Saturday, April 19, 2014

Choice Humanitarian

As this blog is mostly for traveling I thought I'd add a tidbit of a program I am very proud to be a part of that does quite a bit of traveling.

You've heard of those charity trips where a group of people fly to a 'third world' country, build some wells and houses, take cool pictures with the native people, and then leave.. Right? Well if you can't tell I'm skeptical of those trips, I always have been. What happens when that group leaves? Did it really help to better the life of that indigenous community? What happens when the water filter breaks? What happens when the house falls apart? Will they be able to fix those things? Probably not, those things were built with tools they don't have and materials that aren't available.

There is a blog post about how a "white girl" stopped being a volunteer for programs because she felt she wasn't helping.. Go here for the link to that blog.

Well, when I started working at Down East Basics a few months ago I was asked if I wanted to be a contributor to a program called Choice Humanitarian. My boss told me a little about the program, enough to know I wanted to be included. What this program does is phenomenal.

Here's what they do...

Choice Humanitarian works with each community. They don't work for them, do the work, and then leave. They teach! And each community that is being considered for this program has to show that they are willing to make the changes required to take the step up from living in poverty. The other important part is that CHOICE uses tools and materials that each community is familiar with so they are able to continue helping themselves. This program spends most of its focus on teaching skills and techniques that make rural living easier. Each community learns how to build irrigation systems, shelters, water filters, and so much more. Through learning how to build them, they learn how to fix them. The community then becomes a 'self-developing' community. They can improve their own way of life and be proud that they did it and continued to do it!

There is a 5 step model of self-development that CHOICE follows.

1st: The village/community needs to be qualified. The village needs to show they are willing to put in the effort to change.

2nd: Team building. The village leaders come together to discuss a project that is the most important.

3rd: Action Plan. With help from mentors of CHOICE they plan out the best way to complete the project.

4th: Execution. They build/create/complete the project.

5th: Celebration & Learning. Celebrate the completion of the project! Help the village/community learn other tools of self-development and success!

I am not doing the program justice. But if you want to be a part of a successful team, join CHOICE Humanitarian. They do it right, they help, and their success speaks for itself.

There is the option of donating to their program and also being part of the team and becoming a mentor. Which means you get to go to the countries they are trying to help. I have a co-worker who is going to Guatemala in June with CHOICE. She, along with others, will be helping to build foundations for schools and other buildings. An amazing opportunity, and an amazing program to be a part of no matter how small your contribution!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter Island

So... it's been 2 years since we got back from our trip. And while we were on the trip I was an amazing blogger. Ever since we got home (and I'm sure you can tell) I haven't done anything with the blog. So I'll share the last part of our trip which was Easter Island, Isla de Pascua!

The final chapter of our adventure.

Although we hope to have many adventures after this extended long one, this did seem like a big finale to it all. And what a way to end it!

Luis sleeping on the ground
outside the Santiago airport!
Now not all of a trip is fun and glamorous. Luis and I hopped on a 12 hour bus ride from Pucon all the way back up to Santiago. Terrible and LOOOOOOOONG. We arrived on the morning of the 4th of March and our flight to Easter Island wasn't until the next morning of the 5th. At this point our funds had severally dwindled and we couldn't afford a hotel to sleep in so we hung out at the airport for the next 24 hours. NOT FUN.

We both wish we were the kind of people that could sleep anywhere but despite having to sleep on buses, airport floors, uncomfortable chairs at airports, airplane seats with no leg room, bus terminals... we never learned it. Regardless of all the unglamorous stuff, Luis and I both wished our trip didn't have to end.

So after sleeping at the airport all night, we get on a huge plane (7 seats across) for the 5 hour trip to Easter Island. Easter Island is over 2,000 miles away from the coast of Chile. It's like from Boston to Salt Lake City except for you're flying over water. A small scary part was that there are no places for the plane to land if it has problems so after 2 hours its called the "Point of no return". The next closest place is Easter Island so the plane better make it!

