December 16, 2011

#2 Visit Wine Country in Argentina (and more!)

When Kelsi and I decided to stay in Colombia for a third year our major stipulation (and #2 on my life list!) was ARGENTINA. This is a country we have both always wanted to see while we are here and we hadn't managed to get there in two years, so year three we made it the goal. We went home for Christmas in 2010 with the sentiment of "enjoy us now because Christmas 2011 is happening in Argentina."

And it is happening! TOMORROW!!! By this time tomorrow I will be packed (fingers crossed!), finished Skyping the parents to say Merry Christmas, and on my way to the airport (yay airports during Christmas season!!!) for an overnight flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina via two stopovers in Ecuador.

Thankfully I will not be going it alone with all this traveling as Kelsi, her friend from home Narissa, and my friends/coworkers Rob & Stetson have agreed to join me! Wahoo!!! After some initial difficulties in our planning, things like "how to travel to a country that runs about half the length of the whole continent without breaking the bank or spending out vacation on marathon bus rides?", we got it together, realized you cannot see every part of Argentina in three weeks, and made some executive decisions.

Our trip is now focused on northern Argentina, and we are skipping Patagonia all together. This is sad because I have heard so many wonderful things about the beauty of that region, but oh well, just a reason to reuse my $131 US citizen visa entrance card that is good for ten years. :)

When we arrive in Buenos Aires at 6:10 AM on December 18th we will meet us from Narissa and then head to the bus station for a 20 hour (turns out even the north part of the country is massive!) bus ride to Puerto Iguazu, the Argentinian portal to Iguazu Falls. I have heard great things about these waterfalls situated between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and also seen stunning pictures, so fingers crossed that it is a good day to go because....20 hours on a bus better = some darn good waterfalls.

After two days of exploring the falls we will head back to Buenos Aires via plane, spend the night, and then head out in our rental car (which everyone but ME, at the age of 24, will be able to drive...probably not a bad thing since my family basically projects the idea to everyone that I am a terrible driver) for 13 hours to Mendoza aka wine country!! YAY! So excited!! While Kelsi keeps talking about our need to train for all the wine tasting we will do in Mendoza, I feel as though our lives are already a training session for this and thus feel 100% prepared. Bring it on, wine country. We will spend Christmas in this adorable little hostel, go on a biking wine tour, and maybe a special Christmas wine tour if we decide its worth the money.

After Mendoza we are headed north in the rental car on what is called one of the most scenic & best road trip roads in all of Argentina from Mendoza to Salta. We will stop in some national parks, do some hiking and enjoy the red rock and canyon filled terrain. From there we are headed back to Buenos Aires via the city of Cordoba and then Rosario (birthplace of Che Guevara!) . Fingers crossed all the driving back to BA will go well and we will be there in plenty of time for a power nap before New Years Eve! Then the entire last week of our trip will be spent in Buenos Aires, staying at this super cute place Stetson found, eating our weight in steaks, drinking more wine, touring the San Telmo Sunday market, taking a day trip to Uruguay, and hopefully getting our tango on!

This whole three week marathon trip will finish with the ultimate traveling challenge - 19 hours of travel through four different countries, including an overnight stay in the Santiago, Chile airport, in order to get back to Colombia for two days of rest in anticipation of second semester! Added bonus, all of our tickets are slightly different so we some of us fly together for some of the time. Kelsi and I awkwardly leave Santiago one hour apart to get to Lima, Peru. Stetson and Rob leave Buenos Aires a whole 9 hours after us and still get to Colombia at the same time we do... awkward. Let's hope we all survive. Can you bring souvenir wine on planes? Fingers crossed.

I am sure about a million things will come up and change, but this is basic outline for Christmas and the start of 2012 in Argentina! Definitely a dream come true for me and I could not be more excited! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday full of peace, love and so much joy wherever you find yourselves in the world.

Merry Christmas!

December 15, 2011

Happy Birthday eStetson!

Stetson and I have been friends since I moved to Colombia two and a half years ago. He is a fellow Minnesota-born & Wisconsin-educated midwesterner with a similar passion for country music (and music in general), reading, movies, coffee and mocking other travelers who do not have their s*** together. While we have bonded over all these things as we became friends, it is really only in the past year or so that we have become close friends.

Stetson is a person I can always talk to about what is happening at school. He is an excellent teacher, and as the 9th grade science teacher, he gets all my former students from the previous year so of course we can talk about all of them. He is always professional at work and is a great person to bounce ideas off of. 

