Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Volunteering with Kids and Living in the Jungle: Best and Worst Things

Casa de Ninas Voluntarios
My Worst Things:
1. Sleeping in Casa de Ninas with the kids (bugs, gross mattress, crying kids, disgusting bathroom)
EDIT: Sleeping there is a lot better with the hammock
2. When the water goes out in our house and all you want in the world is a shower
3. Mosquitos

My Best Things:
1. Practicing a lot of Spanish (I learn something new at least once a day)
2. Good experience teaching English and running a classroom (crafting super bonus)
3. Sharing the struggles with Angelo and other voluntarios

Angelo's Worst Things:
1. Too much time around kids
2. Hectic schedule break, off, break, off...unlike a normal work day
3. Difficult to be comfortable due to the damp, uncleanliness, and insects

Angelo's Best Things:
1. Cheap to live
2. Spanish practice
3. The personal challenge

*Worst listed first. Always good to leave on a positive note.
Thumbs up for English class!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Travel Journal: Two Weeks In - Work, Play, and the Damp

First off, apologies for the dead silence to those of you tuning in here. We only have 30 minutes of (bad) wifi per day AND you can only use it standing or sitting on benches outside in front of the cafeteria. Also I've had to leave my iPad 20 minutes down river in the oficina. They recently had a break-in at the volunteer house and things were stolen while people were sleeping. Pretty much not worth the risk.

So, for those of you interested...
a day in my life at the moment:
5:15 Wake Up
Get ready, walk down through the muddy jungle to Casa de Ninas
Help 3-6 yr olds shower
Boss all age girls around until they complete their chores
Get them downstairs for breakfast...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Travel Journal: Volunteer that a thing?

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - View from the bridge
A lot of people blog about how amazing it is to volunteer but no one really talks about how it feels to walk into it. I am on a bus now traveling from Guatemala City to Rio Dulce to start my first experience volunteering. I'm typing with my hands crooked because there is no space. Angelo and I didn't get to sit together because we were the last ones on the transfer shuttle and then the bus. We are always last to figure out what's going on. We didn't see our luggage being put in the bus either so I'm just hoping for the best. Worst case, I have a spare outfit and all the important stuff with me. 

Lush green mountains and hills are surrounding us. We pass a small town on a mountain side now and then. Buildings made from concrete and painted every color in the rainbow. The fog rests in the valleys and the clouds turn grayish blue against the bright sky. Pink, purple, and yellow wildflower bushes line the highway, the same kinds you'd find in San Diego. Except here they are surrounded by bits of trash. There are women in traditional dress walking along the road with babies and baskets. They wear incredible embroidered skirts and tops. It's a humble silhouette but feminine. A land of shiny black hair and warm burnt sugar skin. They braid ribbons in their hair and wrap animal skins around their waists tied with rope to create an extra warm skirt. It's a bit chilly this time of year at a cool 62 degrees. Palm trees and fruit trees create makeshift fence lines between properties. Tires piled up keep the metal roofs in place and white trucks are everywhere. Occasionally an American school bus flies past painted with the finesse of a muscle car and decorated with sexist stickers, called Chicken Buses. I can only assume the name comes from the way they pack people in. We are rounding cliff sides and it's a bit scary but I take comfort that these guys drive this road back and forth 3 times a day. Guatemala is beautiful, I'm happy to be here, happy to be headed to my first volunteer experience. 

I'll be working for an orphanage/education center for kids between ages 4-16 on a river in the Guatemalan jungle. Most of the kids come from surrounding...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doubts, Fear, and being a new kind of American

I'm sure anyone reading this has heard quite enough about the recent election in the US. So, warning here. Stop reading now if you are one of those people trying to shut everyone up about it. This is my space. I won't be shutting up about it here.

