SYLE in Italy: An Ode to its Language and Culinary Tradition (Presentation)

heeseScreen Shot 2018-06-05 at 2.12.16 AMHi! 

Good afternoon everyone! As many of you know, I’m Earlene Cruz, a proud Servas member and youth representative for US Servas to the United Nations. This very month, I had the honor to travel to Italy with Servas, through the Syle program, which encourages youth to travel and learn the local language. For me,

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This began with an email to Tracy, of course, who then connected me to Raffaella, who is the SYLE coordinator in Italy. I was asked for my specific interests — which as some of you may know — involve food and culture, as well as taking my Italian beyond Duolingo and online courses and actually practicing in-person, learning new words, which I am happy to share with you today.

Here I am with Raffaella Rota, whom I finally met in person in Bergamo. Many thanks to her seamless organization of my program!

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It began in Milan, with roommates Andrea and Alberto, who were keen on using their engineering skills for cooking, through “critical paths” that are normally reserved for management processes and assembly lines. Together, we spent a lovely days together hosting a dinner for their friends, which involved grocery shopping and making everything from scratch!

I then traveled to Bergamo, where I met with the Rota family, before going to the Cremaschi-Fornoni family and the Semperboni family, all who were also in Bergamo.

My time ended with the Saba family, whom I know Dennis knows, in Centallo, which is a province of Cuneo, by-way of Torino, which is also a lovely city.

I can’t say anything but incredible things about each and every single human being that I met along this short path, which I don’t have to convince you of, as fellow Servas members.

I will continue sharing a bit more about my experience, through a focus on food, especially that of the North of Italy. Before I do, here’s a little quiz.

Who can tell me how to say Breakfast in Italian? — Colazione
Lunch? Pranzo
Snack? Merenda
Dinner? Cena – (prounounced CHena)

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Italian mealtimes are:
Breakfast (7.00 – 11.00)
Lunch (12.30 – 14.00 in the north, 13.30-14.30 South )
Merenda (16.00) snack for children (bread, fruit, yoghurt, or ice-cream)
Dinner (20.00 – 22.00)

Many people break for work and come to cook, especially for their children, who normally finish school around 1pm, Monday through Saturday.

Great! So, as you can see, these meals are a bit different from ours in the States, not only in terms of timing, but also in terms of content. Breakfast is usually consistent of biscotti or small crackers and cake and most certainly a coffee. It is rare to see protein-heavy dishes at this time, as is the case in the States, where a plate of eggs and bacon are commonplace on the breakfast table.

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I soon entered into the land of prosciutto and prosecco. For the omnivores in the house, I’m sorry, but this will be the las picture of meat, as I am a vegetarian, but I respect all diets and certainly the price tag on these prosciuttos! A single one of these is $100-$120!

I drank lots of wine, of course, but in moderation, as Italians like to enjoy small quantities of good quality wine. A spritz, made from Aperol,like the one on the left is common during the summer months. And, as in many countries, Italians can’t seem to live without coffee. As you may know, their coffee is very different to ours. They prefer to enjoy it in espresso form, and are adamant about their stove-top coffee makers like the one here.

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Cheese everywhere! Grana Padano, Parmigiano, Mozzarella, everywhere and on everything! Well, mostly. The families I spent time with loved fresh-grated cheese, a process which makes the cheese “grattugiato” – grated.

Extra points if you can tell me how to say Cheese in Italian! — Formaggio — Now Spelling bee part of the presentation — how do you spell it? Formaggio — bene!

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Gelato deserves its own slide,
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And so does pizza!

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Now, here are a few slides on what I learned during my time in Italy: It consisted of handmade pizza and foccacia

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Tiramisu:

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And more Pizza — the love for it is real!

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… And my favorite, these handmade Cassoncellis because of the backstory: Nonnas in Bergamo often gather to make this recipe, making 85 kilos worth of this, contributing the proceeds of the sale to charity. For them, it is a bonding experience — and I can personally attest to its soothing qualities!

It is made using the Italian Brevettata – pasta-maker, also known as the “mother duck”, passing the pasta through it, then cutting circular shapes before stuffing it with homemade meat and/or cheeseballs and shaping.

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It can be served with melted butter, pancetta, grated cheese, and even lemon zest!

Another interesting things tied to tis recipe is the fact that the Bergamo region was historically more impoverished than the rest of Italy before so the pasta in this area has less eggs than water, as compared to other parts of Italy. As Serafina, who was teaching us the recipe that day said, “la cucina e la story di un popolo” — the kitchen is the story of a population!

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It certainly wasn’t all about cooking. Most of our time was spent conversing and learning about one another, enjoying nature, hiking up to the Cita Alta and some local monasteries, including a hike organized by Raffaella Rota with local Servas members. Fun fact: if you didn’t already know, Berg means mountain in German, so the Bergamo region, which has Germanic influences is certainly a mountainous region, which made it perfect for enjoying nature.

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We also partook in various cultural activities, like visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit in Milan, watching people playing Bocce, and attending a local ceremony that focused on honoring indigenous communities around the world — below, we see an indigenous dance by a community in Russia!

City walks throughout Milan, Turin, and Cuneo were also lovely and representative of the many “faces” of Italy.

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Some interesting things I learned or experienced during my time in Italy include:

* On a scale of 1-10, italy is an 8, for ease in terms of eating as a vegetarian: from pasta to pizza and a great abundance of vegetables/vegetarian options.

* Government: While I was there, the new government was formed, which in the meantime caused a lot of confusion and general uncertainty among the Italians I spoke with

* It is generally more difficult to be individualistic and entrepreneurial, as Italy is still somehow very confined to tradition and institutional rules that seem to be omnipresent

* There seems to be a sense of discomfort for difference/ foreigners, a product of the countries’ stress being the “gateway to Europe” during many conflicts around the world

* Italy is a place where food is a great source of pride. As I’ve seen in some parts of Europe, when friends get together, for example, they all cook together before the gathering or bring wine, a bit different to us as the meals are often very elaborate (by US standards) — you will rarely see them ordering in for a gathering

* Slovenian and Italians were at war during World War II. At this point, agricultural production of a specific wine (which was previously produced in the same Lake Izonso area) stopped production and restarted after the war under the same name, even if at that point in different countries. The internal and interpersonal conflicts of war continue after generations, but wine has a way to combat the conflict — figuratively and literally. Men in these areas are separated from their brothers and sisters, as one is now Italian and another Slovakian due to the border changes during the war

* Bella – Buddhism, focus, in cooking! Enjoying meals. Petit dejeuner – much fuller lunch and dinner

* Astronaut Paolo Nespoli tweeted about the smog he saw over Northern Italy from space and was retweeted so much that they shut down traffic in Milan for 2 days – he got lots of hate messages

I’d like to thank you for reading and caring, and of course, everyone who made this possible, from the US Servas Team to Dennis to Raffaella Rota and the wonderful families who opened their hearts and homes to me.

