Posts Tagged ‘spring break’

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Thomas: Spring break in Peru

October 27, 2011

For my week-long Spring break I set out for the indigenous nation of Peru, located in West-Central South America. I knew it would be a long and mostly spontaneous journey, so I chose to make it alone. My main reasons for traveling to Peru: experience one of the more indigenous regions of the planet and of course visit the ancient “lost city” of the masterful Incan Empire, Machu Picchu.

Day 1: I started my long journey by running to catch a bus to the International Airport here in the Buenos Aires Province, which is about a 30 minute drive from the heart of the capital city. After arriving at the Airport outside of the city, I jumped on a plane to Santiago, Chile. There I would experience a 4 hour layover until my next flight to Lima, Peru. I arrived in Lima at about 8:30 PM and my 3rd and final flight to the interior city of Cusco wouldn’t leave until 6:45 AM the following morning. I took a car into the bustling capital city of Lima to only sleep a few hours so I could be at the airport at 4:45 AM. I finally got to sleep in my 4th floor hotel room at around 11:30 PM to thumping music down below, only to wake up about 4 hours later to the exact same thumping. Lima is a very active city, with a thriving nightlife, which explains the loud music.

Day 2: I made it safely to Cusco, Peru in the morning and took a taxi to my hostel, which was located in the center of the city. Cusco is the old Incan Capital city and currently has about 300,000 inhabitants. It’s a beautiful city. My hostel was very nice as well. It had a gigantic courtyard in the center with rooms surrounding it. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and the staff accommodating. My 6 person room only cost $10 per night, which included a small breakfast and 24 hour tea. Upon arriving I took advantage of the complimentary Coca Tea, which helps with the extremely high altitudes of Cusco. Peru has long been a huge producer of the three coca trees used for chocolate, coffee, and coca (which unfortunately has been sometimes processed into cocaine and shipped to North America). For centuries, coca leaves have helped Peruvians with the altitude. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea has a similar affect on the body to drinking a cup of coffee.

Already on my first day I was able to meet people from all over the world and quickly become friends.

Day 3: I spent mostly exploring the city of Cusco with my new friends and hiking up a local mountain which offered great views of the city and Incan ruins. I would take the same hike all but 2 days of my time in Cusco. It was great exercise, even if it left you gasping for breath every step due to the thin air.

Day 4: I was asked to explore the countryside and more ancient ruins via horseback. Why not? My horse, Capricorn, was very tame and we were able to get along well.

Day 5: I decided to play futbol (soccer) with some people from the hostel. My team was horrible. Having never played soccer outside of gym class, I didn’t help much. My team consisted of 2 Danish, a German, a couple Peruvians and myself. We lost every game to our opposing teams which were made up of all Peruvian players who were actually quite talented. You could tell they have been playing for some time.

Day 6: Time for Machu Puccu, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I woke up at 3:30 AM to taxi into a small town outside of Cusco called Poroy. From there I would take a 4 hour train through the mountains and the jungle until the small town of Aguas Calientes at the foothills of the Lost City of Machu Piccu. I finally arrived in Aguas Caliented in the late morning and quickly wandered around until I found the buses that take people up the winding rode to Machu Piccu. If this sounds like a lot of steps, work, and money, you would be right. Machu Piccu is so hidden and deep into the jungle that it’s very difficult to visit and required a lot of work and different forms of transportation. A lot of people choose to hike the Incan Trail which takes 3 or 4 or sometimes 5 days and costs $300-600. Initially I wanted to try to hike up to Machu Piccu for the experience, but after doing some research I quickly decided against it. Also, you much book your trail hike close to 6 months in advance.

