.  Ground crew always keeps the same schedule -- that bag never could have made it onto that flight, she said.  Thanks a lot, Travelocity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The best hostels for solo travelers.

I've been lucky enough to stay in a lot of really good hostels.  They had all the usual perks: lockers, book exchanges, plenty of restrooms, convenient locations, cleanliness, and (knock on wood!) a delightful lack of bed bugs.  But there are a few that stand out in my mind as truly great hostels, and those have taught me what to look for when I consider new ones.  What do they have that the others don't?
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

1. Awesome common space.
The best hostels I've found don't just have a common area -- they have a really great common area.  It's beautiful, comfortable, and just the right size.

But it's also strategically planned so that it's easy to make friends.  The common area is located right near the main entrance, so it feels natural to connect with people who are just arriving.  The seating in the common area is positioned for group interaction.  Everything about it feels open and inclusive.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Round the World Reading List.

I get so much more out of my travel when I have the chance to read about each place before and during my visit.  Setting the stage with historical and political context, getting excited about the mood and culture of the place, feeling a connection through personal stories, whatever!  I lean toward nonfiction, especially if it reflects my passions (social justice, Christianity, and food, to name a few), but I love the occasional page turner beach read too.

Can you help me make my travel reading list??  I'd love to hear about anything that would be fun to read in any of the regions I'm planning to visit!  My hope is that this becomes a living document that changes with all your feedback!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Outline (So Far).

My apartment is covered, and I'm in the middle of buying my round the world ticket!!!  Eeeeee!!!  I figure that means now's as good a time as any to update the blog!

I gave up trying to cram in every place in the world I've ever wanted to visit.  Instead I've just been piecing together the places I know I want to visit on this trip, and figuring I'll leave the in-between stuff a little more spontaneous.  I'm so so so excited about my skeleton so far!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sabbatical is on!

Last Wednesday, after waiting for weeks for sabbatical news to show up in my mailbox, I was lucky enough to find out from a friend at work instead -- I got it!! It was surreal, it was exciting, my heart raced, and I was sure I wanted to do it. Well, like 80% sure. But I gave myself a week to sift through my reaction, and realized that I absolutely 100% want to do it.  I'll get to do so many things I've always wanted to do, and the timing in my life couldn't be more perfect. So, after a deep breath and a sad goodbye to my 11th grade students, I mailed in my acceptance! I also picked the brains of about 17 of my friends from about 15 different countries and officially registered on WWOOF Argentina, WWOOF Spain, WWOOF Portugal, and Work Away. It's happening!!!