Spanish Classes in Guanajuato, Mexico

After my first day of Spanish classes in Guanajuato, Mexico I was high as I kite. It was confirmation that joy is available to us all when we make the choice to follow our hearts and live life as we so choose. Sigue sus suenos! Chase those dreams. It’s never too late.

I’ve always wanted to learn to speak other languages. I was finally motivated when I fell in love with Salsa music 13 years ago and learning Spanish became a stronger desire. I started with a continuing education class and had a great teacher. I enjoyed her classes because she taught through the use of  juegos (games) and dibujos (drawings) like we were in kindergarten. She took some liberties with the Spanish language and invented the prefix Sena as in Ms., as there is no equivalent to Ms. with the Spanish language. As far as I know it hasn’t made a wave into Latin America just yet.

I want to continue to travel in Spanish-speaking countries and habla con mis compadres. I want to be able to get to know people and not be an outsider. It’s a high goal as no matter where I go I still will be a foreigner – extranjera – gringa but I can still try.

Side note–there is a taco place in San Miguel del Allende that was near my hostel and was selling “gringas”.  After walking by several times I finally asked what was a “gringa”? It’s a corn tortilla with carne and queso on it and another corn tortilla on top. White on the outside? It’s kind of like a quesadilla but not folded. One of the many versions of the same comida. I was glad I asked because I made some new friends. The vendedor was from Los Angeles and the heffe had previously lived in Santa Rosa, California.

I spent two weeks with La Escuela Mexicana in Guanajuato, Mexico and it was great! I chose this area because I was familiar with Guanajuato and San Miguel del Allende (1.5 hr bus ride from Guanajuato) from friends and family. I flew to Leon which is close to Guanajuato and easy to get to from major airports in the states. I went to Guanajuato during their biggest festival of the year called Cevantino. Inspired by Cervantes, the festival lasts much of the month of October and has concerts, operas, ballets and street artists from all over the world.

Street artists at Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mx

Going to Guanajuato during Cervantino seemed like a good idea at first but it became difficult with lodging. Hostels were almost entirely already booked on the weekends. I would recommend if you want to go Guanajuato during Cervantino definitely plan ahead.

I really appreciated La Escuela Mexicana on a variety of levels. They are flexible and can accommodate people who are traveling. I went at nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning and started class at eleven. They also have students who study with them for months at a time.

I also appreciated that they “get right to it”. That there wasn’t a lot of fanfare. I tried to translate this to my host family but I couldn’t find a way. I ended up saying that they were–bien and that’s about as far as I got. Her patience was appreciated. I liked all the teachers but especially Genaro because of his calm and slow speaking style was easy to understand.

Since my time learning Spanish in Seattle I had also taken two semesters of college Spanish in Berkeley. Both ways have their value but so for me learning Spanish abroad has been more enjoyable, less stressful and you get opportunities to practice at every moment. It is a great way to meet other travelers and it gives you a context in which to speak your new words with.

Mis amigos a Escuela Mexicana

Yesterday I received my “diploma” at Escuela Mexicana but I still have a long way to go. I have a new-found respect for learning languages. I think my accent or pronunciation is decent but I wonder if I will ever learn all the verb conjugaciones. Espero que aprendere  todo!

Muchas palabras, no mucho tiempo!

Join the journey—-

Erin

Supplements I Will Never Travel Without

1. Probiotics – This is an obvious one but an important one since dysentery while traveling is a common occurrence. Therefore building and maintaining the digestive flora of your gut while traveling is a top priority.

These helpful bacteria are an essential part if our immune system and play a role in digestive health. Start taking them before you travel to get a head start and increase your live probiotic food such as naturally fermented sauerkraut or other veggies, kombucha and coconut kefir. Skip the dairy yogurt as it is acidifying to the body and can lead to phlegm production.

It also is good to have a probiotic supplement on hand in the event you take an antibiotic and need to replenish your flora afterwards, especially for women who might be prone to post antibiotic yeast infections.

Products I recommend are Jarrow’s EPS or Garden of Life’s Primal Defense Ultra Probiotic. Both brands are shelf stable and do not need to be refrigerated. I like Jarrow’s EPS because the blister packs are so easy to pack. Garden of Life also contains beneficial soil organisms that science is now understanding their role in the bodies’ microbiome. Popping one or two of these every morning on an empty stomach worked out well for me while I was traveling in South America.

Umeboshi Plum

2. Umeboshi Plum – This is going to be one of the lesser known supplements listed but one of the more special. Ume (for short) plums come from Japan where they are eaten regularly in Japanese cuisine like onigiri (seaweed rice wraps). They are also known for settling the stomach from motion sickness, eating bad or rich food, and alkalizing the digestion. They are very salty, quite sour and can take some getting used to.

