Posted by: Sarah | February 26, 2012

El Sabor del Caribe

Back in Washington, which at the moment seems a million miles from our little beach house a block away from the ocean where my girlfriends and I have escaped to for a long weekend, Mio is my escape from the craziness of DC, my little piece of Latin America right in the heart of the Capitol. Being surrounded by everything boricua at the restaurant for the past year and a half – the flavors, the culture, el accento, la energía – of Puerto Rico made this visit to the island long overdue.

Away from the stress of life and grad school, I feel at home. Even though I have never been to Puerto Rico before this trip, it is familiar in a comforting way. Familiar to Barranquilla, which I called home for a year, familiar in the way that there are indescribible things that make you know that you are in Latin America, in the Caribbean. Familiar from all the stories I had heard from the people with whom I work every day.

The island has invigorated our senses for the past 4 days. The smell of the ocean, its brilliant turquoise shades of blue, the sound of salsa and reggaeton escaping from restaurants and cars cruising down Ashford Ave, the feeling of the humid Caribbean air against your skin. And the tastes. Oh, the delicious Criollo flavors. The rich, strong Puerto Rican coffee, accompanied by pastelitos de guayaba from Kalsalta Bakery around the corner for breakfast. The mofongo – mashed plantains – with shrimp, the piononos – ripe plantains wrapped around ground meat, bursting with flavors of peppers and onions, the tostones…yes, the delicious yellow plantain finds itself at the heart of so many dishes. We have dined along the beach, at Uvva at Hosteria del Mar and at Perurican, the ocean breeze blowing into the restaurant through the open windows. Last night’s dinner at Perurican showcased a fusion of Peruvian and Puerto Rican flavors, a cocktail menu filled with pisco, fresh ceviche bursting with flavors, a pitcher of champagne sangria, arroz con pollo, mamposteao con carne.

I knew before I came down to to little island that Puerto Rico was somehow a part of me, a culture I have adopted, much in the way that I did Colombia, and tomorrow I will fly home a little more boricua, un poco más Latina de corazón.

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Posted by: Sarah | June 26, 2011

dinner and a movie…

We wandered through the porticos of Bologna, their archways illuminated by the light escaping from the bars and restaurants. At 10:00 in the evening, the city was far more alive with activity than during the sleepy hours of the afternoon when my girlfriends and I had first come out to explore the city and have our first of what I believe will be many mouth-watering meals in this city. We paused to look at menus as we passed, no particular destination in mind, knowing that each place would be more delicious than the last. Turning down one street, we saw two restaurants with terraces filled with people. The name of one caught my attention and when I saw the 10E prix fixe menu, I realized that it was a place a friend had recommended to me. Done.

I love that the hostess and waiters spoke to us completely in Italian, even though it was clear that we did not understand more than a few words of what they were saying. The terrace was filled, did we want to eat inside? If you can’t have a seat outside, the next best option is one with a view into the kitchen. Ariana and I couldn’t stop watching the chef plate the pasta and other dishes, pausing to take a huge swig of his Peroni.

We made friends with the waiter in our broken Spanish-Italian mixture of language….understanding a few words of the specials that he described to us. We knew that we had ordered some kind of pasta with meat for the first dish; he started to describe the options for the second course and then just smiled and said “Andiamo con il carne! ….with big Italian hand gestures, of course.  Did we want vino? Of course. Rosso o bianco? Rosso! Andiamo con il vino!

The dinner was delicious, every bite of food, from the pasta to the veal to the lemon sorbet for dessert simply melted in our mouths. Welcome to Bologna, the culinary capital of Italy, where everything is cooked with flavor, with feeling, con amore. When we finally asked for the check, the waiter babbled on and on, and the only word that we caught was “casa”. On the house? What? Not possible. We might have made friends with the waiter, but couldn’t believe that anything was on the house. After he finally led us to the front, we realized he was saying “cassa”. Pay at the cash register in front. Hah. Ooops. Guess we still need to practice our Italian a bit more.

After that we made our way back through the streets of  the city, which were still buzzing with people outside socializing, eating, drinking, living life toward the direction of the Piazza Maggiore, where an outdoor film festival is being held all week. Half of the city must have been gathered into the Piazza, which is surrounded by gorgeous architecture that sweeps you back in time. We pulled out the bottle of Sangiovese that we had picked up from the grocery store and joined the rest of the city in watching an old silent German film, that was being accompanied by a full orchestra. The dramatic notes of the orchestra, the buzz of the crowd, the taste of the wine…Benvenuto in Italia.

