Writing by students~ Surf and Spanish in Spain 2017

The Beach Food Vendors of Cadiz, by Zoe

The beaches in Cadiz are great things. They are massive and stretch for as far as the eye can see, and span great lenghts of the city with their warm yellow sand and turquoise waters. There are people everywhere; huddling under the small shade circles of their umbrellas, playing ball on the beach, and sunning themselves on the sand. So naturally, there needs to be food. On the main city beaches, there are the people who everyday walk up and down the hot beach with their carts in hopes of a profit. There are four major types of these mobile sellers. The first carries a rack of sunglasses and bracelets. They often have good stuff, and are willing to barter over the prices. The second carries massive bags of chips and other snacks. The snacks are good, and the prices are fair so overall it is a win-win. The third is the drink-sellers. They wheel around large coolers and are generally pretty popular with the thirsty beach goers. The fourth type of cart is the best. They are very popular with everyone and they have the best products. They are the donut sellers. They sell the best pastries you will ever taste. When they set up their tables and ring their little bell, everyone, young, and old, locals and tourists, those on land and in the water come running to buy something. Before long they have a small crowd gathering around and for a good reason. They sell all kinds of pastries, all fresh and homemade and just for one euro. Then, just as soon it begins, the food is sold, the people have left and the workers are already moving the tables further on down the beach.


Surfing, by Burton

When I first read about what I was going to do in Spain, one thing stuck out in my mind; surfing. It was the only thing I could remember about the itinerary. When people asked me what I was going to do in Spain, I immediately replied that I was learning how to surf. When I went to Ecuador with Gogi Abroad (great trip by the way, I recommend it) the thing that I was most looking forward to was eating guinea pig. It turns out that guinea pigs taste really good!

Surfing is amazing as well. Really, really amazing. It’s like snowboarding only wetter, and warmer.

Before I actually started surfing I had a to take a surf class with the group. This involved running in wet sand and pretending to surf on our beaches surfboards. Then we dragged out our surfboards out into the water, paddled out, and waited. Feeling slightly impatient, I wondered what to do next. As I watched a wave approaching I thought about what I was supposed to do; paddle away from the wave and stand up as it hit me. I started paddling but decided to just lay down on the board for the first attempt. My next few attempts to catch a wave were unsuccessful, but finally I was able to catch one and quickly scramble to my feet. It worked! I was surfing!! It was even more amazing than I thought it would be. It’s really hard to describe what it feels like, but know it was incredibly invigorating! I was able to stay standing until the wave dissipated and then hopped off the board filled with delight.

That day I was able to get up on the surfboard about 20 times, all of them as amazing as the first. I did have lots of unsuccessful attempts though. The nose of my board kept going underwater so the board would flip over, a very unpleasant and discouraging experience.  I learned that catching a wave is the hard part and standing and staying up is easy. I also learned that crashing into another person hurts.

The second day of surf was much easier, except that the waves were smaller. Surfing smaller waves is not as fun. That day I focused more on trying to surf diagonally across the wave but I couldn’t do it. I hope that in the next surf days there will be bigger waves. I have decided that surfing is now one of my favorite things to do and I definitely hope to do it more in years to come.

A Few Memories, by Maddy

Charlie, Maddy, Phoebe and Nathaniel all got together and bought a big, blow-up “sandia” (watermelon). We all used it when we went to Conil to enjoy the beach! We created a great game out of trying not to get knocked off the watermelon from the ocean waves. We also tried to stand up on it and not fall off. It was a great purchase and we created many great memories.

On the Gogi Abroad trip we have had a lot of cool experiences. We met a lot of new people and learned more about the culture and how people live. My favorite experience so far though is the first time we surfed together. This was my first time surfing and everyone made it so easy to not feel overwhelmed. I was even able to stand up and ride a wave! This group is so close and supportive and it makes everything easier. I couldn’t have asked for more and I don’t want to go home!

