Category: beach


We considered hanging out in Rotorua after our trip to Te Puia – there was plenty to do there (although it’s all fairly expensive), and since we didn’t plan anything in advance we were pretty flexible.  In the end, though, we decided to move on to the Coromandel Peninsula, and I’m so glad that we did!  The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most famous places in New Zealand, and since this was the off season we got to enjoy it in relative peace and serenity.  Plus, this leg of the trip we actually had lovely weather, instead of having to constantly run away from the rain like we were doing for most of the rest of our time in New Zealand, so we had the luxury of taking our time and enjoying the beautiful countryside and little towns and attractions along the way.  We also stayed in a truly wonderful AirBnB place…it’s billed in the description as a “French-inspired cottage,” and it was really a wonderful way to end our travels in New Zealand.

Our first main stop in the Coromandel Peninsula was the hot water beach, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the world – although I suspect that that’s more for its uniqueness than its beauty.  Hot water beach is famous for its underground hot springs that can filter up through the sand at low tide.  Visitors from all over the world bring shovels and try to time their digging so that they’ve built up their little pool right around the time that low tide is reached, so that they can sit and enjoy their very own homemade sauna.  The pictures in the tourist brochure definitely promise big things – dozens of symmetrically shaped pools scattered all around this one little place on the beach, with steam drifting up from the hot water and people relaxedly sitting in the water enjoying the warmth.

The reality for us was a bit different.  We were in New Zealand at the beginning of winter, so it was definitely very chilly – Michael made several comments about the ludicracy of going to the beach when there was frost on the windshield, lol.  Once we got to the beach, it was actually quite hard to find places that had hot water close enough to the surface that it could be reached with a shovel, so everyone who was there ended up collaborating and trying to work together to build one big pool in the single place where we could find hot water.  Except that area was too close to the incoming tide, and kept getting washed away…it didn’t help that we really weren’t very good at collaborating, either :).  In the end, after about 2 hours of digging, we had successfully built several pools, and we had been able to feel the hot water under the sand, but we were never quite able to do both and get the hot water into a pool.  So, rather than us all relaxing in our own saunas like the brochures had promised, we all ended up huddling together in the sand, with our poor abandoned pools lying neglected in the background.  Apparently even at low tide, the tide was too high to really get the desired effect.  But it was still fun – I got to say I’ve been to one of the best beaches in the world, and got an upper body workout on top of that!

That afternoon, we decided to go exploring.  We ended up finding a path up to the top of a place called Shakespeare Cliff.  It was a lovely walk, but at the top was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise.  Rather than a simple lookout landing, we found a huge expanse of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, with fearless birds flitting in and out of the shrubbery, and a breathtaking view that completely surrounded us.  We spent a whole lot longer there than we meant to, but it was time well spent.  I have become such a fan of traveling with no plans!  There is so much that you miss out on when you are rushing to hit the next tourist destination on the schedule.

The next day we went to see the other main attraction in the Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove, which is part of the larger Mercury Bay area.  Like the hot water beach, this is only accessible during low tide and by foot, but unlike the hot water beach, it took about 45 minutes of hilly walking to get there, as opposed to 10 minutes on a flat beach for the hot water beach.  But luckily, low tide was about an hour later the second morning, so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn ;).  Even if we had had to do that, it would have been worth it.  A popular site for kayaking, snorkeling, and other water activities, the cave and beach is also used as the tunnel through which the Pevensie children first re-enter Narnia in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  And it’s absolutely breathtaking.  I could have very happily spent the whole day there.

There were several other little side trips along the way to the cove, such as Stingray bay and Gemstone cove (I just love the names of the places in this area!).  We spent at least a little time in all of them, but the majority of the time was spent in Cathedral cove.  And then, just like that, our trip down under was drawing to a close, and we had to begin making our way back to Auckland to return to the states.

Celebrating a life well lived

After bravely and fiercely fighting as hard as she could, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer this summer.  It took me a very long time to decide how to write about it.  Of course it was difficult on all of us, seeing her go through the pain and suffering that she did.  And although I miss her very much, I am glad that she has moved on from that hardship and is in a better place now.  However, I don’t think that Jan would have wanted me to focus on the sorrow of losing her.  A much more fitting eulogy, I think, is focusing on the celebration of her life; remembering the wonderful woman that she was, and being grateful for the time I had with her.

