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New Week, New Country

MARCH 20, 2018 |NKULA

By Tosca van Oostrum and Maytal Agasi

Last week we were in Rwanda and experienced a lot of emotions that we wanted to share with you.

Apprehensive: for crossing our very first land border.
Thankful: for better infrastructure in Rwanda.
Frustrated: with the language barrier.
Clean: due to the supposedly “free” laundry service.
Intune: with the nature that surrounds us (even the bugs).
Shocked: by the personal stories of the genocide but inspired by their growth and positive mindset.
Scammed: by the taxi drivers who overcharged us.
Excited: for the Black Panther film.
Full: from all of the good food in Kigali.
Overwhelmed: by the amazing aroma of the Huye coffee.
Deeper love: for the amazing Carpe family.
Wiser: on the way to Tanzania.

Trekking To Small Villages in Thailand

MARCH 19, 2018 | SABAI

By Alejandra Villanueva Navarro

We have arrived back to Chaing Mai after four days of trekking and walking to small villages. Our first day of trekking seemed like an endless walk of going up and down steep hills but arriving at the small welcoming villages made it all worth it. We stayed in a cabin with no electricity and a small mattress to sleep on, but it was all we needed for our short stay.

We also encountered some village elephants where we were able to interact with them by feeding them bananas and bathing them in the river. For me, it was the highlight of the trek.

Our last day of the trek was bamboo rafting through the river. It was definitely a rush navigating our raft through some of the fast currents; it was such an exciting experience that everyone enjoyed, probably not so much Chris since he did fall off the bamboo raft. But everyone made it out safe and alive, now it is time for us to enjoy our last night in Chaing Mai before leaving to our next destination, an agriculture farm.


Leaving Guatemala With a Bang

MARCH 19, 2018 | MAYA


After a long five and a half hours, the group finally made it to base camp!


While some chose to watch the sun rise the next morning from base camp, Hanna, Annie, Hannah and Julian decided to push through another steep hour and a half to watch the sunrise from the very top of the volcano.


After the descent, we headed to back to Antigua for a celebratory lunch at a nearby farm and then piled into another minibus and left for the beach! We arrived in El Paredon with aching muscles.


We have spent our time here relaxing on the beach, taking surf lessons, and working with a local social enterprise and sustainable development organization called La Choza Chula.


Other fun things we’ve done include making empanadas in cooking class, and playing carnival games after a town-wide trash clean up.

With our time in El Paredon coming to a close, our group is sad to leave this beautiful place but is also extremely excited for our journey to Nicaragua on Tuesday.

Juliette OUT!

Becoming Part of an Ecuadorian Family



Hola familia! We spent this week in the beautiful city of Banos, a backpackers dream city full of opportunities for great food, extreme sports, relaxation, and good times. The group has enjoyed our homestays this week. We were able to become part of a real Ecuadorian family. We were treated like real daughters and sons, as we were served great meals and kindness.

One of the most important things we did this week was say ‘ciao’ to our beloved Overseas Educator (OE), Avy. While it was very hard to lose someone we’ve all come to love so much, we also got to meet our new OE, Sarah Lee. We welcomed her into the group over highly desired hamburgers and immediately hit it off.

During weekdays we attended Spanish school and learned even more of the beautiful language. In the afternoons we would volunteer in schools, helping kids with their homework. During the weekend, the group would meet up for adventurous activities. One of these activities was a swing on a hill overlooking the city Banos – when you looked down all the buildings looked tiny in the distance.

We also got to go on a zip-lining course. We zip lined across a canyon and into a cave where we then walked across a suspension bridge while strapped into a safety harness. After crossing the bridge we scaled the side of a cliff and only to zip line once again, back to the beginning of the course.

As we arrived back home to Banos we all got ready and took advantage of the active nightlife. Our group met dressed to impress at the church and went dancing. At one location we learned to dance salsa while the other was reggaeton.