Posted by: Sarah | June 24, 2011

an insider’s look….

Ariana and I have been traveling for almost a week, exploring Iceland and London, taking in some sights but not killing ourselves running around cites to see everything. Actually it has been more like – a lot of drinking, a little less eating, and a little sightseeing. Good balance. Yesterday, we hit the London Bridge and National Gallery. And three pubs. In one day. A very cultural experience, if I do say so myself.

Today, we were off to the House of Parliment. Touristy? Not so much. Through a friend of a colleague of a friend, we set up a meeting with a Member of Parliment. Not only did he take time out of his schedule to meet us, he gave us a personalized tour around the House of Commons. There were several sentences which started with “I probably shouldn’t be taking you here, but….” or “If I say run the other way, you run….” or “You can’t really have access to this area, but I can sign something for them to let you pass through….”. AMAZING. We spent half of the time trying to pick our jaws off the floor. Jeremy and his assistant spent at least 20 minutes showing us around, telling us about various areas of the Parliament building, letting our imaginations wander back through British history. We went out onto the Terrace, where Members of Parliment (but not other staff members) have lunch during nice weather. Absolutely gorgeous view of the Thames River and the London Eye.

Jeremy apologized for leaving us to go back to work, but not before securing us access to the Members Only section of the viewing balcony for a session of the House of Commons. Everyone was so passionate, so animated….far more interesting than watching CSPAN.

Posted by: Sarah | June 20, 2011

I wear my sunglasses at night…

Time always slows down when I travel. Everything around you is new, your senses are heightened, you are outside of your normal routine. Add this to the summer solstice in a country situated just below the Artic Circle when the sun really doesn’t fully set and you really enter a time warp. The almost constant daylight plays tricks on your body. You know that you should be exhausted and yet you manage to stay awake.

Reykjavik is known for its nightlife. Party until the sun comes up? The sun never actually went down. It is bizarre to be in a bar or a club, look at the clock that says midnight or 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. but then look out the window to see broad daylight. We barhopped Saturday night, constantly in disbelief that it was actually night. What time is it? We finally wrapped up the night (morning?) around 4 a.m. and went in search of the infamous hot dogs from a street vendor, amazed to see that people were still waiting in line to get into clubs around town.

We have discovered the magic of power naps, catching an hour of much needed sleep here and there, at the Blue Lagoon spa or on our day long road trip yesterday. Going on two hours of sleep, we picked up our rental car at 8 a.m. yesterday and spent the day driving the Golden Circle to see waterfalls and geysers and then down to the Southern Coastline of the country. Without having to worry about getting back before dark (I would not have wanted to drive those winding counry roads in the wintery darkness), we had as much time as we needed and took naps at many of the parks we visited throughout the day.

Iceland has captured us with its beauty. I don’t think that I have ever seen such brilliant shades of blue, such vast open spaces, such varied landscape. In one direction, the ground is covered with volcanic rock in bizarre formations that give you the sensation of being on another planet. In another direction bright green pastures stretch as far as you can see and slope up into mountains. Silver springs cut through the fields and cascade down the mountains to form impressive waterfalls. Beyond that you see glaciers. The sky never ends; the countryside here goes on forever. And it is quiet, so peacefully quiet. Outside of Reykjavik anyway…

 

Posted by: Sarah | June 16, 2011

A fresh breath of city air…

New York is a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people. Coming from DC, which often feels so one-dimensional, it is an invigorating change to be surrounded by the creative, the fashion-savvy, the unique.

Everything seems more alive here. I feel more alive.

Especially in the summer, the streets of New York come to life, are filled with energy. People shop outside, eat outside, socialize outside. Merchants take their business outside, from the artist to the pretzel vendor.

The city is constantly in motion; it sweeps you up in its whirlwind of activity. The city has character. It exemplifies diversity in every sense of the word. I am not surrounded by suits-and-ties. It is so much more than that.

Posted by: Sarah | May 12, 2011

wanderlust

After a lot of coffee and not a lot of sleep, I survived my first year of graduate school at GWU. Life in DC, life as a grad student, learning how to balance school, two jobs, and training has been a challenging transition, but I somehow survived. In spite of the busy schedule, I managed to squeeze in a few travel adventures over the past 9 months since I came back from Central America last summer. A New Years trip to California to see Wisconsin play in the Rose Bowl with my roommate, a Caribbean getaway from the DC winter for my friends’ wedding in Jamaica, and a week in Sao Paulo, Brazil managed to satisfy my travel cravings. Now that I am officially a student and the words “summer vacation” are in my vocabulary (even if that means working more than I ever did while in college), even more serious travel plans are in the works.

