Spring break, Peace Corps style

Happy belated Easter, friends! One of the best things about being a teacher is that you’re never too old for a spring break and luckily, even though I am on another continent, Colombians are also big fans of vacations so I had all last week off for “Holy Week.” My site mate, Michael, and two other PCV’s decided to fly down to Peru, eat some guinea pig, see some mountains and escape the heat. I had another motivator for leaving: turtle is the main dish in my town for Easter and I hate seeing all the poor little turtles in their buckets awaiting their imminent death, also turtle is too chewy for my taste 🙂

You may not know, but Cusco, Peru is home to one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations, Machu Picchu. This ancient Incan city was named a World Heritage site and since then, 2,000 tourists flock to the mountains every day to witness the amazing ingenuity of the Incans. Cool, hard core travelers like to hike up the mountain to fully appreciate the work ethic and determination of the Incans. Michael and our friend, Caleb are these hardcore travelers. Luckily, Caleb’s super cool wife, Alex, is not and so I had a buddy to hang out with in the city of Cusco all week while the boys spent 5 days trekking and camping (AKA my worst nightmare) and then we took a train up to the ruins. It was MUCH more enjoyable and there was still light hiking involved so we were able to appreciate the physical endurance the Incans had. If it isn’t already on your bucket list, I highly recommend making your way down there; it is absolutely breathtaking.

In addition to Machu Picchu, Cusco has so many Incan ruins right outside the city to explore. While on our way to a national park that houses an ancient temple and tunnels where Incan women hid during battles, we encountered a nice indigenous man who said that instead of paying the entrance fee to the park, we could pay to go through the indigenous town and he’d give us a guide to take us on horseback through all the sites. It was incredible and I almost liked the experience more than Machu Picchu. One night, we went back up the mountain to the Cusco Planetarium, which is really the house of an indigenous family that has been studying astronomy for generations. We went star gazing and they taught us all about the Incan constellations. We spent the rest of our time touring gorgeous cathedrals, visiting markets, eating all the food in Cusco and people watching.

Even though I am outside of my home country, I feel like I haven’t had the opportunity to travel much lately so this trip was a good reminder of just how big our world is and how beautiful the human race can be. On my way through the indigenous town outside of Cusco, I saw two Peruvian teenagers chasing each other through the street. The one in the lead came across some of those cute, white dandelions that everyone back home loves to pick and blow the leaves off and guess what he did? He picked it and blew the leaves off. I don’t know why but it was such a simple, beautiful act and really put everything into perspective: we are all the same. We hope, we dream, we have fun, we fear, we laugh, we cry and we all pick dandelions on some point in our lives. Peruvian women may carry their children around differently than Americans but that doesn’t mean they care any less or worry about their futures. American music is nothing like what I hear in Colombia but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a nice melody.

While traveling in itself is amazing and fun and it gets me out of my pueblo for awhile, experiencing new cultures and learning about people is so important and worth every dime. I truly think that the world would be a better place if we all got to know each other a little better. I realize that not everyone has the privilege of having the time or money to travel, but I can bet there are parts of your town that you don’t frequent too often. For my Nebraska/Iowa friends, go down to South Omaha, eat some bomb Mexican food, walk into the International Bakery and strike up a conversation with someone that looks different from you. If you’re living elsewhere, go into international market and talk to the cashier or try out a new restaurant and get to know your waiter you won’t regret it.

It was hard to come back to my little town after such an amazing trip. I was excited to see everyone but I still had anxiety for some reason. Obviously, as it is after every trip, my anxiety quickly went away when Isa ran into my arms and gave me a hug and kiss and my host mom sat on my bed while I unpacked and told her all about Peru. Tonight, my neighbor who is only 19 but is basically my second mom here, made me dinner and I had an eating contest with her 4 year old son and the nine year old neighbor boy. Spoiler alert: I won. Once again, I feel beyond grateful that this is my life and that I have found so much love thousands of miles outside of my comfort zone.

I only have about seven months left of this adventure so I am really going to try and appreciate every moment. Thanks for reading! I hope the lovely spring weather is treating you well. Abrazos!!!

