Thursday, 5 March 2015

5 everyday actions you can take to support gender equality (and they’re not all what you’d expect)

Note to reader: An original version of this blog can be found on the Oxfam America First-Person Blog here.

From kids’ play to hashtags, change starts with our individual actions.

Draw a picture of a time you’ve witnessed discrimination. Walk across this line if you agree with the ideals of feminism. Discuss who tends to do the chores in the family and why.

Can you imagine a workspace where co-workers are honest enough to take on issues like these? That’s what we aimed to do at an Oxfam workshop on gender equality that I attended in Senegal recently. Oxfam believes in putting women’s rights at the heart of all we do, which is why we partnered up with Gender at Work in a global project to promote women’s participation and empowerment.

Coming out of the workshop, we had action plans: increasing budgets for gender projects, performing theater skits to build awareness about sexual abuse, and so on. However, what also struck me was that we had opened up an honest and supportive space to discuss our own attitudes toward gender roles and what gender equality meant for us in our personal lives.

In my job, I spend a lot of time discussing technical aspects of gender in development, using terms like “power analysis” and “theories of change.” Through exercises like the ones above, however, I remember that change starts with individual actions and how we treat people on a day-to-day basis.

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, here are 5 simple, yet unexpected ways we can all support gender equality in our everyday lives:

1. Encourage the kids in your life to play as they wish.

If you go to any toy store, the section marked for boys has sporting equipment, action figures, and race cars. The section for girls? Princess dolls and play vanity sets. What messages do we send when these are the general choices we give our kids?

A viral Christmas video, above, depicts a four-year-old girl’s frustration (however adorable) over how a store’s “girls” section was full of pink toys and the “boys” section was full of blue toys. She wishes the two genders could buy both colors. Let’s take a moment to challenge our own stereotypes of what toys our sons or daughters playing with. Even the Obamas are breaking down stereotypes too!

I was at a friend’s house recently and she and her husband have two kids. At one point, both the kids were in the play kitchen cooking and blending juices before running off to make castles with building blocks. My takeaway? Both were happy kids and encouraged to do what they wished, defiant of stereotypical “boy” and “girl” toys.

2. Support films and media with women as leads and directors

From 2002-2012, less than 5 percent of the top 100 box-office domestic releases were directed by women. The lack of representation in mainstream Hollywood has warranted attention and concern from average moviegoers to celebrities like Ben Affleck. Reese Witherspoon started a production company because of the lack of women as the lead star in movies. The result? Her movies “Gone Girl” and “Wild,” based on a true story of Cheryl Strayed hiking 1,000 miles alone on the Pacific Coast Trail, received accolades and Oscar nominations.

The organization Miss Representation works to also combat harmful stereotypes and sexism in the media. You can join 100,000 others and sign the pledge here.

3. Stand up to street harassment

Image via Hollaback!
Some studies show that 80 to 90 percent of women have been harassed in public. Not okay.  Luckily in today’s world of social media, local activists in 84 cities and 25 countries have powered together to grow Hollaback!, a movement to end street harassment. They’ve even made simple infographics on how to respond to street harassment if you experience it yourself (taking into account safety first!) and what you can do as a bystander if you witness catcalling on the street.

4) Include boys and men in the conversation

 Image via HeforShe

A common misnomer is that gender equality only means focusing on women, but as the name implies, it’s about equality of the genders. Both men and boys need to be included in the conversation and more so, be advocates of change for themselves and the others around them. In her popular September 2014 speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Actress and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson officially launched the HeForShe Campaign calling on everyone to participate in the fight against gender inequality.

Watson states, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer.” 

As the HeForShe Commitment states, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue.” Make your commitment here today.

5. Use social media to bring attention to gender imbalances

Have you ever read a list about top people in professions and see women barely represented (or no women, in the case of The Economist’s Most Influential Economists of 2014)?  Attended a concert, conference, or event and notice that only male voices are being heard?

Get on that phone and tweet away! Gina Glantz, an Oxfam America board member, recently started Gender Avenger, a “community dedicated to ensuring women are always part of the public dialog.”  Beyond bringing attention to those event organizers and article authors of the lack of female representation, #genderavenger is a pretty sweet sounding hashtag to use!

