My Final Weeks

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Unfortunately for me, my laptop broke a few weeks ago, leaving me unable to get to keep up with my posts.  But, I'm back now with a lot of exciting new adventures to talk about!

After Thanksgiving, my friend and I took a quick trip to Paris.  As a child, I would tell my parents I wanted to run away to Paris and become an artist.  Well, I didn't create any art while I was there, but I did see a lot of it! Paris had beautiful museums and of course I got a picture in front of the famous Mona Lisa.  Luckily for me, my friend knew a girl also studying abroad in Paris and she was our personal tour guide for the day.  She took us to great spots in the city and taught us a lot about Parisian youth culture.  I think my favorite part of the trip was sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee, and just people watching.  Paris is a much larger and more diverse city than Vienna, so it's interesting to spot the differences in citizens.

The weekend after Paris was my last weekend available to travel, so I gathered my closest friends in Vienna and booked us a trip to Prague.  I have been to Prague before, but I had been dying to go back.  It's a gorgeous city with a fascinating history.  My friend is also Czech, so she helped us navigate the city and taught us a few phrases to say to the locals! This trip was very special to us because it was one of the last times we were all together hanging out without the stress of finals or having to pack and leave each other.

My last two weeks in Europe were obviously spent exploring my home city of Vienna.  I truly love it here and there is so much to see and do.  With a broken laptop, I have realized how much extra time I have.  Instead of going home to do work or do nothing on the internet, I do what I need to do at the study abroad center, then I take long walks around the city.  I could walk for hours and hours! There are so many areas of the city that are not as well known as others, but still as beautiful.  I've really taken my time to be alone and get to know Vienna as best as possible.

Now, I am almost to the end of my exams and I am feeling very bittersweet.  Of course I miss my family and friends, and I cannot wait to see them when I get back to America.  But, the past four months having been the most exciting and adventerous months of my life.  I am so lucky to have had this opportunity and would do it all again if I could.

Back and Better than Ever

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I've been avoiding writing this blog post for FAR too long. A few *cough, cough* weeks, to be exact. In the whirlwind of getting home and readjusting to my newly sedentary life of movie-binging and Internet-surfing, I just haven't wanted to force myself to reflect. Everyone keeps asking me, "How was the experience? What was your favorite part? What's your best story?" For some reason, I find it really difficult to answer with anything other than, "It was awesome: an incredibly worthwhile experience." I can't figure out how to boil down 4 months into one sentence. How can I describe my multitude of failures, triumphs, and self-discoveries in a few short phrases? I guess the best way for me to review my semester in Buenos Aires is by reflecting on my goals:

1.     Achieve fluency. That didn't happen, but I was able to survive in a foreign country, conversing with locals on a daily basis, AND I wrote multiple 4-8 page essays in Spanish, so I think I accomplished something.

2.     Learn to relax. I definitely think I've improved in this department. I'm a planner, and I used to get very annoyed and upset when my plans didn't end up working out. Now, however, after living in a city where my plans never worked out the way I wanted, I've learned to breathe, laugh it off, and adapt. This skill is incredibly helpful, and I absolutely notice a difference between my adjusted attitude and those of the rest of my family and even strangers on the streets.

3.     Let go. I did (a few times, at least). Tango really helped me achieve this, but so did my beautiful surroundings. All the hikes around the amazing landscapes and ruins inspired me to step outside myself and appreciate the wonders before me. I let go of the minutiae of my daily life, so that I could revel in the marvel of nature and the strength of the human spirit.


I feel like I've now lived three separate lives: Jess before B.A.; Argentine Jess; and Jess after B.A. In Argentina, I lived my life as a foreigner, but it nonetheless had a daily rhythm. I went to school, had lunch at a café, explored the city, ate dinner, did homework, and occasionally explored the nightlife. It wasn't a vacation. It was an entire semester of living in another country. Then, I came home. I came back to my "old life," but I could feel that there was something different. My way of thinking has changed and I have definitely caught the travel bug, the adventure bug. I got a taste of what my life could be in South America, and I'm hungry for more. I want to spend the rest of my life seeing the world and meeting people from all over. There are bound to be some game-changers in the mix.


In Argentina, I made some new lifelong (I hope) friends, tasted an array of exotic foods, ate a bit too much dulce, learned to tango, and discovered things about myself and about my goals that the U.S. couldn't have taught me. I needed to step outside of my comfort zone, which I did. Studying abroad has been an eye-opening experience, and I am so grateful to my parents and to Penn State for the opportunity. I encourage anyone and everyone to take a leap of faith and do it. Alright, brace yourself for my corny theatre geek side courtesy of Wicked: "Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but I have been changed for good."

Week 13--My Final Days at Moyo Hill Camp

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Wednesday, December 3
As Shem said, this was the day we've all been waiting for.. the day we presented our directed research to the community. We had breakfast at 7:30 and began getting our campus ready for our visitors. We prepared the dining hall to become a community presentation building. We set up a large canopy and helped set out tables and chairs for dining. We didn't even recognize the place. The presentation began at 10:40 and my group (the Invasive Plant/Grassland group of the Ngorongoro Crater) was first up. All 11 of us presented our findings as a group, and were asked a few questions at the end. We were happy to have the presentation out of the way and have the ability to relax and watch our peers present their findings. After we finished presenting, we went straight to lunch time. While eating, I saw my homestay father sitting underneath the large pavilion. When I finished, I grabbed the pictures that we had printed for him and his family, and then went to talk to him.

