On the Road Again

Well our month long beach holiday is officially over. It went by quick and yet it feels like we’ve been here ages. I thought I’d take this time during a packing break while Jules has a nap to write a catchup entry. This month has been slow to stay the least. Most days I didn’t leave the house until the afternoon. Spending lazy morning getting out of bed as slow as possible, cooking big indulgent brunches and catching up on my writing/ news reading/ watching back to back episodes of Breaking Bad. Most mornings I did a bit of yoga while Jules surfed, mostly so I could later justify snacking on quesadillas.

In the afternoons we swam in the pool or walked down to the beach. If it wasn’t too overcast we went down for a sunset swim. Before Semana Santa, Easter week, we almost had the beach to ourselves. Kicking up your feet on a lounge chair under one of the few umbrellas, with only a bottle of Corona blocking your view, you could easily mistake this for a postcard.

We went out a few times in Zicatela where beach bars pumping reggaeton are a dime a dozen. Most nights we cooked an early dinner, experimenting with new recipes this month, watched a movie and were in bed before 930. Getting up early is essential here because by 11 am it’s almost too hot to leave the house. A midday trip into town to buy a few groceries turned into an exhausting expedition that usually left us cranky and soaked in sweat.

We took a couple day trips out to other beaches about an hour south. Each beach was beautiful in its own right but we were happy to return to our quiet and relatively untourist little slice of paradise.

So now were moving on. Saying goodbye to Puerto Escondido and making our way down to Chiapas. Not sure what lays in store for us down there. We have a few ideas in the mix but hopefully our experience in San Cristobal will lead us in the right direction. Well, a 16 hour bus ride lies ahead!

xo from Mexico!

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Negro y Blanco

Mexico is well known for its vibrant colors. Iconic reds, greens and yellows that seem to pop out from every direction. A moving canvas of colors splattered across people, food and landscapes. But as much as Mexico waves these colors proudly, it also has a quiet, pensive side that I think is best translated through black and white.

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My Love Letter to Mexico

What can I say. It’s only been 3 weeks and I’m already in love. Something about the warm morning air that creeps through our bedroom window, enticing me to get out of bed. The controlled chaos of the capital that reflects a rapid, but sophisticated momentum towards progress. Even with the slow paced attitude of latin america, you can feel a strong force moving this country forward. On the metro, men push through crowded cars, blasting music from backpacks, yelling their prices & waving CDs in the air. Old men sit on the corner, sipping beers from a communal glass, laughing as they watch the world go by, eager to share their drinks and their stories.

Colors fly uninhibited past my eyes, a whole rainbow of fruits & vegetables crammed into one tiny market stall. Piñatas burst with pinks, yellows & reds, mirroring the sweet treasure inside. The cuisine, simple but challenging, heats your forehead and sets your tongue on fire. Bone crushing hands belonging to tiny abuelas grind maize into powder. Shopkeepers blend any combination of fruit imaginable to create the juice of your dreams.

Walking into a plaza in mexico city is like entering a carnival, men crank antique machines that send old fashioned music through the air. On every corner stalls are lined up, smelling of carnitas and freshly made tortillas. Teenagers make out on the benches, unaware and unashamed. Vendors sell inflatable toys and blow bubbles into a group of giggling children. Families, friends and elderly caballeros chat the afternoon away, promising that they’ll do their obligations manana.

Even now I can hear the faint echo of 40’s music wander down the street, into our window. Yes, I think I could get quite comfortable with this love affair. Mexico, te amo.

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This Is What I Said

As Jules and I spent our last two months in South America making our way up from the Peruvian Amazon to the northernmost tip of Colombia, we began to collect memory cards full of photos and videos. Most of the photos are still sitting on my computer waiting to be sorted and the videos have began gathering hypothetical dust in IMovie. So I finally decided to do something with them. Nothing professional or particularly noteworthy, but at the very least a sort of highlight reel of our time in Colombia. Enjoy!

PS- please ignore the mushy, lovey undertones. This doubled as a very belated Christmas present to Jules!

