My Last $100

ACM asked the communications assistants to keep track of how we spent $100, or about 1000 Pula for me here in Bots. I decided I was going to be super on top of it and made an excel sheet to keep track of all my expenses for a little while, but of course I don’t know how to function without procrastinating, so it took me a while to actually turn that log into a blog post for y’all.

$100 in Botswana gets you pretty far. There really isn’t much to spend money on here outside of food, so almost all of my purchases in this list are food-related. I documented my spending from Tuesday April 18th to Saturday April 29th. That included a weekend trip to Serowe where the program was paying for our lodging and food most of the time, so $100 might not normally get me through a full 12 days, but it comes pretty close. I kept track of my purchases in Pula, and then converted it on a 10:1 ratio, but that’s not the exact conversion rate, so this is actually probably more like $96 total.

Mom, if you’re keeping track of my meals with this it’s going to look like I skip meals right and left, but that is really just that I eat peanut butter sandwiches in my room quite a bit. Pap and butternut squash get pretty old after a while, but good ol’ milk and cereal will never fail me.

April 18th

$0.30 (P3) fatcake on my way back to my room after Setswana class.

-$1.68(P16.80)- Takeaway lunch at Curry Pot, the dining hall closest to our dorms. This gives you a giant blob of starch, meat (if you’re a meat eater), and a couple scoops of cooked veggies. See my food blog for more on that.

-$8.50 (P85)- I got some groceries at the on campus convenience store: three liters of long-life milk, a liter of orange juice, and a bottle of aloe vera juice for a little treat.

April 19th$1.53 (P15.30)- Dinner at Curry Pot

$3.65 (P 36.50)- Loaf of bread and a box of Rice Krispies

April 20

$1.68 (P16.8)- Dinner at Curry Pot

$3.98  (P38.80)- I was feeling kind of sad and frustrated that a lot of my comfort shows aren’t available on Netflix in Botswana, so I bought my two favorite episodes of Parks and Rec on Amazon. It was a great decision.

April 21

$0.7  (P 7)- Kombi ride (basically a large van that operates like a bus here) to and from the hospice for my community engagement work.

April 21 to 23rd we were in Serowe with our whole program, so I didn’t have as many expenses. 

April 23

$2.55  (P 25.45)- chips and cookies at a gas station on the way back to Gaborone

$8.14  (P 81.4)– Grocery run to Spar, one of the large grocery stores at the Riverwalk Mall. I got a chocolate chocolate chip loaf of bread (my favorite indulgence here cause it’s one of the only things I can get easily that feels like real dessert), some brie, and two aloe vera drinks.

$14.05 (P 140.45)- Got some more groceries at Pick and Pay, the other grocery store at Riverwalk with a slightly different selection. Bag of carrots, saltines, boxed custard, a cucumber, 3 avocados, a bag of oranges, and two lemons to make my water more fun.

April 24

$0.35  (P 3.5)- One way kombi ride to the hospice cause I was cheap and impatient on the way back, so I decided to walk instead of ride.

$1.53 (P 15.3)- Dinner at Curry Pot

April 25

$0.3 (P 3)-Phapata bread from the Hot Spot food stand for a mid-morning snack.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Takeaway lunch from Curry Pot.

$1.53  (P 15.3)-Dinner at Curry Pot with the group after our development seminar.

April 26

$0.35  (P 3.5)-My walk back from the hospice the other day showed me that it’s actually possible to walk from there in under 40 minutes, so when I got tired of waiting at the bus stop and having taxi drivers yell at me, I decided to walk instead. This was a one-way ride back from my community engagement a few hours later.

$1.53  (P 15.3)-Lunch at Curry Pot after our Urban Africa class.

April 27

$1 (P 10)-Egg and cheese sandwich before Setswana class

IMG_3012
I am in LOVE with these things. It’s just an egg and a slice of processed cheese on phapata bread, but they are fantastic.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Takeaway dinner at Curry Pot

$14.61 (P 146.1)-Grocery restock! Three liters of milk, a liter of orange juice, sleeve of Oreos, yogurt, and a box of cereal

April 28

$0.7  (P 7)– Kombi ride to and from the hospice

$0.3 (P 3)– Fatcake before class

$0.35 (P3.50)- Kombi ride to dinner at Airport Junction Mall

$7.58  (P 75.8)– Shampoo, conditioner, and a loaf of banana bread at the gocery store there

$10 (P 100)-Dinner at Cappuccinos restaurant. I got penne pomodoro and a milkshake! Delicious!

