2 months in Perú

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Arriving in Peru was magical since the first place I visited was the floating islands of the lake Titikaka. The highest lake where people live. It is amazing that the plant called totora is used for everything, from building the floating islands to build the houses and even to eat it. I wish I had had the time to stay in an island for a couple of days but I already had the hostel booked in Cusco.

Cusco is a beautiful city up in the mountains. It has so much Spanish style architecture, so many museums, an amazing main square called ¨Plaza de armas¨. There I saw ???? the child that shows Cusco to Gael Garcia Bernal in Motorcycle diaries. When I saw him, I instantly knew it was him. What a small world. It has been 8  years or sosince the movie but I recognized him. He told me a beautiful story: Gael García Bernal and his travel partner at the movie Rodrigo de la Serna were wondering Cusco in their free time when they ran into this child who offered them to show them the city. The child, Nestor, made such an impression on them that they convinced the movie director to add him in the movie. The crazy thing comes now, in exchange for his acting, they paid for all his education in Fine Arts. Another crazy detail is that I saw him at the Cusco wall and I immediately recognized him. I approached him and asked if he was the child from the movie and he answered ¨yes¨ and told me this story.

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I was not able to see Macchu Picchu because I had a big translation to do and I worked 11h a day while in Cusco, I just had 1 day off to try to check everything out.

Macchu Pichu is extremely expensive too.

 

18034061_10158496265880517_3899514676495956346_n18056863_10158496306790517_8704415205224263603_nI flew to Lima in order to be on time to volunteer with the NGO TECHO in Lima. For 4 days hundreds of people volunteered fixing the handrails, trees… of the poorest neighborhoods of Lima. Ours was called Pamplona norte, what a coincidence.

We also interviews the locals to learn about their necessities and it was very interesting to see how diverse their houses are even if they all live in this ¨asentamientos humanos¨.

 

Next week I did a presentation on the Basque rural sports at the Basque Center of Lima located in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Lima.  Lima is extremely diverse, from the most elegant neighborhoods to the poorest ones. It really is an interesting city.

 

Peruvians are much more social than Bolivians and that was nice after 3 months of not really making any friends. We made few friends while working with TECHO, but one mainly.

The following week we went to the town of Cañetes, 3h away to help ensure that the river will not overflow again. It was hard work but interesting too.

Right after we went to Trujillo to volunteer teaching English in public schools with a NGO called Help Trujillo. It was interesting to see how different one school is from another one . Well, the NGO turned to be fake, therefore all the volunteers went to the police and the newspapers and right now the president of this NGO is being investigated for fraud. That was stressful but also a learning experience for the future.

After all the stress we volunteered in an ashram for 1 week. Working with the horses, at the garden, in the kitchen and meeting interesting people.

The friend we made in TECHO proposed us to host and feed us in exchange for garden work. The goal: clear the fallen structure and create a new fence to hold the heavy and huge grape plants. 3 days of hard work but mission accomplished.

 

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After that I went all the way to Quito and came back to the north of Peru in Piura to volunteer with Techo for 10 days. That was a really long and tiring trip. I ended my trip in Cusco (again) where I visited my friend from Boise and where finally I had some time to enjoy the city and rest.

 

 

 

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3 months in Bolivia

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Everybody is writing a travel blog nowadays and everybody has all these amazing stories to tell. And, yes, it is true that traveling is like living on steroids. You are exposed to many more things much faster. Therefore, there is more to But sometimes, 3 months go by and not that much has happened.

I am still trying to figure out the personality of people in Bolivia. I was already told, before I came that Bolivia is not like other places. You need more time to understand Bolivia. I understand that. But, after 3 months, I still do not have an opinion on Bolivia, which means, that I still do not have an opinion on the people of Bolivia.

I love meeting people and that has been the hard part in Bolivia. I really have not met that many people. The people that I have met are so opposed to each other, from extremely shy to the total opposite, that I cannot pinpoint them.

