Archive for February, 2014

Great Trini Tuesday

February 25, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was an excellent day. I woke up early to enjoy breakfast before my first meeting, which was easy because the meeting took place at my hotel. IMG_1308They have nice oatmeal at the hotel breakfast. After the meeting, I went with a new driver Dominic, who turned out to be awesome, to other stores and meetings. His car is with the driver on the left, which is uncommon for Trinidad.

For lunch, we stopped for roti. I offered to buy Dominic lunch as long as we went to the best roti shop around, so that’s what we did. Roti is something you are supposed to try in Trinidad. We went to a really simple looking place called Hott Shop. IMG_1295It’s more of a take out place so Dominic gave me instructions for what to ask for. I repeated the order and he said that I sounded very “Trini” ha! I came out with a heavy bag filled with two boneless chicken (tastes like chicken curry) roti “wraps.”  We got some drinks and then pulled over and ate lunch together in the car. It was so nice.

The roti was heavy, but delicious. Very starchy… I’m glad I tasted it but I’m not sure i’ll eat it again tomorrow. It filled me for a while. IMG_1320After working for a while longer, we went back to the hotel and then I had a nice work out and then a snack while I did more work.

Then I headed out to some pan band practices. During Carnival, which is next week, they have steel drum band competitions. It’s serious business.  Some of the bands are sponsored by companies and can get up to 150 people in one band! I went to a few different practices but my favorite was the Desperadoes. IMG_1322They practiced in a big open area and around the practice site were food stalls and a bar. It was so nice to go and hang out. I went there first, went to a few others, and then back to this one. The music was so awesome and and it was free. It’s the kind of music that just makes you feel great and smile and dance a little. All kinds of people go to these practices that run from about 8 to 2 (I was told) during the week before carnival.

I was hungry so I got a whole (small) fish that was roasted by two ladies in one of the stalls. I put some pepper pickle stuff on it because that’s what you do – I asked for the food that they would most want to eat from their stall. I ate the cheeks first and washed it down with Carib beer. Delicious.

Now I’m back at the hotel. IMG_1316There’s a party at the hotel but it costs 600 TTD, almost 100 USD to get in. I spoke to the server at the hotel restaurant about it when I went down there to check out the party from a different angle. He said that it’s definitely worth it if you are a “premium drinker” as drinks and food are included in this price. I’m going to go have a look at the party in a bit as it’s supposed to pick up in an hour or so.

Tomorrow, a meeting at 8:30 AM and then I’ll finish my work. Hopefully I’ll have time to hang out for a little before packing up! I may even go back to the pan practice again – it was that awesome. I hope you are having a nice week.

Love, Anne

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Productive Monday in Port of Spain

February 24, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope your week has started out well. Today was really productive and somewhat frustrating, because things just don’t work as smoothly and as timely as I’m used to. I went to a meeting, changed hotels, worked more, had a great work out, and then a mediocre dinner at the hotel. Fortunately, this hotel is better AND I got and a lower rate.

More tomorrow!

Love, Annie

Hello Trinidad!

February 23, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are well. My first impression of Trinidad hasn’t been great, but I’m optimistic. Last night, it took about an hour and a half to get through immigration and customs as there were several hundred people in line. IMG_1245Fortunately, I passed the time talking with a woman from Australia and nice girl from NZ in med school going to work in Tobago for six weeks before she goes to Cusco, Peru to work for another six weeks. Not bad.

I got to the hotel and there’s a stadium next to the hotel and it was blasting music so loudly. It’s a pre carnival concert. I felt the music in my bones and heart. Even inside the room. IMG_1242They moved me to a better room but I could still feel it. The music went on until 4 or 5 AM. I had to move to a different room for tonight. I hear there will be another concert tomorrow, so I’m going to move hotels. I already went and asked about the rates at the other hotel, and if they give me a corporate rate, it will be all set.

Today, I slept a bit later and then headed to Maracas Beach. I shared a taxi from the hotel with a guy from Australia who also wanted to go to the beach so it was a bit cheaper. IMG_1248We stopped at a lookout where there were some stands selling snacks, and i bought some mangos with salt, pepper, cilantro in a bag. They were great. I love mangos with sauce. I forget where, but they sell them with chili sauce in other places.