$2 (P 20)-Half of the cost of a cab ride back to campus, my share among our group this time.

April 29

$0.3 (P 3)-Phapata bread

$5.13  (P 51.25)-Three liters of milk from the convenience store.  I go through a ton of milk here. My secret is that I got a little container of chocolate Nesquik powder, which makes kind of weird-tasting long-life milk (it doesn’t have to be refrigerated until after opening) taste great for a late night snack.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Lunch at Curry Pot

$1.5 (P 15)-Dinner of beans and samp from the gate. For 15 Pula you can get a small container of food from the informal vendors around campus and load it up with whatever you want. I usually just go for beans and samp cause it’s delicious and I figure I can’t get food poisoning from beans, but there are lots of other great options too!

That brings us to a total of $100.86. I know none of these things are exceptionally exciting, but it goes to show that $100 can take you pretty far in Gaborone!

IMG_3111
My original concept for a featured image of Pula to go with this post. Kind of failed when a 50 Thebe coin fell in my eye while selfie-ing, and I realized this all just looked very weird.

A Picky Eater in Botswana (Daily Life: Food)

This blog gets this title because it is the exact phrase I googled approximately 30 million times in the months leading up to my departure for Botswana. It was my biggest worry going into the semester, and I figured now was the time to write a blog about food. This one goes out to all of you potential study-abroad-ers who have the palate of a five year old and are cowering in your room wondering if you can get Mac and Cheese in Southern Africa.

The answer is no. (I know, I’m going to eat SO MUCH mac and cheese this summer, I am VERY ready)

But the bigger answer, the answer to whether or not you can make it as a “selective” eater at the University of Botswana is a resounding yes.

In some ways, it is almost easier to be a person who likes a lot of the same foods, not a ton of flavor, and not a ton of variety. If you want to eat plain rice for every meal of the day, every day of the semester, it’s so easy to do that. But what kind of life would that be? I’m a picky eater, but I’ve been known to enjoy a little bit of flavor too.

So here are some thoughts on food at the University of Botswana. I’ll include pictures of food at the bottom. Bon appetit!

You can eat on campus

The refectory (dining hall) closest to the Las Vegas hostels (dorms) where exchange students typically stay is called Curry Pot and it’s decent. You pay P15.30 ($1.53) and get a plate with a starch, meat, some veggies (which they refer to as “salads” no matter how cooked or uncooked they are), and a cup of concentrated juice. The basic things you can always count on:

Starch:

Pap: Ground maize meal, which looks like mashed potatoes but tastes like absolutely nothing. Still a decent base if you mix it with stuff

Sorghum- Also made into a porridge-type thing, sorghum also doesn’t taste like much, but has a ton of fiber, is generally pretty healthy, and is a lot more gritty than pap

Rice: So much rice. All the time.

(Pretty frequently)- Pasta. Usually spaghetti, the only trick is that they don’t use marinara sauce or any typical American type of spaghetti sauce. You can get “soup,” which is kind of a stew/gravy kind of thing on top of it, but it’s kind of gross and non-vegetarian friendly. Plain pasta it is for me!

-(Occasionally) Samp- Basically maize cooked with some salt and stuff. Actually tastes super good.

(Occassionally)- Samp and Beans- ding ding ding, we have a winner, this is the BEST thing ever. I am seriously going to miss samp and beans so much when I leave Botswana, it tastes amazing and it’s so filling. Not everyone agrees with me, but I LOVE it.

(occasionally)- Dumplings- These are pretty rare, but sometimes they have what is basically just a round blob of wheat flour, cooked. They’re alright.

            Meat:

-Lol, sorry, I can’t really comment on the meat much cause I’m a vegetarian, but there is almost always chicken, and sometimes beef and sausage. The meat-eaters in our group seem relatively content with it. Pro-tip, some in our group have bought bottles of Nando’s peri-peri sauce at the grocery store and bring it with to add to their food to make it tastier.

Salads:

Butternut: I’ve become a big fan. Butternut squash (though no one says “squash,” they just stop at “butternut”) is a staple and usually prepared just as chunks of boiled squash. Doesn’t taste like much, but it’s alright.

Beetroot– They call it “beetroot,” not “beets” and will look at you weird if you say “beets.” I hated beets before this semester, but now I eat them all the time and they’re pretty good. Just call me Dwight Schrute.

