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Adjusting to life in the Caribbean!

Sep. 27th, 2007 | 11:24 am

*The views and opinions expressed here are mine personally and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or the US government.*

Hola todos!

So, we arrived in Santo Domingo two Thursdays ago. The flight in was amazing and we got to fly over the whole country and then out over the ocean to fly into the airport. We were greeted by a bunch of current volunteers and by the heat. It is hot as heck. But, I´ve already ¨gotten used to it¨ as much as one possibly can because when you get out of the shower you never really feel clean or not sweaty so there is a perpetual feeling of grossness. Especially if you know how much I sweat :) Other than that, the only bad thing is the dirty dirty air. It is extremely polluted, even worse I would say than Mexico City which is supposed to be the most polluted city in the world. So, we live to the far northwest corner of Santo Domingo. The walk to the training center is about 25 minutes, or we can walk halfway and then take a guagua which is a bus and they PACK them full. It is almost impossible to explain but let me just say you get quite close to people. Same with carros publicos which are taxis that they put three people in the front seat and four in the back. Usually we are traveling with PC volunteers so they are people we know, but if not, you get to cozy in with some Dominican strangers. These rides cost less than 20 pesos which is roughly less than 10 cents.
I live with a grandma, grandpa and their grandson who is 27. We live in a little pink house in the middle of quite a commercial area. I would say they are pretty well off compared to houses around us. They are retired, but the grandson, Elvis, yes, like Elvis Presley, went to college and works in information technology. He and I have talked A LOT about all kinds of things and he taught me how to dance Dominican dances, the bachata and merengue. Dominicans like to compartir, which literally means to share, but it means they sit around out on the porch and talk to whoever comes by, usually aunts, uncles, cousins or neighbors. They do this mostly all day every day whenever they are home. One of the uncles runs his lawyer business from the front porch of our house so there are always people coming in and out. The kitchen is not attached to the house. The inside of the house is really HOT. Plus I have to sleep under a mosquito net. Luckily around 6:30 at night it gets really fresco (nice) outside. My Spanish confidence is increasing a lot, and slowly we will be able to understand the extremely fast and informal Spanish spoken here. They cut off the beginnings, middle and endings of lots of words.
Food: Everyday rice and habichuelas (beans in a sauce). Everyday, lunch and dinner. Luckily it is really good. Also occasional chicken, sausage, bread. For breakfast sometimes I get soup but also I´ve been having grilled cheese and fruit or cornflakes or boiled bananas (and yes, I've eaten them. They have a harder consistency and not much flavor).
The water at my house has gone out a few times so far so I had to bathe from a bucket. The water covered me a lot better than I thought and I would say I used less than two gallons to wash my body and my hair. Makes you think about the waste of a shower.
The other volunteers are great!! I especially like the Economic Development group which is good cause we will be spending most of our time with them.
Today I am going to Pedernales with a current volunteer which is in the FAR southwest corner of the country on the ocean and right next to Haiti. I will have to get myself into Santo Domingo and then take a 7hour bus ride there.
Some more about daily life:
I eat all my meals alone. The family doesn't eat at the same time that I do usually. They are together all day just sitting around chatting so family time at meals is not really that important. Also, supposedly it's considered respectful. I guess it's really no big deal, just kind of opposite of anything I've experienced before where meal time is really important to spending time together. Also, my host mom puts the food in separate dishes after she cooks it, covers it with plates and a towel and it sits on the table until I eat it. It stays more or less warm because the room temperature is warm. Oh, the plates and towels are to keep the ants off.
Supposedly to get the mosquitos to leave us alone we need to eat more of the local diet because they use a lot of oregano and garlic which keeps them away. For now, I've just been rubbing DEET bug lotion all over which has been working but in the process probably giving me cancer. Which I suppose in the short run is better than Dengue.
We have been told that 4-5 of every group of volunteers ends up marrying a Dominican. Isn't that just crazy?!?! Well, we couldn't believe it and people are already starting to take bets on who it will be. On top of that, there are already two couples within our Peace Corps group.
We've gotten a lot of shots since we've been here. On top of rabies we got meningitis and also Hepatitis and Typhoid which I already got in the States. We also get the HPV vaccine series for free which is awesome cause it costs a lot in the states.
Ok, more about the country. The local religion (in all seriousness is Catholicism) but they say it is Baseball. Approximately $100 million comes into the country every year from MLB in the States. We learned yesterday that the eastern part of the country's largest export is MLB shortstops. And the local sport is Chisme (which means gossip). They also love to play dominoes. Some of us in my neighborhood went to play baseball with the local kids and went to the "play" (field- they use a bunch of English words like out, strike, base, etc.) where a tournament was going on. You could barely even tell that it was an organized game. 10 minutes went between pitches and barely anyone on each team had matching uniforms.
I went to church last Sunday with my dona (host mom). It was more or less the same as a Catholic service in the States so I don't have anything interesting to say there.
Last weekend we went dancing again, this time a bunch of the PC trainees went. Here a dance "club" is a Car Wash. Yes, a car wash. During the day it is a car wash that sells beer (obviously wouldn't fly in the states) and plays music and has big screen TVs with ESPN on. At night it is a dance club with music, beer and sports on TV. Yeah, so we took it to the Car Wash (ahem, Syd reference to Van Wilder).
Right now I am in the PC office in Santo Domingo. I am here with the volunteer that I am going to visit in Pedernales. We are going by bus later this afternoon. It is about a 6-7 hour ride. But, I get to learn all about her project and where she lives and go to beach and all that fun stuff!!
Next Thursday we leave for CBT (Peace corps is big about acronyms) (CBT is community based training). Just the CED (Community Economic Development) group is going up to Moca, straight north of Santo Domingo. The other groups go other places. There are 18 of us in the CED group. We will be there living with different host families for 4 and a half weeks. There we will be doing much more technical training and intensive Spanish language.
I think that's all I've got for now. Send emails and letters!!

