beautiful places & travel

Yesterday my friends and I went on an adventure up to la culata (the valley) about a 45-minute drive up into the mountains from Mérida. I’ve been up there before, and I love the drive up because it gets colder by the minute. You get in the car wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and then about 20 minutes up into the mountains everyone is putting their sweatshirts on. Another 20 minutes goes by and the windows are rolled up and some people are getting out their gloves.

We stopped in la culata, but if you were to keep driving for another hour or so, you’d reach el páramo, which is a place high up in the mountain peaks where it’s freezing cold and snowy. I’ve been there once at the beginning of the trip and it was absolutely beautiful. Anyways, the drive up to la culata is on a winding mountain road that passes through little pueblitos (towns) on the way. They are so quaint – the road is lined with colorful little cottage-like shops that sell home-made raspberry wine and candies. It is a popular weekend day-trip for Venezuelans to drive up to la culata to drink wine and admire the beautiful scenery. There are also hundreds of little family owned cabins in la culata that people rent out for the night. My group of friends and I have done that too – it’s a nice get away spot for the weekend, and it’s especially pretty if you can get up early enough to see the sun rise.

On our drive up, we were almost to our destination spot (a quiet spot at the end of a dirt road that is popular because of its beautiful view of the mountains), when we saw a little sign off the side of the road that said “Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo”, which means little town called Grandfather’s Dream. We were curious, especially after following the arrow on the sign down a tiny twisting dirt road that disappeared behind a line of colorful houses. We decided to take a detour and check it out.

We clunked along the dirt road and eventually drove over a little wooden bridge that spanned a babbling creek. We could barely see in front of us due to the fog (clouds, really, we were pretty high up in the mountains at this point) and thick greenery surrounding the skinny dirt road. We wound around another bend and climbed up a steep hill (thanks to 4 wheel drive) until we saw this sign:

“PUEBLITO SUENO DEL ABUELO, Un Rincón para Soñar…” Translation: Town of Grandfather’s Dream: a corner for dreaming…”

So, we parked the car and set out to explore this tiny dream town, tucked away in a corner and hidden by the clouds and mountains.

A woman met us at the gate and opened it for us without saying a word. We all walked through the heavy red door, as a little girl stared silently from her perch on a stone wall amongst a blue hydrangea bush. We walked along a skinny maze-like pathway, under a trellis covered in roses, and over a tiny bridge and trickling stream. And then we were inside the pueblito. It was full of miniature-sized houses and buildings in every color – there were cafes and castles and stores, but no people in sight. So we set off silently with our cameras to explore.

I felt like I was in a dream.

After visiting the pueblito, we continued on our journey further into the mountains to catch the view we’d been waiting for – my goal was to be high enough into the mountains to see the clouds rest on the ground around me. And we did it. We got there before sunset and even met a man on the way who let us take turns riding his horse. I’d say it was a successful trip! Now take a look at what I mean when I say “I felt like I was in a dream” and “we had our heads in the clouds”.

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I literally had my head in the clouds almost all day today.

My friends and I spent our day climbing a mountain (if you asked me which one, I wouldn’t be able to tell you…Venezuela is covered in them). Anyway, it was beautiful. We left in the afternoon with a bag of rations – pan de guayaba (sweet bread filled with guava fruit) and pan de queso (cheese bread), and we drove up into the mountains a ways and parked the car. From there, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but we were determined to get to the top. We weren’t completely in the dark about our adventure though (don’t worry) we had one of our Venezuelan friends with us who has lived in these mountains with his family his whole life and had climbed this stretch many times before. When I say we didn’t know what we were getting into, I meant how steep and muddy the climb would be. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be going on a run in my tennis shoes tomorrow.

We followed a path up the mountain, and it got skinnier and skinnier as we went. We pushed vines aside, trudged through the mud, and climbed over rocks. After a couple of breaks to stop and admire the view, we finally we reached the top. It was a giant plateau where we ate guava and cheese bread, played catch with a football…and where I stepped in a gigantic mud puddle 😦

The best part about it, though, was that we were surrounded by clouds. I looked up and saw clouds swirled with blue sky, I looked straight ahead and saw mountain tops peeking through a thick layer of fluffy clouds, I looked down and I saw…MORE clouds. What a surreal feeling.

