Explorations and Studies

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My first presentation at school here!

The last couple of weeks have kept me plenty busy with my master’s classes now in full swing, and endless adventures and explorations always beckoning me around the city. This week I gave my first presentation at the School of Public Health and it went quite well! We were given topics to work on and present in groups and I volunteered to be one of the presenters for our group, presenting on the North American Sanitation Movement. I saw it as a great opportunity to share some of the historical knowledge and examples I learned in my masters program in Chicago. For any of you interested, here is a youtube link to a portion of my presentation: http://youtu.be/_HS2nu2ygdY

Having now been in classes for a couple weeks I feel better positioned to comment on my perceptions and observations. The program has unquestionably gotten off to a rather disorganized and bumpy start, wherein for example, on multiple evenings of class one of the professors thought we were scheduled for four hours of class rather than two hours, or vice-versa. The quality of the teaching has been great, however, and my introductory Public Health course, which I thought might be a bit repetitive after completing 2 years of public health studies already, has actually proven to be a totally new learning opportunity. We have spent weeks now diving into the history of public health, analyzing theories and practices from the days of Hippocrates, through the centuries, up until modern day. We’ve read and discussed philosophers such as Hobbes, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, etc. While at first I was struggling to see the value of studying all this philosophy and history in terms of its importance to public health, after a few weeks I can now see how important it is to understand the theories and philosophy behind how public health and public health programs are carried out, often in very different ways, in places throughout the world. Back to observations, where the school has fallen short of my expectations on organization, my fellow students have exceeded my expectations in terms of organization, knowledge, and overall academic rigor. They come to class having so thoroughly studied and reviewed the assigned articles and readings that any of them could stand up and practically teach much of that day’s lesson. They are highly motivated and are almost all professionals of some sort, varying from undergraduate professors to doctors, nurses, veterinarians, administrators, etc. As a plus, they are all also super friendly and have all kind of taken me under their wing. 🙂

This past weekend I finally went and visited a park called Comfama, which is about a 1km steep hike up the road from my home. For a fee of $15,000 pesos ($9) you can enter for the whole day and access their three pools, turkish bath, outdoor gym area, hiking trails, tennis courts, children’s carnival rides and playgrounds, rock climbing wall, and even zip lining! It’s a pretty awesome little hidden gem that I definitely plan to go back to.

Made it to the top in good time! :)

Made it to the top in good time! 🙂

About to take off on the zip line!

About to take off on the zip line!

I also took the time this past week to snap some pictures around La Estrella, the neighborhood/zone I live in here in Medellin, to give you a glimpse of the area.

This captures the area of the city I live in very well. Tons of horses and lots of motos.

This captures the area of the city I live in very well. Tons of horses and lots of motos.

Apartment buildings here in La Estrella.

Apartment buildings here in La Estrella.

The cute little metro bus I take to and from the train each day!

The cute little metro bus I take to and from the train each day!

The main plaza in La Estrella filled with penguins, puppies, and people :)

The main plaza in La Estrella filled with pigeons, puppies, and people 🙂

Example of produce markets here...so fresh and sooo cheap!

Example of produce markets here…so fresh and sooo cheap!

Cathedral in the center of La Estrella

Cathedral in the center of La Estrella

Some locals hanging out in the main plaza in La Estrella

Some locals hanging out in the main plaza in La Estrella

Last week I was asked to visit a local foundation here in Medellin called Fundacion Solidaria La Fraternidad. It’s a pretty dynamic and wonderful little organization that is doing a lot of great, hands-on social work here in the city. They offer an incredible array of classes and services in their two humble little buildings residing in a relatively rough area of town. One of their primary programs is providing tutoring and instruction for low-income children either before or after school. Due to population constraints and not having enough space in schools for all the students in the metropolis of Medellin, most elementary and middle schools here divide the day in half and half the students attend classes from very early in the morning until early afternoon, and then the other half attend classes from early afternoon until evening. This results in half of the elementary and middle school aged children having half their entire morning or their entire afternoon and evening free each day. Low-income children whose parents have to work during this time are often left to fend for themselves. This foundation I visited offers programs for these children so that the time they are not in school can be spent learning and furthering their education, instead of on the streets where they can find themselves amidst or participating in violence, drugs, crime, etc. In addition, the foundation provides free space for cooperatives of local small businesses, free business training courses for small business owners, seamstress courses and training for women hoping to find jobs in clothing manufacturing, crocheting and knitting classes, and so much more. I was invited to visit this foundation with the hope that I could potentially help solicit donations from my connections in the U.S., through personal, business, or Rotary connections. I am very impressed with the Foundation and am now in the process of trying to determine ways in which donations I solicit for the Foundation could be used to improve and make the Foundation more sustainable. I hope to be able to report more in the coming weeks! If you have ideas or know of anyone who might be compelled to work with or contribute to a foundation such as this one, please contact me! 🙂

Women learning knitting and crocheting.

Women learning knitting and crocheting.

A local cooperative of business owners receiving professional training.

A local cooperative of business owners receiving professional training.

The foundation I visited.

The foundation I visited.

Children being helped with their studies.

Children being helped with their studies.

Women learning how to use various industrial sewing machines.

Women learning how to use various industrial sewing machines.

Tonight I am headed off on a bus to Bucaramanga with Leonela and some friends for a 8-9 day vacation over the Semana Santa holiday week next week. Hope you are all well and finally catching a break from the cold winter weather!

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Roughing it in Sante Fe de Antioquia

This past week my Rotary host counselor, Claudia, contacted me and invited me to join her and her family for a weekend at their timeshare in Santa Fe de Antioquia. I’d never heard of Santa Fe de Antioquia before, but she described their weekend activities as waking up early to go for a walk/jog, then spending the entirety of the rest of the day reading, swimming, and relaxing poolside. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of arm twisting needed to convince me to tag along. Santa Fe is about an hour and a half drive from Medellin, and the journey there is a truly beautiful one that takes you through mountainous terrain of the Andes, which is scattered with rural homes that seem to have been picked up and dropped onto the side of the steep and rugged mountains. The climate in Santa Fe de Antioquia is usually in the mid to high 70’s during the day with humidity ranging from 40-90% (according to the internet). This past weekend the temperatures felt more around the 90 degree mark to me, and I was incredibly grateful for air conditioning in my bedroom and a refreshing pool to dip into during the day (both of which are unquestionably incredible luxuries enjoyed by very few in the town and region).

