Posts Tagged ‘excursion’


Grace: Toubacouta

October 15, 2011

Just to start off, I would like to say how much I love the country of Senegal.  The people here are so amazing, the countryside and beaches are gorgeous, the clothes are so cool, the food is delicious.  I could go on and on.  I realized last week that I was half way done with my time in Senegal and I freaked out.  I don’t ever want to leave! Of course I miss you, burritos family and friends, but I just wish you could come to Senegal instead of me having to come back there!

Anyways, this weekend our program took a trip to the south of Senegal, to a village/town called Toubacouta (it has enough people to make it more than a village, but I would definitely not call it a town).  It’s about an hour away from the village where I’ll be for my internship.  I can honestly say that this weekend was one of the better weekends of my life.  It was not only super fun, but I learned a ton.  It was both a vacation and field trip at the same time, and it was awesome.  We also did a lot of stuff, so just to warn you, this post is a biggun. 

On Thursday we left Dakar bright and early. The earliness sucked, but we got pain au chocolat and juice on the air-conditioned bus, so the situation improved quickly. It was about a 7 hour ride on the bumpy roads to Sokone, a village/town just north of Toubacouta.  Getting out of the bus was rough, I had kinda forgotten what heat was, but I was quickly reminded with the blast of hot air that bombarded my face and body upon arrival.  After I pretended to get used to the heat again (it’s actually impossible to ever get used to it), we sat down for lunch at the mayor’s house.  They made us like 6 HUGE platters of ceeb u jen (fish with rice, it’s delicious) and we maybe finished half. And then I felt super full, like post-Thanksgiving full, and all I wanted to do was nap.  

Thankfully that was in the schedule, so we hopped on the bus (with a renewed appreciation for air-conditioning) and headed off to the hotel for rest time.  The hotel was super cool, it was a bunch of little huts instead of rooms and it had a pool.  I passed out, and enjoyed sleeping in air-conditioning for the first time in more than 2 months (Ok, I’m going to stop talking about air-conditioning now, I promise).

Me walking into our hut at the hotel, enjoying the blast of cold air greeting me at the door (for real last time.)
After nap time we went to a soccer game, which was a lot of fun.  The Senegalese are definitely not lacking in spirit, and it was fun watching people rush the field and go crazy after goals.  It ended up coming down to Penalty kicks which always makes for an exciting game.  2 things noteworthy about the game: there were people in the trees around the field, which I thought was an excellent idea.  They had a fantastic view. Also, after every goal scored and at the end of the game, the players would go to the corner of the field and face what I assumed to be the direction of Mecca and bow and pray.
Soccer game (yellow dots in tree=people)
After the game we ate dinner, played a Wolof trivia game directed by Waly and Kourka, and had a dance contest.  Needless to say I did not win the dance contest.

The next day we got up bright and early and headed to the Poste de Sante (health clinic) in Toubacouta. We met the head nurse who showed us around the small building.  The paint was peeling off the walls and there was a distinct smell of mold in most of the rooms, but I could tell they were working hard to keep it as clean as they could within their means.  The on-site pharmacy was very meagerly stocked, and the pharmacist explained to us that the health infrastructure in Senegal is set up top-to-bottom so the rural clinics are the last to get medications, and never have enough.  They had a price list on the wall, and a the fee for child was equivalent to $3, adult $4, and this includes both the consultation and the necessary medication (this is a new system, they used not to be together).  The patients are guaranteed the medication they need if it’s on site, but they said that often the medications aren’t available. And they said that most people can’t afford the consultation/medication fees, and complain about the new system.  We also saw the clinic’s ambulance which is currently not working (they said it breaks down a lot).  This means that when patients require further medical attention at a bigger clinic (beyond the Poste de Sante’s means), it’s very hard to transport them.  It was really tough seeing how hard the staff was working (the head nurse lives at the clinic and accepts patients 24/7) but how desperately they needed help/supplies.  I could go on talking about this (public health really interests me), but I still have a lot to cover, so I’m gonna move on.  Oh and by the way, the Poste de Sante that I will be working in during November will probably be pretty similar.