One of my strongest memories of Jan happened over a decade ago.  Mom and dad went away for their anniversary, and so they left me, Chris, and Josh with Pa and Jan (Matt and Hope weren’t born yet at this point).  Chris and I bickered a lot that weekend, but Jan was my little oasis.  I knew that I could always run away to her and have her teach me something or just talk to me, and everything would be better.  I spent a lot of time that week just watching her cross-stitch.  She loved cross-stitching, and was really good at it, took – she made some truly brilliant designs in her lifetime.  She is probably a large reason why I picked up cross-stitching, myself.  Now that she is gone, I like it even more – it seems like a eulogy of sorts to her every time I pick up a needle and thread.

Aside from that weekend, I have lots of vivid memories of going to visit Pa and Jan in their almost-beachside home when I was younger.  I would stand next to her at the sink, helping her peel the shells off of the shrimp that we were cooking for dinner – she always made the best food.  I remember when she first showed me how to use a shrimp peeler – after I finally figured it out, which took a while, I promptly decided that it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Jan loved cooking, and since they lived so close to the ocean she cooked a lot of seafood.  It is fitting, I think, that one of the last things I did for Jan in one of my later visits was to let her sit back and relax while Pa and I cooked crab cakes for her.  She had already started to get sick at that point, but I had no idea then that that would be the last time I would see her alive.

They moved a few years ago, and I’ve visited them several times since; but their old home still holds so many memories for me.  I remember digging through their interesting books and magazines to find something to hold my attention while I curled up in their overstuffed reading chair for hours.  But then, more often than not, I would get distracted by the high ceilings or beautiful view, and drag Jan outside to go on a walk with me.  Being so close to the beach, Pa and Jan also made sure to make good use of that whenever we came to visit.  I have a photograph of Chris and I in 2 separate dune buggies, which were rented courtesy of our generous grandparents.  We were obviously having a ball.  The pictures don’t show it, but I’m sure that there was some friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition happening in those dune buggies while Pa and Jan sat and looked on, just enjoying the sight and presence of their grandchildren, regardless of what they happened to be doing.  I remember that when we were on the beach and she was in her bathing suit, I would often notice her upper arms and want to play with them – I thought they were smooth and touchable and wonderful.  As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she hated me doing that; I get it now, but I still stick with my guns and say that she was, and always has been, beautiful.

One of my favorite things about Jan was that she not only encouraged my own interests, but she also spurred me on to pursue other interests that I may not have tried otherwise.  One year for Christmas they bought me a flute; for my birthday, which falls a few days after Christmas, they paid for a year of flute lessons.  As retired music teachers this was probably a no-brainer gift for them, but I had never even considered learning an instrument.  I ended up not sticking with it after that year, which I really regret and often wish that I could pick back up; nevertheless, the fact remains that she was constantly spurring me to better myself, something that I really appreciated about her.  And she didn’t just want us to learn for the sake of learning; she actually took real pleasure in seeing our progress.  My little siblings elected for piano lessons instead of flute, and they are still taking lessons; up until her death, she was always asking for recordings of their recitals, or for live demonstrations when they went to visit.  What was happening in our lives mattered to her.

But, as I already mentioned, Jan was always more than supportive of my own chosen interests, too.  My first pair of real dance shoes was purchased by Pa and Jan.  I’ll never forget that day…we drove ALL OVER town to find those things.  Myrtle Beach is not known for its swing dance scene, and thus finding a store that stocked the specialty shoes that many west coast swing dancers use proved to be no easy task.  But Jan was determined…it was important to me, and so it was important to her.  In the end we finally chanced upon a pair that I loved in a Halloween costume superstore, of all places.  I adored those shoes.  I wore them into the ground…they were literally falling apart before I finally retired them.

Myrtle Beach may not be known for its dance scene, but it IS known for its golf scene.  Every time we went to visit them, they would take us to a different putt-putt golf course.  I have never been a fan of real golf, but I always loved exploring a different mini-golf course with my grandparents (and yes, there were so many that we never went to the same one twice).  When I got older and started visiting them without the rest of my family, they assumed that I would have outgrown that activity, as well.  So when I actually asked to go there again – what can I say, I’m sentimental – they humored me, but then also took me to see Le Gran Cirque, Myrtle Beach’s version of Cirque du Soleil.  What a night!  I have to say, putt-putt was fun….but I was glad that they took it upon themselves to make me try something new.  That was an incredible performance.  Along a similar line, the last time our whole family visited them together, they took us all to a hands-on science museum called WonderWorks.  Was such a blast.  Jan was (and Pa still is) an incredibly giving, generous person.

