25 April 2008

The promised Guaraní blog

The Guaraní are an indigenous tribe that live in Argentina and Brazil and were, until recently, fairly untouched by Western Society. Although many members of the tribe were exposed to Western culture in Jesuit missions during the Spanish conquest, a large number of Guaraní lived and hunted in the forest around Iguaçu until the 1930s-1940s, when the Brazilian and Argentine governments declared these lands protected zones and moved the tribes several kilometers away to government designated reservations. Today, the Guaraní live in communities of a few hundred people on either side of the border and maintain a fairly simple lifestyle.

On our free day in Brazil, several of us went with Carlos, Andres, and Mauricio (see the blog on Brazil if you don’t remember who they are) to one of the reservations in Argentina, where we were guided by a Guaraní leader named Ricardo, who showed us their agricultural and trapping methods, and school system (small children are given a basic education and people ages 14-30 are trained in tourism). We also got to buy Guaraní handicrafts, which are largely animals and imitation weapons carved from wood on their land.

Interesting facts:

1.The Guaraní are free to follow their own law on their land, which includes punishing people for crimes according to tradition (usually, a person is enslaved to the family he or she harmed for a period of time determined by the severity of the crime).

2. Guaraní women reach the age of majority at 13 and men at the age of 18.

3. There is little ethnic mixing with the Guaraní because outsiders are not allowed to live with them and tribe members are not allowed to return and live with the tribe if they move away.

4. The Guaraní don’t believe in working (at least in Western style jobs). Before being moved to the reservations, they lived almost entirely off the land, picking fruits and vegetables that grew naturally and hunting animals. Now they plant a little and still hunt, and host curious tourists. But none of them have careers. To be honest, it kind of reminds me of the Garden of Eden…

5. According to my Spanish textbook, Guaraní is one of the most widely spoken native languages in the Americas. Ricardo told us that families speak Guaraní at home and learn Spanish (or Portuguese if they’re in Brazil) during their primary education. So for the first 5 years of their lives or so, they don’t speak any Spanish at all despite living in a Spanish-speaking country.

Visiting the Guaraní and learning a little about their way of life was probably the most interesting thing we did in Brazil. I really enjoyed hearing the children speak and sing in an indigenous language. Way cool.

11 April 2008

Why on Earth do I have 10 Argentine stamps in my passport?

I realize that I tend to harp about how being a tourist is lame and how being in big groups is lamer. But to be completely honest, I thoroughly enjoyed our large group (30 people) trip to Brazil. We drove (which sounds horrible) in a double decker tour bus. It was actually amazing because it gave us a base of operations and was remarkably comfortable. For the most part, I had my own seat (although I occasionally shared with Krista or Karen, which was also fine). We could actually lean back and sleep in our seats without crushing the person behind us. There was airconditioning on the bus. Most importantly, our guides/interpreters/whatever else were amazing. Andres and Mauricio (the coolest father-son pair ever) were fun, nice, patient, and accommodating. They even took a bunch of people to a mall in Iguaçu (so that they could stave off boredom) on their night off. Plus, I got to spend a lot of time chillin’ in the hotel, where I shared a room with Holly. Yay for getting to know people better!

Anywho, Brazil was the perfect mix of down time and scheduled activity for me. I had plenty of time to nap and read my 1006 page novel (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, fyi). But we also got to do a lot of exciting things

Horacio Quiroga’s Homestead

The man himself may be dead, but his house still generates a lot of attention. Quiroga was the Edgar Allen Poe of South America. He even built his house and raised his children in the Argentine jungles amongst the wild animals. We spent a small amount of time at his house, looking at old pictures of him and seeing the life of an author that we’ve read in Latin America and the Arts.

Jesuit Ruins

When the Spanish and Portuguese conquered South America, they brought Catholicism with them in the form of missions, which were set up to “civilize” the indigenous people (meaning teach them to think and act like Europeans or, at least, be good servants for their European masters). Despite my cynicism, I have to admit that the Jesuits also did a lot of good in their missions, often saving the people from slave traders and incorporating native traditions into Christianity to make it an understandable religion. They ended up converting a large portion of the population to Christianity. To see the best and worst of this time period, watch the Roberg DeNiro film The Mission. We got to see the ruin of one such mission, which had housing for the people who chose to live there, a hospital, a central kitchen, a library, a church, and a school for the children. It was a really interesting place.