Camping at El Palmar, by Charlie and Izlin

When we found out that we would be sharing a large tent with another group of students we become nervous. When we walked into our large tent we found 12 Spaniards from Malaga talking and thought, “oh no, we have to share our space”. We were both overwhelmed and had some trepidation about how our evening was going to end up. However, this fear quickly dissolved into new friendships. This group of high school students was a perfect example of Spaniards being loud, friendly and outgoing. For example, in the evening after dinner we entered the tent and they were playing music, singing and dancing with each other. We all ended up forming a circle and dancing to Spanish pop. These students were very friendly and curious about America and intrigued by our music taste and cultural things such as bottle flipping and dance moves. Looking back to that night, it was such a great cultural exchange and we now have new amigos in Spain! This part of the trip was very eye opening because it taught us that we can build friendships and connect with new people within a matter of hours. It simply takes an open mind and the willingness to let go of fears.

My Best Experience in Spain, by Grayson

On a Tuesday night, the night we went camping, I had one of the best experiences of this trip so far. Our group had just gotten back from a shopping excursion and a beautiful walk on the beach. All of us walked into the huge tent we were staying in for the night and were greeted by a group of Spaniards who were also staying in the tent. All of the Spanish guys were chilling in the common room of the tent where all the couches were. The girls were laying down on the bunk beds pushed up to the right side of the room. The girls were playing music and when we walked passed them I decided to dance a little on the way over to my bunk. They giggled and laughed a bit and turned up la musica a tad. After I put my luggage on the bed I walked back over to the common area. One of the guys there approached me and asked me if I danced. I told him that I did, a little which led to a mini-dance off. When we finished the girls applauded for the next ten minutes or so and this Spanish guy who later started addressing as “my boi Juan” talked and danced. The rest of the guys left and the girls from the bunk beds began introducing themselves and asking us lots of questions (in Spanish of course). Once we all knew each other one of the girls put on some music and we proceeded to have dance party and a bottle flipping contest. By the end of the night we were all tired and passed out. It was one of the most fun experiences I have had on this trip and I am so happy that I had the chance to meet so many new people.

This trip is what we make of it, and it is leading to many connections and discoveries!


Living in a new culture can really open ones eyes to the world and being in Spain has shown us many new ways to live. Sharing a home stay with someone from a different country is the best way to fully understand a new culture and pick up the language. We are speaking from experience here in Cadiz!

The first day we arrived in Spain we were very insecure about our Spanish and communicating with our host mom. In Spain, meals are the most important part of building relationships, and by the second or third meal we already felt more comfortable answering and asking questions. Spending time here where the Spanish language is mandatory for everyday life has elevated our own language level very quickly. In Cadiz, people are very inviting, understanding and helpful! The streets in Cadiz are beautiful and full of life. They are also complicated if you don’t know them, and it’s relieving when you can turn to a complete stranger and ask for help! We did this a few times and each time the people were kind and helpful.

Food is the biggest part of the Spanish culture, if you don’t eat what is in front of you the locals will be concerned and eve

n take it personally. There is no time for us to be hungry when another meal is always around the corner. The most challenging part is definitely communicating, but is also the most rewarding. We have learned to be very clear about what we want to ask for because sometimes we have asked for something very simple and the answer took great length to figure out. It can be humorous at times because for something so simple it can become so complicated. Even though we are only half way through this trip, we have already felt ourselves grow so much, not only in the language, but in becoming more comfortable in our new surroundings and new lifestyle. Giving and receiving so much trust in a foreign country has made us feel very secure about where we are. This trip is what we make of it, and it is leading to many connections and discoveries!

Izlin and Charlie

Dear Family,( We wrote a few post cards)

I have had an amazing time so far from the cool, but long plane ride to surfing on the beach. One of my favorite experiences was when I stood up on the surfboard and was riding a wave! The feeling was amazing. The food here is also excellent and all is suburb! I can’t wait to see you guys soon- Maddy

Experiences on the beach by Zinnia

Today is another sandy day in Spain. I, Zinnia, have decided to describe the sights of a Spanish beach, just for the fun of it. To be quite frank, the only reason I have agreed to do this is because my bathing suit is still in my bag. So I am not currently able to swim. I would be, of course if I had changed earlier when I had privacy, but now my only option is to change in public (with a towel wrapped around). “When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do,” says Liz, our trip leader. Despite these wise words, I think I would rather not change under a towel. So, I am left here alone in the sun with a pen and paper, sipping an apple juice generously packed for me in my picnic from my host family. The sand is sandy, as expected. The water is salty, also as expected, just a bit more than the beaches I’ve been to in America. There are a lot of people on Spanish beaches, mostly topless, which can make us Americans feel slightly uncomfortable. Merchants and people selling food search the beach for eager customers. Men selling homemade doughnuts and other Spanish pastries carried in large boxes stop every once in awhile to be swarmed by small hungry children. I myself have bought a doughnut or two and I can say that I approve. Most pastries sell for only one euro, which is an incredibly cheap price considering the quality of the item you receive.

