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Working On A Cruise Ship

I somehow managed to get myself a job working at a Cruise Ship. This post is an inside look on what it's really like to live and work below deck. You never know... You might be enticed to work for one too, and travel the whole world like me! Read on to find out more...

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Scotland: My Favorite Country In The World

I've been to many places in several different continents, and have seen spectacular beauty... But every time I visit Scotland, every other country pales in comparison. Read this post to find out why at this point, Scotland was and still is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on Earth...

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On Finding My Bliss In Italy

When you go on big trips like this, however cheesy it sounds, you always do end up 'finding yourself'. And there are moments... difinitive moments when you achieve clarity, contentment, and pure happiness. This all happened to me in Italy. Read my most soulful post to date, inspired by the full moon in Italia...

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On Being Featured In A Documentary

I somehow managed to get myself featured in an upcoming documentary about "Voluntourism". This may be the big break I've been waiting for! The trailer is out - and I'm in it! It looks so good, I'm so excited! See for yourself... watch it here!

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An Epiphany At Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is one of my favorite places in Italy. We hiked 5 villages in one day, and it was breathtaking! But something completely unexpected happened on the hike... An encounter with a complete stranger made me realize possibly one of the most important things I need to do with my life...

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My Ayahuasca Experience

Ayahuasca, is by far, the most INTENSE thing I have ever experienced in my life. I died and was reborn. It is both horrific and beautiful at the same time... I can't explain it in a few words. You HAVE to read my story to believe... I promise it will be worth your while...

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Meanwhile In South America...


I’m baaack!


It’s been a pretty hectic couple of weeks, and I’ll do my best in catching you guys up on everything that’s happened after the purse-swiping-mishap.

First of all though, to those who expressed concern --- Thank you. I’m good. Really J I did lose a little bit of my mojo after the fact, which I hope is understandable. I only really had enough “rage” and energy to write about what happened… but after that, I reserved all my willpower to just keep going and figure out what I could do to remedy my little setback. And so this is what I’ve been up to…


BUENOS AIRES


Getting my stuff stolen really did suck… but to be honest, I didn’t allow the incident to take over my whole Buenos Aires experience… because in reality, I had a really good time there. The first few days that I spent in San Telmo was a little challenging because of the thunderstorms, but I met some really great people from my hostel, had a few good nights experiencing Tango and tasting the ever famous Argentinian beef I keep hearing about… So it wasn’t all that bad.

New Friends :)

I transferred to Palermo afterwards, and my perspective of Buenos Aires changed almost instantly. I really liked the neighborhood…  And my hostel was even better! I stayed at On The Road Hostel, which reminded me so much of The Overstay Hostel – the place where I worked in Tel Aviv. It was small, only had 20 guests at a time, and they had a rooftop chill/lounge area that made it soooo easy to make friends with everybody. It had a real community vibe to it which I loved, and yeah I made some pretty good friends there too!

BLUE DOLLAR




I was informed, before I arrived in Argentina, that the US Dollar could go a long long way if I used the black market to exchange my money. They had the official rates, and the Blue dollar rates. Official rates could be 7 to 8 Argentinian Peso to a dollar, and Blue dollar Rates could go as high as 12 to 14 pesos per US Dollar! There’s an area near San Telmo called, “Calle Florida” where you can find all these people who can change your dollars on the Blue rates… I’d say it’s pretty safe, since I was able to do it a few times… And because of this, I thought Argentina was pretty cheap! They only really like US Dollars though… so if you’re planning a trip out here and you have GBP’s, EURO’s or Aussie Dollars or something, I’d exchange them to USD before you arrive. You’ll get more bang for your buck that way.


URUGUAY



Because my purse was stolen, and I needed to retrieve more US Dollars than what I had hidden in my backpack, I decided to visit Uruguay. Uruguay is the closest place where I can take US Dollars out, either via Western Union or Xoom (a cash pick up place). Argentina wouldn’t let you do this, so a lot of people I know take day trips out to Uruguay just to use the ATM to get some USD’s. I didn’t want to waste my visit to the country though, so I decided to use my time to explore the country a little bit, and have some of the beach time I’ve been craving for (they have pretty good beaches over there).



And so… I took the 1 hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Colonia, Uruguay… Then took a 2 hour bus ride to Montevideo.

