Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lovin' Life

Life really is wonderful. It's so great to be free to do whatever I want. I had always dreamed of having a time at my life like this and I'm so grateful for it having actualized. Right now, I'm sitting at a cafe in Bogota working on eBay (more on that in a minute) and am organizing everything for the arrival of one Greg Nolan. For those of you who don't know Greg, he's truly beyond description. A pioneer of truth and justice, Greg is a friend of mine from college who, since graduation, has worked in D.C. helping grant credit access to those in poverty; he recently was accepted to Stanford University's law program (ranked the 2nd best in the world) and is currently on the way to meet me in Bogota this evening. Having followed my blog and keeping in touch via email, Greg decided he also wanted to "live the dream" and decided to defer law school for a year. He's starting his journey here in Bogota to join me in volunteering for the next month or so, then he plans to travel the world. While here, he and I plan to discuss joining up for much of our travels. So far, we've been to 4 continents together so we hope to hit up the other 3, haha.

Just the thought of being here in Bogota and contemplating going anywhere in the world I want is so liberating. For example, those of you who are my facebook friends know I just got back from Vegas. Yes, I know, sheer craziness. I have been seeing this great Colombian girl for the last few weeks and we decided to take a trip together for a few days. We discussed numerous possibilities, all within Colombia, but before you know it we had decided on Las Vegas of all places. Within 12 hours we were hitting up the strip and having the time of our lives.

We only stayed 5 days, as we both were anxious to get back to work in Colombia. I've now returned to my normal volunteering schedule with RGOS, Mercadeo Social and Voces Del Silencio. In fact, on the second day back, I filmed a 30 minute interview for a promotional DVD Mercadeo Social was filming for International Volunteer Agencies throughout South America. Yes, believe it or not, my pale face will now be viewed all over South America talking about my volunteering experiences and how to recruit and cultivate a successful volunteering experience.

And yes, all of this is possible through eBay. Having saved up for the last 9 years, I've been able to afford to take this time in my life and devote it to travel, not having to worry about income. Even so, expenses add up and I've been lucky enough to continue working on my eBay business even here in Bogota. Just recently, I faced a string of eBay policy changes that threatened the business' survival, but with alot of research and hard work, I've been able to keep it going.

So yea, that's what I'm doing right now at the cafe: sitting here processing today's eBay orders contemplating the fleetingness of time and how lucky I am in this moment. I love volunteering, I love Colombia and I love the freedom to be young and crazy!

I miss you all and hope life is bringing you as much happiness as it is me. Keep in touch!

"Whatever you do, do it with love."

- Kevin

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Livin the dream back in Bogota!

I just returned to Bogota from my backpacking trip through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru! I just spent the last two days loading all the pictures from the trip to Facebook and spent awhile adding explanations in lieu of a blog entry. For all of you who have kept asking for pictures, now you can finally see them all! Don't worry, you don't have to be a registered member of Facebook to see the pictures, just click the following links to see the albums with my commentary. Please feel free to make comments or send me your thoughts. I always love hearing from you all!

Click here to see the Colombia picture album!

Click here to see the Ecuador picture album!

Click here to see the Peru picture album!

And for a quick update, I did ultimately decide to wait a year to go to law school. I will be staying in Colombia for approximately two more months to continue my volunteering and livin the dream. From there, the possibilities are endless, but I'm currently exploring the option of going to Guatemala for a few weeks after leaving Bogota. Ultimately, I'll definitely be home by August because my little brother just announced he's getting married! At first, he was having the marriage in May, but because I and some other family member's couldn't make it on short notice, he pushed back the date. I'm so happy and so glad I get to go!

After that, I'm still moving forward with my plans to travel the world for a year before starting law school next Fall. It's still in the preliminary stages, but I couldn't be more excited about seeing more of this wonderful world we live in!

Well, I hope you all enjoy the pictures. Stay in touch and know that I miss you all!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jungles and Deserts and Glaciers, Oh My!