The weekend’s activities were exactly as advertised. We woke up around 6 or 6:30am both Saturday and Sunday and all headed out for jogs/walks before the sun was too far up and beating down on us. Then the rest of the day we spent buried in a book, applying layers of SPF60 sunscreen, sunbathing, swimming, or a combination of two or more of those activities. It was blissful and indulgent. No wifi or internet access, poor cell phone reception and few other local attractions make relaxation the easy and luxurious choice. The pictures below will give you an idea of the luxury of the new, modern home we enjoyed our time in over the weekend.

The living room with its wall/doors that open up to the pool area and patio!

The living room with its wall/doors that open up to the pool area/patio!

 

One of the bedrooms

One of the bedrooms

Claudia's nephew, Tomaso, being a goof.

Claudia’s nephew, Tomaso, being a goof.

The outdoor patio lounge area.

The outdoor patio lounge area.

 

Claudia and her husband, Jesús, hanging out in the pool.

Claudia and her husband, Jesús, hanging out in the pool.

Hanging out in the pool with Claudia's 7 year old nephew, Tomaso.

Hanging out in the pool with Claudia’s 7 year old nephew, Tomaso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, once the sun was starting to go down, and thus the temperature as well, I headed out with Claudia  and her mother to take a tour of Santa Fe and it’s historical sites and landmarks. Santa Fe de Antioquia was founded in 1541 and today, much of the colonial architecture still exists. The old colonial buildings have gigantic doors, which, as it was explained to me, were built so large so that people could enter on horseback through the main entrance and into the central patio of the gigantic homes. We were chauffeured around the city in a mototaxi (see pic), which took me back to my months in Peru where mototaxis abound. We visited churches, a centuries old bridge that is now a national monument called the Puente de Occidental (Bridge of the West) that is only wide enough for one car at a time to pass, and the main town square, which is filled with vendors selling local fruits, spices, and foods. In particular, the tamarind fruit is sold in a wide variety of forms and products. Large bottles of tamarind pulp concentrate are one of the primary products, and a wide variety of sweets and confections made from tamarind pulp are also sold. Helena, my housemate, uses the tamarind concentrate to make a tasty sauce that can be used on meats, vegetables, and anything else you want to add some yummy sauce to. Overall, it was an unbelievably relaxing weekend and I am super excited that Claudia and her family extended an invite to join them again for their April weekend in Santa Fe. Their April weekend just so happens to coincide with Matt’s first visit to Colombia and Medellin, and they were insistent that even though he’ll be here for very few days, just six, I had to bring him to Santa Fe for at least a day or so. I agreed, and I’m hoping that we manage to squeeze it into our itinerary! (He arrives in approximately 29 days, 2 hours, and 49 mins!!!!…not that we have each downloaded a countdown app that allows us to keep track of the time so specifically or anything…)

Santa Fe gentlemen hanging out in the plaza.

Santa Fe gentlemen hanging out in the plaza.

Cathedral Madre in the main plaza.

Cathedral Madre in the main plaza.

A display of the various tamarind confections and products sold in Santa Fe.

A display of the various tamarind confections and products sold in Santa Fe.

Vendors in the Santa Fe main plaza.

Vendors in the Santa Fe main plaza.

Claudia, her mother, and I in front of the Puente de Occidente (bridge of the west), a centuries old wooden bridge, which is now a national monument.

Claudia, her mother, and I in front of the Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West).

The narrow wooden planks that make up the Puente de Occidente

The narrow wooden planks that make up the Puente de Occidente

Puente de Occidente

Puente de Occidente

Showing with my arm span the narrowness of the bridge.

Showing with my arm span the narrowness of the bridge.

Our tour guide and mototaxi driver.

Our tour guide and mototaxi driver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other news, I started classes last week and all is going well thus far. Listening to introductory public health discussions on the ancient history of diseases and medicine in Spanish has been just about as difficult and wearing as it might sound. However, my Public Health Spanish is rapidly improving every single day and I’m very optimistic about the great strides I will make in advancing my Spanish to a much more professional level this year. Progress is also being made on defining my practicum project, outlining my goals and objectives, and figuring out exactly how and what I will be able to contribute to the project over the next 9 months. As always, thanks for reading and for all of your support! Oh, and I know my pics are always small on here so as to conserve space, but just FYI, you can click on them to see them full size. 🙂 Until next time, take care!

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New Home, Friends, Adventures, and Projects!

This is the first of what will no doubt be many posts that begin with, “So it’s been a while since I’ve written…”, but hopefully I can keep myself fairly disciplined with keeping this blog up-to-date over the course of the year. I am currently writing this post from my hammock on my balcony at my new home here in Medellin.

Walking on the trails here in the Ecological Park.

Walking on the trails here in the Ecological Park.

I moved in about a week and a half ago and this place still feels just as much like paradise as it did the first time I visited. I’ve mastered my new bus and train routes and although my commute to school and to most anywhere in Medellin is still long, the tranquility of this Ecological Park where I live makes the commute seem not so bad at all. I’ve been enjoying my new kitchen and the presence of an oven, in particular, and have been cooking and baking up a storm since arriving here. Fun fact: homemade cookies are a pretty quick way to turn acquaintances into friends. 🙂

Two weekends ago, I was invited by Leonela and friends at my church here to attend a weekend retreat for the young adults and young professionals in our church. The retreat was held at a lodge of sorts in a rural area a little less than an hour outside of Medellin. The weekend was filled with bible study, group discussions and fellowship, and a fair amount of playing and goofing around. Many games of volleyball and soccer were played, and we had a whole afternoon of carnival like games that included everything from catching a live chicken, twister, card castle building, searching for eggs blindfolded, water balloon tossing, and more. There were about 80 people in attendance at the retreat and I think I got to know about 50-60 of them before the weekend was over. It was a really great weekend and I was so grateful to have met and made friends with so many wonderful people just weeks after arriving here.

My best girl friends here in Colombia!

