The Driest Place on Earth

I’m still trying to process all of the wonders that I experienced in the Atacama Desert.

Day 1: We arrived to our hostel and immediately went for a stroll through the small, desert town of San Pedro. The dirt roads are lined with companies offering tours to all of the attractions, ice cream shops, and rows and rows of small shops full of colorful, handmade souvenirs. We booked our tours for our 5-day trip, expectant of each place we would be able to visit.

Day 2: Tour of “Las Lagunas Escondidas”, the Hidden Lagoons. After about an hour and a half long drive into the middle of nowhere, with only sand dunes surrounding us, we arrived to the 7 magical hidden lagoons. Salt covered the surfaces around the lagoons, making it seem as if we were in the Arctic looking at snow and ice. We had the chance to swim in one of the lagoons, but it wasn’t a typical swim. This lagoon has such a high salt content that we were able to float. We relaxed in the lagoon as we escaped to cool down from the burning desert sun for awhile. It was a magical experience.

Day 3: Tour of “Piedras Rojas”, Red Rocks. A drive through the Atacama Desert with frequent stops at look-out points to observe lagoons and other beautiful and unique landscapes. This tour also included a stop to a salt flat with a special lagoon inhabited by three distinct species of flamingos. There are only 6 species in the entire world, and three of them live at this lagoon in Chile! We got to observe the elegant movements of the flamingos, although most of them were eating the entire time we were there (flamingos eat for 16 hours each day!). We learned that flamingos are actually born white/grey and only become pink due to their diet of shrimp and algae, which is high in carotenoid pigments and eventually change their color. Therefore, younger flamingos are practically entirely white/grey.

Day 4: During the day, we embarked on a self-guided tour to “Valle de la Luna”, Moon Valley. We biked a total of 18 miles to see the wonders that this place had to offer. A huge salt cave is the biggest attraction, and we wandered through and examined the crazy, intricate and unique formations of the salt particles in each part of this massive cave. Hiking ginormous sand dunes, more biking, and extreme sweat were also key parts of our journey.

In the evening we did an Astronomy Tour, because the Atacama Desert is the best place in the entire world for astronomy! Due to its extremely high elevation and its dryness (after all, it is the driest place on earth, with the exception of the poles), it is an ideal place to examine the huge night sky full of twinkling and flashing stars, and bright, steady planets. At one point, we were able to see three planets at the same time. It was the first time in my life that the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” had meaning for me. I am still in awe of the miraculous canvas that is our night sky.

Day 5: Tour of the “Tatio Geysers”. A 4 a.m wake up was necessary for our trip to the third-largest field of geysers in the entire world, and it was so worth it. We watched the sunrise through the steam of these powerful, yet gentle geysers. One of the geysers is usually inactive and sits as a calm geyser until the land underneath heats to a certain level and it explodes, shooting a fountain of steady water into the air for a few seconds, and then becoming calm again, preparing to explode a few minutes later. The final part of this day was spent in a natural hot spring, relaxing and warming up after an extremely cold morning in the high altitude of these Tatio Geysers.

Being in the Atacama Desert for five days reminded me of the importance of finding beauty in bare things that might not initially seem exciting- to search for the hidden gems and the flowing water buried deep within the dry sand dunes of the desert — because the beauty does exist and it is pretty miraculous.

It’s the Climb… or Three

Being surrounded by mountains is something new for me, but here in Cape Town, I have caught the hiking bug. I have really enjoyed spending a morning or a day climbing up one of the mountains here and being rewarded with beautiful views of the city. There are three mountains that are the most well known here and that sit right in the middle of the city. They are Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Table Mountain is the most well known of the three due to its unique flat top. The three mountains together, famous for making up Cape Town’s cityscape.

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The three peaks (from left to right: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head)

Throughout the semester, I have climbed both Table Mountain and Lion’s Head a few times each. Last weekend, however, my friend, Noelle, and I wanted to take the next step. We decided to take on the three peaks challenge. This involves hiking all three mountains in one day. The official challenge requires participants to start in the city center and go back to the starting point to check in between each mountain. Noelle and I took the easy route and did the unofficial version, though, just hiking each mountain back to back.

