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I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!

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The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.

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The Mayan Ruins.

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Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.

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The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.

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Met a new friend at the hot springs!

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Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.

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The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.

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Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.

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Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.

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Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.

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Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.

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From the top of the mountain.

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Walking through cornfields to return to the city.

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At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.

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Horseback ride in the night.

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My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.

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My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.

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Feeling a deep frustration today with the world. I am quickly realizing how lucky I am to be able to travel and discovering how little opportunity Hondurans have to do so. For the average Honduran, it is difficult to leave Honduras to visit another country for fun, let alone work. Immigration laws and VISA and passport requirements are so easy for Americans but so complicated for others. I like to imagine a world where people can come and go as they please, if anything, just to be able to explore. Maybe then humanity would have some understanding and compassion when it could see we are more similar than the differences that keep us at war.

Americans can do things so easily, but their government constricts the rest of the world. The people of the USA have no clue just how lucky they are to have the opportunities they do. Instead, they sit in front of their TVs watching the world go by and judging it without ever exploring it. Some Americans give themselves a pat on the back for donating $20 a month to a child in some third world country, and these programs do help. But what is the root of the problems in these countries? It might be worth it to look a little deeper at the history of America and find out, to see how willful ignorance is causing much of the suffering in the world. Programs like this make Americans feel they are so generous but don’t give them the perspective they need to see what is at the base of true and positive change for the world. If anything these programs give Americans the sense they are somehow better than the rest of the world because they are so giving with their money to those less fortunate. This results in an “Oh those poor starving children in Africa.” mentality instead of a “How can this be happening?” and “Why?” mentality.

The USA’s immigration laws keep families separated and punishes desperate people who need understanding and opportunity to follow their dreams. The US government spends about 5 billion dollars per year detaining and deporting immigrants, most who want the same opportunity American ancestors had just one hundred years ago. If undocumented immigrants who needed work were allowed to enter legally and easily, that is 5 billion per year the USA could be putting into more jobs and using to pay off it’s outrageous debt. Three months of minimum wage work in the USA would be about what a Honduran makes in a whole year. The USA could be helping these people, who typically have families, feed their children, build a house, get an education and have the basic things Americans take for granted. Meanwhile, that money could be taxed if these immigrants were legal, adding to the cash flow for the economy. The truth is big businesses and farmers in the USA don’t want immigrants to get legal status because that would mean they would have to pay them minimum wage and/or benefits. Obama has given large sums of money to the Honduran government and the USA is training its military. If the Honduran government is so intertwined with drug trafficking in Honduras, why would the USA be supporting them under the guise of fighting the war against drugs. It is contradictory no? Shouldn’t that money be going directly to the people of Honduras to help improve their education system and living conditions giving Hondurans the opportunity to make their own country better for all their friends and family? The truth is keeping Hondurans uneducated and poor benefits the Honduran government and its few rich landowners who can take advantage of powerless people while also allowing the USA to have a stronghold in Central America and a place where American businesses can take advantage of cheap labor. American foreign policy continues to rape poorer countries so that the USA can take advantage of these people while Americans live rich lives disconnected from the rest of the world. This only drives more immigrants to the United States where the cycle of abuse continues with poor working conditions and separation from family, living every day in fear of deportation.

Many immigrants have no desire to stay in the USA. They want to return to their families and culture, but they don’t have the resources to have the future they dream of in their country so come without papers to the USA. Often, undocumented immigrants end up staying instead of returning to their families because the risk of being caught is too great to return to Honduras. If lucky enough to get in, people try to stay in the USA as long as they can to save as much as possible for their families back home. But families can only survive so long when separated, and they are destroyed by this system. Undocumented workers in the USA find themselves lost in a new culture and language, never fully able to absorb into the culture because there is always a level of fear of deportation or jail. They are away from those they love and often lonely. When they return to Honduras, sometimes it is to divorce, death, and heart break.