The beach was crowded and rainy and I played candy crush and then read when my candy crush lives were out. For lunch, I had a shark sandwich from Richard’s Bake & Shark, which is apparently pretty famous. It was excellent. IMG_1256The line to get the sandwich was long and i bumped into the couple I sat next to on the plane the night before. We went back around 4 and I sampled the gym but it was so disgusting and sweaty so I went back upstairs and then got dressed and scoped out other hotels. The official hotel taxi costs 12 USD for every location you go, plus 12 USD / Hour. I bargained with the driver and got it down to 25 dollars (would have been 36… jeez) for dinner I ate soup and salad at the hotel bar.

I sat next to a lady who is living here for a few months and works for the US government. She’s also stuck at candy crush and seemed pretty annoyed be having to be here. I’m not sure what she did, but she said that she doesn’t work for the State Department.

Tomorrow, work!

Love, Annie

 

Summary: Santo Domingo

February 21, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s been a busy but great week in Santo Domingo. I hope you’ve had a nice week too. I’m happy that Lev and I had a fun time together (even though Santo Domingo is not the greatest city) and that I was able to do an excellent job with work despite my español patético.

IMG_1205I last wrote on Monday night. On Tuesday, I worked and met a really nice driver, Agustín. The city is not walkable and it’s not safe to just catch a taxi on the street so this was important. Lev went to the colonial area and learned a ton about the history of the city. After a nice workout at the hotel gym, which is excellent, we went to a restaurant called Don Pepe, recommended by Agustín earlier in the day. It was delicious Spanish food and probably one of the nicest restaurants in the city. We had sausage, pallela, and wine. MMmm.

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On Wednesday, Lev’s birthday, I had some meetings and then in the afternoon we went to a shirt shop where Lev got a chacabana, a kind of local shirt also called guayabera in other Latin American countries. He negotiated the price of the shirt and I was very impressed with the way that all went down. If you were wondering, the shirt in the picture above is not the chacabana.

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That afternoon we also saw a gross crafts market and had delicious ice cream. For dinner we went to Mason de la Cava, a restaurant in a cave. We saw some interesting characters there including a group of young Americans, some people on dates, and some older men with women we assumed were escorts – they all wore tight short white dresses. We ate goat for the second time this week, and it was pretty delicious.

Thursday was another work day for me. For dinner, we had the best dinner at a place called Adrian Tropical that serves local foods. IMG_1239My colleagues who have been here before all recommend the Mofongo, which is fried yucca and meat in a ball of mushed fried stuff. We are trying to figure out if it’s an ongoing practical joke that everyone recommends it, because it’s pretty unappetizing. The other dishes at Adrian Tropical were delicious, in particular the Arroz con Pollo (pretty standard local food) and the ceviche with a flat yucca bread-cracker.

Lev left last night, and today I finished up my work, worked out, and had dinner at the hotel – the normal surveying routine. It was a very special treat to have such wonderful company here. I’m excited to head to Trinidad tomorrow afternoon.

Love, Annie

Adios New Zealand… Hola República Dominicana!

February 17, 2014

Hola Family and Friends,

I’m writing to you from my hotel in Dominican Republic. It’s nice! I left New Zealand last Tuesday and it was a long trip home. IMG_1172I stopped in Tahiti and then got delayed in Los Angeles. After a few days home, I’m back out on survey again, starting here in Santo Domingo and then next week in Port of Spain, Trinidad. I have this second part of the survey because the first part was short, only three weeks.

So far, DR is great. After arriving at 4:00 AM, I slept until noon and then had a pretty productive day. Lev’s here for a few days and he came to work with me today. IMG_1176It was very cool of him to spend over three hours in the crappy supermarket with me collecting prices…  I think he’ll do his own thing tomorrow.