I understand that this is the country with the most indigenous people and that nothing good has came to them from the white people. Therefore, they are not going to open themselves to the white tourist. I also know that if I had worked with a NGO, I would have been able to interact more with people from Bolivia. But, I also know that meeting people is usually very easy for me and that I have interacted with indigenous people and they criticize white people in front of me and I am fine with it because I agree with them. I know that the White race has not brought anything else but suffering, pain, slavery and even nowadays, they treat them as second class.

I do not understand the concept of feeling superior to another race. It is just plain dumb. It does not make any sense and it is of a very low I.Q. to buy into that idea. We can neither say that people from this race, this country, this ethnicity are this way or that way. But you do get a feeling from people from one area or another one. I have been to several áreas in Brazil and I can tell the differences among them and while they are nota ll th same, they have some qualities or some levels of a quality in common.

On one hand, it seems that people in Bolivia are very honest, truthful and loyal, but on the other hand there are big problems with corruption, steeling…

Quechua and Aymara speakers seem very reserve and shy, but in some areas, maybe due to the carnaval, they seem obcese with sex. There are posters of women in bikinis all over the place. In places where they do not make any sense, in stores run by women. This is the only picture that you see about women, they are only a sexual object. This is a concept that I also do not understand. Why do men have the need to reduce women to sexual objetcs non stop? Are they so scared of them? What are they really scared of? Why women do not do something about it? Why do still work posing for those kind of machista posters? Why do not they realice that women´s brains are much more powerful tan their bodies? Why give that pleasure to men? Do they deserve it? Do they ever look sexy for us?

But on the other hand, you see women hired by the city hall to do Jobs that non even in the USA women do. Women working in government positions. You see women fighting for their rights and talking in meeting as much  or even more than men. Still it is the second country when it comes to domestique violence in South America.

Do they keep their word? I have seen both. When I asked my quechua teacher, she told me that it depended on the person. Again, another characteristic that I cannot describe about Bolivians.

After talking about what I do not know, let´s move to what has happened in Bolivia.

I arrived in Santa Cruz and I spent 3 days there. It is an extremely hot place and it seems that the beauty of Santa Cruz, is what is outside of it. Not much is in the city, but 3h away, there must be beautiful nature. I was not impressed with the people in this city but I did not meet anyone really.

Then I went to an ashram in Quillacollo, close to Cochabamba. There I met several volunteers from Brazil, France, Denmark, Uruguay, England, Spain, Basque Country, Colombia… It was fun to meet them and we had very good conversations. We share some knowledge and we did a couple of things together. My job consisted mainly in translating stories about witches from Spanish to Basque. It was a very interesting challenge. I also cleaned rooms and helped in the kitchen for the guests. This place is very beautiful, surrounded by nature and peaceful. We had some meetings with the head of the ashram and he shared his philosophy with us. It took 10 days or more for me to meet him, but it was an interesting experience. I wish I had done any meditation, but it was so early in the morning, that I would have been too tired to do translation all day after that.

During the 3 weeks that I spent there, I got to visit the city of Cochabamba few times, where in the year 2,000, the rain water was privatized and therefore many demostrations broke up. The Bolivians fought hard enough to revoke this law and restore their rights to the rain water. Of course, this idea of privatizing the wáter of Cochabamba, a place where it does not rain much, came from the International Monetary Bank. There is a movie that touches this topic called Even the Rain with the main actors, Gael García Bernal from México and Juan Tosar from Spain. The director is Iciar Bollain.

On the last days of the ashram, I met the NGO Mano a Mano. They showed me the entire place and explained me all the work they do, but it did not seem that there was much for me to do until, I saw a postcard of Coeur D’alane, Idaho, the state where I have lived for 13 years. We started talking about it and how I do translations now for medical issues and they asked me to translate medical presentations for their upcoming conference.

After the ashram, I went to Sucre for 5 weeks. Sucre is the white city of Bolivia. You get a beautiful feeling in this city. It is peaceful but not boring. There is movement on the streets but it is quiet at the same time. There I took Quechua classes for 3 weeks. For one week I was sick and I had to cancel all the classes. Quechua is a very beautiful language. Its sounds beautiful and it has a more or less complicated grammar. Basque has many things in common with Quechua and that makes it easier to learn. At least, you know what kind of beast you are facing.

