Newly Discovered: Australia and New Zealand

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34 hours later I was in Australia. 15 flights and two weeks later, and I was back. It’s out of my mental reach to think about how one’s concept of time changes when time zones and jet lag seem to blur all of the boundaries.

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This trip was semi-last-minute. When she was visiting me from Seattle, Stephanie and I briefly mentioned spending New Years Even in Australia. A few months later, and we made it happen!

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Upon arrival in Sydney, we immediately went to the Great Barrier Reef where we saw turtles and hundreds of different species of fish and coral.

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IMG_9706We then returned to Sydney, where we relaxed over drinks and indeed caught the fireworks from a ferry, after some confusion about where to go and how to get there.

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We had to forego passes to an outdoor picnic, but ended up having dinner closer to where our ferry departed, which to our surprise also had 9pm fireworks.

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For me, it was mostly a piqued curiosity about how people celebrate New Years Eve — at Manly Wharf, it seemed to be about the family — reservations for dinner had long-been made, families lining the boardwalk and the pier in celebration.

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The year was off to a good start! Climbing a bridge in Sydney, going on a walking tour, seeing the Opera house, salsa dancing, having my first Servas homestay with Margaret and John, going on marvelous hikes in some of Australia’s national parks and seeing kangaroos with them.

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I initially could not find Margaret and John’s address, which I had erroneously copied onto my phone from the directory …

I was then reunited with Stephanie for a rainy day in Auckland and a wonderful dinner with Servas host Liz and her friends and then more intimately between us three girls for a wine night, again filled with wonderful conversation.

IMG_0046With Liz, Stephanie and I learned a lot about New Zealand, including how well they cultivate work-life balance, overall valuing quality of life, which is not limited to human life.

IMG_0074The following day we were off to Queenstown, which, after a mistake with the dates scheduling our Milford Sound tour, we went on a wine and cheese cruise that evening, which was really lovely.

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I survived driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life, which proved my ability to do so — but not without a few mistakes — the hardest part was remembering that the blinkers were on the right handle instead of the left!

We returned to our BnB at Jack’s Point, which was wonderful, surrounded by unscathed nature, which was complemented by our time at Milford’s Sound, which UNESCO rightfully declared a World Heritage Sight.

Stephanie and I parted ways, I heading to Wellington where I spent my last days in New Zealand walking along the board ward, going on a walking tour and exploring the beautiful views from Mount Victoria, where I met some Spanish tourists with whom I had dinner and great conversation with – a lovely way to end the trip indeed!

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AUSTRALIA:

Best food had: Tim tams – amazing!

Best thing done: Bridge Climb!  – I thought it would be underwhelming, but everything about the experience was really lovely

Favorite City: If I had to choose — I would live under water with the fishes at the Barrier Reef!

Interesting things learned: 

  • On the plane, a guy telling me how the US was a prisoner colony and how Australia was founded directly after the US gained independence as a result of them looking for another piece of land where to place the prisoners. The British began to send people over in ships, which took 9 months at the time, often bringing women into the country who were pregnant “from the voyage” — it took until 1990 for the country to level out the gender gap, and in between, taught these people how to face adversity, in a  land where the seasons were reversed and a land that is not so fertile (perhaps why the food is so heavily proceessed/portion sizes are relatively larger too?)
  • The spirit of Australia, according to him, is not one of competition, but one of collaboration — dating back to the times when they had to collaboratively look for food. When the British refused to eat “dirty” oysters and that was all they had. They are the only country with ex-felons one their bills and less judgmental because of it.
  • A lot of signs in Chinese and English – sign of incredible Chinese influence & foreign direct investment
  • “Healthy disregard” for authority – given their history as prisoners
  • Macadamiaat the time, the governor of Australia went to Hawaii where he was transferred and planted them there – now really well-known for being Hawaiian but actually Australian
  • Ewing and the kangaroo are on the coat of arms because they can’t walk backwards and don’t want Australia to do so either
  • They first thought it was uninhabited, but turns out aboriginals were living there for a time that is undetermined
  • Initially, in part because the Aboriginals first thought the British were ancestors — ghosts from the past because of their pale skin. Torn between fear and respect — there was seemingly friendship and understanding, but they quickly turned into victims, killed by diseases they were not immune to. Aboriginals currently make up 1.5% of the Aussie population
  • 75% of all of the new settlers were convicts
  • England refused to send money for a hospital, so they focused on other means. Australians liked rum — so in exchange for money to build the hospital, the government began selling licenses which allowed individuals to sell rum to Australians – the hospital has since been referred to as the Rum Hospital
  • Sydney has never been under heavy attack. Napoleon wanted to, but the British began to use a military base that was crucial for the success of this attack, so they did not succeed
  • Australia: first to establish plastic money
  • Can top up metro card at the supermarket – cap at $15 a day, no matter how far you travel around Sydney that day, not the case at the airport, as it’s privately owned
  • 1965 construction of the Opera House paused, as the new government did not like how much money/time it was taking. They reduced the Danish architect’s budget (one who won the global contest for constructing the venue) by 100,000, but did not complete the structure for 15 years afterwards and for 1— million over budget
  • Flying doctor – in Australia, the land is so vast and expansive that they have flying doctors that are sent off on planes and are equipt with just about everything needed to maybe even do a surgery!
  • Barbecues and barbecuing is huge
  • Bush fires are a problem, but some are started on purpose with the hopes to decrease the impact of ones in the future!
  • Lyre bird, native to Australia – copies and memorizes all of the sounds made by its surroundings, flutes etc.
  • Bush, beach, mountains all in once at national park  Kuringai chase
  • Oldest continual culture in the world – aboriginals in Australia