Little kids line the edge of the water digging around in the sand happily. Not far from there, the other Gogi students on this trip have bought a raft shaped like a “sandia” watermelon. They all chipped in some Euros and bought it together, and they are trying to float slowly away to Morocco. They are not going to get there. My dad just went to reel them back to shore. Zoe, Burton and Georgia are the only ones who aren’t recklessly fleeing the country. They are sitting with me and eating a fried chicken sandwich, or should I say fighting over it! It’s peaceful here, especially without the loud hooligans. The tide is getting high now and almost reaching the towels. I think we better move…

Galapagos 2018






 YES it is true … we are planning a unique and leave no trace adventure to the Galapagos!



The Gogi-Nahual sisterhood is based on the common goal of seeing the world, its wonders and cultures through the eyes of empowerment, education and environmental awareness. Traveling to the Galapagos archipelago, one of the most unique and fragile ecosystems worldwide, entails a strong sensitivity and environmental responsibility.

This is far from a traditional tourism trip. Through our interaction with Galapagos locals, our work on an established farm of a pioneering family that arrived to the islands, as well as beautiful sightseeing, we will connect to these islands in a meaningful and inspiring way. Join us!

Exploring Peru Blog by Rosalie (Gogi Student)

PERU ADVENTURE by Rosalie, Gogi student 2017

Day 1, April 15, 2017 

Soaring over the mountain range that represented the Andes, the Gogi Abroad group of 2017 entered Cusco, Peru. After a seven hour flight from JFK airport from New York to Lima, Peru the group had become incredibly travel weary. Peering out of the window at the bright cotton shaped clouds, I could see a tall mountain range of sharp peaks jutting up through the cloud bank. Excitement filled my bones. Shortly after the group of us; Josh, Anabell, Chai, Cora, Benjamin, Katherine, Laura Nell and I, landed, we piled into a van which drove us to where we would be staying. We sped down narrow, ragged roads where we were able to experience the life of Cusco from afar. Shops with limited merchandise and dusty doorsteps lined the streets. Men, women and children hurried along calling out to each other and visitors passing by to buy their products. Stray dogs of all breeds littered the streets trotting freely from one destination to the next. Vegetation such as aloe plants and cacti flourished along the sandy roads growing without boundaries.

   It was around 10 o’clock when we arrived at the Q’ewear project, our home for the next few days. We were welcomed with sunny smiles and warm hugs from the local people that lived there. Not long after we arrived we met Julio, the founder of the project who gave us a tour around the different workshops. The Q’ewar project is located in the town of Andahuaylillas. It is where a group of women work together in various workshops creating traditional Waldorf dolls that are then sold for a profit. The project is accompanied by a small kindergarten where young children learn the ways of Rudolf Steiner, the man behind Waldorf education.









After an informative tour we sat down to a prepared meal of traditional Peruvian food. We had stuffed tomatoes filled with various vegetables that were mixed with dressing and placed on top of a large lettuce leaf. This delicious food was inhaled by the Gogi students who were famished from the travels.

We relaxed under the sun and explored the village where we would be staying for a few days. The people were friendly and the mountains were luminous. I closed my eyes that night with an excited smile covering my face. I remember thinking I am going to learn so much!

Day 2, April 16, 2017

  We woke up at 3:30 am on Easter Sunday with a surprise waiting. We made our way sleepily into the town where an Easter service was to be held in the town’s chapel. The architecture that framed the interior of the building was carefully crafted designs made out of gold with various artworks and statues interwoven within. I stared in awe, amazed at the detail and precision of the art. As the service began, everyone started circling around a bonfire outside the church. The priest lit a large candle with a figure resembling Jesus crafted on the front. The light was then passed from candle to candle held by those circled around. The people then progressed forward into the chapel. During the ceremony, the priest read a few pages out of the Bible accompanied by words of his own. The originality of the priest’s words enhanced the service making it unique and special. Concluding the ceremony the townsfolk brought a decorated statue of Mary out into the plaza where they paraded her in a circle.