Like Basque, it is an aglutinative language, which means that you do not have prepositions, you have postpositions that come after the Word and they are connected to it. It also means that you create new words by adding two of them, which creates very longs words.

Now, the hard part comes. The pronunciation, OMG. Q, Qh, Qh’… those I will master in my next life because in this one it is not going to happen. This saddens me because I do not feel like really practicing with anybody because they will not be able to understand me. Now, when it comes to writing, I am very proud of my progress and nothing else like speaking Basque helps that much to learn this language.

Quechua, like Basque is a SOV language. This means that the verb goes at the end of the sentence. For example, if you want to say: “I go to the market” you would say “I market-to go”  It has 2 ways of saying sister and 2 more to say brother, depending on who is talking, a woman or a man.

In Sucre there is this big coffee place called METRO. The best place to work and use Internet. Apart from taking Quechua classes, I also took an online translation course of subtitles. I have not had so many problems with technology in my entire life and this make this experience painful and frustrating. Translating subtitles by itself is a beautiful challenge and I hope to get some work doing this kind of translation. It would be a beautiful job to do for a NGO too. I would love to translate documentaries more than anything else.

Sucre was not all fun. It takes time to get used to a city, to find the post office, the closest supermarket, the best fruit at the market. Which means that the first three weeks went by and I felt that I had not achieved anything. I am super mega ultra effective and time is not gold for me, it is a diamond. On those weeks I worked for hours and hours on the medical translations for the NGO Mano a Mano. But I had a hard time feeling that I was wasting my time and that I was not making friends. I met this French young couple, who were officially our landlords. What a sweet couple: Arthur and Collin. We had few dinners with them and we went to the Tarabuco market with them to buy some traditional textiles as presents. I met some Couchsurfers but really none that I saw twice. I have lived in the USA for 13 years and it has been really long ago since I had to start making friends from scratch. Last time I was in that situation it was in Boise in 2014. The first 2 weeks were so hard, I felt so lonely, but after that, I met at the Basques and I had much more fun that what I would have imagined.

I was lucky to see the demonstrations in favor and against the president Evo Morales and I learned how disappointed people are at him.

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During my stay in Sucre, I hardly had the time to really see the city because there was not much time between translationg medical presentations and the translating subtitle class. Once I started with the subtitle class, I did nothing else but work on it for 10h a day.

Right before this class, I went to the Salar of Uyuni, the only place in Bolivia that I really had to see. And it did not dissapoint me at all. It really is a magical place. Mostly because we saw it after the rain when the sky reflects on the salar. Just magical.

We spent 3 days in a jeep with 2 Brazilians and a Chinese. After the salar we saw the desert  and Eduardo Avaroa park with the red lagoon, the green lagoon.

We were at 4,900 meters, the highest I have ever been. We slept at 4,300 meters, the highest I have ever slept, and let me tell you. There is no sleeping at that altitude. You feel like a 95 year old catching her last breath. It is even scary.

Right after the Salar we went to Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world and there again, you even feel anxiety because breathing is so hard. I always had sinusitis problems, but this is another level.

La Paz is a crazy city. I love it and I have no idea why. The altitude sickness in La Paz killed me but I was able to survive thank to the pills.  La Paz is difficult to describe. It is alive, it is all movement and craziness.

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After La Paz, I took a bioconstruction class in an ashram close to Apolo. The 12 hour ride on the bus was the hardest in my life. The bus drivers in Bolivia do not let you use the bathroom neither live the bus for 6h. I was having my period and I am not going to describe the details but I ended up changing my clothes underneath a bridge when we arrived at 4am. I will always remember this crazy ride going over waterfalls and cliffs.

The course was amazing but the mosquitoes were just too much. I also got sick twice during that week. But it was totally worth it.  We worked on a green roof, we built a wall with bamboo and another one made if adobe and the final layer with horse poop. Yes!!! And you need to touch it for hours. But if it is dry, it does not stink. We learned about different natural materials and measurement. The teacher was just amazing.

