Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NEW BLOG!

Hello! I've taken off the training wheels and have officially ditched Blogspot. With the help of a good friend who has incredible patience with troubleshooting html formatting and even more patience with my technological inabilities, I now have my own website!

You can now find my blog and latest adventures at:


Thanks for reading!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Frankenfoot

They say running is not a spectator sport. Well, that may be the case in the U.S., but in Latin America if you go for a jog the entire town stops to watch as though it's the oddest thing that's passed by in the last 10 years. (Mind you, the onlookers are completely normal in that they're walking a herd of goats or maybe a flock of piglets down the dusty road.) If you stop to do a quick ab routine in a park (or more likely a dirt field), you soon have 20 neighborhood children flocking around you as they suppress giggles and attempt a push up. Or they just throw rocks at you. Largely (with the exception of Buenos Aires and our fellow Santiago marathoners), people in Latin America don't run or exercise. And in some places, seeing 2 tall blonde runners in shorts may in fact be the strangest spectacle of the decade.

Throughout our journeys people frequently asked us: how do you train while traveling? The simple answer to that is you lace up your sneakers and go, same as always. But the longer answer is that running while traveling was partly about maintaining our sanity through physical activity, but also that some of our best and most interesting moments have come from our travel runs. We used our runs to plan our next destination, our monthly schedule, our futures. We ran to shake out 24 hour bus rides and to discuss the existential meaning of life.

But while these runs were necessary, they were not without struggles at times - mostly in finding a decent place to go, preferably a dirt path and somewhere we wouldn't get ogled at constantly. Amanda and I have run through the crowded streets of Santiago and Buenos Aires, dodging human traffic and praying that we wouldn't get hit by the insane drivers that ignore both stoplights and lanes. We spent several weeks running around crab farms through frustrating slimy mud that stuck to our shoes giving us 3" platforms. We ran in Cuzco at 11,200ft, and we've run at sea level on the beach. And we've dodged more stray dogs than I care to count. In short, the places we logged our weekly mileage varied as much as my career ideas do (which we all know changes hourly). The only thing that was consistent throughout our Latin American running endeavors, was the fact that no matter where we were, we were - at the very least - a spectacle.

So after running almost every day through small towns, big cities, and along highways of South America, after months of being stared at like we were a traveling circus act, I must admit that I was excited to return to North America where donning spandex and a sports bra and hitting the pavement for miles is not only normal, but ignored. I made it out for 6 runs once I got home to Albuquerque. Just enough to get used to the altitude and have 6 miles feel easy again. It took 2 years, 4 South American countries, and 5 months of running side-by-side mi hermana Amanda to get over my post-college frustrations with running. I was finally enjoying it again (even in the States!); I began calling myself a "runner."

And then one day I returned home with a sharp pain in my foot. An ache that killed while running, hurt while walking, and was annoyed by my biking an hour downtown to work every day. Now the doctor's verdict is in: stress fracture.

I am back in the States, a place where I can once again wear shorts and a tank top without feeling uncomfortable, and I am sporting a boot. Really universe, how is this fair?

Apparently it not only takes leaving the country but also getting injured to realize how much you truly do like something...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Already Planning the Next

I don't know if I've stressed yet how nice it is to be back in the States. Sleeping in my own bed is marvelous. Using a plush cotton towel after a hot shower (with conditioner) is even better. Eating peanut butter and Nutella by the spoonful is a bit of the divine. And working as a barista serving real espresso (imported from our southern neighbors) is constant heaven in a mug.

But somehow, despite what I'll call in true cliche fashion - these "modern comforts," after just 2 weeks of being home, I am already antsy to get back south. What is it about a bucket bath that makes you feel more alive than ever? Why do I crave dirty feet and waking up to roosters? I don't have answers to these questions, and perhaps that is why I am somehow feeling more overwhelmed than ever - because logically, a life without plush amenities simply shouldn't be so appealing...

"Yet all these things had no effect on me, or at least not enough to resist the strong inclination I had to go abroad again, which hung about me like a chronic distemper."
~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Several months ago when I was in Chile, I began to panic that my travels were coming to an end. In the back of my mind was the constant question: How do you sustain the travel high, how do you keep the buzz going? With this, I applied to work for nonprofit organization WorldTeach as a volunteer English teacher in Costa Rica. Several weeks ago I was accepted to the program, and beginning in January I will be living with a host family and teaching grades 1-6 at the town's local elementary school. (Still waiting for my location placement.)

And the true drum roll here...Amanda, mi hermana, will be in Costa Rica for the year as well, studying outside of San Jose as part of her graduate studies program. (The Universe speaks.) Thus, today marks mine and Amanda's 8 month travel anniversary for when we left the country with just one-way tickets to Panama. And to celebrate, I'm choosing to relish in the fact that in just about 6 months we will both be back to the Latin American Lifestyle that we have come to love.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Iguazu Falls in Live Video

video

A few weeks late and still doesn't capture the sheer power and awe of the falls but it's something...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Import Export

Why is fruit expensive in South America, home of the most fertile land in the world?

Because it all comes here, to your local supermarket, in the desert where nothing grows.
Without Latin America, we would have nothing.
And according to Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan historian and author, without Latin America we would also be nothing.


