30 July 2010

august volunteer project preview: platanitos turtle camp playa las tortugas in nayarit, mexico

Where: The Platanitos Sea Turtle Camp at Playa Las Tortugas is located on the Pacific coast approximately 70 miles north of Puerto Vallarta in the State of Nayarit, Mexico. The Camp is regulated and directed by Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP), part of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources. It lies between the beach and over 1100 acres of pristine salt-water tidal estuary on the north end of 11 miles of beach branded as “Costa Tortuga.”

What: Four protected species of sea turtles nest and lay eggs on Riviera Nayarit beaches: hawksbill turtles, Olive Ridley, leatherback and green turtles. Olive Ridley turtles are indigenous to Nayarit; its nesting season is from June to November. Selva Negra, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the environment, is helping to fund operation the Platanitos Sea Turtle Camp along with the developer and homeowners of Playa Las Tortugas. Selva Negra was founded and is operated by the musical group Mana.

At Playa Las Tortugas, my job is to help preserve the endangered sea turtles that come to nest at Costa Tortuga every year. My primary volunteer duties will be carried out at night (perfectly suited to my insomniac tendencies) when the sea turtles leave the ocean to lay their eggs and include patrolling the beach, collecting turtle eggs, and releasing hatchlings to the sea.

Why: Growing up on the east coast, my family spent summers on Fripp Island, South Carolina and loggerhead turtles would regularly nest in the dunes right out front. Light pollution wasn’t an issue back then, but ghost crabs were, and I recall as a small child, locals helping the hatchlings make their way to the ocean safely at dusk. I was able to relive that experience last December while on assignment in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and it was pretty awesome to play some small part in the (fingers crossed) survival of these beautiful creatures.

28 July 2010

Finalist for WE tv’s WE Do Good Awards Contest, in partnership with Ladies Home Journal

Lima, Peru may be my volunteering home right now for project #2 of The Global Citizen Project, but my shouts of excitement when I learned that I’m one of five finalists in the Travel For Good Award Category of WE tv’s WE Do Good Awards Contest, in partnership with Ladies Home Journal were probably heard around the globe.

From August 1 through August 31, 2010 my nomination will be posted on WE tv’s website and the public can vote on the most deserving Finalist in each of the three Categories.

Here’s what's at stake:

The winner in each category will be notified on or about September 7, 2010. If I am voted the winner, a guest and I will travel to New York City for three days and two nights for the WE Do Good Awards Gala in November 2010. I will also receive a $5,000 Voluntourism Grant from Travelocity’s Travel for Good® Program and will be featured in a future issue of Ladies' Home Journal magazine and on WEVolunteer.TV. To learn more about the prize and review the complete contest rules please visit here. (You can see why I want to win so badly, right?!)

So please, mark your calendars and vote for me between August 1-31st. If you feel so inclined, please pass along the link via your Facebook networks, Twitter, blogs, and whatever other all points bulletin methods you prefer. One million thanks in advance.

If you'd like to hear what my former volunteer coordinator (and dear friend), Tammy Dyson, has to say about my volunteer skills, please click here. Follow the play-by-play of The Global Citizen Project, my 12 volunteer project, 12 country over 12 month volunteer project since its inception here.

Ladies Home Journal circa. 1900 cover photo courtesy of paukrus

media mention: responsible travel tales on worldnomads.com

On my last night in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for the first project of The Global Citizen Project with Building a Future, I found myself at a going away party for a Spanish fellow who’d been working for a local NGO. For sure, I thought I’d be in semi like-minded, save the world company, but surprisingly, partygoers were largely critical of my plans to volunteer with 12 causes in 12 countries over the course of 12 months. What? The Global Citizen Project faced mild criticism during its fundraising, but nothing beyond whines of why wasn’t I dedicating an entire year to a singular cause. Answer: Between my cheerleader-like tendencies and far-reaching journo and social media platforms, I’m in the unique position to raise awareness of 12 different causes, communities and organizations, more than your average NGO worker.

Read the rest of Views of a global citizen: Honduras here.

27 July 2010

third time's (maybe) the charm for lima

I don’t shy from professing my love for Peru; my feelings for Lima, though, have been lukewarm at best. This is my third trip to Peru in less than two years, and to be fair, I must disclose that I’ve logged less than 100 hours total in this colonial capital city; population 8 million.