I challenge others to look at the process for a work or visitors VISA from Honduras and see for yourself why people come illegally. Imagine if you had limited funds to travel to a big city to visit an embassy or limited access to internet, how would you apply, especially if you can only apply in English? If you made on average of $3000-4000 a year, working six or seven days a week, and had a family to support, when would you find time? If all your parents could afford was a high school education for you, and for a VISA, a person needed to have a skilled job requiring a university degree, how could you even begin to imagine leaving Honduras legally? If most of the work illegal immigrants do isn’t even work that requires a university degree, why is the US government keeping these people out who are doing jobs educated Americans don’t want to do? This year is an opportunity for immigration reform in the USA. I challenge people for just one day to put on the shoes of an undocumented immigrant and see how your perspective might change. I am amazed every day at how my ideas of the USA and the world transform while being here in Honduras. It is a lot harder to judge people when you are sitting right across from them at your dinner table.

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I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”

I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.

It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.

I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.

I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.

By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.

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In the Natural History Museum of Berlin, I wandered through a gallery of rocks. The ones that go bling bling and sparkle in the light. As a young teen, I read a book about a girl who had lapis lazuli eyes that drew men in much like the sirens lured ships in, only to be crushed along the rocks. The thought of such deep blue eyes and feminine power has always intrigued me, and I felt mesmerized by the lapis lazuli stones amongst the collection. Note to self: There is no need to wait for someone to buy you nice jewelery; I am going to buy myself a ring when I get home…a lapis lazuli ring.

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Gaia Hypothesis: Earth is a self-regulating super organism.

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Tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton: Brachiosaurus brancai, 13.27 m (43 f 6 in.) high, 150 million years old

IMG_20121120_133156I hurt for Germany and its Berlin Wall, its Holocaust museums and memorials, constant reminders that their past is full of war and cruelty. How can they move on under such scrutiny? The guilt must be like the weight of an elephant on someone’s chest. This mural says it all. Tourists come to Berlin to see the wall that split the country, not necessarily the art and history museums or amazing nightlife and culture that make Berlin so special. Looking back on past evils in history, will people stop making the same mistakes, or are we doomed to repeat history again? Maybe we need to be reminded daily of our cruelties because we so easily forget them. Or does the constant reminder only make us indifferent? Do future generations deserve to be marked with a scarlet letter because of the faults of their ancestors?

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“We are all part of a chain. Puzzle pieces that create a picture. Everyone has a role. You don’t need to be educated to be important. If you do what you love, what does it matter? If you can improve, that is good. If you want to be the best at making soup and have a college degree, make soup.” ~ Words of wisdom from a man at YAAM (Young African Art Market) sitting around a metal barrel of fire, reggae in the background, surrounded by graffiti art…a little Jamaican Berlin Oasis.

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Berlin screams consumerism and postures power.

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Staring at the remains of the Berlin Wall with trees growing up and around it, I again sense that the trees will outlive us humans and our wars. They will make the ugly things we create dissolve and disintegrate as though we never existed.

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In France, I indulged in orgasmic, gastronomical delights. Food here is taken to an entirely different level of enjoyment. I frequented Helmut Newcake where I gained experience ordering desserts in French. Here I could stay cozy and warm reading and people watching from behind glass as I savoured gluten-free pastries and café créme. The éclair vanille was flaky and moist with a light, delightful cream center.

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My Parisian friend, aware of my love for reading, took me to a wine bar decorated by books where we were treated to fine wine, flirtatious conversation, and a kiss or two by some charming men. Greetings and good-byes are full of kisses and smiles in France. Two kisses on either cheek are customary and made me blush every time.

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It is common to see dogs with their noses peeking out of handbags and from under tables, or if small enough, from their companions’ laps saying, “Hello!” Men and women are beautiful in a simple natural way like the style of my favorite Hollywood actress, Audrey Hepburn, who very much defined the French look for Americans during her time. At the Hôtel de Ville there was an exhibit titled Paris Seen by Hollywood, which shed light on Parisian stereotypes. With most stereotypes, there are essences of truth, but none can fully describe a country and its people.

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I found that saying “Bonjour!,” “Parlez-vous anglais?,” and “Merci beaucoup.” helped me make friends quite easily, even if I had no idea what the person said in response. Together we laughed at our poor language skills and mimed most of what we were trying to say to the entertainment of those around us. According to researchers, over half of communication is body language anyways.