My best girl friends here in Colombia!

The clowns and leaders at the church retreat carnival.

The clowns and leaders at the church retreat carnival.

My friend, Eli, and I at the church retreat

My friend, Eli, and I at the church retreat

Giving one of my first speeches in Spanish, at the church retreat

Giving one of my first speeches in Spanish at the church retreat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been taking advantage of all my free time the last few weeks to continue exploring Medellin and visiting many of its tourist attractions. Some of the notable places I’ve visited have been the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens), the Parque Explora (the city’s science museum and aquarium), the Palacio de la Cultura (Cultural Palace), Plaza Botero (with all the chubby statues and sculptures by Fernando Botero that Medellin is famous for), and a number of artisan markets and fairs.

The making of guarapo, a delicious drink made from juicing raw sugar cane!

Making guarapo, a delicious drink made from juicing raw sugar cane!

A man making sweets at the artisan fair

A man making sweets at the artisan fair

A few of the many outdoors dinos at the Parque Explora

Some of the outdoor dinos at  Parque Explora

Botero Statue

Botero Statue…pleasantly plump lady

Botero statue...chunky horse

Botero statue…chunky horse

Botero statues..chubby man and woman

Botero statues..chubby man and woman

Botero statue, chubby lady on chubby horse :)

Botero statue, chubby lady on chubby horse

Palacio de la Cultura (Cultural Palace)

Palacio de la Cultura (Cultural Palace)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m super duper excited to update you all on my practicum search and school related business. On Thursday, I confirmed that I will be doing my practicum work with an amazing (and big) project here dealing with Tuberculosis transmission and surveillance in prisons.  Some quick facts about why this is such important and exciting work. Many prisons here are currently at between 120-160% capacity, meaning SEVERE overcrowding, wherein many inmates literally sleep in the hallways and live in such close contact with one another that diseases can spread rapidly. Moreover, the Tuberculosis (TB) rates in prisons here are 20 times that of the normal population. In addition to this being a human rights issue (just because you committed a crime, perhaps petty theft, etc doesn’t mean you should be subjected to life threatening diseases at rates 20 times greater than the rest of the population), it is also a serious public health threat. While a prison may seem like a place where disease would be fairly self-contained, it’s actually not at all. Every day lawyers, family members, doctors, security guards, social workers, and many others enter and exit the prisons, and risk being exposed to TB and then carrying it back to their families and communities. I’m certain I will blog about TB waaay more than many of you will care to read about, so I’ll stop there for now. In addition to confirming my position in the project, I also have found an awesome preceptor who will serve as my mentor for my practicum. She is unbelievably qualified and super excited to work with me, and I’m eager to learn from her wealth of knowledge and experience.

Lastly, the orientation day for the masters programs at the school of public health was on Friday and I was rather overwhelmed by the incredible reception and welcome I received. At the opening session where the Dean of the School of Public Health welcomed all of the new masters students, she announced in front of everyone that the school was “incredibly proud and excited to have a student, Miss Cammeo Medici from the University of Illinois at Chicago, studying with us this year”. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked to get a shout out from the Dean, but was left feeling unbelievably grateful to find myself surrounded by faculty and students who are so eager to welcome me and assure me that they are determined and dedicated to making this a fruitful and successful year for me. So with my host families, friends, church members, Rotarians, and now, professors and fellow students, I continue to feel sooo welcomed, supported, and cared for here in Medellin. As always, thanks for reading and keeping in touch!

P.S. In case you didn’t see this article, Medellin just beat out cities like Tel Aviv and New York City for the title of “most innovative city”…just more proof that this city is fantastic! (Full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21638308)

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And Just Like That…I Fell in Love

It has already been two weeks since I arrived here in Medellin, but it was approximately 5 days after I arrived when I decided that I officially LOVE this place. To be frank, I never expected it to happen so quickly. After living in Italy, South Africa, Peru, and Bolivia, I was confident that my love for experiencing and learning about new cultures would allow me to adjust to life here in Medellin in a matter of time. Which is to say, before coming down here I knew I would come to like Medellin and after a number of months here the city, the food, the people, etc would all grow on me and I’d maybe even learn to love this place. However, after a couple of days here I already REALLY liked this place, and by day 5 I was pretty much swept off my feet. The climate, the tropical trees and flowers, the superb mass transportation system…these all played a role. However, it is the heartwarming and truly exceptional kindness and hospitality of the people here that has won me over. People in Medellin go out of their way to help one another. They won’t just tell you how to get somewhere. They will walk you halfway there, and then make sure there is nothing else you need before wishing you a good day.

Becoming buddies with Leonela's nephew, Juanes!

Becoming buddies with Leonela’s nephew, Juanes!

Juanes and I with Medellin in the background.

Juanes and I with Medellin in the background.

The Rotarians of the Rotary Club of Medellin are absolutely no exception. It is no coincidence that approximately the same day I decided I officially love this place, I also attended my first Rotary meeting here. The reception I received at their club left me feeling like both family and royalty. Each person was eager to exchange contact information and was emphatic about telling me that I could call them any time, any day, for anything. They also immediately started making calls and sending emails to connect me with various public health professionals, professors from my university, and more. I left the meeting with every assurance that I would find a good housing option, a great practicum experience, and would have an excellent year here in Medellin.

One of the awesome connections I made through a Rotarian was with Helena del Corral. She is a professor at the Universidad de Antioquia who got her Master of Public Health at Harvard, her PhD in Public Health at the Universidad de Antioquia, and did a public health fellowship at Harvard as well. I was geektastically star struck just to learn that her public health fellowship was with Paul Farmer’s colleagues and Partners in Health. Without hesitation I exclaimed, “YOU KNOW PAUL FARMER?!?!” (in Spanish). She was so happy that I knew who he was and when I said he was a bit of a hero of mine she said that he’s been a HUGE hero of hers ever since she got to attend some of his lectures back in her days as a masters student at Harvard. (If you have no idea who Paul Farmer is, read, or at least look up, Mountains Beyond Mountains.) ANYHOO, Helena is involved with a lot of awesome epidemiologic work on tuberculosis here in Medellin and is super eager to help me find a great practicum experience. Also, upon meeting her she offered up a room in her house for me to rent, and after doing some looking around at various apartments and options I have decided to take her up on her offer. I’ll continue living here with Leonela and her brother until the end of the month and then make the move. Helena lives pretty far outside the city, but the metro and a bus can get me there, and/or I can ride with her in her car to my university most days. Her house is in an Ecological Park, where all the homes have solar panels, tons of plants, and lots of other eco-friendly designs. It is surrounded by tropical forest and is, quite frankly, a beautiful little paradise. See pics below!

