Cartagena, Colombia Highlights

I started the international part of my journey in Colombia, and this country will always hold a very special place in my heart. The lands are beautiful, the culture is incredible and the people are some of the kindest I have met. I spent three months in Colombia, mostly in Cartagena studying Spanish. I fell in love with this city the moment I got out of the taxi. The old town`s colonial architecture and protective walls sent me back to another time, while a visit to the Bocagrande area brought back fond images of Miami. Juxtapose these two together and you have a city with one foot in the past and one in the future. And I loved it.

Through my Spanish school, I was able to participate in many cultural and historical activities. I believe that through only studying the past, can you fully understand the present. Colombia`s rich history fascinated me like nothing before. I went to every concert, show, movie, tour, presentation, and museum I was offered. The teaching text the school used was full of historic figures and stories of Colombia, and the teachers went out of their way to find recent articles on current events, so learning Spanish wasn’t just about memorizing words or conjugating verbs. It was really a full immersion. The icing on the cake was living with a Colombian family for the three months I was there. Although very challenging at times, especially because they spoke no English, I think the experience of living within the family gave me a greater understanding. It was frustrating, enlightening, different, and sometimes quite dramatic being a part of a family that I could not communicate with and a culture so different from my own. In the end, I was glad for the experience. If fact, it`s very interesting writing about Cartagena now, almost six months after the experience, so I can look back and reflect with some distance to see that it was all worth it.

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My Favorite Rooftop Bar in Cartagena

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Every Street in Old Town Offered Step Back in Time

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I Became Obsessed with Doorknockers

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Palenqueras De Cartagena

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My Colombian Family

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Kite Festival

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Museo do Oro

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Rooftop Zumba Classes!

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Categories: Cartagena, Colombia | 3 Comments

Guatemala Highlights

I spent about 2 months (December 2013 – January 2014) in Guatemala. A brief summary of my favorite places:

Lake Atitlan – Gorgeous lake surrounded by volcanoes.  This place reminded me of Lake Tahoe.  Come here for the fabulous views, the laid-back vibe, the indigenous culture, and the art.

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Tikal – Ancient Mayan ruins. These ruins were so special to me because of the jungle setting and all of the fabulous wildlife. I wanted to see a jaguar so bad, but he eluded me.

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La Antigua – Colonial City. This is where I spent most of my time in Guatemala, and I was fortunate to live with two different Guatemalan families. I was able to immerse myself in the language and the culture and to spend Christmas and New Year’s with them.

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Pacaya Volcano – Horseback riding up an active volcano at sunset. After the sun went down I could see the lava shooting out the top. It was amazing.2013-12-21 17.25.30

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Categories: Guatemala | 1 Comment

I Hate Blogging

I hate blogging. There, I said it. When I started my adventure almost one year ago, I had these amazing plans for my blog to be a weekly update to document everything that happens to me. I wanted it to be a way to share with others (especially my close friends and family) as well as a way for me to remember things myself. I soon realized that blogging was hard. And time consuming. After I write, I re-write and edit and add pictures and re-write again and again. I am not a perfectionist, but I am incredibly detail-oriented, and will spend hours fighting with WordPress to make sure the justification on a photo caption is just so. Blogging started to feel like a job to me. A job that I wasn’t being paid for. I didn’t feel like working, so I quit my blogging job. Just like that, I realized that if I didn’t want to do it anymore, I didn’t have to.

One of my awesome Instagram photos

One of my awesome Instagram photos

However, there are two times that I feel like blogging. One is when I re-read my old blogs and it brings back memories of where I have been and what I was feeling at the time. I want to remember everything I have been going through. I tell myself that the photos I take will be enough, but I’m not so sure. Although my Instagram account is pretty killer right now, it is quite possible that I am forgetting memories as we speak. What’s funny is, I actually write blogs in my head almost every day. I think while I’m walking on the beach, hey, this would be interesting to write about. I even have a file on my iPhone notepad of future blog topics, many of which will probably never be written.

I have an unwritten blog about what makes a beautiful beach

I have an unwritten blog about what makes a beautiful beach

The second time I feel like blogging is when I read other people’s blogs. I am obsessed with travel blogs and probably follow at least 20 different travel bloggers around the planet. I am fascinated not only with the destinations and recommendations, but their voices and their views and often the views of their followers. I actually follow some bloggers who I completely disagree with their opinions and actions on the road and travel style, but I am riveted by their blogs, as I can’t wait to see what they will do or say next.  Today I spent some time reading a friend’s blog and was dazed by how personal it was and how vividly he expressed himself in his writing and how grateful he is going to be to have this documentation later in life. I was inspired by his candor, and although you won’t catch me writing about my almost-non-existent love life on my blog, I feel the desire to write again, and I want to share and I want something for myself to remember.

So I have recommitted myself to this “job” that I quit in January, and I am going to try to change my attitude on it, and try to think of it less as a job and more as a gym workout, where I hate going, but always feel better after. Look at that. I feel better already. Maybe I don’t hate blogging after all….

