Yearly Archives: 2015

Surgery, history, and chemistry, oh my!

I LOVE all things related to medicine–especially the history of medicine and the science that goes along with it so given that I was ecstatic to visit 6! nerdy, science-y, medical-y museum in a span of two weeks. Not a super well known fact, but IRL I am a registered nurse and before that I worked as a registered respiratory therapist. There isn’t a single area in a hospital that I haven’t spent time in as a professional…Emergency rooms, YEP. Operating Rooms, YEP. Morgue during autopsy, YEP. Pharmacy Prep areas, YEP. Delivery Rooms, YEP. Intensive Care Units, YEP, and regular ole patients’ room. I’ve worked in them all at some point or another. SO, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that I LOVE all things related to medicine. Enter the Operating Museum and Herb Garret, Science Museum, Hospital Museum, Pathology Museum, and Florence Nightingale Museum. All located in London and all open to visitors. [However, they are not all free].  The Semmelweis Museum in Budapest makes up the sixth museum in this sext-fecta of historical medical museums.

First up…The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret aka one of the coolest and best museums in LONDON.

operating museum 10

In the shadow of the Shard, near all the cool and modern construction that is going on near London Bridge, lies The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett.  It is a spectacular little museum filled with tons of historic and interesting items related to medicine, pharmacy, and surgery; it is also one of those museums that you don’t necessarily hear a lot about and even if you do, you are still not really sure where it is.  It’s hidden away in the roof space of what was once St. Thomas’ church. It was closed last time I was in London, so I made sure that I’d be able to go in this time. Missing the old Operating Theatre twice probably would have killed me. Thankfully, we won’t have to find out.

The Old Operating Theatre is a bit hard to find.  I found it as I find most things, by wandering, but that’s not the recommended way of getting there. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist path in London [still Zone 1, still in the city].  If you can find the fabulous Borough Market, which is celebrating 1000! [let that sink in a moment] years in Southwark, then you can find the old operating theatre. I whole-heartedly recommend visiting the market for food and drink and then some more food…[perhaps after the museum if you tend to be a bit squeamish] Anyway…you wander down St Thomas Street and as you do so, you are greeted by this ever-so-slightly alarming skull. And this is one of the many reasons I love London. It’s not often that a skull greets the visitor at a proper museum. operating museum 1

What’s far MORE alarming, at least to me and my propensity to trip and fall on staircases and hurt myself, is the never-ending spiral of stairs [32 tiny, narrow stairs, in case you were counting] that lead up into the old operating theatre. It DOES take some effort, but it IS worth it.

operating museum 8

First is the herb garret. The heady scent from the big bowls of medicinal herbs and spices will smack you violently in the face the second you go inside, so be prepared for that. Once inside there are numerous displays of herbs, spices, medicinal plants, distillations, tinctures and powders, all with thoughtful hand-written explanations and thoughtful captions such as this description for Motherwort, taken from Maud Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931): “Especially valuable in female weakness and disorders…allaying nervous irritability and inducing quiet and passivity of the whole nervous system. Good against hysterical complaints.”  [because you know those damn Victorians were obsessed with curing ‘female weakness and hysterical complaints’]

operating museum 5

There isn’t a square inch of free surface space in the place – it’s an apothecary of chaos. The ambiance created by the smell is absolutely fantastic – there’s a sense of life and of discovery, purely down to the mixing aromas of all the ingredients in the room. It is visually stunning, and somewhat overwhelming, but it *feels* real. I can almost imagine I’m in the old-school apothecary where they just grab a little of this and a bit of that, call it a prescription and send you on your way. And whether or not they’re sure of which herb goes where, who knows? But you get a real sense for the magic and the experimental spirit that lead us to modern pharmacy we have today.

herb manual


Potion making at old operating museum

Once you’ve had your fill of the apothecary [or if the smell starts to get to you], head on to the back to the Operating Theatre. This is the earliest surviving example of an operating room in Europe, [circa 1850 or therabouts] ,and it’s pretty impressive. This one was a teaching theatre, and you really feel that priority was given to the spectators in this environment.

operating museum 2

At times, I tend to have an over-active imagination, and it is easy to picture the gruesome scene– well-attired medics sawing through flesh, blood squirting everywhere, scholars craning their necks for a closer look, and for those without strong stomachs– swooning, or making a mad dash for the nearest bed pan; and let’s not forget the blood-curdling screams of the patients…imagine this…a patient is lying on the operating table…wide awake and staring wide-eyed right back at the surgeon. Anesthetics hadn’t been discovered yet and patients were given the option of whisky, opium, or being knocked out by being hit on the head with a mallet.

