Down the River We Go

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La Frontera: Which Side is Mexico?

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When we first arrived in Big Bend National Park I expected the Rio Grande to be some huge, raging river between the two countries. But, as we explored the park more and more I realized that in this area it’s not the river that acts on behalf of border control, it’s the desert. Crossing back and forth between the U.S and Mexico within the park is rather easy, my fiance and I simply waded across with water not going past my knees. Mexicans ride their horses across and leave walking sticks, little beaded souvenirs, and other handmade items for donations. ‘Jesus’ waded across the river to play his guitar and serenaded us as we walked along the river into the canyon, his voice floating along the canyon walls only to disappear.

For many of my Texan friends it is hard to believe that there is even an inch of the border that is not manned by the border patrol. I tell them that nature does it for them. After you successfully cross the small river here you must make it about another 70-100 miles to the nearest towns, Marathon or Terlingua. This is a major feat even by car, making it near impossible via foot. With temperatures that break over 110 every summer, there aren’t many who would even dare try to illegally cross into the U.S through Big Bend.

I was genuinely shocked at how much greenery was in the area, even though we were in the middle of the desert there were huge strips of green trees and brush. I want to go back to explore some of the areas that we didn’t have time to see, and my fiance needs to get a passport to cross over into Boquillas del Carmen.

Have you experienced the border between the U.S and Mexico? Was it what you thought it would be?

Bluebonnets: Manor, Texas

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This pictures was taken last year right outside of Manor, Texas at an old driving range that hasn’t been used for many years. The bluebonnet is the state flower and it is illegal to pick them, even though they obviously grow in abundance. That is what is so great about this flower, it grows in massive fields and comes back every year. They are one of my favorite flowers. My fiance and I went on a drive in search of the best bluebonnets in Texas and it turned out they were right in our own backyard.

Should I Travel to Venezuela?

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I was recently asked by a fellow blogger, Indah Susanti, about the safety in Venezuela and if it was advisable to travel there. My first reaction was a resounding no. Many of you are probably aware of the rising problems happening in Venezuela and the instability of the economy, due partly because of falling crude oil prices mixed with tight controls for exchanging U.S dollars.

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I studied abroad in Venezuela during the Spring of 2012 before the elections, before Chavez passed away, and before Maduro took the country to another level of poverty. I want to be clear that I have nothing but respect for the Venezuelan people, they are proud of their country and proud of their heritage. They are kind, loving, and boisterous. My host mother called me hija (daughter) and my Venezuelan friends offered up their homes and food to us when we were traveling. Everything was a party, we could be waiting in line to use the ATM for two hours and we would be drinking beers and salsa dancing. They always find a way to turn a not so great situation into a party.

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Merida, Venezuela (Taken by me in 2012)

We practiced our Spanish and laughed together at the crazy things that you say when you don’t fully know a language. They taught us how to salsa, how to make arepas (a Venezuelan staple), and took us on trips to show us their country. I have never had a better time in my life. Today, I am still in contact with many of my friends and we talk about the current situation in their beloved país.

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El Cayo Sal (Take by me in 2012)

Things have changed dramatically since I was there almost three years ago. I feel a deep attachment to Venezuela and keep up with current events. Many of you know about the political and economic crisis that Venezuela is facing today. My friends have posted pictures of empty shelves in the stores, waiting in line for hours just to TRY to get some food (I literally mean up to 10 hours per day), and of the protests that broke out last February 2014.

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With so much going on the country today, I would advise against traveling in Venezuela. I mean, who wants to go to a country where you can’t even buy toilet paper, deodorant, or much less Advil? When I was there these basic necessities were available so I could go on and on about the reasons why you would want to travel to Venezuela. They have amazing beaches, untouched Amazon rainforests, and, of course, the awe-inspiring Andes mountains. There is a plethora of things to do and places to see and you would be remiss not to go one day. However, 2015 is probably not the best time.