When I arrived at the gates of Machu Piccu, alone I had no idea what to do or see. I was alone, it was misting rain and foggy. There were tourists everywhere of course and it just seemed like a cesspool of people wanting your money. There is one restaurant and hotel next to the ruins where one can spend $20 for a burger, which would cost about $2 in Cusco, and $600+ on a hotel room. Seeing those things, the large crowd of tourists, and feeling the light rain at the gates put me in a soggy mood. Immediately, one of the many tour guides approached me for a tour of the ruins. He said I need a guide, because the city behind the gates is huge and complex. I realized then he was probably right, it would be no fun to wander alone with knowing what I was looking at. So I bargained with him on a price and he begrudgingly accepted my offer, even though I was still about to pay 10 times more than what other tourists were paying in their large group tours. Relatively, I paid a lot, but got a personal tour of Machu Piccu. To say the least, it was breathtaking.  The masterful craftsmanship, engineering, and pure genius displayed by the Incas is nothing to sneeze at. They somehow managed to build an extremely high-tech and well managed society on a mountain side, hundreds of miles from other civilizations with handmade tools and no heavy equipment. It was a nearly perfect city and perfect society. Amazing, indeed.

Of course, the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th Century brought an end to the empire and the city was abandoned. It was only re-discovered and publicized in 1911 by an American professor at Yale who was conducting research in Peru. Hiram Bingham was searching for a lost Incan City, needless to say, he found it.

Day 7: My own journey to visit Machu Piccu would come to an end eventually. Three flights back to Buenos Aires and school on Monday!

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Michelle: Spring Break Part 2

May 21, 2011

As I was saying…

After leaving Montpellier, my Uncle and Aunt dropped us off in Avignon to meet Susie and her family while they continued to Bourg en Bresse where they have a summer home. Since I’ve already written about Avignon, I’m not going to do it again. I will however say that we had an amazing meal at Restaurant Christian Etienne.

Note: everything in Italics was copied from my notes during Spring Break.

After settling in at Susie’s parent’s place in Caromb, the next day her parents took us on a grand tour of Provence. L’Isle sur la Sorgue is not literally an island however it is by the Sorgue river. One of the coolest things about this cozy little town is its bi-weekly market. It almost seems to engulf the entire town with vendors selling everything from olives to antiques to Indian scarves. Most people are not accustomed to bargaining for their goods. As Americans, the only things we tend to bargain for are homes and cars (and even that tradition is diminishing). At most open markets, it is expected that you bargain for everything except food products (which are sold by weight). One of the nice things about a market as opposed to grocery store is that you as the client have a one on one connection with the vendor. At a nougat stand, my mom was talking to the vendor and he asked where we were from. “Malaysia,” responded my mom. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the one who had to translate everything. It turns out, the vendor spoke a little Malay. He knocked a few euro off the price of the nougat.

After finishing our first market, we continued on through the Provençal countryside. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this next city. If anybody knows, please leave a comment.

Here, we looked at a lot of artisanal pottery that is typical of the region. This was definitely a situation of look, but don’t touch. Because it is all hand crafted, one of a kind, it comes with a one of a kind price. As with much of southern France, vestiges of the Roman empire are omnipresent. This is the Pont Julien that traverses the Calavon River. Pretty, right?

Next stop: Roussillon, “the Colorado of Provence” as Susie’s dad called it. We got to the top of this city on a hill just as the sun was starting fall behind the landscape. Seeing the light illuminate the ocher cliffs highlights the full majesty of nature. The beauty of the scenery seems to engulf every thought in your mind as you sit entranced by the view. Perhaps that’s a little hyperbolic, but it is really a simply breathtaking sight.

 

Stay tuned for the second half of my week with my parents and Susie’s family in one of the following posts. Right now, I’m getting ready to traverse Italy and I still want to right a wrap up of my stay in France. I promise, I will finish writing about Spring Break…eventually.

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Anna: Vireggio, Famiglia in Prato, Venice

March 2, 2011

Last week, my Italian class brought us to a market which isn’t too far from my apartment. It is called Sant’ Ambrogio market. There was fresh meat, fish, cheese, fresh pastas, bread, fruit and vegetables. I decided I am doing all my grocery shopping there from now on! Everything is so delicious looking and not very expensive. I am excited to take my mom and dad there. My mom will die and go to heaven; it is truly a cook’s paradise.

