A trip to the Amazon forest

Time here does not wait for anyone. It has been so hard for me to take a minute and catch a breath between classes, homework, commuting, host family events and travel. Recently I spent a weekend in Tiputini, the Amazon rain forest. The trip to Tiputini was about 12 hours in total jumping from bus to boat to chiva to boat, etc. This kind of gives you an idea how deep into the jungle we were. Although the commute was long, the trip was an amazing opportunity because this trip was not a typical vacation or tourist attraction. It was a trip organized by my school to allow students to visit the schools research station in the middle of the rain forest. This is definitely not a place where just anybody can visit. We were the only tourists for miles and miles since the station is mainly used by researchers.

On the way to Tiputini there was a stretch of the trip where we needed to enter a petroleum site because it was the only road available to get where we needed to be. This part of the trip really opened up my eyes to the controversies between the indigenous communities and the petroleum companies. This section of the trip I was not allowed to take any photographs or videos in case the photos I take are used to exploit the oil company. When we first arrived to the petroleum site, our group was forced to watch a video that presented people from the Yasuní community explaining that they agree fully with the oil companies saying things like “these people are our bosses” and “they have full rights to the land”. The video explained if anyone ever wanted to enter the land, they need to go through the petroleum company first. Previously in my culture class we learned a lot about the relationships between indigenous communities and petroleum companies in Ecuador. At this time I had many questions and speculations running through my mind but overall I was just so grateful and intrigued to be able to be there and witness this relation in person since I studied it so much before. On the way through the petroleum site we had a 2 hour bus ride and about half way through the site, we were stopped by not only the Yasuní , but the exact people that spoke in the. Our bus of students were not allowed to pass unless we got out and looked at their crafts. Although the video explained the agreement and accordance these two groups have, actions being took told me different story.

This topic is very controversial and can have many different perspectives. I just wanted to know so much more and ask questions especially because it was hard for me to fully understand the exact dynamics especially because they keep nus in the dark about many things. I also wanted to do the right thing in the situation when we were forced out of the bus, but I didn’t even know what the right thing was Do I buy a souvenir from the community or does that just add to the support of their behavior? I ultimately decided to buy a small braided bracelet because the way I saw it was I already supported the oil company by using their roads and transportation so I wanted to support the Yasuní as well since I side with them a bit more. I could go on and on about my opinions and views, but I know that it is a sensitive topic and want my blog to be more informative rather than political. If this is the first time you are hearing about this type of thing however, I really encourage you to take a minute to look into the topic because educating ourselves about controversies like these is the best thing we can do.

When we finally  arrived to the Tiputini research station I was in so much awe. We were just living in the middle of a rain forest in tiny little huts. I can honestly say I have never done something quite like that before. After a long journey, a few of us decided to take a dip in the Tiputini river and as we were swimming,  monkeys just casually flew overhead throughout the trees. The many species of monkeys I saw were one of my favorite parts, especially when we were able to see baby monkeys hanging from their mothers back.  It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that these animals are just living in their natural habitat, they weren’t just placed for tourists. It’s one thing to see animals like this outside their habitats but it was an extraordinary feeling to feel like the outsider and the intruders for once.

The following days there were crazy as well. We had an awesome tour guide who took us on excursions showing us different plants that could be used as medicine. He even put a vine that smelled like mango on the arm of my friend who was stung by a bee (the swelling and pain went down in a matter of minutes!). We also saw every type of insect possible:  from a spider who wraps up its prey in 5 seconds to  large hairy tarantulas, ants that could kill in one bite to ants that tasted like lemons (yes I ate live ants from a tree in the Amazon). Another plant our guide showed us was popular among the indigenous groups and was used to dye fabrics. Though it only looked like a green stem, I chewed it and my whole entire mouth was blue for the rest of the day. Everywhere I stepped, there was some type of new species of plant, insect or animal. Another bonus to the trip was the food prepared for us at the station. It was some of the best Ecuadorian food I have ever had, I even tried yucca for the first time which reminded me of a chewy potato.

My last night in the Amazon was the most surreal. My group went out on a boat along the river at night with only one spotlight. As we strolled scanning the shore, the faint outline of the jungle trees were against a night sky lit by the moon and the brightest stars I have ever seen overhead, I felt like I was in a movie. Our group was so lucky that during the whole stay we had clear skies and no rain in the rain forest. When we returned that night, a couple of us decided to stargaze out on the dock with the sounds all around us. We said hello to the lightning bugs flying by, talked about life, counted the shooting stars we saw, enjoyed the fresh jungle smells and all the songs of all the Amazon critters. A memory I will never forget.

