Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Meet Mera.

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I LOVE Honduras. I love the people, I love the food, I love my school there, I love the beaches, I love the mountains. I love it all. I also really love my students. And while I haven't been their teacher in a year, they will always be my students. Always my Grade 2's or Grade 1's.

Each one of them is crazy and wild and funny and awesome. I could tell you so many funny stories about each and every one of them. But today is all about one wild little girl. One wild little girl who was my student for only a year, but who changed my life in more ways than she could ever understand.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mera.

She just finished Grade 2, and like I said, she's wild. She's energetic and she's stubborn. She's funny and she's loving. She's girly and she's a tomboy. She loves me to death and wants nothing to do with me.

She also needs surgery ASAP.

Mera currently has a whole collection of kidney stones that are causing her a lot of pain and not allowing her body to work properly. She will need a procedure called a lithotripsy which is when kidney stones are broken down (usually through ultrasound shock waves) that can then be passed through the body.

The only place in Honduras where this surgery can be performed with proper pediatric equipment is in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, located approximately 2 hours away from Sigua. The approximate cost is about $3000, as well as about $3000 for follow up procedures and a second lithotripsy.

This is where you come in.

$3000 is a pretty substantial amount of money. Especially for Honduras. (As a reference, I was making about $300 a month while working there. That was enough for me to be considered wealthy.)

Will you please consider donating money to help Mera with her surgery? It's as easy as skipping that Starbucks coffee for a day. Or not buying that pair of pants that you have to have don't really need online. (Trust me, this is a feeling I know well right now.)

If you are feeling led to help financially, money can be mailed to me in the States and I will get the money to Mera and her tías (aunts). We can also work out a way to transfer money through PayPal, if that is easier for you. You can also donate through this fundraising website: Mera's Lithotripsy. Heck, I will travel to you to pick up the money, if that's what needs to be done.

Also, will you please keep Mera and her tías in your prayers? Mera is one of the bravest (and most stubborn) people that I know. When talking to her tía about the upcoming procedure, she said that the other night Mera was inconsolably crying in her arms-- a mixture of pain and fear. For Mera to show such strong emotion this way, she must really be in pain and very anxious. She needs our prayers!

Thank you in advance for all of your help. I cannot tell you how much it means to me, to Mera, and to her tías.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Spring Break Part 1/2: Adventure is Out There in Ilha Grande

After days and days of waiting, it finally arrived. Spring Break 2015 was FINALLY here!

We traveled from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande using Easy Transfer. As the name suggests, it really was easy. They picked us up at our villa and drove us to the dock where we boarded the ferry to Ilha Grande. It was about a 2-3 hour drive and we stopped once on the way there. They did the same for returning us back to Rio de Janeiro from Paraty. It was great to have all our own transportation covered for us (for a flat fee) where we knew we wouldn't be getting ripped off or getting in a car with someone who is not trustworthy. For people who don't speak Portuguese, this is a huge bonus.

Upon arriving in Ilha Grande, we stayed at El Misti Hostel. Apparently El Misti is a chain of hostels throughout South America and plenty of people have stayed in them and loved it. This was not the case with us. The hostel had two locations on the island and we were given a shared room with a shared bathroom in the junkier hostel. Despite the fact that we paid for a private room with a private bathroom. The WiFi didn't work (okay, we were on vacation, no big deal), they didn't give us a key to our room at first (nor were lockers provided), the mattresses were the color of dirt and the sheets didn't stay on the mattresses. The island was awesome, the hostel was not.

While in Ilha Grande, we decided that we would each choose one activity for everyone to do. That way there was no fighting and we were all happy. 

My pick: I had read that Praia Lopes Mendes is one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil., so we had to go. On the day that we arrived, we took a water taxi to the beach and then had to hike for 20 minutes or so before arriving there. Was it beautiful? Absolutely. Would I say that it's one of the best beaches in Brazil? I don't know. It was more like a typical beach in the States with plenty of room to participate in beach activities (sunbathing, soccer, frescoball, etc). But the water was really wavy on the day that we went, so it wasn't great for swimming.