Next we went to the Community Radio station, and they talked about the educational programs they do.  They talked a lot about how important the radio is in an area where literacy rates are low and people learn well through culturally-specific programs in Wolof (shout out to you, Dad!).  They said their most popular program is the one on agriculture.

Me dropping some beats on the Toubacouta radio, nbd  (just kidding, this was staged)

Then we went back to the mayor’s house and he talked to us about decentralization in Senegal.  Not gonna lie, I kinda zoned out during this.  It was hot, I was hungry, and there were lots of flies.  Difficult to keep my attention on a man speaking French and talking about government.  When he finished, we ate, and I once again over-ate.  I named my food babies (they’re twins) Ceeb (wolof for rice) and Yassa (name of yummy onion sauce).

After lunch we went to a village about 30 minutes from Sokone to meet with a women’s group.  There were about 50 (give or take like 25…I’m horrible at estimating crowds) women under a tree and we sat with them and talked with them with Waly’s translation help.  These women come from extreme poverty and are so poor that they can’t even afford the microfinance loans because of their high interest rates (these loans are supposed to help the poorest of the poor…flawed system apparently) so they came together and established a joint savings account to help each other have enough money to plant fields and establish a sort of insurance in case one of their family members gets sick or their crops fail or something.  
These women are amazing.  They all work long and strenuous hours every day in their fields to supplement their husbands’ incomes and take care of their children.  Even with all that work though, they said that there are problems with the saltiness of the soil, so their plants don’t grow well, they often can’t afford the expensive fees at the Poste de Sante (yes, it’s hard to wrap our brains around the fact that $3 can be expensive, but poverty is a hard thing), and getting their produce to the market in the next village is very difficult.  There is no way that someone could say that these women don’t work hard, or aren’t innovative and smart, yet no matter what they do, they cannot escape poverty.  It’s stories like these that really reveal the vicious unjustness of poverty and make me hate when people try to blame the poor for their situation.

After the women spoke to us about their group, their lives, and their struggles, they grabbed some buckets and gas cans and started playing music on them and dancing.  The woman sitting next to me, Mariama, grabbed my hand and dragged me into the circle where I awkwardly tried to keep up with their awesome dance moves.  There was one old woman who I swear never touched the ground as she danced, it was crazy.  And it was so amazing that even with all the hardships that they had just told us about, their response was to get up and dance.

After about 30 minutes of dancing, we reluctantly climbed back on the bus and headed back to Toubacouta.  I really wanted to stay in that village with those women for longer, but I reminded myself that in just a few weeks I would get to stay in a village for relatively long-term and actually really get to know the women there, not just meet with them for a few hours.  It made me really pumped for my village stay.

The inside of the bus

The next few hours were pooltime, dinnertime, blah blah blah, skipping all that.  That night we went to “downtown” Toubacouta (where the market is in the mornings) because there was going to be a performance.  I didn’t really know what that meant, but when we got there there were a few hundred people (again, this is an estimation…probably really off) gathered around in chairs, on the ground, and standing in a circle around 10 or so guys with drums.  All these little kids started running toward us when we got there and grabbed out hands and insisted on sitting in our laps for the show, which was seriously just so adorable.  I had a little boy named Abdou on my lap the whole time, and he was so cute.

Okay so first of all, the music was amazing.  I never knew using only percussion could make such great sounding music.  Second, the performance involved more than just the band playing, which I discovered when this giant terrifying white furry monster burst out and started chasing the kids in the audience.  The monster then acted out a scene (narrated by the drum music, which was super cool) of a folklore story.

Scary monster playing drum

At the end of the story, five girls and five guys started dancing.  And OH MY GOSH. I seriously did not realize the human body had the potential to move in the way that those dancers moved.  Those girls whipped their hair back and forth like their lives depended on it and it was soooo fast (Willow Smith would have been proud).  I don’t really know how to describe all the dancing, but it was so awesome.  Then this guy on stilts came out and started dancing.  Did not know dancing on stilts was possible, but apparently it is.  He and some of the other dancers made this like crazy upside-down human tunnel thing which another guy break-danced through.  So awesome.  THEN came the freaking FIRE EATER, which completely blew my mind. AND THEN this guy with really cool dreadlocks proceeded to walk on, smoosh his face in, and roll around in broken GLASS. Needless to say, it was an excellent performance.  One of the students in our program (also named Grace) will be doing her internship in Toubacouta with this troupe and we are all SO JEALOUS. (Okay, sorry for all the capitalized words, everything was just too exciting for lame lowercase letters.)