This summer’s travel adventure will be taking me back to Europe, for the first time since Turkey in 2007. Destination: Iceland-London-Italy-Germany.

Ariana, a good friend from my grad school program, and I will be heading to Europe in mid-June. Planning our trip has kept me sane as I’ve logged many long hours reading, studying, and writing research papers over the past couple months. The flights have been bought, we have lined up housing in most of the places we plan to visit, and are excited to see what adventures await us. For the second half of my trip, I will be meeting up with an old roommate from my Barranquilla days, who has come to visit me twice in New York, and has been inviting me to Germany for years. I will finally be able to take her up on that invite.

Stories to come.

Posted by: Sarah | February 21, 2011

The Power of a Passport…

The Power to transport me to faraway lands. To new cultures, to new people, to new languages.

The Power to awaken my senses. To new sights, new sounds, new smells, and new tastes. To make me feel more alive.

The Power to cross borders. Knowing that the blue cover of my passport alone is power. That others who see it have an opinion about my blue passport. For better or worse.

The Power to create memories. To open a new chapter in a book, possibly close a previous chapter. To arrive back in my home country at some point in the future and begin stories with “When I was in….”.

A small blue book, that as an international traveler is a strong part of my identity. My doorway to the world, to places that have allowed me to find myself, to carve out my identity.

I picked up my new passport last week, having replaced the temporary one that was issued to me in Honduras during my travel mishaps last summer. Stiff, new, so many blank pages staring at me, waiting to be filled with stamps, visas, memories. The following day I dropped it off at the Brazilian Embassy. It was too crisp, too empty. It needed a visa to take up at least one of those pages and make me feel like a traveler again.

It has been a decade since I was issued my first passport. Since I flew from the US to France for the very first time. A trip which would change the course of my life. In the ten years that would follow, I would visit 21 new countries.

My mind is already overflowing with ideas of places to visit in the decade of the new passport. A new year of travel adventures awaits me. I leave the US in less than two weeks, destination Jamaica and Brazil. The creative juices are already starting to flow and I am inspired to write again for the first time since I was in Panama last August. The butterflies in my stomach that come with the anticipation of leaving the US have started to set in. I couldn’t be more ready to go abroad again.

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen”
– Benamin Disraeli

¿Como explico? ¿Que puedo decir? Where do I begin…

My two month tour of Central America has come to an end. A journey that I started to daydream about more than a year ago, but didn’t seriously set into motion until less than a few months before I actually hopped on the plan to Guatemala. I came to explore the region, anticipating the unexpected. In that regard, I was not disappointed.

Por lo bueno, por lo malo, for better or worse, the past two months have been intense. I learned how to snorkel, attempted to surf, and reminisced about AIESEC with friends who I haven’t seen since conferences in Colombia and Turkey, many years ago. I am returning to the States with suitcases slightly lighter than I arrived (sans camera, iPhone, two pair of flip flops, a few novels, a discarded sheet & towel), but with memories to compensate for the lost possessions.

As I crossed from one country to the next, I not only learned how to deal with immigration officers and money changers at the border, but also the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the seven tiny countries of Central America. Tiny on a map, that is, pero bastante largo when you are crossing them in a bus.

Places stood apart from each other for different reasons.  Belize, specifically Caye Caulker, best place to relax, snorkel, dive (if only I were certified! next trip…) and appreciate the Caribbean. Nicaragua, a backpacker/adventure seeker’s paradise. Panama, a city that I could easily see myself living in. Tasting locals beers, learning slang, chatting with locals about corruption and political issues that each country faces, each country became real and distinct.

Trying new cuisine is one of the best parts of traveling. Food is such an integral part of a culture, a gateway to local traditions, a way to bring people together. While rice, beans, and plantains are at the heart of the cuisine throughout, Guatemala has its tamales and salsas; Belize, seafood; El Salvador and Honduras, pupusas; Costa Rica, fish tacos and more American chains than anywhere else (although El Salvador was a close competition); Panama, carimanolas, ropa vieja, and enough Colombian food to make me happy.

