Who Run the World?

It’s a really good time to be a girl. Last week, global leaders gathered at Mashable’s Social Good Summit and while I only attended the last day of the summit, one major takeaway was clear = we can end poverty if we just invest in girls. Last night, Part One of the Half the Sky documentary premiered on CBS, and Sheryl WuDunn so articulately stated, “Educate a girl and she will change the world around her.” Next week, millions of events, fundraisers, talks and celebrations will take place to commemorate The UN’s Day of The Girl. 

Why so much double X love lately? Because of journalists like Nick Kristof, and because of the instantaneous global access social media provides, people are starting to have a much richer understanding of how bad things really are for girls growing up in the developing world. The horrors are unimaginable, how poor village girls are sold to brothels at the age of 8, raped as toddlers, burned with acid, or forced to give birth before their bodies are developed enough to bear that burden. Go look up what a fistula is and where in the world it happens and tell me you’re not compelled to do something to help these poor girls. The issue has always been that these girls are so undervalued so nobody has paid much attention to them. So as a result they have no means or knowledge about how to get out of their situation, with no access to education or no knowledge of anything but their one remote village, it has been almost impossible for them to make a different life for themselves and their future generations.

Two years ago when the Girl Effect video came out, I wrote about how lucky I felt to have been born in America. The amazing thing that’s happened in bringing all these horrible issues to light, is that people are paying attention. People have started to do something about this problem, and change is happening. Organizations are popping up everywhere, from fistula hospitals in Ethiopia to foundations that invest in female business owners in the developing world, to organizations that invest solely in girls’ education so they can try to prevent the problem before it starts. Girls who are educated are more likely to marry later, have fewer children, and to provide for their families, lifting them (and their communities) out of the cycle of poverty.  

I hope you’ll watch the second part of Half the Sky tonight, participate in The Day of the Girl, start a fundraiser of your own or donate to one of the organizations below, which I personally love so much. If one little girl can trek two hours in a riverboat every day just to be the only one in her small Cambodian village to graduate from high school, we can easily click a button to help inspire more girls to follow that path, right?

Here are some things you can click:

http://halfthesky.org/en/take-action

http://www.shesthefirst.org/donate/

http://www.buildanest.org/

And just so we’re ending on a lighter note, a reminder text from Hillary.

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Barns and Castles in Connecticut

In the years I’ve known Rebecca, she’s never really done anything traditional. Starting her own nonprofit after grad school, moving around the country multiple times a year, dropping everything for a last minute trip to Kenya, the list goes on. That’s why it came as no surprise when we attended her very unique wedding in a beautiful barn one August evening up in Litchfield, Connecticut. Aside from the picturesque setting, she had small touches throughout the ceremony and reception that incorporated Nest – a green belt across her white dress, hand-painted napkins and handmade stationary as favors, all designed by Nest artisans in India.

After the ceremony, we spent the evening eating freshly made pizza (the brick oven was driven in on a truck!) with ingredients from local farms, catching up with old friends and dancing barefoot on the grass to a bluegrass trio.

The next day we went to a breakfast at the home where Rebecca and her family were staying – and we were absolutely blown away by this place. Called the “Litchfield Castle,” upon entering the grounds you’re transported to a different country and a different time period. It was hard to believe we were in America, in 2012, only two hours away from NYC. Just take a look at the photos.

 

See what I mean? To top it all off, Rebecca and her new husband took a vacation in one of my favorite places – Portugal! Now the happily married couple is back home and back in action as they try to make the world a better place. Congratulations to them both!

Does Traveling as a Couple Make or Break Your Relationship?

When I was 21, someone who I really looked up to told me that traveling with someone is the best way to test a relationship and see if it works.  Steph at Twenty-Something Travel wrote about this recently, right before I left for Argentina, so obviously it got me thinking, and maybe even had me a bit worried that the trip would be a make or break for my relationship.

As we began our trip, I realized it was all just silly buildup and unnecessary worry. I was traveling with someone I knew extremely well, and there weren’t any surprises for either of us in terms of how we reacted to certain situations. Plus I think we passed a few tests that made me realize that there’s a good chance I may have found myself a permanent travel buddy:

Test #1: Determine what you want out of your travels:

Matt and I love the beach, but neither of us want our main vacation for the year to be a relaxing trip to the Caribbean. We both want to see as much culture as possible, spend our time meeting people and exploring interesting places. We want to eat delicious food. We want to experience the entire world and do everything there is to do.  The night we went to Bomba de Tiempo, my back was killing me, we were tired from being up early to go to Uruguay that morning, and we had reached the point of exhaustion. I kept propping my back up against a concrete column to give it support as I listened to the music and watched the show. Matt asked if we needed to go back to the hotel, but despite my backache, I REALLY didn’t want to leave and I could tell he didn’t either. We both wanted to wait it out despite our physical exhaustion, and we’re so glad we did because that was one of the most fun experiences we had on the entire trip.

