kiwi land week 2- the adventures begin

FINALLY got to start the adventure part of my trip- I loved my research part don’t get me wrong. I met a lot of amazing faculty and professors, learned a lot about the issue and also gained some unique knowledge on initiatives hotels were taking. But when you go to another country you’ve never been to before, it is hard not to want to explore it all.

I booked the Stray tour because after LOTS of investigating, it seemed to be the best. Intercity wasn’t very reliable with times and the Kiwiexperience was more of a party bus from the reviews. The Stray goes to a lot of the natural parts and tourist places of the country. They hit all the highlights and its a hop on-hop off style where you stay in each place as long as you’d like. They make the traveling a lot easier too- you can book accommodation and some activities through them for a discounted rate making it not only easier but also cheaper in some ways. For example, later on Mt. Cook the accommodation online shows options in the 100s to 300s per night and ours is $20-30/night. Stray has created personal relationships with different areas to give us “insider access/deals”. At first I was a bit indecisive because it is a lot of money but for all of the traveling it actually is not badly priced, especially with the accessibility to other areas most tourists with my budget wouldn’t be able to do due to the costs. The tour started in Christchurch. Here is my experience.


I spent a day and a half in Christchurch. Unfortunately it was not the best weather. I spent the first day walking around near the hostel and got a pizza and relaxed at the hostel- met some nice girls who were staying there. The second day I ran errands- they have a big store called the warehouse that is similar to Walmart that is cheaper quality but has everything. I got a portable phone charger at the phone shop nearby and a warmish sweater, sunscreen and insect repellent at the store which are all being well used. I walked around the main city area a bit before it began to rain a bit and then headed back to the hostel, got a pizza and relaxed a bit. I met a really nice British girl and went out with her and her friends to the memorials for the 2011 earthquake where over 180 people died. It was so sad- there was a white chairs memorial with a variety of chairs with white paint. It was very sad, seeing wheel chairs, high chairs, car seats, porch seats, etc. They each were unique to represent the unique individuals that tragically lost their lives in the earth quake. I love the fact they emphasized the unique individuals and didn’t mold them into one like some other tragedies.

From there we walked to the river where there was another memorial with all the names of those who passed away and some sad letters to those who had passed.  It was really sad to see the number of names lost from one earthquake. The devastation can still be seen/felt in the city as the recovery has been slow. Only one big area had been really recovered into a very developed area and around it there is a lot of area that needed to be built or fixed up. The area still felt very sad even after 7 years.

From there we went to get drinks at a bar nearby then went to a food court to get food before going to the pub near the hostel for another drink. It was nice meeting a large group of other travelers.


The first day on the bus was fun, the views were beautiful. Constant coast and green hills and mountains. Non stop beauty. I met a nice group of people on the bus. There were a lot of British,a few Canadians, a Spanish, and a few German that I spoke to.

When we got to kaikura the Canadians and I went to get fish and chips and I tried a New Zealand soda. We got a creamy ice cream across the street and then explored the beach, put our feet in the water and relaxed on the beach for a bit. We walked back and went through all the shops admiring local art and jewelry and I bought a pretty sea shell silver ring to add to my collection of rings from the world. By the time we made it back to the hostel it was 5:30ish and we changed into bathers and went swimming in the nice cold pool before changing and heading off to the New Zealand craft beer restaurant where I enjoyed a flight of beer and a chowder that was delicious. Our Scottish friends we met at the pool earlier joined us for a drink and by the time we decided to leave a bit past 10 it was cold and raining so they offered us a ride back.


The drive to Picton was just as beautiful if not more stunning than the previous day. We had incredible views of the coast and green scenery on the drive. Lots of vineyards on the drive as well. We drove through the world renowned wine country and it was so tempting not to ask to be let out. We arrived to Picton around 12:30 and had a smooth check in. The weather was beautiful- I was in shorts and a tank top again!! Probably the last day I’ll be able to do that but I’m hoping for the best. We walked around the water and admired the beauty of the sound. So many islands or extended pieces of land surrounded by water. It was magnificent.


We went to a cafe near the water and ate pasta and of course I had to get a glass of local wine (sauvignon blanc). None of us had slept very well the previous night and so a nap was a very necessary next step. While I felt more tired when I woke up, I still was able to convince myself to get out of bed to walk around a bit, hit the supermarket to get food for dinner and cook. We made curry with broccoli, tofu and chicken and had two more bottles of wine from the region. After dinner we got a big group together and played Are you smarter than a 5th grader. It was a blast and we all were laughing at how none of us knew some of the answers. The social studies and literacy were all mostly related to New Zealand which none of us knew that much about so the guessing game became a popular go-to. It was a nice mellow night in getting to know the other backpackers. We had all planned for an early night but the night flew by and the next thing we knew it was 10:30/11 and we decided to do one last round before hitting the sack.

Day 2 of Picton

We woke up early and hiked to beautiful peak (snout trail) where you could see all the sounds. It was such a peaceful and scenic hike. There was not a bad view- every time there was a break in the branches the view got even better. No picture could capture the view- it was something else. Seeing such lush greens that are thriving and being protected with the beautiful water surrounding them- it was like nothing I’d seen before. Everyone always comes to NZ for the environment and now I completely understand why. Every view is so surreal and unforgettable. Its like going from one utopia view to another. We spent 3.5 hours hiking then went back to the hostel to relax a bit, grabbed some grub at a cafe and waited for the bus (it was late due to the weather in the North island).


3.5 hours later we finally were on the road. It was going to be a long bus journey and all of us were not thrilled about it but hey at least you can’t have an ugly drive in New Zealand. We drove through more vineyards and then got into the mountainous area where we were on curbing roads of forests. It was beautiful. We took a stop at a bridge/cafe where a scene hobbit was filmed. It was a breathless view. How many words can I use to describe the insanity of the views here… it’s probably excessive by now so apologies if so but it’s something else. Definitely go to New Zealand if you ever get a chance. You’ll understand what I’m talking about. The bus ride to Nelson was about an hour from that stop and then we had 45 min to get groceries for the next few days before loading the bus again.

Vanessa, a woman from Spain, and I got some bottles of wine and we drank some on the ride through the last area of vineyards. We met another James on the bus but he was from England.

When we got to the camp we cooked our dinners quickly and then went to the nearby cafe which was doing open mic night. It turned out to be more like live band and if you want to play an instrument you can.

The second week definitely flew by and before I knew it half of the trip was over… AHHHH



Week 1 in Kiwi Land

First off- for those who don’t know- New Zealanders are called kiwis. And for those who messaged me back asking how the kiwis were here… its a bird- confusing I Know. But I got the amazing opportunity to come to New Zealand from three grants. The original plan was to do research with a professor down here on the water crisis in Cape town and the impact on the hotel industry. Things have taken a BIG shift and Im rolling with it but now I only am in Dunedin for 1 week in an office at the University 7am to 5pm doing research and the other three weeks I’m doing the research remotely and less hours as the professor decided to go to Australia for 3 weeks since it is their summer break. Here is a bit on my first week here.. not the most interesting of times since I was doing research most the time.


This first week has flown by and unfortunately blogging didn’t even come to mind until today.

I started my adventures in cook island where I had a day layover on Rarotonga. It is a very picturesque island- not a bad view in sight. It was a very mellow area, a good beach escape if you were wanting something calm but was told the other islands had more activities and things to do. Sunday’s everything more or less is shut down so it took a while to find things open. I hopped off the plane and went through customs, which was surprisingly long. I met a German guy in line who happened to have the same layover so we decided to explore the island together.

We walked about a quarter of the island (a bit more than an hour walk) and had endless beautiful views. The vibrant flowers were seen in all directions. I felt like I was wearing filtered goggles it looked so perfect. The water was so clear and inviting. We finally found the public transportation and jumped on the bus to go to the popular beach area to get onto the water and find an open cafe.

At the cafe I had a papaya chia seed pudding and a ciabatta. It was delicious! After eating we went to the beach and got into the water. It was probably the warmest water I’ve ever been in. It felt like a nice bath temperature. We swam in the water and watched the dogs swim into the deep water chasing after kayakers and jumping onto their boats. It was such a perfect layover.

We walked on the beach and admired the beautiful natural landscape the island had to offer. Definitely recommend that route to get to New Zealand from the states!

I was also very lucky on my flights with New Zealand air. My first flight was on an older plane but it was super comfortable and I got a whole row to myself which was really nice because I got to lay down and ended up sleeping the majority of the flight. Only down side was there weren’t phone chargers on the plane and I had been expecting them to so hadn’t charged my phone prior to getting on the plane. It worked out in the end but was definitely worried I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take pictures on Rarotonga. (I know it isn’t the end of the world BUT I wanted to remember it all and pictures help).

My second flight was on a newer plane and had leg rests in couch!!!!! Insane right!? It was ammmazing- so comfortable. Charged up, laid back, and watched some funny movies. My last flight was short and I again, got a whole row to myself but didn’t really utilize it aside from the foot space.

I got into Dunedin at 10ish and one of my flat mates picked me up from the airport. We got back at around 11 and I had a big shock.. the summer I was expecting was more like fall or winter. It was so cold. I froze that night and barely slept, I woke up around 5 am and laid in bed on my phone until I thought it was a reasonable time to wake up and shower. I went to the uni around 8 and got a meat pie and coffee before meeting the professor I’d be working with. He gave me a run through of the project and then introduced me to a few people before showing me my office and letting me get to work.