 After a replenishing breakfast, the Gogi crew helped with chores around the project that consisted of building a rock wall, picking up trash, and cleaning out a natural trench. The sun blazed and the birds sang as our day progressed.



In the evening we were invited to see a Shaman who was visiting the project. Liz, the leader of Gogi Abroad, had invited him and we were lucky enough to witness a traditional ritual of the Inca people. The Shaman began by laying out a variety of different materials that represented multiple aspects of life. He then passed out cocoa leaves to everyone around the circle and told them to focus on an intention. Next, he had people approach him individually as he pressed the leaves to their foreheads before adding flowers to the bundle. He finished with a prayer he blew into the bundle of leaves and  flowers which he then had you repeat. After the ritual ended, the circle of people joined each other for a pizza dinner the Gogi crew had prepared with the help of Marcia and Thomas, the two head leaders of our trip.

Day 3, April 17, 2017

  While tightening our hiking boot laces, we prepared ourselves for our first hike in the new altitude. Our hike was intended for us to collect a specific type of grass on top of a mountain that was used to build traditional Inca houses known as adobes. This specific grass would be incorporated into blocks which were stacked on top of each other creating a sturdy shelter. Our hike into the Andes in search of this grass lasted seven hours. However, we were lucky the sun wasn’t too hot that day. We finally arrived at the top where we found and collected the Paja grass which we then stuffed into sacks that we dragged down the mountain. This was a strenuous task, but very rewarding.





In the evening the group made their way back into town where we watched the nightlife stir. We smiled at the kids who laughed and ran around the plaza playing a game of soccer as the sun set behind the Andes. The town was peaceful. The shopkeepers and vendors began closing their stores and stands as dusk crept into the town.

Day 4, April 18, 2017

 As the sun rose into the sky casting a bright glow over the town of Andahuaylillas the Gogi Abroad students ready themselves for a day of building. We walked up to a plateau that overlooked the town where a group of men awaited us, ready to instruct the adobe building process. First, we shoveled a mound of dirt into a flat pile. Next, one of the men streamed water into the pile while the Gogi group marched around forming a giant mud patty. We then used shovels and pick axes to stir the mud before sprinkling the Paja grass into the mud and mixing it in. The preparation of the grass before it was mixed, consisted of it being chopped into six inch lengths by a hand axe. The grass was  firmly mixed into the mud by our feet as we performed a type of “mud dance,” one would say. After we let the mud settle for a bit we then poured it into wooden molds where the adobe blocks were formed. After a muddy excursion, the group cleaned up the caked mud from off our legs and out from in between our toes.

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting under the evening sun and working in the Q’ewar workshops helping the women make dolls. The night was topped off with a ceramics class taught by Julio where the Gogi group created clay birds. After our dinner meal we crawled into bed taking in our last night at the Q’ewar project.

Day 5, April 19, 2017

 Piling into a van early on Wednesday morning the Gogi group waved their goodbyes to the hard-working members of the Q’ewar project, and we were off! Flying down the winding roads of Peru! We passed several villages littered with vendors and petite shops that sold various goods and essentials to townsfolk and tourists. Watching the Peruvian life flash by, we traveled deeper and deeper into the Sacred Valley. As I peered into the sky I could see the sharp ridges of the mountain peaks outlined in the sky with mist settling in the cracks. We snapped a few photos before resting our heads back and soaking up the warm sunshine, letting the breeze dance through our hair. We arrived in the town Ollantaytambo, where we boarded a train that whisked us along the mountainside to another small village at the base of Machu Picchu. We exited the train and were immediately met with a wave of thick, hot air accompanied by the bustling sound of tourists. Vendors filled the streets and constantly called out to attract customers. The sun beat down on us as we climb the steps hoping we were headed in the right direction to our hotel. “Lead the way!” Thomas called. And so we did. Hotel de Mystio was the name of the hotel we were looking for, it was hidden above a shop that sold handcrafted jewelry made with various gems and stones. The stairway leading up to the front desk was covered with detailed art portraying a variety of scenes from Machu Picchu with human figures incorporated into the landscape and an abundance of color interwoven. Some had women with hair that flowed into forests and others had old men blowing clouds out of a pipe in the sky above the ancient city. The hotel had a magical and mysterious vibe that contributed to the splendor of the Peruvian jungle we have now entered.

