June 29, 2011

The Cuenca Experience. Cuenca, Ecuador.

So I have been in Ecuador for a little over two weeks now and the following are my top 10 impressions of this small city.

1. Cheap - Bread for 12 cents, lunch for $1.70, a good beer for $2.00, bus for 25 cents, taxi anywhere for between $1.50 and $2.00. If you are looking for a rich experience on a budget Cuenca is the place you want to be. For example I am going to Sol y Agua this weekend with a bunch of friends and it will cost me roughly $30 including transportation, food, drinks, and lodging.

2. Colonial - I feel in love with the architecture as soon as I arrived. Every building has a rustic, colonial feeling to it, it is absolutely gorgeous.

3. Indigenous - Cuenca and Ecuador has such a rich history. First the Canari, then the Incans, and finally the Spanish. I have seen all groups represented in Cuenca. However there is such a stigma attached to being indigenous, people tag them as uneducated and lower class. For this reason the younger generation of indigenous linage are choosing not to embrace their heritage.

4. Dangerous - Okay not dangerous in the fact you are going to get robbed or killed, Cuenca is actually a pretty safe city. Obviously at night you need to take more precautions but that is the same in any city. What I mean is they are crazy drivers, they shoot off fireworks with people 20 feet away, and they don't believe in car seats for children. I guess Cuecanos just like living on the edge...

5. Foodie Paradise - There is so much variety here in Cuenca. You have your Empenadas, plethora of fruits, fresh bread and juice, and of course cuy. :)

6. Religious - Very catholic, very devoted, very conservative. This also means beautiful churches and not too much leg exposure.

7. Wild - Check out my post about Cajas.
8. Slang - Some survival words if you plan on spending any time in Cuenca, Ecuador.
                  Chendo - just kidding
                  Chevere - Cool
                  Siga no mas - Go ahead

9. La Compania - just go there and thank me later. 

10. Just do it - okay this is more just advice, but it doesn't matter what it looks like, what it smells like, if you are scared, or even terrified. It is worth it trust me.

Well those are my ten first impressions/advice for Cuenca, Ecuador. I have cooking class today and a charla on Andean music. Stay tuned.


June 28, 2011

Siga no mas. Cuenca, Ecuador

Hello everyone!
This is my first post since I have gotten to Ecuador...which was two weeks ago! Ugh! In my defense the house I am living at doesn't have internet so it has been pretty hard for me to get motivated for the 40 minuet walk to my school to use the internet...

For those of you that don't know I am taking an intensive language course in Cuenca, Ecuador at CEDEI, a non-profit English and Spanish school. CEDEI is an absolutely amazing place, with awesome coordinators and teachers. It is a total immersion school so you live with a host family, take 2 to 4 hours of classes a day, have a dance class, cooking class, and different speakers come in to lecture. On top of all those fun things they also set up different excursions for you.

The first excursion we had was to Cajas National Park. It is about 30 to 40 minuets away from Cuenca and it is a must see if you are in the area. Beautiful mountains, lakes, and everything in between. The highest peak gets to be around 14,300 ft, which of course was the start for our 4 hour hike.

Our group at the start of the hike.
Now I didn't find the hike too strenuous, but I think that was because of the adrenaline and because I am in shape. Due to the altitude and the steep climbs you make you definitely might need to take a breather here and there and drink lots of water and chocolate.  

Me at the highest peek in Cajas
After our 4 hour hike we set up camp at one of the most beautiful spots I saw in Cajas. Now for this hike and the camping we had guides that helped us the entire time. Due to the high elevation it gets very, very cold in the night. Many hikers/campers have died in Cajas due to the cold and not being prepared. You definitely need lots of layers, impermeable shoes, rain jacket, and wool socks! For those that are seasoned hikers and campers you would probably be okay without a guide, but Cajas is huge and it is very easy to get lost. I recommend getting a guide, they know where all the cool things are too.

Above is what we woke up to the next morning. Absolutely stunning. We got lucky that it never rained and it was a beautiful day after our night camping. That made it an easy decision to opt for the 2 hour hike to Virgin of Cajas. They call it the Virgin of Cajas because in the late 80s a girl name Patricia claimed the Virgin Mary came to her while she was there. This story has a lot of controversy around it, because a lot of people believe the girl made up the story so she would get in trouble for going with her boyfriend to Cajas to you know...Nevertheless it became this huge ordeal. Every month for a year Patricia would give the messages of the Virgin to thousands of people in Cajas. That meant thousands of people flooded into Cuenca. All the hotels were filled, all the restaurants were always busy, the economy was booming. However, all the people in Cajas basically trashed the place. So the church put an end to it and she hasn't given any messages since. I personally don't believe her, but lots of other people do, including my host family. It was just really interesting to see how important and serious religion is here in Ecuador and South America as a whole. 