I continue to be amazed at just how beautiful this world is! I'm now in Peru and, since my last post, have been all over the place. First, we were able to ride one of National Geographic's Top 10 Train Rides in the world. It's in Southern Ecuador and is called ¨La Nariz Del Diablo,¨ which translates ¨The Devil's Nose.¨ It has that name because you literally go down the side of an extremely steep mountain through a series of switchbacks. Finished in the early 20th century, it was the pinnacle of railroad technology and is still a feat to behold. Heck, you even get to ride on the roof! Haha, it was really an awesome experience and I can see why National Geographic thinks so highly of it :-)

From there, we made our way across the border and down to Trujillo, Peru. We stopped there because nearby are the ancient ruins of Chan Chan which, built around AD 1300, is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest adobe city in the world! While alot of the ruins have eroded over the years, the sheer size was simply unbelivable.

From Trujillo, we went to Caraz, a small town outside of the better-known Huaraz, where we hiked the Lagunas Llanganuco. These are two lagunas nestled in a glacial valley only 1000 meters below the snow line! It was the first time I had ever got to see snow-capped mountains and the view, especially reflected off of the glacial lake, was truly stunning. We were actually able to see views of Huascaran (6768m), Chopicalqui (6354m), Chacraraju (6112m) and Huandoy (6395m). These moutains, all part of the Cordillera Blanca, are some of the most popular in the world to hike and climb. Huascaran is actually the highest tropical summit in the entire world! And Alpamayo (5947m), another mountain we got a great view of from Caraz, has even been labeled the most beautiful moutain in the world because of it's knife-edged, perfectly pyramidal northern silhouette. So yea, for a Florida boy like me, to get to see such an amazing display was really a treat!

*As a side note, these three trips meant that we were actually in the Ecuadorian jungle, the Peruvian desert and a glacial valley in three consective days. Talk about a change of environment!

Finally, from Caraz, we made our way to Lima where we are now. We've spent the last 2 days relaxing from our long mountain hikes and preparing for the next 2 weeks which will consist of non-stop trekking. Tomorrow, we head to Cuzco and then to Machu Picchu! We then go around the entirety of Southern Peru, making our way back to Lima. Mike then heads home and I go back to Colombia for a few more months of volunteering.

So yea, I'm absolutely exhausted, haha. It is such a blessing to be able to see so much in so little a time, but it definitely tests the limits of my endurance! Well, my flight for Cuzco leaves early in the morning so I have to get what little rest I can. I'll try and post soon, but I may be back in Colombia before I get another opportunity to send an update. Either way, I hope all is well back home and can't wait to talk to you all soon!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We can be heroes....just for one day.

Well, I made it safely into Ecuador and am now in Cuenca on my way to Loja. Mike and I had a blast in Quito and enjoyed seeing some fellow gringos. We stayed at a great hostel where we met people from France, Germany, Britain, Canada and others. While the city wasn't as great as some of the others we've visited, we had a great time and took the time to relax before making the trek to the Quilotoa loop.

From Quito, we made our way to Latacunga and then to Zumbahua. This was an unbelievable chance in scenary from Quito! We went in the course of a day from the biggest city in all of Ecuador (approximately 1.5 million population) to one of its smallest (less than 2,000 population). The entire town was built around a concrete slab which houses their markets every Saturday. Other than that, the place is simply deserted. It had only one restaurant open past 6pm and the menu consisted of, and I quote, ¨pollo o arroz con pollo?¨Haha, it was a tough decision, but I went for the pollo sin arroz.

In spite of, or possibly because of, its lack of, well, anything, it was utterly relaxing and tranquil. It is situated in an unbelivable location, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains that have an intense and powerful presence. We got there early enough and were able to hike up one to enjoy a spectacular view over the city and down into one of the canyons.

From there, I have to let Mike speak on behalf of our hike around the Quilotoa loop. He sent an email back home describing the entire ordeal and I dare not attempt to state it better than he:

¨The next morning we awoke quite early and made our way up to the laguna. We dropped off our bags, stocked up on water, made sure we were prepared for what we believed was to be an easy hike. Once again we were wrong. We did the traditional loop hike and it was beautiful. But there was something dark and foreboding in our future. Maybe 5 minutes after finishing a rousing rendition of Ive Had The Time Of My Life, a cloud blew in. We thought, hey, this is great, now its shady and we wont sweat as much. Oh but this was no ordinary cloud. It was the first stormtrooper in a vicious vicious storm that lasted the rest of the day. We were about 50 percent done with the lake, so we trudged on, thinking that the storm would not last.

