A small town girl takes on the world

Sunday, July 11, 2010

new blog

hi there.

for my giant adventure, beginning september 3rd, 2010, i'll be blogging HERE!

check me out there. :)


Thursday, April 22, 2010

BIG news

I have on my to do list: "Final Blog Update", among several other things. I thought, okay, I'm home, I should blog about San Cristóbal and coming home. It will be my LAST BLOG.

Well, I will get to that, maybe later today, maybe this weekend. But for now, here is some news and some thoughts.

No, I didn't get married in Mexico.
Last February, I applied for a fellowship. It's called the Bonderman Travel Fellowship. More or less, it's $20,000 to travel for at least 8 months, solo (or, for me, sola). :)

Yep, you guessed it, I GOT IT. I found out last Friday, but didn't start telling people until I told my parents (e.g. now). So, in September, I am going to be taking a year leave from school in order to travel the world for 8 months.

This is still all quite unreal to me, and nothing is finalized except the fact that I have the award, but here is my tentative itinerary:

1. I am absolutely definitely without a doubt returning to Mexico. Which means that I will get to see Oaxaca, staying with another family, I hope. I will also probably get to go to Guatemala and El Salvador. I hope to be in Spanish speaking countries for at least 3-4 months, because it is TIME to really learn that Spanish, dag-nabit!
2. After that, I think I will venture out into the Pacific Ocean to Western & American Samoa. I want to spend most of my time on Western Samoa, but my students have told me (my Samoan students, that is) that I have to see American Samoa so I can compare the two.
3. After that, I'd like to swing over to the Philippines and Indonesia (yeah, relatively vague...not like there are hundreds of Islands or anything).

I was considering Thailand and Vietnam, but I think I would like to focus my attention on two major regions of the world, to begin with. I might start with Central America, or I might end closer to home. That way, if money does run out, etc., it's a cheaper plane ticket home.

Regardless of where I go, this opportunity continues to just blow my mind. It feels like every time I tell someone about it, I realize all over again that this is, indeed, happening to ME. I can't believe it.

On a closing note, I can't believe the incredible nature of the past four months. At the end of January, I thought my life was taking a turn for the worse. I had been sick, lost a bunch of weight because of it, lost an important relationship, and things were very uncertain. I'm not sure how I managed to do it, since it was so out of character for me, but I embraced the uncertainty. I think it saved me. The entire situation with the Bonderman Travel Fellowship is based on embracing uncertainty, and I feel that I can do it. It's funny how life events play into one another like that.

I think that going to Mexico was healing for me in many ways, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to how little I know about the world. And it helped me see how dangerous that is, especially as a citizen of the most influential nation in the world. It's opened up this treasure chest of feelings and dreams inside of me. In a way, I have the travel bug, but it's not desperate or "come on come on come on". It's just as if I found a new room in my house, and realized that I have tons of cool things to play with for the rest of my life. So now, I know that I have all of these dreams, all of these places I want to see, and more importantly, people I want to meet.

The Bonderman is helping me address at least six of those dreams in one continuous streak (six countries, that is, at least). Wow.

I told my host mom in San Cristóbal about it, and side commented, ¡Qué suerte! ¿Sí?

She sternly informed me, en español, that it was not luck. Clearly, I didn't understand what "luck" was. This was obviously ("¡Claro que sí!") a case of intelligence and a deserving person. It was humbling. But you know what? She's right. And I'm ready.

More on the tail end of my Mexico journey soon. Know that I'm home, safe, incredibly happy, and tanner than everyone else in Seattle, for at least the next week.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

i can´t stop eating. and pictures.

I cannot refuse any food that my host mom puts in front of me. It´s impossible. Today, la comida was ginormous, and then at 5 we went for crepes and coffee. At 7, I went salsa dancing and was STILL FULL, but when I got home at 8, Isabel had tacos for me....of course, I ate them all. I think I am going to explode, but I can´t stop. I am eating like I will never eat real Mexican food again. Oh, my stomach...Today, la comida was accompanied by homemade horchata and salsa verde. Need I say more? I did have a fleeting thought of my mom´s baked mac and cheese today, somewhere in between the exploding stomach feeling. So perhaps that´s the meal I will pursue when I first get home. :)

I thought I would write a bit about the other places I saw on the Yucatan, and link to the photo albums, even though you have probably seen them already.