NEW ZEALAND:

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Best food had:  Omelet at Jack’s Point

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Best thing done:  Driven on left side of road, Milford Sound

Favorite City:  Queenstown for the nature, Wellington as a place I could potentially live in  

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Interesting things learned: 

  • Known for having: “4 seasons in one day”
  • Very intense about customs – 1/2 of population died with arrival of Europeans / deforestation. Strictly won’t let you come in with produce / with dirty boots if you’ve been hiking in a risky place (fear of mouth and foot disease)
  •  There is barely no security for domestic flights — no need to take out liquids etc or to go through security — can just walk through to the plane. For this reason, it is standard to be present just one hour before a flight
  • New Zealand has no large predators: no wolves, lions, snakes, etc. making it a great destination for hikers. They want to get rid of all of the species that are not native to the land by 2014 like possums (from Australia), rats, ferrets, and maybe even cats! – which is causing a division here
  • “In Australia the animals will kill you, while in New Zealand, the earth will swallow you whole” due to the number of tsunamis, geysers, and earthquakes they have every year — what an incredibly resilient society!
  • Use rubber in between concrete to absorb the shock from buildings from these natural disasters — the rubber then needs to be replaced every 30-40 years
  • Birds first inhabited New Zealand
  • 99.9 percent of all trees in New Zealand are evergreen
  • In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21% ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports
  • Free healthcare for all of New Zealand
  • Shortage of houses – people selling it to foreigners instead of locals because they earn more
  • New Zealanders love to shorten words: pressie – present; they “get it” from the Australians
  • The Māori are theIndigenous population in New Zealand: Polynesian completely different from indigenous “aboriginal” Australians who are of African descent. They were the first people to inhabit this country about 800-1000 years ago before the Europeans 300-500 years ago.
  • Māori were forced to not speak their native language after world war 2.
  • Now, translating things official things into both languages – English and Māori, representative of the attempt at inclusivity by the government
  • Māori chiefs often open conferences thanking ancestors for land
  • Just now starting to accept “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas
  • Here required to tell others about heritage when starting a new position in a job, makes people more accepting of other cultures
  • She’ll be alright! – phrase said to promote optimism when things don’t go your way
  • Get lots of cars from Japan because of very strict emissions in Japan, so they get new cars every 3 years
  • 1970s – not many coffee shops in New Zealand, and is now the second most consumed beverage after tea
  • “Centrist”: usually referring to a political party in New Zealand that generally appeals to the elderly — they are really against change: against immigration, young people, and anything that disrupts the status quo
  • Wellington is progressive when it comes to transgender and gay rights
  • Every Saturday, Wellington hosts a Saturday night food market, where they invite new restaurants from different cuisines that have opened to showcase their foods
  • Common to order food and sit down for food — even at a relatively fancy restaurants
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Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and a little bit of Panama

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Some trips are more tumultuous than others. And that is precisely how I choose to describe my time in these three beautiful countries.

