It’s Fall season, when spirits are said to come back to roam our realm. In honor of the Mexican holiday of “Dia de los Muertos“, our founder Ale will be offering a virtual Rumbaterapia dance class on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021 at 8pm EST / 5pm PST to commemorate our ancestors through dancing Cumbia. This begins “Travel through Dance”, a new virtual dance class series where we explore different cultures in this unique way.
She will lead a 1.5 hour session beginning with a trip that starts in Colombia during colonial times when folkloric Cumbia was born on the Caribbean coast. Join her as she travels to land in Mexico to see the progression of the dance & music of Cumbia throughout Latin America. Of course, no such event can go without honoring La Santa Selena, Techno-Cumbia Queen.
Participants will be encouraged to prepare an altar honoring their ancestors (and/or Selena) before the dance class begins, and close to where they will be dancing. We will start with an introduction to the theme of the class, stretching, music & dance progression from old school Cumbia to modern Cumbia, and then we will end with a ritual to honor our ancestors, a breathing exercise, and then close out with a meditation. Feel free to dress in folklórico outfits, Selena impersonation costumes, and/or overall get as creative as possible to celebrate the dead through dance. It’s suggested to load up on incense, candles, sage, palo santo, or anything that you would like to incorporate into this dance therapy ritual.
There is a minimum $10 donation required for this class since all funds raised will go towards the Mochila Fundraiser to help us monetize our website. Send your payment with your email, and we will send you the virtual class link. Accepted forms of payment are: 1) Venmo @Travel_Latina, 2) Paypal email@example.com, or 3) Zelle firstname.lastname@example.org.
On April 19th, a photo of one of my favorite influencers, Brown Badass Bonita’s Kim Guerra wearing a vibrant red dress with the backdrop of a turquoise blue ocean, grabbed my attention because it was tagged as located in Mexico City, Mexico. BBB usually commands my attention with her colorful graphics and empowering poetry, but this was different. I was confused because I knew that there weren’t any beaches in DF, but I also know that many of us women don’t always like to immediately disclose our current location for safety concerns, especially for someone with such growing recognition like Kim. It suddenly hit me when I quickly remembered some of her recent posts in the past few months, “¡Kim está viviendo en México!” So of course I perused all of her recent posts, none of which I had realized where she actually was, or that she announced or explained outright what she was doing in Mexico with her partner Ana Sheila, the co-creator of Tamarindo Podcast. I was instantly determined to find out their story, as I felt it in my soul that they were living and traveling there to connect with their ancestral roots. And as a queer couple, how must that be for them? I had so many questions already! I can spot the radiating glow of not only empowered mujeres like them, but ones who further this empowerment by making the decision to go back to live in their motherland. Their story is a perfect addition to our “Conectando con Raíces Ancestrales” series, as we share inspiring stories of Latinxs who connect to their land in their own deeply personal way.
I had the distinct opportunity to interview Kim Guerra and Ana Sheila via Zoom while they were in their comfortable apartment in Coyoacán. Las Queer Enamoradas, their new joint IG account, provides a space to celebrate queer mujeres in love, the epitome of this perfect pair. I had to calm my fan-girl squeaking right off the bat. Down-to-Earth, free spirits, chingonas. I already knew I wanted to talk to them for hours about their experience in Mexico. Kim was wearing a gorgeous indigenous bright yellow beaded necklace sprinkled with other colors, reminding me of the Indigenous Colombian Embera Chami necklaces from my motherland. They sat comfortably next to each other, embracing with such burgeoning love for one another.
Kim and Ana are from the Los Angeles, California area, and met during the pandemic on a socially distant Zoom call. By January 2021, after dating 8 months, they both agreed that they wanted to live and explore México lindo y querido, something that was possible because of their ability to complete their work remotely. They took their dog Chanchito, and arrived in Mexico City (aka Distrito Federal, aka DF) with their adventurous yet COVID-conscious spirits ready to explore. Ana was actually born in DF, so going back was like a coming home to her roots to connect with her ancestors like her Dad who was raised there but unfortunately passed away just 2 years ago. She still has family in the Mexico City area, a tremendous resource to help navigate the city and travel outside of DF. Kim has family in Guadalajara, Jalisco who they plan to try to visit. Since arriving, they’ve explored 6 remarkable locations thus far: Tepoztlán, La Condesa, Coyoacán, Mazunte, Zipolite, and San Agustinillo.
Tepoztlán Kim and Ana first visited a pueblo 1 hour outside of Mexico City, Tepoztlán, Morelos considered a Pueblo Mágico or Magical Town, awarded the label in Mexico for maintaining their original architecture, traditions, history and culture. These pueblos normally hold great relevance to the country’s history, and many times hold remarkable symbolism and legends. Tepoztlán is best known for the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent god. The town is also known for its weekly artesania market, and a hiking trail that leads to the Aztec Tepozteco pyramid.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many of the public sites were closed, including the Pyramid, but it was still possible to do and see many things out in nature and from afar. Kim and Ana spent the greater part of their short trip hiking. Kim describes this location as a perfect spiritual getaway to exercise on the trails, self care with massages, experience an indigenous Temazcal sweat lodge, and to learn about herbal practices via a tea cleanse. Ana described that she felt she connected spiritually with her deceased Abuela and Dad during the Temazcal experience, physically feeling their presence.
La Condesa At this point, Kim and Ana were ready to figure out their long term living arrangement in the Mexico City area. They chose La Condesa, a colonial borough in DF just 4 km south of Zona Rosa. They booked an Airbnb only for a month to try it out. Although the area had its own charm, Kim and Ana felt that it catered towards the extranjero or tourist, and felt culturally disconnected. After one month living and working there, they decided they were interested in an area where they would be able to interact more closely with locals. This led them to the bohemian burrough of Coyoacán.
Coyoacán I was not surprised that las Queer Enamoradas fell in love with the area that once was inhabited by Queer Diosa, Frida Kahlo. In Nahuatl, Coyoacán means ‘the place of coyotes’, known for its bohemian colonial style, open artesania market, and La Casa Azul – Museo Frida Kahlo. The burrough is located about 12 kms south of downtown Mexico City. They found an apartment, met with the landlords, and decided to secure 3 months up front. The place has a charming patio shared with neighboring apartments, and it provided a perfect comfortable space for both of them to work remotely.
They both reflected that they acknowledge their privilege in living there, expressed their gratitude, and explained that they saved money on rent and food alone by living there instead of expensive California. Even their black labrador, Chanchito, demonstrated having a higher quality of life as they enrolled him in incredibly affordable “doggy day care” every day during the week. As a dog mami myself, I was pleased to find out that Kim had also seen a psychiatrist to certify Chanchito as an “Emotional Support Animal”. She had to prepare to travel to Mexico with him by making sure he had his paperwork in order: a travel certificate, a health certificate with all his vaccines up-to-date, and the Psychiatrist’s note.
Kim explained how she purchased her gorgeous artisanal necklace at the local open market. I was in awe with some of the activities she already had planned, like that of posing as a muse for a circle of artists in the area. How much more of an experiencia Frida Kahlo can you get!? What was clear to me was that both Ana and Kim were interested in making deep connections in the area. They highlighted their desire to contribute to the economy there in a meaningful way, and these statements and intentions gave me escalofríos from the good vibrations.
Mazunte, Zipolite & San Agustinillo After a couple of months living the city life, Kim and Ana decided to plan a trip to the beaches of Oaxaca for 4 days. The flight was about 1 hour and 20 minutes from DF. Apart from relaxing in paradise, the most majestic part of the trip was whale-watching – so powerful for them, that both teared up at the sighting. Notably, they visited Zipolite as an LGBTQ-friendly nudist beach they felt welcomed to explore and be themselves. However, they observed that the area was overrun by White Hippies who have lived there long term but barely interact with the local population.
Living and Traveling in Mexico as LGBTQ Kim and Ana smiled bright as they explained to me how they loved taking up space as a couple. They walk around often holding hands, and they never feel unsafe. Furthermore, they did note that people do stop to stare often, including people who stop their conversation to stare, and people who nudge “mira” to point them out. Overall they feel proud to take up space as queer enamoradas, unapologetically queer and in love.
