Posts Tagged ‘Study Abroad in Venezuela’


Sarah: Last day in Mérida

December 2, 2011

I can’t believe it…

My study abroad trip is ending today. This is my last day in Mérida and I will miss it with all my heart!

Things that I will especially miss:

1. waking up to the sun rising over the mountains

2. eating arepas for breakfast and drinking café con leche

3. receiving surprise letters in the mail from my grandmas

4. my silly 8-year-old host brother asking to play with my E-POP (he means ipod)

5. the crazy buses blasting Bob Marley

6. speaking spanish and drinking 30 cent beers with my Venezuelan friends

7. spontaneous adventures up into the mountains

Things that I will not miss quite so much:

1. the random power outages

2. the ants

3. the taxis with horns that “whistle”

…and that’s about it.

There are a million more things that I will miss, but I have them all documented on my blog, and most of them are memories I will never forget anyway.

Thank you Venezuela, for an AMAZING ADVENTURE!


Sarah: Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo

November 27, 2011

Yesterday my friends and I went on an adventure up to la culata (the valley) about a 45-minute drive up into the mountains from Mérida. I’ve been up there before, and I love the drive up because it gets colder by the minute. You get in the car wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and then about 20 minutes up into the mountains everyone is putting their sweatshirts on. Another 20 minutes goes by and the windows are rolled up and some people are getting out their gloves.

We stopped in la culata, but if you were to keep driving for another hour or so, you’d reach el páramo, which is a place high up in the mountain peaks where it’s freezing cold and snowy. I’ve been there once at the beginning of the trip and it was absolutely beautiful. Anyways, the drive up to la culata is on a winding mountain road that passes through little pueblitos (towns) on the way. They are so quaint – the road is lined with colorful little cottage-like shops that sell home-made raspberry wine and candies. It is a popular weekend day-trip for Venezuelans to drive up to la culata to drink wine and admire the beautiful scenery. There are also hundreds of little family owned cabins in la culata that people rent out for the night. My group of friends and I have done that too – it’s a nice get away spot for the weekend, and it’s especially pretty if you can get up early enough to see the sun rise.

On our drive up, we were almost to our destination spot (a quiet spot at the end of a dirt road that is popular because of its beautiful view of the mountains), when we saw a little sign off the side of the road that said “Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo”, which means little town called Grandfather’s Dream. We were curious, especially after following the arrow on the sign down a tiny twisting dirt road that disappeared behind a line of colorful houses. We decided to take a detour and check it out.

We clunked along the dirt road and eventually drove over a little wooden bridge that spanned a babbling creek. We could barely see in front of us due to the fog (clouds, really, we were pretty high up in the mountains at this point) and thick greenery surrounding the skinny dirt road. We wound around another bend and climbed up a steep hill (thanks to 4 wheel drive) until we saw this sign:

“PUEBLITO SUENO DEL ABUELO, Un Rincón para Soñar…” Translation: Town of Grandfather’s Dream: a corner for dreaming…”

So, we parked the car and set out to explore this tiny dream town, tucked away in a corner and hidden by the clouds and mountains.

A woman met us at the gate and opened it for us without saying a word. We all walked through the heavy red door, as a little girl stared silently from her perch on a stone wall amongst a blue hydrangea bush. We walked along a skinny maze-like pathway, under a trellis covered in roses, and over a tiny bridge and trickling stream. And then we were inside the pueblito. It was full of miniature-sized houses and buildings in every color – there were cafes and castles and stores, but no people in sight. So we set off silently with our cameras to explore.

I felt like I was in a dream.

After visiting the pueblito, we continued on our journey further into the mountains to catch the view we’d been waiting for – my goal was to be high enough into the mountains to see the clouds rest on the ground around me. And we did it. We got there before sunset and even met a man on the way who let us take turns riding his horse. I’d say it was a successful trip! Now take a look at what I mean when I say “I felt like I was in a dream” and “we had our heads in the clouds”.


Sarah: Head in the clouds

November 25, 2011

I literally had my head in the clouds all day.

My friends and I spent our day climbing a mountain (if you asked me which one, I wouldn’t be able to tell you…Venezuela is covered in them). Anyway, it was beautiful. We left in the afternoon with a bag of rations – pan de guayaba (sweet bread filled with guava fruit) and pan de queso (cheese bread), and we drove up into the mountains a ways and parked the car. From there, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but we were determined to get to the top. We weren’t completely in the dark about our adventure though (don’t worry) we had one of our Venezuelan friends with us who has lived in these mountains with his family his whole life and had climbed this stretch many times before. When I say we didn’t know what we were getting into, I meant how steep and muddy the climb would be. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be going on a run in my tennis shoes tomorrow.