Think social media can’t be a real way to create change?  Check out how #NotBuyingIt created a movement and the world of advertising in the Super Bowl took notice, addressing sexist advertisements.

These 5 ideas are just a start. What are you going to do today to contribute to gender equality?

This March 8, honor women worldwide and join Oxfam’s International Women’s Day celebration. Send an eCard to friends and family here.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Peru

If you happen to find yourself in the Sacred Valley of Peru and need to do some shopping, head no further than Pisac! A small Peruvian village at the Willkanuta River, Pisac holds a large market every Sunday and is well-known for its ruins that sit atop a hill. Just an hour and a half from Cusco by bus, it's worth a stop over on your way to Ollantaytambo or even just an afternoon trip.

For anyone looking to alpaca meat, head on over to the street of Calle bolognesi. Ayahuasca Arte Cafe is not only delicious, but credit card accepted and TripAdvisor approved!

A note for travelers is to take it easy given that Cusco is 11,150 foot above sea level meaning that altitude sickness affects up to 70 % of people. That night, that statistic included me!  At about 36 degrees Fahrenheit, I woke up freezing cold with shallow breathes. Bundling up with another jacket significantly helped, so make sure to stay warm, drink plenty of water, and take it easy to acclimate!  
Lindsey Dattels and me exploring Pisac from the Mercado to the Ruins

Saturday, 21 June 2014

5 Things to Do in Lima, Peru

After last year's adventure to Ecuador, I was excited to return to South America to Peru, a traveler's top destination. After a night's sleep from a late night airport arrival, the day was spent exploring the capital city before heading off to Cusco for the one and only Macchu Picchu. If you're up for running around the largest city of Peru, here are five things you can do with a day in Lima:

1. Watch the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show at Parque de la Reserva

Parque de la Reserva has easily become my new favorite place. More than a dozen fountains colorfully and even interactively light up a downtown park. Paid for by the Lima municipal government, the treasure of the night is the Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua) in which water and light shoot into the sky against a background of music. Well worth the $1.50 admission and open after sundown Wednesdays-Sundays.  Truly magical!

A magical night watching the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show!

2. Paraglide over Lima

This one is for all the adventure seekers out there! At Parque del Amor ("Love Park"), you can grab a parachute and literally...jump off a cliff!  For ten minutes, you'll glide over between Larcomar, a multi-level shopping complex, and the Pacific Ocean. Most of the guides only speak Spanish, so good luck if you don't (I don't either!). The ride and a DVD with a few photos will cost 205 soles (~$70US). Do this at your own discretion...some may consider the ride a bit sketchy!

 Paragliding over Lima. I'm much more scared that I look!

3. Explore Miraflores

The Miraflores District is the upscale neighborhood of Lima know for shopping, gardens, beaches and flower-filled parks. Think of it as the Beverly Hills (I was lucky to have a friend living here). Take some time to explore Parque Kennedy, Miraflores' central plaza, with its regular flea markets and art exhibitions and if you're up for a night out, head out to Calle de las Pizzas ("Pizza Street") once the sun sets.

Miraflores District. Photo courtesy of A Flâneur Abroad

4. Walk Around the Huaca Pucllana Ruins

It's the greatest juxtaposition to be in a city standing on top of ruins from 200AD. Huaca Pucllana, Quechu for "a place for ritual games" is built from staggered platforms out of adobe and clay. The ruins served as an important ceremonial and administrative center for the Lima Culture Society with eventual use by the Wari Culture. If you bring along a student ID, entrance is only 5 soles (~$1.50US).

 Monica Dykas and I take a tour of Huaca Pucllana

5. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

For a less touristy crowd, take a bus to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though it only has 3 rooms, the current exhibition of the intersections between locals and tourists in Cusco proves a solid visit. Again, bring along a student ID as admission is only 2 soles (~$.50US).

Outside the MCA

Lima's a great place to explore, so enjoy it all! What are your top five things to do in Lima? 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

5 Ways to Make Extra Money to Travel the World

"How do you have money to travel?"

This is a question that I frequently get asked. As a lifelong nonprofit professional and a millennial with student loan debt, any discretionary income is a luxury. Beyond being diligent about budgeting and saving, I've had several side businesses throughout the years that helped to fund my travels.  

