Tag Archives: Culture

Why Mallorca isn’t my favorite place in Spain

Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean tolerance. I spent a week with friends on this big Island in the Balearic sea. Mallorca is a mix of ethnicities and they aren’t all treated the same. Natives speak Mallorquí.  So even if you are Spanish, but from another part of the Peninsula you will always be treated as a foreigner, unless you learn the native language. During summer months when Mallorca swells with tourists prices double. This makes it very hard for locals who earn lower wages than northern Europeans to afford rising prices. Northern Europeans can also more easily afford exclusive properties driving up real estate prices. Spaniards complain about finding places to rent because property owners would rather have holiday homes that bring in more money

What really bothers me, however is the treatment and exploitation of refugees, and by extension all persons of color. I have a friend from Nevada who lives here teaching English. Her ancestry is Caribean. Because she is darker skinned many people treat her like a refugee, which is quite poorly. Many of the Nigerian women are coerced into prostitution. So if my friend goes out at night alone even dressed extremely conservatively she will have Spanish men pulling over in their cars offering to pay her for sex. This makes me really angry for my friend, but even angrier at the treatment of African refugees. It makes me sick to see others exploit vulnerable people who need the most help. It’s not like refugees want to leave behind their homes and families. Their dark skin makes it difficult for them to blend into Spain’s paler population thus making them even more visible targets.


My friend has trouble finding extra work as an English Tudor because people don’t want to learn English from someone who is of her color. Meanwhile many whites teachers have an abundance of  students.
I am not sure if this is the situation all over Spain. It makes me feel queasy inside to know I am receiving better treatment than others. For that reason I can’t see myself coming back to Mallorca anytime in the foreseeable future.

Why Spain is perfect for solo travel


Thinking about your next solo adventure? Here are 5 Reasons Spain is a great destination, especially for the lone female traveler.

The Culture
Spaniard’s are great. In general everyone is super helpful. Spain has a relaxed and friendly culture. The bus drivers are a little grumpy, but they still help point you in the right direction.

It’s Relatively Safe
Spain is much safer than the United States, but not as safe as Iceland or New Zealand. It is possible to stay out until the late hours of the night during the week. Or the early hours of the weekend and everything is fine. That being said there are pickpockets. Apparently they target foreigners. You won’t get mugged or assaulted, but if you leave your bag open someone might help themselves to your wallet. I am told that pickpockets listen for foreign accents so if you’re traveling alone hopefully you’re not talking to yourself. Another tip is to travel low-key don’t wear anything too fancy or expensive, which will call attention to yourself. As a female solo traveler I have found Spanish men charming and helpful. To Some immigrant men living in Spain are a little more forward than I would like. I think its the difference in culture so I started wearing a wedding band out.

 The Price
Spain is surprisingly affordable. It is one of the cheapest countries in the EU (European Union). You can easily rent rooms with private baths for under 30€ a night. Hostels are under 20€. Many places include breakfast. Meals are very affordable as well. An espresso with a ham and cheese sandwich is less than 3€. Meaning you can travel on 35-75€ a day depending on your rooming, transportation and excursion choices. An entrance ticket to La Alhambra Palace in Granada without a guide will cost you 15€. While a guided day trip to Gibraltar from the sunshine coast will be closer to 50€.

Easy Transport
Spain has great transportation. There are buses and trains to pretty much anywhere you want to go. Even remote villages have at least one bus in or out a day. I brought an unlocked cellphone and purchased a 3GB Lycamobile Internet plan for 15€ a month. Then you can use GPS to find the best public transit routes. I highly recommend bringing or buying a phone. Knowing where you are going will give you more confidence to explore. I have people asking me for directions almost everyday.

The Climate
Spain has one of the warmest climates in Europe. I’m currently traveling Spain in the winter time from January to April. Its off-season which means less tourists and with weather between 50-80 °F (10-27 °C) it’s really quite enjoyable. The trick is to bring layers. Nights can feel cold while sunny days can feel warmer than they actually are. I packed a softshell jacket that doubles as a raincoat so I didn’t have to pack an umbrella.

Did I leave anything out? I would love to hear you thought on traveling solo in Spain. Feel free to comment below.

