A Travellerspoint blog

Ahhh Papua New Guinea

General Observations About Papua New Guinea

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I know enough of the world now to have almost lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything.
― Charles Dickens

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I was excited for my voyage to visit Scuba Steve in Papua New Guinea. But after 47 countries, I kind of feel like Charles Dickens' quote, but I was surprised by how much more PNG challenged me as a traveler. It was impressive.

Here are a few of my observations about PNG and getting there.

Papua New Guinea is a stunningly beautiful country with a plethora of natural resources. Fruits and vegetables grow easily in the fertile soil. You would have to try to go hungry. Food literally falls out of the sky.

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Even though it was winter, PNG was hot and humid. I averaged two showers a day and never did I touch the hot water faucet.

The road conditions around Madang left much to be desired. It appears that the damage still remains from bombing runs during WWII between the Japanese and Americans.

PNG follows a tribal system that values tribes more than the state. A tribe protects and takes care of everyone within it. If anyone is wronged, injured, or killed from their tribe, the tribe automatically seeks retribution.

Along the highway exist massive holes that could swallow small children, even large ones. When PNG tries to repair these, villages do not allow them to be repaired. They prefer to fix them themselves. This is done in order to stop traffic and demand "fees" for the work that they completed.

Flying Business Class to PNG and having access to the airline lounges were well worth the effort, if just for the food.

The XXXX beer (Australia) that we drank on our flight from Cairns, Australia to Port Moresby was blessed personally by Billy Moore, but his blessing did not affect the taste.

The PNG beer SP, was referred to a few times as 'Sewer Piss', but it was definitely better than XXXX.

The key to tell the difference between someone from the coast and someone from the highlands is by studying their calves. Highlanders are constantly climbing and descending steep slopes, thus the large calves.

Scattered around the St. Fidelis Seminary are WWII Japanese antiaircraft guns.

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We saw a single caged cassowary on Kar Kar Island. What a fascinating bird. The colorful head looked prehistoric and their middle toe is armed with a dangerously sharp claw. When I first approached the bird, he let out a gurgling howl. Sounds like Pepper's first girlfriend.

Both cocoa and coconuts are very labor intensive with delicious rewards.

PNG Journalism carries chauvinistic and elementary tones.

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PNG grass cutting combined with heat and humidity is no laughing matter.

Betel nut spit looks a lot like blood.

The Bennett family in Melbourne is still great. They have just grown up a bit.

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Bennett Family - 2006

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Bennett Family - 2013

PNG was a great life experience, not sure if I will be in that neck of the woods anytime soon.

John

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Posted by TulsaTrot 20:39 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged papua_new_guinea Comments (1)

Refrain from Sex, Part 2

More Musings about PNG and my infatuation with coconuts

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Papua New Guinea is truly a unique place in the world.

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No Smoking and No . . . ?

Think about this for a second. The second largest island in the world is New Guinea and on the eastern half is the relatively new country of Papua New Guinea where roughly 750 languages are spoken. That is one unique language for every 10,000 people. Pull out your Google translator and see how much that helps you in PNG.

Our arrival to the pier with Father Bogdan was thrilling to say the least. But we did arrive with Pepper only soiling his underwear. That is a problem only the fish in the Bismark Sea could solve. Compared to the truck ride up the coast, our boat ride was smooth and relaxing, no need to dodge potholes. We arrived to Kar Kar Island safely and relaxed.

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PNG is a gorgeous place

The View a Few Steps from Father Bogdan's Moldy House

For me as a Westerner, Father Bogdan exemplifies a missionary priest in many ways. It's not the fact that his residence is a three bedroom house standing idyllically on stilts among coconut trees lining a black volcanic beach as his house would be considered luxurious compared to those of his neighbors. But, and this is a big butt. He lives in a tropical climate where the walls of his home are constantly bombarded by some form of water. I would safely assume that Father Bogdan would not consider himself a clean freak (his fridge didn't work and kept the frozen chicken in a cabinet under the sink). As a result of many environmental factors, his house is infested with mold. Not the friendly green mold, but the black kind that considers confident enough to overthrow a small island country.

The Single Road Circling Kar Kar Island

There are two families that cultivate cocoa and coconuts on the island of Kar Kar. Since Father Bogdan was busy saying Sunday Mass at several spots around the island, we were dropped in the capable hands of the Goodyear Family for a day. They are one of the two families with plantations. Paul is originally from Papua New Guinea and Barbara is from Germany. She initially came to spend a year as a volunteer, but met Paul, and had three beautiful children, and has made Kar Kar her home. Paul's brother Tim recently returned from Australia to help out with the family business.

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Being the kind and good people the Goodyears are, Paul and Tim took part of the day to show us a good portion of their land. Pepper and I rode in the back of their Land Rover with Tim while ol' man Scuba Steve sat in the truck with Paul. We learned how labor intensive cocoa and coconuts can be. The long road to having cocoa in your chocolate starts with little white fleshy pods inside a bright yellow fruit. Through a process of drying the small acidic bean, you end up with a small brown bean that is used to make chocolate.

