Resolute

January 7, 2012 at 3:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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With the New Year, comes many changes. And although I don’t think I have ever “officially” made New Years resolutions, I figure there is a first for everything.  So, here it goes: 

  • Make the South Bay my home.  So I live here. I work here. I am very familiar with the fast food here but I am not really connected to the area.  This goes beyond just meeting more people here, but to discovering what Norcal is like outside of the @FiveStarsCard office walls
  • Become really good at my job.  I’m not just talking about job performance, but about becoming a loyalty professional.
  • Continually learn.  This past year (2011) I learned a number of things, but the one I slacked off on was learning guitar.  I’m going to make that happen.
  • Travel. So, maybe I can’t pick up and leave the country for months at a time, but what is stopping me from rediscovering the US and visiting friends? Let me know if you think I should come out for a weekend in 2012!
  • Do more stuff for me. SURF. Blog. Photograph. Cook. Eat. Take Adventures. Find the stuff that makes me happy and do it.  

And there you go! What are you resolutions?

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Life Update

March 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Kiva, Travel | Leave a comment
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Since I last wrote, I have gone from Cusco, Peru to Lima. Lima to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires on a 4000 mile roadtrip through Patatgonia to Córdoba. From Córdoba to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires to Portland. Portland to L.A.

So here´s itinerary: We traveled from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca and then straight onto Peninsula Valdéz.  From Valdéz through Gaiman (for some Welsh tea!) to Parque Nacional Los Alceres.  North through El Bolson and Bariloche to the Ruta de los Siete Lagos. Launching off from San Martin de los Andes to Parque Nacional Lanín for a Volcano hike and sleeping under the stars.  North to Chos Malal for hot springs and then onto Córdoba (21 hour drive). From Córdoba to Buenos Aires to return the car.

And… the highlights of the roadtrip: sleeping in hammocks for two weeks straight, driving all night, seeing more stars than I ever have before, waking up to the sunrise, petting armadillos, trying to catch trout, swimming in crystal clear rivers and lakes, cooking over open fires, off-roading, getting off the beaten track and seeing Argentina from behind the wheel. And for me personally, learning to drive stick.

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A truly amazing experience. As my experience as a Kiva fellow comes to a close, I am starting the process of searching for a job in Los Angeles.  I will try to blog with any major changes, but in the meantime, I encourage you to follow my buddy, Devin Dvorak and his experience with Fulbright and microfinance in Argentina at http://dgdvorak.wordpress.com/

My Last Peruvian Post

February 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | 4 Comments
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This is a hybrid post. Half consists of pieces taken out of my last Kiva Fellows blog. And the other half from my final musings and future plans (I won´t be blogging for at least a month). Feel free to cry now.

Click above to read the full post “Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come.  Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.

My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru.  I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates…

On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail.  On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.

And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field… My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer.  I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life.  Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.”

As far as the future, I have a road trip through Patagonia planned with Devin Dvorak (starting on Feb 14th!). Coming back to the states, I’m heading up to Portland for a week, and after trying to find a job in Los Angeles.

My experiences with Kiva in Central and South America have truly been an adventure, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanks for all your prayers, support, and for reading my blog! I promise to blog when I’m back in the states about my exploits!

The Cusco Restaurant Guide

February 6, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru | Leave a comment
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The most common questions I get from travelers arriving in Cusco involve where to go for coffee or a drink or a bit to eat.  Although I would not claim to know all or even most of the restaurants in Cusco, I definitely have some favorites! (look at my travel map for restaurant locations)

For Breakfast or Snack:

The Meeting Place: Delicious Waffles, Quality Bacon, Juices, Pastries and the best coffee in town.  All profits go to local orphanages and ministry projects. Can life get any better? I submit that it can not (Brian Regan) On the San Blas Plaza.

El Buen Pastor: Decent coffee, but absolutely spectacular pastries. I´m talking chocolate croissants, peach and apple filled baked goods fresh out of the oven, and delicious donuts. On Cuesta San Blas.

La Bondiet: My favorite coffee shop in town.  Mouthwatering cakes, cones filled with dulce de leche, small brownies, great smoothies, classy atmosphere, and great coffee! Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Plateros and on the small plaza next to the Plaza de Armas.

Lunch:

Be brave and head to the markets. I personally find the San Pedro market a little dirty, but recommend heading to Garcilaso and the Wanchaq market for a bite to eat (walk away from Garcilaso until you get to the food stalls in the building).  Ask for Sr. Jamie and try his Lomo Saltado or Arroz a la Cubana (S./7 and S./3) and try a juice from one of the ladies opposite his stall!

Jack´s: alternatively, try the lonely guide / rough guide favorite at the bottom of Cuesta San Blas for big and late breakfasts (El grande), gourment sandwhiches, and soups like Tuscan vegetable or pumpkin that make your mouth water (my Mom went 3 times in 9 days! That says something for the quality of their food).