Our day started early at 6:30am when we got to the Devil’s Peak trail. We had never hiked Devil’s Peak before, so we weren’t sure what was in store, but it was a beautiful hike. There were lots of flowers and bushes along the trail, and once we got closer to the peak they got thicker and the path got narrower, so we had to carefully navigate. It was not as long of a hike as we expected, which meant we got to see the beautiful view quicker than expected. From the top we could see the view of the front of Table Mountain, and if we turned around we looked down to see UCT campus with all of its orange-roofed buildings and rugby fields.

After enjoying the views and taking a quick snack break, we began our descent. About two thirds of the way down Devil’s Peak there is a path, which connects Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain. We turned onto this path and made our way towards Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge. We had hiked along this path before, so we knew the route to reach Table Mountain, and once we got here, up we went.

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Hiking from Devil’s Peak to Table Mountain

The climb up Platteklip Gorge is not nearly as enjoyable, as the views from the top. It’s a zig-zag path all the way up with big stair-like rocks. It is also a popular trail, making it crowded and congested at times. Nevertheless, we powered through with a positive attitude and reached the flat top of Table Mountain. The top of Table Mountain is beautiful, with lots of rock formations and various plants. Table Mountain has its own ecosystem of plants living atop it, with flowers, bushes, and other species that are unique just to Table Mountain. Isn’t that neat?

We roamed around the top of the mountain for a bit, admiring what is considered one of the new seven wonders of nature, before sitting down and eating our packed lunches to sustain us for the remainder of our hike. We had more one walk around before starting the trek down the gorge. You would think that climbing down would be a bit faster because you have gravity and momentum on your side, but the steep rocks and their smoothed surfaces from so many hikers make going down a slippery adventure. It took us just as long to hike down as it did to get up there, surprisingly only slipping once.

We then headed over to Lion’s Head to hike the final peak of the challenge. Lion’s Head is the easiest and shortest mountain to climb of the three peaks. Well, that’s if you don’t hike the two other peaks beforehand 🙂 We took the climb slow and steady, taking a long break to have another snack and watch other hikers go bye, cheering them on as they passed. After we had caught our breaths and given our legs a needed break, we continued our climb. A fun part about Lion’s Head is about two thirds of the way up is a fork in the road. You can either take a longer footpath route, or a shorter climbing route that involves chains and staples that have been installed in the rocks. We were feeling adventurous, so we opted for the shorter route, and lifted ourselves up the rocks with the help of the staples. A short while after climbing up and hiking along a bit more of the path, we reached the final peak!

Lion’s Head has one of my favorite views. Because of its location, a little bit separated from Table Mountain and closer to the coast, you get an amazing 360 degree view of Cape Town. On one side you see Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. On another you get a clear view of the strip of beaches and the water. And in yet another area you get a great view of the city centre. We walked around the perimeter of the top, soaking in the beauty of each view while giving our legs some rest before making the final descent.

We then headed down, steadily and carefully, until we reached the bottom of Lion’s Head to complete the three peaks challenge! After a total of 9 hours out on the mountains, we finally made it. Our legs had turned to jello by the end, but it was definitely worth the great experience and accomplishment. It’ll be a big switch going from this mountainous city back to the flat lands of the Midwest, so it was good to get a full day of hiking in before heading back home!

Ministerio de Fe

Chile. Venezuela. United States. Peru. Mexico. Dominican Republic. Haiti. Japan. China. El Salvador. Brazil. Spain. Argentina. All of these countries are represented in my church in Valparaíso. It is a Protestant Christian church that truly makes me feel right at home. It has been a wonderful way to make Chilean friends and always have people to turn to when I face the common struggles that come with studying in a foreign country. The people of my church have welcomed me with so much love and support and have truly shaped my semester in Chile.

The diversity within the congregation of Ministerio de Fe is something that I appreciate and value so deeply. Recently, our church organized an intercultural reunion where we focused on praying for the nations and getting a taste of new cultures. When I say taste, I mean taste. Every country created a stand where they decorated, dressed in the typical clothing of the country, and prepared and served traditional foods. After the service, all of the booths opened and the entire congregation could walk around our sanctuary and get a small idea of new cultures and begin to appreciate how distinct and special each one truly is.

I obviously represented the United States. My friend, Katrina, and I proudly wore our flannels, braids, and boots while we served our traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Coke floats (they don’t have root beer here, so Coke had to do). We decorated with red, white, and blue, and tried to give people a tiny glace into our culture.