 

Tell the World that I’m Coming Home

I knew this was going to happen, I was more prepared for it this time. This reverse culture shock. Stepping off the plane with mixed emotions. The excitement of returning home, the relief of certain comforts, but the surprising freshness of it all. As if this is just the next stop on your destination list. The sensory overload of walking into a supermarket for the first time, the overwhelming amount of choices for your pizza toppings, the luxury of a warm shower and a comfortable bed. Everything is fun and exciting and new. Your family and friends can’t wait to see you and your cell phone is overwhelmed with texts for the first time in almost a year.

Welcome home parties and reuniting with loved ones fills up your schedule. You can’t wait to devour a meal at your favorite restaurant, cruise around in your car (which suddenly feels a lot more luxurious than it once did) and finally get your hands on some decent beer. Everything is a novelty. Even mundane chores like filling up your gas are foreign and exciting.

You try to throw yourself back into your old world. Follow along with conversations about the iphone5 and something called Gangnam style (???) You listen, attempting to keep up. In the beginning everyone has questions about your trip. You try to describe your stories in a passionate but humble tone. Your memories are still fresh as the scrape from your recent motorbike accident.

Excitedly you stumble over words, pleading your tongue to keep up with every thrilling detail. Short anecdotes turn into long tales of haphazardly running around foreign countries; chasing wild pigs through the amazon leads to the time you ate fresh goat in the desert which turns into a story of being crammed in the back of a 4×4 with 3 goats, a baby pig, a chicken and several large tortoises strapped to the roof. Wow. You start to think to yourself, did I really do all that? You end up catching yourself. You know that you are incredibly lucky to be able to travel for an extended time and the last thing you want to do is sound like a pretentious brat.

In fact, you hope your passion and excitement is infectious, you hope your stories of mishaps and adventure will inspire everyone to drop their jobs, sell their possessions and take off tomorrow for somewhere, anywhere completely foreign. Somewhere you don’t speak a word of the language, somewhere you have to get by with body language and laughter. Somewhere the people eat termites. Somewhere the daily mode of transportation is a mototaxi with neon flashing lights, somewhere you will get lost and things will be hard and different and wonderful. Somewhere you will never be able to say “I’m bored” again.

Of course your tales of climbing mayan ruins and bathing under waterfalls will grab attention for a while but those watchful eyes will soon become glazed over and your excitement will be overthrown by interruptions of weekend plans and office complaints. Soon the welcome home parties will come to an end, everyone will get used to you being home and they’ll eventually forget you were even gone. They’ll add you into memories of past events and try to reminisce with you about dinners and parties you weren’t even around for.

And soon the memories of 10 months of adventuring overseas will blur together like a fading dream. But the same things that excited you before you left, picking out a new dress for new years, staying out all night on the weekends, planning the next weekend trip to Vegas, just doesn’t bring the same thrill that it used to. Which is when you have to choose. Are you going to let the past 10 months become a once in a lifetime trip, the kind that stays in your heart forever as a crazy whim of your twenty something self? Or are you going to let travel become part of your life, let it absorb you wholly and completely, allow it to become a longing inside of you that will never stop nagging until you give in. To sacrifice everything else, forego those nights out and music festivals to save for something greater. Something you know will become life changing and monumental.

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Meet The Parents

When my parents told me they were coming to Colombia to visit, I was a little hesitant to play tour guide. I love my family but our vacations tend to turn into ridiculous, unplanned roller coasters of a trip, which I had become acquired to but wasn’t sure would be the best situation to throw my boyfriend of 6 months into. But, having not seen them for 8 months, we were due for a visit. So Jules and I arrived at the Cartagena airport to meet my dad, mom and brother, who, in true Williams fashion, hadn’t so much as booked a hotel for the night. After emotional hellos and excited introductions, we grabbed the bags and headed into town in a roomy air-conditioned van (a luxury jules and I had not experienced in our entire time in south America). With my mother haphazardly filming every conversation from there onward, we began to fill my family in on our adventures of volunteering and traveling.

