Monthly Archives: March 2013

Holi – India’s exuberant celebration!

Kaya, a LEAPYEAR student in Varanasi, India – captures the spirit of Holi – India’s festival of color!

Madness. Utter Madness!

Lets start with the beginning. I woke up at 6 am. Barely had time to brush my teeth and put on some pants when three to eight young women travelers (like myself) came barging into my room to stow their belongings and began to change into their Holi clothing. White Saris, cream colored Kurtas and Salwar pants flew through the air as the comforting babble of excited talking girls filled my room.

I let myself soak up the girl talk, I laughed and presumed, I listened to dramatic statements and shared knowing glances. It was over before it began and I flowed down the stairs to the kitchen and began helping out making Pudi for lunch.

I spent most of the morning sitting on the floor with four Indian girls (three from the Orphanage and one was their matron!) rolling out little balls of dough and listening to the background noise of people interacting at a party. I’m realizing as I write this how important the presence of others is to me, and the comforting presence of my native language. My active brain might not be listening to all the conversations in the room, but my subconscious soaks up the background noise like a sponge.

I’ve heard it said that before a battle there is all this hype and energy, and it seems as if the wait before the storm will last an eternity, and then finally when the battle begins it is really only 10 minutes of mayhem and then the cleanup begins.

Well, Holi isn’t like that.

I can hear the shrieks of my host sister and the orphans from Little Stars Orphanage, the laugh of the older kids and the splash of water balloons smacking true on a surprised target. I can taste the chemical dye on my tongue, staining my teeth, I can feel it burn in my right eye; the collateral to the colored water fight I just had with my flatmate. I run to rinse my hands under the tap, the water that pools there is a dark pink. I cup my hands and throw it on the face of the person closest to me. The cry of “Happy Holi!” is everywhere. Below us on the street, young boys are challenging us to a water fight, we dump a 5 gallon tub of bright purple water on them.

My hands are no longer my hands, they are dark green, deep purple, the nails stained red.  My arms have disappeared and left a psychotic rainbow in their place.

My feet are the manic palette of an artist losing herself to schizophrenia, each toe a different personality.

I look in the mirror and see a bird of paradise run over by a bulldozer.

The whites of my eyes look wrong and out of place in the depths of all this insanity, and the irises have never been so green.

My teeth are outlined in blue, almost dripping like strange alien saliva.

I spit in the sink and wash pink down the drain.

The madness goes on and on and on. More and more people arrive, and just when I think we have used up all of the color or all of the water, there is more – more balloons, more powder, more pictures to take and more laughter to share.

Eventually I escape to the bathroom and begin the arduous process of finding my skin again.

After 45 minutes of hard scrubbing and washing, I still have blue hair….

My bathroom is a new type of dirty, and I have a feeling it will be a while until I can take a shower without seeing blue wash down the drain with my soap, but it was worth it. It was a blast. I am exhausted, blue and happy.

Happy Holi!

Patagonia: Dusty & dirty the natural state of being

A report from a LEAPYEAR student working on a 100,00 acre ranch in Patagonia:

Life is good. Winter is coming on quickly, there’s been a lot of frost at night and the trees are all changing color. Such a treat! I’ve been doing a bit of everything- sawmill, firewood chopping (always, we have a woodstove and wood water heater), cooking, riding, horse roundups, more and more. There aren’t as many guests now, so I get some more time on my own. The ranch folks didn’t really have time to show me around when I got here, so I took the guests on “adventure” rides, which means I had more or less no idea where I was going but very confidently led them around, until we found a mountain ridge or river and made it our lunch “destination”. They thought it was wonderful.

I’ve been riding a giant white full Arab that’s very spirited and stunning. We have fun together, and he’s really fast and like having a job. Also on the horse note, there’s a filly here that was born in January that is adorable. Her mamma is jet black and the most beautiful mare I’ve ever seen (in all seriousness). She’s blind in one eye and pretty cautious about people, but very curious. I’ve been reading in their pasture, and she sneaks over to sniff my coat or nibble my book, unless the pages are ruffling in the wind. It’s good to be making friends.