Magdalena

Episode 7: Thanksgiving, Christkindlmarkts and First snow!

For most people, i.e. everyone back in the States, it’s Thanksgiving break and therefore Thanksgiving time. However in Austria, Thanksgiving does not exist; therefore, after Halloween it is STRAIGHT to Christmas. All the stores begin putting Christmas decorations out and lights are put up in the city center. The thought of missing and completely skipping Thanksgiving made all of us pretty sad. However, the AAIE made sure we wouldn’t miss a thing. On November 16th, we had a huge Thanksgiving dinner, from the turkey to the sweet-potatoes. But with a huge twist:  we Linfield students cooked it all. Yes mom, I said cooked it – from the turkey to the sweet potatoes. The AAIE set up a wonderful program where we went to a school known for cooking and service, used their kitchen and got help from one of their chefs. So for roughly 4 hours, we cooked our Thanksgiving dinner and let me tell you it was not easy.  It makes me even more grateful for all the parents and grandparents out there that have cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year. I do not know how they do it, they’ve got to be superhuman.

Vanessa, Me, Ana, Michaela and Thomas all ready to begin cooking!
Vanessa, Me, Ana, Michaela and Thomas all ready to begin cooking!

After we cooked, our guests began to arrive. Our guests were our host families and professors from the institute. We began with some drinks and a great speech from Hermann. Eventually we sat down and ate all the amazing food we cooked. And let me tell you that was some of the best Thanksgiving food I’ve ever had (besides my moms mash potato’s of course)!

All the AAIE people together!
All the AAIE people together!

Now typically, the day after is spent for resting because of all the food you’ve eaten. However, that day one of my friends from Linfield came to visit! Her name is Alex and she just recently finished her study abroad trip in Norway! Ana and I showed her around Vienna and later that evening we all (Ana, Michaela, Vanessa and Alex) went to the main Christmas market at the Rathaus (city hall). This Christmas market has about 150 stands and an ice skating rink.

The entrance to the Christkindlmarkt at Rathaus!
The entrance to the Christkindlmarkt at Rathaus!
Ana and Michaela at the market.
Ana and Michaela at the market.

There are several Christmas markets in Vienna and i hope to go to as many of them as possible. The Rathaus is more of a touristy area however it is absolutely beautiful!

On thanksgiving day (the 22nd of November) we all decided to spend it together and go ice skating! It was one of the best times I’ve had here and I will remember it forever. All the memories I have made here have been amazing.

Everyone ice skating!
Everyone ice skating!

With finals slowly approaching and only 3 weeks left here in Vienna everyone is trying to make the most of our time. Hopefully I will have a little bit more to share with you next time!

Melissa

Alex drinking coffee!
Alex drinking coffee!
Us girls at the market!
Us girls at the market!

October 28th, 2018- ホストファミリーの生活とおっぱまYフェスタ(Host Family Life and Oppama Y Festa

Oppama Y Festa 2018

Konnichiwa! In this post, I will talk about my homestay experience and the annual Oppama Y Festa. My homestay experience was amazing, and I have made some of the most happiest memories. They are a really nice family with three adorable dogs. My host mother is especially the sweetest. Every morning, I have to wake up early because my host mother leaves for work around 7:30 and by then everyone is out of the house (daughter goes to school and host father is off to work in the early morning). However, she always makes me a breakfast bento to take to school and most of the time that includes pastries and fruit. Before I leave for school, she tells me “きをつけてね (be careful)” and to have a nice day. She is very understanding especially when I have my struggles sometimes.

There were also times when I went out with my host family to do fun activities. One time I went to karaoke for the first time with my host mother and daughter, and we had a blast singing mostly American pop songs since my host sister loves American pop music like me. Another time, we went shopping at Yokohama Landmark Plaza, and after that we rode the Yokohama Seabass, a ferry that travels through the scenic route from the port of Yokohama. Since we rode at night, the view was really pretty!

Me and my host sister singing karaoke
Me and my host sister singing karaoke
A view of the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel from the Seabass
A view of the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel from the Seabass

Then, one dinner I helped make gyoza for the first time. To be honest, it is not that easy especially when you have to make small creases as you are folding the dumpling and I put too much meat in one of them. But, it still turned out to be おいしい (delicious).

