Tag Archives: travel

No Other Place Like Zion

Sometimes the best adventures begin on a whim, making a spur-of-the-moment decision, to pack your bags and hit the road. Over last Memorial Day weekend, I had the fantastic pleasure of exploring Zion National Park with a new found friend that was visiting the States from Africa. A bit skeptical about the experience, knowing how busy the park would be, I got some valuable tips from a colleague that has spent a lot of time guiding and wandering the park. Here are a few tips I would share with you:

Hike the Narrows. If you plan to do this, be sure to check if it is open yet. There are two ways to hike the Narrows. From the top down and from the bottom half-way up and back. It all depends and the depth of the water and whether or not you can make it through certain parts of the canyon. It’s worth a stop by the Zion Adventure Company, located right outside the park in Springdale, to gauge what the river is like. They also have neoprene rentals which come highly recommended if you have a hard time with being in cold water. You will be in the river most of the day with limited sunshine. We wore our shorts and warm tops with tennis shoes and keen sandals and acclimated quite quickly.

YOU MUST, get as early as start as possible. Hop on the first shuttle up to the trailhead. You will not regret it. We were in the water by 7am and were so happy we did. There were many stretches we nearly had the canyon to ourselves. The later in the day, the hike gets packed with people, I mean packed.

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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones

Where to find a campsite? We were given a great tip by a local that worked at the Adventure shop to camp just outside of Rockville. If you are heading out of the park, take a left on Bridge Rd. where you will cross a bridge over a small river. Take this road until it dead ends then hang a left up the hill. We found a perfect spot with incredible views. Yes, we still had neighbors, which was to be expected with the holiday weekend. 

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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Ami Jones
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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Jeff Trollip
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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Jeff Trollip

Do the Canyon Overlook Trail. This is an easy hike with high rewards. The trailhead is just after you exit the tunnel in the park, you can park on the right, cross the street and hit the trail.

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Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah © Jeff Trollip
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Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah © Jeff Trollip

Looking for a place to cool off we asked a park ranger the nearest area to access to water. He gave us the insider tip to check out the Pine Creek Pools. This is not so well-known and we ended up having the waterfall and pools to ourselves for about an hour mid-day. It’s a short hike that you can access shortly after the Zion National Park entrance on Hwy 9 (via Springdale). About a mile past the entrance, the road will turn right and you’ll cross the Virgin River and pass Floor of the Valley Rd. Drive straight to the switch backs. The 1st (right) turn crosses Pine Cr., and at the 3rd (right) turn, there is a pull-off (inside of the corner). Stop here (you’re about 2.5 miles from the park entrance.) Cross the road going north. Follow the trail; It’s less than 50 yards off the road.

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Pine Creek Pools, Zion National Park © Ami Jones

There is absolutely no place on earth like Zion. This was truly a trip that will never be forgotten! While trekking up the Virgin River on our hike through the Narrows we kept saying we wish we new a geologist that could explain what we were seeing. That night, at our campsite, it just so happened, that a geologist from Norway who had been conducting research amongst the many parks in Utah had set-up camp right next to us. We soon were chatting about the region and he confirmed there is truly no place like it on earth. So, be sure to add ZNP to the bucket list and take these handy-dandy tips with you!

Five Days in Fiji

I recently had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for work and when looking at flights I thought to myself about a stopover in the South Pacific on the way home back to the States. I zoomed in and out of google maps traversing across the Pacific Ocean and kept scanning over Fiji. After confirmation from a friend and colleague who previously worked in Fiji, I jumped on it. Always having the impression that Fiji would be quite expensive to travel through I was pleasantly surprised. I had 5 days and wanted to see and do as much as possible. Here are some tips on traveling Fiji in 5 days on a limited budget.

Back to searching for flights, I ended up finding travel through Nadi International Airport from Auckland International $400 cheaper then flying directly back to Los Angeles. I flew New Zealand Air to Fiji (a short 2.5 hour flight), then Fiji Airways back to Los Angeles, then on home to Denver. I highly recommend searching different providers and one-way tickets. Also, keep in mind that the rainy season in Fiji is November to April, making the best time for drier weather and sunshine April to October. I was there April 4 – 8 and had beautiful days!

