The Most Creative Photography Featured on TL

Continuing with my photography series of articles, I decided to highlight the most creative photography we have featured on TL in the past two years. In the article “How to Get Your Photography Featured on Travel Latina”, I mentioned how we like to post eye-catching, unique, and creative photography. Whether the photographer plays with perspective, reflections, focus, objects, lighting, fabric or clothing, movement, incorporates design, and much more; these are the most attention grabbing photographs for us. Enjoy the following:

To be featured on @travel_latina, please email us at info@travellatina.org and send us your original and high quality travel photography. Please don’t forget to include your Instagram name and the description of the location of each photo. Please remember to be patient since we do receive a high number of requests to be featured, but don’t be afraid to kindly follow-up after a few weeks if we still haven’t featured you.

Feliz viaje, viajeras!

Scarlet Macaw Trips by Sahara Borja

“A social purpose travel effort that emphasizes a rich cultural experience while empowering local communities.”

Born in Toronto, where her father from Cali, Colombia had met her mother from the Bronx, New York, Sahara Borja is now connecting with her roots once again through the creation of her brand new social purpose travel effort: Scarlet Macaw Trips. The trips – headed back to Cartagena this summer and in early 2018 – are curated with both the beauty and reality of the region in mind. The trips will continue to find mutually beneficial ways for travellers, local artisans, NGOs and local organizations, schools, and women’s groups in the region to work together within the broader, more well-known travel experience of day trips and nights out dancing to champeta.

Baby Sahara in Cali, Colombia with family from both sides

Despite a few visits to Cali to visit family, she was really able to dig her heels in and reconnect with with her roots while on a Fulbright research grant in Cartagena, where she worked with women and youth in the situation of internal displacement via photography and interviews at the University of Cartagena. While there, she connected with a professional tour guide, a native of Cartagena, and a couple of years later the idea for all-inclusive trips to Cartagena was born. This August, they’re offering a unique opportunity to learn and experience aspects of the culture in a number of immersive and participatory ways, while also having one hell of a time.

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Sahara with Fulbright colleagues and friends in Cartagena, Colombia

Ms. Borja states: “Part of our itinerary takes us to La Boquilla, a primarily Afro-Colombian fishing village where we offer a lunch-and-learn with a local organization and eat on the beach in a makeshift restaurant with food cooked by Abuelita (aka Everybody’s GRAMMA!). Another day we’ll head to San Basilio de Palenque, the first free town of The Americas, founded by escaped slaves.

She explains that this trip is especially relevant for those interested in the African Diaspora as it is seen in this region of the Caribbean, in South America and Colombian culture, music, food, and in the class and race perspectives of the southern hemisphere.

“Being bicultural in the US is a trip; I’ve forever had the pull of Colombia within me. It’s a complicated untangling if you can’t afford to travel that much!” Though this trip costs $2,199 sans airfare, it’s an all-inclusive 8 days and 7 nights, and includes a professional photographer, artisan goodies to take home, breakfast, most lunches, and transportation throughout the week. The trip can be paid for in instalments with 40% deposit due at first.

Be sure to check out this inaugural amazing trip you won’t want to miss!

The Most Colorful Photography Featured on Travel Latina

As stated recently in the article “How to Get Your Photography Featured on Travel Latina”, I LOVE color. I’m obsessed with colors that pop. Whether it is what the person is wearing, the flowers in the background, or the vibrant pueblo walls; I can’t get enough. I decided to look at some of my favorite colorful photography TL has featured since we first began a little over 2 years ago. Enjoy!:

To be featured on @travel_latina, please email us at info@travellatina.org and send us your original and high quality travel photography. Please don’t forget to include your Instagram name and the description of the location of each photo.Please remember to be patient since we do receive a high number of requests to be featured, but don’t be afraid to kindly follow-up after a few weeks if we still haven’t featured you.

Feliz viaje, viajeras!

Pre-Carnavales Under the Mango Tree

One of the most famous carnivals in the world is in Barranquilla, Colombia. The secret I have to offer is that Colombia’s Carnival celebrations span anywhere along the Caribbean coastal region near the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Riohacha. I happen to be living in Dibulla, La Guajira, a coastal pueblo near Riohacha for my Peace Corps service. Never did I think I would be enjoying the charm of Colombian carnival season for longer than a month starting with the weekend after Three Kings Day, and every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras.

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Casetas
Every Saturday during this season, people go out to celebrate “pre-carnavales” in a “caseta”, which are enclosed spaces used to celebrate during carnival season. These spaces could be a bar, discoteca, or an empty lot that is only used for carnival alone (like where I live in Dibulla). Each city has many of them, and each pueblo might have one or two. My pueblo has one that just happens to be next door to me, called KZ Lesvia. This venue is in my neighbor’s back yard, where it was used to screen movies back in the day. Considering the fact that there is a mango tree that looks over the entire venue, and the screen-turned-stage is perfect for the DJ to do their thing, it is an enchanting carnival experience. The best part of attending this venue every Saturday night is seeing how people dressed up more and more as time went by, including more bright colors.

 

If you ever attend a caseta (aka in Spanish “KZ” for short), there are a few things you need to prepare for before you arrive. Colombians celebrate any party by throwing flour or baby powder, foam, or water. Many women wear hats in order to protect their hair from most of these elements, but there is no getting away from the amount that gets on your face and clothing, so come prepared knowing you can’t do anything about it. It’s all in good fun, and there is no point in getting upset if you know what to expect.

 

Parades
I was surprised to see a parade on a random Friday, three weeks before actual carnival. The mayor’s office organized a small parade with their office workers and some mobile speakers. They walked down my street, and I was more than happy to join in on the dancing and celebrating for what I thought was a random surprise. Apparently, there is a parade every Friday a couple of weeks before carnival. The week later, the parade grew to include at least 5 “comparsas”, or parade groups, that comprised of the hospital, the mayor’s office, the school, and a couple of other groups. To top it all off, there just happens to be mango trees that line the streets and met us every step of the way we paraded, no more than 2 miles around the small pueblo.