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Nepal: Resilience at its Finest

IMG_1733.jpegMy family may be finding out about these adventures now, through this very blog, and I do want to apologize for not mentioning it —  as cliché as it may sound, due to the spirituality of these places, I really wanted my trip to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet to be focused internally — on using travel as a visceral way to journey both outside and inside of me.

I’m not a Buddha, and I’m far from being at peace with many things in life, but what I’ve come out of this trip acknowledging is that that is OK — that the very feeling of peace and happiness is impermanent, and that it’s all about perspective. These are things I thought I knew, but boy is it easy to forget.

Anyhow, without further ado, I want to introduce a brief photo journal of my journey, which I, unlike many of my travels, decided to embark on through a travel company. This, in many ways, reduced the stresses that come with planning and logistics.

26 March 2018: Arrival in Kathmandu

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Upon arrival in Kathmandu airport, meet guide and transfer to hotel.  

*First impression: nice, clean air  – later found out that Kathmandu is one of the most polluted places on earth, especially after being devastated by an earthquake in 2015, but that did not take away from its beauty.

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Bread-making in Kathmandu

01 April 2018: Paro-Kathmandu

 

Transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu and visit two World Heritage listed religious sites – the Pashupatinath Temple-the holiest Hindu Temple on the bank of the holy Basmati Rivera and the giant Boudhanath stupa. See devotees taking ritual dips in the holy Bagmati River. Afternoon travel up to Swayambhunath stupa set high on a hill with commanding views of the Kathmandu valley.   

*Returning from Bhutan, I was stuck by the larger amount of “Western” clothing, the human traffic lights, the symbiotic integration of Hindus and Buddhists, and the strong culture around cremation.

It takes an entire hour to cremate a body — some travel far begging to die and be cremated at the Basmati River, where up to 200 cremations happen a day: 10 bodies can be burned at once, stopping at midnight. The rest are cremated electrically. Family members should cut their hair and wear only white for an entire year.

When someone VIP dies, they have the cremation area ready for them. During a natural disaster, they cremate in piles – 15-20 at a time. It is religion and art at the same time.

I was struck by the sense of solidarity: blind people sit outside of temples to sing songs and chat in the afternoons.

02 April 2018: Patan-Bhaktapur-Dhulikhel

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Heeding the suggestion by the counsel general, I took a mountain flight and saw Mount Everest  — it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, including a visit to the cock pit of the plane for more beautiful mountain views ❤ 

Check out after breakast and commence the day with a tour of Patan city, the city of fine arts and one of the three queen cities of the valley. Visit Durbar Square, Krishna Mandir and Mahavihar-Golden Temple of Lord Buddha built in the 12th century. Then visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, the third major town in the valley. Enjoy the cobblestone streets free of traffic andvisit Lion Gate, the five-storied Nyatopolo Temple and the Palace of 55 Windows. After lunch at Bhaktapur drive to the hill resort of Dhulikhel which lies 32 kms east of Kathmandu on the Araniko Highway that leads to Tibet. In old days, Dhulikhel flourished as a trading center handling commerce between Kathmandu and Lhasa. Today it delights visitors with its enchanting cultural and stunning Himalayan views. Overnight in Dhulikhel 

Newar people – indigenous – half Buddhist & half Hindu; no real conflict among them. Different architecture, language, etc. — I love their yoghurt!

Heavy reconstruction effort throughout all of Nepal after the earthquake: Men, women, children all remarkably engaged in reconstruction efforts.

03 April 2018: Dhulikhel to Nagarkot via Telkot hike.

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Morning drive to Changunarayan Temple visit the temple and hike 2 hrs to Telkot passing through the local houses by watching their daily activities and terrace farming field one side and great Himalayan views on other side. We meet our car at Telkot and drive to Nagarkot for beautiful sunset views. Overnight in Nagarkot.

*Changunarayan Temple where the history of Nepal started in the 2nd century

Road to Lhasa from Nepal was destroyed by the earthquake, and along with it, trade, travel, and commerce

08 April 2018: Lhasa-Kathmandu.

Morning we fly back to Kathmandu and visit Narayanhiti Palace Museum and Durbar Square and Ashan and Indrachock. Overnight in Kathmandu at Holy Himalaya.

*Lovely museum visit! Loved seeing the old palace, etc.

Money exchange

Massage : Blind center training massage — helping hands

09 April 2018: Departure

Transfer to airport for flight to home. Service ends.

Interesting facts about Nepal:  

  • Was part of the Silk Road
  • Was never colonized
  • 8/10 of the world’s tallest mountains are there
  • Constitution just adopted in 2017
  • Primarily Hindu
  • Buddha is from Nepal (contested — border with Nepal and India)
  • No death penalty
  • LGBTQ community can marry, have a passport as a third gender, and have equal rights
  • Babies wear black eyeliner for beautification purposes
  • Agriculture accounts for 75% of GDP
  • People living below the poverty like has halved in the last 7 years
  • 38% of all households don’t have a toilet 
  • Hinduism and Buddhism were never truly separate religions in the western sense – used same/similar temples
  • Nepali flag is the only one that is not rectangular in the whole world
  • Must try foods: dal bhat; with takari (boiled vegetables) or chutni; momo – steamed dumpling

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Bhutan: Could it Get any Better?

 

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Bhutan has to be one of my favorite places that I have ever been to. It could have to do with its strong culture of high-quality tourism: advocating for high quality, low impact, they make every tourist from the Western World spend at least $250 a day (including transport, food, accommodation, and a mandatory guide). This makes the people who come genuinely interested in the culture and respectful as the small country is not flooded with budget tourists (which I am most of the time). The country’s love for nature, culture, and peace embedded in Buddhism surpassed my already high expectations of this wonderful country.

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27 March 2018: Flight to Paro, Bhutan-

Only 8 pilots are qualified to make the landing into Paro – a relatively challenging trek, but with beautiful views of Mt. Everest on the way!