My name, PCT
c/o Peace Corps
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana

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Cuernavaca- Last Entry

Nov. 4th, 2006 | 03:13 pm
location: internet cafe
mood: workingworking

Hi all! We are in Cuernavaca and have been here since Monday. It´s been a very fast week. The city is different. It has a population of about 700,000 but it seems a lot smaller. We are living four students to a house so that is good. My house is in the opposite direction of the downtown to the school. So, it´s hard to know what the city is like and what there is to do because mostly all of that is in the center and we live in the opposite direction. The family we are living with has a grandma, a mom, and a daughter and son. They are a really nice family. We are so busy though with everything that we have to do for school and other excursions that we are only at the house to eat and sleep. We finished Biology class today, our final was this morning. We have a huge paper to write for Speech which is what I am supposed to be researching right now, and that is due on Tuesday. We have today and tomorrow free but we won´t really have any time to explore on our own because we have to write this 6 page paper. Last week we toured the city and saw things for Day of the Dead. We got to participate in Day of the Dead on the evening of the 1st. Houses in a town near here set up altars to the dead and people walk around the town and visit them, giving a candle to the family. In turn the family has food and drinks for the people. Some of the houses had lines out the door. It was almost like trick or treating for the dead and I couldnt believe how much of a party it was. Definitely a cultural experience. Yesterday we went on a hike and to see ruins, our first real Aztec ruins. This week we are going to Teotihuacan, the largest ruins site in Mexico, going to visit the city dump where people live, and going to see some other sites. It is warm and sunny here! I would say about 75 every day and not below 60 at night. Perfect weather. I think that´s about it. We´ll be home in a week.

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Mexico City!