On our last full day in Banos (Saturday), we went whitewater rafting. In two separate boats, we were taught how to paddle followed by a safety debrief and then charged through class four rapids with our guides shouting commands. We avoided the rocks and rode the current. In the process, two people fell out of the boat but were quickly recovered within moments.

Later that day, we met Nacho, our guide who took us repelling in the middle of a dense tropical forest. We repelled down three waterfalls! Everyone thought descending a waterfall was hard in the beginning, but by the end of the excursion, we were confident in our abilities. At the end, we got to slide down two smaller waterfalls. There was a really fun one where people were lowered into a small pool and then slid down the rest of the rock.
Though our time in Banos seemed short, we have all come to love the town. Many members of the group took advantage of the seemingly never-ending coffee shops and spas. Where else can you find a full body massage for $20 or less? It’s difficult to say goodbye to our new families and Banos, but onward to the Amazon!


"That was the best silent om I've ever heard"



By Angelo Accus

Our journey to Lake Atítlan began with Talia being a team player and using her Level: 100 finesse skills to talk down our boat driver from 500 quetzales to 280 quetzales. Talia truly raised the bar for the Transporte position. We then glided across the sparkly blue-green Lake Atítlan, which smelled much cleaner than we had anticipated. Many of the Maya group members took photos as the boat traversed the body of water. Before we knew it we had arrived to our destination. We climbed onto a dock and there it was, the Mystical Yoga Farm.

All side-conversations and corny ice breakers were put on hold. Instead the mellifluous sound of drums and birds echoed throughout the farm. A well-postured blue-eyed man with a feather in his hat introduced himself as Daniel. Daniel was the founder of the Mystical Yoga Farm. Daniel carried a giddy aurora and was more than happy to converse individually with the Maya group members. We were surrounded by not one, not two, but three volcanoes: Volcano Atítlan, Volcano San Pedro, and Volcano Toliman. Spending four days off the grid on the Mystical Yoga Farm meant solar powered showers, biodegradable dish soap and hand soap, hydration stations, gardens watered by our showers and sinks with underground hugelkultur systems, compost toilets, a fire powered sauna, and even naturopathic gardens which consisted of herbal medicines such as Aloe Vera, Lemongrass, and Horsetail. El Rancho was the name of the Mystical Yoga Farm’s Kitchen and dining area. El Rancho featured a tea library and a real library!

As far as I could tell the Maya group seemed happy to be in a placid atmosphere surrounded by art and nature, especially our weekly captains, Chloe and Maddie. The plants and animals possessed an equivocal sum of shades and hues that even a colorblind boy could discern. We were surrounded by purple plants, blue birds, lavender leaves, red people, periwinkle people, and olive people. I guess that’s why we’re called HUEmans. Not only did the Maya group see the rainbow but we also tasted the rainbow. Our meals on the Mystical Yoga Farm contained a broad spectrum of nutrient-rich vegan cuisine. Bananas, bagels, broccoli, beets, chocolate, corn, carrots, cauliflower, granola, greens,green beans, nachos, nectar, nuts, nutritional yeast, pancakes, passion fruit, pasta, potatoes, plantains, mangoes, soy, sunflower seeds, soup, tea, tomatoes, oatmeal and zucchini. Making music together on the first night was an eye opening experience for me because people creating music together is how we were born.

The second day on the Mystical Yoga Farm was spent in silence by the entire Maya group including Hannah and Julian, However this activity did not convey notions of melancholy. In fact, our silent day was not mundane and did not solely consist of awkward non-verbal communication. Instead this activity encouraged many gestures of kindness and comical connections that ruminated with us for the rest of our time at the Mystical Yoga Farm. Both Maddie and Hanna showed no hesitation to be the first professional silent paddle boarders of the spring 2k18 Maya group. Grandfather Rock watched over us and in turn many of us spent time with the epochal Grandmother Tree. Our 24 hours of silence was broken by a cacophony of music, laughter and Talia.