Maggie's pick: On our first full day in Ilha Grande we went on a "meia volta". Which translates to a half island tour. We boarded a speed boat with Prime Tours from Vila do Abraão and from there stopped at 5-6 different beaches. I wish that I could remember them all, but I really cannot. I can tell you that we saw dolphins first thing in the morning on the way to Lagoa Verde, that we saw a starfish that was huge, that we also saw some gross underwater snake/ eel thing, and that I swam with more fish that I had ever thought possible. I also sat on our boat, waved my hand, and a man selling Popsicles on a different boat came alongside ours so that I could purchase what I wanted. Talk about service. I didn't even really want a popsicle at that moment, but I really wanted a Popsicle sold to me off of a boat.

Matt's pick: Sunrise hike up Pico do Papagaio. It was as awful and as awesome as it sounds. We started the hike at 2:30am and proceeded to hike up 980+ km up for a 7.5 hour, 10 mile round trip hike. Throughout which I cried and almost threw up on myself more than once. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever had to do. But, I did it. We hiked with Martin, from Prime Tours (again), and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. He's an awesome person and an awesome guide.

We rounded out our time in Ilha Grande with some kilo ice cream and a day at the beach in Abraão. And, of course, one last night in our gross, mosquito infested hostel where I'm pretty sure monkeys were doing samba on the roof all night, every night because there is nothing else that could have been making that much racket.

After 2.5 beautiful days in paradise-- we were off to Paraty!

Spring Break Part 2/2: It's Always A Party in Paraty

Part two of our two part Spring Break took us to Paraty, another city within the state of Rio de Janeiro. We'd heard that Ilha Grande was more of a party town and Paraty was more laid-back, and we were anxious to discover them both on our own.

As we did when traveling from Rio de Janeiro, we traveled with Easy Transfer. The driver was friendly and spoke a small amount of English and was able to drop us off directly at our hostel. For us, it was great because we didn't have to worry about taxis or buses or getting stuck somewhere and not being able to get anywhere because we don't speak Portuguese. We just paid a flat fee at the beginning of the trip and all of our transportation was taken care of. Easy. Hence the name. Given the opportunity to do it again though, I would probably use Easy Transfer to get from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande and then Paraty back to Rio. There are many speed boats and tour groups in Ilha Grande that offer transportation to Paraty; traveling that way would only take about an 1 or 2. By using Easy Transfer to get from Ilha Grande to Paraty, we took a boat to the "mainland" and then drove to Paraty; a trip that took about 5 hours in total.

While in Paraty, we stayed at the Geko Hotel and Pousada which I highly recommend. We stayed in a private room with a private bathroom and it was awesome. The service at the hotel was excellent; they helped us book tours (even when we waited until 30 minutes before the tour was supposed to leave), made suggestions about what to do, and offered free caipirinhas upon check-in. The hostel is located right on the beach and also has a little restaurant right on the sand that serves breakfast each morning (included in the price of the room) as well as dinner each night (not included in the price, but still reasonably priced).

Anyways, Paraty. We LOVED the beaches of Ilha Grande, but weren't opposed to seeing other things since we're pretty spoiled with nice beaches every day. I know, life in Rio is rough. Paraty is pretty well known for their cachaça and their waterfalls, so we found a tour that combined the two. It was pretty rainy and chilly (relatively) the day that we went, but it ended up being okay because we were at waterfalls anyways. Throughout the course of the day, we visited two cacharias and 4 or 5 waterfalls. We were able to swim at all the waterfalls, but since it wasn't sunny and I get cold easily, I chose not to. Also, the rain made the waterfalls move a lot more quickly than usually and my sub-par swimming skills weren't really any match for the currents. I didn't feel like I missed out on the day though.

Matt and I Adventurer's Guild-ed our way up a waterfall and then I panicked when I realized that I actually had to climb back down. Typical. Maggie and I also received roses made from palm leaves from a random man on the side of the road, so self-esteem was sky high.

On our second (and final full day) in Paraty, we took another tour to Trindade. Every time that we had mentioned that we were going to Paraty, people has said "Oh it's nice there. You HAVE to go to Trindade." And who are we to argue with the masses?

We started out by going to Praia Brava for some awesome selfie stick opportunities. Praia Brava equals "Rough Beach" and it definitely lived up to it's name. Selfies on the rocks for the win.

Next it was off to the famous Cachadaço Natural Pool. A bunch of rocks formed this natural pool where, allegedly, many varieties of fish and other things live. By the time we arrived, it was crowded and the water was pretty rough-- both of which stirred up the water too much to see anything. As true Adventurers do, we just decided to climb around on the rocks instead.