Arriving early afternoon to Nadi,  I headed to Smugglers Cove Beach Resort. They have a variation of room offerings, a bar right on the beach and offer a free shuttle from the airport. A bed starts around $8.79/night. They have a travel desk to help you plan all of your adventures and if you are planning a trip out to the Yasawa Islands the bus stops right out front to take you to the boat.

View from Smugglers Cove
View from Smugglers Cove

That evening, I befriended a few Fijian locals. I ended up in a jam circle sipping on the local Kava tea. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink made from mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant with water and results in a numb feeling around the mouth, lips and tongue and a sense of relaxation. Well worth the try while in Fiji. Make sure to follow the local tradition of how to drink it with your new-found friends.

The next morning, I hopped the bus to climb aboard the Yasawa Flyer out to the Yasawa Islands. With limited time (and budget), I planned my first stop at Oarsmans Bay Lodge. This resort is located right near the Blue Lagoon, owned by an unforgettably friendly Fijian family and is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon Resort. It was about a 4-hour boat ride on the flyer up to one of their last stops. I booked this directly on bookings.com and got a bit better deal then booking through Awesome Adventures Fiji. That said, their website is a great resource to research where you want to go and see. Oarsmans Bay was fantastic for a budget traveler. The rooms were well-kept, the food delicious and every morning they placed fresh Hibiscus flowers outside of your room. Keep in mind that wifi is not available here- which when traveling in Fiji it is the perfect reason to completely disconnect.

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Our beachside bungalow at Oarsmans Bay Lodge

I spent two days at Oarsmans adventuring out on day activities offered by the Lodge. (A side note, it might be helpful to make a checklist of your must to-do’s while there so you don’t miss out on a particular activity then double check that accommodation offers what you like- it’s great to do this on the Awesome Adventures website). I had befriended a three girls; one from Sweden, one from Italy and another from the Netherlands. We stuck together and had an incredible time! We headed out to go swimming through a cave on another island, did some snorkeling, dancing with the family and of course taking in the views. When you book accommodations in the Yasawa Islands it is important to remember included in the cost your booking are all meals and activities.

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Our boat ride out to the cave
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View from our room
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Sunset at Oarsmans
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Our new friend

After a couple of well-spent days at the Lodge, we boarded the Yasawa Flyer and all headed to our next island. I overheard that a night spent at Beachcomber Island Resort was a must-do. It is well-known as the party island and it is near the mainland (so I could catch my flight back to the States the next day).

Upon arrival to Beachcomber, the resort was packed. I was in a large hut with about 100 beds in the girls dorm and every one of them was accounted for… Come to find out it was spring break for the nearby University of the South Pacific and I found myself right in the middle of the festivities. Seize the day and the rest is history! The evening was full of Fijian libations, performances, fire dances, and I even had the honor of teaching a local Fijian dance and ending up as one of the two finalists in the limbo contest. When in Fiji! It was truly a night to remember.

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Fijian fire dance

With an evening flight the next day, I spent the morning and afternoon going out for a snorkel and relaxing on the beach. Right on schedule, the flyer arrived and toted us back to Nadi. I quickly dashed back to Smugglers Cove to collect my belongings, they let me leave locked in storage, and hopped in a shared taxi back to the airport.

Walking out of Denver International Airport nearly a day and a half later with the Fijian sun and sand still lingering on me, my heart was filled with gratitude for such a wonderful adventure with new friends in an unforgettable place. I’ve encountered many extraordinary places and memorable faces and Fiji tops the list. The people here are amongst some of the most friendly. When traveling Fiji remember, as famous poet and playwright once wrote, “live, love and let be.”