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I found the French people incredibly welcoming and the setting awe-inspiring. Buildings here are magnificently built, and one becomes very aware how small we are in comparison to the whole universe.

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Shakespeare and Company was my favorite spot, a book store filled with the comforting smell of written works, old and new. People from all over come to this gem to soak knowledge in whilst curling up in little nooks where walls are covered by notes from fellow lover’s of books. You can leave your own words on the walls by using the little type writer at the top of the stairs located in a small hole in the wall that reminded me of childhood days when “I would set-up office” under my dad’s desk and imagine I was working too.

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I found myself drawn to the churches in Paris, my Catholic roots still tugging at my soul. The Catholic church says baptism and confirmation leave indelible marks, perhaps they are right. I sat through a mass at St. Ambroise Church and felt an ache in my chest. Deep inside resides a longing for the community I once felt being Catholic, but beside that lies an even deeper disgust and anger at how religions can be used to rage wars and control people. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and with it most often comes corruption and lies. Religions contribute to society in many ways, especially in their charity to homeless, but their power scares me. I find the most peace in trying to formulate my own opinions from a variety of sources and to always be open to change. I fear stagnant black and white answers because life, in my experience, is more about the uncomfortable gray. Life undefined means we are all responsible to seek our own truth, and that can be a lonely, uncertain path at times, but I find comfort in knowing it is my path.

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While at the Paris Seen by Hollywood exhibit, there was a magazine opened to a page that was an advert for a movie filmed in Paris. What caught my eye, however, was unrelated to the exhibit. On the other page of the 1921 magazine, was an advert for Palmolive titled, “Would Your Husband Marry You Again?” I began reading out of curiosity and was mortified by the very obvious misogynistic undertones, “Fortunate is the woman who can answer ‘Yes.’ But many a woman, if she is honest with herself, is forced to be in doubt- after that she pays stricter attention to her personal attractions.” It blatantly is saying that to hold on to a man, a woman must have this product, instilling in her an idea she is not worth keeping around unless she stays beautiful by his standards. How nauseating, but even more so when I realized that post-feminist movement women are still allowing these types of media to drive how they interact with men. The anti-female sentiments are still there, just less obvious. I feel lucky to have the opportunities I do as an educated American woman, to be traveling around the world by myself as I am. In 1921, I probably would not have had this opportunity. That being said, we have a long way to go before we reach any kind of equal state. Patriarchy is still happening and keeping women from reaching their full potential, the difference is women in America can do something about it in the twenty-first century by speaking out against the misogyny that still is rampant in society, by working towards a world that respects, not men, women, or race, but human beings.

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Voting was an adventure. My missing ballot was the cause of great panic amongst, not only myself, but several French people I conversed with, but it led to a nice visit to the American Embassy in Paris where they were kind enough to fax my vote for me. It was nice to be greeted the morning after the election with “Hooray Obama!” emails from several of my European friends as I left for the Netherlands. I was a bit ashamed though to realize just how much more up-to-date Europeans are on world politics than most people I know in the USA.

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In my teen years, I found myself walking my dog through the local cemetery and reading under its trees. I enjoyed wandering the pathways and looking at the gravestones, imagining the stories of those buried below. I wondered how they died and if they were still loved, missed or forgotten. I would pick flowers and place them on lonely sites. I remember one in particular because below the stone was a baby whose birthday was the same as mine. I stopped at this one frequently. She reminded me of my own mortality, that it was just luck that I was above the ground and she was below. At Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I saw lovers holding each other tight on benches, admiring the fall colors of the trees shading dead bodies; a lonely widow hobbling up and down steps with flowers and a bucket of water; families clearing away broken glass; others gathering with tears and laughter in courtyards to wave goodbye to loved ones, a procession of black; and confused tourists holding maps and cameras up in front of their faces while stumbling about seeing everything and nothing at the same time: “Honey, according to this map Van Morrison should be right here.” “Do you know where Oscar Wilde is? I can’t seem to find him.” “Hey everyone, it’s the Adams Family! You be Cousin It; I’ll be….” I found the contrast between the living and dying rather lovely to observe.