Finally, there was a day where my host family even met one of my KGU buddies after he helped me get shinkansen tickets for fall break (I will talk about this in my next post) and we went to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) where they had an exhibit about the gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii. This exhibit was special since it is the 150th anniversary of the gannenmono and there were a few celebrations honoring them back home this past summer.

Making gyoza
Making gyoza with my host sister
Me and my buddy at JICA
Me and my buddy in front of a display of a vegetable parade float made by Japanese immigrant farmers in Oregon for the Portland rose festival at the JICA.

Overall, I had a great time with my host family. At the beginning (and before the homestay started), it felt kind of awkward since I am different from them. However as time went on, I felt as if I had become part of the family. I am now glad to say I have ohana (If you don’t know the meaning of this word, you better watch Lilo and Stitch) in Japan because of the hospitality they have provided me. I imagine that it is going to be so difficult coming back home where my real family lives. Now on to Oppama Y Festa!

Oppama Y Festa KGU game
One of the games where I helped out at

Sunday 10/28- Oppama Y Festa was a festival sponsored by Nissan where there were many activities set up for the kids. KGU had a tent with two activities set up, so all of KGU, both international and japanese students helped out at this event. Since the theme was Halloween, I decided to dress up as Mario. My job was to cheer on the kids as they had to play a game where they throw a ball at one of the numbered squares to get three across, diagonal, up, or down. I got to admit, I probably sounded like an idiot because I got into the character of Mario and cheered like him but I am pretty sure the kids seemed to enjoy it. There were also performances going on such as a power ranger fight and a band that played Hawaiian music along with hula dancers. At the end of the day, we all walked down to see the fireworks, and the display was huge! It was much bigger and more grand than the usual Friday night fireworks back home.

 

Hula dancers performing at Oppama Y Festa
Hula dancers performing at Oppama Y Festa
Oppama Y Festa Power Ranger Fight
Power Ranger Fight at Oppama Y Festa

Well that is all for this post, be on the look out for my upcoming post about fall break which occured soon after Oppama Y Festa.

Me with Luigi kid
Me with my “brother” Luigi!

じゃね!
-アリッサ

Thanksgiving blues

There are only four weeks left of classes before our month long winter break begins. This last month means essays and test prep and preparing to live out of a backpack for a month while I travel Europe. It also means that we are running out of time to explore the UK and after this weekend we have some big trips planned in order to take advantage of our last remaining weekends here.

While we haven’t traveled much the past few weeks because, well, we are still poor college students trying to save money for our month long adventure, we are still exploring new parts of Nottingham, and oh yes- studying too.

This week is also the beginning of Thanksgiving break back in the States. It is weird to be away from home and without the means of making any sort of thanksgiving meal in our dorms.

The best way to avoid thinking about homesickness is shopping. Friday, after tracking down a post office so I could send home some postcards, Carmen and I spent the afternoon wandering Old Market Square and the mall. And since there’s no Thanksgiving here, Christmas has already arrived everywhere. The town square, which normally has a fountain and some local vendors, is now an ice rick, an ice bar, vendors and amusement rides.

To get our minds off of the holiday we were about to miss we headed to Liverpool Saturday morning. Leaving Nottingham railway station at 7:45 in the morning meant being up by 6 am and leaving campus by 6:45. We knew we were in for a day of exhaustion and excitement.

Our first stop was The Museum of Liverpool. With three floors of exhibits about Liverpool and one dedicated to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the museum had a lot to offer. Although, by far our favorite was ‘Double Fantasy- John and Yoko’ which chronological broke down the two performers relationship and impact on the world.

The Museum of Liverpool
The Museum of Liverpool
"Peace is Power" from the John and Yoko exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool
“Peace is Power” from the John and Yoko exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool

Since most of the museums in Liverpool are free, we decided to take in as many as we could in one day. Our next stop was the Tate art museum.

The outside of the Tate Art Museum
The outside of the Tate Art Museum

Then we stop for lunch before heading to the Merseyside Maritime Museum. We only went to the International Slavery exhibit here before heading out to find the World Museum. 

An anchor and the entrance to the Merseyside Maritime Museum
An anchor and the entrance to the Merseyside Maritime Museum

We made a quick pit stop at the Beatles statue on our way to the World Museum.

