Saturday, September 1, 2012

The End (& The Beginning)

13 months, 2 weeks, and 1 day.  It is still hard to believe that I really did this. For as many times as I heard myself explaining this year to new people, border control officials, my potential employer, etc. it still almost sounds like someone else's life. Those of you who know me well know how big a leap this was for me.  I am the person who makes sure all the "i"s are dotted and "t"s are crossed. I have always known what will happen next, planned for it, and had a backup plan just in case. For the queen of logistics to take a year off... with a loose itinerary... and no definite plan at the end was a big huge deal for me.

And the greatest experience of my life.

It is now officially over. My year has come to an end, and while I never imagined myself saying this - I think it was time. I am tired. Physically... mentally... socially. (Is that even a real thing? Can you be socially tired?) I am ready to stop living out of a bag, to stop researching my next mode of transportation and accommodation, to stop telling my story over and over again.

And the cool thing is, the next step is an adventure in and of itself...

While I was in Argentina I interviewed for a job with a software company that was looking for native English speakers. The interview went great, they were willing to wait for me to return from the last part of my trip, to sponsor me for my residency, to provide health benefits, etc. so 10 days from now I board a plane to my new home - Salta. For these next 10 days I will be spending as much time as possible with these 2 adorable people...


...along with the rest of the Georgy crew.  As excited and comfortable as I am with the idea of moving to another country, the one thing that will be very difficult is to be away from my family. This past year has prepared us for it in a sense, but it's still a little different this time.  I'm sure there will be plenty of Sunday afternoon lunches by Skype.

I'm going to wrap up (this individual post, not the blog) with a few random observations floating around in my head:

- This blog has been read in 30 different countries.

- I have found 9 new flavors of Mentos while traveling. (The US is slacking in that department.)

- I only have 4 blank pages left in my passport

- I have been told repeatedly that I should write a book.  It is a possibility, we'll see...

- I apparently really like (and overuse) parentheses and ellipses...

I plan on continuing to blog for at least the beginning of my time in Argentina as I'm sure there will be some humorous moments while I completely start over in a country whose language I have not spoken for 3 months now.  I'm also planning on posting up random stories that I didn't have time to share while moving around so much (like my adventures traveling in, out, and through Israel with an Arabic middle name in my passport... fun, fun).


Stay tuned. More to come.

~N

Friday, August 24, 2012

Homestretch

The Dead Sea

After bidding Turkey farewell, I headed to the beautiful island of Cyprus and spent a fantastic 3 days there. Cyprus has gorgeous beach towns, quaint villages, majestic mountains... a little of everything. It was really great to learn about the island from a local, and to spend some quality time with one of the many friends that I've made this year.  It's definitely on my list of places to return.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time to leave and head to Israel.  Since touching down here, the days have gone by in an even faster blur.  Started in Tel Aviv where I got to see another friend from my Rio days.  From there, Jerusalem was the next stop which was really almost beyond words.  I will have to sit and write a post just about Israel when I have more time because it's been an experience, not just a trip.  From Jerusalem, the Dead Sea was next and that is easily one of the coolest places I've ever been in my life.  The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, and the salt content of the water is so high that you just float.  No treading water, no moving, you just float. It's probably the closest thing I'll ever experience to being weightless. Almost indescribable. From there, the next stop was a kibbutz (community settlement) in the north where my friend lives.  The north is completely different (green!) and it was such a great time visiting with her family and friends. We had an incredible meal together (it's up there with the best meals I've ever had) and just sat and talked and laughed. It was such a nice break from the rush that has been this portion of the trip.

The view from my balcony is now the Red Sea, and after one day here I'll be heading across the border to Jordan to visit Petra, and spend the last full night of my trip in a Bedouin tent camp in the Arabian desert. I have a feeling it's not quite "camping in the desert", but either way, I'm sure the night sky over the desert will be just as amazing as I'm imagining. Probably more.

It's the last weekend of my year(ish) of travel... so hard to believe.

~ N

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Day of Kindness



2 posts in a 2 days? Uncharacterisic, I know, but I have some time to kill and it's a neat story so why not.

I am currently in the south of Turkey, away from the touristy areas full of English speaking locals. I stayed at a hotel in Mersin last night, conveniently across from the bus station but very, very local.  Around 7:00 I went down to ask the receptionist (one of the few females I had seen since arriving) where I could have dinner nearby.  She asked me in broken English what I wanted to eat and I told her I loved Turkish food and would be happy with anything she recommended.  She said,  "Chicken kebap?" I said, "Sure", assuming she was sending me to the closest place with chicken kebap. She said "Please, please, sit", and proceeded to have my dinner brought in and served to me in the seating area of the hotel. Well that was nice. (And it was delicious.)