   After exploring the village, the Gogi group slipped into their bathing suits and wandered to the entrance of the hot springs. While following along the stone path we noticed many rocks that jetted out of the earth, carved into various shapes. One was a profile of an Indian man with feathers in his hair. Another was a bird looking upward also with detailed feathers. These sculptures were all life-sized, decorating the path. Various vegetation lined the trail dripping water that moistened the earth and making the path softer to tread. The path led us to the entrance to the hot springs. Colorful, comfy chairs were placed, surrounded by artwork and lamps, that were set in the corners of the lounge casting a soft glow into the air. The hot springs were caged into ceramic pools that held milky beige warm water. We slipped into the steamy liquid which immediately began to soothe our muscles. Smiling at the strangers who were also enjoying the fresh natural warmth, I felt a happiness settle within me that wrapped my soul in contentment. We were surrounded by mountains, jungles and exotic wildlife. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of a nearby river bubbling down the mountainside as peace settled around me.

Day 6,7  April 20-21, 2017

   Waking up before the sun on a dark Thursday morning I was greeted with the sound of a waterfall gushing right outside my room. It was 3:34 am. Gradually everyone began to slip out of bed and they sleepily slipped into their clothes and prepared for our hike to Machu Picchu. Meeting at the front desk, Marçea lead us through the dark town to the entrance of the mountain. We halted in a crowded line of hikers, all of whom were patiently waiting till 5 am when the gate opened. After some time, the line began to gradually move forward as hiker after hiker entered through the entrance. 

Climbing stone steps through the jungle the Gogi group pressed on through the sweat and humidity. Every so often a view would appear through an opening between the trees revealing a member of the Andes mountains jetting into the sky. The hike was peaceful and the mountains were extraordinary. They mostly consisted of steep rock that climbed higher and higher, endlessly covered in dusky green vegetation. Finally, a peak formed at the top revealing a sharp ridge of rock. In the jungle vines were interwoven amongst the Aliso trees creating a unique habitat for many creatures including birds and insects. As we continued to ascend the steps upward, the fog that blanketed the forest descended. An hour and a half later we arrived at a platform which represented the entrance to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, one of the world’s ancient wonders. The city was magical. The ruins, sculpted out of stone, was only discovered in 1911 by a Yale professor. However, this lost city was home to the Incas thousands of years ago. The structures held rich history that emanated as we walked through. Even though a few facts are known about Machu Picchu, mystery still lies in its purpose. Many suggest that it was built for religious purposes or even for learning reasons, but none suggest that it was built for everyday life. The profound architecture was built so carefully that every stone molded perfectly to the one next to it. Swallowed up by the surreal experience, the Gogi group explored the ruins for the rest of the morning. Luminous mountains surrounded, creating a city in the sky. After soaking in the ancient history and splendor, we hesitantly descended hundreds of stone steps carved into the mountainside. 


  Arriving back at the hotel we rested for a while, laughing and chatting and continuing to learn new things about one another. After a quick lunch of pizza and mango smoothies we departed on the train back to the town of Ollantaytambo.. 

Day 8-9 April 22-23, 2017

Our last day was spent exploring the city of Cusco. The Gogi group paraded around together, laughing and chatting as we toured various streets and shops soaking in our last sights of Peru. We visited museums and churches marveling at the beauty and learning about the history. After a long day of sightseeing  we walked, arm and arm, back to the hostel where we piled into the same van that had chauffeured us around. That van carried us to the Cusco Airport where we boarded and were whisked away as fast as we had arrived. Our last flight was at 11 pm from Lima, Peru to JFK Airport in NYC. As the engine rattled and the wheels began rolling forward, I reflected on the trip and the wonderful experiences it had taught me. I met so many unique and inspiring people. This trip holds a special place in my heart that I will always remember and hold on to.– The Gogi Abroad Peru Crew of 2017