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The end of the trip was pure pleasure in the ruins of Tiwanaku and Lake Titikaka, visiting the island of the moon and the island of the sun where the first Inka people were born.

Tiwanaku is an old pre Inka culture that taught a lot to the Inkas. Their sun temple has lots of secrets. For example, the rock in the middle changes the north-south direction when you put a compass next to it. There is a ¨vocinera¨ rock which through you can talk quietly and they would hear you from far away clearly.

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Lake Titikaka is the highest lake where people live. The sun island is quiet, relaxing and full of ruins. However since the people in the north of the island and the ones in the center have their disagreements, we were not allowed to go to the north because they would burn your boat. Extreme!!!

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Reflexiones tras 1 año de viaje

Ha pasado 1 año desde que empecé este viaje y mirando hacia atrás creo que casi nada ha sido como yo lo planeé. Eso puede ser bueno o malo. Lo que es seguro es que demuestra que la vida no se puede planear, que hay que vivirla y a veces dejarte llevar por ella. Aunque sentirte como un barco a la deriva no es fácil.

Comenzando con el hecho de que en mis planes este viaje iba a durar un año y que todavía sigo por estas latitudes, hasta el hecho de que he viajado a Bolivia, Perú y Ecuador, que ni siquiera estaban en la lista, casi todo ha tomado otro rumbo.

Ahora siento que es momento de tomar un poco las riendas y de re dirigir el viaje por si acaso no dura para siempre. Yo tenía probablemente demasiados objetivos en mente y por ese motivo, algunos meses parecen más meses de trabajo intensivo y no tanto un viaje. No ha sido un viaje fácil, pero ese nunca fue el objetivo. Ha sido un viaje intenso y lleno de experiencias que no esperaba. Ahora siento la necesidad de permanecer más tiempo en un lugar, de dejar de moverme tan rápido, de aprender algo en serio y no un millón de cosas pequeñas o de aprenderlas muy superficialmente. De hacer un voluntariado más serio, más profundo y que me llene más y que aporte más a otros.

Es duro pensar que si me hubiese organizado mejor desde el comienzo,  podría haber hecho un curso serio de bioconstruccción o agricultura y sentir que por lo menos he cumplido un objetivo con seriedad. Pero arrepentirse no lleva a buen puerto y en realidad no es que me arrepienta tampoco. Tengo un millón de buenos recuerdos y otros no tan buenos que me preparan para el futuro.

Hay muchas personas que recuerdo con mucho cariño como mis amigas Vânia, Yani, Cami, Adelyn, Pi, Mercedes, Lu…personas que he conocido viajando y que admiro. Muchos momentos buenos en la Chácara del Sol Nascente,  la granja Turning Earth, el templo Eco Truly, el Janajpacha, y en TECHO. He hecho muchas cosas por primera vez como enterrar un delfín, construir una vaya, hacer trabajo de oficina para una ONG, ordeñar una cabra, dormir con arañas venenosas, hacer un helado solo con banana, hacer Capoeira, hacer barro con los pies, pasarme 3 meses con diarrea, tener el mal de altura, estudiar Quechua, hablar hasta el amanecer, construir una pérgola, hacer pulseras, cuidar de gallinas y caballos…

Creo que estas experiencias me han servido para ser más flexible, menos cuadriculada, para saber un poquito más de todo, para no juzgar tanto a las personas, para saber cambiar de rumbo cuando hace falta, para vencer mis miedos, inseguridades e timideces, para conocer un poco Latinamérica, para aprender a decir NO, para conocer mis límites y no sentirme tan culpable por no cumplir las expectativas de otros… y probablemente para otras cosas de las que ni me doy cuenta.

Estoy agradecida a mí misma por hacer sido capaz de vencer los miedos de dejar una vida perfecta con un trabajo perfecto y estable y de dar el salto sin saber muy bien hacia dónde. También a mi familia por comprender que yo necesito algo diferente en la vida a una persona tradicional y a las personas que he encontrado y me han ayudado a ver otros puntos de vista y me han enseñado tantas cosas. A mis amigos de Boise, Euskadi y otros lugares por seguir en contacto a pesar de no vernos en tanto tiempo y de ni siquiera comunicarnos tanto.