Categories: Friends and Family, Solo Travel | 2 Comments

Solo Travel: The Good and The Bad

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I’ve been traveling for over eight months now. Eight months and eleven days to be exact. When people ask me how it’s been, I immediately say that I’ve loved every minute of it. But to be honest, this is not exactly true. Solo travel for me has (overall) been wonderful, but it’s far from perfect.

The Good:
1. The best thing about traveling alone is being able to do whatever I want and whenever I want. I never have to deal with the conversation: “What do you want to do today?” “I don’t know what do you want to do today?” Or “I’d love to visit the museum of firearms.” Or “Another beach day, Laurie? Aren’t you tired of beaches?” (Um, no). It is completely freeing and liberating to wake up and do exactly what I want to do. Or to do exactly nothing.
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2. The second best thing about traveling alone is the ease of meeting other people. When I traveled with my ex-boyfriend we rarely met other people. Occasionally we’d meet another couple, but mostly we were each other’s company. Traveling alone forces you to talk to strangers or at least a bartender. I personally think bars are great. My parents owned a bar when I was young, so I always say that I grew up in a bar. I’m comfortable on a bar stool, even if I’m alone. In fact I’m writing this from a bar stool at my hotel in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. My theory on bars is that people go there to socialize, if not they could just drink from home. If there’s an option, I’d rather eat at a bar than at a table for one. Best case scenario, you meet someone interesting and end up talking all night and they buy your dinner (which happened surprisingly often when I traveled in the US). Worst case scenario, the bar is dead, but you have a beer and write a blog and go home early.

3. For me, the third best thing about traveling alone is just like you aren’t counting on anyone else for your fun and enjoyment, no one is counting on you. You have no pressure to find the best hotel/tour/beach and you don’t have to worry about disappointing someone. I don’t like the pressure/responsibility of having control over someone else’s happiness…(hmm, maybe this is why I’m single…. ) When I’m traveling alone if the tour is a bust or the hotel has bedbugs, it was my decision and I never have to deal with someone else’s complaining/unhappiness/unmet expectations. And the biggest change I’ve found in myself over the last eight months is the lowering of my expectations and the increase in my patience. I told a new student (and now a friend) at my Spanish school in Colombia to be prepared for disappointment. I’ve found often in my travels (especially in South/Central America) that things don’t often never go as planned. Buses are late, people are flaky, plans are canceled last minute, etc. For example, I’m currently in this small Guatemalan coastal village waiting to get on a sailboat for a week-long sailing trip to Belize that will never happen because it was canceled because not enough people signed up. So I’m going to try to head somewhere else tomorrow. Instead of my usual crushing disappointment, I just shrugged, and I’m moving on. I would feel awful if I convinced a friend or a travel partner to come on the sailing trip, and they were disappointed.
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The Bad:
1. The worst thing about traveling alone, is yes, at times it is lonely. The bar is empty (or worse, full of couples holding hands), they are playing sad Adele through the speakers, and the bartender doesn’t even want to say hello. This happens. You had a great day and saw something amazing like a volcano or a sunset or a guy on the street playing violin with his feet and you have no one to discuss it with. Actually I like Facebook for being able to share my experiences when I don’t have someone to talk to.
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2. Making decisions and planning can be hard and exhausting. Yes, I get to make every decision and do what I like, but sadly I have to make every decision. I’m often oscillating between over-researching and reading every Trip Advisor/Lonely Planet review for every hotel in an area to not even knowing where the bus I’m on is going. I actually prefer the latter. But mostly when I’m on a bus not knowing where I’m going, someone else has done the leg work and I’m just tagging along on their research and advice. I can get paralyzed with the research and the decision making side of travel. It would be great to have a travel partner who loved to handle the details. Or maybe a travel agent that knew what I liked to do and just planned everything for me. I was actually on Trip Advisor today wishing there was a function to sort by things I like (ex. Quiet, close to restaurants/bars, safe, mid price range. etc. Or better yet, eliminate places that have things I don’t like, like crazy backpackers or kids yelling in the pool.). Like a personalized trip advisor. Business/ap idea anyone? Or anyone like doing research want to be my personalized travel agent, I could use a good two week itinerary in Costa Rica starting on January 20.

3. On the practical side of solo travel, things are just more expensive when you are a party of one. All hotels and car rentals would be half price if I had someone to share with. In many restaurants the entrees are often too big for one person. I would love to be able to “split an appetizer and an entree” every night instead of ordering just an appetizer or worse, ordering an entree and wasting half.

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So that’s my take on solo travel. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but it’s a journey and I’m growing and changing everyday with the experiences I’m having and the people I’m meeting. I met a fascinating women named Elizabeth in a bar a few weeks ago. She has been traveling the world alone for the last two years since the death of her husband. And she’s 90 years old. She amazed and inspired me with her courage and her strength and her stories of China and India and Mexico. She made me feel young again, although I’ll be celebrating a big milestone birthday this year. When I start to question whether I can navigate this world alone I think about Elizabeth and I realize that my life is not even half way done, and it’s never too late to travel alone.
What do you think? Do you love traveling alone? Prefer with a partner? Let me know in the comments below. Adios!