After everyone left, it felt like a bittersweet moment. After community presentations, there was nothing left, as far as class work and research went. The next few days had been reserved for relaxing, packing and getting out to enjoy ourselves in the local community one more time.

Thursday, December 4
Originally, we were supposed to go to Lake Manyara National Park, the first park we visited where we experienced a lot of our first wildlife sightings, to complete our game drives during this journey; however, there were issues with permits for all of the agencies affiliated with the government. There wouldn't be many animals in LMNP anyways since most migrate because we are in the rainy season, but it would've been nice to finish where we started, and others who went there during DR saw a large monitor and a python, which I would have loved to have seen. Since we were unable to visit any of the national parks or conservancies, we went to Burunge WMA. It was nearly a 2 hour drive. We didn't see much, but it was beautiful and green. There were common zebra and wildebeest, and in a separate part of the management area, we saw giraffes and a waterbuck lying amongst the trees. The last time that we saw any of those animals before we left go ho home.. until next time!

Friday, December 5
Today was dedicated to program evaluations which took no more than 15 minutes.. So, we had a non-program day in Karatu! Of course, it was bound to be a 'classy' day, it being our last day in town. To begin, we walked from Rhotia to Karatu using back roads that we've never been on before. It was a pretty and entertaining walk. I'd wish that we had done it sooner. In Karatu, we went to Carnivore and had a few drinks and I ordered some chipsi mayai. Afterwards, four of us walked to the Roof Top bar for a drink. It's incredibly cheap there. On the way back, some kids flagged us down to play some soccer with them. So, we quick played some soccer, but not even a full game. They were great kids. On the walk back to Happy Days, I stepped on an Acacia thorn, which then left me limping around for the next three days because of the toxins that Acacias contain. At Happy Days, we hung out until 6 PM, some watched the soccer game on tv until we left. When we were back at camp, we went to our mail boxes to collect the sheet with our final grades on them. I did really well, even on the finals, which had me worried! After dinner, a lot of us ended up having a giant cuddle puddle which involved a lot of crying, because most would be leaving in 2 days. 

Saturday, December 6
We spent our day packing our things up and resting in our beds. We also had a final meeting with everyone on campus to give feedback on the program and to say goodbye through a few words that we shared. At dinner, we had a huge goat roast celebration. It was a nice last dinner with the entire group. 

Sunday, December 7
This morning, we had a sunrise hike at 5:20 AM. We came down around 7:00. We ate our last meal as a group together, breakfast and packed our lunches for the day. We had one last birthday celebration, but in the morning this time for Erik's birthday. Group 1 left after 9. I had some quick sobbing time with my bandamates in our banda before they left, so it was sad but we pulled it together. When everyone left and two cars came back, 1/2 of us made our way to Flamingo Lodge and 1/2 of us went to the large Karatu Market (happens 25th and 7th of every month). I went to Flamingo Lodge to relax by the pool, since I was out of money. Heidi, Natalie, Erin, Cate, Liza and I laid in the shade and talked. We decided we wanted to go looking for cheese for grilled cheese, but the other car found found some. Natalie, Heidi and I took pictures of campus. Then I played cribbage for the first time. At dinner time, all of us sat at the same table, where we had our delicious grilled cheeses. In the evening, we moved our beds to the dining hall porch where we watched a movie (Easy A) projected onto the white wall.

Monday, December 8
I woke up in the morning around 5:30 because it was noisy. But when I finally got up around 6, everyone else was waking up. I hopped up and looked across the lawn, where there were Lady and her two kittens playing. It was really sweet. She jumped all over them and rolled around with them in the grass. I said goodbye to her and her kittens, then went and said goodbye to the new mama kitty with her three kittens. I couldn't find her, but her kittens were there laying together sleeping in a ball. I really hope all of the cats make it. I finished some packing and loaded my suitcases into the car. We said our final goodbyes to Kiri and the staff. I said goodbye to Patrica, a cook twice. She told me a few weeks ago that I reminded her of her little sister- my laugh mostly. It was weird saying goodbye to everyone and everything, including the views that the landscape offered, especially during the rainy season where everything is green and beautiful. We went on our way to Arusha, where we stopped at a market area for food and drinks. I had an iced mocha latte at the coffee shop and two tacos from a Mexican restaurant. It was actually really good. On our way to Kilimanjaro International Airport, I searched the sky for Mount Kilimanjaro, but where it should have been easily seen was covered with clouds. I was really sad that I never saw it. Either way, I plan to come back and climb it someday, hopefully. At the airport, we said goodbye to the Kilimanjaro climbing group and Gayle who was going home to Zimbabwe. We had about 7-8 hours at the airport, because our flight didn't take off until 9:40 PM. By the time we left, it was nearing 10. I got a window seat! We had a stopover in Dar es Salam. The guy who boarded the plane moved to the seat in front of me since his tv wasn't working. So, I had two entire seats to myself on the 11-12 hour flight. I even made a new friend,Daniel. He was from South Africa, but was flying to France. His dad happened to own a safari company in Tanzania. The plane ride was nice since I had two entire seats to myself, even though I didn't sleep much. I had a nice relaxing night, which did involve free drinks.