We followed a path up the mountain, and it got skinnier and skinnier as we went. We pushed vines aside, trudged through the mud, and climbed over rocks. After a couple of breaks to stop and admire the view, we finally we reached the top. It was a giant plateau where we ate guava and cheese bread, played catch with a football…and where I stepped in a gigantic mud puddle.

The best part about it, though, was that we were surrounded by clouds. I looked up and saw clouds swirled with blue sky, I looked straight ahead and saw mountain tops peeking through a thick layer of fluffy clouds, I looked down and I saw…MORE clouds. What a surreal feeling.

At some point, though, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30 and asked everyone if we should be heading back soon. You know how I said earlier that we “weren’t completely in the dark” about our adventure? Well…that’s only partly true. We headed back down the mountain, our socks squishing in our shoes from mud and water, and when we were at about the half-way point, it was so foggy that we had trouble seeing. And it was starting to get dark. We hurried though, and it was more exciting than anything. We reached the bottom safely just as I was starting to kick myself for leaving my flashlight at home, and then only had to sit in Venezuela traffic for an hour or so before we reached home.

All in all, it was a good day. I climbed a mountain!


Sarah: ¡Feliz Día de Gracias! Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2011

I’m not sure if Venezuelan turkeys exist or not, but regardless of whether I’ll be eating turkey tonight (or just more arepas), I’m excited for my untraditional Venezuelan Thanksgiving dinner experience. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family, so it does make me miss them, but I’m so thankful that I’ll be coming home to them in one week! Actually, I have exactly one week left here in Venezuela as of today, because I’ll be leaving for the airport early next Friday morning. It’s hard to believe that 3 and a half months went so fast. After my classes today, I will officially begin my last weekend in Venezuela, so I definitely want to make it count!

Tonight, VENUSA (our school) is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the students and their host families. Thanksgiving isn’t actually celebrated here, but they are having the dinner for us, so we can feel at home.

Some of the students went to the market yesterday (while I was studying for 2 final exams) to buy fruit for tropical fruit pies. One is piña colada, coconut and pineapple that is, and another friend of mine who loves to bake is making a guava pie. Needless to say, I’m excited for the dinner tonight…it’s going to be an adventure! I’m hoping there will be a pumpkin pie tonight too – squash and pumpkin (which are considered the same thing here) are called “calabaza” or “auyama” are pretty popular ingredients in soups, so we’ll see if someone is brave enough to transform them into a delicious home-made pumpkin pie tonight! Unfortunately I have a final paper due this morning for my politics class, and then 4 classes to attend throughout the day. That’s a total of 8 hours of class (my Thursdays are always busy) and then the dinner starts just after my last class gets out, so I have no free time for baking. 

Oh well, I guess I’ll just eat and photograph. I can handle that! It’s weird knowing that it’s Thanksgiving and I still have class…and not seeing all of my Mom’s festive decorations. But I’ll make the best of it, study the day away, and then enjoy dinner and be thankful for all of the wonderful people I’ve met here and get to spend Thanksgiving with!


Sarah: A moment to remember

November 8, 2011

I fell asleep to the sound of rain last night – heavy, crashing, stormy rain who’s sound envelopes your whole body, compressing your eyelids, filling your ears, and forcing you to sleep. I must have had a thousand dreams.

I woke up early this morning to the sound of a rooster crowing. I stretched and pulled back the heavy curtains covering my open window, the only thing separating me from the gorgeous mountain view, fresh air, and clear blue sky. The morning sunshine flooded my bedroom. I love mornings here, they feel so tranquil. Maybe that’s because the mountain barrier surrounding the city keeps the noise out, or maybe because the sound doesn’t wander up this high until later in the day. I always imagine Mérida as a small city embedded in a cluster of mountains at the highest altitude in the world, sitting amongst the clouds. That would explain the chilly mornings, the clean air, the silence, and the strength of the sunlight when I pull back my curtains. I like to picture it that way, even though I know for a fact that Mérida sits at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

I pulled a t-shirt over my tank top and threw my hair into a loose ponytail. I grabbed my book and my glasses and headed for the kitchen – my usual morning escape. I’ve adapted so much to the ways of life here. I silently and mindlessly prepare my café con leche on the stove, without so much as thinking of a coffee maker. I always check the inside of my coffee mug for ants before filling it, and I wipe down the table for the same reason. I take a spoonful of sugar from a giant class jar in the cupboard and add it to my coffee, then sit down at the kitchen island – always on the side facing the window.