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Categories: RTW, Solo Travel | 10 Comments

La Antigua, Guatemala – Second Impressions (en inglés y español)

I´ve been in La Antigua, Guatemala for over three weeks now, and I am finally getting around to writing a blog post.  I was planning on writing a ¨first impressions¨ blog when I first got here, but I realized that it would be mostly negative.   I had heard and read so many positive things about Antigua, that I was surprised that I didn´t like the city when I first arrived.  I had just left Cartagena, Colombia, where I fell in love with the city and the people as soon as I arrived.  Now in Antigua, I didn´t feel the same.  The people I met seemed closed off, not mean or disrespectful, just reserved and conservative.  The fumes from the old buses and the tuk tuks in the street made it almost impossible to breathe when walking down the street.  Although charming, the cobblestone streets hurt my feet when I walked.  And then there were the stories of the crime here.  The usual suggestions from locals of not carrying lots of money and not waving your camera around were replaced with ¨don´t go out after dark¨.  (Which was tough, as the sun sets at 6 PM).  I was unable to determine which stories real and which were just people who were being overly cautious.

So, three weeks later, here I am to tell a different story of this city and why it grew on me and why I am still here.

  • The people are incredibly kind and warm.  Although they may not immediately engage you in conversation, once you engage them, they open up completely.  I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with a Guatemalan family who allow me to share in their traditionals and customs of the holiday.
Navidad 2013, La Antigua, Guatemala

Navidad 2013, La Antigua, Guatemala

My Spanish Teacher (and friend), Her Husband and Me

My Spanish Teacher (and friend), Her Husband and Me

  • The city is rich in history and culture.  I am not a big museum or history buff, but I do like to have an understanding of a place and how it came to be.  Antigua is filled with old churches, ruins, convents, in addition to museums of jade, chocolate, Mayan culture, fabric, etc.  I have spent the last three weeks learning how natural disasters and the arrival of the Spaniards and Catholicism have shaped this country.  And recent history including the civil war that ended in 1996, the poverty, the economic struggles this country is experiencing.  I can´t pretend to know everything about this country after three weeks, but I have been making a conscious effort to dig deeper than the cool volcanoes and the pretty views.
  • This city is very affordable.  I am enrolled in Spanish school here, and I am living with a Guatemalan family for the ¨full immersion¨ experience.  The weekly costs is about half of what I was paying in Colombia.  The food prices are low, and I have to say that the food is better and healthier than the food in Colombia.  And don´t get me started on how wonderful the coffee is.
  • And speaking of Spanish….  Guatemalans speak very slowly and very clearly, and finally, after four months of studying, I am able to understand 90% of what people are saying to me.  Now my focus is on my speaking.  I am going to continue studying in 2014, as my Spanish is not yet where I want it to be.  The good news is that I am hopeful and determined, and I won´t give up until I reach a level that I am comfortable with.  My goal with Spanish has always been to be able to have a real conversation without having to constantly think and translate and conjugate in my mind before speaking.  I´m not there yet, but I will keep working.
  • The climate is perfect here.  The temperature is 70-75 everyday, very similar to San Francisco.
  • Finally, about the crime here.  I walk alone after dark, and I have never had a problem.  Even so, I am always cautious, I carry my pepper spray, and I keep my eyes open.

So that´s my summary of La Antigua, Guatemala.  I am here for another two weeks to study more Spanish.  After that, I´m doing a week-long sailing-diving trip to Belize, and then I´m off to Costa Rica.  Although I have no solid plans, I think Nicaragua, Peru, and Ecuador are coming up for the spring of 2014.  And don´t be surprised if I end up back in Colombia for a visit.  Drop me an email if you want to come visit me in any of these locations.

***More Photos Below***

En español:

He estado en Guatemala desde hace tres semanas ahora y estoy lista para escribir mi blog.  Yo estaba pensando en escribir un blog ¨primeras impresiones¨ cuando llegué aquí, pero me di cuenta de que sería muy negativo.  Había escuchado muchas buenas cosas sobre La Antigua, entonces estaba sorprendida cuando llegue.  Yo había salido de Cartagena, Colombia, donde yo amaba la ciudad y a la gente inmediatamente.  Ahora en La Antigua, no sentía lo mismo.  La gente que yo conocía era cerrada, no mala ni grosera, pero reservada.  La contaminación de los autobuses y tuk tuks en la calle hacía imposible respirar cuando caminaba.  Y había muchas historias del crimen aquí.  Las urgencias usuales de los locales como ¨no llevar mucho dinero¨ y ¨no muestres su camera¨ cambiaban a ¨no salgas por la noche¨.  Lo que era difícil porque el sol se pone a la seis de la tarde.  No podría determinar cuáles historias eran reales y cuáles hacían a las personas ser demasiado cautelosas.