Even after her death, the impact that she had had and was continuing to have on so many people is impossible to ignore.  As I sat there in the church during the memorial ceremony, I marveled at how many people were there, how many people had worked so hard to make her memorial service special and actually memorable.  How many people really loved her deeply.  How many people were working extra hard to make sure that Pa was taken care of after her passing.  Jan left behind a plethora of wonderful memories, scores of people who esteem and miss her dearly, and remnants of herself that will continue to bless people far beyond the scope of her life.  That, my friends, is the definition of a life well lived.  I miss her very much, but even more so I am proud and grateful to have had her in my life.  I am honored to have known her.

Sand ‘n sun in Busan

Last weekend was so much fun!  ALMOST as good as the paragliding weekend with Sarah the week before :).  Saturday afternoon I had practice with the worship team at church, and then we all headed out for dinner together afterwards.  It was literally 5 Philippinos….and me.  It was great, I loved it :).  We had a really precious time of worship and fellowship together, and plus I always love meeting and interacting with people from different cultures.

But the “main attraction” of the weekend, as it were, was Sunday.  I went to Haeundae beach, in Busan.  There was a sand festival at the beach, and so after church I headed down there for the afternoon.  It was originally supposed to just be me and a few friends from church, but I mentioned it to a student, and so it morphed into more of an outing with students, with a few church friends along for the ride.  But it was such a blast!!

We were supposed to meet at the train station at 11:30 to catch the 11:48 train, but church ran long.  So 11:46 saw us literally sprinting from church to the train station….we made it with about a minute to spare. Quite an inauspicious start to the day….

But we finally made it to Busan and got set up on the beach with our snacks and blankets.  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing in the sand, swimming, admiring the sand art, burying people in sand, looking at the vendors who had set up their booths, and just overall having fun.  The highlight of the day for me (or at least, one of the many highlights), was when my students gave me a Korean name, 태희 (Tae-hee).  In many cultures, giving a foreigner a native name means that the people there have truly accepted you into their culture.  While I’m not positive that it’s the same way in Korea, I do know that I’ve never met a foreigner with a Korean name, and I was very honored and happy to have been given one :).

So anyway, we had KFC for dinner (my students said it was expensive, but worth it, lol), and then headed back to Gyeongju.  I felt slightly chagrined, because we didn’t get back until after 10:00, and had to buy standing seats, so everyone was really tired in school the next day….but only slightly chagrined.  As one of my students said, it was worth it :).

Alexander the Great

Little Korean cuties!!

Some of my students – from left to right, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, Na-yeong, and Yun-hyeon.  I’m a fan… <3 :)

One of the artisans plying her trade – woodcarving!

They buried me!!  Haha 😀

The whole gang (Minus Lin and Pan, who had to leave early).  From left to right: Henly, Chae-yeon, Ye-bin, me, Yun-hyeon, Su-min, Na-yeong, and Elizabeth

High School Musicals and the like

Life’s been busy these days.  I feel like I’m always saying that…but then again, it’s always true! I had an interesting week at school last week.  I’ve always thought that the impromptu singing and dancing from the High School Musical movie franchise was totally contrived.  No one actually does that, right?  Well, I learned last week that people do, indeed, to that.

A TV station crew from KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) came to our school on Tuesday to do a feature piece.  This of course meant that the school had to do something special for the camera.  So they recorded my dance class (and interviewed me – in English and Korean!!), a few other “normal” classes, and then a bunch of the students performed a song and dance in the middle of the English lounge.  Well, I suppose it was still contrived, just like in HSM….but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it!  It was a stressful day, full of class cancellations, additions, location changes, and the like, but in the end it was fun to watch the TV crew at work.

The students’ performance.  This doesn’t look contrived at all, right? 😉

It’s amazing the things that people will do when there’s a camera watching them.


My dance class.  Still working on getting the video footage from it….

This week will be super busy.  I’ve got to stay at school every day until almost 11:00 pm, practicing for a dance that I’m performing with some students at the beginning of next week.  I’m fighting a cold, so hopefully I’ll be able to survive!!  I had a nice calm before the storm this weekend, though.  On Friday night, I went our for dinner and ice cream with my favorite co-worker, Ye-ji.  We had a nice chat, and it was lovely to just chill out and relax.