Living and Traveling Mexico during Pandemic Times They made sure to get tested anytime before getting on a flight, wore masks when indoors and around place with people around, and followed the strict regulations enforced in Mexico. They avoided crowded places and destinations like Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, etc and made sure to stay at small, private boutique hotels to avoid having to deal with too many people.
I can’t wait to see where else this lovely pareja will travel to in their motherland. The opportunities are boundless, and I feel that they will make unforgettable connections, catalyze collaborations, and have life-changing experiences enough to write a book about. Let’s hope that in a couple of years we get the opportunity to interview them again to debrief. Who knows, maybe they will live in Mexico for the rest of their lives! May their story inspire you to connect with your native motherland in this unique and unforgettable way. ¡Que viva el amor, y que viva la oportunidad de conectar con tus raíces ancestrales!
They are finally here and ready to sell! 3 years in the making to get to this point: to save, to heal, to organize, and finally to procure. Travel Latina began in 2015 as an idea that has grown into an international community of amazing viajerxs. As we grow we’re always trying to take things to the next level, which means so many different creative options. We are working on hiring someone to help us to configure the sustainable monetization of the website since BIPOC deserve to be paid fairly for their labor, because our travel bloggers and contributors deserve to be compensated for the tremendous work they have put into TL. Even better if we can create full time job opportunities for Latinx. If you believe in our mission, and love the progression of TL and the Mochila Viajerx through the years, please buy one of our products listed below to support our fundraiser. Our goal is to fundraise $2,000 USD from selling these products to cover the cost of the materials, and to hire someone to work with.
Making the Mochila: A 3-Year Passion Project
After seeing Prisca Dorca Mojica Rodríguez’s IG post back in April 2018, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Red Thotty Bodysuit”, it gave me another inspiration. What can TL create in order to more strongly bring us together through an ‘hermandad‘, but also to collectively help us move forward not only in our own lives, but with TL too? From 2016 to 2018, I was living in La Guajira, Colombia, a Caribbean coastal department/state known for it’s Wayuu indigenous population and cultural influence. It hit me that I could design a Wayuu mochila in order to create the first prototype for the “Hermandad of the Traveling Mochila”.
The orginal mochila was made by a Wayuu woman, Genny, in the Mercado Nuevo in Riohacha, La Guajira for the price that was asked without bartering. I decided to include a journal, local Colombian sage, and 5 locally made cloth bracelets in the bag to share with the hermandad. The Wayuu have one of the last matriarchal societies known on Earth, where the people do not settle in villages, rather matrilineal clans where the woman is the center of the organization. They are spread out between parts of Colombia and Venezuela, many holding dual citizenship in both countries. These resilient people managed to keep their culture and traditions mostly unscathed despite Spanish conquest, and are the largest Indigenous group in Colombia. The Wayuu women have become recognized worldwide for their handmade knit mochilas, hammocks, and more. I am gracious and continuously thank the Wayuu for allowing me to connect with my Indigenous Colombian roots, although my roots are more particularly Chibcha roots from the interior of the country. Furthermore, we experimented with the pilot mochila, as a group of us TL contributors took it all over the world, from Colombia, to Ghana, Guatemala, Spain, and Italy.
After two years spent healing and saving back in the US, I finally started to save up for and procure more mochilas starting about a year ago. I sent the initial payment to Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia on December 24th, 2020 during a global pandemic. I had no idea what to expect with the constant and extremely strict lockdowns in Colombia, but the mochilas finally arrived to my house 7 months later after many delays.
At the same time, I was working with Ashley Garcia from Brown Girl Travels to order some zines and stickers from her to include in the mochilas. In addition, I wanted to include small coin pouches from El Salvador to represent our social media manager Cindy Medina’s huge contribution to Travel Latina as a Salvadoreña. This pouch also makes it easier to share trinkets, souvenirs, consumables, dried herbs, and more with the hermandad. Finally, I decided to include a branded eco-friendly mini notebook, as well as stickers of our brand.
Mochila package – 17 mochilas in total, each for a minimum $100 donation:
We have 17 mochilas in total to sell, 5 of them green, 6 of them blue, and 6 of them magenta. Each mochila includes: -1 mochila Wayuu from Colombia (green, blue, or magenta) -1 Brown Girl Travel mini zine -1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador -1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook -1 Brown Girl Travel sticker -5 TL stickers (not pictured in above photos)
We are also selling several other smaller packages for those of you who want to contribute to our fundraiser, but don’t have so much to spend:
Brown Girl Travel Zine package – 3 in total, each for a minimum $50 donation:
This package includes: -1 Brown Girl Travel mini zine -1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador -1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook -1 Brown Girl Travel sticker (not pictured in above photo) -5 TL stickers
Artisanal Coin Pouch & Mini Notebook package – 4 in total, each for a minimum $25 donation:
This includes: -1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador -1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook -5 TL stickers
TL sticker package – 20 in total, each for a minimum $10 donation:
This includes: -10 TL stickers
Payment Process If you’d like to make sure a product color or package type is available before donating, please check with us via our TL Instagram DM, this blog’s “Contact Us”, and/or our email email@example.com.
We will be taking donations via Venmo @travel_latina, Paypal firstname.lastname@example.org, or Zelle email@example.com.
Your full name, last name, address, and email are needed in order to complete the shipment. The minimum donation requested for each item includes shipping & handling.
After turning 30, I had a sudden desire to shift around many things in my life and dive into new experiences. My writing was really picking up, I was ready to let go of some responsibilities at work, and I’d caught the travel bug, hard. I was also recently engaged to my partner of 6 years, the father of my children, the man I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with, even if we never decided to make things legal. Luckily he had other plans.
As fate would have it, my cousin got engaged to his fiance the same night me and my partner were engaged. And a few months later, we got a save the date for their wedding… in Colombia, in a tiny town named Villa de Leyva. My heart leapt with joy. I was ready to book all four of our flights so we could spend a weekend in a new country with my extensive family. My fiance, in a surprisingly sensible moment, slowed me down. Given that I was going to be working in a different city during the summer, he reasoned that it would be better if I took the trip alone, especially since I still had never taken a solo trip. It could be one last hurrah before our own marriage.
And with that, our plan was settled. He would officially win the father of the year award and care for his kids while I spent my summer away for work and play. I couldn’t wait for July to come.
Late one night in early July, I made my way to Miami airport for my trip. With just my passport and backpack in tow, I boarded my flight on Viva Air (Colombia’s answer to Spirit Airlines) and landed in Medellin in a few hours. I had such romantic notions of a whirlwind adventure involving sleeping in airports and catching random flights… then I tried to sleep on some airport benches for a couple of hours before my connecting flight. Let me tell you, my 30 year old hips were not ready for that night. After a fitful 3 hour nap, I made it to my gate and boarded my next plane, catching a few more minutes of sleep on the way to Bogota.
Once in Bogota, things got complicated. You see, through the incredible network of my dad’s new wife, tias in Colombia, and Whatsapp, I was connected with a ride to Villa de Leyva. However, we’d never met in person and I had trouble describing where I was in a newly renovated airport. After an hour of texts, calls, and near misses, we finally met. He was an incredibly kind older gentleman who took me to his home first so I could eat a home cooked breakfast of arepas de choclo, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate. Once finished, we hopped back in his car and raced across the Colombian highways towards Villa de Leyva (a nearly 4 hour drive).
Views from the Car Ride
The heart of Colombia was like nothing I was expecting. With rolling hills, cows and sheep along the roads, and farm houses dotting the skyline, I was reminded of the Scottish hills I’d seen just a year prior. And though summer was in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere was just hitting fall. We stopped for tamales made of sweet corn and cheese, more hot chocolate, and an extra serving of fresh cheese. By the end of our snack, I was so full. I immediately fell asleep in the car during the last stretch of the drive (bad etiquette, I know).
We finally made it to Villa de Leyva with less than an hour to spare before the ceremony. I thanked Hernando for his kindness and met my father at the hotel. He helped me check into my room where I quickly showered and dolled myself up in a black velvet dress I’d only worn once before. Together with my father and his wife, we took a shuttle to the small church, bouncing over the cobblestone along the way.