I preface this by saying that because of my carelessness, I lost my phone, wallet, IDs and most importantly, a lot of time (spent driving to numerous banks and Western Unions in order to retrieve money in each country) after I was pick-pocketed on a beach. Because of this, it was difficult even to wake up on time (no alarms), communicate with people, cancel the cards (before a laptop and another expensive technology was purchased on my cards), transport myself – and take pictures (my camera battery eventually died). It could have been anywhere in the world, and it happened to me because of me, and perhaps for a reason that is beyond my mental reach at the moment – it did happen to me once before (and it changed my life), which is quite a governing thought.

Now that the negative is out, I can focus on the greater picture, and marvel at the beauty that was my time in these countries, of course, as always, greatly due to the people I met.

Here’s a little play by play of what I did during my 2 weeks in South America, this March:

Day 1: Peru

I walked around Lima

Day 2: 

I met with the Peruvian Tourism Board, learning about their efforts to promote their Peruvian cuisine

I went to the Peruvian Food/Cultural Dance Show: Brisas Del Titicaca

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Day 3-5: 

I flew to Cusco!

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And found this beautiful baby. ❤

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And these talented weavers speaking in their native Quechua language.

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And ate this incredible corn. The perspective is off in the picture, but each piece of corn is about the size of an American nickel.

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And fell in love with a llama.

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Train to Machu Pichu – $3 for locals $100 for tourists – private company, subsidized by tourism

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Workers unloading equipment for those Coming back from Inca Trail

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And got a “private” tour of Machu Pichu with this brilliant man – ended up being no-one on my group tour!

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And bumped into my friend, Giuseppe, whom I met exactly two years ago in Berlin through CS! He’s now working in Cusco! (Small world).

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People have more hemoglobin in Cusco due to the altitude — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more

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And met with representatives from Pro Mujer in Lima! Was gifted this beautiful image <3.

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How the beautiful dyes are made in Peru – organic colors

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Went to a cultural dance show!

Days 6-9: Ecuador 

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Flew to Guayaquil where I spent time with this beautiful Couchsurfer, Veronica.

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Spent 4 hours driving around with this honorable cab driver, until we were finally able to get money transferred to me — without him knowing if he would ever get paid for his time.

Met with the Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry to learn all about their foods:

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Love the way processed foods simplify the decision making processes – depicting whether or not something is high or low in fat, sugar, salt!

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Went food shopping with my Couchsurfing host, Andres and his family.

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Was amazed by the diversity of beans.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the diversity of potatoes! Ecuador had over 7000 diverse potatoes about 100 years ago!

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And then we ate.

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And ate!

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Made it to the center of the earth and balanced an egg on a nail!

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Met up with some more Couchsurfers ^^

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Had some really good moonshine.

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And saw a really giant cabbage!

Day 9: Layover in Panama City – nice colonial architecture in city center! 

Days 10-14: Colombia

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Stumbled upon my salsera friend in Cartagena!

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Met up with incredible incredible first-time Couchsurfers who helped me to explore Bogota, gave me a salsa CD, fed me, took me to/from the airport, and most importantly, inspired me greatly with their stories.

Foods I like:

      PERU:

Papa a la guancaina, Quinoa with nuts, Corn chips

     EDUADOR:

Cheese is amazing! , Ice-cream de paisa, Banana with cheese inside, Choclo – corn

      COLOMBIA: 

How many arepas they have!, Arequipa; RECIPE FOR COLOMBIAN DRINK:  Colombian soda (colombiana), agua ardiente, colombian beer

Interesting learnings: 

Peru:

  • Heard someone say — “Pero tiene calorie — Peruvian dog heals you if you sleep with it” — calories aka referring to the transfer of energy that occurs
  • Smoke before coming into the mountain – blow steam, asking for permission because mountains are alive and sacred
  • Machu Pichu – did not build on tectonic rift because they knew the structures built there would break and/or fail; energy changes there, to the point where pendulums held over this area freak out
  • Incense give mother death blessings, burry chocolates and sweets or asked there because she liked that
  • They were great astronomers – believed in sun as god because he gave them all of the land’s bearings
  • Peru Rail – made by British who in exchange took their land and minerals – now, tourists subsidize travel for local who pay $3 vs. our $120 round trip
  • 1911 Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Pichu while searching fro another land – where the Incans fought the Spanish (Incan king relocated there because Spanish were there – that land, unlike Machu Pichu had gold, which is why the Spanish never made it to Machu Pichu) — in 1912 Bingan was sponsored by Yale and the National Geographic Society to restore/clean up Machu Pichu, which at the time was completely covered in forests.
  • 1500 people visit Machu Pichu each day
  • Heard someone say, “Que dice la cabeza” – interesting way to say this, almost separating mind and body
  • Cuzco means — ombligo del mundo (belly button of the world) – as was once considered – center of the world
  • Surround Machu Pichu home = agricultural area – sustainable farming
  • Homes build facing east for more sun and ventilations on incline as to not block one another
  • Traditional names change – Quespe to Quispe – to be more Spanish like
  • Women for smarts, beauty of the sun would even be sacrificed during bad natural times would clean and create jewelry for the clergy; could maybe be king’s concubines
  • People have more hemoglobin here — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more
  • 80s – 90s terrorism = decrease in tourism because of communism — 8x tourism from that time
  • Saw dog eating another dead dog — even driver was surprised — cannibalism!
  • Sacred valley – fertility, river – reflection of the milky way
  • Saw a human stop sign