I love looking at the mountains. One moment I’ll ever forget is when I was walking home from school alone one night. I was admiring the view of the houses and the mountains as the sun lowered completely behind their peeks and darkness spread over the city. I was trying to trace the rolling outline of the mountain range with my eyes until the darkness was so pure and so thick that it disappeared in front of me. I continued walking and then looked up again when I thought I saw thousands of little stars coming to life in the distance. There were strings of them twinkling way up in the sky, in a distinctive curving pattern. I stopped and stared – amazed – and then realized that what I was seeing weren’t stars at all. They were lights coming on in little houses perched side by side along the curve of the mountain tops. The houses just sat there, like little stars all in a row – like christmas lights strung from peak to peak, twinkling and flickering in the velvet darkness. I felt like I was in the center of the solar system, inside a giant ring of stars and comets. I felt so small standing in the middle of the street, gazing up at the overwhelming sight of the sleeping Andes Mountains, so quiet, steady and powerful.

I soaked up every bit of that moment – the amazement, the first prick of fear, the silence that made me feel as though I was the only person awake in the entire city, the sudden calm and satisfaction that washed over me when I realized what I was looking at. It felt magical, really, that people had lives up there, in little cabins far above the city – far away from the noise and the lights. I wondered how silent it was up there. I imagined a silence so profound that they could hear me breathing at that very moment. That was magical. And so was the thought that I happened to be in just at the right place at the right time, lucky enough to experience this moment – one that I’m sure I’ll never forget.


Sarah: November

November 4, 2011

I can’t believe that it’s November already. I’ve been in Venezuela for 11 weeks now and I have 4 weeks to go. Since I decided that writing is some sort of “reflective therapy” for me, it’s about time that I start looking at the big picture and reflecting on my experience here in Venezuela as a whole.

I came here knowing nobody. I sat in the airport with a steaming vanilla latte in my hand, read Julie and Julia and looking up from my book every three seconds to see if the person sitting down next to me could be someone from my program. I searched for college students with lots of luggage, but no one came for a long time. Just as I was starting to panick, I saw a girl my age walking towards the gate. She was balancing tons of luggage and looked exhausted like she had been up all night packing; prime candidate. After several minutes of analyzing each other’s luggage and pondering possible flight destinations, we both smiled. I asked where she was headed and she said exactly what I wanted to hear – “Venezuela”.

And that’s how I started meeting some of the people who would have a huge impact on the quality of my experience here in Venezuela. From that moment on, had a traveling partner – someone just as clueless about what we were in for as I was. All I knew when I applied for this program and wrote my scholarship essay was that I wanted to live in another country, escape the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, practice a foreign language, and meet new people. So after meeting Andrea in the airport, I was finally on my way to achieving my goals.

The second person I met was Jenni. I got onto the plane and saw her sitting in a window seat a few rows ahead of me. I recognized her from her Facebook photo and introduced myself as her roommate. She recognized me too, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Miami that I really started getting to know Jenni. We stuck together from the time we stepped off the plane. We were in different hotel rooms, but decided to leave the hotel and take a taxi to Miami’s South Beach to see the ocean. As soon as we were standing there amongst the crashing waves and jellyfish, rambling on about how excited we were for the semester ahead of us, I knew we’d get along.

And the rest is history (well not history, but it would make for a novel-length blog post). Jenni and I have continued to get along and have become close friends in addition to being roommates. I guess that means I accomplished my goal of meeting new people. As far as my other goals: I have lived in and explored a foreign country, battled against my desire for the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, and practiced a foreign language day in and day out, at school and at home.

Venezuela has been incredible, and anything else I gain from this experience is just icing on the cake!

4 weeks left of this adventure to put icing on the cake. That, I can do.