We took a R$10 lancha ride back to Meio Beach. Let me tell you, it wasn't a great day for maritime travel, but we survived. When we arrived at Meio Beach, we ordered some hot dogs (with peas on them-- why ruin a perfectly good hot dog?) and climbed around on the rock formation that was right on the beach. Which was awesome until the giant waves came up and over the rocks which was 10% terrifying. Awesome picture-- but terrifying.

30cm long pastels and some gelato wrapped up our time in Paraty. As well as a couple more caipirinhas on the beach.

Paraty was lovely. Given the opportunity, there is plenty more that I would have loved to do there. But I think that most things I wanted to do (beaches, stand up paddle boarding, boating, etc) could be done elsewhere.

It's always a party in Paraty, especially when you're on Spring Break.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"So, what do you miss most about the States?"

There are some things that just never change when I am living abroad. Some things that I just know I can count on. Questions and statements such as,

"Isn't it really dangerous there?" Isn't it really dangerous in Detroit and Cleveland and NYC and....?

"Why would you leave the States?" Because there are other really great countries with really great things to offer?

"Find a cute Honduran/ Brazilian boy for me!" Listen. I haven't even found one for myself, let alone finding one for you.

"I could never do what you do." Yeah, I thought so, too, but here I am.

"You must like eating bugs." Yes, and living in dirt huts and going to the bathroom in outhouses. You watch too much Survivor.

"Have you seen a lot of butts in Brazil?" This one I can't really argue because, yes, I have.

"Aren't you glad to be home again?" Man, I don't even know what home is anymore. Don't ask hard questions.

I know that no one is being rude by these questions and comments, they're steaming from genuine concern and curiosity. All I'm saying is that these are the questions that I can absolutely count on hearing when I am in the States. Honestly, I feel a little let down when I don't hear some of them. But there is one question that I get more than any other, especially as I get closer and closer to returning to the States.

"What are you looking forward to most when you get back?" 

So much. So. So. Much. 

In honor of being Stateside for the first time in six months in exactly 14 days (but who is counting, really?)--14 things that I miss most while living abroad. Excluding my friends and family because I could write 14 things that I miss about each and every single one of them.

-- Cleveland Indians baseball games.
-- a dryer I can't tell if I've lost weight or if all my clothes have stretched out...
-- Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes-- I'm coming for you
-- Panera Broccoli and Cheddar bread bowls
-- Red Robin Crispy Chicken salad because there's nothing like feeling healthy while consuming 1300 calories
-- stores that sell cheap clothes my bank account is so happy right now, but I am not
-- Pandora radio iTunes radio just isn't the same
-- watching sporting events at a normal hour these NBA Final Games not starting until 11pm are kind of killing me
-- being able to just get in a car and go without relying on public transportation or worrying about sitting in traffic for over an hour
-- stores like Wal-Mart or Target where I can go in and get EVERYTHING I need A new swim suit and a phone case and some snacks-- all in one place! You will not understand the convenience of this until you live without it.
-- church services in English
-- being able to use my phone to make phone calls not that I do, but its nice to have the option
-- not having to wait months before receiving the packages of things I ordered online
-- having hot water to wash my dishes in it's like Little House on the Prairie over here when I have to heat pots of water over the stove

And just to offset the fact that I totally sound like a whiny, little brat who can't appreciate anything-- here's my view today while I rode my bike around the Lagoa. Rio can be so awesome.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My ABC's of Travel

A: Age you went on your first international trip
In the good old days, you didn't need a passport to travel to Canada, so we'd gone to Canada many times (if you can count driving across the bridge at Niagara Falls actually going to Canada). I don't really remember these trips, but the first international travel that I remember is when I traveled to Mexico when I was 15 years old.

Nothing says "I'm traveling without my parents for the first time" more than corn rows and a Hooters shirt. 
B: Best foreign beer you've had and where
Totally not a beer person. The first, and only, beer I've ever finished is a Port Royal in Honduras, but that attests more to how much I had already drank as opposed to the quality of the beer.

C: Cuisine (favorite)
Baleadas. Followed by Honduran fried chicken.

D: Destinations-- favorite, least favorite, and why?
Favorite? Cayos Cochinos. I mean, how could I not love it? It was beautiful and it was cheap and it was with some of my best friends.