At some point, though, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30 and asked everyone if we should be heading back soon. You know how I said earlier that we “weren’t completely in the dark” about our adventure? Well…that’s only partly true. We headed back down the mountain, our socks squishing in our shoes from mud and water, and when we were at about the half-way point, it was so foggy that we had trouble seeing. And it was starting to get dark. We hurried though, and it was more exciting than anything. We reached the bottom safely just as I was starting to kick myself for leaving my flashlight at home, and then only had to sit in Venezuela traffic for an hour or so before we reached home 😉

All in all, it was a good day. I climbed a mountain!

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Every once in a while, I see something here in Venezuela that gives me a flashback to Uganda.

When I pulled the instant coffee off of the shelf today, for a second I was back on the porch of a guesthouse in Uganda, making instant coffee to drink with my breakfast before heading to the elementary school to work. When I snapped out of it, I started thinking about all of the similarities that exist between Uganda and Venezuela. That seems unlikely, right? Well, I’ve found that it’s not, even though they are on different continents, speak different languages, have different climates and very different people. There are a number of things that are similar, so I dug through my photos for some examples.

Uganda – Avocado, banana and passion fruit.

Venezuela – Avocado and banana (we also drink passion fruit juice here!)

Uganda – Colorful streets.

Venezuela – Colorful walls.

Uganda – Outdoor market. Colorful, busy and beautiful.

Venezuela – Indoor market. Cluttered and colorful.

 Uganda – Purple hanging plant.

Venezuela – Purple ground plant.

Uganda – Fiery sky over the Nile River.

Venezuela – Fiery sky over el Rio Chama.

I love it when I smell cinnamon or instant coffee and it takes me right back to being in Uganda, even if it’s only for a split second. It happens every once in a while, and it always makes me smile. Three months later, it almost seems like a dream that I was ever there. I would love to go back someday to re-experience that unique feeling of excitement and wonder that came with being in such a different world…and then I could smell the cinnamon and instant coffee for longer than a few seconds and really take it in.

Americas top 20 healthiest cities: #1 Minneapolis, Minn

Since Minneapolis hit number one, I have the perfect excuse to keep up my work out routine when I get back. Lake runs and yoga classes, here I come!

In the spirit of Minneapolis, Here are some of my favorite photos:

Target Field.

Lake Harriet.

Rose Gardens. Photo credit: Aurora Zosel

Rose Gardens.

TCF Bank Stadium.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

El Páramo – Mérida, Venezuela

South Beach – Miami, Florida

Café Croacia – Mérida, Venezuela

Las Aguas Termales – Caja Seca, Venezuela

Playa Grande – Choroní, Venezuela

La Playa – Cepe, Venezuela


With every single step, I fall deeper in love.

8 weeks down and 6 to go, Venezuela.

That’s 6 weeks to leave my footprints in as many places as possible in this beautiful country!

I’ve had an empty spot in my heart knowing that I’m missing Minnesota’s most beautiful season…fall. I love everything about fall. The colorful leaves, the cozy sweaters, pumpkin soup and pulling out my to-go coffee mug. So you can imagine my surprise when I took a walk through a nearby neighborhood and saw these crispy fallen leaves! Pure happiness, and a wonderful reminder of home.

Morning routine: wake up, wash face, walk 10 steps out the door to the posada’s café, immediately order a café con leche.






The walls of our posada, and also my view as I sip my morning coffee.







Ham and cheese omelet. Venezuela’s food groups = ham, cheese, bread…and rice.







Love, Janis, Ishmael, and The Lucky One. These are the books that we’ve been rotating among my group of friends for long days on the beach, study breaks and morning coffee dates. Love, Janis is a biography of Janis Joplin written by her sister describing the details of her wild life as a young singer. Ishmael is an inspiring novel by Daniel Quinn about saving our planet, and The Lucky One is a feel-good love story written by Nicholas Sparks. A nice variety if I do say so myself 🙂


Pancakes with…Surprise! Ham and cheese! Why? Don’t ask me.