When we got to Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam where I used my credit card for the first time in over three months, so that was weird, but oh so convenient. I bought some of those bourbon caramel waffles that they served us on the plane. Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, situated next to Germany. We only had about two hours until we boarded, so I was upset that I did not really get the opportunity to explore the airport. Apparently, the airport had a ton to do, and I was sad I didn't get to experience it. I did however get to see the Casino in the airport, so that was exciting. We had a little over 8 hours to go, we flew over the Atlantic ocean for a majority of it. The plane ride was an experience in itself and it happened to be on of my favorite parts of the trip. When I arrived in New York, I was ex static. It was so weird to be home, but almost relieving to be there since it had been so long since I saw everyone. I'll continue New York on my next post..!

Lots of Thanks to Give

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Spending time away from my family for an extended period of time is always hard.  But, spending time away from them on an important family holiday is even harder.  Thankfully, my study abroad program threw a giant Thanksgiving meal for us! They made Austria seem like a little more like home for me and all my friends.

On Thanksgiving night, my program and I boarded two buses with all the faculty and friends we could fit and drove out to Baden, a small city outside of Vienna.  There, we entered a huge family Heuriger, a type of traditional Austrian restaurant, and were seated in large dining room with a roaring fire and festive decorations.  


Then, each table was brought drinks, appetizers, and, of course, a traditional Thanksgiving meal! We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and every other type of side you could imagine.  Just when we thought the meal couldn't get any better, students and faculty began to play piano and sing! Some sang original pieces, others played Christmas music on the piano, and one girl even sang Edelweiss, a song from The Sound of Music, accompanied by an accordion. By the end of that song, everyone in the restaurant was singing!  Of course, the night was not complete without warm apfelstrudle and sweet vanilla ice cream.  


This Thanksgiving I was very thankful for my study abroad experience and the amazing friends I have been given to spend it with.  I could not have asked for better people to share this meal with.


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Silver bells...silver's Christmastime in the city...

Ah yes, Christmas is finally here in Vienna.  And what better way to fill up on holiday cheer than a traditional Viennese Christmas market?  I have been waiting three months for this and wow, it was totally worth the wait. 

Christmas Markets are a huge tradition across Europe.  Not only Austria has them, but also Germany, France, and much more.  At a Viennese Christmas Market one could expect to see a wide variety of little booths set up selling different goods.  Some sell delicious hot punch and Glühwein, or hot wine.  Others will satisfy your sweet tooth with huge pastries, or fulfill your savory needs with warm soft pretzels and fresh baked potatoes. 


Christmas Markets are also the perfect place to do all your Christmas gift shopping!  Almost every booth that's not food or drinks sells unique, handmade trinkets that one would not find anywhere else.  Ornaments, wooden toys, and jewelry are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the Christmas Markets sell. 

My favorite part of the Christmas Markets is the mugs.  Each market has its own unique mug to sell at the punch and Glühwein booth.  Some mugs are very ornate, painted with scenes from famous locations in Vienna.  Others advertise radio stations or museums.   I like to collect them and will definitely bring some home with me when I leave!


Week 11 & 12--Data Analysis

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Sunday, November 16, I didn't do a whole lot. I relaxed most of the morning and watched Easy A. Our advisor/professor met with us at 2 PM, after he went to church, to begin the data analysis process.. or something like that. We met in his office to turn in our original data sheet from the field and copies. We also went over our objectives. This was the beginning of the next few important and VERY NERVE WRECKING steps of our research. I found the most joy in collecting the data.. Obviously, because we were in the Ngorongoro Crater. It was fun too, though once we got to know what we were doing!

Monday, November 17, I watched Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time, which I realized was set in Pittsburgh. They also talk about Penn State and the Ye Old Old Diner sticky buns! Anyways, we met again with our advisor, Shem, at to go over some statistics for our analysis. It was helpful but I was still so lost!

Tuesday, November 18, our group met again to learn how to conduct statistical analysis such as how to do regressions, correlations and t-tests. I get it, but I don't get it. I don't understand when and where to do each of these tests. I was MOD, so we played a game called Celebrity, but used the name of fellow SFS students for the people to guess. Like a guess who kind of game. People liked it though.

Wednesday, November 19, I organized some of my data and attempted to run normality tests. Still confused but I'm trying. Other that that, I relaxed a little. The MOD made nutella and peanut butter fudge... it was ABSOLUTELY amazing! 

Thursday, November 20, I conducted more data organization and ran a few insignificant normality tests on my data. In the evening, I played human Foosball on the soccer field for the first time, and then afterwards, I played soccer with everyone. 

Friday, November 21.. guessed it.. I organized more data! Finally, I tried conducting normality tests and correlations in the evening, hoping that something would come out significant! I still need to interpret the values. In the evening before dinner, I stopped doing data analysis for a bit, because I was in need of a break. I went out and played a round of volleyball with everyone, and also watched a little. It was fun, and helped get some stuff off my mind.

Saturday, November 22 I continued to work on my paper!

Sunday, November 23, I don't even remember what I did besides play volleyball, worked on my paper and stayed up late.

Monday, November 24.. literally worked on my paper all day.

Tuesday, November 25 was one of our non-program days. I spent my day in Karatu. First, we went to Carnivore, a local bar and restaurant with unbelievably cheap drinks! We relaxed there for a while and left around 2 to go to the large monthly Karatu Market. There, I was looking to buy some fabric but had no luck finding anything I like; however, I did buy three scarves. I also bought some tire shoes (rubber flip flops). On my way out, I found some cute baby chickens and got to hold them. Right before we left, we even got some ice cream! We went to the roof top bar and had some drinks then went off to Happy Days to complete our day. There, I had some delicious french fries! When we got back to camp, my friends and I laid on the grass and looked up at the sky. We then realized that there's a pretty good chance of getting jiggers, so we moved to laying on the picnic tables. It was a nice evening. 

