Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Blog for a New Adventure

Right now, I'm in ECUADOR! I am studying here for a year and am already loving my time. I volunteered for 6 weeks on an organic farm and animal rescue and now I am taking classes at a university in Quito. Check out my adventures on my new blog called Cuentos de Ecuador (stories from Ecuador).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Crocodiles

Today I was feeling especially nostalgic and read through my blog and decided that it doesn't have to stop just because I'm back in Seattle! Reading back over my blog brings back memories and I feel like I am reliving that moment in my life again, so why not tell more stories? I will start with one of my fondest memories in Bolivia.
Cocodrilo (Crocodile)

Our boat
I should start by saying why I was in Bolivia. The summer before my junior year of high school, I was interested in doing a short-term foreign exchange (which I did to Holland the next summer). I got in touch with the local Rotary Club, and by the time I got off the phone, I had agreed to host a long-term foreign exchange student from Bolivia. Oscar lived with my family for four months and we were instantly best friends. The summer before my freshman year of high school, I went to Bolivia to live with his family for a few months and we traveled around Bolivia and Peru and spent time getting to know his family and friends in La Paz. We went on a few trips and had endless adventures. One of my favorite trips was our trip to Rurrenabaque, where we took a three day tour through the pampas. Our group consisted of Oscar and me, two middle-aged women from France and five college boys from Chile. Needless to say, we had an amazing time and here is where my story starts:

Fishing for Piranhas
Swimming in the river
Our main mode of transportation throughout the trip was basically a motorized canoe. We rode through the murky river and saw tons of turtles, capybaras, monkeys, birds, and crocodiles. To the boys' delight, we even went on anaconda hunts! The river was filled with piranhas and crocodiles and none of us dared to stick even a finger in the dark water. On the third day, we took the boat to a place where the river widened and to our surprise, pink dolphins started swimming around the boat. Before this, I had no idea that dolphins could even be pink, so you can imagine my surprise! Our guide told us that when the dolphins swam down the river, the crocodiles and piranhas were scared away. So what did we do? We jumped out of the boat into the murky crocodile/piranha/dolphin infested water and laughed and screamed in delight. The river was actually pretty shallow- about four feet deep and much to my utter terror, I could see the crocodiles waiting at the river's edge, but I felt safe while the dolphins were swimming around us. We shimmied back into the boat and road back to camp where we boasted to the other group how we had swam with the crocodiles.
Se llama Pedro el cocodrilo :)

That experience really defines my traveling experience in Bolivia. I took a lot of risks and never held back and in the end, I had an amazing time. I trusted what our guide told us about the dolphins and I became friends with the Chilenos who are all great guys. Whenever I tell people that I swam with crocodiles, they look at me like I'm crazy and say that I'm lying. When I'm traveling, that's what I aim for- stories so amazing that people won't even believe me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Final Journey