Ecuador:

  • 1880 began cultivating cacao in Ghana
  • For Aztecs and Mayans – chocolate = sacred drink
  • Chocolate: high flovanoid = protects from sun; smell relaxes; releases endorphins = cultivates love
  • Aztecs: traded 10 grams of cacao for 1 rabbit
  • People use mole to mix spices then add a bit of water for seasoning
  • 1830 Ecuador separated itself from Colombia
  • Fought Peru over land in the Amazon and Ecuador lost – so lost a lot of land
  • Position on the equator = interesting climactically = lots of diverse flare and fauna — i.e. galapagos – darwin!
  • French helped build monument in center of the earth

At the Central Bank of Ecuador: 

  • Bartering happened first – had designated places where they would trade during Precolumbian era – would walk around trading stuff, no horses prior to Columbus
  • Would trade volcanic rocks, cinnamon, cacao – “peppa de pro” – which is said to have originated in Ecuador, coca leaves for chewing – energy to keep walking, conch shell which looks like a uterus = fertility – used as offering for the gods
  • Ecuadorian “mandala” would be primary merchants — now represented in a clay figure – strong looking, gold chains making him a merchant — must speak many languages – women merchants wore more jewels, still merchants
  • Change to coin once the conquest happens
  • Spain had coins since the 13th century — 1492 = Spanish came and found gold – were told that people from the South came with gold, so they went South
  • The Spanish had to accept to barter until 1535  when gold became a thing in Mexico
  • First coins were made with a hammer like tostones – they were imperfect and as such were easily falsified
  • From images of “both worlds being conquered under one king” to images of Filip V to Carlos III and Greek gods, which were an infatuation for all
  • From Mexico to Bolivia, they used the same coins, as they were all part of the same kingdom
  • 1821 – Ecuador gained independence from Spain, under the reign of Simon Bolivar which united Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia under the GRAN COLOMBIA
  • 1830 — Independence – first president = Juan Jose Flores – got machine from England to make first Ecuadorian coins – Gold Escudos + Silver reales
  • Gold previously used for deities, not for money –  natives recognized the value of gold, but did not equate it to commercial value, was sacred!
  • Gold needs to be mixed with copper, or else it disintegrates completely
  • 1860 — Begin to export cacao, so Ecuador gets so much more money and create their first banks/banking systems with help from American/European systems that were already established
  • 2000 – because of importing a lot of American products (no limit on importation) and overall consumption foreign goods = devaluation of Ecuadorian money = eventual high inflation and switch to the dollar – as it is today

Colombia:

  • Lots of Venezuelans, as in Ecuador and Peru, escaping persecution and danger – many prostitute themselves in the “Tolerance” zones, which are filled with drugs and violence –many are tricked into being there
  • Many are reluctant to travel to the US/Mexico, as they face discrimination for being Colombian and the stereotypes associated with them i.e. as drug dealers and pimps

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: MALAYSIA  

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Breakfast in Thailand, lunch in Malaysia. Thanks to Asia’s generally condensed geography, I was able to meet my friend Rachel, whom I had met at a CS gathering in Paris in 2013. A bit of food poisoning got me down, but not down enough to keep me from exploring the food market that had been set up outside for the first day of Ramadan. It was my first experience therof in a majority-Muslim country.

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We relaxed by her pool to this view before heading over to a speakeasy hidden in a mall. Quite an Asian experience, I think.