Me ‘n Ye-ji with our mango-banana ice cream <3

Then on Sunday myself, 2 other foreign English teachers – one from Canada, one from Hong Kong -, a Korean teacher, some Chinese friends from church, and some Korean students went out for a picnic after church (we’re such an international group! ;]).  After that, we took a bus for an hour or so to the beach.  It was actually the underwater tomb of the ancient Korean King Munmu, but you can’t get to the tomb – it just looks like a bunch of rocks in the water – so I’m just calling it a beach :).  We played in the sand, and climbed the rocks, and took lots of pictures.  I have a feeling that the wind and cold temperature had something to do with the cold I have today…but I’m still just trying to focus on how much fun we had! 🙂

And that’s my life these days.  I will be very happy when this week is over.  Please pray for energy and focus and health for me!  Many updates to come in the near future!

The whole gang….

Me and Lin, with the tombs in the background 🙂

It says, “I love you”

….I have no idea.  I think that was his impression of dancing the Tango 🙂

Jeju Island

I went to Jeju last weekend.  Everyone whom I happened to tell about my trip beforehand, was so excited (and in a few cases, possibly even a little jealous :]).  Jeju island is renowned as one of the most beautiful islands in the entire world.  An incredibly popular destination for honeymooners, both Korean and foreign, it’s commonly called the “Korean Hawaii.”  Needless to say, it’s a really lovely place.  And once I got there, I would have to agree with this consensus; although I must say, the getting there was a little rough.  There were huge amounts of wind when I flew in; the turbulence was so bad, in fact, that the first few landing attempts were unsuccessful, and we had to regain altitude and circle around for another try.  It was really scary, and not the welcome to the island that I had hoped for.  But we finally landed, safe and sound, and I made my way out of the airport.

Most of my time in Jeju, however, was spent inside a hotel.  The purpose of my trip was for the annual Spring Fulbright conference, which is always held on Jeju island.  So, over the course of a 4-day weekend, I spent a little over 3 days inside, listening to announcements, teaching workshops, and presentations from the Fulbright researchers, who were filling us in on the progress of their research in Korea.  It sounds boring, but I rather enjoyed it.  The research presentation topics were really varied – everything from traditional Korean architecture, to poetry, to astronomy, to economics, to human rights – and I also picked up a lot of teaching techniques that will be helpful to me in the class this year.

The one day that we did leave the hotel, however, was really lovely.  We went on a tour of the island, checking out all (or at least many) of the major sights that Jeju has to offer.  The first stop was Sunrise Peak, aptly named for the beautiful sunrises that can be seen uninhibited from the top of the peak.  It was quite a hike to the top, but the view from the summit made it all worth it.  Next stop was Ilchul Land and the Micheon Lava Caves.  Not knowing what to expect from Ilchul Land, I was more excited about the lava caves.  The caves actually turned out to be quite disappointing, but the lush beauty and fascinating attractions set up throughout Ilchul Land more than made up for the disappointment of the caves.  After the caves, we went to the Jeju Folk Village, a huge reconstruction of a traditional Jeju island village.  We were there for over an hour and didn’t get to see even half of it, but the parts that I did see were really interesting.  Our last stop was to Pyoseon Beach, one of the few sand beaches on the island – most of the shoreline is rocky.  We weren’t there for very long, but we were there long enough for me to curl up on the sand like a cat in the sun and take a short nap.  It was divine.

And then…poof!  The tour was over, and we were back at the hotel, ready for more lectures and workshops.  In the evening, some of the Christians got together for a little impromptu Bible study, which was really great.  And then Monday, I went to a few more lectures and then headed home.  I realized that this weekend will be one of the last times that I see the vast majority of these Fulbrighters, so please excuse me if I go a bit overboard on the pictures in this one.  I was getting a bit sentimental :).

Felicia and Sam, second-year ETAs

We got kicked out of the lobby for gambling.  We were playing Spoons, lol.  