Happy travels,

Amanda Tiffany

What it is like to travel as a Jehovah’s Witness

I’m proud to be a Jehovah’s Witness. I was raised with strong principles and morals by loving parents who tried very hard to always take care of and protect me. I know in this modern world religion is a taboo subject. I myself feel a certain twinge at the overly dramatic way some religious persons present their beliefs. The purpose of this blog however, is to help people understand and be more aware of the way others live. So I will open up about my life so you can understand my beliefs better. Here is what it’s like for me to travel as a Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There are over 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, which I admit is a small number compared to other mainstream religions. What sets us apart from other religions is that while being imperfect people we try very hard to live by Bible principles. You can’t be a Jehovah’s Witnesses if you are a liar, or a cheat, or a thief, among other things. So while some people find following God’s commands overly restrictive, I view it as a protection.
I can travel anywhere in the world, walk into any Kingdom Hall (that’s what we call places of worship) and instantly feel safe and at home. If you don’t believe me you should try it. The local congregation in your area will welcome you too. We are a true united family of brothers and sisters.
When I want to travel somewhere I usually start by asking any number of my friends if they have contacts in the area I want to visit. If they do, then I can email that person and be invited into their home.
I know when I go there I can trust them. They aren’t going to be a drug addicts or creepy perverts or raging alcoholics because all of those things go against bible principles. I can also be pretty sure the house will be clean and my new friends hospitable, since both are bible principles as well. It’s comforting to know I will be safe and looked after and my belongs in no danger of disappearing. I’ve made more lifelong friends this way than I can count.
So while I still stay in resorts, and hotels, and hostels, and camp, and backpack I’ve never expieranced the horror stories I’ve heard from other travelers because I know if there is ever an emergency I can head to the closest Kingdom Hall and have an instant family.

For more questions or comments please feel free to reply below or go to JW.ORG (no affiliation) the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses for bible based publications’ and videos available in hundreds of languages.

5 Reasons European’s Dislike American’s

Americans are often regarded as Europe’s red neck cousin. Have you ever wondered culturally what we do that’s so offensive. Below is a short list of explanations of how we earned that endearing reputation.

5 Reasons Europeans Dislike Americans

Manners 

American culture is rooted in a me first attitude. We are raised with a desire to be unique or set apart from everyone else. It’s the basis of generations of hard working, reach for the stars individuals. The down side is we tend to think the world revolves our self. As a result many Americans are seen as dressing overly casual. We lounge around with horrific posture. And we treat complete strangers in an overly familiar, informal manner.

Our Society Is Insular

The U.S.A has a land mass of over 3.5 million square miles and population of over 300 million. Put simply we are huge and their are tons of us. We produce our own music, literature, and movies. The media has helped homogenize us into a united way of thought. Many Americans have never left the U.S, learned a second language, or been immersed in new cultures. The media features little in way of international news. Our school systems put impetus on American, not world history. So when traveling abroad many Americans lacks knowledge of world events or cultural phenomenon outside our own. This has more to do with our society as a whole than an individual.

Languages Differences

It’s amazing how different languages and accents produce a variety speech patterns and decimals. In general American speak much louder than necessary. We listen to everything too loud as well. It’s not uncommon to spot solitary European travelers wandering about, quiet and unobtrusive. Americans on the other hand, usually travel in jovial groups. We occupy restaurants and public places laughing and conversing in uncommonly high decibels. Being American I find nothing wrong with this behavior. It’s fun. Many Europeans, however, consider this behavior extremely rude. We impeded others speech and project our private conversations on them. They don’t want to want to know the trivial things we discuss or see our idiot selfies.

The Service Industry

In Europe everyone stands on equal footing. Both patron and sales clerks. In America we expect exceptional care from anyone in the service industry. This requires a slight adjustment in ones expectations of service when visiting cafes or shops in Europe.

Local Cultures

“Do you speak English?” Many Americans make a poor attempt at understanding the culture they are inmersed in or speaking the local language. They often assume others will accommodate them and that someone must speak English. This is an easy problem to rectify. It takes very little effort to write down a few phrases on a piece of paper. In less than 15 minutes on the Internet one can produce an invaluable list of do’s and don’ts as well as innumerable cultural insights.
For example many Americans will engage in conversations with complete strangers, often divulging a great deal of personal information about them self. Europeans on the other hand are raised to live private lives. They are often viewed by Americans as aloof and smug because they will avoid eye contact with strangers or initiating contact with persons whom they are unacquainted with.