The Beatles statue in Liverpool at the Pier
The Beatles statue in Liverpool at the pier

Finally, our last stop was the World Museum, with 5 floors and a planetarium, we were convinced that in our last 40 minutes we could make it to each exhibit. From a small aquarium, to a room full of real mummies, to a dinosaur exhibit and finally the space and time floor we saw something on every floor and even made it to the last (and free) planetarium showing.

From there we headed back to the train station, grabbed a quick dinner and got on the next train headed to Nottingham. We didn’t make it back to campus until 9:30 pm but, the sleep deprivation was worth it.

To curb our appetite for better food, we went to the Nottingham vegan market Sunday. From cosmetics to doughnuts to ‘chicken’ and ‘hot dogs’, Carmen, Haylee, and I spent the morning indulging in good food and looking at booths for local vegan stores.

My avocado doughnut from the vegan market
My avocado doughnut from the vegan market

Later that day we headed to Mansfield for their tree lighting ceremony. Although it was a significant journey there (we didn’t know that there was a train from Nottingham to Mansfield) we made it just in time for the stage show to wind down, a Christmas music laser show to begin and Santa to be ushered on stage. As soon as it was dark enough the countdown began, and the tree in the city centre and all the lights that lined the streets turned on. This was followed by fireworks and even more Christmas music.

The Christmas tree and fireworks from the Big Switch On in Mansfield
The Christmas tree and fireworks from the Big Switch On in Mansfield

Before break I have two essays due. While one of these is only 25% of my grade (the other 75% is the multiple choice test in January) the other is 100% of my grade. It is intimidating and nerve wracking to have my entire grade decided by one essay. We were warned at orientation back in March that our grades would be solely based on one final exam or essay, but now that I am here and nearing finals I’m realizing just how much pressure that is. With both deadlines approaching and trips to Scotland and Ireland coming up, it’s definite that this last month will be chocked full of stress and excitement. 

Cheers,

Rilee

Cape Town ep. 2

Checking back in from CT! I know it’s been a month since I last published, but I promise I’ll have at least 3 more updates for you as I finish and reflect when I get back to the States. Ok, here’s today’s post:

People always told me going abroad time would absolutely fly. I would nod and agree but internally think, “3 months is still a while, so I don’t think so…”

Two months in, I can attest to everyone who told me this being absolutely right. I checked a calendar today and all I could think was, “How is it possible that I leave in less than two weeks?” It seems like I blinked and all of a sudden I’m here.

Here, literally meaning: sitting at my desk at our off-site location about to prep a photo shoot for our upcoming event, which is definitely one of the coolest parts of my internship. #ChewBox2018 will see us  collecting donations and items for dogs and cats currently awaiting adoption. The brewery will also be doing adoptions one Sunday so I’m going to have to exercise some intense self-control in order not to head back with a new pup. (Only partially joking as I really want a new dog.)

Here, figuratively meaning: mentally prepping myself for another round of goodbyes tonight as another of my intern friends heads back home. Being abroad for such a short time, I didn’t think I’d grow so attached to people but there have definitely been waterworks. Currently trying not to be nostalgic when I haven’t even left but in having to say goodbye over and over, it’s hard not to. This is one experience that’s unique to IE3 and internships abroad, as if I had gone to a site with Linfield students, we’d head back at the same time to Mac. That being said, I wouldn’t trade this. I now have friends from all over the states (and some spots in Europe) and we’re already planning our first intern reunion next year.

Those aside, this past month has been absolutely packed. Here’s a photo look at what we’ve been up to:

A hiking picture from this past weekend. We hiked and camped in a spot with zero signal, which was wonderful. This is Riley on a rock formation we encountered on the hike.
A hiking picture from this past weekend. We hiked and camped in a spot with zero signal, which was wonderful. This is Riley on a rock formation we encountered on the hike.
sunset at this spot -- Signal Hill
One of the most epic sights I’ve seen here was a sunset at this spot — Signal Hill. We took so many photos here, this is one of my favorites.
celebrating Halloween at a local bar
The gals and I (and our bartending friend) celebrating Halloween at a local bar. We live in Observatory which is known for being a student and international-filled neighborhood.
wine tasting at Asara.
Colleen, my flatmate, and I hanging (haha) during a wine tasting at Asara. So delicious (and so cheap in dollars–$6 for 5 wines what!)
soy latte at Truth Coffee
One of the must-see spots in CT is Truth Coffee. The decor, architecture, everything is great. This is a soy latte and it is supposedly a horse done in foam, although I still can’t see it.
a gatsby. FIlled with fries and a bunch of other things; this one is vegan
One of the dishes South Africa is known for: a gatsby. FIlled with fries and a bunch of other things; this one is vegan! CT’s vegan scene is so great.
a picture I took behind-the scenes of Cass (one of the directors).
One of the challenges at the Protege bartending program was a photo contest. This is a picture I took behind-the scenes of Cass (one of the directors).
Hiking through mountains in Cederburg
Another picture from the hike. 4 hours through mountains in Cederburg were definitely challenging. High 90s and steep inclines, but we still made it!

