Reflections

Argentina: Take a Nature Vacation

Have you ever finished a nice long trip and arrived home only to find yourself exhausted and needing another vacation just to rest and recover?

After an exciting three weeks traveling through different parts of Uruguay and Argentina, I found myself mentally and physically exhausted. Every day of those couple of weeks consisted non stop travel between different cities, television and radio interviews, collaborations with companies and governments, blogging and capturing the special moments of the day, long hours of bus transportation and very little sleep.

After leaving Córdoba Argentina and finally receiving my Brazilian passport, I was on my way north towards Brazil. I had learned about a very highly rated nature hotel in the north called Ñande Reta and thought that it could be a perfect and needed stop on my way to Iguazu Falls in Brazil (one of the wonders of the world).

One great thing about Argentina is their bus systems, especially compared to other parts of the world I have visited. From my experience they were organized and much cleaner than other places and for that reason I decided to opt out of taking an airplane and go overland.

From a first glance look at the map it doesn’t seem like much distance from the middle of Argentina to the north, but looks can be deceiving.

In order to get to Cordoba to the hotel would be around 15 hours by bus and another 6 by car. Being the adventurous person than I am, and already going in the direction of Brazil, I decided to take the challenge and make my way to the north to go a city called Goya.

After a long ride, I arrived at 0300 and I was out in the middle of nowhere. The hotel arranged my transportation and from there we made the long 5+ hours by truck to the hotel. If one is looking for adventure then this is the road to take. Many parts of the road was not paved, so much of it was a bit like being on a roller coaster ride. I will admit, I am very thankful that I don’t get carsick.

It was a long journey, but arriving to the hotel made the experience all worth while.

I felt an instant energy and sense of coziness as we arrived to the hotel in the morning, just in time for breakfast. The location is located way out in the middle of nowhere. Nature was all around and silence filled the air. I wandered upon arriving and instantly noticed their nice big pool, with hammocks and chairs all around to relax and read a book.

This type of hotel is like a outdoor retreat. They offer many different types of activities throughout the day, like horseback riding, guided nature tours through the woods, night boat rides, daytime rides etc.

This is a perfect place for a family, a couple or a single person like me. This is one place that you’re able to come and forget about your worries and just relax. They have three organized meals throughout the day that are absolutely delicious, so you don’t have to think and find a location nearby to eat. The options varies and it was homemade, fresh and incredible!

The hotel had a very cabin like feeling and with rocking chairs in front of a chimney (it was summertime so we didn’t make a fire). Each and every one of the rooms were nicely designed and cozy, with an incredibly comfortable bed. One of my favorite parts was waking up in the morning with the window slightly cracked and hearing the birds outside and a nice cool breeze. My Internet connection did not reach my room, however, in the end I was grateful for that because it forced me to disconnect and only use the Wi-Fi when I needed it the most in the reception.

One of the best activities that this hotel offered was the opportunity to take a boat ride in the evening (also offered at night) to see the alligators and all the animals were in and around the water. I was pleasantly surprised with how many animals and wildlife we actually saw in the time that we went out. I had my camera going the whole entire time and got some really great pictures of this exciting journey.

However, I think out of the whole entire experience, my favorite was the sunset that we saw on the boat ride back to the hotel. It was hands-down the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen! I can’t even begin to explain the peace that I felt in that moment.

Sometimes when life is chaotic and we work day in and day it with people, the best medicine is a little bit of nature and time alone. Studies actually show that people’s mental energy is rejuvenated when they spend a little bit of time in nature, or even looked at a picture of nature.

The days that I was in this hotel also allowed me some time to clear my head, get a new perspective, clearer concentration and get me back on focus to continue the rest of my travels. When many people think of vacations, many think of nonstop activities, big cities, beaches and parties. However, having a nature vacation could be a different vacación worth exploring.

Take time for yourself. Get outside in nature. Put down your electronics and stop long enough to hear the birds singing and feel the wind blow against your skin. When you do this, you will feel more rejuvenated, happy, peaceful, and ready to tackle any problem that comes your way.

 

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Destinations

Rosario, Argentina: Unexpected Connections

Argentina is a vibrant country full of many exciting adventures and different cultures. In my travels across this massive country I decided to do it only by overland in order to take in all of the beautiful scenery. After a beautiful week in Buenos Aires, I decided to take an Omnibus (the local bus transportation) from Buenos Aires to Rosario, which is about 300 km.