After work, we walked around the old colonial town and had drinks and then dinner at a French restaurant. It’s really nice to have company again. I’m  looking forward to a productive day of work tomorrow! Love, Annie

Sunny Sunday

February 9, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was a nice day off. I went to the nearby cafe again and had an omelet for breakfast with bacon, spinach, feta, and tomatoes in it. IMG_1127Then I rented a bike and headed the other way down the coastal path. I biked past some cows, as you can see here. There were horses a little further down. Outside of the city, there is mostly farmland. I forgot to mention  the other day that the tiny airport also smells like a farm.

IMG_1139I was only able to ride until 2 pm because that’s when the bike store closed, so I brought back the bike in time and then headed to the beach. The beach was pretty fun, I walked for a long time.  The sand is black and I keep thinking it looks really dirty even though it’s just a darker color.

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I was able to get a nice view of Mt. Taranaki today. This mountain is a huge volcano that dominates the landscape. It’s hard to see how huge it is in the picture. That bridge is pretty cool too. It’s possible to climb Mt. Taranaki but I’d need someone to do it with and probably more training.

For dinner, I went back to the South Indian restaurant and got the Dosa. I went early to the restaurant because I did not have lunch. It was very delicious. Tomorrow is my last full day! I hope you have a nice Sunday.

Love, Annie

Working Saturday in New Plymouth

February 8, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are having a nice weekend. Today was a much better day than yesterday. I was very productive and it was sunnier. After work I went for a run along the coastal walkway, one of the main attractions here. I have no pictures of it because I ran without my camera. It was really beautiful and I look forward to going the other way on it tomorrow. At dinner at a different Indian restaurant, a couple speaking German was sitting next to me and I kept catching the woman kept looking at me, watching what I did and how I was eating … it made me really self conscious about sitting alone at the table. I don’t usually think anything of it. I actually can’t think of a time that I’ve ever felt uncomfortable like that at a restaurant before. Oh well.

Love, Annie

Hi from New Plymouth

February 7, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are well. The flight over to New Plymouth was easy. The taxi driver to the Auckland Airport was from Fiji and really really talkative. The plane was small and domestic New Zealand flights involve NO security. Zero. No bag checks, no shoes off, no detectors. I couldn’t believe it. New Plymouth is really small and the town is kind of cute. It has some good restaurants. I think the coastal walk is supposed to be cool but I didn’t have a change to get there as I was working all day.

When I got to my hotel, the phone in the room didn’t work. They tried to fix it but it didn’t work so they upgraded me to another room with a working phone. I think it’s working, I didn’t try it yet. IMG_1112The local landline phone is a pretty important tool for this job, especially when it’s an English speaking city. It was kind of annoying to change rooms but this room is much better. There are no safes in the rooms so I put my passport in my travel wallet and gave it to the lady at the front to put in the safe at reception.

I went out after that whole thing and worked because I didn’t want to sit in the rather depressing hotel room and make phone calls – there was other work to be done. There are a few good stores here and a mall and reasonably priced nail salons but it’s not a major commercial centre. In the late afternoon I did laundry and worked out.

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There’s do-it-yourself laundry here at the hotel which is very cool. You can buy detergent at the reception and I asked about dryer sheets and they had no idea what I was talking about. I’m going to do laundry the morning I come home so the clothes will be clean. The laundry is next to the gym so you can work out and do laundry at the same time. This is really cool, and while the gym is basic with old equipment, it has high ceilings and I was the only one there so it was not too bad. The awesome gym/laundry combination was the second best thing that happened today. The best part of my day was video chatting with with Lev! I’m so excited to head home in a few days and see him for real. I’m getting homesick and antsy.

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I went to dinner at a restaurant specializing in south Indian cuisine. It was pretty delicious and the staff at the restaurant were nice. I had little lentil donuts (which are apparently a popular street food) and vegetable curry. I’ll probably go back there again as there were more things on the menu that looked really interesting.

I had been feeling weird about my passport in the safe all day, just a weird feeling. So I decided to get it because I would feel more comfortable keeping it with me. When I got back to the hotel, I asked the receptionist if I could have my travel wallet from the safe as I needed something in it. She went to go unlock the safe and came back and said that it wasn’t there. She looked again and no. I said could you please call the other woman who was working here in the morning who put it in the safe, this is a very serious issue. The receptionist said “she’s working tomorrow”. I told her there was no way I was going to be able to sleep not knowing if my passport was secure. She acted like it was my fault that she couldn’t find my travel wallet and i’m so pissed about that. She acted like this was a huge burden. Please. Turns out it was in the safe and after she called the other woman it seemed clear that she just wasn’t looking hard enough. Uhh.

