“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Seasons Greetings 2014-2015

Seasons Greetings!

Dear friends and family,

Greetings from South America. I was started this letter in Colombia -- perhaps a bit strange as I don't actually live there anymore, but my path brought me back to see friends. It has taken me a while to finish, of course, so I am now in Guyana with other friends. What a year!

Walking up the Remarkables Ski Area in summer
- see the view in the picture above!
I began the year in Queenstown, New Zealand in my childhood home. It was a quiet new year as it was cold and rainy. Mum and I drove up the hill to see the fireworks from afar, then back home to sleep early.

It was great being home. Every other visit has not been to our family home, so this was special. The first time I slept in my childhood bedroom in 20 years! I took advantage of the summer and made trips to Skipper's, Arrowtown, Glenorchy, Cardrona and Bob's Cove in the Wakatipu area.
Walking up Queenstown Hill is one of my favorite things to do when I'm at home, but it's changed so much since I was there. These cairns are new, and the growth of the pine trees is huge. Still, lovely ferns like this are still there!
A cheeky Kea on the car on the way to Milford.
In the first few days of the year I also used my Christmas present from my parents -- an overnight cruise into Doubtful Sound in Fjordland. What a beautiful, peaceful, reflective spot! We watched the mountains clear after the rain with water tumbling off the steep sides. I went kayaking in the sound and we were rocked to sleep after a delicious meal. We drove back via Milford Sound. Despite living so close, I had never been and was determined to see it despite the long drive in and out. While stunning and beautiful, it was a contrast in noise (planes overhead), visitors, and solitude to Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound
Kayaking in Doubtful Sound
I returned to Colombia for my last 6 months. It is quite stressful having to pack up a house and live in my apartment as if camping! But it wasn't an end to the sojourns. I loved the weekend rafting and rappelling in Tobia, a quick girls' weekend in Medellin and Santa Fe de Antioquia, chilling and shopping with Carol in Salento, and a birthday weekend in Villa de Leyva. I really love Colombia!

Medellin, Colombia.
Salento, Colombia 
Villa de Leyva, Colombia
Valle de Cocora, near Salento, Colombia.
Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia.
Testing a Cuban cigar, freshly rolled!

Loved seeing the Buena Vista
Social Club in Varadero!
In April, I was off to Cuba, right in the middle of Extended Essay marking season. After a couple of days on the beach in Varadero, I joined a lovely 8-day tour which took us to charming rural Vinales, art-deco-filled Cienfuegos, picturesque and historical Trinidad, revolutionary Santa Clara and of course, beloved, jazz-filled Havana. What a fantastic country, though I admit to having felt as if hands requesting money were always out.

Havana, Cuba
A whirlwind end of term (there are always so many requirements and form filling) led straight into a lovely weekend with Andre, Janneke and Timmy in the Netherlands!

Paul and Aoife's wedding in Connemara.
This was followed by a lovely cousin's wedding in Connemara in Ireland. Samantha from Beloit joined me to tour Ireland for 10 days and we did an incredible amount of both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Spectacular and beautiful Ireland!
Big Sur, California
I flew onwards to California, where I taught a CTY course in Model United Nations at Stanford for 3 weeks. It was great to get back to this program after 7 years away! I toured a bit, such as the Big Sur, Point Reyes National Seashore, downtown San Francisco, before fulfilling a long held dream of visiting Yosemite National Park, and the Grand Canyon (with Zion National Park in Utah squeezed in between). Apologies for the huge volumes of photos, but it was just so beautiful!!
Zion National Park, Utah
San Francisco, California
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Yosemite National Park, California
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Anne and I in Hamilton Harbour
Roomates from TCI:
Me, Liz and Carrie
I caught up with friends briefly in Madison, Chicago and Toronto before flying out to Bermuda to see Anne from Azerbaijan. Then, I was back to Colombia again, thinking I was truly going to start my sabbatical. Within a week, I'd received an urgent email with a temporary placement in the Turks and Caicos Islands, so off I went back to work! I managed to see quite a bit of both the Turks and the Caicos Island groups, as well as a mid term break trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Hispaniola. Such a huge contrast between those countries! Loved seeing old Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata, and Henri Le Roi's citadelle and palace. Incredible!
Stunning and tranquil Middle Caicos.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Sans-Souci Palace and Citadelle, Haiti
Unfortunately, in my last week on the TCI, our house was burgled and I had a significant amount of both tech and personal things stolen which rather soured my time there. Despite the island being no more than a few kilometers long, the police had inadequate resources to catch the criminals. While I am mourning the school work and resources lost from my computer, as well as the photos from Bermuda, TCI, DR and Haiti and I am sad to have lost my mostly sentimental jewelry and angry at the bank hassle I have had to endure, I am grateful for the things they didn't find and for my personal safety. Onwards and upwards as it is just stuff after all, and a good opportunity to reflect on unhealthy attachments to technology and stuff!

I spent a week in Key West, marveling at the engineering marvel that are the causeways and miraculously meeting up with Azerbaijan friends after an opportune Facebook post. I was a few days in Colombia before embarking on this current adventure. I was in Trinidad and Tobago for a night, and Guyana for Christmas and New Year - both quite quiet affairs. Tomorrow, I will head to Suriname (if they let me in, as due to bad planning, I didn't arrange for a visa beforehand!) and back to T&T and back to Colombia. I will say farewell (for now) to this corner of the world as am heading back to New Zealand in mid January. Nothing long or short term is planned at the moment, although my mind buzzes with ideas. Who knows what exciting opportunities will come in 2015?

I hope this finds you all, dear friends and family, happy and healthy wherever you are, full of your own dreams and plans to be fulfilled. I am so grateful for your part in my life although am sure I don't talk to you nearly enough to let you know. Hope you have made it this far in this long epistle!

Seasons Greetings and all the best for 2015. Do hope our paths may cross soon!

xxoo Natalya