Arts & Crafts (& Sheep)

A friend of mine runs a pretty cool local-based travel company here in Colombia, and about a month ago I got to hitch a ride with one of his trips. Our group spent a few days in the Altiplano — learning how to make pottery in Ráquira, shearing sheep on a farm outside of Villa de Leyva, wearing silly hats, and even finding time in between to play a little tejo and eat a bunch of empanadas. And then I wrote about it for their blog. A bit of a different perspective, or at least a different blog background, to change things up a little.

Top Five Travel Clothes

Unless (maybe even if) you’re a ridiculously intense back-to-basics backpacker, there are special things that go with you when you travel. It could be a simple charm, a lucky water bottle, even a special pair of socks. Whatever it is, you can be sure never to board a plane without it.

Clothes and/or accessories are a special point of interest when traveling, mostly because of the space issue. We have a limited amount of real estate in which to stuff everything we need for a given amount of time, so we have to be as efficient as possible about maximizing the potential use of everything we bring. I’m notoriously not a heels girl to begin with, and they almost never make an appearance in any of my pieces of luggage, because I recognize that the odds I’ll wear them more than once on any given trip is just south of zero. At this point, I’ve done enough gallivanting around the world for various lengths of time that I have a pretty strong sense of which things I’ll need (jeans, sneakers, scarves) and which things I’ll almost immediately regret bringing along (more than one swimsuit, necklaces, sweaters).

Still, I have a few things that have made it through years and countless TSA searches with me — things that I refuse to throw away or leave behind, regardless of how many holes they spring. We’ve been through so much together, it would be like a breakup to get rid of them at this point. I’m sure that even when they’ve deteriorated to the point that wearing them would cause my friends to be embarrassed to be seen in public with me, I’ll find a nice cozy box or corner of my closet in which to stash them, so I can keep them for the memories, even after they’ve long outlived their initial use.

The top five things that almost never leave my side (or my suitcase), barring serious climate-related factors:

1. This disgusting ratty grey jacket. I bought this jacket for $10 at the Urban Outfitters basement in Harvard Square, back when it was cheap and actually worth a visit, sometime around my sophomore or junior year of high school. Yes, high school. I’ve had this jacket for going on eight years now, and it shows: there is about a 1:1 ratio of holes to fabric at this point. I still wear it almost every day. This jacket has lived with me through the dramatic end of high school, survived all of my college escapades, protected me through six months in Buenos Aires, visited many of the cities on the Eastern Seaboard, climbed a volcano in Ecuador and is still going strong here with me in Colombia. I’ve known this jacket longer than I’ve known some of my friends, and I refuse to get rid of it because I love it more than almost any other article of clothing I own. Plus it makes me look really poor, so nobody wants to rob me, which is always an advantage when strolling around major cities with an upsettingly expensive camera stashed in my bag.

sorry, mom and dad. but I was 21!

The jacket, keeping college me warm whilst downing a beer on an unseasonably chilly Wrigley Field rooftop. Chicago, May 2010.

2. This soft, reversible printed scarf. I’ll admit to being a bit of a scarf magpie. Scarves, along with earrings, are one of my great travel weaknesses — they’re so pretty, so light, so cheap, so easy to pack, and always useful when living in temperate climates (aka my entire life). I stumbled across this lovely creation in a market in Tel Aviv/Jaffa — not exactly ideal scarf weather there, but I was headed back to chilly Boston just a few days later, and I couldn’t imagine a comfier way to arrive than snuggled up in this soft piece of fabric. As the best scarves do, it unrolls to practically the size of a blanket, or at least a very functional shawl, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve curled up in it to get through a flight, road trip or class in a particularly cold lecture hall. Since accompanying me back from Israel, my scarf has visited four separate continents, making appearances in France, Argentina, New Zealand, Canada, Ecuador, most of the northeast U.S. (plus Chicago), and is in fairly heavy rotation here in scarf-friendly Bogotá. In a robbery, I’d probably fight harder to protect this scarf than my wallet. Wallets can be replaced — four continents of memories can’t.

man, my forehead looks huge now

My scarf (and the rest of me, pre-bangs) reveling in the view from the deck of the Eiffel Tower. France, January 2009.

3. This pair of grey H&M Sqin skinny jeans. Wayyyyy back at the beginning of college, when skinny jeans were still a trend as opposed to a reality of daily life, I was pretty anti-skinnies. I’m not exactly model-thin, and the idea of wearing something that highlighted that aspect of my figure wasn’t my favorite idea. Still, I was wearing a lot of boots and long sweaters through the Chicago falls and winters, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to buy one pair of pants that I didn’t have to violently stuff into my boots. Hence a pilgrimage to H&M, that great source of cheap, trendy and occasionally baffling articles of clothing, and a spontaneous decision to invest in a pair of comfy light grey skinny jeans — just to have something in another color, I told myself at the time.

this brings back some really uncomfortable memories

Getting the patdown from correctional officers in an old prison in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. I’m not even safe from the long arm of the law at the end of the world. Argentina, May 2009.