Transfer to airport for flight to Paro, upon arrival at Paro Airport, you will get your passport stamped with visa and claim your baggage and meet your guide outside the airport. After lunch at a local restaurant, we take half-day tour in Paro, visit National Museum, housed at Ta Dzong-the former Watch Tower. The museum has a wide variety of collections from fine arts, handcrafts, arms & armors, bamboo crafts, stuffed animals, stamp collections, bronze statues and also a fine chapel. From here, we visit Paro Rinpung Dzong-which means the fortress on a heap of Jewels. It was built during the reign of Shabdrung in1646. The Dzong, which houses the Paro Monastic School and office of the civil administration, is rich in architecture. The famous Paro Tsechu is held here in the courtyard of this Dzong every year in spring. Late afternoon we drive to Thimphu (1hrs)-the capital city of Bhutan. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage

 

  • Saw Mount Everest from the plane!
  • Fortress visit: in the past, everyone lived in the same fortress, not in separate houses
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  • Fortress was built by the Buddha who came from Tibet and unified Bhutan
  • 700k population; 3 women to 1 man
  • More than 23 local languages spoken
  • Ladies and men work equally
  • Phalluses everywhere because they make people embarrassed when they see them, and the sense of embarrassment purges people of negative energy
  • Strong belief in natural medicine
  • Happened to  be here for the Paro festival, which started on the 27th. How awesome!
  • Coexistence with nature and natural beings, including rocks is key in Bhutan
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  • Picnic at the Paro fortress for the Paro festival – tradition for local families
  • Having lunch where I experienced a Bhutanese dog named the same as my dog, Bella
  • In Bhutan, you have to pay $250 a day for being there —  requires/includes a guide — takes you to 3+ star restaurants to avoid food poisoning. Government gives tour company 40% of this, only after the tourists leave and if they have no complaints from the company
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  • Elders worry about the future because youth is increasingly choosing to leave to cities and there is no one to look after their land – the government is motivating youth to return, but many are opting for work in Thimphu “in front of a computer”
  • Guide said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the king/ royalty
  • Lama – chief monk, living Buddha- has lots of strict regulations, mainly 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of meditation. During this time, he has no human interaction, no cutting of hair, nails, etc. He writes on a piece of paper what he wants/needs and he has a supplier leave it outside of his door on a weekly basis.
  • They drive on the left side of the road
  • Prayer flags – believe that when the wind blows, so does the prayer – so on bridges etc.
  • Big stupa represents the body of Buddha, little stupa represents the mind of Buddha
  • Must do thongs in odd numbers – blessings, offerings, walks around stuppa
  • Gross National Happiness: composed of good government, economic growth,  preservation of culture, preservation of agriculture
  • Buddhism at its basic: be good and help others and get rid of main three poisons – greed, jealousy, anger
  • When you pray in a temple, pray for others, not for yourself
  • Lamas make a living from agriculture on property given to them by the government & from visitors who offer them donations
  • People have an allegiance to their home — work outside, save money and bring back to Bhutan via businesses and remittances
  • When people are sick, the government sends them out of the country if they don’t have the necessary resources
  • Prayer flags placed near windy and clean places
  • Roads are great in Bhutan
  • Thimphu — new capital of Bhutan and only city in Bhutan, founded by the third king, called the father of modern Bhutan
  • Artimichia plant – beautiful smell!
  • Female monks can’t be lamas
  • Rare to see a traditional house in Thimphu
  • A traditional house on a plot of land: 3 floors, bottom for cattle, second for storage, top for living
  • Colors mean a lot — red for the government, green rooftops for the schools, red and   green rooftops are for government buildings

28 March 2018:

After breakfast, we will embark on a tour of Thimphu. We visit Buddha Point at Kuensel Phodrang and then visit Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Many Bhutanese people gather here to pray every day. From here, we drive to visit a nunnery on the outskirts of Thimphu, followed by visit to Takin Zoo. Takin-the legendary animal, is the national animal of Bhutan, We also visit the Textile Museum, the School of Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum and Tasicho Dzong at the end of the day. The massive Tasicho Dzong is the seat of Bhutan1s administrative and religious center. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage.

  • Old people who can’t walk around the big stupa will walk around prayer wheels – dropped off by the children in the morning to pray for their next life — those without kids will be fed by monks and the wealthy
  • Susceptibility to earthquakes leads people to not be able to build beyond 5 stories high
  • Picnics and packed lunches are common
  • Singapore and other Buddhist countries support Bhutan – i.e. assist to financially support the building of a Buddha statue
  •  Walk clockwise, not counter clockwise around things
  • Buddha was a prince / a Hindu who left royalty upon realizing human suffering – went to meditate and experience suffering without eating – his mom who died at age one came up to him and asked him why he did this to himself & he replied that she would join him soon. He went to heaven and came back as told by bodshisatvas to come back and teach the religion to the people, which he did
  • Buddha’s second reincarnation in the 8th century came to Nepal and then Tibet where they did not listen to him/accept his teachings so he went to Bhutan – telling the Tibetans that they would come under another rule if they did not listen – came under Chinese rule
  • Believe the current king of Bhutan, and all past ones, are a god
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  • Fourth king ruled that water could be offered as gifts to the gods so that the poor did not have to give up wheat and rice they could not afford to give up
  • Seemingly resolved challenge for Bhutan: Balance between tradition and modernity
  • Peacock and horses are revered animals, as they are in Hindi because it is a Hindu-born religion
  • 2008: first time voting in Bhutan for parliament. Voting for parliament and ministers every 5 years
  • Faculty of traditional medicine: Interesting didn’t have any meds for mental problems – maybe Buddhism and prayer is the way to alleviate them?
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  • 4-6 years — in embroidery school and each year they have exams
  • 4 friends: sculpture of a peacock standing on a rabbit standing on a monkey standing on an elephant — peacock lays seed for tree, rabbit plants, monkey waters and fertilizes, and elephant protects — represents peace and harmony
  • Most schools in Bhutan are boarding schools
  • Paper factory: Boil bark of tree, separating good ones from bad ones
    • Mix water with glue
    • Press down to squeeze water out
    • Then place on modern electric walk and dry
  • Takin believed to have been created by the Buddhist monk
  • Rare to see arguments, murders, etc. – only really when people get drunk
  • Don’t kill the animals – import everything to eat from India
  • Mining is not allowed
  • King lives in a small bungalow on the grounds of the palace/fortress where he works and where the monks live as well
  • June 2: planting day — all people must plant one tree or on flower

29 March 2018: Punakha and Wangdiphodrang

With my Amazing guide, Kinley, and his friend from high school.

