Notes from the Road – Death Cab for Pukey

So. The Mister and I decided to take a slightly less beaten path to Machu Picchu. And if you´re wondering exactly what that means, it means we followed the directions in the Lonely Planet under the heading “Off The Beaten Path.” So it was just us and 400 other travelers attempting to get away from it all.Though we were probably the only ones who didn’t have dreadlocks and were over the age of 23.

Instead of spending $100 on 12 hours of train ride, we spent several days riding $1 local buses through The Sacred Valley, poking through sweet little towns and drinking a lot of coco tea. All was going quite well, all paved roads and flush toilets and such, till the last leg of our journey.

We discover that we need to take a taxi to the little town of Santa Theresa, where we´ll hike along an abandoned railway for three hours till we get to Aguas Calientes. We pair up with a Chilean couple so that the two hour taxi ride will run each of us $5. We pile into a slightly beat up Toyota station wagon for what I´m sure will be a pleasurable ride filled with small talk and travel stories. Maybe we´ll all be Facebook friends after this!

Our driver pops in his only CD (UB40´s Greatest Hits) and we turn down a narrow, rutted service road. I dutifully gulp down a Dramamine as I am The World´s Best Puker and have experienced the wonder of Peruvian mountain roads before.

Sam chats with the Chileans in the back seat while I notice that this washed out road? With all the bumps and total lack of shoulder? It´s been going on for quite a while. But whatever, right? I survived six hours of this between Siem Reep and Bangkok, it´s all good. This is but another badge on my Girl Scout travel sash, right?

And then we start up the mountain. We are driving through the Andes at 30 miles an hour on a road with no shoulder, no guard rail and one lane. The driver occasionally tries to engage me in conversation, looking at me and smiling as I whisper scream “Fala Portuguese! No Espanol!” and point at the road. He kindly swerves to avoid particularly deep holes which sends me into poorly managed hysterics. The steering on the car is so loose that turning the tires necessitates what appears to be a 90 degree turn over the cliff. The first few times this happens I do that bit where my hands fly up to cover my face and then spontaneously smooth down my hair. Every time we round a corner, he honks to alert on-coming vehicles.

We begin to meet other vehicles on the road, which results in a lot of honking, flashing of lights and our driver staring down other drivers. Eventually they all back up into someone´s driveway three miles back and we speed past them waving nervously.

As we get farther up the mountain, we begin to encounter waterfalls. All this necessitate fording six or seven inches of water and crossing bridges that appear to be, somehow, actually narrower than the car. I begin to write a news clip in my head ¨American Couple Dies in Andes, Attempting to Save $60″ and I look back at Sam and see him eying all the possible exits and testing the release button on his seat belt.

Just as I begin to question my Agnostic religious stance, we turn the corner into Santa Theresa. Though I have pitted out my last clean shirt and probably lost three years of my life to worry, I´m alive! Dusty and dirty and a total nervous wreck, but alive!

I should have known it would turn out alright. I saw the driver cross himself and kiss the Mary hanging from his rear view mirror before we took off.

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Nice work if you can get it: Professional Do-gooder

This is part of our series of interviews with people who have fantastic, envy-inducing jobs. They all also happen to be my friends. I met Meghan while we were both teaching English in Taiwan. After we left the R.O.C., we traveled through Thailand and Vietnam together, dodging motorbikes and taking over-night trains into the mountains. Now she lives on a swanky island, house sits for millionaires and saves the world one kid at a time.So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am the Director of a Youth Centre built by the AIDS Awareness Foundation in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. TCI is an independent country, in the Caribbean in which struggles for identity. Provo (the main inhabited island) has grown astronomically in the last 20 years and so there is no strong foundation of culture on which the younger generation has to build. The Centre I work for fills a massive void as there really isn’t much for the young people of this island to do in their spare time. We target teens from ages 12 and up.

My job has changed from week to week since I began just over 6 months ago. I went from being handed an empty group of buildings to running drop in hours (after school and Saturdays) and searching the Island trying to find donations and volunteers to run programs of any sort. It’s sort of like being a school principal, teacher (and janitor) all while trying to search out funding sources.

Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
My day begins as most others would, checking email, seeing if the Centre is clean, getting art or office supplies, etc. Then there is a never-ending list of things to be done: check in with local schools, pay bills, advertise events, find sponsors/donors, fine-tune Code of Conduct/Discipline Plan and other standard protocols, call parents etc etc. I choose whichever of these is highest on the priority list on the day and plug through whatever I can. After school is out for the day and kids start arriving, there is the business or supervising and/or the running of programs myself.