A proud father
No sleep, no problem.
Villa de Leyva is a sleepy, touristic town, a vestige of colonialism in many ways. The entire town is comprised of white washed buildings and Spanish roof tiles. Once the shuttle dropped us off at the Plaza Mayor, we posed for some pictures and sat in a wooden pew. The ceremony was a traditional Catholic one with a bilingual twist. My uncle, a deacon, gave the homily. Though I myself am not religious, nor was I raised Catholic, I was sucked into the beauty of the rituals and the ornate altar. In my evangelical upbringing, I was raised to praise through song and dance and speaking in tongues. In this church, I found worship through the ornate sculptures and tradition. As the ceremony ended, we made our way back to the church doors, packets of confetti in hand, ready to send off the bride and groom. They hopped into a 1940s car and road around the Plaza. Nearby, a folklorico group was warming up for a performance. The shuttle came to take us back to the hotel.
Latino Ken and Barbie
Due to my quick change for the wedding, I didn’t get much time to explore El Duruelo, a sprawling campus of rooms, spas, and naturaleza. We trekked up to the courtyard where we were greeted by cocktails and, to everyone’s surprise, an incredible Cuban band playing classic chachacha, son, salsa, and bolero songs. I took a moment to slip away with a cocktail and basque in the sunset views from the bar’s balcony. I was enchanted by Cuban music swirling against Colombian mountains, a perfect blending of cultures perfectly encapsulating my cousin’s marriage. My cousin Elaine soon found me and we welcomed the newly married couple as they took an impromptu first dance near the fountain. We then took our seats in the dining room where we were served course after course of delicious Colombian delicacies. I was able to connect deeply with my father’s wife; we bonded over family loss and new love, and college (her daughter attends the rival to my alma mater).
Soon, plates were cleared, more wine was drunk, and we all found ourselves dancing. The band was replaced with a DJ who’s playlist spanned from 80s salsa to swing music to top 40 hits from around the world. After a few hours of dancing, I slipped away, exhausted from travel and fun. I kept a window open, the fall breeze keeping me cool as I drifted into a deep sleep.
I awoke just after sunrise, and after dressing for the day, took some time to read on my room’s patio. My father happened to pass by, and we decided to head up to the restaurant for a light breakfast before heading to the town for some souvenir shopping. We walked into town from the hotel, popping into side shops. I purchased a hand knitted sweater for my daughter (which she loves). This area of Colombia is known for its wool, and many shops held beautiful knitwears.
Me and my father exploring shops in Villa de Leyva
After an afternoon of shopping, we made our way back to the hotel where we lunched poolside with family. After bidding our farewells, we met with a family friend who gave us a ride back to Bogota so we could make our flights in the morning. We made several stops along roadside restaurants, mostly to ensure we didn’t violate the pico y placa laws (to curb air pollution and traffic, Bogota has strict laws on when citizens can leave and reenter the city). I spent the night in a modern apartment, sad I wasn’t able to extend my trip.
In the morning, I was given a ride to the airport by another friend from the Whatsapp network. I spent my afternoon layover getting caught up with work and talking to family. Not before long, I was back in Miami, back to the real world, but somewhere in the distance, I could feel Cuban rhythms and Colombian meals calling my name.
There have been #cacerolazos since the ‘60s in Latin America when the people wanted a change in their government and society. People grab their cacerolas (aka pot & pans) and take to the streets to make their voices heard by banging loudly on them. Despite their short term wins, there has been a history of oppression of popular protests by government forces. One such example of this is Chile’s September 11, when a state building was bombed and a U.S. backed dictatorship was put in place – the other 9/11 that many people are not aware of. This was 1973, Chile while the country was under a democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende who seemed to not be able to undo the crisis that occurred when the elite class convoluted to create a scarcity of resources and provoke civil unrest. What ensued next was a dictatorship under Agustín Pinochet that lasted until 1990 and a series of state terrorism that had military and police in the streets kidnapping, torturing, murdering, and disappearing thousands and thousands of people. During this dictatorship, people never stopped protesting, but the cacerolazos became silenced and many people became frightened to take action.
However, the #cacerolazos have returned to Chile, though so has the state terrorism. As of October 19th, 2019, President Sebastian Piñera announced a state of emergency with a curfew that started in Santiago and now has spread all throughout the country. What started in massive protests against an increase in the metro fare has ended in full-on state terrorism and Chileans are reliving the realities they had under the dictatorship of Pinochet. Military and police are back on the streets in their tanks and people are at their mercy – being attacked, kidnapped, murdered, and tortured. As of Monday October 28th, the same day that the United Nations human rights commission would come to investigate human rights violations,Piñera has called an end to the state of emergency, ridding of the curfew. Despite this, the Chilean people are not giving up their fight for a better future, they are still out in the street protesting and creating a #Cacerolazo en Chile.
I’m getting this information from my friends, family, and community organizations back in Chile because #LaTeleMiente and cannot be trusted. Of course, the media is not showing the truth of what is going on, but the Chilean youth are using the power of social media to record and share everything in hopes that the world pays some attention. Each day, I check in with all these people spread throughout the country that I built relationships with when I studied abroad there last year and met my family for the first time. One day I was watching friends and family share videos of massive protests in the metro stations and the next I was watching videos of police and military storming the streets. Every day I’m seeing videos of people being shot, taken from their homes, murdered and more. I feel the social responsibility to not traumatize people with these images, so I try not to share them on my social media, but I do want everyone to know what is happening. You can find on my story highlights everything that I’ve been sharing on Instagram @elisabet.raquel under the highlight called CHILE.
In Chile, the cost of living is high, the quality of life is low, the education system is privatized and health care is a joke. Not to mention that there are still so many people still missing from the last dictatorship, the state treats the indigenous Mapuche people as “domestic terrorists”, and Black and Brown immigrants as a plague. The massive protest to which Piñera called the state of emergency was just the tipping point of years of abuse from the state since the dictatorship and the implementation of a neoliberal economic system introduced to Chile in 1985 by the Chicago Boys, Chilean right-wing economists who studied in the U.S. Since then, Chile has been under a neoliberal transformation which has left the cost of living constantly rising while the Chilean people continue to make less than what is able to meet the expected standards of that livelihood. The minimum wage is between $400-$500 and the cost of living in Santiago is a little less than $1,000 a month. When I was living in Nuñoa, Santiago, Chile, I paid $500 for rent for a room in an apartment and the metro was more than $1 each way. I found the cost of living comparable to that of the U.S which is suffocating for people who are not living off of a U.S salary. With this increase in fares, the people said, “ya po” and #ChileDespertó, rising in protest.
“Hopefully the [loss of] lives of the people hurt you as much [the loss of your] supermarkets”. Photo Source uknown, viral image circulating Facebook and Instagram.
During metro fare the protest, there was property damage done and there are some people who are taking what they can from chain market stores. In these saqueos, stores have been emptied out completely and there has been more attention paid to this looting rather than the human rights violations occurring by the hands of the government. Many Chileans themselves (including some of my family) blame the violence and oppression they are facing on “looters” and believe that the Chilean military and police were sent out on the streets to set order, but it’s all a deepening plot of violence. Cities are in chaos due to the state terrorism, everyone is frightened, and if people are caught in these saqueos, they are taken by the military and police, left at the will of their mercy. One woman in a video I saw claimed that she was caught up in a saqueo and was taken away to a local police department where she and other people, including children, women, elders, and men, were forced to strip naked while they were hosed down and beaten. Some people, including come Chileans themselves, say that people doing saqueos deserve this maltreatment. However, what is occurring is pure violation of human rights in the name of protecting large corporate interests.
There are people protesting for their livelihood all throughout the country and military and police continuously attack pacific protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, actual bullets, batons, and even their vehicles. On Tuesday, October 22nd, the military and police shot at a group of protesters. My cousin was in the group that was shot at and he received a bullet in the leg. They are also barging into peoples’ homes, taking them away in public, and throwing bodies out of moving vehicles at night, leaving them in the street. And the president? He hasn’t addressed the issue of the brutality being faced by the Chilean people at all. He claims that the Chilean government is at war with a very dangerous enemy – its own citizens, who are armless by the way. The Chilean people are not armed with weapons, but merely with pots and pans and the will to fight for a better future. What the Chilean youth is sharing through these videos don’t lie – they are raw proof of what is going on and that this is being shared publicly is revolutionary. However, many of these videos continue to be taken down or censored. The horrors of what is happening are being openly shared and I refuse to let this happen in silence.
