As of now, I am officially done with my semester in Mérida!

What a great feeling to be done with school. Almost as great as the feeling of a hot shower this morning after not having hot water for a week 🙂

After writing five final essays, two of them on topics in Latin American literature, two of them on Spanish sociolinguistics, and one of them on Latin American Politics (no to mention my final exams), I am SO ready for a break!

Goodbye, VENUSA.

Goodbye, hammock!

Hello, two sunny (and homework-free) days in Venezuela!



Today, I’m buckling down. Believe it or not (I can’t), tomorrow is the last day of my semester!

Meaning: it is my last day attending school in Venezuela AND I will only have one semester left of college. AH!

Other meaning: I will be drinking too much coffee today.

I have 3 final essays to hand in tomorrow and I’m almost done with all of them, minus the rigorous editing process (which sometimes results in me basically re-arranging my whole paper). But we’ll see. Being a perfectionist might come in handy when I get my grades in a couple of weeks.

I’m somehow justifying this blog post by reassuring myself that writing clears my head, after all, I only have 4 days left to blog from Venezuela! But I can only convince myself that this is productive for so long 🙂

So before I go, here’s the recipe of the day (yes, I might have been browsing recipes too…don’t judge me.)

Red wine-braised short ribs over goat cheese mashed potatoes, the perfect winter meal.

It’s probably time to get back to my essays, wish me luck!

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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¡Feliz Día de Gracias! Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m not sure if Venezuelan turkeys exist or not, but regardless of whether I’ll be eating turkey tonight (or just more arepas), I’m excited for my untraditional Venezuelan Thanksgiving dinner experience. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family, so it does make me miss them, but I’m so thankful that I’ll be coming home to them in one week! Actually, I have exactly one week left here in Venezuela as of today, because I’ll be leaving for the airport early next Friday morning. It’s hard to believe that 3 and a half months went so fast. After my classes today, I will officially begin my last weekend in Venezuela, so I definitely want to make it count!

Tonight, VENUSA (our school) is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the students and their host families. Thanksgiving isn’t actually celebrated here, but they are having the dinner for us, so we can feel at home 🙂

Some of the students went to the market yesterday (while I was studying for 2 final exams) to buy fruit for tropical fruit pies. One is piña colada, coconut and pineapple that is, and another friend of mine who loves to bake is making a guava pie. Needless to say, I’m excited for the dinner tonight…it’s going to be an adventure! I’m hoping there will be a pumpkin pie tonight too – squash and pumpkin (which are considered the same thing here) are called “calabaza” or “auyama” are pretty popular ingredients in soups, so we’ll see if someone is brave enough to transform them into a delicious home-made pumpkin pie tonight! Unfortunately I have a final paper due this morning for my politics class, and then 4 classes to attend throughout the day. That’s a total of 8 hours of class (my Thursdays are always busy) and then the dinner starts just after my last class gets out, so I have no free time for baking 😦

Oh well, I guess I’ll just eat and photograph. I can handle that! It’s weird knowing that it’s Thanksgiving and I still have class…and not seeing all of my Mom’s festive decorations. But I’ll make the best of it, study the day away, and then enjoy dinner and be thankful for all of the wonderful people I’ve met here and get to spend Thanksgiving with!

…even though I’ll be thinking of all of the wonderful people crowded around a Thanksgiving table at my house eating together. I miss you guys and I wish I was there with you! Happy Thanksgiving, and eat lots for me.

Love, Sarah

Coming soon: a post about tonight’s Venezuela-style Thanksgiving dinner!

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.

It was another early 6:00 am morning. After getting dressed in the dark (my roommate was still sleeping), I washed my face and headed for the kitchen in search of COFFEE.

I found that, and curled up in my chair at the table, which is hard to do in a rigid kitchen chair by the way, but I managed, and then my host sister came out to make breakfast.

We listened to Christmas music on the radio as she brought out a huge loaf of sweet bread and cut it into thick slices. Benilde, my host sister, told me that Christmas music starts playing on the radio in September. “After August is over, Christmas starts here.”

Anyways, this is what I had for breakfast this morning: Pan dulce (sweet bread) with home-made guava jam, made of just pureed guava fruit and sugar cooked over low heat (I know this because I was the one stirring it for nearly an hour as it thickened) and traditional white cheese.

Simple, but really delicious.

Now, off to school. I only have 6 more days of classes left…the time is flying!

I fell asleep to the sound of rain last night – heavy, crashing, stormy rain who’s sound envelopes your whole body, compressing your eyelids, filling your ears, and forcing you to sleep. I must have had a thousand dreams.

I woke up early this morning to the sound of a rooster crowing. I stretched and pulled back the heavy curtains covering my open window, the only thing separating me from the gorgeous mountain view, fresh air, and clear blue sky. The morning sunshine flooded my bedroom. I love mornings here, they feel so tranquil. Maybe that’s because the mountain barrier surrounding the city keeps the noise out, or maybe because the sound doesn’t wander up this high until later in the day. I always imagine Mérida as a small city embedded in a cluster of mountains at the highest altitude in the world, sitting amongst the clouds. That would explain the chilly mornings, the clean air, the silence, and the strength of the sunlight when I pull back my curtains. I like to picture it that way, even though I know for a fact that Mérida sits at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

I pulled a t-shirt over my tank top and threw my hair into a loose ponytail. I grabbed my book and my glasses and headed for the kitchen – my usual morning escape. I’ve adapted so much to the ways of life here. I silently and mindlessly prepare my café con leche on the stove, without so much as thinking of a coffee maker. I always check the inside of my coffee mug for ants before filling it, and I wipe down the table for the same reason. I take a spoonful of sugar from a giant class jar in the cupboard and add it to my coffee, then sit down at the kitchen island – always on the side facing the window.