Gabe left for a day in Singapore the following day, while Rachel and I pampered ourselves, catering to my self-indulgent side — a facial, makeup class (Rachel is a professional makeup artist), and hair blowout later, we were ready for a dinner at a food+fish farm about 30 minutes from KL.

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In this fashion, I welcomed my birthday — surrounded by more love, food, and happiness than I could’ve asked for.

 

Highlights:

Catching up with friends!

KL’s beautiful views

Experiencing Asian-Muslim culture during Ramadan

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: Steamed bread and kaya ❤

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Interesting learnings:

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country

-Plane is sprayed with disinfectant before landing, required by Malaysia — announcement on plane “cover head for fumigation

-They eat with fork and spoon, pushing the food into the spoon and eating off the spoon

-There are Malaysian-made cars! The most common brand is: Myvvi

-The Quran is most often translated into Malay, although some people do study Arabic

-Movies used to take 3-4 months to be streamed in Malaysia because of censorship; my friend joked that “50 shades of grey was ‘all white” and only 20 minutes long LOL”

-There are so many malls in Malaysia that they call the airport, “the shopping mall with an airport” — after passing through dozens of shops before getting to a terminal, you understand why that is the case..

-Yet to be determined, but my theory of why the ATMs I used don’t charge fees is because of the Quran’s verse on not charging interest/tithe for borrowing money

-Men in Malaysia can marry more than one wife ; max 4, but most likely are very wealthy, as whatever is given to one wife must be matched for the other

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: INDONESIA

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Lunch in Malaysia, dinner in Indonesia. My birthday dinner, actually, which was shared with about 30 Australians, who seemed to follow us, or whom we seeemed to follow to the bars. The truth is Kuta is a hub for Australians. As I learned, the winds blow from the shores of the Australian coast, inspiring intense waves (the most intense I’ve ever seen) and attracting the Australians with them.

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I celebrated my birthday at Sky Room, an 8-floor dance club, which seemed to be the hub for tourists in the Legion beach area.

The next day, we were off to Ubud, where in February of 2015, I won (for the first time in my life) a 2-night stay at the 5-star Alaya resort.

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My trip advisor review for the hotel says it all:

“My stay at Alaya was nothing short of magical. My first day there happened to be the day after my birthday, which Ayu at the front desk meticulously noticed, providing me with my one and only birthday cake of the year, a complimentary massage for my partner and I, and assistance in planning the rest of our time at Alaya, which made our time in Ubud seamless and worry-free. Many delicious meals later, I got to meet chef Siharta personally, whose passion was evident in his creations and in his warmth in his communication with the patrons. He not only greeted us with interest, but with genuine engagement, requesting our attendance again that evening and asking for us to meet with him again before our departure. I can honestly say that at Alaya, there is no discomfort or distance that can come with hotels of this caliber. No request is too lavish or minute to at least be considered. With no attachment or connection to the resort, and as a frequent traveler, I highly recommed your stay here. Special thanks to Yasa for facilitating the booking all the way from NYC!”

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Shortly after our arrival, we headed towards the monkey village, which was one of the best moment of my life, No joke. I actually Youtube monkey videos all the time and wish I could have one as a pet, but it’s illegal where I live.. womp.

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Anyhow, my desire for one was shortly satisfied as I got to feed, play, be bitten by, and briefly be a victim (one bit me after I tried to return his leaf, another one tried opening my backpack zipper, and shuffling through my hair which was hiding the earrings that he was going after) of these adorable creatures.

IMG_3085.JPGOur last day of the trip was quite eventful with a healing (perhaps because of the spiritual nature of simply the energizing pressure from the water fountains) visit to a water temple, an instructive coffee tasting of “the most expensive coffee in the world”,

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a visit to rice patties,

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and having dinner with a motor taxi/ property manager who took me a bit outside of Ubud to explore the places where Eat Pray Love was filmed — succumbed to the chill of the downhill winds and under those bright Balinese stars, the trip came to an end.

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Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-I greatly enjoyed the complementary snake fruit (called so because of its scaly skin) at the hotel — unlike any fruit I’ve ever tried

-Nasi Goreng, fried rice, is quite unique in Bali given the traditional Balinese “spice”, which is actually a combination of spices

-Aside from the “cool” factor of the cone-shaped rice, the Nasi Raja, is historically important, as only kings had this dish in the past; it is filled with options from land and sea, and most definitely satisfying any palate

 

Highlights:

-Massage in Bali

-Free cake & dinner & massage @ Alaya for bday

-Monkey forest

-First time river rafting

-Visit to coffee plantation

-Learning from Wira, our driver to the hotel that “yoga” could be anything Couldn’t find uber/ he canceled so ran into nearest guy I knew, hot even, and took me; told him about maxi, smoked a menthol cigarette, learned that yoga can be anything that makes my soul happy — so dancing can be it too!

