I set the plastic bag filled with homemade sandwiches in the passenger seat of my car before driving off. I had put together enough meals to feed 20 people this time and I was hopeful it´d be enough. As I drove through the downtown streets of the city, fiercely avoiding the wholes on the broken roads, the tired looking houses, the dead gardens and the bony stray dogs, were sad characters in this reality of struggling poverty. As a Colombian, I have seen some poverty, but today, being here, it felt far more real and sad than ever.
I parked in front of the white, ran-down house. The handwritten sing on top of the main door read, Refugio Temporal (Temporary Shelter). Four old men sat outside on the sidewalk watching the still air of the dirty and empty street. As I got out of my car I looked around to ensure that I saw nothing threatening, fully conscious that my appearance didn´t match my surroundings. The four men were of course curious, and warmly replied that they were having a good afternoon after I greeted them. They told me that they shared the tiny and extremely overcrowded shelter with another 40-50 people, some of whom had jobs as street vendors, and others -themselves included- too old to be hired, or to find anywhere else to go.
"I brought 20 meals if you´d take them." Their eyes turned wide, grateful and tearful. "Of course," they replied. One of the old men, too weak to stand up on his own, was assisted by his friend-or in this situation, his battle partner. They took the bag of sandwiches, and the fruit juices I had brought for them. In exchange I received their warm hugs and their sincere "gracias." I could find no better way to have been rewarded, but to see their smiles of joy and their gratefulness. "Do you have any extra shoes?" One man asked. "No, but I will be back soon with a pair for you."
With this promise, I kissed and hugged the men goodbye. I got in the car, and as I drove away, I thanked god for this experience, over and over and over again, and over again. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness, for the men´s presence; for their warmth; I was grateful for having had the opportunity help them in any way.
Today I am grateful, for this won´t be my last visit.
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After I sent a work email last Friday morning, I reached for my phone to scroll through my Facebook news-feed. Before my thumb could start scrolling, the realization of the emotional impact that this action would have on me, made me put my phone down and take a walk outside instead.
In Colombia almost 20 years ago, I was riding an old city bus next to my mother and sister. The driver drove fast through the humid air, while I stared out the window with the almost blinding sun rays. My gaze fixed at the top of a mountain, the same mountain where a few days before, one of my mother´s co-worker had been suffocated to death before his fingers were cut off. His head was found buried, still connected to his body and wrapped around a plastic bag. It was quite a violent time in my country and although my mom tried to protect me from seeing all the violence, it was like trying to cover the sun with one finger; impossible. It was my mom´s purpose to get my sister and I out of this violence, a purpose she achieved a few years later when we moved to the US.
My mother has always been an empathetic woman and she taught me to care for animals and others.
Today I realize that empathy is the ability of putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. Living through hardships - in my case, the violence in my country - teaches us that pain is very, undoubtedly real.
I have never considered myself a refugee fleeing war such as those fleeing to Europe and to North America;
nor have I been a black person constantly struggling for equality;
nor have I been a defenseless animal, victim of torture and cruelty done by us humans;
nor have I been in one of today´s popular mass murders;
No, I have not; yet, I CAN put myself in the shoes of all these victims, and feel what could only be a portion of the pain that they have endured.
There is no denying that hate is in the air. Donald Trump´s Republican Convention speech and the cheering that followed after every hate and discriminatory fueled statement, was painful to get through. The multiple mass murders happening weekly all around our world are multiplying in alarming numbers, and as painful as it is to watch, the comfort of choosing to turn a blind eye, of which I have been guilty myself, will very soon make all these acts of violence, just another "unfortunate" occurrence in the world.
Caring is hard, and you do run the risk of having a heartache like the one I have had for a few days. But turning a blind eye to injustice because “it is someone else´s battle to fight” implores the question, is staying out of the battle “not another form of complicity in oppression disguised under the banner of foreignness?”
Too often we are left alone to fight battles that are important to us. Too often we stay out of battles because they feel foreign to us, in the idea that they will never affect us personally; that is, until they do.
I believe that it is our duty as rational human beings to learn what is like to be a refugee, a victim or racism, today's terrorism, and an abused animal; in order for us to truly understand why we must not turn a blind eye to the pain. As foreign as we would like these acts of violence to be, they are very real and bring suffering to too many of us. The pains of today aren´t only in my heart, they affect a great number of us. Don´t turn a blind eye to your neighbor´s battle, join it, it will make us all stronger.
Bienvenidos to Tijuana's secret gem, Playas! Coming to this place has become a must every Saturday morning, when the weekend finally begins, the sun is out and the breeze is perfect! This Bohemian-like beach is only a 15 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of downtown Tijuana, and it is filled with restaurants, coffee shops and beautiful art. If you come to Tijuana at all, do yourself a favor and do not miss Playas!