This morning as I checked out, I explained that I was going to Tasucu, the very small port area of Silifke, and that I was told by people in my last city that there were buses to Silifke all day and then I would take a dolmus (local bus) to Tasucu. Can I buy a ticket from any company? She looked across the street at the bus station, looked at me, and it was obvious she felt unable to explain something. Instead said "Come, come", and she and her 11ish year old son then went outside and basically stopped a minibus in the middle of the road. A man jumped out of the back and took my bag as she bade me farewell. Okay then...

After about 2 very hot hours, a lot of beeping and questions in Turkish that I couldn't respond to, the driver pulled a u-turn in a relatively busy part of town to get me to the right side of the street and pointed to a bus stop and said "Tasucu" while gesturing that I needed to wait. The butler-from-Mr. Deeds-ish man then jumped out of the back again and handed me my bag, also pointing and gesturing "wait here".

So...now I'm standing with a woman and two elderly men, waiting for the dolmus. What does a dolmus look like? Got me. Are there signs on them? Who knows. What I did notice was that there was a line of taxi-drivers nearby and not one had run up to me like bees to honey offering to take me wherever I need to go.  Nice change of pace...  Within minutes a minivan pulls up with the door open (or so I thought at the time, but in actuality, there was no door) and a small sign that says "Tasucu".  One of the taxi drivers who must have witnessed the earlier exchange of charades ran over to me nodding, pointing, and saying "Tasucu".  Well thank you, kind sir.

I knew that it was about 7 kilometers, and by this point I had figured out that I wasn't getting dropped off at a bus station, so my plan was to get myself to the center of "town" and find a taxi or, if I was lucky and my shore-side hotel was in walking distance, get pointed in the right direction.  However, this minivan was very, um, local. People would just shout to the driver and he would stop. It didn't look like he would be pulling up to town and telling us we've arrived at our destination. I estimated what was about 7 kilometers and sure enough, shops and cafes began to appear and the ocean was in near distance. I hopped off the next time the bus stopped and to my surprise there was a sign nearby with the name of the street I was looking for...(yay!)...aaaand an arrow pointing away from the water...(boo!)  Now I don't have the greatest sense of direction but even I knew that couldn't be right.  I decided to show the address to someone passing by and he pointed me towards the water (whew) and kind of, you know, to the right.  I ventured that way for a bit but it wasn't exactly a neat little grid and there were zero signs on the smaller streets so I stopped again and asked an older gentleman with his wife and what appeared to be grandkids.  He motioned for me to wait, disappeared into his shop, and reappeared with keys to his scooter. His little grandson hoisted my bag on the front and his wife helped me on.  Normally, I wouldn't have been too keen on this situation but seeing as his nearly 70 yr old wife and grandkids were in on it, I figured - why not? (Besides, how fast can a little old man drive a scooter on these tiny little streets? I could definitely jump off into a tuck and roll.) Three minutes later, we were in front of my hotel and he was refusing the few lira that I offered in thanks.  Wow. Once again - thank you, kind sir.

Tasucu is a beautiful little port city, very tranquil, and seemingly a vacation spot for locals. At this point I was starving so I found my way to a cafe for something to eat.  I'm going to reiterate here - 'vacation spot for locals'.  No English. No menus with pictures. Not even the Turkish looked familiar (regional maybe?) so I didn't recognize a thing.  The waiter recruited someone from a nearby stand who didn't speak much more English than him but was better at charades. He somehow understood that I was fine with whatever they brought me. When they walked away, the son and daughter of a family sitting at a table nearby came over and said (in English!) - "If you need help, we are right here, we are Turkish". Wow, so sweet.  Lunch came, it was chicken and veggies in a pita. Perfect. When I went to leave later, I thanked the young girl for her kindness and the family invited me to have tea with them.  Now, Turkey and Egypt may have some differences but I'm pretty sure it would be just as ungracious to turn down the offer of tea here as it would be in Egypt.  So I sat. With the mother, father, daughter, uncle and 2 cousins.  Yep, one big happy family...and me.  It turns out some of them are living in London and the 2 kids speak perfect English so they translated as we chatted and drank tea and enjoyed the sea breeze.

And that was all before 3:00pm.

~ N

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Feels Kind of Like Home...

Home meaning the US? "Home" meaning Argentina?  No, in this case, your nomad friend is referring to Egypt.

Turkey has been absolutely amazing, and several times a day I think (or say out loud, which I'm sure gets tiresome) - "this reminds me of _____".  I've heard in the past that scent is one of the senses most directly tied to memory, and these two weeks I have definitely been witness to that.  Really distinct memories, buried for years, have come to the surface in vivid detail just by the scent of a certain spice in the market, or corn roasting on the street. I have to say, this has been the part of the trip that I have missed my family the most, and as I travel through Cyprus, Israel and Jordan, I have a feeling that will just get stronger.