I love looking at the mountains. One moment I’ll ever forget is when I was walking home from school alone one night. I was admiring the view of the houses and the mountains as the sun lowered completely behind their peeks and darkness spread over the city. I was trying to trace the rolling outline of the mountain range with my eyes until the darkness was so pure and so thick that it disappeared in front of me. I continued walking and then looked up again when I thought I saw thousands of little stars coming to life in the distance. There were strings of them twinkling way up in the sky, in a distinctive curving pattern. I stopped and stared – amazed – and then realized that what I was seeing weren’t stars at all. They were lights coming on in little houses perched side by side along the curve of the mountain tops. The houses just sat there, like little stars all in a row – like christmas lights strung from peak to peak, twinkling and flickering in the velvet darkness. I felt like I was in the center of the solar system, inside a giant ring of stars and comets. I felt so small standing in the middle of the street, gazing up at the overwhelming sight of the sleeping Andes Mountains, so quiet, steady and powerful.

I soaked up every bit of that moment – the amazement, the first prick of fear, the silence that made me feel as though I was the only person awake in the entire city, the sudden calm and satisfaction that washed over me when I realized what I was looking at. It felt magical, really, that people had lives up there, in little cabins far above the city – far away from the noise and the lights. I wondered how silent it was up there. I imagined a silence so profound that they could hear me breathing at that very moment. That was magical. And so was the thought that I happened to be in just at the right place at the right time, lucky enough to experience this moment – one that I’m sure I’ll never forget.

As you may have noticed, my blog has gotten a serious make-over.

I’ve added a new photo to my front page, some new things to the sidebar, categorized all of my posts to make them easier to navigate through…and done some behind the scenes stuff (aka spending 6 straight hours re-formatting all of my old posts from my Tumblr days). Basically, it’s all brand new and shiny (to me, anyway!). Check out the side bar and look back in the archives if you’re interested in seeing some of my older posts – from my first few weeks here in Venezuela or all the way back to my time in Uganda. Or you can check out the different categories of posts, whether you’re looking for recipes, posts about travel, or the posts that contain photos. It’s all there!

I was actually feeling so proud of myself after the hard work and long hours put into revamping my blog that I decided I needed a make-over of my own…

That turned into at home facials, a pedicure, plenty of delicious smoothies, relaxing cups of tea while watching Grey’s anatomy, a couple of satisfying runs, and two or three revitalizing yoga sessions accompanied by calming music.

It’s basically turning into a zen weekend…and needless to say, I loved every minute of it.

I can’t believe that it’s November already. I’ve been in Venezuela for 11 weeks now and I have 4 weeks to go. Since I decided that writing is some sort of “reflective therapy” for me, it’s about time that I start looking at the big picture and reflecting on my experience here in Venezuela as a whole.

I came here knowing nobody. I sat in the airport with a steaming vanilla latte in my hand, read Julie and Julia and looking up from my book every three seconds to see if the person sitting down next to me could be someone from my program. I searched for college students with lots of luggage, but no one came for a long time. Just as I was starting to panick, I saw a girl my age walking towards the gate. She was balancing tons of luggage and looked exhausted like she had been up all night packing; prime candidate. After several minutes of analyzing each other’s luggage and pondering possible flight destinations, we both smiled. I asked where she was headed and she said exactly what I wanted to hear – “Venezuela”.

And that’s how I started meeting some of the people who would have a huge impact on the quality of my experience here in Venezuela. From that moment on, had a traveling partner – someone just as clueless about what we were in for as I was. All I knew when I applied for this program and wrote my scholarship essay was that I wanted to live in another country, escape the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, practice a foreign language, and meet new people. So after meeting Andrea in the airport, I was finally on my way to achieving my goals.

The second person I met was Jenni. I got onto the plane and saw her sitting in a window seat a few rows ahead of me. I recognized her from her Facebook photo and introduced myself as her roommate. She recognized me too, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Miami that I really started getting to know Jenni. We stuck together from the time we stepped off the plane. We were in different hotel rooms, but decided to leave the hotel and take a taxi to Miami’s South Beach to see the ocean. As soon as we were standing there amongst the crashing waves and jellyfish, rambling on about how excited we were for the semester ahead of us, I knew we’d get along.

And the rest is history (well not history, but it would make for a novel-length blog post). Jenni and I have continued to get along and have become close friends in addition to being roommates. I guess that means I accomplished my goal of meeting new people. As far as my other goals: I have lived in and explored a foreign country, battled against my desire for the familiarity and comfort of Minneapolis, and practiced a foreign language day in and day out, at school and at home.

Venezuela has been incredible, and anything else I gain from this experience is just icing on the cake!

4 weeks left of this adventure to put icing on the cake. That, I can do.

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