Así que, tres semanas más tarde, estoy aquí para contar una historia diferente de esta ciudad y por qué todavía estoy aquí.

  • La gente aquí es muy amable y cálida.  Aunque en el primer encuentro no se abren pero con el tiempo llegan a ser muy buenos amigos.  Yo pasaba Navidad con una familia Guatemalteca y compartí las tradiciones y costumbres.  Era muy interesante y especial.
  • La ciudad es rica en historia y cultura.  No soy una gran amante de historia o museos, pero me gusta tener un conocimiento de un lugar y como llegó a ser.  Antigua está llena de viejas iglesias, ruinas, conventos, además de los museos de la cultura Maya, chocolate, jade, tejido, etc.  He pasado las últimas tres semanas aprendiendo cómo los desastres y la llegada de los españoles y catolicismo han dado forma a este país.  Y la historia reciente como la guerra civil que terminó en 1996, la pobreza, las luchas económicas de este país que está experimentando.  No sé todo sobre este país después de tres semanas, pero estoy intentando aprender más que volcanes y bonitas vistas.
  • La Antigua es muy económica.  Estoy estudiando en una escuela de español aquí, y estoy viviendo con una familia guatemalteca para una experiencia de inmersión completamente.  El precio cada semana es casi la mitad que yo estaba pagando en Colombia.  Los precios de la comida son bajos y tengo que decir que la comida aquí es mejor y más saludable que en Colombia.  ¡Y el café es mucho mejor!
  • Y sobre mi español… Guatemaltecos hablan muy despacio y muy claro, por fin, después de cuatro meses de estudiar, puedo entender 90% de personas que me hablan.  Ahora estoy trabajando en hablar.  Voy a continuar estudiando español en 2014, porque mi español no está donde yo quiero.  La buena noticia es que estoy esperanzada y determinada, y no me voy a rendir hasta alcanzar un nivel donde estoy cómoda.  Mi objetivo con español siempre ha sido poder tener una conversación verdadera sin tener que pensar y traducir constantemente en mi mente antes de hablar.  No estoy allí todavía, pero yo continúo trabajando.
  • El clima aquí en La Antigua es perfecto.  La temperatura es 70-75 grados cada día, muy similar a San Francisco.
  • Por fin, sobre el crimen.  Yo camino después de que oscurece sola y nunca he tenido un problema.  Todavía, estoy cuidadosa y llevo spray de pimienta y tengo mis ojos abiertos.

Entonces, esto es mi sumario de mi experiencia en La Antigua, Guatemala.  Estoy aquí por dos semanas más para estudiar español.  Después de eso, estoy tomando un viaje en barco de vela a Belice, después voy a Costa Rica.  Aunque no tengo planes firmes, pienso que Nicaragua, Perú y Ecuador son los próximos países.  ¡Y es posible que vaya a visitar Colombia!  ¡Manda por correo electrónico si tú quieres visitarme!

Typical Guatemalan Food

Typical Guatemalan Food

Christmas Day Procession

Christmas Day Procession

Categories: First Impressions, Guatemala | 8 Comments

6 Weeks Later in Cartagena, Colombia

I cannot believe that I have been in Colombia for six weeks already.  It shocks me to think about how quickly the time is passing by.  Many people have asked what I’m doing and what it’s like here, so here’s a brief synopsis of my typical day in Cartagena…

During the week I get up around 7:30 am to get ready for school.  I’m living with a Colombian family, so they cook my breakfast everyday before I go.  Usually eggs, patacones or arepasbollos de masorca or toast, cheese, fruit and coffee.

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Breakfast – Cheese, eggs and bollos de masorca

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Arepa, cheese, sausage and fruit

I start Spanish school at 9:00 am.  My class size is anywhere from 3-7 students depending on the week, as students can come and go anytime.  I’m currently in a pre-intermediate course (I think) which is one step up from beginner.  The lessons go for three and a half hours with two 15 minute breaks.  We work on listening, reading, speaking and writing with a textbook and exercises and songs and YouTube videos.  My teacher does a good job with multimedia to mix things up so we aren’t always just looking at a textbook.  I really like the school and the teachers.  I think everyone there has a genuine interest in helping the students learn as much as possible.

School is over for me at 12:30 pm. After the bell (kidding, there are no bells), I will typically stay at the school an extra hour or two to work on the homework.  After that is lunchtime.  Since I never cook, one of my favorite activities is finding new restaurants.  There are many in Cartagena.  Many serve traditional Colombia plates (typically meat or fish, rice, fried plantains, some tomatoes and a juice), but you can also find some versions of sushi, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian, etc. I have had some excellent meals here, and I am especially delighted with all of the fresh fish available.