Spent 5 days in Istanbul exploring the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cisterns, and a plethora of other things that were constructed forever ago.  What an incredible city. You're just constantly in awe. Here are few shots from some of the sites...

Hagia Sofia




Royal Palace















Basilica Cistern






One of my favorite afternoons in Istanbul was spent on the Asia side (much less touristy, calmer) wandering around a market around lunchtime.  We found what would be the equivalent of a specialty deli with a case of all sorts of delicious looking salads and regional dishes. This was not a tourist spot, this is where the people that live in that area shop.  The owner spoke zero English so all our communicating consisted of pointing, smiling, and handing me forks of delicious things to taste.  After choosing grape leaves (of course), and 3 or 4 other things we sat at a table outside to enjoy our little picnic.  The owner came out with a distraught look on his face and through sign language I discerned that he was upset because he didn't realize we were going to eat there and he would have put everything on plates for us.  After assuring him we were just happy to be enjoying his delicious food, he disappeared across to another vendor and returned with fresh bread. Once we were completely stuffed, he reappeared again with dessert (Mom - it was kunefe, and it was delicious).  What a great last afternoon in Istanbul.

From there, the next stop was a little town called Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.  It is breathtaking here and even after 5 days the views still make me smile.  The first morning I was awoken very early by an odd noise outside the window.  It kept happening and when I finally moved the curtain and looked out, I caught my breath.  The normal view from the window is the really cool lunar-esque landscape (which in and of itself is beautiful), and at 6:00am every morning it is complimented by tons of hot air balloons. Indescribable.

The next morning, I was in one of them, and it has been one of the highlights of this entire year.  I mean, look at this....

















I've also hiked one of the valleys, toured a really incredible ancient underground city with 7 floors, visited a monastery set in a cave, spent the day getting pampered at a hamam, and enjoyed several amazing meals.  (Mom - every meal makes me miss you, not just because it reminds me of your cooking, but because I know how much you would love the food and desserts here. One day, we will visit together.)

Now I'm off to a city on the southern coast for a few days before taking a ferry to Cyprus.  I am really excited for the next part of the trip because aside from the fact that Cyprus and Israel are really incredible places, I get to visit great friends in both of them.  Diana & Oren - can't wait to see you guys!

~ N 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Montenegro ("Black Mountain")


Leaving Montenegro today after a fantastic week.  One of the best days of the entire trip so far was spent here - rafting in the Tara River Canyon, eating an absolutely fantastic home cooked meal made by owner's wife, visiting Durmitor National park, and stopping for coffee on the way back at the house of our guide...with his entire family. Wife, kids, parents, sister - none of whom spoke English, yet all so hospitable and kind.  His 6 year old son was so proud to say "Hello" and "Goodbye" to us in English and put his hand out to help me out of the van.  Quite the little gentleman! (Although I would have bowled his little body over had I actually tripped getting out.)

The Bay of Kotor was a great home base and the country is small enough that you can visit much of it by day trips.  The old city in Kotor is a beautiful "mini-Dubrovnik" and still unspoiled by heavy tourism as Dubrovnik now is.  It will be one day, so I'm glad I was able to experience now. 

Next up - Turkey!  Heading to Istanbul today and beyond excited.  A little concerned about the amount of food I am going to consume there but the next 3 countries are some of my absolute favorite cuisine so I'll just have to do a lot of walking and stairs.

(Speaking of food....Mom & Dad - El gibna bida hina zae bitar masr! Coul youm bekhoul eish shami bi gibna bida wi uta.  Kemen andhouim dora meshwe...bes mish zae betana.)

I'm cracking up right now. Georgys - let me know if mom and dad figure that out!

More soon!
~ N



p.s. There are Croatia and Montenegro pictures up on the left, but not too many since how much I can upload these days is limited by time and slow internet.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Last Stop



Arrived in Dubrovnik, the final stop in Croatia, on a sunny afternoon after enjoying the islands of Hvar and Korcula. Unfortunately, earlier that morning 2 cruise ships had also arrived for the day with their passengers flooding the streets of the Old Town like ants.  Sounds silly but it was a bit of  a shock to the system.  By early evening the cruisers and day-trippers finally cleared out and it was a perfect time to walk the walls of the city.  Many of you know I grew up an avid reader, so for me, the completely enclosed Old  Town is really best described as something out of an old fairy tale.  Unfortunately, the town inside those walls is now basically a picturesque shopping mall, but walking along the top you get a feel for the city that once was and you understand why it is a UNESCO site. It is truly beautiful.
