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15 Reasons to visit Guatemala

Longing to visit Europe, but can’t afford the expensive flights and euro conversion rates? Founded in 1524 Antigua Guatemala is a UNESECO World Heritage Site. Antigua is famous for its Spanish Baroque architecture and cobble stone streets. Here’s 15 reasons why its one of my favorite destinations.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Casa Santa Domingo

Take A Walking Tour

The architecture in Antigua is spectacular. Even on a tight budget you can spend days meandering it’s iconic streets, with the nearby mountains framing your shots.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Parque Central

Parque Central or the city center is a great place to orient yourself and kick off your journey. Many street vendors sell local fruits, and the center is surrounded by cafes and gourmet restaurants. This an ideal location to people watch, from families and tourists, to artists and journalists.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Café Condesa

Cafe Condesa located just across the street from Parque Central is brimming with old world charm. Sip local coffee and indulge in delectable pastries while surrounded by cascading fountains and lush gardens.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Arco de Santa Catalina

The Arco de Santa Catalina is one of the most distinguishable landmarks of Antigua. It’s located on 5th Avenue North and is within easy walking distance from the city center. It’s hard to picture visiting Antigua and not stopping to lay eyes on the arch.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
La Merced

La Merced the first male monastery in Guatemala, is the most ornately decorated church I have seen in Central America, its absolutely beautiful to behold and free to look at. Its easy to find from the City Center and the shops nearby posses cool wares.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Casa Santo Domingo

Casa Santa Domingo is both a hotel and museum. It’s my favorite place to visit in Antigua. If your on a budget you can explore the grounds by promising to purchase chocolate from the chocolatier in the back and then slowly meander your way there. You can also take a free shuttle from here up to another resort where you can purchase a gourmet lunch for less than 20.00 USD.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Convento Santa Clara

Convento Santa Clara is the only  paid attraction I included on the walking tour, the price should be fairly low (less than 10 USD), but it’s a steal. The convent is an ideal backdrop for weddings and you often see professional photographers doing their shoots here.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Grinding stone, Choco Museo

The Choco Museo is a must. I can’t stress this enough. You need to get a typical hot chocolate. Locally grown cocoa is roasted, and hand ground into powder. Then mixed with warm milk, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This is not store bought sugary syrup. Its thick, and rich, and very filling. When Mayan’s thatch houses they sometimes prepare, and serve hot chocolate as a meal replacement for the workers.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Chichicastenango Market

Shopping

The hand woven fabrics, locally hewn jades, and multitudes of leather goods are enough to make any shopper go crazy. Store owners from all over Central America come here to buy. Half the goods sold in Belize originate somewhere in Guatemala. Antigua itself has great markets, or if you feel so inclined, you can catch a bus to Chichicastenango where the market is the size of a small town. We spent hours exploring and still couldn’t look at all the stall’s. Markets are Thursday’s and Sunday’s. This is a full day trip.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Volcan Pacaya

Day Trips

Volcan Pacaya checked off an item on my bucket list, lava. Guides bring marshmallows to roast over the molten rock. Sometimes it’s too active to summit, but when we climbed it, we were within a meter of the lava flow. Icy cold gusts of wind rush up the side of the volcano and mix with the blistering air from the flow, creating layers of multicolored air, which both bakes and freezes you.

My only warning is that Pacaya is not as safe as Antigua. My guide friends have been mugged repeatedly, so bring the minimal amount of currency needed, and consider carrying only one camera for your party to minimize loss.

15 Reaons to Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan

Panajachel can be seen from Antigua in one long day trip. You can pay to take a private, direct bus for about 10 USD.  The duration of which is about 2.5 hours. I have a love hate relationship with this place. Lake Atitlan itself is breathtaking, and the drive, filled with mountain vistas is amazing.

What’s the downside? It’s almost impossible to relax and enjoy the azure waters and hazy backdrop with all the peddlers that swarm you. Many of which are sad looking children and worn women pleading for you to help them out.

Cheap Prices

One of the best things about Guatemala is the conversion rate. So even on a budget you can enjoy fantastic treatment and luxury services.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Spa Day

Spa’s offer great deals. My friend and I got a 60 minute deep tissue massage, 45 minute full facial, manicure, and pedicure for about 75 USD PP. Just make sure you tip. These women work very hard.

15 Reaons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Chicken Bus

Local buses are dirt cheap and alarmingly crowded. Charter buses, while still full, are relatively inexpensive, and offer a less claustrophobic experience. Decent clean hotels can be rented for as little as 14USD a night off of travel sites like trip advisor.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
McDonald’s in Antigua

Even the McDonald’s in Antigua is beautiful.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Guatemalan women baking tortillas.

True Cultural Experience

Guatemala is a diverse country, with its own indigenous cuisine, art, and music. Many of the indigenous Maya have their own distinct regional dress and language. It’s truly fascinating to immerse yourself in it. Many people move to Antigua to learn to speak Spanish as well.