The next day we got up and put on our shorts (first time I wore shorts in Senegal, I felt so scandalous) and took a bus ride through the bush (we were off-roading it in a vehicle not at all made for off-roading which was interesting) to get to the national park about an hour away.  We were planning on taking pirogues (small boats) through the amazon-like mangrove canals, but when we got there it turned out there was no gas for the pirogues, so we moved on to Plan B.  Plan B was a safari at a nearby national reserve. Read the rest of this entry ?


Thomas: Uruguay: world’s best kept secret

October 4, 2011

Another great weekend getaway to the very peaceful nation of Uruguay. Last Friday, my class boarded a ferry and crossed the Rio de la Plata to the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento. The town of about 22,000 people was founded in 1680 by Portugal. Since then, the country has gone back and forth for centuries between Spanish and Portuguese rule. In 1828, Uruguay became an independent nation, with Spanish as it’s official language.

Colonia, the oldest city in Uruguay, holds much historical significance and the city itself has been very well preserved. So much so that it has become a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site. This rare classification will preserve the historical parts of the town for a very long time.

Colonia, and Uruguay in general has more charm than it knows what to do with (see photos below). It’s people are some of the nicest and most peaceful in the World. The stone streets and colored houses in the historic district of Colonia take you back in time. Uruguay is one of the greenest, most livable, and least corrupt countries in the world. In Colonia, there is little to no crime. Uruguay was the first country in South America to allow same-sex marriage and civil unions. It was also the first country in the world to give every school child a laptop and access to the internet.

In terms of food and drink, Uruguay is well known for it’s consumption of Mate, dulce de leche (which was way better than it is in Argentina), and their weighty steak sandwich called the Chivito. I got to try a Chivito Completo, topped with egg, bacon, ham, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonnaise and cheese. Probably not the healthiest sandwich in the world, but it sure was tasty. Of course one must wash it down with Uruguay’s finest beer, Pilsen. For dessert, a traditional charred pancake filled with the dulce de leche. You can’t go wrong in Uruguay. I will definitely be back.

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Thomas: La enstancia!

September 10, 2011


On Friday my class hopped on a bus and headed West to the antique Estancia Los Talas, a traditional cattle ranch located on the outskirts of the city of Luján, Argentina. The ranch was founded in 1824 and the granddaughter of the original owner still resides there with several family members. Everything inside the ranch house was nearly all original and very upscale. A huge library is also on the ranch. The library houses thousands of books, some dating back to the 1500s. Today, the collection of rare books are used by researchers from all over the world.

Outside, we had our first asado, a traditional Argentinian barbeque, typically held every Sunday with family. All parts of the cow or pig are grilled on a fire pit and served with empanades and wine. Following the meal, the family will sit around the table and talk for a few hours, usually for the rest of the afternoon.

The food at our asado was delicious. We were served two empanades, at least three different types of meat; sausage, blood sausage, and a couple different cuts of steak, a few bottles of wine to share, and a custard/creme brulee type of dessert with homemade dulce de leche. It was delicious and we were all stuffed by the end. It was a beautiful day and really nice to get out of the city for a day.


Sarah: Andes excursion!

August 27, 2011

Yesterday my group took a trip through the Andes Mountains. Our goal was to find snow…and we did! When we woke up at 7 a.m. it was already almost 80 degrees outside and sunny. I hardly believed our group leader when she told me to bring my North Face, one of my warmest fleece jackets, but after riding on the bus for several hours I started to shiver.

We stopped on the way up the mountains at two places. First, to see this view…

and second, to take a closer look at this lonely mountainside stone church.

After that I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful…

until we got higher up in the mountains.

We finally reached a high enough elevation that we could see snow and sleet (thank you mom for the rain jacket!), and I could see my breath, so we stopped for lunch and a hot chocolate at this little mountain restaurant.