The first day julia, a lady who worked next to my office, offered to show me around a bit. Most of the days were the same routine; I couldn’t sleep in so I’d wake up between 5:30-6:30, shower and do a bit of work or calls or social mediaing until 7/7:30 then walk to campus which was about 10 min. Every day I tried to walk a different way to see a different view. I’d get a flat white and a few of the days some sort of breakfast (meat pie, sausage roll).

I’d work from 7:30/8ish until 4:30/6ish. I’d get lunch at the uni cafe and let the barista choose each day. One of the favorites of South Island is a cheese roll which is a cheese with onion soup powder inside of a piece of bread rolled up. It’s super good but definitely not something I expected to be super popular.

The research was super interesting, I investigated the impact of the water crisis on the hotel industry in Cape Town. I searched a ton of sites and found hotels that had water conservation initiatives and then created a spreadsheet with all hotels that had initiatives and what they were and what was unique. I found some unique initiatives that hotels were doing to combat the water issues.

Most nights I walked around the city a bit and explored. I got dinner out a few times and tried some local beers which were pretty good. Dunedin has a lot of cool local product shops! They really like to support the locals here which is really important. They pride themselves on Otago made.

On Friday, I had another student who shared my office with me. He was a really nice guy and we socialized for a bit of the time. At 4 we left for the department holiday party. One thing that’s different about NZ is how friendly everyone is here. I barely knew anyone but they invited me to their holiday party and also got me a secret Santa gift. Such a great community. Willem asked if I had considered getting a PhD because I’m good at conducting research and investigations. Not sure if I would or not but was a great compliment.

Anyways, the holiday party was fun- had a lot of food and got a bag of lindor chocolates which I will definitely indulge in throughout my trip. Fergus and I spent most the time talking, we both didn’t know many people there. He offered to take me to signal hill which has an amazing view over the whole city so we left the party after 2.5 hours and drove up there. The view was marvelous. Definitely a cool site to see the ocean and all of the town and peninsula.

Saturday I slept in (until 8:30) and spent the morning booking my hostels and looking at the activities or things to do in each area. It was a lot of planning for 18 days but I get a lot better once it was all done. I showered and headed to brunch at the Perc Cafe which had really good rating. Definitely rightfully earned. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very warm. I met a really nice lady at a candle shop after breakfast who owned a shop of all local work from Otago. I loved her concept and would love to see it mimicked in Denver. Each person rented a shelf or a bookcase per month to sell goods but they didn’t have to be there physically to sell them. It was a great idea to advertise the local handmade products. I got her card so hopefully will stay in contact with her later and maybe I can find someone interested in mimicking the idea in Denver.

At 3:30 I started a peninsula tour with a company that works on conservation. We got to see albatross which are huge birds- their wing span is double my height. Then we went to their private conservative area and walked to see fur seals and got to see a new baby- the placenta still attached and everything. There were sets of three playing in mini pools of water and they were so cute to watch. Some were swimming into the ocean and fought against the large waves crashing towards them. Most were passed out on the rocks. The area was mostly babies and moms but a few males were there due to the birth season. There were soooo many cute little babies- I wanted to take one home. Then we walked back up the hill and drove a bit to another stop where we had a longer walk. We got to see sea lions and yellow eyed penguins. Both of these species are endangered. The sea lions were very aggressive and not afraid of humans so our guide made us be very cautious and look around at all times as they can move faster than us and would pin us down and attack us. They were very aggressive the whole time- they were constantly fighting each other the whole time we were there. We walked up the hill from the beach after watching the sea lions for a bit and saw some yellow eyed penguins. They were super unique- tall with a yellow strip around their eyes and a black back with white belly. They were cute.

The wind was pretty strong and it was a bit nippy throughout the tour. We got back to Dunedin around 10 and I grabbed food in the octagon and met some other backpackers at the restaurant then went home.




Sunday June 17                                                                                         


I woke up early (around 6:30) because I was ready to start the class and excited to see what the day had to offer. I didn’t want to wake up my roommates so I stayed in bed and responded to emails and texts before taking a shower at 7 and getting breakfast at 8:30. It was a very mellow morning which was very different for me, I am usually up and exploring early when I’m traveling but I took advantage of the time and relaxed in bed and did a bit of work prior to going to the grocery store for snacks before we met the group at 11.


Today we went to Asakusa which is a more traditional region that had a buddhist temple. It was very interesting to see the unique architecture that I had seen in photos and videos for so many years in person finally. The gate was huge and had a big red lantern in the middle that hung down and there were two statues on either side of the gate. The gate wasn’t the original as the originals were made of wood and burned down numerous times in the past. This one was built in the mid to late 1900s (I think it was the 60s but cant remember exactly). The statues on either side were different important figures. It was a vibrant red color and was more mouth dropping and unique than I expected.


Past the gate there was a row of shops that sold traditional Japanese items, some more touristy than others. It was very crowded today, more than the other day when I was there for my hostel but then I realized it was a Sunday so most likely it was busy due to the weekend. It was hard to stay in a group and was definitely good we split up though I would have enjoyed learning more about the area and buildings.


We explored the shops on the way down to the temple. There were so many unique items. I also people watched on the walk- the variety of outfits and languages was astonishing. My favorite was seeing a lot of women and a few men in traditional attire. Their clothing was gorgeous, they looked so classic and perfect. We later learned how expensive the clothes are and was shocked it was an everyday outfit as it’s very expensive. I am curious if the quality of material is dependent on status or if there are rules or norms to what materials are worn. In the stores there were a variety of different materials offered such as blends, polyester and silk. I’m definitely going to do more research about the traditional clothing to see what the different materials signify or if it is just a difference in affordability.


The temple itself was stunning. There were so many small details and designs. It is one of those places you wish you had more time to just sit there and take it all in and admire each and every design but unfortunately there were too many people to have time to do that nor did I have the desire with the stuffiness of all the people. A lot of individuals were going towards an area where there was incense burning and they would pray and then move their hands to get the incense on them. There were also two areas near the temple where people threw money in and then prayed- they had a routine of clapping their hands, bowing, praying, then clapping their hands again. The temple was very interesting to see.


The gardens were gorgeous as well. There were fish in the pond and some incredible statues such as buddha. There were some incredible statues- i couldn’t get over the beauty of the green nature surrounding these huge statues/sculptures. It was overall an incredible place, I could go there numerous times and never get tired of the area. An interesting fact is this is the oldest temple still around in the area.


We explored the side streets and the artwork. Some of the streets had some incredible art on the garage doors of stores that were closed. There were also some incredible pictures of cherry blossoms and monuments in the area. I love looking at unique artwork in new places. There were a lot of street vendors for food as well there. We saw a lot of sweets- the most unique was an ice cream hamburger, not sure what that is but it was a popular destination we noticed.


Asakusa was definitely my favorite part of the day- the culture was vibrant and you could feel the history come alive as you walked around the area. You could definitely feel the touristic part of what it has become now but after walking around the whole area it was but a small factor of the whole experience there.


After we went to Odaiba which is the man made island (made of trash) in Tokyo that was used during the isolation period of Japan. They definitely tried a bit too hard to make it Americanized. It had a very weird San Fran mixed with New York feel. We walked on the walkway and there were people doing acts, lots of outdoor restaurants looking out to the water, and there was a football event going on. Definitely went from traditional to modern in a matter of an hour which was unique. We had dinner there at a ramen place and by the time we left everyone was exhausted. We took the metro back and spent the rest of the evening catching up on readings and sleep.


I really liked seeing the two different sides of Tokyo within one day- it gave us the opportunity to see the vast diversity within the city and understand the battle for traditionalism and modernism. Ahmed told us about the chinese commentary about Japan- how they take other countries ideas and “japanize” them. While some think the mix is a competition and one should be dominant- I think the fact Tokyo has both traditional regions and super modern areas makes it unique. I appreciate the fact that within an hour you can see old and new sides of Japan. There aren’t very many places that have that dramatic of a change in their architecture and cultural offerings. Today was definitely a very important cultural day for the course as it was a great kick start to seeing the “old” and the “new” Japan.


 Monday June 18                 


Today I woke up early to go to the fish market that is nearby. It is a huge market with vendors selling tons of food products, mainly fish related. We walked around the whole market before choosing a place to eat. We choose a sushi place and I got a sushi bowl- it was rice base and a ton of fish, fish eggs, seaweed, egg, etc on top. It was delicious and very filling. I got to drink free green tea as well which was very filling and paired well with my sushi. After sushi we walked around the market a bit more, bought some mochi (custard flavor, green tea matcha flavor, and strawberry cream). After we walked back to the hotel and relaxed until it was time to head to our meetings.