I was also asked to pray for Mexico, Peru, and the United States. I was able to stand in front of my entire congregation and pray in a foreign language for the deep needs of countries nearby. It was nerve-wracking and I wanted to turn down the opportunity, but at the end, it felt so good, broke so many fears that I had, gave me confidence in my Spanish, and stretched me more than I had imagined.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/299857461

Being a part of a church here in Valparaíso has blessed me tremendously and helps me to better understand Chilean culture as a whole. I have been able to form deep relationships with Chileans, but also with people that come from all over the world. I have been stretched to use my Spanish at all times and to engage with people that come from cultures very different than my own. Diversity is such a beautiful thing and I am so thankful that I get to contribute to the diversity of Ministerio de Fe. There’s not many things better than being welcomed with love into a new community, and having the chance to learn and teach at the same time.

Food Talk

My arrival in September was not my first time in India. I had the opportunity to join Dr. Annie Dandavati of the Political Science Department and fellow Hope student Tristan Tobias (‘19)  at the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA) Conference in Pune this summer for a week. I knew the traffic, busyness, and smells enough not to be shocked but India has still found ways to continuously surprise me. When I got off the plane and walked out into a dark and busy New Delhi, my system still did a back flip. Everything is entirely different right down to the pigeons and crows. New languages, car horns, and ways of culture seemed to grasp every inch of my attention until it was left over extended. I cried that first night in New Delhi not because I was sad to be there, but just because this seemed to be the only reaction that could summarize my spinning thoughts. However, in the midst of the crazy, I have found a new relationship that has helped me ground me when I needed it most.

I know a lot of people, myself included, have a very complicated relationship with food. I have spent much of my younger energy on criticizing what and how much I was eating. Although my mindset has come a long way, I would say up until arriving here, I still had a hard time appreciating my relationship with food. I never really acknowledged the partnership that it was. However, something about watching my host mom wake before the sun rises to start cooking for the day, tasting the violent spice of Rajasthani food as the desert sun beats down on my face, and actively participating in a society that values the ability to eat fully has greatly changed my outlook. At the end of the day, being able to sit with a family and appreciate a home-cooked meal has been my center as the world spun.

Growing up, my family would pray before meals, making a point to be grateful for the fact that we had food on our table and recognizing that many people do not. Although I still hold this practice and mindset, I think true appreciation for food goes much deeper. It’s not just seeing and recognizing those without food, but seeing and recognizing all the people and efforts that went into the food. When I lift a bite of a South Indian Dosa to my mouth, I think about the farmers, truckers, factory workers, and cooks that went into the spicy potato and vegetable stuffed lentil crepe. I think of the many steps that went into the exact taste in my mouth. In eating in this way, I am able to see the oil sizzling garlic and onion, the potatoes being roasted and coated in turmeric, mustard seeds being poured over everything, a pinch of cardamom powder bringing all the flavors together, and the final intricate flip of the ballooned Dosa.

A big philosophy in my life is “invite more people to the table.” I think this is what my faith calls me to do and what the world often needs. We don’t need to agree or hold hands all the time, but if we could just sit and share a meal, the world could be a much better place. However, I never really realized the importance of actually inviting food to the table. Each day brings new challenges and learning opportunities, but I now encounter these ups and downs with dedicated time to sit and share a meal with those around me.

Experiencing the History

Throughout my time in South Africa, we have learned a lot about the history of this country, including the struggles it has faced, the most prominent struggle being Apartheid, the system of racial discrimination and segregation. We had the chance to visit the Apartheid Museum, Mandela house, Robben Island, and District Six.

At the Apartheid Museum, we began by receiving a ticket indicating whether we would be white or non-white. This served the purpose of replicating what separation and segregation was like during Apartheid. After the entrance, we regrouped with the people who we were separated from and walked down a pathway with sections of “we are” statements. These included “We are thinkers”, “We are fighters”, “We are storytellers” as a way to display that we are all human despite our race. This was a powerful entrance to the museum that prepared us to learn more about Apartheid and the consequences of it.

The museum was quite large and a bit overwhelming with the amount of information it held. But, it was still a good overview of Apartheid and I learned a lot from it. Racial discrimination and segregation have been present in South Africa since colonists arrived, but Apartheid began in 1948 after the Great Depression and WWII. The ANP political party (made up of whites) won the election and implemented stricter segregation laws throughout the country. They did not only separate whites from non-whites, but divided blacks by their native tribes and coloureds. By the 1950s laws were put in place that separated families of mixed race and interracial marriages were outlawed.

