Posts Tagged ‘spanish’

I love looking through my passport. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine- seeing the stamps and visas that I’ve collected, remembering all the boarder crossings that I’ve walked through, fruit/veg check points that I’ve lied my way past and random light-hearted (or bawling) conversations I’ve had with the customs officials.

I remember the time I was stuck at the Costa Rica boarder trying so hard to figure out what to do. The lack of signs made me think I had already gone through the line, only to be turned around at a random check point and told I had to walk back and get stamped in.

I cried a lot that day.

My Canadian work visa is a constant reminder of one of my biggest failures and hardest lessons of my life. I found a stamp for February 2008 and was transported back to leaving “short crunch” (90+hours a week) to go to NYC because my (step) grandma had died. I wasn’t so sad about her death as I was about my Grandpa. Widowed twice- both after 29 years of marriage- the first was my name-sake and I had never met her. I remember seeing him and having lunch at the deli right by his apartment. He and I didn’t have a great bond as I rarely got to spend time with just him- but sitting across from him, that day, I saw all of the familiar mannerisms that my dad uses: using humor to pass off his sadness or to try to not talk about difficult things by diverting the conversation to mundane topics like “how about dem Yankees?” . I tried so hard to have a deep and emotional with my Grandpa that day- to try to get to know him (what was he like? What did he think about? What was his favorite color? His favorite ice-cream flavor? What games did he play growing up?)

But nothing I tried worked- which just reminded me more of the big epic failure I had waiting for me back in Canada (my job).

Months of frustration and no sleep resulted in me getting fired from that job- which was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Years later, during my Grandpa’s shiva, I had this moment of clarity where I couldn’t be in that industry anymore- Working one last contract, I managed to save enough to set off on my travels.

The Vietnamese visa reminds me of trying to check into my flight in the glorious Singapore Airport for Ho Chi Minh City, only to realize that I had to pre-apply for a visa. (My hair had become more blonde during my trek through the middle of Australian Outback and the only defense I have is that it must have been a blonde moment thinking I was exempt from getting a Vietnamese visa before boarding the plane.) Luckily! I could apply online (with the expedited 50$ fee!) and receive my visa at HCMC’s airport.

The .35$ Saigon Greens made up for it in the end.

I have 3 “fake” stamps. One for the Galapagos, one for Machu Picchu and a shark stamp. The shark stamp I received at the Houston Aquarium when a little kid asked me for my passport. I have it to him and he stamped it with a shark stamp. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there was a special “shark stamp passport” that you could get that the curio shop and the stamps were to mark all the different sharks that existed in the Gulf.

Now, having a fake stamp is kinda illegal. If you meet a hard-ass-no-fun official he could decline you entry/exit and then you’re basically hosed. This fear came when I was at the Copenhagen Airport trying to leave for my flight to Dublin. He turned to the page with the shark, pointed and grunted. I sighed and started to explain the story of the little kid and the aquarium. He rolled his eyes in this “stupid Americans!” way, stamped that page and off I went!

I’ve never had another problem with it since then.

Then there was the time when the bus was told to not make any conversation with the custom officials at the Namibia boarder because they were notoriously skeptical of American foreigners and may hold up the whole group. The day before I had gone zip-lining in Vic falls and had sharpie marker symbols on my hand. The customs official asked me about it.

“Oh, I went zip-lining. They wrote this on my hand as proof of payment or something.”

“Was it fun?”

“Hell yea it was fun!”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“You know the feeling you get when you like a boy and you think he’s going to kiss you- but you aren’t sure. And then you do? You know that feeling in your stomach- we call it butterflies. That scared feeling and then the thrill of excitement? It’s like that.”

She just smiled, stamped my passport and let me go.

The rest of the bus, behind me, just shook their heads, in complete disbelief that I:
A) disobeyed orders by having an actual conversation with the official and
B) that I just compared zip-lining to kissing a boy.

I stand by my statement and regret nothing.

So, basically, my passport is my greatest souvenir that I could have. A constant reminder of how much money I’ve invested on travel and small memories of specific times in my life.