You don’t need to eat them with rice to settle the stomach, just eat them plain or put them in a non-caffeinated tea or hot water and drink the water. Aficionados of ume plums will suck on the pit after eating to get the remaining essence. Umeboshis are known to people in the United States through Macrobiotics and helped me feel more fortified while traveling.

3. Curing Pill – Most of the supplements on this list are digestive related. Here is another remedy for upset stomach, hangover and diarrhea but hitting it from a different angle. It is a traditional Chinese herbal formula famous all over the world. You feel bad from eating– take a curing pill. Gentle and soothing you could even take a daily dose to help your digestion with the stress of eating food you may not be used to. There are several quality safe brands to purchase in the United States including Plum Flower Pill Curing and Dr. Shen’s Curing Pill.

Ceviche in Lima, Peru

4. Final digestive remedy to consider bringing along is another Chinese herbal remedy – Huang Lian Su or Coptis. This herb is similar to Goldenseal and contains an alkaloid called berberine which has affinity to killing bacteria that can wreak havoc on the digestive track. Travelers diarrhea usually just grounds you for a few days and many people wait it out without taking an antibiotic. However if you want to help it along you can take some Huang Lian Su without a prescription or as much damage to digestion as antibiotics can do. If friends you are traveling with are ill you can take some prophylactically but like antibiotics you don’t want to take it everyday.

5. For colds and flu – This is a tough one since there are so many great supplements for supporting the immune system out there. Some people swear by vitamin C or zinc or herbs like elderberry can be helpful but when you are packing light you need to whittle it down to some thing you can use for a wide spectrum of illness. Currently I am traveling with Andrographis as it can be used for sore throat, respiratory distress and a fever. It can also be used for a bladder infection or toothache. I also load up on mushrooms like Reishi and Agarikon before leaving as they are immune builders par excellence.

6. B complex or vitamin B1 – Vitamin B1 is rumored to discourage the biting of mosquitoes. It’s debatable whether this really works as mosquitoes seem to bother some people and not others. I take B complex that includes B1 of at least 100 milligrams for all the benefits of B’s when I travel. I took it this winter while in Brazil and the news about the Zika virus broke. I got hardly any bites my whole time in South America and while on a hike in a swampy area and others were getting mosquito bites, l didn’t get any.

7. Greens and/or supplements against radiation – I think I have been on 21 planes or something this year and so I have started to think about how I might protect myself against exposure to radiation on airplanes. Mushrooms have been studied for remediation from radiation and support immune health. Also plants like wheat grass and chlorella are often chosen for deep cellular health. So throwing in a few packets of a green superfood or a mushroom product on a trip is not a bad idea.

Host Defense Mycoshield is a mushroom throat spray that is in a convenient format for on the road use and helps support the immune system on a variety of levels.

The next challenge can be packing all this into your suitcase or pack but worth it when you are far away from the luxury of having access to nutritional supplements.

To health on the road!

Erin

Fall: Slowing down and Recipe for Carrot Hot Dogs

Fall: The word for this season is slow.

It’s fall baby. The colors may have not changed yet but we’ve passed the equinox and it’s almost October. It’s time to slllloooowwww dooooowwwwn.  It’s getting dark earlier and the weather is finally changing from the summer heat. As much as we might want to keep up the pace of summer our bodies might not let us and it’s time to listen.

I’m feeling it. I’ve been on the east coast for several months now and wonder if I’m feeling the seasonal change more than when I lived in California. But the weather was so wacky hot this year it’s hard to know.

In the Chinese medicine tradition and others fall and winter is seen as restorative time so you can have plentiful energy again in spring. Literally if you don’t recoup this time if year you can burn out more than if you are overly active in the summer months.

Time to drag out the sweaters and turn on the oven.

Today I made baked vegan carrot hot dogs and my friend made banana bread. We are visiting New York City with an oven and flush with vegetables from my parents farm so rather than run around and try all the hip restaurants that would leave us broke we are cooking.

What are vegan carrot hot dogs you say? They are a recipe tip I got while selling my parents sauerkraut at the farmers market.

Vegan carrot hot dogs

Wash carrots and cut off undesired ends.

Season how you like, I used hot pepper sesame oil and salt.

Cover tray with tin foil to allow carrots to steam.

Bake your carrots whole and eat like a hot dog, I did 350 for about 45 mins.

Place on bread with mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, relish whatever you like.