I thought the weekend would be fairly low key for me but it ended up being very busy and exciting! On Friday, some friends were in town visiting Florence from Rome, so we decided to meet up and I would show them a few spots. We ended up doing a full power tour seeing almost everything there is in Florence. We walked to the top of the Duomo (well the thing next to the Duomo), saw Piazza Michelangelo, San Lorenzo market, got lunch, and did the whole Uffizi.

On Friday, Frank Lupia, my dad’s cousin, picked me up to visit another cousin (Cesare) in Prato, a city near Florence. Frank does not speak English, and I don’t speak Italian. It was very interesting, but it wasn’t too bad! We had to call Alessandra a couple times about questions he had for me, but overall it was not too bad and we got through it together! We couldn’t visit Cesare until later in the day so Frank too me to Vireggio, a small beach city famous for it’s Carnivale and seafood. I was really excited he brought me there because I was planning a day trip there anyways! You could see beach from one angle and sea from another. Frank and I had a HUGE lunch together of seafood carbonara. I tried clams, mussels, these little fish that looked like baby octopus, and I liked it all! None of it tasted fishy. We also had fried fish which was really delicious. I told him “no me va” that I was full but he proceeded to order two desserts, a caramel panna cotta and pistachio cake and gelato.

After Vireggio, we visited Cesare in Prato. Cesare is very sick. He has brain cancer and they are not sure how much longer he will make it. It was hard to meet someone for the first and last time all together. He seemed very optimistic and excited to see me. His daughter Tina can speak a bit of English but does not remember much since she only learned in school. We had a very nice time talking together. It was funny because the one thing everyone understood was how my dad can only speak Belcastrese (small Calabrian town dialect) and not proper Italian. All of the relatives get a kick out of that. They sent me off with cheese from Belcastro and Tadods (spelling?) a biscuit that my Nana Ida used to make. I am really lucky to have so much family in Italy that are willing to pick me up and bring me places. I might be planning a trip to Genova to see Frank’s family again in March.

On Sunday, I woke up early and met a tour group called Florence for Fun for a day trip to Venice. It was a very, very long day. Unfortunately it was  cold, windy, and rainy. I hate letting weather affect my feelings about a city but it is difficult to do. I tried to be as optimistic as I could and enjoy my time there. Venice was very pretty and I enjoyed seeing all of the people dressed up in their Carnivale outfits. One woman was kneeling behind a stroller so you couldn’t see her body and all you saw was her head on the body of a baby in a stroller! As people passed it was hilarious because as people would pass she would cry or smile or blow kisses. I never got to ride a Gondola because it cost so much…80 for only 3 people, but I took lots of pictures of people in them! Overall, I would love to see Venice again in the summer time without the crowds or cold weather. The city was pretty in the rain; I can’t imagine how it is in the sun.

This is my last entry until March 13th! I am going on Spring Break on Friday to Istanbul, Athens and Santorini Greece. I also have plenty of midterms and things I have to be planning for. Trying not to stress is difficult but once Friday hits I know I will feel much better.

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Thavy: Spring break

October 24, 2010

So I went on Spring Break about two weeks ago and it was amazing for the first half of it. I traveled to Salta and Mendoza. I traveled with two friend and our first stop was Salta. Upon arrival I was amazed by how beautiful the landscape was. I sat on the bus in awe and keep looking at the mountains as if they were going to disappear if I turned away. We stayed in a nice hostel in Salta and met a lot of people who were backpacking around South America. Speaking to these travelers made me realize how much I would love to do that. I would be able to experience the different cultures, see sights and improve my language skills.

Salta: The city is interesting and much smaller than Buenos Aires. It also has more natives that live in the city or the surrounding cities. Many of the locals earn money by sewing clothes and selling their hand made products. Are they making much money selling these products? Does most of their daily lives consist of selling these products in order for them to support their families? These questions and many more ran through my head as I saw markets with many locals selling their items. It’s interesting to see the contrast from people living in Buenos Aires and in smaller cities.