Past visits were pre- and post pit stops before a riverboat journey on the Amazon and an early 2009 trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu and Puno. The bulk of my time in Lima has been spent shuttling between Jorge Chávez International Airport (one of my favorite airports in the world) and the safe haven of luxury hotel, Swissôtel in the swank San Isidro neighborhood. The extent of my urban explorations was a guided whirlwind afternoon tour of colonial Lima, with stops at Plaza Mayor, Mercado Indio and a restaurante muy turístico, Puro Perú. This sightseeing tour de force was meant as a quick Lima look-see, but traipsing around town en masse felt more like a dog and pony show, with minimal opportunity for organic cultural discovery.

The most telling insight of the day was of the city’s great socioeconomic divide. As we traveled from the well heeled Miraflores area, with its colonial mansions, cafés and upscale boutiques, through gritty neighborhoods riddled with trash, stray dogs and graffiti it was painfully clear that there was wide disparity between the haves and have-nots. Traffic was a major issue – in its sheer volume and recklessness – everywhere we went. Peru has the highest rate of deaths related to transit accidents in the region, and most of the fatalities take place in Lima, where pedestrians are victims in 7 out of 10 traffic accidents. That stat isn’t exactly a selling point for gal who likes explore destinations on foot until they blister. I left Lima on both occasions with a “meh” feeling and no burning desire to return.

Admittedly, it’s hard to get a handle on a place in a short amount time, especially such a sprawling urban landscape, and my half-assed Spanish skills certainly don’t help. Still, I wasn’t putting Lima on the top of any travel planning wish lists anytime soon. Or so I thought.

When I started planning the itinerary for The Global Citizen Project, my 12 country, 12 volunteer project over 12 months plan to give back, Peru was a priority. I toyed with volunteering in places I know, love and have seen need in, like Cusco and Puno, but decided that this was an opportunity to give Lima a fair shake – and not simply for an overnight stint. Cyber-sleuthing led me to Karikuy and I liked that this organization worked to promote responsible tourism, social development and gives back to the people and communities of Peru. After seeing so many inflated prices and tour company scams when I was in Cusco en route to Machu Picchu, I felt it was important to help support the people and companies who aren’t trying to suck as many soles as possible from unsuspecting gringos and gringas.

I touched down in Lima last Thursday – without my luggage – but with an open mind. (American Airlines has since delivered my missing bag.) We drove about 10 minutes across town, under an icy blanket of early, deep winter darkness to Planeta, the neighborhood where Karikuy is located. Barely one week into my volunteer experience, I’m already charmed by my new, temporary neighborhood. Taxi drivers peg this former squatter settlement as an unsafe place, but I have not felt threatened since my arrival. I hear Planeta was pretty rough and tumble a decade or so ago, but today, it’s your standard issue middle class Peruvian neighborhood. And when in doubt, we call on the fierceness of Karikuy founder, Julio’s guard dog, Killer.

The Karikuy house is located on a gated street and has enough locks, bars and gates to stump even the 'Hillside Burglar.' Beyond the façades of security, though, is a vibrant neighborhood filled with children playing, corner stores and makeshift sidewalk cafés, and the most delicious (and reasonably priced) street food you can imagine. Churros! Papas rellenos! Hamburguesas! Even Sunday afternoon drunks and the sadness of a three-day wake and funeral bring color to the neighborhood.

Peru is a place I’ll return to over and over again, so for this project, it’s important for me to break from my usual see-it-all travel modus operandi to explore within the city limits. I’ve seen the extreme natural beauty of this country, but I’m enjoying the raw realities of everyday life in Lima; especially in Planeta. I’m not running to the wedding registry with Lima quite yet, but this South American city seems more worthy by the minute as an extended travel destination instead a layover or a one-night stand. It’s cleaned up quite a bit since my last visit. Traffic is still an issue, but seems slightly less chaotic. And like everywhere you go in Peru, people are warm and inviting. I’m curious to learn more about Lima over the next two weeks while volunteering with Karikuy, but maybe third time’s the charm. So far, it looks like we’re off to a promising start.

26 July 2010

media mention: jenneil's blog "hello, meet world"

Sweet! Every month, Jenneil summarizes 10 of the best travel gear related posts in the Travel Gear Recap series. Looky here who made #9 this week. Yep, yours truly and The Global Citizen Project. Thanks, Jenneil!

23 July 2010

the (not so) underground seattle travel writer mafia

C'mon, throw 'em up like gang signs and read all about my new (ahem) family here.

15 July 2010

adventurous kate recaps this week's travelers' night in | spicy travel

On this week’s round of Travelers’ Night In, the interactive Twitter discussion for avid travelers and travel lovers, the theme was Spicy Travel! Turns out that means anything Latin American, hot and/or exotic! As always, ten questions were asked, people responded while tagging their tweets #TNI, and learned quite a bit about some new destinations. Read the rest of Adventurous Kate's recap here. Or follow her on Twitter.

