Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

How Unsafe is Mexico, Actually?
August 17, 2011

Impoverished community in Tijuana, Mexico

As an American, traveling to Tijuana, Mexico is frowned upon.  Most people treat Mexico as a forbidden country where Americans simply should never go.  However, I ignored the horror stories and words of warning this summer when I took on an intern position that required trips to Tijuana.  Skeptics warily attempted to persuade me not to go, but I was determined to make my own opinion about a country so many are quick to stereotype.

Inevitably, my first visit of three was accompanied by worry.  I crossed the border into Mexico with wide eyes, watching for any sign of danger.  However, the fear was quickly replaced with intrigue.  Tijuana was a different world compared to San Diego, and I believe it’s this stark difference in cultures that scares so many people away from the borders.  Yes, there were several people begging for money at stoplights, but don’t they do that in Atlanta too?

Small children play with donated toys in the dirt road in front of their house.

When I began talking with the locals, I realized that most of them aspire to have a better life and are hardworking people.  They just do not have the resources or knowledge to pull themselves out of poverty.  As Americans we stereotype Mexicans, but the truth is, they are more grateful for much less than Americans.  The Mexican locals I spoke to showed a humility that is much rarer to find in America.

Overall, my trip to Mexico gave me a higher respect for a group of people living in conditions out of their control.  Most Mexicans are just as scared of the drug cartel as Americans are.  They want the violence and crime to end too!  I truly hope that more Americans will feel compelled to not only visit Tijuana, but help the people.  There are many organizations through which Americans can get involved.  The locals thoroughly appreciate all the efforts Americans have made to help them.  I promise that you will leave with a vastly different perspective and respect for the Mexican people.

Of course, I would strongly recommend against visiting Tijuana alone or after dark.  Find a reputable organization that know the area well and can guide you.  Travelling in a group is a fool-proof way to avoid conflict over the border.  I personally recommend Corazon Inc., the nonprofit that I interned for over the summer.  Visit Corazon’s website or call 714-547-0357.


Discovering Ocean Kayaking
July 28, 2011

Photo courtesy of Beach Shoot San Diego

Blessed with the opportunity to spend my summer in the beautiful city of San Diego, I have discovered a newfound passion – kayaking in the ocean.  I was hooked and determined to buy a kayak one day after only experiencing it twice.  Surprisingly, you do not have to be tremendously strong or well-educated on the subject to get the most out of kayaking.  You simply need an open mind and maybe some sunscreen to be guaranteed an unforgettable experience.

The beauty and spontaneity of the ocean create a unique environment for kayaking as opposed to a lake or river.  At the beginning, the kayaker must face the crashing waves, which was personally the most exciting aspect of the entire trip.  However, once the kayak has passed the initial waves, the water becomes significantly smoother, making it the perfect condition to simply observe the surrounding environment.  The ocean water offers the chance to catch a glimpse of many interesting creatures such as sea lions, dolphins, and elaborately colored fish.

Another plus of ocean kayaking is the amazing whole body workout.  Though you may think the hobby only works the arms and possibly the back, I found that my legs and abs were also sore the next day.  Kayaking is so exciting that it never feels like a strenuous work out, but in fact it has been the best workout I have had all summer.  If only I owned a kayak, I would do it every week!

Prices to kayak in La Jolla, the best place in San Diego for the sport, start at around 25.00.  The first time I went out on the water, I used San Diego Bike and Kayak Tours and a group of nineteen other people accompanied.  Bike and Kayak Tours sends a tour guide with the group who explains the history of the surrounding waters.  The second kayaking trip I endeavored was through Beach Shoot San Diego, a company that supplies their customers with a kayak and photographer for a semi-private day on the water.  Beach Shoot’s prices are hefty, starting at around 400, which does not even include the price of the photos.

Kayaking will be among my list of favorite things to do for many years to come.  I have made genuinely wonderful memories through the hobby and got a full body workout in the process.  For anyone who enjoys the outdoors, water activities, or the beach in general, I highly recommend trying a hand at this wildly entertaining sport.

Five Lifestyle Choices that Keep Other Countries Healthier Than The U.S.
July 20, 2011

My travels to other countries have opened my eyes to a disturbing fact about American culture – we are lazy!  There is no mystery why the United States has some of the highest obesity rates in the world.  Our society revolves around comfort and convenience, while efficiency is a major determinant for cultures in much of the rest of the world.  Here are five ways other countries remain skinnier and healthier than Americans.  By adopting the following lifestyle changes, our country can save itself from the plague of obesity.

Locals in Santiago, Chile are seen here walking and waiting on the bus.