Foz do Iguaçu

We got to see both the Argentine and Brazilian side of this waterfall, which was a lot more exciting than it sounds. Our guide Carlos is a biology major at some Brazilian university (that I can’t remember the name of because Portuguese sounds like gibberish to me). He knew a lot about the forests that we walked through. (The falls are surrounded by protected forest zones on both sides.) Highlights included seeing Capuchin monkeys, a rare woodpecker, and coatis. Surprisingly enough, the two sides were really different. The Argentine side can’t be beat for sure grandeur, with the majority spectacular waterfalls on this side. It’s really lush, green, and wet. The Brazilian side was equally beautiful, though. It didn’t seem to be as much of a waterfall as a series of lagoons that would be a perfect place to do another film adaptation of Peter Pan. There were, of course, waterfalls here too, but they seemed smaller and there was a lot more exposed rock. I can’t do either side justice, so you’ll just have to wait for pictures.

Parque das Aves

The name sounds more German than Portuguese to me, but regardless this was a bird park in Brazil. We wandered up and down paths looking at a bunch of indigenous bird species in cages. Some of the cages (three if I’m remembering correctly) were made for people to walk through. We got to go in a cage with hummingbirds and butterflies, a representation of a swamp, and a cage full of macaws. They also had a boa constrictor in a glass case and a couple of caimans. The most exciting part of it all, though, was making a toucan friend. Karen and I fell way behind the group in the swamp cage and watched this toucan that was really aggressive in approaching people. Finally, we got up the nerve to go up to him. He held on to my finger with his beak (but didn’t bite) and let us pet his beak and back. Much like Kai (my cat, for those of you who don’t know), he did not enjoy having his belly petted. We probably stayed with him for 10 minutes and he was a lot of fun. I wanted to name him Pablo (for no particular reason other than he looked like a Pablo to me) but in the end we decided on Poder (which is the infinitive of the verb meaning “to be able to” or…… “to can”) Get it????? I know. We’re very clever. In the end, we had to leave because our group was in some other part of the park entirely and a woman had come in to the swamp and scared Poder (leading him to bite me and fly away). Que triste.


We spent 3 hours in the busy city Cuidad del Este, which is basically a major shopping center. There are malls galore and shops explode out onto the streets as well. Lots to buy, some stuff is probably illegal. On the positive side, I had amazing fries in the food court at the AmericanShopping mall. Needless to say, 3 hours was enough for me.

Itaipu Dam

Okay, so I’ve got to admit that the best part of this tour was all the dam jokes, initiated by one Dr. Kenneth Cukrowski, I might add. But really, the dam was an interesting tour. Of course, there was all sorts of information about how the company was socially and environmentally active (and no mention of the environmental damage caused by building dams), but I still enjoyed it as a whole. Itaipu Dam is the 4th largest hydroelectric dam in the world and supplies the majority of the power needs of both Brazil and Paraguay. Plus, we got to see one of the spillways open and even a man-made waterfall is fun to watch. Ken and I thought that they could make a lot of money by letting adventure-seeking tourists ride a tube down the spill-way and parasail off of the edge into the river below. I know I’d do it.

Guaraní Tribe

On our day off, Carlos, Mauricio, and Andres took some of us back into Argentina to visit the Guaraní, an indigenous tribe who lives around the Iguaçu river and has managed to maintain a lot of their traditional way of life. I found them really interesting, so there will be a blog to follow about them later.

Random points of interest
1. There’s a soft drink that’s only found in Brazil called guaraná. I really like it. In fact, I’m bringing some home.
2. We went to a very nice buffet/dinner show one night that featured song and dance from around South America. Among other delicious foods, I ate chicken heart and cebou (think Veggie Tales Silly Songs with Larry). Yummy.
3. Our hotel room had a TV, which allowed me to watch some programming in English. I enjoyed the French channel more.
4. Brazil has real cheddar cheese and puts it on their burgers!!!! That might have been the highlight of my trip.
5. Bee stings hurt just as much in Brazil as they do in the States. :-( I found that one out the hard way.

That's all for today, folks. Hope you enjoy. I'll post again soon. Promise.

