Monthly Archives: June 2017

Living Like a Local: Dealing with Pests!

I’m just about to hit my two-week mark living in Agua Caliente Nueva, and I don’t know if I’ve become desensitized to all of the creepy crawlies I’ve encountered, but it’s starting to not faze me as much when I see them crawling around. On night 1, I was attempting to go to sleep and I felt something on my neck, and I thought it was just a strand of hair and brushed my neck…and then I felt something more substantial on my leg and turned on my phone’s flashlight to find some beetle nearly the size of a dime just chilling on my bed! Trust, I was pretty skeeved and spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to calm myself down before trying to sleep again.

Luckily, that hasn’t occurred every night I’ve been here, but I’ve been disturbed by these bugs’ constant presence in the kitchen and around my bathroom sink! Just last night, I saw a macarena line of tiny black beetles marching in my bathroom sink, this strange-looking insect with funky, feathery antennae, and another beetle with these bright orange markings on its back. I literally can not for the life of me figure out where they are coming from when there are nets lining the windows! -.-

And then there are the mosquitoes… I’ve gotten so up close and personal to these abominations that I’m pretty confident I can identify the Anopheles from the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Bringing some public health into this post, there’s a health clinic in the town that has a poster outside to bring awareness and educate the community on the different vector-borne illnesses different genus mosquitoes can transmit to humans:

  • Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can transmit yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika depending on what they’re infected with
  • Infected Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria to humans

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I love how they included some methods to prevent mosquitoes from encroaching on people’s territories, such as emptying stagnant water and changing out uncovered reservoirs of water every few days. It would be even more effective to provide options for how one can protect themselves from mosquitoes, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, or wearing insect repellent, using mosquito nets or staying indoors in the early morning and after dusk.

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I saw this really awesome sign on one of the houses that asks passersby: “What did you do today to combat mosquitoes?”

And then we have the lizards who like to stay out of plain sight, hiding behind my bathroom mirror and other picture frames. It’s a wonder how there are so many pests still lurking around the home when there are at least maybe five lizards/geckos I’ve spotted throughout the house. I’m just thinking, what the heck are you doing all day if you’re not eating these bugs for us?! They just slither along the walls like Spiderman and leave droppings wherever they go. What a useless bunch of reptiles!! What are they good for if they won’t help eat the bad insects?! 😡

Just thought I’d share the reality of living like a local where bugs run rampant both inside and outside of the house! Just this morning, I was negotiating with this bee that was holding my laptop hostage! It was hovering around my laptop when I had it outside on the terrace, and I had to have JUST the right timing to swoop in and collect my items before it came after me. Life’s rough living like a local when you’re used to  mainly black ants and mosquitoes in NYC! I miss my clean home free of any pests, but I’m finding living here to be a true taste of reality and cultural immersion.

Until the next post, hasta luego!

 

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Living Like a Local: Meeting the Locals

the view of the street where Simon and Mari live

Hi everyone, it’s me again 🙂 It’s been a week since I arrived in Mexico, and it’s been a rough 7 days because I have a big target on my back, attracting all the mosquitoes that haven’t tasted foreign blood in quite a while. I want to say I’m almost at 20 bites, which is epic for me considering I spray myself with repellent at least 2-3 times a day! Aside from the mosquitoes being the bane of my existence, I’ve been fortunate enough to not feel homesick (yet) since arriving.

Despite the negative things that some news outlets and an orange-faced, small-handed man-child say, Mexicans are one of the most friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve been to Mexico a number of times, a few times with family for vacation, and two other times (one to volunteer in Merida, and now). They are some of the hardest working individuals I know, and live so happily even though they don’t have all the material items and luxuries that we have in the US. My host father is super funny, and we’ve joked about what a mess the US is in with a certain puppet in office, and how it’s an utterly stupid and incredible idea to build a wall, like come on, people! I can name a number of things that Mexico is so awesome for:

  • THE PEOPLE!!!!! I’ve had my fair share of some not-so pleasant Spanish-speaking individuals in NYC, but the people in Mexico are completely different (continue to read below)
  • CENOTES! These are natural sinkholes like natural pools that are pristine for people to explore and swim in 🙂
  • ANCIENT RUINS! Chichen Itza is on the list of the 7 Wonders of the World, everyone!
  • CULTURE! Mexico is comprised of 31 states and 1 federal district.
  • LANGUAGES! There are 69 recognized languages indigenous to the country.
  • FOOD! I’ve been learning so many recipes from my host mother and sister!