Test #2: Know and accept your partner’s limits:

The one thing we didn’t see eye to eye on was determining what was “safe.”  I am used to traveling with other girls, and when girls walk down a foreign city street that’s abandoned, we are automatically on super alert because we were raised to watch out for our safety – maybe even a bit too much. Not that boys aren’t raised to be safe, but it’s on a completely different level. Matt is used to traveling with boys, who just want to wander around, explore and purposely get lost.  The two times I felt a bit unsafe, he did a good job of easing my nerves – when we got lost in Mendoza’s San Martin park after being warned not to stray too far from the lake, he pointed out that there were other people around – and as he did so, a group of young schoolchildren walked by, and we both laughed.  Another time, late at night on a street in Buenos Aires with no other people aside from the two of us, I thought back to an email I had received from a friend who said that many travelers are susceptible to pickpocketing and mugging. Naturally, my nerves kicked in as we walked down this abandoned street. Again, Matt offered to go back to the hotel, but I didn’t want to, I just wanted to find other signs of normal people in the vicinity. As if on cue, an elderly man walking a tiny white poodle came strolling around the corner. Again, laughter ensued and nerves were calmed.

Matt also knows I’m not super outdoorsy, and though he might want to do a fun hike up the mountains or an outdoor rafting adventure trip, he knew I’d be miserable and didn’t push me to go with him. I scheduled some time in the hotel spa, which had no interest to Matt at all. (Although after a few glasses of wine that afternoon I was able to convince him to go into the outdoor pool with me.)

Test #3: Compromise.

I’m so Type A it’s ridiculous. I could plan out every minute of every trip and be thrilled to do it because it means we’ll be able to see everything that was recommended and everything we “need” to see.  (Ask any of my friends about our trip to Italy in 2009. I had things down to the minute, including bathroom breaks – no exaggeration) Matt just wants to go and explore and decide on the fly where to go and what we should do. And I’ve learned to appreciate that, as I think he’s learned that it isn’t always a bad idea to plan a few things in advance. We knew about Casa Mun, Bomba de Tiempo, and the day trip to Uruguay because of pre-vacation research and making reservations well in advance (I actually received several emails from these places telling me I was trying to make reservations way too early and to check back when our trip was less than a month away. Yes I realize how completely insane I am.) But I also left a few days open, and we were able to walk around and explore neighborhoods in Buenos Aires that I’m sure many tourists overlook. To be honest, I’m not even sure of the names of half these neighborhoods or what streets we walked around, but it was nice to have this free time to wander, to be flexible, and to stop into random restaurants we saw along the way that certainly aren’t in the Lonely Planet books.

I think the biggest test of all though, was how we felt after the trip. And we both came back with a big appreciation for each other, we weren’t annoyed and we weren’t sick of each other. In fact, over a few glasses of red wine and a huge Argentinian steak, we decided to move in together.

Did the trip define us as a couple and make me see anything differently? Not at all. Maybe it made us a bit closer because we have this new shared experience, but in terms of “testing the relationship,” I’m going to say no. I have a few people I know I can travel with – Randi, Joya, and now I can very happily add Matt to the list.

Do you think traveling as a couple will make or break you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Drink It In: Argentina’s Wine Country

Argentina was amazing, but the absolute highlight of the trip was wine country. We had four days there, and signed up for two full-day wine tours, one of the Lujan de Cuyo region and one of the Uco Valley region. Both were beautiful, especially since we visited during their fall, which meant the harvest was over but the vineyards had turned into glorious fall colors. We also lucked out because the week before we arrived there had been a rare snowfall in the Andes which stand tall above the wineries. The snowcapped mountains atop the vast fields of reds, oranges and violets made for a very rare and picturesque landscape for us to enjoy all the wine.

Another key factor in making this portion of the trip so incredible was the company we used to book the wine tours. Ampora Wine Tours does a phenomenal job of hand picking wineries in each region that are very different from each other, from the massive ones who export all over the world to the smaller, family owned wineries. When you’re visiting 4-5 wineries a day, they tend to all blend together (no pun intended) – but with Ampora, we can recall each winery vividly and have really great memories that stand out from each one. To give you a taste (again, no pun) of our favorite wineries, I’ve compiled a list below. These are the must-visits if you’re heading to Mendoza:

Pulenta Estate, Lujan de Cuyo

This winery, owned by two dudes who love fast cars, had one of the best views in the Lujan de Cuyo region. The woman who gave us the tour was our favorite on-site guide by far, and we had an excellent wine and cheese pairing here. More importantly, Pulenta Estate had my absolute favorite wine. They don’t sell it in the US so I bought a bottle on site and somehow got it back to the states in one piece. The wine, a cabernet malbec blend, has a ton of different aromas and flavors, especially as you smell the wine and enjoy the aftertaste. I couldn’t quite determine one flavor that stood out most, so our guide pointed it out – green peppers. In a wine! Sounds weird, but it’s actually amazing, and like no other wine I’ve ever tasted. That bottle will be saved for a very special occasion.

