Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty!

October 18, 2009

Today I participated in a global event to promote the awareness and eradication of poverty through the MIllennium Development Goals. I spent the last couple months helping organize and promote this event throughout Portland and the Portland State University campus. People from the community came to learn more about the Millennium Development Goals, take action, meet organizations working towards these goals, hear wonderful musicians, see great performances, eat food and stand up against poverty! Also, my Chiapas capstone class debuted our final DVD, and I displayed an accompanying photo exhibit on women’s empowerment through development.

It was a great day. The rain wasn’t too much of a deterrent, and our video was a success! Thanks for all your support for my Chiapas video project and my photo exhibit. I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ll soon have a copy of the Chiapas DVD to show you, but for now, here are some photos from today’s event:


New Zealand Adventures

September 28, 2009

After a swift decision to travel through New Zealand instead of Australia, Cameron and I made our way to the youngest country in the world. We hired a car, starting in Auckland, and headed around both the north and south island.

We brought a 3 season tent with plans to camp around the lusciously green country for 3 weeks, but ended up staying in hostels half the time due to the cold and wet Spring temperatures. After departing Auckland, we headed north to camp on some beaches and swim in the ocean. The Pacific doesn’t feel nearly as cold down there as it does in California or Oregon. One of the campsites required driving an hour off the main highway on a dirt road, passing through grazing sheep, finding the remotely stationed ranger, driving through a couple grassy fields with no real road, opening and closing big gates and parking under some random trees by a beach. From there, we had to grab our packs and hike through a beach, over a mountain and onto another beach with a grassy clearing. That was the campsite. In the middle of nowhere. A beautiful nowhere all to ourselves. It was worth the effort.

Later that week, we found ourselves on the Coromandel Peninsula to the east of Auckland. We went on a kayak tour through rock caves and tunnels out in the ocean and paddled with dolphins for a few minutes. The peninsula was beautiful, but catered to tourists with money and was a little to expensive for our tastes, so we headed south through the middle of the north island. We bypassed opportunities to go Zorbing (if you’ve never heard of this giant plastic inflatable ball adventure, check out ) and went straight into the heart of geothermal activity. We stayed at a campsite with man-made hot spring pools sourced from the largest single-source hot spring in New Zealand. We even took a short hike to see the actual hot spring bubbling from the ground.

We continued down to Wellington, the capital and hop off spot for the ferry to the south island. Not the greatest city, but then again I’m not the biggest fan of cities to begin with. We drove our car onto the ferry and headed up to the viewing deck to watch the boat navigate through the Cook Strait. On the less populated but larger south island, we picked up fish n chips in Picton, got a nail in a tire in Blenheim and tried to find a highway that didn’t exist. We pre-booked a hostel by phone (rare on this trip) and made it to Franz Josef Glacier that night. Early the next morning, we began our 8 hour tour of Franz Josef Glacier and spent 6 hours actually hiking around on the ice. The tour company provided all the clothing and equipment and our tour group only had 10 people. It was challenging and we were exhausted, but how often does one get the opportunity to hike a glacier? Plus, this is one of the only glaciers in the world surrounded by a tropical rain forest. Most glaciers, like the one on Mt Hood in Oregon, are too high in elevation to be surrounded by foliage.

Off the glacier and into the car for a 7.5 hour drive further south. We wanted to go on the world famous 4 day trek through the Milford Sound, but it was too snowy and we were ill prepared for potential avalanches, so we took a boat cruise around the sound. It wasn’t quite the same, but it did give us 3 extra days to see other things. We hiked around the Southern Alps and saw a few more glaciers around Mt. Cook. We even had a whole mountain chalet to ourselves. Many places seem deserted in the off season, which was actually better for us. More room. Less noise. From the mountains we headed north, up the west coast, to a set of some of the most beautiful bays. We stayed in what seemed like a tree house straight out of Robinson Crusoe and used their free kayaks to paddle around a bit. Cameron turned 29(!) during our adventure, and we ate some carrot cake in celebration at a gas station/rest stop. We took the ferry back to the north island, headed up the north island and back to Auckland for our departure.

This trip was about 20 days and just right. We saw amazing things and met the friendliest people in the world. What more can I say? Photos will be up soon!