I'm devastated about my country. So deeply devastated that, truly, I don't want to go back. I'm going to do everything I can to move to Australia after I finish this travel. I already got the visa. I can't drum up the courage to face Donald Trump and his Republican senate, house, AND court. It feels like Germany circa 1930's. Maybe visiting Auschwitz this year. Maybe the war museum in Ho Chi Minh. Maybe the Louisiana plantations and watching the Netflix documentary 13. The rape case when the guy got off...again. The rape case where she committed suicide. Internet trolling and revenge porn. The school shootings and mall shootings. Trayvon and the many other victims of police brutality and militarization. These guys so rooted in their privilege, they just shoot. Maybe meeting so many people around the world. Maybe my (mostly good but sometimes bad) quality of generally being able to put myself in the shoes of others. Maybe it's everything.
And Trump is the pedestal for it.
I feel personally heartbroken. So, no, sorry. I can't just snap out of it and step up to continue the fight, I'd love to - trust me - but I can't right now. To anyone generally disappointed in me. I am sorry, and please know I'm also disappointed in myself. I will fight again, I promise.

I've always been politically involved in some way. I hated Bush as much as the next Dem. I wasn't a sore loser then. I was bummed but I put up with it and...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Adventures to Hierve el Agua

We met up with our new friend Josh to head out of Oaxaca City to see the salt waterfalls. It was supposed to be about an hour and a half journey on a bus. What we didn't know when we met at Josh's hotel is that the bus from Oaxaca Centro leaves early in the morning so we missed it. Several sources were telling us different things about how to get there. So, we basically tried each and every way. We ended up eating breakfast in the mercado, walking to the center, by the bus station, to a special bus station, to a big bus station. And finally, I remembered Tule was on the way to Mitli (the town at the bottom of the Hierve el Agua mountain).

Once we arrived to Tule, we walked over to their infamous tree. It is a montezuma cypress and the widest tree in the world (pretty amazing). My guess is they were experiencing a lot of vandalism because they put a big fence around it, kind of a shame. AND they charge like 10 or 15 pesos to just go up to the fence! They are currently on the tentative list for a UNESCO heritage site so maybe once they get it, they'll get some kind of funding or something and can make it a little better experience. Still, Tule is a great little stop. They have a lot of unique souvenirs and better clothing styles than are common in Oaxaca City. 

New friends sharing mezcal and charred agave leaves prepped for smashing

From there, we had to stand on the street for 20 or something minutes to find a collectivo (shared car) on to Mitla. We hopped in with two girls who ended up asking if we could detour for a mezcal tour and tasting. Of course we were in! It was all in Spanish but still interesting to see the process.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Palenque Ruins: Monkeys FTW

A quick Google of Palenque will instantly fill your mind with wonders of the ancient Mayan world. Angelo had been already so I did this trip on my own. Being the only English speaker on my bus, I only had one broken Spanish conversation with a girl from Guadalajara from 5 AM to 10:30 PM. It felt like a silence challenge or something. But, I also felt like Lora Croft running around this place on my own.

Look how tall this ruin is compared to me! And these trees totally blew my mind. You can't really tell but they were basically metallic.

I happened upon a family of howler monkeys. If you ever visit the jungle and you hear something very very loud that resembles a growl and a car backfire at the same time, it's probably a howler monkey. You can hear them from miles away. I had NO IDEA what that noise was but I said fuck it and wandered off to find it (yeah, smart move, I know). You should have seen me creeping down these ancient Mayan steps alone looking directly at the location of the sound. Once I finally spotted the thing, I was instantly filled with relief. 'Ok good, a gorilla isn't going to maul me today.' Don't worry, I was prepared to haul ass in the other direction if I needed to and there was an armed federale just up the steps and around the corner. 

Carajillo Coffee in San Cristobal de las Casas

If you're visiting San Cristobal, you'll notice right away there are a ton of coffee options. The quality of coffee here in Chiapas is unmatched by anywhere else in Mexico. If you are going to stop for a cup, I would recommend Carajillo. We got the tip from our friend Raul and he was spot on.