 

I had the distinct honor of parading with girls that I have been giving dance classes to. I was even more excited that they decided to make red leotards that matched mine. It made me super happy to see them organize, sell desserts, fundraise, and have their new dance outfits made all within one week and with barely any of my help or council. They also made sure to place me right next to their comparsa.

 

Music
Growing up with a Colombian Mami, Checo Acosta was well known in my household for the song Ché Mapalé, which always got everyone who is anyone up off their seat to dance. This is still a largely favorite song to play during Colombian carnival, but there are many more classics as well as new songs that everyone listens to in the Casetas. If you want to listen to some of the music, click on the links for the playlist created for the Carnaval de Barranquilla, and El Heraldo’s song competition for the 2017 Carnaval song. The music spans from traditional Cumbia, Puya, Mapalé, and Vallenato to more modern sounds like Champeta, Reggaeton, Tropi-pop, and more.

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The Caseta when it’s empty and quiet, being set-up with the huge “Picó” speakers. Notice the mango tree in the venue, and behind the tall white wall (that’s our patio mango tree!).

The costumes, colors, colors and more colors
There are particular Carnival costumes that are popular in Colombia, but here are some more that were found particularly in Dibulla:

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I attended the 2017 Carnaval de Barranquilla starting on February 25th, so click on the link to explore the largest most famous Carnival of Colombia.

WEPA CARNAVAL – QUIEN LO VIVE ES QUIEN LO GOZA

 

 

How to Feature Your Photography on Travel Latina

Series 1 – The Most Colorful Photography Featured on TL
Series 2 – The Most Creative Photography Featured on TL
Series 3 – The Most Unique Places Featured on TL

Do you want your travel photography to be featured on TL? Or maybe you just want to learn how to take better photos for your memories, for your social media posts, or to share with your loved ones? This post is inspired by our followers, as well as the fact that Harvard is now offering a free online photography course, so you should all sign up for that! We truly believe you can take high quality photos without needing a professional camera. Following is our tips we offer in order for you to grab our attention so we can share your unique photography, story, perspective, and/or diversity:

-Take photos either before or after the brightest part of the day for the best lighting. The middle of the day light is way too bright and adds too many shadows. Try not to take photos in a shaded area for the highest quality photos. Natural light makes a brilliant photo even with the most basic camera or phone. You can play with shadowing as long as it doesn’t darken your face completely so that it’s hard to see.

-Make sure there are no plastic bottles or random objects in the photo that take away attention from the focus. Other examples of objects that create “noise” are: a phone, a bag, trash, crowds/people, etc. These objects could be held by the person who is the focal point (I will call them the protagonist), or in the background left behind by the protagonist, or uncontrollable because it was part of the setting beforehand (therefore a photo shouldn’t be taken there).

– Try to make sure there aren’t some people or a crowd far in the background. I usually try to photoshop people in the background by “smudging” them if I like a photo enough.

-The protagonists body cut off looks a bit awkward. This may just be personal opinion, but I think a picture looks better if the protagonist isn’t cut in half, legs cut off, or feet cut off by the photo. It all depends (since I have posted some “cut off” photos), but sometimes it’s the details that count.

-Colors: this isn’t as important, but colors make a photo more interesting. I advise people to not wear patterns as much as a solid bright color, especially if you know everything else in the background is going to be a certain color. For example, the opposite of green on the color wheel is red, so if you are visiting a forest or largely green area, it’s best to wear a lot of red to make the photo pop. If you will be surrounded with gorgeous blue waters and buildings, orange makes the photo pop. These are just examples, and you don’t have to follow the color wheel to a tee, but color makes a more interesting photo.

-A landscape photo is better than a vertically long photo or a perfectly square photo almost every time

-Play around with taking photos far away, medium, and/or up-close (which means full body head to toe appears in the photo, not a selfie). Usually, a photo taken off-center is more interesting than placing the protagonist straight in the middle.

-Selfies are very obviously taken by the protagonist and hardly show enough of the background, so I keep those photos to a bare minimum. Personally, these are my least favorite to feature, maybe because I want to distinguish our photography from the mainstream.

-Sometimes it’s hard to direct a friend or random stranger on the street to take a photo exactly how you want them to. My best strategy is to take a practice photo for them to show exactly what part of the landscape you want in the photo first. Then, you show them where on that photo you want to be placed. You might have to explain that it is off-center, and that you want your full body head to toe. It takes some explanation, and it might not always work, but it is possible.

-It seems easy to want to “copy screen” of a past photo to send quickly. Please don’t do this since this decreases the quality of the photo. The higher definition of the photo, the more beautiful and striking it is. The more granular and pixelated a photo is, the less pleasing to the eye it is.

 

Taking the above advice into consideration to be featured on @travel_latina, please email us at info@travellatina.org and send us your original and high quality travel photography. Please don’t forget to include your Instagram name and the description of the location of each photo. Please remember to be patient since we do receive a high number of requests to be featured, but don’t be afraid to kindly follow-up after a few weeks if we still haven’t featured you.

Feliz viaje, viajeras!

How to Save Money for Travel

Featured Image Credit

Having an extremely frugal (see: tacaña) family helped prepare me to manage my money. They made sure to save by meticulously conserving electricity or water in the house, or by refusing to buy what my Mami deems as unnecessary or wasteful household items (i.e. bottled water). Saving money was instilled in me ever since my Dad gave us our weekly allowance (from the ages of 5 to 18), followed by my Mami guiding us to automatically save at least 50% of that money at the bank. By the time I was in middle school, Mami opened my first bank account at the local credit union. Considering the fact that financial literacy is not taught enough in school, it’s an important life skill that we all need to learn to be mindful about.