The sand is warm, the air comfortably humid and the water is perfect temperature during the gorgeous summer months. The beach is mainly visited by local families, which gives it an authentic Mexican feeling, however, English is widely spoken in the area as the boarder with the US is only minutes away.
The vibe at Playas is calmed and chilled. People listen to lively music, usually Banda and Spanish Rock while soaking up the sun. There is no need to move at all from your comfy spot as vendors come around all day offering fresh fruit, pizza, coconut water and even umbrellas (in case you forget yours).
Coffee-shops, hookah lounges, acai bowls and even wine bars are abundant in the area... there is also ice-cream to beat the heat!
During the summer months this beach comes to life with multiple street performances, and at night, locals and tourists alike light bonfires and drink beer or wine until the early hours of the morning.
Every corner of Playas is covered with colorful murals. There is no doubt that art is so very important in Tijuana, but also that there are a lot of talented artists continuously emerging in this corner of Latin America.
If you have traveled to Latina America you know that murals aren't just decorative pieces of art, but they are more often than not used to communicate strong political statements such as this one:
"We are all migrants"
This is particularly a strong message, since hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees arrive to Tijuana, either to stay in the populous city, or as their last stop before risking their lives to step foot on US soil.
At the corner of Playas, where Mexico ends, these metal bars divide Playas with US Border Field State Park. It's an area of mixed emotions, where two very different worlds meet yet continue to be so strongly divided.
Playas the Tijuana, a little gem outside of the chaotic city, totally worth visiting.
If you've lived in the United States, there is a pretty good chance that you have witness an obnoxious heated argument about illegal immigration. Am I right?
It is true that In "the melting-pot" that is the US, immigration is a widely and openly discussed subject; even by those who are completely unqualified to speak of the issue.
But let me tell you a secret that may surprise you:
Americans reach out to me on a daily for advise on how to bypass immigration regulations when traveling to Mexico.
Are you surprised?
In the past six months I have been working in the busiest international boarder-crossing in the world: San Diego and Tijuana. It´s messy, crowded and slow.
Everyday, I am asked by hundreds of American travelers how to avoid paying their Mexican tourist permits.
Now, this permit isn't hard to obtain, you request it at the crossing and it costs an average of $25 USD.
"If I use this boarder-crossing will I be stuck paying the Mexican tourist fee?" is a common question,
BUT these complaints are common too:
"I was forced to pay a fee to bribe the Mexican immigration police" or,
"He [immigration officer] basically wanted to pocket the money..."
Because many American tourists going into Mexico don´t take the precocious of learning about the documents that they are required to have when crossing this international boarder, Americans tend to believe that they are being robbed by Mexican police.
In a way, this is fair assumption, as the Mexican police do have a reputation as the bribery-kings. Yet this assumption is quite an insult for immigration officials, who are actually just doing their job.
For a country, as the US, that so widely and openly speaks up against illegal immigration, it is ironic that when its citizens travel abroad, not only do they not inform themselves about immigration laws abroad, but when they do, such a large number of Americans seek ways to avoid what is a simple and affordable immigration document.
Did you know that for a Mexican citizen to come into the US, not only do they have to
a. get a passport,
b. apply for their tourist visa in advance,
c. pay the fees for this process,
d. attend an interview, BUT ALSO,if approved, they must
e. pay for another permit (called the I-94 permit for those who are skeptical) once they actually touch US soil?
Now talk about a complicated immigration process!
I witness Americans who will deliberately enter Mexico through the "MEXICAN NATIONALS" line in order to avoid paying for their tourist permits. I even heard a girl, as early as last night, scream "you guys are dumb," to her friends, who went through the FOREIGNERS lane in order to enter Mexico legally.
Yes, illegal immigration is real, but it is also a two-way street...Interestingly ironic, isn't it?
Here it is, my most sincere, sad-face blog post to date: lots of things have sucked in the past few months...
Something has happened that I had never experienced in my 26 years of life, and it has not been pretty. Over the past 2 months life has been throwing the fattest curveballs my way and it's gotten out of hand at times. My San Diegan friends can't believe my bad luck, and I've had a hard time convincing them that it hasn't always been this way for me.
I was born feet first, which may not mean a great deal to you, but in my country it is a common belief that this random occurrence will bring me the greatest luck for the rest of my life. I have always secretly - and unreasonably - accredited all the great things that have happened to me to that uncommon detail of my birth.
But not in San Diego I guess... just look at this poor thing
Fortunately I got out of that accident with just a bruised arm...but the car didn't make it so I´ve become carless in a country where public transportation is not the best.