As always, big besos to Kate for taking the time to pull together the best of the TNI responses and write a lovely recap. After this week's topic, I'm sure she needed a shower when it was all said and done. I'm not naming names, but more than a few participants took some (ahem) liberties with the definition of spicy.

14 July 2010

side effects of malaria tablets

Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth, author of The Essential Guide to Travel Health, answers travellers' questions about malaria on Wanderlust here.

solo female traveler seeks safety

Most of the time, I’m flying solo when I travel. Sure, living in Philadelphia and Baltimore stepped up my street smarts, but as a woman, I take extra precautions to keep my eyes on my person, space and stuff. Knock on all hard surfaces that I haven’t had any issues abroad – all theft and muggings have taken place during daylight hours here in the good ‘ole USA.

I’m a little Girl Scout-ish in my travel packing habits, but I’m not a paranoid traveler – I just like to understand my surroundings and have systems in place in case something was to happen. Fear has never been a good enough reason for me to not do something or go someplace, but I also don’t want to knowingly put myself into a stupid situation (and if I do find myself in a stupid situation, I want to have the tools to get myself out stat).

When traveling abroad, here are the safety precautions I take to cover my you-know-what:

• Register with U.S. Department of State (here and if there’s high risk, at the destination). It takes two minutes to fill out the online form and if something newsworthy (and not in the good way) goes down in your destination, they’ll be the first to let you know.

• Watch your drinks. Okay, maybe I’m a bit paranoid about this one, but I’ve read one too many date rape stories for my own comfort. If I’m in a strange place and my drink leaves my sight, I toss it and buy a new one. I also don’t accept random drinks from strangers. This doesn’t mean I won’t get drunk in a bar and embarrass myself by singing karaoke duets with strangers.

• Be discrete when discussing where you’re staying and specific travel plans.

• Check in regularly with someone you trust. I may not speak to my significant other every day while I’m on the road, but I do shoot him a text every night letting him know I made it home safely. If I’m solo in a hotel, I’ll jot down the address of where I’m going and leave it on the by-the-phone notepad. Also, I leave a detailed itinerary, phone numbers and a copy of my passport with my significant other.

• Never carry more stuff than you’re willing to lose.

• Carry money in various locations (keep bulk in shoe, safety belt, etc.) and a few bucks in easy-to-reach pocket, etc. I have a friend who was recently mugged in Guatemala and while her purse contained her wallet and camera, she handed the thief a change purse with a small amount of money in it and it was enough to make him go away.

• Carry a whistle, pepper spray or personal alarm from Magellan’s. My pepper spray is pink. I’m not afraid to use it.

• Think about how you appear – jewelry, hemlines, low-cut shirts, etc. No matter how hard I try, I will never blend in a foreign country, but I also don’t try to draw unnecessary attention with my attire and accessories.

• Pay attention. I find it more difficult to draw cultural cues and identify the “bad guys” when traveling, especially when there is a language barrier, but shifty behavior and activity is universal.

• Listen to your gut.

• Use a bag with strong, slash-proof strap.

• Be mindful of time and place surroundings (example: night, alleys, crowded places like the bus, etc.)

• Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. My cell phone has international calling capabilities, so if I’m really on top of things, I’ll pre-program these numbers just in case. Otherwise, I jot them on the back of a business card and stuff ‘em in my wallet.

• Know a few phrases in the local language. In an ideal world, I’d have all the vocabulary necessary to get myself out of any sticky situations. If that’s not possible, I learn a few key phrases, like “Help!”

• Be aware of unmarked cabs. In most of my travels, I’ve found there to be a legit system of taxicabs and a not-so-legit system. I try to find out what qualities identify the legit cabs – whether it’s a sticker, a color, etc. – and compare the face of the driver with the one on his or her posted license.

• If your possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of your plight.

• Be aware of local photography laws. In many countries you can be detained for photographing security-related institutions, such things as police and military installations, government buildings, border areas and transportation facilities.

Travel safe, m'dears and if you have any other safety tips you'd like to share, please comment here.

education opens minds and creates opportunity

Education has been weighing heavily on my mind since I got back from my volunteer project in Honduras. I live in Seattle, one of the best-educated big cities in America, where more than 50% of Seattle adults 25 and older hold bachelor's degrees or better. Despite massive budget cuts in our public school and higher education funding, our systems are still in far better shape than many communities I saw in the country’s capitol city, Tegucigalpa (and most of the place I’ll be volunteering over the next year).