Olas Bravas: Ceviche is excusively a lunch food, and Olas Bravas on Mariscal Gamara near the start of Av. La Cultura does it well. Try the Jalea, the Lomo Saltado con Tacu Tacu, and the Ceviche Mixto (warning, huge portions).

Dinner:

I think I could eat at a different restaurant every night in Cusco and still have thousands to try.  Some of my highlights have been fusion cuisines near the town center.

Cicciolina: Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Truinfo (second floor).  Absolutely incredible tapas, wine list, and the best Pisco sour that I have had in Cusco.  (U.S. prices and reservations suggested in high season).

Two Nations: An Australian / Peruvian fusion restaurant a few blocks off the plaza that has a giant burger, good soups, and solid Peruvian cuisine.  Walls decorated by happy diners.

Los Perros: Two blocks off the plaza. And makes this list because it is the home of one of the most delicious burgers I have had (and one of the largest) with great potato skins, and other sides.

Some shout outs: Paddy´s (corner on the plaza, good quesadillas and wings), Real McCoy (for some real British cuisine on Plateros), and Numa Raysi (Triunfo for some real good, real authentic Peruvian cuisine!)

In Transit

January 24, 2011 at 10:13 am | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Mountains, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Sometimes it feels like my life is in transit. I wonder in those moments if life is a sum of the places you are waiting to go, or if the key to life is enjoying the journey and the mundane, endless hours in the terminals of… wherever.

And as it turns out… It is. If you don’t enjoy the process of getting there, you will miss out on those perfect sunsets, the people you met along the way, and when you get to your destination, you will only be thinking about how much you hated getting there.

All of these thoughts are summed up in my latest trip down south to do a borrower verification with our field partner, Manuela Ramos.  It started out last weekend when I took a trip to Arequipa to see American movies (yes they have a theater), to see Mt. Misti rising up from the town, and to read in the shade of every park I could find.  From there, I took another bus to Puno passing the high mountains and flamingos and deserts and lakes.

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In the first two days in Puno, I had traveled all over Juliaca and beyond, and down to the Bolivian border near Yunguyo.  Which added up to waking up before sunrise, and getting back hours after the sunset over Lake Titicaca.  Unfortunately, one very elusive borrower had taken off to Moquegua (another part of Peru). And if I couldn’t find her, I had to visit another 10 new borrowers.  With parents arriving on Monday, I choose (reluctantly and not enjoying the journey) the 7 hour trip for a 15 minute interview.

I was back in the morning, and headed out to the spectacular islands on Lake Titicaca. First to the famous floating islands Los Uros which I visited three years before, and then to spend a night on Amantani and a morning on Taquile.  I ended my stay with a cannonball in the freezing cold lake (did I mention that the lake is 3810m high??).

70 plus hours on buses, trucks, vans, boats. Exhausted. But happy. Remembering that traveling, meeting people, the journey, is why I did this in the first place.

Starting the New Year with a Bang

January 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Mountains, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Well, my New Year´s Resolution to one-up 2010 has been going well so far.  I spent the second doing downhill mountain biking in Picol, near San Jeronimo, Cusco.  We took a cab 800m up to the mountain and flew down steep trails on bikes.  My ride was going fantasically until my brake started sticking… The result being this:

This past weekend, I settled on trying to sneak into Sacsayhuaman and White Water Rafting.  Not to bad eh? I spent Saturday morning walking around the small villages surrounding Sacsayhuaman and climbing rocks until I got into the main section of these spectacular ruins.

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Then yesterday, we headed up to Huambutio to go white water rafting on a III+ river with a coworker´s husband.  After two hours on the river / rapids, I was exhausted from paddling, but more excited to do it again on a IV river the next time!

2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.

A Christmas Story (Cusco Traditions)

December 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | 1 Comment
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What do you do when you are abroad for the Holidays? Here´s what I did….

Making Kids Smile.  On both the 23rd and the 24th, I contributed  (first with my coworkers and then with my church) to buying small presents, candies, cookies, juices and then handing them out on Bélen Pampa and in San Blas.  The idea is that whole families from surrounding villages always to Cusco over Christmas to sell pine branches, moss, and other greenery to make the Nativity sets.  They sleep on the street or plaza with their kids in the freezing cold and rain.  Kids with mild frostbite and mud on their cheeks.

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I remember Christmas when I was 5 years old. And thought that maybe, somehow, if I could give these kids a little of the joy that I have had over the holidays, it could make theirs a little brighter.  But, in the end, you never know.  Countless kids left without presents, making the two days of handing out presents seem like a drop in the bucket.

Arariwa Christmas Party. The 23rd, all the workers from all branches of Arariwa got together for a night of food, drink, and a lot of dancing.  The party was held over at Arariwa Promoción, and within the first ten minutes, I realization that I was out of my league as far as the dancing was concerned.  Men would line up to dance with the women and begin flailing their arms and rapidly stomping their feet.  It was a mix between off-beat salsa and a traditional campensino dance.  All in all, a fun night!

Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, I didn´t bring my camera to Christmas Eve or Day, but hopefully some friends will post pictures on Facebook soon! Christmas Eve is characterized by waiting up till midnight here in Peru, to 1) put baby Jesus in the Nativity 2) to pray and toast minature glasses of champagne 3) to light off fireworks from the roof 4) to eat a small meal, have hot chocolate and paneton (pretty sure it is more directly translated fruitcake).  I got to join a coworker, Andy, and her family that night.

Christmas. I spent the morning with some American missionaires eating brunch and watching Elf, and then the afternoon (after it rained) with Andy´s family eating turkey and drinking wine until the early evening where I crashed in my house for a good 12 hour Christmas sleep.

The Cusco Christmas Market

Tradition. Good Catholics bring baby Jesus to mass on the 26th and place him on the altar for the entire service.  And in Cusco, you visit at least seven Nativity scenes in churches across the city tossing coins in the wishing wells in each of the Nativities for good luck in the new year. 5 down (Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, San Francisco, La Merced, and Santo Domingo), 2 to go!

Wait, What do you do again???

December 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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New Kiva Fellows blog post

Cuzco Ruins Travel Guide

December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Mountains, Peru, Travel | 1 Comment
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This is the best information you are going to get on the ruins around Cuzco.  Which ones you can get in for free, which ones are the best.  Here, I´m evaluating Tipón, Pikillacta, Moray, Chinchero, and Q´enqo.

So, this past week Marc Capule came to visit.  Being a shoestring traveler like myself with a strong adversion to paying the gringo tax that Cuzco imposes, we decided to try to get into as many ruins as we could for free.  To prove my point, we walked into a bookstore to find him a notebook, and when the lady behind the counter said 80; he assumed it was 80 soles ($40) and said, “Ok, I don´t need it that badly” and started to leave. Soon everything got sorted out (the notebook was 80 cents), and we started a week of awesome food (will be in a following post) and touring around Cuzco.

 

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Tipón is my favorite ruin so far.  To get there, take a cab to the Urcos taxi stop on Av. La Cultura in front of the Universidad.  Get off at Tipón.  Cabs cost S./10 a person and another S./10 to get in.  Alternatively, walk down the road 4 km.  When you get to the base of the hill, don´t go up the pedestrian steps, but walk up the road past the giant Tipón sign.  About 20m up the road, there is a small path leading up the ancient Incan steps to the ruins (and bypassing the control).  Tipón is a beautiful series of terraces interspersed with canals.  You can walk up the Incan steps in the wall (generally rocks sticking out of the wall) to climb the terraces to the natural spring at the back of the ruins. Or alternatively, check out the view from the fortess that you passed coming up the Incan steps.

Pikillacta. Similarly to get here, you take the taxi from the Urcos stop, and get off at Pikillacta.  The only cool part of the ruin is the giant wall alongside the road and views of the lake. (see slideshow). Sneaking in to the main ruin is easy.  From the road, take “the high road” instead of walking down the path to control.  The path leads you past control directly to the ancient city.  Now, merely crumbling rock walls. Place this at the bottom of your list.

Moray. I thought (and had been told) this was one of the closest ruins in the Sacred Valley.  My verdict, go to Tipón first.  It´s better maintained, greener, and with the natural spring, more beautiful. To get here, take the bus to Urubamba from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off Moray.  Your options of getting to the ruin are limited (they are 14km away).  The cab runs S./15 each way.  Alternatively, you can do a bike ride to the ruins.  The circular terraces were used for crop rotation (each terrace differed by .5º C so they were experimenting with temperature differences) and the larger one as an amphitheater.  The cab will drop you off at the control, but a dirt path leading down to Urubamba suggests that you could sneak in from the valley.  There is a nice hike from Las Salineras to Urubamba (another S./15 to get there).

Chinchero. Second favorite ruin in this list. Take the bus/ convey/ taxi from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off at Chinchero.  From the big sign that talks about the ruins, walk up until you see the plaza on your left. Walk through the plaza, and take the street up that is closest to Urubamba (away from Cuzco).  Although there are three controls in the city, going up the left hand side (if you are facing the ruins) lets you avoid all three.  The ruins, the church, and the market are all worth checking out.

Finally, Q´enqo. These ruins are a short trip from Cuzco and a lovely afternoon hike.  Walk up through San Blas until you hit the road going to Sacsayhuaman.  On the road should be a small sign for rock climbing.  If you cross the small creek and follow the path up, you reach the Moon Temple (when you get there, make sure you go into the caves).  For Q´enqo climb the hills on the other side of the creek until you pass a massive Inca stone wall. You can reach Q´enqo from the backside by crossing the bridge.

Happy Travels! Cuzco Restaurant and the Rest of the Sacred Valley Ruins Soon!

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