It Did.

And it hailed.

A lot.

And lightning was striking all around us.

This is where we made a fateful decision that means perhaps history will look back on us as heroes and adventurers in the first class. We decided we did not want to be struck by lightning and left the top of the loop to follow another trail around the crater. We were our own two hobbits making our way through our own little version of Mordor, climbing over stones, trying to make sure of the path through visibility of three inches. The lightning continued to strike all around and soon we noticed that the peaks were getting quite high. With dawning horror we realized that in the middle of being pelted with hail that we were getting away from the loop trail.

So, when in doubt, we did what any smart person would do. We blazed our own trail through the storm. We were scaling rock formations, scaring the hell out of llamas, walking through farms that had traps. We followed the infamous Burro trail across a good third of the loop trail, praying that eventually this storm would let up.

Well, the fates can be fickle, but they smiled upon us that day. The storm passed after an hour to reveal that we were basically screwed. Our trail existed no more. We blazed on and eventually found the main loop trail. And then the storm came back with a vengance. I have the welts to prove it. But we made it back to town, conquering heroes.¨

Haha, so there ya go. It was, indeed, quite an adventure. And yes, we were heroes....just for one day :-)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tales of crazy adventures...

So I just arrived in Pasto in Southern Colombia and am spending the night here before heading to Ipiales in the morning and then crossing into Ecuador and making our way to Quito for the weekend. While nothing too exciting happened today (other than a crazy unpaved 5 hour busride through the mountains that was unbelievably beautiful), we just came from San Agustin where Mike and I spent the day hiking in the mountains looking at over 100 ancient statues found over 1,000 years ago. We stopped there because the experience is so unique - little to nothing is actually known historically about the civilization that left the statues. One is left to imagine the reasons for the intricate anthropomorphic stone creatures left there!

This, after an amazing time in Northern Colombia for Holy Week, and I'm really getting a well-rounded image of all that Colombia has to offer! In Santa Marta, we were able to make our way north to Parque de Tayrona which has some of the best beaches in all of South America. To be honest, it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my entire life! We actually slept in hammocks right on the beach and were surrounded by jungle-filled mountains, amazing palm trees, huge rock formations going out into the water and even some ancient ship wrecks right off-shore! The view was literally right out of the movies! Even a Florida boy like my couldn't help but be impressed, lol.

To top it off, on our second day there we even hiked into the jungle and up the mountain to see ancient ruins from a civilization more than 2,000 years old. I felt like Indiana Jones exploring lost civilizations in the jungles of South America, haha. Then, in Cartegena, we walked the cobble-stone streets of the old city, trecked along the wall surrounding it (built to protect it from invading pirates in the 1700s) and even went 50km west to take a mud bath in a dormant volcano (we even got to wash off in the nearby swamp)!

So yea, I've basically been having the time of my life. This after volunteering and growing as a person more than I ever have. I just feel so alive! I've been talking with Mike every day (who has been to 53 countries!) about the amazing impact travel has. It's so remarkable to me how enlighteing and enriching it is to spend time in other cultures. It's difficult to explain, but having grown up thinking I had most things figured out, it's unbelievably humbling to see the world through other people's perspectives. Especially interesting is being able to compare experiences with other travelers from all over the world. In Santa Marta and Cartegena, we met a couple from Austraila who was backpacking throughout South America and spent two days with them. In San Agustin, we met people from Germany, London and France. It's just so cool to talk about their countries, their view of Colombia and to just compare life stories. It really gives me a fresh and global perspective on existence!

With that said, I'm actually considering wating a year to start law school so I can stay in Colombia several more months and then travel the entire world. I see how much of a difference just this one short trip has made on me as a person and I can't help but imagine what the rest of the world holds! I know it seems crazy, but I realize that once I start law school, I'll never really have the opportunity to travel extensively. I feel as if everyone always wishes they could travel or that they had chosen to. I don't want to wish, I just want to make it happen! I have a rare opportunity that allows me the freedom of an entire year if I want it. And as for law school, it's always there when I'm ready. Besides, the traveling will only make me a more attractive candidate!