I spent one night in Montevideo… then took a 2 hour bus ride to Punta Del Este… Spent one night there, then took a 2 hour bus ride to Cabo Polonio… Spent one night there, then took an hour bus ride to Punta Del Diablo…. Spent one night there and then took a 5 hour bus ride back to Montevideo, where I stayed for another 2 nights.

An amazing night with a full moon in Punta Del Diablo


So I basically jumped from one beach to the next… I think I went through the “backpackers route” on the East Coast of Uruguay… I definitely met a lot of people doing the same thing I was.

Yes – it was exhausting to have to move from one beach to the next, but I had a REALLY good time. I haven’t seen the beach in a LONG time, and I was so happy to finally get my tan back. Punta Del Este, Cabo Polonio and Punta Del Diablo each had their own personality… but all I really cared about was the beach and the sun. All of them delivered. And I am one happy camper!

A much needed hammock time in Cabo Polonio

One other thing worth mentioning is my hostel in Montevideo called, The Ukulele Hostel. Of course I chose to stay there. The name itself was calling out to me! It definitely didn’t disappoint because they had a few ukulele’s on there, plus a guitar, plus a piano! AND A POOL! Score! I think the name draws a lot of musicians too because there was music every night that I was there.  It was amaaazing! It was like being back at The Shanti House. J


Beautiful music from beautiful Argentinian musicians...


IGUAZU FALLS


I went back to Buenos Aires after Uruguay just for one night to catch a 17 hour bus ride to Iguazu Falls. The main purpose of this trip is to be able to obtain my Brazilian Visa. I heard from other travelers that you can get a Brazilian Visa at the border in a day, so I went!  Honestly, it was so easy. Easier than it would have been if I had applied for it in the States. All I needed to submit were the following: Application form, Proof of being able to support yourself during your stay in Brazil (bank statements and credit card statements), passport photo (which I already had) and proof of departure (which I had too!). I submitted the documents, along with the fee of $1,760 Argentinian Pesos (cheaper than what I was told it was going to be!)… The next day, I got it! All set! I’m going to Brazil!!!
Iguazu Falls are beautiful too, by the way. I haven’t been to Niagara Falls, but I imagine the experience is a little similar… I’ve never been surrounded by so many rainbows in my life, it was incredible! 

I mean, come on. Just look at that!!!

BRAZIL


OK this is it. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be on my way to Brazil… on a grueling 26 hour bus ride. I’ve been waiting a whole year for this, and I really hope it doesn’t disappoint. I will talk to you guys next week with a full blow by blow account of Rio De Janeiro’s CARNIVAAAAL!!!! Weeee!!!



Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Getting Robbed In Buenos Aires



And so the inevitable happened: My purse got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Ugh. I hate being reduced to a cliche' more than anything. 

I must have received a thousand different types of warnings from different people about how I should be more careful in South America... I did not shrug them off. In fact, I think I was extra vigilant the moment I landed here. But at the same time, at the back of my head, I kept thinking - "I come from The Philippines. I was trained to be alert and vigilant about this stuff all my life. I know what I'm doing."  This did not make me cocky... it only made me reignite my Filipino senses, if anything.

The first 4 days of my trip in Buenos Aires, I stayed in San Telmo, which is the older, dodgier neighborhood. Even though my hostel was pretty classy, the surroundings weren't. I never walked alone at night, and I always carried my daypack in my front, keeping my pepper spray in my pockets. See, San Telmo is the type of neighborhood that sort of makes you feel unsafe, so automatically, your guard is up all the time. Well, nothing happened in San Telmo.

Now, Palermo on the other hand, is a different ballgame all together. Palermo is the nice, more posh area of Buenos Aires. The streets are cleaner, there are trees everywhere, quaint little restaurants and cafés are dotted around the neighborhood… It’s cute! It definitely feels richer, that you forget you’re in a country in a crisis.
I transferred to a hostel in Palermo to experience the other side of Buenos Aires, and I really liked it. My hostel was so much better, more conducive to friendships, my area was cleaner, and there were more options for restaurants and bars.