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Versailles was incredibly large. The grand halls of the palace, surrounding gardens, pools, farm houses, and estates would take a week to properly wander through. I focused on the retreat of Marie-Antoinette with its quaint little living spaces and cream/lavender tower overlooking a pond of Koi fish. I found the trellises guiding visitors along pathways to be enticing and was one of the last to leave as the sun went down.

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Mont-St. Michel Abbey was my introduction to the French coast. A mirage in the distance, a great spire reaching towards the heavens, it barely looked real, and one doesn’t truly believe it is until you are walking amongst its spiralling walls lined with cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This paradise, an island surrounded by water at high tide and a death trap of quick sand at low tide, has been a great fortress, prison, and sanctuary over the years. A village with an abbey at the center. If I were god, I would want to reside in this heaven of fairy tale dreams.

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Catching up with a fellow couch-surfer and now very dear friend in her own city was the best gift of my travels to France. At the beginning of the year, we met and found ourselves on similar paths and have grown together as travel companions, adventurers, and seekers. The conversations were inspiring and paired with lovely settings, delectable delights, the occasional cigarette with wine, dance workouts, watching movies, meeting her lovely friends, trying not to chop off fingers while making squash soup, giggle fits and other silly antics, and most certainly chocolate!

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I left Dzogchen Beara with a mother and daughter, who felt very much like family at the end of my stay at the retreat center. They were kind enough to drive me to Cork where I got a bus to Galway. I was welcomed to Galway with an amazing multi-course meal provided by a last minute couch surfer. She and all her friends were wonderfully kind and represented all parts of the world. It was awesome to see so much diversity in one room. Enjoying the company of this lovely lady and her flatmates was very comfortable. We had some good laughs and encouraging conversations. She introduced me to pickle-backs which are shots of whiskey chased by pickle juice; I was quite sceptical, but who knew that something that sounds so revolting might actually be somewhat good?

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From Galway, I ventured to the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and Aran Islands, the lanscapes of which are bizarre and mystical. There was a real sense of connection to my surroundings and a desire to be silent as though listening for whispers of ancient secrets. On the Aran Islands, there are forts and ruins that date back to the Iron Ages. In many areas, life became timeless, and I felt I was experiencing places not of this world. The limestone rock that tops hills is eerily stacked as though placed there with hands, and yet, it is from the earth and has peaks of lush grass surrounding it, almost strategically, in rows. Rock walls, many built by starving farmers during the potato famine, seem haunted by the dying men who built them. They often lead to nowhere and appear to have no purpose, just endless piles of rock caging in rocky surfaces. When one looks out upon these ageless stone walls leading to the edge of sharp ocean cliffs, one wonders if those who built them fell into madness, plunging to their deaths in the violent waters below.

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Inspiration comes naturally when you are looking over a cliff and faced with your own death but welcome it. I could not think of a better way to become one with the world again than diving into a raging sea of passion, beating down the roaring rocks of history. Their battlecries melding into a painful force of green foaming mist and the shrapnel of shattered stone. How long has this war been raging between water and land? The sea relentless in its pursuit. The land resilient to the persistant force. The power of movement and stability combined into an endless ebb and flow that we call earth.

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Vast is this gray, green emptiness. I feel closer to this horse, this land, this sea than human beings. They speak without words. I feel in them full-bodied emotion not hidden by endless chatter. Silence comes easy here. I welcome it in and feel whole. I like this island of seclusion. It is satisfying to sit with myself quietly. I am so social in my everyday life. Now, I realize how tired I am. I do not crave companionship unless it listens to what is. I want to share this moment, but if another human being was here with me, we would feel a need to break this holy silence, and the experience would be lost. As the sun’s rays touch the sea before the ocean devours its light, I feel god reaching to me, and I feel warm despite the biting cold around me. In a minute, it will rain. I can taste the moisture in the air. But I welcome the wet that will soon become the ocean.

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