We took an hour train ride to our meeting where we met with LAC, Local Autonomy College) which is a schooling for individuals entering government specifically in the local levels. We learned about the way the government was structured here in Japan (there is the central government and local governments). They dove into the roles of the government, how individuals are elected by the people and can run unlimited terms, and the way policy was enacted. The areas that were most interesting to me were the division of power (the local and central governments are seen as equal authority), women in government (there are more women in local government than central and only less than 10% of the central government is women), and decentralization movement. Another interesting fact was the number of local government employees is decreasing but the work is increasing. I was shocked to hear that there isn’t more push back on the less employees but more work area but from their perspective, the reason for the lack of push back is there is an understanding that with the mature and aging population, the population is dramatically shrinking therefore there are fewer individuals needed in the government and the financial necessities to pay an employee mixed with the population decrease are good reason to decrease the number of local government employees. I see both sides- I feel like if individuals are working 50 hour weeks then it is better to hire another person for the job but if one individual is able to handle the workload of two or three individuals then it is worth it to decrease the workforce.


It was interesting to hear about the LAC but for me the numbers and sort of work/time frame wasn’t helpful in my head. I would’ve rather seen the curriculum or a breakdown of what is taught and emphasized for each position. I was very curious what the difference in time commitment meant- there were 3 week programs, 5 week programs, 3 month programs and 5 month programs depending on the level. I really liked learning about the politics of Japan and the way things work in the political world here. Another area I was curious about was how traditional and modern culture impact the political system.


After the meeting we were invited to a class with international leaders from different countries. We listened to two very different presentations that discussed issues these leaders wanted to work on when they returned home. I wish we would have been able to hear all of their presentations as I feel they all had unique projects they wanted to address in their regions and only one of the two presentations we heard was a local issue and she didn’t have a full on plan which was a bit disappointing. It sounds like they did a good job explaining the idea of making change and figuring out the problems and solutions but the big middle area that seemed to lack (this is an evaluation based on one meeting so is a grain of salt) but it seemed they lacked the planning. It was really cool though to see how the LAC impacted these leaders and taught them to initiate changes to address problems in their communities.


After LAC, Miyo, Javier and I went to Harajuku which is a very modern shopping area. It has lots of lit up bilboards and levels of different stores. The main streets are lined with high end fashion and the side streets had really cool japanese stores with a mixed array of fashion- from 70s looks to the school girl skirts to punk to gothic to retro to modern; there was a store for everyone. Another thing we saw a lot of was crepe shops. Supposedly this area is known for their crepes- so tomorrow, one of the things we want to do is get crepes since we will be back in that area. We ate udon noodles in a small restaurant on a side street of the area and then continued to walk around the area until it started to rain more- then we decided to head back for the night since we had tomorrow too if we wanted to return.


Overall I felt like I learned a lot about the political system of Japan. These first two days were great introductions into the course- we started with a strong day of the variety of cultures (cultural extremes) in the country and today we focused on politics of the country. Tomorrow we will have a great mix of both since we will be doing lectures in politics and visiting other cultural regions of Tokyo. I’m excited to see what the day has in store for us.


Tuesday June 19



Today we had an earlier morning than the previous days. I got breakfast at the convenient store around the corner and we met at 8:45 to head to Meiji University where we listened to Professor Nakamura lecture on Japan’s government. It was one of the most fascinating lectures I have heard in a long time. The professor was funny but also very educated. He was very real which was refreshing- I feel sometimes lectures on the topic of politics or economics can be a bit dry but he made it very fresh and relatable and I felt like my eyes were bulging out of my head I was so intrigued. I made a lot of notes and felt like a little girl with my hand up the whole time after with my numerous questions.

I thought it was interesting that elites memorize to take a test which gets them into University of Tokyo and parents who want their kids to get into the elite class start them at a young age. There is a specific program to train students to be able to pass the entrance exam into University of Tokyo which has 85% of elites. It is interesting that a lot of them don’t have to have a background to get into a ministry- I am curious if this is better or worse, in my opinion we need people that have background education and experience in the department that they are entering. It takes a lot of training to get individuals to the level they need to have to be able to run a ministry or get into top positions and it would be beneficial if these individuals had experience and education in the area prior to increase the productivity.


I also thought it was very interesting that the government protects companies- they increase tariffs to protect Japanese companies from foreign companies. For example, they ensure they purchase most of their rice from Japan and only import a small amount from California but with over 700% tax to prevent California rice from becoming more popular and decreasing the rice market in Japan.


Corruption was another area that I was very interested in- I’m very curious how the corruption differs here than in the states. I feel because the systems are different there must be similar but different loopholes. In the states lobbyist can take candidates or representatives to dinners or games or other events to bribe them since bribes can only be a certain amount now. I am curious if there are similar laws to prevent bribes and if so if there are similar loopholes.


I learned a lot during the lecture and probably had more questions when I left than when I entered, but hey that is what a good lecture does. After the lecture, we went to lunch in another building at the cafeteria of a school which was very affordable – I got ramen. It was a good bang for the buck- a lot of food and very filling. We went to a tower after that to get a view of the city and Mt. Fuji and then we went to Shibuya where we explored the area for an hour. There were a ton of shops and restaurants. I got a green tea boba drink and walked around the area with Noah, Miyo and Javier. The diversity of people, clothing, and types of shops was fascinating. I think the most interesting thing about Tokyo is the different levels. Each floor has different stores/restaurants and you have to look up down and pretty much all around to ensure you don’t miss a sign as you may have to climb up or down stairs to get to a shop which is different than in the states.


We went back to the hotel after exploring Shibuya and relaxed before a meeting at 7 with one of Ahmed’s friends who lives here. He told us about foreigners in Japan. It sounds like they have their own society and it is very hard to fully immerse yourself which is unfortunate. It was interesting hearing his stories from college to work to now with his kids. I don’t know if I would be able to let my kids deal with the discrimination- being made fun of because your parents are foreign would not be how I want my kids to be treated. As much as I love it here, I think the language barrier and the lack of full immersion is definitely a big drawback. One of my friends who is half japanese had told me similar stories about herself and her friends who tried to move back to Japan but weren’t welcomed fully because they were only partially japanese. She said it was hard being rejected by her own culture and said it’s even harder for those who have no japanese blood. I think Japan has a great reputation for tourism and foreigners but after speaking to a few people during this trip I am having different opinions- tourism and citizens are treated very differently. It was a very interesting conversation.


We went to a sushi restaurant nearby for dinner – it had the conveyer belt and the sushi comes around the room. If they didn’t have something you wanted on the belt the chefs in the middle would make it for you- it was fantastic. Each plate color was a different price so you could easily keep track of your spendings but also could see the options and try new things if you wanted. It was a great experience- and TEA WAS FREE. I love it here, amazing culture and food and I have learned so many things within such a short time.


Wed June 20


Today I got pot stickers for breakfast at the supermarket since we had an early meet up at 8:45. We visited JICA first which is Japan’s foreign aid to Southeast Asia. Mr. Tetsuji was very knowledgable and explained their programs and operations. They have three schemes; technical cooperation, ODA loans, and grant aid. We went through different examples of each and specifically went through the ASEAN connectivity which had three areas of focus; physical, institutional and people to people. JICA works on building corridors for economic development such as building bridges or ports to make trade easier. They also work institutionally by expanding business opportunities for the private sector which boosts the Southeast Asian economies as a whole. Lastly, they work on people to people which is developing human resources and establishing networking amoung ASEAN and with Japan. They have universities that assist with this as well.


I think the area that was most interesting to me was the sustainability projects. It seems while infrastructure is definitely a majority of the work, they also do a decent amount of tourism/eco-tourism/agrotourism projects to promote economic development in these countries. They also worked on a lot of energy projects and promoted renewables in the majority of the cases that were easily accessible online and in the pamphlet. I love to see that these developmental projects are aimed for long term and sustainable- this is the start but I think it needs to become a major focus. The EIR and feasibility evaluations are so important for developing and if these are conducted prior to project initiations, we could see a more sustainable future and these “developing countries” will be the ones leading the revolution towards how sustainability looks since they will be the ones paving the way on how it looks. It was really interesting to hear about how Japan aids other countries-they target mostly SE asia which is strategic in my opinion because they can dedicate more resources to a smaller region and these countries are also geographically logical because they are easy to get to and have a stronger relationship with Japan due to trade.


From JICA we went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to speak with the Chief of International Exchange and Cooperation. I was super excited for this meeting because I assumed we would hear more about his job specifically and what it entails but it was a very broad and generic meeting about the structure of the ministries and a general overview of what the whole Ministry does. It was a bit repetitive to the second day’s lecture unfortunately. I felt this was a bit of a disappointment.. I learned a bit more about local autonomy and the way the central and local government work but I was disappointed we went to speak with the Chief of International Exchange and Cooperation and we heard little about international exchange at all.


From there we had free time so we went back to Harajuku and Javier and I found a ‘dollar store’ equivalent. Everything was 100 yen unless marked. We found a ton of candy and other things we wanted there. We walked down the main street and walked into some cool japanese stores, thrift stores, and got crepes- I got a matcha one which was fantastic.


At 5, I was ready to head back and relax for a bit. While I dont feel we are doing too much, I think it is still exhausting me somehow.