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The Cocoa Production Process

Ever since my time in the Cook Islands, I have had an infatuation with the resourcefulness of coconuts. They are such a versatile fruit. They provide nourishment in varied ways. You can eat a young coconut, a slimy flesh coconut, or a mature coconut. All are delicious. Plus, if you find one with coconut milk, it's a nutrient rich drink. Coconuts even provide dessert and an aperitif. Within some young coconuts, there is a sweet marshmallow type of flesh. Plus, if you have a bottle of rum hanging around, bam, instant party.

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After three days of small island living in Kar Kar, it was time to return to the big island. Back at the St. Fidelis Seminary, one of the chores that requires daily attention in this equatorial climate is the grass that is constantly growing. On average, Scuba Steve cuts the grass for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday. As a small form of appreciation, I decided to help cut the grass and then I recruited Pepper.

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Just a Portion of the Grass Cut

In general, I have always enjoyed cutting grass. In theory, two hours cutting grass should be a stroll in the park. But oh no, not with PNG grass. The reality is PNG grass kicked my butt. I was ill prepared for the lethal combination of the heat and humidity, the spongy soil under thick bladed grass, the fear of having to dodge falling coconuts, and random assaults by ants. Halfway through cutting the grass, I began feeling a bit lightheaded. Fortunately, it rained for 15 minutes. At the end of our "service", four hours of grass cutting equated to having completed 1/20 of the campus. If you ever want to know the key to weight lose, cut grass in PNG.

I celebrated my 36th birthday (really?!?) in PNG. Unbeknown to me, the Capuchin Brothers and volunteers made me a cake for my bday. We toasted my 36 years with a little Gentlemans Johnny Walker, cake, and mint chocolate ice cream (12 chocolate chips in the entire 3 gallon container).

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Do Not Have Sex!

The Papua New Guinea Post Courier had an article that caught my eye. It was titled, "Do Not Have Sex! Jail Boss Tells Female Officers to Stop Having Sexual Intercourse with Prisoners". The intriguing item about the article was that full blame was not placed on any of the prisoners themselves, but the female officers. The Police Commissioner Martin Balthazar (whose name came up often in the paper) stated that the prison has "no place for women who have no ethical morals". Obviously the prison does have a few spots available for unethical men. But honestly, how tough is prison when the female guards decide for their coffee break to skip the coffee and just have a little copulation.

On the second page of the headline article, Balthazar simply said that women "should just keep their legs closed". The reason this article was in the paper on the front page, other than reminding women to quit fornicating in prison with criminals, was the fact that the "notorious criminal William Kapris" and two other dangerous criminals had escaped. Honestly, how hard would it be for a criminal to escape in these challenging conditions (if they even really wanted to).

Prisoner: "Excuse me Officer Jodahazar, before we begin, I think I really should wash up."
Officer: "Sure take my keys over in my pants over there to use our officer bathroom. No, not that one, because that one lets you out of this place. There, that one. Now you hurry up you little sex kitten!"

I could go on forever, but for your sake, let's bring this to an end.

Question of the week - Papua New Guinea comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, what country is on the other half?

First correct answer will receive a postcard from the Grand Cayman Islands in a month and a half.

How About a Little Grilled Octopus

Posted by TulsaTrot 09:27 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged newspapers papua_new_guinea kar_kar_island karkarisland Comments (3)

Refrain from Sex, Part 1

And Other Lessons Learned in PNG

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I would move to Texas in a second. - Father Adrian (Polish Priest living in PNG)

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An enormous pothole formed in the middle of a busy street. Deep enough that when it rained, the hole filled with water. Plenty of water. Enough water that children used this as a swimming pool. That is until a crocodile decided to commandeer and reside in the children's street pool.

That is a true story that appeared in the national PNG newspaper. So did other interesting stories.

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Due to the fact that our flight from Cairns arrived into Port Moresby 55 minutes before our next flight, we weren't allowed on our final flight. That gave us the chance the next morning in the domestic departure lounge to talk with an Aussie traveling with her two kids to Wewak to see her husband. We filled her into the fact that we were here to visit Scuba Steve during his time as a volunteer in PNG.

From there, her descriptions of PNG went a little something like this. "It is so hot here in PNG . . . but you'll love it."

"Oh, there are so many types of diseases all over PNG, make sure you don't wear shorts or short sleeves without many layers of bug repellant, but even that won't keep the mosquitos away . . . but you'll love it . . . you're only here for a week and a half right?"

"Did I mention the people? Oh the people are just so lazy . . . I don't know why . . . I can't stand it here . . . but you'll love it. Promise."

That was our introduction to PNG from a jaded expat's point of view, one full of contradictions, emblematic of the country we happily found ourselves visiting.

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Since November, Scuba Steve has served as a volunteer at the St. Fidelis Seminary in Madang, Papua New Guinea. It's a beautifully simple seminary on several lush acres of land surrounded trees hovering over the land below. Steve has resided, accompanied, and taught with a couple of Cupuchin brothers, a priest, and another volunteer. Days are spent in prayer, teaching, cutting acres upon acres of thick bladed grass on spongey soil, and sweating. The equatorial climate of coastal Madang is a combination of hot and humid, with some showers thrown in every day or so to provide a brief respite from perspiration. Not a single time in PNG did I ever take a lukewarm shower, always cold.