After Palenque, Jessie and I went to Tulum, which used to be a sleepy little beach town that didn´t have much but cabanas and a Mexican population. Now, there´s an ADO bus station and a zona hotelera (a hotel zone, much like in Cancun). But, you can still get away from it all. We stayed in the second home of a couple (who spoke little English), and were the only renters that night, so we had a whole house to ourselves. A shared bedroom and bathroom, but an open air kitchen and courtyard. All for us! We rode bikes to the Tulum ruins, where we not only saw Mayan ruins but played on one of the most beautiful beaches I think I will ever see in my life. Then, we rode our bikes to Gran Cenote, which is a big cenote just outside of Tulum. A cenote is an underground cave that has an underground freshwater source. It´s really cool, you can snorkel and there is actually quite a bit of life. Stalactites and the like (or stalagmites....I don´t remember which goes up and which goes down). Then, we biked back to town and went to the supermarket for a few grand meals: Nutella and banana, pastries, and some sandwich fixings. Oh, and a six pack of XX Lager, which we found incredibly difficult to consume. No, I´m serious, we ended up pouring out half of our last one, because we were so tired and so NOT in the mood for full tummies of beer. Haha, such partiers. Anyway, Tulum was wonderful. I got to use Spanish, the beach was beautiful, the ruins are in an incredibly scenic, unique place (on the edge of the Caribbean), and we experienced it all via bike. Link to the album below...


The day we left Tulum, we went out to Coba, another Mayan site that is a little more remote. It is situated next to a lake with CROCODILES!!! OMG!!!!! Cool! Lots of cool birds there, too....unfortunately I don´t know the names of any of them...When we arrived on the bus, the bus driver told me, in Spanish, that we could leave our bags on the bus because he was staying in town and driving us back at 330 pm. Uhhh...what? No, no, he says, me confides!!! (Trust me).....uhhhh....welll, we had no other option. It was either trust him or carry full bags all the way through the ruins in the we took a huge chance. And he totally wasn´t lying at all, and was REALLY offended that we didn´t trust him. We agonized over whether we should tip him, but ended up just saying "Lo siento" a lot, and accepting the fact that he hated us. Coba was fantastic! These were the only ruins we visited that had something to climb that was tall enough to break the canopy. The view was astounding. It was also really fun because there were lots of English speaking guides there, so we just listened in without paying. Ha! Frugal much? We rode bikes around the site, which is really spread out, and ate at a restaurant that claimed to be "la comida tipica de Yucatan", but I´m not sure it actually was. Oh well. We then took the bus from Coba to Playa del Carmen, where we planned to stay, but we hated it so much we left after 2 hours. Apparently you need to leave the main part of town to find anywhere worth enjoying, because it´s being "Cancun-ized". We decided to stay a night in Cancun instead before Jessie´s flight, and chose the worst hostel I have ever stayed in. Dirty, loud, only ONE BATHROOM FOR THE WHOLE HOSTEL, and none of the fans worked. We were glad to leave. Link to the photos from Coba below.


I went back out to Isla Mujeres to regroup and decide what to do, and my previous post explains how I chose San Cristobal de las Casas....and here we are, totally updated, yes?

Just because I haven´t done it, here´s a link to my photos from Isla Mujeres and Cancun (the first days of my trip). I haven´t gone through them at all, so there are way too many and some are sideways.

Isla and Cancun

More later.


Monday, April 12, 2010

On the best choice I have ever made...

I am sitting here in a fantastic Mexican home in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Let me tell you how I got here, typing on a small German computer.

Last week, on Thursday, I had a Skype interview for the Bonderman Fellowship. They asked me lots of tough questions, and I did the best I could given the delayed connection and my incredible lack of travel experience. One of my College of Ed professors actually interviewed me, and his question really changed my experience in Mexico. He said, "So, Anna, when you get to all of these places, what will you do to get a feel for the culture?" I realized that I have not really yet done that here in Mexico....wait, WHAT?! That´s why I came here....well, I did see a lot of things of historical significance...I realized that my trip has been marvelous, but I haven´t learned a lick of Spanish OR immersed myself in the culture at all. I am comfortable here, now, it is easy for me to get around, but wait...isn´t that a safe spot?

Uh oh...