There was a branding this weekend on the ranch but a few hours from where I’m staying, so a bunch of us rode over to spend the night. Another night of meat over the fire, gauchos playing guitars, and dancing for hours. The gauchos have a funny little dance, just a small shuffle with no apparent rhythm and a bit of booty shaking. I’m not very good at it. I fell asleep on a stack of saddle blankets to the sound of them playing music until 2 in the morning, and woke up a few hours later to 400 cows about 400 feet from my head. I watched them rope all day, and kept the branding fire going (which I have mixed feelings about). Consequently, I smelled like burning cow poop and lard (used to cure the iron brands) for a few days. I rode back alone that night, in the strongest wind I’ve ever experienced, singing myself voiceless. My face was so dusty by the time I got back, and my teeth full of grit from smiling. But dusty and dirty are just the natural state of being here, which I don’t mind at all (sometimes, when we’re really ambitious, we start up the timber framed sauna by the river, then dive in the freezing water).

I just had to jump up from the computer and catch a horse that was casually walking by. Rats. That means I have to find the hole in the fence tomorrow morning.

All else is going well, of course I’m a bit homesick and sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to get up in the morning, but I’m happy and welcoming the challenges. We stay up late most nights talking and laughing and someone is always playing guitar. I’ve liked meeting people from all over the world. My spanish is sadly lacking, but getting better, and soon enough I’ll be able to talk to the gauchos more. One of the gauchos, Dani, broke his hand the other day, kept if wrapped in a bandanna for a few days, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I was looking at it that he realized it was broken and that he hadn’t just dislocated it. So he asked for some pain meds, tacked up, and rode out six hours to the doctor. I felt bad that I couldn’t help him any. They’re a little tough out here.

Well, off to dinner. My housemate and I made a vegetable stew- very exciting. We eat a lot of polenta, beans, lentils, and rice out here, so a vegetable delivery was a cause of great celebration. I’ve never been so happy to see half a cabbage in my life.

Eli’s Excellent Peruvian Adventure

An early internship report from a LEAPYEAR student interning with an ethnobotanist in Peru:

I finally have access to my email after the first week of what is shaping up to be a spiritual conquest. Kana picked me up from the airport and we were immediately in business. We spent the first few days in Lima preparing for our adventure where it was HOT, something I was not prepared for. We took an 18 hour bus ride north to Cajamarca where a women’s retreat was awaiting. Now, I know I am a male, but these women were GODDESSES and took me in with open arms and hearts. There were other men there who I was made to understand brought masculinity to the balance. We had some of the ceremonies separate from the women, but most of the healing ceremonies were together. So basically I was in the midst of absolutely gorgeous Latin women from Chile and Peru who were chanting and singing and touching with flowers and plants and incense. It absolutely broke me down. Every ceremony we did was absolutely magical. I am told to expect even more and that this was just a warm up.

However, something has been concerning me. I haven’t felt any culture shock or walls aside from the eroding language barriers. I feel like I slid right into a place of……..correctness. But we will see what happens next in the jungle.

Home remedies for homesickness

Advice about dealing with homesickness overheard being given from one LEAPYEAR student to another during their internship:

1. Cry. A lot. And don’t hold back how you feel, really cry until you can’t cry any more. If there is a well of sadness inside you, bottling it up is not going to make it go anywhere. It will just sit with you and maybe take a month to get it all out if you don’t face it head on.

2. Reorganize your room! Once you ‘make’ your room it becomes a lot more ‘yours’. So move your bed to the other side of the room near the window, light up some palo santo, listen to some music, sing a little, fold all your clothes while you do this and put them on a shelf. Just get your immediate space yours!