Cabbage: Oh goodness, so much boiled cabbage. In my first few weeks here I started to really like it. There are some seasonings they put on it that make it taste pretty good, but now I’m pretty sick of it.

Broccoli and Cauliflower– Mom, look at me, I eat this now!!! It’s just steamed Broc and Caul (do people ever shorten those names? They should) and doesn’t taste like much, but they have it about twice a week and it’s exciting

-Steamed Carrots: The best. Tastes like home.

-Weird carrots shredded and mixed with mayonnaise (maybe, I can’t really tell what it is). This tastes weird.

-Boiled potatoes: Chunks of potato either covered in mayonnaise (mayo is way to common here), or with a pretty good tasting redish sauce that I can’t describe or identify on them.

– Chakalaka: This is a mix of beans, pepper, onion, tomato, and chili pepper (and maybe some other stuff). It’s way too spicy for me, but I mix it with pap and it’s alright.

-Spinach: This is African Spinach, so it tastes a little different, but it’s pretty good. It is usually cooked with some onions and tastes like pretty standard cooked spinach. I’m a fan.

-Actual Salad- This is what to be wary of. It looks good, a chance to finally have some lettuce again (The Grinnell salad bar will look SO GOOD next semester), but in our group we have noticed this is the most common thing associated with us having… “intestinal trouble” to say the least, and that happens enough here that you’ll be pretty eager to avoid it if possible. I stay away from the salad now.

I might have left of one or two things I forgot about, but that’s pretty much it. It sounds like a lot of variety when I type them all out, but if you tried to type out all the dishes in the Grinnell dining hall it would take forever. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the complete menu, on rotation. So if you can come to enjoy these foods (or tolerate them), you’ll be alright.

Street food:

Sounds sketchy, really isn’t. There are people selling food at the gates of UB all the time. They generally have the same traditional food that is at Curry Pot, but sometimes it tastes better and you can always get samp and beans at the gates even when it’s not at Curry Pot (my main reason for using it).

Hot Spot: This is the little stand in the UB student center that sells fatcakes and phapata bread for 3 pula (30 cents), but the best thing is THE EGG AND CHEESE (dramatic theme music plays). We’re all obsessed with this. It’s literally just an egg and a slice of processed cheese on a sliced phapata bread, but it tastes more like home than anything else, is quite filling, and only costs 10 pula ($1). After Sestwana we always race to try to get one before they run out (and they run out early). Egg and cheese will change your life.

Another pro-tip: if you get a fatcake (which is basically just fried dough) and dip it in yogurt or put yogurt in the middle of it it tastes really good and feels like a better approximation of a donut.

Restaurants:

I have always hated restaurants, but I have eaten at a lot more of them this semester. The Riverwalk shopping mall is about a half hour walk from campus and has a decent range of places you can eat where you can get things to switch up the boredom of Curry Pot food. Also, the No. 1 Ladies Coffee Shop is close by and a really wonderful place with a lot of good food. If you follow their Facebook page you’ll see notifications when they have events. They host a lot of interesting art events that are fun to check out. There is a fast food Mexican place called Mochachos (yes, it’s spelled weird) that is near the Three Dikgosi Monument in the Central Business District. It’s hard to get there without a taxi, so I’ve only been once, and the food wasn’t great, but it’s nice when you’re just desperate for some Mexican food. Don’t expect much more than Taco Bell quality, though. Finally, the mother of them all, we discovered a restaurant at Airport Junction (a mall closer to the airport, pretty far away, but you can get to it easily on the Block 8, Route 3 combi) that is just wonderful. It’s called Cappuccinos and it’s relatively cheap for a pretty nice restaurant (You can get a milkshake and a meal for around $10), but it is the sort of place that I would think was really fancy and nice even in the US. It’s become our Friday night splurge and it’s fantastic and will restore you for another week of Curry Pot.

 Groceries:

We don’t have access to a kitchen, but my roommate has a mini fridge (and you can rent them at the start of the semester), so I keep milk, yogurt, cheese, carrots, and bread in there all the time. I have cereal, peanut butter, nuts, and a bunch of other snack food in my closet and it makes it pretty reasonable to eat things in your room when you don’t feel like Curry Pot. Pick and Pay is the one store I have found that has avocados, and that’s a game changer. Sometimes I mix avocado and cheese in with my pap from Curry Pot to make it taste good. I was too cheap to spend $12 on a hot water pot at the start of the semester, so I make instant coffee and oatmeal with hot water from the sink, but that’s kind of nasty and it would be worth it just to get a hot water kettle here.