Well it’s been about a month since I’ve left Fes and it’s been a whirlwind of a time! I will attempt to write about many of my experiences and emotions leaving Morocco and traveling through Portugal and Spain. Saying goodbye to my host family was pretty hard for me. They had been so kind and considerate to me and I had become good friends with my host brother. After promising them I would return, I began my journey.
My plane landed in Porto, Portugal a little after midnight and I realized that I only had the address of the hostel where I was going to stay. So I ended up taking a cab and had a half Spanish, half Portuguese conversation with the cab driver! I was so exhausted when I got to Porto that I didn’t see much of the city except for the mall where I bought some new Europe-appropriate clothes. I had forgotten what it was like to travel by myself and completely enjoyed my new freedom.
Monument in Lisbon
            My experience in Lisbon was AMAZING. Lisbon is a gorgeous city and definitely a contender for my favorite city. I decided to stay in one of the top-rated hostels in the world and it was a great decision! The hostel was located on the main street of the city and I met tons of people right away. I went on pub crawls, ate tapas, and heard the famous fado singers. I became friends with some people from France and most of them spoke English more or less. They cooked a big meal and we had a great time walking around the city and going out at night. Something you all should know about Europe is that if you go out, you must commit to being out the ENTIRE night. Starting in Lisbon and lasting throughout my entire trip, I don’t think I went to bed before 4 am and if I had gone to a club, I wouldn’t get home until 6 or 7 in the morning. And then I would wake up at 8 or 9 to start my day! Needless to say, I drank a LOT of coffee and slept on trains, planes, and whenever I could! I only spent 7 days in Portugal, but what I did see I loved. I know I will be returning very soon because Portugal captured my heart!
            My flight out of Portugal landed in Valencia on 6 pm on a Sunday night. I had my huge hiking backpack, my smaller school backpack, and my smaller purse. I got out of the airport and realized I had no idea where I was going. I checked my wallet to find that I had no cash so I went to an ATM only to find out my debit card had stopped working. I remembered the name of the street that my hostel was on so I tried finding a map. I was able to locate the street and figured that it would take me about an hour to walk to the hostel. With no other options left, I started walking along the deserted streets. With the 30 kilos that I was carrying on my back, the 95 degree weather, and the fact that I had gotten around 5 hours of sleep total in the last week, I found a bench and just started crying. I was a pathetic mess and I just didn’t care what people thought of me. I sat there until I felt like I had enough strength to find my hostel and after a while I came across a few police officers who pointed me in the right direction. I found the hostel, crashed, and left early the next morning for Barcelona.
Gaudi House
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Gorgeous streets of Barcelona
            Lucky for me, I found another amazing hostel. About 5 minutes after arriving, I was invited to eat dinner with a group of people from the hostel. They were from Australia, Canada, France, Switzerland, and a ton of other cool countries. That night we all went out and I met up with Colby and her friend Victoria at one of the bars! I was SO happy to see them! I love traveling by myself and doing whatever I want, but it’s so nice to have a friend tearing up the town alongside you. We also met up with our friend Francisco who had also studied with us in Fes and we all had a great time until we all split up and Francisco and I got lost. We spent a little bit of time trying to find the club they were going to, but then we gave up, bought a bottle of wine, and wandered around the streets of Barcelona. The next few days I met a ton of people and went to the beach, went to many more bars and walked around Barcelona many, many times. I love walking. When I travel, I don’t necessarily care about seeing every single famous building. I like walking around the smaller streets, talking with people, and sitting at cafes and watching people walk by. Of course I saw the Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi houses, and Las Ramblas, but nothing can compare with sharing a jar of sangria with a Spaniard you just met and talking about differences in languages, opinions, and cultures.
Festival near Lleida
            When I started planning my trip, I knew I wanted to visit a small town in Spain. I signed up for Couch Surfing, and found a family that wanted to host me in their small town of Lleida. The father picked me up at the bus station and they cooked me a great dinner right away and we had a great conversation switching from Spanish, to Catalan, to English. They had great perspectives since they had traveled so much before and gave me a map and pointed out places for me to visit the next day. The city was so cute and the people were very friendly. I walked up to the castle overlooking the city and went down to the river with a girl I had also met through Couch Surfing. She had two dogs and we hung out by the river for a while and then went to a bar her friend owned. It was great hanging out with someone closer to my age who didn’t speak English but I felt like I got a real, unbiased view of life in the Spanish countryside. That night I met back up with Montse and Albert (my hosts) and they took me to an incredible festival in a town close by. The festival consisted of people holding sparklers and fireworks in very narrow streets. This would NEVER happen in the United States and I completely enjoyed myself! It was really scary being close to all the fire and sure enough, I have burns on my feet and holes burnt in my shirt, but it was totally worth it!! I am so glad I went to a small town and I really hope I will be able to spend more time here in the future.
My birthday in Madrid
Me and Birgit!
            I arrived in Madrid on my birthday and met up with Colby, Victoria, and my friend Birgit (my host sister from Holland). We had a dinner of paella and sangria and then hit the clubs! The night was so much fun with all four of us and it was a great way to celebrate my birthday! Colby and Victoria had a flight the next day, so it was just Birgit and me in Madrid for the next few days. We walked around the city, took a nap in the Parque del Retiro, toured the Palacio Real, and tried navigating through the streets filled with the kids from World Youth Day. We went to an Irish pub to watch the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona futbol game and had such a fun time! We met some people while we were on a pub crawl and I was able to go to a Salsa club where I twirled and danced around the dance floor all night. By the time Birgit left and I only had a half day left, I was exhausted and aching all over my body. But I didn’t let that stop me from going out for dinner with a guy I had met from Cameroon. If I ever have an opportunity to meet someone from a place like Cameroon, I will drop everything and listen to them. He was really interesting and by the time we got back, my flight was in a few hours so I packed up and began my journey to the US.
            The first few days I slept. I slept, and slept, and slept and then slept some more. I hung out with some friends, spent a lot of time with my family, and showed my brother’s host brother from Austria around Seattle. It’s been about two weeks since I got back and the boredom is just starting to hit me. I got so used to always having something fun and interesting to do and now that I am at home, everything just sucks. Don’t get me wrong- I love being with my family and hanging out with my friends, but I also love exploring ruins in Morocco or walking around a palace in Spain. I’m pretty sure the only cure for my boredom is to start planning my next adventure (junior year studying in Colombia??)!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thanks Morocco!