It’s been a total of 2 weeks here and it was a really great sampling of many different sides of Croatia - the capital, a national park, a few of the islands, the historic Old Town in Dubrovnik. I have to admit, the view of terracotta rooftops against the green of the mountains and the blue of water has almost become “normal”. (I know you’re thinking “spoiled brat”. Fair enough, that comment warrants that reaction.)  In any case, I’m excited to move on to the next country. Tomorrow morning I will be in Montenegro, in the Bay of Kotor, for the final part of the Adriatic Coast.  

During the downtime here, plans for Turkey, Cyprus and Israel have been coming together and that is truly exciting. Croatia and Montenegro have been the “vacation” portion of this trip, and I am looking forward to what is yet to come…

~ N

p.s. The boats (pardon me, yachts) we have seen here have been ridiculous.  Yesterday, the most expensive sail boat in the world was off the coast of Dubrovnik.  It’s been featured on Wealth On The Water and is valued at $120,000,000.  Ridiculous.




Thursday, July 19, 2012

And so it begins...


...the final 2 months of my year off.  I landed in Budapest, Hungary last Tuesday afternoon and spent a few days there adjusting to the time difference, learning a little of the history and taking in the stunning architecture. From the castle, to the opera house, to the parliament building, each piece was more impressive than the last.

After a 7 hour train ride, the next country on the list was Croatia and the first stop was Zagreb, the capital. Another city filled with beautiful architecture, which I have been told has striking similarities to that of Vienna.  One of the first things I noticed about Croatia, which has continued to hold true in each city, is how immensely friendly the people are.  Everyone is so kind and eager to help, with or without strong English.  Like the stocky, older, matter-of-fact waiter at a local restaurant who basically said - "You want Croatian food, yes? Meat, yes? Wine, yes? Ok. I bring you good food" and proceeded to do just that. Traditional dishes (and not the expensive items on the menu, as a jaded traveler may expect) that were exactly what you would have wanted to try but wouldn't have known to order. Taxi drivers offering sites that you shouldn't miss, strangers stopping to ask if you are lost when they see you wandering through a (beautiful) maze of cobblestone buildings trying to find a street, people pointing out that you've left your sunglasses on the table as you walk away.  What a different travel experience this country is.

From Zagreb, another 7 or 8 hour train ride and the coast of Croatia appears in the window...um, wow. Absolutely stunning.  Green mountains, terracotta colored rooftops, and the bluest water.  The train ends in Split, a slightly touristy town, but all is forgotten when I'm sitting along the gorgeous Adriatic coast thinking that the next week will be spent visiting those beautiful islands in the distance.  A quick visit to a national park, a day at the beach, and a 2 hour ferry ride later, I am on the island of Hvar in the picturesque little city of Stari Grad.

This is such a quaint, peaceful place with cobblestone streets, sailboats docked along the coastline, forests of pine trees that in some spots go right down to the rocks along the water, crystal clear sea, and the most perfect weather imaginable. It seriously feels like this place was manufactured by Disney. I need to expand on the weather part because it's almost surreal.  It is 85ish every day, 70ish every night, perfectly clear sky (haven't seen the hint of a cloud in 3 days), constant breeze, and little to no humidity. I realize that everyone back in NY/NJ is cursing me right now because of the massive heat wave, and I apologize, but I've never been in such a perfect climate so I had to make mention.

I am going to try to get pictures up after I publish this post, but it depends on the bandwidth here so if you see links up on the left side, I succeeded. If not, I'll get them up the first chance I get.

~ N



Monday, July 9, 2012

Stateside

After a relaxing stop in Costa Rica, I headed back to this beautiful rooftop view, which will always hold a special place in my heart.

I've spent a little over a month back in the States enjoying time with family and friends, working a little (what?!), taking care of taxes, etc. and...getting ready to move to Argentina.

Yes, move.  Three days before I left Salta, I landed a job... with a company that is going to wait for me to return from my last trip... and process my work residency for me... and offer me health benefits...etc. etc.  Um, okay!  It's a great opportunity to live abroad for a while in a city that I love.

It's exciting, scary, overwhelming, awesome, and oh, "in the meantime" I am about to head out for the final part of my trip through Hungary, Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel.  Never in my life could I imagine that I would one day say "I am moving to another country, but first I have to do this quick little 2 month tour through 6 other countries".

This year has been more than I could ever have envisioned when I first sat on the plane heading back from Cambodia 2 years ago trying to figure out how I could make it a reality. I'll save the overly sentimental and reflective stuff for the final post of my blog, for now.... I'm off to Budapest!

~ N

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vacation

Now that you all have that awful Go-Gos song in your head...

I decided to stop somewhere warm on my way north and Costa Rica was the winner. Hiking, fishing, ziplining, and just relaxing in the sun has been great and is serving as a mild distraction from the heartbreak of leaving Salta.  I am still dealing with separation anxiety, so that is as much as I will say about Argentina right now.