Summer on the Farm + Kale Salad Recipe

I’m spending the summer at my parents farm in central NY. And boy has it been a summer. It’s been hot and dry and around 90 degrees everyday for over a month now. I’ve gotten used to sleeping without blankets.

I am enjoying longs walks on my parents dirt road. There is no traffic on it–only one or two cars per day pass. Even when I turn the corner to the paved road there are few cars. Sometimes I see an Amish buggy. Summer wildflowers are in bloom on the side road ditches. I see mullein growing tall and am compelled to harvest some to dry for winter coughs but will I actually get to it? I often swat deer flies while I walk, I had a special stick for a while but my Mom opts for long sleeves, a hat and bug spray for her walks.

The neighboring farmers sunflowers opened and for a week I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz. Also the wheat had just been cut and it was like the golden hills outside of Oz. Now the sunflower heads are drooping a little because the seeds are getting meaty. There was a racoons family that was gleaning the wheat field. For several consecutive nights three young raccoons and the mother came out to see our car from the wheat field like deer in headlights before disappearing into the woods. Mom named them Huey, Dewey and Louie and my brother reminded us that the mother would be setting them free probably very soon.

Two years ago my parents raised turkeys and kept them in the field out back. Consecutively wild turkeys also came by and visited. I guess they wanted to check out their distant cousins. The raised turkeys are long gone but other day I saw some wild turkeys on the road.

I’ve been making kale salads straight from the field. My favorite way to make kale salad includes:

Chopped kale
Olive oil
Apple Cider Vinegar
Nutritional Yeast
Sea Salt
Nuts such as sunflower seeds. Apple slices can be nice.

Optional ingredients: honey, avocado, fresh garlic or onion.

The secret is to massage the dressing unto the kale for about 5 minutes with your hands.

The farm is in Amish country and while my parents are not Amish, they did buy an Amish farm. It has pros and cons.

It’s not always easy here, as the farm is missing some modern conveniences like being on the grid electricity, full plumbing and a strong Internet connection. This year is even harder as this area is going through a drought right in the middle of farming season. But it is peaceful and nature is in bounty. The frogs croak all night.

And the sunsets have been amazing.

Quit Your Job and Travel: Reality or Impossible Dream?

Should your quit your job and go traveling? It may sound like a romantic fairy tale but for some it is a true reality. Nina Ragusa writes in the Huffington Post: Why Quit Your Job and Travel is the Worst Advice Ever. I don’t necessarily agree.

It’s true it’s not for everyone. Ultimately we are saying the same thing and she speaks from experience I think she is missing the point.

The point being that many people are stuck in life sucking jobs and commitments and not really living their true potential or with a lot of personal happiness. Sometimes life means living with high debts and long hours at jobs that yield little satisfaction. Before we get too philosophical there are some core issues–mainly one– regarding quitting your job that Nina does address and that is money.

MONEY.

Your going to need it if you want to quit your job and travel the world. But if you don’t have a lot of money there are ways to travel with some savings and a lot of flexibility and skill. Again it’s not for everyone.

The following items could make it difficult to quit your job and travel but even so–if you want to travel then try to find a way to make it possible working with your situation. We have enough people living conventional lives in the world. What we don’t have is people being creative and going against the grain for the betterment of their deepest self (and the world around them*).

-High Mortgage (consider homeexchange.com or rent out your house for a year and just go)
-Rent controlled apartment in somewhere like NYC or San Francisco (but then on the other hand it’s important not to let your dreams wait til tomorrow)
-You aren’t willing or able to volunteer or do a variety of short-term work along the way through things like Workaway and WOOF
-You don’t have family or friends to stay with when the money runs out (scout out in advance whom in your life could use a helping hand in exchange for room and board, an operation, a new baby, new business)
-The cost of health insurance (short-term travel insurance is an option)

Those are all very real things to contend with if you quit your job but even so it can be done. People do it. They run out of money and then sleep on a friend’s couch to get rent money and then join the rat race again.

I recently got a pet-sitting opportunity for several weeks and meanwhile filled in at a friends restaurant. It wasn’t a lot of money but it helped fund my next step. I’ve volunteered at an eco-resort on the big island of Hawaii and received fresh organic meals everyday in exchange for doing housekeeping. I stayed at my sisters house in beautiful U.S. city a month and helped take care of my nephew. I recently joined Workaway and expect to be doing a lot more of these types of situations. So far I’ve gotten offers to work at a hostel in Puerto Rico and help a family at a estate with a pool in Northern Thailand.

So maybe it’s not true that you can just quit your job and travel but you can work your way around the world. Speaking as a US citizen we are quite privileged and even a moderate amount of savings can get you far if you are willing to stay in hostels or AirBnb and cook your own meals in much of the developing world.