Ever since I saw several articles that stated that millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than things, I identified strongly with this. I realized that I’m really good at saving money for traveling and experiences because that is what my parents primarily spent money on, not material things. I had the privilege of having college-educated parents that were diligent about teaching me financial literacy, frugality, and saving. I also had the type of parents who never bought us any toys, technology, or clothes we wanted. We were taught from a young age to be happy with what we had, and that money was better spent on experiences as a family. If I did want something, I would try to save up for it from my allowance or I would make it. It’s never too late to teach yourself and your family to think of new ways to save money. Following is the list of what I have done in the past to consciously save money for traveling, but also to stay out of debt (excluding student loans):

Make gifts for people rather than an expensive or wasteful gift
This is one of the funnest and most creative ways to give people gifts. Think of planning a fun outing, day trip, and/or homemade surprise to give someone a gift they will never forget. This also eliminates the fear that you will be spending a lot of money on a gift that the receiver won’t like.

Track your flights and do research on timing
I like to use Kayak’s Yapta Flights or Google Flights to track flight prices. I do my research by googling when the best time is to buy affordable tickets to and from a certain location. Usually, peak times are around the holidays, for instance, between spring break to summer break, or between Christmas to New Years break. Great off-peak times are the 2nd week of January to end of February, or September to November. Ultimately, peak times depend on each location you are departing from and arriving to, so do your research with at least 3 months of anticipation.

Choose hostels or home-stays over hotels
I find that hotels can be sterile, stuffy, disingenuous, and expensive. They also make it easier to prop up a barrier between you and the local community. The best way to meet locals is to stay in their home, whether it be AirBnB or other local home-stay websites. Most places have their own version of AirBnB that might be cheaper and have better customer service. Don’t be afraid of hostels. Many of them have the option to book a full room to yourself if you prefer not to share a space with 10 others. Ultimately, it is usually the most inexpensive way to book lodging, and it’s a great way to meet fellow international travelers. Then of course there is Couchsurfing, where you can meet locals and stay with them for free on their couch or an extra bed if available.

Be environmentally friendly
By not buying material things, you are not contributing to the massive waste our consumer culture creates, and you are not spending money. Pass on the bottled water and use your own glass or metal water bottle. Reuse plastic bags instead of buying sandwich bags. Carpool with co-workers or use public transportation. Refuse to buy something brand new if you know you aren’t going to use it more than 10 times. Think about the positive impact you are making if you don’t buy something, even if you REALLY want it.

Save your tax return for a trip
Just as the title implies: automatically transfer your tax return to your savings account. Think of it as a lump sum of money that will not be touched until you are ready to plan a trip.

Thrift stores and consignment stores are LIFE
It’s baffling the amount of quality used items one can find at a thrift shop or second hand store. The best part is that you can find unique clothing that no one else has. I once found a used but perfect Prada blazer at a consignment store that was part of the Catholic Service’s Hispanic Outreach I volunteered at. I made a purse out of bright turquoise lycra pants I found at the Goodwill that must have been from the 80’s. I bought my senior prom dress for just under $9 at Salvation Army, and low-key I was awarded a certain “crown” if you catch my drift (humblebrag). There is no end to what you can do with someone’s old clothing that simply needs a wash or two to become your new stylish outfit. *Bonus: teach yourself to sew. This will give you the ability to alter some great finds from the thrift shop, or the ability to create a unique outfit tailored to you from scratch. I made my high school homecoming dresses with the help of my Mami’s friend, saved hundred of dollars, while teaching myself very basic sewing that also saved me money.

LOHS Prom 2006. From left to right: My sister Michele, my prima Caro, and me in my 80s vintage black and dark green dress from Salvation Army. I made my choker out of an old stretchy headband I had from the 6th grade.

LOHS Prom 2006. From left to right: My sister Michele, my prima Caro, and me in my 80s vintage dress. I made my choker out of an old stretchy headband I had from the 6th grade.

 

Cook for yourself
Depending on what kind of food you buy to cook with, not only can this be healthier for you, but you will save aaaaall the money.

Don’t drink (at least until the trip)
I know this one is really difficult to do, but if you add up how much you spend on drinking per week, prepare to be floored. One can spend upwards of $100 a week on booze. If you add that all up, that’s $400 a month that could have paid for a round-trip plane ticket. On the bright side, if you give up drinking for a while, your body and mind will thank you for it.

Take on a side job
I only recommend a short term side job to go along with your regular full time work and/or study schedule. This is a great way to enforce discipline with yourself by sending the entire extra income straight to a savings account. It’s also a great way to keep yourself from having the time to go shopping or to go out drinking with friends, both expensive activities that can make you spend upwards of $100 each time. The reason this should only be for the short term is because this can be harmful to your mental or physical health if you don’t keep a balance and make time for yourself and your loved ones. This requires diligent time management so you don’t go crazy or drive yourself to spend money eating out rather than cooking for yourself.

Keep track of every dollar spent
Become mindful and aware of how money is being spent by recording every single dollar spent. This forces you to create a budget, keep track of it, analyze it every day, and push you to make savings. This could dissuade you from blindly buying something without referring to your budget first. Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets provide some great templates to create a personal financial budget. Some other online budgeting resources are: Latinas Think Big – Budgeting Basics: Put Your Money In Its Place!,  The Latina Homemaker – Financial Resources for the New Year, and Forbes – 7 Budgeting Tools To Better Manage Your Money.

Do you have any strategies to save money? Please share in the comments below!

 

Peace Corps Colombia Bebé

The following does not represent the views or opinions of the Peace Corps

A small-city Ohio man and a big-city Colombian woman, both fresh out of college. Both were ready for adventure. This is the story of my parents and how the Peace Corps brought them together. Since I will be following in my Dad’s footsteps to join the Peace Corps – Colombia with my significant other, I thought it was a perfect time to share my Dad’s story that influenced me since I was a little girl.  What was most interesting to me was how the PC brought him to meet the woman of his dreams, what his job duties were while serving there, and how he was part of the second to the last PC group to go to Colombia before their almost 30 year hiatus.