Sarah: A good time to write

October 31, 2011

Today was a good day. I spent most of the day alone, whimsically drifting in and out of my thoughts, busy making green tea and eating bowls of bananas with peanut butter. I was productive too – writing a research report, making corrections on my resume, and getting my back-up class schedule prepared for registration on November 11. I did a blog post about oatmeal, looked up some new pumpkin recipes and watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. And now I’m sitting on my bed listening to the rain hit the metal roof of the neighbor’s house, half wishing that it would stop so I could go on a cool after-rain run and half hoping that it doesn’t stop, but that it rains harder and harder so I have an excuse to remain right here on my bed, lounging in my yoga pants, writing. I’ve been exploring different kinds of therapy lately. You know, life enriching, stress reducing, feel-good activities. Running is one that I’ve always known makes me feel good. Running is for making me feel strong and unstoppable and competent. Yoga is for making me feel centered, relaxed, clear-headed and sophisticated. Music is for brightening my mood, and cooking is for making me feel comfortable, creative and domestic. Writing is the one I still haven’t figured out yet. My favorite time to write is early in the morning – really early when no one else is awake yet. It’s best when it’s still chilly outside and I leave my pajama pants on and wrap up in a sweater. It’s when I’m in a unique state of mind – clear, but still dreamy. I’m able to convey my thoughts well; it’s like they come right out, they just flow. No editing, no stumbling over words. Just clear, whole thoughts. That’s why early in the morning is when I think about the things that are hard to think about – why I write about Africa at 6 am and decide to apply for a new job before I’ve eaten breakfast. Maybe I can call it reflective therapy, when everything comes together so I can calmly peer at my life through some external lens, reflecting upon all things beautiful and all things messy about my life. It’s revitalizing really, satisfying. When I emerge from my pre-breakfast trance I feel grounded and accomplished. And that’s when I finally stand up, stretch, and throw some eggs in the pan for breakfast.


Sarah: Sunshower

October 19, 2011

Journal Entry #3 from Choroni:

There was a sunshower on the beach today. I wasn’t able to take a photo because I forgot to charge my camera last night, but just picture it. The sky and water were so blue, and the sand was so white in the sun. When the drops started falling, everything sparkled. Most people returned to their umbrellas, but I put my book down, wrapped it safely in my towel to stay dry, and walk out to put my feet in the water. It felt like beating sun, hot sand, warm rain, and cool seawater.

There was a blind man wandering around the beach today with a hand-carved walking stick seeking out people to talk to. He must have recognized my voice from the day before, because he walked straight towards me as he neared our chairs and asked to talk to me. He was dark, too thin, and wrinkled from spending his life wandering the beach under the sweltering sun. He told me that I had a pretty voice, very familiar, and that he could tell I was a good woman. He had about a dozen hand-carved wooden kitchen utensils hanging from a leather strap around his waist and he explained each one to me. What type of wood it was made of, and exactly what to use it for. They were nice, but rather than buying a hand-crafted butter and marmelade spreader, I gave him the change I had in my wallet – enough to buy him an empanada for lunch. He seemed ever more greatful than I’d hoped he would…everyone in Venezuela likes empanadas.

We also met another man today. He was fifty years old, he told us that, and he had a kind smile. You know how sometimes you get a feeling from someone, just by seeing them, that they are a really good person? Through and through down to the core? I think it’s universal, a feeling that occurs when you meet exceptional people everywhere. You could be any place on earth and when you met one of those people, you’d get the same exact feeling. That’s the feeling that overwhelmed me when he approached our small group of three girls walking down to the beach today. We were carrying our cooler and towels like usual when he must have seen us from the window of his tiny restaraunt on the side of the road. He walked outside and down the road toward us and asked if we were on our way to the beach. We said yes and he said that he was too. He asked if he could carry our cooler for us (it was heavy) since we were headed the same place as he was. When he insisted, we said sure. He carried it the whole way for us, about a 15 minute walk in the burning sun with bare feet and carefully set it down in our favorite sandy spot under a big blue umbrella. I thanked him and when I asked him what brought him to the beach today, he smiled and said “Nothing. I just thought you looked like you could use a hand.” He told us to be safe and to enjoy our time in Choroní before he waved goodbye and started the hot and sandy treck back to his restaraunt.

I’m pretty sure that these kinds of people do exist all over the globe, and even though I don’t know his name, I think he was one of them.

Tonight my friend Alex and I decided to spend a relaxing girls night together after our long day at the beach, so we went out to dinner at a little restaurant next to the river. We shared a delicious caprese salad – fresh tomatoes, mozzerella, and pesto. Nothing like eating a fresh dinner at a rooftop table that overlooks the river, filled with boats like the canals. It almost looked like Venice.

After dinner, I went back to my posada, opened the window next to my bed, turned on the fan, and finally finished reading Julie and Julia.

The moral of the story is that good books, good people and good food all make for a very successful vacation.

Delicious caprese salad.
River boats.

