Bold, Beautiful, Barnard

I have been trying all year to decide what my favorite season is here in New York. I love all of them, even the particularly brutal winter we just experienced. The beauty of the snow outweighs all the discomforts of a place with four seasons. Summer, though many complain, is not too hot for me here. I am not going to be in the city this summer, but I have experienced it before. I believe, however, that it is either spring or fall I love the most. Fall has the beautiful leaves and spring has the blossoms. The Barnard magnolia tree is now in full bloom and it counteracts the horrors of final season. These weeks have been busy, but also beautiful.


Vacationette: Brooklyn, Smorgasburg, and Staten Island Ferry

At the beginning of the year I made a promise to myself.  I promised myself that I would go out somewhere new in the city every week. I didn't want to become one of those people who lives in New York, but has no more understanding of the place than the subway from home to work. This has been hard to keep up. It has been my goal to go somewhere fun every Saturday, but some Saturdays become busy and I let walking a couple more blocks in Riverside Park suffice. Lately I have had the intense desire to travel, and I believe some of the painful part of that desire comes from me not taking full advantage of where I live. Today I did a real mini trip, or vacationette, as I am calling them. I realize that if New York was a place I was visiting rather than residing I would make the effort to see these things, so why not do it while I live here. Every Saturday I will try to take a vacationette and every week I will try to post about it. Today I went to Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. I had a cookie dough peanut butter strawberry sandwich, a chocolate covered soft pretzel, and a taco. It was all too good. It is open every Saturday and Sunday in the spring and summer so I will definitely be making a return trip. After that I walked around the Williamsburg area, it is quite different than Manhattan and just that little distance did make me feel like I was on vacation. 
The building below is a bank, which is not very exciting. However, it illustrates a point I want to make about going on mini trips. I was walking along the water and I saw it. I considered whether I wanted to check it out and ended up deciding to go. Sometimes living in the city I get in such a rush I lose the desire to see things I would have if I was a tourist. This is something I want to change.
I took a ferry back to the financial district because I saw the dock and thought it would be more fun  than the subway. With the shining sun and the wind in my hair I didn't want to get off the boat when I got back to Manhattan so I took another boat out to Staten Island, then back again. I don't actually remember the last time I saw the Statue of Liberty, which is pathetic, since I live so very close. That is my resolution: take more real vacionettes and actually appreciate the places I have lost that first sight admiration for (Times Square, however, doesn't count. That place is purely horrible).


Provincetown: Spring Break

When most people think of Provincetown or any part of Cape Cod they think go warm summer
beaches crowded with people. This spring break I had the opportunity to see a different side of Cape Cod. It was rainy and snowy and the ocean was actually frozen. I had seen the chunks of ice in pictures of Nantucket, but it was great to actually see it in person. The picture above is of a pig. It was at the year rounder's festival we went to visit. I love Cape Cod. It was definitely nice seeing it with less people, but most restaurants and stores were closed. I am thinking May would be a good time to visit, after everything starts opening, but while most kids are still in school.


The Village of San Antonio

Today my mom and I had the opportunity to visit our friends in the village of San Antonio. We have known Luz and her family for ten years now, since we first came to Panama. One of Luz's daughters, Kenia, is my age. A couple years ago I made a video where she showed me her life in San Antonio and the obstacles she must overcome to get to school. These obstacles include an arduous multi hour journey to school everyday, monetary struggles, and Spanish as a second language. Kenia and her sister Nair were part of the first generation from the village to get an education. Kenia just had a beautiful, healthy baby boy on December 29, 2014. Kenia's sister, Nair, is 21 years old and has three daughters. They are five, three, and two. The five year old will be starting school this March. Nair, too, is in school now. She graduated with a diploma from high school and is now seeking a degree in nursing. Her family sees the importance of her education in the changing landscape of their lives. San Antonio is only a five minute boat ride from the town of Gamboa. This means, unlike some of the other Wounaan villages in the Darien, the people of San Antonio have constant contact with the economy of Panama. One of the largest struggles for the forty person village is health care due to the distance from care and the costs. When Nair gets her nursing degree it will benefit not only her and her three daughters—financially and educationally— but an entire village of people. Nair and Kenia's father, Filipe, calls the work Nair is doing to get a nursing degree "un sacrificio," a sacrifice. Nair is working now on earning this degree, on top of her job working with the frogs for STRI (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) which means long commutes and long days of work and school. The village, however, is struggling with the money to send her to school. They just payed to bring one of Luz's older daughters and her ten children from Columbia to Panama, an expensive, but necessary endeavor that drained San Antonio of their money. That is why I am asking you to consider donating to Nair's education fund. The money she needs is only 3,588. While it is a forbidding number for the village, it is a small price for the monumental improvements it will cause to the lives of Nair, her family, and the rest of the village.
Taking the boat out to San Antonio
 Luz with Nair's youngest

 Luz, Filipe, Nair's two older daughters, and me
Nair was not in San Antonio the day we came, due to her busy schedule of work and school. Above is a photo of her working with the feed for the frogs in Gamboa.