Another personal connection of mine to the PC is President JFK’s historical speech on the steps of the University of Michigan student union introducing the idea in 1960, at my alma mater. PC Colombia was one of the first sites inaugurated in 1961.  It was postponed in 1981 due to violence and unrest. PC was brought back in 2010, after an almost 30 year hiatus, with the focus now being on the Caribbean coast. I interviewed my dad about his time in the Peace Corps (June 1978 to August 1980), working primarily in the small town of Tumaco on the Pacific coast of Colombia. 

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Tumaco was the site my dad worked at on the Pacific coast, when the PC headquarters were in Bogotá. Barranquilla is where the headquarters are now, and where I will be living for the 3 month training. I still don’t know what pueblo or village I will be staying at for the full 2 years, but it will be somewhere 3-5 hours inland along the Caribbean coast.

The following are 12 questions I was dying to ask him in order to share with all of you:

1) Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?
I had studied Spanish in college but I wanted to improve my conversational skills. It was also very hard for a liberal arts college grad to find work at the time.

2) What was going on the year leading up to joining the Peace Corps (pop culture, current events, politics, etc)?
Jimmy Carter had beaten Gerald Ford in the presidential election of 1976. There was an administration change in the Peace Corps. The ex-Governor of Ohio was named Peace Corps Director. He came to Bogotá to meet the volunteers. There was a Peace Corps volunteer kidnapped in Colombia the year before I arrived. My group was one of the last few before the government discontinued Peace Corps there.

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Peace Corps Volunteers in training: at the top of Monserrate over-looking Bogotá

3) When and how did you meet Mami with respect to your PC timeline?
I arrived in Colombia June of 1978 for the training. They placed us with local families during our training in Bogotá first, where they placed me with Martha’s (Mami’s) Tia Iñez. We met at your great-grandmother Maria Helena’s birthday gathering.

4) What was training like for the PC?
Intensive language training took three months. Malaria Control training took another three months. Training was conducted by the World Health Organization and officials of the Servicio de Erradicación de Malaria del Ministerio de Salud.

5) What was your assignment and what did you spend most of your time working on for the full 2 years?
We were employees of the Colombian Ministry of Health. I spent four months in Caquetá, South of Florencia, in the high malaria transmission zone. We caught anopheles mosquitos and took blood samples in several high transmission locations. They moved me to Tumaco, Nariño on the Pacific coast when the US State Department identified Caquetá as a high risk area for left wing guerrillas.

6) I remember you saying that most of the PC Volunteers in Colombia you started with dropped out. How many and why did they drop out? What helped you stay?
Out of twenty volunteers who started in the malaria control program, I was the only one to complete two years of service. Living conditions were very tough: sleeping in the countryside in a hammock, no bathrooms, and no showers. I would have quit if I had not met someone in Bogotá (your Mami).

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Richard with other PC volunteers

7) What happened when you heard the horrible news that Grandpa had passed away?
I had a premonition the day he died. I was in Bocachica (gold country) doing a special project. My friends at Planned Parenthood (Brazilian and Swiss couple) looked for me when I got back to Tumaco. My PC supervisor called me from Bogotá. Uncle Dennis raised holy hell with the US government to reach me. He called our Congressman, the Ohio Senators, and the State Department. Communication was very difficult in Nariño at the time.

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Marilyn & Lawrence. Grandpa Lawrence passed away at the age of 55 while Richard was in the Peace Corps

 

8) What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome while in the Peace Corps?
Health, homesickness, and culture shock. I lost 30 pounds. I contracted malaria and intestinal parasites. No bathrooms. Eating rice, lentils, and sardines for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tumaco was a nightmare economically, socially, and politically. I saw two men fight, then one pulled out a machete and cleaved his face and forehead in two.

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Really really skinny Richard with Martha

9) How was dating Mami during the PC? When did the engagement and wedding happen with respect to your PC timeline?
Since my time in Bogotá was limited, I had to rush things along a little. When I finished the training in Bogota, I worked in Caquetá until the Christmas and New Year holidays. I rushed the proposal so much, we do not even remember where and when I proposed to her but it was during that holiday visit. We got married in January of 1980 during the holidays, a little over a year later.

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Martha & Richard: wedding in Bogotá January 1980

10) Since you lived there before the internet, how was your means of communication?
I went to Telecom on weekends in Tumaco to call your Mami. The PC sent us issues of Time and Newsweek every week, but mail was not dependable. I devoured those magazines from cover to cover. I also had a short-wave radio until it was stolen. I used to listen to the Detroit Tigers on short wave.

11) What advice do you have for your Colombian-American daughter who is now following in your footsteps and serving in the now reinstated Peace Corps – Colombia?
Take care of your health. You are more at risk than you have ever experienced before. Bottled or boiled water only. You have Kyle (significant other) so you will not have the same homesickness that I had. Focus on building relationships. Do not let frustration affect your relationship with other people. (You are my daughter. You are exactly like your father. I know you more than you know yourself.)

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Me with my parents at my 2010 graduation at University of Michigan

12) What are your thoughts about the Peace Corps in present day?
Thank you Peace Corps for bringing me the three people I love more than anyone or anything including the Toledo Rockets, the Michigan Wolverines, chocolate, arepas de choclo, Scottish Ale, a beautiful morning at the lake, the list goes on and on forever. Amen.

I’m excited to embark on my new adventure in Colombia as a millennial, with more advanced technology, with my significant other Kyle, proud daughter of a PC-Colombia returned volunteer, and proud Colombian-American. My dad was my biggest influence and inspiration! Please follow our joint blog Kronicles of Kalexandra or my IG @aletracy for my periodic updates about my S.O. and I’s experience as Peace Corps Volunteers, specifically in Community Economic Development for the next 27 months starting this August 2016 somewhere along the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Click on the link see more photos about my dad Richard in the PC, and the PC at University of Michigan.