Angelo ordered a latte and I picked a chai tea latte with a carajillo espresso shot. So so yum. 

They also have an adorable cafe with beautiful beams and really helpful staff. Just across and down the street are some incredible artisan shops. The local textiles are so hard not to buy! Leave room in your luggage and don't miss Carajillo.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Travel Journal: Zicatela, Puerto Escondido

Paradise. There isn't much else to say. It's warm, perfect beaches, amazing waves, delicious fish tacos (at Dan's!), easy to get around by jumping on a shared taxi truck (colectivo).

We stayed a hostel called Daikiri. It is slow season so it was mostly quiet but we had one fun evening playing cards and drinking.

I tried my hand at Risk. Which is, the worst game ever for me. Problem one: I hate dice games cause I'm just a bad bad roller. Problem two: I don't like the aggressiveness. It's like a personal attack. Even worse than Monopoly (which I've almost ended relationships over). Anyway, don't know if I'll be attempting that one again. I really miss Pandemic. Now that's a game I can get behind. It was really clever, someone had written dares and other mini games on each of the Jenga blocks! Some of them were obviously meant for college kids, but cute idea. I want to do it when I get back home.

Monday, November 7, 2016

An Ultimate Guide: Visiting Oaxaca City for Dia de Muertos

If you want to experience an authentic Dia de Muertos in Mexico, Oaxaca is a great place to do it. It's just enough traditional small-town experience and just enough tourist goodies experience.

TRIP TIME: I suggest arriving at least one day before the real fiesta begins (aim for October 29th or sooner). This gives you at least a day to enjoy the city and pick up the items for your costume. It also helps to get a sense of the map in Oaxaca because once the nightlife starts (around dusk), there are parades and people everywhere. Then, you'll probably be ready to head home or on to your next destination by November 3rd. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of nice things to see but the must-do's can be done in that amount of time (or maybe one day less).

Ofrenda (altar) and grave site decorations

FOOD: You will love the food! Especially little hole in the wall places (if the sign for the restaurant is a list of menu items that includes 'tortillas a mano', that's a good call). Eat the street food: Hamburguesas...some of the best hamburgers I've had ever, Elotes...a little strange at first with the mayo but with picante salsa it's delicious, Sopas, Empanadas, Gorditas, it's all yummy. If you are the type of person that needs to know what you are eating, I suggest a little dictionary book for food names. Plus most Mexicans speak at least a little English if not more. Oaxaca sees a lot of tourists, especially at this time, so you'll find most people are patient with you and willing to find a way to communicate even if it's a struggle. All that said, if you like a more tourist friendly version, there are many high quality, clean, and comfortable restaurants available with English menus.

SHOPPING: Benito Juarez Mercado is the perfect market to buy an outfit, a few flowers for your hair or hat, candles to carry in the cemeteries, and gifts to bring back home. You can also buy many things at the street stalls. Generally, it is acceptable to negotiate on the price. However, I believe it's important to remember it is someone's time you're paying for too. The mercado stalls are less likely to negotiate on prices than the street stalls. Also, there are artisan craft stores available which have price tags and make it easy to buy locally made merchandise. Just walk around and you'll definitely see one. There are at least two on Andador Macedonio Alcalá (the pedestrian street right off the main square).

Churro y Tortas: the best in Mexico City at El Churrero

Churros y torta

At our friend Ricardo's buddy's suggestion, we went to El Churrero (I think it used to be called El Moro) for a late lunch after a day out exploring the city. It's only a quick walk from the Angel of Independence which is a must see in the city. Also you pass by the plaza and park area so you might catch a local event or outdoor exhibition (if you're lucky like we were).