It all changes again during Christmas and Summer Break – we open all day so I try to squeeze all my other tasks while leaving volunteers in charge from time to time.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
To be honest, I didn’t set out to do this. I studied Biology and Psychology at University but always had a strong desire to help others one way or another. I’d volunteered in various positions since I was a teenager from feeding elderly in the hospital to some of the experiences mentioned below, but only had brief stints of training specific to the tasks I was to perform

How did you get into this line of work?
To be honest, one thing just led to another. After my Bachelor’s degree, I went to Taiwan to teach English and pay off my student loan. During that time the Tsunami happened in South East Asia. I visited Thailand the following May and was touched by the community surrounding the rebuilding. I quit teaching December of that year after saving a little extra money and went back to volunteer for 2 months.

After Thailand, I traveled and then ended up in TCI working as a yoga instructor. But my last volunteering episode only made me want to go back to do more. I applied for and was selected to go to South Africa with Grassroot Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org), the NGO that taught me the most about the non-profit world. I fundraised over $10 000 to support my stay and spent just under a year with them. Before I went to Africa, I had made connections with the AIDS Awareness Foundation in TCI as Grassroot Soccer dealt with HIV prevention. I interviewed for the job at the Centre while away and came back this past May to TCI to help open the Centre.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
It can be very overwhelming at times – generally non-profit organizations are understaffed therefore employees and volunteers will have to work very hard to keep it afloat. But I believe the community will come together if there is a good plan and a solid foundation behind the organization.

You can also feel like there is so much to be done, that it’s not worth the difficulties at times. But I think most jobs and even daily tasks are like that to some degree.

What are the highlights?
To be part of something much greater than yourself is an amazing feeling. To simply know that whatever you do, no matter how trivial the task, there is a greater purpose behind it and your work will make the world a better place. To be able to do that every day is a great reward.
There are also the little things. To see the smile of a grateful participant, to notice positive change in a regular youth member, those things keep me going.

What are the misconceptions about working in the non-profit sector?
That you can’t make a living or that it’s all volunteer work. There are a great many jobs being offered through grants issued to Orgs. The Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have brought a lot of publicity to the area in recent years. You don’t have to be in the field doing the dirty work either. Non-profits need to run like businesses as well, there is lots of admin work, marketing, PR, HR etc. These days you could be doing almost anything you want while helping a good cause and building your career.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a professional do-gooder?
If I were to do it all again, I would have looked into classes in International Development at University. There are certainly times I have felt under-qualified and a background education would have helped to overcome that. However, I truly believe that volunteering for causes you believe in, without any ulterior motive but purely because you want to help for the greater good, it what will help you see a path to get you where you want to go.

 

9 Valentine’s Day Ideas You Haven’t Heard A million times before

Looking for Valentine's Day ideas? Or romantic ideas for your anniversary? Click through for 9 great ideas your partner will love!

Looking for Valentine’s Day ideas other than chocolates + roses + dinner? You’re in the right place!

Romance is about soooo much more than flowers and candy (though I’d never sneeze in the face of some dark chocolate and a bouquet of spider mums). Romance is about knowing your partner, understanding what makes them happy, and then planning accordingly.

If you haven’t taken the love languages quiz, I so recommend it. It’ll really help you plan a Valentine’s Day your person will love!

9 Valentine’s Day Ideas You Haven’t Heard A million times before

Tell them you’ll cook what ever they want in the kitchen and do what ever they want in the bedroom.
Or maybe combine the two (winkity wink!)
Eagerly and uncomplainingly attend an event of your partner’s choosing
Yes, this includes movies starring The Rock, professional sports games, sports bars, hiking trips, and video game marathons in their BFF’s basement.
Get a membership/subscription to something that’s meaningful to both of you
It could be a season pass to the roller derby or the art theater, as long as it’s something you like to do together.
Recreate your first date, down to your outfit and what you ordered
Ours was renting a surrey at Hiawatha park, followed by dinner and wine. Annnnnnd I may have lectured Kenny about Kesha’s merits.
Get a calender made featuring photos of all the fun stuff you’ve done in the past year
Plan an escape
It doesn’t have to be extravagant! It could be camping in your neighborhood park and zipping your sleeping bags together. Or having a dirty weekend at a sleazy hotel with bad florescent lighting. Getting out of the house is sexy.
Write your partner a letter about the day you met them
What the weather was like, what was going on in the rest of your life, what your first impression of them was.
Get something meaningful engraved into something ridiculous
A spork, a guitar pick, their cleats, the handle of a screwdriver. You get the idea.
Make customized fortune cookies
I’ve done this in the past by microwaving fortune cookies for 30 seconds, pulling out the factory fortune with a tweezers and then stuffing my own inside.
What will you be doing with your special someone? Tell us in the comments so we can try it!

