The Girl Who Wanted to Save the World

Her name was Lisa, she was from Berlin, and she wanted to save the world. She insisted that swimming naked in the sea was a basic human right, and she believed that the best strategy for playing chess was to have no strategy at all. “Everything is about energy and intuition,” she said while looking at me with her always serious face. She had long braids, gray cat eyes and freckles, but despite all that she never seemed playful. Life was nothing she took lightly. How can you, if you are carrying the burden of having to save the world? Even in the middle of a jungle beach paradise in Colombia where any other 23 year old would have snorkeled with the fish or danced in the moonlight, Lisa gave lectures on CO2 emissions instead. “Do you know your carbon footprint?” she asked me. “Most people don’t have the slightest idea how much damage they cause by taking airplanes,” she continued before I could even answer. She had this friend who flew from Munich to Berlin once a week, just because it was faster than driving. Her cat eyes full of with disdain for such an irrational choice, her braids whipping back and forth in disbelief. Anybody who put their personal needs before the great cause of saving the world from the devastating, all-destroying environmental disaster that was inevitably awaiting us, was irrational for Lisa. She had once been careless, too. That was before she went to Africa and learned how we were destroying our planet by flying around in planes. Africa changed her. Now she had become a world saver. “Do you know that for taking one air plane, you could take 30 buses instead and still do less harm to the environment?” She believed that if she could convince only one single person per day to change their lifestyle, sooner or later the whole world would stop using planes and become a better place. Thomas didn’t believe her. He was from Hamburg and he also wanted to save the world. He never used plastic bags and ate no meat or fish. He told anybody who wanted to listen that eating a hamburger is even worse for the climate than flying around in a private jet. But unlike firm Lisa, he had one big weakness. Thomas had fallen in love. “It makes you weak and irrational,” said Lisa. Every part of her body, even her freckles, demonstrated how little she thought of this feeling. “Now, instead of watching your carbon footprint, you are just going to get on a plane to Brazil. That’s insane!” Thomas smiled. He looked as if he had just gotten a huge compliment. Lisa was steaming now. Her freckles were glowing: “There is absolutely no reason for people to take a plane to travel to places where they can’t get by land. It’s alright if you HAVE to take one plane and there is nothing you can do about it, but just flying on vacation to Jamaica to see the country? I would never do that!” “You never want to see Jamaica?”, I asked. “No! It would completely mess up my carbon footprint, it would be an environmental sin. There is really no reason for me to go to Jamaica.” Thomas’ smile grew bigger: “And what happens if you meet a Jamaican in Berlin and fall in love with him?” Lisa rolled her eyes. That would a) never happen or if it did, she would b) end the relationship.

I can’t help but imagine how maybe 15 years from now, freckled Lisa will be watching the sunset on a beach in Jamaica, the orange sun reflected in her cat eyes, her face covered in a soft smile.

 

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The Ultimate Camping Experience: Parque Tayrona, Colombia

I hate camping. I have never understood the appeal of sleeping in a tiny, stuffy tent. It simply eludes me why some people choose it over sleeping in a comfy bed. My camping experiences so far have been from “so so” to “really awful” (one of the worst was when we chose the coldest night of the summer to camp out and in our despair ended up burning our camping equipment to stay warm). Maybe, if I had a really nice camper, or maybe if I went to a really, really nice campside, and maybe if I tried glamping (glamorous camping), I could revise my opinion, but so far, camping has been my enemy.

And my last camping experience in Parque Tayrona, a national park on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, did nothing to change my mind.

  1. The tent

The campsite we found (also the cheapest in the entire park with $ 5 dollars per person per night) provided tents. So we rented one tent for two people. This teeny thing of a tent was either made for two children or two people that never move, but it was certainly not made for two adults (one of them being 6 foot tall) and their backpacks. It took us about an hour to arrange and re-arrange our stuff the first night, before we both found a decently comfortable position to sleep (soooort of). It also did not help that you could feel every bump of the ground under the paper thin mats that we had.

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  1. The facilities

I understand that you cannot expect a five star luxury surrounding on a camp ground, but you can definitely expect the kitchen and the bathrooms to be clean – especially if there are very few people on the campsite. However, the only people who tried to keep the kitchen and the bathrooms clean were the campers. You could always see somebody trying to get the stains out of the kitchen utensils or trying to get the clogged bathrooms to work. The only one who didn’t make an effort to clean anything was camp manager Don Hernán. Well, I guess if you hold your breath, and just eat cold food for 3 days, it’s all good. And then there were the showers. They were open, unisex showers, which was okay with me – until the 60 year old camp owner walked in completely naked and asked me to please look the other way. Ummm …

  1. The bugs

Let’s face it, when you camp, you enter the world of the bugs and you have to adapt to THEIR rules. This did not only mean to spray repellent on me … like every 5 minutes … but it also involved a nightly ant hunt where boyfriend and I had to unpack the entire tent, kill about 1000 ants, tape the holes in the tent with duct tape, find and kill even more ants inside boyfriend’s backpack, and put everything back in the tent hoping that the ants wouldn’t come back. All of this with just flashlights as technical support. Great activity if you are REALLY bored, not so great if you want to sleep.