Thursday June 21



Today we woke up early to have a group meeting before going to the Ministry of Foreign Policy where we met with Mr. Masayuki KAMEDA, Deputy Director,Policy Coordination Division Foreign Policy Bureau on Japan’s contemporary Foreign Policy. I learned a lot about the international side of Japan. I learned one of the big reasons Japan is so big on promoting internationalism is because a large percentage of their products including produce is imported since they don’t have a lot on the island. 60% of their food alone is transported in. I now understand more why they are such a peace country. They rely on these other countries for food and products and if there are tensions they can easily be cut off of their basic necessities. This meeting gave me a whole new light on their relationship with the international world. Mr. Masayuki said something that really stuck out- the only country who can really defend and provide for Japan to the extent it needs is the US which is why they are trying to keep their relationship strong even with the political systems changing. The japanese population is split on their opinions of the US gov but they don’t understand the degree that they rely on the US. This meeting was very informative. I also learned that the number of natural disasters in Japan has increased due to climate change so Japan is working to combat and decrease their pollution to decrease the severity of natural disasters.


After the meeting we grabbed lunch on the way to our second meeting we had with Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) which promotes international visitors working for the Japanese government in different manners. A lot work in schools or translations in government buildings.

Saturday June 23

Today was a very heavy day. Probably the most impactful day of the whole trip as it brought a very historical day to life. We started with going to the memorial site for the Hiroshima A-bomb during world war two. We saw the remnants of the old building and seeing it in real life was so much more impactful than the pictures. For me, bringing history to life has such a strong emotional sense- it makes the past more tangible and understandable. It’s less a book and more a reality. We walked around the building then went to the peace statue which had a krane on it for peace. We went to the memorial that had a water reflection and fire as well and then walked around the museum which had a lot of regions and names of people impacted by the day. This first part was a soft start to a very emotional and traumatic event.


After spending some time individually wandering around we all went to the museum together accompanied by Nile’s mom and her friend. Her friend had an interesting connection to Hiroshima- her father’s first wife died due to the bomb and her robe is now in the museum. She believes that in some manner she encompasses her father’s first wife or has some sort of connection to her because a little over a year and a half later, she was born (to her father’s second wife). We walked around the museum and learned more about the history, backstory, and events of the day of. We learned about the impacts the bomb had on the individuals, agriculture, animals, and region. We learned about the aftermaths and the death toll. It was terrible to see the photos of the destructions and the people suffering. For me the most touching section was the personal stories. There were a lot of items that were personal belongings of individuals who died due to the bomb and their stories/events of the day were told on a card in front of their item. The item that stuck out the most was a tricycle. A little boy was riding his tricycle around the street when the bomb exploded and he died on the tricycle. The tricycle is very dark and stained by the bomb and you can only imagine what human remnants are still imprinted on the bike.. I thought about the little boy riding, having a happy day and no cares and then after there being no laughter but fear and tears and the smell of death all around. I can only imagine what it would be like to see everything you know burn down or destroyed and those you care about injured or killed..


After the museum we grabbed a quick lunch and then went to a cafe where we met with a survivor of Hiroshima. For me, this was the most impactful part of the day. In the US we learn a lot about World War II but there is a heavy weight on the holocaust and not the bombings. Its very briefly brushed over. To sit for an hour and a half and hear this man’s story was overwhelmingly painful to hear, you could feel your heart break with his emotions and words. He was 15 at the time when it happened and working in a factory developing weapons for the war when the blast went off. He and his friend were both burned on one side of their bodies. He spent the whole day trying to find safety and had to go through an unbelievable number of adversity, not only for a kid, but for a person and all in one day. The bomb went off, he forgot a bit as he was unconscious, his factory regathered and was sent home as they didn’t know what was happening, then he set forth on a long journey for the day trying to survive. He continued to run into large fires or obstacles. He saw dead bodies everywhere, buildings destroyed, fires all around. As a 15 year old who was also injured I can’t even imagine what he felt. The shock must have hit him as he was very determined and committed to find shelter. He watched a friend die in front of him and he said he will never forget his face. I can’t imagine having a tragedy occur at such a young age and have the memories haunting you for years after. This man went through hell and back and survived thanks to his sister and his mindset to get better. He is so brave to share his story and open up to the public about his personal experience. For the rest of the day I was very emotionally strained. I couldn’t piece together my emotions, and I still can’t.

I really was so appreciative that this man took the time and energy and strength to share his story to us and pass on the memories. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to bring up a horrific incident time after time but he was very strong and forthcoming and I feel his story is going to positively change the world.

We went to a look out tower after speaking with him and saw the whole area, then went to dinner at a local restaurant that served these “japanese pancakes” which was noodles, cabbage, egg, and this special sauce. It was AMAZING- by far one of my favorite sauces of all time.

It was a very long and emotional day but very rewarding and educational. I think today was the most impactful to me because the power of a story.


Sunday June 24


Today Miyo, Javi, Noah and I went to Miyajimacho where we went to a water shrine called Itsuku-shima. It was amazing. We got to see it both dry and in the water throughout our day there. The island is very pretty and green. We explored the shops, restaurants, tried the oysters, ate lunch at a great restaurant where you took your shoes off and sat on the floor and walked around different shrines and temples on the island. We spent the whole day (6 hours) there and had an incredible time.


 Monday June 25  


Today we woke up early and went to Hiroshima University which was about an hour out of the city. We met with Professor Shinsuke Tomotsugu who spoke about Hiroshima in more detail. I was really looking forward to this meeting but it turned out to not be as informative as I expected. One thing he reiterated which I find very interesting is there is no or very little blame on the US for the bombing. They realize their errors in the past and use the events of that day as a way to move forward in a positive manner. I think that is very mature and smart on their part. They learned that as a pivot point and are now a peace promoting country. I think from his lecture that was the most important thing I got. I had a few questions for him and so did others but he wasn’t able to fully address our questions which was a bit unfortunate as I was very interested in learning from an academic standpoint these responses. I am still very curious of the full impact Hiroshima had on the population. In his presentation he spoke about the impacts and how there were short term and long term impacts on the individuals who were there during the bombing but in the statistics, they only count the number of deaths as August through December which I think is interesting.


You’d think with all the studies showing the victims who survived had high rates of cancer there would be a death toll of the long term impacts to show the negative results of an atomic bomb but there are no such studies or numbers as of now. I think that would be a very important analysis to attempt to prevent future war with atomics. There are also people that probably were able to survive more than 4 months and died shortly thereafter. I think the number should have been within a year because with burn victims, there are a lot of cases of short term survival more than 6 months and some even more than a year though I think they could have done a year at minimum instead of 4 months. I’m curious what made them cut off the death toll at the end of December and why they didn’t count it as at least a year or longer. There is no data that I could find online after the meeting but I am going to keep investigating this area as it is very interesting to me.


I’m also curious whether is is all types of cancer or if there are links to specific cancer. There are a lot of studies that show being exposed to radiation leads to cancer but I have never heard about any specific cancers that are caused by radiation and the intensity of radiation these individuals experienced was so high I’m wondering what caused the delayed effect in some or faster effect on others. I wonder if there are any other health impacts other than cancer that arose in those long term impacts. Cancer is obviously the biggest but are there any issues with organ functions or the senses or mental health (aside from the obvious ones that arise from a traumatic event).

While today’s meeting wasn’t as impactful as I would have liked, I did have a lot more questions which got me investigating more which in the end is still very beneficial.

Tena, Ecuador

We had a long afternoon yesterday; started with a 2 hour bus ride to northern quito (because we missed the bus to quitumbe) then an uber from north to south (because there weren’t any more buses South) then a 5 hour bus from southern quito to tena- which we arrived at 3am… we ended up sleeping in until 10 then headed out and got breakfast at Cafe Tortuga which was supposedly a must go to cafe there! We were not disappointed. I got a veggie tostada and an iced coffee and it was delicious and hit the spot. From there we walked around and looked for tours or things to do around the area. We ended up running into Maegan and Grace who were also signing up for tours and so we followed them. We booked tours for the next day and headed to the caves.

It started pouring when we got there and we ran into the building as fast as we could. To get in it was $2 entrance fee into this pool area then $15 per group minimum ($3/person if more than 5) to get into the caves. The tour was fantastic- highly recommend. We had headlamps on and walked into the cave, some of the time we were walking in water and others on rocks. We got to one point and ended up swimming across to a mini waterfall (a meter high) and climbed up to the next level. We kept walking and saw some bats and two species of spiders. The caves were incredible. We walked deep into one side and turned off our lights. It was pitch black- we couldn’t even see our hands if they were in front of our faces- it was crazy! We went to another waterfall which was probably 2-3 meters (still not big but coolto see in a cave) and did a cleansing ceremony of bad energy. We jumped into one hole next to the waterfall that was 4 meters deep and dunked our whole bodies under the water, climbed out of that water and went into the waterfall, then slid into the bigger area attached to the waterfall and swam around before climbing out. The water was very refreshing and it was a unique experience. We continued through the caves for an hour before reaching the exit where we got to see a snake climbing up a hill. It was a really cool experience all in all! Definitely recommend it! The bus ride back was only .50 and takes you straight back to town- super easy trip!
We grabbed food at Tia (the supermarket) and went back to the hotel where we read, ate and relaxed the rest of the evening.