 

Luxurious Bus from Buenos Aires-Rosario

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Rosario is the third largest city in Argentina, with around 1.2 million people, and located on the Paraná River. Arriving to this city was a complete change from the crowded and loud capital city and was exactly what I was needing for a couple of days of rest.

During my stay in Rosario, I chose to stay in the Esplendor Savoy Rosario. This beautiful historic hotel is centrally located and walking distance to everything. After a long bus ride from Buenos Aires, this was the perfect hotel to go and relax.

The hotel has everything you could want and more:

  • Rooftop Pool
  • Indoor Pool (all year)
  • Outdoor Pool (seasonal)
  • Hot Tub/Jacuzzi
  • Massage
  • Fitness Center
  • Sauna

For the couple of days that I was there, I was expecting to spend it completely alone, given that I didn’t make any kind of arrangements to meet any local people. I spent the day alone going through the rainy city and visiting the main monuments and learning a bit about the history.

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Rosario has a 20 km long riverfront street called La Costanera and most of the entertainment of the city is taken place along this area. In order to get a good feel for the night life and to try some delicious Argentinian food, I decided to do a nice long workout in the gym and then head toward the riverfront to see what it was all about.

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Solo travel always brings up new adventures. A friendly smile and personality can at times open up new doors to new friendships and opportunities to connect with people, and that is exactly what happened in Rosario. As I was running on the treadmill at the gym hotel, I ended up connecting with a local who then offered to show me the city and introduce me to some typical Argentinean dishes at the Riverfront.

That night we stayed out late, trying different kinds of meat (Argentina is very well known for that), cheese, wine and incredible typical desserts. I will admit, I have tried a lot of desserts in my travels across the world, but the desserts I tried that night were unforgettable. We ordered a homemade flan and Budin de pan, aka: bread pudding. This is a special dessert that is eaten all year round and out of all the desserts I have tried in the last year, this WAS the winner.

Amaaaazing!

After stuffing ourselves full, we took much needed stroll through the city and got a feel for the friendly and chill atmosphere.

Overall, what I expected to be a solo trip through Rosario turned into one that I will never forget.

Traveling alone may seem like a scary and isolated experience, however some of the most beautiful experience come from stepping out into the unknown and giving life a chance.

I had no idea that I would end up having the experience that I did in my short trip to Rosario, but when you keep your heart open, something as simple as a friendly smile with someone can open up a whole new world of connections and friendships.

More photos of Rosario:

 

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Information Reflections Spain

7 Lessons I Learned from Learning a Second Language Fluently

After moving to Spain in 2013 without knowing a single word of Spanish, I quickly learned a tough lesson: If I was going to survive in Spain I would have to first learn to lose my pride, allow myself to make many, many mistakes and not take myself so seriously in the process to learning a second language.

I moved with all the confidence in the world on my ability to learn Spanish quickly. I figured all it would take would be a good month and I would start catching on, however, after a short time I realized that it was not going to be as easy as I thought. I studied day in and day out, but could not get my mind around the irregular verbs, accent and the slang that everyone used. Every time I tried to speak I would make an instant mistake to the point where I was even nervous at first to speak up.

I was the laughter and joke at every conversation, although these jokes were done in a loving way.

I would hear whispers from others saying, “Aww, poor girl. I don’t think she will ever speak good enough where people would actually understand her.” Growing impatient, I watched my English speaking friends around me improve on their Spanish, but no matter how many hours I practiced, I still could not get it. I tried everything: movies, music, memorizing, reading and language exchanges, but every time I would get tongue tied or mess up the pronunciation so bad that it had everyone rolling on the floor laughing.

Learning a foreign language is something that is not learned over night, and in my case, not even something I could get down after a few months of practicing each and every day. It’s not so difficult to learn words and basic phrases to just “get by,” however working towards fluency in order to speak on a more professional level (which was my plan), can seem like an uphill battle.

Like all things in life, learning a foreign language fluently requires hard work, patience, time and determination.

I felt like giving up in many moments in my first year of learning, however my determination and love for the language dominated in those moments of frustration. I finally reached a point after 1 year that I started feeling comfortable and confident, although even until this day I get my words twisted.

I was able to g0 from 0 fluency to speaking in Spanish on a professional level within just a few short years. In November 2016 I was invited to speak in Spanish at the largest TEDx conference in all of Spain, followed by being one of four influential bloggers invited to speak at the largest travel fair in Spain, FITUR to over 2000 people.

Check out my TEDx talk by clicking here 🙂 

After my own experience of highs and lows, I made a list below of 8 lessons that I have learned through my own personal journey towards fluency (although its a never ending journey).