Surgical technique was still a bit of a idiomatic expression; surgeons relied on swift amputation techniques, the faster you could remove a limb the better a surgeon you were. Most patients died of infection rather than the actual blood loss or surgery and the old frock coats worn by surgeons during operations were, according to a contemporary, ‘stiff and stinking with pus and blood.’

hospital museum 6

Patients often had injuries which prevented them from taking the spiral staircase up to the theater, and were therefore transported into the theater via a pulley system and an opening in the wall behind the current chalkboard. The ground would also be covered in straw to help prevent blood from dripping onto patrons of the church below the theater. [because that would be rude…taking communion to received the body and blood of Christ only to receive the ACTUAL blood of John Smith or some other mere mortal]

Museum visitors are also provided with a first-hand account for good measure:

The first two rows… were occupied by the other dressers, and behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a barrel, but not so quiet…The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed, and I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate until it had been partially cleared. There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

Having observed [and had!] surgery up close and personal as well as from a gallery [in the 21st century], I much prefer the 21st century way of doing things.

Exit the theatre and one can examine the instruments of torture: tools for trepanning; row after row of blades, designed for every imaginable variety of amputation; and even a physician’s stick, used for walking, but also held across the patients mouth as a restraint during surgery – as evidenced by the surviving teeth marks. This was by far my favorite part of the museum.

hospital museum 5

Elsewhere, there are areas dedicated to the use of animals in medicine (leeches or maggots anyone?), bizarre Victorian contraptions for the hard of hearing, and a number of human organs pickled in formaldehyde, including a pair of lungs blackened by the London smog.

operating museum 11

The most important disccovery of the 20th century

Apologies…more science

feel free to skip if science bores you, but I think it’s fascinating…

What do you thing the most important discovery of the 20th century was?  Flight?  definitely an important one, especially for us travellers. Einstein’s theory of relativity?   Sure, it’s important, but how often does the average person use it.  I’m going with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Yes, I’m a science nerd [I have a degree in microbiology] but the discovery of penicillin is arguably one of the most important discoveries if you think of its effects on the health of everyone.   So number three in my medical museum adventures in the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum opened in 1993  Its centerpiece is a reconstruction of the laboratory as it was in 1928 in the actual room in which Fleming had made his discovery.  How cool is that?

Since photography isn’t allowed in the museum, let’s take this opportunity to learn a little bit more about our hero.

Fleming was born in a farming community in rural Ayrshire [Scotland] and had a very basic education – but he developed his powers of observation during the early years. Bored with being a shipping clerk in London he applied to be a surgeon but was turned down. [We can all be grateful for that ironic twist of fate.  He’d be the one spreading the germs instead of killing them.]

However, following receiving a small inheritance, he re-applied and became a medical student at St Mary’s excelling at all his exams. After graduation he joined the department of Bacteriology, headed up by Almroth Wright. He was one of those caricature flamboyant physicians who believed passionately in research, especially into typhoid, but not in keeping statistics [much like myself…I love experimenting, but keeping records, not so much]. His work was in immunization and this is the department that Fleming joined–working on lysosomes, one of our natural defenses against—wait for it— BACTERIA.

Everyone loves the story of how Fleming came to make his first major discovery regarding lysosymes. He had a cold and a drop of snot fell out of his nose on to a culture plate of bacteria which began to dissolve. Who would have ever thought snot would be the answer.

From there you probably know the  rest …  In the summer of 1928, Fleming left the lab for vacations but left some petri dishes containing the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus [a naturally occurring skin bacteria] on his laboratory bench. He was done with them, but for whatever reason didn’t clean up his work space before he left. On his return to work on 3 September 1928, he took one last look at them before asking his laboratory technician to sterilize them.

In a today’s lab, petri dishes are plastic, used only once and then destroyed. In 1928, they were made of glass and reused after being soaked in a shallow bath of disinfectant followed by a quick wipe. Let’s just say if lab hygiene in 1928 was similar to today’s standards penicillin may not have been discovered…. Anyway….. Something peculiar caught his eye and he said, “Hmm, that’s funny”, he said. The petri dish had been contaminated by a mold which had inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fleming went on to publish his findings – that the mold penicillin seemed to kill Bacteria – in 1929 and he continued to practice at St Mary’s. The problem then became how to manufacture ‘enough’ mold to be able to use it to combat sepsis, which was of the main killer of the times.