First time in the Southern Hemisphere

September 9, 2009

I reached New Zealand, camped at numerous spots in the northern part of the North Island, lost and gained some luggage, and plan each day as we go. The weather is cold and the people are undeniably some of the friendliest I have ever met. Since most places that have internet only have dial-up, I probably won’t be able to upload any photos or post too many entries, but I’ll do my best. Tenative plans:

-Kiwi bird treks
-Ferry crossings
-Helicopter adventure?

More to come…

And all the rest

September 1, 2009

The second week of my journey in Chiapas was a little less hectic than the first. We didn’t have nearly as many interviews, and many of the towns we visited during our day trips didn’t allow photography.

One of our first destinations was Acteal: The site of the Acteal Massacre on December 22, 1997. On this day, 43 indigenous Mayan people (mainly women and children) were brutally attacked and murdered by 300 paramilitary (state-trained and state-funded pro-governing party civil defense). The group Las Abejas was holding a 3 day silent prayer and fast to protest the oppression and exploitation of indigenous people in Chiapas. While the Las Abejas activists professed support for the goals of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, they renounced their violent means. Many suspect this affiliation as the reason for the attack, and government involvement or complicity. Soldiers at a nearby military outpost didn’t intervene during the attack, which lasted for hours, and the following morning, soldiers were found washing the church walls to hide the blood stains. It was an emotional visit, especially after viewing the site of the graves.

Later in the week, we visited a Zapatista community. Most of the people wear ski masks to avoid identification, and every visitor must go through a screening and hand over identification before entering the village. Unfortunately, even though we scheduled a visit with the head committee, we never had our submitted questions answered. We wanted to know about women’s positions within the community and their interaction with the outside communities. They gave us short, structured answers and then abruptly finished the meeting. It was a bit of a let down, especially because of all the hype that surrounds the Zapatista revolution and their autonomous towns.

Of all the women-focused development programs we visited throughout the 2 week, the most comprehensive was an organization call Cedach. They are based in San Crostobol de las Casas and are a feminist socio-political and literacy group. They focus on empowerment through literacy training with female domestic workers in Chiapas. We spent an afternoon with them and experienced one of their typical sessions. We participated in drawing, reciting and conversation after we conducted a series of interviews. Our day ended with a huge group meal with all the women and their wonderful children. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity to listen to these women who shared their personal stories and strengths with us.

Cameron arrived on our last day (the 15th) and joined us for our Farewell Fiesta. After most of the women in the PSU group left Chiapas, Cameron and I switched hotels and went to an amazing non-profit hotel called Na Balom. It was just a 20 minute walk from the first hotel, but felt as if we entered the middle of the forest. The building were built in the 1930’s by a Dutch Archaeologist and a Swedish Photographer couple (perfect for Cameron and me). These two donated all the buildings to the state of Chiapas, and all the profits go to the indigenous Lancandon people of the region. These people can even stay and eat at Na Balom for free anytime they are in San Cristobol.

This trip would not have been possible without being part of the PSU Capstone group. We had access to information and locations that are usually not accessable to tourists. I will post our video footage as soon as we finish the editing process.

ToninĂ¡, Palenque, Rivers, Adventure

August 11, 2009

This past weekend we left our hub in San Cristobol de las Casas and headed out to Palenque, a town 5.5 hours away by bus. The bus ride grew hotter and more humid by the minute as we headed down the mountains to our destination. By the time we hopped off the bus, we were groggy and dripping with sweat. Palenque is a semi-touristy town in the heart of humid jungleland in Chiapas, Mexico. A quick 10 minute ride away are the extensive Maya ruins of Palenque. This site was incredibly valuable in deciphering the language of the Maya people because of the amount of intact tablets and writings.

During this relaxing “tourist” weekend break, we went to a discussion on Maya astronomy lead by an indigenous man from Chiapas who now works for NASA. His Maya astronomy display will be opening throughout the country soon at all the large planetariums. We also went dancing, saw a fire dancing show, ate delicious food, swam in a few beautiful rivers, and saw a few different ruin sites.

The ruins were amazing. Both Palenque and ToninĂ¡ blew my mind, as these surreal things tend to do. On our way back to San Cristobol on Sunday, we stopped in a Zapatista town. The people don’t generally let extranjeros (foreigners) in to their village, but one of our leaders and her partner have a good relationship with the people and they worked out an agreement to allow us in. This village has one of the most beautiful cascades of waterfalls I have ever seen. The water was a bright blue/green and the waterfalls and their pools went on forever. I could explore that jungle and the water for days on end. We also spend time jumping off logs with the indigenous children of the village. They were great and showed us some trails around the jungle.