Sarah: Choroni

October 16, 2011

I just arrived “home” in Mérida after a 15 hour busride from Choroní, where I spent my semester break vacation. I had an amazing time there and came back with some great new experiences and a lot of beautiful photos to prove it! Since I didn’t bring my laptop along, I decided to bring a journal instead so I’d be able to add some of my writing to my blog when I got home.

Day 1:

We arrived in Choroní this morning around 11 am. The busride from Maracay (12 hours from Mérida) was about 3 hours long through the jungle along winding mountain passes. There were bamboo stalks nearly scraping the sides of the bus – some of them were as tall as 3 story buildings and as wide around as telephone polls. The jungle was dense and full of plants and thick foliage in a variety of rich green colors, and lots of the leaves were bigger than I was! There were vines too. They hung from cliffs and overhangs somewhere above me and draped over tree branches, dangling down as far as I could see over the mountain’s edge. If the music on the bus hadn’t been so loud, I’m sure I could have heard noises coming from the jungle…the sounds of the flowing streams hidden somewhere off of the mountain roads, the birds which I’m sure hid camouflaged amongst the plants…and whatever else was out there. The busride overall was scary though, fast and jerky, but worth it. I got to see the Venezuelan jungle, and it was nothing short of magical.

I thought it couldn’t get much more mysterious and beautiful, but shortly after arriving in Choroní, we walked to the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

Day 2:

We set off on the sunny twenty-minute walk past colorful little shops and restaraunts towards the ocean. I could smell the air and feel the ocean breeze before I could actually see the water, but when I did see it for the first time, I felt like I was standing in front of a larger-than-life postcard. The beating sun that I felt on my shoulders and the heat of the sand on my bare feet were the only reasons that I finally snapped out of my trance and moved toward a patch of shade underneath a gigantic palm tree.

Playa Grande, Choroní’s largest beach resting on the Caribbean sea, is an incredible place. It is cradeled in a nook by the green mountains and the sand feels like velvet under your toes. We all sat down under an umbrella just steps from the edge of the sea, and I read for hours. I think I just needed some time to realize that it was real – that I was really there, so I could appreciate it before jumping in to swim.

And I’m glad I did – feeling weightless in the middle of a translucent body of the bluest seawater you’ve ever seen, with waves rushing beneath you, mountains towering over you, and the sun soaking into your skin from every angle is overwhelming. It deserves preparing for, and even then it’s impossible to take it all in.

The beach is so lively here. There are people everywhere, many who are selling things like food and necklaces. One man was even crouching on the sand cracking open oysters and squirting them with fresh lime for people to eat! Another man selling jewelry was walking down the beach and started heading in my direction. He approached me while I was reading and asked to give me a gift. When I said “okay” he told me to hold out my wrist and he tied a delicate bracelet with a fancy knot made of blue string to it. As he was tying it on, he instructed me to think of three wishes, and as he secured three knots, he told me that he hoped each wish would come true for me.

These were my three wishes:

1. That I would never forget how exhilerating it feels to be in a place you never thought you’d be lucky enough to see.

2. That I’ll be able to retain some of the amazing qualities of the people I’ve met here and hopefully incorporate their positive attitudes, energy, and willingness to lend a hand into my daily life in Minnesota.

3. To achieve the two main goals I set for myself for this trip: to drastically improve my Spanish and to form lasting friendships with people I’ve met over the course of my time in Venezuela.

My wishes are well on their way to coming true – I’ve established a very close friendship with my roommate, my Spanish is improving every day, I’m continually being inspired by the positivity of the people around me, and I can’t imagine forgetting the feeling that consumed me when I first laid eyes on the Caribbean Sea.

I mean, it is pretty unforgettable…take a look for yourself.


Sarah: Dulce de lechosa

October 8, 2011

Lechosa. That’s the word that they use in Venezuela for papaya.

They eat a fair amount of papaya here, prepared in more ways than I can count. I’ve seen it mostly in freshly blended juices that we have with our breakfasts, fresh fuit salads drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and delicate little pastries in the display case at my favorite cafe.

A few nights ago after dinner, my host mom served me a “postre” that she called “dulce de lechosa”.

Postre means dessert and dulce means sweet, so I was excited to try it!

This is dulce de lechosa. It’s chewey carmelized papaya with cinnamon, a traditional Venezuelan dessert, most commonly served at Christmas time.


…and it’s delicious!

It’s also about as close to Grandma’s home-made apple pie as I’m going to get this fall, so I’d better enjoy it!

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