THE INCIDENT

I had met up with my good friend, Fernando, for lunch. We were seated outside a nice restaurant, enjoying good food and conversation. The biggest mistake I made was taking my purse out of my body and placing it under our table, wedging it between my foot and the wall. For a split second, I thought – “Hey now, make sure you keep an eye out for this thing all the time”… but then it got overruled by, “It’s okay… you’re in a really posh neighborhood. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Stupid.
Still, I remember looking down at my foot every few minutes to make sure my foot was still wedging my bag against the wall. It was such a quiet day, hardly anyone was walking past…

Halfway across our meal, I reached out to my foot to grab my phone to show Fernando a photo --- and my bag was gone. Like magic. I remember jumping up, yelling, “Oh my god, where is my bag?” I instinctively looked around to check if there was anyone around us that could have taken it, but there was no one. Just onlookers who probably freaked out at the decibel levels of my alarmed voice.
HOW could anyone have taken it? How was it even physically possible? Fernando would have seen someone creep up behind me and crawl down underneath our table and grabbed it from my foot! We were the only ones eating outside! But he didn’t see anyone.

Fuck.

I had so much money in my wallet. I had just gone to the money exchange to get some Argentinian Pesos, so it was full to the brim. I had a few hundred US dollars in there too. My driver’s license… My credit card… My debit card. Gone. And my phone! Oh my god, my phone!

All the feelings started to creep up on me. Anger, panic, depression, feeling violated… But I guess the most potent feeling I had was regret. I regretted taking the bag out of my body in the first place… I regretted suggesting we sit outside… I regretted making the rookie mistake of placing it on the ground… I regretted letting my guard down for one second.

“Tell me what to do,” I begged Fernando.
Concerned as he was, he said without blinking, “We report this to the police."
Thank goodness for my friend’s calm nature. Otherwise, my panic probably would have taken over me.


5 minutes later, the cops came to document the incident. My friend obviously took over the situation because none of them spoke English, and my Spanish is practically only as good as asking someone where the bathroom is.

They gave us the address to the police station so we can file a police report. But before we headed over there, we went back to the hostel so I could go online and call my sister to cancel all my credit cards.

We walked to the police station, waited about an hour before we were seen, reported everything, and that was it.

If the justice system in Argentina is anything like The Philippines (which I think it is), then I doubt anything would or could be done to retrieve my lost belongings. Getting a report was just a necessary step to get everything documented, “just in case”.


THE BRIGHT SIDE

OK the situation sucks… but in hindsight, thank goodness I still have my passport! And thank goodness I hid some emergency cash inside my backpack. Cash I almost completely forgot about, till I unearthed my passport. Enough cash to last me till I sort everything out. Phew.

I started talking to the people at the hostel about what happened – not for sympathy (I HATE THAT) but to remind them to be vigilant. And true enough, a lot of them admitted to feeling more relaxed and letting their guards down here in Palermo, for the same reasons I had.

I’ve also had people tell me their own stories of being held at gun point, or being harassed, getting their whole backpack stolen, or their cameras with all their photos and memories from their trip… all of which happened in various areas in South America. Holy shit. I still came out lucky, despite of what happened.


EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

So, I’d like to believe… that whoever took my purse has a dying mother in the hospital… who desperately needed my money to save her from a fucking disease. I have to believe this. Because if not, may karma fucking bite you in the ass.

#rantover

On the other hand… I think this was definitely a wakeup call. I lost a lot of money, but what I really wanted back more than anything was my phone. My phone who owned me, every minute of every day. My phone which has started to take over my life… Obsessing over Whatsapp, Viber, Line, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram constantly! So much so, that I have forgotten the sole purpose of this trip! This year was supposed to be about seeing the world and connecting with the people OF the world… Something I have momentarily forgotten because of my obsession with social media… where my eyes and fingers were glued to my phone instead of what surrounded me.

Last night, I was having dinner with these new friends I made from different walks of the Earth… and all of them had their heads bent down, busy Whatsapping and Facebooking their friends from home. I felt a little ashamed because if I still had my phone, I’d be guilty of doing the same thing. In fact, one of the questions I have learned to ask in perfect Spanish is, “Tienes WIFI?”

Maybe the Universe is just trying to remind me why I’m on this trip in the first place. It sure has a way of sending its message across very effectively… And I know this may sound a little condescending, but in a way, I’m glad it happened. 2 days now without my phone, and I feel more free. I needed to let my obsession go. Even if it happened the way it happened, I’m still grateful for the lesson.