Wednesday, November 26, I had cook crew at 6:30 AM. After breakfast, I went back to my banda and played on the internet a little bit, and then napped from 9-12, when I ate lunch. I worked on my paper until dinner time. After dinner, Katrina and I cooked two pumpkin pies for the next day (Thanksgiving). 


Thursday, November 27 was Thanksgiving!! I worked on my paper most of the day until 5, when I decided to join the others in a football game at the soccer fields. It was a lot of fun, and I hadn't played football for years, although, I've watched it. After football, I came back and showered and got dressed up for dinner. We all took some pictures and proceeded to dinner around 6:30. The dining hall was slightly decorated with "Happy Thanksgiving" written on paper and hung upon the wall. In addition, some really pretty table pieces were made from toilet paper rolls and leaves/flowers. They were really nice! Dinner was massive. Turkey, sheep, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, quiche, corn on the cob, and more! The turkey was so juicy and delicious. Afterwards, for desert there was pumpkin pie (ours :)), apple crumble, apple pie, fruit salad, and cookie dough balls. Overall, we had a great Thanksgiving here!

Friday, November 28, our final paper was due. Shem's group got an extension, so I did not have to stay up all night to work on it. I stopped working around 11. I only had the discussion left to complete anyways.

Saturday, November 29, we had a Q&A session with Dr. Shem about our individual projects. I was pretty nervous, but he Q&A turned out ok. I then completed my discussion and organized my data to turn in. I relaxed the rest of the day with ease. Even cleaned off my desk for the first time in a month and watched a movie.

Sunday, November 30, we ate breakfast at 9 AM and left for the Mto wa Mbu waterfall hike by 9:30. The hike was absolutely beautiful. There was no actual path to follow. We kind of just weaved our way through the banana plantation and up the rocks that led to the waterfall. Mud was immediately caked onto the bottom of my shoes, so it made climbing across rocks a litltle slippery. On our way in, we could see the waterfall flowing over the escarpment from a distance. It was beautiful. Once we got to the waterfall, I put my camera down and climbed across the rocks to stand underneath of it. The water was cold, but felt good after the humid walk up the river of rocks. We saw a few crabs in the water. We moved up higher on the rocks to stand underneath the waterfall and the water hit you hard at this point, but we all had a great time. Once most people were done at the lower part of the waterfall, we took some paths up the side and climbed up some rocks to reach the point above the waterfall. The overlook was beautiful. I didn't take my camera with me, so I never got a shot of the overlook, but seeing it was enough of an amazing moment. We climbed across some more rocks and took some pictures with other people's cameras. Then I sat down and just watched over the landscape. The way down was the same path, but much easier than I had thought it would be to go down. After the hike, we went to Karatu to finish our non-program day up. I went to Milanos to have my first experience (other than at camp) eating nyama choma (grilled meat) and chipsi mayai (french fries in eggs). It was delicious. They served the grilled beef with a side of juice from a chili pepper and salt. The chipsi mayai was served like an omlet. It's different eating out here, because they serve it all on one tray and you get no plates. You share the entire meal from one plate with your groups. They always bring a pitcher of water and a bowl to catch the water to the table so that you can wash your hands. They walk around to each person and pour water over their hands. It's all a unique experience. 

Monday, December 1, together with my DR group, we worked on our presentation and then presented it to Shem. He was quite interesting this morning. He was his normal self, only with a little added feistiness. When he asked us what percent cover constitutes and invasive plant, no one knew. And he told us that he needed to get a cane so he could "cane" us. It was actually hilarious, because he's a hysterical older guy, but he never says anything like that. Of course, he was joking. In addition, he claimed to be a tad upset that he didn't have Tuesday off (tomorrow), and told us that he planned on getting soaked. So, we left that up for interpretation, but he is a great guy. And literally knows how to make us laugh without even trying very hard. I'm going to miss him very much. He's like a father to us all. When he goes on leave, he always comes back with a smile on his face and tells us how much he missed us all. He really loves what he does, and SFS will be losing a great guy when he goes back to his original university in Kenya to teach there again.

Tuesday, December 2, all groups presented their presentations to the faculty and students in the morning. The NCA (my group) were the first ones to present. It went fairly smooth actually. Afterwards, I went and found the 2 kittens and their mom that we have running around here on campus. I call the mother cat, Lady. She's small for a mother and this has to be her first litter of kittens. I was surprised to see that they are actually healthy looking, at least. She's kind of skinny, but is very friendly towards us. Some people feed her, while they shouldn't because I don't think the staff will be tending to her like we do. However, she does well on her own too, she is a feral cat though. One kitten is striped like their mother and the other is mostly white with black patches on its body and nose. The kittens mostly avoid the people, they are kind of skittish. Lady is funny though, because when you approach her, she looks somewhat vicious and with meow very loudly with her mouth wide and teeth out, but when you show her that you want to pet her, she'll come right over to you and rub up against you and purr. She's really sweet. 

¡Hola España!

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So, I'm a Spanish minor.  I know what you're probably thinking: if you study Spanish, why are you in Austria? Gosh, you just can't ask people why they're in Austria! Also, I thought if there is any time to learn a new language, it's when I'm young and living in a country that speaks that language.  So, I decided I wanted to learn German and then off I went to Austria.