1. Learn to laugh at yourself.

Learning to laugh at myself was probably the single best thing I had to learn from the beginning. Getting frustrated and upset does not solve anything, so learning to laugh is the best solution. Mistakes are inevitable, so embrace them and make a funny story out of it to share with others. Learning to laugh at yourself will take pressure off of you and help you to enjoy your time of learning more.

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2. Learn that it’s not a sprint, its a marathon.

We live in a society that wants immediate results, but in some cases, like learning a second language, its not going to happen like that unless you have some sort of incredible talent with languages. Becoming fluent takes time, dedication and lots and lots of practice. It is possible to get a conversational level within three months or less, however, working towards fluency in order to speak professionally in front of thousands of people takes a bit more time and patience.

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Pyrenees Mountains, Spain

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3. Learn to have fun in learning.

Having a love for the language is a really important factor in enjoying the learning process. If you choose to learn because of a passion you will have a higher chance of succeeding, compared to someone that is forced into a foreign language class or required to learn for work.

Learning a second language does not mean that you will be sitting in a quiet room studying with books and long hours memorizing words and phrases.

Most of the learning is actually done from interacting with other people, through songs, movies or even audio books. There are countless games and ways to learn available, so don’t allow yourself to become disinterested because of boredom. Find a way of learning that works for you and go after it!

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4. Learn that the quickest way to learn is full immersion, but its not the only way.

The quickest proven way to learn a second language is by full immersion, HOWEVER, that should not discourage you if your lifestyle does not allow you the opportunity to become immersed in a new culture. There are classes that are offered at the local and state universities, private and group classes in academies, meet up groups, online programs, CouchSurfing gatherings to meet locals interested in leaning a second language, language exchanges and much more. Don’t look for an excuse for not learning if you truly have the desire.

5. Learn that its okay to make mistakes.

Its impossible to escape making mistakes when learning a second language. Even after years of speaking Spanish I continue to make countless errors. This goes back to point number one of learning to laugh at yourself. Learn to laugh and grow from each and every mistake you make because they will happen every single day, especially if you talk as much as I do.

6. Learn that it’s much easier if you have a best friend or boyfriend that is Spanish

Having a best friend, boyfriend or roommate that you spend a lot of time with will help dramatically in learning quicker. It is very common to arrive to the country with all the excitement in the world to become immersed and learn the language and just as soon as you start to speak people instantly speak back to you in English, even if you speak to them in Spanish.

Many people don’t understand that your intention of being in the country you are in is to learn the language, so the ones that do know English are just trying to make your life easier by speaking to you in English. Having a best friend, boyfriend or room mate is a huge benefit to getting more intimate practice.

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7. Learn that if you don’t use it, you might lose it

I have met people that were 100% dedicated to learning Spanish for the year they were abroad and then as soon as they arrived back home they never made the effort to speak in their normal day to day life. This can happen due to a couple of different reasons. One reason is embarrassment of speaking around people back home and the other is not knowing where to seek out opportunities to keep the skills sharp. Once you learn the language, look for ways to keep it fresh. The world is a very diverse place, so chances are you won’t have to look far to find someone that speaks the language you learned.

Learning a second language is a unique experience that not only opens the door to communication to a whole new world of people, but it literally changes your brain and allows you to tap into a whole new way of thinking and analyzing information.

 

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Information Reflections

4 Tips to Organize & Plan For Travel to Countries You Can’t Communicate

Our verbal communication is a survival tool that gets us by in most day to day situations. However, have you ever thought about life without that special tool?  As I travel around the world, especially off the beaten path, verbally expressing my needs so that people actually understand me has been a constant challenge. As I travel alone to different countries where English and Spanish are not spoken, people constantly ask me the same question,

“How in the world are you able to function and communicate effectively, completely alone, across so many different cultures and countries?”

The uncertainty of not being able to communicate is one factor that leaves many people paralyzed with fear and unwilling to take a step into the unknown and travel to foreign territory.

The fear of being stranded without knowing where to go, traveling alone and not having anyone that speaks your language by your side, or going to a public place and not knowing what is on the menu, are all fears that can cause anyone to be turned away from the idea of traveling abroad.

Trust me, I know…..I had all those fears myself before traveling.

When I first began my journey, I clung to the comfortable European countries, where English was within easy reach. I never liked the idea of traveling alone, so I just comfortably stuck with my English-speaking friends in the places that I went.