Back to Costa Rica... I am on the Pacific Coast in a town called Quepos which is just outside Manuel Antonio National Park. The very welcoming "locals" include monkeys, sloths, iguanas, frogs, crocodiles, caymans, turtles, etc. (and the people are fantastic too).

Along with the sunshine and wildlife, I've been thoroughly enjoying all the fresh seafood and tropical fruit.  The mangoes and pineapple are just incredible.  While I have been spoiled by great beef and red wine in Argentina, and fresh seafood and fruit in Costa Rica, nothing will be quite as delicious as Georgy family lunch next weekend. That little woman can cook.  Too bad that talent didn't quite trickle down to me.

Sorry for the short post but to make up for it, here are some fun photos....





















See you all soon!
~ N


  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This and That


Okay, so it's been almost a month.  Oops..sorry.  It feels like I am living here, not traveling, so I have been slacking a bit on posting. I have done a little bit of traveling outside of the city and all I can say is - wow, are the Andes incredible.  Some pictures from those trips are finally up on the left... yes, they are pretty much all landscape shots, but really beautiful ones!

I have a few weeks left until my (2nd) Argentine visa expires and honestly, I am thinking about just staying put until then.  I was planning on at least traveling through Bolivia on my way north but at this point I'm not even sure I want to do that. 1) I'm not really prepared for the cold there,  2) I have 2 months of pretty intense travel coming up and 3) I really, really like Salta.  I know that I will be back to South America (maybe sooner than later...who knows), and one of the things I have come to accept on this trip is that even when visiting a small corner of the world, you can't possibly see and do everything.  I've made peace with that and I'm not going to feel guilty, or try to jam it all in simply because I think I "have" to.  I am going to do what I feel I want to do, and enjoy it.  Quality over quantity.

Since it's been a while since my last "what's going on in Nancy's head" post, here are some things I've noticed, learned, pondered, or otherwise just caught my attention during my time here:

- Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Argentina. Ever. Cuidado!

- 9:00 really means 9:30... or 10:00...

- Craving a cookie? A soda? Have no fear, there will be a kiosko within one block of where you are standing at any given moment. Oftentimes, in both directions.

- Between the hours of 1:30 and 5:30, you will do nothing. Like it or not. Siesta here is even more widely practiced than Spain.

- In restaurants here, vegetables = salad. If you ask for a side of vegetables, you will most likely receive a confused, questioning look.  (One time the waiter said - "Ohhh, you want your salad to come out at the same time as your steak?" Sigh.)

- The Ford Falcon was quite the car in Argentina, and still is.  They are everywhere (so cool)!

- Contrary to what some may believe, dulce de leche is not caramel. (And while I do think it is tasty... I still have a hard time thinking of it as breakfast food.)

- The thought of eggs for breakfasts basically disgusts most Argentines.

- If you think all "Latin" food is spicy, you are wrong. Mexico...yes. Argentina...no. 

- Dinner here is late, which I like...to a point. Meeting up for dinner at 9:30/10:00 - sure, great, no problem. 11:30/12:00 - a little tough.

- Salta is incredibly quiet on Sunday afternoons. To a tourist passing through for just a few days, it may almost seem deserted. To me, it is so beautifully peaceful.

- Folklore music is infectious. Even if you don't understand the words, you feel the songs - joy, sadness, whatever the theme. I love that it's such a big part of the culture here, and I love the fact that everyone listens to it, not just the older generation.

- I will never be able to say "no" to a good asado.  Meat grilled to perfection + roasted vegetables + Malbec = Happy Nancy

- When not thinking in English, my brain generally thinks in Arabic. This can be problematic when speaking Spanish. I have received more than one confused stare which I thought was due to poor pronunciation but later realized was due to the fact that I inserted an Arabic word into the sentence. 

*Fast forward 2 months*
- When not thinking in English, my brain now thinks in Spanish.  Yay! Great! Until I am skyping with my parents and receive the same confused stare. Apparently "no estoy segura" in the middle of an Arabic conversation doesn't make much sense to my non-Spanish speaking mother and father.

What happened to me? I used to be quite the multi-tasker!

Kidding aside, Argentina has been very good for me.  It has slowed me down a bit, in a good way, and made me appreciate some things about myself that maybe I've neglected for a long time.  Salta just agrees with me, and I can already see that it is going to be very difficult to leave.

~ N

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's Raining in Salta...

...which means I am finally sitting down to write a long overdue post. It's Thursday, which means I should be halfway up the stairs of Cerro San Bernardo (I do it a few times a week now), but rain + stone steps + my inherent clumsiness = trouble.  So I'm drinking coffee and staying put.  While I want to see as much of Salta as possible, the hospital is not on that list.