In my adult years, I’ve hemmed and hawed that I didn’t exactly grow up in a household that instilled a “the world is your oyster” or “dream it, believe it, achieve it” mentality. At an early age, I was enrolled in  private oil painting classes and all signs indicated that I would follow in my artist grandmother’s footsteps. I was never really encouraged to explore any other talents or interests (except for maybe dance lessons, which was strictly a hobby), so I grew up thinking that had to be my calling in life and the only thing I was good enough at to pursue professionally.

I traveled down a fine arts degree path, but returned to the restaurant industry, before stumbling into a career in publishing and journalism 12 years ago. I thank my lucky stars daily that I discovered a profession that allows me to explore and share stories from what I consider the great world wide classroom. I am always learning and faced with new and different challenges, and for that, I am grateful. I took a far from traditional path to get to my perfect place. At some point in my mid to late twenties, it dawned on me that life is what you make of it and I’ve never stopped for a second to think I couldn’t do something. I’m pretty sure this fierce confidence stems from the realization that I live in place filled with opportunity.

So what about the children I worked with in Honduras? The kids I worked with in Tegucigalpa were in Hogares Crea homes receiving a whole lot of religious guidance and “character building,” but not much in the way of real life skills. When I last checked, God doesn’t sign payroll checks when these kids turn 18 and must fend for themselves on the mean streets of Honduras. Obviously, the upside of living in a safe and structured environment with three square meals a day beats the alternative of the streets, addiction, gang violence and abuse. The system, albeit a mighty fine Band-Aid solution, does little to help these kids in the long run. Many of them have been through hell, yet don’t receive mental health services. Who are their role models? If you’ve never seen anyone succeed, how do you know that dreams and goals are possible? How bright is their future if they have no practical (read: income earning) skills to bring into the world? Why didn’t any of the teenage girls have a clue what AIDS/HIV (or SIDA en Espanol) was when they came across the word in my English/Spanish dictionary? A little education could go a long way for these teens and increase the possibility for opportunity and (fingers crossed) success. I want nothing more than for these girls to be able to stand on their own two feet when they turn 18 without even having to entertain the idea of returning to the streets, dealing drugs, selling their bodies, joining a gang, or (insert other horrific scenario here).

In contrast, I was able to work with first and second graders in San Ramón Amaya Amador, an extremely impoverished barrio on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. The village had a basic, yet perfectly sufficient school program in place with a handful of teachers fully invested in the kids’ success. Each day, more than 50 kids attended after school programs at a building that Building a Future constructed – hands down the nicest structure in town. Some kids played games and puzzles and building blocks, while others engaged in age-appropriate learning exercises and worksheets; many were eager for one-on-one tutoring. San Ramón Amaya Amador is not an easy place to live with minimal amenities and rampant gang violence, but these teachers are truly heroes of the community earning both my utmost respect and that of the kiddies. And somehow, despite extreme poverty at every turn, the childrens' enthusiasm to learn combined with the teachers’ dedication seemed to make the situation seem far less hopeless.

Education opens peoples’ minds and enables them to hope and dream and believe that somehow, somewhere in this world anything is possible. Whether it’s a situation of hardship, like in Honduras, or growing up in middle class America, just having that simple belief in your back pocket is one of the most powerful tools we can have. Maybe I’m a bit optimistic, but I believe that in every obstacle, moment of doubt, heartbreak and pain there is an opportunity to learn. And learning can only help create more opportunity.

10 July 2010

volunteer project: food lifeline in seattle, washington

I admit it. Had I known this Saturday afternoon was gonna be so darn summery, I probably would not have signed up to volunteer with BEAN Seattle’s project today working with Food Lifeline. I was okay with missing out on the annual Ballard SeafoodFest, but the first official weekend of summer weather in Seattle? No way - especially when I’m slated to go to Peru next week to volunteer for three weeks in the throes of its coldest winter in history. Right now, this gal needs all the Vitamin D she can get (within reason of malaria meds side effects).

BEAN is a Seattle-based organization that connects young professionals with volunteering, networking and social opportunities around the Puget Sound area. (BEAN also operates in many cities around the globe with over 100,000 members). I’m a few years older than its average member, but that didn’t stop me from fitting in just fine with its volunteer event today at Food Lifeline.

After my recent experience working with food distribution among the needy in Honduras, my inner journo was curious to see how the whole process worked. Sure, I’ve been steering my Seattle altruism efforts in food-centric directions, but this was also a personal R&D mission to gain greater understanding of how food banks work. You can’t blame a gal for wanting to learn.