We were stuck in the middle of the plane so didn't get to see Easter Island as we flew over it but small fun fact... The runway at Easter Island was built from one end of the island to the other in case NASA needed to use it as an emergency runway for space shuttles! Basically the equivalent of 2 regular runways and then some. But of course that is the only big thing about the airport. One small baggage claim, one very small building, and only one airplane there at a time. You get off the plane by going down the stairs and walking on the tarmac, which isn't a problem since there are no other planes!

We had booked a tour so our hotel was waiting for us holding our names up on a clip board. I felt so important! We were welcomed with lei's and music, kind of what you see in movies when people go to Hawaii.

                                   Getting off the plane, our hotel    At our hotel, a replica moai behind us!
                                           welcomed us with lei's.

                                     Our bed! A lovely sight after sleeping on an airport floor!

The natives call Easter Island, Rapa Nui. It forms a triangle 14 miles long by 7 miles wide, with an area of 63 square miles. It is also the most isolated island in the world that people actually live on.

Day 1...
Our first afternoon in Rapa Nui Luis and I... well... we slept. We were utterly exhausted and could barely keep our eyes open. We slept for 3 hours or so and around 7:00pm we were going to walk to the shore (5 minutes away) and watch the sunset. We get to the lobby and it starts to rain so we head back to our room and have peanut butter and nutella sandwiches for dinner.

*Tip for those traveling to Easter Island, buy food before you head over. Everything is imported, food and water, so it's very expensive to eat anything there.

The next morning we get up around 8:30am, eat breakfast, we had a freshly squeezed juice every morning at our hotel; watermelon, papaya, mango, and melon. Our guides name was Guido and only spoke Spanish, surprisingly our whole group was from Chile and sadly no one knew English. We still had a blast and I still managed to be friends with a few people. Of course everyone loved Luis, he's just that kind of guy!

DAY 2...
Our first morning we ate breakfast at the hotel then met at the van to go to our first stop, Ahu Akahanga. Our first time seeing Moai and they were all scattered on the ground. Ahu means platform and I think Akahanga means King so some people called it the King's Platform. The Moai, pronounced Mo-eye (Easter Island Heads) there were all on the ground, not standing up. During a period of time on the island when all the tribes were at war they would push the Moai over of the tribe they wanted to conquer. The Moai represented many things, fertility to the tribe, mana or energy, and also a reminder that their ancestors were watching. So to topple over these statues was a demoralizing technique that often worked.

Fallen Moai
Also in this area were some caves. The caves were for a select few women who had to stay in them for up to 5 years. It was so their skin would stay as white as possible as white skin was considered very desirable on Easter Island.  And these women were saved for the leader of the island. This only went on during the era of the Birdman, but I'll talk about that more later. Why can't white skin still be desirable! I would be winning in that department!

An outline of one of the homes of the Rapa Nui people. They lived in oval or circular shaped homes, as you can tell by the rocks.

After Ahu Akahanga we then went to Ranu Raraku! This place is where the majority of Moai were created. They were built out of volcanic ash and volcanic rock. It almost looks like a Moai graveyard with so many lying around in various positions.
One of the largest Moai, I'm about as big as it's nose. It stands 70 feet tall and weighs about 145 to 165 tons. About half of it is still buried in the ground.
Cool facts about Rano Raraku.

The Rapa Nui people actually carved the Moai out of  the rock of Volcanoes. Here are some that were still in the process of being created!
     One of the biggest mysteries to Easter Island is how the Rapa Nui moved the Moai after they were created. There are several theories, some sci-fy hopefuls actually think the Rapa Nui infused "Mana" or energy into the statues and the statues moved themselves to where they were supposed to go! Another theory is that the Rapa Nui would roll the statues onto logs and roll them to their resting places, but theorists can't figure out how they lifted them once they got to the right spot. This makes the most sense since one of the things that lowered the population of Easter Island was deforestation. They cut down way to many trees to sustain the population. The Moai weigh on an average of 14 tons and even today it takes several cranes to lift just one!
One of the most popular shots of Easter Island. 
Another Moai still embedded in the rock.