One side of toast…they definitely don’t skimp on the bread! And the peach marmelade was absolutely delicious.






My personal favorite. This is a photo taken from the restaraunt’s menu, which very thoughtfully includes English translations of all of the dishes originally written in Spanish. “I’ll have the corncakes with white sheese please.”

Journal entry number two:

Today we set off on the sunny twenty-minute walk past colorful little shops and restaraunts towards the ocean. I could smell the air and feel the ocean breeze before I could actually see the water, but when I did see it for the first time, I felt like I was standing in front of a larger-than-life postcard. The beating sun that I felt on my shoulders and the heat of the sand on my bare feet were the only reasons that I finally snapped out of my trance and moved toward a patch of shade underneath a gigant palm tree.

Playa Grande, Choroní’s largest beach resting on the Caribbean sea, is an incredible place. It is cradeled in a nook by the green mountains and the sand feels like velvet under your toes. We all sat down under an umbrella just steps from the edge of the sea, and I read for hours. I think I just needed some time to realize that it was real – that I was really there, so I could appreciate it before jumping in to swim.

And I’m glad I did – feeling weightless in the middle of a translucent body of the bluest seawater you’ve ever seen, with waves rushing beneath you, mountains towering over you, and the sun soaking into your skin from every angle is overwhelming. It deserves preparing for, and even then it’s impossible to take it all in.

The beach is so lively here. There are people everywhere, many who are selling things like food and necklaces. One man was even crouching on the sand cracking open oysteres and squirting them with fresh lime for people to eat! Another man selling jewelry was walking down the beach and started heading in my direction. He approached me while I was reading and asked to give me a gift. When I said “okay” he told me to hold out my wrist and he tied a delicate bracelet with a fancy knot made of blue string to it. As he was tying it on, he instructed me to think of three wishes, and as he secured three knots, he told me that he hoped each wish would come true for me.

These were my three wishes:

1. That I would never forget how exhilerating it feels to be in a place you never thought you’d be lucky enough to see.

2. That I’ll be able to retain some of the amazing qualities of the people I’ve met here and hopefully incorporate their positive attitudes, energy, and willingness to lend a hand into my daily life in Minnesota.

3. To achieve the two main goals I set for myself for this trip: to drastically improve my Spanish and to form lasting friendships with people I’ve met over the course of my time in Venezuela.

My wishes are well on their way to coming true – I’ve established a very close friendship with my roommate, my Spanish is improving every day, I’m continually being inspired by the positivity of the people around me, and I can’t imagine forgetting the feeling that consumed me when I first laid eyes on the Caribbean Sea.

I mean, it is pretty unforgettable…take a look for yourself.

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Today I arrived “home” in Mérida after a 15 hour busride from Choroní, where I spent my semester break vacation. I had an amazing time there and came back with some great new experiences and a lot of beautiful photos to prove it! Since I didn’t bring my laptop along, I decided to bring a journal instead so I’d be able to add some of my writing to my blog when I got home.

Here is my first journal entry:

We arrived in Choroní this morning around 11 am. The busride from Maracay (12 hours from Mérida) was about 3 hours long through the jungle along winding mountain passes. There were bamboo stalks nearly scraping the sides of the bus – some of them were as tall as 3 story buildings and as wide around as telephone polls. The jungle was dense and full of plants and thick foliage in a variety of rich green colors, and lots of the leaves were bigger than I was! There were vines too. They hung from cliffs and overhangs somewhere above me and draped over tree branches, dangling down as far as I could see over the mountain’s edge. If the music on the bus hadn’t been so loud, I’m sure I could have heard noises coming from the jungle…the sounds of the flowing streams hidden somewhere off of the mountain roads, the birds which I’m sure hid camouflaged amongst the plants…and whatever else was out there. The busride overall was scary though, fast and jerky, but worth it. I got to see the Venezuelan jungle, and it was nothing short of magical.

And this is what I saw.

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I thought it couldn’t get much more mysterious and beautiful, but shortly after arriving in Choroní, we walked to the edge of the Caribbean Sea…

which is journal entry number two (and will be a part of my next post).

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