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

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