On our third day at the Mystical Yoga Farm we awakened from our slumber and made our way to Jaguar Hill to attend a cacao drinking ceremony. Steaming pots of cacao possessed an aroma that was much more intense then ordinary hot chocolate. Unlike Hershey’s this chocolate was made with LOVE. No slaves were involved. Unlike coffee, the cacao drinks dilated the arteries in our hearts while increasing blood flow to our brain. The cacao had an interesting affect on the Maya grou; instead of dancing we shared anecdotes of the deep sea and performed acrobatics while suspended in the air. After a brief break we had attended a tea ceremony, also hosted by Daniel. We indulged on 6-8 cups of red pu-errh tea which was shipped from China and purchased from a vendor. During our tea ceremony Daniel talked to us about renewable energy, beautiful minds like Nikola Tesla, and monopolization. As we met our last cups of tea Daniel discussed his brilliantly stated philosophy on love, good and evil, naturally grown food vs pesticides, the law of attraction, and even epistemology. Daniel sharing his philosophy truly exemplified the sacrosanct aspect behind tea ceremonies. Later that day we were invited to an improv workshop hosted by Don, one of the staff members. We played games like “big booty”, imitating movement and sound and performed rolls and scenes chosen by the audience. For example Kaitlin was flirting with a file cabinet…and wow…our improv workshop built a maximum amount of character because Don modeled it. Before the night ended Annie and Maddie blessed the yoga farm with a beautiful painting which was signed by the Maya group. The Mystical Yoga Farm gifted the Maya group with a clearer view of the opacity of our group members. Standing on the dock with our bags packed waiting for our boat, we were sad to say goodbye and happy that it happened.

After saying goodbye we arrived to the colorful lakeside city of Santa Catarina where we met Alfredo the architect. Alfredo introduced both himself and a lime-based, breathable, anti-corrosive, eco-friendly, insecticide, fungicide and inexpensive paint that costs $10 a gallon. Shortly after introducing ourselves, where we’re from, what we’re studying and why we chose Carpe Diem, Alfredo informed us that our mission was to make the city of Santa Catarina even more colorful by painting houses! Alfredo explained to us that lime-based paint was used by the Ancient Mayans, Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. During our tour of the city we learned that the city’s population stood at a mere 5,000 and that 80% of the population was under forty years of age. Pintando Santa Catarina is an offshoot of an organization that began painting houses for communities and was originally founded in Brazil. They’ve already painted houses in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, San Paulo, Brazil, and even Philadelphia. The project was originally named Favela Painting.

The Maya group spent a total of 6-7 hours painting the houses of Olga and Martina for the next two days. The owners of the houses were very nice, they gifted us with fresh fruit, braclets, and necklaces for painting their homes. After we accomplished our mission we sat down with Alfredo for a cup of coffee/tea for a Q&A. Some of us were wondering how painting houses is working against poverty, pollution and pet abandonment? Alfredo was more than happy to answer this question by informing us that painting houses are only the first step in the mission and by making the city colorful Pintando Santa Catarina was encouraging sponsors to be more open to supporting the cause. Alfredo also showed us colorful birdhouses built by Pintando, because instead of fighting with the birds why not help them. It is almost as if all if the colors at the Mystical Yoga Farm and Santa Catarina encouraged us to show our own true colors. Chloe and Maddie were great captains this week.


Trekking Lake Bunyoni / Volunteering at SNEC



By Jason Tyler

Hey! Hoping this finds everyone back home doing well!

We’ve had an eventful past few days at SNEC and Lake Bunyonyi.

We arrived at SNEC, a school for special needs students in Uganda, on March first. While there we volunteered in the classrooms doing activities with the students and helped rebuild a veranda around a classroom building. It was a lot of hard work but our group still finished strong!

While at SNEC, we had the added responsibility of preparing all of our own meals. We planned them out and went grocery shopping in town before going to SNEC, and worked hard making food over a gas stove three times a day! It was actually really good food, to be honest.

