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Showing posts from 2015

That time I didn't WWOOF in 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. I'd found an awesome Mendoza WWOOF gig: a sustainable community filled with likeminded people from all over the world. Well, it will be. When I met my future host in Buenos Aires, he explained that he had bought a huge plot of land, and was just starting to give pieces to interested

I love Buenos Aires. Asterisk.

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. I was so lucky that my hostel was walking distance from two amazing parks. But the more I explored, the more I realized it wasn't just luck -- the city is full of them! People are running, bicycling, practicing yoga, teaching boot camps. People are having picnics and drinking mate with friends. People are feeding birds and literally stopping to smell the roses. Shady benches are actually available and people actually sit and read for a while. And when you're on vacation an

Reflections on Voluntourism.

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? As a teacher volunteering at a clinic in Bolivia, I've had the chance to think about this in a new way. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I've been considering some guidelines that I hope to keep in mind 

Traveling while Vegetarian.

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.   2. Watch

How I Bolivia (and how you can help!)

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. Well, I think I've found it. Many of the patients that come to the clinic have Type 2 Diabetes. Their diet tends to consist primarily of starchy foods, and the vegetables they do eat tend to be super bland. No wonder they don't eat more of them! I started doing nutrition consults, and I came to re

That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 2.

... continued from That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 1. Wednesday. 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. Thursday. Late breakfast at home, then make up our first bingo game for the beach. Make our way to the beach slowly but surely, stopping along the way, crossing off such ubiquitous bingo squares as parasols and American flags. Splurge on two beach chairs and an umbrella, and spend most of the day taking turns peeing in the ocean and reading in the shade. Make a couple new artist friends from H

That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 1.

Friday. 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. Saturday. 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. Sunday. They stamped my passport. Commence in-airport freakout. No idea what to do or what might happen, or how to find out what to do or what might happen. Repeatedly replay the interaction with the immigration officer in my hea

Empowering women entrepreneurs in 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

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! Biche Pobre was recommended by locals, and is a little light on tourists due to its location slightly outside the city center. The restaurant has two stories filled with plenty of tables, but even still, a line out the door is commonplace. My chilaquiles were delicious -- although that's ki