Beautiful Jeju….the view from our hotel

Daniel and Crystalyn

Crystalyn, Daniel, Chris, and Frank

Meghan, Erin, and Sarah at dinner

Lisa, Elizabeth, myself, and Sarah at the base of Sunrise Peak

Sarah, myself, and Meghan, halfway up to the top of the peak

Me ‘n Adam 🙂

I think Meghan’s scared of whatever might be inside the cave 🙂

More friends!  Adam, Jake, Dan, Sarah, Ryan, and Elizabeth

Andddd….the view from the top of Sunrise Peak.  Isn’t it lovely??
Welcome to Ilchul Land!!

Sarah inside the lava cave – not really a very impressive cave, is it? =/

The best part of the cave – they had some sort of good luck dragon painted on one of the pillars.

Jeju’s famous statues

Sarah’s the beauty…I volunteered to be the beast 🙂

Now Jake’s the beast and I get to be the beauty! 🙂

Do you see Charlie in the background making some sort of goofy pose? 🙂
Jake pensively pondering at the Jeju folk village

A heart made out of rocks, seashells, and water…isn’t that just precious? <3
Pyoseon beach
Windsurfing at Pyoseon beach!  No, neither I nor anyone that I know went windsurfing.  I just snapped a creeper picture 🙂

Donghae weekend

Well, another few days in Korea have been successfully survived!  And no, “survival” is not an exaggeration.  Every day I look at the calendar and am utterly astonished that only one day – or less – has passed.  It seems like I have been in South Korea months and months and months….but it’s only been 2 weeks.  I never thought it possible to pack so much into so little time as they have been doing here during orientation.  All of the returning ETAs assure us that we will have much more free time on our hands once we get to our schools….I sure hope so, because at this pace I will be dead by November.

The entourage from the American Embassy came on Wednesday, like I mentioned last week.  It was really cool.  They talked about all sorts of random stuff that you never think about needing help with until the situation is upon you.  Well, now I know what to do!  And mom and dad, don’t worry, if I get incarcerated while here, the Embassy will visit me every 6 months, or anytime I request a visit ;).

The next day, Thursday, was panel day.  A bunch of returning ETAs came and talked to us about all sorts of things – schools, traveling, homestays, locations….you name it, they mentioned it.  It was informative; however, at the same time, I’m starting to feel like I’m on information overload.  They’ve thrown so much information at us in such a short time, that it’s all starting to sound the same.  Really, I think there are some things that we’re just going to have to figure out for ourselves.

Friday morning, bright and early, we left for a weekend in Donghae, courtesy of the Korea-America Educational Commission, the umbrella organization for Fulbright Korea.  It was about a three hour bus ride to Donghae from Jungwon, during which I slept for most of it, while trying unsuccessfully to study for my text on Monday.  After checking into the hotel, we made our way to a Buddhist temple (Samhwasa temple).  It was interesting to see, but at the same time I felt very out of place.  We even stayed for the evening worship service; again, cool to see, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave at the end of the day.

The temple was nestled in the mountains, amid streams and trees and all sorts of other lovely things.  We stopped and played in the water and on the rocks before heading back to the buses.  I think that I was slightly worrying my orientation coordinators when I all of a sudden stopped and insisted that I have a cigarette immediately.  But no, I had not discovered a sudden urge to smoke tobacco.  I got stung by a wasp on the way down, and years ago my dad had taught me this great remedy for drawing out the poison by putting a tobacco paste on the wound.  So I got my cigarette, fixed my leg, and got some funny smiles in the process :).

Some of the rocks on the way to the Buddhist temple

Entrance to the temple complex

Inside of one of the buildings

Evening worship service

Saturday was glorious.  We had the entire day to do whatever we wanted – no meetings, no classes, no nothing.  I went to the beach for a few hours in the morning – it was a beautiful day – and then went and explored a beach cave that I had read about in a tourist brochure.  It’s really random – it’s this huge natural cave located right in the center of downtown Donghae.  I love caves, and this one certainly did not disappoint.  