Twelve volunteers from BEAN Seattle, along with 27 students and parents from The Evergreen School showed up at Food Lifeline in Shoreline today at 1 p.m. to work a three hour shift. After a quick spin through the (ridiculously organized and immaculate) facilities, and learning the rules of the volunteering road, the BEAN group was set loose to sort and repackage food donations from the recent Seattle letter carrier’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

When it was all said and done, BEAN volunteers boxed more than 5,550 pounds of foodstuffs, which will serve 4,269 people in West Washington meals. The Evergreen School kiddos scooped and bagged 1,488 pounds of Fiber One cereal, which will serve 2,289 breakfasts (I did not spy equal amounts of toilet paper donations). The numbers are impressive, but what is really mind-blowing is that Food Lifeline distributes 25 millions pounds of food to West Washington residents annually. More than 4 million of those pounds are perishable goods, as grocery stores these days steer towards selling scratch and dent canned food to stores like Grocery Outlet. Local markets like Whole Foods, Safeway and Fred Meyer all step up to the charitable plate with huge donations. To give you an idea how much food Food Lifeline serves up to more than 300 organizations around the Western part of our state each year, it’s enough to fill Qwest Field ten times. Now sit down for these stats. Last year, 9,320 Food Lifeline volunteers repacked 3,218,732 pounds of food, which – drum roll, please – served 2,475,948 meals to West Washington residents. Our volunteer coordinator, Ben, assured us that the majority of Food Lifeline’s recipients aren’t homeless or living on their cars, but people like, well…your neighbor. He also emphasized that this constant flow of food is made possible by the 700 to 1200 people who volunteer weekly with Food Lifeline. Wow.
Time flew as we pulled compostable light blue bags filled with donations from oversized cardboard boxes and carefully inspected for bulges, dents, rust and expiration dates. As instructed, we kept an eagle eye on raw, thawed or partially eaten foods (yes, we encountered all of the above), as well as recently recalled peanut butter items and certain Kellogg’s cereals. Time flew by and when we were cut off from sorting and repacking our final cardboard box of food at 3 p.m., my posse of über-efficient food packers were sad to stop so short of the finish line. As we exchanged quick goodbyes, I realized that I so enjoyed spending the afternoon with such a great like-minded groups, and if I had to choose between Vitamin D and volunteering with this crew again, the latter would surely win out.

Between now and July 23, 2010 Food Lifeline is hosting an event called Food Frenzy, which aims to end hunger for children in Western Washington. Join over 100 local law firms, accounting firms, design & construction firms, credit unions, and public sector legal organizations in this creative competition to raise funds and food for Food Lifeline. For more information on Food Frenzy or to find out how to volunteer, click here.

volunteer project preview: karikuy in lima, peru

This do gooder, globetrotting gal is back from her first volunteer project with Building a Future in Honduras for The Global Citizen Project and is gearing up to go round two this month in Peru. I’ll be doing what I do best – helping to promote responsible tourism and social development in a country I’ve fallen fast and hard for over the past few years. The organization I’m working with, Karikuy, was created with the vision of bringing people from all walks of life together to experience Peru like few have. Although my volunteer stint with Karikuy starts in two short weeks, I wanted to catch up with its founder, Julio C. Tello be fore I touched down in Lima to get some pre-project and volunteering insights.

Can you briefly tell me how Karikuy gives back to the people and communities of Peru?

Karikuy currently has two humanitarian programs. The first is called Animu and it's a fund that helps buy warm clothes for children affected by the extreme cold of the Andes. We take donations and once an amount is raised we buy hats and shoes near the selected community where we hand out the goods to families. Our second program is the Karikuy-Haugen Fund . This program aims to send Inca Trail porters to Machu Picchu. The porters themselves go above and beyond to help travelers experience the Inca Trail and amazingly never get to actually enter and visit the citadel of Machu Picchu. We raise money to have the porters who have worked the longest to have the opportunity to explore the site, as well as their transport, admission and meals all paid for.

Two trips to Peru and your country captivated me with its people, culture and cuisine. I’m thrilled to volunteer contributing to Perupedia, which aims to become the Internets largest database on Peruvian Culture. How did this project come to fruition?

We've always been a big fan of Wikipedia, however we felt that information on Peruvian culture in English was lacking and so we began work on creating a new database strictly for Peru. Perupedia began in May 2009 and has slowly been growing thanks to the hard work of our volunteers who spend their days uploading and researching information for the site. Our goal is that in the coming years it becomes the most in depth and thorough resource for travelers and researchers alike.