In addition, land was taken from non-whites to give to whites, forcing them out of their homes and into worse neighborhoods and housing. This is what happened to those who lived in the District Six neighborhood in Cape Town. We were able to visit this neighborhood and their museum to learn about the injustices their community had faced.  There were stories shared throughout the museum highlighting the families that had lived in District Six for generations and were forced away from their family’s history. They were given very short notice and often couldn’t carry more than a suitcase, as you can see below.

These forced removals occurred across the country in cities and in rural areas, as well. Because of the constant build up of injustices, like these, there were countless oppositions to the white supremacists and the government, including strikes, protests, and demonstrations against the actions of the government. Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential anti-Apartheid leaders during this time. A member of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela lead this organization’s campaign by organizing protests and speaking out against the Apartheid laws.

After 69 people were killed by police in a peaceful protest, Mandela formed a new wing of the ANC known as MK. With this new party, he planned a campaign against the government which involved him illegally leaving the country to attend a conference. Upon his return he was sentenced to prison for 5 years. During the first year of his sentence, evidence was found in the ANC hideout that further implicated Mandela, causing him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

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A memorial at the Nelson Mandela capture site, near Durban, where he was captured after returning from the conference.

The first 18 years of his sentence were spent on Robben Island, which we got the chance to visit. This is an island off of the coast of Cape Town, similar to Alcatraz in California. Most of the political prisoners of this time were imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. We were able to see the living conditions the prisoners lived under and were even lead on a tour by a former political prisoner who was there at the same time as Mandela. The cells were tiny and there were no bathrooms, just buckets for the prisoners. Their only access to the outdoors was their cell block’s courtyard. Our tour guide told us that cell blocks would communicate with each other by hiding notes inside of tennis balls and “accidentally” hitting the tennis ball into the next courtyard. This continued until all of the cell blocks had received the message. We also got to see Mandela’s cell specifically, which is where he began writing his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom”.

In 1980, the “Free Nelson Mandela” campaign began, calling for the government to release Mandela. The government agreed to free him if he was willing to make political compromises, which he declined. After conditions, protests, and demonstrations worsened during the 1980s, South Africa received lots of international attention that negatively affected their economy. This led the party in power to step aside during the election in 1989, and de Klerk was voted into office, where he freed all political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and worked to end Apartheid.

Once Mandela was freed, he returned to his home in Soweto, which is now open to visit and known as the Mandela House. This small house only contains two small bedrooms, a living area with a gas stove, and a bathroom. Outside the house we were able to see bullet holes from shots taken at his house during Apartheid, and the house was filled with history, from awards Mandela had won, to hand written pages of his autobiography he wrote in prison. Seeing all of his life portrayed throughout his house and walking in the place that he lived was a unique experience and one I am thankful I was able to have.

Nelson Mandela did so much for his country and everybody respected him for being a man with such kind character and passion for justice. Due to his anti-Apartheid leadership and this respect, Nelson Mandela became the first post-Apartheid president of South Africa in 1994 and served one term until 1999, greatly helping his country transition into the post-Apartheid era.

Studying abroad in a country with such a recent history, only being out of Apartheid for just about 25 years, has been a very eye-opening experience. The legacy that Apartheid has left on this country is still very present. Inequality is still prevalent in many aspects of life (education, living conditions, healthcare, just to name a few) and the repercussions of it are very evident in the gap between the poor and the rich. I have learned a lot from how South Africa has been trying to mend the gap and bring equality to its people, despite the poor governmental leadership since Mandela. I hope I can continue to follow South Africa as they continue moving forward past Apartheid.

Nature at Home

Today I’m sharing a piece written by my good friend Will Lake who’s also here at the Oregon Extension. Earlier in the semester we read Annie Dillard, a nature writer, and were asked to copy her style of writing and observation. We each trundled outside and found a spot to sit as still as possible (not very still in my case) for an hour. Then we trundled on back and wrote about our experience.

I loved Will’s piece especially because he connected the idea of nature as home to our family homes. We forgot how well taken care of we are, how much nature does for us. Will’s piece captures well the guilt and remorse I think we should feel for ignoring the nature that takes such good care of us. Without further adieu, here it is:

I come down the valley on the path to the creek. I feel foreign here, alien, in a sense. I feel like a stranger coming into a house at dark, or better, like coming back home after too long away. I stumble, rumble, bumble and fall. I break bushes, I have no heading, I see no path, I make a ruckus. I fall into the creek. My pants are wet, and I sit up on a mossy rock while my socks dry.