Lunch - Fried fish, patacones, rice

Lunch – Fried fish, patacones, rice

After lunch my afternoons are free to explore the city.  This may be hopping in a cab to the beach in Bocagrande, scouring the markets for cheap clothes, looking for a pedicure spot or just wandering the streets to admire the colonial architecture (which never gets old for me).  Also, three nights a week the school plans activities for the students to practice Spanish outside the classroom.  This can be tours, games, a Colombian history or geography or culture lesson, a movie or one of my favorites, the “Amor y Amistad” party which we had in honor on the Colombian equivalent of Valentines Day in the US.  My other favorite was special performance by traditional Colombian music band.  So fun!  I like the activities because it gives me a chance to practice my Spanish in a social setting with rookies and the teachers at hand to help.

At night I often meet up with friends for dinner or drinks.  I’m usually in bed by 11:00 PM to start all over again.

The weekends are the best times where I can explore outside the city more.  I’ve taken advantage of every weekend so far with different activities like:

SCUBA

SCUBA

Motorcycle Riding

Motorcycle Riding

Ziplining

Ziplining

Watching Futbol!

Watching Futbol!

Weekend trip to Bogota

Weekend trip to Bogota

Balancing fruit on my head - yes, this hurts!

Balancing fruit on my head – yes, this hurts!

Well, that about covers the last six weeks of my life here. Lots of school and learning Spanish interrupted by weekends of fun. Speaking of which….many people have been asking me how the Spanish is coming along. I have to be honest, it is much, much, much more difficult than I thought it would be. I thought that after 6 weeks of “immersion” here in Colombia, I would be fluently gabbing my way through South America. Interestingly, this is not the case. After 6 weeks I am just starting to be able to have real conversations beyond “Can I have a beer?” and “Where are you from?”. Apparently learning a new language takes time, in additional to desire. For this reason I have decided to stay in Cartagena in the language school for another 6 weeks (at least). This city is great and the people are so friendly, it is a perfect place for me to continue to learn. So….if any friends or family have been thinking about a fall vacation, start checking flights to Cartagena and come visit me.   I know Jet Blue has direct flights from NYC!  I’m here until at least mid-November (2013).  After that, I hope to explore other parts of Colombia, like Medellin or Cali.   Until next time…..

And below is my attempt at translating my blog into Spanish for a three year old.  I actually read this to my three year old sister here in Colombia and she gave me a thumbs up, so it must be good!

No puedo creer que he estado en Colombia por seis semanas ya.  El tiempo pasa muy rápidamente.

Muchas personas han preguntado y lo que es aquí.  Esto es mi día típico en Cartagena.

Durante la semana, me levanto alrededor a las siete y media para prepararme para la escuela.  Estoy viviendo con una familia colombiana.  Cocinan mi desayuno todos los días antes de que vaya.  Usualmente, huevos, patacones, arepas, bollos de masorcas, tostada, queso, fruta y café.

Comienzo la escuela a las nueve.  Mi clase tiene de tres a siete estudiantes.  Estudiantes vienen y van en cualquiera momento.  Estoy en la clase pre intermedio ahora.  Las lecciones son tres y media horas en duración con dos pausas de quince minutos.  Trabajamos en escuchando, leyendo, hablando, y escribiendo con un libro y ejercicios y canciones y videos de YouTube.  Mi profesor es muy bueno.  Me gustan la escuela y los profesores.  Todos quieren ayudar los estudiantes.

La escuela termina a las doce y media.  Normalmente me quedo en la escuela una o dos horas para hacer la tarea.  Me voy a almorzar después.  Nunca cocino.  Me gusta buscar nuevos restaurantes.  Hay muchos restaurantes en Cartagena.  Muchos restaurants sirven comida tradicional Colombiana como carne o pescado, arroz, plátanos, tomates, y jugo.  Otros restaurantes sirven sushi, comida Tailandia, comida China, comida México o comida Perú.  He comido comida excelente aqui.  Me encanta el pescado fresco disponible aquí.

Después del almuerzo, estoy libre para explorar la cuidad.  Toma un taxi voy a la playa en Bocagrande o voy a comprar para ropa barata o voy a buscar un lugar para una pedicura o voy a andar por la calle ver la arquitectura colonial.  Me gusta ver la arquitectura.  Tres veces por semana la escuela planea actividades para que los estudiantes pueden practicar el español fuera del aula.  Algunas actividades son paseos, juegos, lecciones de historia, geografía o cultura de Colombia, películas o fiestas.  Mi actividad favorita era una fiesta para celebrar Amor y Amistad, como Valentines Day en Estados Unidos.  Otra actividad favorita era un especial concierto de un grupo tocando música Colombiana.  ¡Muy divertido!  Me gustan las actividades porque puedo practicar español en un lugar social con otros gringos y los profesores pueden ayudar.

Frecuentemente, por la noche me encuentro con amigos para comida o bebidas.  Normalmente voy a mi cama a las once.

Me encantan los fines de semana porque puedo explorar afuera la ciudad.