Are you still seeking volunteers for the 2010 season?

Yes we have a few open spots that are available. The program is running until November and could possibly be extended this year into the summer months. Volunteers can join us anywhere from two weeks to three months or longer with good recommendations.

What qualities do you look for in a volunteer?

The best quality that I always look for is curiosity, without that it can be very hard for a volunteer to really enjoy researching Peru for Perupedia. An openess to learn and explore is very important to the program, what catches my eye when I read applications is a person who truly wants to experience Peru and not simply take it as a vacation but a learning experience.

What types of volunteers are most successful and gain the most from their Karikuy experience?

Again it would have to be those that are very curious about their surroundings. Volunteers who like to travel to all places even those not frequented by tourism as well as the adventurous eaters are the ones that get the most from their experience in Peru, in short people who are open to anything.

Do you have any advice for first time volunteers?

The best advice I could give would be to ask a lot of questions, instead of relying on a guide book to ask the locals where the best places to eat and visit are. Also listen to your guides and advice of the locals as they know what is best for you. Patience is very important as well in Peru as timetables are lax and the atmosphere is laid back.

Do you have any advice for first time visitors to Peru?

Yes! Explore more of Lima, the city is overlooked but offers tons to do. To see all the sites in Lima would require a stay of about a week - that is how much there is to see and do. By far, Lima's gastronomy is its best attraction. As far as safety goes just try to blend in with the locals and do not be paranoid, not everyone is out to steal your camera, etc. Finding a good guide is key to making any visit to Peru an incredible one.

Let’s say I’m a traveler and I only have one week to explore Peru. What do you recommend that I see and do?

One week is very little time to see the best of Peru, so if at all possible try extending your trip. Otherwise I would recommend one day in Lima to check out the gastronomy and landmarks. This would then be followed by a trip to Puno (flight) and a two day cultural tour of Lake Titicaca with a family stay at Amantani. To reach Cusco and save money, I recommend a tour bus from First Class which stops at several ruins on the way to Cusco and breaks up the long trip (with lunch included).

In Cusco, depending on your schedule I would recommend a City Tour followed by the two day tour of Machu Picchu, this would be Karikuy's staple Sunrise Tour of Machu Picchu. With this option you have the chance to spend a night in Aguas Calientes and be one of the first up to the ruins the following day. You have a whole day at the ruins and get to see an incredible sunrise over the ruins. You return to Cusco by train in the evening and have one night in Cusco before departing the following morning to Lima (flight)

Obviously, Machu Picchu is the gem of Peru’s tourism industry (and yes, it’s absolutely incredible), but are there any other overlooked/underappreciated sites or destinations in Peru that you recommend?/

I have heard from many that the trip to Choquequirao is just as incredible, and even more beautiful then Machu Picchu. My personal favorite sites include Caral, three hours north of Lima and Marcahuasi which is east of Lima. Huaraz as well is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been, be sure to check out Lake Llaganuco and visit the Pastoruri glacier. Many think that Pastoruri is still closed off to tourism due to false reports, but it is very much open. If you have the chance to book a tour there make sure you are taken to the glacier to the right of Pastoruri following the trail, as it is larger, has it's own lake and is breathtaking.

Since Peruvian cuisine is beyond swoon-worthy, some dining recommendations are in order. What are some of your favorite fancy meals in Peru? Cheap eats?

Make sure to visit Astrid and Gastón in Miraflores for a chance to explore Peruvian fusion at its best. Asian Cuisine also known as Chifa must be had, unfortunately many of the best places to eat and my personal favorites aren't in the best part of town. Luckily, I personally take all my clients to these hidden gems when they book tours with the company. My new recent favorite is Oceanika in San Borja and the all you can eat Sushi for 35 soles (about $12USD)

The beat on the blogosphere is that your Aunt Juliana is a fantastic cook. What are some typical Peruvian dishes that she likes to make? (If she has a recipe that she’d like to share, I can include that, too.)

My Aunt has been cooking for over 60 years and she is very good at it yes, as for recipes I will have to ask her as she cooks everything from memory. I love her soups the best, although the volunteers have fallen in love with her lentils and Papa a la Huancaina.

You can’t visit Peru without savoring its national drink, the Pisco sour. Is there a local brand you like (I’m thinking souvenirs) and where is it best to imbibe? Your fave local beer?

