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Volunteer Teaching Took a detour to Alaska before heading to South American and Africa for teaching...

Travel in South America

USA | Friday, 12 October 2012 | Views [606]

After a month of volunteer teaching in Peru, I took two weeks to travel in South America.  It wasn't easy to decide where to spend this precious time, but I decided on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I was just as excited about seeing animals on remote and protected islands, as I was exploring a large bustling city.  Both were wonderful experiences; one with controlled access to humans and dominated by animals, and one dominated by humans with controlled access to animals. (Unlike Peru, most dogs in Buenos Aires are on leashes and roaming wild animals in the streets.) Over the course of five days, our 16-person yacht traveled to four different Galapagos islands.  Couples and solos ranging in age from mid 20s to mid 60s, we represented USA, Denmark, Australia, England, Israel, and Russia.  English is the language of the guides in these situations; I now have an increased appreciation of my American nationality.

Despite the controlled access to the Galapagos Islands (e.g., number of tourists per beach, restricted pathways), ironically, the most amazing aspect of visiting the islands is the access to the animals in their privacy of their own homes.  The animals have not developed a fear of humans; they carry on their life cycle events seemingly oblivious to the gawking human eye.  We observed an albatross bird in an intimate love dance with his mate (picture a fencing match played with beaks); albatross birds choose one life partner.  Right off the path was a recently-born, still-fluffy, white-furry blue-footed baby booby bird.  Sea lions nursed their young on the wide open beach; and, alas, crabs fed off of baby sea lions who did not survive the few-hours stretch of freedom typically given to them by their mothers.  We snorkeled and saw giguntis sea turtles almost as big as me feeding on algae under water. Unfortunately, we did see evidence of animals that park rangers are trying to eradicate because they alter the natural environment--foot prints of cats, traps to catch wasps, and flees.  The islands have been successful at eradicating goats, dogs, and rats introduced by pirates or other humans.  

In the quiet and tranquility of the Galapagos, I was one mere humble human.  In contrast, I was a celebrity my first day in noisy and busy Buenos Aires.  People stopped to look, ask questions, and request a photo.  With a guide from urban-biking.com, a company I read about in my Lonely Planet guide book, I toured the city on a bike made from bamboo--a light, natural, agile, and newer alternative to other bike materials.  While biking was my main vehicle for exploring the city during my five-day stay, I also took trains, subways (when raining), and a kayak in the northern water town of Tigre.  Map in hand, I also walked and walked and walked.  I experienced the downtown micro-center; the older neighborhood of San Telmo; the more upscale neighborhoods of Recoleta,  Palmero, Madero; and the charming and colorful immigrant neighborhood of Boca - also an artist colony.  I saw markets, malls, and museums, an unusual cemetery, and a 3000-person concert hall (Colon Theater).  I drank mate and ate alfajores.  A Buenos Aires experience is not complete without tango; there are numerous tango shows catered to tourists.   But given that I love to dance, I opted instead for a tango lesson followed by a milonga (open dance floor).  A good dance leader (generally the male) doesn't need another language besides body language, and I did well on the floor with a Russian, a Spanish, and a French dancer.  When I stumbled over my feet, I silently blamed the weak male leader; but admittedly, a few more tango lessons are in order!

During the week I connected with old friends, Argentinians who had visited University of Michigan's Project STaR in 1997 where I was working at the time. Diego Freedman is now director of Community Development for JDC, Latin America.  We had a lovely lunch in the hip neighbor of Palermo, and I saw JDC's rather modest offices.  Alejandra (Ale) Avruj is now Rabbi of the Masorti synagogue in the neighborhood of Belgrano.  His  Simchat Torah service was one of those transformational "wow" experiences.  I've seen many a shul in my life; the spirit, spiritually, warmth, excitement, and fervor that evening was unique.  Children, teenagers, parents, grandparents ALL danced and celebrated to a seven-piece band with enthusiasm that superseded the liveliest wedding that I have seen.  If there is anything in this world comparable to the feeling of standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, it was probably the feeling that evening.  When Ale walked backwards toward the exit door, slowly rolling the Torah from the end to the beginning, the sea parted for the congregants as they lined up on both sides of the Torah and held up the scroll with their fingers.  "Come and touch," said one woman to me as she pulled me into the line.   I looked around; there were no stragglers.  Everyone was touching.

While I was traveling, I received an email outlining the details of my next volunteer assignment. Teaching for a month in a 250-student high school in a remote village in Uganda, Africa promises to be quite different from my tourist experiences.  There is no running water in the village, i was told, and only occasional electricity from a solar panel.  This would be the first time that this sole, rather young regional high school accepted volunteers, and we were encouraged to take initiative.  I wonder how initiatives from outsiders would be accepted.  Ah! Another adventure!

I have been deeply touched by my varied travel experiences -- how fortunate I have been to take in both the natural wonders of the world, as well as the wonderful moments that our world allows us to create. 

Tags: buenos aires, galapagos

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