Today we woke up and went straight to our tour. It was a 45 min ride to the mountain where we set off hiking through and along rivers to the waterfalls. The first was a double waterfall and was gorgeous- we climbed around the area, took some photos, and admired the incredible view before setting back on the “trail” which was more just walking over rocks and branches through rivers. It was definitely one of my favorite hikes I’ve been on- it’s way more fun when there are obstacles than flat ground! There were times when we could hold onto ropes to cross a rock cliff that was slippery or when we had to climb up the side of small steep hills/cliffs. It was a great time! The second waterfall we got to go canyoning up- we grabbed onto a rope and climbed up the whole waterfall. It was a blast- my first time ever doing something like that before! We had time to spare so went back down the majority of the way and climbed back up again just for fun! After that first experience I definitely want to go again soon- I really enjoyed it; a mix of rock climbing and water! What could be better! We kept hiking and got to the 3rd waterfall which we were able to swim in! The water pressure was strong and we got a decent massage out of going under it! From the 3rd waterfall we had to hike up the rest of the mountain which was gorgeous but definitely not as fun as hiking around obstacles! We learned about a variety of plants and stories of other tourists while climbing up! Within no time we had reached the peak and were walking along the top. The way down was tricky as we were wearing rain boots and had a heavy bag. We both took a few falls on the way down but laughed it off and got back up! It took about 50 min to walk down with the few stops along the way.

For lunch we went to our guides house and had fish, rice, mixed veggies, yucca and avocado! We played with their three puppies which we named; canela, miel, and chocolate while we relaxed before our second excursion for the day! The second part we walked 45 min to laguna azul and went swimming in the lagoon! We jumped off a rock into the deeper part (which was pretty far away from the water and wasn’t super safe but we still did it anyways), slid down a fast stream area with a small drop, and swam around a bit! Then walked around the rest of the area before heading back. Of course it started pouring when we were walking back and we were drenched from a day of water activities and rain! We played with the dogs some more and watched the chicken get fed at his house while we waited an hour for the taxi to show up to take us back to Tena. It was a lot more entertaining than you’d think. One big chicken jumped on one of the smallest and stepped on his face (definitely trying to show him whose the boss but also how mean)… the other chicken all fought for food and one of the dogs kept getting pecked because he tried to eat the chicken food.. it was a grand old time watching the chaos! At 5 our taxi came and took us back to tena where we went to a pizza parlor and split a mushroom pizza before heading back to the hostel to relax! It was an incredible day in total! Definitely not what I expected in the slightest but totally worth it!

Galapagos on the Cheap- tips and tricks

Tips and tricks:

-Santa Cruz; ask different companies for ferry prices (buy round trip to Isabela if you can you’ll save $$ and look for $25 tickets each way)
-Santa Cruz: $.50 water taxi to ferry or port
-Isabela: $1 water taxi to ferry or port
-Isabela: if you buy ferry tickets on island you’ll pay $30 for morning or can find $25 for afternoon (better to buy on Santa Cruz)

-San Cristobal: $25 ticket each way

-Isabela: $10 entrance fee
-entrance onto islands: $20 at airport of origin, $100 at airport of Galapagos ($25 for Ecuadorian students)
-NO atm on Isabela

-Santa Cruz; look for meal of the day ‚comida del Dia‚ for $5 or under- usually lunch deal
-Isabela: lunch deals are $7-8 but also are for dinner
-meals around $10 on Isabela on cheap
-Isabela panaderia $.25-$1 for bread
-Isabela restaurants: shawarma, royal rock

-San Cristóbal menu del dia for $3.5-5

-overall buy tours on island; you save a lot of money. Only book ahead of time if you have a big group (more than 6) or have a short amount of time and have one specific activity in mind
-booking tours with card is possible at few places but comes with fees of 18%
-highly recommend los tunnels
-tuneles : $100
-kayaking: $35.   We didn’t see any sharks and the area was known for sharks. If you have to chose an activity tuneles was the best and you saw more variety of animals but if you have the money and time the kayaking is still fun.
-volcano: $35
-wall of tears: free. Highly recommend but take bikes ($4/hour at some places) and leave before 7 in the morning to avoid extreme temperatures. If you really wanna walk leave before 6 and bring a lot of water- it gets super hot and humid and it takes a long time- recommends 3 hours round trip, took us 2 hours walking (as 20 year olds).
-concha perla: lots of fish not much else mid day. Recommend going early morning when sea lions are active and less people are around : $3 mask and snorkel +$2 for fins (don’t need fins)
-beach next to pier (filled with iguanas and sea lions- go around 4:30/5 and watch them go into the water from land to feed)
-centro de crianza: Tortoise breeding center, free 15 min walk- see flamingos on the way

-Darwin Station: interesting, lots of tortugas and a nice walk! make sure you check hours before you go!

-Bay tour on Santa Cruz: we paid $30 for 3 hours- wasn’t the best tour, if you have time its fun to go snorkeling but it isn’t anything special

-Las Grietas: Super awesome place to go snorkeling or swimming. You can cliff jump if you want too- take a .80 cent water taxi then it’s about a 15 min walk to the area.

-Scuba/snorkeling at Kicker Rock was by far our favorite activity- we paid $110 for snorkeling or $145 for scuba (note- most places charged $150 for scuba) It is a full day with food!


Galapagos adventures- Spring Break 2018

March 10:
After planning this trip for over 3 months, it was crazy for it to start to take place. Marin spent the night Friday since my host family was gone and we had an early flight and we watched movies, made/ate dinner, and got ready for our trip. Saturday morning we woke up at 5:15, quickly grabbed food to go, and went to the airport at 6am. It was interesting being in a car early enough to see a sunrise- it was really pretty. When we got to the airport we had to pay $20 for the first fee to the Galapagos and then got our bags checked prior to checking in. They put these green tags on your checked bags to show nothing has been added- they take the security very seriously on the Galapagos as far as what you can bring into the country- they don’t want any new species being introduced.
We had a 30 min flight to guayachil and then a 2 hour flight  to Santa Cruz. Definitely look into what park fees are as normal foreigns pay $100, but there are discounts- we only paid $25 because we were students in Ecuador.(how lucky). From the airport we took a bus to a ferry (the ferry costed us $1.0 to literally take us across a short distance), to a bus (which costed us $2). What a journey it was to get from the airport to the town. On the bus ride, the driver hit a speed bump super hard and everyone tossed around in the bus (we weren‚Äôt prepared). This poor lady in the back row flew forward and hit her knee on the back of another chair and began screaming in pain. She had previously had surgery on her knee and by her sounds it sounded like whatever happened was pretty serious. The bus driver in the end drove her to the hospital as the ambulance wouldn‚Äôt drive her. It was quite a start to the trip- we all felt bad for the lady, what a terrible way to start a vacation.
After the bus ride, we went to our hostel, checked in and changed, then went to lunch next door (which was terrible- they only had like two options off their menu and then the rice tasted dreadful and then they ended up not having dessert- they did find fruit at the end which was delicious). From lunch we went to tortuga bay (took a taxi which was a rip off- 1.50 for about a 2 min drive) and were surprised by the lack of tortugas we saw. We didn’t even see one the whole time we were there Рso disappointing. But we did get to jump in the water, look at some crab, sunbathe with some iguana, swim with a shark and some big fish, and take in incredible views. It was a great first activity. Some of the highlights;
-when Marin got scared because the fish were swimming so close and jumped on my back to get her legs away from them
-when George kept getting closer than 2 meters to the wildlife and a random lady yelled at him
-when Kate set a sunbathing with iguanas trend (which we found out wasn’t allowed because we were within 2 meters of them.

After the walk around, we made our way back to the hostel to shower to get all the sand off us and change for the night. We went to a street restaurant for dinner and damn was it good. Marin, Kate and I shared a pizza: half margarita and half pesto. All 5 of us split a pitcher of sangria which was fantastic- they added fresh fruit and some sort of alcohol we couldn’t figure out. From dinner we got coco and chocolate ice cream and then walked around the town looking for a bar to go to for Graces birthday. We ended up not finding anything so called it a night as we had an early morning ahead of us.