In Salta we went on a tour that brought us to the Salt Flats and other cities in the surrounding areas. This tour was amazing. Our guide brought us through the Andes and brought us to high altitudes of about 13,500 feet. When we arrived at the Salt Flats, all I was able to see was a white ground that was filled with crazy patterns on the ground. It was truly an amazing place. The salt gave the illusion of a distant lake and it was the first time I had seen a mirage.

The Next stop was Mendoza. I would have to say I was kind of disappointed with Mendoza after hearing many great things about the place. There was not much to do in the city except for a large park. I went on the wine and bike tour and found that we were biking on streets with cars flying passed us. It was quite dangerous, but overall the time spent in  Mendoza, the most fun I had was spent on the wine and bike tour.

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Emma: overdue Easter break post

April 16, 2010

Well here goes nothing! Prepare now to dive into what has by far been the best week of my life. Never did I expect to have such an amazing break and meet so many life long friends.

Surfers Paradise


Straight away we met some people from Wollongong who were staying the floor above us. Since they had been to Surfers before, we figured it may be a wise decision to see if they would show us around. First night there we ventured out into the nightlife that Surfers had to offer. The Gold Coast is like Australia’s Florida so it’s full of spring breakers, night clubs, and you guessed it more night clubs.

Our first night there we also went for a night swim in the ocean…best time of my life! The waves were HUGE, The rip was incredible but we all made it out alive with huge smiles on our faces.

On Easter Sunday we woke up early (after being super confused about day light savings time) and went to a local church “Surf City,” expecting it to be a beautiful Easter service filled with singing and flowers. Well it turns out we were completely wrong and ended up leaving half way through. Yes I know that is horrible especially on Easter, but it was just not our scene and was way over the top. And to make matters worse, there was no singing or flowers. So instead we walked along the beach said a prayer to ourselves and got a huge Easter Brunch right along the beach. It turned out to be a great day exchanging Easter Baskets, playing in the ocean, laying out, and soaking up the sun.

Byron Bay

When we got off the Greyhound in Byron Bay I fell in love immediately! It is a small beach town where basically all people do is surf, eat, sleep, love life, and live the dream on repeat everyday of the year. It is so chill and laid back.

We then trekked up to The Cape Byron Light House for the afternoon. Along the hike we saw dolphins, surfers, beaches, more surfers, and finally made it to the Eastern most point of the Australian mainland! So cool to say that I stood on the Eastern most point! Even after being here for 2 months I still get butterflies when I see how beautiful this country truly is.

That night we were tired from traveling and knew we would have a big day the next day so we hit the sack early to catch up on some sleep. The next day we went on a day trip to Nimbin. Early that morning after a breakfast of chai tea and the best walnut cinnamon apple muffin I have ever eaten in my life, “The Happy Bus” pulled up in front of our hostel. This old hippy bus would be our transportation for the day and man was it a bumpy ride. After driving down dirt roads through the rainforest, seeing koalas along the way, and making a pit stop at Minyon Falls, we finally arrived in Nimbin. Not much can describe this place besides the two words Peace and Love. Yes, there are hippies everywhere, peace signs, Bob Marley, the smell of marijuana, and not much more. It was a quick in and out and that was enough for me.

After an interesting day in Nimbin, we travelled back to Byron Bay where we made dinner and mingled with the others staying at our hostel. This is the night that I fell in the love with the backpacking culture because you honestly meet so many amazing people from all over the world. The girls and I played some card games with two British boys James and Tim, a guy from Denmark Michelle, and a guy from Orlando, FL, Tyler. It was a fun night getting to know others in the hostel and checking out the nightlife in Byron.