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Northwest of Madang is the volcanic island of Kar Kar. On Kar Kar resides a Polish priest. He is the only priest on the entire island. He welcomed our company and invited us to stay with him for a couple of days. He even volunteered to drive us up the coast to catch a boat over to the black sand beaches.

Pepper's quote aptly sums up our harrowing 45 minute drive up the riddled road up the coast, "When you are in the good graces of the Lord, one apparently does not fear death as much as I do."

Pepper and I jumped in the back of Father Bogdan's dented blue truck that had already seen a few adventures and the moment his truck hit the main highway, Bogdan was on his own PNG autobahn. He hit the accelerator and didn't let up until profoundly deep potholes presented themselves and impeded his forward progress. At this point he would slam on the brakes and slalom into the opposite lane or off onto the shoulder of the road, throwing us sinners towards the truck cab, and within a second, he hit the gas and threw us back towards the truck's gate. That must be some unique type of penance.

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The Face of Someone Afraid He is about to Meet his Maker

Minutes into our drive, the rain began to fall. At first, a light drizzle. Then, then the heavy stuff came. Looking into the cab at Father Bogdan was not comforting in the least for either one of us. He was in a full on conversation with Scuba Steve and unperturbed with the weather. With his left hand, he wiped away either rain or condensation off the windshield. He was hunkered down, squinting through his brief window of clarity. His right hand held the steering wheel and resembled the hands you would find at a DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince concert, it was waving back and forth all while dodging scattered potholes. He hit one directly that projected Pepper and I up into the air. At one point, Pepper and I were seriously considering abandoning the truck. Approaching a blind corner, not only did Father Bogdan enter the opposite lane, he balanced his truck on the outside of the opposite lane. That took us back to Pepper's original quote.

"Pig Lover Nabbed" was the title of the article that graced the top of the page. If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was in Arkansas or New Mexico. This matter-of-fact title was indicative of observed aspects of the PNG culture.

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In my brief time in PNG, pigs are considered highly valuable. They serve as a form of currency in PNG. If you want to marry someone, there will be a required payment of swine. If you wrong another tribe, retribution is a live porker. That makes the content of the story a bit baffling. According to the story, a man was found "porking" a pig under someone else's house. I ask myself, "Should this be reported in the national newspaper?" Was it a slow day in the news? Imagine if this came out over the BBC. They had to know that this guy wouldn't be able to score another date in a long time by writing this article. "Didn't I see your mugshot in the paper last week with ol' Betsy? Sorry, I can't go out with you tonight. I have to stay home and chew some betel nut tonight."

Plus what happens to said defiled pig? How valuable is that pig now? Is it now worth half a pig, two mangy cats, or a pound of New Mexican green chilies? In no way would anyone accept this pig in some type of transaction in PNG. Just attempting to pass this pig could lead to an immediate tribal war.

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PNG left much to the imagination.

To be continued.

P.S. What do you get when you have two New Mexicans and a Texan?

Posted by TulsaTrot 18:40 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged newspapers papua_new_guinea pot_holes Comments (0)

Flying the Friendly International Skies

Flying to Papua New Guinea via Australia

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11 months ago, I knew my friend Scuba Steve from Tulsa was strongly considering being a volunteer with the Capuchins in Papua New Guinea. Before he even made his final decision, I booked a flight from Omaha to Port Moresby. My remaining job was to get the green chili loving New Mexican, Matthew Pepper, to follow suit.

As a professed travel junkie, I've been playing a game we call the miles game to travel for free or on the cheap, and finding ways to collect massive amounts of miles to support my travel in various means. These miles have allowed me and my family to travel the internationally. So I introduced Pepper to this game and he scored enough miles to accompany me over to a forgotten country. He got on board.

One of my recent goals has been to take an international, long haul flight in any class other than sitting back in the cattle crawl section. After some effort, I had acquired enough miles to fly from Omaha - Dallas - Los Angeles - Sydney, Australia - Cairns - Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in business class. This flight would have cost me $10,000, I paid $20.

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Yes, that is an actual international business class seat

Flying at the front of the plane, I had a completely foreign experience. I finally savored the delicious food that used to waft into the economy class making my mouth water. I had plenty of leg room. My knees never hit the seat in front of me. I was served champagne upon boarding my Sydney flight and had a menu sitting on my seat. I was surrounded in business class by interesting people (In face, I am always surrounded by interesting people on planes). One had been on the USPS cycling team and had rode some training rides with Lance Armstrong (he wasn't surprised about the doping). On another, an Aussie tax accountant shuttled back and forth between Sydney and California to work with his clients. Basically, I felt as out of place as a thief at church.

Pepper sat in his own type of business class, economy class. With his short, stubby legs, it must have felt very spacious.

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For some reason, I didn't suffer from much jet lag on this long haul flight

What has truly drawn me to travel from the beginning with my mom, is the ability to float above earth simply observing different cross sections of humanity as they pass below. It's an unique position as an observer. No interactions. Just watch farms, cities, cars, and people from an aerial view and guess what is happening. This time though, I would be transported luxuriously from the ultra modernity and efficiency of the United States to a culture lacking any resemblance of efficiency with a tribal mentality.