I just finished watching Minimalism on Netflix, and I believe that people can be, and are happier with less. Some people in my community have nothing but aluminum sheets covering their homes, tattered furniture pieces, desolate yards, and are still using houseware items that we would have thrown out the moment they had a dent or when the next new thing came out to replace it. Despite living in these conditions, probably 99% of the people I met on my morning walks always greet me with a smile when I say ¡buenos días! while passing them on the cobblestone roads.

the view from the top of the hill

On the first day when I took a walk, I was nervous because my Spanish was (and still is) rusty, but I put on my brave face and made an effort to greet everyone I saw. While many of them looked curiously at me wondering why a Chinese gringa was in their community, they immediately returned a bright, warm smile as they said hello back. This one man I passed responded to me, ¿Estás perdida? (Are you lost?) Back in NYC, I find it hard to believe that if I was walking around the city looking around and saying hi to people, that more than maybe 10% of people would say hello back, and surely none of them would be concerned enough to ask me if I was lost. Not to mention, I met a grandmother the other day with her granddaughter, and it’s like the granddaughter imprinted on me immediately (you know, the way ducklings imprint on their mamas?!) She kept reaching for me to pick her up and hold her hand to walk her on the street and wouldn’t let me leave until I was able to sneak away when she asked for her bottle. I don’t know why children like me, honestly; maybe because I’m small and unthreatening-looking hah!

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In the 20+ years I’ve lived in NY, it’s been really difficult to get a smile in return if you smiled at someone in the street in passing. Most would look at you as if something was wrong with you, or maybe think there was something you were laughing at instead of accepting it as a genial gesture. So much for a smile being contagious, huh? NYC is such a fast-paced environment that very rarely do people take the time to just stop and enjoy the city and take in what’s around them, much less waste a millisecond of their day to smile back at a stranger on the street and say hello. I admit, it’s kind of weird to smile at someone who you don’t know at all, but I always try to think that a smile can brighten someone’s day and possibly make them feel good, even for a moment, especially if they’re going through a tough time.

Today was a very pleasant day, and it was super cloudy in the morning, which meant that it was nice and cool for me to spend some time at the park and draw. I later met two people as I was making my way to the Moringa germplasm site, and they were worried for my safety as there’s a house with 5 vicious dogs who guard their territory like their life depends on it! Isabel, the woman who showed me the site, spent the morning walking with me and introducing me to people we passed, and shared with me that her poor little dogs were torn apart by those evil Cujos 😥 On our last stop, we met the wife of the gardener with whom I’ll be working, and at the end of our conversation, they made it a point to tell me that everyone in the community is looking out for me, and if I ever needed help, that they’d be there for me. It’s extremely heartening to feel so welcome in a community, especially when I’ve only been here for a week!

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Mexican culture since I’ve only been here a handful of times, but I’m determined to continue to return and keep exploring different parts of this amazing country, with my trusty guide in my backpack B)

This first week was a success:
✓ conversed with everyone in broken Spanish (but received compliments for my ability to understand a lot, woohoo!)
✓ gained maybe 1/2 a shade darker
✓ familiarized myself with the neighborhood
✓ survived my first bout of food poisoning (and learned my lesson)
✓ met 22 people in the community
✓ hiked up and down a mountain at 7am
✓ survived an ambush by 5 Cujos
✓ battled and conquered at least 5-7 different native bugs in the house

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It wasn’t even an hour since I arrived and a man with two pet squirrels came by our table at the restaurant and just placed this little guy on my head!

Until the next post, hasta luego 🙂

ALL PHOTOS ARE ©magnetically aesthetic. Please do not steal, edit, or use these pictures in any way without my permission. Thank you!

