On the Farm

I’ve now moved from Italy to Thailand, which has been quite the transition to say the least. It’s much warmer here, the people in general are friendlier, and the principal religion has shifted from Catholicism to Buddhism. Thus far I have no complaints! I have met wonderful people everywhere I’ve gone (mostly other travelers, but a few locals as well), enjoyed a little time in the Big City (Bangkok), a beach paradise (Koh Phangan), and finally spent the last two weeks working on an organic farm in the jungle of southern Thailand.

While my first two weeks in Thailand were incredible, and filled with delicious food and adventure – including eating a scorpion, seeing a pingpong show, braving a night ferry, and biking around the ruins of Ayutthaya – I will try and keep this post focused by making my time on the farm the point of discussion. I am working here through Workaway (the same program I used in Italy), but the farm is also part of the WWOOFer organization, so most of the other volunteers found it through that.


The farm is located just outside of Narathiwat (very southern Thailand). Before coming here I was slightly nervous as there is a travel advisory for the area due to continual violence, but upon arriving I found that much of this is overplayed by the news articles and travel advisory board and it is probably no more violent than many US cities. However, there is a noticeable presence of army men driving around with AK47’s in their arms and a distant gunshot or bomb can occasionally be heard from the farm, but never near enough to cause any alarm. The town of Narathiwat itself doesn’t boast much to do, but is interesting in it’s difference to the rest of Thailand in that it is a very Muslim community, unlike the majority of Thailand which is Buddhist. It’s an odd change of pace after being in highly touristed regions, to come to an area with an entirely different culture that isn’t used to a lot of farang (foreigners) passing through. Everywhere else people are very friendly, often smiling and waving in passing, and I would so much say that people aren’t friendly here, but rather than smiling or waving many just seem to stare. That said, I’ve also met exceptionally friendly people here including “Elvis,” a performer at the restaurant we get our food from, who inquired our names, where we’re from, and what we are working on at the farm, and a family who was eating in a restaurant that I was sitting in (waiting for friends). They came up and asked if they could take a picture with me, I allowed it and before I knew it they were offering me food and beer and trying to recall every English phrase they knew.

But anyway, on to the more exciting stuff… the Farm! It is only about 10 minutes outside of town, but it really is in the jungle, you’d never know we were so close to the city if we weren’t able to hear the prayers being sung at the mosque throughout the day (beginning at 5 am and not stopping until 10 in the evening). We grow just about every type of plant… corn, cucumber beans, peppers, papaya, potatoes, cocoa, mango, etc., and there are chickens and goats, and a kitten named Lemmy. We wake up at 8, water all the plants with our 2 little watering cans, which generally takes about an hour, and then cook ourselves some eggs and toast for breakfast. Around 10 we get to work on various tasks: sowing seeds, planting, building frames, clearing land, weeding, etc. We take an hour break for lunch – rice – (provided by the restaurant across the main road) and keep working until about 5, when we water again before taking showers and sitting down to relax and listen to the jungle come alive.


During the day I am aware of the birds, lizards, snakes, spiders, and rats that occupy the area, but it isn’t until the evening that I’m fully aware of the number of animals that I’m surrounded by. We’ve given names to the most common animals based on the noises they produce: farty frogs, laughing lizards, ping-pong birds, and snoring birds. The farty frogs are probably the most amusing, but I believe it will be the lizards with their little laugh that stay with me the longest since they crawl about the walls of my room cackling into the night and, therefore, I never really escape their noises. However, to me I am more entertained than annoyed by the many sounds of the jungle in the evening, and the only things that gives me a bit of anxiety are the spiders which seem to always pop out of nowhere right before I’m about to walk into them. Their pretty big and have black and yellow stripes covering their bodies which just makes them look even creepier to me. I also had the lovely pleasure of finding a fat black one hidden in my shower the other day as I went to rinse off.




Despite the occasional annoyance of the spiders (and red ants… and mosquitos), I absolutely love working on the farm. It’s incredible to see how much has changed just in the 2 weeks since I’ve been here. We’ve cleared a section of forest by the river, cleaned off a section  of river (which is covered in weeds and grasses), built a rock garden, put up a few new fences, and planted a lot of seeds. I think I am much more willing to sow seeds and work with plants here because it is so much easier to see the fruits of my labors. Things grow instantly here. Since my arrival the corn stalks have doubled or tripled in size and I have planted beans which are now about a foot tall. 🙂

It’s a nice change of pace whilst traveling to stop for a bit in one spot and settle into a daily routine. The things that I don’t even realize I’m missing while traveling, such as three meals a day or a task that needs to be done (besides laundry) provide a bit of comfort and allow my body to relax from the constant on-the-go of traveling. However, that said, this “break” has refreshed me for travel and made me realize that I am in no way ready to head home yet. I was exhausted every evening and found myself already bored with the routine after my 16 short days here. The time flew by, but I am by no means ready to go back to a normal schedule and face the real world, full of so many tasks. So it’s onwards with the travels. Tomorrow I will head to Malaysia for a short tour of the northern islands before heading back up to visit the west coast of southern Thailand before returning to Bangkok and on to an orphanage in Mae Sot.

