Food is so Cheap in Oaxaca!

I simply cannot believe how incredibly affordable everything is in Oaxaca! I live with a host family, which means I don’t have access to the fridge/kitchen whenever I want… or at all. I don’t mind though because street food is very inexpensive and unbelievably good. My roommates and I constantly ate the best hamburgers that we have ever tasted and it cost us $30 pesos, which is only about $1.50 dollars. These burgers had cheese, bacon, ham, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, habanero sauce and a big juicy patty in between two buns. A burger like that would easily cost $15 dollars in Washington and it STILL would not be that good. Believe it or not, the burger was the most expensive street food that we ate. We had tortas, tacos, tlayudas and all sorts of foods for less than a dollar per meal. I really think that the food here will ruin eating out in Washington simply because the food from restaurants in Washington does not compare to the food from here. This is much better and much cheaper! Why doesn’t everyone study abroad here instead of Europe?!


First Impressions of Oaxaca

Ciudad de Juarez, which is the city where we were staying in Oaxaca is the capital of the state and, to no surprise, it was an overpopulated city with loud cars driving by the streets during the day and people sleeping on the sidewalks at night. The city itself wasn’t too pretty at first glance but once I started paying attention I thought it was the coolest place I have ever been to. There are street art (graffiti) murals throughout the city, which to many represent the town’s call of action against a corrupt government. In addition to the murals, there were several of protests against educative reforms, streets being barricaded and even teachers occupying the center of the city by setting up sleeping tents and living at one of the city’s main tourist attractions. Overall, the city was colorful but filled with poverty and ongoing social justice issues.


Study Abroad Round #2: Struggles of Choosing a Program

Blog by Oscar Ponce, Business Administration, “Dance as Social Technology”: Dance, Healing, and Community in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico

During my first study abroad program I did the typical thing of visiting a very popular city in an overpriced country in Europe – which was Rome and it was really fun! The challenge that came along with my second study abroad experience was finding a program that fulfilled my graduation requirements but at the same time choosing a country that didn’t have such a high cost of living, since I quit my job in order to travel abroad and I knew that I could not afford to spend 10 – 20 euros for every meal I had. I decided to look into the faculty-led programs at UW Bothell and found a dance program that took place in Oaxaca, Mexico. I applied, got accepted and bought my ticket all within a month. I am ready to go abroad!


Team Guatemala Visit to Marcajan

This photo was captured in Marcajan which is a village in Rio Dulce, Izabel, Guatemala. After spending the night there, we saw about 60 patients. Part of the clinic we set up included dental education with the children where we were able to provide the children with a toothbrush and toothpaste. We gave Abendazole  and vitamin A to the children to treat parasites. In addition, we provided a fun hand washing activity to the village members.

Seeing the children is truly an amazing part of this experience. Blog

9/20: Last Day in Cusco

Luckily, things were mostly packed from when we left for the Urubamba Valley so I didn’t have to do too much in the morning. A big group of us had all agreed to meet at noon to coordinate the rest of the day together. As we waited, I hit up the cafe/bakery next door with three other girls. Sitting there, sipping on espresso, it was weird to think about going home because it no longer felt like we were in a different country–Cusco had started feeling like home already. I can imagine how much stranger it would be if we’d spent a whole quarter or half a year abroad.

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I’d been carrying all this around in my ‘day pack’ for the last month

At noon, we all took taxis to the Plaza de Armas because that’s where all our hostels were. Me and 3 other people were staying at the same place, Pariwana Hostel, so we traveled together with all of our stuff. It was a very cool hostel with nightly activities and lots of cool services, and I wished I was staying there longer. At 1pm we all met up and some of us went to the market for more souvenirs. I went to exchange money then Tristan and I took a stroll to find food. We stumbled on a street fair type event happening in front of the college of sciences and we bought chicha to drink. The plan was for everyone to get back together at 3:30 to go to the football (fútbol) game that started at 4, but when we got back together we learned that the game had actually been at 11:45 in the morning! The rest of the plan was to watch the Seahawks game afterwards at Paddy’s Irish Pub (yes, an Irish pub) so we all just agreed to meet at 7pm for that.