It’s Safe

Even though some places in Guatemala can be dangerous, Antigua isn’t. If you see soldiers walking around the city it’s for your protection. They detour muggers and shoplifters.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Tikal

Other Recommendations

While I’ve never personally been on a coffee tour in Guatemala, I would highly recommend it to anyone as obsessed with this beverage as me. Also, overnight and multi-day excursions can be booked to Semuc Champey and Tikal from Antigua proper. Two places that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

15 Reasons To Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Semuc Champey

 

Living among the Maya

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Living Among the Maya

The best two years of my life were spent volunteering in the Toledo District of Belize in Central America. I worked with deaf children and their families.

The area often called the Mayan Mountains are inhabited mostly with native Kekchi and Mopan Maya speakers. Mayans make up about 10% of Belize population. While Belize is often considered a “kriol talkin”, Caribbean Nation down south is the land of the Maya.

I had the privilege of living in San Antonio the second largest town in Toledo with a population of about 1,000 inhabitants. It’s made up of thatch roof houses and tangled vegetation. It can be hard to get permission to build or move into these villages because everything has to go thru the Alcalde or village mayor. Fortunately I had friends there, who let me stay with them, in their simple board house.

The Mayas depend heavily on agriculture and typically live isolated from outside society. A “small” family is less than 12 children and a “large” family is over 18. If you ask a Maya child what their favorite animal is the typical answer is a pig or chicken. I’m not sure why. Culturally, even though there are dogs everywhere, they are very looked down on. Calling someone a “Pek” or dog is a very strong insult, which I learned accidentally when teasing a friend one day.

 

Santa Cruz, a typical Mayan village.
Santa Cruz, a typical Mayan village.

 

While poor, Mayas are extremely generous, warm-hearted, community dwellers. They must depend on each other to survive, which includes thatching each other houses, and harvesting each other crops. In spite of having access to simple ingredients their food is amazing. Their main stable is corn from which they make tortillas, dukunu, tamales, and corn lob a type of drink. They grow cacao, which they sun, roast, grind, and then serve in calabash bowls with allspice and cinnamon. caldos are soups made with local grown chicken and achiote or annatto. My favorite dish is cohune heart cabbage seasoned with yellow ginger or turmeric. Making this actually invokes going into the jungle finding a 10-year-old tree that’s the right size cohune palm and cutting out the “pith” or heart which is the last 4′ of the tree near the branches or top. Once removed one “heart” can serve 15-20 people.

 

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Cacao in a calabash bowl.

 

I would feel safe being lost in jungle with a Maya. They know how to live off the land. With a kind of old world education I will never fully be able to understand. Often, however, their secular education is very low. With very little written literature in Mopan, they have a very oral, story telling culture. Most children don’t learn English until entering school. Mayans are typically a very humble, trusting culture. often assuming outsiders know more than them. For example if you can show something from bible they will believe it as gods word no further explanation required.

Cons of Living in a Maya Village

Alcoholism runs high in Mayan villages and along with it child and spouse abuse. Villages aren’t safe to walk about in after dark, on Fahina* (village cleanup), or other holidays. In a village where everyone has a machete or cutlass there are a lot of drunken fights where someone gets “chopped” and sent to the clinic.

It’s an extremely “macho” culture, where most grown women are attached to a man. For years arranged marriages were the norm and are still routinely practiced to this day. Many girls start having children at 15. It is also common for the man to be at least 10 years older since they need to have an established farm and dwelling to support a family. Belize has made it illegal for people to get married before 18, but common law marriages with underage girls is still incredibly common. I found out that one of my friends husbands who is also her uncle spent time in jail for statutory rape because she ‘went with him’ when she was 12 and he was 30. At 27 her oldest daughter was 14. Why did she move in with him so young? Because her step father kept trying to molest her.

It was not uncommon for drunk men to come pounding on my door asking for me to open. Upset that they heard I had ‘gone with another man’ and not with them (I was never in a relationship with any of the local villagers). Or drunk men would come into the yard and steal our coconuts. Mayan women usually travel in pairs for safety. You will usually get cat calls, whistles, and hisses if you go out far alone, as many men feel you are asking for attention by traveling alone. Taking even a small child along with you makes all this attention stop. Also red lipstick, bright nail polish, and eyeliner are signals of prostitution. Short hair on women is a sign of rebelliousness. Also hugging a man in public means you’ve had sex with him.