Are you interested in doing the Peace Corps? Did your parent or someone you know do the Peace Corps? Comment below!

A Colombian Road Trip Adventure

These series of posts are about Latina travel bloggers connecting with their ‘motherland’, also known as the country that one or both parents are from, where they were born but only spent their childhood there, where close or extended family still live, and/or they have visited throughout their life.

This is a continuation of my last article about Embracing my Sangre Indígena in Colombia. 2010 was an incredible time to be in Colombia because safety and security was at an all time high, and this kind of trip would have never happened prior to that year. This trip served to help me learn about different cities and regions in my mother’s country (aka the ‘motherland’), some brief history of certain Indigenous groups, a look into my own privilege, my inner dialogue, and more. I introduced the nine stops we made during my road trip in Colombia starting in Bogotá with the longest stop being Santa Marta on the coast, and then back:

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The Adventure
Zipaquirá is a salt mine frequented by many who want to visit the extensive caves, carved out ruins, and a historical location that used to be a salt trading center before the arrival of conquistadores. The salt was a hot commodity for the Muiskas because of it’s purpose to preserve food. It is located outside of Bogotá, so it was a perfect location to stop while on the way out to begin our journey.

Bucaramanga was a small city/ large town that we visited about ⅓ of the way to our destination. We stayed with my Uncle’s wife’s cousins (try saying that three times). It was hotter than Bogotá, and humid but not uncomfortable. It was close to the next three nearby spots we visited while we stayed, a central location to these incredible must-sees.

Parque Natural el Gallineral, a beautiful forest area with incredible biodiversity. It was called a “Gallineral” because the unique trees allowed the gallinas (chickens) to lay and walk on the sideways growing trees. One of the oldest trees to exist is located in that park.

I also got to try hormigas culonas, literal translation is “fat ass ants.” They tasted crunchy and salty like peanuts. I can’t believe I actually liked it:

Barichara. After the Gallineral, we stopped by the beautiful pueblo of Barichara. In this town, painted the same kelly green throughout, there were breathtaking views of the mountains. We ate a delicious lunch (just like almost everywhere else we went) and relaxed. I tried delicious sabajón for the first time, which is a Colombian style eggnog spiked with aguardiente.

Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, known as Panachi, was the highlight of the road trip. We stopped there on the way out of Bucaramanga because it is very close by.  Located in the department of Santander, Panachi is an adventure park with breath-taking views of miles beyond miles of the surrounding radius of the “Gran Cañon de Chicamocha”. The meaning of the name Chicamocha is unknown, though it is known to be a Guane indigenous word for the river that flows through the canyon. The national park offers a long list of outdoors activities like kayaking, fishing, camping, or paragliding.  We went zip-lining and walked around the whole park. I drank Chicha which is a corn drink fermented in a clay pot with corn, pineapple, and panela (hard brown sugar). The beverage is also known as piloncillo.

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Panoramic view of the Panachi statue

Santa Marta. We finally arrived to the coast after almost 4 days on the road and stopping everywhere we could. The last day of traveling was the longest because we didn’t stop anywhere. Santa Marta was more about relaxing rather than sight seeing there (unfortunately but fortunately). We stayed at an all-inclusive resort Decameron with delicious fresh fruit piled high everywhere food was served, with ever flowing beverages. My cousin Carolina flew in from Bogotá to join us just for our time in Santa Marta. My Uncle Jaime actually left for 2 days to be back in Bogotá for the weekend since he runs his Events & Wedding business Banquetes Pablo VI, so weekends are always the busiest. Do you see how bad ass my Uncle is for doing so much for us?!

My Tia and Abuela were too nervous for us to leave the resort because certain areas were deemed unsafe at the time. I think they did not feel as safe with me the “foreigner” there without a man there with us. They live in fear because of horror stories, especially since a friend of my Tia was kidnapped on the nearby island of San Andrés and murdered. Somehow, my cousin and I snuck out one night to go out into town to a recommended discoteca where we had a blast. We were lucky because her and I shared our own room, and the other two shared their own room. They both conked out to sleep early, so it worked for us. We had a great time, and I danced with some girls from “El Chocó” region, which is a primarily Afro-Colombian population. We came home around 4am unscathed and happy to have made rebelde decisions.

Though all-inclusive resorts aren’t my thing due to how separated I feel from local life, and how expensive they are, the food at Decameron is the best I have ever tasted compared to any hotel or resort I have ever been to in the world. And the shows!? There is a dance show EVERY night, nothing short of spectacular. I actually tried out for their dance group because I somehow convinced myself that it was what I wanted to do. The women were all half my size in body weight, so that wasn’t going to work. I also noticed most of them were mestizas or mulattas. The reality was also that the dancers didn’t have a college education if they finished high school at all. Though I am aware of my privilege as an educated able-bodied US American middle class light-skinned Latina woman, it was even more apparent to me when I “tried out”. I didn’t have a job lined up at the time, but I knew I had many other opportunities available to me that the other dancers did not. Their boss also made sure to make it clear that the job wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed. Inherently, he knew I was too privileged for that job. It forced me to check my privilege, so to speak.

Manizales. It took us 1.5 days of straight driving to get to my Tia Maria Clara’s town of Manizales, a mountainous and foggy quaint town. I have visited my Aunt there 2 previous times since her family moved there from Bogotá in 2000. She is an Opera singer and professor at the Universidad de Caldas en Manizales. Her husband Carlos is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia – Manizales. They have a beautiful apartment with a grand view of the snow capped mountain Nevado del Ruiz. Driving in, out, and around this town can be eerie because there is always a fog that hides the bottom of the mountains. It’s always a pleasure to visit them since they take us to all of the museums, yummy restaurants, and to see the beautiful buildings sites. I was able to debrief the whole trip with my Tia since the last time I saw her was in Bogotá when she welcomed me back with the new family news.