I was starving at this point and was definitely not disappointed with my meal: traditional Venezuelan soup with potatoes, mild white cheese, and cilantro

and chicken in mushroom sauce with seasoned potatoes and “arroz con vino tinto”

After eating, we continued on to our destination and finally reached the snowy peaks of the Andes!

There are really no words to describe what I saw, but what I will never forget the way I felt – thrilled, overwhelmed, a little dizzy from the elevation, and very very cold.

The Andes Mountains are now at the top of my list of most beautiful places in the world.


Mountain climbers.

Monster flowers.

Winter lake.


Rainbow hat.

All in all, it was an excessive amount of beauty to absorb in one day. I think I still feel the adrenaline.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”        – St. Augustine.

What I’m thinking right now: nothing tops traveling and seeing things you NEVER expected to witness with your own eyes.


Lauren: Celebrating America, not in America

July 10, 2011

It was another beautiful week in Italy!

Monday we celebrated the 4th of July.  It was a very bizarre to celebrate a holiday like that in a foreign country, where it was just another day for the Italians.  It was also weird not being in America to partake in Independence Day Traditions—no fireworks, no parades, no family get-togethers, no barbeques!  We did what we could though to make the evening memorable—and memorable it was! 

For lunch, a group of people went to McDonald’s (one of the very few American “restaurants” in Rome).  The food was typical quality for the place – however I was surprised to learn that it’s not cheap here, at all!  What would cost me roughly $6 in the US cost me 10 euro here (which is $15)!  I felt absolutely ridiculous spending that much for a simple meal…but I consoled myself by keeping to the motto, “I did it for America”.

Getting by with what we have!

After that, there was some downtime until dinner, where we all got together at the boys’ house and had an Independence Day pot luck!  Each apartment was in charge of bringing something different—and they knew to trust me with the simple stuff (like ketchup, mustard, and frozen fries).  All together we had a very nice spread of boiled hotdogs, fruit salad, and about 2.5 pounds of pasta salad!  We drank Budweisers the boys had picked up for the occasion and eventually went to a piazza in Rome, referred to as Campo de’ Fiori.  Campo de’ Fiori serves as a marketplace during the daytime, but at night it is typically an American draw, having bars on all sides that serve US beer and play American pop music.  We usually do not go here, as pickpockets tend to target the area, but in honor of the 4th we decided to take our chancing and party with our fellow Americans!  In all, the evening was quite the success!

…so much of Tuesday was dedicated to rest and relaxation, with Wednesday providing more of the same since it’s my day off from class.  During these two days, I read both the first and second novels in the Hunger Games Trilogy.  It’s a complex storyline, but actually a very easy read!  I strongly recommend reading them!  But if that’s not your cup of tea, the first movie of the franchise (starring Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence) will be out in March 2012.  Going slightly off topic, but still speaking of movie franchises, I’m going crazy trying to find an english speaking movie theater here!  I originally thought that Harry Potter would be kept in its original language, but with Italian subtitles—but it turns out it’s completely dubbed over everywhere we’ve looked!  Seeing as the movie comes out in a couple days (which is the last Harry Potter and will be my first in six that I haven’t attended the midnight premiere) it’s been very VERY stressful!


At TG5 with the rest of my class

On Thursday I went to one of the media centers under Berlusconi’s control, MEDIASET.  A couple posts back I referred to the fact that Berlusconi controls all of the media here, including print and online, which results in a lot of bias for the controversial prime minister.  His programming often included dubbed over American soap operas, VH1 type shows with barely dressed girls, and bias political programs in which he reigns supreme.  It’s ridiculous how much control he has here!  Security to get into the center was more strict than even the Vatican, as we had to go through several metal detectors, have our passports verified, and had to be patted down.


However, once we were in the center it was very interesting!  We saw where their most popular talk shows take place (in which the audience consists of paid actors), and even got to be news anchors for a couple minutes!  It was an eye opening experience into how communications vary across the globe.  In fact, the station was still in the process of fully switching over to digital!

Afterwards was my Art History midterm, which was much harder than I thought it was going to be.  Keep your fingers crossed for me and my knowledge of doric, ionic, and corinthian style architectural orders!