  1. The dirt

There was absolutely NO way to keep the dust and sand from the campground out of the tent. This might not bother other people, but for a highly OCD personality such as myself, it is just frustrating. Needless to say, that I gave up on trying to keep ANYTHING clean after two hours and simply accepted the fact that once we got back to “civilization”, I could just wash EVERYTHING (twice!). (Alright, that was not completely honest, I did try to keep everything clean for the 3 days that we camped there and could only keep myself from going crazy knowing that a nice washing machine was waiting for us.)

BUT – I have to be fair and say that there were also many, many enjoyable moments at Don Hernán’s campsite.

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  1. Don Hernán

Maybe he wasn’t very much into cleaning toilets, but he sure kept us entertained at all times with one of his many travel stories. Also, he was a constant provider of tasty coconuts. As he decided to fell his 30 coconut trees on the camp ground, there was fresh and delicious coconut water any time you asked him for it.

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  1. The fellow campers

If you are in a place with no light after sunset, no internet and no TV, the best thing to do at night is to bring out the candles and flashlights and get to know your fellow campers. Honestly, if you walk into the common room of a hostel nowadays, 80% of the guests are busy staring at their smartphones or laptop screens, probably posting on Facebook how much fun they are having – but talking, sitting down together and sharing travel stories has become really rare this days. Not so on Don Hernán’s campsite. Argentinians, Chileans, Germans, Americans, Austrians would all sit together and – get that! – just talk. You wouldn’t believe the things you learn about some people this way !

  1. The surroundings

Parque Tayrona is an amazing place, with gorgeous flora and fauna and breathtaking beaches. Hiking, snorkeling, swimming, or just relaxing and reading a good book really makes you forget how much your back aches from sleeping in a tent.

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Lessons to be learned:

  • If you go camping, make sure you have a comfortable mat or blanket, or, in our case: invest a little more and stay on the campsite where the tents are on the soft sand.

  • Bring insecticide.

  • Make sure you camp in a place that is as amazing as Parque Tayrona.

 Finally, let me be clear: I still hate camping, but I also had a LOT of fun!

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To the Travelers of the World: What is your favorite travel location? Part II: Valparaíso

Yesterday fellow traveler and blogger Kendra Thornton talked about her favorite city, Las Vegas, and its charm beyond its flashy casinos here on Wanderstrudel. Today, I would like you to get to know one of my favorite cities – Valparaíso.

Valparaíso, de mi amor

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Even though I lived for almost 3 years in Santiago de Chile, my favorite Chilean city was and is without the shadow of a doubt Valparaíso. Sure, I like Santiago, and it is a nice city overall. But I LOVE Valparaíso. Valpo as Chileans call the city lovingly, always seemed more lively and more colorful to me than its big, modern, but also somehow more sterile neighbor. By colorful I don’t just mean the picturesque houses in all possible in impossible shades from blue to yellow to red to green that frame the many hills of the city, by colorful I also mean the people and the general character of Valparaíso. Valpo is a port, the Chilean port to be more precise, which makes it also Chile’s portal to the world. Therefore, you will find fishermen as well as cruise ship travelers roaming around the city. Valparaíso is also abig college city with a prestigious university, attracting Chilean as well as many international students, that make Valparaíso – according to my own statistics – the Chilean city with the highest dreadlock rate.

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You will find tourists from all over the world visiting the city that has been a UNESCO cultural heritage site since 2003. It is also the city where the National Congress meets, so you will most certainly find many people in suits frantically yelling into their Smartphones, or buying a hot dog (completo) for lunch from a street vendor. On weekends you will find many Chileans from the surrounding cities that come to Valpo to party. In the summer many people come to Valparaíso from its twin city, Viña del Mar, a popular tourist destination for anybody who is looking for sandy beaches and crystal clear water. And I bet that all of these different people are probably sitting together, laughing and talking, sharing a bottle of vino at one of the many taverns in the city (as a matter of fact, I have been one of them many times). Valparaíso is vibrant, lively, young, fresh (literally, as it is also always a touch colder than Santiago), alternative, sometimes smelly (blame it on the fish), full of music and it never seems to sleep.

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Valparaíso is constantly celebrating something: The New Year’s celebration in Valparaíso is famous throughout all of Chile and beyond, just like carnivalesque the Festival de Mil Tambores (Festival of the Thousand Drums), the Art Festival, the International Fotography Festival … It is also the city where you can find one of Pablo Neruda’s more colorful houses. He is probably the best-known Chilean poet, Nobel Prize winner, and a national hero. His three extravagant houses are legendary, and one of the most popular tourist attractions. It is not a coincidence that he chose the hills of Valparaíso as a location for one of his houses.

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For me, going from Santiago to Valparaíso always seemed like a vacation. It also seemed like diving into a different, more magical world. If Santiago is the city that moves Chile’s economy, Valparaíso is the city that moves the country’s soul.

What about you? What is your favorite travel location? Which place has a special place in your memories? 

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