“Stop the abuse and military represion in Chile” Photo Source
This time last year, I was in Santiago during my second semester at La Pontifical Universidad Católica de Chile taking courses on Trauma and Political Violence, Migration and Human Rights, Chilean History and Culture, and more. I visited the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos and the secret torture centers like Estadio Nacional and Villa Grimaldi. I learned all about the oppression the country endured during the time of the dictatorship, finally learned the history of where I came from, and why my grandparents left. Never did it cross my mind that this could have been my one and only opportunity ever to visit my country of origin and learn the truth. Now, I’m completely shattered because it very well could be. I feel that it is my duty to share this information and call an end to the violent oppression of my people by its government. This is after all, why my grandmother left in the first place, right? Her sacrifices granted me more freedom and with that comes a greater responsibility to fight for justice for all. Mi Chile lindo, estoy contigo #PresenteHoyYSiempre.
“What happens if I forget?”. Photo Source: @elisabet.raquel at the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos in Santiago, Chile 2018
Los #cacerolazos han tenido una presencia en América Latina desde los años sesenta. Son una forma de protesta cuando el pueblo quiere cambio en el gobierno y la sociedad. La gente agarra sus cacerolas y se las llevan a la calle, golpeando las con cucharas para que sean escuchados. A pesar de sus victorias a corto plazo, ha habido una historia de opresión de las manifestaciones por parte de las fuerzas gubernamentales. Un ejemplo es el 11 de septiembre de 1973, cuando el Palacio de la Moneda — sede de la presidencia de la República de Chile — fue bombardeado, y la dictadura de Pinochet— apoyada por el gobierno de Estados Unidos — fue instalada. Este es el otro 9/11 que mucha gente no conoce. Ocurrió cuando Chile tenía un gobierno socialista bajo el presidente Salvador Allende que no podía deshacer la crisis económica que aconteció cuando la clase élite se involucró para crear una escasez de recursos y provocar disturbios civiles. Lo que siguió después fue una dictadura que duró hasta 1990 que puso militares y policías en las calles. Este terrorismo patrocinado por el estado secuestró, torturó, asesinó, y desapareció a miles de personas. Durante la dictadura, la gente nunca dejó de protestar, pero los cacerolazos sí se silenciaron por temor de las represalias del gobierno.
En Chile ha vuelto el terrorismo del estado pero también el #cacerolazo. A partir del 19 de octubre de 2019, el presidente Sebastián Piñera declaró un estado de emergencia toque de queda que comenzó en Santiago y luego se extendió por todo el país. Lo que empezó como una protesta masiva contra el incremento de la tarifa del metro ha terminado como un tipo de terrorismo del estado y los chilenos están reviviendo las realidades que en una vez vivieron bajo la dictadura de Pinochet. El ejército y las policías están de regreso en las calles con sus tanques. El pueblo está a su merced — son atacados, secuestrados, asesinados y torturados. Desde el lunes, 28 de octubre — mismo día en que la comisión de los derechos humanos de las Naciones Unidas empezó una investigación sobre violaciones a los derechos humanos durante las manifestaciones — Piñera quitó la declaración de estado de emergencia y toque de queda. Sin embargo, el terrorismo continúa y el pueblo chileno no para la lucha por un mejo futuro — sigue en las calles manifestándose y haciendo un #cacerolazo.
Recibo esta información de mis amigos, familiares y organizaciones comunitarias de Chile porque #LaTeleMiente y no se puede confiar en los medios de comunicación. Por supuesto que los medios no están mostrando la verdad de lo que está sucediendo, pero los jóvenes chilenos están utilizando el poder de las redes sociales para grabar y compartir todo, con la esperanza de que el mundo preste atención. Cada día, me comunico con todas estas personas repartidas por todo el país con las que construí relaciones cuando estudié allí el año pasado y conocí mi familia por primera vez durante esta estadía. Un día estaba viendo a amigos y familiares compartir videos de manifestaciones en las estaciones de metro y después estaba viendo videos de policías y militares irrumpiendo las calles. Todos los días veo videos de personas que fueron disparadas, sacadas de sus hogares, asesinadas y más. Siento la responsabilidad social de no traumatizar a las personas con estas imágenes, así que trato de no compartirlas en mis redes sociales, pero quiero que todos sepan lo que está sucediendo. Puedes encontrar todo lo que he estado viendo y compartiendo en m perfil de Instagram @elisabet.raquelbajo el “Highlight” que se llama “CHILE”.
En Chile, el costo de vida es muy alto, la calidad de vida es baja, el sistema educativo está privatizado y el sistema de salud es una broma. Sin mencionar que todavía hay personas que aún están desaparecidas desde la última dictadura, a los indígenas Mapuche se les caracteriza como “terroristas domésticos” y a los inmigrantes con ascendencia africana o con tez morena son tratados como una plaga. Las manifestaciones que provocó a Piñera en declarar el estado de emergencia fue el punto de inflexión de años de abuso por parte del estado, desde la dictadura. En 1985, se implementó un sistema económico neoliberal por los Chicago Boys, economistas chilenos de perspectiva a la derecha que estudiaron en los Estados Unidos. Desde entonces, Chile ha estado bajo una transformación neoliberal que ha dejado el costo de vida en constante aumento, mientras que el pueblo chileno continúa ganando menos de lo requerido para poder sobrevivir.El salario mínimo es entre cuatrocientos y quinientos dólares estadounidenses y el costo de vivir es un poco menos de mil dólares por mes. Cuando yo vivía en Ñuñoa, Santiago, Chile, pagaba quinientos dólares por el alquiler de una habitación en un departamento y el metro costaba más de un dólar por trayecto. Encontré que el costo de vida es comparable al de los Estados Unidos, que es sofocante para las personas que no viven de un salario estadounidense. Con este aumento en las tarifas, el pueblo dijo “ya po” y #ChileDespertó, levantándose en protesta.
“Ojalá [la perdida de] vidas del pueblo te dolieran tanto como [la perdida de] tus supermercados”. Credito de la foto desconocido, pero se hizo viral en Facebook and Instagram.
Durante las manifestaciones, hubo daños propietarios y algunas personas tomaron lo que pudieron de los grandes supermercados. Muchas tiendas han sido vaciadas y los medios han prestado más atención a estos actos que a las violaciones flagrantes de derechos humanos a manos del gobierno. Muchos chilenos (incluyendo algunos miembros de mi familia), culpan a las saqueadores por la violencia y la opresión que enfrentan y creen que el ejército y la policía chilena fue enviada a las calles para establecer el orden, pero todo es un complot cada vez más profundo de violencia. Las ciudades están en caos por el terrorismo del estado, todos están asustados y las tiendas de comestibles se están vaciando. Si la gente es atrapada en estos saqueos, los militares y la policía se los llevan, dejados a la voluntad de su merced. Una mujer en un video que vi, afirmó que la atraparon en un saqueo y la llevaron a un departamento de policía local donde ella y otras personas, incluyendo niños, mujeres, ancianos y hombres, se vieron obligados a desnudarse mientras fueron lavados a manguerasos y golpes. Algunos chilenos, dicen que las personas que participan en estos saqueos merecen ser maltratados. Estos actos son una violación de los derechos humanos en nombre de la protección de los intereses corporativos.