Here are five of my favorite "side hustles" that will get you extra cash to help finance that next trip!

 I wish I could sit on piles of money like this woman! Courtesy of
1) Provide Referrals

This is an such an overlooked way to get extra cash and requires little time. Companies are always looking to hire good people and the best way to do that is through its own employees. Check with your HR to see how much you can earn by referring a friend or contact to an open position - your friend gets a job and you can snag anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars!

Company doesn't offer anything?  Recruit for other companies that do! For example, Vecna pays you $4000 for a good referral whether you work there or not!  

Finished a professional development class?  Enjoyed a tour? Love your dentist?  As a client yourself, likely those businesses and services you've already paid for have referral bonuses. I've racked up a list of my own Deals & Discounts of my satisfied customer experiences here.

2) Participate in Research Studies

I love this one. When I was in college, graduate students and professors were always looking for subjects for their research. Usually, this consists of playing computer games and answering surveys typically paying $20/hour or more. I would do these between classes fairly easily and hey, you are contributing to research! Personally, I don't do anything evasive (like blood tests), but to each their own.

Studies are sometimes very general (such as healthy adults between the ages of 18-45) or very specific (right-handed females who drink an energy drink a day), but can be lucrative. The most recent one I did was for McLean Hospital - $200 for a day of playing games and a free MRI scan.  

Beyond online research databases, check your university newspapers, community boards, and even public transportation ads.

3) Launch a Side Business or Freelance 

This is my favorite type of side hustling. Outside of your day job, what are you passionate about? Or at least hey, what can you do outside the 9-5? Maybe it's graphic design or pet-sitting. Maybe you promote networking or nightlife events and get people to attend. Try things out and see what works for you!

For me, I always had a knack for resume writing and getting jobs. As part of a new year's resolution, I launched my career consulting website aimed at helping young professionals jobs - go side hustling!
Looking for your dream job? Let's talk!
4) Sell Old and Unnecessary Stuff

This one is pretty typical. I've found that travelers typically have less material possessions that the average person (except for their storage boxes of souvenirs of course!) and selling is the way to go to de-clutter and get extra cash.

Got old textbooks? Send them in with free shipping to Textbook Rush or Chegg. Clutter around the house? Have a garage sale on a sunny day. Got unused giftcards? Exchange them for cash with Gift Card Rescue.

I often enter event raffles as the prizes far exceed the ticket value. $1 for a snowboard?  If I win, that snowboard's getting sold!

5) Work as a Brand or Event Ambassador

This is a great way to not only get entry into cool events, but earn a decent cash flow typically anywhere from $12-$25 an hour. I worked the U.S. Open of Surfing years ago manning a keychain-making booth and earned $400 over the 4-day beach festival. In Boston, I managed a talent casting call for a weekend for $230. Not too shabby!

Gigs can be found on sites such as Craigslist or local promotion agencies. What is nice is that if a company likes you, they'll often keep calling you back. Also note that you should never need to front money for membership or access to these events.

Of course, use proper discretion when working side businesses as you should only do whatever you are comfortable with. From some or all combination of these side hustles, you could earn yourself a nice vacation!

Monday, 10 March 2014

7 Things Every Female Traveler Needs to Pack

Note to reader: This post was originally featured on There D Goes, a lifestyle blog for women.

If you know me, you know I love to travel. I’ve gone all over the world on all different types of trips from relaxing, luxurious vacations to to “I can’t believe I did that” adventurous, budget backpacking trips and everywhere in between. But no matter where you go, there are always a few “must haves” for women travelers. Luckily, Krystina Nguyen at the travel blog, C’est La Vie, was willing to share her packing tips and recommendations. Enjoy! 

It’s your moment. You’ve booked the ticket and have the vacation time blocked for the next week, weeks, or if you’re lucky enough, months. You’ve run around the last few days finishing up work projects or school assignments. In a few hours, you’ll jump on that jet plane to backpack Europe, sip piña coladas on Caribbean beaches, or trek from temple to temple in Southeast Asia.

But wait…what are you going to pack?

When I took a Contiki trip in 2008, my 42 other travel buddies voted me “Best Packer.” Before every trip, I research what’s culturally and weather-appropriate and grab my Ziploc bag full of 3oz. toiletries that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. However, whether I’m traveling for work, Couchsurfing, getting lost in the Amazon, or taking a girls trip, I’ve come to learn there are essential things that can make the life of young female much easier on her adventures!

