Friday, January 16, 2015

Spain: Asturias

For over a year now, I've been jonesin' to get to the north of Spain! One of my favorite restaurants in Madrid (conveniently around the corner from our apartment) is called Río Nalón and hails from the north, in a region called Asturias. This region is fabled as the "true" Spain because it was the only region that defeated the Moors in the 8th century--and when you finally arrive at the Lagos de Covadonga, which sit at an altitude of over 1,000 meters, you understand why. Thanks, Zach, for that fun fact!

Asturias's value isn't only that of a historical one--it's a hiker's dream! Beautiful green mountains and hills lay as a backdrop to some of the most majestic beaches I've ever seen. I could've sworn I was standing on the set of The Chronicles of Narnia,  or the Lord of the Rings..

But as the age-old saying goes "Beauty is pain." Wait, what? Most of the north is green and lush, which is a result of year-round rainfall. For someone from California, where my winters can be spent frolicking on the beach, rain is definitely pain! Although most Spanish people agree that the north is beautiful and that you eat very well up there (I can attest for that), ALL will tell you the same thing: it even rains in July!

So, we took a leap of faith and booked a few nights after the New Year to discover what we knew, but could never imagine! To our absolute astonishment and pleasure, we didn't have a single raindrop! Mostly clear skies and happy travelers for three days.

Production notes: Every travelogue has been different for me. Aside from the obvious location change, this video proved to be difficult because of the background music. Going into the trip I knew which song would be playing in the back of my mind. However, I did not want to bog my audience with a 5+ minute video. I knew where I wanted to cut the song and which parts I wanted playing, I just didn't know how to do it smoothly! So that will be something I work on for my next travelogue.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Italy: Roma

The holidays can be really tough when you're away from home. Luckily, my parents and I convinced my younger brother Kevin to come visit Madrid for Christmas. With him coming all this way, we had to go next door to Italy and see the Eternal City!

I've loved Italian culture and history since I can remember, so it was pretty exciting traveling back to Italy--this time with Kevin, and my three best girlfriends! Here are some highlights from our trip: full of tours, dancing, and absolute silliness.

Greece: Santorini

This past August, I traveled with three of my favorite travel buds to Athens and Santorini. This was the first travel video I made and I had such a fun time creating, directing, and editing our mini music video.

Santorini is a beautiful island--I cannot wait to see more of Greece!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tanzania Experience: Kongwa

After spending two relaxing days in Dar Es Salaam, we were ready to make the trek to our new (temporary) home. Savannah Tours had arranged three caravans that would stay with us until we left for Zanzibar. Once we got into our caravan groups, we were off to Kongwa! The students stuck together and we all got along so well! That's probably why our full-day safari didn't seem quite as long. For the majority of us being strangers at the beginning, we lucked out with the perfect group! We liked each other so much that we didn't even want to change drivers! Sorry, Moses, but you are stuck with us. Moses as well as Patrick, Arnold and Julius--all of our drivers--turned out to be some of our most valuable resources when communicating in Swahili and navigating our way through Tanzania.

Leaving our beach bungalows for the village life.

The Mosquiterz. From left to right: myself, Naomi, Katelyn, Hannah, Anna, and Andrew.

Moses taught us our first Swahili song! The Mosquiterz would later be the name of our band.

The drive through Tanzania was beautiful. I never imagined East Africa to be so lush and full of beauty. Just along the road we passed by dozens of fields of sunflowers. You could look off into the distance and see mountains filing behind each other--one right after the next. It was an endless expanse of wonder for me. It went from tropical to valley to desert all in one car ride. It reminded me so much of our family trips to Mexico except we actually had leg room on this trip..

When we arrived in Kongwa, we immediately went to the St. Philip's Guest House. We had five days of home-cooked Tanzanian food! I really took a liking to ugali, which looks like mashed potatoes but has a play dough consistency. Traditionally when you eat a meal, you use your hands so you mold a piece of ugali into your fingers and use that to spoon the other food (meat stew, beans, vegetables) into your mouth. I never had a meal that I didn't like in that house!

Side view of St. Philip's Guest House.

Barbara with the three lovely women who cooked our meals daily. They are singing a church hymn.

Dividing up all the donations for each of the schools.

The next four days FLEW BY! Every day we would go to Mnyakongo Primary School, where Peter, Barbara and David went to school as children, in addition to Mnyakongo Secondary School, Kongwa Secondary School, and Kongwa Beef (each on their own respective days). From the start, Mynakongo had my heart. I kid you not. I felt like the Jonas Brothers every day we went to visit the children. Reminder: the students were on break when we arrived but the first day we got there, there had to have been around 400 students there--all running up to meet us. US! I had never felt more popular. All you could make out in the sea of children were smiles and eyes trying to catch yours. All you felt were little hands trying to hold yours, or touch your hair. I wanted to hug each and every one of them and hold them so they could feel how much love I felt at that moment.