Some familiar brands won’t taste familiar

Soda is the most obvious thing, Fanta orange and Coke are common here, but they are made with real sugar so they taste wildly different (and much better) from American soda, but there are lots of other things too. Oreos, Doritos, and ketchup are some foods that don’t taste quite the same, but they get the job done. Oh, also fruit juice. There isn’t any pure fruit juice of any one type. You can get fruit juice blends, which are misleading cause the box will say “Orange: 100% pure fruit juice” but then in small print it says “a mix of orange, pear, apple, and other fruit juices” but they still taste alright.

When I was little, my preschool wouldn’t allow kids to bring their own lunch from home, saying that if kids don’t have another option outside of the school lunch, they will learn to eat it. My mom (bless her soul) thought that was ridiculous and told me I didn’t have to eat anything I didn’t want to, knowing that her stubborn daughter would (and did) refuse to eat the food. I would hold out to the end of the day, and my mom would bring me peanut butter and cheese sandwiches (yes, I was a gross kid) after school or take me on a trip to the nearby AM/PM for a corn dog and a slurpee on the way home. My preschool’s logic is horrible for 3-5 year olds, but honestly it kind of works for college students. I have become a lot less picky this semester, cause when I’m hungry, I eat what I can get. I’m going to appreciate food a lot more when I get home. Sometimes I watch cooking documentaries on Netflix and just salivate over the thought of sautéed veggies. We will be there soon enough.

My main message here is that if you are thinking about studying abroad (anywhere, really, but especially in Botswana) and are a picky eater, vegetarian, gluten intolerant, allergic to cashews (just reppin’ all the ACM Bots 2017 identities here), or anything else, you might have a slightly more difficult time, but you can make it work. And it will be fine. Don’t stress. I know how scary the fear of a semester unable to find food you enjoy can be, but it’s very doable and you will make it work.

Pictures!! You can mouse over these or click on them to see the captions of what everything is.

Joburg, Cape Town, Rhinos, Meeting Dignitaries, and More!

I’ve missed writing about a lot of things going on here, so here are some headlines of exciting things that have been happening. Here goes!

We went to Joburg!

Almost a month ago now (has it been that long?) we went to Johannesburg for the weekend with the whole ACM group. We went to the apartheid museum, Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson museum (focused on student protests around apartheid), and a lot of other places. It was odd how different Joburg felt from Gabs, even though it isn’t very far away. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing consistent streetlights on the roads, for instance, and seeing a real city skyline almost made me cry. Gaborone is a capital city, but it’s still relatively small and doesn’t exactly give you the “big city feel” that Joburg does. Driving into town I had the same emotions as I did the first time I drove to Minneapolis from Grinnell and was so suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of a city skyline once I had gotten so used to nothing but flat fields. Gaborone is much more of a city than Grinnell, IA, but still.

On the way back to Gabs we stopped at the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind and got to see where some excavations of early homo sapiens were done!

We went to Cape Town!

For Easter break (UB had Friday and Monday off) Jadah, Nasra, and I went to Cape Town! Jadah and I had our flight delayed/ canceled when we were supposed to fly out on Thursday night, so we spent the night back at UB while Nasra (who had been on an earlier flight) navigated Cape Town for a day on her own before we arrived the next evening. It was a journey, but when we got there…oh man…. Cape Town is gorgeous. We stayed in a really inexpensive Air B&B right on the water that was a beautiful studio apartment with views of Lion’s Head and the ocean and it was fantastic. In the mornings we would walk down to the gas station on the corner and get coffee and look out at the water. I relished in the joy of having coffee (even gas station coffee) so close. It was amazing. We didn’t have a lot of time in Cape Town, but we made the most of it, spending sometime in the tourist-heavy waterfront area, hiking Lion’s Head Mountain, going on a boat tour where we saw some penguins in the water, spending a day on the beach (the best thing imaginable), and just walking along the shore. The last morning we were there Nasra and Jadah went to the city center to find some souvenirs and I had a little morning to myself. I went on a really long walk along the water, bought a pancake from a food truck (THERE WERE FOOD TRUCKS!), ate it while sitting on some rocks by a tide pool, and then stuck my head in the ocean (I didn’t have a towel or a swimsuit with me, so I didn’t want to fully go in, but I couldn’t resist a little more ocean action). My favorite thing of the trip probably should have been something cool and unique to Cape Town, but the best part was that we had a kitchen in our Air B&B and I got to cook! We made pizzas one night and I made homemade pasta the next night, which was so much fun and so delicious, it gave me hope to keep on keeping on with the food for the rest of the semester.