Having slept barely 4 hours the night before, I went back to the hostel for a nap. I got about an hour of sleep in between people coming in and out of the room. At 6:45pm I headed over to Paddy’s, met the group, and we spent the next 4 hours hanging out and watching the slightly underwhelming game. I was falling asleep in my seat by the time it was over and promptly returned to the hostel to pack my last minute things and get as much sleep as I could. I had to get up before 5am to check out and get to the airport. It would be weird spending the next day traveling all by myself but I had grown comfortable in Peru and confident in my Spanish. Plus it gave me time to reflect on the last month and get ready to jump back in to my regular life again (I’ll never be ready, but who is?). On the 8 hour flight from Lima to Los Angeles I discovered that they had two Bob Marley albums available, which was the music I had been craving the most. It’s funny that being in Peru made me love Bob more than when I was back in Seattle. Now this was the perfect way to send me back home.

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9/19: Last Day of the Program

This time we could see on the train back to Ollantaytambo. Most of the group was asleep, though. I, having gotten 7 hours of sleep the past two nights, was able to stay awake. I spent most of the time finishing a drawing of a mandala that I had started on the bus ride back from Wayqecha. We got breakfast at a cute cafe that had a poster of Bob Marley so I immediately liked it. A couple of Colombian botanists that had been on the train with us (and apparently were also at the pizza restaurant the night before) walked in to the cafe about a half hour after us–I don’t really have anything to say about them but the coincidence is worth pointing out.

We got on our friendly bus back through the Urubamba Valley and visited a giant white Incan corn farm. The corn is known as giant white corn. Ever buy “Inka corn” from Trader Joes? Well they farm and make it at this place. We heard about Incan agricultural traditions, watched the uncanny trotting practice of the Peruvian horse (“the Cadillac of horses”) and were sent on our way with bags of dried corn products. Next we stopped at Ursula’s parent’s weekend house for an outdoor lunch. Again, I ate the leftover pizza from the night before. We had a long discussion to reflect on the second half of the course, and the course as a whole. It was a very empowering sharing of how each of us saw something new in terms of conservation and new ways to be once back at home. As an absolutely perfect ending, the universe and powers that be graced us with the appearance of 4 Andean condors flying around the nearby cliffs. The Andean condor is the world’s largest non-seafaring bird, worshiped by the Incas as representing the realm of the sky, featured in statues around Peru, and is also incredibly rare due to hunting and poisoning by humans. Basically, it was a really big deal that we saw them. I actually almost cried.

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The Andean condor

As another witty play by the universe, our next stop was a wildlife rehabilitation center for injured and mistreated wild animals, many of which were kept as pets at one point. There were Andeans condors there, too. Up close I was stunned by how truly giant these birds are–they stand over 4 feet tall and have over a 9 ft. wingspan–which we witnessed as one of the workers chased the birds to get them to fly. All in all, the center was heartbreaking to see but is an accurate depiction of the harsh reality that exists between humans and wild animals.

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The magnificent birds in [artificial] flight.

On the bus from there to Cusco, we were all in a somber mood. But again fate came around to provide us with the most stunning sunset I’ve seen in a long time. We all got off the bus and withstood the cold evening air to watch the day change to night. We were mostly silent for the shear beauty of what we were seeing. The perfect way to end our program.

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Sunset on the last day of the Exploration Seminar: from Andes to Amazon

But we weren’t done yet; we still had the last supper. We had a little under an hour at Alfonso to put our stuff down and relax before catching a taxi to Ursula’s brother’s restaurant. It was a fancy place that played smooth jazz covers of very not-smooth-jazz songs. We had the whole back section to ourselves which was good because there were several toasts and speeches (I actually started off the set). We spent almost 3 hours there talking and laughing and generally enjoying being all together before going our separate ways. But eventually things wound down and people started heading back to the hostel. It was around 10:30pm, and being the last night and all, I was going out dancing.

Others had gone out on various nights and I’d been waiting for the last night this whole time. I walked directly to the plaza from the restaurant to hit the town. It was Latin night at the place we went to, which I was happy about because it fit with being in Peru. The club also had a poster of Bob Marley (brownie points!). That night I danced non-stop for 4 hours and by the time I got back to Alfonso I could barely make it up the stairs because I had no leg muscles left. But I made it to my room and spent my last night at Alfonso.


