Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Garlic Kills Caterpillers! Who Knew?

Last night I opened a large bag of packaged muesli, produced in Russia. Excited to fish out some dried fruit for a pre-dinner snack, I munched on a dried banana until I found a hatching caterpillar! Who puts hatching caterpillars in their muesli—honestly?! I was immediately grossed out, but more so, disappointed that my 100 Som purchase and breakfast plan for several weeks was caterpillar infested. If I were still living in Portland or Northfield I would have gone back to the store, exchanged a bag and complained, or simply thrown away the contents… Though in Karakol, I was not about to waste some delicious looking muesli and 100 Som of my precious living allowance.

I called the medical officer to make sure I didn’t already have worms growing inside of me, and that if I cooked the muesli, could I still eat it? She asked if I had any garlic. Well, yes, I do I said.

One head of garlic in a sealed muesli container, and I’m set for my next caterpillar free breakfast! I wonder if I still have to cook it… I’m just glad there weren’t any spiders inside, because that shit would have been out the door before it ever entered.

Monday, February 2, 2009



Ryan Air, a very stressful flying experience, arrival at Girona, almost to Barcelona—just another 1.5 hours by bus. After café-ing European style we unloaded at our apartment down a cute alley off La Rambla, the main shopping/pedestrian drag in Barcelona.

Again, beautiful architecture, a very pretty marina and quite an imposing monument to Christopher Columbus were my first impressions of the city. Barcelona seemed to be a bit younger and livelier than its Madrid counterpart, and a bit more relaxed.

Having been deprived of shopping opportunities, I was very interested in browsing—but our priorities were more focused on seeing the city and Gaudi works of art. Thus, I came away with only a pack of socks and a zip-up sweatshirt…

We kicked off New Year’s Eve in the apartment with a few beers and headed out to La Rambla and detoured to a giant metal cat sculpture, which Alex, John and I climbed. It was all fun and games until it gave me pink eye. We then rang in 2009 on the street with champagne and the rest of Barcelona. A house party followed with excellent cheese, fish, chocolate, and caiperinas (Brazilian mixed drink), actually mixed by a Brazilian named Raul.

Barcelona highlights:
-Park Guell
-Overpriced tapa bars
-New Years party
-Fish and cheese
-Dirty cat sculpture
-Acting like birds for the camera, and jumping.

On the go... Back to the Girona airport for a flight to Fez and another Ryan Air experience… Goodbye Europe, hello Africa!

Monday, January 26, 2009


I arrived in Madrid almost gitty to see John, Mollie, and Alex. I took a bus to their arrival terminal expecting them to be waiting on their bags outside of customs. Turned out I had to wait a few hours more, during which time it was clear to me that my Spanish comprehension was fine, but speaking back was quite the opposite.

With the assistance of a pedestrian’s GPS phone, we found our apartment and crashed for a much needed nap. Took me about 70 hours or so to get from Karakol to Madrid.

Nightlife, tapas, jamon, good cheese, Europeans, relative warmth and the company of my good friends—vacation is a wonderful thing. I had been to Madrid once before with an older host sister when I was 16, but we mainly went to Warner Bros. Madrid and the movies. This time I was able to appreciate the beautiful architecture of the city with more freedom to explore.

Some highlights of Madrid:

-Rembrandt and the Prado
-The Bank of Spain
-Dancing at a “mixed” night club/bar
-Churros and chocolate, mostly the chocolate
-Dunkin’ Donuts
-El Corte Ingles

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan—Almaty, Kazakhstan

I left my house shortly after Christmas celebrations with a few other volunteers in the Issyk-Kul area. I left a note for myself with the heading: “Back,” it has a list of the months remaining in Kyrgyzstan. Jan-2wks, Feb/March-projects, April: Devin’s visit, May: Mom’s visit, close of service conference, June/July/August-summer. Beside the months, I listed: GMAT, Russian, website projects, camp resources/development, and Talas/Naryn trips. I left the list on the living room table for my return, hoping it would ease coming back and remind me what I can do here and things to look forward to.

I walked the few blocks to the bus station and took one to Bishkek; 6 hours later I transferred to another mini-bus bound for Almaty. After a blizzardy walk across the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, and a 3-hour drive I was freezing in the financial center of Kazakhstan and its previous capital city. I clearly packed more for Morocco than the trip to the airport…

I spent some time at a marketing firm waiting for a friend to finish work. He then gave me a tour of Almaty by car. Beautiful parks, wide streets, tall buildings, a dozen western hotels, clear foreign investment, and plowed, well-paved roads—I was shocked I had only traveled several hours across the border, and that all this exists in Central Asia. We went to a glitzy American style mall complete with Baskin Robins, Espirit, Sbarro, and tons of other international brands. There was a huge supermarket with everything. Oil wealth goes a long, long way…

In the middle of the night, I was driven to the airport. From the outside it was hilariously characteristic of style in Central Asia: bedazzled and sparkling. The building had thousands of flashing white lights and a special space for “VIP” travelers. I was convinced I was being taken to a Vegas casino. My 4 AM Lufthansa flight (Frankfurt bound) awaited—final destination: Madrid.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I have arrived safely back in Karakol from a fabulous vacation to Europe and Northern Africa. The return is a bit harder than expected. I’m quite sure one cannot experience a greater disparity of wealth between rural Kyrgyzstan and the extravagance of Monaco. Over the last three weeks I traveled via Almaty in Kazakhstan to Spain, through Morocco and finally to the south of France and Monaco. The following series of blog posts will discuss these travels and the inevitable comparisons I have made throughout.

Although the drive from Bishkek back to my frigid apartment in Karakol—where I was met with no electricity—was one of the hardest yet, I am grateful for the privilege of mobility. I value the opportunity to further understand the global disparity of wealth and its role in peoples’ outlooks, and in political affairs.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

International Volunteer Day

December 5th, a UN declared International Volunteer Day. A big celebration for local and international volunteers in Karakol… The day started with a press conference with all the organizations that have local and/or international volunteers. All regional volunteers gathered in the main square in Karakol after canvassing around town about what volunteerism is and how it helps the community. Over 200 Karakolians returned their badge of support in the form of a sticker on a large banner explaining “We’re helping, we’re millions strong, are you with us?”

A party and a showing of Madagascar 3 in Russian closed up the day’s events.

Иссык-кулские Гребешки

I just climbed a mountain. We summited the second day, what a feeling—such a tangible sense of accomplishment. Иссык-кулские Гребешки, Issyk-Kul Mushroom, 3360 meters. It's pretty amazing what the body can do, and how far it can go in a day. Nature and high elevation have such an effect of reflection and contemplation. It will always baffle me where I find such enthusiasm for excursions that induce such discomfort and stretch the limits of my physical ability, but it's all in the challenge—and without fail, in the end I only remember the joys.