          Today is my last day at ALIF and it has been an amazing ride! I have become friends with some truly incredible people. Whether it was having a Texas shoot-out in the middle of school or building a giant sand castle on the beach in Assilah, I have had so much fun. The thing about seeing the same few people for maybe 8 hours every day is that you come to either love or hate them and I have definitely come to love everyone here!

My roommate Colby has helped me endure the hardest parts and enjoy the fun parts. I have no idea what I would have done the first week if I hadn’t met her in the Madrid airport!!

A shout out also, to my host brother Driss who treated us like sisters from the first day. I really loved how he hung out with us and helped us whenever we needed it.

My class!
          Both of my teachers have also had a huge influence on me. Every time any of us had a problem, we would spend time in class talking about it and trying to find a solution. The last few days have been really hard for everyone because people are getting sick and our brains are starting to combust from all the Arabic we are inhaling. Our teachers were always completely understanding and willing to listen to our rants.
          Everyone is starting to speed up- both at school and in the city. I have my final exam in 8 hours and Ramadan starts on Monday. Everyone is trying to cram as much studying and fun into these few days before the Americans leave and the Moroccans begin Ramadan. I am lucky that I am staying in Fes until Tuesday because I will be able to experience two days of Ramadan with my host family. (In case you didn’t know, I’m going to be travelling around Portugal and Spain for a few weeks so my adventures are far from done!) I came to Morocco to learn Arabic and also to learn a new culture. Living in Fes has been difficult due to the heat, people, food, and culture. I can’t help but to compare the culture that I grew up in with the culture that I have come to know and usually it makes me more patriotic and thankful for the way I live. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back to Fes soon. Once I get to know a different way of life, I can’t stay away for very long.  I’m excited to get back to Seattle, though. I really miss my family, my friends, my dog, and the weather there!
          When I first started learning Spanish, someone told me that you understood the language when you could order tacos without stammering. After six weeks of Arabic, I am proud to say that I can order Marcouda off the streets of Fes without a single stammer. I have learned how to eat an entire meal without a fork and what to say to the men who call out to us on the street. I have come to appreciate clean, cold water and laugh when I make a blatant cultural mistake. I’m so excited for starting the next part of my adventure and then return home to my family. These past six weeks have been an incredible adventure and sometimes I am still in shock that I’m actually here. Thank you, Morocco, for making my time here so amazing!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Violence is funny!