Machu Picchu? Check

Okay, for all of you faithful readers of my rarely updated blog, I’ve decided to satisfy your curiosity. Yes, I am in fact still alive. And yes, I have been doing things. A great many things, actually, and yet sometimes it seems like I do nothing at all… But that’s entirely beside the point because this blog is all about my fantastic, one-of-a-kind, entirely-indescribable-by-a-simple-list-of-adjectives SPRING BREAK IN PERU.

The week was jam-packed full of activity, so I’ll give you a quick rundown with some commentary on the way.

Fourteen of us left Montevideo for a series of airplane rides that would eventually take us to Peru. The group of intrepid travelers included me (of course), the Cukrowskis, Sarah Boyd, Colter Lane, Mark Foster, Mallory Kornegay, Alan Barr, Logan Braaten, Kelsey Nikolaus, Branson Blackburn, and Nick Perkins. The trip there had two major highlights:

1. We were picked up from Casa ACU in black Mercedes Benz’s driven by men in black suites and dark sunglasses who drove very fast and talked on walky-talkies. Why the special cars? According to Sandra (Casa ACU’s Montevideo expert), they had bigger trunks than normal taxis and weren’t much more expensive…. All in all, it was very exciting and I felt like a VIP.

Note: You might want to ask one of the Cukrowskis (or me) about their driver. He was an interesting fellow indeed.

2. The airline was overbooked and so the Cukrowskis took them up on a voucher offer and arrived in Peru a day later then the rest of us. Not really exciting or anything, but it did give us a few confusing moments at the airport when everyone was trying to figure out what was going on. We flew from Montevideo to Sangtiago, Chile and then to Lima, Peru.

Mark, Colter, Sarah B. and I spent day two of spring break wandering around Peru together. After collapsing in our hostel (called Samay Wasi, in case you care) the night before, we got to a fairly early start the next morning (I actually got up at 8…..). We went to the city center where we saw a park, catacombs, a Franciscan monastery, the cathedral, and an art museum that contained only works by Peruvian artists. We also got to dine at Chili’s that night, which was horribly exciting because it was the first truly American food any of us had had all semester. (Even McDonalds has a distinctly Uruguayan flair in Montevideo). Mark and I were also really excited to go to Starbucks and get Grande White Chocolate Mocha Frappuchinos, which we sorely miss.

The next morning we went to the Lima airport (which had Dr. Pepper, to the excitement and surprise of the group) and flew to Cuzco. Just so you know, Cuzco is a breathtaking city, both literally and figuratively. Almost as soon as you step off the plane, you’re offered coca leaves, teas, and candies to relieve altitude sickness. I managed to avoid that, but I must admit that walking around the city was hard; I had to stop quite a bit to catch my breath. While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m out of shape, even Colter (who climbs mountains for fun) had a little trouble breathing. In addition to the literally breathtaking elements, Cuzco is an absolutely beautiful city. The mountain air is crisp and clean and our hostel was pretty high up, giving us a wonderful view of the city and surrounding mountains and making it possible to enjoy some awe-inspiring sunsets. Cuzco was also an exciting city of firsts. Here’s a list of some of the things I discovered there:

  1. Incan stonemasons were geniuses. Their walls are built by cutting stones to fight together perfectly so that they don’t have to use any sort of mortar.
  2. Tea made from coca leaves (yes, coca meaning raw ingredient of cocaine) is really good
  3. Incan Kola (made by the Coke company and only available in Peru) is a weird yellow color but still tastes good.
  4. Cuy (also known as guinea pig) is a disgusting dish
  5. Alpaca is a surprisingly tasty dish
  6. Peru has something like 1000 different types of potatoes
  7. I have absolutely no desire to bungee jump (even after watching 6 people in our group do it just outside of Cuzco)
  8. White water rafting is actually a lot of fun (especially on a river called the Orubamba)
  9. Speaking French is an effective way to deter aggressive Peruvian sales-people in plazas
  10. Early to bed, early(er than usual) to rise actually works for me in the mountains. 10:30 seems obscenely late in Cuzco.