So somehow, I have been here for 5 weeks already.  Not quite sure where the time went.  In some ways it feels like I just arrived, yet at the same time I'm so comfortable that it feels as if I live here. Considering I am now staying until the end of April, I guess I sort of do.

Yes, I have decided to stay here for another month. As the end of March drew near, I knew I was not ready to leave.  I am working with 2 different organizations as well volunteering some time at a local English institute, and it's all just really getting going now.  As mentioned in a previous post, I first headed to Salta to help out with Leigh & Noah's organization CloudheadART, the NGO that I traveled with to visit the Wichi village in the north, and I am now also working with the David Mather Foundation.  "[DMF]...is working to support young people in Salta, Argentina to lift themselves out of cycles of poverty, through education and training. The Foundation works with bright young people who have the academic potential to achieve success in higher education, but who do not have the financial means to continue with their studies."  
(Excerpt from www.davidmatherfoundation.org)

This year's class at the foundation totals 24 students. Given the fact that the school year just got started here about 2 weeks ago, as did the programs at the foundation, leaving at the end of March just didn't make sense. I am just getting to know the kids, they are just starting to be less shy with me and more comfortable asking for help during classes. It just isn't time to go yet.

As mentioned, I've also been visiting some English classes at an institute where a friend teaches.  They have native English speakers come in whenever possible to give the students the opportunity to hear different accents, practice speaking, etc.  Last night I visited one of the advanced classes, which is currently preparing for high level exams.  There was an empty chair in the front of the room waiting for me, along with 18 students (with excellent English) full of questions. Um, yeah, no pressure. It started with the typical "What type of work do you do?", "How did you decide to come to Salta?", but once they knew about my year of travel/volunteer work, they began to ask me some really intense questions, some of which I honestly don't yet know the answers to myself. At some point, it shifted from a foreigner visiting an English class for conversation practice to a group of friends sitting around chatting. We talked about such a wide range of topics, it was really incredible to have such great conversation with people I had literally just met.  But that's Salta.  That's the people of Salta.

So let's go there for a minute.  There are approximately 600,000 people in the city of Salta, yet it somehow feels like a small neighborhood.  There is such a sense of community and a true love for their city and province. People are kind, helpful, genuine and they want you to love their home as much as they do.  My "family" at David Mather instantly took me in and I feel as if I've known them for so much longer than just a few weeks. The permanent staff totals only 6 people so it really is like a small family. They take me places with them, I've spent time with their friends, they helped me find an apartment, and continue to help me with my Spanish. One friend refuses to speak to me in English (for my own good) and while at first I thought - 'Well this is impossible and frustrating', the other day I realized that my Spanish truly has improved tremendously in the time I have been here. Point taken, you win. I guess there is just a piece of me that feels bad putting anyone through that process. To me, it takes a lot of patience for a native Spanish speaker to 1) wait for a non-native speaker to gather their thoughts, translate them, conjugate the verbs, throw in any necessary pronouns, only to have it spill out in an often jumbled mess 2) gently correct them, and then 3) respond slowly, clearly, and simply enough for them to understand.  Can you imagine how long that takes?  But what I have learned without a doubt is that if I was are ever going to find people with that kind of patience, it would be here in Salta.

~ N

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

1070...


Very early in my travels I wrote about climbing 210 stairs in Porto, Portugal.  This post is about climbing 1070 stairs up the Cerro San Bernardo. When I looked back to see how long ago I had written the first post it turned out to be exactly 7 months ago today. Weird. I'm sure there's some probably some way of looking at it symbolically ("growth" blah, blah) but I'm not delving that deep.

So...yes, yesterday I climbed 1070 stairs. It was one of the most beautiful and peaceful mornings I've had in a long time and it might become a weekly ritual since I live a 10 minute walk from the base of the Cerro San Bernardo. Yes it hurt, but the good kind of hurt and the view from the top quickly erased any memory of my aching muscles. I will say that I miss my iPod, but it was actually kind of nice to listen to the birds and the quiet.

I know I am due for a real post, and I promise one is coming, but for now here are some pictures from yesterday...