If we were ever in any situation where English was not spoken, no problem, because I had the help of my friends by my side. I didn’t have to face it alone, and I didn’t have to go through that feeling of embarrassment that is associated with not knowing what the heck is going on or what to say. However, after countless trips traveling with other people, I felt a deep sense within that it was time to break outside of my comfort zone and to start my own adventure, completely alone.

 

After years of solo traveling and numerous exciting adventures around the globe, I have had my share of ups and downs, mistakes, moments of panic, and feeling of complete helplessness due to communication errors. I have prepared a list through my own personal experiences and errors on the top ways I have learned to plan, organize and effectively function and communicate across cultures and countries where the language is not my own.

1. Organization, Planning and Knowledge

When it comes to traveling to a place where the language is not your own, organization and some planning are key. I am a huge believer in the importance of researching and learning about the different places that you travel before visiting, not only for safety purposes, but for being more educated and knowledgeable when you were talking with other people. General knowledge on your location helps in any situation, but the one thing I have noticed is that this knowledge helps reduce the risk of you getting ripped off in different occasions (bus tickets, accommodation, taxi rides, food etc.)

 If you go into a situation not having any idea of what to expect, local people have a better chance of taking advantage of you.

Organizing your trip a bit, knowing the top attractions, information on the local money, areas of town you might want to stay away from, top places to eat, accommodation, wifi hot spots throughout the city, bars and night clubs, etc, are all very helpful to discover and locate beforehand. Knowing these things can save you a headache when arriving and trying to figure it all out with people in the street.

Another important point in the planning stage is learning and writing down the most important words and phrases, important destinations, street names, names of hotel, restaurants or anything you plan on going to see. Investing in a good dictionary, phrasebook, local guide book and phone with GPS may serve you well.

2. Give it your best effort and don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Part of the fun when I travel is trying to learn a few of the local words and phrases. I must admit, my pronunciation in many languages is absolutely terrible, but what I have found is that locals appreciate the effort, even if it’s not perfect.

The most important phrase I have used and memorized in various languages is, “Do you speak English?” You can be assured with this phrase that you will get at least a yes or a no, and you don’t need to know the language to understand a head shake. It’s not a realistic goal to say that you’re going to learn the language every country you visit, especially if you only plan on staying a short amount of time in each place, but a little effort sure does go a long way.

If you get a phone plan, you can always download a translator and use it when you need to communicate. If you can’t say it right, you can always make the translator talk or show the written sentence to the person you are speaking with.

3. Get in tune with your nonverbal communication

When traveling to unknown territory, gestures will be your best friend. I underestimated how much power were in gestures until I traveled to a little village in Armenia where I could not find a single person that knew English or Spanish.

I arrived after a long day of travel with an empty stomach and a craving for chicken. I stopped at a restaurant with absolutely no idea what the menu said. In a desperate desire to communicate, I started flapping my arms as if I had wings, while showing with my hand a small amount to show the person that I wanted a little bit of chicken.

They hysterically laughed due to the lack of communication, but I learned that fluency is not necessary in many situations.

Sometimes something as simple as flapping your wings can speak a full message to someone. In addition, this experience makes you a more humble person and it gives everyone a good laugh.

 


Other gestures I use daily include: thumbs up, the OK sign, pointing, different facial expressions (ex: showing disgust when I don’t like something, smiling, raising shoulders to how that I don’t know something etc).

It is said that 93% of our our language is actually our non verbal communication and only 7% is our spoken words. Each day that I travel across the world I realize the truth of this statement.

4. Patience, patience, patience…..and more patience

If you travel outside of the bigger cities to the small villages be prepared to pack patience with you, because being faced with a language barrier is inevitable. End of story. There is no escaping it, unless you have a full-time translator with or go with a tour group.

In a small village in Romania I had to walk the streets for hours asking people for directions to the right bus station. No matter what gesture I used, no one could seem to understand and communicate with me. There were about 100 buses lined up, no wi-fi, hundreds of people passing by, and not one of them could direct me in the right place. I asked person after person, including the police officers, but I got the same response, “English….no”

After hours of walking around, I finally found someone with a broken level of English that was able to direct me. All the signs were in a different language, and even with her help I was not 100% sure if I was going in the right direction.

In these kinds of situations I have learned to rely on that inner gut feeling that each one of us have to guide me in the right direction.