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Interesting Learnings:

-Ladies on thier period can’t go into the temple / inside the pool at the water temple

-In Bali — 60% of a new structure’s architecture must retain a Balinese style

-If someone dies 4,000,000 Indonesian Rupees (about 4k) is neededfor the ceremony, but if a monk dies around the same time, you can share the ceremony

-Our driver said he didn’t have enough money to bury his uncle, so he keeps him buried until he has the money to cremate him/partake in a ceremony for him

-Rice patties – manually picking rice because it’s not possible for tractors to go up because it’s high and on an incline– harvest is 2x a year in June and January; because we were there in June, one could see many people processing through the streets, partaking in rice festivals at various temples

-They consider thier Hindu religion to be a trinity of a monotheistic religion: Brahma- fire; Vishnu – water; Shiva – wind

-Bali operates on a 5-tier caste system — at the top is the priest

-Graves also serve as temples

-People in Bali feel like it’s its own country, separate from other Indonesian islands, each one has its own language

 

On Lewak/Balinese coffee:  

-Male coffee is more bitter, with two coffee beans instead of one; Bali coffee is a mix; espresso is just male coffee

-How cofffee is made: Roast coffee bean for one hour – then grind the coffee beans – then sift to get powder very fine

-No milk is added to this Balinese coffee, just palm sugar and honey ; 30% coffee

-Lewak– eats only good quality coffee & ferments it turning it into protein filled coffee w/ low caffeine

-Lewak coffee is more expensive in the world; about $50 USD a cup, made from cultivating and cleaning the coffee beans from the feces of the animal

-Interesting — difference between good and bad (real and fake) lewak coffee i.e lewak coffee has this thick residue at the end when finished drinking

-How to make from powder: two teaspoons of powder and (very) hot water, so that the coffee is diluted and doesn’t just sit at the top

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FROM WIKIPEDIA:

-With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world.

-Portuguese colonization reflected in some of the words like “meja” for table

-80-88% of the population of Indonesia state their religion as being Islam (Sunni) making it numerically by far the largest religion in the nation and Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Nevertheless, Indonesia officially remains a secular state.

-The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset.

-During Ramadan, all forms of nightlife including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours close by midnight, and (especially in more devout areas) quite a few opt to stay closed entirely. Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave.

-Indonesia imposes the death penalty on those caught bringing in drugs.

-Indonesia is a very ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups, and 742 different languages and dialects.

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: THAILAND 

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 The adventure begins on a cold evening in December 2015, at a Lower East Side bubble tea shop. At that point the goal was: Asia. My travel buddy and best friend, Gabe and I knew nothing more than that we wanted to spend about two weeks on an adventure there, arguably one of the most complex trips I was to plan.

Having Gabe was a blessing, not only because of our often-shared perspectives on our experiences and overall companionship, but also because of his complementary ways of planning, researching and ever-structured way to facilitate everything, realizing our plans in a seamless way. Without him, I probably would’ve seen about half of the things that we did together.

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These three posts are a tribute to our 2016 summer adventure. A bit more tan, a bit more fit, and a bit more knowledgeable, we survive to tell the tale.

Thailand. 

40+ hours after our departure from JFK, and we arrive in this bustling city, the humidity immediately (I mean 30 seconds or less) transforming my hair into a ball of frizz. We lounged at the mall to drop of our luggage while we awaited the return of our CS host, Poom, from work.

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As I expected, the MBK mall in Bangkok was not a dissapointment. Not only are malls in Asia the best, most lavish, and most delicious I’ve ever encountered (yes, the food is G.R.E.A.T), it is a haven for people watching, and quite frankly a perfect place to experience Thai culture. I chose to experence it through an incredible ginger tofu dish, which tasted like it could cure every ailment in my body — in the most positive sense.

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The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent visiting Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and similar tourist attractions (John Thompson House, Sky Bar, River Tour, Bangkok Cultural Art Center) which are undeniably musts — all of these somewhat intese physical activites were counteracted by the constant sprinkling of massages we got on a daily basis… I think I ended up averaging 1-2 a day… sounds silly, but a. I’m a huge proponent of massages as mental and physical healers and b. a good Thai massage is less than a cocktail back home, so… why not?