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This Aussie XXXX beer is special, it was personally blessed by the brewer

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Madang flight to Madang

Pepper and I finally ran into each other in the vacant international airport terminal in Cairns, Australia. We picked up a few necessities before heading north, me some Tim-Tams, and Pepper some alcohol. I guess you take the Pepper out of New Mexico, but you can't take the New Mexican alcoholic tendencies out of Pepper.

Our flight carried us over the Great Barrier Reef to a land of contrasts that did something to me that hasn't happened to me in a long time while traveling, it challenged me.

Hot, wet air greeted our touchdown on the Madang tarmac. With no time to waste, Pepper and I swiftly entered immigration. We arrived prepared with our three-page visa application, 100 PNG kina, and passport photos. I approached the PNG immigration officer, she apathetically looked at my passport and printed my bright yellow PNG visa. I asked her if she wanted my visa application, she said, "sure" and tossed to the side of her computer. I realized that I was the first person to give her one today.

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After a quick visit to the restroom where a trashcan stained with bright red blood colored betel juice spit held the door open, we were ushered into the terminal to catch our final flight to Madang on the state owned airline, Air Niugini. Gliding to the counter, we were informed that the flight had already been closed . . . 35 minutes before its' scheduled departure. Within 15 minutes, we were introduced to what PNG had for us, the unexpected. Just like that, we were going to spend our first night in what the Intelligence Unit of The Economist ranked 139 out of 140 of the least livable cities, Port Moresby.

Just when we pulled up to our hotel 35 minutes later, our Madang flight was taking off.

Welcome to PNG!

Next: Refrain From Sex, Part 1

Posted by TulsaTrot 13:08 Archived in Papua New Guinea Tagged australia volunteerism scuba_steve papua_new_guinea plane_travel Comments (2)

Caye Caulker, Go Slow Unless Chased By Mosquitos

Our Family Vacation to Belize and Smashing Poo

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Silencio antes de nacer, silencio después de la muerte, la vida es puro ruido entre dos insondables silencios. - Isabel Allende

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10 months ago, we decided to take our first international trip with the kids since the last time when we headed south to Argentina with Sophie. This time we decided on the Central American country of Belize.

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Travel by Plane, Taxi, and Ferry Can Be Exhausting

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This trip was designed to be a week to simply recharge our batteries from the school year. We weren't going to hit a bunch of sites everyday, we would just spend our time on the island of Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker's motto is "Go Slow" and that is all we planned to do, go slow.

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An Island Taxi

There are three common modes of transport on Caye Caulker. You either walk, ride a bike, or if you have the means, you drive a golfing cart. Whatever you choose, you have to slow down for island speed bumps, thick rope lying across the sand.

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The Northern Spit on Caye Caulker

Our daily routine followed the island motto.

First, Dominic would wake up between 5:30 and 6:00, one of us would stumble out of bed, and give him a movie to watch. Most often it was Cars 2. Yes, he watched a movie every morning for a week, a strong indication of quality parenting.

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Happiness is playing in water

After brekkie, we would jump on our three bikes and bike down the main dirt/sand roads towards the northern spit of the island that contained the only area suitable for people to swim. The area was characterized by a cement pier that crumbled into the water. At least the northern spit provided a small area without coral or sea grass.

Lunch back at our rental house followed our salty excursions to the north. If possible, Nadine or I would score a nap in the only room with AC while the kids played or watched another movie. Another demonstration of quality parenting.

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Another successful lunch

After lunch, naps, and Disney movies, we would mount our bikes and head back to the northern spit for an afternoon of swimming.

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Are we headed back to swim?

Evenings consisted of a lazy dinner and bed whenever a day in the hot, humid weather of Belize beckoned sleep.

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That is a magnificent tree. No really, that is called the Magnificent tree

The first morning on the northern spit, we met a Kiwi family with a 5 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. Over the week, our two families spent mornings swimming at the spit and a few afternoons swimming in their pool. We actually had both looked at renting the same house, but we decided against it because it had a loft room for the kids.

As a language teacher, the words that people choose are quite different from what we are used to.

Even though dogs haven't over populated the island, you must always be mindful of little dogs "surprises". One morning while we visited a café, Sophie accidentally stepped in some dog shit unbeknownst to us. While we stood in the café, the barista suddenly stated, "your daughter has smashed poo!"

"Smashed poo?"

Neither Nadine nor I immediately knew what she was talking about until she pointed at Sophie's brown flip flops leaving tracks on the floor. Oops.

Little Sophie had found a little doggie treat outside.

Sunny days and hot, humid afternoons had kept an unknown nuisance at bay. By the second to last day, rain had visited the island and cooled it off significantly, giving this nuisance a free pass to feast. In only a day and a half, mosquitos attacked us without cease. If you were outside, you were fodder for their vampire tendencies. Suddenly, as we departed Belize, we found our bodies riddled with red, swollen mosquito bites. I guess that was our only manner to requite our time on the island.