Michelle: Olives, Chèvre, and Wine

March 18, 2011

France is known for its gastronomic traditions. It’s the world of amuse-bouches that are about 5€/bite and where every region has their own signature plat. That being said, last weekend, my program took us on a field trip to discover the cuisine of our region, Languedoc Roussillon.

St. Gély du Fesc – Les Oliviers du Mas des Vautes

Just north of Montpellier, we arrived by bus at Les Oliviers du Mas des Vautes, a somewhat small olive farm that produces high quality olive oil. Although the trees themselves are from Spain, the oil produced here carries a distinctive flavor from the soil and climate of this region. With the olive trees, it is important that the sun reaches all parts. If you stand in the middle, you should be able to see the sun from all directions. This is a balance between trimming the branches and losing olives and getting high quality olives. Today, the olives are no longer picked by hand. Instead, a net is laid out under the tree, and a machine shakes the entire tree until the olives that are ready fall to the ground.

After the olives are harvested, they go through this machine to be washed. There are two types of olives. One for oil, and the other for table olives or tapenade.

Then they come inside to be crushed and the oils are released. In order to ascertain the highest quality, the oil must be kept under 27°C during the remainder of the extraction process. Although heating up the oil increases the yield, it degrades the taste. Most mass produced oil will be heated up.

It then goes through this centrifuge to separate the oil from the pulp. This machine is a bit tilted. The oil comes out the small holes by her hand and the pulp comes out the bottom in larger holes.

The olive pulp goes back into the field and is used as fertilizer.

After the oil is centrifuged, it comes to these barrels to sit and separate. It’s then bottled and sold. Apparently good olive oil can be upwards of 75€/liter.

After the tour, we got to déguster many of three different types of olive oil and four types of tapenade from the farm. I wish we could have tasted “bad” olive oil as well because I couldn’t really tell a difference between that olive oil and the supermarket variety. The tapenades were all very good though. We tried it natural, with mushrooms, with anchovies, and with figs.

Chèvre Fermier du Pic Saint Loup avec M. Poveda

Chèvre, cheese from goats, has a bit of a bad reputation back in the US. It’s has a taste that is reminiscent of sour milk and is generally a little stronger, but I still love it. We went to the chèvre farm of the Poveda family in Pic Saint Loup.

They have about 200 goats on the farm with new ones born regularly. This little guy was born earlier the day we visited.

Chèvre doesn’t take that long to make. The goats are milked about twice a day. In the old days, this used to be by hand. But now, this is industrialized. The goats munch on lunch (on the right/bottom of the picture) while the farmer hooks up the milking apparatus to their utters. It takes about 7 liters for one kilo of cheese.

M. Poveda let a couple people from our group milk the goats in the old fashion way, but they don’t seem to like it (I can’t imagine it’s that comfortable for the goat to have someone tug on their nipples). He says they are very calm when they use the milking machine (although I can’t really imagine that is that comfortable either). The milk is warm when it exits the goat and it goes to a different barn to be heated, curdled, and strained. In a couple hours you have chèvre frais (which has a pretty soft flavor and is often topped with salt and pepper or other spices when eaten). If you wait a couple more days, the flavor becomes stronger and you have stronger cheeses. M. Poveda also mixes herbs de provence into some of his cheeses for a different taste.

Pic Saint Loup – Chateau Tarus-Montel

I’ve already written about the vinification process, so I won’t repeat myself with the details but this winery was a little different. For one, this one is a lot bigger.

This is the most expensive thing on the premises. It’s a filter for the wine:

…the bottling machine:

Like Champagne, Bordeaux, and Riesling, the name Pic Saint Loup is protected by the EU. That means that certain regions can call their products by these names. As I said in a previous post, this is a region known for wine since the Romans. However, in the beginning of the 19th century, the wine crop was decimated by a disease and the quality of wine produced in the region was severely damaged. Thanks to a Californian, whose crops were resistant to this disease, Languedoc Roussillon was slowly able to return to its former glory and Pic Saint Loup gained its reputation for good wine.

At the vineyard, we learned how to déguster (taste). It’s really a process.