Hay personas que se manifiestan por su sustento en todo el país, sín embargo el ejército y la policía atacan continuamente a los manifestantes con gases lacrimógenos, balas de goma, balas reales, porras e incluso sus vehículos. El martes, 22 de octubre, el ejército en conjunto con la policía dispararon en contra de un grupo de manifestantes. Mi primo formaba parte de ese grupo y recibió un disparo de perdigones en la pierna. También están irrumpiendo en las casas de las personas, se los llevan sin importar el lugar o la hora y arrojan los cuerpos de los vehículos por la noche, dejándolos en la calle. ¿Y el presidente? Piñera no ha abordado en absoluto el tema de la brutalidad que enfrenta el pueblo chileno. Afirma que el gobierno chileno está en una guerra con un enemigo muy peligroso — sus propios ciudadanos — que por cierto son inofensivos. El pueblo chileno no está armado con armas, sino con cacerolas, sartenes y la voluntad de luchar por un mejor futuro. Lo que la juventud chilena está compartiendo a través de estos videos no miente — son prueba de lo que está sucediendo y el acto de compartir esto públicamente es revolucionario. Sin embargo, muchos de estos videos están siendo eliminados y censurados. Los horrores de lo que está sucediendo se está compartiendo públicamente y me niego a permitir que esto suceda en silencio.
El año pasado estuve en Santiago, durante mi segundo semestre en la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile donde estudié varios temas como Trauma y Violencia Política, Migraciones y Derechos Humanos, Historia y Cultura de Chile, y más. Visité el Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos y los centros secretos de tortura como Estadio Nacional y Villa Grimaldi. Aprendí todo sobre la opresión que sufrió el país durante la época de la dictadura, finalmente aprendí la historia de dónde venía y por qué se fueron mis abuelos. No se me había ocurrido que esto podría haber sido mi única oportunidad para visitar a mi país de origen y aprender la verdad. Ahora estoy completamente destrozada porque podría ser la última vez en visitar. Siento que es mi deber compartir esta información y poner fin a la opresión violenta de mi pueblo por parte de su gobierno. Esto es, después de todo, la razón por qué mi abuela se fue hace tanto tiempo, ¿cierto? Sus sacrificios me ha otorgado más libertad y con eso ha surgido una mayor responsabilidad de luchar por la justicia. Mi Chile lindo, estoy contigo #PresenteHoyYSiempre.
“¿Que pasa si olvido?” Fuente de la foto: @elisabet.raquelen el Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos en Santiago, Chile 2018
A note from the author: This is a tribute to my abuela who recently passed away on Friday the 13th, September, 2019. This article was made possible thanks to my family who shared their oral history, where I was able to match up parts of her story with photos and documents. She often would explain, “yo crucé montañas, rios, y oceanos para poder pasar tiempo contigo” to the grandkids in order to help us understand what kind of effort, distance, and sacrifice was invested in order for her to spend time with us. Clarita was a soul full of colors, love and forgiveness. She was magic with her unconditional love, like a poesía de alegría. She could lite up any room she walked into, filling a house with her energy resembling vibrant colors. To better understand why Clarita was the way she was, our greatest inspiration to keep going despite life’s obstacles, the following is her story.
Clara Beatriz Rey was born on July 29th, 1934 in Bogotá, Colombia, although the date is debatable. This stereotypical vivacious Leo personality argued that her real birth date is unknown since she has no birth certificate to prove it. Her family’s life took a turn when she was 4-years-old because her dad Guillermo Rey Chacón passed away due to Tuberculosis, leaving behind Clarita, her older sister of 7 years-old Maria Helena “Nena”, and their Mami Maria Helena Vazquez.
They moved in with her mom’s 14 siblings, 5 tios and 9 tias who helped raise the young girls. Her mom was the oldest of the 14, therefore she was known as el gran poder, or the mighty power, also due to her affability and kindness leading to a certain don, or gift, she had liaising with people. Clarita would later acquire this same don and impressive ability of connecting with people in a way that even a stranger on the street would love talking to her. Furthermore, Maria Helena had a distinct ability to play the piano that her parents ordered from Germany.
Clarita finished up to 7th grade (2do de bachillerato), then went to work at a Kodak shop that some of her aunts worked at, as well as a laboratory where she packaged medicines. Cue meeting her future husband Carlos Jaime Chavarriaga (pronounced Hi-meh) on a bus towards downtown, both of them on their way to work in 1954 when Clara was 19-years-old. Jaime worked at the Manhattan store, a clothing line for men. By the end of 1954, Jaime and Clara wed at the Iglesia Santa Teresita, and then by 1955 their first daughter Martha was born.
First Trip Abroad, 4 Kids, and Career
Clarita & Martha in Culver City, California
By the end of 1955, a tia of Jaime offered the family of three their first trip to the United States. They took a short stop in Cuba for a couple of days, and they stayed in the USA for about 5 months. Since they stayed in Culver City, California outside of LA, Jaime tried out for various roles as an extra for several movies searching for “Hispanic” actors. He wasn’t able to find a job, so they returned back to Colombia. However, this trip must have made on impact on her first born (and possibly the second born too since she could have been conceived in the USA), which later on it will make sense why.
Shortly after, the brood grew to a total of 4 kids with Maria Clara (1956), Carlos Jaime (1958), and Claudia Rosa “Rosita” (1960). In order to not confuse Carlos Jaime Jr with his dad, we will refer to Jaime Sr as “Don Jaime.” Most family trips consisted of long weekend “Puente” holiday trips to warmer climate and lower altitude pueblos outside of cold mountainous Bogotá a couple of times a year. Girardot, Melgar, and Utica were the most frequented spots. Don Jaime’s brother, Guillermo, was a pilot, therefore the couple or the whole family sometimes got to travel thanks to his benefit. By airplane in Colombia, they visited coastal locations like Barranquilla and Tumaco both on the Caribbean and the Pacific coast respectively.
Clara on her way to Tumaco, Colombia on the pacific coast in 1971. Her brother-in-law Guillermo was a pilot, so he let her take a quick photo opp.
Family Trips in Colombia:
Clarita in Barranquilla with the youngest two Carlos Jaime and Rosita.
The family on a trip outside of Bogota when it was just the two eldest girls.
Entrepreneurship ran through Clarita’s veins, as did her nurturing and healing essence. In 1962-66 she started a fashion design business out of their own house where she had a couple of seamstresses on her team. In 1964-69 she created a cake and dessert business overlapping with the other business. Fast forward a bit of time in 1983, she supported Carlos Jaime’s travel agency business which later turned into a catering and events business, Banquetes Pablo VI, which still continues to this day 36 years later. However, her love for working in the healthcare industry prevailed.
Clarita found an internship working as an instrument nurse at the Hospital San José in 1968. To the dismay of her husband Jaime, who like many men at the time felt she should stay at home to child rear and tend to housework, she went against his wishes as she discovered her passion for working in healthcare and continued with it. At the time, Don Jaime had been working at Abbott as a pharmaceutical drug salesman who visited different Doctor’s offices, a job he held until retirement when he created his own related company Disfarma LTDA. Throughout the years, Clara worked seasonally or part-time at several different hospitals: Clinica Palermo, Clinica de Marly, Hospital Militar, and Clinica del Country. She specialized in supporting heart surgeries from about 1968 until about 1988 usually on part-time or short-term based assignments. She took two separate breaks between those 20 years, once in 1977 and once in 1981.
Clara was always savvy to find or create opportunities anywhere. She landed a job as a live-in nanny for two Cuban girls in the Miami, Florida area (Coral Gables) in 1977. She was there for about 5 months, where she would send her earnings as remittances back home to the family. At the time, the eldest daughter Martha was 22, therefore she helped run the household in Colombia. She later had to go home for unexpected reasons the family does not like to talk about, however the experience served as preparation for exciting opportunities to come in the USA and abroad.
Clarita’s Beauty Battle Scar
She took almost a year-long break in 1981 after she severely broke her right arm in a freak mini elevator accident at the hospital, when a small container (aka dumbwaiter or lift), that transported medical supplies and other materials between floors in the building, fell on her arm and broke skin and bone. Around the same time, Don Jaime and Clara separated since they spent most of their time fighting. It was a very tough year for Clara due to her arm, her failed marriage, and her eldest daughter had left to live in the USA for good. Once her arm was fully mobile again thanks to healing and physical therapy, she persisted with her seasonal work at the hospital. This is only one of the many examples of Clarita’s strength and resilience. It wasn’t until the birth of her first grandchild in 1988 that she decided to drop everything and leave Colombia for a while.