Fijian traveler tip: get used to saying, Bula Bula!  Say it.  Just once, maybe twice.  It is hard to say the words without a smile immediately parting from your lips.  Go ahead…try it.  The word is heard everywhere in Fiji.  Bula originates from the Fijian culture and means anything from hello, goodbye, welcome, love and more.  It means LIFE.  A blessing of health and happiness.  Regardless of where you live; the concrete urban jungle, down under or near the north pole…you do not have to be in Fiji to celebrate LIFE.  Enjoy how one simple word can transform your entire day.  Bula blessings to you!

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My new found friends… until next time!

Street Art of São Paulo

São Paulo is easily revered as one of the best cities in the world for street art. Many well-known graffiti artists hail from this region, which not only have their pieces adorned throughout S.P., but worldwide. Artists, such as, Onesto,  Kobra, Alex Senna, Zezão, and the twins, prominently known as Os Gemeos have bedecked the walls of SP with their artistry. The colorful hues that transcend through the city have transformed it into a walking outdoor museum. There is vibrancy around nearly every corner, always leaving more to be found and explored. Be sure to visit Vila Madalena, Beco de Batman and São Paulo’s historic center to find some of these brilliantly hued pieces.

Below are a few of my favorites.

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Great White North: Searching for the Perfect Shot

Preparing for the big trip to the Great White North, I sought out a wealth of advice on how to get the perfect picture of white on white, polar bears up close, ptarmigan in motion… what camera to use.. what settings… Being an amateur photographer with not much money to spend on a new camera and limited time, I packed up my IPhone, my 6 year old Canon point and shoot and a loaner from work, a newer Sony point and shoot. Here I’d like to share my favorite wildlife shots, enjoy!

 

Must See Winterpeg

Who would have thought that somewhere near the middle of Canada in the balmy province of Manitoba there would be a gem of a city that some may reference, maybe due to its record low temps or also being known as the coldest major city in Canada I would find… Winterpeg!

If you ever find yourself making your way through the city here are just a couple of my favorites…

Canadian Museum of Human Rights: the first museum worldwide solely dedicated to the celebration of human rights, architecturally stunning, and probably the best view of the city from its Tower of Hope. Allow yourself lots of time to meander.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Winnipeg. 2014.
Aaron Cohen. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Winnipeg. 2014.

Fergies Fish’n Chips: talk a stroll down by The Forks on the river and snag up one of the city’s oldest and most well-known traditional portions of fish’n chips. You know you’re eating well when the long time locals find themselves here.

Thermëa: a Nordik spa experience that is truly like heaven on earth. I will quickly breakdown your first hour or so at the spa… change into an oversized robe and slippers, heat up from the cold in a hot suana, plunge in the polar pool to fluch toxins, hot steam in a eucalytpus scented steam room, lavendar scented salt scrub shower and rinse, heated meditation rooms with music and hot tea and… repeat 2 more times. Then relax in the hot or with a cup of tea by the outdoor fire. All for $50CAD or $37USD. Need ask more?

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Thermea, courtesy of Momstown Winnipeg

 

Manitoba Museum: take a deeper look at Manitoba history. Well worth the guided tour to learn more about survival in the north, the Hudson Bay Co. and much more.

With lots more to do, see and eat in Winterpeg make sure to enjoy these favorites!

 

 

 

In Search of an Unforgettable Amazon Rainforest Experience?

For many years I had dreamt of seeing the Amazon rainforest. When I was assigned to teach English in Manaus, the gateway city to the Amazon, with a Denver based non-profit, US-Brazil Connect, I could not wait to start planning my adventure to the Amazon.

I had already been in Manaus for a week and was having some trouble finding an operator that was reasonably priced and did not feel like it was a mass tourist operation. This is when I found Max at Maia Expeditions. If you are searching truly for the experience of a lifetime, I recommend Maia Expeditions and the Amazon Turtle Lodge. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. Max grew up in this area of the Amazon. He knows it very well. He personally took my friend and I and a nature and survival hike. On this hike we were shown how to build a shelter, how to make children’s toys out of hearts of palm, natural bug repellent, we drank filtered water out of a vine, smelled the tree that Chanel no.5 derives it’s perfume from, tasted fruits and so much more… Walking through the canopy with someone that has lived with the environment made for a much richer experience.