  1. Pour wine into a glass about one third full. Because wine should be served at a very specific temperature depending on the type, you should actually be holding the glass by the stem so your hand doesn’t warm it too much, so I’m actually doing it wrong in this picture.
  2. Tilt the glass and look at color. Is it clear, murky, burgundy, orange-ish? This should be done against a light and/or a white background. From this, you (or rather experts who know what they’re actually looking for) can discern the age and type of grape used.
  3. Swirl the wine in glass (don’t spill). Look at its corps to see the thickness. The speed at which the larmes that run down the sides of the glass help you describe this.
  4. After you swirl, the aromas from the wine are slightly stronger, so go ahead, smell it. Smell it at least twice. Is it minéral, sucrée, fruité, something else? Apparently there are well over 500 terms to describe the smell of wine.
  5. Now it’s time to do what you’ve been waiting for; taste it, but not so fast! Take a small sip and swish. Make sure it touches all sides of your mouth. Hold it there. Swallow (or if you’re a professional, spit into a bucket so as to avoid getting drunk on the job). What was your first impression, l’attaque? What was it like when it hit your tongue? How did it taste just before you swallowed? And after? If there is long after taste, it’s said to be very good quality. Take another sip. This time, hold the wine in your mouth and inhale making air pass over the wine (try not to inhale wine as well). Now what does it taste like? This helps the flavors go up into your sinuses again so you can taste the smells.

I wouldn’t recommend whipping out this knowledge to impress a date, or even doing this in public. However, in the privacy of your home, it’s kind of cool to experience the different facets of one simple sip of wine.

All in all, each of these three places showcasing the terroir of Languedoc Roussillon had extraordinary tastes that met the expectation Americans have of French haute cuisine, or at least in my plebeian opinion. If nothing else, the cost of the olive oil certainly met my impression of really expensive cuisine.


Jonathan: Organic farming & the Thar Desert

February 19, 2011

This week, instead of five days of classes we took a two day (three night) field trip to the Shekawati Region of Rajasthan. Located in the Thar Desert, this region is known for its elaborate Haveli’s (mansions owned by wealthy merchents of the region who covered its walls with beaitful, if not eclectic paintings) and subsistence farming.

The theme of our out-trip was organic farming, and we visited a number of demonstrations of using sustainable methodologies for life in one of the state’s harshest environments.  A wonderful example was our hotel, a beautiful complex constructed with cow dung walls.  Cow dung is an amazingly versatile and readily available resource for millions of people and is used in building and as fuel, and is also rumored to be an antiseptic.  I would rather not be the one to test this last hypothesis.  To quiet your minds, I can say that our stay at the hostel smelled much less like dung and feces than most of my more recent hotel stays on weekend trips, and the streets of Jaipur for that matter.

But the lessons did not end at the hotel.  In the nearby village of Nawalgarh, we visited the research and development headquarters of a national organization, Morarka Foundation.  There they create and test new methods of composting, herbal pesticide, and sustainable farming technique.  Interestingly, the photograph above is of a small hut built using descriptions of a Vedic Era agro-ritual involving the a religiously oriented burning of ghee to ward away evil spirits (and perhaps pests in the process).  Researchers are studying to see if this traditional Hindu practice could be revived to benefit farmers.  Their main function, however, is in aiding local farms in transitioning from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which has been devastating the local ecosystem, to organic methods.  Interestingly, their food is USDA Organic certified.  They have converted a number of farms utilizing a unique and effective methodology that is culturally competent and sensitive to the realities of the precarious life of a subsistence farmer.

To begin, all ingredients for the making of the pesticides and compost are either readily available on the farm (cow urine, local vegetation, cow dung, water, etc.), or easily acquired from the organization (such as self sustaining worm populations).  Secondly, when talking to farmers they invoke the not-yet-forgotten traditions of grandfathers who had all formed ‘organically.’  The controversial Green Revolution of the 1970’s, which introduced genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizer and pesticide, had overtaken the technique of the farm, but not the memories. Finally, recognizing that transitioning to organic methodologies requires letting land lie fallow for a number of years, they support the decommissioning of small strips at a time to slowly and economically convert.  While the process does not see immediate financial returns, the NGO in part provides a buying market for the goods in its specialty grocery stores, as well as some farmers are finding that their local communities are responding to the production of purportedly ‘healthier’ options, even if they are a bit more expensive.  The two actual farms that we were able to visit had begun their transition at least ten years ago, and were thriving and expanding; both were bustling with workers, modern equipment, and a healthy crop.