A New Chapter – Grand-parenting All Around The World
Her eldest daughter Martha met a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Richard Tracy, in 1978. They wed by 1980, and moved to the U.S. by 1981 after Richard completed his volunteer service. By 1988, they were living in Richard’s hometown Toledo, Ohio when Alexandra was born. Clarita decided by the time that Ale was 3 months that she was ready to be a full-time grandmother in the USA to help while both parents worked full time. A year later, and still the only birth of her grand kids she ever witnessed, Michele was born in 1989. Just two months after that, her 3rd granddaughter Diana Carolina or “Caro” was born in Bogotá to Carlos Jaime and his wife Diana Patricia. Because of this, Clara spent most of her time traveling between Colombia and the USA for the rest of her grand kids’ youth until the U.S. grand kids turned 18. For 19 years, her visits to the USA would usually span about 3-6 months each, about once a year, all depending on her Visa and who was able to cover her flights.
Clarita (red shirt) in Toledo, Ohio with Martha, baby Ale, and Richard
Clarita in Bogotá, Colombia with Caro
The most exciting birth of a grandchild occurred in the outskirts of Milano, Italy. Clara’s second daughter Maria Clara received a scholarship to study Opera in Italy, and she was there with her partner Carlos Yañez who was also studying his PhD from 1987 to 1994 for 11 years. In 1992, Clarita’s only grandson Andrés was born, providing her another way to explore outside of Colombia and help rear her 4th and last grandchild for a full year. In addition, she landed a job as a nanny for twin Italian girls. With her youngest daughter Rosita, who at the time worked for the Colombian airline Avianca, she was able to travel very easily due to perks and benefits from the job that were extended towards family. The two traveled throughout Europe together while they spent most of the time in Milano. They traveled to London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, and all around Italy. Maria Clara and her family lived in Italy until 1996, when they moved back to Colombia.
Clarita with Andrés at the Malpensa Airport in Italy
Clarita and Andrés at his home outside of Milan, Italy
Clarita (wearing the hat) in Florence, Italy with Rosita holding baby Andrés and Maria Clara
Again thanks to Rosita and Avianca, Clarita got to travel all over Latin America for the rest of the 90’s and early 2000s. They traveled to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, and Quito. Maria Clara and Rosita spent a lot of time going to visit the USA to accompany Andrés and Caro throughout their youth, but not as much as Clara traveled there with the them. Thanks to Clara’s dedication and guardianship, as well as Rosita, Maria Clara, Martha, and Jaime’s funding and hard work, the four cousins grew up like siblings and all became fully bilingual Spanish-English.
The 4 primos/siblings: Alexandra, Caro, Michele, and little Andres all together for the first time ever at the Bogota Airport.
Clarita and Rosita visiting Maria Clara and Carlos when they lived in Santiago, Chile
In 1991-1997, Martha’s family was living in Texas for 7 years, therefore Clarita had visited enough times to establish relationships in San Antonio, TX. She was able to acquire jobs with her Visa at the time working as a maid at a hotel, as well as babysat from time to time. When Martha’s family left for Mexico in 1997, she decided she was going to try to acquire U.S. citizenship. She continued work at the hotel, found a job at McDonalds, and helped care for disabled people. Whenever she had some extra time, she traveled to Mexico and was able to see some of the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon with Martha’s family. Perhaps due to viewing the USA as a ‘superior country’, Clara worked hard to acquire U.S. citizenship. She studied for years for the citizenship test to prepare for once she qualified to actually take the test, especially this visibly worn list of 100 questions in English. Although Clarita had the help of Martha and family to bid for citizenship, benefited from white privilege, and she worked very hard at several jobs, sadly her dream did not come true. It could have been the political and cultural nature of Texas, it could have been her broken English, but unfortunately U.S. citizenship was not granted to her after her test in 1999.
From left to right: Rosita, Clarita, and Martha holding the US based grandaughters at the El Paso, Texas Airport
Clarita with the US based granddaughters in San Antonio, Texas
An Adventurous Life
Clarita’s Passport photos through the years
Nonetheless, Clarita lived the last 20 years of her life traveling everywhere with her family. It was always her family connections who made it possible for her to travel so much, and on occasion she was able to save her own hard earned money from different jobs in order to be able to travel. Martha’s family moved to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1999, Maria Clara and her family moved to Chile for a year in the early 2000s, and then her sister Nena’s family moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2006, so there was still a lot of traveling. By 2012, all of the female grand-kids graduated from college, and so the family started traveling more together to new places. Alexandra moved to California, where it was the first time Carlos Jaime and Diana Patricia traveled to the USA in 2014 with the rest of the family. After that, different family members traveled with Clarita everywhere including an epically captured trip to Cuba.
Las Vegas, Nevada and the Grand Canyon:
Clarita was very modern for an abuela, savvy with her cellphone, especially Whatsapp. Here is a picture she sent Alexandra about her piece of luggage she kept just because of the memorable trips Alexandra took with it.
Clarita was a resilient, independent, adventurous, and a vivacious soul. Her love for exploring new places almost matched her greater love for her family. For about 3 years, she begged Diana Carolina for a trip to Aruba. That trip did not occur because her 3 granddaughters thought they had way more time to plan and save up for the trip. Clara passed away unexpectedly in September of 2019 due to catching bacterial meningitis which sparked sudden rapidly deteriorating health. Thankfully, she did not suffer as she was in a coma for 11 days straight, 3 of which she was half-awake to what the family deems a miracle chance for her to say her goodbyes before she passed. The whole family was convinced she would live past 100+ years just based on her positive, magnetic, and vivacious attitude. Nevertheless, the family holds Clarita’s spirit in their hearts, and are currently grappling with how to move forward with this new void in their lives.
Stay tuned for our trip to Aruba which will pay tribute to Clara Chavarriaga Rey! Who knows when it will be planned, but it will happen!
Possible tattoo inspiration found by Michele. Clarita, a Leo with the Sun as it’s ‘planet’ (star), would often say “yo cruce montañas, rios y oceanos para pasar tiempo contigo.”
Gerry Isabelle is a Dominican-American traveler, writer, artist and tourism entrepreneur from the Bronx, New York. Her childhood dream of traveling has taken her all over the world, cultivating a particularly strong love and connection for the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Her writing and photography on travel, society and multicultural identity can be found on her platform: Dominican Abroad (website and Instagram).
About Dominican Abroad:
Dominican Abroad is a digital media platform and provider of immersive travel services. On the digital side, that means articles, videos, and photography, related to travel and society. The content includes how-to travel guides and cultural insights through the lens of a multicultural, multilingual, and remote millennial from NYC.
The travel services provided include trips around the world with a focus on Cuba and the Dominican Republic, including a Dominican Heritage Tour that launched in February 2019 and was featured in the New York Times. Dominican Abroad values sustainable and ethical tourism, and strives to lead tourism business into the hands of local small business owners (including local women of color).
About the Dominican Heritage Tour:
The Dominican Heritage Tour is a culturally immersive and holistic travel experience into different corners of the island. Rather than staying in a gated resort, we are taking you to experience an in-depth side of the country, from countryside rural living… to local hot spots in the country’s capital… to the island’s natural wonders. We’ll get a taste of everything DR has to offer.
This curated experience aims for travelers to more deeply understand and connect with the multicultural influences (African, Taino, and European) that make up much of the rich Dominican heritage. Travelers will learn about more about the complex history of the island while culturally immersing themselves through experiences like cooking lessons in Monte Plata and honoring our Afro-heritage with a Fiesta de Palo or los Congos in Villa Mella. Along the way, we will also meet local Dominican activists and community leaders who we can connect and share with.
For 6 days and 5 nights we’ll explore the following:
Santo Domingo, Monte Plata & Villa Mella:
Take cooking lessons in the campos of Monte Plata
Afro-influencedFiesta de palo dance ceremony or los Congos in Villa Mella (UNESCO)
Walking tours and visits to historic sights
Learn a less colonized version of Dominican history
Discuss topics in today’s Dominican society with local social activists, community leaders and researchers
Engage in sustainable travel as we collaborate and work with local entrepreneurs, including WOC
Explore Monte Plata’s Socoa Waterfall
Barahona, Los Patos, Pedernales & Bahia de las Aguilas
Discover the Dominican southwest
Road Trip through the Dominican Riviera
Making stops along the way in Barahona for the best mangos in the world, larimar shopping (unique gemstone only found in Barahona, Dominican Republic), and epic views of the Dominican Riviera
Los Patos beach & river
Boat tour through Laguna de Oviedo + Isla Iguana + natural mud spa
Crystal clear Arroyo Salado natural pool
Private boat to visit Bahia de las Aguilas — ranked as one of the best beaches in the world
Price & Payments
Cost: $900 – Everything included except flights, alcohol, travel insurance, and two meals.