Oct. 27th, 2006 | 06:57 pm
location: Hostal Catedral, Mexico City

We made it to Mexico City! I didn`t get sick in Lima... haha. We spent 5 hours in the San Jose Costa Rica airport. What a tease that we didn`t get to go there. Anyway, I realized that I hadn`t at all prepared myself to come to Mexico, or outside of South America at all. The first thing I saw from outside the plane was a Home Depot so naturally that made me not at all excited and we had read about all the overcrowding and obviously pollution is a problem. However, so far Mexico City is great! We took a double decker bus tour yesterday around part of the city. The streets are wide and filled with trees and the buildings are not that tall. There is a huge park that we are going to tomorrow. Today we took a walking tour of the historic center and got to ride the metro and go to two museums and the presidential palace. It has rained a lot, but at night so it hasn`t ruined anything. The food is good too. I was worried about spicyness but I`ve eaten enchiladas, tacos, tamales, and nothing really spicy. The hostel we are staying in is interesting. It is right off the main cathedral in the center of the city which is cool. So, everything is going really well and tonight we are going to a traditional Lucha, Mexican wrestling match. We leave Monday for Cuernavaca to live with families. I`ll write again from there!

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The Inca Trail

Oct. 23rd, 2006 | 02:31 pm
location: Internet Cafe
mood: chipperchipper
music: Have a Nice Day- Bon Jovi

We finished the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu on Friday morning. It was an amazing time! We hiked for three full days and camped for three nights out in the middle of the Andes mountains. It was fabulous. The hiking was really strenuous at times especially on the second day when we ascended 1500 meters in just a few hours reaching our highest point of 4200 meters high. The air was thin and the hike was steep but it was so rewarding to reach the top. The parts of the hike that we had to climb down were the hardest on the legs. We had people working for us carrying food and tents and the food was pretty good. Our group did some more bonding and just had a lot of fun. At Machu Picchu I climbed the mountain Wayna Picchu since I didn´t get a chance to last time. Then we spent the night in Aguas Calientes and took the train back to Cusco on Saturday. Now we are in the internet cafe doing homework. Boo. Less than three weeks left... definitely bittersweet. More bitter right now since we had such a great time the last two weeks. Next time I write will be from Mexico... new territory for me! Miss you all!!

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Rainforest

Oct. 16th, 2006 | 03:18 am
location: Call center

First, I apologize for my lack of suitable entries. We got back from the Manu rainforest yesterday. It was soooo much fun! We drove on a one lane unpaved winding road the entire way there stopping to see a waterfall and a small town and a bird doing its mating dance called the Cock of the Rock. We stayed at the paradise lodge in the cloud forest right on a nice river. The next day we drove for a bit then got in our boat transport. There were 17 of us in our group and it was an amazing group. It was a small sampling of some of the cliques that have formed on the trip and we were all outgoing crazy fun people so it worked out amazingly well. We were on the boat for the whole day going down the river seeing lots of birds. We stayed in a tiny jungle town called Boca Manu and went to the local "bar" to celebrate Kristin´s birthday. It was a shop with vegetables on the ground. The next day we went up river to our campsite. We saw monkeys and caimen crocodiles along the way. The campsite had little huts that we slept in and mud water to shower in. We went on hikes with our amazing guide Andres and saw tons of monkeys! We went out on a catamaran boat on the lake and saw a crocodile fighting with some river otters. The otters called for more to come help and in the end the croc ate one. Our guide said he had never seen anything like it before. We also saw a lot of cool plants and bugs, including ones in our cabins. To get back to Cusco we took a plane out of the rainforest. It was a 16 seater plane flown by the air force. I was sitting in the front row and could see all the controls and how they were flying the plane and when we went to land I could see straight out the front window. Now we are back in Cusco until Tuesday when we head out to the Inca Trail... 4 days of strenuous hiking at high altitude that ends at Machu Picchu. Wish us luck!!


Some random photos from the trip: http://new.photos.yahoo.com/ak_augie/album/576460762320074751#page1

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Halfway...