In some ways it was a weird weekend for me because I was originally going to study abroad in Cape Town before the fees must fall protests at UCT made that difficult to do. On some level, when I was having a great time and feeling more at home in Cape Town than in Gabs, I was sad that my semester changed, but slowly I started to rethink that. I have learned so much more, gotten to go so many more places, and experienced more realities of a different culture in Botswana than I ever would have in the highly westernized city of Cape Town. I think it was a blessing in disguise that I ended up here instead. Cape Town might have felt more like a vacation semester, but this semester has taught me so much and shown me so many unique things that I don’t think I would choose differently if I were doing this again.

We went to Serowe

Last weekend we went up to Serowe, a town a few hours northeast of Gabs, where Seretse Khama (Botswana’s first president) and Ian Khama (the current president) are from. We went to a museum, stayed at a hotel in Palapye that we saw in some scenes of A United Kingdom, and on Sunday morning we went on a game drive in a rhino sanctuary and finally got to see rhinos!!

We got wifi in the dorms!!

It’s a little weak, but they installed wifi boxes in the hostel areas, so we don’t have to rely on just the Ethernet cables anymore! We’re moving up in the world!!

I want a nice place to sit on campus

On Saturday I got mad cause I walked all the way to the library only to discover that it closes at 4pm on Saturdays. I was so angry at the absurdity of that that I forgot to check what the hours are for Sundays (of course, they aren’t published anywhere online). Sunday morning, I waited a bit, assuming it wouldn’t be open too early, but walked over around 11:30, only to discover that the library doesn’t open until 2pm on Sundays. It wouldn’t be as frustrating except that it’s pretty difficult to find nice spaces to sit and study on campus except my room and the library. I’m so used to open classrooms, tables in public places, and comfy couches and chairs available for students at Grinnell. It’s easy to get frustrated when I can’t find anywhere to sit except hard metal chairs without tables nearby. The other frustrating thing about studying anywhere except my room is that people often approach me and trying to talk even when I have headphones in and am clearly pretty concentrated on something I’m working on. I know I should embrace the opportunity for cultural engagement and talk to everyone who wants to talk to me, but some days I just want to be able to sit down with my laptop, read some articles, and focus on my work without people coming up to me (even in really quiet parts of the library) and trying to chat. How I long to read a book on a comfy couch back at home.

We met the former president!

A few weeks ago we got to meet with Gaone Masire, an African Union official, graduate of Luther College (part of ACM), and daughter of Sir Ketumile Masire, who was the president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998. Five minutes into our conversation with her, the former president himself walked in the room and sat down to talk with us as well! He was so nice and talked to us a lot about Botswana history and politics. Who better to hear those stories from than a former president!! He eventually had to leave (He was meeting with an American historian who is working on a book about him), but soon after, Gaone’s sister arrived and told us we should stay for a while to watch a documentary that they were screening that evening about Botswana. Soon the filmmaker arrived, Donald Molosi, a young Motswana man who went to Williams college and UCSB (we had some nice California bonding there), but as we talked it became clear just what an incredible person he was! Donald has performed on and off Broadway, written one (or maybe two) shows performed Off-Broadway, was in the film A United Kingdom, and works closely with the UN and African Union on integrating performance and arts in children’s rights issues. He was incredible. And again, just someone who happened to walk through the door while we were there. It was pretty darn cool.

Winter is coming

It has gotten a lot cooler as we head into winter here (I know, it’s bizarre being in a place where June is the coldest month of the year), and it has been really fun to see how Batswana react to cooler temps. The hospice staff keeps being really concerned when I show up without a sweater (in 65-70 degree temps), and I saw a woman running the other day with a hat and gloves on while I was sweating buckets in my tank top and shorts. Living in Iowa has made me a little more obnoxiously proud of cold-tolerance when I go home to California, but here it is a whole new level, and it’s pretty entertaining.

I may never get used to people randomly barging into my room (but that’s not something one should have to get used to, is it?