Stetson is also someone who is always equally down for a quiet Friday night at the movies as he is for a night out on the town. He is funny, sincere and genuine.  And in Colombia, where I am not surrounded by three little brothers for the first time in life, it is nice to have a guy friend around who feels like a little piece of Minnesota home :)

This past weekend was Stetson's 30th birthday! As someone who generally doesn't like to be the center of attention, naturally Kelsi and I found it essential to throw him a surprise birthday dinner.  We began with a somewhat-not-so-stealth attempt to distract him with a casual Saturday movie date to New Years Eve (LOVED IT!). While we go to the movies a lot with Stetson, we don't usually wear cute outfits, heels and jewelry so he probably knew something was up. We finished the movie with lots of awkward stalling by needing coffee, the ATM, a stop in Mundo $3,000 for Christmas gifts and a shopping date to buy Stetson a birthday tie before heading off to his (and our!) favorite restaurant in Cali, Platillos Voladores.

We blind folded him with the tie during the cab ride and led him into the restaurant where our friends were waiting to yell surprise. I don't think Stetson was necessarily in shock about where we ended up, but he seemed to have a great night celebrating his birthday, and that is all that matters. The wait staff even engaged in our birthday shenanigans by providing ridiculous birthday hats and "Happy Birthday" confetti on the table. 

Cheers to a fabulous 30th year Stets!


The crew ready to celebrate Stetson!

Birthday dessert & a birthday dance by the birthday boy!

Happy Birthday friend!!!

Christmas Is All Around

As much as I love fall - the colors, the sweatshirt weather (at least in Minnesota), the pumpkins, the food, the flavors... I love me some Christmas time. Kelsi and I kicked things off this year right away on December 1 with a self-imposed roommate viewing of Love Actually accompanied by gingerbread coffee (thanks mom!) and Christmas tree decorating! 

The tree turned out pretty awesome thanks to Kelsi's hidden talents as a tree whisperer of sorts. She put those fake branches in their places, hung the ornaments with love and in the end, the tree doesn't look quite so Charlie Brown-esque as it did coming out of the box. We even hosted a tree trimming & cookie decorating party later that week. Our friends came over to help make ornaments for the tree and decorate Christmas sugar cookies. Thanks to a delicious recipe from my mom and grandma, the cookies were a hit at both the party and as gifts for our bosses/secretaries.

Oh Christmas tree.

After the tree trimming party we headed out to the Alumbrada here in Cali. This annual lights display is set up along the river in Cali and always has a unique theme. The first year I was here in Cali the theme was the history of dance, which was super informative and interesting for me coming from the Midwest where the history of dance in much more limited... This year the theme was Myths & Legends, which was just as cool in how the lights looked, but I don't think I got quite as much out of it since I am unfamiliar with almost all the myths and legends in Colombia. However, it was still a fun night to spend with friends strolling along the river.

We walked along the Alumbrada on the night of December 7, which is known as Noche de Las Velitas (night of the little candles), which is the eve of the Immaculate Conception and marks the official beginning of the Christmas season in Colombia. (And also meant we had the next day off school! Thanks Mary.)

 Giant purple light up balls? Yes please. Can I have one of my own?

Maybe this is the Colombian myth version of Peter Pan? Or was that a crocodile? 

Kelsi and I enjoying the lights! 

Out enjoying the lights along the river! 

El Duende (gnome) and me! 

Noche de las Velitas is also celebrated at my school, on the first Friday in December, beginning at about sundown, families gather in the field in front of our school library to light small candles in rows of wood planks. During my first year in Colombia I attended this night and loved the coming together of so many families in our school community. Unfortunately, last year the event was cancelled due to rain, so I was very happy to have it back this year! I only stayed for a short while, but I was able to see some students and light candles.

My friend Daniel and me lighting candles. 

Awesome candles photo (thanks to my friend Samantha for the awesome pictures!). 

Dia de las Velitas at school!

How are you kicking off the holiday season this year???

December 8, 2011

Revisiting My Classroom (with mom!)

Having visitors to a place where you live (or work!) always brings a feeling of "new-ness" to somewhere that you have gotten used to over time. While for me, my school has become a place where I go to work everyday, for anyone who visits me, it is a tropical paradise of exotic plants, animals (casual iguanas anyone?), and lots of open air spaces. This was the exact case when my mom visited over Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, she loved the school and my students, so much so that she came back for a second day! Here are a few pictures she snapped on that day.... While it is hard to understand just how big my pre-K to 12 campus is, this gives you an idea of how it looks from a visitors eye! Plus, her pictures are much better than the ones I took when I first got to Colombia.

On the window to my classroom! Welcome to K1.

Work hard, play hard.

 My students just completed a project where they wrote their own creative stories to follow the rising and falling slopes of lines. Here are some of the best ones hung up in the back of my classroom!

 Essentials, obvio.

 Giant tree in the courtyard right outside my classroom door. The building in the distance houses the tiny, little people known as 6th graders.

Primary gymnasium - covered but generally outdoors. 

Sunflowers visible from the entrance of my school. Each flower represents a different community within the school - parents, students, teachers, etc.