People with disabilities are treated with great shame and it is not uncommon for them to be locked up. With their families trying both to protect and hide them. That’s where I would come in next weeks blog will be about educating the deaf and their families and helping them to integrate better into society.

*Fahina or village cleanup is a mandatory gathering for all men over the age of 18, since no propriety taxes are collected this is how the village stays maintained. all the bush growing along the roads is cut back to make sure there is no place for snakes or other animals to hide.

I apologize for any misspelled words. Many local terms I heard called by name, but never saw them written down.

 

 

How to be a sustainable traveler

Sustainable Travelimage

Social Responsibility 

Ecotourism is a form of sustainable tourism involving natural areas. Responsible tourism educates travelers, provides funds for ecological conservation, directly benefits economic development of local communities, fosters respect for different cultures, and for human rights so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention.

It is our social responsiblty to minimizes negative aspects on the environment and enhances the cultural integrity of local people and communities.

 

Guatemalan women baking tortillas.
Guatemalan women baking tortillas.

 

Cultural Insights
We often hear the adage ‘take only photos, leave only footprints.’ With ecotourism on the rise many people are increasingly environ friendly, but we don’t always consider the cultural impacts of places we visit. One thing I noticed living in Central America for four years is that depending on ethnicity many of the locals are quite conservative. Then you get so-called ‘Developed Lands’ coming in doing water tours in skimpy bikini’s and not only do we look lose but our attire is offensive to locals.

There is never an excuse for rape, but many cultures have been raised where a lot of bare skin means your asking for sex or at least sexual attention. Many cultures have preconceived notions that sex is something all Westerner’s want.
This section particularly applies to female travelers, but points apply to male travelers as well. If you watch locals many Central American women swim in shorts and t-shirts. This is not only for economy reasons, but for modesty as well.

 

Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey

This is especially true when doing tours in areas that aren’t well established beach resort towns. I did a budget hostel tour in Semuc Champey last year. The guides were actually telling the women to strip down and get naked and put on their bikini’s, which I found both incredibly sexist and unprofessional for a tour guide. Whenever you are paying anyone for a service you should expect the greatest respect and professionalism. The guides were repeatedly touching the women and flirting with them. One young women almost drowned because the guide was distracted romancing other patrons instead of doing his job. My friend who herself is not a strong swimmer saved that women’s life. Many of the women there were new travelers. They didn’t realize how unacceptable the guides behavior was, worse yet many travelers don’t realize that it’s their own behavior that encourages this.
Many backpackers just want to ‘have a good time.’ Including having sex with their tour guides who are often married men with children. This is not the modern world. Many rural Mayan women get married or having children from their mid teens. They are ‘uneducated’ by our standards and often have no way of supporting themselves other than to stick with their cheating men.
As a person fluent in American Sign Language for many years I’ve worked as a volunteer teacher with deaf children helping both them and their families learn to communicate. I was shocked to learn from a local doctor that many of these children in rural communities become deaf or blind when their tour guide fathers bring home STD’s to their wives.
Our actions affect other people. Some for the rest of their lives. It’s our responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world. Yes your on vacation, and yes everyone deserves to have a good time, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of those less fortunate than us. We need to be socially responsible and consider our actions when traveling.

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Organized Tours

It may not seem like it, but another major consideration when traveling responsibly is booking tours. Always do research before you book a tour. Budget tours operators like those that are part of a hostel package can have horrible guides with questionable practices. One budget tour I did involved scores of tourists exploring a beautiful cave with candels. Caves have extremely fragile ecosystems. The candels were turning the caves limestone walls black with soot and there was wax buildup on the walls. It made me sad to think what the inside would like for future generations. Many of these caves have great cultural significance to the Mayans as well. The guides were ruining their own heritage and possible future revenue to earn a quick buck. Sure you saved money booking a budget tour but what are you doing to the environment? Sometimes we need to have principles and just spend the extra ten dollars. Then the guides could afford headlamps and other low impact equipment that would support sustainable tourism.
Resorts often advertise huge air conditioned buses with free drinks as part of a package. These tours are often overpriced and involve large numbers of people converging on a single point of interest. Mass tourism can have a negative impact on the economy as well. Proceeds from these tours go to large corporations worried about investors instead of supporting local communities.
It’s best to book small tours with reputable local tour guides. They are the ones most interested in preserving their heritage and surroundings not only for themselves but for their family and communities as well. You will get more attentive service, smaller groups, and have far less of an impact on your surroundings.

For more articles on sustainable travel check out my friend Nina over at U2GUIDE.

How to be sustainable when you are traveling