No hay más.  Mucho escuela y aprendiendo y diversión.  Creo que mi español es todavía malo.  Aprender español es muy muy muy muy difícil para mí.  Pensé que después de seis semanas podría hablar español, pero no.  Por ese, voy a quedarme en Cartagena durante seis semanas más.  Esta ciudad es buena y la gente es amable.  Esta es un lugar perfecto para mí aprender español.

Categories: Cartagena, Colombia | 2 Comments

Cartagena, Colombia – First Impressions

I can’t believe I’ve finally arrived in Cartagena. After months and months of planning and waiting my dream has come true. My initial impressions:

It’s hot here!
And not just “oh, it’s a nice day” hot. It’s really balmy, like “oh, ok my underwear, bra, shirt and shorts are soaked through with sweat” hot. Locals keep telling me, “Hace calor” but I think they are just feeling sorry for me because I look like a drowned rat. I am thinking of stripping down naked to get cool, and I check out the locals to see what they’re wearing. Ya know what? They wear jeans and slacks and sneakers and suits and high heels (for the women). I don’t get it, but I might try wearing my jeans tomorrow.
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The People Very Kind
When I first arrive in a new city I like to just walk around for a day or two. I don’t like to do tours or museums or attractions right away. In fact, if I’m only in a city for a few days I may only walk around and skip the other stuff. I like to walk and then stop and sit and watch. I like to see what people are doing, what they’re wearing, how they interact. I just like to sit in a park and observe. I like to watch the kids running around, old men playing cards, teenagers cuddling, friends giggling. The one thing that hasn’t invaded this place is the constant smart phone use. People actually still talk to each other here. In fact, I’m usually the only one with one, so I don’t take it out unless I’m taking a photo.
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As soon as I sit here someone starts a conversation with me. I guess I stand out quite a bit, and my Puerto
Rican heritage does not let me pass for Latina. Typically the conversation is one-sided as my Spanish still sucks, but I can usually get through where I’m from and why I’m here. My goal is to eventually have a full conversation.

It’s Very Safe Here
I was alittle worried at first. When you visit a new city and just walk around alone you have no idea what to expect. My host family and everyone I have met here have reassured me that this is a very safe area and walking alone is not a problem, even at night. I know this is more than I can say for some areas of San Francisco. I still pay attention, and I don’t let my guard down completely but I am not worried here. This city is built around tourism and they cannot afford to have their visitors not have a good time or not return.

Verdict after 24 hours: I love it here. I love that I am here for at least six weeks so I don’t feel pressure to see everything quickly. If I want to take a nap in the afternoon for a hour I can (and do!). If I want to sit at a cafe and have a beer, I can. Eventually I hope to do a city bus tour, visit the museum and the beaches, but for now I think I’m going to finish this beer and enjoy the view.
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Categories: Cartagena, Colombia, First Impressions | 11 Comments

Packing for the RTW

Deciding what to pack for my “Round the World” has been stressful fun.  I have researched this topic to death, and I have read pages and pages of packing lists on what I will want and need.  The common theme I heave heard time and again, “Take half of what you think you need” and “Pack light!”.  As a former safety consultant, I think that I need to be “prepared for anything”.  The reality is that I am not going to be away from civilization for long periods of time, and I can buy just about anything anywhere I go.  What I am struggling with most is that I already have many things, so I want to bring them instead of buying them on the road as I need them.  For example, I am starting in a hot climate in South America, but eventually I’ll be in cooler climates.  So do I bring my awesome down puffer coat and Merrell boots now?  Or just buy them again later?  Or have them shipped to me later when I need them?  These are the questions keeping me up at night.

So, here it is, everything I am bringing (including things crossed out that I thought of bringing and then decided against).  Too much?  Not enough?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Clothes

Footwear

  • Flip Flops (x2) – Havaianas2013-08-21 11.03.01
  • Flats (1) – Tieks
  • Sneakers (2) – A light walking pair and a heavier hiking/running pair.  I know.  Too many.
  • Boots (1) – Merrell’s
  • Socks (4)
  • Slipper/Socks (1)

Bottoms

Tops

  • Tank Tops/Sleeveless Shirts (5) – Also for working out, cause that’s gonna happen.
  • Short Sleeved Shirts (3)
  • Long Sleeved Shirts (2)

Outerwear

  • Black Windbreaker Jacket (1) – Lululemon
  • Black Light Jacket (1)
  • Puffer Coat
  • Rain Poncho (1) – It’s raining in Cartegena!
  • Zip Up Sweater
  • Bathing Suits (2)

Innerwear

  • Thongs (14)
  • Boy Shorts (6)
  • Regular Bras (3)
  • Sports Bras (2)

Accessories

  • Sunglasses (2) – Ray Bans and Maui Jims
  • Sarong/Scarf (1) – Thanks Iris!
  • Buff “Hat” – Thanks Ruby!
  • Jewelry – a couple pairs of hoop earrings, a few necklaces, nothing expensive or valuable
  • Watch (1) – Swatch
  • Wooly hat
  • Gloves
  • Baseball cap
  • Hiking hat (1) – Patagonia