It feels like coming home, sort of. Yet, I feel like I never quite lived here. It’s almost like I’m coming to visit my grandma after much time has passed. If I see it in this way, nature is my grandma and her house is wilderness, and today, I am visiting gram at her house: I’ve been away for too long; it’s probably been years. I overlook her house, passing it twice on the street. The lights are on, and the door is always unlocked. I walk right in like I own the place – I mean, I certainly wouldn’t think to knock. I stumble in, bumbling, tripping, slipping on knick-knacks and ancient rugs, knocking a glass bell off the bell shelf on the way in. It shatters, but I don’t care. Besides, there’s a million of them. I sit down at the table on her hard-wooden chair. I find tremendous comfort in the steadfastness of my grandma’s house, like I want to roll in the nostalgia that surrounds me, breathing in the comforts of old – the things here that always have been and probably always will be: the box of toys my mom had, the same kitchen table with water bottles filled with rocks so the dog wouldn’t jump. Don’t forget the smell, oh the smell! Had she bought the same air freshener for 70 years? I find it all deeply familiar. Yet, it is heartbreaking to see the things that have changed and died. No more laughing of grandchildren, no more Christmas mornings with the whole family, no more pierogi from the polish deli down the street. I find joy and sadness all the while. I realize how deeply my life is intertwined IN this very house. My mother, after all, was born here. Half of my genetic being lived here, toiled here, cried here, and yet, I am removed from it. Just a few, small memories are what have connecting me to this place, the place of my ancestry. Soon, grandma will move from the house, and when she does, we will sell it, her grandkids, that is. We will justify it for our college tuition, our needs unmet, and because that’s “the way of life”. After all, nothing lasts forever, not even grandma’s house.

Gram is at the table with all her wisdom and ancient beauty. I feel good here, full. I feel for a moment like I am a good grandson (for I have visited her, listened to her stories, acknowledged her teachings, and tried to preserve her in this way). And yet, my belly aches, and I know she has not a crumb I won’t have to rummage for. I start to feel like this is not my home. I feel separate. I get restless after an hour of pinochle. “This was fun,” I say. The sun is setting out her window and I feel even more uncomfortable now in her home. I long to leave. I love her, truly, I do, but night time here depresses me and chills me to my bone. At night mysteries fill her creaky corridors. I tell her I had a great time, and that I’ll be back again soon as I make up an excuse to leave. I stumble, again, towards the door, breaking more bells as I leave. “Never mind it,” she says. She is always giving. I leave with another “grandma check”. She has filled me up, sustained me. She does it, I suppose, because she wants to, or maybe because she wants me to come back. I feel guilty now. I stumble to my car and drive away in silence. I take for granted that she will be there next time I come, whenever I choose to return. I am comfortable again: my feet off the itchy shag, my butt off her hard, wooden chairs, and done tirelessly playing pinochle. I eat. I cash my check. Satisfied, I think of when I might go back.

I see the sun set over the creek. It is cold now, and I put on my jacket. I pick up my bag, put on my stiff-dried socks, and limp my way up the valley towards my cabin. I eat a warm dinner and crawl into bed. I am home.

Must’ve Been a Fairytale

A magical place. Massive green trees and extremely colorful flowers. A stone path leading to every building. Wooden cabins adorned with fire places and jacuzzis. The constant aroma of a campfire.

Our Cabin!

My program, CIEE, planned a trip for us to Pucón (I prefer to call it “Fairytale Town”) where we had the privilege to stay at a charming campsite just outside the city. Our first day there, we visited a Mapuche community (the indigenous people of Chile) and spent the day learning about the their simple lifestyle, their vision of the cosmos, and their deification of nature. The Mapuche women prepared a massive bonfire for us, a common tradition practiced with guests, inside one of their very important buildings. We listened as they shared about their culture and religious beliefs, which seem to be intertwined with each and every part of their daily lives. The experience was incredibly interesting and, as Chile’s roots lie in the Mapuche community, it helped us further value and understand the country, and its indigenous people, as a whole.

Mapuche Community!