Ten or so years later the work continued at Oxford where two researchers, Howard Florey (from New Zealand) and Ernst Chain (from Germany), worked on the manufacture of penicillin. The start of world war II added impetus (and money) to the research project with the thinking being that wounded service personnel could be saved and turned round to fight again – by D-Day there was enough penicillin for every combatant.

Public recognition came in the shape  of a Nobel prize for all three men. [yay!]

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

…Or in some cases may help you meet God a little sooner.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogota. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogota.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a washcloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sizes–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.


Adios, Huanchaco

It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been 5 years since I left Huanchaco, Peru and the amazing friends I made there.

Querido Huanchaco,

I am leaving you, and although I am a little bummed, I am not entirely sad about it.  We’ve been together for a while now–three whole months and part of another.  That’s the longest I have stayed with anyone (other than Campeche–but you don’t need to know about him).  You were good to me.  You introduced me to so many cool people from all parts of the world.  You have given me opportunities that I don’t know I would have gotten anywhere else such as establishing a clinic and helping to organize an art exhibition.  As a memento of my visit,  I am leaving you a clinic.  I have no illusions that it will actually survive when I am gone although I do hope the printed material and posters will at least hang around a bit.

You allowed me to stay in an awesome apartment with an amazing roommate (Hey, Emily) and cool vecinos (Hola, Cameron and Corinna).  I learned about supply and demand of hot water in the desert and learned to love life with out electronics or ice.  [The ice part wasn’t too hard, and I learned how to rig up a system for music] But everyone you have introduced me to has already gone, too.  Don’t worry.  You’ll soon be full of Peruvian vacationers and party-surfer-dudes from all over the world.  Summer is coming and that’s your time to shine.

Huanchaco, we had some good times like dancing at the BeachHouse, bonfires on the beach, hanging out in the apartment, parties celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving in the apartment with 30 or so people, clubbing at AMA, watching real ‘football’ in Trujillo, but there will be some things I am glad to leave behind.

Like how you think I am stupid because I am a white girl. I know it is only 1.20 soles to the mall (and sometime only 1 sol) , not the 1.50 you ask for every single time. Or how you think I will just hand over money because it’s a “fee”. Come on, I have been here too long for that. Another thing I won’t miss is how you think that just because I am walking, I am looking for a taxi [beep…  beep]. I won’t miss how you stop in front of me or your insane sirens, but what I will miss is how close you are to the ocean (I have never lived a block and a half from the beach before), that you are probably the safest town in Peru, how I can walk back to the apartment at 2 or 3 in the morning and not feel threatened at all… In that way you remind me of Due West, and that I will miss. There is a big wide world out there, and I need to explore it. So adios, Huanchaco, I am headed to south.

Swimming with fairies and the beauty of Skye

When I was a little kid, I used to love to play make believe, and play in the creek behind my house. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only kid in the world who liked to play make-believe or play in creeks, but being as how I was an only child who lived out in the country far away from other kids, playing make-believe was a great source of entertainment for me. I loved to pretend that I was either invisible sea monster or a witch or better yet, an invisible sea monster-witch. Skye would have been a great place to grow up.

Can you imagine all the fun someone with an active imagination could have here?

Just imagine being an invisible fairy with eternal life and the power to enthrall people.. it’d make sense to live here, bewitching visitors to take off all their clothes [because now I’m a bawdy wench]. The spell of the Fairy Pools is that they look as if they must be warm…

I mean with that kind of vivid blue water it must be like the Caribbean Sea, but having come straight down from the Black Cuillins, they are anything but warm. The saying goes: temperatures in Scotland are either cold, bastard cold, or damn freezing cold. And checking in at a balmy 43F, I say these swimming holes are bastard cold.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland

Perhaps it is the fairy mischief that makes me want to jump into this amzing clear blue water. Water that is face-smackingly, lung-contractingly cold…wet-suit be damned… I jump in…ohmygod thisissofuckingcold…I clamber back out to catch my breath. Fairy magic…I haul my carcass out of the swimming hole, warm up, and dive in again and again. This is river swimming at its most magical.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands. It is easy to navigate, easily reached from the mainlaind village of Kyleakin, and has a huge variety of landscapes packed into a relatively small space. Scottish Gaelic is the predominate language of this part of the country , and in this area of around 10,000 people spread out over the islands, is raw wilderness.  Each sight is slightly more awe inspiring than the previous.

Just let the beauty of it all soak in for a minute, will ya?