A photo of Krystina with her backpack  
I live by the philosophy, “Take no more than you can carry” which for my petite self means minimal baggage!

1) Quick Dry Towel
Unless I’m staying with friends or at a fancy hotel, my quick dry towel is one of the first things to go into my backpack. Though extremely light, it can absorb up to 8 times its weight in water and then wrings out dry in just minutes in airy temperatures or a few hours in more humid conditions. As its super compact and folds up neatly into a pouch, I love traveling with this – great for the gym too!

A photo of quick dry towels from REI 

2) Long Scarf or Shawl
A long scarf or shawl serves as a variety of functions from keeping you comfy on cold airplanes to serving as a barrier against questionable hostel bed sheets to hiding a purse at a crowded street market. If you forget to pack one, then buying one is a great souvenir to have.

Krystina on a hike with a scarf for sun protection  
Need sun protection when you’re hiking 15 miles across Dogon Country in Mali? Long scarf to the rescue!

3) Ciprofloxacin a.k.a. Cipro (for those just in case situations)
You’ll need to see a doctor or visit a travel clinic for this one. Cipro cures both traveler’s diarrhea and UTIs. No further explanation needed.

4) Non-locking Carabiners
This simple tool has saved me on so many occasions. I’m not a fan of having a million locks on my bags, but a carabiner can make it difficult for anyone to jiggle my backpack open and prevents my backpack from opening on itself since I packed too many clothes. It’s also a great space saver to attach shoes or water bottles!

Krystina's backpack with carabiners
5) Pocket Knife
Yes! Empowering and useful, a pocket knife is any girl’s best friend. You never know when you’ll need to peel an avocado or cut open…well anything! I personally prefer the SwissCard style pocket knives as they’re shaped like credit cards and can fit into a wallet, but see what you prefer.

Krystina's Pocket Knife
6) Health and Property Travel Insurance
This is particularly important for international travelers. You never know when the worst-case scenario can happen and you always want to be prepared. Travel credit cards often offer benefits for cardholders, so make sure you know what’s available to you. For those 26 or younger, as well as teachers and students, STA Travel can provide the International Youth Travel Card which provides basic sickness and accident travel insurance for international trips for just $25. I was able to get travel medical insurance for three weeks in Ecuador for just $36 and property insurance for a year for my DSLR camera (including theft and accidents) for $99 with International SOS is popular as well. Whatever you choose, be prepared!

7) Travel Journal
Last and for me, most important, is a travel journal! While so many moments will take your breath away, jotting down a few notes on how you felt and what you did will let you reflect on how truly amazing the experience is. After you get back, you’ll want to remember that name of the incredibly delicious gelato shop or the generous tour guide that you want all your future friends to request on their journeys. Trust me. Years down the line and after the trip is over, you’ll thank me for this one!

Those are my seven. What are some of your “must packs?”

Krystina Nguyen is a career consultant and nonprofit professional living in Boston.  Her previous travel adventures include being spat on by an elephant in Vietnam, repelling down waterfalls in the Andes, and mistakenly crossing the Chadian border only to end up doing event set up at a wedding.  You can follow Krystina’s adventures on Twitter @Krystina_Nguyen and read her travel blog, C’est La Vie.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Top 10 Things to Do In Costa Rica

In 2007, I took my first international trip to Costa Rica and fell in love, not only with the country, but the adventure of traveling itself. I started C'est La Vie a few months after that trip so it was never documented on this blog, but I've always wanted to share the attractiveness of the country as it still sits as one of my Top 5 Countries. Lucky enough, Devon DeMars of There D Goes, just came back from the land of "Pura Vida" and I couldn't agree more with her list of things to do. Enjoy!

Planning for (or daydreaming about) a trip to Costa Rica? It’s a popular destination for those looking for adventure and leisure alike, but there are some definite “must-do’s” when going to this Central American country. 

  1) Go ziplining

You’ve probably heard about this before, as it is a popular activity in Costa Rica. There are several different zipline companies in different areas of the country, but one fun place to do it is in Monteverde where you will be able to glide down several different ziplines over the lush cloud forest. One zipline company I recommend is Costa Rica Sky Adventures.  