Oct. 4th, 2006 | 04:51 pm
location: Hotel Savoy, Cusco, Perú
mood: excitedexcited

Today is the halfway point of the trip. It´s hard to believe. We have done so much and it feels like we have been here a long time but it also feels like we just left the U.S. Our last week in Brazil was great! We went to the beach almost every day. We had more class time and less excursions to go on. We´re tan! (be jealous) Our last day in Maceio a bunch of us went to get tattoos. Yes. I got a tattoo. It is a hand holding a globe and says "Viva la vida" which means "live the life." It´s on my lower back to the left. On Sunday we spent 24 hours traveling. We left Maceio at noon and got to Lima at 11am on Monday. Then I got a fever, again, which I still have. But no sore throat this time. Now we are in Cusco. I like Peru better this time than last year, although there are still a lot of tourists. We have lots of sightseeing to do over the next few days and on Tuesday we leave for the rainforest! It´s really nice to be able to communicate again... no Portuguese! I never realized the luxury of being able to speak the language. Leave comments! Miss you all!

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Brasil rocks!

Sep. 23rd, 2006 | 06:16 pm

Well, we have been in Brasil for over a week now! The language barrier is a huge problem... you know, cause we don´t speak Portuguese. What makes it most frustrating is that they can generally understand us if we speak Spanish, but when they speak back we can´t understand a word! Brasilia, the capital city, is modern. It was built all in the 1960s. It is laid out like an airplane and not conducive to walking, only driving. Our hostel, yes, hostel, was outside the city so we had to take cabs and public buses. Brasil is also much more expensive than Ecuador and Perú, almost comparable to home, but twice as much seemingly because it is in Reales which are about 2.2 to 1. Anyway, the city was cool, the buildings were all designed by Oscar Neimeyer and modern 60s like. We met some Brasilian guys that we hung out with, went to their soccer game, went to hear them play live music. It was fun. We also ate at a real Brasilian steak house. It was really good and really neat, but again, expensive. We attempted to do our own laundry at the hostel one night... that was an experience.

So, now we are in Maceio which is on the Northeast coast of Brasil. We have gone to the beach three days in a row so far! Oh, right, it´s about 80 here in Brasil. My friend Lisa who is on the trip once had an exchange student at her house and he just so happens to be from here so today his family took us to the nicest beach in the state. The water was so greenish blue and clear and the sun was perfect and the wind blows just enough to keep you from getting hot. It was so great! We drank a drink out of a pineapple and made from the pineapple and mozzerella cheese cooked over a pot of coals.

I think that´s pretty much all the highlights. We just keep saying "this is school!" It´s pretty unreal. Send emails! And Portuguese phrases if you know them!!

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Perú

Sep. 13th, 2006 | 09:36 am
location: hotel computer lab
mood: sicksick
music: construction across the street

Well, we are in Perú. It´s been an interesting week already. We drove to Guayaquil on Sunday. The bus ride was all through the mountains and the driver was a psycho so lots of people got kinda bus sick. Once we got there we got dropped off at the mall to eat lunch. Not a pleasant experience for me because the food court looked just like one in America, which I despise the fact that the U.S. is so prevalent here. Anyway, then we went to the airport. The flight to Lima was about an hour and a half. We got to the hotel and went to find somewhere to eat. The next day we had a city tour, basically saw all the things we saw last year: the presidential palace, the cathedral, the catecombs. We had the afternoon free and took a double decker bus tour of Miraflores, the area of Lima we are staying in. There are 43 districts to the city of Lima, a city with about 8 million people. At night we went down this street that the tourist books recommend, they call it Pizza St. We literally got attacked by all the waiters and waitresses, everyone wanting us to eat at their restaurant. The all seemed the same so we just picked one. Tuesday we had a completely free day. We went SURFING! It was absolutely nuts. We walked down to the beach and there is this guy there with his van full of surfboards. It cost 20 soles, which is about 6 dollars. He gave us wet suits (the water is about 53 degrees this time of year) and a brief lesson and then took us out in the water. The first time he told me it was a good wave, and I didn´t even try to stand up because I didn´t know when to do it. Then I rode back out and after that was pretty much a disaster. I got tumulted through the waves twice. I was actually scared for my life at one point. But looking back on it now, it was quite a bit of fun. I just got shaken up by that and got out of the water. Then this experience surfer from the states told us these were the most intense waves he had ever seen. Well, it was certainly unforgettable. Now my whole body is sore, especially my ribs cause that´s what you use to hold on to the board, your stomach muscles. That afternoon we went to a museum and for dinner we went to a fancy restaurant. Our meals would have probably been $40 in the states, and they were the equivalant of about $12. Right now everyone is visiting the congress or something but I had to stay in cause I had a terrible fever last night and this morning and my throat is really swollen. I think it´s from swallowing all the salt water. Anyway, having a great time despite being sick! We go to Brazil tomorrow!!!