When we arrived in cartagenas old town, we managed to check ourselves in for the night at a 3 story private residence complete with pool, washer and dryer and rooftop jaccuzi. Compared to our jail cell like hostel room from the previous night, this felt like the Ritz. The next few days we spent exploring Cartagena which meant sleeping in, lazing away the hot afternoons in our air-conditioned mini mansion and adventuring through the city at night in search of Colombia’s most delicious foods. During our three days in the city we crashed a restaurant opening (who can turn down free paninis and wine?), got yelled at by Cartagenas famous fruit ladies (apparently they have a one photo per fruit plate policy?) and got hustled on the street by an ex San Diego padres player. Although cartagena is gorgeous, with it’s endless maze of colonial style streets, we were all pretty ready to move on to our next destination.

After brief pitstop at volcano Totuno, which looked more like a giant anthill than a volcano, we spent the night in Santa Marta. Jules, my brother and I drank beers on the street and watched the local crackheads come out of the woodwork. We spent the next morning stocking up on supplies, including bribing the hotel staff to buy us black market alcohol because it was election day and the stores are prohibited to sell it. My brother went with Jules and I to grab some last minute produce at the market and after getting lost we found my parents on the corner of the bus stop our bags everywhere, beer bottles smashed and getting hurried onto the already overcrowded bus. On the way to our next destination, they filled us in on their story of getting into a fight with the taxi drivers over the fare and standing their ground until the drivers took off. I hoped that this would be the last time we’d get hustled.

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Our next stop, Parque Tayrona, was beautiful. Thanks to my parents generosity we stayed in ecohuts overlooking the beach, Jules and I had our own, while my family shared another. We were greeted at reception with coconut cocktails and enjoyed 3 nights of easy living in our luxurious cabanas. Breakfast was included and available as room service so Jules and I lounged in our pjs, eating pancakes and fresh squeezed juice in our king size bed. Luckily we only stayed a few days because I could have gotten used to the royal treatment.

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Our last destination was the gorgeous island of San Andreas. This carribean island is actually closest to Nicaragua, only 80 km off the coast but is governed by Colombia. It’s a popular vacation spot for colombians and the north beach, where we stayed, was often overcrowded with kids splashing around the water and their parents lazily watching them from the beach. We ended up renting a couple of motorbikes and a golf cart and cruised around the island. Seriously, passanger seat of a golf cart, feet up, cold cerveza in hand is the best way to tour an island. We spent the next few days driving the road that followed the coast, stopping off at the quieter spots to enjoy the warm carribean water to ourselves. On our last day on the island, the electricity was shut off on the north side for maintanence so all the locals gathered for a beautiful day on the westside.

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The next day we said our final farewells as my parents left for the airport to their next destination, panama. And just like that Jules and I were on our own again. After a couple of weeks of living the high life, we quickly readjusted to a peasants budget. Having spent the previous 4 nights in a beach bungalow, our first night back on the road we slept in an airport to avoid having to pay for a hostel for the night. Not the most comfortable but definitely an adventure. And although it was nice to live in luxury for a bit, and amazing to see my family, the challenge and creativity that backpacking creates is more our style.

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Don’t Forget to Look Up (The Amazon Part 1)

Well. That was an experience. We just spent 3 days canoeing deep into the Amazon jungle, well as deep as a 3 day tour will let us go. Day 1 included an early breakfast and last minute trips to a decent bathroom before we set off for the trip. We spent most of the day canoeing with a quick stop for lunch. Jules and I switched off (maybe not entirely evenly) helping our guide abrahn paddle. Although it was a long time to be on the river, 6 hours of consistent rowing, the scenery was breathtaking. As it started to get dark we pulled off on the side of the river to spend the night in an open air cabin type thing. Because our guides didn’t have any luck in catching anything in their nets we had fried eggs, rice and plantains for dinner. Who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner?