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Recipe: Tacos Dorados

While I’m in Mexico living with a host family, I’m determined to learn as many dishes as possible! Tacos dorados don’t seem too difficult to make, and might not be the healthiest (because it’s deep fried in oil), but I felt like sharing it with you in case you wanted something different from the typical tacos and burritos that you know Mexican cuisines for :3

pozoles y taco dorado

Tacos dorados on the left, pozoles on the right!

Ingredients:

  • lots of tortilla skins, corn (maiz) or flour (harina), your choice!
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes (papas)
  • 1 onion (cebolla)
  • 2-3 tomatoes (tomates)
  • (optional) meat (carne) such as chicken, pork, or beef
  • (optional) a few cloves of garlic (ajo)
  • cooking oil (aceite)

Steps:

  1. Scrub down your potatoes and boil them for 15-20 minutes and let cool.
  2. If you’re going to cook with meat, steam the meat until it’s tender and then shred it into fine pieces.
  3. Dice the tomatoes, onion, and garlic into fine pieces.
  4. Heat up a pan and add a touch of oil and sauté the tomatoes, onion, and garlic until they’re a paste-like consistency.Preparing tacos dorados2
  5. Peel the skin from the potatoes and mash them.
  6. Add the potatoes (and meat) to the paste mix until they’re thoroughly mixed together.
  7. Pour cooking oil into a pot until it’s about 5-8 inches filled and heat the pot at medium heat.
  8. Take a tortilla skin, lay it flat, and spoon one spoonful of the tacos dorado mix into the center and fold it flat. Repeat until you used up all of your mix!
    • You want to use a lasa (string) to stagger stack six tacos on top of each other at a time and tie them up firmly. Preparing tacos dorados
  9. Take each stack of tacos and place it gently into the oil, making sure it’s fully submerged. Depending on the size of your pot, you can put more than one stack at a time.
  10. Keep an eye on each stack and flip them maybe after 5-10 minutes, depending on the heat of your oil, until you see a nice golden brown tortilla skin. When you get the color you want, take it out of the pot and lay it on paper towels to drain some of the oil.

After it cools a bit, you’re ready to eat tacos dorados! This makes for a great party dish since it can make so many tacos to feed a large group of people 🙂 Hope you enjoyed! Buen provecho!

Living Like a Local: Aftermath of Huracán Patricia

Saludos de Agua Caliente Nueva! It’s been about five days since I arrived in Mexico and I’m still getting adjusted to the suuuuper hot weather that is present even in the early AM. I am currently staying with a host family in Agua Caliente Nueva, an ejido in La Huerta in the state Jalisco. This pueblo was victim to huracán “Patricia” in October 2015, ripping away the roofs of many houses, including the one I’m staying in. My host mother showed me some of the photos after the hurricane and explained to me that it only took a matter of hours on one afternoon for this Category 5 hurricane with 150 mph wind speed to cause so much destruction within their town. Families stood within their living rooms or bedrooms in the photos with nothing covering the tops of their houses because their roofs had blown away from the strong winds and rain.

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This is a photo I took from the outside terrace/patio they have. Through the window, you can see the techo covering the carpentry shed. This was recently built after the hurricane!

My host family explained to me that their shed that housed my host father’s carpentry business had been destroyed and whisked away swiftly during the hurricane, and all of his materials and machines had been exposed to the elements and needed to be replaced. Other families’ roofs covered essential items, such as beds and other appliances, all of which had to be tossed and replaced. I can observe that this town’s residents are not affluent and this must have been detrimental to their livelihoods to have to replace all of their necessary furniture 😦 It’s been almost two years since the hurricane, and from my morning walks, I can see that all of the roofs have been replaced, but there is still much that needs to recover. Many fruit trees that were abundant in the region were uprooted and died in the process, and there are many empty pieces of land (but this could be an erroneous assumption since this could have been empty to begin with).

When I volunteered in Ecuador with UBELONG back in 2012, I had stayed with a host family for the first time and experienced a fraction of the hardships that people in developing countries face. In many parts of Latin America, there is no potable water to drink, and it must either be purchased by the barrel, or be boiled for consumption. My host mother in Ecuador typically spent every morning boiling large vats of water for us to drink for the day, which was in and of itself an inconvenient routine that she had become accustomed to. In contrast, my host family here in Mexico has the means to purchase about four barrels of potable water at a time for the family to drink, a luxury that other families in Mexico may not be able to afford.