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We flew to Phuket for a more relaxed time, relative to that of our highly structured time in Bangkok; with a beachfront AirBnb — it was hard not to be highly satisfied just enjoying the view.

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The nighlife called, however, which promised us a great night out. Gabe and I  ended up in different nightclubs, but with groups of people that made our nights equally enriching. I don’t think I EVER danced as much as I did that night in Phuket. Special thanks to my three dancing buddies (Xelliot and co.) that night!

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The following day was basically spent “at sea” on a ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi. Although our stop was brief, simply enjoying a lunch we had won from entering and winning a raffle for a free night at this hotel, our brief séjour was quite awesome. Special thanks to Pilar for raffling off (and us winning) her hotel stay! The picture says it all.

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Bangkok had us back before our return to the US, allowing us enough time between our flights to enjoy the Chatuchak market.

The food @ Chatuchak was great — as a CS friend suggested, try the coconut ice cream!! — I didn’t have energy to explore anything else.

This market is the largest in Asia, where I ended up losing Gabe before meeting him at the Terminal 21 mall — themed with different regions and countries on each floor — where we played Mario Kart and ended our trip watching a break dancing competition. I won first place in Mario Kart 🙂

 

Highlights: 

La Rueda Salsa Club — great for social salsa + bachata dancers!

Night out in Phuket — White Room is so fun!! — great DJ

Massage at Wat Pho, the birthplace of Thai Massage — interesting that they say a prayer before massaging you! // massages in general!

River tour from Sathorn

Learning about Thai culture from Poom, our CS host

Parasailing in Phuket – first time! ❤

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-Of course, the ginger tofu chicken @ MBK mall

-The coconuts were also to die for.. I averaged 2/day!

 

Interersting learnings:

Despite the hustle and bustle, when elders wish to cross the street, people stop for them

-Of-the-menu veggie options are available if you ask

-Thailand requires leaving every 90 days so there was a guy on the plane to Malaysia leaving again that night — with plans to just eat and shop in Malaysia

-“Bye bye” means that it’s ok — don’t worry about it

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Parasailing in Phuket —  first time ever! ❤

-Male monk was free to enter the Grand Palace but lady monk/ nun had to pay

-Bangkok is super rectangular shape, which can be seen from the plane

How a Meal in Ghana Launched My Company

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With My Host Family in Ghana

 

I was in Spain when I lost my wallet. On the streets of Cadiz, it seamlessly disappeared. As if things could get any worse, my only emergency debit card was swallowed hours later by an ATM. I didn’t enter my pin fast enough. Panic mode. It was too late in the night to have someone from the bank retrieve it. There was no way I was calling my family back home – they were already reluctant of my decision to partake in such an adventure, spending a semester aboard a ship voyaging to twelve countries: why not stay on campus, or study abroad in France instead? “I told you so”, mom would say.

 

The very next day, we were embarking for Ghana, and I had nothing but $50 in my cabin. Because I hadn’t made any plans and I didn’t know where I would be staying in Ghana, there was no way to have any money wired to me. Amid my personal distress, I rationalized that $50 would be enough for me to have at least two meals a day for the five days I would be there.

 

“It’ll be fine. I won’t starve,” I told myself.

 

I ended up being much more than fine. I had arranged to Couchsurf with a family in Ghana that I only knew through email; there was no WiFi on the ship, so I wasn’t even able to download their pictures. The first time I met them was at the port, shortly after we docked. Olivia, my Couchsurfing host, slapped my hand as I picked at my fingers – the same way my mother does. I was home. For months, I hadn’t really been part of a “home”—sure, the ship was home, but nothing compares to being part of a family – if only for five days.

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Sharing my last meal with the Bennehs, I couldn’t stop thinking about coming back to Ghana. But when? Perhaps never? The rush of emotions led me to a solution for the separation: I thought about recreating our experience by Skyping and virtually sharing a meal. I would collect the ingredients for the recipe — the ripe plantains, the rice, the tomato paste, the beans — and make the meal alongside them. I would then sit on my living room floor and eat with my hands, as if I was there in Accra with them. This would be almost as close as being in their kitchen.