Least favorite?
I don't know. At the moment, I love everything that I've ever done. Can I say the hostel that we stayed at in Ilha Grande? Because that was pretty gnarly.

E: Event you've experienced abroad that made you say "wow"
Surfing at sunset in El Salvador. I mean, come on, who does that?

It was my first time, give me some credit. No one is perfect.
F: Favorite mode of transportation
In the back of a pick-up truck.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling
When you aren't 100% positive that your transportation plans are going to work out and you aren't positive that your hostel isn't going to be terrible and you aren't even sure that you understood correctly when you asked for directions, but then you find yourself on transportation that takes you to a hostel that has everything you need and you just feel relieved that nobody died.

H: Hottest place you've ever traveled to
Rio is pretty toasty. As was the car ride from Honduras to Nicaragua.

I: Incredible service you've experienced and where?
Martin, with Prime Tours, in Ilha Grande, Brazil. We climbed Pico do Papagaio with him, and while I wanted to die, he was the most awesome person I have ever met. I want him to accompany of all my life journeys and be my life tour guide. If anyone goes to Ilha Grande and doesn't do some sort of tour with Martin and his company, they are definitely missing out!

Martin with the selfie sick for the win.
J: Journey that took the longest
I've been lucky enough to have avoided any sort of overly stressful travel adventures (apart from luggage not arriving), thank goodness. It did take almost 30 hours door to door when traveling from Siguatepeque, Honduras to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

K: Keepsake from your travels
I always make a photo book through Shutterfly for all of my travels. I work on it throughout the trip,so that as soon as my trip is over and there's a sale, I can purchase it for cheap. Shutterfly usually has a sale for each holiday and some of them can be up to 50-70% off! Having all of my photos and memories in one place is priceless for me, so I'm willing to pay the high prices for these.

L: Let-down sight and why?
It was so CROWDED when I went up to the Christ Statue. All three times. And the first time I went, it was cloudy. I love the Christ Stature, but I haven't had great luck when visiting it.

M: Moment you fell in with traveling
I don't think it was a moment as more of something I've been born with. I've always loved exploring and going new places, so I think it's always been part of me.

N: Nicest hotel you've stayed in
Living in Honduras doesn't really lead to staying in "nice" hotels. Manageable hotels, but not necessarily nice. I did spend a couple nights at the Union Station Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee a couple of years ago and it was AWESOME. I've also spent many afternoons wandering through the gardens of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, but I've never actually stayed there so I can't attest to things such as customer service, etc

O: Obsession-- what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?
Bodies of water and sunsets. Better if they're in the same photo. My life can be a huge cliche sometimes.

P: Passport stamps-- how many and from where?
16, give or take a couple. All from Honduras, Brazil, Canada (had to ask for that stamp), El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Q: Quirkest attraction you've visited and where?
Hands down, the playground where American playground equipment goes to die.

R: Really frightening-- where's one place you've visited where you felt unsafe or uneasy?
I haven't visited a place where I have felt consistently unsafe or unease, but rather situations where I haven't felt the most comfortable. I can say the same for places in the States, too.

S: Splurge-- something you have no problem spending money on while traveling
Something that I have been thinking about for a long time (like hang-gliding) or an experience that I don't want to miss out on or something that is really particular to the culture of the country I am visiting (an authentic churrascaria in Brazil, for example). I'm more likely to pay for to do something for the experience than to pay money to buy something.

T: Touristy thing you've done
Hang-gliding. Bought a GoPro and used it?

U: Unforgettable travel memory
How could I pick just one? Spending New Years Eve in Times Square was awesome though. Cold, but awesome.

V: Visas-- how many and for where?
Many temporary ones for Honduras and two for Brazil-- one expired and one not.

W: Wine-- best glass while traveling
I'm kind of a snob and like wine better the more it tastes like juice. Which is hard to come by. Thank you, Wal-Mart for stocking Barefoot wine and Arbor Mist.

X: eXcellent view and from where?
The Sugarloaf and Vista Chinesa.

Y: Years spent traveling
Consecutively? 3 and a half.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?
Cleveland Indians, duh. And la H. AND Fluminense.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Everything Is Different

As I was looking at my TimeHop today, I was met with these two images. 

In that instant, I was transported to one year ago at this time and so vividly remember the feelings that I was plagued with each day. For a brief moment, I felt like I was reliving that day all over again. The pain was so real.