We left the school on the morning of March 6th and spent a day in town before driving to Edirisa that evening to prepare for our trek. Edirisa is located on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, which is probably one of the most gorgeous places in the world!

The first day of our trek started with canoeing. We stopped for fresh pineapple and passion fruit juice on one island, and for lunch on another. After lunch, we had the opportunity to use a rope swing! It was amazing, even though some of us (me included) barely made it over the water before falling off. Then we canoed to Mama Benna’s where we saw baby chickens (so adorable!), ate a delicious meal, and spent the night in tents.

The second day was easily the hardest! We trekked 12 miles on foot up a mountain. It took hours and included a lot of really steep uphill hiking. On the way up, we stopped to meet the Batwa. We shared a wonderful conversation and listened to their history. Then we danced together and learned archery! When we finally reached the top, we were rewarded with an amazing view and Snickers bars. Not the bite size ones, either, full-size Snickers. Totally worth it! Some of the particularly talented members of our group did headstands, and we ate a picnic lunch. Then we trekked all the way back down the mountain and canoed to Tom’s Island just before sunset. We had a meal of eggplant with peanut sauce and crayfish around a campfire and told stories before going to bed.

The third day, we woke up and walked to the highest part of the island with Tom to hear his, and the island’s, story. Then we started canoeing back. Before returning to Edirisa we stopped at Ann’s corner to visit a local craft maker. She taught us how to make beautiful braided bracelets out of papyrus! When we got back, we spent an evening swimming in the lake, catching up on showers, and resting before our trip to Rwanda the next day!


Bounding With the Hilltirbe People of Fanh


By Dominique Lakhiaminh

This week we were fortunate enough to stay with homestays in Fang. Fang is a village with Akha and Lahu hilltribe people. We all got to stay with wonderful families that were loving and full of laughter. We got to learn about their culture and be able to help build a school for students that would have otherwise had to go to work with their parents at the orange farm. The orange farm is where these villagers have the opportunity to work picking oranges, although this is a great opportunity for work, children if they did not have school or someone to watch over them, would have to go to work with their parents and be exposed to chemicals at a young age. We were all happy that we got to build a school for these children and be able to help them have a future filled with greater opportunities. We learned how to work with bamboo, wood, and machetes. With this, we not only built a school for children, but we also built strong relationships with the hilltribe people. This is an opportunity we never forget about.

Next, we’re off to our 3-4 day trek!

Our Stay at Finco Mono Verda



By Desi Casanova

Hola from Baños, Ecuador! The group and I arrived here late last night after a long and tiring 10-hour van ride. Here we will spend a week learning more Spanish and diving deeper into the culture with our homestay families. I won’t give too much away; that’s for our next storyteller! I’m here to tell you all about our beautiful stay at Finco Mono Verde, a permaculture farm off the coast in Tabuga, Ecuador. There we learned all about sustainable living, farming, and fishing. So much knowledge was given to us by our wonderful hosts it’s hard to recall everything, but I do know sustainable living is not as hard as it may seem. It was very important for us to conserve all the water we could due to the many dry months in that region. During our stay, we participated in many wonderful community service projects, such as cutting the soccer field with machetes, creating a path for a very nice woman and her workers, and building a fire stove. Though we worked hard there was lots of downtime for everyone to have some much-needed relaxation, unfortunately, a cold is making its way through the group and back again. We are all working very hard to get back to 100% but the cold is very persistent. Luckily, no soccer was played in cow poo this last week, so at least we have that going for us!

As some of the group rested, many of us went on an incredible hike, climbing 800ft in elevation. On this hike we had the incredible opportunity to see a howler monkey up close and personal, pictures credited by yours truly. We also stumbled upon the biggest tarantula any of us have ever seen! Seriously, the thing was bigger than my head. But aside from silly monkeys and big spiders we also got to enjoy the beauty that surrounded us and really take in the diverse forest. After we emerged from the depths of the forest, we all enjoyed an incredible beach day. Here we took a much-needed soak, collected stones, and watched as the sun set behind the ocean. We also had the opportunity to visit a fisherman’s house, where we enjoyed freshly caught fish and shrimp, while also learning about sustainable fishing. It was truly an incredible week where we did our part and rested when needed. Definitely a place to visit again!