My new house as of the end of February! :)

My new house as of the end of February! 🙂

The backyard/tropical forest.

The backyard/tropical forest.

The view of the backyard from the main floor of the house.

The view of the backyard from the main floor of the house.

One of the hammocks on the "hammock balcony". Who wants to come join me here?!

One of the hammocks on the “hammock balcony”. Who wants to come join me here?!

This is getting to be a long post already, so I’ll wrap up the day to day details and finish up with some random observations and factoids about life in Medellin. Traffic is loco, and motorcycles and mopeds swerve in and out of cars and buses as if they each have their own personal death wish. No matter their social class, people here are very clean and take pride in keeping their homes spotless. Fresh, tropical fruits abound here, and people drink freshly squeezed and/or blended juices multiple times a day here. I learn about and try a new fruit almost every day and have drunk more juice in the past 14 days than I probably did in the last year. As the “city of eternal spring” it definitely rains a lot here. Usually the rain is fairly short and light, but other times, it means business and is downright torrential. Last, but not least, there are wild monkeys on my campus. That’s right…wild monkeys. Apparently they’re kind of pests and steal people’s food from classrooms and offices. Pests, shmests. I’m uber excited to get to know them. 🙂 Until next time, I hope you’re all well and keeping warm wherever you are!

This river runs through Medellin and is usually a trickling stream. THIS is how it looks after torrential downpours...roaring.

This river runs through Medellin and is usually a trickling stream. THIS is how it looks after torrential downpours…roaring.

Part of Medellin's awesome Metro system are various Metrocable systems that go up into the more mountainous parts of the city.

Part of Medellin’s awesome Metro system are various Metrocable systems that go up into the more mountainous parts of the city.

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View from one of the Metrocable cars.

Click on this photo to take a closer look. You'll see an unbelievable mural on this building that was done by a famous artist here. The intent was that the building would be camouflaged into the landscape, and it really is!

Click on this photo to take a closer look. You’ll see an unbelievable mural on this building that was done by a famous artist here. The intent was that the building would be camouflaged into the landscape, and it truly does blend in!

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Let the Adventures Begin…

After an uneventful 8 hours of travel, I safely arrived in my new home of Medellin (pronounced May-duh-jeen), Colombia on Sunday afternoon. I was met at the airport by my new friend and housemate, Leonela, who helped me and my two giant suitcases get back to her home via a 40 mile bus ride and short taxi ride. I’m currently living with her and her brother in a neighborhood called Robledo, and could not have found two nicer individuals to welcome me to this country. They are both seminary students at a nearby seminary university, and they have both been showing me the ropes and informing me about local food, culture, safety, etc.

Yesterday, Leonela and I ventured out into the city to go and visit my university here, the Universidad de Antioquia. To get there required walking a few blocks to catch a bus, which took us to the metro, which connected us to another metro, and then eventually a little more walking. All in all, the travel was nearly an hour, which pretty much confirmed that I will probably not be living with them in Robledo for too much longer due to the long commute. I am beginning to search for an apartment and/or living situation that’s closer to my university.

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Shot from the metro with Leonela near the university campus!

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Beautiful Leonela with beautiful Medellin in the background!

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My first time on campus!

The rugby/soccer fields on campus.

The rugby/soccer fields on campus.

The pools on campus.

The pools on campus.

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The National School of Public Health where I’ll be taking classes.

The beautiful courtyard and fountain in the center of campus.

The beautiful courtyard and fountain in the center of campus.

There are tons of motos all over this city, including on campus, as seen in this photo.

There are motos all over this city, including on campus, as seen in this photo.

There are tons of statues, murals, and other forms of art all over the campus.

There are tons of statues, murals, and other forms of art all over the campus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also beautiful in its own right is Medellin’s metro system. It has been around for over 20 years, but truly looks as if it was built in the past year or two. Their metro is above ground with two different lines running through the heart of the city, and it is the city’s pride and joy. Leonela explained how they go to great lengths to keep it pristine. You must go past police and security guards to enter the metro, and anyone intoxicated or otherwise not in a good state is not allowed to enter. There is no eating or drinking on the metro or its platforms in order to ensure utmost cleanliness. Furthermore, the guards throughout the metro help to ensure that not so much as a piece of gum or a pen mark worth of graffiti can tarnish the absolutely spotless platforms and trains. Unlike so many other places in the world, the metro is super duper safe here and just an awesome and cheap way to get around.

Leonela also helped me to purchase a not so fancy, but totally functional new cell phone yesterday, which already has me feeling much more like a local with texting and calling capabilities now. Yesterday’s biggest surprise and opportunity for learning patience and taking everything in stride came when Leonela and I visited the School of Public Health. After talking and meeting with several people we learned that my classes don’t actually start on February 11th, as I was told, but rather begin around the first of March. Sooo, I came down more than a couple weeks earlier than necessary (Matt was thrilled to hear this!) :), but I’m sticking with my ‘everything happens for a reason’ mantra. I will now have ample time to find housing closer to the university, get my Spanish shipshape, and make progress on locating a good practicum site, preceptor, and project before classes begin. That’s all for now. For the easiest way to keep up-to-date with my blog, just enter your email in the upper left corner of my blog where it says “Email Subscription” so that you can get an email notification whenever I put up a new post! 🙂

Here are a few fun articles/facts to spark your interest in this amazing country!
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/colombia-happiest-country-in-the-world-in-2012-survey-finds_n_2426667.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/reasons-colombia-happiest-country_n_2490813.html#slide=1992308

http://www.mantarayatravel.com/blog/10-astonishing-facts-about-colombia

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LOTS of adventures and travels in Peru!