Normally I don’t listen to people when they try to warn me about areas. Normally people feed off fear and regurgitate it for no real reason. People warned me about Baltimore before I moved there, but that ended up being my favorite city to live in. So I was cautious when I was traveling through Central America. I listened when I was in Medellin, Colombia. I paid attention when I was in Quito– but no one warned me enough about Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The following is my experience of one day, my first day, in Guayaquil:

I arrived off a bus at 5:30am. An old man screamed “TAXI!?” at me and I showed him a sheet of paper with the hostel name and address on it. He nodded and said “seven dollars”. I groggily nodded, even though I know that it was too much. I figured it was “gringa tax” and just kinda accepted it. I get in the cab and we start driving off. I quickly note that this city is nothing like the beautiful Quito that I had just left. (However, I can breathe and feel a lot better!) The streets are filled with homeless people, dirt, grime, trash and standing water everywhere. Twitter weather alerts tell me that it’s been raining a lot and a lot of Ecuador is flooded.

The driver keeps driving and we’re getting into more and more “icky-land”. From everything that I remember reading about the hostel it said that it was in a great part of town near the university. This doesn’t look like a university area. Suddenly, the cab stops and the man turns around and stares at me. “Treinta dollars”. ($30).

“uh, no. Urdesa Central. siete dollars”.

“treinta dollars. no vamos.”

It takes me longer than I’d like to admit before I catch on that I’m being scammed… Or stupidly kidnapped. or both. Either which way, I act TOTALLY PROFESSIONAL and grab my stuff, scream at him in English, and run out of the cab towards some light. He yells and starts to drive after me, but I duck down some ally and into a bus stop where there is a cop. I pay the 25cents fare and ride the bus until I my exhaustion catches up with me and then try to figure out my way to the hostel myself. (Come to find out, I was 5k away from the bus station).

I check into the hostel and immediately collapse for a few hours. I wake up around noon, shower and dress and get ready to find any of the crossfit gyms that are around the area. (There are 8, according to Three within walking distance (5K according to google maps). No problem. I venture out!

The first one can’t be found anywhere. The address points me to an abandoned yard next to a car dealership. I sigh in frustration and decide to walk into town, across a river, towards Crossfit Machete. Couldn’t find it. I ask locals. They all are shocked that:

a) I’m walking (period).
b) I’m walking alone.
c) I’m a woman looking for a gym.

A cop pulls me over and tells me (in very fast Spanish) that this is a dangerous area and I shouldn’t walk solo. I ignore him and tell him “Gymnasico. Aqui” and point to where I think the gym should be. I turn down a block and dodge him. I ask again for directions for the last crossfit gym. This one is supposed to be HUGE. It was recommended by everyone in Colombia and Quito– so it should be TOTALLY OBVIOUS, RIGHT? Wrong. Every time I asked for directions it becomes a huge debate. Everyone brings their friends, family, cousins all over to converse on the best way to give directions. Because of this, I end up getting 14 different answers– all in quick spanish and all conflicting. I keep walking. Another cop pulls me over. Tells me the same thing “Why are you walking? Why are you walking alone? This is a dangerous area” etcetc.

Seriously? Come on. There are kids playing soccer in the street. People are stoop-sitting. Leave me alone already. You’re just drawing attention to me! (Even more than a white girl walking in Vibram Five-Fingers!)

So I keep going. Ask for directions one last time. Same group-effort leaves me frustrated. Another cop pulls me over. (HEY! I’M JUST WALKIN’ ‘ERE!) and after I tell him that I’m looking for a gym and that it should be here- I turn and start walking. He follows me. I’m getting nervous now. Why is this guy following me? I’ve heard enough stories of corrupt “cops” (people dressed up as cops that kidnap people) that I wasn’t going to get in any cars with strangers. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But I’ll admit that my spider-sense was on FULL and I was more anxious than a horse in Sweden.