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Two weeks almost over :O

Sep. 8th, 2006 | 07:15 pm
location: AzuayNet, corner of Padre Aguirre and Lamar, Cuenca, Ecuador
mood: contentcontent
music: radio

The week has been busy! We had an excursion to two small towns called Gualaceo and Chordeleg. We saw a fruit market with all the kinds of fruit they grow in Ecuador. It was really colorful to say the least. One of the towns is known for their silver working so there are a ton of jewelery shops. The next day we went to Ingapirca, the Incan ruins in Ecuador. It was completely different from last year. Last year we were there during the festival of Intiraimi, the festival of the sun, so there were TONS of people all over selling clothing, handicrafts, even drugs and the place was swamped. This time we were almost the only people there. We went out on Wednesday night to Café Eucalyptus and then to dance at La Mesa. It was ok. Not as fun as in Quito. Last night Dan (my housemate) and I were alone in the house cause our ¨parents¨ went to Guayaquil to hear their grandaughter give a speech in English. So, life continues here as normal: goats roam the random patch of grass near our house, a HUGE pig rides in the back of a pickup truck, people wash their colorful clothing in the river, ice cream costs $0.75 and tastes AMAZING. We have been taking the bus to school with our neighbors, two other Augie kids. It costs $0.25 per ride. The other day we got on it going in the wrong direction and got taken to the end of the route, on the opposite side of a mountain. We were on the bus for an hour and a half and it should have taken 15 minutes. Always an experience in Ecuador.

The schedule for the next week is as follows: We leave Cuenca for Guayaquil on Sunday morning, we fly from there to Lima on the same day. We are in Lima for four days and then we fly to Sao Paolo Brazil where we spent the night in the airport and then fly to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

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Cuenca!!!!!

Sep. 4th, 2006 | 10:51 am

Hi all!! We are in Cuenca! It´s so great to be here! My host family is great... really nice and easy to talk to, or maybe I´m just more comfortable speaking now. My homestay partner is really nice too. He doesn´t speak Spanish so that´s fun for me. Our house is REALLY far from school... a 40 minute walk. Luckily it´s only a week.

Update on the last few days: I think I wrote about the market. Well, we went to Otavalo, the really large market north of Quito. We spent some more time in Quito after that. We went out on Thursday and Friday night to a dance club called No Bar. It was tons of fun!! We danced with some Ecuadorian guys and it was just a really fun time. We went to a folkloric dance show, went to the Guayasamín art museum, and then began our ride to Cuenca. We stopped in a town called Salasaca where we saw how they made dye for yarn. (we did this last year too) They take a fungus that grows on cactus, roll it in their fingers, add lemon juice and it turns from white to purple. Then they boil it with the wool and spin the yarn. They also made us lunch which was potatoes and the amazing Ecuadorian corn. For the night we stayed in Riobamba at an old hacienda. All the rooms were different and the place was huge. We had class outside in a tent and it was freezing cause it got dark. The next morning we left for Cuenca. We stopped at the same restaurant we did last year on the side of the road. We saw a car that drove off the side of the mountain, something very easy to do. They had a tow truck dragging it up the side. Then we arrived at CEDEI. I saw my host mom from last time and it was not awkward like I expected it to be. Two girls are staying at their house. Well, I think that´s about all for now. Keep commenting... it´s good to hear from you!

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