P.S. I’ve been trying for an hour to upload pictures but my weak data plan isn’t cutting it. So I’ll just leave with you this J.R.R. Tolkien quote in honor of my finally committing to tackle the Lord of the Rings series (I swear I’m not as nerdy as that last sentence implies).

“The world is indeed full of peril. and in it there are many dark places; but still there is so much that is fair, and though in all the lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps all the greater.”



Holy crap, that year went fast

Hi friends. Remember me? Your friend, Jessi, who is living in Colombia and working as a Peace Corps volunteer? I don’t blame you for forgetting about me. I forgot about this blog for a really long time. It’s not that I’ve been overly busy or suuuuper bored with nothing to write about, I’ve just gotten so used to life here that I sometimes forget it is still adventure and a couple people (my parents) want to hear all about it. Time really got away from me but I’ll try to do a quick recap of the last 3 months of 2015 and I shall try and write more in 2016, promise!

Last time I wrote, I had just celebrated my 27th birthday with my amazing host family and I was on top of the world. WELL, that didn’t last long let me tell you. To celebrate my birthday, my best gal pals and I decided to meet up in the mountains outside of Santa Marta for a weekend of wine, hiking and good food before our final Peace Corps training. My friend has a cat so I opted to sleep outside in a hammock. It was actually really comfy and I was a tad chilly so I snuggled up in my hoody and blankets. The next day I woke up feeling really crummy and as the day went on, I realized I was having an asthma attack. My friends convinced me to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer who told me to get my butt off that mountain and to the urgent care clinic. Luckily, I have the best friends ever and one of them, MC, accompanied me down to the city in some random stranger’s pick up truck. At this point, we were both pretty certain I was toast. Anyways, long story short, the ER that I went to was awful and I was so miserable and sad AND they gave me two shots in my butt so I was pretty much ready to end it all. I called my mom the next day crying and she decided I needed to come home for Christmas and escape my endless stream of illnesses for a couple of weeks.

The rest of September passed uneventfully and I spent the first week of October touring Medellin and the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Region) in the interior of Colombia. I had an absolute blast even though my friends forced me to do an 11 mile hike. It ended in a gorgeous valley of some of the highest palm trees in the world and then they made me rice krispy treats so I suppose it was all worth it 🙂  One thing that kind of surprised me was that I found myself really missing Rotinet and my awesome host family and was happy to return to site. I missed them so much, in fact, that I took them as my guests to the 25th anniversary celebration of Peace Corps Colombia. Isabella dazzled all of my friends with her charm while my other sister, Elsa, and my mom learned about the history of Peace Corps Colombia. That part was cool but I just really liked having a chance to show off these wonderful people who have saved me from several mental breakdowns.


As some of you may know, I detest all things scary and as such, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. I’m obviously only in it for the candy. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in Rotinet, the tradition is that children dress as little angels and go around trick or treating for candy and the ingredients to make sancocho, my favorite Colombian soup. We celebrated at school and all of us teachers pitched in to buy the ingredients and the kids made a big ol’ cauldron of soup for everyone to share. They even butchered and plucked the chickens! It was so cool to see these kids step up and be leaders. The older ones took charge and helped teach the younger students. They were doing things that I’ve never in my life imagined doing (plucking chickens?!?!? WHAT?!?!?) and they did it all so expertly, I was truly impressed and felt so lucky to share this fun tradition.


November was a pretty chill month. School was wrapping up so there wasn’t a lot of work to do. I got diagnosed with an ulcer so my theory that Peace Corps rapidly ages us was proven true. All of the volunteers got together at a hotel on the beach a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving to celebrate and stuff our faces. The organizers even managed to find a little turkey! I made 10 pounds of mashed potatoes that I smashed using a tiny pot, as we had no mixer. It was a good work out so I really felt like I earned my meal :)It was fun to celebrate with my amazing friends and reflect on all we had accomplished in the past year.

Once December hit, I had extreme vacation brain. School was out, no one wanted to learn English or talk about building fish ponds and chicken coops so I took a hint and spent 2 weeks relaxing and spending time with my host family. I did take some time out of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge to work on a grant for Camp GLOW 2016. I am lucky enough to be one of four co-directors of this amazing leadership camp for teenage girls on the coast. It is quite an undertaking but we have a solid team and are all very motivated to make 2016 the best camp yet.