I spot a “Kratos Gym” sign and turn up the stairs. Anything to get out of the street. I ask the gym people if they’ve heard of crossfit and where it is. No one knows what I’m talking about…

I start to lose it at this point. It’s 5:30. I’ve been walking around, apparently aimlessly, for hours, stalked by cops, mocked by locals, lost in a city that everyone is telling me is “dangerous”. My nerves are shot and I’m suddenly aware of how exhausted I am. I start to tear up. The gym goes quiet as everyone stops lifting weights and comes around me berating me with questions. Where am I from? Where do I need to go? Should a taxi be called? (I should note that I’m assuming that this was asked because my Spanish is still abysmally poor that I can only grasp every 3rd or 5th word). It is finally decided, after I try to tell them where I’m going/where I walked from, that Taxi drivers are bad (I already know this) and that someone from the gym will drive me home.

This is where Spidy-sense should come in again, right? But for some reason, when you meet people at a gym, you’re family. I’ve had this experience at every Crossfit gym I’ve been to and again at this little local gym. One guy approaches me who knows a little English. He gives me a hug and says “It’s ok. We’ll take you home. It’s dangerous here.”

This English speaker was brought to you by Call of Duty. This is important to know because as we were driving away, they rolled up the windows and informed me that there were 18 ex-convicts that just escaped from prison. All the kids (the ones that I passed that were playing soccer) are all packing. I didn’t really believe him until we passed by and the 10-yr-olds shot up gang signs and pulled out their guns (“Armas Pequeñas!”) and posed.

“BAM! HEAD SHOT” said the English speaker. Everyone laughed. I remembered that at one point in my life I thought working on Fable 3 was stressful… I also can’t decide if I love or hate COD for this.

Needless to say that I ended up fine. The guys were sweet and funny and drove me the 15miles (15MILES!) home safe and sound. We talked about the Macarena the whole way. (This is where I mention that I’m really thankful for all those terrible first dates that made me a PRO at small talk). I only know their names (Dennis, John and Raoul)– but I have no way of contacting them to thank them profusely for being my knights on white-SUVs. Back at the hostel, I proceeded to drink a lot of beer, talk to a cute Canadian (I didn’t know they existed!) and change my flight to the Galapagos to leave ASAP instead of a week from now.


(this is when I have a notice that says “blah blah blah… This is just my one experience in this city… blah blah blah. I’m sure the rest of it is fine… etcetc. I shouldn’t judge a whole city based on one experience… blah blah blah… I should be more careful… Whatever. I’m going to see giant tortoises tomorrow.)

I’ve been sick for the past few days (my first cold since I’ve been traveling! not bad for third world countries!) but I decide to suck it up, get some drugs (that was an adventure… you can’t just walk into a drug store and get something off the shelf. You have to talk to a pharmacist to get everything. Including cotton balls/toilet paper!) I get my drugs and rode the metro downtown to the Bogota Gold Museum. 
The whole down-town area was PACKED! SO MANY PEOPLE!

And llamas!

And other bizarre things.
So I go through the museum and look at all the figurines and stuff, but it was really crowded (the museum is free on Sundays, so I should have known). After that, I went through the markets (flea-market-types) and then decided to walk the 50+ blocks home. It’s a long walk, but I wasn’t feeling great and needed some air.
On my way home, I finally get hungry. My appetite hasn’t been all that great since I’ve been sick. I go into a place that has “Bandeja Piasa” Which is this huge oval plate with avocado, rice, pork and beans, cherizo (like spicy italian sausage), pork, steak and a fried egg all on top. (basically, it’s to die for).
The price? 3.50$. Yea. That is to die for. So I’m eating my lunch and I see this girl try to go into the bathroom… She’s fumbling with the door and then all of a sudden she goes stiff and falls/collapses onto a motorcycle that was behind her! I jump up and grab/support her head/move her legs, do my “first-aid” thing and try to tell other people what to do. “support her head! CABEZA!”

the girl that fell then looks at me (she has a nasty cut on her head and isn’t focusing too well) and says “CAAAABeza”. Then she throws up. 
The drunk/drugged girl corrected my pronunciation… 

Costa Rica (zombie survival) 41/70

The last time I was in Costa Rica was about 10 years ago with my family. A lot has changed since then. I don’t remember many details from that time (like what currency we used, how much things cost, etc) but I remember the people and the lack of “American things”.