~ N




Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Little Things

During my week in San Lorenzo with Leigh & Noah, we headed to a Wichi village about 4 hours away to deliver donated goods, meet with them regarding the ongoing project of building a community garden, and spend some time with the kids doing a little art project.  When we told our contact that we had an activity for the kids, he said he would gather them and he disappeared on a bike for about 10 minutes.  When he returned, we headed to the "church" (made of wood, rocks and dirt bricks) where he had rounded up the kids so they could work inside and avoid the strong wind that completely coats you in dust in a matter of minutes.  We walked in to find around 40 kids sitting almost silently with eyes full of anticipation. It's a funny thing, I can't remember how many times I have stood before a room of VPs and SVPs and given presentations or led a meeting without a second thought, yet standing there with those 80 eyes glued on me I actually felt nervous. I thought about that later and realized the difference was - I cared more about the outcome in that little dirt brick building than I did in a conference room of executives. I didn't want to disappoint these kids who, having no idea what to expect, were still full of excitement.  Ok, back to the story - we separated them into smaller groups and distributed paper, markers, crayons, stickers, scissors, and glue.  I explained what to do, and no one moved. I demonstrated, and no one moved. They all sat there holding their colorful sheets of construction paper, staring at me. Given the fact that Spanish-Nancy is not as secure and confident as English-Nancy, I instantly assumed they didn't understand me.  It turns out they were just really, really shy.  Something that is such a normal rainy day activity for most kids was basically foreign to them. Once I walked away and pretended to busy myself with something, they started whispering among themselves and little by little they started drawing, cutting, pasting, coloring, and suddenly they were lost in their artwork. 

By the time we wrapped up, some of them were even shyly showing us their finished projects while clutching the new treasures of markers and crayons.

Every once in a while, it's good to be reminded to enjoy the little things.  Maybe, even if it is only for a minute, the little things can make you forget about the big things.

~ N

Monday, February 13, 2012

Iguazu Falls


I finally said goodbye to Buenos Aires a week ago and started heading north towards Iguazu Falls with a friend from my volunteer project in Rio.  To break up the long journey, we stopped for the weekend in a town called Gualeguaychú about 3 hours north of BA.  It's a small river town and was a perfect stop to break out of city mode and reset to a slower pace. The Spanish there was definitely a little easier to understand so it reinforced my hopes that the farther north I travel, the better I will manage language-wise.

On Monday night we took an overnight bus to Puerto Iguazu which is the town on the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls.  The trip was incredibly comfortable (think first class flight), but of course... yours truly did not sleep so I was a bit of a zombie on Tuesday.  Fortunately, we had planned on getting into town a day early so we were able to relax when we arrived. We took a walk to see the sunset at the point where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, had dinner and then crashed for the night.  Feeling great the next morning we headed to the falls and easily covered three different trails, took a boat ride into the falls, had a relaxing lunch, and floated down the river at the end of the day to leave the park.  We spent 7 hours there and the time absolutely flew by.  I thought for a while about how I would describe the falls and what I would put in this post and I've decided that while amazing, stunning, awesome, unbelievable are all great words...just check out the pictures/videos. They speak for themselves. (Link is up on the left.)

We bounced over to Brazil (Foz do Iguacu) to see the falls from the other side and from there Oren would move on to Rio and I would return to Argentina with a new stamp which resets my visa for another 3 months.  The Brazilian side of the falls was worth it because you got to see the "big picture" since you are at more of a distance but we both agreed that the Argentina side was hands-down the better experience.

Headed back to Puerto Iguazu for a relaxing weekend before hopping on a flight to Salta.  I had stumbled on this fantastic little hideaway in a quiet part of the town.  Individual little buildings...the staff was great...breakfast was served outside by the pool...hammocks everywhere...it was a little oasis. A friend was still in town waiting on a visa so we did a little exploring and a lot of relaxing.  Absolutely great two days. 

Yesterday I arrived in Salta and I have to admit, just the drive from the airport has already drawn me in.  I'm staying with a couple and their daughter (from NY coincidentally) in the outskirts of Salta so the view out of my window is mountains and countryside. Beautiful. They happened to have a BBQ planned on the same day as my arrival so I had a chance to meet about ten other people as well, some of whom have relocated here from the States or Canada and others who are from Salta.  It was a great afternoon and I'm definitely looking forward to my time in this part of the country.  I'll be staying here at the house for about a week, during which time we plan to visit the village I mentioned a few posts back to deliver donations, etc. and then I'll move into the city for a bit.  I'm going to volunteer some time at an English institute in the city while looking into some other opportunities here as well.
 
~ N

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Taking It All In

 Fundacíon PROA
As much as it seems hard to believe I have been in Buenos Aires for 2 months already, it also seems that Rio De Janeiro was a lifetime ago. Things are going well, my new school is exactly what I needed at this point.  It has given me the opportunity to take all the grammar I have learned and actually use and understand it better. When speaking with people who relocated here I can actually communicate fairly decently.  When speaking with Porteños, I can pretty much hang in there as long as I start the conversation with "Please speak slowly".  The good news is, many have told me that once I leave Capital Federal, people speak at a more natural pace and it will be a little easier to keep up.