Mnyakongo Primary School students running towards our caravans.

The only group of people I will ever want to be mobbed by!
(You can see us against the car in the far left)

Kids more than happy to hold Gail's hands.

I wish I could see these faces every day!

Finally making our way out of the mob.. only to find myself in the middle of it later!

At all of the schools, we toured the premises (some nicer than others but all well-kept), learned how each school operates, what subjects the students seek the most help in (any physics, chemistry or biology teachers  looking to relocate?), and were guests of honor. They celebrated us and revered our knowledge. Kongwa Secondary was a great experience for us because we got to interact with students closer to our age who had real questions for us. Bless their little hearts that they spoke English, too! Counting numbers can only take me so far.. 

However nice and welcoming each school as well as the beef factory were, I wanted to spend all of my time at Mnyakongo Primary. Even before our first day was over, I knew I would be back one day. I wish I could've done more with the students (like organizing a dozen groups to play and planting a garden wasn't enough) to really interact with them, but it's just given me a whole new goal for life--both for the immediate and distant future. Giving myself to others is where I thrive. I want people to have a memorable experience in my company. I want them to feel welcomed and loved. I want them to laugh and dance to the music in their heads and all around them. I can't imagine spending my life doing anything else.. The next thing to do is figure out how to make it all work!

Dinner with politicians. NBD.

Andrew playing soccer with some of the kids. One of the many activities going on that day!

Teaching the kids "Hip Hip, Hooray!"

Gave gardening my best shot...

Oh, just hanging out in Peter's Library. Not only is it named after him, but these are some of the many shelves filled with books donated by him.

Some of the Mosquiterz introducing "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" to Mnyakongo..

I tried keeping this one short, but there was just no way! This barely scratches the surface of how incredible this trip was.I hope you could get through the majority of it. Until next time when I describe the significance of pipi and later Zanzibar, here are some fundamental Swahili phrases:

Habari gani? (ha-BA-ree GON-ee): How are you?
Nzuri asante (n-ZOO-ree ah-SAN-teh): Well, thank you.
Tuteonana kesho (too-teh-oh-NA-na keh-SHOW): See you tomorrow.
Lala salama (la-LA sa-LA-ma): Good night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tanzania Experience: Karibu!

Think AFRICA. What comes to mind?

Before we landed in Dar Es Salaam, I pictured a dry, undeveloped land, where big game ruled the roads. Man, was I wrong.

The ferry terminal in Dar.

Dar Es Salaam is the largest and richest city in Tanzania. It lies 6° south of the Equator so the climate is tropical, air is humid, and ocean is warm (my favorite part). This weather made for the perfect welcome! Yeah, humidity kind of sucks because you're sweating uncontrollably, but that just means you stay in the warm, refreshing Indian Ocean longer, duh!

Katelyn (left), Andrew (right), and I (second to right) playing volleyball with another hotel guest.

Our first two days were spent at Kipepeo Beach Village to relax, meet the group (15 total from SDSU and the UK) and immerse ourselves into as much Tanzanian culture as possible. It consisted of learning slang Swahili (scroll to the bottom), eating delicious sambusas (similar to empanadas), and sipping Konyagi's (gin produced in Tanzania) on the beach. 

It was really easy getting use to the currency exchange, too! $1 US dollar equals 1,500 Tanzanian shillings. Whoa, baby! Talk about MONEY! Drinks and food were around 4,000-6,000 shillings each so after putting my math skills to the test, lunch and a drink would cost about $3-4. Not bad.

One tough thing to get used to, however, was the bugs. I never got bit but it's just annoying having things flying around your face and hovering over your food. Relax, will ya? We also took daily malaria pills for a reason.. 

Naomi trying to convince Anna and I that whatever buzzing noise is outside, it is NOT electrical.

All in all, our first couple of days in Tanzania were great. It was rough kicking jetlag in the face, but we made it work and had fun while doing so! Until next time, enjoy and practice these Swahili words:

Jambo (JOM-boh): hello
Tafadhali (ta-fa-THA-lee): please
Asante (a-SAN-tay): thank you
Karibu (cah-REE-boo): welcome / you're welcome
Mambo (MOM-boh) / poa (POH-ah): How are things? / Cool [a slang call-and-response greeting]