But why am I ranting to you about this? Mainly because I really want to continue finding absolutely awesome content for new blog posts that bring you laughter, adventure, and that 'I-want-to-go-there feeling.' However, that is pretty tough to do when I've got so much in my mind, like: damn I had only had my car for two months; or, my roommate is crazy and I'd rather be homeless than continue living there; or I'm going to have to file, not one but two sexual harassment complains to my manager about two of my coworkers... and the list goes on, but phew! here I am, trying to keep it real and wanting to write about all the awesome things that San Diego offered me during what my friends call, my "San Diegan honeymoon period," or before things went to crap.
But I am also telling you all this because one of my goals is to post once a week, which of course has not been the case since September! While looking for some inspiration for a new blog post I found a professional blogger who said, "always keep it real," so I thought I´d explain what's going on. Now you know why I've been so quiet lately; but also know that Paur Travels is not simply shutting down, just taking a little break. ;)
Happy upcoming holidays to all and perhaps, if it applies to you: keep it real, it might liberate you.
Every September, the northern Nevada sky is colored with over 100 majestic hot air balloons in the world´s largest free hot air balloon event: The Great Reno Balloon Race. The catch? Getting out of bed to the cold outdoors at 4:45am.
This year, the more adventurous me decided to be push myself out of bed and attend for the first time, not once, but two days in a row. It was completely worth it, so much so that in case you missed it, I have put together the top 10 Instagram photographs from this year´s event.
Do you remember the last time you lived in the moment and you felt so high on life you wouldn't have changed one single aspect of it? When nothing else mattered and you were completely free of all worries? When you were surrounded by like-minded people with whom you shared intense relationships, if only for a few days?
This is exactly what travel does. It provides a high, so high that that I have never experienced doing anything else.
Ready to see what this high looks like?
These are my two absolute favorite travel videos, until I create my own ;) Enjoy!
I thought about bragging for having hiked over 20 miles non-stop, in a single day, but the truth is that after the 10th mile, and the realization that I was hopelessly lost in a desertous mountain and out of water, I began to ask myself why I had even considered going on my own. I´m writing this from the mountains, still out of water and still lost, joking! please don´t send rescue, I eventually managed to limp my way back. Here it is, how not to hike Lake Tahoe, from a foreign, city-girl´s experience.
When English is Your Second Language
Alright people, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a whole lot of outrageous stories from the South African wild.
Seriously, tie yourself to your chair, it´s about to get craaazy!
(***Disclaimer: I never drop f boms…it´s really not my style, but on this post, you betcha I will!)
Have you ever dreamed of having an exciting job as a scuba-diving instructor in the Mediterranean Sea? or perhaps as a DJ for hundreds of people? or maybe be a Safari guide in wild South Africa, along with lions, elephants and more?
South Africa is home to some of the most astounding creatures in the wold. From its graceful leopards, to its stunning birds, South Africa is paradise to those who can truly appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the country´s wildlife. The way in which these animals move so gracefully, their elegant furs, and their colorful feathers are some of the small details that makes it worth while flying across the world to admire with your very own eyes.
The following is a collection of some of the most astonishing photography of African wildlife, captured by Photographer Simone Lapin-Peregrini.
This female cheetah stands on top of a termite mound looking for prey at sunrise.
If you haven´t been to Colombia, you probably haven´t heard about all of the street art work with which the local graffiti artists have painted the streets of downtown Bogota. In addition to the very unexpected/peculiar weather of Bogota, its streets in downtown are filled with surprises: live music at Chorro de Quevedo, funky restaurants, bars and beautifully done graffiti art by local and foreign artists.
These artists are extremely passionate. Through their art, they express not only their feelings, but also the history of their home town, their people, and of their country. If you are ready to see magical art outside of a museum, Bogota is a must see.
In 2013, the current Mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, passed a legislature making graffiti (in designated walls) legal. Prior to this, graffiti artists had to go on the streets late at night, hiding from the police and risking having to spend the night in jail.
Even with the prohibition of street graffiti, downtown Bogota was already filled with astonishing graffiti art. Today, world renown artists from all over the world are coming to the country to leave their mural size graffitis.
One of Colombian´s most famous graffiti artist goes by the name of Stinkfish. Do not be fooled by his silly name, his work leaves no doubt of his artistic talent.
Today, different companies offer guided graffiti tours of downtown Bogota. These are commonly done by artists who fully understand the meaning behind each graffiti, and the history that comes with it.
In this form of art, local and foreign artists have been able to express all over downtown, the social, political, cultural and moral values, as well as issues of the country and the world.
Colombian, living and traveling the world. Currently in Tijuana, Mexico and working in San Diego, CA.