Safety was an issue while I was there in 2012 and has only become an even bigger concern, especially for Americans. Political relationships between the United States and Venezuela have been mounting and creating even more pressure, especially after President Maduro accused Vice President Joe Biden of trying to over throw the Venezuelan government.  Recently, Excelsior Gama (a large retailer in Venezuela) made the decision to “…restrict the use of cameras inside their stores for ‘strategic reasons’ to do with marketing.” They made this decision as the #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela became extremely popular on Twitter showing pictures of thousands of people in line for food shopping in a store filled with empty shelves.

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The political situation only continues to escalate between Venezuela and the United States, and you don’t want to be caught in the middle of a cross fire as a tourist. Not to mention the large amount of tourists who have been kidnapped, robbed, or killed.  There is also currently an advisory from the U.S Department of State advising against any travel to Venezuela, which is not all that surprising due to the tension between to the two countries.

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According to the NGO Venezuela Violence Observatory, “There were 24, 763 homicides in Venezuela in 2013, amounting to a rate of 79 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, among the highest in the world.” The economic situation is so bleak right now that even the major consumer products company Clorox has completely exited the country altogether.  Clorox is not the only one taking a major hit from the hardship in Venezuela, PepsiCo lost $126 million last year because of the devaluation of the Bolivar. Coca-Cola also lost over $660 million last year and a group of airlines claim that the Venezuelan government owes them around $4 billion. Luftansa and Alitalia have completely cut flights to the country while Delta and American have drastically cut flights to Caracas, making it even more expensive to travel there than previously.

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A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela.

You probably have come to the conclusion that you will never travel to Venezuela and that it is a dangerous, terrible place. However, I want people to be able to make informed decisions on whether or not to visit the country so, don’t take it off the list forever. For the year of 2015 it is fairly easy to say that you should pick somewhere else, but who knows, in the next couple of years maybe they can get it together. I know I am planning my return trip, hopefully that will be sometime in the near future.

Have you ever been to Venezuela? Do you know anyone who lives there right now? If you have any questions/concerns please let me know! I want to hear your thoughts, do you think it’s safe to travel in Venezuela?

***All photos not specified were taken from Google Images and are not my own***

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Gorge to Scale

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As we entered the Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia the temperature immediately dropped about 10 degrees, I could feel the cool air rising from the cold, rushing water before it bounced off the cool gorge walls and hit my skin. This gorge is only about 1.5 miles in length and is lined the entire way by a wooden boardwalk that crosses from side to side following the river all the way to a waterfall at the end of the gorge. The river is fed by runoff from the mountains and is intensely cold, and I’m from Minnesota so I’m used to cold water. It was hard for me to believe that this gorge existed; how was it made? Why is it so short? What has been it’s purpose?

I could have looked more into this, but when traveling I like to revel in the mystery that is Mother Nature. For this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge of Scale I chose this picture that my dad took of my sister and I walking through the gorge because I think that it really highlights the the height of the gorge walls contrasted with the slim boardwalk. The river itself was not that wide, but it was deep and moving quickly. You could easily see the bottom of the river as the water was clear and one of the deepest blues I have ever seen.

Is there anywhere you have been that made you feel small?

How I Almost Lost My Car to the Ocean

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A few years ago, I believe in 2009, my boyfriend and I went camping in Port Aransas, TX when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. I had been wanting to go to the beach, being from MN I needed my yearly beach trip, and I insisted on going this particular weekend because it was Labor Day and we had an extra day off. My boyfriend refused to go so, I simply told him I was going whether he wanted to come or not. Needless to say, he ended up coming. As we drove into town all the stores were boarded up, the gas stations closed, and the beach completely empty. We set up camp and enjoyed our time alone with a strong breeze nearly blowing our tent out of the sand.