La vida es lo que tú hagas de ella, es cómo la mires y la interpretes. Es un regalo increíble que no deberíamos tomar por sentado, sino agradecerlo y aprovechar cada minuto porque el pasado nunca vuelve. El futuro no lo conocemos y el presente es en donde deberíamos vivir. Tú construyes tu propia vida y tú tienes el poder de decidir cómo quieres vivirla.

Espero seguir aprendiendo y nunca dejar de sorprenderme y de agradecer por todo lo que me toque vivir, lo bueno y lo no tan bueno.

 

 

 

Bittersweet

Just like life, there are sweet and sour moments when you travel. Sometimes all the stars seem to get together and light up your life and some other times you wonder: what the heck am I doing here?

Traveling is like living with steroids; everything happens much faster, concentrated and you do not have much time to rect.  Situations that you would never encounter in your home country, now you need to face. For good and for bad.

I personally love change and challegences. But, let’s be realistic. There are times when you need some stability and times when you do not need to prove yourself anymore. When you are tired and you just want to let the water take you. It gets exhausting making so many decisions, planning ahead, organizing. You just want to curl up, stop the time and breath deeply.

Sometimes you are at the mercy of the weather, other times at the mercy of a friend or someone who you just met. You have not much control on the situation and you need to either deal with it or stand up and turn around. It is hard to make last minute decisions but even more disappoint others. Every decision affects others in one way or another. You love a place and you would like to stay longer but you already have committed to visit a friend or volunteer with an agency and like it or not, flow with the wind is not an option.

Balance is tricky, the scale is never in the middle. It is the fight between right and wrong. Between what you would like and what you must do. Between you and others.

There are so many interesting possibilities but they are so interconnected that you can not have them all. Every choice implies a yes to an option and a no to another one. We can not have it all like selfish babies, and we need to be ok with it. Pay the price for what we choose to leave aside and for the choices that did not turned out well.

Too many expectations are not good. None and nothing will fulfill you if your expectations are too high. However, not expecting is a difficult art to master. Emptying yourself from needs and feelings is “supossuly” a synonyme of the maximum happiness but we are not all spiritual monks who devote their lives to that only goal. In the meantime, we, regular humans, need to feel the stab when our dreams or expectations disappear in front of our eyes.

The feeling of not having roots is usually exciting and liberating but other times, you feel that you are not building anything: no relationships, no dreams, no projects.

Where are you heading to? Is there any goal?  Any direction? Sometime you just feel like a boat in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight.

Later the waves calm down and somehow a little star guides you, you still do not know where to but you follow it.

 

 

 

Volunteering in Brazil

 

I do not know if this happens to many people but to me tourism got old. I do not feel that you really learn much, it is very expensive, you just run from one place to another one and you end up meeting just other travelers which means that you do not immerse yourself in the culture. I rather live in another country but that is not very easy when it comes to legal Jobs and visas.

That is why I like volunteering abroad. You get to know the people, practice the language so much more and learn new skills while you contribute to a good cause.  Traveling is also focus on yourself while the focus of volunteering is the others.

An easy and good way to volunteer while you travel is www.workaway.info .

Through this webpage you can fine farm work, language Exchange, ecovillage construction, hostel work and several other random volunteer opportunities for short term. Many of the people that ask for volunteers in this page are people who are changing their lives, they have a dream and they need some arms to reach it. The volunteering period is usually around 2-4 weeks. Even though it varies from Project to Project, the average work is 5h a day 5 days a week and in Exchange you get a bed and food. The food is usually cooked by the volunteers and many of these places and vegetarians and the food is simple.

Another good webpage is www.woof.com which offers volunteers opportunities in organic farms. The difference is that you need to pay for the site for each country that you visit while with workaway you can research any country. Many of the woof farms are also in workaway. By the way, the http://www.woof.com site in Brazil is like from two centuries ago.