Karen and I decided after our first day in Cuzco that we would be perfectly happy with our spring break even if we never went to Machu Picchu. Fortunately, we didn’t have to test that statement because we spent the middle of the week in Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes (the village in the “valley” beneath Machu Picchu and its immediate neighbors). Machu Picchu was everything I had ever dreamed of: an ancient, mysterious Incan site in remarkably good condition on a beautiful mountain. The tour of Machu Picchu was a lot of fun, despite the lack of answers. According to our guide, there are a number of theories as to the nature of Machu Picchu. My favorite is that it was an Incan university. It has terraces for agricultural studies, temples for religious studies, astronomical observatories, “dorms”, enough stonework to train any aspiring engineer, and remnants of counting cords which were used by, among other groups, scholars to convey information in a society that had no written language. If you want to know more, I’d be happy to share with you, but I think this is enough info for the entry. Anywho, my point was that I really enjoyed the ruins. I have the pictures to prove it. :D Aguas Calientes was also a lot of fun; I especially enjoyed the craft fair that’s right outside the train station (with the intention of trapping tourists in a maze of pretties).

All in all, it was the most amazing spring break I’ve ever had, despite the fact that I had to spend it with people.

22 February 2008

God Works in Mysterious Ways OR The Trip to Piriapolis

Okay, so I've put of blogging in a large part because I can't post pictures anywhere. To anything. Stupid computers. But I've decided to go ahead and do it anyway and just post pictures when it finally works again. So here goes......

I took a day trip to Piriapolis with Marissa, Sarah, Tina, and Courtney a couple weekends ago and it was amazing. Sure, we got caught in the rain a couple of times and we ended up hiking about 2 miles out to a castle that we thought was in the city.... But it was all worth it!

It's amazing how liberating it is to plan a trip on your own and have everything turn out just fine. So we don't speak the language and don't really know what we're doing. We bought bus tickets at Tres Cruces from a guy who speaks English (which we found out about half way through the transaction when he finally got tired of our "Spanish"). Then we got up early(ish) Saturday morning and took a 2 hour bus to this wonderful coastal town called Piriapolis. Okay, so it's not technically a coast since it overlooks the Rio de la Plata, but there are beaches and water as far as the eye can see, which totally counts as a beach to me. From that point on, it was a total free day. We had bus tickets for the ride back that night, but until then we had absolutely no obligations. So we walked along the Rambla (think huge sidewalk along the beach) for a while, waiting for lunch places to open. Then we finally gave up and ate at McDonalds. And honestly, it wasn't horrible. As I found in France, the food tastes totally different than it does in the States. Plus, I got dulce de leche ice cream. And by that I mean stole it from Marissa. Yummy!!!

After lunch, we hung out at the Rambla a little more and then hiked along a highway for a ridiculously long time looking for the castle of Piria, who founded the city. I must admit, the hike put me in a bit of a bad mood because I wasn't really expecting it, but once we got to the castle it was totally worth it. Inside, there was this cheesy little museum that had stuff from the original occupant and stuff related to the city. It was actually pretty fun. But the best part was definitely outside. The castle was on a huge plot of land filled with beautiful flowers, palm trees, and fun places to explore. There was a rundown train that I wanted to climb into but didn't because I was afraid it would fall apart. A couple of yards away from the castle, there was an abandoned village that looked about the same age as the castle. It was in obvious disrepair but it was a lot of fun to wander around the wrecked buildings and think about living in the past. For those of you who don't know, I love buildings that are falling apart; I just find something beautiful in it. My absolute favorite part, however, was the quasi-tree house in front of the castle. It was really a little wooden gazebo up off the ground but for some reason it reminded me more of a tree house than anything else, so I've decided to call it the tree house. Okay?

Anyway, we sat in there for a little while resting up for our return journey (which we assumed would be another 2 mile hike back). As we were walking back up the long drive, Courtney's shoe broke, which meant that the hike was almost out of the question. Plus, Tina, Courtney and I really didn't want to walk back anyway. So we try to use the pay phone outside, but we can't figure it out. Apparently, you have to have some sort of card to use pay phones in Uruguay. Who knew? Anyway, we're mentally preparing ourselves for the looong hike back when, miraculously, a bus pulls up!!!! So we run across the street and pay our dollar to ride back into Piriapolis. Let me just say it was the best dollar I've ever spent. Anyway, as we're climbing onto the bus, Courtney starts cracking up. Apparently, she prayed for a bus to come and it did! Weird, huh. I don't think that God answers every single prayer that way, like some sort of cosmic genie. But times like that do remind me that God really listens to our prayers and does take care of us.