An excellent resource for deciding if you are up for doing something different in your life and possibly hitting the road is Chris Guillebeau, especially his book, The Art of Non-Conformity. He himself has visited countries, writes about travel hacking and his book is about living true to yourself in away you define not how the world expects you to.

Chris writes in ANC:

“In choosing to live a remarkable life, failure is a real possibility, but regrets are optional. If one plan doesn’t work out, you can try something else…”

My advice, whether you decide to leave your residence or not– don’t stay in a dead end job. If you have seen The Office (movie) we know how that ends up.

*–When you live in harmony with your true self, sharing and giving to others is often becomes a natural part of self-expression. In a simplest example-if you are taking care of yourself, working a career or life path that fulfills you are less likely to have road rage or be able to be present for the people in your life. Additionally when people ask themselves what do they want out of life they often want to contribute to society in a positive way.

Carnaval in San Francisco is Many Things

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For over 20 years I’ve been making a pilgrimage to San Francisco’s Carnival Celebration on Memorial Day weekend. It is a celebration of many things. Naturally it is inspired by carnival in places like Brazil and has the signature samba music and bikini clad dancers. But it’s so much more.

Music and dance are at the cornerstone of this festival expressing traditions from around the world that stretch back far into history.

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Carnival or carnaval rather (Spanish/Portuguese spelling) in San Francisco showcases a wide variety of people from different walks of life and cultures. As it should since most Latin countries celebrate some form of carnaval including Italy and European colonized locales like Trinidad and Tobago.

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At San Francisco Carnaval kids dance and play drums. Garbage (Recology) and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) workers take part. Many countries from Latin America are represented and it becomes a celebration of cultures and customs of people who now call San Francisco home.

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Viva all the people and relations!

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Bernie Sanders supporters were represented!

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And Brazil’s

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Colombia is pretty serious about their black and white woven hats. This lady took it to a whole new level!

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Enjoy the photos!

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Photos from Carnaval SF 2014

My Journey to Carnaval in Salvador, Brazil

The Unique Street Art of Salvador, Brazil

Salvador is a seaside city north of Rio de Janeiro by 1000 miles in the state of Bahia. It is known for its large Afro-Brazilian population and culture, historical center called the Pelourinho and a Carnaval that is more street then feathers and high heels like in Rio.

I visited Salvador to go to Carnaval and it was an amazing. Throughout the week I tried to snap as much street art as I could. I wanted to capture this part of Brazil’s sreet art for its unique style and expression. I took all photos with my old Canon Elph, 9 megapixals. I never took my phone out of the house as I was worried about theft. During the day it was relatively safe but at night in the crowds, pick-pocketing is quite common.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for street art in Salvador. My Airbnb host runs a supply store for artists in Salvador. If I hadn’t been busy seeing parades everyday for Carnaval I would have had him show me more. All of these pieces are between the Pelourinho and the neighborhood of Barra.

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Islas Balletas: The Poor Mans Galápagos

Enjoy this mini slide show from Islas Balletas, Peru at what is called the “Poor mans Galápagos”. The starting off point is the town of Paracas where you can easily book a several hour boat ride for seeing animals. Easy to get to Paracas by bus from Lima. I’ve never seen so many birds! img_20160124_091447643.jpg

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Way I Could Have Used Less Waste As A Traveler

I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show, Parts Unknown last night. It was on Jamaica and about where the creator of the James Bond movies lived on the island along with how a local fishing community will make way for another expensive resort. Continue reading “Way I Could Have Used Less Waste As A Traveler”

Getting a Tourist Visa for Brazil on the fly in Lima, Peru

Getting a visa for Brazil in Lima, Peru

I wanted to go to Brazil and I had an opportunity but I wasn’t sure I should go. Going to Brazil was great but was it the right thing for the moment? I would be traveling with my brother in South America but the Brazil portion would be by myself.

By the time I decided for sure there were no appointments available at the San Francisco Brazilian consulate in time for my departure. I thought a visa agency could expedite my application but they could not perhaps because of high season and the coming Olympics games.

The agency could get me a same day appointment in Houston but that would mean spending extra money on a ticket to Houston and handing over $300 to the visa agency. Forget that!

Travelers get visas at the last-minute all the time when they travel from one country to the next. I thought why not spend that money in a neighboring country to Brazil such as Peru or Argentina, see a little of those countries and get my visa.

I was confident my plan would pan out but still I was facing a number of unknowns. I did some research including reading the Brazilian customs website and I found a few articles on the Internet like this one that gave me a courage to move forward.