I've been seeking out some unique things to do/see in the city and have been to some great places. One of the great spots I stumbled on is a bookstore that is housed in a former theater. Absolutely spectacular. This picture does not do it justice. The stage has been converted to a cafe, you can sit and read in the former theater boxes on either side of the stage, and when you stand above and look down it's just beautiful.

As I will be heading out of BA in about 2 weeks, I've been doing my best to enjoy as much variety in dining as possible.  Argentine cuisine is delicious, but very limited, so this city is probably the last time I will have the opportunity to eat other types of cuisine for quite some time.  About a week ago I had my first "closed door restaurant" experience here and it was fantastic.  Basically, it is a private dinner party at a chef's house.  Five course meal, paired with five wines (for about what you would pay for one dish and one glass of wine in the States). For me, Casa Salt Shaker was a perfect introduction to this semi-underground dining scene because not only was the food absolutely incredible, but since each dinner is limited to only 10 people, the atmosphere was great as well.  Everyone meets and mingles over a cocktail when they arrive and then enjoys dinner together at a one table.  I went with a friend from the UK and we met some great people that night, two of whom we have continued exploring new restaurants with and now have informal "dining club" of sorts along with two other friends as well.  Our second closed door restaurant, Casa Felix, was excellent as well, with a wonderful outdoor garden area for dining, and really fresh ingredients and flavors.  It was different in that you dine at separate tables so it had more of a small restaurant feel to it, but fantastic just as well.  I have one more to go next weekend, Casa Mun, which I am beyond excited about because it is Japanese/Korean cuisine.  Oh how I've missed those flavors! Take a look at the menu:

Champagne Reception: Cave Extreme Extra Brut
~
 Oshibori
(Hot Towel Service)
~
Shrimp & Caramelized Walnut Salad with Japanese Dressing
Rama Negra Sauvignon Blanc
~
Shrimp & California Maki Sushi
& Spicy Tuna on Pan Fried Crispy Rice
AVE Premium Torrontés
~
Momofuku-Style Pork Buns
 Borges Syrah
~
Sashimi “Bi Bim Bap”
A twist on the Korean favorite ~ sashimi on sushi rice with
vegetables,  spicy sauce & toasted sesame seeds.
Bodega Patritti Lassia Pinot Noir
~
Chocolate Mousse Cake with Fresh Berries
Green Tea (or optional Johnny Walker Black Label pairing)

Yep... beyond excited!

~ N

Friday, January 6, 2012

City On Fire


The title for this post originally came to me on New Year's Eve when the entire skyline of Buenos Aires was lit up with fireworks.  Since then, the summer heat has officially arrived and that title now has a whole new meaning.

But back to New Year's Eve...  I attended an event in a beautiful building downtown which has a light tower approximately 100 meters above the city.  At midnight, I was standing on the balcony of that tower watching the entire city explode with fireworks.  As far as I could see, it was as if the whole city was being sprinkled with glitter (Katy Jayne - I was definitely thinking of you at that moment)! Absolutely incredible.

Now that January has arrived, I get to "enjoy" the hottest month of the year here.  December was unusually mild so I was lucky but that is all gone now.  It's been in the high 90s this whole week, and will be 103 on Monday.  The saving grace is that it drops significantly at night so once the sun goes down, you can breathe again.

Today I completed the 3rd level of Spanish at the school I've been attending and I will be switching to a smaller, privately run school next week that is only a few blocks from my apartment. The next level at my original school is way too advanced for me and I'd rather work on strengthening the basics. Although I get frustrated, I am definitely starting to see a difference in my communication skills. When I met with the director of the new school, we spoke in Spanish for the better part of an hour so something must be sinking in! I've also been braving the language exchange events that I mentioned in an earlier post which has been really helpful because the everyday back-and-forth conversations are what I need more practice in.

So, in travel news ... the final 2 months of my adventure are officially booked!  On Christmas day I bought a ticket for this coming July flying into Budapest, Hungary and out of Tel Aviv, Israel.  The plan is... Hungary & Croatia, then Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, and Israel.  I'll be traveling with one of my closest friends so it will be a different experience to finish off my year of travel.  As much as I truly enjoy traveling alone, there are definitely times when certain things remind me of different people and I think - "I wish _____ were here, they would love this".  Well, for those last 2 months, I can turn to someone and actually say that out loud.  (Hahaha, just kidding Randy!) Anyway, I am really excited to travel in such a different region but I'm trying not to think too much about it just yet because I still have several great months in South America ahead of me!

In local news, a good friend from my project in Brazil is arriving in Buenos Aires next week so we'll get to do some touristy stuff together and I'll get to spend some time with "family".  We are also trying to coordinate the dates we both leave the city so that we can head to Iguacu Falls together.  Hard to believe I need to start planning to move on.  It sort of feels like I live in San Telmo.

Besos!
~ N