Luckily for my host family’s business in carpentry, they’re finally able to start working on the roof of the house! They had reinforced the roof for the carpentry shed, but still needed to reinforce the roof that covers my room and other parts of the second floor. Right now, it’s only made of madera (wood) and some metal material, possibly aluminum that was nailed down. As a safety precaution and to prepare for any future hurricanes, my host father decided to make it his project to fix the roof this week while the weather is supposed to be good, since he has to pour cement on the roof to make it more durable. Unfortunately and fortunately for me, I get to experience what it’s like living as a local and going through the motions of what it takes to recover from the effects of a hurricane.

If I didn’t have allergies before coming here, I sure do have them now for dust! There is no amount of getting used to the ever-present thin film of dust that lingers on my desk space even after wiping it down five times, or needing to wash my covers three times a day because I can’t time the laundry with when they decide to work on my portion of the roof haha. At one point, someone’s foot went through the roof, leaving a gaping hole for any flying creatures to enter my humble abode (not fun, considering I really detest bugs and would not be pleased if a bird happened to fly in!!)

Being the clean, hygienic fanatic that I am (despite my mishap with eating contaminated food, hah!) it’s been quite an adjustment to the little creepy crawlies that visit me every now and then… imagine waking up to a tiny little beetle dropping onto your leg and starting to crawl, and then imagine me leaping with great agility to brush it off me and then immediately crush it so it doesn’t return 😐 I do miss my clean kitchen and bathroom, for we apparently have lizards that hide behind the picture frames and mirrors in the house, but they are utterly useless in eating the insects and mosquitoes and only leave little droppings as regalos by my bathroom sink -sigh-

Hope you enjoyed reading and stay tuned for my next post!

 

 

Tips: Precautions When Eating Foods Abroad (Water Safety)

I wanted to share some tips for food safety when traveling abroad, especially when you can get tempted with SO many good foods and drinks that are available in the country where you’re staying 🙂 Click on the link below to read more!

Source: Tips: Precautions When Eating Foods Abroad (Water Safety)

Tips: Packing Light

Packing Essentials for Your Carry-on Luggage

Hey everyone! Summer is already here, I can feel it! My WordPress has been kind of wonky these past couple of weeks and I wasn’t able to save or post anything–even trying to log on to post on the forums for help didn’t work! I finally managed to take back my website and I’m here to share with you some tips for packing light when you go on trips 🙂

Whenever I travel with my family, I always have the habit of over-packing and then having to sit on my luggage to get it to close. However, since I watch so many minimalist bloggers share their advice on living in a tiny house, or zero waste, or traveling with minimal items, I decided to give it a try and share with you what I packed for my trip to Mexico! I’m currently in the state of Jalisco in a little town south of Puerto Vallarta. My host family is already so warm and welcoming and I think I am going to like it here very much.

**DISCLAIMER: this is a post about packing a carry-on luggage and backpack! I also packed a checked luggage for a two-month stay in Mexico. This may seem like a lot, but let’s just say that when I’ve lived abroad for three weeks at a time, I had TWO checked luggages and one carry-on, AND one backpack, so I’ve really downsized with my items even though I’m staying for more than twice as long as I had in the past.**

Backpack Items: These are items that I find are essential to have on hand. If you need to whip out your passport or driver’s license, it seems much simpler to open your backpack than to sift through the contents of your carry-on. Here’s a list of items I packed in my backpack:

  • laptop and charger: since I am here in Mexico to do fieldwork for my grad school requirement, I needed to bring this, otherwise I’ll usually leave it at home if I’m traveling for leisure.
  • Kindle and charger: I absolutely love to read, and although the feeling of holding a physical book is preferable, using a Kindle or other e-reader can save so much space and allow you to read as many books as you can save on your device.
  • portable battery pack for your electronics
  • phone charger
  • headphones
  • plug adapters: depending on your destination, you may need a plug adapter if for example you’re from the US and are traveling to Europe.
  • toiletries: if you need to freshen up after an overnight flight, you might want to pack a toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, wet wipes, and deodorant.
  • passport and/or driver’s license
  • printed copies of your boarding pass, itinerary, travel insurance, etc. — this is optional, but recommended in my opinion!
  • wallet and keys: make sure you don’t have any sharp items on your keychain because it will get tossed!
  • empty water bottle: I can’t stress this enough, guys! It’ll cost you an arm and a leg to buy a measly plastic water bottle when you can easily BYOB (haha, get it? Bring Your Own Bottle!). You will save yourself money, and also not contribute to the massive number of plastic bottles that are littered throughout the world.
  • some warm article of clothing: you never know when you’ll get cold, so bring a scarf or a super-light article of clothing you can fold up and stuff in your luggage.
  • tissues: hey, a sudden onset of the sniffles or a nosebleed from the high altitudes are always possibilities, so better safe than sorry!
  • snacks: if you’re perpetually hungry like I am, I recommend you pack some snacks, especially if you’re on an airline that’s too cheap to give you a bag of peanuts or pretzels!
  • eye mask and earplugs: some airlines will offer this to you, but you’d be better off bringing your own.
  • translation dictionary: I packed this in my carry-on this time around, but I usually pack it in my backpack for quick access.
  • OPTIONAL but recommended: one set of clothes (a top, bottom, underwear) in case your luggage is forced to be checked in and *knock on wood* gets lost and you are in need of a change of clothes.

 

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Carry-On Items: These are items that you want to prioritize and keep an eye on since you never know if your checked luggage is going to get lost in the airport system forever…

Before I begin, I just want to give a shout-out to the person who invented luggage packing cubes. These are SO useful when you want to pack your stuff and I was a skeptic, but it really saves space when I pack my clothes 😀

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  • extra money: find some inconspicuous places to hide your extra cash, and don’t keep them all in one spot! You never know if the place you’re staying will have a thief so you don’t want them to take your entire stash.
  • clothing:
    • 3 shirts
    • 1 cardigan
    • 1 button-down shirt
    • 1 pair of shorts
    • 1 pair of pants or leggings
    • 1 bathing suit
    • 1 dress or skirt
    • 1 set of PJs
    • 1 pair of socks (you will be wearing the other pair)
    • 3 sets of underwear
    • 1 pair of flip flops
    • 1 pair of sneakers or boots (to wear on plane)
    • 1 hat/cap (and sunglasses)
  • power strip: your room may not have many outlets, so it’s wise to carry a power strip to plug in all of your electronics with little hassle.
  • toiletries:
    • shampoo bar: I’m sure many stores sell these nowadays, but I purchased mine from LUSH Cosmetics. Depending how long you’ll be traveling, I would pack one bar for every 2-3 months you’re away. I’m gonna do a review on them soon!
    • travel-size body wash*
    • travel-size lotion*
    • travel-size face wash
    • travel-size toothpaste
    • travel-size sunscreen
    • toothbrush
    • razor*
    • deodorant
    • toilet paper roll: this is particularly important if you’re going to a developing country that may not have the most accommodating bathroom facilities. I think it’s better to carry a roll with you at all times than to have an emergency situation and nothing to wipe yourself with, right? :X
    • hair ties and bobby pins
    • pads/tampons
    • Q-tips
    • nail clipper and filer
    • tweezers
    • extra pair of contact lens, lens case, and solution (if you wear contacts)
    • glasses and case (if you wear glasses)
    • OPTIONAL: makeup — remember you’re going on a trip to experience your surroundings, you don’t need to pack your entire life’s supply of makeup! Just pack what you NEED on a daily basis and call it a day.
  • medicines: in some countries, it is really difficult to get medicine without a prescription, even if you’re just looking for ibuprofen for a headache. I advise you to carry headache medicine, anti-diarrheals, laxatives, pepto bismol, allergy, and probiotics if you want to stay regular!
  • batteries and a flashlight
  • umbrella
  • tote bag
  • OPTIONAL: journal (I started journaling in Mexico and hope to continue to do it since I’ve been more forgetful when I don’t write things down, so let’s see how that goes :))

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