Blog Archives

To a New Beginning

DSC01129So much has happened since my last post in May. First, I got a job 🙂 . I moved yet again for the job. I now live in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas. I teach 5th grade ELA (English Language Arts). I love my job sometimes and other times I just don’t know. I am also a Teach For America Corp Member…….In terms of traveling, I went back to Jamaica 🙂 in July, Dallas in September, DMV in October, Mexico, Panama and Cuba in November and I’m now in Colombia. On Jamaica, I couldn’t resist the USD$250 RT flight to Montego Bay. I was super stressed after the six weeks intensive training with Teach For America and I desperately needed a break. I had just 6 days so I took the Knusford Express bus directly to Ocho Rios as soon as the flight landed in Montego Bay. I love Ocho Rios, plus it is close to the things I love such as 9 Miles (Bob Marley’s birth place) and waterfalls. I stayed two nights before decided to try something new. Off to Negril I went. I wasn’t expecting much from Negril but I ended up loving it.

DSC01103I stayed at Judy’s House – pretty cool place surrounded by nature. There I met amazing folks that made my stay memorable. I did most of the touristy things – the beach (very clean), Rick’s café and Just Natural restaurant. I will surely return to Negril :).

P.s – I have updated the Jamaica resource page….. For Thanksgiving, I always travel somewhere. This year, I went back to Cuba. Making it my third time. Cuba has its ways of making me come back. I spent a night in Mexico City on my way there and back. Layover in Panama City where I couldn’t resist going shopping. Because I was very busy prior to this trip, I barely had time to plan it. I tried reserving a Casa Particular that I stayed before but due to slow internet in Cuba, I didn’t get a response. We arrived in Havana at midnight with nowhere to stay. The ladies at the information desk got us a place in Central Havana and changed money for us (the black market rate is way better than the bank’s rate). Since it was a Sunday, we went to Callejon de Hamel when we woke up. Callejon de Hamel is an alternative Sunday service honoring the Orishas of Yoruba religion. It was amazing as usual. We spent the afternoon in Havana Vieja which hasn’t changed much except there are constructions and renovations all over the place (I think China is putting money in the development of Cuba).DSC01139 The next day, we went to Trinidad. The casa we stayed at was very close to the town center. Trinidad was very quiet and probably has the cheapest and most varieties of souvenirs. We stayed only one night and the next day, we went up to Santa Clara to see the Che Mausoleum. We had arranged a car to pick us up from Trinidad, take us to Santa Clara and drop us off in Veradero. All for 120 CUC (about USD$140).  It was special being in the Che’s museum and mausoleum again (I’m a Che fanatic). The museum had all these rare photos for him from childhood to death. His beret, uniform, gun, water bottle……..it had everything CHE! After the visit, we arrived in Veradero late evening. Again changing money on the black market. Black market rate gives us between 90-96CUC for USD$100 while the bank rate is 87CUC for USD$100. Veradero is great for the beach and resort bums. Since we did not fall under that category, we didn’t love Veradero. We left to Vinales. Oh, we got cheated big time for the car ride to Vinales 😦 . The ride was so uncomfortable. Anyways, I have always thought of Vinales as a tourist trap but I ended up loving this tourist trap. It was colder than the rest of Cuba, surrounded by mountains so fresh cool air. We stayed on the main street in a really cool casa. The next day, we went on a horse ride. My first time EVER. I had the horse to myself (scary). The guide showed us how to make it go right, left and faster. I did not use the faster one. The guide was so great because I was ready to give up after the first 30 minutes. This was a four hour ride by the way. We stopped at a cave (also first time in a cave :)), coffee plantation and tobacco plantation. The tobacco plantation was pretty cool – they showed us how to make cigar without the nicotine. DSC01054 - CopyWe later returned to Havana where we rented out an apartment in Havana Vieja. We went on a tour in one of the old cars….me like. We stopped at Plaza de la Revolucion and a park close to Vedado area. For our last night, we went clubbing with the Cubanos. We met four Cuban guys at the internet café. One was a rapper and another a fashion designer. The rapper decided to rap to my friend and I 🙂 . He was pretty good. Anyways, we went out with them and a few of their other friends. It was a great way of ending our stay in Havana. We went straight from the club to the airport (brief stop at the apartment to get our luggage). Eight hours layover in Panama City, we decided to take the free shuttle to Metro Mall. We shopped (rather, I shopped) and met up with a friend for ice cream. The mall had this scale so I decided to check my weight. I lost 6 pounds 🙂 (p.s, I had been on a diet for a month – I eat chicken or fish with mixed vegetables, sweet potatoes and rice once a week and 3miles walk five times a week). Feeling proud:).DSC01248 Returned to work, my students took a mock exam. The average went up 14percent from the benchmark exam they took in September. The majority of them showed improvement so makes me feel that I’m doing a decent job educating themJ. New beginning because this year had me trying stuffs for the first time and challenging me in many ways…..