(Unfortunately it appears many of my pictures of the farm and my previous traveling are too “large” to fit into this post… If I can get them to work later I’ll add them in)

L esperienza italiana

This post actually comes a bit delayed. I wrote the post before leaving Italy, but I’ve now been in Thailand for about three weeks now. I’ve had difficulty uploading photos until now due to internet issues. I will do my best to get an up-to-date post about my travels here as soon as I can.

Learning English

A lot of people assume that anyone can teach their native language, but those who have studied a language (or even better those who actually teach a language) know that this is not true. In order to successfully teach a language, you have to understand the structure of the language, how you construct a sentence, and what rules you must follow in order to successfully express what you want to say. All those nit picky details that make a language sound right, but we don’t really know why. However, knowing all of this from my years of struggling to learn Spanish, I decided to spend the last month living with a family in Genoa, Italy with the goal of passing on some of my English knowledge to the 8 and 11 year old children.

Lucky for me the 11 year old, Valentina, already had a good understanding of the basic structure of the English language and we were able to focus mainly on expanding vocabulary and the conditional sentence structures. However, trying to explain the meaning of the word “unless” still proved difficult, and why sometimes you have to replace the verb “can” with “be able to” in order for it to properly function in a sentence. So I spent my mornings while Valentina was at school trying to learn the rules of the English grammatical structure so that I could explain to her the structures for building conditional sentences.

The younger girl, Bea, was not so easy. Being only 8 years old, not only was her English less advanced, but she wasn’t as confident as her sister so it was hard to pin down her level. However, once I finally did and created exercises for conjugating verbs in the present simple, I was shocked by how many different types of irregulars we have in our language. Not only are there certain verbs where you change the ending in the third person singular to -es instead of -s, there are some verbs that you don’t conjugate at all (might, should, would, could, etc). It made me think of the days when I sat in Spanish class complaining about all of the different irregulars that exist in the Pasado Perfecto, and realize that our language was probably as complicated, if not more so, for my teacher to learn.

Camille Vale Bea Angela Stefano

I got to spend my evenings having a family dinner with all four of the family, giving me the chance to enjoy home-cooked Italian meals. 🙂 The father was so language obsessed that he probably knew more language than I did, and we often spent the meal switching between general conversations and debates on language structure. The experience was great and I was lucky to be with such a kind family, with children so willing to learn, but I definitely can say that I understand the struggle of a second language teacher so much better now than I did as a student.

While in Italy I also had the chance to sight see a bit and eat some delicious Italian food. I went to Cinque Terre, Pisa, and spent 5 days in Rome with one of my good friends from UPS who was on her way to study abroad in Italy. Rather than recount all of the details, I will point out the highlights with photos.



DSCN0181 DSCN0201

International Holiday

As the holidays are finishing up I feel incredibly lucky to have had such an incredible few weeks. Finishing up classes and saying goodbye to Granada just before Christmas was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do so far on this trip. I survived finals, but saying goodbye to my incredible host mom and host sister, the 40 ILACA students, my new friends in Granada, and the beautiful city of Granada was no easy task. However, I was lucky enough to be invited to spend the holidays in Almería with a friend of mine who I met in salsa classes.

Saying Goodbye to Granada...

Saying Goodbye to Granada…

When we arrived in Almería we were greater by a large and delicious lunch of “bolas”… balls, similar to meat balls but with bread and other things. I was told this was a traditional New Years Eve meal for their family, but because her parents would be working this year they were eating it early. The rest of the trip seemed to be centered around food and family, and I felt lucky to be a part of a traditional Spanish Christmas. There was a ham leg in the kitchen that we slowly worked our way through by eating a little bit every meal an snacking on it when coming home late at night. On Christmas Eve we went to a suburb of the city and had dinner with her moms side of the family. They were all welcoming and more than willing to include me in the holiday tradition as we ate plum stuffed turkey, lasagna, seafood stew, and of course bread and ham. They wrapped up dinner by singing some traditional Christmas songs and waking up the 9 month old baby to join in the fun.