Harvesting and eating Brazil nuts  © Ami Jones
Harvesting and eating Brazil nuts
© Ami Jones

2. The operation’s focus on conservation and preservation. The owner is very concerned with these elements. Having grown up here he has a unique appreciation for the beauty of the area and has supported and created many projects focused on such things as afforestation, and preserving eco-systems necessary for wildlife. At the end of our hike we helped plant Copaiba trees on the property!

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Planting Copaiba after our nature and survival hike © Ami Jones

3. The experiences offered at the Lodge. I personal did the Jaraqui Exedition however, Maia offers a slew of different experiences. They offer everything from small canoe rides under the canopy in search of wildlife to searching for Caiman’s after the sun goes down. Other offerings include: birdwatching, visiting a local community, fishing for piranhas, spotting pink dolphins at sunset.. Not to mention the service, accommodations, food and staff are all top notch! Also, the best caipirinhas I have had in Brasil- just make sure to order two at a time because they take a little while to make.

Night spotting for Caiman's- I namer her Susy
Night spotting for Caiman’s © Ami Jones

4. You are guaranteed to have a great experience. It is very important to the owner to ensure that everyone that comes to the lodge has a phenomenal experience. This is his home, he is proud to call it home and is eager to teach others about the beauty of the region.

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The stillness of the Amazon © Ami Jones

I would suggest calling prior to make arrangements for your travel and to let Max know exactly what it is you are wanting to experience. We talked a few times on the phone and when we finally met in person it felt as if we were long-time friends. There are those times that you come across people and experiences that are hard to summarize in a few words. However, that being said if you are in search of a genuine jungle experience I give Maia and the Amazon Turtle Lodge a 10 out of 10! If you do decide to go please tell Max I say hello!

Here is the link for more information: http://www.maiaexpeditions.com/index.php

Additionally here is their page on trip advisor if you would like to peruse through some of the reviews: http://bit.ly/1uAzafO

Come Away With Me to Central and South America

Nearly eight weeks ago, I started on a journey of a lifetime. I began in Manaus (the gateway city to the Amazon), Amazonas, Brazil. I am now currently in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. My intention is to travel as long as possible through Central America and further on into Columbia, Ecuador, Perú and hopefully farther (as far as my money will take me- so, yes this is definitely for the budget reader).

My intent with Altruistic Adventurer is to provide you, the reader, with stories, tips, sights, how-to’s, experiences and much more of how it goes traveling through the these parts of the Americas. This area of the world is becoming more and more well-traveled and more well known and thus far it has been an incredible experience.

I hope that you choose to follow me along my journey. Hopefully, I can inspire and entice your curiosity and provide you with some insight into this part of the world. Also, if you have done this sort of thing and have any pointers or must-see’s I would love to hear from you! Buen Viajes!

A Home Away From Home in Portugal

Roadtripping with my sister through Portugal and Spain we stumbled upon our home away from home. Thirty minutes outside of O Porto, we found a small village called Paço de Sousa. Here we stayed at what has been my all time favorite guest house experience at Solar Egas Moniz owned by the Vinha family.

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View from the Guesthouse driveway

After being on the road for a little over five hours traveling from Rioja, Spain- not to mention a little hungover and very tired from eight day packed road trip so far- we arrived at Solar Egas Moniz. We were greeted by name and with kisses on the cheek by the owners daughter Iva, she welcomed us with tea and coffee and a homemade chocolate cake from cook, Elizabeth. The cake was superb!! And exactly what we needed after our travels.

After we winded down Iva was helpful in getting us settled into our room- which was beautifully decorated. The decor throughout the house is very Portuguese shabby chic with hand knit accents made by her mother.