          Americans view the Middle East as a place filled with violence. When I told people that I was going to Morocco, they would raise their eyebrows and tell me to be careful. Of course they had good intentions but I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. What I didn't expect was how Moroccans view violence on a daily basis.
          I am not writing this to make assumptions or accusations about the culture here because I do not understand it myself. But I do want to share a few of my experiences regarding violence. My host family thinks it is the funniest thing to threaten each other and even us with knives. Every time dinner is brought out, the mother will have the knife and thrust it towards us. She'll do this over and over until we laugh and let her know that it's funny when in reality I'm terrified that if I flinch I'll have a knife in my arm. One day when I came home for lunch the woman that cleans once a week was having lunch with the family. My host father would "playfully" hit her leg and await for the uproar of laughter that followed. I'm not sure why it was so funny because he did, actually, hit her really hard.
          Another instance when I found this humor uncomfortable was when I was in the Sahara. When the Berber guides brought Gabrielle and I to the top of the sand dune, one of them pretended to choke me. I was actually really scared because I realized how easy it was for a murder to take place up there and no one to notice. He of course let go right away and he and his friend just laughed at my reaction.
          This happens with strangers, too. I went into an art gallery to buy a painting I had seen and started talking with the artist. He was very nice and our combination of Arabic and French seemed to suffice. I chose the painting I wanted and he brought out a pipe to roll the paintings around. When he came out of his room, he had this horrific look on his face and he made a motion to smash my head in with the pipe. I gave him a wide-eyed look and then smiled at his "joke." He laughed and just shook his head at our lack of communication.
          I have yet to understand this kind of humor. These are just some of the experiences that stand out to me, not to mention the fascination with blood and gore that many of the younger boys have here. I am disgusted and terrified and also intrigued that a culture can have such a humorous view of violence. I completely realize that this occurs with people in the United States, too. But here is it much more prevalent and it seems that more people share this humor. I am still trying to work around this idea in my head because it was such an unexpected shock.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Hotel meal- not so typical
             One question that everyone seems to ask when I travel is how’s the food? I have a high tolerance for different foods- I have tried among other things fish eggs, guinea pig, cow tail, and even llama brain. So coming to Morocco, I wasn’t worried at all about the food. The first day I stayed in my first host family, the host mother served us small breaded fish. I assumed that since they were breaded that they were safe to eat and since I didn’t want to be rude, I just plopped it in my mouth. I soon found out that the entire spine and skull were still intact. This was the first of many strange foods that I would have to figure out how to eat.
            For the most part, Moroccans eat four meals. Breakfast consists of mint tea, coffee, cheese, jam, and lots and lots of bread. We’ve gotten lucky a few times to when our host mom will make us French toast sticks. The second meal is lunch which is served around 2 pm and usually we are served some sort of soup/ mashed up vegetable concoction along with lots and lots of bread. If we’re lucky we’ll get amazingly juicy honey dew melon or watermelon. Around 6 or 7 pm we’ll have another mini meal. One time we ate French fry sandwiches- no joke. Usually this will be bread and a tomato sauce type of food. Dinner is served any time between 9 and 12 and is pretty much the same as lunch.
Yesterday our host mother brought out a platter of roast beef covered in French fries. In Seattle, I hardly ever eat meat but in Morocco I have found it hard at times to avoid it. So usually I discreetly avoid the meat dishes which are somewhat rare here. When my host mother saw that I wasn’t eating the meat she started gossiping with her sister who was having lunch with us. Now, even if I don’t speak the language I can tell when people are talking about me by the tone of their voices. She kept offering me meat throughout the meal and I would refuse and keep reminding her that I was a vegetarian. This isn’t a concept that is well understood or accepted in Morocco and I understand that. I know that she doesn’t understand why I don’t eat meat so that is why I don’t make a big deal about it. For dinner that day she brought out small bowls of potato and a big bowl of meat. Just meat. I knew I would have to eat it and I was ok with that because I didn’t have a choice. The mother sat down and watched me eat the potatoes for a little bit and then got a big piece of meat on her fork and offered it to me. I refused at first but she kept pushing. I finally gave in and just ate the meat to make her happy and she started laughing and saying “Shwiya nabatia” which means “kind of vegetarian.” This made me furious because she made me eat the meat and then she made fun of me for not being a vegetarian. I knew that she wasn’t going to understand me being a vegetarian but I expected that she would respect my choice. I didn’t make a big deal about it, but I am definitely not going to nice about it anymore.
Paella in Assilah
With the meat out of the way, people here joke that the two main ingredients in everything are bread and sugar. And it is completely true. All the drinks are loaded with sugar and we eat TONS of bread. The fruit is ripe this time of year and you can find small pastries and desserts on carts in the medina. A very typical meal is called “tajine.” A tajine is the container that the food is cooked in, like a casserole dish and it can be vegetables or chicken or anything you want. Food is prepared and then cooked for many hours before it is ready and it is eaten with bread. When I say it’s eaten with bread I mean that there are no forks or utensils on the table and you have to use your hands. I know couscous is popular here, but I have not encountered much in the homestay but I have had some when some of us go out. Overall, the food here is good, but not my favorite. I am a big fan of Mexican and Thai food so this is a completely different concept and I am not used to so much bread. When I go home I’m not going to eat bread for months! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poor Man's Corner

          There’s a café a few blocks from the school that a few of the students have deemed “Poor Man’s Corner.” I am not sure of the actual name of the café- to be honest, I’ve never asked. It is a beautiful outdoor café made with concrete and cracked dirty tiles and situated next to a sketchy gas station. The workers at the gas station congregate at one of the tables and continually smoke cigarettes and scratch their grime-covered faces. The lentils are 6 Dirhams (about $.70) and you get free bread, water, and tea with your purchase. All the food here is delicious and comes in bowls with brown paper for napkins and the water comes in small gasoline jugs. The waiters know my friend and me and have become protective of us when men walk by and make comments. We love sitting there during our 4 hour lunch break and watching the Moroccans walk by and do double takes of us white girls sitting in the café surrounded by men. I love this café and have taken to coming here a few times a week because it is so cheap and I love sitting in the dirty chairs and eating the deliciously cheap food. هذا المغرب وأحبه