FINALLY the time came for me to go home! I was so excited I barely slept the week leading up to my trip! I arrived on John’s birthday and my whole family was at the airport to pick me up and then we went out to celebrate our little Johnny turning 25. My mom sporadically broke out in tears, typical. I got my hair chopped off on Friday (I hate it, I look like a surfer bro) and then spent the next two days basically attached to my mom at the hip. My dad couldn’t believe how quickly I reverted to my 13 year old self. I hope he found it cute and endearing and not pathetic and weird. We celebrated Lukey’s birthday early because obviously a cool, hip and social 20 year old can’t possibly be expected to stay at home with his lame family for his birthday so after he went to a party, John and I locked ourselves in the basement for a Law and Order SVU marathon. I spent the rest of the week relaxing and just being a normal American. It was nice but it got pretty boring. The day before New Year’s Eve, my best friend Sam flew out to spend my last few days in the US with me. We had SO MUCH FUN! I am so lucky she took the time to come see me and it reminded me why I’ve been friends with her for so long. She even booked the latest flight possible out of Denver so we could go to the airport together (my flight left at midnight) and she didn’t chastise me when I threw a temper tantrum when it came time for her to board her plane and leave me. I actually handled leaving a lot better than I thought I would. I was ready to come back to Colombia but I hate good-byes more than anything and avoid them at all costs so it was really tough when John dropped us off at the airport. But, I lived. Especially because I knew that in less than one week my parents were coming! Oh, and I guess it didn’t hurt that my mom was so exhausted after searching for the best flights that she accidentally booked me first class the whole way back! I have never felt like more of a queen and I hope to travel like that forever and always.

It was my dad’s first trip to Colombia and my mom’s second time out of the US. We had an absolute blast! We ate, drank, shopped and burnt ourselves to a crisp on the beach. My dad was surprisingly relaxed with the crazy driving and he actually enjoyed Colombian food. We spent some time in Rotinet and they absolutely loved meeting my host family and people in town. I think they especially loved it when, every time they met a new person, they would exclaim “OH MY GOSH JESSI YOUR PARENTS ARE SO YOUNG!!!” I actually took offense because this means they think I am too old to have such good looking parents but my mom was in heaven when people mistook her for my sister. After our pueblo visit, we spent the rest of the week in Cartagena and my parents got to meet a bunch of my PC friends. It is really just embarrassing how much my mother thanked them for being my friends.

As always, I was dreading the moment that I would have to say good bye to my parents for another ten months. My mom and I made a huge scene at the airport, which I continued in the taxi and then on the bus home. My dad was the tough guy and only got a little choked up. However, they loved it here so much they are going to try another trip before I leave! I am so lucky to have adventurous parents who are willing to visit their wild daughter as she muddles through her journey of self-discovery.

I really do love it here but every time I have to say good-bye, I hate it and want to just book a flight home so I can avoid the whole situation. However, the second I got off the bus, I ran into my friend who I haven’t seen in months. She was super pumped to see me and made me promise to come visit her ASAP. When I walked into my house, everyone shouted “Jessi’s home!!!” and showered me hugs and kisses. I even got a nice little grunt from the newest member of our family, Esperanza the pig. My host mom said how much she enjoyed meeting my parents since they are also a part of her family, as I am her adopted daughter. I know I say it all the time, but I am SO LUCKY! I spent the afternoon laying in bed with Isa watching Frozen for the millionth time. When she finally got sick of it, I decided to book a flight to Peru for our Easter break. All in all, it was not a bad a way to come home after a rough morning.

It’s back to school next week but I promise I will try to update my blog more consistently this year. In fact, I will add it to my very short list of resolutions. My other one is to not just b**ch about things that bother me, but actually try and change them. So far, I’ve been sticking to it!

Exciting things are coming this year, I can just feel it. As always, thanks for reading. I hope 2016 is the best year for you all! Besitos



We made it!


Taking a well-deserved rest


My sweet Isa


My mamas are so tiny! This is us in front of the “club” in town


Elsa loves to do nails and she gave my mom a pedicure


Island life


I wasn’t exaggerating when I said they made a cauldron of soup


Hating every second of my life whilst crossing this bridge