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Go Slow.

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Posted by TulsaTrot 21:14 Archived in Belize Tagged caye_caulker_belize smashing_poo Comments (0)

Onions and Oil - The Lone Star State

A Return to the homeland, a return to Odessa, Texas

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View 2012 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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The return to the great state of Texas.

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It had been a solid two years since I had last been back home. It was time to just be with family, the precious smell of Rosa's Tex-Mex, chat with a couple friends, and basically, just be in a sacred place, Texas.

The act of being up nothing still produces some good stories.

I grew up living in the same town as the World's Largest Jackrabbit and I figured Sophie and Dominic were now old enough to meet a leporid as well. You never know how long he will live, he's no longer a young leveret.

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Their excitement, yes genuine excitement, for this world renowned creature, was tempered a bit by the brisk wind running across West Texas and the fact that this jackrabbit . . . well, it's a jackrabbit made out of plastic, paint, and a little concrete. Not an actual living animal.

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We stayed long enough for a few dignified photos, and amazingly enough, the World's Largest Jackrabbit kept the same pose while two 30 something adults jumped on his back carrying crazy grins.

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The human senses can really define a location. While living in Chimbote, Perú, the billowing smoke from the fish mills meant there was money in town. That same scent also came with a price, a fragrance that curdled your nose hairs and infiltrated your clothes for months on end easily identified you as a Chimbotano across the rest of Perú.

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Odessa had another sudorific smell of money. That smell is petroleum. And everywhere we went on our trip, you smelt it. It's the kind of smell that infiltrates your nose and transforms the taste of your water supply from water to oil. I didn't know any better growing up, I thought you were supposed to be able to chew your water. You could see the result of all that money that had come into town, there was actually traffic going down 42nd Street.

Pungent also deftly describes breakfast in the White House over a White Christmas. Not only does my Dad like to taste his breakfast, he likes to suffer a bit as well. My Dad has burned countless taste buds off of his tongue over the years through exposure to massive amounts of dangerously acidic jalapeño peppers and chili peppers. For most, this would be a terrible lose, but for my Dad, it's a great source of pride for him. Thus, he feels all family and visitors must experience that same deluge of scent, taste, and burn that only comes with incredible amounts of onions and garlic. He is able to transform scrambled eggs into a lethal attack on your mouth. Mosquitoes don't fly within a mile radius of anyone that has consumed his creations.

And that was our departure breakfast, and while crossing the great unknown of New Mexican wilderness (Yeah, we are now 32nd in national education), our olfactory senses redirected our thoughts back home.

Posted by TulsaTrot 21:27 Archived in USA Tagged texas odessa_texas Comments (1)

Predictable Barça

Some Musings About Barcelona, Spain

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Two years ago, I bounced around northeastern Spain with twenty something teenagers. It was so much fun the first time, I did it again.

The cold, wet, nippy weather followed us from Omaha to London, and then jumped on the plane with us to Barcelona.

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Conchi was our guide last time, she liked us so much, she decided to be our guide again. Times have unfortunately changed since then, Spain's unemployment rate is hovering around 26%.

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We climbed on the local transport to take us to Parc Guëll. Along the way, I talked with a retired elementary teacher. Some of her concerns as a teacher in Spain reflect some of the same ones I hear in my high school. She also felt strongly that the New Mexican education system needs to be reformed . . . immediately.

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It's a small world. Walking into Parc Guëll, we ran into another group of students from our high school touring Europe. We only had enough time for high fives, as their Italian guide, arms and hands flailing, rushed them back to their chartered bus.

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The hookers on La Rambla are just as aggressive as ever. She just wouldn't take no for an answer, so I gave her Matthew Pepper's phone number.

The culmination of our trip was our final stop in Valencia which proved to be the most profound for our students in Europe.

Next stop - Valencia

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:10 Archived in Spain Tagged sagrada_familia gaudi barcelona_spain spain_2013 Comments (0)

Careful with the Family Jewels

Derailing the London Underground

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View 2013 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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This being my fourth trip abroad (sixth overall) with young adolescents, I decided to add London to the itinerary. I assumed it would provide a shorter flight resulting in less jet lag and an easier transition for students being in a foreign country where the language was their native English.

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http://travelsnaps.omaha.com/ - You can vote for this photo as your favorite this week only. Come on, you know you want to

The first day always proves to be the most taxing physically on students and chaperones. Upon touching down at London Heathrow in the early morning, we dropped bags off at the hotel, put on some warmer clothes, left the premises leaving no time for lollygagging. We hit the London Underground dragging us over to the London Eye, the London Tower, and Big Ben.

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Baseball players protect them with uncomfortable equipment. Fathers take great to avoid direct hits from the haphazard actions of children. So you could say that the family jewels are pretty important and protected at all costs.

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The Royal Family in London is no different, yet they label theirs the Crown Jewels and they take great care of them as well. With great care, they placed theirs inside a castle with a violent past, London Tower. They have surrounded their family jewels with thick glass, some passive observers, and a single man at the entrance with a huge afro and a machine gun.