The next day which was supposed to be our last, we beached it all day. As I laid on the beach I seriously thought about how I never wanted to leave Byron Bay. Later that afternoon when we were supposed to be getting ready to board out bus to Brisbane, Betsy and I looked at each other and said we didn’t want to leave just yet. So what do we do? Yep you guessed it: be spontaneous and change our bus ticket for the following day. At this point we didn’t know if this was going to be a wise decision but later we found out it would be by far the best decision of our lives. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tiana: Spring Break Diaries III

April 11, 2010

We were dropped off and waited at the village of Lompoul for our ride to the desert encampment.  Off-roading through the sandy and sparsely vegetated slopes, and passing camels, cows, and goats along the way, we became more and more able to see the site and the dunes, frightening in height and, we soon found out, incredibly uncomfortable to walk on in the heat of the day.  Unloading the truck upon arrival, we were escorted to our Mauritanian-style tents.  We dropped off our baggage and trudged through the scalding sand to the common area, a space shaded by tall, thin trees and situated atop a small dune.

Undeterred by said heat, Kelsey and Laura hit the desert for some dune jumping, and Kenta and I soon followed.  There’s something frightening about running to the tip of a dune, gathering as much momentum as possible to throw yourself off the point, when you can’t at all see the other side where you’re going to inevitably land, but that makes it all the more fun.  We tried to get cool pictures, but believe me when I say that it’s really hard to capture such dynamic, ephemeral moments.

The first word that I would like to say about camels is that they’re tall.  Second word, they’re not very attractive animals (in my opinion), but they’re ugly in a really really cute way. Allow me to digress for a moment to give you a small piece of advice.  If ever you are given the opportunity to ride on the back of a camel, opt for a camel that is not visibly drooling at the mouth.  Because if you do get on the back of said drooling camel, the saliva will find its way to your foot or your leg during the journey, especially if you’re headed into the wind.  Just an FYI…

Post-camel adventure, we jumped a few more dunes, collecting more and more sand in our jean pockets in the process, and then settled on tiny benches placed in a circle around the common area while camp staff gathered around tam tams and played traditional mbalax music as the sun set before us. Soon, several people were up dancing, or rather, trying to dance in the middle of the circle right up until dinner time.  The short dinner tents were just behind the circle of benches, and we enjoyed an incredible meal together, all eleven of us.  Surrounded by brightly patterned fabrics and feeling as if we were in the middle of the movie Hidalgo, we dined on couscous with sauce and accompanied by an excellent selection of meats and vegetables.  Dinner was followed by dessert, sliced pineapple soaked in pineapple juice.

While some among us went on a nighttime walk through the dunes, Devyn, Zawadi, and I situated ourselves right outside of our tent and spent the next half hour or hour staring up at the night sky watching for meteors and singing random songs.

What I loved about break this year was that it was an actual break.  I remember taking time at La Louisiane, for example, to sit on the balcony and reflect on the fact that I’ve been all-go, no-quit, study hard, never sleep Tiana since probably before my freshman year of college.  Even when I’ve taken “breaks,” I’ve always had pressing concerns or scheduled agendas.  This week, the agenda book was thrown out the window.  Disconcerting, to be sure, but more necessary than I ever imagined.  I also loved the various, precious, and plentiful “Oh my gosh, I am in Africa right now riding a camel” or “face to face with a crocodile” or “riding on a rickety cart behind a horse” or “singing Disney songs at the foot of a giant sand dune under the stars!” moments.  I wish I could explain it all more eloquently, but despite my efforts, I know I could not do it justice.

The closer we came to Dakar that final day of our journey, the more excited I became at the thought of seeing my family.  I anticipated a bittersweet weekend ahead.  I had two and a half days to spend every possible second with my family and prepare myself mentally for an entirely new element of my journey in Senegal.

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Tiana: Spring Break Diaries II

April 9, 2010

The ride to Djoudj was a) hotter than the ride to Saint-Louis, b) dusty as all get out, and c) bumpy enough to make even the most settled stomach turn over.  I was exhausted, and tried to sleep for most of the time.  Little by little, as we neared the village, it felt like we were driving further and further into the middle of nowhere.  We stopped several times to refill the leaking coolant in the bus and to ask directions to the hotel, but made it safely to the hotel at Djoudj, a small oasis in a vast, flat, dusty land.  And when I say oasis, I mean it in every cliché sense of the word. We’re talking palm trees galore, air-conditioned hotel rooms, bright blue pool water, etc.