Currently, Costa Rica is the new home to Ex-pats. With a McDonalds on every corner and a Starbucks on every other corner and people always in a rush to get somewhere (except to work), Costa Rica reminded me of an expensive Miami, Florida. In fact, I blew through more of my budget here than anywhere else in Central America—which makes my insides hurt. Why is a third world country so expensive? The mystery remains.

With all this said, this trip I stayed mostly in the middle (San Jose area) and hardly did any “toursty” things. Instead, I lived vicariously through other travelers who had more income than myself.

Overall, Costa Rica, in terms of the Zombie Apocalypse, would be a decent location to hole up. There is a crap-ton of fertile/plot-able land, lots of new highways being built along with anything commercial that you are missing in your life.


Costa Rica really only has 2 seasons. Wet and dry. This means that they don’t have harsh winters or any weird/crazy climate issues. The dry season can get quite warm, but nothing too terrible. The wet season is where it rains every day for a few hours (apparently you can set your clock by this) and replenishes the land. Costa Rica also has a lot of mountains, rainforest and beaches— so if you’re sick of one thing, drive 30 minutes in any direction and the climate will change drastically.

WATER: 7/10

The city water is drinkable, but has a funny taste. I found this in a lot of locations, but it wasn’t harmful- just a little “chemically”. (Not chlorine, it’s something else. Bromine, maybe?) Aside from this, depending on where you are, the rain water (during the wet season) may or may not be enough to carry you through the whole year. Finding a river to do your washing may be the best option.

LODGING:  7/10

The houses vary depending on the class of person you are squatting from. There are mansions, simple “duplexes” (made out of concrete), shacks, etc. Also, it depends on where you are in the country. Because the climate range is so huge throughout all of Costa Rica, your housing could vary.

Almost all are water-resistant. None of them have heat (don’t really need it), nor are they insulated. This could pose a potential problem, depending on the apocalypse.

FOOD:  8/10

Costa Rica grows a lot of the typical Central American agriculture that one can find. There is also no lack of coffee here. (Picking it can be gruesome/tiresome… Maybe you can hire some zombies to pick/roast your coffee for you?) There seemed to be no lack of food in the markets except for spices (which is common around here). The only surprising thing was the lack of green in the city. Not a lot of people had personal gardens (that I saw/experienced).


This is where Costa Rica kinda fails. I didn’t see a single “super store”… For anything. I found a lot of strip-mall-like things. A lot of people had guns, a lot of people had stuff- but it seemed that they had to go to many stores to get said stuff. A little inefficient, but it works for them. Will it work in the Zombie Apocalypse? Perhaps not.


Mosquitos, fleas, flies… the typical dangers that anyone has anywhere. Malaria exists- but I didn’t meet anyone who has known anyone personally who has gotten it.

Also, as far as I know, there are no natural disasters in this area. (some earthquakes, but nothing terrible, they have a lot of volcanoes, but most are dormant/not threatening if you plan properly. No hurricanes or big storms or anything like that.

LOCALS: 4/10

For me, the locals ranged from Ricos to Ex-Pats. So keep this in mind when the apocalypse happens. Both know the value of their land and both know that you (as a tourist) have money and are there to spend that money. So don’t be surprised if you meet a zombie that has their hand out wanting coins for something.

I think I’m in love with Nicaragua. The people, the atmosphere, the climate, the culture…. The sheer niceness of people just blows me away. Things that people do- when they don’t have to. I mean, why help the fluffy-haired gringa? When would that ever be a good thing to do?

I was reminded of this story from my college days where I sublet a room the summer. I needed a desk, so I bought one off craigslist, wheeled it down Boylston Ave and then it started raining… I ran faster with it, breaking off a wheel. When I got close to the apartment, I yelled out to my new roommates to help me, but they didn’t budge. Just sat on the stoop smoking cigarettes. I found out later that “where they come from” they –WERE- helping me by moving. (That is “helping” where they come from).

In Nicaragua I have had quite the opposite experience and I want to share my day yesterday:

I woke up early and, like every morning for a while, I went running around 7:30am. I ran up the mountain for about 20-25 minutes, then down. On the way down the mountain, I stumbled and fell right outside this pulperia (shop). Some old men saw me and rushed over to make sure I was ok. After I assured them I was fine, they offered me some coffee (that they, no doubt, grew/harvested/dried/ground themselves…. The best kind, IMO). I declined because I still had a mile or so to go.