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Even with mounting fatigue from a day of airports and planes, the Crown Jewels were well worth the wait in a biting cold wind. The building that housed the precious stones had several rooms detailing the history of the Royal Jewels. The final dark room displayed the ornate crowns of successive kings and queens. It appeared that each successive King or Queen tried to outdo the previous head of the Royal Family with even more diamonds and rubies. I can only imagine seeing royalty on a sunny day as a task requiring fortitude of squinting.

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A very long day left everyone desiring a bed, or even a quiet piece of real estate that would give some type of respite. So we jumped on the London Underground back to our hotel and thought we would call it a day. Yet, a traveler’s plans rarely follow the most convenient route.

Despite various recommendations that students visit the toilets before we left with no toilets in the Underground, some didn’t heed that advice. Two metro stops from our hotel, I was made aware that one of our students had to go the restroom immediately or they would literally explode, and who really wants to deal with that type of mess on your first day of travel with students. I looked over and saw said student bent over in a state of physical discomfort. We had to go now or there would be a spill on aisle Underground.

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Fortunately when we jumped off the metro and set off in search of a toilet in an unknown land, three levels of escalators and stairs to street level awaited us. Once we escaped the Underground maze, we were in nothing but residential area. I mentioned to the student that he may have to duck behind a tree, but after traversing a couple of blocks we ran into a small guest house that fortunately allowed us to use their toilet. A major spill had been avoided.

For a metropolitian area not known for it’s food, one place did make a lasting impression. Our buffet breakfast at the Novotel London West proved to be the absolute best breakfast buffet that I have ever had the joy to be a part of. Yes, breakfast included smoked salmon with cheese!

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Our day and a half in London left much to be desired with regards to that finicky weather, but undoubtedly, it’s a place that I would like to explore more in depth in the future.

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Posted by TulsaTrot 20:52 Archived in England Tagged london england educational_tours london_england Comments (0)

Sweet Uruguayan Beef

Día #21 – General impressions of an amazing country

semi-overcast 55 °F

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller

You don’t see many canines stuck together.

Dogs and cats live peacefully. No visible ill will by dogs towards felines.

I was never chased by a dog.

You are not officially considered Uruguayan if you don’t have a thermos tucked under your left arm and a hot cup of mate in your right.

I don’t like mate, but I totally redeemed myself when they found out I liked dulce de leche.

The national dish of Uruguay is any part of the cow.

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The national desert of Uruguay must have some part of dulce de leche in order to be considered Uruguayan and edible by the general public.

Vegetables are rare. Just like schools in New Mexico, you have to look for them.

Classes are characterized with students yelling over each other as the teacher yells over them sharing information.

Students from the United States and Uruguay are very similar; they love to sing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Gone On” from Titanic.

Uruguay’s Ceibal program, where every student receives a laptop, is an excellent way for students to talk with students from other countries . . . on Facebook. If only the teachers knew how to use the computers in class.

All 3 million inhabitants of Uruguay have a Facebook, and they want to be your friend.

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Every Uruguayan is a fan of one of two teams, Nacional or Peñarol. The other teams in the professional soccer don’t have any fans. Only their parents come to their games.

Schoolgirls are huge fans of Justin Beiber. I was asked if I knew him personally. That’s like asking a New Mexican what is more important, education or green chilis, and expecting them to answer education. It’s just not possible you’ll get the answer you would like to hear.

Surprisingly (compared to other Latin American countries), Uruguayans take physical activity seriously. Every morning, afternoon, or evening, you would see people out running, playing soccer, riding a bike, and occasionally after a workout, they would Tebow.

The presidential offices do not have the character of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, it looks more like a posh hotel.

Uruguayans are very friendly, they will greet you in the street with a warm “hola”. They remind me a lot of Texans.

Never once while walking in the street did anyone yell at me, “Oye gringo” or whistle at me. It makes me think that I am losing my sexual appeal in Latin American. Sometimes a guy just wants to be treated like a piece of meat.

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The most common form of transport is the bus. So you don’t feel lonely or far from your loved ones, buses come equipped with onboard wifi.

Even though I visited the vineyard Bouza (read it with a Boston accent, i.e. Boozer) and lived in the town that brewed Patricia beer, I never saw Uruguayans sitting around drinking anything other than mate. Mate has a hold on this country.

Countries bordering Uruguay are Spanish and Portuguese speaking, and the closest country that speaks English is in the Caribbean (unless you count the Falkland Islands and that’s mostly sheep), it is impressive the English language ability of many of these teachers.

A lot of slang that I was taught on the trip to Colonia all revolved around digestive functions, fast as a fart, lazy as a fart, etc. Maybe that had more to do with the person teaching it to me. It could have also been the recipient of said slang.

Students still use libraries. What are those used for again?

Schools lack central heating creating frigid learning conditions. I have never worn so many layers of clothes in a classroom. I stopped wearing shorts soon after my first couple of days in Montevideo.

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Scarves are stylish during the winter.

Nike tights are mandatory to go running along La Rambla.

Students call their teachers by their first name.

Class sizes can be large. That is if you consider 40 students a large number for one classroom.