"Underdevelopment in Latin America is a consequence of development elsewhere, that we Latin Americans are poor because the ground we tread is rich, and that places privileged by nature have been cursed by history."
~Eduardo Galeano,
excerpt from Open Veins of Latin America: 5 Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent

The Spaniards first graced Latin America's region in 1492. From that point on, Europe had gold in their eyes and soon money in their pockets. The invaders saw a land rich in minerals: gold, silver, iron, copper, aluminum, bauxite, nickel, and manganese, (and later on, petroleum). But they also saw a land dripping with money from the abundance of produce that simply drips off the trees and oozes out of the lush landscape. And from that point on, Galeano claims, Latin America was not a land to be lived in or to be settled, but rather one to be dominated.

Galeano asks: why is North America so rich and South America so poor when they were both founded by the same culture? And he answers: because North America's soil is infertile, dry, nutrient poor. Europeans sailed to North America to make a carbon copy image of Europe. They came to live. South America's soil is rich, lush, and perfect. They came to Latin America to pillage, to take without giving back. For if you're not going to live somewhere, why is it necessary to take care of it?

I suppose this proves that selfishness over sustainability has been around for longer than we realize.

And now? "Most Latin American countries are identified in the world market with a single raw material or foodstuff." Guatemala: coffee. Argentina: meat. Ecuador: bananas.

But what's the harm of exporting if the countries have so much?

When in Guatemala, I never once drank a cup of coffee other than Nescafe Instant (imported from the States). And where are the rich, dark, delicious beans grown in the country's valleys surrounded by volcanos (the perfect climate for growing coffee trees)? In the coffee pots of North America. In Starbucks. Or in other words, exported. In Costa Rica, a country practically littered with bananas, one piece of the yellow fruit costs US$1. How does this make sense?

Potosi, Bolivia used to be the wealthiest city in South America. Now, it is a slum and little more. Haiti, once a rich and beautiful country is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Galeano describes Haiti in the 70's: "it has more foot-washers than shoeshiners: little boys who, for a penny, will wash the feet of customers lacking shoes to shine." Now decades later not much as changed; people build their homes of cardboard on the growing landfill.

Examples of cities that have fallen from riches to rags could fill a whole book. In fact Galeano did just that if you're interested in some (not so light) reading that will leave you scratching your head and hating the world. But to save you some time, in an attempt to summarize just one section of his dense pages to a few thoughts: although Europe has stopped it's colonizing voyages to Latin America to pillage the land and massacre the natives, has the violence and exploitation of Latin America actually stopped? He says no. While his pages drip with anger and pride for his continent, when you look closer, his arguments may not be that extreme. For today, instead of Spanish conquistadors, we're talking about U.S. government involvement. "U.S. capital is more tightly concentrated in Latin America than in the U.S. itself." While the U.S. has shifted some of its interest towards the Middle East these days, without Central and South America, the U.S. would crumble. And not just because we wouldn't have year round fruit. But because we are more dependent on all the countries south of the Mexican border than we will ever realize; a dependence that is largely hidden under layers of politics and tucked away out of sight. The U.S. relies on Latin America for reasons that take a great deal of searching to uncover; reasons I'm not claiming to fully understand.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Home in the Woods, Stateside

After a 12 hour plane flight, a 12 hour layover in Los Angeles, a 2 hour flight to hop over to New Mexico - not to mention after 7 and 1/2 months out of the country - I was hungry, exhausted, greasy and more than ready to fall face-first into my bed. But that wasn't to happen for at least a couple more days. Within 3 hours of dropping my backpack at home, I was packed up and loaded into the car to head north to go camping for the weekend. As I sat in the backseat practically unconscious, I thought only of how much I wanted to be clean and to be at my house.

But when you live a nomadic life and so do some of those closest to you, time is of the essence. My schedule in New Mexico overlapped only for 4 days with that of my beautiful cousin Emily, who is moving to Arizona for the summer and will return only once I have already packed up for the Deep South. Thus, we decided to spend those 4 days together in our favorite spot in the Southwest - El Vado Lake.


If you drive 3 hours due north from Albuquerque along dusty highway I-25 spotted with blooming cactus and steep walls of rock kissing the cloudless blue sky, you will reach Tierra Amarilla. Neighboring the tiny, rural village is man-made El Vado Lake. While the lake was originally created by building a dam to help retain water flowing from the Colorado River to later use for irrigation, man's touch cannot be seen anywhere else surrounding the glass-like water. You camp where you want. You sleep where it's flat enough. And you can water-ski until you sink under from pure exhaustion.

As soon as I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath of pine sap and mountain breeze, I felt like I was home. All the thoughts I had on the plane worrying about the future and about how to make fast money, all the tears I had fought back about leaving Latin America and saying goodbye to the places and people I had fallen in love with, all concerns and past memories seemed to slip away with the lake's tide. And I was left just in this one moment, in the here and now.

They say home is where the heart is. I agree, you can make a home anywhere as long as you find happiness there. But at the same time, I'm convinced that there are some places that are inexplicably home. Some places that no matter where you are in your life's journey, you are filled with pure bliss and serenity.

While I was less than eager to spend my immediate arrival back to the States camping, being dirty, and sleeping not in a bed but the ground, I can now not think of a better way to have returned to the U.S. of A. Away from cell phones, computers, news and media, advertising and consumerism. But instead with my family, our puppy, and natural New Mexico.

As much of my heart as I left in Latin America, some of it still remains this side of the Mexican border.