I was suddenly reliving the days when tear stained cheeks and red puffy eyes were the norm. I was remembering the physical pain I felt when saying good-bye to each of my students and to the friends who had become more like my family. Each "This is the last time I am going to do/ eat/ see this." was coming flooding back to me. And I quickly became reintroduced to feeling so disoriented; as if it was someone else living my life.

Not only did I go back to the difficulties of leaving Honduras, but also the struggles that faced me upon landing in the States. There were so many tears for the life I had left behind and so many tears for not being able to embrace the blessings in front of me at home. There was the feeling that I didn't belong anywhere anymore and that I would never love any place more than I loved Honduras. That I would never love my life anymore than I did during the two years I called Siguatepeque my home.

The pain was intense and it was constant. At the beginning, I couldn't make it through a church service without crying. Naps, tears, and hours spent alone we part of my daily routine. At the beginning, I was unable to see past the pain. I was so wrapped up in it that I was unable to see all the blessings that come from loving places and people so deeply. And there was no way that I was going to find any comfort in all of the blessings that were heading my way.

Slowly, and without realizing it, the time spent alone grew shorter. The sobbing calls to my roommates from Honduras became weekly as opposed to daily, and soon monthly as opposed to weekly. 

Soon, I was able to look back on my time in Honduras without feeling pain that it had ended, but rather joy that it had happened. That's not to say that I don't miss Honduras and the relationships that were built there. I miss that country as much today as I did the day that I left it almost 365 days ago. 

When looking at the images that appeared on my TimeHop, the pain I felt wasn't for me. Not the me that I am today. The pain I felt was for the me who I was one year ago. What she was going through was hard, sometimes unbearably so. She thought that the good-byes would be the hardest part, but was unprepared for the weeks ahead of her in the States. I felt pain for her, but I didn't feel pain for me.

Over the last 365 days, each day was a battle. A battle to find the positives in the situations given to me. A battle to look back on my time in Honduras with love as opposed to the thought of it filling me with sorrow. A battle to love Honduras while also loving the States and Brazil. Some days were good, some days weren't so great. But each day brought me to here-- 365 days later when I can see all of the positives that came from living in, and leaving, Honduras.

A year ago today, I couldn't even fathom a life that didn't involve living in Honduras. But here I am, one year later, doing exactly that. Day by day, nothing seems to change. But all of a sudden, you look back and everything is different.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Casa Que O Amor Construiu.

The House That Love Built

Despite all of the horrific and horrible things happening in this world today, there are so many awesome and inspiring things happening each day. While it sometimes feels like there is, there is not shortage of love all around us. We just need to open our eyes to it.

Here in Rio de Janeiro, we have our fair share of crappy things happening. But we also have teenagers donating their time to so many social projects throughout the city. We have elementary students going barefoot to raise awareness for the social injustices of the world as well as donating their old shoes to children who need them. And we have amazing organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House helping thousands of families throughout the world every day.

My first contact with the Ronald McDonald House (affectionately known as RMH) came while in college. I was a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority whose national philanthropy is RMH. Each year we held various philanthropy events to raise money for RMH, each semester we would drive up the RMH in Cleveland to spend and evening cooking dinner or crafting with the kids, and we were ALWAYS collecting pop tabs. Always. 

After graduating and moving to Honduras, I didn't really have the opportunity to be directly involved with RMH as one does not even exist in Honduras. The closest one was in Guatemala. I hardly left my little city in Honduras, let alone the country. 

And so I forgot. I forgot about all of the awesome things that RMH does for families.

The McDonalds here in Rio de Janiero is currently having this awesome promotion where you can buy a Triplo Bacon for R$6.50. In English, a triple cheeseburger with bacon for about $2. I know, I know. It sounds like heaven, but it's really just Rio de Janeiro.

Nautrally, I'm not going to pass up a deal like that. So as I stood in line waiting for my Triplo Bacon, I noticed a collection box at the register. The change, of course, would be donated to RMH of Rio de Janeiro. 

After a quick Google search, I see that RMH is located near Maracana. I don't frequent that area often, but my friend and I had rented a car the other weekend and happened to be out that way, so I asked to stop.

And then I remembered. I remembered all of the awesome things that RMH does for families.

RMH truly is the house that love built.