Sunday March 11:
Today we had a very early start as we had an early ferry at 7:30 am from Santa Cruz to Isabela. FYI for those who are interested in the Galapagos here is what to expect when island hopping: .50 cents ferry to boat at Santa Cruz, then 25-30 for the ferry to Isabella and then $1 for ferry to Isabela island. You can definitely find $25 so I‚Äôd suggest asking around and not saying yes to $30. After 2 hours of boating to the island, we arrived and saw manatee, iguana, and sea lions right away.  They were just hanging out in the water, playing with each other, sun bathing, and the iguana was swimming (who knew iguanas swam…) Normally people pay $10 to enter the island but Marin and I were taking pictures and I guess walked past registration table and ended up not having to pay the $10 entrance fee.
We took a taxi from the dock to city center as it‚Äôs a bit of a drive and we had our stuff, checked in at the hotel then had lunch by the water on the Main Street of the city. Let me say, this island is not what we expected. Santa Cruz was very developed and filled with shops and restaurants and bars, tour companies, and people. It was very touristy looking for a beach town. Isabela on the other hand is very small and quaint. There is one Main Street with pretty much everything on it; restaurants, tour companies, hostels/hotels, and a few shops. The rest is very quiet. Our hostel is about a 5 min walk from the Main Street and there is not much around us aside from residential areas. It‚ is kinda nice staying here, we can have full days and not feel like we have to go out all night. There are a lot of things you can do on this island as well. Definitely the environmental island whereas Santa Cruz Island is the tourist one.
Lunch was good, I split with Marin. Then we checked for tours we could do in coming days before going to the beach to swim and relax and find shade before our tour. At 2 we went to our tour where we went kayaking around some lava rocks. We saw huge turtles that were about the size of our bodies. We had a lot of fun! After getting back we swam a bit more than Marin and I walked to see the flamingos in the lagoon before heading back to the beach for sunset. Holy cow- the sunset was stunning. So many colors in the sky and with the beach, it was magical. We sat and soaked up the sunset then went to dinner on the main street- finally got some good mash potatoes, so exciting!!
Monday March 12:
Today we woke up early at 6:30 for the wall of tears. We got bread nearby at panaderia for $1 which is more than quito but not terrible like a lot of the other prices for food here. During the walk over to the trail we saw flamingos in a lagoon walking around and eating. The hike was gorgeous with a variety of plans and shrubs, lots of bird species, then we hit the tortuga walk and saw a lot of tortoises along the path and in the bush next to the path. Some were eating, some were sleeping, some were walking, and a couple got scared and went in their shell as we passed. It was a long walk 7 miles in total. The deeper in we got, the further from access to water and wind we got. It started to get super hot as we walked and we were running low on water. We finally reached the end after a little over an hour then spent some time going to the look out. I got overly heated and ended up sitting there enjoying the view and breeze. I had drank a good portion of my water by that point and was worried about running out or fainting. After cooling off for a bit, we started to make the hike back. It was 10 and super hot already. The powerful sun mixed with the humidity was intense. We were all sweating excessively and dying from the uncomfortable temperatures. I think the motivation of knowing we were walking towards more water and cool temperatures made us walk faster because we ended up doing round trip in 3 hours. We went straight to the first store and bought the biggest cold bottles we could- only $2 for a big water. We sat outside the store and let our bodies cool down as we drank the water.

We quickly stopped by the tour shop to pay for the tuneles tour we were doing the following day and then went across the street to eat lunch. We ate at a shop on the corner and I had a really good burger with an egg, lettuce, tomato, and cheese on it. After lunch we headed back to the hostel to cool off and take a nap after the long and tiring morning. Definitely a fun day but very tiring and hot.

Loved the hike, it was very pretty and silent. It wasn’t an intense hike either, it was flat for the most part. The wall of tears was very interesting to see up close and learn about and the views from above were gorgeous. Highly recommend leaving before 7( ideally 6) for the hike or taking a bike at 7 if you want an extra hour of sleep. I definitely wouldn’t suggest leaving anytime after 8 as it gets super hot very quickly and getting stuck out there in the heat would be miserable.

After napping for an hour we headed to Concha Perla which is a really cool area for snorkeling. We went around 3 and it was very crowded- I’d recommend going early in the morning when there aren’t as many people. We did see a variety of fish and a starfish but nothing big. We walked to the beach next to the pier and observed the sea lions sleeping – they are entertaining; they sleep on the benches or under them. We watched as one by one they started making their way back to the water. This was the perfect opportunity to swim with sea lions so we put our snorkels back on and jumped in with them. It was really cool seeing them swim! One even jumped on a boat while we were there (still don’t understand how they get that high).

After about 30 minutes with the sea lions we started walking back to town. Marin and I went to the beach and enjoyed the fresh air and view sitting on a wooden platform. It was very relaxing. At 6 we returned our gear and went back to the beach for the sunset at 6:30 then went to dinner at shawarma where we split a chicken burger, falafel burger, pumpkin soup and a chocolate milkshake. It was delicious! By the time we finished it was around 8 so we headed back to the hostel to shower and relax before bed.

March 13:
This morning we woke up for sunrise at 5;45 only to be disappointed by clouds covering the majority of it. After, I slept in a bit more until 8:15 then got up and read some of my book in the hammocks at our hostel. It was cool and breezy as I swayed and read. After about an hour and a half I went back upstairs and got ready for our tour.
We got picked up around 11 and headed to the pier where we hopped on our boat for the afternoon. A family (uncle, aunt, Dad, and two kids) was accompanying us on the tour. We started with a 45 min boat ride where we stopped for lunch near the first set of lava tunnels. When I think of tunnels I think of caves almost or dark tubes. We ended up in lava tunnels which were lava that were more like bridges. Not what I expected at all but so cool! We boated through a bit of them and then got out and walked on top finding blue footed boobies, turtles, and iguana. It was really cool! The sun was pounding down at this point and my back (though covered) was burning up). We walked on the lava bridges for about 30-40 minutes before getting back on the boat to head to the snorkeling site.

We jumped in the water and the first thing we see is two seahorses. One was scaly and turquoise, the other black with bold eyes. We then swam a bit deeper into the maze of lava tunnels and came across huge sea turtles. They are such peaceful and suave creatures. Very therapeutic to watch. We swam down next to them and watched them eat then swam on top of them trying to be just as graceful as they were. I could have done that for hours- it was so fun and incredible to be so close to them. They were huge, most were bigger than us. After the turtles we saw shark under some of the tunnels in the shade. Their gills were so bold and I felt like I was living in a book. We also had a sea lion swim right up next to us! So cool to be swimming with all these species. Throughout the time we saw fish, parrot fish, octopus, shark, sea turtles, eel, sea lion, and lots of crabs and iguana. At the end we spent 15-30 min following turtles around- there were three huge one together following one another in a row. It was really cool to see them interact.

Highly recommend the tour, way better than kayaking. After the tour we changed quickly and headed to the Main Street, organized the ferry for the next day and watched the sunset on the beach! The colors are insane- such strong shades of pinks, blues, oranges and purples. It was magical with the volcanos, water, palm trees, beach and sunset. Picture perfect moment for sure.

We had shrimp spaghetti for dinner then headed back to the hostels- Kate and I switched since Marin and I had to wake up early for our boat.

March 14;

We almost missed our ferry. Marin’s phone is still set on quito time and went off at 5:45 instead of 4:45. We ended up throwing clothes on quickly, stuffing all of our stuff in our bags, and went running down the street hoping we could catch our ferry. Just as we were giving up hope, a wonderful man driving a taxi truck drove past flashing his lights- our isla isabela superman. We jumped in his car and he took off to the pier. We didn’t see anyone at the bag check and started to freak out. We hopped out of his car and ran towards the pier where we found the guy who sold us our tickets. He had been waiting for us- how lucky! We waited in line a bit for a water taxi to take us to the ferry and then made our way to the ferry. We got offered the top seats again and what a view it was. Perfect amount of breeze and a great view overlooking the ocean. The ride only took about 1.5 and by 8:30 we were on Santa Cruz.
We booked tickets for San cristobal the next day then checked into our hostel. They had our room ready so we promptly changed and were back out on the streets ready to explore. We rented snorkeling gear and went to las grietas (take a water taxi across the bay- it’s .80 per direction). From the dock it’s about a 15 min walk to the snorkeling itself. It’s a nice walk through the cacti desert of Santa Cruz. We went snorkeling and could see all the way down- it was so clear! We could see a decent amount of fish but my favorite part was seeing the volcanic walls on both sides of us. We climbed up a bit and went cliff jumping, swam a bit more than headed back to Santa Cruz. By that time, it was only 11 and we decided to see what tours were available. The tour didn’t start for a few hours so we went to the Darwin station first to learn about the turtle research being conducted and then walked along the path to look for souvenirs for Marin’s family. We split a $5 lunch then headed to our tour.

We found a tour of the bay for $30 for 3 hours with snorkeling. The first place we snorkeled we found a ton of turtles, a sea lion, and a lot of different types of fish. We only were there for 20ish minutes. Then the rest of the group went to Las Grietas and the captain took Marin and I into an area with sharks and we got a private snorkel experience where we found 5 white tipped sharks and swam above them for 15 minutes watching their movements. At times they would swim away and the water wasn’t fully clear so in the back of my head I’m thinking- shit we are about to come face to face with a shark)- but that wasn’t the case. We had snacks on the boat while we made our way to the next stop as a group where we were supposed to see lots of sea lion and shark but in the end just saw fish and had to quickly go back to the boat (the guide saw something that was dangerous, we still aren’t sure what happened). Overall the best part of the trip was the individual shark part (which normally isn’t part of the tour). If you are bored and have time definitely do it if you like to snorkel but otherwise pass- its nothing special.


Two British from our tour invited us out for drinks later so we went back to the hostel, changed, relaxed a bit, then headed out for dinner. We got tacos and then split a huge Oreo sundae before meeting up with the British at a bar. We got drinks, talked for a bit then started playing cards. We were all very competitive people and boy did things heat up. We played BS both American and British version, monkey, and a few other card games. During one of the games, Marin lost and threw her cards on the table then swatted her arm and ended up swiping a glass off the table. It broke on the ground between two other tables and we all burst into laughter but then looked at each other wondering if we would be kicked out. The guy came over, cleaned it up, and didn’t say anything. I guess our loud entertaining behavior was intriguing to a lot so they let us stay- the owner even grabbed a table above us to watch what we were doing- our card games were super intense. We ended up leaving around 12:15 and were not so happy the next morning when we had an early ferry.