At the crater of a volcano, the one they used the most to create their Moai.
Luis illegally touching a Moai. Tsk, tsk...

A storm rolling in. Each day the weather called for rain. Usually the rain clouds would go right by the island and never actually get us. So it rained every day, just not always on the island!

Saw this and had to emulate its majestic pose. 

This rock was a Mana Rock, supposed to give energy and strength.
Cool thing about this rock is that anything with magnets in it does not work, a compass, whether on a phone app or a real one will just spin and spin. They don't know why! Or I just can't remember the reason ;). Guido also mentioned how it is supposed to bring balance back to your body if you touch your forehead to the rock, which I thought was really cool. But AFTER I did it he then said that it helps with fertility as well. He told stories of women in his groups that mentioned years of trying to get pregnant and not able to. He then would take them to the Mana Rock, have them touch it, and send them on their way. Guido swears he has letters from many women saying they were able to get pregnant after that! 
Gorgeous beach, water was so warm and the color of turquoise.

Every time we go to a beach, Luis complains about how much he hates it.. then EVERY time we get there he has a blast. Short term memory I guess!
Right on that very beach was Moai behind us. I loved the feeling of history and culture that surrounded us everywhere we went.

Max! Bad dog, get back here!

Day 3
Unfortunately all our pictures from Orongo Volcano and the Lava tubes were on Luis' hard drive that broke... it will cost around $1000 to fix, so these pictures may be lost forever :(. I borrowed a few images from google so you can still see the amazing sights!

Orongo Volcano

Orongo Volcano was one of the largest volcanoes on Easter Island. This volcano was responsible for forming most of the island. That was its first eruptions. Then several 100 years later it erupted again and blew the whole top of the volcano off! It now has a mile wide crater/caldera. This volcano is now considered extinct and inside the crater it has its own functioning eco-system that cannot be found anywhere else in the world (or so I think). It literally looks like a little world, it has water with pieces of land. This area was also the birth place of the Birdman culture. There are hieroglyphs all over the rocks in that area. Only a certain amount of people are allowed to be there at a time as the ground is so fragile and unstable, so we took turns in groups of 4 to see the hieroglyphs. 

If you look back at that picture of the volcano, do you see that small rocky island off to the middle right? That is called Birdman Island. There are these birds that fly there every spring to lay eggs and then they leave again once the eggs are hatched. During this time, each tribe was required to pick one person. And that person had to jump into the water (from Orongo Volcano), swim to the island. get an egg, and swim back with the egg intact. Whoever got back first, that person would then become the lead of all the other tribes for the following year. Sounds cool right? Well the drop off from the volcano is extremely steep, also that area in the water is full of sharks, riptides, and big waves. A lot of of the 'contestants' did not always make it. But it seemed the risks were worth it in order to become the leader. 

Lava Tube Caves
Easter Island is surmised of hundreds of volcanoes... Of course, some are very tiny and extinct but they are there nonetheless. When those volcanoes erupted and lava was flowing through caves, trees would often get dragged along. Once the lava cooled and the trees would burn and deteriorate, they would leave behind tubes throughout all the caves. It was pretty cool to see!

7 Moai
These 7 Moai are different than all the rest. These Moai actually face the ocean. The rest of the Moai always face inland, they are a support and strength to each tribe, and a reminder to behave because their ancestors are always watching. These 7 were actually placed as a recognition of the explorers and navigators that found the island. It has been surmised that the Rapa Nui ancestors came from the area of the Philippines. Can you imagine being in such a small boat for that long? Only being navigated by the stars and not seeing land for who knows how long? Unbelievable to me! 