Yay for beaches!!  Saturday was Christiana’s birthday 🙂

Dinner the first night was simply a huge buffet, of which the most exciting thing that I ate was a tiny octopus – the entire animal was only about the size of a golf ball.  I’d had octopus before, but never a whole one; even though I don’t really like octopus, I ate it just to be able to say I did :).  Far more exciting, however, was Saturday night dinner.  Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) – pig stomach – is a very popular Korean dish.  It’s also a very unique cultural experience.  We are seated at tables with small grills built right into the table, and then the waiters bring out plates of raw slabs of meat.  The diners grilled the meat themselves at the table, which is then wrapped up into pieces of lettuce with slices of garlic, peppers, onions, chili pepper, kimchi (we grilled ours right along with the meat!), mushrooms, sesame oil, plus a host of other things which I have no idea what they are called.  So you wrap it all up in the lettuce, and eat it with your hands; definitely NOT a good first date meal! 🙂  Aside from the initial distaste at the thought of eating pig stomach, it was delicious, and tons of fun to make, too!  That’s why I don’t ever ask what I’m eating in a foreign country before I eat it, lol…

My first Samgyeopsal experience

And it’s definitely an experience 🙂

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel.  It was a wonderful weekend, but I must say I’ll be glad to have a bed again.  I spent the whole weekend sleeping on the marble floor – many parts of Korea don’t use beds; they simply put a sheet on the ground.  

Our bed!  Sort of….

The hotel we stayed at in Donghae

On our way back to Jungwon, we stopped at a museum for several hours.  This place was owned by the same man who owns both Jungwon University and the hotel we stayed at in Donghae, and it is meant to house his own private collection.  It was a very eclectic collection – it had geology, fossils, and art from all different nations – Maya, Inca, Europe, China, Korea, India, etc.  It was unlike any museum I’ve ever seen, and I really enjoyed wandering the halls and seeing and discovering new things.

Notice the artificial caves, fountain of Poseidon, and Korean buildings all in one shot.  Yeah, it was a very eclectic complex….

That’s about a 30 foot long wood carving of an artistic rendering of the Great Wall of China

Rocks!!  I love rocks! 😀

So the weekend was wonderful, but now it’s back to the daily grind.  I’ve got 2 meetings tonight, a test in Korean tomorrow, an assignment due on Tuesday, plus Camp Fulbright starts this week, so I’m also going to be observing and teaching classes.  Oh well, I guess all good things must come to an end….**sigh**.  Time to hit the books; I love y’all!

Personas, playas, y Portugal

Whew!! What a week!! It actually hasn’t even been a week since I’ve written, but it feels like it’s been ages. A ton has happened, but I will try to fill you in on as much as I can remember.

Thursday night we had a party with our “intercambios” – native Spaniards whom we are paired with when we get here who are learning English. We’re supposed to hang out and help each other with our respective languages. So most of the Americans went, and many of the Spaniards, as well. Mine did not go, but I went anyway, because I really want to meet some Spaniards. I met 2, called Javi and Manuel, that were really cool. I’m really hoping to make some good Spaniard friends while I’m here. I haven’t really clicked with most of the students (although I have with a few of them), and anyway, no offense to the Americans here, but if I’m spending a third of a year of my life in Spain, I want to hang out with Spaniards, darn it!! 🙂

Friday I got lost (semi-intentionally). I just started walking, looking for a good place for lunch. I finally found one, and had a “tapa” (a Spanish appetizer) of meatballs in some sort of sauce while I watched people rush by. I honestly had no idea where I was, but I had my handy-dandy map of Seville, so I wasn’t worried. That map has pretty much all of the streets in the city on it, and I’m good at reading maps, so I haven’t gotten lost yet, much to the surprise of my host parents. They were very worried about me getting lost when I first got here. They actually sat me down and drew the exact route to the school that I should take my first day here. Now they seem to understand that I’m probably going to be fine :). Speaking of my host parents, though….have I mentioned that they’re AWESOME??!!?? I had an assignment on Friday for class on Monday in which I had to rewrite a fairy tale in a modern-day context, set in Seville – all in Spanish, of course. I mentioned that assignment to them at lunch on Friday, and they spent the rest of the meal brainstorming what sorts of stories I could do, and how I could change the story to fit the assignment. I finally settled on Cinderella – her evil stepmother is now a business partner of her father’s, her fairy godmother is a random woman she meets in church, she wants to go to the parties of “Semana Santa” (Holy Week), and her handsome prince is now a store clerk. Oh, and then today, after I got home from dance class, my mom asked me how it went, and I told her that we had learned an entire section of the dance…and she started flamenco dancing right there in the kitchen!!! I love them, they’re super awesome 🙂 🙂 🙂

I went shopping on Friday with Sarah and Silvia. I got some “Spanish” sandals. My plastic Old Navy flip flops were killing me, and I also stood out like a sore thumb, lol. So now I look like a legit Spaniard… 😀 That night a student who lives across the street from me, Zack, asked me if I wanted to go out for a walk, cuz he was bored. It was already like 10:30, but I told him I’m go for a little bit. We ended up running into some other students, Agustine and Matt, and went out for a drink. I tried some alcohol, but didn’t like it (which didn’t surprise me – I’ve never liked the taste of any alcohol I’ve ever tried), and then I just sat and talked with them for a while. Finally I had to leave, cuz I was super super tired. On the way back, though, I was able to get a picture of the city from the top of a building…it was beautiful. I’ve now officially completed my first week’s assignment from Jon :).