Oh and I had a separate mini adventure this month too when my dad bought me a  ticket to see family that lives in France as an early grad gift.  Here is a picture of me at the Louvre Museum in Paris (saw the Mona Lisa in person albeit from a distance!).

Outside the Louvre during my France trip.
Outside the Louvre during my France trip. Saw 5 cities in 8 days and got to practice my very very basic French.

That’s all for now, check back for another post sometime next week about getting ready to head back to the states.

-Camila

PS. if you’re a foodie and want to see more pictures of Cape Town eats, find me on Instagram @macamarri and check out my Eats highlight.

 

Loch Ness

Thanksgiving has come and gone and the lingering homesickness and realization that we still have a while before seeing our families caused Carmen and I to seek an adventure to Scotland for the weekend.

A 15 hour journey, 3 trains and a bus later we arrived Saturday afternoon in Inverness, Scotland. The Scottish Highlands are quite the trek from the English Midlands, so why did we feel the need to go that far north when Glasgow and Edinburgh are much closer? There’s only one word to best describe our thought process: Nessie. That’s right we did all of this to spend a few hours at Loch Ness.

Carmen and I at Loch Ness
Carmen and I at Loch Ness

Unfortunately, as it is nowhere near peak tourist season there was only one cruise on the Loch that bused us from the city center to the docks. Luckily, with our handy Britrail passes meant that we weren’t paying for trains, and taking night trains meant we weren’t paying for lodging so we splurged for a tour that includes a ferry ride on the loch and a tour of Urquhart Castle.

When we arrived around one in the afternoon Saturday we headed straight for the bus station, ensuring that we knew where we had to be an hour later. For that hour in between being dropped off and the beginning of the Jacobite tour we wandered around the city centre and found lunch.

Finally, it was time for the tour. Like I said, it’s not tourist season, and we weren’t expecting our tour to be packed, but surprisingly the only other person on the tour with us was an exchange student from Germany who was studying in Scotland for the term and also decided to spend the weekend in Inverness.

We headed out on our 30 minute bus towards Loch Ness. The tour included a “guided bus tour” where the driver pointed out buildings and other landmarks as we drove by them.

This was followed by a 30 minute cruise on the Loch. On the boat, another tour guide told us the history of the Loch as we sailed toward Urquhart Castle.

View of Urquhart Castle from our tour boat
View of Urquhart Castle from our tour boat

The last part of the tour was an hour to wander the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Once a castle to many great Scottish families, the castle was blown up in 1692 after having been under attack repeatedly. Now all that remains are the ruins of the castle.

What is left of Urquhart Castle
The ruins of Urquhart Castle

Once we were back in Inverness City Centre we grabbed dinner, and then went to the train station to wait for our bus to Glasgow.

From Glasgow, we were planning on catching a morning train that would get us back to Nottingham. Like we had Friday night, we planned to spend the night in the waiting rooms at the train station, likely another 6 hour stay.

Little did we know, that some train stations close overnight, and on Sundays they don’t open until 6 am.

After catching a bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh (which took an hour) and finding our way to that train station, we ultimately ended up going to the airport. Piece of advice, instead of deciding to spend hours waiting around in train stations from midnight to 7am just pay for a hostel.

We finally made it back to campus, about 40 hours after we had left Friday night, exhausted and hungry, but with another place crossed off our bucket list.

Rilee

Episode 6: Poland

Seeing as though my last blog was about a school trip I thought it would be fitting to write about another school trip. This time it was to Krakow, Poland. DISCLAIMER: Before I begin I would like to warn anyone reading this, I will be discussing and sharing photos of the former concentration camp Auschwitz and if you do not feel comfortable or want to read or see these things it is alright to stop when it says Auschwitz in bold letters. But other than that lets begin with Poland.