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In the middle of the last night we woke up to water seeping into our tent. We had to move it to the sand dunes, which is actually not the best idea because of snakes that live within the grassy areas. This particular photo is not the best quality; however, it really shows how the water started taking over. At this point a kind gentleman had safely towed my car out of the water to safe ground near the entrance to the beach. Tow trucks and police won’t go and rescue your vehicle on the beach so, we were lucky that there was someone who comes out and checks the beach to make sure people like us aren’t stuck on the beach.

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After my car was towed to a safe distance we had the luxury of watching the hurricane hit the coast and see the sun rise over the ocean. It was still dark when my car was towed so we walked up the beach a little and decided to rinse off in the outdoor showers and watch the sun rise. The sun poked out from behind the clouds in rays of orange, red, and pink creating beautiful patterns that bounced off the huge waves. I thoroughly enjoyed this moment, the warm water rushing over my face, the strong salty wind brushing against my body. I felt such a sense of calm amongst the crashing waves and howling wind.

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As the sun came out in full force the water started to rise and almost covered the posts that mark the farthest point that you can park on the beach. These posts are probably 2-3 feet tall, the tide was coming in quickly. The water started to make it’s way up the road that leads to the beach, where my car had been safely parked until that moment. My boyfriend finally convinced me it was time to go, we really had to leave before the ocean overtook my car and we were stuck in Port Aransas. I always feel sad when I leave the beach, like a part of me has been left behind. Even since I was young I have felt a deep connection to the ocean; I first saw the ocean when I was seven years old. Ever since that trip to Alaska (we drove from Minnesota), I have done everything I can to spend time on the beach. Even if it is ‘just the beach in Texas’. I will never forget the weekend that I almost lost my car to the sea during Hurricane Ike.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth

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The Daily Post has weekly photo challenges where bloggers can post about a specific topic. They can look at other people’s posts, give feedback, and hopefully start conversations with other bloggers. This week’s topic is Depth; The Daily Post says, “Whether visually or emotionally, this week let’s dig (or dive) deep.” I have chosen one of my favorite pictures I took while abroad in Venezuela for a semester.

One afternoon that I had off from classes I decided I was going to take my camera out in the neighborhood I was staying in and take some pictures. I was staying with a host family in the city of Mérida, Venezuela and hadn’t really had a chance to bring my good camera out. My expectations were low, I just wanted to get some good pictures that really showed the neighborhood and what life is like there; I knew my mother would be asking for every detail so I had to document appropriately.

Near this little internet cafe where two 10 year old boys were playing video games and eating ice cream, I stumbled upon this beautiful tree that had almost lost all of it’s orange flowers. The ground was scattered with petals and dead leaves, somehow it looked so majestic to me. I wanted to take a photo that really captured the essence of this tree. I started with the normal photographs, walking around the tree, taking pictures of certain branches, and whatever else looked cool. I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt like I was missing that one shot.

When in doubt, lay down and create a new perspective. I decided to lay down on the ground and started playing with my depth of field and really focusing on different petals and leaves. This particular photo is my favorite out of the bunch that I took. I’m sure I looked rather ridiculous with my large camera, laying on the ground in a small ‘park’ (it was a tree with two cement benches). Luckily, the 10 year old boys were too busy eating ice cream and killing each other in some crazy video game to notice me.

For me, this photo represents depth both visually and emotionally. You can clearly see the depth of field and the focus being on the middle petals and leaves with the foreground and background blurred.  It is hard to explain how this photograph makes me feel, on one hand I feel this emotion surrounded by the cycle of life and death. On the other hand, I feel this emotion related to beauty and how it can come in many different shapes in our life.

The petals and leaves have fallen to the ground, the leaves have died and the petals are dying. Yet, somehow, it is beautiful. I remember being struck by the beauty of the leaves on the ground, I remember feeling confused, and a little nostalgic. I wanted to preserve that moment in time forever; to sit on that bench, in that park, with that partially flower covered tree and feel the warm breeze on my skin. I wanted to preserve that moment between life and death, that beautiful moment before the cycle starts over again. So, I guess, they really aren’t two different feelings. They are the same emotion.

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