Leaving Skye, I passed probably the most famous castle in Scotland. In my less than humble opinion, Eilean Donan Castle is the most beautiful castle in Scotland.  It’s even movie famous. Chances are you recognize it from a film or two.  Eilean Donan starred in Highlander, served as Sean Connery’s home in Entrapment, and was the Scottish Headquarters of MI6 in The World Is Not Enough. Anything related to the world’s most famous spy has my stamp of approval.

Wearing red lipstick

Is there anything more classically feminine than wearing red lipstick?

I think not.  There are even articles written about why you should date women who wear red lipstick. [This may be why my dating calendar is wide open].

I do not own said product considering I look more like Bozo the Clown than Marilyn Monroe when I wear red lipstick.  However, I am not completely immune to its purposes… sexiness, feminine-ness, boldness… the list goes on.

I was taking care of a patient recently who while admitted for pneumonia, also had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to the spinal cord.  The patient in question had had a previous bilateral mastectomy some few years ago so while that was not a current issue, it was a contributing factor to her condition and mental state… which is to say was not good.  And I know I can’t fix everybody.  Hell, I don’t think I can fix anybody, but I try–even if in most cases it’s to motivate you to move your ass (a nurturing, placating nurse I am not).

I do have a point, I promise.

Whenever I’m feeling out of sorts, I head to my local bookstore, and just start randomly reading any book that catches my eye. With that patient fresh in my mind, I recently read an excerpt from a book called something like “Why I wore lipstick to my mastectomy surgery.” If that one chapter was so incredibly profound, I can only imagine what the the rest of the book is like. I probably should have bought it, but truthfully, I was looking for something a little more ‘uplifting’ to take on my upcoming vacation.  I get it.  A woman was about to lose a part of herself that biologically makes here a ‘woman’… that society says ‘this is what a woman looks like.’ So she wears red lipstick to her surgery… Red lipstick–another of society’s ways of defining what is sexy… what is womanly. How she used that color to make herself more than another cancer patient having surgery. How she used it to leave her mark– more than just an exacted pound of flesh– on the operating table. And there is something empowering about red lipstick, isn’t there? A bold, fearless statement.

I am not a lipstick person.  Or if truth be told, not really a make-up person.  And though at times, usually when I’m having an ‘off’ few days, an image adjustment has been cathartic for my Self… if only in receiving comments from people ‘you look nice today’ or getting looks from attractive men that usually don’t noticed my dressed down self; recently it has been more than my Self that needed a lift… my spirit is probably more accurate.

Usually, I lift my sagging spirit by traveling or doing something different.  Or being creative.  But right now I am in a box.  School is limiting my free time and free funds.  My living space is tiny and doesn’t afford the opportunity to be overly creative. I am still learning how to be good a my job.  I am still learning how to adjust to the demands of my new life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m doing any of it well.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly being watched. Like a person in a box. Forced to walk a straight line… a path that holds no mystery. No character.  No soul.

And then I look back. On what I have accomplished. On where I’ve been.  On where I’ve come from. On the goals I still have for my life.  And then I say “Oh, yea there she is… that merry wanderluster… that nature girl… that person who has saved lives… that person who loves animals… that person who creates things.  There she is…

“And then I say–This is who I am.” And I felt the smug satisfaction of, so there.”

So… there.

Traveling the King’s Road from Montreal to Quebec City

Man oh man, do I love a good road trip.  Especially short, one day trips.  Why take the express route when there is a scenic, more enjoyable route available. And renting a car in foreign country always make me feel like an international princess.  Even if that foreign country is Canada–wait…. what?  that’s totally a foreign country… They even speak a language I don’t– French.

quebec king's highway 2

What’s even more spectacular about the King’s Road is that it can be bicycled in its entirety safely.  Not be me of course; I barely know how to ride a bike.  But if that’s your thing,  grab your bike and prepare for 160 miles of charm.  I’d stick to summer if I were you though  because Quebec can get quite chilly during those other three seasons.

quebec king's highway 4
Lots o’ charm on the Kings Road

The King’s Road was the first navigable highway in Canada dating back to the 1700’s.  It is a charming way to travel from Montreal to Quebec City. It passes through little hamlets and hugs the St. Lawrence River making for some excellent photography… especially during the fall foliage season

Quebec king's highway 5

Beginning in Montreal, head north towards Berthierville.  Join up on Highway 138, which is the King’s Road. But if you have the time, stop at Lake St. Pierre Archipelago, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has amazing scenery such as this.

Continuing north on 138, you will reach the city of Trois Rivieres or Three Rivers, founded in 1634 with its amazing stone cathedral.