Anywho, back to the blow by blow: When we got back to Piriapolis proper we looked for a new pair of shoes for Courtney, which we found fairly quickly and then we ate dinner at La Passiva, which is a Uruguayan chain somewhat comparable to Chili's (except that their menu consists primarily of chivitos and pizza). After La Passiva, we sat on the Rambla for a little while, absorbing the environment and content to just ignore each other for a while. It was a blissful time of aloneness. I loved it. Unfortunately, we did have a bus to catch so we ate some more helado (ice cream) at a local shop and walked back to the bus station. The ride home was uneventful, save for the fact that a woman was standing over me in the aisle for most of the trip, and then we were back to our normal routine.

30 January 2008

Blatant Tourism

Gah!!! Sorry for the uber-belated blog entry but you know how it goes…. I procrastinate and then absolutely nothing gets done. :D

Anyway, my last post emphasized how embarrassing it can be to be an American (or Norteamericana here), but I didn’t really talk much about general impressions of Americans. Like most other people in the world, Uruguayans have a set of preconceived notions about people from the States: we’re loud, somewhat rude, only speak English, and travel, for us, consists of snapping pictures and buying souvenirs. So, in an attempt to be more culturally sensitive and actually engage the people around me instead of being a stereotypical American, I try to avoid doing these things. Sure, sometimes I carry my camera out for class assignments or just to play with it (it is my new toy, after all). But, for the most part, I try to blend in as much as is possible. However, even I cannot totally avoid blatant, American-style tourism 100% of the time. Lemme give you a couple of examples:

1) Last Saturday, we all went on a little jaunt to Punta del Este and other nearby sites. The trip was fabulous, even if we all got sunburnt… First, we went to my favorite place in Uruguay (so far): Casa Pueblo. For those of you who don’t know, Casa Pueblo is a sprawling mansion/museum very close to Punta del Este. Walking into a museum in a large group while excitedly speaking loud English and snapping as many photos as your camera can hold is definitely a touristy thing to do. And, of course, I bought the obligatory souvenir (a print of a painting of the house by the artist who built it, for those of you who want to know). We all then filed back out to the bus and drove to Punta del Este proper, where we ate lunch on the docks and then sailed out to a small island (Isla Gorriti), where we spent the remainder of the afternoon on the beach or (in my case) climbing around on the rocks and stomping pinecones in the woods. We then went back in a clump and ate at a nice restaurant in Piriapolis, snapped some more photos, bought more souvenirs (not me), and then rode the bus home. All in all, it was actually a really fun trip, which I hate to admit since it was so incredibly touristy.

2) Carnaval. Really, I don’t need to say more, but I will. It’s summer here in South America, meaning that there are a number of interesting festivities going on while we’re here. Top of the list for many is Carnaval (and yes, that is spelled correctly), which is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans but goes on a lot longer and is, if possible, a little crazier. We went to the opening parade as a group and sat together in paid seats along the street. Again, we were snapping pictures like crazy and commenting on the parade in loud English (this time actually necessarily loud, since we were in a huge, excited crowd). Now, most of you know that I’m not really one for large crowds of people, but this was actually pretty fun. Carnaval was originally a time for breaking rules, when the lower classes could make fun of those in power without fear of retribution. It’s lost some of the historical significance now, but there’s still a lot of social commentary occurring and, even though I didn’t understand the significance of everything, I did enjoy seeing men dressed as cheerleaders and a variety of people in elaborate costumes. I even bought a mask for myself which, unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of yet. Again, despite the fact that I felt very American, I had a lot of fun.

Conclusions? Truth is I don’t really have anything all that profound to say. But, I guess I am learning that I can embrace blatant, stereotypical American tourism on occasion without compromising my integrity as a culturally-sensitive traveler. I obviously want to learn about Latin American culture and to be able to integrate myself as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be a travel-snob and avoid anything that other Americans do. Mostly, I’m discovering that I can, and sometimes should, just let go and just enjoy things

23 January 2008

I'm Proud to Be an American?

When I decided to go to Uruguay, everyone told me that Raquel’s cooking is amazing. And it is very, very, very good. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for my waistline, Raquel doesn’t cook every meal. Only breakfast on Tuesdays and Thursdays and lunch Monday-Friday. Because of this sad fact, one of the first excursions I went on was to the grocery store.