(If you’re reading this or any prior entries in 2013, they will look all messed up because I reformatted my blog. Apologies!) The same week that my friend Darla headed back to the states, Bev and Scott also headed off to the states to spend a month visiting friends and family. In turn, I had the whole month of June without any scheduled clinics or trainings….aka…time to do some traveling and fun whilst continuing my projects for the mission.

So first I headed off with my friend Massiel to Arequipa where we had a great time visiting some of our girlfriends.

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Then Massiel and I headed off on a 3 day hike of the beautiful Colca Canyon, which is the deepest canyon in the world! __________________________________

(Even deeper than the Grand Canyon)

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Our third and last day of hiking started with a “3 hour” climb up out of the canyon…which Massiel and I dominated in just about 2 hours exactly! We were the first to make it to the top and felt like superwomen!

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With the rest of our group once they all reached the top as well.

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On the trip back from the Colca Canyon I made friends with some of the locals…

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And decided it was finally time for some uber cliche tourist pictures with llamas, alpacas, and giant hawk thingy. 🙂

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This little guy was soooo sweet…and really likes potato chips! 🙂

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We stopped at some amazing hot springs on the way back…set in the middle of some beautiful mountains.

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Once back to Arequipa I bid Massiel farewell and spent an afternoon whitewater rafting on the Rio Chili outside of Arequipa.

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Our two guides were two young Argentian guys who live and breath rafting and absolutely love their job…

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and in turn made the whole experience a TON of fun!

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It was a relatively tame rafting experience…

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with just a few class 4 rapids,  which were an awesome rush.

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The whole experience definitely wet my appetite for some more whitewater rafting in the very near future!

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I then headed to the province of Ica, Peru to the tiny oasis of Huacachina….a VERY neat and tranquil little oasis…

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which lies in the middle of hundreds of miles of desert and sand dunes.

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Beautiful view from my hotel room in the oasis! 🙂

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The big draw to Huacachina is the amazing sandboarding that you can do on the massive sand dunes right outside the oasis.

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Sandboarding standing up is incredibly difficult (even for master snowboarders) and generally kind of dull as you must go fairly slow in order to keep standing…thus the majority of the sandboarders, including myself, go down on their stomach…

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Doing so you can REALLY fly down the gigantic sand dunes! A huge adrenaline rush!

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Walked away from the sandboarding fully intact…

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with just some minor bruising from the board…when you hit a bump flying down a dune on a piece of wood your bones take a good beating!

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With my group, guide, and our crazy fun dune buggy!

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While still at Huacachina I went with a group of other American tourists I met to take a tour of the Tacama winery and vineyards, which is the oldest winery in all of South America!

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The tour of the winery was free…

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along with a free wine tasting of about 10 of their wines, which I found to be surprisingly delicious, since Peru isn’t really known for its wines.

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The next morning I took an hour bus ride to the ocean and went on a tour of the islands of Paracas, which are home to an UNBELIEVABLE number of various bird species and a number of mammals as well.

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This island was literally a solid MASS of birds…all that you see that is black are birds! Literally hundreds of thousands on just one of the islands alone!

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Saw a handful of adorable little penguins…

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Saw thousands of the Peruvian seabird called the Peruvian Booby…yep…that’s really its name…

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Saw some absolutely precious sea lions…

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This girl was posing so nicely for us!

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Saw a handful of dolphins…but was never quite quick enough with the camera!

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And at the dock there were tons of huge and amazing pelicans!

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I then headed off to the city of Nasca and took a half hour flight to see the Nasca lines…which are one of Peru´s and the world´s biggest mysteries/wonders.

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There are over 350 different designs and lines in the Nasca plains…covering hundreds of kilometers, and they are sooooo gigantic that they can only be seen by air. It is believed that the Incans made these enormous designs across the plains as a way to communicate with their gods or with those from another world…since they are sooo huge and only visible by air, it is an incredible mystery how a civilization could have made the designs hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  Below are pics of some of the most famous designs…

The monkey…

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The Condor…

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The alien man on the mountainside….

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The hummingbird…

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The spider…

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And the tree of life and hands….which are two of the much smaller drawings, and you can still see how large they are compared to these buildings!

Having seen the lines…I can understand how many believe that extraterrestrials had a hand in it…they are just so enormous and spanning so many miles…seems truly unbelievable that humans could have made them hundreds of years ago!

After my visit to Nasca I headed back home to Puno…and was soon off working and playing in Bolivia…stay tuned for my stories and pictures from my adventures there!

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Traveling and Trekking with Darla!

Almost a month since my last update…and it has been a fun-filled month with lots of traveling, adventures, and friends!

My friend Darla flew in from Iowa for a week and a half long visit…and did we ever make the most of each and every minute! We saw and did sooo many incredible things…and so I will once again try to let the pictures do MOST of the talking in this entry.

The day after she got in we caught an early morning boat ride out to the Uros floating reed islands. The floating islands are always a fascinating experience, and the bright vivid colors of the women’s traditional dress make them looking like walking art…

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After our visit at the Uros we headed out to the charming and traditional little island of Amantani to spend the night with a host family. Pic on the left is of Darla and I looking local…well okay, as local as we possibly COULD look…with our host sister and host mother.

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Our host mother assisted us in getting our traditional dress outfits put on correctly…and then we were off to a local party with lots of music, dancing, and fun!

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Taking a break from the dancing with our host sister!

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The next morning we bid our host family farewell and headed off to the beautiful island of Taquile…where the locals also dress daily in their traditional dress and where you can enjoy some of the most stunning views of Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian mountain ranges in the distance.

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While on Taquile we purchased some of wonderful local handmade goods…

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And enjoyed a scrumptious lunch of some of the freshest and tastiest trout I’ve ever had.

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Then we headed back to Puno and set to the task of getting all of our luggage ready for our trip the next day…double blessing—-Darla brought down with her a huge suitcase filled with over 550 toothbrushes donated by generous Iowans, which will be used in our school toothbrushing programs…and as if that in and of itself wasn’t awesome enough………..it also meant that she had an ENTIRE huge empty suitcase in which to haul tons of stuff back to the states for me!…and boy did we ever fill that baby tight! (You wouldn’t believe how much stuff you can accumulate, such as gifts, etc, when you live in another country for 6 months!)