Thankfully, I carved some time out of my busy schedule to travel to Barcelona with my roommate.  It was so exciting to finally be in a foreign country where I spoke the language.  I was so surprised how natural it sounded to me! Unlike German, where it takes a lot of time for me to form complete sentences in a conversation, Spanish was just rolling off my tongue as naturally as ever.

Of course, I didn't just wander around and speak Spanish while we were in Barcelona.  My roommate and I saw the most amazing sights, like La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.  We also found ourselves sipping on lots of café con leche and eating tapas!



I found Spain to be the complete opposite of Austria.  In Spain, the culture seemed more open and lively.  In Austria, and especially in Vienna, it takes time for people to warm up and trust a stranger.  I also found Barcelona to be a very relaxing, chilled out city.  In Vienna, being on time and getting where you need to be fast is the cultural norm.  But in Barcelona, people enjoyed their siestas and took their time in doing everything.  Personally, I like Vienna's way of doing things.  I'm from the New York City area; you can't slow down for nothing there.  But, Barcelona provided me with a very relaxing and warm weekend.  I hope to return there soon again!



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Midterms was a stressful and busy week here in Austria, so for surviving all our exams, a few of my friends and I took the train to Budapest.  Austria is centrally located in Europe, which makes it quite easy to travel.  In just three hours on a train or in a car, one can reach more than 5 countries! We were there for three days and I can't believe we packed so much into such a short time.  The day we arrived, we feasted on Hungarian food, toured the city by foot, and then attended an awesome concert on a barge on the Danube!


The next day, we soaked in outdoor Hungarian baths for a few hours.  It was very soothing and the perfect end to the midterm week.  After the baths, the sun had almost gone down, so I saw most of the city by night.  It was a new type of touring for me.  Usually, I get up early and go to bed early so I can visit all the places I need to during the day.  But, visiting monuments at night wasn't so bad! There were fewer crowds and my friends and I had a lot of fun discovering Budapest by night.

The Friday we were there was also Halloween! Halloween is my favorite holiday, but it's not as big in Europe as in the United States.  Still, my friends and I donned costumes and bravely set out Halloween night to show everyone how "monstrous" we can be.

This trip was my first trip without my program and it went very smoothly.  Thankfully, I have easy-going friends who know how to travel.  With them, any place in the world can be fun!


Week 10--Ngorongoro Crater Research

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 we left for our first day working in the Ngorongoro Crater inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I was excited but nervous to start our first day in the crater. Everyone was so happy in the morning, so it put me in an extra, extra good mood. I was realllll happy! We arrived at the Simba campsite which sits on the rim of the crater and overlooks it at 11:30 AM and began setting up our tents and getting situated. Due to logistical reasons, Dr. Shem told us that we wouldn't be going into the crater to practice our data collection methods until 2:30. So, we got situated. I took some pictures and laid on the lawn in front of my tent and watched the clouds pass by over the crater. I have watched the clouds many times before, but I've never noticed them separate and regroup and pass by like they were our first day in Ngorongoro. It was amazing. It also helps that there are a ton of black kites in the area. I could see 6 soaring high, high up below the clouds. They looked like little black specs but the were fun to watch. We made it into the crater a little after 3 and got a lecture on our methods, then began practicing. I was with two other doing 1 transect per grid because we have limited equipment, and it was taking a while to even complete one quadrant, so I was worried. We went to camp around 5. It takes a while to make it out of the crater and up the side of the crater wall. The Ngorongoro Crater is beautiful though. Doing this research here continues to remind me why I love this place so much. When we leave the crater, we always drive through Leroi Forest, because that where the exit road is. It's always beautiful. Elephants, cape buffalos, guineafowl, and bushbucks always around.

At night, we just came back to camp and relaxed until dinner. After dinner, we played "To hell and back" as a group and played 'Bob the weasel' which seems like a total cult game, because we chant but its really funny. There were so many tourists at the campsite--mostly Europeans and Americans-- and they were mostly staring at us the whole time, some laughing. I sat outside my tent at night and wrote in my journal. It was beautiful. Black kites were calling in the night, wind blowing, and crickets all around. The moon was bright, not 100% full, but CLOSE. It was lighting the sky up. 

Thursday was our first day conducting actual research in the crater. It took a long time and was actually kind of frustrating because I didn't know how I was going to collect adequate data in 4-10 days. We left a little late and didn't begin collecting data until 10 AM. We only got through 1 1/2 transects. It was really windy, and was hard to keep ahold of our things. Zebras, gazelles, and wildebeest everywhere. We walked over some huge holes, either hyena or warthog. We found out that warthogs back into their hole, so they can come flying out and charge at you. Pretty crazy. Also, saw 2 hyenas walking in front of a group of alert zebra. We got back to the camp site (Simba) around 6 PM, and got ready for dinner. Nights at the camp were really cold, but I had my sleeping bag to keep me warm, so it was night. 

Friday was our second day in the crater. We got 2 transects completed. Pretty good day. Kind of long, but the crater was great! We saw a rhino far away when we were out in the field, and then close when we drove by one when we left. Also, saw golden jackals and BAT-EARED FOXES. So adorable. I saw some in Serengeti before, but they were so cute and so funny to watch. I also found out that there are a decent amount of cervals in the crater. One group ended up seeing one, but I've never seen one here unfortunately. We had our first camp fire was tonight, but had to buy the wood for the fire from the NCA. It was also a beautiful full moon. I also saw a silohette of two bushpigs walking behind us while we were sitting at the fire. I heard rustling in the plants behind us and sure, enough.. there they were! And then, I heard more rustling.. turned around and there was a big waterbuck behind me. They are so cool! We met two older guys and learned a little about them. Especially George, who was from Brazil and literally travels for nine months in a year and works in NY the other 3 months. How crazy and awesome is that!? He's lucky! 