There isn’t toilet paper in the bathrooms here, so you carry your own with you. Nicely enough, UB provides toilet paper for students, they just give it to you in your rooms instead of leaving it in the bathroom. The other day I was sitting on my bed when I heard a pounding knock on the door, followed immediately by someone opening the door with so much force that it looked like someone just busted their way into my room with a battering ram. The cleaning staff have keys to our rooms, and this woman had just walked in to give me more toilet paper. I appreciated it, and we actually had a nice conversation once she came in, but it’s still really unsettling and odd to have someone just enter your room unannounced on a Thursday afternoon. Our RA has done the same, and it’s really confusing.

Homesickness is still real

Even though there is only about a month left before I head home, little bits of homesickness keep nagging at me, which can be frustrating. It always comes up in small, unexpected ways, like when I was walking back from the store, heard a car drive by blasting the radio, noticed the tone shift as it passed me, and was suddenly launched into memories of my dad explaining the Doppler effect as a train zoomed past the beach in San Clemente in elementary school. I’m usually far away from my parents in Iowa, and a memory like that would just be some fun reminiscing, but here it kind of stings, reminding me of all the trappings of home. With only a month left I should just be excited (and sad, there are a lot of things I will miss about this semester, to be fair) to see fewer and fewer days standing between me and my flight home, but sometimes it instead feels like each day just takes me one day further away from the familiarity of home, when I didn’t have to exert so much emotional effort to do daily tasks. Often, I wake up in the morning and have to brace myself a little for whatever might come up in the day that I will have to figure out how to deal with. I have found comforts, like chocolate milk and swimming at the pool, that take my mind off of things, but some days I just can’t wait to be home and in the familiarity of the U.S.. I think sometimes study abroad is over glorified at liberal arts colleges, so that students who aren’t able to study abroad for one reason or another feel like they have missed out on something critical to their education. My experience has been incredible, and I am so thankful that I was able to do this, but there are also a lot of things that can feel crummy at times. My advice to future students worried about whether or not they can study abroad is to do it if you can, but not feel like you have missed something huge if you can not. There are so many meaningful experiences you can have back at your home institution (not to mention experiences abroad!) even if you can’t make it work to do a whole semester away. Your academic experience is no less valid, and there’s plenty of times I have been here and thought “oh man, _________ might have been better and more fulfilling if I had been in Grinnell this semester.”

My homesickness thing might be a darker picture than I mean to portray. I also wake up in the morning each day excited about the possibilities of things. Who knows when I might meet the former president, discover something as magical as the boxed custard I’m now such a big fan of (it’s like a juice box, but it’s CUSTARD!), or have a really interesting discussion about theology and culture while chopping butternut squash at the hospice. I anticipate that these next five weeks will fly by, and I’ll be here to make the most of them.

My Last 100 Bucks: Semana Santa Edition

As many probably know, 2 weeks ago was Semana Santa, a week filled with religious processions and traditional food leading up to Easter Sunday. This also means barely anyone in Costa Rica works or goes to classes, giving us students a week to travel and tour the beautiful attractions available to us.

Thanks to much planning (not by me) the majority of our group traveled to Monteverde to stay in an AirBnB for 3 nights and later to a hostel in La Fortuna for another 2. During our stay in Monteverde we bought groceries in order to cook at least two meals a day to save our money for excursions.  (easier said than done, but it helped that our program is filled with fantastic cooks!)

DSC04456

Our first excursion was a huge bucket list check for me! Zip-lining! Costing about $35 per person. We booked this with Canopy tours. We were told that this zip-lining course was the longest and tallest in Costa Rica (and it sure did seem that way!)  Additionally, we rode a “tarzan swing” and repelled down 100s of meters of trees.

It was one of the best 2 and a half hours of my life! And for an added bonus we looked super cool in our safety gear. 😉

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-10 at 17.20.15-COLLAGE

 

Our next adventure took us to the Monteverde Reserve where we hiked through the rainforest to see the flora and fauna of Costa Rica and the breath-taking views of untouched wilderness.

DSC04512

DSC04466-COLLAGE

We walked across hanging bridges and trees to see every inch of the rainforest we could and to top it off the reserve had a hummingbird sanctuary next door for free. For only $5 per person it was well worth it! (we were able to get the resident admission price with our University of Costa Rica IDs)

DSC04556-COLLAGE

Next, we traveled to La Fortuna by bus, boat, and another bus.  We drove over the mountains and rode through Lake Arenal and were utterly astonished by our surroundings before even reaching our hostel. Even Volcano Arenal could be seen in the distance.

DSC04571-COLLAGE

Our hostel was another surprise as we entered the gate and saw hammocks, volley ball nets, and a pool (complete with slack line).  By far one of the nicest hostels I’ve been in.