After breakfast, we attend Thimphu’s colorful weekend market where farmers sell their fresh produce. We can also take the opportunity to watch the archery match-the national sports of Bhutan. Late morning, we drive to Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang (3hrs). The road climbs up to Dochula pass (Alt. 3010m), where we stop to get a spectacular panoramic view of the snowcapped mountain range of Bhutan (weather permitting!). Near the pass there are many chortens (pagoda or stupas) and hundreds of prayers flags fluttering about in the wind. After the pass the road drops through changing vegetation into the semitropical lowland of Punakha – Wangdi valley. Punakha and Wangdue valleys are at a lower elevation, at around 1400m, therefore warmer with semi-tropical climate. Here we will seevegetation such as cactuses, bananas and orange groves. We visit Punakha Dzong, In fact,Punakha Dzong used to be the winter capital of Bhutan until 1958. Even today, the head of the Abbot and monks of the central monastic body reside in Punakha Dzongduring the winter months and in Thimphu during the summer. After lunch in Punakha, we drive to the village near the junction road between Punakha and Wangdi and take a 20 minute easy, pleasant hike to Chimi Lhakhang temple, dedicated to the Saint Drukpa Kuenley (1455-1529), also known the divine madman. Overnight in Punakha.

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  • Nepalis who work on the road are given (pretty rundown) housing
  • In order to join the UN, the Third King of Bhutan had to show a large enough population — asked Nepali king for people — gave them land in the south (not really arable due to foggy weather) for them to live and work; after some time, many of them did not want to wear the traditional clothing/follow the rules, so they sent them back to Nepal. Those who did follow the rules stayed and were given housing
  • Most people have their own houses, but rent in a city like Thimphu for a one or three bedroom house is $200-$300/month. Foreigners may not buy houses or stay here, unless they get married with a local person.
  • Saw a white monkey – symbol of good luck!
  • Poverty and hunger are not really issues here – community and/or government steps in, even for cremation purposes
  • Many people in the tourism industry were ex-guides who opened hotels etc. with foreigners who were on their tour and fell in love
  • No prostitution in Bhutan
  • Sex education from internet and friends, not in school
  •  British fighting for land – gave them Assam and parts that are now India to stop fighting
  • Fishing is illegal – people do at night
  • No death penalty
  • Cows and dogs in the middle of the street and they are not scared because cars will always stop for them – they’ll never purposefully hit them
  • People love painted houses/ colorful houses and will hire people to paint their houses, often with phalluses on them
  • People believe in hiking up to monasteries – that increasing the effort makes people more blessed, so the government is not allowed to build roads, etc
  • Rice popping, wheat, whisky, peach wine, druk lagger beer
  • Curries are common: usually with chile, a veggie, cheese, oil, & water – cooked for 5 minutes

30 March 2018: Sightseeing of Wangdue Valley and return drive to Paro

With my guide, Kinley’s family, at the Paro Festival

After early morning breakfast, we drive to the town of Wangdi Phodrang. Here again there is a very large fortress (Dzong) currently under renovation. Walk 20mins to Rinchengang Stones Masons village opposite to the Dzong. After sightseeing in Wangdi Phodrang, we retrace our drive back to the west across Dochula Pass,providing one more opportunity to view the peaks of the eastern Himalayas. At the pass, there is a small restaurant, where we can sip tea and enjoy the views. We descend from the pass in time for lunch at the restaurant in Thimphu and later in the evening, retrace drive to Paro. Overnight in Paro.

  • Send expats and foreigners to Bangkok Thailand if very sick
  • Why only nail polish on one hand? – not on right or left hand (whichever they use to eat) because they use it to eat
  • What happens if the king dies? – even if he’s a baby, he takes a throne, and prime minister. First child is the king, even if she’s a woman
  • Christmas is celebrated in Bhutan
  • New year is a special occasion
  • Wear nice shoes and purses to complement the traditional wear
  • Not a lot of grey hair – most people seem to die young
  • Festival: 9am-5pm – Paro Festival
  • Picnics are very popular
  • Bitter nut is common, as it is in parts of Nepal, India and Myanmar
  • Wanting and achieving is good, ok, as long as it is in your power and possible for you to achieve without much suffering — buying a big tv because you can afford it is ok, as long as your salary and work did not hurt anyone. Buying a big tv with someone else’s money because you wanted the big tv selfishly is not good
  • Fundraising for people who kill animals – giving them money for them to stop doing – primarily yak herders – alternate solution to the problem

31 March 2018: Paro (Takstang Hike)

Morning, we hike to the Takstang Monastery. Taktsang Monastery (meaning Tiger’s nest), was tragically damaged in the fire of early 1998. The monastery, which has now been rebuilt, is perched some 2,000ft/600m up on a sheer cliff overlooking the valley and was said to be where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padmasambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The hike is about one and half hours to the teahouse, from where we may either opt to go further uphill to the monastery for about 1 hour or return with a few snapshots of the monastery. Lunch is served at the teahouse with the majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro valley below. The return trek to the road head is downhill almost all the way and takes about an hour. Late afternoon, we will visit the ruins of DrugyelDzong from where we can also enjoy the views of Mount Jhumolari. 

Overnight in Paro 

  • Most people come with a packed lunch – picnic – which is a big deal in Bhutan
  • Traditionally don’t believe in mental health/ psychology – but now some Lamas are encouraging it – as a combination of Buddhism and mental health
  • Tour guide associations come up to the monastery to clean up
  • One aspect of karma: because we met in our past life, we are meeting in this present life
  • Humans are still the best form of being reborn – know what to do/not to do to be reincarnated. Gods know when they are going to die, so is a cause of worry. Animals/devil = lower caste.
  • Buddha had many disciples who helped to write the story – one from Tibet and one from Nepal –  Buddhas – bodhisatvas – not as enlightened as the main Buddha
  • It is not firmly believed that all of the scriptures are 100% true
  • Saw one of the four queens on her way down from a hike
  • Popped rice – like popcorn
  • Whisky container
  • Most cars you see are hyundai, suzuki, etc.
  • Traditional farmhouse experience – love!

Interesting facts about Bhutan:

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  • Was never colonized
  • Notable for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness
  • Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon
  • Primarily a Buddhist country
  • 1999 – when the ban on internet and television were abolished
  • Political system changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy recently
  • The takin is the national animal
  • Currency is fixed to the Indian rupee 
  • Forced over 100,000 people from an ethnic group to flee / neither being accepted in Nepal  or elsewhere; recently over 60,000 have been relocated 
  • Popped rice is common, and awesome!
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  • Great diplomatic relations with India, Japan and Bangladesh 
  • Primary export is hydroelectricity
  • There was trade before, but closed border with Tibet after an influx of refugees  
  • First nation in the world to ban smoking 
  • Inheritance traditionally passes through the female rather than through the name
  • Arranged marriages are common 
  • The previous king has four wives, all of which were sisters
  • Polygamy is uncommon but accepted – sometimes done to keep the inheritance intact 
  • To eat: ema datshi — national dish | dairy: butter, milk, cheese common
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  • Archery is the national sport
  • Only country in the world with a carbon negative footprint
  • Less people visit Bhutan in one year than they do on one Sunday for a football game
  • Homemade rye pancake, cheese from yaks and cows
  • Cordyceps whisky — cordyceps – whisky living on caterpillars in mountains in Bhutan
  • Wash hands by moving a ball of rice around their hands
  • Monks are covered by the government
  • If the monk dies, the government compensates the parents
  • They’re now learning computer science and English as a way to motivate children to join – it is up to them
  • They go to Singapore and other Buddhist countries to learn the practice
  • 1974 – tourism opened in Bhutan

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Tibet

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These three regions, especially Tibet and Bhutan are resounding with a common theme of a pungent smell of butter lamps and incense, sometimes concurrently.