On our second day in Pucón, we embarked on a tour of various lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and nature reserves. The most fascinating part of this day, for many reasons, was the Mapocho River. It’s original Mapuche name is Mapu chuco, which means water that penetrates the land. With aggressive rapids and water as clear as glass, this unique river flows in the opposite direction of every other river in Chile. We also toured the Futaleufú River, one of the premier whitewater rivers in the world, where I fulfilled a dream of mine that I will discuss later. It is fed by glacial snow and is often referred to as “a landscape painted by God”. The source of this turquoise river is located across the border in Argentina, but nearly the entire river runs through Chilean land. For years, the two countries have debated about which country owns the river. It once belonged to the Chileans, backed by the argument that it runs primarily through their land and ends in a lake on their side, but it now belongs to the Argentinians because the river’s source is within the borders of their land. (I’m going to be honest, I’m still trying to decide if it is fully valid to say that I was in Argentina because I entered the river… I think I’ll say yes).

In the Futaleufú River, I fulfilled a dream of mine… I went white water rafting! It was exhilarating, terrifying, freezing, and life-changing all at the same time. Despite the freezing rain that decided to make a guest appearance on our journey, it was an unforgettable afternoon. I was slightly nervous due to the fact that all safety procedures were given in Spanish, and I was almost positive that at least one person in my group didn’t understand some crucial part of the explanation. However, no one fell out of the raft, no paddles were lost, and no instances of getting stuck between rocks or trees occurred. We did run into approximately four large rocks and had to assume our emergency position, all the while hoping we wouldn’t die, twice… Yet, we conquered the challenge and it felt incredible. Now I can say that I went rafting in an extremely beautiful and clear river, with powerfully strong rapids, flowing in the opposite direction of all other rivers, located in Chile but belonging to Argentina… I’d say that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

As I said, the trip was magical. Even strolling through Pucón was enchanting. We walked streets full of large ice cream shops and vendors selling handmade crafts. We observed families congregated at the lake with their sweet treats in hand. We saw wooden street signs bearing images of volcanoes and gazed at the city’s backdrop of snowy mountains. As the sun shone down and the scent of bonfire lingered, I couldn’t help but question if I was dreaming. I could live in Pucón, without a doubt. Who knows? Maybe I will…

First Program Trip – Berlin and Warsaw

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that you did not get to bed before 10 pm on your 21st birthday, and I am probably right. I, however, had a slightly different experience. For one, the only thing you get in Germany for turning 21 is the ability to legally rent a car, so it is not nearly as significant as in the U.S. In addition, I had to be ready to leave for the Freiburg train station by 5:45 am for our first week-long trip with our program.

Germany has a large Turkish minority, and one of their major contributions to German culture is the introduction of numerous döner kebab places, the best of which is Mustafa’s

The train ride to Berlin took about 6 hours, during which many of us got to get to know each other better, listen to music and read, or (the most popular choice) sleep. After arrival, we were confronted by the extensive public transportation network in Berlin and managed to locate two very important things. 1) Our hostel and 2) The best döner kebab place in town.

The contrast between the base structure and the glass dome on top of the famous parliament building is very representative of the combination of old and new throughout the city.

We then were taken on a two hour walking tour of Berlin which started at the Reichstag, the German parliament building. Our tour guide then took us to see many famous sights in the area including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. As we made our way through the city, our tour guide stated that during WWII, roughly 80% of Berlin was destroyed. In fact, much of Berlin is filled with modern-looking buildings and looking back, I would argue that it was more similar to most big cities in the US than it was to Freiburg.

We had to go back to check out the Brandenburg Gate again to see it at night. Very impressive.

This line of cobblestones marks where the Berlin Wall once stood. Behind is the Brandenburg Gate.

Checkpoint Charlie. Featuring me.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews, a very powerful monument.

The next day we took a visit to the former Stasi prison, where the GDR (former East Germany) held many political prisoners and dissenters for interrogations. This ruthless prison was hidden from the public and many forms of psychological torture were used by the Stasi to get what they wanted from their prisoners.

The basement of the Stasi prison nicknamed The Submarine because it was all underground and prisoners never knew what time it was. Prisoners were crammed so tight into these cells that they had to stand to have enough space.

After eating another kebab for lunch, we heard from a political analyst on Germany’s role in the European Union and went to the East Side Gallery to check out the artwork displayed along a long stretch of a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall. The following are some of the highlights I saw

In English: “You have learned what freedom is, never again forget it”
The famous picture of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev giving the East Germany President Erich Honecker a massive smooch.
This section in particular seemed to be very popular amongst the instagrammers…

After hearing from a German professor from Stanford University about the German perspective on the migration crisis, we had plenty of free time to spend around the city. Another aspect of Berlin’s rich history is the plethora of fantastic museums located right in the city.  Though it has been going through major renovations, the Pergamon Museum has incredible displays of historical architecture and artifacts from the times of ancient Babylon to the Roman Empire. The Neues Museum was another museum I visited, and it is the home of the famous bust of Nefertiti.