 

That was the moment that gave birth to the idea for my social venture – KitchenConnection.org – why not open this opportunity to the world? Fast-forward. Four years later, that serendipitous moment of despair in Spain has turned into my entire professional life. Last year, Ophelia asked me to be her maid of honor. Ghana wanted me back after all.

 

Back on the ship, I created a note on my phone called “A Table for Two,” and every time I thought of something that would work for my then-imaginary foodie site, I wrote them down in the note. Fast-forward. I decided to go back on the ship to back on the ship for a second semester on board, this time focusing on social entrepreneurship courses and participating in as many mentorship opportunities as possible. Fast-forward: off the boat and three years later, we begin our Kitchen Connection adventure.

New York City Food Tour #10: The Italians of Manhattan — Little Italy and Beyond

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On Mulberry Street in Manhattan, between Broome and Canal lies the home of all-things-Italian, or at least that once were spanning even larger and longer throughout the area before moving to the suburbs.

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In the late 1800s, at the rise of European immigration in New York City, this area was home to a multitude of Southern Italians from Sicily and Naples. Many of them, not thinking of themselves as Italian, as they don’t speak Italian at the time, find themselves bonding over culinary commonalities.

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For Italians, there was this idea that they would at some point ‘return home’ — also providing the rationale for not fully assimilating into American society. They did return, however, just to bring back their brides.

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Will you come here and able no practice your Italian? —  probably not, unless you cross paths with other Italians tourists.

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They have to advertise their English speaking masses, as English and Vietnamese now, not English and Italian, poignant of the changing demographics.

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The remnants of this rich and delectable history lie of course in this neighborhood, but also beyond where there isn’t as much red, green, and white — but the color is just as much shining through the pastries and sausages on the window.

Long live Italy in New York City.

PLACES OF INTEREST: 

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Pizza @ Lombardi’s

Pizza:

Keste -West Village- This is my personal favorite sit-down pizza place, with a chef/owner who is a Neapolitan pizza “maestro”  — I can certainly taste the “master” in the pizza.

Patsy’s – only ever had it to go, but good god, I think this is my absolute favorite NYC pizza, #ever — great thin crust, mozzarella & basil combo

Johns Brick Oven -West Village- doors down from Keste — it usually has a line

Lombardi’s – Nolita – claims to be the first pizza shop in NYC. Certain Italian charm there that is able to transport you away from Manhattan and straight into a Trattoria in Italy — with a passion for Italian-Americans; Frank Sinatra is king here, along with the imported Birra Moretti, and red and white checkered table cloths. You can totes buy their olive oil for $12.  Note: cash only, but there’s an ATM inside. Don’t come alone because the smallest  pizza has 6 slices; I had to give mine away

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Coffee:

Caffe Reggio – in the Village- claims to have brought over the first cappuccino from Italy, hence having the first cappuccino in NYC — very cool, antique atmosphere in there

La Lanterna – in the Village –  just a few doors down from Cafe Reggio, this place offers a large menu of Italian snacks and food; there’s a winter garden in the back with beautiful lamps (hence the name) that will light up any cold gloomy day

D’Amico Coffee – Brooklyn –

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Bakeries:

La Bella Ferrara – Little Italy -Easter bread, Nutella, Turron

Ferrara -Little Italy- cannoli cream; gelato!

Carlo’s Bakery – Hoboken –  because I’m biased towards New Jersey, but try their Canopus and stuff versus the cakes; I had my sweet 16 cake here (before they were famous and super expensive); I can attest to the better quality of their Italian pastries — i.e. cannoli and biscotti – versus the cakes which actually are the ones that they’re famous for

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Gelato:

Il Laboratorio del Gelato -Lower East Side- SO cool, and futuristic, and my favorite ice cream store in NYC; it really looks like a lab!

M’o Il Gelato  – Little Italy – authentic Italian gelato flavors

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Miscellaneous: 

Eataly  -Flatiron- grandfather of all things Italian-food-store in NYC, from pasta to gelato, breakfast cereals and biscotti — here, you’re in Italy, you’re home.

Mezetto – Lower East Side — Mediterranean/ Italian fusion restaurant

Forlini’s — never been but owned by the family of my college roommate Suzanne — perhaps the last Italian place left in that area of Chinatown

Italian American Museum

San Gennaro Festival 

Lucali — Brooklyn 

Caputo’s Fine Foods — Brooklyn

Espositos and Sons Pork Store — Brooklyn

Christmas Store – It’s always Christmas at this store in Little Italy!

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