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It’s what I will forever associate with them. Other non-olfactoric things include: handmade paper, “Buddhist-ware” – prayer wheels, beads, singing bowls etc. These cultural elements are what I tried to focus on while I was in Tibet, where it was honestly quite challenging to deny the political elements existing in the region – some comparisons to Israel and Palestine/Gaza certainly make it a prime place to focus on the challenges, and it is certainly difficult to deny or negate it. But the beauty and power of the region has surpassed conflict and politics.
The positive experience I had is outstanding:

04 April 2018: Flight in to Lhasa

Altitude: 3650/11,972ft

IMG_1785The only way I survived the oxygen — inhaling oxygen!

We transfer you to airport for flight to Lhasa. On your arrival at Lhasa airport, you will be met by your local guide and transferred to your hotel in Lhasa city (75km/47 miles, 1 hr). Check in hotel and take rest for acclimatization. You may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sicknessthat includes light headedness,disorientation, headache etc. Drink plenty of water and take enough rest. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • I was lucky enough to get my visa that morning. Most of the people on my flight did not get it, so most of the seats remained empty
  • China continues to change its rules related to the visa
  • It only opens in April to tourists, and I was one of the first to go that year
  • Lots of solar powered lamps
  • Put 7 water offerings on a Buddhist altar – lucky numbers – depending on the size of the altar

05 April 2018: Lhasa City, Potala Place and Barkhor Street

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In the morning we visit the Chokran temple. In the afternoon, Sera Monastery—It was one of the “three great” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1419. The highlight is the Monks debate at around 3 – 5 in the afternoon. Overnight in Lhasa at Gang Gyen hotel. Then continue to Jokhang Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a spiritual center for Buddhists in Tibet. Next to the temple there is Bakhor Street, filled with pilgrims and street vendors, selling traditional Tibetan items such as prayer wheels and jewelry. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • Chokran Temple – founded in the middle of 7th Century
  • First time seeing sleeve-wearing people on mopeds
  • Incense burner — outside
  • 5 colors of prayer flags reflects the five different colors of the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, sun
  • Guide is not to talk anything related to politics – if anything was taken down etc.
  • Monks in China get $ from the government if they’re part of a monastery
  • Monks typically look down because if they  see nice things, it will increase desire
  • Sky and river burials – returning people back to where we came from – from nature. Let birds and fish eat the bodies
  • Buddhists in some places like Nepal and India do not eat beef
  • Believe that killing one animal is like killing one soul, so they prefer to kill a large animal to feed more people
  • Yak meat on the run! vvv
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  • They have a lot more Tibetan officers than Chinese in Tibet, only work 5 hours, only for 5 months and are paid $60,000, to stay quiet
  • Monks debate philosophy – slap one side of hand if agree and the other, top side, if they don’t agree
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  • 150 monks living in Chokran
  • 500 monks living in Sera – prior to the Revolution more than 6000 lived there

06 April 2018: Monasteries in Lhasa, Drepung and Sera

In the morning, tourists are going to visit Drepung monastery, which was one of the “three greet” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1416. Ganden palace is used as Dalai Lama’s palace in the Drepung before moving to the Potala palace. Then we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site – Potala Palace, which is also the winter palace of Dalai Lama. It’s situated at 12,139 feet above sea level. It’s a 13-story high building that contains over 1,000 rooms, various statues, stupas, murals and artifacts.

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  • So many car brands I’ve never seen before in China – nice looking cars!
  • Before the Cultural Revolution, 10k monks living here –  the Draping “rice heap” – Monastery – now has 600 living there
  • The Assembly Hall is the main area of the monastery
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  • In Tibet – they use pillars to measure the home — i.e this monastery has 108 pillars.
  • Buddha – God of Compassion – manifested 1000 arms and legs – in order to help more people
  • Before 1959 — it was a place for political and religious leaders
  • Holds the tombs of past Dalai Lamas – worth billions of dollars in Gold!
  • White part of the building is – political; Red – religious; Yellow – Dalai Lama portion of the building

IMG_2277With my new friend from Thailand, Pauline

07 April 2018: Yamdrok Lake

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This yak didn’t like me very much.

Today, we have to drive from Lhasa to Gyantse. On the way, the group will pass over the Gampala pass (4790 m),and tourists will have a glimpse of Yamdrok-tso Lake (4400m).

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The Lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountain and in the distance you have spectacular views of Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar (7191m), the highest mountain near Lhasa. Then drive back to Lhasa. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • In this village, and in many places in Tibet, if you have 2-3-4 brothers, you can share a wife; older man gets to be called the father of all of the children
  • Don’t want foreigners – mainly marketing to the Chinese
  • **More complicated than this, but someone mentioned the similarities between the Vatican City and Lhasa, Tibet similarities: own military parade (albeit one is not from the predominant religious group), religion/religious institution at the center, City-State/City within the context of a larger country

 

 

 

 

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Tibetan Mastiffs!