Medicines

  • Acetaminophen PM 2013-08-21 11.50.16fakit
  • Excedrine Migraine
  • Prescription Levothyrox
  • Anti-Diarrheal
  • Sinus Decongestant
  • Benadryl
  • Fluconazole
  • Vitamins
  • Cipro – Antibiotic
  • Doxycycline – Anti-Malaria
  • Anti-Itch Cream
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • First Aid Kit

Safety-Security-MacGyver Stuff-Comforts-Fun

  • Headlamp2013-08-21 18.30.49
  • Doorstop
  • Travel Cable & Lock
  • Duct Tape
  • Super Glue
  • Pepper Spray
  • Spot GPS?
  • Small Sewing Kit
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Dreamsack – I’ve never used this, and not really sure if I ever will?
  • Ear Plugs
  • Eye Pillow – My favorite “luxury” item, so good for jet lag-induced headaches.
  • Cable Ties
  • Water Bottle
  • Carabiners – This is apparently a “must have”, but I have no idea when I will use these.
  • Sink stopper – If I really need to do laundry in a sink, I’ll use a sock as a plug.
  • Utensils
  • Flask – I don’t drink hard alcohol.
  • Corkscrew – I do drink wine!
  • Umbrella (Small)
  • Antibacterial Wipes
  • Quick dry towel – will use sarong if needed
  • Plastic Ziplock Bags
  • Thank You Cards
  • Pens & Sharpie
  • Traveling Translator Guide with Pictures to Point At – Thanks Sabeena!
  • Journal Books – Thanks Karen!
  • Moo Cards – to give out my contact info when I make friends on the road
  • Dive Card/Dive Book – hoping to get more use from this
  • Exercise Band – Ha!  I’m so sure I’ll use this daily.
  • Playing Cards

Toiletries – I know I have over packed here, but hey, I’m a girl

  • Sunscreen2013-08-22 23.24.43
  • Tissues
  • Bug Spray
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Eyes Cream
  • Face Cream
  • Face Wash
  • Pocket Mirror
  • Dental Floss
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Deep Conditioner
  • Dry shampoo
  • Headbands
  • Hair Ties
  • Hair Clip
  • Comb
  • Brush
  • Chap Stick (x2)
  • Q-Tips
  • Tweezers
  • Nail Clippers
  • Nail File
  • Razor
  • Deodorant
  • BB Cream
  • Mascara
  • Eyelash Curler
  • Eye Shadow
  • Face Powder
  • Eye Liner

Electronics

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  • Kindle & Charger
  • iPhone 4S & Charger
  • Halo Pocket Power – Back-Up Charger for iPhone – Thanks Linda!
  • iPad & Charger – Gave to my sister Julie
  • Small Alarm Clock – I’ll just use my iPhone
  • Sony CyberShot Camera & Charger – I might not take this.  I have been using my iPhone exclusively for photos for over a year, and not sure I need to have another device
  • ASUS Laptop & Charger – I mentally debated taking this, but ultimately decided that I want it.
  • International Converter
  • Grid-It Organizer – This thing is pretty cool.

Important Stuff

  • Passport with Kate Spade Cover – Thanks Lisa!
  • Health Insurance Card – Blue Shield says they’ll cover me on the road!
  • Real Wallet & Dummy Wallet – One to give to theives?  I have read a lot about this “dummy wallet”, but I don’t know anyone who actually had to use this tactic.  I just plan on not carrying much with me.
  • 500 US Dollars
  • 600,000 Colombian Pesos
  • Chase Sapphire Visa Credit Card – Primary credit card with no international fees
  • Edward Jones Master Card – Back-up credit card
  • Charles Schwab Debit Card – Primary ATM card with no fees
  • Edward Jones Debit Card – Back-up ATM card
  • Bank of America Debit Card – Back-up to the back-up ATM – I really don’t want to keep this account open, but it has my business account on it and all of my automatic bill pay, so…
  • Old Student ID – For student discounts?  I am not sure if I can still pass as a student?

Bags

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Ok, that’s about it.  Comment/criticize/judge me below.  Also, if you want to get an email when I post a blog, click the “+ Follow” in the lower corner of this page.

Categories: Packing, RTW | 11 Comments

It’s the Final Countdown!

The international portion of my “round the world” journey begins in less than a week, and I am so excited that I might explode!  I am headed to Cartegena, Colombia on August 25, 2013.  I am currently registered for six weeks of Spanish language classes at Centro Catalina Spanish language school.  Centro Catalina has set me up to live with a local Colombian family, so I can completely immerse myself in the language and the culture.  After I become fluent, I will continue traveling through Central and South America.  I have no set plans after the first six weeks in Cartegena, so I guess I will sort that out when the time comes.  Any suggestions are welcome!

