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.

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!

Travel Blogger Relay: Top Three Travel Moments

It seems silly to write this post only a few weeks after writing about my favorite places in the world, but I felt compelled to take the challenge Low Cost Holidays proposed in choosing your three top travel moments in their travel blogger relay (because only three? Impossible!) So when Lauren of Lateral Movements passed me the baton on the Green team, I joined team captains Erica and Shaun from Over Yonderlust, and picked out three travel moments that stand out pretty vividly.

1. Dancing with artisan rug weavers in the mountains of Midelt, Morocco

About ten American women and I came to Morocco with Nest, a non-profit organization that helps women artists in developing countries. After a six hour bus ride through the mountains of Fez, we are greeted at someone’s home by a group of Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and seat us around three large tables where we are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, and fruit. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in New York. At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I remembered why I came here, and why I need to continue taking trips like this.

2. Listening to Fado music with locals in Portugal

The concierge at our hotel who we had befriended over our week long stay invited us on our last night in Portugal to see him play guitar with his traditional Fado group. We met Ricardo and his wife Elena at the restaurant where this took place, and Elena sat with us as Ricardo went to set up his guitar with the other musicians. It was a small restaurant, with only about 10 tables inside. Everyone in this restaurant clearly knew each other very well and looked at us quizzically, wondering why these foreign strangers had come to join in their weekly Fado tradition. Elena introduced us to our waitress, Matilda, and then suggested we order the cod. I was so sick of cod by this point in the trip, but it seemed rude to decline her suggestion. Before the music started, Elena prepared us for exactly what was about to happen, which we were so grateful for. The tradition of playing Fado music is very different than anything I’ve seen in America. The closest form of music I can compare it to is opera. After our meal was served, the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, everyone went completely quiet and the four men softly began playing their Fado guitars – these beautiful, round bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune, which I was fascinated by, but Elena whispered to us that he was one of the worst Fado singers in their group. Other singers from the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Then, to our surprise, our waitress, Matilda, took her turn. Once this petite woman began singing such an emotional, moving piece, I finally understood why Fado was such an incredible art form. She put her entire soul into this performance, conducting the entire thing with her eyes closed, and bringing the entire restaurant to tears. Elena told me that earlier this year, Matilda had lost her husband to cancer, and this was her way of expressing her grief. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel how much Matilda ached by listening to her song. We eventually finished our meal and said goodbye to the group, and Ricardo and Elena drove us back to the hotel. We hugged them and thanked them profusely for giving us this amazing, truly unique and authentic Portugese experience on our last night in Lisbon.

3. Enjoying steak, wine, olive oil bread and spectacular scenery at O’Fournier Winery in Argentina’s Uco Valley

I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall just below the monumental Andes mountains. The evening before, I had developed an obsession with the olive oil bread that we were served at what was named the best restaurant in Argentina, Nadia O.F. And Nadia’s husband was the owner of the winery we were currently touring. To my extreme delight, we were once again served the delicious olive oil bread, along with a flight of rich, full bodied wines. To top it off, I was then served what I truly believe was the best steak of my life. I don’t know why two of my top three travel moments took place on the last day of my trip – maybe it’s the necessity to cling to those last remaining moments of vacation before departing for home, or maybe I was just really lucky to have these grand finales at the end of each journey. I do know that thinking back to that last day in Argentina, to be sitting in that experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) is a memory I will always cherish.

And now for the last step in the relay, I pass the baton to the one and only Condor Kristen! Go girl go! Make us proud!

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.

A Horse Named Loco

On day three in Argentinian wine country, we wanted a bit of a break from drinking in between our two full day wine tours. We walked past a sign in town that showed a picture of people horseback riding in the mountains and it was decided. We asked our hotel to set something up, and they graciously took care of everything. We were driven up through the mountains, through completely desolate land for what seemed like hours, until we came across a tiny little village and our driver let us out at a little log cabin with a horse barn next door. It was like out of a freaking fairytale.