Saturday I went… Portugal!!!! It’s so bizarre to me to think that I can just hop on a bus and be in another country within a few hours’ time – without even having to pass customs. So anyway, we went the first day to a big beach in Algarve. It was actually an island that we went to – we had to take a boat to get to the beach. That was pretty sweet. That was just a normal day at the beach. I went swimming some (the current was crazy strong! It was a red flag day, which basically means you can swim, only if you accept that the lifeguards are not responsible for your death), walked around a lot, played some volleyball and soccer on the beach (have you ever tried running and kicking a soccer ball in sand?? It’s way hard), and read and talked with friends. The majority of the students here drink and party a lot. As that is definitely not my scene, I have not really found very many people with whom I want to spend a lot of time with. But this weekend I found several other students who would prefer to do some similar things as I, as opposed to drinking. So that was encouraging.

After the beach, we went to the hotel and cleaned up. Then we hopped back in the bus and went to the end of the world!! Did you know such a place existed? It does!! It’s a series of enormous cliffs that Europeans believed was the end of the world before Columbus discovered the Americas. And it truly looks like the end of the world. The cliffs drop hundreds of feet into the water below, and there is nothing beyond them except ocean for as far as the eye can see. It was sooo cool.

After we got back from the cliffs, everyone went out. Most people went bar hopping, but myself and five others – Sarah, Alice, Allyx, Virginia, and Greg – went to an Italian restaurant, instead. It started out as just Sarah and I, and then our group grew as word spread on the bus that we were forming an alternative group that wasn’t planning on getting plastered. So we walked around, saw some really cool outdoor bands playing, and then ate yummy Italian food (I was craving pizza :]). I struck up a conversation with our waiter – he spoke 7 languages!!! I was thoroughly impressed. We got back by 1:30 (which, I found out later, was a good 4 hours before the rest of the group returned), I showed Sarah a few of my favorite dance videos (cuz I’m a nerd :D), and then we went to sleep. It was a lovely evening.

The next day me pasó la bomba! (which basically means it was a blast.) After breakfast, we checked out and headed to another beach that was literally in the hotel’s backyard. I got there a little later than the rest of the group, though – I found a ping-pong table in the hotel, and challenged Agustine to a match. I beat him all 4 games, but I still think he was going easy on me…regardless, it was fun. I hadn’t played in ages; I missed it :). The beach was surrounded by gigantic caves and rock formations. You can check out pictures of them here. When Agustine and I got to the beach, Virgina told us about this awesome cave we could explore. You had to climb over a rather precarious wall of rock to get to it, but we managed just fine. So Agu and I went in there to explore, too. It…was…incredible. I feel like I’m running out of positive adjectives that fully express the amount of emotion I’m trying to convey :). (oh, by the way, apparently I’m “obsessed with the smileys in a drug-addict sort of way”. Someone told me that today…it made me giggle :]). There is normally boats that can take you on tours through the caves, but the waves were too strong this time. But it’s ok, cuz I still got to explore them on my own.

So after our tiempo de exploración, we went back and played volleyball and swam and just chilled until it was time to go. I was very grateful that night for being a good student. Everyone else was moaning about how tired they were, and how much homework they still had to do for the next day, but I had already done all of mine on Friday. I was the only one with any energy in class on Monday, lol…

So anyway, Portugal was awesome. I almost didn’t go, cuz it was expensive, but I’m really glad I did. Oh, and speaking of foreign countries, today I bought a ticket to Paris in November. It’s official, I’m going to France!!!! I also convinced 2 other friends, Allyx and Silvia, to go with me. It’s gonna be a blast. I also signed up for a 4-day trip to Moroccos in December, right before we leave. That’s gonna be insane…. So I have 1 more 4 day weekend to fill up…where should I go???? 🙂