Welcome to my school!  

Looking down the hill from the main entrance towards the auditorium. 

Walking past the auditorium, down to K block, where my classroom is located! 

In the courtyard outside the 7th and 8th grade classrooms.

I'm sure at some point in my future when I find myself in rush hour traffic in the middle of a Midwestern winter I will be looking back on these pictures, taken at the end of November, with fondness....and jealousy. In the mean time, I hope it gives you some perspective on what my day-to-day life is like here in Cali!

December 1, 2011

Sun, Sand & Jump Shots: Thanksgiving on San Andres Island

After getting my fill of turkey at not one, but TWO Thanksgiving celebrations, I was ready to celebrate the actual turkey day with less turkey, more Caribbean vacation! Ever since my mom saw the pictures from my first Thanksgiving in San Andres, in November 2009, she said "I want to go there!" And that we did :) 

San Andres Island upon our arrival. Later we took a boat out to that small island in the lower left corner and walked along that sand bar to the right of it!

My mom arrived on Monday, in time to see my school for two days, attend the faculty Thanksgiving party, and do some shopping in Cali. Then on Thursday morning we headed to the Cali airport for our flight to San Andres Island. While geographically located off the coast of Nicaragua, San Andres is owned by Colombia, thus making it very easy to travel there from the mainland of Colombia! We arrived by 2:00 PM and we were sitting on the dock in swimsuits by 3 PM. Now this is Thanksgiving vacation.

The rest of the time in San Andres was a delightful blend of the following:

Partaking in the 24 hour bar located on the dock of our Decameron all-inclusive hotel

Relaxing on the dock. 

Enjoying time with my mom! Sadly, this was probably the most consistent amount of time we have spent together since I graduated college and it was fabulous!

Roommate jump shots!

Solo jump shots!

Dinners out and about on the island!

Watching a random reggae band playing at our hotel. We joined in an impromptu group of dancers during several longs and later my mom/Kelsi participated in the conga line throughout the bar!

Looking out from my beach chair to the beautiful dock and ocean!

Enjoying the view!!! Minnesota doesn't look like this in November...

Hanging out with my fabulous roommate.

Handstands on sand bars! Hey Caribbean Sea - what what.

Mother - Daughter bonding. 

Spending time with friends who also happened to spend their Thanksgiving at the beach!

Sand bar pyramids for 7? Okay :)
Boat ride out to Acuario island.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the sand!

Kayaking nearby our hotel.

Needless to say I was nowhere near ready to leave when Sunday afternoon rolled around, and going to school on Monday felt a bit rough when compared to waking up just to put a swimsuit on, grab my book, and head to the beach. Alas all good things come to an end...

Hope you had an equally wonderful holiday however you celebrated!

November 29, 2011

Gobble Gobble

Thanksgiving is easily one of the best holidays. Centered around delicious good, good company and giving thanks, there is no better way to kick off the holiday season!!! When you live abroad, or just anywhere that isn't near the people you grew up spending Thanksgiving with, you have to make your own traditions. One of my very favorite, which I hope to continue wherever I am in the world, is Friendsgiving. 

Hosted by Mike & Mandi last year and this year, they cook the turkeys and everyone else brings a special dish to share. Traditional or non-traditional Thanksgiving food is welcome and this year's spread included mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, mixed vegetables, turkey, stuffing, rice, pies and more!  Celebrating this holiday with friends is something I had never done before Colombia, but makes so much sense. Whether it's the family you were born into or the family you make for yourself, giving thanks together is a wonderful idea. 

 Beautiful ladies at Thanksgiving dinner!

Mike & Mandi with a giant bowl of potatoes. Yum yum yum! 

Get in line :) 

The best of friends.

Obvio Thanksgiving is just too delicious to only be celebrated once, and Thursday was a travel day for our Thanksgiving vacation, so naturally we found time to celebrate on Tuesday night with the entire staff at school. My mom (!!!) arrived for a week long visit the night before, so she came along as we hopped on a bright orange school bus and headed back to school for the annual event. In this case the school provides the drinks and turkey, while side dishes are assigned based on what section you teach in. Middle school was assigned desserts, so naturally I arrived to school with pumpkin muffins in hand :) The director of my school made a nice, short speech about Thanksgiving and the rest of the night was spent introducing my mom to friends at school, catching up with colleagues (at a K-12 school you can go weeks without chatting with someone who works in a different part of the school!), and enjoying another delicious meal.

 Wheels on the bus go round and round...back to school for Thanksgiving dinner!

Colleagues. Friends!  

TT and me. 

Festive decorations. 

Round two of two. And only one of those is my wine glass for the record.

Two turkey dinners down, with two days left until the actual holiday, and I felt like Thanksgiving 2011 was already a success!! Cheers :)
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