2020 Dates: February 15 to February 20.
The non-refundable deposit is $200 in order to reserve your spot.
A note on payments and Installments: Dominican Abroad accepts payments by installments, so pay the trip off as you go – the deadline to pay the full amount is January 15, 2020.
Optional Add-On: Wellness Retreat in the Dominican Alps
Since the tour runs from Saturday (2/15) through Thursday (2/20), travelers will have the weekend to: fly back home, spend time with their families in DR, solo travel on their own, and/or join our long weekend wellness retreat in Jarabacoa. After the Heritage Tour, from Thursday to Sunday, we will be in the quaint Jarabacoa mountain town in the Dominican Alps; staying in a gorgeous hotel by the Jimenoa river. We will embrace wellness by: relaxing, getting massages, checking out the local gastronomy (including gorgeous mountain restaurants) and embracing the Dominican mountainous outdoors.
Activities include: meditating, yoga, relaxing, horseback riding, hiking, visiting the many nearby waterfalls, paragliding or water rafting, and/or massages.
We made an addition to our family with a little Chihuahua-(1/4)Pinscher during our Peace Corps service on April 4th, 2017. She was the first dog I’ve ever adopted since the only other pets I had were little perriquito birds popular where we lived in Saltillo, Mexico in 1998. I’d always wanted a Chihuahua after growing up with close Mexican family friends in Lake Orion, Michigan who had two little ones. Almendra was the same brown color as Coral and abuela to Pepita, the sweetest cutest little black Chihuahua:
My partner Kyle knew I was having a hard time with my mental health, specifically panic attacks and severe anxiety. Considering this, he thought of a great idea to help me thanks to one of the people he worked with at a Cacao Association in Mingueo, La Guajira, Colombia who had two dogs that had just had puppies. After Kyle went to go meet the dog parents and newborn pups, he determined that the dogs parents were chill, not as “yappy”, or temperamental as most Chihuahuas are known for. I was apprehensive at first since we traveled a lot via bus to get everywhere along the coast for work with the Peace Corps, and we were living on a volunteer stipend, therefore I was worried there wouldn’t be enough money to support Coral. Alas, Kyle took me to go see the dogs, so of course I fell in love immediately. I saw my baby Coral and instantly felt a connection to adopt her.
She cost us 150,000 Colombian pesos, which is about $50 dollars. Apparently, miniature sized dogs can go for about $2,000 in the US, so we saved A LOT of money there. Either way, miniature or small dogs require such little food consumption, clean-up, and I argue overall minimal effort to train. We got lectured by my sister and prima who are avid supporters of “adopt don’t shop.” I’m a supporter of adopting as well, but the reality was that the nature of our job wouldn’t allow us to adopt just any dog, especially a medium or large-sized dog because a) their food costs too much to manage with our budget, b) finding someone to take care of a larger dog in Colombia when we have to travel 6-7 hours to the main office in Barranquilla would be difficult, and c) it would be much easier or cheaper to take a small lap dog around with us on buses or flights.
The family in our backyard in Dibulla, La Guajira
Overall, we learned a lot about traveling with Coral mostly on buses, but a little on flights as well. My recommendations are as follows:
Buy a neutral colored doggie bag cage that does not scream “I have a dog!” This will facilitate hiding your pet when certain conductors or transportation workers aren’t too keen about you having an animal. We bought a black bag that almost looks like a generic duffel bag. The majority of people didn’t complain about Coral after at least 60 times we rode a bus with her, except for a bus driver one time we were rushed and didn’t have her in her bag so he asked us (visibly annoyed) to put her in her bag, and another driver that insisted to give him a tip/bribe for bringing her on.
Coral the size of Cacao pods outside of San Jacinto, Colombia
Start training your puppy to travel right away by bringing them along on trips since they are young so that they grow up traveling easily. Potty training is the most difficult at first, so make sure to take them out at every pit stop possible so they know that is when it’s okay to go potty instead of in a moving vehicle. Overall Coral started to learn that she needed to lay low and out of sight, but we had to train her not to whine or yip to be let out. We would train or discipline her to not bark with water in a spray bottle or squirt gun.
You do have to think ahead to when you can take your dog around with you, and when you might have to leave them in your hostel, hotel, or rental home. We would usually mix it up and take her out after work, but during work we left her in our room which sometimes required innovative measures like placing the “Do Not Disturb” sign out, or creating a barrier so she doesn’t stick by the door whining for us to come back to her.
How we would look while riding a Brasilia bus around the Caribbean coast of Colombia
Buses are usually more relaxed spaces for small dogs as long as you have a well-behaved dog, while flights can be more strict and flight attendants will make sure you don’t take your pet out of their cage. Bringing your dog along on a flight tends to cost more money (unless it’s a commercial US flight that accepts certified service animals for free), while buses didn’t usually charge.
Plan ahead for potty breaks during long bus rides. We still have not taken Coral on a long flight, so I have no idea how this would work. Do any of you have pointers?
Taking your pet outside of the country is complicated, and it can get expensive. When we moved back to the USA from Colombia, we had to go to the veterinarian to get special tests done, get some vaccines that were required by the USA, a special letter from the vet approving Coral’s travel, and another approval from the national
Coral with her Colombian soccer jersey in Dibulla, La Guajira
Colombian Agricultural Institute (called the ICA) located inside the airport. We left the country in a rush due to my medical evacuation, therefore this whole process was rushed as well. The vet visit should have been done at least a week in advanced, therefore we were charged extra for the rush on top of the normal charges for the travel-related tests, medicine, and documents. In Colombia specifically, we should have visited the ICA office located at the airport at least 24 hours in advanced of our flight, but we didn’t know this until the night before our flight. We arrived super early to the airport the day of our flight. Aside from getting lectured by the administrator for not completing this task the day before, and explaining our unique work situation, he didn’t charge us extra for the rush.
Coral with her Tia Michele in King’s Canyon National Park in California
Make sure to get your dog a Service Animal certification so that you don’t run into problems on flights or entering certain spaces with your dog. This is mostly for those of you who have a disability, mental illness, severe anxiety, depression, etc. However, please be wary no to abuse this benefit that helps many people with their mental illnesses or other disabilities, and please know you’re still highly responsible for the behavior of your dog around others.
When hiding a dog, it’s still important to be as respectful and cleanly as possible with lodging staff, transportation staff, owners, etc. Coral makes a very small mess if there is an accident, but no matter what, we would clean it up right away and leave the space better than we found it. Once, Coral scratched at a door and we made sure to fix that right away. Please be respectful and aware when traveling with your pet, even if you might be hiding them.
Coral as a puppy still in our backyard n Dibulla, Colombia
Coral traveling with Tia Michele
Coral taking a nap after a hike in King’s Canyon National Park in California
I hope these tips help! Coral has not only joined us as a member of the family, mi mejor amigita o hijita de otra especie de animal, but she has provided a therapy-type of companionship through very challenging times in my life. They do say our Millennial generation is not having kids like generations before us, but we sure do love to have fur babies. It’s likely we will see more and more people traveling with theirs pets.
Coral and Mami in Cartagena, Colombia
Coral and Mami in San Jacinto, Colombia
What is your experience traveling with your pet(s)? Please share in the comments below!
As my six months of backing in Latin America wrap up, I thought I’d start sharing ways I can afford to travel. I used to make money blogging on the side, but now I don’t do that because I’m over paying taxes on already low pay that most bloggers deal with. Now I fund my travels with credit card points, and I wanted to share how I do it with you. I’ll start with the number one question I’ve been asked during my trip:
“How have you not run out of money yet?”
Much of the time, I don’t use money. I use credit card points.