P.S. How to give great gifts to just about anyone

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

The Best Date Ever

(Natalie usually blogs at the chronically adorable Pony and Pink. She’s an art student, polyvore genius and champion dress-wearer. I think she’s the girlfriend you call when you want to scour that vintage boutique, and then eat finger sandwiches and catch the Beirut show – Sarah Von)

I don’t take myself out any more. Not on dates. I forget to buy myself pink carnations. I convince myself I’m too busy to go the movies alone.

I think this happens a lot. We make excuses. We work hard all day until all we want to do of an afternoon is drink a beer and fall onto the couch. And we rely on coupledom to propel us out into the world and rescue us from this behavioural rut. Rely on the people we date to, well, take us out on dates. Provide the romance. And I think there’s something wrong with this picture.

I am, as of now, going to take myself out for dates more often. And – naturally – dress up for the occasion.

So, in case you’re in need of a little romance, here are some ideas for solitary dates … and, because I am a self-confessed style fiend, some Polyvore outfits I’d love to wear during these fabulous solo expeditions.

Justify Full

Ride a carousel (or maybe a ferris wheel?) while eating a tub of Turtle Mountain Peanut Butter Zig Zag with a glittery plastic spoon. Wear the kind of dress that flutters when you walk – but maybe wear a petticoat underneath, unless it is your most heartfelt desire to re-enact The Seven Year Itch.
Insist on drinking everything through a pink straw, and call strangers “dollface”. If sugar floats your boat, eat a stick of fairy floss (candy floss, cotton candy … you know the drill) and take photographs of yourself with a half-eaten cloud of spun sugar and some very, very sticky lips.

Drive yourself to a lookout point in your city just as it’s getting dark. Watch all of the streetlights illuminate the landscape. Wear heart-shaped glasses and buy yourself fragrant flowers before you go, so the scent wafts through the car. Think about ten things that have made you happy today, and turn up the stereo. I hope it’s playing Iggy Pop or Bow Wow Wow. Your mileage may vary.

(Though, please, sweeties, lock your car doors. Just in case.)

Ride a gleaming bicycle to your nearest, geekiest museum – say, the Butterfly and Insect Museum in Honduras. Put streamers in your bicycle handlebars before you go and whistle as you ride! Take an audio tour of the museum – and don’t forget to buy a postcard in the gift shop. Send it to someone who shares your entomological passions!

What dates do you take yourself on?

Notes from the Road: Sandboarding and Whitewater Rafting

Say, what´s that a picture of?” is what you´re probably asking yourself right now, eh? Or maybe “Is Sarah still trying to impress us with all that talk of sand boarding?” Or probably “What happened to that guest poster La Bellette Rouge? When´s she coming back?”

 

Well, I´m going to go ahead and ignore those last two questions and pretend like you´re thinking about the first, mmmmkay? That photo is us, risking our necks to slide down The Biggest Sand Dune Ever.

 

Dudes. Not one iota of exaggeration: that dune was at least 20 stories tall.

 

In the event that you were concerned, I did not, in fact, die while sand boarding. Though according to that Nervous Nelly, The Lonely Planet, I could have. Here is a video that someone with exponentially better video editing skills than I possess put together that documents the sand boarding experience. (You might want to turn your speakers down or ignore the laid back hippie music. I´m pretty sure a Mountain Dew-esque, mid-90s guitar riff would be more appropriate)

 

So how does one not die while sand boarding in Peru? I can assure you success if you follow these simple instructions:

 

  1. While the dune buggy driver is driving sideways up giant dunes, scream your head off and white knuckle it on the roll bars
  2. Upon arrival at the dunes in question, reconsider your decision but allow your pride to convince you not to be That Girl who chickens out
  3. Rub an old candle on the bottom of a homemade snowboard
  4. As per the instructors directions, lay on your stomach, grab the bindings of snowboard, push yourself up onto your elbows and lock your arms in this position to funnel as much sand as possible into your cleavage
  5. Slide down a giant sand dune, not even screaming because you are too busy trying not to die
  6. When you reach the bottom, try not to act overwhelmed and respond nonchalantly when an Aussie snowboarder asks what you secret is to get going to fast.
  7. Lather, rinse and repeat eight more times.
And, friends? I would do it again. But maybe only once more.

 

As you read this, The Mister and I are headed for some whitewater rafting and then a nine hour bus ride to Cusco, where we’ll head up the Inca Trail. Apparently, Cusco itself is at such a high altitude, one might be inclined to get altitude sickness. Which one might then treat by drinking tea made from coco leaves.
Indeed. Here’s hoping I don’t develop a nasty coco tea habit that leads to bloody noses and visions of grandeur!Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!