Saturday, we finished two more grids. During one grid we were doing, I looked up and there was a warthog trotting right for us. He/she must not have seen us because it just kept on coming closer to us. I warned the others, and finally picked up my whistle and blew it to try to get it to run the other direction. He/she stopped, looked directly at us and started running to its left. There is a bigger body of water, where we always see a ton of hyenas, up to 20, and there always seemed to be a warthog or two just running around them by the water drinking and eating. Right in front of the hyenas. Makes me wonder if hyenas don't mess with warthogs, but knowing hyenas, they probably do. It's just weird to see the warthogs so relaxed with all of the hyenas around. We finished up half of grid 139, a grid with mostly water vegetation, but the area is dried up. Lots of wildlife in the area though. We had two large hippos in a small body of water who had their eyes on us. When we were walking to our start point, we forgot all about them and got within 50 meters of them. One of the other teams radioed us and reminded us that there were some pretty angry hippos staring us down. As soon as we heard him, we instantly looked up to our left and started quickly walking backwards. One was half out of the water, while the other was standing next to it, watching us intensely. Hippos are highly territorial, and often people are killed because people are in their path and they end up getting trampled. I'm not positive that they would've jumped out of the water and came at us, but if we would've gotten closer, they could have become threatened by us and may have attacked or not. Who knows, but I never want to find out. It was crazy being that close to them, but also almost pretty awesome. We only ever see them that close when we are in cars. Anyways, we also saw some flamingos in our grid eating from the waters nearby. When we got to the cars, Shem met with us. He told us that we would be going back to camp, packing some things to go home for a day and come back on Monday. We hadn't expected to go back to camp until Monday, because it turns out that we aren't allowed to skip a non-program day, which I was ok with! 

Sunday, we had a non-program day. I went to Gibb's Farm, surprise, surprise! It's one of my favorites, especially since there is coffee. Afterwards, I went into Karatu with the rest of the group to do a little shopping. We checked out some fabric shops. I got a few things, including a Maasai shuka to hopefully get made into a sweatshirt.. Hopefully a nice one.. I don't know though! The work of the tailors here are all good from what I've seen, but the make is also hard because it's not normally fit exactly how I like it. After we bought some fabric, we walked to Happy Days, where everyone else was. I found out the Karatu cat at Happy Days name was Kilaylay and that he actually lived in a house behind Happy Days with a foreign girl who was working as a teacher at a school in Karatu. She was there too actually, along with a guy from the Peace Corps and another girl who volunteers there. I kept it together, didn't drink because I knew we had a busy day/week ahead.I could smell Lake Manyara at our camp at night. It was weird, but also kind of cool. The lake is down over the escarpment from us. I had smelled the lake from our camp a few other times. The winds are carrying the heavy saltwater smell up the Rift Valley and even beyond us. It wasn't too bad at first, but now it's pretty strong. Crazy we can smell Manyara Lake here. It's also kind of cool.

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Monday was pretty good. We didn't end up leaving camp until like 8:15. We made it back to Simba camp site by 9:30 AM. We ended up starting out transect around 11:45-12. The Cape Buffalo were in our transect and very vigilant. So, the Swaggin' with Shem, Kiri, Peter (NCA naturalist), Fousta, and students Caroline and Julia waited until Harrison over with a ranger. Our friend, Romano and also the ranger spent the rest of the day with us. We met him before, but he spent most time with a separate group. We were surprised he was so cool. Very nice and speaks english very well! We got 1 1/2 grids done today. We start 64 tomorrow. This day was nice and short. Beautiful day though! I finally saw hartebeest while being here. There were 10 of them and they were so vigilant. When we got back to camp, we had a lovely, lovely visitor!! I didn't even realize it. I was in my tent and heard other SFS'ers proclaim that they will "have to get a picture of that!" So, I knew right away that I needed to get out of my tent and go check it out! I ran out and there was a HUGE bull elephant drinking water from our water tank. He had his massive tusks resting on the side of the tank and had his trunk down in the water tank. It was sooooo cute! There were so many people and a lot of us were really close to him. I cannot believe he let people be that close to him. Elephants are also highly dangerous and have killed people. He is a big guy. I have a picture of him standing next to a land cruiser. It's awesome. It then walking behind the dining hall and then behind the bathrooms, past the "DANGER, KEEP OUT" signage point. He went into the woods, then 5-10 minutes later, came back and walked right up to the back of our dining hall. One of the SFS'ers was within 2 feet of him with the wall/fence inbetween him and the giant elephant. He stared at him, and the elephant gently reached up and touched the side of the screen (in front of the SFS'er's) face with his trunk and then put it down. He began walking again to the front of the building and across where everyone puts up their tents. There was a tarp laid down with a sleeping bag, suitcases, and a sleeping pad rolled up and sitting on it. The elephant began walking across the tarp. He gently reached his truck over and touched the sleeping bag and suitcases. Uninterested, he slowly and gently passed over the tarp, and even lifted his foot up to avoid stepping on the sleeping bag and even slipped past the tent he came within inches of walking into. It was an absolutely beautiful moment, and I've never seen anything like it before. He proceeded further, past Dr. Shem's tent (who was at the time sitting outside his tent, shaving his face and paid no attention to the passing elephant). It was so funny. The elephant went down to a large tree and began pulling branches from the tree. After about 10 minutes, it continued on down past the large bathroom and into the bush. Absolutely beautiful. At night, we had a nice warm fire to sit by and even some passer-bys to enjoy watching --waterbuck. Spiders were all over the moist ground. If you had the right flashlight, you could see their eyes glow. It was creepy!