Walking or Riding a Bike to Work In Puerto Montt, Chile, I told some locals that the act of driving around a parking lot for several minutes simply to get the closest parking spot was typical in the United States.  They responded in laughter, truly thinking I was telling a joke.  While owning a car may seem like a necessity to the average American, the people of Chile and other nations rely on public transit, bicycles, or their own two feet to get them to work.  The average person can burn over one hundred calories walking at a moderate pace for thirty minutes.

Spending LESS time on the Computer The average American works all day in front of a computer screen, only to come home and spend more time on his personal computer.  Video games and the television have also replaced more traditional modes of entertainment.  In parts of Mexico, many households do not own a single computer or elaborate video game equipment.  Instead, the children play outside, and the adults do much more physical labor.

Taking the Stairs When I was traveling home from England, the people in the busy London airport were fighting to use the stairs, while the escalators held only the elderly and disabled.  Once I landed in the United States, the stairs were deserted and the escalator was overflowing.  As Americans, we tend to look for an elevator or escalator before even considering a staircase.  As simple as it seems, taking the stairs and other small changes to daily life can be a great way to start a healthier life!

Eating Smaller Portion Sizes From Chile to France, portion sizes are significantly smaller than in the United States.  I actually lost seven pounds in Chile partly because I was eating less at each meal.  Try splitting your plate with someone when eating out, or use a smaller plate when eating at home.  Either way, you will be guaranteed to eat less than you would have otherwise.

Drink More Water and Less Sugary Drinks  In the United States, we definitely enjoy drinking high calorie, very sweet beverages.  The popular Grande Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks has 470 calories!  Trade that in for a Latin American alternative – a cup of coffee with milk and sweetened with honey.  Instantly your 470 calorie splurge has been reduced to around 35 calories (mostly from the milk).

Extraordinary Desserts: A Must Visit
July 3, 2011

Dessert.  The favorite part of the meal for many people, yet also the course of the meal most often skipped.  However, a San Diego restaurant once featured on the Food Network will make you skip straight to the best part – sweets!  Extraordinary Desserts has two locations in San Diego, Union Street and Fifth Avenue.  If you are planning to be in Southern California, plan on making a special trip to this unforgettable destination.

Surprisingly, there is no actual menu for the desserts.  To order, the customer must view the desserts behind a glass case and tell the waiter which treat they have chosen.  Then the waiter retrieves the given dessert and takes it to the kitchen to be further decorated with freshly made glazes.

If you have any interest at all in teas, consider ordering a pot at Extraordinary Desserts.  You can choose from a wide range of flavors such as “Marco Polo” and “109 Blossoms.”  No matter if you prefer black, green, or herbal, they have a fresh, delightful flavor for all.

Don’t be intimidated by the restaurant’s modern yet elegant appearance.  The prices range from 3.95 for a small dessert to 9.95 for a dessert the size of a full meal.  The cakes, tarts, scones, pies, etc. are well worth every penny, seeing how a scone at Starbucks is the same price for a freshly made scone at Extraordinary Desserts.  The quality of all the food and drink is a true steal when you compare it to the fresh, elaborate desserts you will receive in return.

The elaborately decorated treats along with the fun atmosphere create a must-visit restaurant.  Be prepared to eat and drink your weight in fruity, fresh desserts that will leave you asking for more!

San Diego County’s Finest Treasure
June 21, 2011

La Jolla, California definitely holds true to its name.  Meaning The Jewel in Spanish, La Jolla is one of San Diego’s finest treasures.  This little community north of the city of San Diego has something to offer for almost anyone.

Beaches: La Jolla has two main beaches.  What is known as The Shores is a sandy beach perfect for soaking up the sun or building sand castles.  For the more adventurous, The Cove has cliffs, tide pools, and caves.  Sea lions and seals frequent the cove area and are a tourist favorite.  Those who enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, or scuba diving will find that the La Jolla Cove is a dream come true.

Shopping: Fancy boutiques line the streets of La Jolla.  If you are planning on spending a day shopping, be prepared to see pricey apparel.  Designer names such as Lucky Brand, Armani Exchange, and Ann Taylor are the norm.

Dining: If the shopping is ritzy, the dining has to be as well.  La Jolla is known for its fine dining.  Many of the restaurants offer great views of the ocean along with premium meals.  A personal favorite is Kitima Extraordinary Thai because of its quaint, comfortable atmosphere and amazing “Tom Kha Kai,” a coconut milk soup.

Real Estate: Many people visit La Jolla just to see the beautiful houses.  Porsche, Maserati, and BMW are not a rare sight in the driveways.  If you have an extra million dollars, consider investing in one of the dream homes!