By now, these pants have survived two transatlantic trips (France and Israel), made it through several different corners of Argentina, stuck it out through one Boston and three Chicago winters (and a spot of Canada snow in May) and, though they’re a bit faded by now, they still cover all the necessary parts of me. They’re sturdy, comfortable, go with everything and I don’t give a damn about getting them dirty because I paid about $30 for them almost five years ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten more than my money’s worth out of them.

4. This basic black Target peacoat. Oh, Target. Questionable business ethics and political affiliations, dependably cheap wares. What ever are we to do with you?

One thing we can do is wear out your merchandise until it is at the point of disintegration — which is exactly what I’ve done with this coat. I acquired it sometime around the first year of college, undoubtedly while on a quest for something completely different, because that’s how Target runs work. Since then, it’s been my near-constant companion when I just don’t feel like rocking my normal green peacoat, or when going out — the rationale being that it’s far too average and unappealing for anyone to steal. It’s not like this is a North Face, people.

Despite its simple appearance, it’s still a warm coat that matches with everything and is small enough to travel fairly light, to such far-ranging places as Argentina, New Zealand, Israel, Colombia and a fair percentage of the bars in Chicago and Boston. Almost six years later, we’re still together — a bit frayed at the edges, for sure, but it’s nothing a little needle and thread can’t repair.

it survived the helicopter ride up here, too

Atop a mountain in Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. Not bad for a cheap Target peacoat! Te Anau, April 2011.

ugh, I promise to never make this face ever again

Probably the most obnoxious photo of me on this site. Just keeping my ego in check. Israel, December 2009, practicing my best Candy Vanna White pose.

5. This totally awesome, magic, beat-up red leather bag. For the mere price of $2, I rescued this bag from its sad fate languishing in the basement floor of a Cambridge, MA thrift store almost seven years ago, and we’ve been near-inseparable ever since. I get more compliments and people inquiring about the provenance of this unlabeled, fraying leather bag than any other bag I own, and with good reason: It’s got character. And you can’t buy that, ladies and gentlemen.

Plus, it sure has a lot of stories/secrets to tell. This bag has accompanied me through nearly all of my travels in the continental U.S., and has made appearances in Canada, Israel, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Canada and all across Colombia. It has been known to hold water bottles (filled with both water and other substances), shirts, shoes, umbrellas, cameras, makeup, DVDs, four different phones, gloves and/or other winter accessories, snacks, jewelry, baseball hats, Ziploc bags of cereal, iPods, notebooks, regular books, concert tickets, at least 100 different pens, various forms of currency, chopsticks, nail polish, lollipops, sunglasses and, on at least one occasion, a flashlight. My goal is to fit either an entire outfit or a small animal in it sometime before the end of our functional time together.

It’s funny to look at this list and realize that the things that last the longest, and that become the most significant to us, are rarely the things on which we spend the most money. None of these items cost more than $35 — most were less than $20. And yet here we are — five, six, eight years later — still together. I have a stronger emotional investment in most of these items than any of the (few) fancy shoes or dresses in my closet, and that’s not a coincidence. The things we love, like the people we care about most, are the ones that share experiences with us, and remain with us through the endless security lines, the bad restaurants, and the moments around the globe that change our lives. These are the things we remember.

These are mine. What are yours?

The 10 Weirdest Search Terms That Have Led People to My Blog

One of the great joys of having a blog is looking at the search terms that lead people to said blog. This is partly just because of that nosy desire we all have to see the weird crap that other people Google when they think nobody is looking, but it’s also pretty hilarious to see what searches Google thinks are relevant to my life and/or dubious expertise. Many of them make some sort of sense — people are looking for information about Colombia, or travel, or peanut butter, or delicious micheladas. A surprising number of people are highly interested in Jet chocolate (although at least one searcher thinks it tastes bad). These are the normal ones.

But I can promise you, they are not all normal. I don’t want to keep the fun details to myself, so here, for the world’s enjoyment, are the weirdest search terms that have led people to stumble upon my humble blog, in order from strange to extremely strange (and these are just from the last 90 days! We can keep going forever!). Hope none of you lovely folks are reading this right now — but if you are, hey, thanks for stopping by! Hope I can help!

  1. “i’m not one for goodbyes” — this is what I get for writing blog posts that start like a bad emo song. My bad.
  2. “feliz cumpleanos boo” — this sounds like the world’s worst Chris Brown song
  3. “cupcake trends 2012” — new trend: EVERYONE JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN ABOUT THE CUPCAKES. Sex and the City ended like five years ago. Jesus.
  4. “how can i talk about myself” — get a blog!
  5. “ryan gosling eating pizza” — actually, I don’t know why we aren’t ALL googling this, all the time. I’m happy that somehow Google sees fit to connect me to the Baby Goose. First the internet, then real life! That’s how these things work, right?
  6. “things colombian women like” — um, oh gosh, why don’t you try asking A PERSON INSTEAD OF THE INTERNET?
  7. “geography of peanut butter” — THREE PEOPLE searched for this! We should probably be friends. I feel like we’d have a lot in common, even though I don’t really understand the question.
  8. “farewell to a difficult boss who is leaving” — I can only assume this is related to my post about cake.
  9. “peanut butter sandwich of inequality” — is there something they didn’t teach me in history class?
  10. and, my very favorite: “does wearing heels guarantee getting fucked” — I’m not even going to TOUCH this one. Apparently the great Search Engine Gods think I know the answer, though. Methinks I need to go revise my SEO terms. Or consider a career change.