Travel is my #1 priority, and my budget reflects that
On my 6 month backpacking trip to Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, I spent less than $6,400. That might seem like a lot, but at $700 a month to live with four roommates in a house in the outskirts of Washington DC, in 6 months, I would have paid $4,200 just to EXIST with a roof over my head-which is exactly what I used to do. Now I work as a tour guide in the summers and don’t pay rent because I travel so much for work that it would be a waste of money (unless I owned my place, and I haven’t found a city where I would invest that kind of housing in yet).
So, back to points. I racked up 50k points by opening the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Capital One Venture cards, and 40k with the United Explorer Card as well as with the American Airlines AAAdvantage Citi Card. All of those cards came with no annual fees in the first year, and I was able to reach the minimum spending limits for those bonus offers through my work expenses that I’d get reimbursed for.
During my trip, I made sure to use my points selectively. I’d scour different websites from Airbnb to Hotels.com to my Chase Sapphire Rewards portal to see which hostel would be the cheapest to stay in. I rarely stay in hotels with my points because you can go so much farther with your points by staying in dorm rooms in hostels.
In terms of budgeting, every night, I enter my expenses into a detailed spreadsheet, and I’d round the dollar amounts up to the nearest dollar so that my bank account would always have more money than it would according to my spreadsheet. It’s a low pressure activity at the end of the day that lets me reflect on my spending, and let’s me think about whether or not that crop top I bought was worth $10 (yes, yes it was). I’m not good at sticking with fixed budgets. Initially, I intended to spend $600 a month on my trip, but I only reached that goal once in Colombia because my Couchsurfing host let me stay for several weeks at her house, so I didn’t spend much on lodging that month. Colombia is also an affordable country compared to Uruguay or Chile, and the people are the most welcoming of any country I’ve been to. It’s my favorite country, with Mexico coming in at a close second because of my cultural ties to Mexico.
I still enjoy the consistency of entering my expenses at night, and I check my bank account and credit card account daily because it gives me a sense of control over my finances. That’s just me, though.
So, what about those four credit cards I opened last year? Stay tuned for how I decided which card to pay an annual fee for.
Una noche, soñé con mi bisabuelo and only a couple of months later, I found myself by his side in the ranchito where he was born and recently returned to. This pueblo is where my paternal family originates from, a place that I had never known before, located in La Concepción, Jalisco, México. One hundred-and-four-years old, my bisabuelo returned back home to live out the rest of his years after having spent about two decades in the United States with us. A couple of days after I dreamt of him, I was scrolling on my Facebook newsfeed when I saw that a cousin of mine from México (that I had never met in person or really interacted online with) had posted pictures of her family celebrating his one hundred and fourth birthday with him. I commented on her post, mandándoles saludos a todos and asked her about him. She let me know that he was doing well – he still walks, plays cards, has an occasional beer, and even dances. She then invited me to her wedding that was to take place in the rancho and I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Two goals in my life were to meet my whole family and to attend a wedding in México. I was able to complete both aspirations at once with this experience.
Two months later, I arrived at the airport in Guadalajara, Jalisco where I met with my tío abuelo and tía abuela who flew in from Los Ángeles. We were picked up at the airport by my other prima (the sister of the bride whom I had never met before either) since she was heading from the city to the rancho for the wedding too. At the airport when I heard my name called, I looked to see her face for the first time and her resemblance to another cousin I have back home was so striking that I almost mistook her for this other prima. In that moment I knew that we were definitely related. During the two-hour car ride from the city to the rancho, I got to know my prima a bit and asked my tía abuela and tío abuelo about their stories and how they came to the U.S.. We see each other every now and then at family parties back in L.A., but I only recently became more fluent in Spanish and able to really converse with them. They are so pleased that I continue to dedicate myself to learning the language that allows us to communicate, and I am too, for it has granted me access to worlds across geographies and generations. They shared their stories with me guided by my never ending but careful curiosity and I learned so much about the sacrifices they made in the search of a better life and future for themselves and their families. Taking the risk of a lifetime by walking the desert from México to the U.S. in the 1970s, working as a janitor among other odd jobs in downtown L.A., my tío abuelo funded the studies of his youngest brother who chose to stay in the country. The first teacher arrived to the rancho in 1968 – that was only 50 years ago. Today the youngest brother of my abuelo’s siblings is a professional who studied at a university in the city, as are his children, and he is able to offer a comfortable lifestyle for his family in the rancho that is their origin and was able to throw an extravagant wedding for his daughter.
When we finally arrived to the rancho, family welcomed me with open arms and I seemed to be no stranger to them at all – at the immediate sight of me they told me that I am the mini version of one of my tía abuelas who has never returned back to the rancho since she had left to the U.S.. She was the first person in our family to leave in order to work as a caretaker, and she is the reason why we all ended up in L.A. as her younger siblings followed her steps and met her there later – I am honored to embody her gracefulness and courage. Everyone was excited to meet me – the little sobrina nieta from Los Ángeles they knew to speak only English a couple of years ago who now studies, travels, and speaks multiple languages – and I was just as excited to meet them too. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world – I took a week off from school and work and sacrificed weeks of sleep by late nights, early mornings, and drinking toxic amounts of caffeine to stay on track with my coursework. It was all worth it – this truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew I had so little time, so I had to make the most of it. Who knows when we will all be able to be together again in the same place on this earth. Each day I made the time to sit down with different family members and talk about our shared histories and personal stories. I also took down everybody’s general information to make a family tree. I was able to do this with my bisabuelo too, though because he is nearly deaf, I asked him one main question – to tell me the story of his life. I let him talk without interruptions while I simply listened and took notes. His memory is sharp and he spoke for a long time, giving me insight to his life and our shared family history even six generations back. This was such special and important work for me to do and all my family members were enthusiastic to share their stories and help me with the information for the family tree.
Between wedding errands and getting to know to family, the week flew by and the day of the wedding came. The wedding was incredible – elegantly set-up, in the open air, on a sunny day, accompanied by Mariachi serenades. There were 800 guests invited and about 1,000 people (or more) came to enjoy birria & cubitos to celebrate. Unexpectedly, mi prima la novia, whom I had just met a couple of days before, made me a bridesmaid in her court of 14 women who live on both sides of aquí y allá. We were all glammed up with hair, make-up, and nails done – all of which only cost me a total of about $60. It was the first time I ever got prettied up like this and I felt like a true princesa del pueblo. There was live music all night, food & drinks, beautiful decorations, and cakes. Everyone was dressed in their most elegant clothing and many different people came up to ask me who I was, who my father is, and who his father is. When I would tell them, they would respond “I haven’t seen your father in thirty years!”, or “I grew up with your abuelito!”. Everyone was a tía or tío or primx, from one generation or another. I even made friends with one person with whom we later realized at the trips’ end that our bisabuelas were sisters, making us related 4 generations ago – so we too are basically primas. My bisabuelo had told me that we were going to dance together at the wedding, but we both ended up falling asleep at the beginning of the night’s end.
The day after the wedding, a couple of hours before having to catch the bus, I said goodbye to all my family members. My bisabuelo gave me some dulces and a bendición – I told him about the dream I had of him that brought me there in the first place. I cried in the garden, struck at the difference in which our families’ lives have unfolded though we share the same origin – this special place, the ranchito, la Concia, la Concepción Jalisco. My cousin, the bride, is now embarking on her own leaving of this origin place, moving to San Antonio, Tejas to live with her husband. She invited me to come visit her, and together with her siblings, we discussed the possibility of organizing a giant family reunion in the rancho for 2020. So many of us who live in the U.S. have never been to the rancho, and for the ones who grew up visiting every summer as kids, haven’t been back in over 30 years. We hope to unite our families across the two countries.
This coming home was truly una experiencia única and I am so glad my bisabuelo visited me in my dreams to call me home. We must follow these intuitive calls. Now is the time to listen closely to what our dreams, hearts, stomachs, and souls are telling us to do – to go home to our places of origin (if we have the privileges to do so because not everyone does) even if it is our first time. We musn’t be scared. Let us honor our families, our ancestors, and ourselves by knowing exactly who we are and where we come from. Also, there are people, earth, and culture that love us and have been waiting for us to reciprocate this love through action. People and places don’t last forever but what do are the seeds of love that we plant that can keep us connected to our homelands in life and in spirit.