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Once the luggage was all ready to go we headed out for a fun night of dancing with a bunch of my local friends to celebrate my birthday! Turned the big 24!________________________________________________________

The next day we caught an early bus to Cusco where we met up with Bev and Scott…and sweet and thoughtful as always, they had bought me a birthday cake!________________________________________________________

The next morning we had an early start around 4:00am and headed off on our AMAZING five day trek on the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu!________________________________________________________

The first day of the trek was quite easy, with about 6-7 hours of hiking on relatively flat terrain.

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The day was not without it’s memorable moments, however……….Darla had a little accident just about 5 minutes before arriving to our campsite!…………not EXACTLY what it looks like…she just fell into a shallow river we were crossing!________________________________________________________

Her boots obviously got soaked and were still not dry by the next morning…so she spent the whole second day hiking around with her high fashion plastic bag socks in order to keep her feet dry!________________________________________________________

Although the price we paid for our trek was that which you pay to be part of a group of about 15 tourists with one guide….we somehow had the random and incredible fortune of being in a group with just the two of us, our guide, AND an assistant guide! So we had our own private guides and were able to hike the whole trek at our own pace and in our own way…was wonderful!________________________________________________________

Additionally, we had our own private cook AND assistant chef who prepared truly UNBELIEVABLY delicious meals for us…using a mini propane stove…I kept saying to Darla…I would be WAY impressed if someone served me this meal from their full kitchen…and so I am outrageously impressed that he just whipped this up on a propane stove beside a river!________________________________________________________

The cook was such a sweet and kind man…and he even woke us up every morning with hot tea served to us in our tent to wake/warm us up! Needless to say, we felt CRAZY spoiled!________________________________________________________

The second day of our hike we climbed up to the Salkantay pass…which sits at about 4600-4800 meters above sea level (they all disagree on the exact altitude!)…

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Upon arriving at the pass we had a breathtaking view of the Salkantay mountain…the photo does it ZERO justice…

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Since our group was just the 4 of us, we had a lot more freedom to eat, camp, etc. wherever we felt like it along the trail…such as this wonderful afternoon where we ate lunch beside some beautiful rapids while soaking our feet in the cool waters…amazing!________________________________________________________

Our third day was a hot one as we started entering the highland jungle…along the way we stopped at an amazing waterfall…

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and after some convincing we decided to get in the ICE cold waterfall and enjoy the first shower we´d had in days! Was such an exhilarating experience but also a thoroughly numbing and freezing one!________________________________________________________

Our fourth day of hiking was our most challenging day…starting with a 3 hour climb up the side of a mountain…then a 2 hour climb down the other side of the STEEP moutain (which was rather miserable and a KILLER on your knees)…

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We passed a MASSIVE waterfall and then finished up with another 4 hours or so of relatively flat terrain before reaching our final destination town of Aguas Calientes…

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Darla and I both agreed that we got DOMINATED by this day of hiking…as can be seen in the look on my face in the pic on the left……..pretty much destroyed.

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The next morning we were up by about 4:00am and by 5:30 or so we were on our way up to Machu Picchu! The sun was still not high enough over the mountains when we entered Machu Picchu…and our first site of the ruins was majestic…with these clouds and fog hanging much of the city.

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As the sun began to rise and cast its rays on the city…it was like each ray unveiled a new layer of the city’s beauty… 

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just breathtaking

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I have to admit that because of all the hype… I didn’t have TOO high of expectations for Machu Picchu…just in that I thought…ya, so they are old Incan Ruins on the top of a mountain…but I don’t think it is probably THAT awe inspiring and miraculous like everyone makes it out to be…AND THEN I SAW IT. And I have to say…it TRULY is a wonder of the world.

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You look all around to the sides of the mountain where Machu Picchu sits and this is what you see…just huge, steep, forest covered mountains…and think…what on earth were they thinking???? And how on earth could they have built this huge city…which was so perfectly planned, with elaborate terrace and canal systems, HERE…in the middle of this rugged mountain range???…words really can’t describe it…IT IS incredible. PERIOD.

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Upon appreciating the cities full beauty…was time to branch out from the typical Machu Picchu photos…

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Although we were quite exhausted from the previous 4 days of hiking and lack of sleep…we made the hike up to Waynupicchu…

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(Waynupicchu is the big peak you see in the distance right behind Machu Picchu).

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It was crazy steep…kicking Darla’s fear of heights into gear!________________________________________________________

Photo on the left is of the view of Machu Picchu from Waynupicchu…putting into perspective how Machu Picchu was literally built in the middle of nowhere on the TOP of a steep mountain…C-R-A-Z-Y!________________________________________________________

After our incredible day at Machu Picchu, Darla had just one day left in Peru…and we decided to end it on a HIGH note…by paragliding over the Sacred Valley in Cusco!________________________________________________________

While the whole act of running and jumping off the side of a cliff was a pretty big adrenaline rush…the rest of the experience/flight was surprisingly incredibly calm and relaxing… ________________________________________________________

you just feel like you are calmly floating…

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thousands and thousands of feet above the ground! ________________________________________________________

And you really do go super high!________________________________________________________

Coming down was quite a rush too…as our pilot’s method of lowering us to the ground is by doing back to back 360´s…a real rush…but did a real number on my stomach too! :)________________________________________________________

Okay…well I TRIED to make this a reasonably short entry…but was not so successful…so if you´re still reading…congrats and THANK YOU!________________________________________________________

For more pics of my adventures with Darla click on the following link: http://whereintheworldiscammeo.shutterfly.com/1625 .  Stay tuned for my next entry about my recent travels and exploring in Peru!

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Second Training of Healthcare Promoters—Copacabana, Bolivia

So once the April mission team headed back home, Bev, Scott, and I had a long and restful DAY back in Puno and then were headed back to Bolivia for our second training session for our healthcare promoters! What can we say…we like to keep ourselves busy here!

Like the first session, our second training session was three and a half days long and was jam packed with lots of presentations, learning and fun! We tried to do a lot of hands on and active learning in our training…for example…Bev didn’t want them to just read about stretching exercises…she wanted them down on the ground practicing them so they remember them and understand which parts of the body they each help!