3. Go out side and buy something. Anything. Literally anything will do. For me its usually a jar of peanut butter or a box of crackers. Just one small thing to get you outside in the sunshine, get you to interact with one other person who is a local (and not scary!) and it will get you involved with the money there in a non threatening way. I usually buy food from a store so the prices are not haggleable, then you don’t feel like you are getting ripped off.

4. Groom yourself. This is my favorite one! Take a nice, long luxurious shower, wash your face, cut your nails and paint them maybe. It’s just one more way to make yourself feel really comfortable in the space that you are in.

5. Finally. Go for a walk. Take like 10 soles with you, a water bottle and a camera (if you want) just walk around the town and go in to shops, ask how much things are worth and dont buy anything! Just familiarize yourself with the area in a non threatening way. No one is expecting anything from you, this is your space and your time to be curious.

For more traveler’s wisdom, visit

First Impressions of Tierra del Fuego

A posting by a current LEAPYEAR student after a week of her internship working at the southernmost museum in the world – at the southern tip of Chile:

Well, what can I tell you? This place has many names; Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego, The Fireland, El Fin Del Mundo, Fuegia, The Virgin Lands, Country of Bonfires,Terra Incognita, Country of Big Feet, Giant’s Land, and Magellan`s Land to name just a few. If I were among the first explorers to discover this land, I would dub it “The Land That God Forgot”…”La Tierra que Dios Olvido” because it would seem that, after 6 days of very tiring work, God got a little lazy when it came to creating the Uttermost Part of the Earth so he flung some barren windy plains about and raised some small trees and scrubs and dropped some random wet bogs into place, flung stones and seashells to and fro, threw in a few harmless animals and some humble people and, as a last ditch effort, pulled up the mighty mountains to keep everything in it’s place but covered them with snow and clouds so he wouldn’t have to fill in too many of the details. Then he left this land to itself, never to return again. Things grew beautifully wild isolated. Nobody knew they were here. Nobody cared. Not up until pretty recently anyways, when explorers began to look for routes to the East Indies and later, scientists became enticed by the mystery of Antarctica and its surrounding lands. Next, Christian missionaries were drawn to this place in order to “civilize” the local tribes and now, finally, tourism has reared it’s massive head.

Despite the recent interest in Tierra del Fuego, the land remains tranquil and magnificently lonely, being in the planet earth’s top 20 most virgin lands surviving today.

I feel as if I`m teetering on the edge of pure, uninhibited existence and freedom here on the one hand and fighting to stay present and not lose myself and disappear here on the other. It’s a double-edged sword.

My host family is fantastic.They treat me with a love and kindness more deserving of an extended family member rather than a random American student staying in their house. My host mom, Ellie, is a wonderful cook. My host family has made it a personal mission of theirs to make me fat. They told me so themselves…. It’s working. There are no veggies here. Just meat and rice and white bread, butter, and sugar. So I’m in guilty heaven, basically. The cable is also amazing (which makes up for the Internet connection sucking) and I would feel guilty for watching so much TV if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s all in Spanish (so it`s educational, yes?) and also because I’m doing so much hiking around and crab-leg-cracking as it is.

Yesterday, I hiked up a small mountain called Cerro de Banderra (Flag’s Hill) with my host brother Alvero. The view from the top was most magnificent.

I am also pleased to inform all that I have partaken in my first official illegal act of badassness in Chile. Technically king crab season started two days ago and catching and selling crab from the Beagle Channel before that day in the season is illegal. Well, the day before that, my host family and I went and bought a giant sack (probably 100lbs or so) of king crab and cooked them all up in a humongous pot. We spent the rest of the evening cracking them open and pulling out the meat (there is a special method of doing so and I’m quite a pro now if I do say so myself) and watching Elton John play a live concert in Valparaiso on TV. King crabs are spiky bastards so I have well-earned battle scars all over my little soft white hands. They are effing delicious though. We have so much in the fridge I`ll probably be eating it with homemade mayo for the next three months.