Interesting facts about Tibet:

  • Highest region on earth – also home to Mount Everest like Nepal
  • Tibetans allowed to have businesses, but unlike the Chinese, can’t market it to the outside world – only use internet
  • Economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture
  • Longstanding fight for independence against China. Lost a battle in 1951 when China took over
  • Tibetan language is closest to Burmese – a mix of Indian and Chinese cultures
  • Have a Bon religion: similar to Tibetan Buddhism — and also Muslim and Christian minorities
  • Tibetan empire extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma…Pakistan, etc! Where in many parts they still speak the Tibetan language
  • A Tibetan revolution during the cultural revolution had 6,000 monasteries destroyed and between 200k and 1 million people were killed
  • Only opened for tourism starting in April
  • 14th Dalai lama – is seen as a governmental and political leader and established a government externally
  • Not much arable lands leads to cultivation of yaks and the like – livestock
  • 10-20% of all males in Tibet are monks
  • Barley is the most famous crop — noodles or dumplings (momo)
  • Guthuk – barley noodle soup is common for the new year
  • Tibetan style momo is famed
  • Butter tea: Butter tea perfectly fits the needs of the human body in these high altitudes as it contains butter (protein and fat), milk (protein, fat and calcium), salt and tea.
  • Tibetan cuisine is traditionally served with bamboo chopsticks, in contrast to other Himalayan cuisines which are eaten by hand.
  • Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. There many other types of balep bread and fried pies.
  • Well prepared yogurt is considered a luxury
  • The word Nangma derives from the Persian word نغمه Naghma meaning melody. Both a band and a nightclub have been named after it. “Nangma” is the name of a four-person, traditional Tibetan band dedicated to these two styles of music. “Nangma” is also the name of a nightclub in Lhasa which plays this traditional music.
  • Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signals that she is married.
  • Alcoholic beverages include:
  • Chang, a beer usually made from barley
  • Raksi, a rice wine
  • Polygamy and polyandry is a common practice, often to stop a family’s fortune from being dispersed
  • Lhasa Apso — dog orginiating in Tibet!
  • Yak racing is popular in Tibet!
  • Liked: House of Shamble, Tibetan Kitchen, Lhasa Kitchen, and the many tea houses there!

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Cultural Dance Show at the Hotel!

 

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

Back on a Ship: Peace Boat Edition to Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador, through the Lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

 

IMG_3791.JPGI was graciously awarded the opportunity to serve as a scholar onboard the Peace Boat this summer for its 94th voyage around the world.

As we learned at our orientation, Peace Boat was started in 1983, after a group of Japanese students wanted to promote peace and understanding as a result of the “Textbook Scandal, when Japanese students wanted to change the misrepresented views/information in textbooks of South East Asian countries. The students decided to do this by traveling on a small ferry that has since then evolved into a mid-sized cruise ship – And very soon (launching in 2020) into the world’s first “Eco Ship” – which will be a sustainable vessel, sailing as a literal flagship for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It will feature amenities like wind and solar power, and a dance floor that captures the energy people exert while dancing on it.

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The ship, which travels to over twenty countries every 3 months is open to anyone, regardless of nationality or age. However, aside from our program, which calls for youth from all corners of the globe, one must be aware that the ship is “heavily Japanese”, as most of its marketing and operations are based in Tokyo, thus attracting a large Asian crowd.

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This calls for a very interesting experience onboard, including, Cuban-style salsa lessons, held in Japanese (luckily, you only need to know 3 numbers and about 5 words to follow along), lots of great Japanese foods for all dietary requirements, and in general, the opportunity to learn a variety of languages, including English (for the non speakers), Japanese, and Spanish.

For me, personally,  it was an opportunity to become a student of the SDGs, mainly seeing how a very theoretical system of goals is practically applied and viscerally benefitting the lives of many.

I shared this with the DPI: While there is an innumerable amount of summer programs for youth, the Peace Boat provided me with the unique opportunity to travel to Latin America “through the lens of the SDGs” — we met with government officials and farmers alike, much as we do at the UN, but this time, we were on the ground with them, having a tangible learning experience. We stayed with the Embera Quera Indigenous tribe in Panama and learned, as best as one could, what it means to live sustainably. Also in Panama, we met with the UNDP regional office, which shared how the SDGs are being implemented in Latin America. On board the ship, we hosted a Peace Forum with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in El Salvador. As a youth scholar for the SDGs, I was invited to present on the SDGs that I closely resonated with, ran workshops on Social Enterprise and Design Thinking, as it is relates to promoting the SDGs. The experience complemented my recent completion of a Master’s degree in Food Studies and Social Entrepreneurship. This truly emphasizes the importance and autonomy that is given to youth as part of this program, which I am eternally grateful for.

 I’ll give you a brief run down of how the next two weeks unravelled: 

June 20 – Orientation at Peace Boat Office 

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June 21 – Fly to Panama City, hotel check-in, and welcome dinner

June 22 – Visit UN Development Program regional office, session on Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America

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Today, we learned about the rapid development of Panama City, in the greater context of Latin America, about the importance of the Panama Canal, and of the great history of colonization and liberation that has greatly impacted this beautiful nation.

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At UNDP, we learned from Javier M. Blanco about the importance of the three principles of the 2030 Agenda: universality, integration, and leaving no one behind — as it relates to the greater context of ensuring that countries are first and foremost able to adhere to the Agenda. We learned about how, in spite of suffering from other violations, like those of human rights, Cuba rates relatively high on quality of life for a relatively low level of income.

He continued with examples of how, while Brazil is developed, the rates are not inclusive, as some are geographically left behind

In the US and Europe for example, lots of crops are used to feed animals and not humans, which creates an inefficient use of these crops; whereas in India, one can see a relatively low level of meat consumption and high crop usage for human, which leads to a lack of universality amongst participating members

In Haiti, the integration of SDGs when natural disasters happens is key — i.e. access to water, resilience of its infrastructure, and the reparation of its cities/zero hunger

From Romeral Quintilla, we learned about the importance of UN volunteers, particularly youth volunteers, in securing the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. She emphasized that volunteering is a powerful means of implementation of the SDGs, as oftentimes, the volunteers were working on the ground long before the Goals were established, which gives them a unique leverage in the field.

Lastly, we heard from Adriana Zacarias who heads UN Environment and who shared key personal and governmental suggestions on the implementation of the SDGs, as it relates to the protection of the environment.

On a personal level, she advocated for decreased consumption, and urged us to think about this in terms of food, housing, mobility, consumer goods, and leisure. To complement this, she focused on 4 tenets, which are common in sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle, and respect — these, she emphasized, could only be achieved after a change in attitudes, paired with facilitators and the infrastructure to allow us to achieve these goals.

We continued our day with a visit to the Panama City Mayor’s office where we learned about the importance of positive reinforcement, as it relates to encouraging youth who are leaders as representatives in their community. The city has established three programs: Joven a Joven, Vivir Con Propósito and Foro Juventud Por la Paz – all with the purpose of encouraging youth, even those who are “trouble makers” – to divert negative energy into positive energy.

June 23 – Visit RET (Resilience, Education and Training) program for refugee youth in Panama

By sharing in a series of SDG – focused activities with youth who had been exposed to some of the most callous sides of life, we learned about the impact that government crises have on fragile populations, especially youth.

What is remarkable, however, is that the youth is resilient, hopeful, and some of the most energetic human beings I have ever seen. I was in the midst of filming a 13 year old girl Venezuelan who gave her testimony before she proceeded to passionately crush an egg we were supposed to keep intact throughout the day break), because she was so dedicated to share the inequalities of her current educational system.