We grabbed our snacks and hit the pool, as it was almost unbearably hot that afternoon.  It was the perfect vacation setting.  We might as well have been on a Caribbean island for how well that place was laid out.  After lazing about for a bit, we visited the boutique outside of the hotel, which is run by villagers and offers jewelry made by local women and tours of the nearby national bird park or the Mauritanian desert.  We then peeked into the small eco-tourism museum, accompanied by a guide that briefed us with basic information about the park.  Thanking the kind villagers, we headed back to watch the African sunset à la Lion King.  The hotel manager gestured towards us as we approached, told us to turn on our cameras, and pointed out a cute little owl perched in the branches of a palm tree!  The evening was rather poetic, really.  A group of young men were playing soccer on a sandy field beside a basketball court while onlookers watched from plastic chairs beside the hotel.

I have never in my life seen such a night sky! Thousands and thousands of stars twinkled clearly and brightly, meteors streaked through the sky about once every two to three minutes, and to add to the fun of the evening, I received a call from my family in Minnesota and was able to talk to my parents, my sisters, my grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and cousins!  Not to mention, it was a great opportunity to jog my memory of the astronomy that I learned as a child (you know, constellations and clusters, planets and galaxies, etc)!

Wednesday morning, we took a group excursion boat ride on the river in the national bird park.  The morning and early afternoon were spent, encore une fois, poolside, and we headed to the rendezvous point for the excursion at around three o’clock.  Two horse-drawn carts pulled up, our modes of transport to the embarkment!  We loaded the carts and began the seven kilometer journey to the river, during which time we saw wild boars and exotic birds and listened to the soft clip-clopping of the horse’s hooves on the sand. At one point during our cart ride, someone asked, “Are we there yet?”  Johanna, seated next to me, responded, “No, but we’re here now.”  What a cool reminder that was about the importance of living in the moment; that in large part, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, the people around us, the precious moments that we have been given the opportunity to collect.

The embarkment was so exciting!  There were hundreds of pelicans and other diverse bird species, as well as wild boars, some bathing in the water and some munching on the grassy surroundings.  It was like being in a documentary on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel!  Pelicans, by the way, are huge!  Their average wing span is larger than a meter!  And when they fish, they fish in numbers and in unison, as if they were competing in synchronized swimming.  Our guide pointed out a python that was coiled up and resting in the long grass that bordered the river.  Once everyone arrived at the docks, we loaded onto a boat and began our tour.

We passed two crocodiles, one on shore, and one in the water.  The one on shore was just sitting there with it’s mouth wide open, taking in the early evening air, as if it was a statue. After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Crocodile, we approached an island.  But this wasn’t just any island.  No, this island was absolutely infested with birds!  Seriously, nearly every square foot of the landmass was occupied with some sort of bird (mostly pelicans)!  We saw  young pelicans (grey in color) and more aged ones (white in color).  And again we saw a bunch of wild boars (aka “Pumbaas”).  After taking our share of pictures to capture the moment, we headed back to the embarkment.  Though we thought the fun was done, yet one more surprise was in store, the grand finale of the tour.

As we approached the docks, hundreds of birds took flight.  Literally…hundreds.  Why?  I have no clue.  But in any case, the winged creatures absolutely filled the sky!  It could be a scene from a horror movie, or the final scene from a triumphant, inspirational movie (views differ based on personal affinity for birds).  I prefer the ladder.

That evening, we walked fifteen minutes in absolute darkness to eat at an encampment in the village of Djoudj, socializing a little bit with four delightful, retired, traveling French folk who also ate there.  Later, we called the same bus drivers who had brought us to Djoudj in order to negotiate a deal for them to bring us to Lompoul, our next destination, and then home to Dakar.  We got the whole thing for 115000 FCFA, not a bad deal, as we had paid 105000 FCFA total to get from Dakar to Saint Louis to Djoudj (with half of that journey in two separate vehicles)!

The night and the following morning passed quickly, and we soon found ourselves desert-bound to begin the third and final chapter of our spring break in Africa…

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