Snapped a picture of my mom’s nervous smile before our first zipline!

  2)   Grab some coconut water 

Costa Rica can be warm and humid, and you’ll want to stay hydrated, so do it with one of the freshest and healthiest drinks available – a coconut! They are inexpensive and easy to find, generally at a stand on the side of the road, where the merchant will machete chop it open for you then and there. So refreshing!

  3)   Explore the cloud forest              

The Costa Rican cloud forest is famous for its numerous flora & fauna species. It’s best to explore with a guide who can point out all the interesting plant and animal life that you might not have noticed without a trained eye. (Trust me on this.) You can often find monkeys, sloths, bats, lizards, birds and butterflies in their natural habitat and snap amazing photos.

  4) Visit the Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano and surrounding town of La Fortuna is a highlight of many tourists’ trips. With a lush tropical climate, the scenery is beautiful and the imposing view of volcano is impressive. La Fortuna is a small town with several restaurant choices, shops, and things to do.

  5)  Dip in the natural hot springs

While you’re near the Arenal Volcano, stop by a natural hot spring! Most of these hot springs have been turned into beautiful pools, where guests can relax and test out the different temperatures of the pools before enjoying a traditional Costa Rican dinner.

  6)  Take a “Tico Tour”

A “Tico Tour” is a day trip to a small, local village where you can explore the lifestyle of small-town Costa Rica. Many Tico Tours include a guided nature walk, a traditional “campesino” style meal, swimming and/or fishing, horseback riding, and information about the town and local way of life. Check out the Santa Juana Mountain Adventure tour if this type of day trip sounds right up your alley.

After all the day’s activities of hiking, swimming, horseback riding and fishing, this meal and view were the perfect way to end the tour

  7)  Learn about local farming and agriculture

Costa Rica has several coffee and vanilla or chocolate plantations that are interesting to tourists. Visit one to learn how coffee, vanilla, chocolate or other items are harvested and get a new appreciation for your cup of joe!
Henry, owner of Villa Vanilla, explains how chocolate is created from cocoa beans

  8)  Sit back and relax

When visiting a beach town, take some time to relax and soak up the sun by the pool or ocean. Costa Rica is a beautiful place to kick back, but don’t forget to wear your sunscreen! The country is very close to the equator, and the sun’s rays are likely much stronger then what you are used to. 

  9)  Rent a moped

Many small tourist towns can be explored on foot or by cab, but another way is by moped! If you are an adventurous soul, you can rent a moped for the day or week and use it to get around town. You’ll feel like a local and make memories as you won’t forget zipping around town.

  10) Go surfing

Tamarindo Bay and other areas of Costa Rica are famous surf spots that you won’t want to miss if you love water sports. There are several places to rent surf or boogie boards. If you don’t want to surf, you can’t go wrong with just exploring the habitat along the beaches and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Devon DeMars is a lifestyle blogger at There D Goes writing about fitness, beauty and travel adventures. When she’s not blogging you’ll find her always on-the-go exploring her town of San Diego, day dreaming about her next adventure, training for her first marathon, finding a new favorite wine, or visiting her friends and family across the country. You can see what she’s up to on her lifestyle blog or on Twitter at @ThereDGoes.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Quick Things to Do in San Salvador, El Salvador

People always seem in awe of the places that I travel to for my job. Don't get me wrong as it's quite a privilege and yes, the countries I go to are exotic destinations for many. The thing though is that a business trip is just that: a business trip. My weekdays are filled up with meetings from 9-5pm. However, if I'm lucky, I'll arrive on a weekend and get a few hours to explore.  

So, if you somehow find yourself with 10 hours of free time in San Salvador:

1) Search for souvenirs like a tourist, shop at the mall like a local

A good stop for handicrafts is the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías near Zona Rosa. This small, yet hospitable market is worth 45 minutes to an hour of your time as vendors sell everything from hammocks (El Salvador's staple) to crafts to coffee.  After touristy shopping there, head over to Metrocentro, the largest modern mall in Central America, and a very chic place where locals head out on weekends. Yes, there's a Payless and yes, I bought shoes there!