Written by Rosalie Turner

Family Bikepacking Trip by Burton

Arriving to Palugo, Ecuador — By: Burton

We arrived at Palugo farm late, after two long flights from Boston. Once we met Marcea and Roberto, we had dinner in the Chozon with everyone that had arrived already. We woke up early the next morning, and met the last family to arrive. The day was sunny and bright. We did chores and explored the farm before breakfast. Some of us met and fed the horses, and others fed the guinea pigs and helped in the garden. After, we ate breakfast. Before lunch, we fed the pigs, and saw the cows and llamas. We drank fresh water from a spring and took a walk. After lunch, we assembled and fitted bikes for the expedition, and milked cows. Once dinner had been finished, we had a spanish lesson with Liz. The next day, some of us carved wooden spoons and others roasted bread over a fire. After lunch, we packed for the expedition, which we would leave for the next day.

Biking, Camping and Otavalo

On the morning of the first day of expedition, we woke up early and packed the few things we had not and loaded them onto the bus that would take us to the starting point. On the way, we stopped at a town for a brief exploration and to wait for our bikes to arrive. Just as we started biking, it started to rain. We biked along the side of a canal towards a tunnel where we would eat lunch. Halfway there, it started to hail, but only for a short while. We ate lunch at the mouth of the tunnel, and then biked through it. After 20 minutes of riding through darkness and mud, we emerged on the other side in bright sunlight, the first we had seen all day. Next, we had to push our bikes up a hill towards the campsite that we would stay at. Once there, we met Roberto and the truck that had all our camping gear and food. As soon as we got the tents up, it started to rain again. The next morning, we all woke up to a cloudy sky. The forecast for the day was an 80% chance of rain from 6:00 on. We all prepared for the worst, and started biking, following the canal. By lunchtime, it hadn’t started raining. We got to camp, a field with some grass and sheep. After dinner, we started a bonfire with the thorny bushes that grew in the hedge. That night, it rained lightly. We got up early and packed up camp. We biked down a hill and met the bus that would take us to another town. Once there, we unloaded our bikes and rode to the town of Otavalo. On the way we experienced small Ecuadorian towns and briefly met their occupants. When we arrived at Otavalo, we were excited and proud of our biking expedition. We rode to the market, parked our bikes, and split up to eat lunch and buy souvenirs at the market. A few of us a lunch at a restaurant that Roberto had recommended. We all had fruit smoothies, which were delicious. Afterwards, we bargained for souvenirs at the market and got chocolate in the grocery store. Finally, we met our bus that would take us to San Clemente.

San Clemente

When we arrived at San Clemente, we were welcomed by Roberto’s father and a representative from our host families. We split up to our houses to eat dinner. At the house I stayed at, we had Cuy, or guinea pig. We roasted it over an open fire with a barbeque sauce. It was fantastic. After showers, we went to bed. In the morning, we helped cook breakfast, which was tortillas, fruit, and other foods. After breakfast, we helped the animals on the farm. Our host family taught us a game that we loved, even though we always lost. Around 10:00, we walked down to the school where we met everyone else. We played soccer with some of the students that attended the school. Before lunch, rode alpacas. Lunch was a potluck, all of the families had cooked something. The food was amazing. After lunch, we packed up, said goodbye and thank you to our host families, and got on the bus for the 3 hour trip back to Palugo farm.

Hot Springs and Goodbye

On the last day, we took a bus to a hot springs water park. There were a bunch of hot pools, and some cold ones. We took turns jumping in the freezing cold water and back into the hot water. Apparently, if you do this 7 times, you will be completely clean. After hot springs, we went back to the farm. The kids performed a skit for the adults of all of our favorite moments during the trip. It included herding cows, roasting hot dogs and the confusion between hot sauce and ketchup, biking in the hail, bargaining at the market, and soccer at San Clemente. We said goodbye to the people that we wouldn’t see in the morning, and went to bed. We woke up at 5:00 the next morning and packed our luggage in the bus that would drive to the airport. We said goodbye to Roberto, Thomas, and Noa. At least one of us didn’t want to leave. I could of stayed longer in Ecuador! It was a special trip!  –  By, Burton Townshend, Student

More biking inspiration!