Day 4
We started off the day with driving to the tallest point on the island. Which was a whopping 1,663 feet! This is where Guido pointed to each hill we saw and mentioned how each hill once was a volcano!

We then took a boat trip to Birdman island. The water was so choppy, we didn't see any sharks though!

Beautiful Hibiscus Flower

When we got back from our boat trip we were walking around and saw a sea turtle! They often sun themselves after spending time in the ocean to warm up there bodies again.

We went to a beach with pink sand! This is one of the only pictures I have of that place, it was so beautiful! And the sand wasn't really bright pink, more of a soft pink, barely noticeable. But still so cool!

One night we went to a dinner and a show! Rapa Nui natives (along with other Polynesians) used to cook their food by wrapping it in large banana leaves, placing them in a pit with very hot rocks (rocks that were put in fire), and then covered with dirt. We had a traditional Rapa Nui dinner, the next few pictures are of the pit being dug up and food being taken out of the banana leaves! The food was unbelievably delicious!

Also our faces were painted with some natural clay (everyone there got their faces painted), and Luis looked like a natural!

Posing with two of the dancers/singers.

The food! There was fish, chicken, steak, beef, roasted veggies, fresh fruit, juiced fruit, and more!

The crowd was asked if anyone was celebrating special occasions. Since this was our 'extended' 2 year anniversary we said we were. They made us get up and dance in front of everyone while the Rapa Nui natives played a traditional love song. We then were awarded a little keychain! After dinner was the show. There were several dances, stories, and songs. I'll try and post a video soon of the show we saw. If you have ever been to Hawaii or seen movies, the native dancing in Easter Island was very similar.

After that we went to another place with Moai to watch the sunset. Our last night there.
This is what all the Moai used to look like or would have looked like if the Rapa Nui did not vandalize each other's statues. The eyes would originally have been made from coral and the pupils were made from obsidian.

Luis also did one of his first attempts of a time lapse of the sunset. Click here to watch! It was so beautiful! Make sure you click HD when you watch it, looks much better.

Our last night on Easter Island, sunset with the Moai.
This is Luis being really jealous of that photographer's lens!

Day 5
Ate breakfast, went to the airport, took pictures, bought more souvenirs, and flew back to Chile! Where 2 nights in airports awaited us... blegh. 

The tour group we spent all our time with on Easter Island. Our tour guide Guido is wearing the white shirt in the middle.

We flew from Santiago Chile to Ecuador (layover) where both my bags got pulled for a random drug test! Luis was not allowed to come with me as a translator so I had to go down to the Tarmac, underneath the plane, and speak broken English/Spanish. Dogs and Cops were everywhere, the dogs sniffing out suitcases and any time they paused that suitcase was searched with the owner present. No drugs were found while I was there but still a tension filled experience! Ecuador is apparently a middle man for thousands of flights to the U.S. so they are extremely careful when it comes to illegal substances.

Then we flew to JFK airport in NYC and slept at the airport there for the night and then got home to Boston around 9:00am. My dad picked us up. It felt extremely surreal to be home! Hearing everyone speak English was really crazy. After 2 minutes of being back in the U.S. I already missed the hospitality and friendliness of South and Central America. We got yelled at for not moving quickly enough in the line, no one wanted to chat, and everyone was in such a rush! I'm already planning to go back.

 When we finally got to our house it was almost like we never left! 
You know that feeling when you've been gone for a long or short amount of time but something epic happened to you? Something that changed you and when you go back to the places you were before this "epicness" happened you think everyone else should be different because YOU are different? Yeah, it kind of felt like that...

"Well, back to the future, 2014. I feel like I'm forgetting a lot of experiences and stories but I guess that is what happens when you wait two years to tell the stories! Hope you followed my thoughts and enjoyed the pictures. We enjoyed that trip immensely and wish we could go back!"

P.S. Luckily, our travels didn't end there, stay tuned for our drive across the country and our summer in one of the best places ever (Stateside that is)... Jackson Hole, Wyoming!