Later that day, my friend Elyna and I left. We decided to hitch-hike from Jinotega to Sabaco. We stuck out our thumb and instantly a guy in a blue truck stopped. He told us he could only take us down 15K. We agreed anyway and hopped in the back. (note: the bus takes 2 hours to go 45km… so it’s better to hitch).  After a really fast ride, we hopped out and stuck out our thumbs again and got a semi-truck to stop. He opened up the back and we rode in the back of an empty semi-truck for the rest of the way.

Once we arrived in Sabaco, we ate (an amazing plate of chicken, rice, potatoes, plantains and a drink for 2.50$USD) we found a bus to take us to Esteli. That’s when we looked at a map and figured out that Esteli is NO WHERE NEAR Leon (where we both wanted to go. Elyna was trying to go north anyway, so she got on another bus to go north (to Honduras) and I hitched back down to San Isidro.

I should note: My Spanish is elementary at best. I can half communicate with a 3 yr-old, which I’ll talk about later.

So when I was hitching, this guy kept saying “ares moy mimosa” (it wasn’t until later that I figured out he was calling me beautiful (Eres muy Hermosa)… stupid accents). I just giggled and made faces or rode in silence. 30 minutes later, we arrived and he dropped me off at the bus station. I tried to pay him some money (for letting me ride in the cab and dealing with my piss-poor Spanish, but he wouldn’t even consider it. He told me to hurry (well, ok.. he just talked really fast and pointed) and I got on a bus where I sat next to a girl holding a chicken and took out my knitting needles and continued to knit my much-needed-belt. All these kids stared at me… in awe. I was, hands down, the most entertaining thing on the bus. I kept pointing to things outside (cows, chickens, goats, horses) and saying stuff like “el perro va woof!” and they would say “no! bow bow”.  “El Vaca va mooooooo!” and the kid would go “mawwww”. It was downright adorable/entertaining for all.


Why am I telling you all this?

Because most of the world things of third world countries as dangerous. They think that all these people living in “poverty” are crooks, criminals, thieves, rapists, murderers, or some other negative and awful words. I have found the complete opposite. In the states, we have a very “dog eat dog” mentality. In Central America (especially in Nicaragua) they do things that are kind. Simple things mean more to these people than anything else.

Also, fun fact, Nicaragua is considered the 2nd safest country in the western hemisphere (next to Canada.)

I have been on 2 farms in the past 2 weeks and here is what I have done:

1)   I am a fan of hitchhiking as I have done it a lot lately. I also really like riding in the back of trucks with 300+ lbs of beans/rice/corn/whatever.

2)   The first farm I was on was an all-organic farm about 8K from the bus stop. Hiking that in the dark was a little scary, but the stars (and lack of light at all) made the journey well worth it! The mist over that farm, when it was raining, was out of this world beautiful. Seeing clouds swallow mountains is breath taking!

3)   This farm was also off the electrical grid. As cool as the bio-digestor (goggle it!) is, it doesn’t keep a flame all that well and very constantly. Most of my meals had to be cooked over a wood flame (I now kick ass at starting fires… but keeping them going is another story). My machete accuracy is also improving, as I had to chop all my own firewood. However, I got sick of just eating beans and rice with no spices.  Also, it became more and more difficult to cook food as all the wood was wet (from the days and days of constant rain). Finally (after 6 days of not talking to a single person, a lot of reading and a lot of arguments with myself) a girl (Elyna) showed up! I quickly realized that I was a little miserable at that farm. She suggested that we leave– so we did!

4)   We both arrived at “The Biosphere” (another organic farm), but it’s more of a family who all lives and grows and eats here. The energy (if you believe in that sort of thing) is excellent and I feel cozy! (Read: I don’t feel like I’m in a 3rd world country). The other night we watched Princess Bride while eating popcorn. The only thing that was missing was hot-cocoa (which we’ll make tonight once we get more dolce) out of hand-picked cocao. They have a kitten who sleeps on my bed every night which makes me miss my whore, but having a decent kitchen/volunteer facilities makes it worth it. They also have a duck who likes to “run laps” on the roof at 5:30am. (I think she’s practicing her take off and landings.) I’ll be here for the 21st (they’re having a big festival for the end of the world) and then I’ll move on to Leon w/ Elyna (if we’re all still here).