Our cozy room
Our cozy room
It's the little things in life
It’s the little things in life
An area for reading and relaxing
An area for reading and relaxing

We took a rest and a shower and headed down for some dinner. (Iva did not arrange dinner from Elizabeth because we had not received her email in our travels on the road…). The family does offer dinner at the house prepared by Elizabeth. Asking for a nice place to eat some affordable yet delicious Portuguese food her father was quick to help. Before we knew it he was on the phone to his favorite regular restaurant he frequents with his buddies. He ordered our meals so they were waiting for us when we arrived. He made sure to tell them to treat us like family.

When we arrived at the restaurant we were quickly greeted and everyone knew we were coming. We were sat by a table of five Portuguese men that quickly engaged us in conversation, offered us wine and pastries and more wine, and more food and whiskey and more wine! To call the Portuguese only hospitable would not begin to explain how quick to give and share these people were with us.

After dinner, we headed back to the guesthouse where the family had waited up for us to share in a traditional Portuguese drink called Ginjinha- not to mention her father had specially made this batch.  Ginjinha is a strong sour cherry liquor, the perfect nightcap. We shared stories about our travels, talked about our families, and shared in what felt like a brief moment in time…

Ginjinha
Ginjinha

The next morning we were greeted by Elizabeth to a full breakfast spread of fresh cut fruits, yogurt, fresh juice, homemade pastries, cereal, coffee, tea, whatever our heart’s desired- also fresh flowers- my favorite. The father bid us farewell on his way to work and helped us with directions to our next stop. Iva’s mother came to see us off and packed us food to take on the road with us.

Saying goodbye to the Vinha family
Saying goodbye to the Vinha family

It always hard to convey the true beauty of a place and the people through words. Driving away from the guesthouse I knew I had found more of my family within the world. I would absolutely re-visit the people of Paço de Sousa in a heartbeat and would highly recommend staying with the Vinha family.

Here are some of my other favorite photographs from the stay…

The sun setting on another beautiful day
The sun setting on another beautiful day
Isn't it though?
Isn’t it though?
Stairs in the Guesthouse
Stairs in the Guesthouse
The front room of the Guesthouse
The front room of the Guesthouse

Breathtaking British Columbia

In a spur of the moment decision to get away with a friend and a dire need for a mini vacation we stumbled upon a cheap flight from Denver to Seattle. Neither of us having been to the northwest coast and not sure what to expect we quickly realized that Vancouver was only a short drive north. We immediately booked our tickets and anxiously awaited for the week to pass.

I had never travelled to Canada and to be honest it was never high on my top 10 must see places bucket list. However, I cannot express how rejuvenating, beautiful, magical and surprising British Columbia was to me. This is a place where natural beauty still abounds. Vancouver is a city full of cultural diversity, culinary expertise, impeccable public transit, and funky districts all surrounded by bridges taking you out of the city into the mountains that encircle it all. If you have not yet been it is a must add to the travel bucket list. Here are just a few of the highlights….

Our first night wandering the city, having gotten settled late, we found this gem of a pub. Moose’s Down Under offering Aussie fare in the heart of Vancouver. I indulged myself on a traditional Aussie meat pie and a local Vancouver beer…

a traditional Aussie meat pie at Moose's Down Under
a traditional Aussie meat pie at Moose’s Down Under

We found the perfect place to stay on airbnb in the heart of downtown Vancouver. Our gracious and accommodating host Justin from London made sure we had everything we needed. Situated on Granville Street we were within walking distance of everything we wanted to see and… the view from the balcony was incredible…

The sunsetting on Vancouver from our balcony
The sunsetting on Vancouver from our balcony

We got up early the next morning and headed up to Whistler/Blackcomb to ski for the day. The drive up the Sea to Sky highway will take your breath away. Although the clouds settled in low, as they tend to do most days during this time of year in B.C. the views were still stunning.

Driving along the coast on the Sea to Sky Highway
Driving along the coast on the Sea to Sky Highway

We arrived at Whistler seeming somewhat surreal that we were just driving along the coast in fog and rain and before us was the largest ski resort located in the Americas.