Now Poland is not somewhere I would have ever thought I’d go but boy oh boy am I sure glad I did. Not only is it absolutely beautiful, but it has some of the BEST dumplings I’ve ever had in my life. Yes I said that and yes they are the best. While we were there, the weather was not the greatest but it also set a mood that felt like fall, finally. And for some reason it made the trip much better.

On Thursday the 18th of October we took the night train. This may sound so cool, and it kind of was, but at the same time, it was not the slightest bit comfortable. It’s something everyone should experience and honestly, if I had a choice I would totally do it again because it beats traveling all day. Overall, the traveling was not bad! We arrived in Krakow around 7am and made our way to our hotel where we left our bags and ate breakfast. Around 10 am we headed out for our first tour of the old town in Krakow. What makes this part so beautiful is the large park surrounding the town. This park used to be part of the fortification walls that surround Krakow for most of its existence. While we were there, the leaves were changing color and everything felt so peaceful. We made our way through the old town and stopped at the old university museum where we got a tour of the inside. Interestingly the outside has this clock that at certain times of the day (I don’t remember which times) it goes off and out comes little figurines and go around in a circle. Now this may not sound significant, but in Krakow it was and it was quite a sight to see.

Here is the group just outside of the castle!
Here is the group just outside of the castle!

Eventually we made it into the center of the town where there was a long row of markets (that were amazing) and of course, a huge church. Now with this church came something that everyone should experience. Every hour on the hour, the window of one of the towers opens up and a man plays the trumpet for all of the town to hear. He plays what is called St. Mary’s Trumpet Call four times, in each cardinal direction (North, East, South and West). This call is a five note anthem that supposedly came about during the Mongol invasion and a trumpeter sounded an alarm playing this tune. However the trumpeter was shot before he could finish and therefore the call is only 5 notes. At the end of the call, the trumpeter sticks his hand out the window and waves to everyone in the streets. Now this is something so amazing and unique that I never expected to see or even hear of and it is something everyone should experience. We ended the day with some lunch/dinner where I had some amazing dumplings, of course.

A photo from the garden area of the Castle with a view of the church.
A photo from the garden area of the Castle with a view of the church.
Ana and I all bundled up inside the castle walls.
Ana and I all bundled up inside the castle walls.

The next day we headed up to the castle and had an amazing tour of the church inside the castle and parts of the actual castle. Later that day we made our way to Auschwitz.

Inside the court yard of the Castle.
Inside the court yard of the Castle.

AUSCHWITZ

Auschwitz is a former concentration camp from World War II and is known as one of the biggest. There are two parts of Auschwitz, Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau Auschwitz 1 holds many barracks and areas where some of the SS Soldiers had slept as well as the prisoners of the camp. During the tour they took us through a few of the barracks. In the first barrack they shared photos of the prisoners and maps of the grounds. The next barrack is where we saw the suitcase, the shoes, the dishes, and the hair of the prisoners. Each of these things had a certain impact on me and the hair is what impacted me the most. They requested that no photos be taken of the hair out of respect. To end our tour of Auschwitz , they showed us one of the gas chambers.

Here is a photo of Barrack #10.
Here is a photo of Barrack #10.
One of the Gas Chambers in Auschwitz 1.
One of the Gas Chambers in Auschwitz 1.

We then headed to Birkenau.  Birkenau was the largest area of the Auschwitz concentration camp and is split into three parts, the women’s side, the men’s side and then there was a third section that was never actually finished. When you walk through the gates you are immediately walking where prisoners of Auschwitz had walked. The guide took us along the pathway where newly arrived prisoners were sorted into two sections, able and not able. Able as in able to work. Many of the women and children were put in the not able section, because they had not wanted to leave their children. Here they were lied to and told they were going to take showers, but were actually sent to the gas chambers. The tour guide then took us to the memorial area where they have a memorial stone in every language that was recorded there.

The memorial for all the victims of Auschwitz.
The memorial for all the victims of Auschwitz.

After this we saw what was left of the gas chambers, which were burnt to the ground by both Nazi soldiers and the workers of the camp. We then headed into the women’s side of the camp where we saw their sleeping barracks. Often 6 to 8 people were fit into a bunk.  This concluded the tour. This tour of Auschwitz was not something I’d ever thought I’d do, but now that i have, i highly recommend everyone to at least visit a concentration camp. It is important to remember what happened and make sure it never happens again.

