Friday, December 18, 2009

Trip of a Lifetime

While some of you out there think that Jenna and I are permanently on vacation while living abroad, that is certainly not the case. However, we have had the chance to take some amazing trips since we moved abroad. None of those trips compares to the trip we are about to begin though. In a few hours we are hopping on a plane to begin what has to be defined as the trip of our lifetimes thus far, and very probably for the rest of our lives. Here's an update on where we're headed and why you won't see any new blog posts here for a month and a half!

First we fly to Santiago, Chile where we are going to meet up with old friends Alex and Caitlin for a trip out to Easter Island: famous for it's huge Moai and the disaster of its deforested environment.
Then we head to Valparaiso on the coast of Chile to spend my birthday and Christmas on the beach by the Pacific Ocean. Next we head down to the lakes district in southern Chile to hike and enjoy some mountains. Then it's back to Santiago for New Years and visiting some vineyards to sample some great Chilean wine.

After Chile, we say goodbye to Alex and Caitlin and fly up to Lima, Peru. There we meet Jenna's dad and fly up to Cusco, capital city of the Incas, and meet with teachers Amy, Sara, Jac and her boyfriend Guillermo. Then we hike the Inca Trail for 4 days and arrive at Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day.
After this we head to Puno and Lake Titicaca, then a large canyon, and then back to Lima to leave Peru.

Next we fly up to Quito, Ecuador to reunite with Alex and Caitlin who live there. We're not exactly sure of everything that we're doing in Ecuador, Alex and Caitlin are our trip planners for that section, but we know a few things for sure. We will visit the equator, hike some of the mountains surrounding Quito, check out some great local craft shops, and hopefully visit the headwaters of the Amazon in eastern Ecuador.
All in all it should be a crazy month and an half, cost a lot of money, and leave us exhausted and in need of another vacation. It will also be the trip of a lifetime and we look forward to sharing stories and pictures from it with you when we return. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and well talk to you again in February!

Finding a Little Memento

In the process of packing for our big upcoming trip last night, I found a little memento of last summer that made me laugh out loud. As you can see below, I found a key in one of my bags and the Hodagers among the readership out there will instantly recognize this key as the one that we couldn't find at the end of last year's Hodag.
I guess the Hodag had to make sure I was thinking of Wisconsin and family even though I'm not coming home for Christmas this year. Happy Hodag and Merry Christmas to all of you out there!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's in the Air

I have to admit that I haven't really been feeling the Christmas spirit so far this year.  I'm not sure if it has to do with the heat, the rain, Jesse's general Scrooginess when it comes to me buying a tree, us not returning to the white landscape of Wisconsin for the holiday, or my mile long to-do list.  Whatever the cause may be, I think it was remedied at least a tiny bit this weekend.  We needed to do some shopping, and you could say, Christmas is definitely in the air at the mall!  Huge trees, garlands, wreaths, lights, sales, and people everywhere.  I feel that when the Latin culture attaches itself to something, they do it big! 

While there wasn't the classic American mall trademark of Christmas carols playing (there was actually Taylor Swift in the background when Jess was trying on shoes- it was very, very difficult to find a store that carried his size!!), the decorations are enough to make anyone's spirits feel at least a little bit brighter.  We ended up going to three different malls in the past two days and although I still don't have that Christmasy feeling in my soul, it definitely elevated my mood a bit to know that if I need a dose of Christmas decor, I can head to the mall. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Caacupe Holiday

December 8th is a national holiday in Paraguay to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Caacupe is the Paraguayan virgin, and the holiday is actually called the Virgen de Caacupe.  The amazing part of this holiday is that thousands and thousands of Paraguayans walk, starting on the 7th of December, the 40 or more kilometers (sometimes they walk as from as far as Ciudad del Este, which is a 5 hour car ride) to arrive at the Basilica of the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupe.  The basilica is huge and has a statue of the sacred virgin Caacupe.  Everything is shut down in the entire country for this holiday.  Apparently, there was once a flood through the city of Caacupe, but the basilica and the statue were safe from the flood waters.  That started the holiday and the pilgrimage to the city.  If I didn't have grades due on Friday, I would try to go to Caacupe just to see the spectacle, but that will have to wait until next year.  I've heard this is one of the best cultural experiences in Paraguay.

A Perfect Breakfast Pizza

Today, is the holiday of Caacupe, which will be explained more thoroughly in a later posting.  In celebration of this Paraguayan holiday, we got a day off of school!  So, as Jesse and I often do on the weekends, we made a big breakfast this morning.  In celebration (and to use up a few items in the fridge) I decided to make a breakfast pizza.  This is the first time I have attempted this, and I can't help it, I'm super proud of how beautiful it is and how good it tasted! 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Un Techo Para Mi Pais

This past weekend, the high school and the PTA had set up a volunteer opportunity for the high school students, teachers, and other school families.  The orgranization that they worked with is a South American volunteer organization called Un Techo Para Mi Pais (a roof for my country).  This organization builds 6 x 3 meter houses for the most poverty stricken families in Paraguay.  The organization started in Chile, and has only been in Paraguay for about two years.  The families need to sign up and do a lot of prepatory work (pay some money, volunteer their time as well, and demonstrate strong financial and circumstancial need).

Jesse and I volunteered to help for one day.  And it was a long day.  I really admire those people who worked both days, because it was a very difficult project.  The school volunteers were divided into seven groups, each one building a house.  Where the families lived was in a small community outside of Asuncion, right by a landfill and a small pond.  The water level was very close to the surface, so every time we were digging holes to place in posts, the water rushed in a filled it.  There was also a lot of trash, since the families in this community make their living by sorting out trash, selling what they can, and taking the recyclables to the recycling plant for money.  The living conditions of the families were very, very poor.  Houses are basically any scrap piece of metal or cardboard they can find to put together, electricity is wired in with system that literally electrocuted someone on Sunday, and in an easily flooded region where every time it rains, the houses flood. I don't think anyone living in the U.S. can really even imagine what this was like. 

We worked all day on Saturday, (leaving our house at 6:15am and returning after 9pm) digging holes in the mud to place the posts that will support the floor.  During our lunch time break, the family and two volunteers made us spaghetti and we all ate together.  On Sunday, our neighbor Chaya and some other teachers and students returned and finished the house by placing on the pre-fab floors, walls, and the corrugated tin roof.  Chaya told us that our family was very emotional when they were done, because this house is sturdy compared to their old house, and this will protect them and their belongings from a large amount of the flood waters.  Spending a day surrounded by poverty really makes me grateful for what I have been given and reminds me that I should not take anything I have for granted. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paraguayan Commercial

A Paraguayan soda company called Pulp has been running a series of commercials in English with Spanish subtitles down here where the actors pretend to be famous people from the US speaking to Paraguayans. The first one featured "The Jonas Brothers" (not quite sure if that's legal since it wasn't really the Jonas Brothers in the commercial) but this one is even funnier so give it a look!