Last year Nicole, Mathias (Gogi’s guides) and their daughter, Ayra, biked from Cusco to Lake Titicaca. Here are some beautiful photos and stories! Nicole will be guiding again this year in Peru! Also, Gogi now has bike packing trips in Ecuador~


El Taraumara blogspot.com is filled with stunning photos and adventures

Our Year Abroad


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My husband, our two boys and I spent this last year traveling to thirteen countries, an experience that was transformative and expansive on many levels. We began our adventure with the intention to connect with new cultures and people from all over the world, with special attention to water and natural resources. We experienced first hand how global warming is changing climate world wide, and how many cultures are feeling its effects.  As the director of Gogi Abroad, this year presented me with amazing opportunities to create new partnerships with like-minded communities.IMG_1492

We visited tribal villages and unique communities around the globe. It was life-changing to work alongside the farmers in Malaysia and to watch how they worked with their land and how they approached animal husbandry. One afternoon my son, Nathaniel, and I drove home on our moped and we stopped to observe the children working with the water buffalo in the rice fields. We saw how beautifully the community farmed together. Nathaniel observed, “I feel like we are living in the olden days; everyone works together with different tools, and the animals are almost part of the family.” This was a new feeling for us, a new perspective on farming as an aspect of communal living.IMG_2673

As we progressed to Vietnam and Myanmar, we hiked to tribal villages, and discovered that the people there lived with very few material things, no running water or electricity.  The entire village left a very small carbon footprint, and it became apparent that these were the people that suffer most from global warming.P1090698

The villagers had no calendar, or smartphone to analyze the weather patterns. They worked with the phases of the moon, and each generation passed their essential knowledge to younger members of their tribe:  knowledge of the of the planting season, when the rain would come and when to harvest depending on the blooming of different plants. The farmers and villagers were confused because the rain hasn’t been coming when it used to, and when it does, flooding often occurs.

Despite their obvious suffering due to the lack of a vital resource such as water, their community continued to find joy in daily living together. My nine year-old son, Asher, told me as we sat in the mountain village in Shan Myanmar, “I know what the universal language is.”

“Oh really?  I asked.  What is that?”

Asher replied with a smile, “It is laughter.”  We spent many hours with this particular Tai ethnic group and heard and shared much laughter over the simple things in life.  This was comforting to share something that was so fundamentally human.  Someone so different can be connected through the simplicity of laughter.  The Tai probably laugh more than people who have access to all the resources in the world.IMG_2486

This year of travel introduced us to sustainable models of managing essential resources such as water, food and animals in small tribes as in Tanzania, and in large ones as in Israel and Spain.  We observed cultures creating art which expressed their reality.  We were intrigued by their rituals for bringing children into their world, and to mark the coming of age, and establishing a sense of place in their tribe. We had a special Vermont connection that brought us to stay with a Maasai tribe in Longido, Tanzania. What a proud and timeless people!  Their culture has been intact for millennia. Eating freshly slaughtered and roasted goat in a tent at their weekly cattle market was a culinary experience that took us far out of our comfort zone.  We saw the Maasai in their red robes all over the countryside tending their flocks.  It was all such an indelible part of the landscape.  They, too, were feeling the scarcity from the effects of global warming as frequent droughts kill off large parts of their cattle herd.

I worked alongside the Maasai women at the beading cooperative.  I never expected to gain so much from an afternoon of bead making together.   There was intention in each bead, as if each bead had its own consciousness, and I was swept away into their sincerity, their world of scent, energy and call and response. This art form was deeply representative of their culture. After beading I was left with more questions about our world we live in and more profound questions of how one discovers a sense of place and identity in tribe.2016-03-24 16.22.00

How are people of different cultures coming together to manage their resources sustainably?   How are communities brought together in farming, and animal husbandry?  How are communities brought together in music, and in ritual?

The common thread through all of these questions and their answers became clear: it was connection through community.  

I believe there is hope for a new paradigm to emerge in the management of our planet’s natural resources, and in currently fraught international relations.  Our current models were grown from a seed that guaranteed their self destruction:  the seed of belief in separation, belief in fundamental disconnection from those whose ways of living differ from our own.IMG_9521

After this world tour my family and I learned what it is to know this sense of universal interconnectedness. Even though we didn’t speak all the languages, or understand all the cultural rules we did develop a sense of belonging through the experience of tribe, an awareness that all human beings are looking for the same things in life: collaboration, connection, and community.