After exploring Three Rivers, (and stopping for lunch) continuing north along  highway 138, you will go through the oh-so-cute village of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, and its amazing church of the same name. Built in 1855 and bearing the features of a neo-Gothic cathedral, the church was modeled after the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.


Continuing north on 138 you will come to a region known as Pontneuf. It is home to the municipalities of Neuville, Cap-Sante, Deschambault, among others, all of which are members of the Most Beautiful Villages of Quebec association.  Neuville was one of the first villages established in New France around 1665. Cap-Santé got its name from the sudden healing of the soldiers posted in the region. Its church is on the historical monument register and it is one of the last buildings of the French Regime in the region. Deschambault, where Jacques Cartier stopped on his second voyage because of the rapids, which were too dangerous for his ship and prevented him from going farther up the river. In each of these villages, you will find magnificent architecture dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

And finally, continuing on 138, you will reach Quebec City, a beautiful city of its own.

wandering around vieux quebec city in the fall

sometimes the weather gods are in your favour and you get not only spectacular blue skies but also incredible leaf colour*.

Leaves covering an old stone building

a white house, a slate roof, and a lime green door…next to a house covered in orange ivy

New England and by New England I obviously mean Quebec and eastern Canada know how to do Halloween. South Carolina is too hot for pumpkin carving. They turn to mush real quick.

more cities should have walls complete with cannons…way to go QC

chateau frontenac…in fall’s glory

Quebec City–early morning goodness

Stopping along the King’s Road to gaze at the beauty of driftwood…in Canada, and not near the ocean

more driftwood-y goodness

I hope you’ve enjoyed the visit to Quebec City by way of the King’s Highway. I know I did. I was quite taken with the charming city and even more so by the drive to get there.

quebec king's highway 7
stone cottages, red roof… I have died and gone to heaven.


*Sometimes when writing about Canada and to a lesser degree, England, I like to use the British/Canadian spelling and add in that -u- and reverse my -er to -re. Just one of many, many quirks.

Hanging out in Bogotá

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was not enthusiastic when my flight to Maricaibo was canceled and Bogotá became my first stop in South America. I  planned to skipped the Colombian capital altogether and I was not at all excited to visit Bogotá.  In hindsight, Bogotá most definitely was a better ( and probably safer) introduction to South America than Maricaibo.

La Candelaria, Bogota

My original plans were to skip Bogotá because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums, using it as a transit stop and moving on quickly to the next place, whatever that place may be.

Part of the reason for choosing South America was that, in theory, I speak Spanish fluently, or at least I did 10 years ago. I’m feeling a little isolated since I am trying to not speak English unless it is absolutely necessary, but today that changed. Not that I magically became fluent overnight, but it is coming back to me, especially if the person with whom I am speaking speaks slowly (for Spanish).

For example, today I took the Transmileno to the other side of Bogotá for no reason than to see another part of the city.

transmilenio bogota

On the return trip, I had conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to me. It was nothing serious, weather, I’m new in town, ect, but it was a chance to practice Spanish with someone who didn’t speak crazy fast. I’m feeling a little more confident. After successfully ordering lunch [3 courses $5500 ~3.25], I stopped in the frutería. I only wanted to get a few snacks for the road, but I was talked into a fruit salad. Nothing like I’ve ever had. It included mango, papaya, pear, banana, and a couple other fruits I have never seen before. Before leaving, I ask the fruit man Que es esto? esto y esto, and very patiently he shows me all the fruits in the store, both in the natural state and the cut up state. So while my fruit salad was only slightly less than lunch, the education about fruit was worth the $2.75 price tag.

fruit salad bogota

Bogotá is a city of more than 8 million people, and I am not a big-city person, but as if often the case, big cities are full of fascinating history and people.  I arrived at El Dorado airport at 2a, a full one day + 18 hours after my intended arrival time.  I just wanted to get into a bed as quickly as possible.  So I took a taxi, which I hate, to my hostel in Candelaria, where I promptly crashed for a few hours.

The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude [O.M.G breathing is so hard] and the thick layer of gray clouds that hover over the city on most days. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets like a chain-smoking asthmatic; I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Bogotá is not exactly warm;  I can see why it’s off the radar with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather.

I joined a few of the free walking tours during  my stay; they are excellent for getting bearings straight in a new city, finding out a few more details about the city, places to hit up, and adressing safety concerns.  They are also good for traveling by yourself but having saftey in numbers.