Exploring the Alcazar of Almería

Exploring the Alcazar of Almería

On Christmas day we ate lunch with her dads side of the family, just as loud, fun, and inviting. If I didn’t know better I would’ve thought they were arguing at the table as they yelled at one another between bites of food, but that’s simply the Spanish way. I got to try “caracoles” which is kind of like a snails ceviche and was actually quite good, along with the ham, fish, beef, and chorizo. This meal finished off with 2 giant boxes of desserts, one was pralines, the other bonbons! I was so full I couldn’t possibly eat another bite, but found room for a few more chocolates before we headed out.

A Christmas/Birthday Potluck in Almería

A Christmas/Birthday Potluck in Almería

Along with the traditional family meals, I got to meet a number of Alba’s friends from Almería and really get to see what it’s like to hang out with Spaniards. Up until this trip in Almería I was baffled by the night life of Spain (you’re not supposed to start heading to clubs before 2 or 3 am and can often be out until 8), but I now understand slightly better how this works. You start by taking a good siesta (2 hours) in the afternoon. You wake up around 5 or 6 pm and head for coffee with friends. You then go and grab some tapas for dinner between 9 and 11, and then head to a park or a friends house to hang out, chat, or occasionally play jeopardy games. Then you have a drink and finally go dancing. You hang out at the dance club until you’re bored and then go eat breakfast and head home where you sleep until 12. While I now understand the schedule, I’m not sure I could maintain it for any large period of time, but I’m told it’s uncommon to go out all the time.

The time spent in Almería was amazing for so many reasons… I was able to experience Navidad the Spanish way (or at least part of it since it technically goes until January 6th), I was invited to stay with a friends family and shown incredible generosity and hospitality by people who I hardly know, I got to delve into the Spanish lifestyle, and I think I learned more Spanish in 9 days than throughout my entire program because I never had an off switch.

I then headed to Barcelona for New Years Eve, and stayed in St Jordi’s Mambo Tango Hostel, which had an amazing staff and was relatively close to all the action. On New Years Eve Barcelona has an event which was referred to as the “Magic Fountain.” The fountain in their main square is turned on and colorful and there is music. Even better they have human pyramids where something like 20 people bunch together on the ground then 10 people stand on them, then 7, then 5, and so on. This was topped off by a fireworks display just before 12, followed by the eating of the 12 grapes at midnight in order to have a lucky year.

Finally Reunited with Maddie!

Finally Reunited with Maddie!

Finally on New Years day I headed to Prague and was reunited with one of my best friends. She is now on her way to Spain for the same program I just completed, but first we needed to meet up in an international location 🙂 Her family hosts professional paddlers from the Czech Republic every year and they showed us around the city and took us to Plzen, the original home of Pilsner beer. We toured the factory while there, saw the cathedral, and were treated to a delicious home cooked meal of traditional Czech food (potato dumplings, meat, and sauerkraut). We were invited to stay with the family of one of the boys who visits every year. His mother was an incredible cook and baker and gave us each 2 jars of homemade jam to take with us. The table had a cookie tray in the middle with about 10 different kinds of intricate cookies, all of which his mother had made for the holidays. This trip has also been characterized by a lot of eating… I’ve been full since I got to the Czech Republic and I’m pretty sure I’ll stay that way until I leave.

Making Potato Dumplings in Plzen

Making Potato Dumplings in Plzen

So I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to share my holiday season with incredibly generous and kind people from 3 different countries (my friend from the US counts too :))!



How is it December Already?!?

It’s December, and I can’t believe it! I haven’t written a post since October, and not because I’ve had nothing to talk about, but because I’ve been so busy exploring I’ve been forgetting to write it all down. After my last post of October, our program went to Madrid for 5 days to visit el Prado, la Reina Sofia, el Palacio Realel Escorial, Toledo, and Segovia. Several students in my program, myself included took the opportunity to see a Real Madrid fútbol game, visit ham fest, find some delicious tapas restaurants, and wander around the city’s parks.

Real Madrid Game

Real Madrid Game



The Castle that Inspired Snow White in Segovia

The Castle that Inspired Snow White in Segovia

November has been filled with family barbecues, hikes around Granada, a visit to Alpujarras and Jerez, midterms, salsa dancing, a flamenco show, lots of tapas, shopping at the gypsy market, finally taking the DELE exam, and planning out my post-program travels.However, rather than review the details of ALL of the amazing trips and memorable events from the last month, I’d like to focus on a few of the more recent and unique experiences.