The Ishtar Gate was a gate to the inner city of Babylon built during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

 

You are not allowed to take pictures of the Nefertiti bust from any closer than I was, but this artist found a loophole by making a beautiful drawing instead. Unfortunately he didn’t leave the room while I was there, so I could not take a picture of his art either.

After our time in Berlin came to a close, we took another train out to Warsaw, where we would be for the next two days. Upon our arrival, we made a quick stop at our hotel and headed straight to the city center for a walking tour with our hilarious Polish tour guide who went by the name Jack. For some reason I had a hard time believing that this was his given name, but he was funny so we just went along with it.

If you walk to the front of this tower you will be in the main city center of Warsaw where you can find a statue of a significant figure in the city’s history above a fountain.

By the time we finished our city tour it was dark outside, and we made our way to another beautiful square for dinner. Most of the city was destroyed in WWII, so almost all of the buildings around us had been built (or rebuilt) in the last 70 or so years. Thanks to some precise artwork from an artist before the war, the buildings in this square were intricately repaired to appear almost identical to what they were before. In the center of this square, you will also find a statue of a mermaid who was said to have lived in the waters of the Vistula river that runs through the city. Some claim that this same mermaid is also the inspiration for the story of the Little Mermaid, though the mermaid statue in Copenhagen generally gets credit for being the true source of the tale. Unfortunately this is the extent of my mermaid knowledge, so I’ll leave you to re-watch the Little Mermaid and decide for yourself…

The old town market square – the mermaid statue is slightly visible in the bottom left of the photo.
A classic Polish dish of pierogies and a local beer was a delicious way to finish off our first day in Warsaw.

Much of the next day and a half in Poland was spent doing class-related activities, like meeting with experts on Poland and it’s relations with the European Union. One of the most common topics was the ‘immigration crisis,’ and we heard from both sides about why Poland should or should not be doing more to help refugees looking for help. We heard the Polish perspective from representatives from The Polish Institute of International Affairs, who supported a very strict immigration policy for their extremely homogeneous nation, and for the first time in our program were confronted with lots of ideas that went against the EU’s opinions and goals.

We also got to visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Warsaw Rising Museum, which was about a resistance uprising led by the local citizens in Warsaw to try to oust the Nazi troops near the end of the war. The idea was for them to revolt in time to take the city just before the Russians arrived to ease the Russian push west, but the plan failed. Allies managed to send in bombers with care packages, but the Russians never got there in time and after a month or two of Polish resistance members controlling parts of the city, the rebellion was suppressed.

The center attraction of the Warsaw Rising Museum was this RAF Liberator – one of the types of bombers used during the dangerous missions the Allies sent out to supply Polish resistance members.

Just like in Berlin, there was not enough time to see everything I would have liked to, but both museums were fantastic. On our last day we made sure to eat even more pierogies, capping off a full week of incredible food. By the end, however, we were all looking forward to getting back to Freiburg and sleep in our beds again.

A group of IES students I got to explore the city with during our time in Warsaw.

A Moment Here

I have an overwhelming desire to take people to Jaipur and give them my eyes to see it through. At first, any city in India can seem overwhelming. There are a lot of people and there is a long line of smells and noises to digest in each direction one turns. Whenever I try to explain my view of a street or a road to someone not here, I run into roadblocks because they often get attached to one of the images I am describing and they run with it. “There is a camel! How do you say camel in Hindi?” It is “oot” by the way!

However, part of the beauty of India is the fact that it all hits you at once. There is no room to process the elephant moving past you because you are about to get hit by a motor bike with four people on it and there is a symphony of car horns orchestrating your road crossing as well as sweet smelling stalls to greet you when you finally make it to the other side. There is no way to describe that in a conversation because the other person, understandably so, often cannot comprehend all that is happening in one instance because each detail is worth exclaiming about on its own.

I thought that maybe, this blog would be a platform to share a glimpse into the bazaar of old city Jaipur as the single entity and moment that it deserves. I feel like everyday here is a year and a second rolled into one and I am always left feeling simultaneously exhausted and energized. Doesn’t a place with so much packed in deserve full attention and imagination?