9/18: Machu Picchu

Surprise! We all had to be up by 5:15am to pack our lunch, eat breakfast, and catch a bus to Machu Picchu by 6am. In the bus line I was standing with Kiley, a fellow lover of reggae music, and he pointed out that one of the Peruvian workers had a hat with the Rastafarian lion of Judah on it. Upon commenting on it and asking where he bought it (en Español, of course), we ended up telling him we were from the U.S. and were surprised and impressed when he responded by listing all of the states! He then told us how tourism to Machu Picchu has increased from 15 people/day in the ’70s to the 4000 to 6000 people that currently visit the park every day. With that staggering fact, we loaded the bus for the 20 minute ride up the mountain to the site. On the way, we realized how truly incredible a location we were in.

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Unveiling of the Inca ruin

Machu Picchu is located on the East slope of the Andes in the cloud forests of the Amazon. Although we’d already visited this ecosystem on our trip, the unbelievably sharp cliff faces and tall peaks of the surrounding mountains were like we’d never seen before. Our group had hired a tour guide, Hector, to show us around the ruins. He first took us to a ledge to get the shot of Machu Picchu that you mentally picture when you think of it. Watching the clouds slowly reveal the city was magical and exciting. Hector also explained to us how the ‘Picchu’ in Machu Picchu is pronounced like ‘picture,’ something I had not known before.

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Me and the group getting our Machu Picchu pictures in

Afterwards, Hector walked us through the city, giving us anthropological information. Apparently everything is way cooler if you visit on June 21st, the Winter Solstice. The tour finished at 11am and we had the rest of the day to wander and get back in town in time for dinner. Kiley and I met up with Luke to go to the two easily accessible hikes to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate which overlooks the ruin. Although the hikes weren’t long, hiking up the steep slopes at the 9,000 ft. altitude was very hard on my legs. The views were worth it though.

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What most people don’t realize being at Machu Picchu looks like.

Also, a surprise to us all were the sandflies. We thought we were done with biting bugs after leaving Manu, but we should have never let our guard down. Lots of people in short sleeves got torn up–I’m glad I stuck with the long-sleeves long-pants protocol. I still got several bites that swelled up a lot, and even bites from flies that flew up my untucked pantlegs. Little buggers! I felt bad for all the unsuspecting tourists; at least we were used to it.

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Alpacas on the trail to the Sun Gate

There was also the option to hike back down to Aguas Calientes from Machu Picchu which Kiley and I did as well, to the chagrin of my shaking calves. On the way we ran into Jen and Ursula who told us about this restaurant back in town that has the best fries. As we hiked back they sounded better and better so we had to stop and get some. The four of us sat and relaxed and ate fries for an hour then headed back to the hotel to shower before dinner.

They had planned a big dinner at a fancy pizza place–we had to give our pizza orders a couple days earlier. Before we got our food, a game of pictionary started up with me and Ashlyn vs. Kiley and Kyle M. It was probably  the most fun game of pictionary I’ve ever played, with topics ranging from Amazonian animals to obscure sports to draw-other-people-in-our-group-using-only-accessories-that-represent-them. At the end of the meal I proposed that Luke make a toast. I had heard that the guys had taught him what a toast was and how to ‘cheers’ a few nights before and I thought this was a great opportunity for him to try it out. I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned that Luke is an international student from China and we took lots of opportunities to teach him American phrases and culture, learning Chinese (Mandarin) ones in return. Anyway, he made a really beautiful toast to the occasion and to all of us in the program. After that we all shouted out our own toasts to other things, like no more chiggers and sandflies [Cheers!].

That night, several people went out dancing but I was still very tired and went to bed, especially considering that we had to leave the hotel by 4:50am to catch our 5am train (remember what I said about 8am being late?). In the middle of the night, however, I was awoken by drumming and shouts coming from the school courtyard outside out window. I looked out to see maybe 20 people performing a synchronized routine while holding what looked like short sticks and shouting rhythmically. I looked at my watch at it read 12:02am. . . well that’s Peru for you.