Honorable mention goes to: “can you wear heels everywhere,” “ten personal questions,” the name of one of the other volunteers on my program and “where to buy fresh fruit smoothies fast food cumming ga.” Hope you figured that one out, hungry Georgia resident! And stop stalking the other people on my program, Internet creepers.

We’ll check back in a few months from now to see if you people have managed to get any weirder. Good luck beating #10, though.

Link

For those of you who still don’t believe my account of the bizarre mood swings of Bogotá weather, Vicki over at the excellent Banana Skin Flip Flops has a post that pretty much perfectly sums it up. I may or may not have also refused to buy an umbrella for like a solid month, on the principle that eventually I would win and Bogotá would realize it needed to stop raining so much. Obviously, I lost.

Also, you should probably just check out her blog anyways, if you have any interest in Latin America/cool photos/a healthy bit of sass with your travel stories. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

What Do You Mean, ‘You People’?

A major part of the experience of living in (or even visiting) another country is the opportunity to see how other people live: what they eat, how they travel to work, how they form and maintain friendships, how they feel about PDAs, and so on. This has, overall, a hugely positive effect for the majority of people. It challenges us to step outside our own habits and expectations, encourages us to examine the norms and practices we may take for granted as “normal” and forces us to define our own values and the truths we choose to hold constant, no matter where in the world we may be.

in case you desperately need it while welding a roof?

No, this is totally the best possible place to leave your hat.

It can also be really, really hilarious.

Let me preface this by saying yes, I’m well aware of the idea of cultural relativism, being conscious about not making value judgments about the practices of others, etc. I know. I know. But just because I observe things and try not be too judgmental about them doesn’t mean I can’t find them incredibly amusing. Because let’s be serious, there are some things they do in other countries that are just weird to us Americans. I have no doubt that there are plenty of things Americans do or like that people in other countries find utterly baffling, too (The NFL? Standing outside stores for like 48 hours to buy limited-edition pairs of sneakers? Putting ranch dressing on everything?), but as an American, I’m rather unable to speak to that side of things.

maybe it's just a really short project?

"Under construction"/"End of work." This would be slightly more logical if the signs were not within about ten feet of each other. Which one am I supposed to believe?

However, as an American in Bogotá, I am in an expert position to observe the things that rolos (the term for denizens of Bogotá) seem to love that are totally mystifying to a foreigner, and I think some of them are worth sharing, even just for the humor. So over the next few weeks I’m going to work my way through some kind of list of my Top 10 Things Colombians Rather Inexplicably Love. The last thing I want, though, is for this to seem in any way mean-spirited or critical. Let me state for the record that I love Bogotá, I love Colombia and I love the people I’ve met here so far. This isn’t meant to make fun of anyone, except perhaps myself for being so weirded out by some things, or humanity in general for its habit of following bizarre trends. Still, just to keep things fair and balanced, I’ve decided to follow this list up with another one, of the Top 10 Totally Awesome Things Colombians Love (And Which We Could Do With More Of In the U.S., If We’re Being Honest). So keep an eye out for these as they come!

“Take Your Rosaries Out of My Ovaries!”

Aside

New post up at La Vida Idealist! Some more thoughts on Día de la Mujer and the overall state of women’s rights here in Colombia — definitely better-researched and a little more legit than what I wrote here. Please read it if you have a moment/care about half the world’s population.

Oh hey there, legitimacy

Aside

Greetings, fan club! I’m just dropping in for a second, in between sessions of stuffing my face with pizza and/or Crepes and Waffles, to inform you all that some other people have decided my writing is worthy of their time! For the foreseeable future, in addition to keeping up the steady trickle of updates here, I’m also going to be blogging over at La Vida Idealist. La Vida Idealist was originally created by the lovely people at everyone’s favorite job-hunting site, and has since evolved into a blog for and about all of us crazy people who choose to spend our time doing volunteer and non-profit work in Latin America. In addition to my fabulous contributions, it’s got some really interesting posts on everything from the life of Kiva Fellows to how it feels to be a Peace Corps member being forced to leave Honduras. If any of you are at all interested in heading down to this part of the world anytime soon, it’s a great resource and is definitely worth your time.

But even if you’re determined to stay somewhere they celebrate Presidents’ Day, you should still read it, because you like me! You can check out my incredibly eloquent introductory post here. Hopefully there will be many more to follow!