Ruca Malen, Lujan de Cuyo

I can sum up what I loved about this place in two words: food and scenery. And when I told the folks at Ruca Malen I was lactose intolerant they created a very special menu just for me. Five decadent courses served outdoors in front of red and orange fields, snowcapped mountains in the background, with glass after glass of delicious wine made from the fields in front of us. This, my friends, is what vacation should be.

Gimenez Rilii, Uco Valley

This was a small, family owned winery. Aside from having the best empanadas in the world, we felt right at home here. We tasted the wine right from the barrel, and really got a feel for the entire winemaking process when there aren’t any fancy distillers to electronically control the maceration and fermentation stages. Gimenez Rilii’s wine is made almost by hand. There was also a really cute dog hanging out here.

O’Fournier, Uco Valley 

If there’s one thing I learned at O’Fournier, it’s that money actually can buy happiness! I’m kidding. Kind of. No really, I’m kidding. You already know that this is one of my top five places in the whole world, so there’s not much more I can say about it except, the olive oil bread, the views, the sweet but respect-commanding man who owns the winery, the wine itself, the views again, and the steak. And the olive oil bread.

Another key thing about Ampora is their selection of tour guides and commitment to keeping the groups small. We were told the most they’ll ever bring on a tour is 5-6 people, but since we were there outside of peak summer season, Matt and I actually had an entire private tour. The guides were amazing, and had such an incredible knowledge of the wine region, had grown up in the surrounding areas, and it became apparent that they had quite literally dedicated their lives to learning about and teaching others about great wine.

I had a really hard time coming home after this part of the trip.

 

 

Yes, I took this last photo myself. Color popping effects courtesy of instagram.

The Urge for Going

So much of what I write here is about where I want to go instead of where I have gone. While I can’t travel all the time due to a number of circumstances (money, vacation time, people willing to join me, etc.), I try to travel as often as possible. Something I’ve learned is that one of the best parts of travel is the anticipation leading up to it.

As I sit here over what I still call “winter break,” I’m scrolling through Facebook updates and Twitter statuses of what seems to be everyone I know announcing their winter travel plans. Costa Rica, Florida, Europe, Hawaii. I haven’t even boarded a plane since August. This may be the longest stretch I’ve gone without heading anywhere new or exciting, and it’s sort of eating away at me.

Last month, two of my travel stories were published on Fathomaway.com – one about Morocco and one about Portugal. Reliving those stories just makes me want to get away even more. So while no travel plans have been finalized for 2012, let’s get excited about one trip that MIGHT happen. Because even if I never end up going to any of these places, it never hurts to dream a little.

Before I go into the details of my next trip, let me share some stats I learned from a supermodel. A woman dies every 90 seconds from pregnancy complications. 90% of these deaths are preventable. So many women around the world simply don’t have the access to healthcare, education and contraceptives. And one more shocking stat – pregnancy complications is the number one cause of death for all women worldwide between the ages of 15-19.

My sister Lisa, a medical student hoping to specialize in women’s health, is on the board of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Foundation), an organization that helps with maternal and women’s health in developing countries. They’re planning a trip to a maternal health clinic in Mexico this March, and Lisa and I hope to join them. We’ll be teaching them about prenatal care and women’s health, delivering medical supplies – and most likely learning a lot from them.

Yes, this trip is not all about helping the women – it’s about my need to travel and see what’s going on in the world – even if what’s going on over there might be a little tough to see. But why not try to make a little bit of a difference in the world while fulfilling your own dreams? After all, one of the best parts of charity is the reward of how good you feel after doing a little bit to help others.

So for my last post of 2011, let’s remember that while trying so hard to live out our own dreams, with a little bit of extra effort, we can help others who are less fortunate. Here are some links in case you’ve been inspired to help with maternal mortality – by donating to IPPF, Every Mother Counts, or CARE.

Happy New Year!

Beneath the Matala Moon

Here’s a song that makes me want to hop on a plane and just go ANYWHERE in the world:

Carey by Joni Mitchell

There’s something about the way Joni Mitchell articulates exactly how she felt while in a place she was traveling to, while spending time with the people she met there. She knows exactly how to paint a picture with her words and make you feel like you were there, too.

“Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam, or maybe I’ll go to Rome,

And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers round my room,

but let’s not talk about fare thee wells now, the night is a starry dome,

And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock n’ roll beneath the matala moon…”