The Disco, which is just down the street, is much like an American grocery store (except, of course, its name). There are “normal” aisles, a deli, and even some similar products. So, of course, I look to see what products I can find that are like those in America. Here’s a quick run-down of American foods at the Disco:

1. Zucaritas, which are Frosted Flakes. (For those of you who don’t know, azúcar means sugar in Spanish.) As Karen commented, they seriously cut to the chase here. “Nothing good in these, folks. They’re pretty much just straight sugar…”)

2. Doritos and other Lay’s products

3. Coca Cola, Sprite, Pepsi…

4. Pan Americano- This is what Krista likes to call bleached, flavorless bread and is what most people in the States think of as “normal bread.”

5. Hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.

Also, when I went to Tres Cruces, I saw a McDonald’s and a Mr. Pollo (which is much like McDonald’s except you order Mr. Hamburger instead of a Big Mac and Mr. Pollo instead of Chicken McNuggets).

So what’s the point of this list? Just to let you know that sometimes being an American makes me a little sad. I mean, seriously, what cultural things ARE we exporting? Here’s what I get out of “American foods” in other countries: an inferior, unhealthy product. Not to mention the fact that maybe, just maybe, the American desire for speed and convenience prevents the development of meaningful, natural relationships. But that’s another post entirely.

For now, I’ll enjoy the culinary experiences available to me here. And, of course, I’ll also consume a certain number of familiar products. In fact, I have a Coke under my bed right now waiting to be opened and drunk (drank? I never know…). But, mostly, I’ll try as many new foods as possible and find things that I’ll miss when I come back.

18 January 2008

A Post That's Actually From Montevideo....

Mkay, so we're all here safe and sound. No lost luggage or major incidences. We didn't even have our bags checked at the airport. I think that was for lack of language skills, though, because the guy asked me if I spoke Spanish and waved me through when I said no... :D Ignorance is occasionally very handy.

Just a quick rundown of what we've done so far, in chronological order, based solely on my sleep-deprived memory:

3 hour flight from Dallas to Miami and 9 hour flight from Miami to Montevideo.

Drive through Montevideo in ACU vans and get a feel for the town.

Stop at a beach (where no one actually swims, apparently) and climb around on the hill and rocks along the water. We also took a group pic here, which I'll post if I can figure out how.

Eat lunch at Casa ACU (empanadas with a choice of chicken, beef, cheese, and/or corn). It was wonderful, by the way.

Pick rooms and roommates. Start unpacking (I'm not really done at all yet but some people are).

Scavenger hunt around our neighbourhood to figure out where the big shopping center was, how to exchange money and send postcards, etc.

Eat dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Walk home with Karen, Katie, and Krista Cukrowski and Josh Alkire while everyone else goes to the beach. Impressively, we didn't get lost at all and only made one wrong turn, onto the street we live on. Then we realized we were walking the wrong direction and turned around... Yeah us!!

Take a shower (fascinating, I know) and generally prepare for bed.

Watch some people play cards for a little while.

Pass out on my bed.

Wake up for a wonderful breakfast at 9.

Orientation (ie safety tips and rules) from 10-12:30.

Lunch, which was rice with a chicken soupish thing (again delicious), broccoli, salad, and rolls.

More orientation.

A tour of the church next door/in our building. This is where our classes will be. We also got to see the roof and clock tower on the roof, which is a big treat because most groups don't get to see it, apparently. It was hot up there, but really awesome.

Free time, which K4 and I used to go to Tres Cruces (a mall with normal stores, bus kiosks, a food court, and a bank).

Dinner at Tres Cruces. The beef here is amazing, if anyone's curious.

Internet time..... And now you're up to date, as far as I can remember.

Ok. Now some quick impressions:

Montevideo reminds me of Italy so much that I keep speaking the small amount of Italian I know to people. I also have been speaking a little French.

The shops here are really cool.

Casa ACU, which I'll blog more about later, has a really cool and slightly confusing layout.

I really wish I spoke some Spanish.

Latin is really helpful when I'm trying to read stuff.

I'm really just generally glad that I'm here, even if I do miss people (and my cats) back in the States.

Love you all and I'll blog more later but for now I'm going to go try to be social!