Honda. One of our last stops during our 6-hour trip back to Bogotá was in Honda, a small vacationing spot. Bogotanos love to vacation 1-2 hours outside of the city where there is tierra caliente, and away from the overcrowded and polluted city life. My great aunt Olga was at her property, so we stopped to see her for lunch. She is also known as a bruja (in another way, but similar to my Tia), and she looked into my eyes as if she was reading my soul. I remember her telling me that I had a deep sadness in my eyes, though I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. I still remember that to this day for reasons beyond me. Maybe I was sad I didn’t live closer to my family? Because I didn’t have a job right out of college? Because I was missing my Boricua boyfriend at the time? Because my family didn’t accept or embrace that we have indigenous roots? Who knows! However, it was a very reflecting time in my life and this I know to be true, so maybe I didn’t notice it until she pointed it out.

Nocaima. All I have to say about this amazing rural area is that I wish to own a small piece of land around there with my own Finca to share with my family. It was relaxing and invigorating at the same time. We stopped by because my uncle was telling me he was trying to convince my Mami to buy land with him and my aunts. It is about an hour outside of Bogotá. Maybe one day I will be able to accumulate enough savings to invest in something like this with my uncle and other family members.

I recommend every Latina who still holds strong connections to their “Motherland” visit and connect as a part of understanding your identity and your inner voice. This road trip served to provide me time to think about the news presented to me, and to connect with everything in sight with a new perspective. Whether only one or both parents were born in Latin America or the Caribbean, or whether each parent was born in two different LATAM countries, or if you were born there and have not returned since you were young; do your family tree, blood, and DNA a favor and connect to the motherland in a deeper way. Some important factors to note:
1) Safety may be a concern (due to media sensationalism or true risks), but listen carefully to your local family members and government officials since they know best and conditions are always changing.
2) Staying with family is always much cheaper than staying at hotels, and you connect with them and the land in a way that you never would be able to as a regular tourist.
3) Study and learn to understand your Indigenous or African roots, especially in terms of bringing up difficult topics of conversation with older family members. Don’t make the same mistakes as they did, and don’t perpetuate a system and society that continues to hurt those groups.
4) Be mindful and aware of your own privilege; whether it be your greater opportunities as a Latina living in a western country (aka your western country passport privilege), if you have lighter or white skin, are more educated, able to accumulate wealth easier, and/or etc.
5) Does your visiting or interacting with locals have negative impacts on them or their environment? It’s important to always ask yourself this question. 

Though I by no means can claim that I am an Indigenous woman, I am proud of my roots. I am proud to be Mestiza, and connecting with this part of me has changed me for the better. Because of this, I will continue to fight against injustices, inequality, and ignorance in the Americas in all ways I am able to.

For more photos of this trip, click on this link.

What was your most favorite road trip you ever took? Did a road trip ever lead to self-discovery or getting more in touch with your inner self? Comment below!

Next up: a look into my next adventure in the Peace Corps Colombia! I have been accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and somehow got my first choice of serving in Colombia. I will be introducing this opportunity as I prepare to embark on this journey on August 1st, 2016.

Embracing my Sangre Indígena in Colombia

Inspired by Cindy Medina’s article Descubriendo Mis Raices / Discovering my Roots about her trip to El Salvador, the land her parents are from. These series of posts are about Latina travel bloggers connecting with their ‘motherland’, also known as the country that one or both parents are from, where they were born but only spent their childhood there, where close or extended family still live, and/or they have visited throughout their life.

Up until recently, Colombians often used a saying “no seas indio”, literal translation being “don’t be an Indian.” What’s the actual meaning, you ask? Significa:  “don’t be an idiot” or “don’t be stupid.” Colombians have grappled with issues of race and ethnicity since the time of Spanish colonization and conquest. Afro-Colombians, Indigenous groups, and dark-skinned mestizos deal with racial discrimination in Colombia every day. They are less able to have access to educational opportunities needed to better their livelihood, to acquire certain jobs that help to accumulate wealth, targeted disproportionately by police authorities, and/or to live in more favorable areas that are closer to better opportunities and safety. In addition, lighter skin is considered more beautiful by Colombian society’s standards. If you look at the majority of the Reinas de Belleza, or the Beauty Pageant events that are followed as much as fútbol, you will notice the majority of the contenders or winners have lighter, almost white skin. Considering the fact that the white or lighter skin demographic does not match the majority (roughly 80% of the population is non-white) of women that represent the whole population, there is something wrong with how beauty is viewed. Latin Americans, and the rest of the world, struggle to deal with the fact that people of darker skin are treated differently because they are stereotyped as unable to learn, ugly, dirty, savage, less-than, and poor. Unfortunately, it is no different within my own family, especially since many members of my family have darker skin while others have white skin, including every shade in between. There is a sense of shame to have darker skin, especially by the older generation.

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My abuela “Clarita” with my cousin Caro, who always got called “Pocahontas” growing up. Here they are in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