At first all of this confusion was very frustrating, but then I realized that this is part of the adventure and losing my patience didn’t help with anything. I have to admit, I have been hysterical and in tears in the street due to frustration and being completely lost without a sign of help earlier in my travels. I had to quickly learn that this behavior did not help me to solve my problems any quicker and that sometimes the best move is just to take a deep breath and then take action.

Traveling to countries where your language is not commonly spoken can be scary at first, especially when you are thinking about it from a perspective where you are living in a very comfortable part of the world and you are able to communicate each and every day without an obstacle.

However, if you step out into the world of the unknown and give foreign travel a chance, you will not only be changed, but most likely you will find the kindness and goodness of people from all around the world, who are more than happy to help you in your adventure with patience, love and an open heart.

 

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Asia India Information Reflections

India: Meditation Boot Camp: The Start of My Meditation Practice

When I landed with a one-way ticket to India, I left the airplane in complete culture shock from the madness and chaos that surrounded me. It was an experience that I had never had traveling at that time and I could not get my head around the reality that I was seeing before my eyes.

Thousands of people in every direction, naked kids running and playing, some totally alone and many begging for food. Piles of trash and overflowing trash cans, cows wandering aimlessly between traffic, rushed cabdrivers impatiently driving and honking and one set of eyes after another directed towards me as I stood out like a sore thumb, with my blonde hair and face of utter confusion.

India is known for being one of the most cultural diverse countries in the world, with more than 200 dialects of languages throughout the country. They are famous for their reputation of dedication towards meditation practices and home to some of the most holy places on earth.

 

I had traveled to India looking for a different type of experience, something different than the normal travels that I had been having in the more comfortable, westernized countries. I strongly desired to open my heart and mind to a new experience and learn a little bit more about about their culture, connect with the people and learn about their meditation and religious practices. However, in the midst of the chaos, I felt like I was in the wrong place.

After a week of traveling and exploring parts of India, my heart started to change and I began to enjoy and adapt to the experience. However, after just one week I decided to escape the loud, busy streets and enter in a 10 day meditation/silent retreat called Vipassana.

Meditation and I once had a rocky relationship. It’s one of those practices that I always knew were beneficial to my life and health, but for someone who absolutely loves talking, it was a practice that I always put off saying, “one day I will try it out.”

Meditation has been known for countless benefits for the mind body and soul. It’s known to help you stay focused and live in the present moment, while helping you to stay happier, less anxious and keep the stress under control. It enhances compassion and changes the lens in which you see the world, yourself and the situations that come your way.

Some of the biggest names today claim meditation to be one of the main keys to their success and well-being. Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Kobe Bryant, Steve Jobs, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner and Madonna, to name a few, all have enjoyed or are enjoying the countless benefits that meditation offers.

As a person that is always striving for personal growth and development, I decided to give this practice some special attention and knew that there would be no place to do it than in India. Vipassana is only a place for serious learners and people that are committed to making meditation a part of their daily life.

Upon arrival, we were asked to turn in our personal cell phones, computers, cameras and any electronics. There was absolutely no reading, writing, making eye contact, caffeine, alcohol or exercise during the 10 days of the retreat. If you felt like you could not abide by the rules, they simply asked you to leave at the beginning.

Vipassana is not a retreat for the weak in mind.

Meditation started at 4:30am on the dot each every morning. This is not the type of meditation where you’re able to lay down and comfortably meditate in the time frame of your choice. In Vipassanna, you will be assigned to a mat in a meditation hall, set hours, with instructors sitting in front of you making sure you’re doing what you are supposed to do. To best describe it: hard core meditation boot camp

 

 

The retreat is strictly organized because they understand the tendency of the mind to wander, desire to lay down and do exactly what it pleases. The instructors are there to help you incorporate a new practice, become disciplined and be active accountability.

Meditation is not something that is learned overnight, nor in just 10 hours a day for 10 days straight.

However, from the first day I started, compared to the last, it was a complete night and day difference in my focus and ability to sit for hours with little movement and focused concentration.

In the first five days all I could do was move, open my eyes and think about 5000 other things and places that I would rather do and be besides in that hot meditation room sitting on top of my uncomfortable blue pillow. However, like all things in life, mediation requires time, dedication and going through the feelings of being uncomfortable. With time and dedication to the practice, anyone can enjoy the benefits that meditation offers.

All it takes is a starting with a 2-5 minute meditation each day, totally concentrated and once you have that down, you can gradually increase your time. It’s as simple as that.

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“Meditation connects you with your soul, and this connection gives you access to your intuition, your heartfelt desires, your integrity, and the inspiration to create a life you love.” – Sarah McLean

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