View from the Peak to Peak tram
View from the Peak to Peak tram

After a day full snowboarding the vast terrain we headed back down the coast on a mission to catch sight of some waterfalls that we had spotted on the drive that morning…

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Shannon Falls- along the Sea to Sky Highway

After returning back to Vancouver that evening….

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… we gallivanted around town and ran  into the Lamplighter Pub in the Gaslight District. Here we bellied up for the night and induldged in delicious local craft brews. The next morning we stumbled upon the La Luna Café and ordered up coffee, crossaints and a London Fog.

Afterwards, we headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge just outside of the city. It being one of the largest tourist attractions in Vancouver we were a little hesitant to pay the 30$CAD to be surrounded by bustling crowds. It was money well spent. The park is designed around a suspension bridge that was built by pioneers in the late 1880’s that spans across a massive canyon that is home to diverse wildlife including the majestic bald eagle. They have also built a cliffwalk that overhangs the cliffs above the river as well as a treetop walkway that winds you through the tops of ancient cedar trees. Nearing closing time and the beginning of sunset we were the only two left on the bridge overlooking the vast canyon. Suddenly right below us was a massive bald eagle fishing for his dinner in the river….

Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge
View from the Bridge
View from the Bridge
Meandering through the treetops
Meandering through the treetops

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” 

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Later that evening we decided to indulge in some of Vancouver’s finest sushi and sake. We found a place close by located on the riverfront called Miku. Here they prepare some of the most delicious aburi style sushi that I have ever come across. Five stars in my book.

Early the next morning we packed our bags and said farewell to B.C. but only for a moment. This place will forever hold special meaning…. If you have ever traveled on a whim, promised that you would say yes to the whole experience, opened your heart and mind and returned home a different person you can relate to the feeling. A sense of wanderlust had been fulfilled…

Wanderlust

 

 

“Be The Change That You Wish to See in the World” – is not just a statement

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Last night I had the honor of sharing my experience in Brazil as a means of paying it forward in my community and here is what I had to say (wanted to share it all with you)….

Every now and then life affords us opportunities that could never possibly be recreated, retold, or even fathomable. And it is when we leave our hearts open that these moments come alive. This is exactly my journey with Red Rocks Community College and US-Brazil Connect.

This experience has proven to me that I am far greater than what I thought possible. It has taken away fears, given me confidence to continue in the direction of my dreams, built my leadership skills, and has continued to show me that in this life, we all NEED to connect with one another.

It has shown me that I can create impacts in the lives of people across the world that will last a lifetime. One of my students expressed to me that I lit the fire in his heart to do greater and bigger things. Another student wrote in a letter to me, that I had given him the courage to go for his dreams and to get himself out of living in a favela. One of the most impactful things that I witnessed was no matter their situation each one of my students ultimately sought out true happiness.

Something that was impossible to deny in Brazil was pure affection, care and love for another, even amongst the most, vast array of beautifully looking people that I have ever seen. I wish that I could count the number of kisses, hugs and moments of compassion that were expressed towards me while I was there. In the United States, we sometimes forget the healing power that this can have on people.

It was also hard to ignore the disparity in quality of life, when Brazil is known as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This country is growing at the expense of its most important citizens and at the mercy of globalization. It is my generation’s responsibility and the responsibility of Brazilian citizens, which we saw in the protests, to change the way that we think about consumption, success, and profits.

It is impossible to summarize my experience in a short speech so I will leave you with a few key points:

  • always love, always be kind and always be generous
  • don’t ever let your misconceptions get in the way
  • be thoughtful and be mindful
  • truly be that change that you wish to see in the world- it is possible not just a statement
  • never stop observing
  • most importantly never stop learning

I am forever indebted to Red Rocks Community College, US-Brazil Connect, my biggest supporters, the Colorado-Salvador team and most importantly my amazingly, inspiring,  and motivated group of eleven young Brazilian individuals- for this I am truly grateful.

Life is incredibly too short to not seek out your true happiness. Today, I challenge you to do the same.