I always thought very deeply about my race and ethnicity ever since I was young. For instance, I associated my non-white yet lighter brown skin to ‘ugly’ or ‘less than’ when I was in elementary school living in San Antonio, Texas. I wanted my Dad’s blue eyes, white skin, and blond hair. I’m not sure how or why I already held that view at that age since we interacted most with many Mexican-American, Colombian-American, or other Latin American families while living there. When we moved to Mexico in 1997 for 2 years, I was made fun of for having a mezcla of a Gringo and Colombian accent. I was confused because I thought I identified with most of my classmates since most of them physically looked like me, and they also spoke Spanish. Granted, I did not understand the difference between Mexican Spanish & identity with my own Spanish mix & blended identity in the 4th grade. By 5th grade I was finally saying Mexicanisms like “que padre” rather than Colombianisms like “que chévere.” Soon came another culture shock. My family and I moved to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1999. We were one of the few non-white (with the exception of my Dad) families in town. Starting my first year of middle school feeling like a foreigner, even though I was born in the US, was not the greatest feeling. 8th grade was the first time I ever filled out an anonymous form about demographics that threw me into an identity crisis. We could only “check one”: _Caucasian, _African-American or African, _Native American or Pacific Islander, or _Asian-American or Asian. There was no “other” option, and there was no option to check two. I knew I felt like I didn’t identify with being Caucasian as much as being Colombian even though I was 50/50, purely because I was always asked “what I was” and automatically placed in a box other than Caucasian by classmates. I had no idea what to choose. This was the first time I realized I must have Native-Colombian-South American roots, so I asked my platinum blonde history teacher if I could check that. She told me that one can only check “Native American” if one has official Tribal documentation or identification. Considering the dilemma, I checked Caucasian. Another impactful experience was a mission trip my sister and I took to the the Pine Ridge reservation with the Oglala Lakota in South Dakota. This experience allowed me to see that I felt connected though I knew I really cannot call myself Indigenous or Native since I did not experience life as such in the US or in the rest of Americas. Years later when I pursued my higher education at the University of Michigan, it allowed me a space to explore my identity intellectually, culturally, and socially. It wasn’t until the summer after I graduated that I connected the most with my roots, let alone embraced them wholeheartedly with orgullo (pride).

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My familia Colombiana: Abuela Clarita is in the center (of course), abuelo Jaime is the bald gentleman. The siblings in order of age is Martha (my Mami) with the red collar, Tia Maria Clara with the pearl necklace, Tio Carlos Jaime with the black hair, and Tia Rosita with the bright colors. Tio Carlos with the glasses is Maria Clara’s husband, my dad Richard with the cool tie, and Tia Diana in gray is Carlos Jaime’s wife. The cousins starting with the youngest Andres, Maria Clara’s son, my sister Michele with the big bow, my prima Diana Carolina with the bangs, and me (matching my sister’s dress). ****This photo was taken in 1994 when we visited Colombia. I want to note that it appears as if many of my family members’ skin tones where lightened.***

It was the summer after my 2010 graduation, and Colombian family joined forces and bought me a plane ticket as a gift to come visit them in Colombia. Spirit Airlines was brand new, and I bought a ticket for $432.70 after taxes and fees! Weirdly, it was my first time visiting without my sister, Mami, or Dad. Prior to that summer, I had traveled to visit my Mami’s side of the family 4 times throughout my life, at each stage: 1) toddler years, 2) Elementary School, 3) Middle School for a whole summer without the parents, and 4) High School. I knew it was going to be an unforgettable month just me and los Chavarriaga, with not a cent in my bank account and still no job prospects.

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Great Cousin Ninía, abuelos’s cousin, with her husband

The beginning of my trip began with my free-spirited Aunt Maria Clara telling me some unexpected information about our lineage history. Coming from a family who’s older generation adamantly declares that we are 100% of Spanish (see: European) descent, it was a pleasant shock to start my trip with the new found information that my tátara (great-great) grandfather on my abuelo’s side was a Muiska chieftan who purchased the Spanish name “Ramirez” in order to gain status and power in society at that time. Seeing that this was a progressive statement for her to say, Maria Clara also warned me that my abuelo and his siblings were very upset because of her claims. This could be because abuelo and his siblings have dark brown skin complexion, and therefore they most likely have experienced discrimination in ways that they themselves are ashamed to accept. I vaguely remember her saying they stopped talking to her and refused to see her when she would visit Bogotá from her current hometown of Manizales. Maria Clara reflected back to the time she found out the family history when she was a little girl hanging out with Ninía, her father’s (my abuelo’s) cousin one summer. Ninía had told her that their grandfather was 100% indigenous. The original family name was Balsero, which is the Muiska name for someone who handles a canoe. Fast forward to 2016, and one of my inspirations to write this article is because my abuelo is getting older and starting to show signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s. This also means he finally admitted this year that his grandfather was in fact indigenous, according to my Tia Maria Clara. I am sure this is not the only instance of indigenous roots in my maternal family tree, but the only one with verbal proof from several sources. Maria Clara continues to find ways to search for documentation to further prove these claims.

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Abuelo Jaime with his siblings starting with him on the right to left: Guillermo, Gloria, Lilia, Olga, and Hernán.

Back to the summer of 2010, with the exciting new family history on my mind, my family informed me we would be taking a road trip together throughout Colombia. We made 9 significant stops throughout our trip: Zipaquirá, Bucaramanga, Parque Gallineral, Barichara, Parque Chicamocha, Santa Marta, Manizales, Honda, and Nocaima.  It was mostly my uncle Jaime (Hi-meh), my Tia Rosita, and my abuela Clarita in Jaime’s huge white 4-door truck.

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The map of the road trip we took in Colombia in 2010

Check out the next part of the story with a road trip adventure, my thoughts along the way, and a conclusion to this story!

Does your family know about your Indigenous or African roots? How do they handle this information? Comment below!

Work While Studying Abroad

How working while studying abroad in France allowed me to travel Europe and learn the language better than 9 years of classes. Recommendations at end of post.

Coat check at a bar and elementary English teacher. Those were my two jobs I was able to nab while studying abroad for an academic year in Aix-en-Provence, France. Whatever student loans and small scholarships didn’t cover, I had the privilege that my parents could help me with much of the cost during the year there (the rest of tuition, dorm, round-trip flight). But any of the extras like food, entertainment, and travel was to be covered by me. Though I did have a middle class upbringing, the burden of college on my family was immense. My family lived through the chaos that was the Michigan auto industry, and I had studied in France in 2008 to 2009, when the economic recession hit. The dollar was very weak compared to the Euro, and my family and I felt it. My two summer jobs before I moved in the Fall didn’t allow me to save enough to cover a whole year of “extras”. I was determined to find a job that would feed my addiction to wanderlust while lessening the study abroad cost burden on my family.