With workaway I have volunteered in 2 farms which I highly recommend: Turning Earth in Oregon, USA and Chacara do Sol Nascente in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

These pictures are from Chacara do Sol Nascente:

 

I also got to know another NGO which is just in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The name is http://www.mulheresemconstrução.com/ , which means, women in construction. It teaches women who are in vulnerable position everything they need to be hired as a construction worker in 8 Saturdays (2 months). It is very cool how they are organized. I took a full day painting class for $70. With that money, they will offer the same class to 10 women who cannot afford it. There is a big need for workers in construction and there are hardly any women. There are also women architects who are interested in hiring teams of women to do construction. Yes, while women have less physical strength, in general, they are also more detail oriented. I hope I will be in Brazil to take their 8 week class.

Another NGO that I worked with was http://www.teto.org/. This NGO blew me away from the beginning. I just learned about them online and I got such a really good feeling about them that I spent $200 to volunteer with them for a weekend and it was worth every penny.  They work in the states of Rio, Sao Paulo and Paraná. So, it took a 15h bus ride to build a house with them.

Their goal is to end poverty and their way of doing this is by building houses for people who live in favelas (the poor areas of the cities where people build their own house). The family that you build the house for helps building the house too. That is a very interesting part, you get to know them. During the year, weekly, they go to the favelas and they meet with the people living there and they work on projects that the community feels that they are necessary. They raise funds and later they build houses for the families that need it the most. An interesting part is that the families destroy their own houses so a new tinny house (15m2 or 18m2) can be built in one weekend in the same piece of land. During the weekend the volunteers sleep in a school and the community cooks lunch for them. In our case, there were not showers so we were not able to shower all weekend. It rained nonstop and the place was extremely muddy. We worked 12h a day from 6am to 6pm more or less. It was extremely hard, you had to use all your strength all the time but it was very rewarding. The community was very thankful and it was beautiful to see that another family will have a better place to live.

The NGO has a very good philosophy, focus, and lots of energy. They really work with the community to fight social injustice. They are very humble, they are there for the good reasons, they do not judge the people living in the favelas and they do not feel that they are the life savers that you see in many NGOs. They really do something practical, necessary and they go to the point of the problem and solve it. They do many other actions to end poverty, this is a very well rounded NGO. They started in Chile and they exist in all South America, Caribe and Miami under the name of www.TECHO.org

This is really the ONG that I was looking for and I am going to see how to be able to volunteer with them even though I am traveling. I will volunteer for sure again when I am in Bolivia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My art-Muñecos más ecológicos-Sin plástico

Se pueden hacer muchos juguetes de niños de fieltro que pueden lavarse sin necesidad de usar plástico. Puedes hacerlos cosiéndolos a mano. Estos juguetes pueden ser personalizados como este monstruo que hice para mi sobrino y tiene su nombre.

También es importante que sean creativos. No tienen por qué ser simétricos, no tienen que ser similares a los humanos o a los animales. Los niños pueden diseñarlos como a ellos les gusten y con un dibujo o una explicación se puede crear un muñeco pequeñito en 45 minutos. Solo necesitas hilos de colores, agujas, tijeras, bolígrafo o algo que marque en la tela, regla o metro, papel para los diseños, relleno que pueda lavarse,  fieltro y un poco de imaginación. También puedes colocar dentro del muñeco todos los trozos de tela que te sobren y así no crear absolutamente nada de basura.

From a normal trip to the perfect experience abroad

I have been thinking hard about: How can I afford to travel for a longer time?

A. Flights: When you are on a traditional vacation, you may spend a lot of money in a very short period of time. The flight is usually the biggest expense and you end up spending all your savings in just  one or two weeks. That is too much of an investment. I believe that you get a much better experience if you stay in the same place for a longer time so your flight money is well invested. If you just have few days, you can always do a road trip or a cheap trip so  a place nearby. Now, do not full yourself and end up spending half of the money that you needed for your dream trip in a trip that really does not let you experience what you wanted. You may need to save up for a longer time or take saving more seriously. Also, when you try to squish to many places to visit in one week or two, you end up wasting a lot of time at the airport and finding hotels. You are never there for the interesting cultural event because you are somewhere else already.