We capped off day 1 with a night exploration up the river. We had to drag ourselves out of our stuffy but bug free, mosquito netted bed to join Willington, the head guide and the gang back on the river. Before taking off, Abrahn asked us about 5 times if we were sure we didn’t want to bring our cameras. Already in the boat, tired and worn out from a long day in the sun, we couldn’t be bothered to get out and into the canoe yet another time. So we journeyed into the night camera less, on the search for crocodiles (really just cayman). Our first sighting of the night was a sloth! Oso perisozo they’re called here. Lazy bear. Perfect name. He was sleeping in a tree directly above us. Shining our light on him made him attempt to retreat to another branch…. Very, very slowly. It was awesome and we were very quickly beginning to regret not bringing a camera. Then we paddled up to the net the guides pulled up. Pulling it above the surface we found 2 piranhas, one which had attacked the other. Well, there was breakfast sorted for tomorrow. Further down the net we found exactly what we came out for. A cutie little cayman, almost a meter long, looking pretty sedate, almost stoned, like he had pretty much given up hope and resigned himself to his fate. After the guides untangled him, he sat docile on an oar. Another amazing photo opportunity. We were kicking ourselves for not even brining my point and shoot. Ugh. But we did get to touch it’s soft belly. It had beautiful skin. One of the isreali guys said it would make a nice shoe. In the end though we tossed him back into the river to rejoin his family and start plotting his revenge as Jules said.

The trip continued further down the river and deeper into the night. The stars above were breathtaking but I didn’t want to keep my eye on them for long because I knew there were all sorts of creepy creatures cursing underneath our boat. We paddled on over to the river bank to look for more cayman. I don’t know what scared me more, the red glow in the dark eyes, several pairs of them indicating groups of cayman, or the thick black wasps flying at my face whenever I turned my headlamp on. Just as we were coming up to the supposed cayman hang out in the messy branches on the side of the river, moving quietly to not scare them off, a fish jumps right into the canoe and flops around under the seat. I freak out and scream for Jules to toss it out but he’s just as scared as I am. Finally, after more squealing from both of us, the fish jumps out by itself. Abrahn just watches and laughs at us. The trip continued with more cayman spotting, from a safe distance, and another appearance from our sloth friend who in the half hour we’ve been out has managed to ascend an entire tree branch. Well done buddy. But the most entertaining part of the trip was Jules and I clutching each other in fear of the dark, slimy unknown. Jumping at every fish splash and appreciating each others company. And in the end, no camera can capture those memories.

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Saying Goodbye

Well, our time has come. And then been put off, then delayed again. Somehow we just can’t bring ourselves to leave this special place. But considering that I was only planning on staying a couple months here at PSF, and somehow I’m now almost 6 months in, I think it’s finally time to leave. Tomorrow I have to give my goodbye speech to everyone. Just a quick goodbye and a thank you for everything this place and these people have given me. And what hasn’t this place given me. Looking back on my 6 months I can hardly believe how lucky I am that I found PSFs website and decided to come here and check it out. At first I was nervous, having no construction background, rusty Spanish and a one way ticket to a country I had never visited. Psf has not only improved my Spanish skills and taught me how to use power tools, it’s given me countless friendships with people around the world, introduced me to my amazing, amazing boyfriend, given me the confidence to step up and be a leader and allowed me to work with and improve the lives of beautiful families in this community.

One of these families is the mother and daughter we built a modular home for as my last project. For the past 5 years, they had been living in a tent donated to them after the earthquake by a relief organization. I knew from the beginning this was going to be a special project. The house was crawling with adorable puppies and kittens. And over the course of the next couple of weeks, we enjoyed getting distracted from our work by their pets jumping all over us and cuddling up on our construction site. Although pretty stoic, Maga, the mother, made us feel welcome everyday. Cooking us incredible lunches with heaping portions. She even baked me a gorgeous cake for my birthday. And carol, her 9 year old daughter, was a bit shy at first but quickly opened up and was really curious and helpful with what we were working on.