Here is are some of the random things that I have learned:

1)   If you cut a log/branch for firewood (with a machete), stand the branch up and hack at an angle, turn the branch, hack again, turn the branch, hack again… (Rinse and repeat until you get some grooves/wedges and/or can snap it.)

2)   Fried green bananas are pretty damn tasty. Also, there are about a thousand different varieties of bananas. I really like the small super-sweet ones. J I wonder if I’ll ever eat Dole bananas again.

3)   To milk a goat or a cow, you use the same technique; it’s just that one utter is bigger than the other.

4)   You don’t need baking soda/powder for tortillas. In fact, I prefer it without.

5)   Malanga is probably the best food I’ve eaten here so far. It’s a root that grows in swampy-areas with big full “cow-hoof” leaves. It tastes like a buttered potato, slightly sweeter and a more creamy texture. If it weren’t so high in carbs I would eat it with every meal.

6)   The mountains of Nicaragua are breath taking! Especially after it rains and you are high up in the cloud.

7)   With all the different places I’ve been working at, I’m slowly, but surely, keeping a list of what I like/dislike in Bosses, management styles, what kind of team I like to work with, what kind of work I excel at vs what is difficult for me, how I would lead a team/project differently, how to be more efficient, etc. This isn’t really interesting to anyone BUT me, but I thought I would mention it as this is something I’ve spent a great deal of time figuring out lately.

Guatemala has been an experience. Here are some things I have learned:

1) People here are dirt-poor. But happy. The only thing I miss is decent water pressure. I used to miss hot showers, but I don’t even miss that as much anymore.
2) I have seen 2 scenes of shootings. (Drug-cartel people got shot in their taxi). The blood coming from the scene was a little unreal.
3) Kids are not spoiled here. They are quite happy playing with bits of string or rocks or twigs or candy wrappers they find. I don’t know why they don’t go to school right now—no one has been able to explain that to me.
4) My Spanish has improved! (“Ayudar! Estoy Peridido! Donde esta Pollolandia en Flores?”)
5) “Pollolandia” is probably some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. Not really sure if they have EVER changed out their oil, but I don’t care. The skin isn’t breaded, but more crispy than perfectly cooked bacon. The meat itself is so tender and moist and flavorful that it almost tastes like chicken-flavored butter that just melts in your mouth. Pollolandia is a great reason (alone) to come to Guatemala.
6) Another reason is that you can get any prescription drug here over the counter. You just need to know what to ask for (in espanol). Viagra? Oxytocin? Steroids? All no problem. Benedryl, on the other hand, is harder to find.

Oh! Speaking of my Spanish improving, here’s a great story:
I was sent on a quest for beer and other groceries. Armed with a bike and a bookbag, I set out towards the little shop that I knew of. I get there with my list of groceries (flour, oil, butter, beer.) I got all the stuff but the beer, which they didn’t sell at that location. So I went towards town searching for beer….

Couldn’t find a single bar/beer-looking place that was open. Finally, I saw a woman on “her stoop” (a concrete slab outside her door) making/selling empanadas. (this is common and they are usually amazing. For 12 USD cents you get a meal. (#bargain). So I went over to her. I said “Hola! Yo Quiero Kaveza.”
She looked at me weirdly….
So I did what my dad told me to do: Mimic. So I mimed opening a can, drinking it, then acting drunk. She said “oh! Cerveza! (pronounced Ser-bez-ah).”
“SI SI!”
so she got a beer, gave me some empanadas and told me to sit down. We made very (muy) small talk. I asked her “Yo Quiero mas Cerveza para me casa.” She asked me how many more… I said “doce?” she said “ocho frio.” I said “si.” And took those. 40Q (5$) later, I walked out with 8 cold beers and rode back home.
Hell yes. 😀
(for the record, Bravha beer is better than Natty Boh, but not by much.)

What was your favorite second language experience?