There are no stop signs in Minas. Four way stops go to the person on the right, right?

The pastries alfajores are delicious. They contain dulce de leche.

Food prices are very similar to those in the U.S.

Ziplining in Uruguay is in its’ infancy. It will take years to become the mecca of ziplining like Costa Rica.

Overall, Uruguay is a very clean country.

It’s considered odd to take home leftovers from a restaurant.

Punta del Este is beautiful. It reminds me of Miami Beach.

La Mano Ahogando was cool, worth the visit, but we arrived late in the afternoon during gale winds out of the south, limiting our time and light at the five sinking fingers.

My definition of classroom management and that of an Uruguayan teacher are drastically different.

I really like Uruguay. I would like to return someday.

P.S. Uruguay likes to eat cow meat.

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Posted by TulsaTrot 20:56 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay Comments (1)

Reparto de la Cultura Tejana

Día #18 – Dos Buenos Pasos

overcast 55 °F

Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own history based on, but not limited by, facts - John Steinbeck

El último día en el departamento de Lavalleja con Julio, visité Solís donde los alumnos acudieron a una asamblea en el salón de actos del colegio. Los maestros los reunieron para hablar conmigo en inglés. Para la mayoría de ellos, fue la primera vez para comunicarse con un anglohablante nativo.

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Todos sentados, me preguntaron sobre asuntos variados como la vida de los adolescentes, la música que me gusta, mi comida uruguaya preferida, y el papel de los Estados Unidos en las guerras en el Medio Oriente.

Cuando hubo una pausa, decidí enseñarles algo bien útil que les serviría todos muy bien en la vida, cómo bailar unos de los bailes más importantes del mundo, el Paso Doble Tejano (the Texas Two-Step).

Allí enfrente de los estudiantes, la invité la maestra de inglés, aceptó y ella agarró la mano. La enseñé bailar los pasos tejanos con la música country de George Strait de fondo. Fue una parte del cielo para todos.

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A los estudiantes les gustaron la música y el baile. O así nos comentaron.

Inmediatamente, saqué unos estudiantes de la asamblea para bailar. De mala gana, bailaron el Paso Doble Tejano a los aplausos de la multitud.

A través del aprendizaje y enseñanza de la música country, otro chico tomó la oportunidad para bailar la danza de Michael Jackson.

Con su apoyo, un breakdancer salió a la escena.

Pues, en vez de compartir mis palabras profundas en inglés, y mis palabras siempre son así, compartí un de los puntos más finos de la cultura tejana, el Paso Doble Tejano. George Strait inspiró la coreografía de Michael Jackson.

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“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Educational Seminars Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Posted by TulsaTrot 20:28 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay Comments (1)

Comida Uruguaya

Lo que probé durante mi estadía

overcast

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Documento fotográfico de las comidas que he probado durante mi tiempo acá en Uruguay.

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¿Se te haga agua la boca?

Las Entradas

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Las Carnes

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Las Sopas

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Los Postres

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La Pizza

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Las Bebidas

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Posted by TulsaTrot 19:32 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay comida_uruguaya Comments (1)

¿Porqué Tienes un Elefante Azul?

Día #16 – Elefantes Uruguayos

rain 45 °F

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Blue Blue Elefante

El propósito de mi visita es conocer el sistema educativo uruguayo.

Hasta ahora, conocí escuelas, colegios, liceos, y institutos públicos y privados.

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Diseñada como todo Dali

He visto escuelas que promueven ser bilingües.

Todas han tenido niveles variados de fluidez entre sus alumnos.

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Incluidas son las canchas de fútbol y piscina

Lunes, visité una escuela primaria fundada por una alemana para mejorar la educación que se llama Blue Blue Elefante. La escuela no sigue un sistema bien estructurada, pero uno menos estructurada en que contiene paredes que mueven, mesas que se pueden levantar, o los alumnos tienen la libertad de moverse como quieran. Sigue más un sistema de Montesorri que nada.

Me encanta la idea que el público quiera desarrollar las escuelas y la educación. Gracias a la extranjera, tiene el financimiento para realizar todo. Adentro del instituto a las fueras de Minas, hay varias aulas de diferentes colores. Para los deportes, proviene canchas de fútbol, básquet, y tenis, con una piscina de 25 metros. El año escolar que viene, va a expandir a los primeros dos años del liceo. Me gustaría ver la escuela en unos años para ver habrán manejado todo.

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Paneles solares y molinos para energía

“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Educational Seminars Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Posted by TulsaTrot 19:28 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay minas_uruguay Comments (0)

Los Dedos Están Demorados ¿Y Tu Punto?

Día #15 - Punta del Este

semi-overcast 46 °F

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Punta del Este, el lugar más conocido en todo Uruguay.

Antes de mi visita a Uruguay, fue el único sitio que quería visitar. El único.

También tiene el Monumento al Ahogado. Sirve como advertencia del artista chileno, Mario Irarrázabal, a los que se bañan en la Playa Brava del corriente fuerte por este lado de la península.

La fecha del 30 de julio fue notada en mi horario para el día que iba a visitar Punta del Este y Monumento los Dedos.