March 15:

We left at 7am for San Cristobol, both of us were exhausted and when we arrived Marin wasn’t feeling too well. We ended up sleeping in the hostel until 1/2ish then headed out to find a scuba tour for the next day and a bit to eat. After asking numerous shops, we found one for $145, Alpha Scuba, and ended up booking with them. We also booked a $5 night tour for two hours that took us to a bay to see luminescent plankton. We ate soup and then went back to the hostel to relax a bit before the rest of the crew showed up. We all read and relaxed then went out around 5 to book their tours and find dinner. They were able to book the same tour as us but for snorkeling and do the same night tour. We quickly ate at a burger place where Kate and I split two different burgers- one with avocado and one with BBQ sauce, and then split an Oreo milkshake with George. It was one hell of a meal- I was so full after. We made it just in time for the night tour (which we think is not an official tour) and jumped in a taxi to get to the trail. We walked for about 15 min before we made it to the bay. We all stripped down to our swim suits, put on our snorkels/goggles and fins then jumped into the water. It was a bit scary at first not being able to see much but we had flashlights which made it a bit easier. After a few minutes it felt more comfortable and we were swimming farther out into the water. We saw a turtle and a sea lion both of which we swam right next to. We turned off all our lights a few times and you could see all the plankton lighting up. It was really cool. We swam for about an hour than walked back through the trail and taxied back to the shop. We had an early morning the next days so once we got back we headed to our hostel to relax and sleep.


March 16:

Woke up at 7, changed and grabbed bananas for our granola on the way to the dive shop. We got fitted and bagged up all our equipment then headed to the pier. Kevin, a Texan scuba instructor who was on our tour, was the only other one coming with us to dive. So 3 divers and the rest snorkelers. We jumped on the boat, did a quick run through of the basics then relaxed for the 30 min ride to Kicker Rock. What a sight it was- looked like the pics but seeing it in person was a whole other world. We suited up and then rolled into the water. Of course right away my jacket breaks.. so my tank is floating above me (not the most comfortable thing in the world) and my goggles were too tight.. but that did not ruin the experience. For the next 50 min we were surrounded by fish, shark, variety of rays, turtle, sea lion, and tons of coral, star fish, and other life that lives on coral. So many colors and so many cool things to see below. We swam through big schools of fish, next to families of shark, and admired the colors of coral splattered against the wall of Kicker Rock. After 50 min we surfaced, reloaded onto the boat and relaxed. We picked up the snorkelers, enjoyed a snack, then 30 min later were back in the water.


For round two, the dive master found me a different jacket which was too big but better than a broken one. We jumped back in and this time dove between a crack and saw a ton more sharks than the first time. It was so cool being right next to shark and rays. As time went on, none of us were really paying attention, then our master asked us for our numbers, I was down to 500. (this is normally a signal you need to start going up).. well we weren’t starting to surface and at 200 I realized I was low. I notified our master and he finally started to surface but we were so deep he kept me close to him and Marin in case I ran out and needed to jump on one of their tanks.. we surfaced just as I hit 0- I was a lucky one. Overall the day was amazing- I forgot how much I missed scuba diving. Definitely want to go more often (a bit hard when you are land locked but I’ll make it happen).

We had rice, tuna, and a salad for lunch then went to a beach and snorkeled around that area- we ended up swimming with a sea lion again, about a foot or two away which was awesome. Saw a few more fish, jumped off the boat, attempted a flip and definitely landed on my back, and just enjoyed the moment and water. At 2:30 we started heading back to the shore- so sad to think our last day of activities was done. We went to the hostel and relaxed/napped until 5:30 then met up with Kevin and his friend Drew for dinner. Marin and I stayed together and the other three went to find some other type of food. We had sushi and then went to a karaoke bar with Kevin and Drew. We had such a blast- drinking, singing and having a ball. We didn’t leave until 3:30.. then walked home.

March 17:

Of course Marin and I didn’t know we had to be out by 9 so at 8am were woken up by alarms and were sooooo tired. We managed to pack and get ready and at 10 we headed to the airport. It was such an amazing trip. Highly recommend the Galapagos to any water lovers.

A week in a food forest


Only two days of classes, one of which I was sick at home (my host mom thinks I drank bad juice), and we were back on a bus on another adventure. The 3-4 hour journey ended up taking us 5.5 hours, but we finally made it around 12:30-1. Day one was orientation, we learned the rules and then had lunch then did a tour of the property. The humidity was extremely hard to deal with, I am already so hot, so having humidity on top of that was difficult. After the tour we learned how to make homemade fertilizer- you put compost, Ash, leaves, water, a few different powders, cow dung, and a few other things in a container and mix it up, then cap it and put a bottle in the top and wait a few days until it starts to bubble, then you know it’s done. I had always seen fertilizer completed, but it was a great experience to assist in the process of making it. After, we had dinner and socialized with the two german interns and the family for a bit before we called it a night.

Day 2 Arturo taught us about the local biodiversity and where we were- in a rainforest. We did a nice hike through primary and secondary forest and learned about a lot of different plants and species along the way. After the hike we had lunch of a quinoa dish. After lunch I went with Nicholas (a german intern) and we used the machetes to cut down bananas from trees. It was really fun and educational- takes a lot more work than you’d think and you have to chop the whole tree down once you’ve taken the bananas which is interesting. After we collected the bananas, we made our way to a chocolate plantation and learned about the process of making it into the end product. From tree to package. We had a bit of free time to relax in the hammocks before dinner.

Day 3 we did restoration in the forest, we planted a ton of plants and learned how to plant in a forested and sloped area. You start with using the machetes and chopping up all the sticks and the ground area to clear the area. Then you shovel the area, sometimes more than needed to even out the ground enough to prevent the plant from sliding if there is excessive mud. Once it’s evened out and the hole is big enough for the plant, you put fertilizer in the hole(they use organic fertilizer from composting done on site), then put a bit of dirt above it then the plant. You plant the plant, put dirt around it, put a stick in the ground to mark where it is and tie the bag that was holding the plant around the stick to have a easy identifier. It’s a big process but very rewarding work. Years from now if/when we return we will see a forest where we planted little plants- we will have contributed to something bigger than ourselves. After 3 hard working hours we got called into lunch (which was much needed- we were exhausted and hungry). We went in the trucks to their friends farm down the street after lunch. We learned about so manny different types of fruits- we did a tour of their finca (farm) and are the variety of fruits along the way- definitely like doing a candy tour, one scrumptious fruit to another. It was a great tour, we tried a lot of new fruits and got to learn about their trees as well. We spoke with the couple for a while, they are an older couple originally from the states who went to Colombia for the PeaceCorps and met there. They ended up living there for a while and then moved to Ecuador where they raised their kids. They both knew a lot about plants and fruits. The wife made some amazing super healthy cookies that were to die for and she gave us cookies and lemonade. It was a great day! After, we returned home, relaxed a bit on the hammocks again, then went into town to eat dinner. Definitely had some bad water or ate something that didn’t work with my body because my stomach felt terrible all afternoon/evening. I ended up going to bed early to try and sleep it off.

Day 4: we woke up and had breakfast- granola, yogurt, and fruit like always (to die for and fresh), plus an egg with veggie dish and a local bread dish (not sure the name). After breakfast, we learned about the water systems and the way water works and then got to do a hands on project with Miguel- we helped put clay on the walls of his reservoir (clay doesn’t absorb water like dirt does so putting clay is like putting a seal on the reservoir which keeps water in and prevents it from becoming groundwater. We shoveled clay from a nearby area, used a wheel barrel to move it, and then put it on the walls of the reservoir and evened/flattened it out. We spent about 1.5 doing the work then Miguel’s wife gave us lemonade and popcorn to snack on after. We walked back, had lunch (black beans, beet salad, and yucca), relaxed for a bit then changed into suits for our tubing day! We got to go tubing down the big river for 40 min! They had sets of 4 tubes together and we floated down the river, hitting rapids, rocks, branches, and having a blast. It was such a fun time and we had a great view the whole way down! After, we sat in the back of the truck and dried off on the drive back. We had a bit of time to relax, had dinner, then hung out for a bit before heading to bed.

Baños weekend

Who knew an hour uber would only be $15… we never expected to have to take an hour uber to the bus station Friday afternoon but it happened.. then another 3 hour bus ride and we made it to banos around 11 at night. It was a smooth ride but with very weird movies. When we got there we had no idea where to go and ended up getting scammed by a taxi driver who charged us $1.50 for a drive around two blocks. It was a short walk from the station in the end… but oh well! We made it to our hostel, checked in and went to sleep.

Saturday we woke up early and went to a fantastic cafe for breakfast. I got pancakes and a latte- it was fantastic! Very cute little cafe in banos! We went back to the hostel and got suited up (literally) for rafting. We were the last ones on the bus (or so we thought). We left the shop but 2 min later came back to pick up two more people (one just happened to be John). We had an incredible drive about 30 min along the river before pulling off to unload. We did an overview of rafting and then jumped right in! The minute we were all in the raft and starting to paddle I had a flash back to Zimbabwe. I did not realize how scarred I was from that experience of falling in three times (and having near death experiences)… I was super worried when we first started- there was no way I wanted to go in… but of course the first little thing we hit we ended up flipped over- barely hit a wave to flip which scares me even more- were we going to be going in every time? I was not down- the water was super shallow and I did not want to hit a rock.