B. Lodging: Hotels are another big expense, which, at least for me, they mean nothing. I just want a place to sleep, I do not care how it is. On top of that, they isolate you. It is really hard to meet local people if you stay at hotels. www.CouchSurfing.com is a much better experience. The person that hosts you can tell you all about the best places, how life really is in that place, and most of the time, you end up meeting someone very interesting. I understand that sleeping at someone´s couch is not the ideal for everybody. You may want to pay some money and look for an AirBNBwww.airbnb.com experience, where you still may get some good advice and conversation from the owner. In same places, you can also stay with a family like a bed and breakfast. In some countries like England that is very expensive but in other countries you can save and make sure that your money goes to the local families and not to the International Hotels. 

C. Food: This is the other big expense if you keep going to restaurants. Again, in a restaurant you may not be able to interact with anybody but if you eat at an informal bar, coffee place or at the street, you will not find the menu in English and you will have to practice your new language and hopefully have a better chance of talking to the owner. Some thing here, I rather give my money to the street guy or the guy that has a small bar than to a fancy restaurant where just the rich go. 

D. Presents: Is it really written somewhere that you have to waste the precious time of your vacation from store to store trying to buy presents for every single member of your family? If it feels like a chorus and you are going to end up buying something meaningless just to fell that you completed your obligation, do not do it. You can buy all your presents from a local tribe or a local store in the same place and help this tribe make a living so they do not have to move to the city. This way, they can keep their culture, traditions and language.

E. Pictures: We all want to have pictures of beautiful cities and sceneries but do we really enjoy the place or are we just thinking about how to take the best picture and we just even look at that amazing place through the lens. Well, I am sure that you can not remember anyplace that you just see that way. I have many pictures of places that I do not even remember being there because I was going so fast to see an entire city in just one or two days. Well, cities do not move, maybe it is better to leave some places for the next trip and see that place in a different season, not during a weekend…

F. The real question: My real concern is: From the times that I have done regular tourism, How much have I learned? How often have I been out of my comfort zone? How many people from that area have I met? How often have I though, “Now I understand why they do this or think that” ? How much of their language have your learned?

In my experience, this just happens when you go off the path and you allow yourself to spend more time in each place. Do you really need to see every single church? Every single building? How many of them are they going to wow you? How many are you going to remember?  When you cross the same place few times and when you start running into the same people, then people will start to approach you and you will notice that flier for an amazing event for the following week.

G. Traveling with a purpose: I love to volunteer and you learn so much more about the people that you work with, the culture and the language. When you volunteer, you are gaining knowledge, skills, you contribute to a cause, you interact with the locals and you are not an outsider that is passing by. You travel with a goal, you will have many more connections in the country and you will be useful to someone else. Well, you do need to think well about your skills and where you could be useful and for how long they rather have you. For short periods of time you can go to www.workawayinfo.com and for 6 months or longer you can visit: Go Abroad www.goabroad.com. There are many several paces for volunteering. I would be suspicious of the ones that charge you a big amount of money. If they are organize, you should be useful to day from the first minute and they should feed you and give you a place to stay even though you need to bring your own hammock or tent and be one of the people cooking the food. If you are in the medical field, you can make a huge difference in just few weeks. You can provide medical assistance to people that had none.

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Veggie sushi at the Oasis project in Paraty, Brazil.

Roof at Oasis

Making the roof of a dry bathroom at the Oasis project in Paraty, Brazil.

Making Cement

Making concrete at Arawak Hostel, Iranbuda, close to Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil.

E. Your luggage: You could use your luggage in a smart way and instead of filling it up with tons of clothing, you could get in touch with a NGO that someone that you know has connections with and see if there is any school material or something that they may need that you can bring with you. Many times technology, clothes, school material… may be cheaper where you are from. Do not bring candy for kids because they may not have access to a dentist and you may be creating more of a problem. A notebook and a pencil can take them a way longer way.

F. Language classes: You may be traveling to take language classes. In that case, try to stay with a family so you can learn the language and the culture much quicker. You can get in touch with them before you travel and ask them about volunteering opportunities or things that you could bring with you.