So, my options for my last week were to spend it snorkeling on Caye Caulker in Belize or to come back to Chiapas for some real Mexico. As you already know the choice I made...well, I don´t need to explain why. But I do need to tell you why this is the best choice I have ever made:

1. Homecooked Mexican food, in Chiapas, is so excellent that I can´t even begin to tell you. A peek into it: my first meal was a stuffed poblano pepper, baked in cheese and covered in a homemade sauce. Paired with some kind of pear juice. For dessert? A fresh mango. This one did NOT give me diarrhea. Yet.
2. Being forced to use Spanish has already given me a fantastic insight into what I need to learn (VERBS and more than just the PRESENT tense). I am taking three hours of private Spanish classes per day, and I already have used the Spanish I learned this morning in the market, to barter prices with las artesenias.
3. Being outside of my comfort zone, which is why I am here. I have already thought "I want to go HOME" but it was fantastic because immediately after I thought "shut up you wussy and just enjoy the moments and days before they are gone and you dwell on missing Mexico!" worked. I have never before been able to quell homesickness like that, but it worked.
4. Getting out of party central, a.k.a. most hostels in Mexico that have lots of traveler traffic. While it´s easy to meet people who are looking for more than a party, it´s hard to get out of the scene. That was the problem with Isla Mujeres, and why I left so soon after returning for some easy living. I realized it was too much bum life and not enough experience.

So, I realize that when Gene (mi profesor) asked me how I would get to know cultures, he was really asking me if I was doing that here. The answer was no, and I think that it´s possible it could cost me the Bonderman (yikes), but the real growth here, and the real win is that now I know how I want to experience other countries and cultures. Hostels are great, and cheap, but families are welcome and knowledgeable, and FORCE you to accustom to their way of life. Hostels cater to travelers.

I love Chiapas, too, because in a way it reminds me of home. It poured today, freezing cold rain, and it is not humid or super arid here. It´s been relatively temperate, and I had to buy some sweaters because my trip originally planned only for the Yucatan. I love it. The people here are split between the indigenos (indigenous people) and the Ladinos (those of Spanish descent) and the split is pretty obvious. But nevertheless, the cultures exist, and I get to experience them. Ah....

I realize this is a long post, and I am sick of typing with the y and z switched places (German keyboard), so I will sign off. Bedtime, I think.

I love you all so much, and appreciate you all now more than ever, as I am such a stranger in this world over here....but I will come home soon, and probably spend too much time talking about Mexico as well as wear too many brightly colored pieces of clothing and jewelry. :) Can´t wait, but for now, it´s espanol classes and San Cristobal!

Hasta luego....

Friday, April 9, 2010

wow, i'm backlogged on photos

Jessie flew in, we went to Merida. Great Mexican city, good food and great museums which we never got to see because it was Easter and everything shuts down...We met some Germans. They had a car, and they let us ride with them to Uxmal and Kabah, two cool Mayan's a link to that album...Not all of these are worth looking at, but I don't have the internet time to sift through them all!! Sorry! I will be going back and adding captions soon..

Uxmal and Kabah

Next, we went to Palenque, which is in the jungle and also in Chiapas...amazing. The people we met there were great - it was much more real Mexico than anywhere else we'd seen yet, even with all the tourists. We drove out to Agua Azul, one of the amazing waterfall systems out there, and saw another beautiful waterfall that reminded me of Multnomah Falls. We also went to see the Mayan ruins there, which were really impressive, especially surrounded by jungle...As I mentioned before, I don't promise that all of these photos are worth looking at, but I put up everything I took...The Palenque ruins were also the site of the infamous street mango...


Post on Tulum and Coba coming soon...feel free to peruse the photos on Picasa and I will get captions up soon!

Much love!

Monday, April 5, 2010

on getting diarrhea during an 11 hour bus trip

FYI this is graphic but I think it´s welcome to last night for me.

Okay, so now I know what I´m made of. And it STINKS!