  Metrocentro, the largest mall in Central America, offers holiday train rides

2) Pay homage at Archbishop Oscar Romero's memorial

Bishop Romero actively spoke out against oppression and persecutions carried out by the government of El Salvador. Assassinated at the altar just over thirty years ago, he will forever be a symbol for speaking out against human rights violations.

The altar where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated

3) Spend an evening walking from the Santa Tecle Municipal Palace to the Plaza de la Cultura

Full of new restaurants, the streets of Santa Tecle provide nightlife more low-key than that of Zona Rosa. At the Municipal Palace, design students of the Universidad Dr. Jose Matias Delgado held an art exhibition of recycled household goods while a dance show was held at the Plaza de la Cultura. On the way, don't forget to eat a pupusa at a street vendor!

 She was so happy to make our pupusas!
4) Visit the UCA (University of Central America) with a heavy heart, leave with hope

El Salvador is a beautiful country with a sad history of civil war. On the night of November 16, 1989, it was here that a Salvadoran Army patrol massacred six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The Jesuits were voicing concerns over the atrocities of human rights violations being committed by the government during the war. So I should say, now that the war is long over, never forget, always remember, and see the country for the beauty that lies as its heart.
 The Rose Garden with memorials of those deceased at the UCA

And for the last hour, I highly recommend dancing with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their helpers if you get the chance!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Adventures While Getting Lost in The Amazon

As my parents religiously read my blog, let me preface this post by stating no, at no point was I actually lost in the Amazon (cue a sigh of relief from my family members).  Rather, Sean Denny and I disconnected from the world for a glorious week. No internet access, no cell phone service, and yes, that means no 4G, Facebook, etc. We had access to a generator for 1 hour to charge up camera batteries, but otherwise, off and free into the Amazon we went!

Sean and I have quite different travel styles, so we split up the trip into two parts: mine and his. My week was the adventurous activities portion consisting of mountain biking down the live volcano of Cotopaxi and repelling down waterfalls in Banos. His vacation would be a week with indigenous groups running around the rain forest and far, far away from civilization. In summation, we both enjoy adventures, but I prefer to stay clean while he prefers to be one with nature - I think we were both good sports!

A Fulbright friend had connected us to Otobo's Amazon Safari, a family-run well...tour agency. I'm not so sure you can all it an agency as it's just Otobo, who serves as your guide, and then his family members who spend the week with you. Tom and Mariela are the individuals that connect you to Otobo (i.e. they are literate and have internet access) and own a travel lodge in Mindo, Ecuador unrelated to Otobo's tour. Considering that you take a small private plane deep, really deep, into the Amazon, this tour is as local and truly cultural as you can get!

Natural Wonders
Have you ever seen untouched natural beauty? A tropical rainforest elevated 400 meters above sea level, Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is considered one, if not the, most biodiverse places in the world. For perspective, the core of Ecuador's rain forest contains more tree species (600+) in one hectare than are native to the continental United States and Canada combined. However, Yasuni National Park is also located on the largest reserve of heavy oil in the country. As of August 15th, President Correa has abandoned his initiative to preserve the park and approved oil drilling in the area.
Sean and I were lucky enough to spend time running around the lush green forest spotting monkeys, touching anacondas, riding canoes to find caimen and pink dolphins, and so much more; it was an utter disappointment to hear this news. The international community can show support to conserve Yasuni National Park by signing here.

Huaorani Culture
The Huaorani are a deep forest, indigenous group that have lived in the lowland of the rain forest for at least the last 6,000 years. Otobo and his family are Huaorani and welcomed us with the finest hospitality. It was incredible to run with Otobo during hikes - he would have us stop, and while we'd hear silence, he'd hear the footsteps of peccaries and we'd chase after him leading us to get quick glimpses. It was incredible seeing how the Huaorani's lives truly consisted of nature's resources: hammocks and jewelry made from  vegetation, weapons made from bark, etc.

With the Huaorani, we went fishing, shot blow guns, camped on beaches, painted ourselves traditionally, and laughed a lot despite our separate cultures and languages. I can only hope for the best for the future of Otobo, his family, the Huaorani, Yasuni, and Ecuador.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Adventures in Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador, nicknamed "Gateway to the Amazon" is a town full of adventures.  Home to more than 60 natural waterfalls, it's no wonder the natural beauty of the city attracts tourists from around the world.