Each time we arrived and settled into each new culture with its people and landscape, we began to see that, at our core, all human beings are the same. We are of one large tribe that has adapted to survive in different environments.  It is not only possible, but vital for the future of this world that our youth explore the concepts of tribal identity and to experience connection to our wider, human tribe, across cultural divides.P1090330

We need to allow the new to spring up from the compost of the old paradigms of “us” and “them” to replace the concept of “tolerance” with a sense of humility and appreciation for other cultures. Tolerance assumes there to be a difference at the fundamental level between people. The development and fostering of a sense of connection, on the other hand, is a more sustainable model.  Through world travel and cross-cultural engagement, we develop a more united perspective through experience of tribal art and social ritual.  We can work together as citizens of the earth, to share methods of managing vital resources such as water, as well as methods of farming, animal husbandry and food production for the benefit of all.

We had an amazing year of growth and travel together! We are grateful to everyone that opened their hearts and homes to us!

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Vietnam Adventures and an interview with a Hmong woman about water

 Sapa, Vietnam


 We had a rich and inspirational time hiking village to village in the hills around Sapa, Vietnam.Our days were spent leisurely strolling along the dirt lanes surrounded by literally unbelievable views of terraced hills, which have been farmed by the local Dao and Hmong people for hundreds of years. It was impressive to see whole hillsides and hilltops completely transformed through the labor of generations of hands working the earth. I tend to regard the subjugation of the natural order of things for human purposes with suspicion. In this land, however, it seemed to be done with such patience and intention, that it was hard to not appreciate the shear scale and aesthetic of it.



Through this whole landscape there was the ubiquitous sound of water, trickling and flowing through ancient irrigation ditches, cascading down streams, powering a rice husking contraption, and coursing through the river at the bottom of the valley. Clearly, the amount of fresh water has helped the people here lead a successful agricultural life.

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So it was with great interest and excitement that we conducted a water interview with Ku, the host at our home stay in Laochia Village near Sapa. Ku is a Hmong woman who spoke English fluently and her insight into a different cultures view of water was really helpful.


According to Ku, the drinking water for the villages in the valleys comes from the natural springs that abound in this area. Up the mountain, people get their water from the little streams. All water is boiled before being drunk.


Wastewater goes to a deep hole under the ground and filters through many holding tanks before being returned, relatively clean, back to the river.

The irrigation water flows from one rice patty to the next continuously all year long. No one uses more than necessary because, if the rice patty gets too full, the system could break down. Irrigation water is a family affair. It is a shared right. No one ever pays for water. If you move to a new village and want to get some water , you go to the owner of the water and ask if you can share with them. You bring some rice wine to them and have a dinner and ask nicely and people share.


It never floods in the hills around Sapa and there are never any droughts.Ku says she has not noticed a change in the water but there has been differences in the weather. Summers are hotter and the rains are not as reliable. There are new plants as well.


The river at the bottom of the valley is called Fish River in Hmong. In Ku’s grandparent’s day, families would go to the river to fish in the afternoon. Nowadays there is not as much fish, though. The hydroelectric dam may be a contributing factor to the declining fish population. Ku thinks overfishing is probably a cause as well.

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You can tell that the river and its fish hold a special spot in local lore because of stories like this one that was told to us by Ku. There is an old Hmong trick where, when you’re walking along the river with your sweetheart, you sneakily throw a rock into the river and say, “Oh Look, there must be a fish under that rock”. When the woman sticks her hand under the rock to grab the fish, the man does the same, ostensibly to grab the fish, but really to grab the girls hand.

The Hmong have a ceremony during New Year, or Tet, for the river and rain. Two or three towns get together and pay for a shaman to sacrifice a chicken or a goat to the spirits.

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Ku worries about the loss of Hmong culture do to people leaving the villages and heading to the cities.

We asked about all the water bottles people use. Some people collect the water bottles and send them to be recycled. Woman come by with candy and trade for the empty bottles. People also use them for rice wine and lots of other things.


It was great to spend time with a local Hmong family and learn about some of the ways they use and appreciate water! We loved spending the rest of the evening drinking happy water (rice wine) and playing games.

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