The first month or so we were in Aix, my new study abroad friends and I would go out to the international student nocturnal spot called IPN (it’s possible it stood for “International Party Nightclub”, in English, not in French) where a few French people worked, but the rest of the workers were foreigners. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Colombian guy, Kike, attending the coat check on a slow weeknight. We hit it off, conversing mostly in Spanish. I expressed to him that I needed a job, which led him to help me get a job doing the same as him, and – BAM – I got my first job abroad! I was being paid 50-60 euros a night (depending on tips) under the table, and I was only working Saturday nights for about 2-3 months (September – November 2008). That was about $70-80 at that time, which was a lot considering I was not bartending. This covered food to experiment outside of my main choice of cheese or bread (food is expensive in France!). It also covered short weekend trips like to the French island of Corsica, for example.

European clubs stay open past 4 or 5 am , so I knew I had to look for something different or else risk my health and weekend social life (i.e. time to go on trips). There was also an incident where I once got choked by a non-French male coworker who thought he was being playful and funny. I never did or said anything about the situation because I didn’t know how to handle it. Thankfully, a fellow female coworker saw what happened and called him out. Regardless, I knew that it was time to look for a better work gig.

Through Kike, I was introduced to ALL the Colombians who lived in Aix that were around my age. This group  included a guy I would later (and briefly) date, who introduced me to his sister, Linda. Another girl, Daniela, I met randomly while working coat check because we haphazardly bonded over Shakira playing at the moment she handed me her coat, and then we became inseparable the moment we both said we were Colombian. I remain in contact with Linda and Daniela to this day. They are two of my best friends. We spent some fun nights at IPN while I worked and they came to party to accompany me, but we preferred going Latin dancing at Cuba Libre or for some cheap Rosé at Splendid.

My parents weren’t too happy that I was speaking too much English with U.S. American friends and too much Spanish with Colombian friends, which they felt defeated the purpose of being in France.  However, another Colombian, William, who was also working at IPN, worked as a Spanish teacher at one of the French public schools in the area. He told me it would be possible for me to teach Spanish or English. I was more than excited to stop staying up so late on Saturdays for work.  That way I could start having a unique and fun experience with some French youngins during normal business hours. In addition, who would have thought I would meet so many Colombians in France, and that they would make such a positive impact on my life then and now?

William organized my first and only interview with Madame Vela Tur, the principal at Bellevue Elementary School (École Primaire Bellevue), a 30-40 minute bus ride away in the bigger nearby city of Marseille, France. To prepare me before the interview, he let me know that the school was located in a neighborhood that was the government projects with low-income housing. We had one meeting, and I hit it off right away with the kids. I couldn’t believe I got the job!

I was working once a week on Fridays, from 8am to 3pm for a couple of months. I later started to work at 2 other nearby Elementary schools for about 3 hours each. I worked a loaded schedule for my remaining 3 months while still taking university classes. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of those elementary schools.  I was teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, about 2 different classes per grade. The best part about this experience was getting to know this unique part of France, different from what it’s famous for (i.e. fashion, luxury, Cannes Film Festival, the Eiffel Tower, Paris, etc). Marseille is a largely immigrant city since it is the biggest port of France in the Mediterranean. Most of my students were first generation African, Middle Eastern, or Gypsy. The majority of the students were Muslim. I wouldn’t take back this experience for the world, and I was happy to have such a genuine exchange of cultures: between my U.S. American/ Latin American/ Colombian culture, and their French or African or Middle Eastern or Gypsy or Muslim culture.

I ended up working there from about November 2008 to June 2009, and it was a challenging but beneficial 8 months out of my study abroad experience. In fact, I was able to help a fellow U.S. American classmate, Brandon, land a job teaching too. Because of this job, I was able to travel to 7 other countries in Europe. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the extra income.

Do not pay attention to criticisms from your family or friends. If most of your social network speaks your native language(s), yet you are working while studying abroad, the best language experience you will get is if you work with colleagues who are local. It’s usually hard to befriend locals, therefore this is the best way to connect with them, befriend them, and be immersed in their language in the most useful way that is not learned in a college course.

Recommendations
It can be tricky to find a job while studying or living abroad depending on visa restrictions. Here are 3 easy jobs to research online before you travel to the new country, and/or on the ground when you arrive there:

Teach. The easiest job to find as a foreigner with a student visa is teaching English or another language like Spanish or Portuguese. Many require a TEFL certification, but some don’t. Do your research to see what exists in the area you will be in because chances are there are plenty of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, and adult evening classes for you to teach. Connect with other foreign students who teach since they know direct contacts to people who hire for these positions.

Au Pair. Basically, you get room and board paid for while you take care of a family’s kids. Most times you get an extra stipend to spend for yourself and access to a motorized vehicle. This might be tricky if you have a set school schedule, but it is possible to balance the two. Daniela, my Colombian-French friend I mentioned earlier, worked as an Au Pair in the UK while she completed her studies AND worked at a nearby school.

Work at a bar or restaurant. You may be able to find a job that pays you under the table by bartending, bussing, or other jobs like coat check. Try the bars or restaurants that are frequented by a lot of international students or run by foreigners, especially if there are other Latinxs there. Be wary that “under the table” isn’t always the best option since things can go wrong or the workplace might be unsafe.

Odds and ends. Translate documents to English. Babysit. Task Rabbit offers remote jobs, or find a similar local app. Intern for a company that wants English/Spanish/Portuguese speakers. Find work you can do remotely for your university, with a connection, or for a company.

Even if you aren’t able to secure something before you arrive to your destination, remember that it’s always easiest to find a job on the ground. Network with people who are foreigners but who have lived there for at least a year, they will have the best knowledge in terms of connections for foreigners, and will empathize with you the most. You will most likely find something quicker on the ground rather than sitting at home researching online. You have to be active about talking to people or else you won’t find anything.

For more photos of my teaching experience, click here!

Stay tuned for a future post about my summer internship experience in Paris that followed my academic year in the South of France.

Were you able to find a job while studying or living abroad? What did you do? How did you find the job?