Tuesday was semi-slow. Romano went with us the full day.We saw an eland today at a distance and thought it was a lion, but there are some very serious differences between them all. Haha. Today was super hot, but ok for the most part. We climbed up the side of a hill, because that's where our transect went. I got a nice panoramic view. Days in the field only seemed to get better, and being in the crater was truly an amazing experience everyday. I enjoyed it so much, even when I was cooking in the sun or losing my papers in the wind. It was beautiful!!

Wednesday was pretty awesome. We left around 9 AM to begin work in the crater for the day and left around 5 PM. We were within 70 meters from cape buffalos, which are also another scary group of animals! I found out that the single ones are normally the ones who are most dangerous. Romano said that! We were told by Romano that if we were charged by Cape Buffalo, that we were supposed to lay down, but SFS said we should run like hell. Romano however has been trained in this sort of thing and has lived in Tanzania all his life and I think it probably would make sense to lay down as long as they didn't run you over! They are so vigilant and scary, yet so cute and funny to watch. They'll run like 20 feet and stop. The leader will start running, they'll follow. The leader will stop and then quickly turn around, and all the others turn around. It is so funny, yet so scary to watch. They're awesome. I've completely gained a whole new respect for them, as all people should. They are so aware of their surroundings. We also saw an adorable warthog sitting right at the entrance of his hole on the side of the crater hill. We walked up the side of this large hill to begin our transect and on our way down, a different warthog ran out of his hole in front of us because he heard us coming. I'm glad he didn't come out when we were down by his hole. They are so cool to watch too and funny. Early in the study, we saw a mama warthog with three tiny baby warthogs. I couldn't believe how small and cute they were. They kept with their mom and hid behind her too. We even found a scorpion on this transect. Romano found it when he flipped over a rock. I think it might have been a three striped scorpion. He then decides to tell us to be careful and not turn over many rocks, meanwhile I've been in the lead the entire time, flipping a million rocks with my feet while walking, because it was an extremely rocky area and walking uphill was interesting through the bush. At night, I sat around the dining table with all the other SFS'ers while some played cards. I turned "Jump on It" on and a random younger guy walked through and he began singing and swinging his arms around his head. It was funny and entertaining. I didn't sleep too well the last night. 

We did two transects. One where I actually spooked up a close hyena who then watched us intently but ran away. I watched four warthogs run behind it, and it almost looked like they were chasing the sleepy hyena. The first transect we did went through a wet area with streams, which made the beginning a little difficult, but there was wildlife everywhere. Sacred ibis, Egyptian geese, zebras, a falcon, warthogs, shorebirds. It was beautiful. The last transect also had parts in a wet area (in the rainy season) and had beautiful short green grasses like sedge. We then went and found our starting point for grid 45, where we would start the next day. In this transect, we drove right past another nesting shorebird --Crowned plover?-- and it had three eggs in its nest but was protecting it again. Its such an amazing thing to see!! We also saw an absolutely adorable baby hartebeest with its mom. The group was about 10 hartebeest and one wildebeest. It was actually really funny to see one wildebeest hanging out and feeding with this group of hartebeest. Later, we spooked up a tiny baby Thomson's gazelle. They are so fast! But I felt really bad for scaring it away, and I hope its mom found it. We then went to Serena Crater Lodge where I had a few drinks --Serena sundown and something I can't remember-- and also some marble cake! The two other lodges in the area are the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. The Maasai came in and did their dances. Three SFS'ers went and danced with them. They're always great to watch. Maasai like to jump around and make these deep sounds that come from their throat. You have to hear it to understand. They are very interesting though. 

Friday, our last day working in the Ngorongoro Crater (NCA). :( Needless to say, it was a sad day, but we also had some fun with it. I had planned to wake up early to see the sun rise, but I had already been kept awake the whole night with the sound of the rain pitter-pattering on the roof of the tent on and off all night. When I did sleep, it was very little. I had my alarm set for 5:05 AM to see the sun rise, but apparently my hands were tucked in my sleeping bag and I did not hear my watch go off. I was however awoken by another rain shower at 5:45 AM. I peaked outside of the tent. It was pretty dark, but light enough to highlight the fog surrounding the land and other tents outside of our tents. I ended up just staying awake at the point, and didn't even bother trying to sleep again. At 7:30, we began packing up the soaking wet tents and brought our bags into the dining hall so that they wouldn't get wet. Afterwards, we ate breakfast and left Simba camp to work in the crater one more time before we left. 