Since I have been in Cuenca I have lots of more interesting things about this small town but I will leave that for tomorrow. So until tomorrow.

Hasta manana!


May 25, 2011

In Denial.

I am excited to go abroad, I really am. But for some reason I cannot get my head around it. I have about two weeks till I depart and I still do not feel like I am going. My denial is not benefiting me as I have a million things to do before I go, such as get my finances in order. I also have to get my car fixed, do laundry, print things out, start packing, get a hold of my travel agent, and so on. As you can see this is a long list and I know I am forgetting something.

One of my best friends just got back from studying abroad in Belgium this past semester and she had similar feelings before she left as well. Is this something all travelers get. Is traveling or going abroad just so exciting it is not comprehensible? I think it should be called traveler's denial, because somehow I feel I am not alone in this.

On a different note, over the weekend I got to show Rochester to my friend from Denver. I took her to the famous Lilac Festival, that occurs around mid-May every year. I love the festival because I just love the overwhelming smell of lilacs and of course getting my annual garbage plate.

Behold the garbage plate, a Rochester staple. A plate of home fries, baked beans, macaroni salad, your choice of hot dog or hamburger (you get a white hot if you are a true Rochestarian), and of course smothered in hot meat sauce. Yum.

Now some of you may be confused as I was recently a pescitarian. Well because I am going to South American and do not want to miss out on a huge part of the culture, meat, I have decided to return to being an omnivore, until I get back to the states anyway.

My two favorite pictures I took at the festival. I am still trying to figure out my new Nikon P100. It is no professional camera, but complicated enough for me to not know what all the settings do or what the shutter speed does. But I mean for an amature photographer, I think I am doing all right. :)

Please wish me luck as I try to get my life in order this next coming weeks!


May 18, 2011

Money, Money, Money....MONEY

So I have 23 days until I depart for South America, which will be my home for the next 6 months. It is somewhat starting to hit me that I am really leaving....very, very soon. I am home from college and have already starting raking up some hours at work to get some extra money for my upcoming trip. I am now beginning to believe there is a direct correlation with my money concerns and my up and coming departure date.

Earlier this week I went to NYC to pick up my visa. I decided to drive down from Rochester and with gas prices the trip cost me a total of $114. Most of the cost was due to the lovely high gas prices, I swear the only other cost I incurred was $3 on a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks. I know it was mandatory for me to go down there, but the whole time all I could think about was what I could have spent the money on while abroad.

During the long drive I began thinking of all the things I have paid for so far for this trip, even before I have departed. So I did some calculations.
  • Passport renewal - $135 
  • Advance deposit - $500
  • Visa - $140
  • Round trip plane ticket - $1,592.90 
  • Visa pictures - $12
  • Trip to NYC for visa - $115
  • Flight from ROC to JFK - $90
  • New iPod - $170 (with 10% for my old iPod recycled)
  • Hiking/running shoes - $23 (Trade-in money from my books this semester paid for most of them) 
The grand total comes out to $2,779.90, and I haven't even left yet. I got great news from SU Abroad last week that I have received a $1,000 travel grant, so minus that from the total it comes out still to $1,779.90.

I am not writing this post to scare people from going abroad. I would have spent twice that for my up and coming experience. I just don't think people understand or know all of the "hidden" cost of going abroad and I don't believe abroad programs spell these costs out for students. I believe this sometimes surprises students and parents preparing to go study abroad.

I have paid for 95% of this trip, my mom helped pay for my insurance while there, which came out to be around $235. To tell you the truth I was extremely surprised when I put all the numbers together, who knew I could save or make this much money!!! Already before I have left I have learned an extremely important lesson, saving is possible. Before this trip I did not think I could save anything, and after I got each paycheck I was spending it. I now know the amount of money I am capable of saving and will definitely continue to save once again after I get back.

Now that I have spent almost $3,000 before I have left, I am left with about $550 left in my bank account. This is obviously not enough for 6 months abroad. I hope get up to $1000 from working before I leave, which I think I can get to easily. Then I am using the $1000 I get from SU Abroad travel grant towards living costs. This leaves me about $1000 short of my goal of $3000. I do get a Wegmans scholarship of $750 each semester in August, (another reason why I love Wegmans). So that leaves me $250 short, which I think I am going to ask my family if they can donate to my cause, I plan on paying them back every penny of course!