These are the kinds of stories we need to continue to tell.

June 24 – Study Program and cultural exchange with local indigenous communities in Panama

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This was the day that I fell in love with a monkey. Manolo had lost his mother, and the Embera Quera community, which we called home for an evening, also welcomed him.

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The 3 month old spider monkey will remain with them until he is an adult, at which point he and his fellow adopted toucan will be freed.

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What I loved most about our stay is the true sustainable nature of these indigenous communities — while some of the women gloss their lips and the children sing some of the latest songs, they manage to keep some of the traditions of their ancestors, which have also kept them alive for thousands of years.

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Unfortunately, the government no longer allowed them to plant in their region, as it was declared a protected area, so they had to relocate. A comment from a friend shed a lot of light on this situation: “…the indigenous people weren’t indigenous enough for the government” — this is so true! In this case, the plants and the land were more important than its people.

In spite of the injustice, the children seemed to be more knowledgeable than many adults I know — some spoke French and Japanese and one recounted the history of The Great Wall.

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Some highlights of our stay was cooking with the women — which involved finely grating rice for a sort of wrap, learning about traditional healing plants, including plants that remove fever and the bark of a particular tree, which they use to paint their bodies for protection from insects and disease. Lastly, we learned how to make traditional bracelets, which I was surprised to know was not all that easy  – even for the simplest of designs!

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I can’t forget about our sleeping situation, which involved us sleeping hoisted above one of their wooden houses with a mattress and mosquito nets — I would pay for this experience alone!

June 25 – Embark on Peace Boat in Cristobal, Panama, onboard orientation

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Today we boarded the ship for the first time, which was really a fun experience, especially having the opportunity to share it with our friends at RET, who joined us for a visit.

My peers and I practiced our presentations on the SDGs, which allowed me to learn a lot about the SDGs through what they were specifically passionate about.

I ended the the day, taking advantage of the gym on board and singing to the tune of many songs at Karaoke.

June 26 – Panama Canal passage, preparation for lectures and study sessions onboard

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I’m still not sure that I know exactly how it works, but I can tell you that it was very exciting to pass through the Panama Canal.

We spent most of our day outside, again preparing for our presentations, and figuring our the mechanisms of the canal.

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I changed Karaoke for salsa dancing onboard, which allowed me to practice Cuban style salsa dance for a second time in my life!

June 27 – Onboard lectures and workshops

Today, I finally tracked down the matcha ice cream, which I had not indulged in since my time in Japan in 2014 — for future Peace Boat voyagers — it’s in the gift shop!

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I returned to a group salsa class from 11:30 – 12:30pm, proceeded by lunch with my peers and our presentation on our respective SDGs, which was concurrently translated into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese – a mini UN!

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From 6 -7pm, we watched the documentary,  Paper Lanterns, which told the story of the American prisoners of war who were killed during the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

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After dinner, the film was complemented by a private conversation with four Hibakushas, survivors of the nuclear bombs. As some of the only survivors left to tell share their testimony, this was truly an honor.

I was especially motivated by their advocacy work, which takes the form of talks on global voyages to 80+ countries on and off the Peace Boat, emphasizing “words instead of wars.”

In support of SDG #16 – which advocates for peace, the Hibakushas are unrelenting promoters of clean energy and continue to work with the UN on a nuclear ban.

June 28 – Arrive in Nicaragua, Climate Action study program and mangrove forest visit. Return to ship for departure.

IMG_4452.JPGA delay in the passing through the Panama Canal caused the ship to arrive in Corinto, Nicaragua in the late afternoon instead of in the early morning, which sabotaged our visit to the mangrove forest.

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It was, however, the perfect reprieve for us. We rented bikes, which toured us around the peaceful town. I was surprised to see a poster of Chavez, Venezuela’s former president, which I was told was put up by the local government, which was grateful for the support that he provide the people with.

Being here reminded me of a briefing I attended at the UN, which spoke about how Nicaragua did not sign the Paris Treaty, as it felt that it would be disadvantaged if it did sign, given its low level of development, which would only be aggravated if they committed to high levels of sustainable energy usage without having the necessary infrastructure.

Before I could continue to think about this, we danced for a bit on the streets, and the ship called us home.

June 29 – Arrive in El Salvador, disembark from Peace Boat, cultural exchange program

We hosted students from the University of Don Bosco in El Salvador for a Peace Forum, where we learned from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the ways that the SDGs are being prioritized and implemented in El Salvador.

As a country previously divided by civil war, priorities are on SDG 16: restoring peace, justice, and strong institutions because as was repeatedly emphasized by many of the panelists, peace is not the absence of war.

The government has decide to delegate the tasks of the SDGs among 71 groups that work to implement them on a national level.

We got to hear from the youth, who play a particularly important role In El Salvador, as, unlike in more industrialized nations, the population is very young. They urged the government to establish programs that would involve youth to assist in the process of SDG implementation.

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Of course, we took a break to eat a pupusa, a Salvadorian pocket of corn stuffed with an array of beans, vegetables, and/or meat — which we ended up having at least once a day for the rest of our stay.

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Our visit continued to a school in the town of Santo Domingo de Guzman, which houses the country’s sole language learning center for children to learn the indigenous Nahwat language. The is the language of the Pipil people, who are “cousins” of Mayans, but direct descendants of the Aztecs, as they came from Mexico to Central America, but were more culturally integrated as Mayans. Their roots were nearly obliterated, after an ethnic cleansing by a dictator in 1932.

For fear of persecution, the indigenous people chose to be clandestine about their practices, often changing their clothing, religious traditions, and slowly forgetting their language.

Fortunately, a partnership between the University of Don Bosco and the Ministry of Education was established in 2010 to revitalize the Pipil language, the result of which is a school where children, ages 3-5 years old join elderly ladies who cease to work in order to become teachers at the center.

The incredible thing about this is that the classes are taught by these ladies who have never gone to school and who are themselves illiterate! Regardless, the Ministry of Education has recognized their teaching capacities as surpassing that of many formally trained instructors throughout the country.

Dr. Lemo created this program, which now has a partnership with the University of Navarro, Spain, which sends student-teachers over for 3 months to assist in the teaching process.

He urges that the grandchildren of these ladies are the hope! There are 7000 different languages that are spoken around the world, but more than half will die in 50 years because of the same situation as Nahwat languages, the inability to use language publicly i.e. on the radio, in places of worship, in court etc. which forces people to speak other languages.