No, but seriously, at about 3:30 am today, I realized that I was going to lose my sh*t during the bus ride (of which there were still 4 hours left)...NOT a good feeling. Worst stomach cramps ever, and as I made my way to the back of the bus in a panic, I cursed Don Muchos and his stupid restaurant´s disclaimer that they "disinfect the food and water, always". I made it to the toilet, but couldn´t lock the door, so I proceeded to sit down and let loose one-handed. Yeah, I had to hold the door closed the WHOLE TIME. After I was sitting there for about 20 minutes, I realized that if I braced my feet on the wall next to the door, I could hanker it closed and force the lock. Ahhh, sweet victory. But it was soooo hot, sweat was dripping down my face and I was sure I was going to die in the sardine can bathroom on an ADO bus. Nausea was washing over me in waves, and I thought, what the hell am I supposed to do if I start puking, too?!?!?! About 1 hour and 4 bathroom trips later, all resembling the first, I felt like maybe it had passed...It´s been about six hours now, and while things are much improved, I can assure you that it´s not over yet. Bienvenido a Mexico.....Then I realize that I ate a street mango´s totally my fault. :)

But why stop there, when the entire bus trip was eventful! We began it by being stopped by the federal police, and they instructed all of us to get off the bus, where we were sniffed by drug dogs and got to watch them check our luggage, presumably for drugs or weapons. So that was a bit unnerving, but I felt okay since I didn´t have any drugs or weapons.

At the beginning of the trip, I had developed this amazing knack for sleeping while traveling. Yeah, that´s gone now. Now, diarrhea aside, I tend to wake up at the oddest times (like 1 am, after sleeping for 1 hour). The nice thing is that everyone else is asleep, and no lights are on in the bus, so you can see the star or moonlit country side. It´s a bit magical, really. I have been plugging in my iPod and letting the music take me wherever it will...It´s a nice little break from it all.

My camera battery is dead, but we supposedly have a private room at this hostel in Tulum, so I will charge everything and maybe get a chance to post photos from Merida (including Uxmal and Kabah) and then from Palenque (including Agua Azul and the Palenque ruins, site of the infamous street mango) as we leave Tulum tomorrow.

Wish me and my bowels well, I fear we´re in for a ride.

Hasta luego, amigos....

Friday, April 2, 2010


Still can't figure out the accents on the keyboards. This one shows a typical keyboard here, but types like one in the US. Huh?

Let me tell you quickly about today, and then I have to run to catch a bus. No photos yet, sorry, don't have time to upload, but today was an adventure.

We've been in Merida (a REAL Mexican city, according to all) for two nights. Same cool story: meeting great people and having a good time eating and lazing about. Also, went to see the ruins at Uxmal today with a group of German girls (3) and one German guy. They had a rental car, so we rode with wow. I thought I was going to DIE. Driving here is crazy. At one point, we tried to get lunch in a little town called Ticul (a whole story in itself), and ended up going the wrong way down the busiest street. Crazy gringas....

The ruins, though, the ruins! I took over 200 photos today, I'm pretty sure. I will sift through and upload some probably when we are in Tulum in a few days. By then, We'll also have seen the Palenque ruins, too. It's really quite touristy (or, touristic, as the Germans say) at Uxmal, but we got there early enough to have a bit to ourselves and before the heat was unbearable. Amazing that these structures still exist like they do, and it's amazing to climb up and down them and realize that the steps are so small because they fit the people that built them. My duck feet barely fit on the steps, and as the wind was blowing I felt a few times as if I might tumble down as a punishment for my huge Chacos.

Lunch in Ticul was amazing, we paid 188 pesos for 6 people to eat a full, wonderful, local meal - with drinks. The people here take Easter seriously, too - we got to witness the locals walking around town singing, chanting, and carrying lifesize crosses as a way to begin celebrating....It is Good Friday, after all.

Jessie and I catch a night bus to Palenque tonight, and I hope we will get some much needed sleep because I am exhausted. So much sun, sweat, and not enough water, no matter how much I drink.

I can't get enough of this region: the food, the people, the places, the weather, the sights, the language....It's a shame I have to come home. But then I realize something cool about myself, as I'm thinking this: part of what's going to make me an excellent teacher is my openness to people who are different from me. In fact, not just openness - excitedness or interest or something. It's what makes me able to hang at these hostels, with a bunch of (let's face it) sometimes weird's what makes it so much fun. But my drive to use that part of my personality and others to really serve a population that deserves high quality teachers is what really brings it all together.

It's funny, because I was thinking about this trip today, and how it's probably the best thing I've ever done for myself. Oddly enough, I'm not doing very much soul searching, not like I thought I would. I'm mostly just RELAXING....which is what I needed anyway. I know who I am (or who I am becoming), and what I want, but I work too damn hard. So I don't need solitude and soul searching - I need fun and adventure! Exactly what I'm getting.

Photos soon....

Muchos besos!!