Well, that's my opinion at least, haha. Feel free to tell me I'm crazy. In fact, feel free to tell me whatever you think. It'd be interesting to hear everyone's thoughts. Okay, I have to get going. We're leaving early in the morning and need to make it all the way to Quito, so I need a good night's rest. I'm sorry I haven't been able to send many updates. I've been so busy traveling that time and internet are both hard to find. Nonetheless, know that I miss everyone back home and am thinking of you all down here!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Finally, a break....

I can't belive it's been 16 days since my last post! I have been so incredibly busy that the time has just flown by. Right now, believe it or not, I'm in Bucaramanga, a city about 8 hours from Bogota via bus. I'm here volunteering with an organization called FundaciĆ³n Esperanza Viva (Living Hope Foundation) that provides legal, psychological and spiritual assitance to patients with cancer. I just got here yesterday and have to leave tomorrow so it's a very short visit, but already I've been amazed by the work they're doing here! We met with several patients today who ranged from 11 months to 70 years old so in only one day we really got to see the extent of the work they do. Legally, they have an attorney that writes "demands" for patients who are poor and in need of assistance. These outline the fundamental human rights of the patients and how they are being violated through the neglect of basic medical care and treatment. If granted, the demands allow for transportation and medical costs to be paid in full by a combination of the patient's employer, social security and other government assistance. This literally means the difference between life and death for these patients! Just last year, 35 demands were made successfully and more are expected this year.

Alas, I'll have to try and write more about this organization later as I only have a few minutes online. I actually don't have my computer with me and am in the lobby of our hotel paying per hour for the internet. I'm absolutely exhausted and have another busy day of volunteering tomorrow. On top of that, from here, Mike and I are going to Santa Marta for 3 days, then Cartegena for 3 days and finally back to Bogota for 5 days. After that, we begin our month long journey through southern Colombia to Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Luckily, the stops in Santa Marta and Cartegena are just for fun so I'll finally get a chance to relax some! I've been volunteering 7 days a week which, while simply amazing, has really tested the extremes of my endurance. A week of chilling on the beach sounds incredible right about now :-)

As for the last 16 days, well, I suppose an in depth update will have to wait on that too, haha. I've actually been dying to write an update, but have not had internet access at any of the apartments I've been staying at. When I have had the chance to get online, I have so much to do with eBay and with volunteering research that 2 hours will pass and I'll have barely scratched the surface of what I need to do. Nonetheless, I have been taking tons of pictures and was able to create a Flickr account to chronicle them. While I still have tons of pictures to load and have not made individual comments on each photo yet, you can view what I've uploaded here:

My Flickr Page!

I have continued volunteering with Voces Del Silencio every weekend and you can see the pictures from the 3 concerts I've now been to. I also visited 3 RGOS computer centers last Saturday which you can see pictures from as well. While I probably won't be uploading any pictures over the next week while I'm sipping rum on the beach, lol, I will definitely be doing so as soon as I return.

In the meantime, Alison has been making some great blog entries that deal with the crisis that has been unfolding in Colombia over the last 2 weeks. I'd encourage you to read about it on her blog here:

Alison's Blog

Unfortunately, I have to get going. I miss you all and hope that all is going well. For all my youth reading this, I've been getting all the youth group emails and am glad you are all staying busy! I can't belive graduation is coming up for some of you! Keep up all the good work at church and stay in touch.

Hasta Luego!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"International Translator"

Okay, so this past weekend has simply been unbelievable! First off, I'll quickly update that I have finalized my volunteering schedule for now until April. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be working with Mercado Social and Global Opportunity Garden; on Wednesdays, I am teaching English at Fundacion Formemos; on Fridays I am volunteering for RGOS; and, on the weekends, I have varying responsibilities. This weekend, for example, I am going to visit one of RGOS's telecenters on Saturday morning and then volunteer with Voces Del Silencio in the evening and all day Sunday. Next weekend, I actually have way too many opportunities and still have to decide which I want to do.