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Is learning this language even practical? Well, as a person who has long advocated for bilingual education, I can attest to proven scientific benefits, which Dr. Lemo is cognizant of – however, for the local community, it means the preserving the way in which future generations will acquire their values and maintain their culture.

Most biodiverse places in the world are also the most linguistically diverse, which does not seem to only be a product of causation.

We “don’t expect El Salvador to become bilingual, but we have to have this community preserve its culture.”

June 30 – Visit University of Don Bosco in San Salvador, forum on Peace and Sustainability 

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We completed our exchange with Don Bosco University by visiting their campus and listening to a few of their professors discuss peace and how it is manifested in El Salvador.

We learned that for various reasons, 200,000 youth drop out of school every year – 8/100 have access to college, and only 21/100 have access to a baccalaureate degree.

The first professor urged that for a small country, El Salvador’s “only asset” is its people.

The second professor who spoke was a former member of the military who emphasized that friendship is hard between the rich and the poor, between the rich and the rich, and between the poor and the poor, which often incites conflict, and at the base of that conflict is a relationship of different interests that are constantly in flux.

For him, war is a result of unresolved conflicts. His belief is that humans are the most violent of beings, which means that conflicts are often violent.

His experience as a military officer led him to test his ultimate ability to be resilient, and wants El Salvador to be the same because “no one negotiates with the weak — in El Salvador, there are never any negotiations – even the dollarization is imposed on us!”

“Are we in peace today? No. We are still in war.”

25 years after the Peace Agreements were signed in Mexico, he believes that social movements are necessary in order to live in true peace.

Youth, he urges is the key: for him, it’s not about age, but about the capacity to see the world, to make a difference, and to have the courage to make a difference

July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs

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Panchimalco is a small colonial town in El Salvador. Just 4 years ago, there were a lot of problems with a gang called the Maras in this area; there were armed people everywhere, but for as long as it has been in existence, it has been known as “Ciudad del Arte” –  “ Art City.”

And that underlying beauty is what healed the town.

Artists in Pachimalco were convinced that art is the way for peace, and with a supportive mayor, they started programs to support folkloric dance, paint, music lessons, and sculpting for the youth.

They used this as a tool for violence prevention and the construction of peace, which to date has decreased homicide rates in the town, by decreasing the amount of free time that the youth has, diverting the energy into positive skill building.

We were honored with a showcase of all of these art forms.

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In the afternoon, we visited the Alberto Masferrer Univeristy, with a student-run presentation about the culture of El Salvador, as well as its Civil War.

From 1981 to 1992 El Salvador was historically marked with war, leading to a loss of infrastructure, economics, and above all, its people.

It began as a result of a series of human rights violations, resources being concentrated and controlled in the hands of a few, overall inequity, 60% of population being marginalized, and the organization of these peoples in the name of national liberalism.

Development of the war: many organizations merged to form the FMLN Political Party in 1980 to incite/instigate the insurrection. They were not strong enough to deplete the government, but they clearly left their mark on the government, fighting for the next decade until amnesty was declared.

When the peace accords were signed, much of the damage was reflected on its educational system, which now leaves my peers to revitalize it.

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Ana with one of the Scholarship Recipients

The day concluded with a visit to San Isidro, where we learned of the importance of corn, as a member of the community said: “we belong to corn – because corn is the foundation of our diet”.

We also learned about the Mana Ojushte project, which aims to revitalize the ojushte seed, which was forcibly forgotten by the locals as a result of the 1932 ethnic cleaning, which promoted assimilation and an obliteration of indigenous practices.

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Ojushte

Also known as the “sacred seed”, “maju”, and “ramon” in Mexico, Ojushte contains vitamins and minerals like protein, iron, zing, vitamins A, B, C, E, fold acid, potassium, triptofane, calcium, and fiber and is naturally gluten free and low in fat.

in 2010, Zacarias, a Peace Corps volunteer came to San Isidro and liked the way that our host, Ana Edith made all-vegetarian food. He first tried ojushte in the house of an elderly member of the community.

Zacarias thought the town should rediscover the crop as a great source of protein since the community didn’t have enough money for meat. He brought it back to Ana – who then joined him to visit the lady who had first shared it with Zaharias but who refused to share the secrets with them. Eventually, they figured out how to cultivate it on their own and since then have won multiple awards for reforestation, as a way to combat hunger and malnutrition in the region.

This is particularly important because after Haiti, El Salvador is the second deforested country in all of Latin America.

Ana not only employs the farmers, but also those who cultivate, and gives scholarships to local students who want to be in the culinary fields.

For lots of youth, their only hope in the San Isidro, is going to the United States, but she believes that there are lots of opportunities right within San Isidro.

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Cultivation:

  • Buy seeds from local cooperative
  • Cultivators are paid $8/day ($3 above average) to dry, toast, and grind the seed for drinks, breads, crackers, or as a supplement for food
  • Can last for 5 years in perfect state, unlike corn and beans

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Blessing of the Seed: 

  • Use tree bark that is blessed by the Catholic Church as incense
  • Partake in a “monkey” and “jaguar” dance
  • “All humans walk on the earth, but we think about the sky

July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs

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We had a pretty relaxing day before our departure, hiking up a volcano, visiting Mayan ruins at Joya de Ceren – a World Heritage Site, and different from all of Meso American Mayan ruins, as instead of displaying temples and religious sites, this archeological site is a showcase of normal life, a community where people coexisted 1500 years ago.

They lived among homemade gardens, agave, cacao yucca, and guayaba cultivations, with three to five people per family, and each family sharing something with the community, be it his/her shaman abilities, a communal sauna, and of course some of the crops from their gardens.

This spirit of communality and equality is what El Salvador is craving at the moment.

We had coffee and shopped a bit in Santa Tecla, where an artisan handcrafted a dream catcher for me, in my favorite hue of turquoise.

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Back at the hotel, I had the honor of co -leading the rest of the Design Thinking workshop on the SDGs.

July 3 – Return home 

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Before parting ways, we had the honor of sharing our time with former guerrilla warrior, Ana Francis.

After 1992, she did not pick up a single weapon, and upon her reinsertion into civil society, she started working against the exploitation of all of civil society and is now an incredible advocate for women’s rights.

She co-founded Las Melidas, a center that now serves as one of the primary spaces for advocating for women in El Salvador, leading efforts to fight the criminalization of abortion, domestic violence, and a paternity law, which forces fathers to be emotionally and economically responsible for their children, even retroactively, and even if they are out of the country.

She also advocates for women’s rights as workers, sex workers, intergenerational dialogue, and against the wage gap.

On the 26th of July, the center celebrates is 25th year in operation.

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