My favorite brand of Pisco is Ocucaje which is also used at El Catedral del Pisco located in Plaza San Martin. This bar is said to have the best Pisco Sours in Lima and perhaps all of Peru and I would agree, just make sure you get there early on weekends as it is often filled to capacity. My favorite beer would have to be Cristal as it seems to be the norm in Lima. I wouldn't say it's anything extraordinary, it's just what we Limeñans like to drink and it is super affordable.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, I would recommend anyone considering volunteering with us to contact as soon as possible as we are already filling up for 2011. We also do have some spots this year so contact us for availability. However, I do see the program filling up completely next year perhaps even before the end of this year. Send us an application - we look forward to hearing from you!

the UN reports that 1 out of every 3 hondurans suffer from hunger

For me, cooking stemmed as a survival instinct; borne from a place of necessity. My mother passed away when I was 17 years old and my father’s culinary skills were limited to the Weber grill (in the middle of an East Coast winter, mind you). The first time I played the deceased mother, no-questions-asked truancy card, I took the R5 Septa Regional Rail into downtown Philadelphia and discovered row after row of farmers’ stalls filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, artisanal pastas and cheeses at Reading Terminal Market. The colors, smells and cooking possibilities overwhelmed my senses and my appreciation for food, one of the universe’s most basic needs, has only grown to a sacred place of respect and praise over the decades. It’s a privilege I take great pleasure in three times daily and never take for granted.

Hunger, homelessness and poverty were rampant during my recent volunteer project for The Global Citizen Project with Building a Future and Hogares Crea in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I had seen painful glimpses of these issues on previous trips to Latin America, but never experienced its innumerable effects so intimately. When I traveled throughout Honduras in late 2007, I was floored by the beauty of the country. On this trip though, beauty was limited to a few quick countryside road trips and the gracious hospitality of the Honduran people. If beauty existed in Tegucigalpa, it was trumped by never-ending piles of trash and an omnipresent concern for gang violence, which kept my personal safety radar working overtime. The city (and country) face a plethora of problems ranging from its 40% unemployment rate, $1.30-1.50 average hourly wages and pervasive lack of education (the average Honduran completes 6.5 years of school) to widely divided social classes and a 19.5 year old age median. Factor in Honduras’ recent Presidential coup and its resulting political polarization, and it doesn’t take a Poli Sci major to realize that the country doesn’t exactly have an easy recipe for success.

All of this doom and gloom certainly was disheartening, but one aspect that stuck with me was how the impoverished children I worked with ate. For many of the capitol city’s dwellers, Walmart-like superstores, fast food and Coca Cola culture reigned supreme (the seemingly holy trinity of American exports). It was a drastically different story for the youth I interacted with on a daily basis. Leftover, expired and damaged foodstuffs donated en masse by local grocery store, La Colonia, were delivered approximately every 10 days to Asociacion Puente al Desarrollio, a command central of sorts for several local humanitarian efforts. Cardboard boxes, loose bottles and jars arrived piled high in the back of barely functioning pick-up trucks – exposed to Honduras’ hot, tropical sun for who knows how long – dripping, smelly and disgusting. Although each delivery technically contained thousands of pounds of food, it was product that most Americans would deem inedible, myself included, although my cultural anthropology schooled significant other tried to convince me that human stomachs can, over time, adapt to digesting spoiled food. Thank goodness I was only a short-term guinea pig. Within minutes of unloading cases Cinnamon Chex, Dannon yogurt, Hy-Top Barbecue sauce, 100 pound bags of red beans and rice, and cases of water marked “Haiti Relief,” goods were carefully distributed to a growing group of street side spectators, who clutched items with we-just-won-the-lottery fervor. When I returned to Asociacion Puente al Desarrollio, more than half of the foodstuffs had already found homes.

During my three week stint in Honduras, I found myself consuming the food truck stuffs on several occasions. I survived several week expired, sun-exposed yogurt and Spaghetti-O slathered boiled chicken parts. I sliced off fuzz-free parts tomatoes and scooped out the bright orange flesh of rotting papayas. I refrained from whipping out my SteriPen when tooth-achingly sweet juice mixes were served with surely contaminated water, if only to not offend the gracious hospitality of my hosts. I pumped my body full of probiotics and prayed that my malaria meds (Doxycycline) would keep my gastrointestinal system safe. I quickly learned how to say “Yo no tengo mucho hambre,” but never wanted to come across as ungrateful for a second to these people who generously shared when they had so very little themselves. I even rationalized that I’d already lived through E.coli twice plus two parasitic diseases from contaminated water sources in California (go figure) and the humiliation of submitting weekly fecal samples to the Monterey County Health Department, so surely, the worldwide water gods would want to play nice with me. I worried endlessly about whether these boys and girls were getting enough nutrition.