It’s been almost four months since I left San Francisco on this adventure.  I can say that time moves slower when you aren’t working and you don’t have a set schedule of things to do or a ton of friends around.  I did my fair share of sitting by the pool this summer.  Luckily, I do feel like I accomplished a few things staying in the U.S. for the first four months of my RTW.  Below is a list of when I have done:

1.  Spent quality time with my friends and family, especially my wonderful mom.

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2.  Checked “Visit All 50 States” off my bucket list.

3.  Read eight novels, including The Language of Flowers, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and Defending Jacob.

4.  Completed the Duolingo Spanish language iPhone app.

5.  Gained 10 lbs. driving around the country noshing on health food choices like Memphis BBQ and Chicago Pizza.

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6.  Lost the 10 lbs. with a crazy diet called “Eat Less/Better and Exercise More”.  I also give credit to Evolution Fitness bootcamp with Jenny, Just Fitness Classes, the documentary “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead”, Gracie’s Gear Virtual Training, my friend Lauren Gendler‘s “SugarFree3” plan, and a juicer.

7.  Got used to not having many “things” and even harder still, not buying more things.

8.  Mentally prepared for a life of full time travel.

So, in the next week I am trying to finish up last minute details, planning, packing.  One detail for friends and family, I will be shutting off my cell phone and I will lose the 444 phone number.  I am planning on getting a SIM card for my iPhone and a local phone number in Colombia, but until that happens, email or Facebook will be the best way to contact me.

Hasta la vista baby!

Categories: Friends and Family, RTW, USA | 12 Comments

Fifty Shades of States – The Best of the US

As of  July 11, 2013, I am proud to say that I achieved my lifelong goal of visiting all fifty of the United States of America.  Everyone has a different definition of “visited”, so I used the definition from the “All Fifty Club” which is “set foot on the ground of that state and breathed the air”.  I believe that I am now qualified to issue an educated opinion on which states are the best.  So here are my top 6 states, in no particular order, because that is too hard.

1.  California, I miss you.  So tall and varied, from the ocean to the mountains, the natural beauty and warmth have always sucked me in.  For some reason, I associate California with sunshine and happiness, which is why I made it my home for almost 20 years.  Anytime there is a cloudy day, I think of California, and I smile.  California in a word – sunshine.

Yosemite, CA

Yosemite, CA

Point Reyes, CA

Point Reyes, CA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  New York, I love you.  Now, I know what many of you are thinking:  “Yeah!  New York City!”  It is true.  NYC is pretty cool, but here I am talking about the entire state.  New York State, where I was born, raised and schooled.  I love the autumn here when the leaves are orange and red and there is a crisp chill in the air.  Something about New York always says home to me.  So when I am traveling around the world and people ask me where I am from, I will say New York.  New York in a word – home.

Lake Placid, NY

Lake Placid, NY

Albany, NY

Albany, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  Aloha Hawaii!  From my first visit to Oahu in 1999, I have had a love affair with Hawaii.  Thinking about the beautiful weather, the perfect beaches, the unique history and culture, Hawaii is the most non-US-like state, in my opinion.  I love to travel, and I love visiting new places, and of everywhere I have travelled, Hawaii is the only place that I go back to time and time again.  I think I’ve been at least 10 times.  From the moment I get off the plane in Hawaii my stress melts away.  Hawaii in a word – relax.

Kauai, HI

Kauai, HI

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Maui, HI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Alaska, I see you.  Alaska left a lasting impression on my mind and in my heart.  I went in July, when it never got dark outside and the temperatures were perfect.  The wildlife and the hiking in this state are unmatched.  If you like being outside, this is a state for you.  On the other hand, if you do not like the outdoors and nature, don’t bother with a visit, because you’ll probably be bored.  Alaska in a word – nature.

Denali National Park, AK

Denali National Park, AK

 

2010-07 Alaska lumix 143

Denali National Park, AK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Wyoming, I inhale you.  This was an unexpected surprise for me.  I didn’t realize how wonderful Wyoming was until I visited.  With less than 600,000 people and no professional sports teams, I never hear people talking about the wonderful state of Wyoming.  But she surprised me with some of the coolest national parks in the country (Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower).  The air tasted better there than any other state I have visited.  I could retire in this state.  Wyoming in a word – clean.

Sheep Herding in Wyoming

Sheep Herding in Wyoming

The Grand Tetons, WY

The Grand Tetons, WY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.  Tennessee, I dance with you.  This state surprised me more than Wyoming.  I never thought much about Tennessee, but when I visited, I realized it offered more than I could’ve imagined.  Knoxville – a cute city with an adorable downtown.  Nashville – a mini Vegas with where casinos are replaced with music (a fair and positive trade-up in my book).  Memphis – a hotbed of American history and culture and some of the best damn BBQ I have ever tasted.  Tennessee in a word – fun.

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN

Graceland, Memphis, TN

Graceland, Memphis, TN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, for the other 44 states that didn’t make the top 6 list, no offense.  I found something wonderful and unique in every state I visited.  Now is you turn!   Do you agree?  Disagree?  Who did I miss?  Tell me about your favorite state and why in the comments below.

Categories: USA | 18 Comments

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