We were told by Pablo, our guide, who spoke very little English, which horses to step up onto, and he demonstrated how to give them commands using the reigns. I had rode horses before, when I was very young, but this was Matt’s first time. Lucky for him, he got the normal horse who understood how to listen to commands. I nicknamed my horse “Loco,” since no matter how much I tried to control her, she would just gallop away down the path when she wanted, stopping to eat some leaves whenever she felt the need. Matt said one of the most hilarious moments was hearing my horse pick up speed galloping away while I screamed, “stopp!! stop it!!” Despite Loco’s wildness, she was a pretty good horse and could tell when I would start to get nervous and she did slow down just a bit when I pulled back on the reigns.

Aside from Loco’s little diversions, it was a lovely ride through the mountains. Pablo kept going off far ahead of us, and was usually out of sight so it sort of felt like Matt and I were alone with our horses, trotting through fields and mountains and looking out at panoramic views of the Andes.

We rode for two hours, and when we got back to the little log cabin, Pablo ushered us inside where there was a table and two chairs set up in front of a fireplace, with fresh steak cooking over the fire. The table was set with two place settings, a beautiful tomato salad and a bottle of red wine. He took the steak off the fire and served it to us, then excused himself and closed the door to the log cabin so Matt and I could enjoy a private lunch by the fire. We giggled a lot because the situation, as romantic as it was, was sort of ridiculous – we felt like we had the Andes all to ourselves all morning and now we were having a private little lunch in an adorable cabin together. Upon telling this story to friends when we got back, they said it sounded like an episode of The Bachelor, a show I’m embarrassed to admit I’m familiar with.

We enjoyed our bottle of wine, finished lunch and eventually said goodbye to the little mountain town we had spent the day in. When we got back to Mendoza, it was still early, around 4 pm, so we decided to check out the wine tasting bar across the street from the hotel. We were served our flight of Malbecs, and an hour later our buzz had taken us to the outdoor pool of the hotel and we were swimming even though it was 60 degrees outside. So much for our sober day in wine country.

Buenos Aires Beats: La Bomba De Tiempo

We were exhausted after our day in Uruguay. All we wanted to do was go back to our hotel and throw ourselves into bed. But we had heard of this supposedly cool drum show that only happens on Monday nights in Buenos Aires, and this was our last night there. So we carried our tired bodies off the Buquebus and over to the Konex Cultural Center where we entered what looked like a parking lot.

The show didn’t even take place there. We were led behind the parking lot to what almost resembled a dreary looking alley with concrete pillars. In the alley, a handful of girls dressed in ordinary cotton t-shirts, tank tops and cargo pants, one wearing a jean skirt with leggings, walked out to the center of the crowd. There was no way to know until they took their places behind the various percussion instruments that these were the evening’s performers. Leggings girl gave a little howl and they were off. Once they started playing, beating the crap out of these instruments to make the most awesome rhythmic experience for everyone around them, we understood the big deal about this show. I also loved that it was all chicks – one girl playing drums is somewhat of a rare thing to see but a dozen amazingly skilled ladies conducting and playing synchronized percussion? One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Check them out – the ladies of Bomba de Tiempo

Watching the leaders as they took position in front of the group was another thing that captivated us, we couldn’t stop watching as they used the most simple hand motions to direct the whole thing, speaking their own language to each other and allowing us the audience to witness the beautiful music that came from it.

After about an hour the ladies were done and another group took the stage – all men, dressed in professional, matching uniforms, doing the same thing but on a much larger scale. By then the crowd had nearly doubled (I guess locals don’t come for the opening act) and the vibe of happiness and excitement in the space was palpable. Our exhaustion hadn’t completely gone away, but we just kept dancing, too busy getting caught up in the whole experience to care about how tired we were. The men put on an amazing show but the ladies who kicked it off deserve a ton of credit. I walked away thinking I should do everything in my power to bring this show to the states. But maybe it belongs here, in this alley in the back of a parking lot in Buenos Aires, where every Monday night, locals and tourists get to experience what is likely the best drum show in the world.