Despite constant exposure to these hard realities, I had a difficult time fully understanding a world that lives a moment-to-moment, hand-to-mouth existence. My head spun with pie in the sky dreams of a future filled with opportunity for these children, where hopefully, someday, the Vatican would realize that education and (gasp!) contraception is far more valuable than creating hungry mouths. A “can do” kinda gal who’s rooted in a reality where God doesn’t write child support checks can dream, right?

As a food and travel writer and avid home chef, food plays an important role in my world, whether it’s shopping my local farmers’ markets in Seattle or volunteering at Marra Farm Giving Garden or Food Lifeline. Having easy access to a variety of fresh, healthy food is something I’ve always taken great pleasure in, but after being on the receiving end of how people living in poverty eat, I promise to eat every last bite on my plate and thank my lucky stars for the privilege.

07 July 2010

food fact

Food fact: American adults (18 and over) consume 65 percent of the candy that's produced each year in the US. | via Foodista

06 July 2010

food fact

Food Fact: A Hummer H2 could be driven around the world 244 times on the excess calories Americans consume each year. | via Harpers Magazine, Foodista

my can't live without volunteer travel packing list

My packing style: Carry on whenever possible and prepare like a Girl Scout ( I didn’t earn my nickname, Global Girl Scout, for nothin’). In my former luxe travel writer life, there was rarely a situation where my every whim wasn’t within a phone call’s reach. As I embrace a more rough, tumble and lowbrow lifestyle as a volunteer traveler this year, I’ve learned to make the most of every square inch of my luggage. Projected sunscreen, repellant and pocket knife needs have dictated whether to check or not check bags, and thankfully, I have status on several airlines, so I’ve been able to avoid checked bag fees (knock on all hard surfaces) so far. Here’s what I can’t live without while volunteering.

05 July 2010

it's on. pre-registration tix for tbex 2011 went on sale today.

Holy crap. Within minutes of receiving an email from Wanderlust and Lipstick Founder and Editrix, Beth Whitman that Travel Blog Exchange tickets had gone sale, more than half of the blogger pre-registration tickets had already sold. In less than seven hours. Wow. Since TBEX is being held in roadtrip friendly nearby Vancouver, B.C. and I'll be hot off the heels of The Global Citizen Project, I plunked down the $50 pre-registration ticket fee (it jumps to $80 during regular registration, which I believe starts September 5th, 2010). Sure, my travel dance card is locked and loaded with the next 11 volunteer projects for TGCP and I'm typically not one to plan anything so far ahead, but I'm giddy about the prospect of having so many of my peers in the PacNW and hope that folks take me up on my offer to show 'em around Seattle. Mi es su casa and there's not much I love more in life than a good roadtrip. I don't want to get all Julie the Cruise Director, but there's anything I can do to make my fellow travel writer/blogger's stay in the PacNW more enjoyable, holler. When it comes to my hometown, Seattle, baby I was born to hostess.

01 July 2010

adventurous kate's recap of travelers night in

Every Thursday night, Adventurous Kate takes the time to pull together a well-rounded recap of Travelers' Night In. Today's topic - Nature vs. Human Impact on Travel - was no exception, and yours truly (one of the hosts with the most) made the quoted cut. Check out Kate's recap here. As always, my favorite Bostonian vagabondress brings us a highly entertaining and informative read. Thank you, Kate.

my volunteer travel first aid kit

People frequently ask me what I pack in my travel first aid kit. I tweak the contents of my kit depending upon the destination, availability of pharmaceutical supplies and foreseeable medical services. Believe it or not, everything on this list fits into a fairly small zipped container, with the exception of prescription drugs, which I always put in my carry on luggage – just in case. Since most of my volunteer projects for The Global Citizen Project are in impoverished places, I plan to take this locked and loaded version of my travel first aid kit to all the destinations. Once there, I can pick and choose what I may need on a daily basis and stash a short list of items in my day pack (in a Ziplock bag to play it weather safe). So far, I haven’t run into a situation where I’ve needed something not on this grandmaster list. Since I’m always eager to improve my Girl Scout-like packing and travel skills, please share any can’t-live-without first aid items I should add to my kit. Check out the contents of first aid kit here.

my horoscope today

Inspiration is the keyword for the day, Taurus. You may be feeling highly motivated to move on with what others consider impossible dreams. "Impossible" has never stopped you before, and you aren't likely to let it stop you today. You're more likely to consider all contingencies carefully in order to make them work. Friends could be inspired by your vision and determination and follow your example. Go for it.