MY VALENTINES

I had posted a message about this incident on Facebook, just in case my thief dabbles with my phone to send messages to my friends. The comments I received varied from – “I’m so sorry that happened” to “Damn that fucker” --- and all of that, I expected. What I didn’t expect, however, were the private messages sent to me by people who aren’t even my closest friends. I got tons of messages saying – “I’m sorry that happened, how can I get some money to you?” or “Just let me know, and I can get you a plane ticket to anywhere” My jaw dropped, and I was in awe of all these people who cared. I was so touched.
I had forgotten it was Valentines day (which I normally often do, because I hate the damn day)… After I had seen all the messages from my friends and family, I had a really nice thought… Although I may not have a “Valentine”, it’s so nice to know that I am loved. <3

SO SUCK IT, You stupid thief! You will never get the best of me. :)



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Andalucia, Spain


Me Encanta Andalucia!


Seriously - I am in love with the Andalucia region of Spain (pronounced "An-da-loo-SEE-yah"). Honestly, I wasn't really aware that there was such a thing as this region... it's totally underrated because all most of us know about Spain is Madrid and Barcelona. I knew a little bit about Seville, only because my friend, Sarah, spent a couple semesters there immersing herself in the language and the culture. But as she pointed out --- Seville actually is considered the heart of Spain... And after having spent time there - I have to agree completely!


There are about 7 cities that make up the Andalucia region, and I only managed to visit 3 of them: Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada. Still well worth it, in my opinion. All three places were visual feasts... My eyes couldn't get enough!


ORANGES


My nose was getting a lovely treat too... Not just because of the tapas... but because you find Orange trees all over, especially in Seville! They make everything look so much cuter --- but beware. You can't really eat them. I mean you can - but they don't taste good. They're sour... Apparently they are used for marmalade only.


LOOK AND FEEL



Everything in this region is so colorful. Parts of the look and feel of the houses and buildings remind me of the French influences in New Orleans. But the old Gothic monuments and cathedrals remind me of Prague or the UK even... They are stunning. Honestly!


SIERRA NEVADA, GRANADA


Over Christmas in the UK, all I ever really wanted was snow. I wanted a white Christmas. I wanted to snowboard. But nada. The UK wouldn't give me any. Only frost... And I completely gave up on the idea, till I got to Granada and saw snow on the mountains! I didn't even realize it even snowed in Spain! I thought it was the warmest place in Europe! I wasn't about to let the opportunity to go snowboarding pass, so I found a friend to come with me to the slopes of Sierra Nevada, and we boarded till the ice ran out!



It was magnificent!!! The Sierra Nevada is AMAZING and we had suuuch a great time! What a great surprise this was... TOTALLY didn't expect snow from Spain... and it turned out to be one of the best days of my trip! I love it when things work out unexpectedly... :)


THE MOORS


So apparently (and I honestly didn't know this), Spain, and specifically the Andalucia region, has had very heavy Islam, Muslim and Mediterranean influences... Which explains A LOT about Cordoba and Granada for example... who have these amazing Mosques and Middle Eastern shops and restaurants dotted around the cities! Even the name, "Andalusia" is derived from an Arabic word -- "Al-Andalus"! Their architecture is Moorish influenced too, and they're all beautiful. There were times when I looked around and thought - "Where exactly am I?" --- because at times I swear it felt like I was transported back to Israel or something.



This actually gives the area more character, in my opinion. It is the combination of Christianity and Muslim that give Andalucia more of an edge, apart from the already colorful political and economical history.


JUST GO THERE

I had only ever been to Barcelona once, about 5 years ago. After Portugal, I initially thought about heading straight to Valencia and then Madrid, skipping Andalucia all together... Just because I didn't really know much about it. I'm SO glad I asked around and that my friend, Sarah, was able to talk me into visiting. Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada, are now my FAVORITE parts of Spain, and I grew to love this country even more after having spent time down there. So the next time you find yourselves in Spain -- you must NOT miss the Andalucia region. It is a MUST! You will have the best time, you'll get amazing photos, and you'll eat amazing tapas. :) Trust me!