This trip also marked my first true, albeit brief, excursion into the villages of India.  Infrastructure varied widely, from clean and flat roads to ones with pot holes the size of small countries.  We passed ‘Fair Price Stores,’ a storied government scheme to provide heavily subsidized grains and other foodstuffs to the very poor (although corruption has reportedly diminished the effectiveness of the program).  We saw huge investment in education, with scores of billboards advertising english medium schools in the big cities, and we saw economies based entirely around farming.  It was an interesting experience in its own right, and makes me hope I am able to spend time in this other iteration of India so inaccessible to the casual tourist.  Perhaps during my upcoming internship.

And now to bed, for tomorrow is more school and a long bus ride to Johdpur, “The Blue City.”


Chris: One heck of a month (part 1: Rio de Janeiro)

December 2, 2010

Over the next couple of posts, all of which I hope to have published by the end of this week, I am going to go over what I have been doing for the past month, which I promise has been a lot. I am afraid that I wont be able to remember it all, but I can try to get the highlights, post a few pictures, and do the best I can. Just to give you all an Idea of what I have been up to, here is a brief list:

  • The CIEE trip to Rio
  • My trip to Iguassu Falls
  • Black Eyed Peas Concert
  • Stumbling into the ghetto with Jeanette and Ron
  • Back to Rio with my Parents, then showing them Salvador
  • Halloween at Vo Flor
  • Sao Paulo
  • Thanksgiving

So needless to say, that is a lot of traveling to do in a month, and throw in the usual beach life, hanging out, reading and sleep that I have in my normal life here, it has been crazy. The past month is a huge blur, but I think that the best way to go about it is from the beginning, so here we go. About a month ago today, CIEE took us on a trip to Rio, the “marvelous city,” and needless to say I was super excited about it. The first thing we did when we landed was go to an All you can eat pizza place. Brazil is famous for “Rodizio” which is a type of restaurant where they take the food from table to table and serve it to you. It is all you can eat, and if you are me, you take that as a challenge. The food was amazing! I mean I love pizza as much as anybody, so of course the more the merrier. But once we got to the dessert pizza I knew that I had had one to many.

Anyway, after nursing my way back to health after too many chocolate covered pizzas, I was off to see the town. One of the most famous parts of Rio nightlife is the famous area called Lapa. Which, I really have no other point of reference to compare it to. It is like a large street party, with an amazing number of bars, restaurants, and beer/food tents on the streets. It has live music, street music, clubs, and everything else that a young man, such as myself would want on a Friday night in the famous Rio de Janeiro. So anyway, my friends Ron, Manny, Lorena and I take a bus there, and we know that it is going to be a good night, there was a type of electricity in the air, and it let me know that a good time was to be had.

As I am writing this a month after the fact, let me just summarize the most memorable event of an admittedly foggy memory. I remember shots of Tequila on the street from a random street vender; I remember eating a hotdog with a quail egg on it, and dancing to reggae, but not normal reggae. Let me paint a word picture for you. So we are all standing there, after a few shots of street tequila, attracted by the sound of street music. It sounds good, I mean it was reggae, and sounded just like all reggae sounds, but as I got closer to the music with my friends, I noticed that there was something a little different about their instruments. As I got closer I noticed that the music was being played with garbage! Like literally things that must have been taken from rubbish bins, there was an old trash can, a broken key board, and other plastic and metal bins. This is all happening under a viaduct in Rio. I had a moment that happens only on occasion in my life, and mostly when I am drinking and traveling, I realized that I am actually really content with my life and where I am at this current moment.

Now that is not to say that I am not a happy person. But there are times, when I am in another country with my friends, that I realize that I am not worried about the future (something that I constantly worry about) and that in the here and now I am happy with where I am in the world and with my life (now that is a run on sentence, but I’m ok with that).