Alpujarras :)

Alpujarras 🙂

The white walls of Alpujarras were incredible and there were flowers everywhere

The white walls of Alpujarras were incredible and there were flowers everywhere

Loving the chocolate of the mountains
Loving the chocolate of the mountains

In mid-November, I traveled to Alpujarras in the mountains north of Granada for a day with a student travel program (Low Cost Trips Granada). We bussed up to Capileira where we got out and were able to see the highest point in the Iberian peninsula. This was one of the towns that was built by Muslims in hiding when they were exiled from Spain in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The cities used to be built with brown houses to blend into the mountains, but now they are all completely white. From there we hiked over to Bubión where we got to see a tailor at work. We then got back on the bus and went to Campaneira to visit a chocolate factory, Abuela Ili, where we were able to try a ton of the 60+ chocolates they had in their factory. I was immediately turned into the child I am and tried every single sample they put out at least two times and bought 3 bars of chocolate and 2, large, pieces of chocolate bark. 🙂



We then went to Trevélez, the highest city in Europe, which is famous for its Serrano ham. We went into a ham factory where we were able to see the curing process and then had a tasting of a variety of hams paired with a sweet wine. I, of course, was compelled to buy ham as well. Then, as we were waiting to hop back on the bus and head back down to Granada, it began to snow! I have never been so thrilled to see fluffy white flakes falling from the sky as in that moment! There is something about being so close to the mountains in Granada, much like in Tacoma, that makes me feel like it should snow. Watching the snow fall down as I stood in the highest city in Europe made me long to go back to Steamboat to ski the mountain on opening day, but it also made me feel like Spain was more like home than I had given it credit for: just like Colorado, it has snow, chocolate, and wonderful small towns that I love so much!

Ham Factory in Trevélez

Ham Factory in Trevélez


The highest city in Europe... Trevélez

The highest city in Europe… Trevélez


A Week in Granada

A paseo (walk) around Granada

A paseo (walk) around Granada

The week after Alpujarra’s was the week of the DELE (the standard Spanish language placement exam), which meant no traveling the following weekend. So we spent the week doing our final practice exams and interviews before finally heading into the 4 hour test on Friday morning. And I’m happy to say that, despite being dreadfully long, the test was not too bad. Our program had done a wonderful job of preparing us for it, and there weren’t any surprises hidden in the test. However, upon completion I looked forward to a very relaxing and rewarding weekend. Immediately after I went with a few friends for Churros and Chocolate at one of the nearby cafes to celebrate. We went out for tapas near the Plaza de Toros that night and celebrated a 21st birthday the following day with a walk around the Albaycin and a discoteca to round out the evening.

That Sunday we went to our host mom’s niece’s house in the pueblo for a barbecue. We had chorizo, pinxtos, carne, peppers, and miga (kind of like stuffing), accompanied by sangria. Then my host cousin (who happens to work in a bakery) brought out dessert, bonbons, apple tart, and a plate filled with a variety of pastries. I had a slice of apple tart (since it was as close to thanksgiving pie as I was going to get) and a pionono, which is a classic pastry from Granada that tastes like a cinnamon roll on steroids filled with cream sauce. As to be expected I had no appetite left for dinner that night and had a hard time even eating breakfast the following day.

A delicious plate of bbq food







Finally, this past weekend, I went to Jerez with two other girls from UPS to explore the city and taste the world famous sherries. We took the train and got there on Friday night and went to our apartment (we stayed in an apartment that we booked through airbnb). After checking out a map to figure out where we were in the city, we wandered down to a wine bar about 10 minutes away. The streets in this  part of the city were virtually empty with a few pedestrians and the occasional car. They were little streets that wound this way and that around the buildings. Eventually we wound up in a little plaza filled with people and headed into the sherry bar. We had a few glasses and a few tapas and hovered by a little table along the wall of the crowded bar before deciding to try another place. We walked down the street a little farther, came to another plaza, and found a little restaurant tucked away where we sat and ordered more tapas and a bottle of Tempranillo. We soon discovered that there was another plaza in practically every block of Jerez.We also went sherry tasting at the famous Tio Pepe bodega, the largest in all of Jerez, and rode around the bodega on a golf cart in our own personal tour with one other man who was from Japan.

To get a taste of home while we were away we also decided to cook ourselves some of the breakfast food we’d been missing… pancakes, hash browns, fried eggs, and of course latkes for Hanukkah 🙂 Having the ability to pick my own eating schedule and what my meals consist of is one of the luxuries I miss most about home, so this trip came at the perfect time to remind me that home is not that far away and I can always do simple things to ease the homesickness that is so common with traveling.


I am very sad to report that our program will be over in just 17 days and then I will leave Granada, my incredible host family, and the amazing friends I have met this semester. I know that when I got here the first few weeks dragged on and I thought I would never be able to understand the language or feel comfortable ordering in restaurants, talking with my host family, or listening to tours in Spanish. However, now that we’ve come into the final month of our program I am amazed at how fast it has all gone by and at how distant that first month seems. Although I am looking forward to the next phase of my travels, including Prague, Italy, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, I am cherishing every moment I have left in Granada and hoping that these last few weeks will drag on the way I thought they might at the beginning of the program.