Tuve que esperar dos semanas adentro de Uruguay para conocerlos.

La hora prevista de 10 ya pasó, hace 45 minutos. Fue la hora que Julio con su esposa iban a recogerme. Depende de quien preguntas, fue la falta del otro.

Hora de demora.

En ruta, el auto se detuvo en medio de Solís. Para comprar pan necesidades.

Veinte minutos de tardanza.

Llegando a Atlántida, pasamos tiempo comprando unos postres sin prisa antes de pasar por su segunda casa. Allí, prendimos la televisión y parilla brindar por un poco de fútbol y asado durante los Juegos Olímpicos. Con suerte al fin del primer tiempo que la selección uruguaya iba a perder, entonces nos pusimos en ruta de nuevo.

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Otra hora y media de demora.

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No sabían las ganas que tenía adentro de mi ser.

Nos acercamos las playas de Piriápolis al pie del Cerro San Antonio. Verdaderamente fue un trozo de paraíso con varias buenas vistas.

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Otros 45 minutos de demora . . . bien gastada.

Allí está en el horizonte, linda Punta del Este, pero con anticipación había que esperar un rato más.

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Finalmente, puse paso en la arena y viento friísimo cubiertos por las sombras proyectadas por los rascacielos al atardecer. Mi punto de todo, llegué a Punta del Este.

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“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Educational Seminars Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Posted by TulsaTrot 19:57 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay punta_del_este_uruguay Comments (1)

Kryptonita de Superman

Día #14 - Algo Roto que Superman No Pudo Arreglar

sunny 63 °F
View 2012 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

En los momentos más duros de mi existencia, cuando me ha parecido que se cierran todas las puertas, el sabor de esos damascos me viene a la boca para consolarme con la idea de que la abundancia está al alcance de la mano, si uno sabe encontrarla. - Isabel Allende de Paula

Como me recordó ayer, es importante esperar lo inesperado.

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Mi anfitrión, Julio, planificó un sábado completo. Salimos en la mañana rumbo a varios lugares: Blue Blue Elefante, Salto del Penitente, Villa Serrana, y Parque Salus. Pero unos kilómetros afuera de la ciudad, su auto comenzó a temblar subiendo una colina. Pronto, su auto no tenía poder, ni radio, ni luz, ni nada. Allí en la ruta, me bajé de la coche, y la empujé al lado de la carretera.

Una llamada al mecánico y Julio me describió los lugares alrededor de nosotros. Es una carretera. OK. Allí está un cárcel. No paramos para autostopistas. De hecho, es por eso que nadie paró para nosotros. Al lado del cárcel, hay una escuela primaria. ¿Al lado del cárcel?

El auto nos retrocedió tres horas.

En última instancia, retornamos a la misma carretera. Pasando ganados ovinos y vacadas, llegamos al Parque Salto del Penitente por un camino polvoriento y escabroso. Me preocupé que tuviéramos problemas mecánicos de nuevo gracias al camino y las colinas.

Nos dirigimos hacia Salto del Penitente. Bajamos al agua sacando las fotos requisitas. En la distancia algo me sorprendió. Había tirolina, no extensivo como se encuentra en Costa Rica y Nicaragua, había. De pronto, sin capa pero en casco, pasé por el aire.

El único negativo de todo, no pudimos visitar la fábrica de cerveza al Parque Salus.

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Salto del Penitente

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Villa Serrana

“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Educational Seminars Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Posted by TulsaTrot 18:05 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay Comments (1)

Un Día Dos Carteros Lucharon en la Calle

Día #13 - Correos Decepcionados

semi-overcast 56 °F
View 2012 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

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Plaza de Libertad

Cartas postales.

¿Todavía las escriben?

Cuando viajo, tengo más tiempo para pensar en mi familia y más conocidos. Por eso, me comunico por email y más divertido y personalizado con más frecuencia, las cartas postales.

Pero con cualquier tipo de comunicación, es importante esperar lo inesperado.

En marcha al correo, conté mis tarjetas postales, 14. Tan pronto que las conté, estuve a la puerta del correo a las cinco y cuarto. El correo cerró a las cinco. Mierda. Como sigue, no había otro remedio, tuve que regresar el día siguiente para mandarlas.

La mañana siguiente, llegué delante del correo con cartas postales en mano. Entré la puerta, doblé a la izquierda para hablar con la empleada que recibía la gente. Pedí 14 estampillas. De repente me respondió, “No puedo.”

“¿Qué cosa?”

“No puedo venderte estampillas.”

“Por qué?” respondí yo un poco sobresaltado.

“Hay conflicto entre los Correos de los dos países. A partir de hoy, no mandamos nada a los EEUU.”

Y es así que tú, sí, yo te hablo a ti, todavía no has recibido mi carta postal. Y si nunca llega, tú sabes porque.

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Visita rápido a Montevideo

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Recorrido por Minas

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Imagínate, enseñar 38 estudiantes a la vez

“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Educational Seminars Program or the U.S. Department of State.”

Posted by TulsaTrot 17:08 Archived in Uruguay Tagged american_councils fulbright_uruguay montevideo_uruguay Comments (1)

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