After the water exploration, we headed to ToninĂ¡, another Maya ruin site. It’s mostly just one gigantic, enormous pyramid. We hiked to the top, and boy was it a hike. The site was closing, so we had to climb this pyramid quickly and carefully. The view from the top was unbelievable. There was an option to ride horses around the site, but we didn’t have enough time. We hopped back on a mini bus and crammed all 14 of us inside. It was a sickening 2 hours ride back to San Cristobol and we were all glad to be back “home” with dinner ready.

2 Days In

August 4, 2009

It’s beautiful here. I’m traveling with a wonderful group of fellow PSU students. We are all excited about our cram packed days because we share similar interests in gender and international development. This 2 week program specifically focuses on women in Chiapas, Mexico, especially indigenous women.

Here in Chiapas, there are 5 indigenous languages spoken. Many people do not speak Spanish and many are not literate. Chiapas is by far the poorest state in Mexico, yet the richest in natural resources. It supplies 50% of the hydro power for the entire country, yet it’s people pay the highest energy prices in Mexico. I learned many tidbits of information during our many different meetings today.

Everyday, we meet with different types of people and organizations (most of them NGOs or non-profits) and we have discussions about what they do and how they fit into the women/development agenda. At least once a day we have video interviews with a few individuals (generally women) who are participating in different development projects: microfinance, environmental sustainability, co-ops, etc.

Today was packed full of information. We first met with a nonprofit group called CIEPAC. Miguel, one of the NGO participants, informed us of their founding principals and current involvement in grassroots organizarios. Basically, CIEPAC informs and helps organizations organize. Since there is so much censorship on the government-owned news and media, real information is hard to come by. These people provide and explain it in relation to whatever groups need help.

It started raining this afternoon. It rains almost every afternoon for about an hour. It’s almost tropical rain: semi-warm rainfall and semi-warm temperature. Beautiful. Historic. The people here are amazing. Lots of sunshine! Wearing SPF 50 and I’m still pink. Guess that’s what I get at 7000 elevation.


August 2, 2009

After dealing with the hodgepodge of an airport in Mexico City, I have finally reached my destination: San Cristobol De Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. It’s late and thus dark, but there was a beautiful lightning storm on my 45 minute drive to the town. The air is moist and sweet, and I can’t wait to check out the town tomorrow.

From the Farm to the Kitchen

July 22, 2009

Yesterday, my friends and I hopped in my clunker car and headed out to pick berries on Sauvie Island just north of Portland. It was a sweltering 92 degrees (which is hot for Portland) but we still managed to pick quite a bit. Enough to inspire preheating the oven in that heat.

We stopped by Trader Joes on the way home and grabbed essential ingredients: butter!, flour, sugar, Lambic and Prosecco. Zoe provided the rest of the necessities, including the kitchen. As I blanched some peaches to remove the skin, Nicole started shredding the butter and mixing her dough for the crust. With some help from Zoe, an expert pie artist, we managed to create some beautiful pies: I chose a blueberry peach mixture with a crumble top, and Nicole went for mixed berry magic with a latticed top.

I didn’t leave Zoe’s until 10pm, which made it easier to fall asleep and forget about the tasty morsels I wanted to eat despite required cooling time. This morning I had my first piece. It was a tad too juicy, but still incredibly delicious.

Notes for next time:
-Pick a cooler day
-Find a strange recipe
-Include some fresh ginger
-Cook longer?
-Try and have as much fun as the last time

Hello World!

July 9, 2009

In an attempt to keep up with the modern age of technology, I am starting this blog site about my experiences during my travels around the world. Come back and check it out periodically to find out where I am and what I am doing. As of now, my plans are as follows:

August 1st-19th: Mexico, mostly Chiapas, but I will be in Mexico city for a day or so.

September 3rd-23rd: Australia, hiring a car and driving to the outback from Sydney with a few stops along the coast. Backpacking, bushwalking, camping, etc.

End of September-December: Portland, Oregon, fall term at Portland State University

January-June: Turkey, living in Istanbul and periodically venturing into the rest of the country

June-ish?: Egypt, probably the Cairo area with my Dad for a week?

That’s the plan, and blogs will accompany these adventures for all who are interested in my whereabouts.