When we got to the crater, it was hot and it looked like there hadn't been a single drop of rain there, and there was no fog. On the rim, we couldn't see for more than 50 meters from the road normally. On our way in, we saw another plover protecting its nest from the car. But she had three eggs! The last day went well, but it was very sunny and pretty hot. I ended up getting pretty burnt, even sunburned my scalp and ears. We saw the group of hartebeest with the wildebeest again. The baby hartebeest was watching us too. So cute! We completed two grids, 45 and 28. 45 was mostly flat and 28, our very last one, was partially on a hill. 28 was the first grid that we worked in that actually had long grass, and also some bushes. Actually more difficult to navigate through, but I was glad to finally have a long grass transect. There was a large group of about 200 Cape Buffalo standing at the bottom of the hill about 400 meters from us while we were doing our last grid. When we were finished and Dr. Shem came to meet us. Because I have been wanting all along to go on a game drive, I asked Shem if we could go on a short game drive, especially since we finished a little early. Luckily, I got my way and we were able to stay until 4:30. At this time, we drove up on top of the table mountain (or hill) (mlima mesa). We ended up seeing 2 rhinos. One far out in the distance and a second on our way out, about 500 meters from the land cruiser. We saw Thomson's gazelle, hartebeest, wildebeest, Grant's gazelle, and even a hare hunkered down in the grass. I did end up seeing about 3 hares while working in the field though. Two ran out in front of me when I was making my way through taller grass and one when we were driving. We drove right past it, and it hunkered down very low to the ground with its ears back and its red eyes wide open. I unfortunately never got a great picture of a hare, but seeing them was pretty cool! We also saw a large pride of lions with females, cubs, and even an adult male!! The females were laying with some of the cubs on a small hill and most of the cubs were laying down below in a muddy spot next to a small stream that runs through the area. They were absolutely adorable! The male was laying on the road in the shade of the land cruisers. When that land cruiser left, the lion got up and walked further down the road, slightly away from the pride and laid in the shade of a separate car which drove up right next to the lion and basically continued to cut the lion off until in laid down. This actually really annoyed me. Why do people have to be such jackasses when wildlife is around? Anyways, the animals were beautiful, and I was very grateful to seen every single one of them, from the raging buffalo to the Thomson's gazelles and even the small blue beetles that crawled around on the Sodam's Apple plants and often on me.

At 4:30, we began making our way up the side of the crater road. I snapped some quick shots of sacred ibises and wildebeest on our way out. We stopped at the Ngorongoro gate on the way out and I bought a drink and talked to my rafiki running the register in the shop one more time. It was weird to be back at camp. We were only gone for 5 additional days, but camp seemed so different. We also weren't use to being around so many people. 

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Saturday, November 15 Non-program day. We went into Mto wa Mbu. On our way in we stopped at the African Galleria or what we call the 'Tanzanite store'. I'd never been there but had also wanted to go. There were a lot of nice things including trinkets, jewelry with Tanzanite, paintings, and wood carvings. It was huge and expensive. I didn't get anything. We went to Mto wa Mbu and went to a kitimoto (pig) place for grilled pork. It was served on a plate with veggies and chili sauce. We also had fried plantains. The food is all served on one plate and you share it as a table. It was really good! Afterwards, we went to the Maasai market. The market is fairly expensive. We ended up finding a place with cheap shukas on a side street. Then we walked to the wood carving place and than to Pizza Point. I bought a pomadoro pizza to go. Cheapest pizza on the menu. Has sauce and a little cheese, but it's really good. Only 4,000 shillings ($2-3). 

Elektrafied: My Trip to the Teatro

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Wow. I still have "Orest! Orest!" ringing in my ears. Last night, I finally saw an opera in the world-renowned Teatro Colón. National Geographic ranks Buenos Aires's crowning jewel as the third best opera house in the world. Countless famous musicians have corroborated this assertion, commenting on the quality of its acoustics. A group of 8 of us from my program decided it was time for us to be a little cultured and bought tickets to Elektra, a German opera based on Greek mythology. Boy, did my ears get a workout. Wikipedia says that the role of Elektra is one of the most difficult pieces to perform in the dramatic soprano repertoire, and I definitely understand why. She does. not. stop. From the opening of the opera to its close 90 minutes later, the singer was trilling through the entire range of her vocal chords, hitting piercingly high notes complemented by warmer low tones. The woman who played her sister, Chrysothemis, was also fantastic. I heard her loud and clear over the thundering orchestra.


I just need to take a moment to comment on the orchestra. They were absolutely fantastic. Their sound filled the entire room and they flawlessly captured every mood of this tragic piece. I also had a great view of the musicians up in the nosebleed section, which was especially cool.


Back to the opera: I have always wanted to attend an opera, since I've sung a few operatic pieces in my voice lessons a few years back. But, I never seized the opportunity. Well, there was no excuse for leaving Buenos Aires without having seen an opera in Teatro Colón (with tickets being around $8), so I am so glad I made it a point to go. I was standing in the last row the whole time, but hey, my wallet was happy.


Walking into the glittering room of bright lights, velvet curtains, and intricate murals, I immediately felt like I was living in a dream. How many 20-year-olds have seen a famous opera?! So freakin' exciting. It was truly surreal. Before the opera started, I took a few moments to myself to say a little prayer of thanks for this opportunity and waited with bated breath for the lights to dim and the curtains to open.


I can't say that Elektra has converted me into an opera fanatic, but I am definitely happy that I went and plan to go to another in the future. Maybe one that's a little lighter, like an Italian romance. In regards to the quality of the theater, it wasn't quite what I expected. To be completely honest, I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed by the acoustics. It was often difficult to hear the opera singers, since they didn't have microphones.  The orchestra just overpowered them. But, it's highly possible that that's because of where we were standing. I'm not sure. I wish I could see another performance there for comparison. Regardless, it was an incredible experience, and I'm thrilled that I put aside the books for a moment and took advantage of this beautiful city in my last 19 DAYS!!

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