So on to day two in Rio: it was a Saturday, and we had a tour of the city planned and a trip to the famous Jesus Statue and Lapa steps. Unfortunately it was cloudy, so the amazing views of Rio from the Jesus were a little less breathtaking than the postcards, but it was still pretty awesome!

I’ll be the first to admit, that at times I can be a snob and scoff at the usual tourist attractions, and the Jesus was no exception. I figured that it would be lame, one of those things that is completely overhyped by tourism departments. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when the Jesus was in fact truly impressive. The statue itself is huge, like I mean truly impressively big… Looking up at it, picturing what it must have taken to build something that big, out of stone, it makes one wonder about the men and women who help to construct it. Then add that to the fact that it is placed on top of a mountain, with a spectacular view of the city, and I was amazed. After lunch, we walked back to the hotel in Ipanema, from Copacabana.  We were supposed to go to Mangueira, where all the Samba schools in Rio get together and dance. It is pretty amazing.

Sunday, October 10, was a free day, and we spent the day pretty much just walking around the city. We started at a Hippy fair, and people got gifts for their families. I walked around, looked at stuff, but in the end I decided that me coming back home would be enough of a gift for my family.

Monday, everyone went off on his or her own adventures, and I got dragged around shopping with Nora, Jeanette and Juliana. So I was allowed a LOT of time to meditate and mentally get ready for my trip to Iguassu Falls.

Stay tuned for more updates…


Thavy: Estancia

November 16, 2010

About 2 weeks ago I went on a class field trip to an Estancia in San Antonio de Areco, about an hour outside of Buenos Aires. This was the second field trip to an Estancia. The first estancia was amazing. We had an asado, which consisted of a large cookout with a different types of meats and wine. The food just keep coming. There was a point where I felt so sick because I ate too much food. The problem was that the food was too delicious for me to stop. The first Estancia consisted mainly of eating and exploring the estancia.

The second Estancia was just as fun. Though it would had been more fun if it had not been raining. When we arrived at the estancia, we were given wine, sodas, and empanadas (amazingly delicious). We couldn’t do much on the estancia because of the rain, so most of us sat around inside. Although there was not much to do, we were given an opportunity to go horseback riding. I had so much fun horseback riding in the rain, even though it was for a short period of time. We spent the rest of the day sitting next to a fire place and eating lunch. It was a lot of fun.


Brittany: A little easier

November 1, 2010

Things were easier today, and it makes me more optimistic about my time here.

At work we had a half day of pretty intense manual labor, moving wood and metal and picking up trash. We’re not exactly sure why all of this is laying around. They just finished constructing two buildings that will be a library and a museum, so we think the debris is perhaps from the construction. We worked with some other men that were really funny. They talked to us about all the things we can do in and around Tena on the weekends, and even made us a list with little tips, like “ask for Freddy.” After working for a few hours, one of the guys pulled out a sack of cold Budweiser’s. It was a little ridiculous to have a beer at 11:30 in the morning but very refreshing!

For the second part of the day we learned how to give tours of the island, which we will start doing tomorrow. I am not sure how we are expected to have memorized all of the plant names after hearing the information just once…but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it. I’m excited for this part of the job. It will be a really great way to practice my Spanish. It also means we will work a lot of weekends but I don’t really mind. The other students are working a lot too, so a day off just means I’d be at my house all day.

My family is very nice and I’m getting more comfortable in the house. I was momentarily freaked out yesterday after work though because my mom told me the shower was broken, and that I should shower in the backyard, which is in full view of the house… I ended up just showering in the bathroom. The water pressure was really weak, but it was the same as the first night and good enough.

One thing I’m not so excited about is the fact my family is very religious. My Quito family came off that way at first…but they ended up being really fun and very relaxed about their religion. For example, my Quito mom wants us to go out dancing together when I get back in December.

This family is quite different. They apparently do not believe in smoking, dancing or drinking. They told me this after I explained how much I enjoyed taking salsa lessons in Quito… Anybody seen ¨Footloose?¨ I may have to break free and dance in some creepy construction site like Kevin Bacon.

May not hear from me for a few days. I am headed to Coca, a place near here, to see the impacts of the oil industry with my professor.

–Brittany Libra

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