DSC04607

The next morning, 5 others and I found a 10 hour tour of the two volcanoes (Arenal and Chato), a waterfall, and the hot springs.  I was hesitant to spend the $50 for the tour as I only wanted to go to the hot springs and did not feel prepared for what the brochure described as “a strenuous hike” up volcano Chato.  However, I quickly agreed when told about the provided lunch and that I would have a meal that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly (Though, for the record I will never be sick of PB&J).  Plus, I was assured by reviews that this tour was very popular for retirees, so I should have no trouble during the hike.

Below you can see why the tour is called “2 Volcanoes Tour.” Arenal is on the left and Chato on the right.

DSC04625

We started are trek with about 30 other tourists at 10am the next day and rode a bus to the Arenal observatory.  There we found the best view of Arenal and the lake.

DSC04612

From the observatory, we walked for about an hour to reach Arenal’s neighbor and father, Chato.  We reached the bottom of Chato and prepared for the hour hike up its side.

andrea 1 (1)

As the Volcano became steeper the hiking became more of climbing and soon my friend Hailey and I found ourselves far behind the rest of the tour (and retirees) and reached the top after about 2 hours of climbing.  Please appreciate our victory photo below, as it was definitely one of the hardest challenges of my life and I’m extremely proud.

DSC04632

However, the “strenuous hike” did not end there, because we still needed to climb down the crater to reach the lagoon and the rest of our group below.  This involved sliding on our bottoms down steep walls of mud and hanging on to roots and trees for support.  Still, we made it to the lagoon to have our victory lunch and take a dip into what used to an active volcanic crater.

DSC04635-COLLAGE

The climb back up the crater was difficult but quick and the trip down the volcano was extremely easy in comparison to the rest of the day. From Chato we walked to a waterfall, where we again went for a swim! This was probably one of the most magical experiences I’ve had.

andrea 2-COLLAGE

After the waterfall, we walked across hanging bridges and observed wildlife pointed out by our guides until eventually returning to the observatory in time to see the sun set over Lake Arenal.

DSC04649-COLLAGE

DSC04666

Finally, my time had come when we reached the hot springs (more of a river) heated by volcano Arenal.  WHAT I HAD BEEN WAITING FOR ALL DAY! There, our guides served us beverages and gave us mud facials made with volcanic ash from Arenal.

sydney 1-COLLAGE

This moment was what made the whole day worth it and I felt amazing! We relaxed like this for an hour looking at the stars and we were all pretty sad when it came time to say goodbye.

All in all, it was an amazing week and I felt very good about myself (though the soreness in my body for the next week from hiking and zip-lining begs to differ).  It was a week well spent!

Here are the final expenses:

  • zip-lining: $35 (about 20,000 colones)
  • Monteverde Reserve: $5 (about 2,500 colones)
  • 2 Volcanoes Hike: $50 (about 28,000 colones)
  • groceries and food: about $13 (about 7,000 colones)

Excluding housing and transportation my grand total comes out to total of (insert drumroll here)… $103! a price well worth the amount of adventures and experiences we had!

La Pasqua (Easter) con la mia famiglia italiana!

This past Sunday was Easter in Florence, and it was the most exciting Easter I’ve ever experienced. I partook in Florence’s special Easter tradition Sunday morning and my roommate then had a magnificent Easter lunch with my Italian host mother. 

Florence doesn’t have an Easter Bunny. Instead, Florence’s special Easter tradition is called the Scoppio del Carro — which means Explosion of the Cart. The cart is called the Brindellone. It is pulled by two beautiful white cows–and paraded through the streets of Florence until it is brought between the Cattedrale di Santa Maria di Fiore and the Baptistery. Then sometime after 11am the colombina, a rocket shaped like a dove whizzes from inside the cathedral towards the cart, along a string attached to the cart. It collides and ignites the cart, which begins spewing fireworks. The dove then is propelled back into the cathedral. If it makes it all the way back, or I’ve also heard if all the fireworks successfully go off on the cart, then Florence is blessed with Buona Fortuna for the year!


There was some parade action before and after the fireworks. My host mom actually has a friend that was one of the people dressed in Renaissance garb in the parade. I didn’t find him, but I got to see the cart, cows, and a fluffy donkey up close. 

For lunch we had ravioli with a wonderfully aromatic herb concoction, bollito with homemade sauce (boiled beef that comes out really soft), some wine, and a traditional cake called a Colomba which is shaped like a dove. We also got giant chocolate eggs with a surprise inside (I got a phone charger)!