Cartagena, Columbia

Although our ferry ride was less than ideal, Cartagena itself was stunning. It was like being in an old European city with the architecture and gelato places, but with a Latin American twist. Our hotel, La Passion hotel, was the most gorgeous place that either my Mom or I have every stayed. It is in the center of the walled city, but inside the walls of the hotel it is silent. On the roof of the building, near the swimming pool, they serve a phenomenal breakfast with fresh fruit, eggs, toast with jam, coffee, and freshly made juice. Outside the doors of the hotel tourists, mostly European, bustle around holding gelato pops and candy from the candy factory. Locals dress in head to toe white, so contrasting from the colorful edifices of the buildings (and opposite from the New York uniform of black). Bougainvillea poured onto the streets where horse drawn carriages and yellow cabs stayed slow to avoid trampling pedestrians. The city was magnificent and colorful, everything Casco Antigua in Panama could be, but isn't yet.
 Really tried to figure this one out. Thinking he must have a chair apparatus that connects into the bamboo stick.
On top of our hotel.

 We watched them make candy at Swikar, an amazing candy shop. This little boy was so excited, exclaiming, "un otro color!!!"
 There were 10 horse drawn carriages in a line.

This vacation was beautiful, so close to Panama, but in many ways a different world. I would suggest this to anyone. We were right next door to the Paraiso gelato place, which I would also suggest to anyone. The gelato and the ice-cream pops from the pop shop were both amazing. Until next time, Cartagena!


Ferry Xpress

When discussing a mini trip to take from Panama over winter break we decided Cartagena, Columbia would be the most interesting and affordable vacation. Flying, however, was not affordable. So, we decided to take the Ferry Xpress, a new boat that leaves from Colon and runs to Cartagena. People have been hoping for something like this for years. I came in optimistically expecting to enjoy the ride. While it did get us to the beautiful city of Cartagena, (more on that later) the actual ferry itself left more than a little to be desired. We left Colon on time, at seven in the evening on Monday. That night other than some rough waters and terrible food (apparently being vegetarian isn't really a thing in these parts) we felt pretty good about the trip. On Tuesday morning though, everything changed. At eleven we heard an announcement saying we would be docking not at one as planned, but instead at 6:30 in the evening. The news itself was distressing, but it was also quite bothersome that nowhere during that announcement was there a single apology. I'm used to airplanes where the crew apologizes for everything. The trip there was far less than enjoyable, but the trip back was even worse. When we arrived at the terminal at three, the time appointed for us to arrive, they informed us the boat would not be boarded until 9, two hours after the original sailing time. Since the boat gets so behind—due to weather—on each sailing to Cartagena with the quick schedule it can't catch up. Bags in hand and nowhere to go the majority of people, us included, waited at the cruise ship terminal for the boat to arrive. The only upside was that the cruise ship terminal had animals walking around. We ended up not boarding the boat until nearly one in the morning. At that time the mob of angry people waiting had begun to break into fights, one that brought the police in. The boat ended up leaving at four in the morning. Ultimately, our boat which was supposed to arrive in Colon at one didn't make it in until 8:30. All this was with no apology. I have made the Ferry Xpress ride a separate blog post from the rest of Cartagena because it was such a disaster. We loved Cartagena and our hotel. The city was wonderful and we would recommend it to anyone. The boat ride way of getting there, however, was not wonderful. We are recommending to all Gamboa people and anyone else to find another way. In theory it is a great idea, one we have all hoped for for years. However, in practice it leaves something to be desired.
 On the boat
Flamingos in the boat yard wildlife park


Back to Gamboa

Before leaving NYC I knew I loved the city, but now I know for certain that it is my true love. Leaving, only for a month, has been more difficult than anticipated. I miss the bustle and energy of the city I now consider home. Although that is challenging, I believe it is a good thing that I love the place I live so much. While I do miss New York, being in Panama has also been quite nice. I got to choose whether to come to Panama or Washington for break and I am infinitely glad I chose Panama. The weather is warm in stark contrast to the snow on the East Coast. I get to eat my mom's cooking which is a friendly break from the dining halls, and I have more time to read for pleasure. I've reunited with old friends and family. We are soon taking a short trip to Columbia.
Gamboa is a colorful community. Above is the school house.
Since we sold our car the buses are our only real way into town. The Coop Saca buses are colorful, ill-maintained, and crowded.
The canal is right down the street from our house.
These little girls are from the village of San Antonio near our place in Panama. We have been friends with their grandmother since we first came to Panama ten years ago. We are hoping in January to make it out to the village. One of the girls I have known since I first came just had a baby boy and we are hoping to have the opportunity to meet him. These two loved our little tiny Christmas tree. Susan, below, made the basket she is holding. She is only five. This spring she will be starting Kindergarten in a nearby town.