Mas que todo, traveling Central America this summer reaffirmed my decision to study Latin American Studies. Speaking Spanish again, feeling at home in the culture (especially in Panama, which reminded me a lot of the coast of Colombia where I lived), connecting stories from history books and the news to real life versions of those historias, I know that this summer was much more than a vacation. It was preparation for immersing myself in this region for the next two years at George Washington University and beyond.

Posted by: Sarah | August 5, 2010

NicaROCKINGagua

Biggest surprise of the summer? Nicaragua.

I’d heard from others who had traveled Central America before that they loved it, yet I never dreamed it would exceed my expectations the way that it did. I expected to love Guatemala, have a blast in Costa Rica, and practice my Spanish pretty much everywhere in between. As we fell into the backpacking route from one tip of Central America to the other, we heard whispers that Nicaragua was going to be the best. Costa Rica, 10 years ago, before it became so toursity, was how many described it. And yet, I was still unprepared for just how great the country was.

We spent more than 2 weeks exploring Nicaragua, and it truly did have a little bit of everything. We climbed volcanoes (and boarded down them too). We took surf lessons on the Pacific and flew to the Caribbean for some quality beach time in the Corn Islands, one of the most remote places I have ever visited. Rahul and I were both offered jobs to work at a hostel there, all living (and scuba diving) expenses covered, and I had a hard time reminding myself that I have grad school waiting for me back in the States.

We visited Granada, a picturesque colonial city, and partied in Leon, spent afternoons drinking mojitos and beachhopping. There were lightening storms, where we danced in the rain.

It’s hard to capture the essence of a country by simply describing the places that one visits while traveling, when the true magic is the people. Nicaragua reminded me of Colombia in the sense that it has not yet been ruined by tourism. Locals are friendly to visitors, but most likely won’t speak English to you immediately.  You need to work a little harder to bridge the cultural and communication differences to find common ground; in doing so, you may understand each other just a little bit more.

We met backpackers in Nicaragua from around the world who also wanted to travel off the beaten path.  I don’t think that I truly appreciated this until we went down to Costa Rica, where everything was packaged into a neat, overpriced package and catered to the American tourist. While many people appreciate the ease of traveling this way, I’m usually a little put off by it. I prefer to be spontaneous, roll with the punches, and catch a glimpse of the undiscovered secrets of a country that take a little more effort to reach. The new friends that we made from the States, Canada, Australia and Europe, the stories that we shared over Tona beers and Flor de Cana rum, made the experience even sweeter.

if you like where you’re living…
if you like what you do…
if you like what you’re seeing…
when you’re lookin at you…
if you like what you’re saying…
when you open your face…
then you got the right feeling.
you’re in the right place.

Five weeks into the Central America adventure, five new countries, six borders crossed, two scraped up knees, one stolen passport, one subsequent visit to the US Embassy, countless bus rides, lots of rice and beans and tortillas, almost too many stories to keep track of.

About 10 days ago, I was joined by two neoyorquino travel buddies. Michelle, Rahul and I have visited the largest Mayan ruins in Central America at Tikal, where we climbed pyramids that towered over the jungle and watched monkeys play in the trees.  We spent two days snorkeling through the second largest barrier reef in the world. After a month packed with soccer games and passionate Latino fans, we caught the World Cup finals at a sports bar in Belize, where I celebrated Spain’s victory amongst a bunch of Dutch travelers. We have traveled by taxi, ferry, speedboat, minibus, coachbus, and chicken bus as we cross one Central American border after another. There have been so many adventures, both good and bad, and I could not be more grateful to have my friends along for the ride.

I don’t know if I realized going into this adventure just how long 10 weeks of traveling is. I knew that it would be the longest period of time that I was traveling without being based in one spot, but I underestimated how exhausting – mentally and physically – it would be. My travel buddies and I splurged on a spa day this afternoon; I cannot remember the last time I was so relaxed. It has been an amazing journey thus far and I have no doubt that I will look back on this summer as an incredible learning experience and a hell of a lot of fun, but damn, it is tough at the same time.

Traveling, for me, is like running. It is not always easy, it is not always enjoyable, it is rare that you make it to the finish line without sustaining some bumps and scratches, if not more serious injuries. It takes endurance, it takes strength, it takes determination, it takes just a little bit of insanity. But without it, life is not the same. It does not have the same depth. When I am out on the road, whether running or traveling, I find answers. Answers about myself, answers about the world. I take it a day, an hour, a step at a time, and somehow, that is enough. Enough to continue moving.

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