The work I'll be doing with Mercado Social and Global Opportunity Garden is really an amazing opportunity. My basic responsibilities are to 1) do follow up research on the camera donations made by GOG and document how they are being used and 2) visit a number of different foundations throughout Colombia and document their history, mission and projects in English. This is important because there are an unlimited amount of fundraising opportunities in the United States but almost no one here to write the proposals in English. Through Mercado and the relationships it has with deserving foundations, I will be writing briefs for each so that organizations in the US can recognize them and consider them for funding. Really awesome stuff!

I'd love to give more information about each specific foundation, but alas, I am again faced with my being absolutely exhausted and only having a few minutes of internet access. So, I must get to why this weekend was amazing! As of my last post, I didn't have anything planned for this weekend and was looking forward to some down time. But, when meeting with Marcela and designing my volunteer program with Mercado, she said that Voces Del Silencio was doing another concert this Saturday. I, of course, couldn't help but tag along. Wow, am I glad I did! I've seen several of their concerts - at least a half dozen - but never had I been able to see it from "behind the scenes." Not only was I able to see them practice, ride on the bus with them, etc., they as a group decided to "baptize" me as a volunteer and give me my own "sign." Since most of them can't speak, they each have a sign that, essentially, is just a combination of hand motions that identifies them. Mine was the letter K in sign language on the right eyebrow and then a flick over my right shoulder (which made fun of my blonde hair, haha). Okay, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was so amazing to have them accept me like that :-)

They then took it upon themselves as a group to teach me sign language. Keep in mind, however, that I don't speak Spanish!! So, I am learning the Spanish alphabet so I can spell words that I subsequently won't understand anyways, haha. Surprisingly, though, I was able to pick it up pretty quickly and now know the entire alphabet in Spanish sign language!! Again, my enthusiasm might seem extreme, but I can't tell you how cool it was to be able to communicate with this group of youth who can neither speak nor hear! They not only taught me sign language, but also, in the process, were teaching me Spanish as well. I actually really learned alot!

That was yesterday. Then, I found out that they had another concert today! Of course, I decided to go to that as well, haha. I arrived this morning at 10am to watch them practice and quickly was told that they were short a volunteer and needed me to help sign. Okay, let me pause here say that again: They wanted ME to help them sign! I can't possibly convey just how unprepared I was for that, lol. At first, I thought they were joking and laughed. Their stares quickly told me otherwise so I changed gears and prepared to officially sign for the first time in my life. Since some of the youth are both deaf and blind, even when they have a leader showing them the signs to do during the concert, they also need someone directly behind them signing on their backs so they can feel what to do and when. This is what they needed me to do!

Even though I didn't have alot of faith in myself, the practice went flawlessly as I was able to look at the person signing next to me and just copy what they were doing. I also was assisting one of the best in the group who had nearly memorized each song. So, luckily, even if I occasionally made a mistake, he knew and would correct me. Pretty impressive when you think about it! Practice ended and I was relieved that my signing responsibilities were done for the day. Then, of course, I found out the volunteer also wasn't going to be able to make it to the concert!! You guessed it, I quickly became an official Voces Del Silencio translator for the day!!

Yesterday's concert was great and the turnout was wonderful as we had about 100 people at a local school. Little did I know that today's would be about 5 times that big as another local school was having a huge 25th anniversary festival! We're talking dozens of food booths, huge advertising sponsorships from Coca-Cola and Movistar (one of the biggest cell phone services here), and yes, at least 500 people, if not more. So there I was, before I knew it, on stage in front of hundreds of people translating signs I didn't even understand!

To be honest, even now, several hours later, I'm still on an emotional high. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life! The whole group, after the concert, piled on top of me in a congratulatory tackle. They dubbed me their "International Translator" and told me I could not leave Colombia before learning sign language so I could volunteer with them full time, haha.

It's difficult to convey an experience like that and how special it truly is. These kids have literally faced death due to their disability (as deaf or blind children in Colombia are almost always shunned or abandoned) and have overcome adversity by choosing to use their life situation to inspire others! They are an unbelievable group of kids who have such a positive attitude and energy that it is instantly contagious. Just being around them was awesome, let alone having them teach me, accept me and, ultimately, have me as an actual interpreter.

This is why my weekend was one of the best I've had in my life :-)