It was so neat to see how much confidence our healthcare promoters had gained and how much more comfortable they were teaching one another, giving presentations, etc. On the left and below you can see a couple pictures of some of the drama presentations our healthcare promoters put on about how to address certain first aid emergencies.

A couple of our healthcare promoters who had taken courses and received prior training on herbal and traditional medicines gave a presentation about how to use various local plants to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments. The other healthcare promoters took incredible interest in the presentation, I think not only because it’s a type of medicine that is more comfortable and familiar to them…but because it’s practical for them. Living in rural areas as they do, they will not have access to many modern medicines….so using plants and herbs to treat is going to be something they can do without being limited by financial resources or access issues.

During the training, all of our healthcare promoters also had the opportunity to visit a local school and teach students ranging from ages 4-13 about dental health and proper toothbrushing techniques. It was so cool to see them all putting their new health knowledge and skills to use for some of the first times in order to reach out to the community and spread the messages of health education and prevention. It was also a great opportunity for them to work together in pairs and continue to gain confidence in giving presentations and working as healthcare promoters.

In addition to just sharing dental health education with the children, we were thrilled to have all of our healthcare promoters there to help implement our first pilot school toothbrushing program! With the school toothbrushing program, each student in the school received a toothbrush, which they put their name on and will keep AT SCHOOL in a safe and clean location…and then everyday after lunch the entire class will brush their teeth together with their teacher! In these rural communities where many of the children have almost never brushed their teeth in their life….this will help to ensure that at least 5 days a week their teeth will be brushed, and along the way we hope that they’ll be developing what will become a lifelong habit of proper dental care!

Below are a number of pictures of our healthcare promoters presenting to classes about dental health and helping kids learn how to brush properly.

 

Altogether we have been soooo pleased with our healthcare promoters and their interest, enthusiasm, progress, and potential to continue to help their communities. I’m looking forward to spending my last 2 months here working with all of them one-on-one in their communities, particularly to start up more school toothbrushing programs! Stay tuned for my next update…which will be about my fun and adventures with my dear friend Darla who just arrived today from the states!!!

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Work and Adventures with the April Mission Team!

After our short break and travels through Bolivia, it was back to work preparing for the arrival of our April mission team. The April mission team was the strongest medical team we’ve had thus far, with two dentists, two general medicine docs, a physician’s assistant, a nurse, and others with experience in the medical field as well. With so much medical talent, we were able to offer a great variety of services at our clinics, including ophthalmology, dental care, general medicine, and gynecology.

Additionally, our first three clinics with the team were held in very rural communities on the northern side of Lake Titicaca, where we had not yet been able to go with any of our previous mission teams. We worked at/with the small local clinics in each community and were delighted…and slightly overwhelmed….to have about 250 people show up at each of the first 2 clinics. The amazing thing about having so many people show up is that the medical team is able to treat incredible numbers of people (which is precisely what they’ve traveled thousands of miles to do) and we’re able to educate incredible numbers of people about disease prevention, dental health, eye care, etc as they wait in line. The downside is that with hundreds of people showing up, by night time we inevitably have to turn people away, which is beyond heartbreaking…since they all have such incredible needs and have been waiting for hours upon hours to be seen.

We also held a clinic out at the health clinic on the Uros floating reed islands. 

Our medical team headed to the clinic in style on a traditional reed boat.

As always, when working down here flexibility is absolutely essential…for instance…as a dentist you just might have a handicapped 20-year-old show up at the clinic with more than 5 teeth to be pulled…at a facility that is NOT handicap accessible. So you can either turn the kid away…or you can haul your instruments outside and do the extractions in the middle of the parking lot. FLEXIBILITY. 🙂

As with our previous clinics, my primary role at our clinics was interpreting for our dentists and teaching those waiting in line about dental health, toothbrushing, causes of cavities, etc.

But perhaps the best education of all was received by the crowds of kids and adults peering through the window of the room where the dentists were working…seeing the traumatizing process of extractions and all of the decaying teeth we worked on should have been some pretty serious motivation for them to start brushing and caring for their teeth.  

As always, our clinics are one of our primary means of training our healthcare promoters and giving them the opportunity to teach their communities about healthcare prevention practices. On the left you can see a picture of one of our healthcare promoters teaching about proper toothbrushing techniques.

The dental gang! 🙂

Being at high altitudes and with no central heating almost anywhere in Peru, particularly out in the rural communities, you really have to bundle up in the evenings.  Gwen (my roomie from the April mission team) and I headed to bed complete with scarves, hats, gloves, long underwear…and about anything else we could cover up with!

Our last clinic was held at a school outside of Copacabana, Bolivia, which provided us with yet another great opportunity for dental health education with the kids.

After the clinics were finished…it was officially time for some rest, relaxation, and FUN! Before heading out of Copacabana a group of us took a boat out to the Isla del Sol (Sun Island),

which had some spectacular views…especially of the Bolivian mountains and snow caps in the distance.  

At the southern end of the island you can climb old Incan steps, which are set beside a truly phenomenal waterfall of sorts….phenomenal in that 24/7 for hundreds of years it has had a strong and rapid current of water running down it….and where the water is coming from????? No idea. They hadn’t had rain in weeks and the water was rushing down….and there are no snow caps or any visible source at the top…it’s a pretty small island. Phenomenal. Best I can guess is that back in the Incan days they must have tapped into a high pressure water source way below the island…very neat to see.

In La Paz, I was utterly spoiled by the mission team…treating me out to dinners, souvenirs, and on our last day, a round of golf at the La Paz Golf Club. Being treated to a round of golf in and of itself was very special, and it was all the more special because the La Paz Golf Club is titled as the Highest Golf Course in the World!

Before starting off we shared a wonderful lunch together on the country club’s scenic patio.

The golf course was truly beautiful…surrounded by mountains, canyons, lakes…and to top it off it was a beautiful, breezy, sunny day! Couldn’t have asked for more.

And as if a beautiful day on a beautiful course wasn’t enough…for the first time in my life I had a caddy! 🙂 He’d been working at the course for 18 years, and since he could speak Spanish to me, he gave me tons of pointers, helped me improve my swing, my stance…it was essentially a private golf lesson!