From day one, the family was very eager to participate in the construction process. On the first day we arrived to the house to find that they had already moved most of their belongings out and had dismantled everything except for the poles of the tent. We spent the next couple of days cleaning up and leveling the site. Then we poured a 7 by 4 meter concrete floor. The next few days I spent in bed, sick with parasites- e coli and giardia. Pretty common in pisco. My awesome team put up the panels that become the exterior and interior walls of the house. It only took a couple days to kick those parasites out of my system and I was back on site. We prepared the roof with bamboo beams and chanquarta and then poured the concrete. We let it dry for the weekend and when we came back, she had moved her furniture in! It was starting to look like a real home. Then we spent a few days at our wood shop, constructing doors, windows and furniture. We put everything up on site, painted the furniture there and painted her house a beautiful lime green. Locks and latches were the last to go on and the house was finally finished! We asked Maga how she felt about her new house and we watched her let down her guard for a moment, tears of relief and happiness welling up in her eyes, describe how cold she and Carol were in the tent and how much more comfortable her new house is. This project was easily my favorite in the past 6 months and it was difficult to say goodbye to this family, wishing I could do even more for them.

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One of the adorable puppies, Blanca

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Maga and the crew outside her finished house!

Well, this experience has been truly life changing. 6 months of hard work, incredible friendships, crazy parties and lots of love. I know I’ll be missing PSF for a long time after we leave. But I’m pretty excited to hit the road again. Jules and I will be heading up north to check out the amazon in Iquitos then crossing the border into Colombia! My family is visiting at the end of September and I cant wait. Good times ahead.

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Gaining Perspective

Well, after a 14 hour bus ride of uphill twists and turns I’ve finally made it to cusco. I wasn’t sure if the infamous Macchu piccu was going to fit into my south american schedule. I’ve kind of had my fill of squishing between tourists to grab my obligatory photo with *insert famous monument here* to send home to mom and dad, but I didn’t want to regret not going, so here I am. It is one of the seven wonders of the world after all, so why not. But this blog post isn’t about Macchu piccu. I’ll save that for after I actually go there (duh).

This post is about psf. Where I’ve spent the past 4 and a half months of my life. Wow. Crazy. Most of my friends and family at home have a vague idea of what I’m doing out here, volunteering, building houses, but I haven’t really sat down to write a good description of this place. And I’m not sure I’ll even be able to. But now, leaving pisco for the first time in months gives me a little perspective on life there. At least compared to life traveling or at home.

First, Pisco is dirty. That’s the first thing I realized when I got to Cusco. Holy shit it’s clean here. Pisco is full of germs and filth and disease. In the city and inside PSF. But it’s amazing how quickly you adapt to living situations. At home if you get typhoid, you’ll be sent straight to the hospital and quarantined. In Pisco, take some antibiotics and you better be back to work on Monday. Sometimes we have to go 5 or 6 days without water. I don’t say this to complain, just to describe what life is like here. Pisco is a shithole, but it’s our shithole.

Second, you’ll find some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met at PSF. Yes, that sounds cliche, but it’s true. If you think about it it makes sense. People that travel tend to be pretty interesting. People that volunteer tend to be very caring. The volunteers at psf are on the whole very caring, interesting people. There’s so many unique, quirky personalities that come together to form a constantly transitioning but incredibly special family.

Finally, PSF does phenomenal, phenomenal work. Like any organization it has it’s flaws and has to deal with a lot of bureaucratic  red tape to get things done, but with the enthusiasm of it’s volunteers so much amazing work is being done. Having been here for over 4 months I’ve had the privilege to take part in a lot of different projects and and work with lots of volunteers. Most people don’t know a thing about power tools  when they first get to PSF (myself included) but somehow they come together to create these amazing projects. I’ve seen PSF take families from makeshift shelters and put them in homes, give children permanent schools and parks and help change the lives of countless other individuals. Right now I’m helping lead a project to build 11 compost toilets in a community of 100 people that currently have no toilets. Hopefully before I leave in august I’ll have time to do a modular house project for a family. I’ll need to help fundraising from home, so get ready for me to hit y’all up for money. Anyway, this has been way longer than I anticipated but I think it was a bit overdue. So now you guys all know what I’m doing down here. Miss everyone so much. Love love love from Cusco! Heres some photos to give you guys a visual

Working hard

 

compost toilet!

 

 

Playing hard