We got back into the raft and tried again- this second time we were more coordinated and together, actually survived the rapid. One by one my fear started to go away! We surfed on a wave for a bit and it was crazy, Marin did a bull on the front (and unfortunately because of her slick shorts she wasn’t able to stay up most the time). After about 2/3 or 3/4 of the time, we pulled off to go swimming and jump off a bridge- it was super fun and a nice break from rafting! Of course- when I finally got rid of my fear, we only had one rapid left.. but hey better late than never! We had a fantastic time in the water and hit some great rapids throughout the morning!

We went to lunch on the way home (part of the rafting trip) and got to know a few of our fellow rafters (one guy from Virginia, few people from Chile) but didn’t eat enough so I got a cinnamon roll when we got back to town. From there we went back and changed at the hostel then walked around town before taking the bus to the tree house or casa de árbol. I sat next to the german who was on the rafting tour with us, he was really nice! The ride up was gorgeous and we were lucky to make it up before it got too cloudy. We stood in a long line for the swing and when it was our turn we got to swing over the world. The pictures pretty much show how epic it is! You are literally on a swing over the world! It’s crazy and feels super freeing. The trip was very short though, they only let you swing 5-8 times before they let the next person go but still worth it! We took a lap around the park, got some great pictures of the view, then made our way back to town to eat. We were starving- ended up going straight to dinner. Marin and I split a pineapple and ham pizza and pesto pasta! It was delicious and hit the spot- but we ate wauyyyy too much! We decided to go back to the hostel to change before going to karaoke but ended up not having energy to get out of bed. We went to bed early.

Sunday we woke up early, got coffee/juice and bread and hopped on a bus to go to the big waterfall. It was about 40 min by bus and a 15 min hike down to the waterfall. You could walk under the waterfall but got soaked if you did. To get under, you needed to crawl through a small cave. It was a really cool place, the view was incredible, and the weather was perfect! We spent about an hour there then hopped on another bus back to banos! We got food at a restaurant and juice and caught the soonest bus back to quito. It was a great, quick trip!

A hike through the Amazon

Waking up at 4:30 in the morning is not my favorite thing in the world but for a day full of fun in the Amazon it was worth it! We spent the morning drinking guayusa tea with the local women and then had breakfast.

After breakfast we got ready for a hike to a waterfall and lagoon. We started through the secondary forest which is where people are able to live off the land and have chocle (farms). Then made our way into the primary forest which is uninhabited by humans. It was gorgeous! There is such a variety of species from plants to insects to birds to animals. From a drive by it’s a bunch of green, but when walking through it you get a whole new view of the green. We stopped at a tree called dragon blood that when cut starts to “bleed”. The red sap literally looked like blood dripping down. We put it on our gums, supposedly it’s good for preventing cavities.

Our guide was super informative- he pointed out a lot of different types of plants to us. He found leaves that had ants on them that taste like limes which of course we tried. I felt like I was in jungle book eating ants off leaves. We heard a lot of incredible birds on the walk and saw a lot of butterflies. The whole time a grin was plastered across my face. It was so exciting to be in such an incredible place filled with biodiversity- a once in a lifetime experience! There were a few little creeks we passed and a variety of different types of wildlife. We are these red root sort of plants that are used to give energy, you peal the skin off and chew the rest then spit it out when there isn’t any more flavor. We hiked for about 2.5 hours before we started making our way down to the waterfall. The way down was an adventure all in itself.

It was muddy (though I guess it’s dry season so I can’t imagine how bad it is in rain season), and we were slipping and sliding down the hill. It was my first time that I’ve worn rain boots to go hiking and they were helpful with mud but are more slippery in general so i had mixed feelings about them. So happy there were so many trees on the edges of our path because I definitely had to catch myself from falling by grabbing onto nearby branches and trunks. There were parts of the trail where you couldn’t see the actual ground and it was a worry because you didn’t know if it was solid ground or a hill/hole, it was a process of feeling before you fully stepped to prevent yourself from falling down the side of the mountain. Definitely a fun time. We made it to the waterfall after some time and stripped down to our suits quickly to go swimming. The water was the perfect temperature- really cold and refreshing! It was gorgeous- peaceful and surrounded by nature. We only got 15 min before our guide told us it was time to go… back up that lovely, slippery mountain.

Going back up was a lot easier. When walking back up Gabby was walking and her hand hit a black and yellow spider with a spike on it and freaked out. Long went to check it out to see what happened and all of a sudden he says “run”. Gabby and I freak out (it’s not like Long to yell and for him to say run made us worry it was something bad) so we startled hauling it up the hill. Then a few seconds later he tells us it’s actually okay.. so definitely got the adrenaline going again.

We went swimming at the lagoon and had lunch there which was very relaxing. Then after lunch we started hiking back. On the way back, our guide all of a sudden turns towards us and yells “corre”. Rowan is in front of me and first in line and starts running towards me, I turn towards gabby and all four of us are running back. All three of us are thinking there’s a huge snake (our guide had said 3-6 meters was small, so who knows what big is) and then our guide tells us he hit a hive. He then points to a hive hanging off a tree. There are ants that drop acid down which burns your hair out and he hadn’t seen the hive and they had started dropping down. We searched Rowan but he was fine (close call though, he was super close to it). We ended up taking a different direction around the hive then made our way back to the bus to head back to quito.

I had a few slips/falls in the mud throughout the trip, one was super funny- ended up slipping down into a creek and landed on Rowan’s feet(he saved me from a muddy butt). Another time I was talking to Rowan and didn’t notice a thick branch sticking out and ended up running my bad knee into it. My favorite fall was when I was going downhill and slid down half way catching myself on a branch somehow and miraculously preventing a full on muddy fall. It was a good time! 7 hours, over 130 flights climbed and over 7 miles in total! It was a fantastic day filled with views, fresh water, trying plants and great conversation.

The dirty reality

It’s hard to really understand an issue solely from reading about it. Pictures and videos add reality to it which helps make the issue more comprehensible but what really makes an impact is seeing something first hand.

Since I started college I’ve been an active member or aly with divestment and anti-fracking/oil/gas campaigns. I study sustainability and have learned in numerous courses about the impacts of the petroleum industry. I had seen numerous movies and photos showing the evidence of the destructive industry, and all of this angered me. The monetary value these companies prioritized over the lives of thousands was horrendous.

Now after 2.5 years of learning about the industry and the environmental damage I had an opportunity to go to a spill site in the Amazon of Ecuador. Not going to lie, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t heard much about this so had no idea what to expect.. what we saw was worse than I expected.

Don, whose a huge activist, told us about the law suit that took place with this spill. Texeco (chevron) was in a law suit against the locals (their animals were dying because of the damage, Health issues came, environment damaged, water contaminated). The lawsuit went to New York and this was the first time a loca group won against a big company. The company was supposed to give millions of dollars to the remediation of the spill, but have yet to follow through. They signed an agreement with the government of Ecuador to remove their name as the guilty. They didn’t want to be held accountable or responsible for their own mess..

This spill is huge, there are hundreds of huge pools of oil in the ground. When we got out of the bus, we were in the middle of the Amazon, surrounded by wildlife. As we started walking into the trees, we started to see yellow “peligroso” tape on trees. I was a bit confused what was peligroso, but then Don went into the middle of the area marked dangerous and it all became apparent. The ground beneath him was moving as if he was on a water bed.. he then explained he was in a “piscina” or pool,.. a pool of oil and water. He had a long stick which he stuck into the ground, and it kept going and going.. when he pulled it out, it was covered in sticky petroleum.. we put gloves on and had rubber boots. We went into the pool and saw all the plants covered in oil… a whole area was filled with oil and this was only one of hundreds.. this company took no responsibility for this disaster. We saw another pool and I couldn’t stop thinking about the impact this huge spill had on the biodiversity and population of locals. As it turns out, a lot of species have disappeared from this region, the water is contaminated and not potable, a lot of species have decreased in population of have had health impacts, and the human population is suffering from lack of clean water, clean food, and the biggest problem – health issues. There are increases in miscarriages, asthma, and rates of cancer. The region has 2-10x more cases of a variety of cancers than the rest of the country. This extreme increase in cases should be proof enough to show correlation and causation but the company is still not being held accountable for these health issues.

From there we went to the place where they burn some of the oil and saw the ground filled with fried insects who were victims of the intense heat and impacts of the industry.

This whole experience was jaw dropping.. this reality was unknown to so many, hidden away in the Amazon, a place that so many people love. When you see something so terrible, the normal response is “I want to help”. So we asked what we could do. Awareness and education were the two things our guide said would be helpful. There is a power to the people, and hopefully with enough people we can build a strong enough voice that governments will value more than money.

Unfortunately, our society runs on the petroleum industry. Everything we own has some tie to petroleum and until we can start committing and achieving transitions to renewable energy, this problem is just going to get worse. The transition is only the first step as we need to work on alternatives for all components in our lives.

For now, change starts with moving from a passive to active ally. It starts with educating others and raising awareness on the issue. Change won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen in a day, but if we slowly move to a group of active allies we will be able to build a strong coalition to tackle the industry and move towards a cleaner and healthier future so that, hopefully, we put an end to the destruction of our environments and negative impacts to local community members.