And contrary to his serious expression in the photo, he was a very lighthearted and fun guy!  

Working side by side, sharing common interests and passions…I have been blessed to develop wonderful relationships with all of the incredible missionaries that have come down…which in turn makes it very difficult to bid them all farewell when their 2 short weeks are over. Luckily, they’ve almost all been from Idaho…so I hope to be able to see many of them again sometime next year when I make a trip out to Idaho to visit Bev and Scott! 🙂

On my bus ride back to Puno I enjoyed the beautiful scenes…it’s harvest season right now, and their handmade haystacks spread across the countryside are really beautiful.

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For more pictures from my work with the April mission team, click on the following link: http://whereintheworldiscammeo.shutterfly.com/1496

Stay tuned for my next entry about our 2nd training session with our healthcare promoters! 🙂

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Exploring BEAUTIFUL Bolivia!

 What a crazy, crazy busy last few weeks I have had! (Starting to sound like a broken record, no?) After our March mission team headed back to the states, Bev, Scott, and I finally had our first chance for a little bit of vacationing and used the opportunity to do some exploring in Bolivia. I have so many photos of the incredible things I saw throughout my adventures, and thus I am going to TRY to let the pictures do a lot of the talking in this blog entry. We started off our trip along accompanied by their friend, Barb, and headed to Sucre, Bolivia.

The four of us went on a full day hike in the beautiful mountains outside of Sucre…

absolutely beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, and

…probably the best guide in town! (as our guide’s shirt clearly indicated!) 🙂

There were amazing plants and flowers along the way, including these adorable flowers that I named peppermint flowers.

Along our hike we were also able to see ancient cave drawings/paintings, dating between 20,000-30,000 years old! Incredible.

Even got crazy and enjoyed a refreshing drink of fresh mountain spring water (with the go-ahead from our guide that it was safe!)

After Sucre we headed on to Potosi, Bolivia…a mining town that is said to be one of, if not THE, highest “city” in the world, at around 13,400 ft above sea level.

In the 1500’s Potosi was the biggest city in the world, earning its wealth and fame from its mountain, Cerro Rico, which became one of the largest silver mines ever discovered. For over 500 years millions of people have spent/lost their lives mining Cerro Rico, today there is little to no silver left in the mountain, but it is still mined for zinc and copper.

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 I even spotted a rare Potosi big footed bird!

While in Sucre we watched a documentary called “The Devil’s Miner” (highly recommend watching it) about the life of a 14 year old boy, Basilio, who’d been mining in the Potosi mines since he was 10 in order to support his family after his father died. It is a moving documentary and afterwards we were left asking what ever became of this boy? Is he still in the mines? How old is he now?

So when I arrived in Potosi, I made plans to take a tour of the mine, and planned on asking our guide if they knew anything about the whereabouts of Basilio. Imagine my UTTER shock and joy when I showed up at 8am the next day only to find that MY GUIDE was Basilio himself!!!!!!!!

There are 100’s of mines on the mountain and probably at least 50 tour groups that lead tours of the mines each morning….and I just so happen to sign up for this group! The others in my group had never seen the documentary, so I was the only one who was amazed by this now 20 year old boy who was our guide. He has been working as a guide for just 2 months now, and was such a fun and amazing boy…just couldn’t believe I’d found him!

The tour of the mines were very interesting….

We saw how they drilled holes in the walls that they place the dynamite in.

Along with the dynamite they actually use.

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Their masks and gear are very mediocre and do a marginal job of protecting their lungs.  

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One of the most interesting things was our visit to the mine’s “Tio” (literally translated as uncle), which is a statue that they daily give gifts of alcohol, cigarettes, and coca leaves to in order that the Tio will protect them from harm in the mines.

And at the end of our tour, Basilio…being a typical 20 year old boy….says, “If you want to buy some dynamite we could blow something up…if you want.” Ha ha….ya that’s right…buying dynamite is as simple as walking up to a stand and paying a whopping $3.00 for a stick! CRAZY. So we agreed to it and he showed us how they rig up the dynamite with the cord that you light, etc…and then blew up a big mound of dirt in a vacant area, just to show us an explosion.

Is that me holding a lit stick of dynamite you ask?……ummmm………..yes. 🙂 (This is probably the appropriate time for one of those…”Do not try this at home”….warnings.)

After Potosi I headed off on an AMAZING 3 day organized tour of the Uyuni salt flats, lagoons, mountains, etc.

They send off tourists in groups of 6 in 4×4 vehicles for a fast paced and incredible journey through some of Bolivia’s most beautiful landscapes. At first sight our group was an awfully odd bunch…we had a mid-40’s German couple, a late 40’s Irishman who has lived in Boston for the last 20 years, a vibrant 19 year old from the Czech Republic, a spunky 27 year old South African girl, and ME! 🙂 But over the course of 3 days our “odd bunch”  absolutely hit it off, and had an absolute blast together!

On our first day we visited the Uyuni salt flats, which are the largest salt flats in the world! Literally hundreds and hundreds of square miles of salt!

The flats are the perfect place for fun photos

 and great optical illusion shots!

Near the flats they have learned how to make EVERYTHING out of salt blocks!

Our hostal on our first night was made entirely of salt…the walls, the beds, the tables, EVERYTHING!

 Taking a ride on my salt llama!

We visited the “Isla del Pescado”, which is a totally bizarre phenomenon of an island that sits right in the middle of the salt flats, is covered in these incredibly huge cacti, and just beautiful!

We visited a number of incredible lagoons…

the overwhelming majority of which were home to hundreds of STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL flamingos! SOOOOO cool!

Along the way we also saw incredible rock formations……….

Including my parrot rock!

deserts………….

wind tunnels…….

vicuñas (a beautiful cameloid that is native to the Andes)…..

more than a couple of flat tires…..

BREATHTAKING sunrises…..

and some beautiful mountains on the flight back to La Paz, Bolivia…..

But like always, years from now it is not the sights or landscapes that I will remember most…

it’s the incredible people I met along the way.

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For more pics from my incredible journey through Bolivia, click on the following link: http://whereintheworldiscammeo.shutterfly.com/1163.

Stay tuned for my next update about our incredible work with the April Mission team!

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