Bogotá blew my mind as an interesting destination and I was always a little bit happy when I had to return to the city for various reasons. Stay tuned for more posts about Bogotá, and how it beyond exceeded my expectations and really got me excited for traveling again.

Home [sweet] home: Huanchaco

Part of my South American adventure had me doing volunteer work for several organizations.  Some were very good and well run; others were not.

I have somehow ended up in Huanchaco, Peru.

It looks like the edge of the Earth kind-of place.

There is surfing, miserable looking street dogs, concrete buildings, ride atop kayaks made of reeds, gray skies, lots of dust and sand. Occasionally, there are beautiful sunsets where a giant ball seems to be going for a swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Reed boats, called Caballitos (or little horses) standing upright in the sand.

I started on Monday at the local clinic. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing as my profession doesn’t technically exist in Peru. I assume I’ll mostly be doing education and maybe some first aid in the ’emergency’ clinic. Luckily for me, the clinic is about a 10 minute walk through town [some volunteers travel 1hr or more to get to their site]… I use the term town in its loosest sense. I’ve been introduced to the other local health centers in Trujillo, the hospital, the community services, and the municipal government workers. In some ways it seems very official. In other ways, not so much. I didn’t have to show a license or really any proof that I have any medical skills at all. Are they so desperate for help that they will let anyone show up and ‘volunteer?’

The umbrella organization I am working with is called Otra Cosa and it organizes volunteers to work with a handful of projects including a school for disabled and blind children, a dog rescue, teaching English, and a few rural projects like working on a coffee farm and teaching English up in the mountains. There is also a really neat project called Fairmail that is loosely associated with Otra Cosa. It trains local teens in photography and helps them sell their work fair trade.  I’m doing work with them as well.  Photography has always been my passion, and if I can share it with others, why not?

Otra Cosa is super organized in the sense that they have a full time employee (NOT volunteer) who works in the office and is available 5 days a week to answer emails and such. Because most low cost volunteer organization don’t have this, I felt reassured and relieved that my emails from the US were answered so quickly. The downside is that Otra Cosa a ‘fee’ of $100 usd. It’s not a lot of cash, and I thought that it would be going to a good cause. Unfortunately, after arriving, it quickly because obvious that the money was disappearing into a black hole. None of it goes to the projects. None of it is available for our supplies. And the number of volunteers coming through this organization to volunteer for 2-4 weeks means that the project is easily receiving over $2000 usd this month. It’s frustrating, and it’s been a challenge to let go of the feeling of being slightly scammed and focus on the work I am here to do, which in all reality, has nothing to do with the Otra Cosa Network. It’s true that without the organization, I wouldn’t be doing I am doing.

Besides that, I have met some wonderful people.  I am loving the family I have been place with.  They have a kitty cat and a dog which helps me feel a lot less like being a backpacker, and a lot more like being a temporary local… which is pretty much my goal for where ever I am.

The kitty, making himself at home on my sheets. I love him.

Off to see the wizard…

What I am about to say might be considered blasphemy to some… I didn’t travel the yellow brick road to see the land of Oz and meet the Wizard until very recently… as in I read the books Wicked and Son of a Witch before I ever knew of Dorothy and crew.

the way to oz

I KNOW… what can I say?  I missed out on a lot as a child by not having a TV or living in a town without a movie theatre.


So not being a huge fan and being an infant when it closed, I hope I can be forgiven for never having heard of Autumn at OZ. In its heyday the Land of Oz could attract 20,000 visitors a day, but now the neglected Yellow Brick Road is missing some bricks, the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle is empty and the Emerald City has all but disappeared.

yellow brick road

Truthfully, it’s a little bit creepy.

Local actors dress up as characters from the book/movie. Kids [and some very strange adults] dress up in costumes. Parents take pictures of kids with Dorothy and crew as if they were Santa Claus.

cast of oz

What it is:   From 1970-1980, there was a Wizard of Oz theme park not too far from where I live now. It’s located in Beech Mountain, NC and is open to the public for one weekend only… usually the first weekend in October,although that varies as they are having a few more events for the general public. [This year is was open on Oct 3 & 4].  I say open to the public because it’s current owner is Emerald Mountain Properties and they rent out the cabins, property, ect to people who want to have private parties at the land of OZ.

If you want to go: Ticket usually go on sale in the beginning of August, and sell out quickly. This year they sold out in just TWO short Weeks. I’m not saying go or not go, but if you do, be aware that this isn’t a theme park by 2015 standards, or even 1975 standard; it’s a quirky, weird little park best suited to real, devoted Wizard of Oz fans.