Living with an Italian host family is an amazing experience. Our host mom is extremely kind and fun to talk with. Easter lunch was really special, but we have breakfast and dinner together everyday. As we learn more and more Italian, we can have longer conversations. It’s amazing how good I feel about oral comprehension because I get to practice so much. 


Dove abito? Adesso a Firenze.

Ciao! Sono a Firenze per studiare la storia dell’arte e l’italiano! Florence is so different from London. Yet the process of having to  learn how to live in a while different city again feels a little bit deja vu because I am definitely applying my new survival skills from London here. I feel more confident, but that doesn’t mean adjustment is any less of a challenge. 

My experience being in oh so gigantic London makes me really comfortable about going to new locations and not recognizing where I am. But actually, I am getting lost here in Italy way more often. Google Maps and excellently user friendly public transportation signs was the Sam to my Frodo back in London. But since my phone kind of slightly broke just recently, the extra few days I waited before getting a new one really had me getting chummy with a paper map. And the thing is, Florence is so much smaller than London and the distance between its roads are smaller, so errors in using a GPS tend to be more dramatic. So even now after I got my new cell phone, this paper map has remained my new Sam. 

My first couple days I was always overshooting my distances. The streets of Florence are way less straight than those in London. But gradually I am actually learning them, kind of like the way we are learning Italian. I feel like there might be something symbiotic in the way spatial memory and verbal memory are working in my brain.
The Linguaviva program for learning Italian is bravissimo. The first minute we meet our teacher, she immerses us in Italian right away and our brains start learning and absorbing–and we can’t do anything about it. No hesitation or wishy washy fanciness. The teacher makes every minute count. 

For our other two classes, one is focused on understanding how the Medici were patrons of art and other delves into museology. But both are very complementary and are like two windows into the art history of Florence especially around the Renaissance. They are both more challenging for me than the other courses in the program so far because there are a lot of people’s names and art periods to get straight, but like in London as Visual Text, we are taken on a lot of walking tours, which is such a helpful way of learning because we get to see art in the flesh and up to scale. 

After seeing so many museums in London and in Florence, I think it’s really helpful to learn some of the specialized concepts to do with art and museums. I really like the book we are reading by Vasari. Vasari was a Renaissance artist and an important art history source because he wrote a lot about artists that came before him. I think he’s really fun to read because he tells little anecdotes and sounds so enthusiastic about everything he writes. 

Chicago Jeans: Dearborn Denim

Jeans. Denim. Made in… CHICAGO? Yes. This past week, our neighborhood class provided us with the opportunity to check out a Chicago Factory that focuses on Chicago-made jeans and belts.

Dearborn Denim & Apparel’s mission is to “supply customers with the most comfortable jeans imaginable at the best price possible.” The founder’s name is Rob, and two years ago he set out on a mission to fulfill the want, and need, of providing people with better apparel brand, access to a great product, a product made the “right” way, and sold at a well-worth it price.

While at Dearborn Denim, we had the opportunity to see that jean-making-process from start to finish. It started with how the material was cut based on size the sizes people wanted, then the stitching of those cut pieces, the stitching of the pockets, the stitching of the zipper, then the loops for the belt. Afterwards, the jeans are washed, ironed, then folded and are ready for shipment/packaging. The process can be found HERE.

Dearborn Denim takes pride in comfort, fit, and price. Comfort: They have claimed to use great materials. Their denim is made West Texas long staple cotton, and loomed in Georgia at the most technologically advanced denim mill in the USA. They stretch, but are said to not stretch stretch out. They are said to be some of the most comfortable jeans to be worn. Fit: Each order has the potential to be customized to fit the length each customer/client of Dearborn Denim. They carry a wide range of waist sizes and inseams so that their customers can get the best possible fit. Price: They make everything in-house from start to finish and ship directly to you. Without the middle people, you get the best price that they can offer.

One customer writes on the review page, “Went to the factory to exchange a pair of jeans I ordered online that were too large. The staff was very friendly and they helped me find a pair that fit just perfectly. Such comfy jeans, and great to see them being manufactured here in Chicago.”


Until our trip last week to Dearborn Denim, I was not aware of a Jean Factory in the city of Chicago. We learned that their employees receive a pay between $12-$15. We also learned that they have a various jean colors as well as Dearborn Denim belts, with the option of a more patriotic style.I look forward to seeing how this business flourishes!