We came upon this sculpture exhibition in the park

The restaurant is cute and modern. My initial impression was they must have strong financial backers because they obviously put a lot of money into making it seem appealing to a hip crowd. It looks like something you'd find walking around Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Sometimes the fancier looking the restaurant, the blander and unauthentic the food. Alberto insisted they were traditional so we got excited. There is a bit of a line but it goes quickly so jump in anyway. Their menu is really simple so even non-Spanish speakers can easily make a decision.

Tortas: Mole (chicken in a sauce made from chilis and chocolate) or Pastor (chicken marinated in spices and cooked on open flame)
*Both are delicious so you can't go wrong
Churros with several types of sauce
*I suggest caramel but with goat's milk
Churro Ice Cream Sandwiches
Other beverages

PS: Tortas are a Mexican sloppy joe for lack of a better description. If you're ever in Mexico City, look up El Churrero. You won't regret it!

Travel Journal: Ciudad de Mexico

Another interesting day in Mexico City. We woke up late, had our leftover dinner for breakfast con huevos (that budget life). Then headed to the metro to see the city center. I wanted to see the Diego Rivera mural at Palacio de Bellas Artes but when we arrived it wasn't in the lobby like I'd hoped so we'd have had to buy tickets to the museum in order to see it. Boo. So, we didn't. Even so, I'm really glad we checked it out because the building itself (and lobby) is amazing! It's the perfect example of art deco style with little aztec and traditional Mexican touches thrown in. I highly recommend a visit, especially since it's the perfect place to start a city center walk about. From there, it's straight down to the main plaza.

It's so fun having everything decked out for Day of the Dead. We passed by a city memorial and several clothing stores. Annnnd we stopped for cookies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Through Puebla: Travel fears and my first bus in Mexico

Ok, so the internet can be a very scary place. You look for some info and BAM you never want to leave your house again. The number one fear factor for me on this journey is bus travel. The stuff online is scary AF. All the way from people taking a knife to your luggage and pulling stuff out while it's under your seat (or in the hold) to being pulled over and TAKEN by 'cops' who are not actually cops but bad bad people. My fear for this is much higher in places like Honduras and El Salvador but Mexico has it's risks as well. I hate to play the how you look card but, let's be honest here: I'm white (and do I ever mean white), I don't speak the language well (if at all at times), and I'm a female (we all know what that means). Prettttty much everywhere I've traveled outside of Europe and Canada this all adds up to a little extra attention. So, I do get a bit fearful. Many many female (and sometimes solo female!) travelers are just super badass and don't seem to carry these fears. Props to them (like big time props) but that just isn't me. I'm cautious and less trustful then most of my traveler counterparts. I do hope that eases after a long travel like this one. Don't get me wrong, I've met tons of wonderful people and do believe most people are good and caring. I think I've just experienced a lot of harassment and a lot of people repeatedly telling me to...go the corner where no one can touch you (on a train in India), go home in a cab right away because this is a dangerous neighborhood (on the block where I live), never go to the bathroom alone, where a scarf over your hair to be safe (in Marrakech), and stay in the car because I can't let you walk at night with that hair color (two nights ago). That shit gets to me I guess.

Anyway I just took my very first bus ride in Mexico and boy oh boy was the internet wrong. Which is, of course, no surprise. It was very organized...well, maybe not the getting to the right place in the bus station part. We had luggage tags that they don't even give you on Megabus in America. There was a tv, the most comfortable bus seats I've been on, we stopped for a bathroom and cheap eats several times. They switched drivers half way so you never had to fear the driver would get sleepy. The drive was smooth and there were luggage racks inside as well so you don't have to keep your stuff by your feet but can still keep an eye on it.

And, the scenery in Puebla! Those cacti tho, amiright?

We arrived near the time it said we would (within 15 minutes) and the guy checked every bag tag. I absolutely recommend bus travel in Mexico on ADO, AU, or one similar. If I take any other lines, I will add it to this post.

I was so comfortable, we added in another bus trip (not the only reason) to Puerto Escondido this weekend and I'm not nervous at all :)