Before I left for Peru I read and re-read everything to make sure I had all the necessary documents with me for when I would go to the Brazilian consulate in Lima.

I guess there still was some hesitation on my part because I didn’t buy my airline ticket for Brazil til I was in Lima.

The tricky thing was that in order to get the visa you have to show a ticket in and out of Brazil. But what if there is a problem with your visa then what do you do? My brother and I discussed the idea of buying a ticket and presenting it at the Lima consulate and cancelling it afterwards, then buying another ticket when I had my actual visa in hand. It was a little crazy but it was also part of the adventure.

I got my visa, went to Brazil and I lived to tell you about it.

But it was not without a little bit of stress and things that now make me laugh, like when I submitted a sexy photo instead of the proper visa photo to the Brazil visa website. I can still remember the man at the consulate in Lima, gesturing with his hand by his hair to indicate my pose in the incorrect photo.

I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s. I translated the Brazilian website into English and read it four times, but I missed a crucial detail.

In order to get a travel visa to Brazil as an American you need to have:  (don’t quote me, check the list!)

passport
photo, the type for a passport or visa
proof of financials (several months of bank statements)
credit card (I used my debit card, hoping the above was enough and it was)
ticket in and out of Brazil
address and phone number where you’ll be staying in Brazil

Once you have everything you apply through the Brazilian website, get a receipt of doing so and then go to the consulate and pay the fee in person, $160 U.S. dollars.

——

So there I was in an Internet cafe in beautiful Miraflores–a touristy and affluent neighborhood of Lima (my brother deemed it the fanciest he had seen in all of Latin America), it was only my second day out of the United States and I was tackling the project at hand: get to Brazil. I have enough Spanish to get by but it was a little crazy working with keyboards and search engines in Espanol. I had to ask for help to find an apostrophe.

I searched and searched and found the best ticket I could afford. It would leave next week and take me from Lima to Rio and then from Rio to Salvador for Carnival, back to Rio and then to Cartagena to meet up with my brother again. It included a 10 hour layover in Sao Paulo in the middle of the night and 4 hour layover in Bogotá.

  1. I brought a photo with me and but for some reason the Brazilian website wouldn’t accept the scan that the nice Peruvians had just done for me in the cafe. I had them scan it again. Finally in a desperate moment, to not lose my entire online application for the second or third time,  I uploaded a “normal” photo taken right after I had been to a hair salon that I made small and the site accepted it.

I didn’t have an address or phone number where I was staying. I was planning on staying in Airbnb’s or hostels. And of course I hadn’t booked them yet because I didn’t have a visa. I couldn’t fake an Airbnb address because you don’t get the actual address til the reservation is booked. I had briefly looked at some gay travel sites thinking staying in a gay neighborhood hotel or bed and breakfast might be fun, so in the heat of the moment of trying to complete my application, I googled gay travel, trying to find an address and phone number of a hotel for my application. I found the site but it didn’t show a phone number and then the addresses were written in an unfamiliar way but eventually I figured it out.

I went to the consulate first thing in the morning and I waited nervously for a turn in line. There was a couple taking a cruise in Brazil and they somehow missed the fact that they needed visas. I was desperate but not as much as they were because there would be no refund from the cruise if they missed the trip. At least I had made to South America.

I got my turn at the counter and the kind gentleman gave me a list of things required and told me to do it online. I replied, I did it already, I did it already…and he went to go check my application.

This is where I messed up most of all. All the documents that you provide must also be uploaded to the Brazil visa website and then in person. I thought the documents were just for presenting in person. He told me there was an Internet cafe nearby that could help me. I went and had my documents scanned but the proprietor wasn’t able to answer any of my questions. I had to scan copies of my debit card, my passport, my checking account statements. I think I had a thumb drive but I didn’t bring with me that day and so the owner had to email them to me.

I had to trust that all would be well and no one would steal my information. I’ve been in this situation before when traveling, not with documents but other situations where I just had to trust that all would be well.

And it was…I thought about changing my debit card number when I returned to the states but I never did.

I returned to the consulate the following day after getting another photo taken and uploading all the documents. Once the application is in you need to wait about five days to get your visa and your passport back. Five days from then was Tuesday and my flight to Brazil was early Wednesday.

It all worked out, I got my visa and I went to Brazil. I’m all the better for it and it was a dream long in the making. This type of travel is not for everyone. I like the feeling of hitting the road and figuring it out as I go. After my trip to South America I am a lot more confident in taking risks and dealing with unfamiliar circumstances while traveling.

You can get your visa on the fly in Lima, Peru!

Join the journey–