While in Quito, we booked two tours in advance with Imagine Ecuador: Rock climbing and Canyoning.  With fun and humerous guides, safe equipment, and restaurant lunches, they provided great memories for us.

Note: Buses from Quito to Banos take a bit over 3.5 hours, so plan your trip accordingly!

On arrival on Day 1, we did a half day 2pm tour to climb the Andes Mountains! At the Natural Lava Rock, we spent an hour and a half climbing, but that was more than enough to give us enough bumps and bruises.

On Day 2, we headed off to Rio Blanco for a few hours of repelling down 6 waterfalls!  Imagine Ecuador describes the canyoning tour as "Negotiate your way down steep canyons by abseiling and jumping waterfalls and cliffs, cascading down natural chutes and swimming through crystal clear pools. 80% of the time is spent in the water." Yes!

The beauty was that the waterfalls were so remote, there was no way to hike or drive to them - the only way to see them was to jump off one leading to the other!  Amazingly captivating, this was my favorite activity on the trip (albeit it was freezing and scary!). 

Having a blast rocking climbing the Natural Lava Rock of the Andes Mountains

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Ecuador's Incan Ruins at Ingapirca

A simple day trip from Cuenca is to Ingapirca, the site of the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador.  Booking a Full Day Tour with Viator was quite simple as they partnered up with Grayline Ecuador, a local travel agent.  Confirmation was left for us at our hotel, Casa Reyes, and Grayline took care of everything including an English-speaking guide (shout-out to Adrian!), transportation, and lunch at Posada Ingapirca for $50. We did wish that they would have paid for admission, but it's all good!

Special shout-out to our Cuenca hotel owners (a small family of 3) at Casa Reyes. We booked with them on as they didn't require a credit card and had airport pick up too. They didn't speak English and we didn't speak Spanish, but somehow it all worked out! :)

Ingapirca ("Inca stone wall") lies in the Canar Province of Ecuador and takes its name after the Inca palace and temple site.  Contrary to popular belief, the Incas were not the first inhabitants of Ingapirca, but the indigenous group of the Canari originally settled here before the Incas arrived in the 15th century.

Though it was a long-drawn out battle between the Incas and the Canai, the two communities actually built the community together afterwards! World peace!

Favorite view of Ingapirca

The foundational parts of the original Temple of the Moon

Aquaducts to provide water to the compound

In one of the doorways of the Temple of the Sun

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Eating Guinea Pigs in Cuenca, Ecuador!

Sean Denny and I took an early 6:15am flight from Quito to arrive in Cuenca an hour later. Though quite sleepy, I was glad that we stayed awake to catch the breath-taking view of Cotopaxi volcano.  Enjoying the view of the mountain was definitely much better than hiking up the mountain!

 Cotopaxi Volcano from the sky

Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay Province with the city center listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site. The colonial city has temperate climate (think California!) and a ridiculously low-cost of living (i.e.$1-$2.50 fixed-prix lunch, $2 for a taxi ride, etc.). No wonder it is dubbed as one of "The Best Places to Retire" by US News & World Report (and many other reports).

 The temperate climate makes it no wonder these ladies are so happy!

After intensive handicraft and souvenir shopping at Casa de la Mujer (100 craft stalls!) and the San Franciso Market, we headed over to the the New Cathedral also known as the Catedral de la Inmaculada Conception.  As the city's main church in Parque Calderon, it took over a century to construct!

Lighting a candle at the New Cathedral

Want to be amazed by a robust selection of fruits and vegetables and have a delicious meat lunch with fresh juice? One of the most impressive markets is Mercado 10 de Agosto, the only market in Cuenca with an escalator.

Fabulous fruit and vegetable selection at Mercado 10 de Agosto

Outside the market, Sean and I checked off eating another animal on our list: guinea pig! Cooking the guinea pigs was typical of street food where they were put onto a stick (a very large pole) and grilled. Not too much meat, but a good treat!  Note: The pig comes whole with teeth and all. Apologies to any vegetarians/vegans reading this.

Guinea pig delicacy time! 
Our first real relaxing day of the trip and Cuenca was the perfect town to walk around and explore. Off to explore Incan ruins tomorrow!