So here we go: Imagine standing with two feet planted firmly on slightly sandy and uneven cement ground. The wind may blow, but the blazing sun will always take precedence. The buildings are covered in pink, orange, and salmon covered paint which grants Jaipur the royal nickname of “Pink City.” The smells will swirl through the traffic of camels, cows, cars, and auto rickshaws to fill you with such a mix of diversity you may feel a little dizzy. There is the smell of sweet chai, an unknown combinations of vibrant spices, smoke from a nearby street stand, and unfortunately, a sprinkle of cow poop. The hollering vendors have stores overflowing with everything from colorful saris to mobile phone repairs to fried combinations of spicy and sweet Indian street food. If you sample some spicy daal from a new buy restaurant, the leftover spice in your mouth and the beating sun on your face creates a combination so amazing and unique I know words can’t do it justice. There is too much to say but I certainly tried. This city is overflowing with life and booming with growth. The new meets the old and the two dance creating a wonderful world of color, spice, and everything bright. The only way to pay this place true respect, is to one day find yourself standing on the street of the old city bazaar in Jaipur.

Blue Mountains and Australian Forests

Sydney is in a unique position geographically because it is surrounded by the ocean on one side, and national parks and mountains on the other. One of my friends, who is an Aussie native, lives in the Blue Mountains and this past weekend we decided to take a quick day trip out to the lower mountains. We headed to a place called Jellybean pools and we walked around swimming holes and we even walked down to a cave where an aboriginal tribe had painted their hands onto the side of the cave. It was amazing to see paintings which are so old and tell such a unique story with even the largest of hands being far smaller than my own.

Here is the hand paintings made by aboriginals from 1600-500 years ago

After walking around the Jellybean pools, my friends and I went to the park ranger’s station to ask about where we could go in order to see a big lookout onto the Blue Mountains. The ranger asked my Aussie friend where he’s from and he told her that he grew up in the Blue Mountains. She then said to him “well then you should know that there aren’t any big lookouts down here, you need to go to the upper mountains to see that!” My friend, who was quite embarrassed said that we were at least hoping to see a good lookout point. The ranger then told us that there were a number of trails and we could try our luck with any of them.

After a quick discussion my friends and I settled on taking a short drive around part of the park to a spot that we believed may lead to some great views. Along the way we passed a couple of kangaroos hopping around which always makes my day just a bit better. We finally arrived at the start of the trail and started walking only to quickly arrive at an incredible overlook and we shared a laugh that the park ranger didn’t consider this to be a “big” overlook. I’ve come to the conclusion that Australia, although it is not the most green country I have visited, has some of the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen. As we looked from atop the valley we watched a winding river cut through a forest as it goes through the mountain.

It seemed like a pretty big lookout to us

Too often when people think of Australia they think of the dangerous creatures that exist, the snakes and spiders amongst other things. Those dangers do exist and it is something that I have been quite aware of especially as the weather becomes warmer the longer that I live here. It is a different experience walking through the forests of Australia than it is walking through the forests of Michigan because there are next to no similarities. In Michigan, I am familiar with most types of trees. I know what berries are edible and which ones are not, and I know that in most of the lower peninsula, the biggest concerns that come with hiking include poison ivy and mosquitoes. I don’t have that same comfort level here which is a strange experience for me. It isn’t that I am in a constant state of fear walking through the forests, but rather a state of uncertainty. If I hear a rustling in the woods in Michigan, I like to stop and look for a frog, gardener snake, squirrel or whatever may have made the noise. In Australia I keep walking, knowing that the sound is most likely a lizard but not being entirely sure.

What strikes me is how different my experience is from that of native Aussies. As I talk to various Australians they are quite comfortable talking about the fact that there does exist a decent number of snakes and they aren’t difficult to find. For Aussies, however, that is simply a part of life. The snakes and spiders do their thing and the people do their own. Perhaps the closest comparison I could make would be the experience of driving in snow for an Australian in Sydney to that same experience for someone in Michigan. Many people from Sydney may have seen snow or been around it during their travels, but driving in snow would likely lead to a level of stress and uncertainty that Michiganders hardly think about. That’s been one of the most educational components of studying abroad for me so far, understanding how much our experience of where we live normalizes components of our lives that would be radical to another individual. I believe that’s one of those lessons that while you may know logically, it is often difficult to fully grasp.