Suitcases from the victims.
Suitcases from the victims.
One of the two gas chambers in Birkenau.
One of the two gas chambers in Birkenau.

The last day in Poland, we went to the Salt Mines which I have to say were pretty awesome. You could actually lick some of the walls and taste the salt! I’m not sure how far down the salt mines go. However I do know that they are something everyone should see!

Michaela licking the wall of the salt mine!
Michaela licking the wall of the salt mine!

That’s much like all of Europe.

So far this trip has been an eye opening and amazing experience in which I encourage everyone to try and do.

Sign at Auschwitz 1.
Sign at Auschwitz 1.
The barbwire fence around Auschwitz.
The barbwire fence around Auschwitz.

 

Fall in the Chinese Capital

As the last warm breaths of the Chinese Summer ceased, the landscape here at Peking University (also called “Beida” (北大) for short) began to change with the seasons. The trees around Beida’s famous Weiming Lake transformed from a vibrant green to a glowing yellow as the century-old koi fish began revealing themselves near the edges of the popular body of water. After seeing Shanghai for the first time, my good friend Ivy, a bright student from American University, and I decided to explore more local and authentic locations in Beijing.

We began our adventures by traveling to some of Beijing’s most famous hutong (胡同) neighbourhoods. Hutong neighbourhoods, which are essentially small alleyways made up of homes and shops (hutong roughly translates to small alleyways made up of homes and shops alley in English), once made up the majority of Beijing’s total area. However, many hutongs have been lost to the construction of things like subway lines, roads, and new apartment buildings. Despite this, many hutongs remain, such as the Nanluoguxiang hutong near the Beijing Bell and Drum towers.  Nanluoguxiang was built during the Yuan Dynasty and has endured the last 1,000 or so years. Nanluoguxiang was filled with people, primarily tourists, as well as the smells of truly incredible food. I noticed the famous Beijing Jianbing (a pancake-like dish with eggs) being sold all over the hutong, as well as a disproportionate amount of people speaking the local Beijing dialect of Chinese.

After we explored the hutong, Ivy and I climbed the tall steps to the top of the Beijing Gulou (北京鼓樓), or Beijing Drum Tower. In ancient times, bell towers were used in Chinese cities to signal time, much like clock towers in the West, while drum towers were primarily used to signal different events occuring in Escalator stairs up a very high towerthe city, usually involving the Emperor or other government or public events. Many Chinese cities still have their drum and bell towers, and of course Beijing is no exception. The bright red tower is truly stunning, and it manages to work itself nicely into the local landscape. The towers stairs have to been the steepest stairs in the world; one tumble down those and I think anyone would be a goner, so climb carefully! After reaching the top, the proceeding view of Beijing is truly stunning. While it was rather polluted the day we went, it was still worth the hike up to the top. 

The two of us also returned to Yuanming Yuan (圓明園) which we had explored together in the end of Summer. Yuanming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace, is right next to Peking University, making it easy to visit. While the Palace was Ruins of Yuanming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace near Beijing University.gorgeous in the Summer, I almost like it better during the Fall. The yellow colours and dead grass go hand-in-hand with the ruins there.

Other than exploring Beijing, I have had great opportunities to get to know my teachers more and more as well as make more friends. After a language exercise at my comprehensive class teacher’

 

s university, we all had lunch with her and managed to talk and get to know her a bit more. It’s truly an amazing experience to make new friends and get to know people in your second language! Our teachers and us students have really gotten close over the semester, with inside jokes and being made daily. Hardly a day goes by without the class busting out laughing at least once.  

So far, Beijing has yet to disappoint. I just hope I can see all there is to see in the time I have, which is already going so fast. The more time I spend here, the Friends at a table making peace signs.more my behavours and mindset begin to shift towards the Chinese perspective. It makes me wonder what it will be like to return to Linfield in May!

Peru

Up until now my blog posts have consisted of the wave of emotions and the unexpected epiphanies that studying abroad in Chile have induced, but I just got back from Peru and it deserves a story of its own.

Before I even knew where in South America I was going to be studying, I knew I had to see the ancient Incan pueblo and ruinas of Machu Picchu while I was here.