Homestays, Salsa Lessons and Lagoon Hiking In Xela

MARCH 5, 2018 | MAYA


We’ve had a very busy week learning Spanish and continuing to immerse ourselves in Guatemalan culture. Prior to our departure from La Escuela de la Montaña, we had the unique opportunity to tour La Florida, a cooperatively owned, self-sustaining permaculture farm. Our guide led us around the plots of land owned by various local families, pointing out bananas, macadamia nuts, cacao, and the occasional coffee tree. The bananas were sweet and perfectly ripe. Annie, Julian, and I reflected on how nice it was to be able to enjoy a banana without feeling guilty about supporting a company that was complicit in the slaughter of thousands of native Guatemalans (for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the book Bitter Fruit by Stephen C. Schlesinger provides a detailed history of Chiquita Banana and the CIA’s bloody involvement in Guatemalan politics).

We also had the opportunity to sample some of the deep red cacao pods hanging from the trees. Most of the pods were out of range of even Elliot, the tallest in our group. Not one to view this as a setback, Hanna simply scrambled up the tree like a monkey and grabbed a ripe pod with ease. Even our guide was impressed with her climbing skills, jokingly offering her a job picking fruit on the farm before expertly cutting open the fruits of her labor with a machete. Inside, the clusters of fleshy white cacao seeds bore a somewhat off-putting resemblance to the tail of a lobster. The taste was equally unexpected – despite the fact that cacao is used to make chocolate, the seeds themselves are tart and sweet, like a mango. Of course, we couldn’t eat the actual seeds, only suck on them for a little bit before spitting them out. With the fleshy coating removed, the seeds were then ready to be roasted, the next step in the chocolate-making process. After a delicious lunch, we rode back in Abelino’s pickup truck, reflecting on the afternoon while Chloe regaled us with tales of famous serial killers.

Upon returning to Xela, everyone had the chance to meet their teachers and their new host families. Unlike last week, we wouldn’t be living all together. Instead, we would live with our host families and one other person from the group, coming together in the afternoon for Spanish lessons. Lessons are five hours with a half hour pause in the middle. When not in lessons, everyone has been taking full advantage of our free time to explore Xela. We’ve been going thrift shopping, eating street food (more tortillas!), chilling in Parque Central, and just getting to experience the unique culture here.

One of the most memorable parts of the week was a Wednesday morning outing arranged by PLQ (Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco), our language school. Having woken up early, we piled into a chicken bus (a modified school bus used to transport people and goods throughout Central America) and headed off to the Fuentes Georginas hot springs. Halfway through, we switched vehicles to a smaller pickup truck. As our pickup cruised through the countryside (and by “cruised” I mean “bounced over potholes and through puddles, jostling us against the iron bars of the truck bed”), we were treated to a stunning view of the countryside. Farmers worked plots of land on the steep hillsides to either side of us, harvesting beets, cabbage, and carrots as we passed. The hot springs themselves were equally breathtaking. The water, full of sulfur and other minerals, flowed naturally from the rocks above the pool. We noticed some native Guatemalans rubbing the water on their skin and even drinking it. The former seemed like a good idea, but we all agreed to abstain from the latter. We spent over an hour soaking in the wonderfully hot natural pool, emerging wrinkled, relaxed and smelling faintly of sulfur. The hot springs were the perfect thing to lift our spirits and soothe our tired muscles.

As I type this, the group is taking salsa lessons with PLQ. Tomorrow, we plan on hiking to a laguna before we say our final goodbyes to Xela on Sunday. This week has been a welcome challenge of cultural immersion and intensive language study, but I think everyone will be very grateful to head to Lake Atitlan for our yoga retreat!