I really want to pay for this trip completely 100% on my own, I think it will make my experience 100% more meaningful and fulfilling. Now of course Syracuse University is helping me with my tuition costs which comes out to about $30,000 including the program fee, which includes SU tuition, my home stay including full board (3 meals a day), and any trips already planned for us while we are down there.

Hope this helps all future travelers out there! From my experience no one lays out the true costs of travel and I am here to give all the little details of my trip to you guys!


April 12, 2011

Success is Easy

Success is easy, that the most important message I brought home after I heard Kelly Cutrone speak last night at Syracuse. Honestly I had never heard of the women before they announced she was coming, which is bad on my part as she is a big wig in PR fashion. However with what little I had heard of her, she was my kind of girl. Powerful, independent, innovative, and yes sometimes bitchy...but like I always say bitches get shit done, and Cutrone she gets shit done.

Every seat in the auditorium was filled up and people were sitting on the stairs around the seating, definitely a fire code violation. It was hot and sweaty, but I endured it for Cutrone's two hour talk, and let me tell you it was so worth it.

First off she is hilarious. No reservations, unconventional, and most importantly honest. She is a hard working women and she produces hard working women. She constantly brought up what she values in interns, someone hardworking, who doesn't bullshit, and can handle the pressure. She also said she doesn't care who you know or who you are, which I liked because I come from a nowhere town with a no one name. :)

Cutrone basically led the life I want to lead. Working from paycheck to paycheck in New York, living the rock and roll lifestyle. Dating rock stars, movie stars, artists, and traveling all over the world while doing it. Then after the sex, drugs, rock and roll phase, creating her own business from the ground up and making a name for herself. Seriously I am not making this up, it was her life and what I often dream of myself. There is something about the uncertainty of tomorrow and hipster lifestyle I crave for, because stability is just way to boring.

 Ah so the moral of this story is I will be applying for an internship at People's Revolution,  her PR agency. Even though I don't want to go into fashion, working with her would be an amazing experience. Not to mention if I can handle my coworkers there, I can basically do anything.

On a non-Cutrone note, I had my pre-departure meeting today. I am excited beyond words and am counting down the days until June 9th! So much do to before then, I will be complying a list of essentials soon!

Adios loves,

April 5, 2011

Guess who is back with a whole new...Rapp?

Hello everyone.

It has been almost four months since I last posted anything (I know I suck). I know everyone says it is because they have just been "so busy", but really I have!! This semester is almost over and I don't know where it went! It seems like I have been nonstop since we started back up in January.

A lot has changed since I posted back in December. My sorority was shut down by our national headquarters and I became unbelievably close with all my other sisters because of it, I stepped it up in school and assumed a leadership position in both of my public relations classes where we work in groups, and I was accepted to go study abroad in Chile next semester.

Besides the shock and disappointment and anger felt after learning the decision of our national chapter to shut a 106 year old chapter down for the mistakes of a very small few, I turned my full attention to my school work. Even though I enjoyed my time being apart of Greek life very much, I realized my social life will still go on and I have already made friends for a lifetime, isn't that what being in a sorority is all about?
Some of the lovely ladies I call my sisters.

That being said I have been kicking some major a** in school and I couldn't be more proud of myself and what I have accomplished so far. Last semester I was a little weary of public relations as one of my majors, but I am falling in love with the profession and can't wait to get an internship to show off my newly acquired skills.

On a larger note....I AM GOING TO CHILE NEXT SEMESTER! I am beyond excited as you can tell. I leave in June and don't come back until December. Many people think I am crazy for going so far away for so long...but honestly they don't know what they are going to be missing. When will I have the opportunity to do this again in my life? I am young, independent, have no responsibilities, and am ready to go on an adventure of a lifetime.

This entire semester I have been saving every penny, well almost every penny, for this trip. So far I have saved a little over $2000 and am almost at my goal of $2500. Obviously this is just for spending money while I am there. My tuition is the same as if I was going to stay in Syracuse and the program fee is about the same amount as staying in one of the dorms. This comes out to be around $25,125 plus airfare and visa charges. THANKFULLY the generous people at the financial aid office give me quite a bit of change to cover this because I am oh so smart. :)

This being said, I am now crossing over into the traveling blog world, with a touch of fashion of course. I wish is that my readers learn about the complexities and cultures of South America as I do and be able to vicariously travel and learn through me. I also want to document all my preparations for the trip which is why I am staring now!

Next week I have my pre-departure meeting so stay tuned!


I have also decided to share with you some of the costumes created for the infamous "frat parties" we have had this semester. This parties theme ABC aka "anything but clothes". I think we were pretty darn crafty don't you?