Preparation—

The month leading up to the trip, I’m not going to lie, was stressful. Nothing but our plane tickets were in order, and those who know me know I’m a compulsive planner. I don’t usually opt to ‘figure things out when we get there’ or leave things up to chance, and this has especially been the case traveling throughout South America with my less than perfect Spanish.

Booking plane tickets and making hostel reservations was the easy part. Buying the entrance passes to Machu Picchu, however, took a couple of tries. Luckily my host brothers, Gabriel and Diego, had gone at the beginning of August, and directed me to the official Ministerio de Perú website, where tickets are much cheaper than the ones many tourists purchase through travel agencies. We bought our tickets only five days in advance because we kept having problems with our cards getting declined and the site malfunctioning. I obviously recommend buying tickets much earlier in advance than we did.

Thursday, October 25—

We left our home city of Chillán at 3:15 am on bus and arrived in Santiago at 9 am, early for our 2:15 pm flight to Lima, Peru. The four hour flight was long, especially because none of us had really slept in over a day. We finally landed in Cusco at 8 pm. We found a taxi that doubled as a Machu Picchu transport service at the airport, and after haggling for a little with Pedro, the friendly driver, we decided to book our trip with him.

Augustin & Mel on the way to the airport
Augustin & Mel on the way to the airport

The thing about Machu Picchu is that it’s about 46 miles from Cusco. So travelers still have to find their way to the Machu Picchu pueblo of Aguas Calientes from Cusco, either by train, bus or van.

Friday, October 26—

We woke up at 6:30 am to catch our van to a little pit stop along the way to Machu Picchu called Hidroeléctrica. From there it’s about seven miles to Aguas Calientes, but it’s only accessible by train or on foot. So we walked along the train tracks.

Augustin, Mel & I at the beginning of the train tracks
Augustin, Mel & I at the beginning of the train tracks

The views of the Peruvian jungle from the tracks were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I thought I was accustomed to the mountains being from central Idaho, but I was absolutely in awe of the deep green, plush landscape that felt like it was completely engulfing me.

In the Peruvian jungle
In the Peruvian jungle

After almost three hours of walking along the tracks in the on-again-off-again rain, we finally reached Aguas Calientes. That night we ate traditional Peruvian lomo saltado and headed to our hostel early to prepare for the next day.

Lomo Saltado
Lomo Saltado

Saturday, October 27—

We started hiking to Machu Picchu at 4:30 am. Because our tickets were in the first circuit, from 6am to noon, we wanted to take as much advantage of our time slot as we could. The hike to the entrance point took an hour and a half, and it was all stairs at a steep incline. You know how in basketball or volleyball or softball when your coach makes you do stairs, your legs burn after like three minutes? At some points I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top.

Once we were actually there, I stood with my jaw dropped at my vantage point and marveled at the Incan ruins. I remember thinking about the people who once lived there, how strong and innovative they must have been. How is it possible that something this grandiose even exists in the world?

Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world
Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world
Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins
Mel entering the Machu Picchu ruins
Mel entering the Machu Picchu ruins

After we descended through the ruins and got pretty friendly with some lamas, we made our way up the grand montaña Machu Picchu. This was probably the hardest trek I’ve ever done in my life, especially after the already strenuous hike earlier that morning. We climbed the over 2,000 stairs in an hour and 45 minutes, reaching an altitude of 10,111 feet.

Just a little bit prior we were here in the ruins

and then a few hours later we climbed so high we could barely even see the them.

In total that day we walked 15.5 miles, took 35,631 steps and climbed 265 flights of stairs.

Sunday, October 28—

On Sunday morning we shopped around the little vendors in Aguas Calientes, before heading southeast again for seven miles along those train tracks. At 3 pm our van came to pick us up in Hidroeléctrica, and when we finally got back to Cusco at 10 pm. My legs felt like they might not even last me the rest of the night.

Augustin and I in Hidroeléctrica
Augustin and I in Hidroeléctrica

Monday, October 29—

We left our Cusco hostel early to catch our 8:45 am flight to Lima, and didn’t land in Santiago until 6:00 that evening.

Now it’s Tuesday and I’m writing this at a friend’s house in Santiago (who studied abroad in my home state almost four years ago) reflecting on my journey while he’s in class. My ankles are swollen, my muscles burn, and my legs and arms are adorned with mosquito bites, but I have never felt so alive. Peru is the best thing I’ve ever done, even through all the rain and rigor.

Nos vemos pronto,

Camille