Tomorrow I work more and hopefully it will be sunny so I can walk around on the coastal walk.

Love, Annie

Adios Auckland

February 6, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are having a nice week. I’m pretty sad it’s my last night in Auckland, it’s been really nice here. The hotel, the company, and the city itself have been excellent. IMG_1050I had a day off today for Waitangi Day, a public holiday here in New Zealand. It was an excellent day. In the morning, Ari and her boyfriend Gary picked me up at the hotel and we drove off to Muriwai beach! The beach is famous for its gannet colonies. Gannet is a kind of bird. The beach was beautiful and it was exciting to go to a beach with black sand, as I have never experienced that before. IMG_1091We walked around on the rocks and saw a gannet colony that smelled really bad. The rocks are all volcanic rock and it was easy to see that they were made by lava. The weather was not fantastic (it was spots of sunlight) so we did not go in the water. I walked into the water and a wave came and my pants got wet to halfway up my shins.

After the beach, we headed to a park where there are a lot of sheep. It is New Zealand, after all. IMG_1098I got to get kind of close to some sheep before they ran away from me. After the sheep, we went to the top of the park to get a good view of the city. At that point, we were all very hungry so we headed to lunch. We ate at a really cool Malaysian restaurant. The food was very authentic and I thought of my colleague Adam who is there this survey. I thought the curry laksa was especially delicious. IMG_1104I don’t think Ari or Gary has ever had Malaysian food before.

After lunch, I got dropped off at my hotel and swam for a bit before enjoying a spa treatment that my parents and Bubbie got me for my birthday 🙂 Thanks, it was fantastic. At the end, they let you relax with some fruit and juice and for my birthday they also gave me sparkling wine and chocolates. I saved the chocolates.

i'm still alive!

I did a little packing and then Ari came over and we got to give hugs and say goodbye. I’m going to miss her but trust that I’ll see her soon. Now I have just finished my dinner of wanton soup and rocket (baby arugula) salad. My flight to New Plymouth is at 9:00 tomorrow! While I’m sad to leave, I’m always excited to move on. New Plymouth is my last location on this leg of the survey and of course it is always very exciting to go home.

Love, Annie

Auckward!

February 5, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

Nothing has been awkward about these days, I just wanted to use that title. It has been a nice few days in Auckland. I hope your week has been good. I haven’t been able to write for the past few days because I’ve been so overtired. Arriving here at 1:30 AM had taken its toll. IMG_1018On Monday, I worked and then went to Ari’s to eat dinner. She cooked! It was really nice to have a meal not in a restaurant and with some friends.

On Tuesday, I got up early for some meetings and worked the whole day well into the night. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called “Euro” which is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in NZ and in the world. I was expecting to be impressed but was not impressed at all. The fish was decent, but the salad was silly (soggy iceberg lettuce with salami on it… and it wasn’t even the salad I ordered) and soggy potato wedges on the side. The service wasn’t that great. I looked on trip advisor and many of the comments said exactly what I was thinking “disappointed.”

Today I worked in the morning and then… went bungy jumping off the harbour bridge! It was incredibly fun. IMG_1035I’m downloading the pictures now and they will be ready tomorrow. I was the only one who booked at that time and it was so personal. I got to jump a second time for free because they needed someone to jump for the bridge climbers as they get to watch a jump. So I jumped once forward and the other time backwards. The guys on the platform were so nice.  There was some great pump up music at the top of the platform to take your  mind off of the jumping. I was really nervous but felt safe the whole time.

I got to the jumping base early, so I got to walk around the harbour a bit. Auckland is a big sailing city. I think my parents would like it here! I took a bunch of pictures of sailboats for my dad. After that nice break, I worked again and then had dinner with Ari at a Belgian beer house. We had delicious raspberry beer. Tomorrow, we are going to go to the beach and hopefully the weather won’t be too bad.

Love, Annie