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Budget: Money Talk – Colombia 2009

Below is how money was spent for my 10 months trip across Latin America (Aug 2009 to June 2010). Colombia was the first country, then I went up to Mexico and visited Cuba. I didn’t really do a estimation of how much I should spend. I just went with the flow. Now, I’m much better in creating a budget and sticking to it. I stayed in Colombia for 4 months and took Spanish classes for 3 months at two different institutions. I also took Spanish classes at Nicaragua and Guatemala. Some countries were cheaper than others. By far, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico and Cuba were the most expensive. Those were the countries where I had to be very strict on how I spent money. Whereas, in countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua, I could afford to pay more for better hostels, take more comfortable buses and eat at nicer places. Panama and Colombia are in the middle tier, sometimes I enjoyed ‘luxury’, other times I was careful on what I spent money on. Below, you will find a breakdown on how money was spent in general and by country/city. Oh, a good amount went towards ATM and Credit Card transaction fees.

Country Total USD Per Day (USD) Duration
Colombia $5,914.78            $53 16 Weeks
Panama $1,148         $32.8      5 Weeks
Costa Rica $294 $49 6 days
Nicaragua $1,679.29 $50 5 Weeks
Honduras $1,110.69 $26.4 6 Weeks
El Salvador $255.48 $36.5 1 Week
Guatemala $951.13 $45 3 Weeks
Belize $277 $40 1 Week
Mexico $902.54 $44 3 Weeks
Cuba $910 $65 2 Weeks
Sub Total $13,442.91
Ticket $1,490.50
Shots & other travel gears   $1,138.06  Included Backpack, medications, travel insurance e.t.c
Total $16,071.47
 *Ticket was Multi-city:First leg: Atlanta – Miami – Medellin (Colombia). Second Leg: Cartagena (Colombia) – Panama City. Third Leg: Mexico City – Havana (Cuba) – Panama City – Guatemala City. Fourth Leg: Mexico City – Houston (Texas, USA)

Colombia 2009: Aug 13 to Dec 12, 2009

Colombia USD Duration
Medellin $4,862.78 3 Months
Bogota $200 5 Days
Cali & Buenaventura $540 2 Weeks
Cartagena $312 1 Week
Total $5,914.78 4 Months
Medellin: Breakdown USD Duration
Spanish classes $1,572 7 Weeks
Home stay (2 meals per day, Laundry & Internet) $1,540 8 Weeks
Belly Dancing $103
Student Visa $150
Others (Food, Entertainment, Weekend trips, Tours, In-City transportation) $1,497.78
Total $4,862.78
Panama (Panama City, Bocas, David, Playa Las Lajas & San Blas) USD 1148
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $1,076
ATM fee $73
Costa Rica (Puerto Viejo & San Jose) USD 294
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $280
ATM fee $14
Nicaragua (Managua, Leon, San Juan del Sur, Playa Popoyo, Isla Ometepe, Corn Islands & Granada) USD 1679.29
ATM fee $86.21
Domestic Flight $171.33
Spanish class & Homestay $260
Fedex Shipment to the USA $221.83
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $939.92
Honduras (La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula, Copan, Sambo Creek, Tela) USD 1110.69
ATM fee $56.80
Other (Hostel, weekend trip, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $673.89
Room & Board $380
El Salvador (San Salvador, Playa El Tunco & Mozote) USD 225.48
ATM fee $5.48
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $250
Guatemala (Antigua, Lago Atitlan & Xela) USD 951.13
ATM fee $20.99
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $815.14
Spanish class $115
Belize (San Iganacio, Hopkins & Caye Caulker) USD 277
ATM fee $5
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $272
Mexico (Mexico City, Tulum, Merida, Oaxaca, Palenque & San Cristobal de las Casas) USD 902.54
ATM fee $10
Tour – (Chichen Itza) $35
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $857.54
Cuba (Havana, Santa Clara & Trinidad) USD 910
ATM fee $10
Other (Hostel, food, drinks, transportation, e.t.c) $900