Cuba, Ecuador, Exploring, Travel

collecting houses

A traveler is a dreamer. A traveler rejects their comfort zone and longs for something different, for immersion in the unknown, for the chance to walk in the shoes of another.

In Cuba we talked about the possibility of one day owning a home there. We dreamed of finding the perfect spot, close to the malecón and the bustle of downtown, but also near friends and family. As we walked around Havana I started pointing out any house or apartment building that called my attention. “There is it, that’s our house!” I collected dozens of houses all around the city, and now in Ecuador as well, everywhere I go.

I’ve created so many lives for myself this way. Lives in which I’m living in the crumbling but majestic ruins of Old Havana, ones where I’m a campesina in the Andes mountains tending herds, lives in which I live in sprawling estates along the coast, fenced in by palm trees.

Meet my houses:

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Exploring, Travel

the revolution

Cuba is immersed in and absorbed by the Revolution, but it isn’t exactly what you would call revolutionary.

In even the quickest and more cursory visit to the island, visitors become well acquainted with its crumbling infrastructure, both shockingly lovely and startlingly outdated. Nothing is new; from the buildings in Habana Vieja to the cars and streets it feels like the very opposite of what many would imagine a revolutionary nation to be.

Despite its obvious abuses over the past 50+ years, Cuba has a certain love for its revolution, now so ingrained in the culture that even the most anti-Castro struggle to untangle it from lo cubano. Everywhere you look you’ll see the images that carry the weight and omnipotence of the revolution for its citizens- from government billboards to ice cream parlors.

Here are some of my favorite photos that display the government’s use of imagery to support and remind citizens of the benefits and ever-presence of the Cuban Revolution…and this is just a small sampling. Imagery of the revolution is everywhere, just as the political, social, and economic effects of the revolution have touched every aspect of the lives of Cubans.


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An agromercado in the 10 de Octubre neighborhood of Havana- a state-run market that sells fruits and vegetables. A Che Guevara portrait and quote in the back corner.


Camilo Cienfuegos- a Cuban revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro and Che Guevara- keeps watch over the Plaza de la Revolución, and reminds citizens of his support for Fidel with the quote below his image.


The Habana Libre Hotel, in English the Free Havana Hotel. This hotel was formerly the Habana Hilton, until it was nationalized by the Cuban government after the revolution. Its name asserts that the Cuban Revolution- and nationalization of foreign entities- has made the country “free.”


A bakery [with the best sweets in the neighborhood, btw] in 10 de Octubre. A mural of Che Guevara against the Cuban flag decorates the side of the building.


“Long live the Revolution!” Revolution-positive street art near José’s family’s home in 10 de Octubre in Havana.


In English, “we will continue defending the Revolution.” Blank walls and billboards in Cuba often sport revolution- or government-positive slogans like this one.




Blogs, Writing

new endeavors

So it’s late and I’m exhausted, but I’m also very excited because…

I’m the newest guest contributor with Verge Magazine! Verge Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to sharing stories about traveling with a purpose. I really resonate with that mission, as over the past year and a half in Ecuador I have seen how much more meaningful an experience abroad can be when you leave the Lonely Planet behind and prioritize getting to know the culture and people of a place.

For the rest of my time in Ecuador, I’ll be contributing regularly to the magazine’s work abroad section on topics like how to find a job abroad, making connections with expats and locals alike, and balancing the urge to travel with the need to know your new home.

Please follow along with my journey [and don’t worry, I’ll keep you all updated here as well]! My first post can be found here.

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P.S.: I may have written about living in the shadow of a volcano…but it’s not specifically that violently erupting volcano you see above, I promise.

Cuba, Exploring, Travel

Carley in Cuba

This week is CRAZY, as we have two groups of short-term volunteers here in Ecuador. Its a great change of pace and nice to be working on some different projects this week, but its making for what looks to be an 80 hour work week! I had planned on blogging this week, but it will have to wait until the weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve finally been going through my photos from Cuba from December and January, and wanted to share some of my favorites so far. More to come about my time in Cuba for sure!






Ecuador, The Brain Food Series

The Brain Food Series: Amor & Exile

True Stories of love across America’s Borders. Its a book that I found tucked away in the bookshelves of the Manna Project volunteer house, and I just finished reading it for the third time. Before moving to Ecuador I had never really thought about U.S. Immigration policy that much, even though I was living in New York City surrounded by new immigrants and had friends whose parents and other relatives were undocumented. I was studying Spanish and Latin American Studies in college, and for me that meant just Latin America– I wasn’t as interested in Latino populations in the United States. It wasn’t until I moved to Ecuador that I began to learn that such a simple distinction between Latin American issues and Latino issues isn’t so easy any more… they’re becoming more intertwined by the day.

Amor & Exile starts out slowly, with the authors setting a background of the history of Latin American immigration to the United States, moving through WWII and the Bracero program to NAFTA and the mass exodus from rural northern Mexico to the U.S. border states. The chapters then begin to alternate between the book’s two authors, an immigration law expert and a woman whose life has been impacted in every way by the immigration laws of our nation. They weave together their knowledge and experiences to show multiple perspectives of the issue: the big picture, and the individual, human side, which proves to be the most intriguing aspect of the book. Nicole Salgado’s heart-warming story of falling in love with her husband Marguerito turns heart-wrenching as she pulls back the complex layers of his story to reveal the impact that his undocumented crossing into America would later have on their marriage. Faced with a mandatory ten-year ban that would force them to self-exile from the US in hopes that a decade later he could finally get a visa to live legally in his wife’s nation, they moved to his hometown in Mexico, becoming victims of deeply flawed and unjust immigration system in the process.

Nicole was forced to choose between her marraige and her country, a decision that millions of spouses of undocumented immigrants in the United States are often forced to make, to heart-wrentching, life-changing consequences.

I’ve never felt personally closer to this issue of immigration in the United States, even though I’m living my life thousands of miles away in Ecuador. Its not uncommon to meet Ecuadorians that have connections to the United States through family and friends that have immigrated to California, Chicago, or New York. A lot of them express their desires to visit their families in the States, but the prohibitive U.S. visa process only lets the richest Ecuadorians do so. Many  are trapped in limbo, as they can’t visit their relatives, and their undocumented relatives can’t visit them. It breaks my heart that due to the flaws in our immigration system, turned every election cycle into an unfulfilled promise, a bargaining chip to try to win the Latino vote, families are ripped apart, many in ways that will never have remedy.

In the age of Donald Trump and senseless, fear-motivated reactions to immigrants from a certain region, with a certain skin color, what we need are more stories like Nicole’s, more stories that I hear from Ecuadorians all the time. We need to see the human side of this issue. Our country has always believed in the sacred institution of the family, but when it comes down to living out this value, we seem to have a problem when that family speaks a different language than us, or was born in a different place. Instead of building walls we need to build bridges, we need to build understanding and compassion.

By 2050, 1 in every 3 Americans will be Latino. Did you know that? The United States is entering its greatest demographic shift ever… EVER. Its so common in the face of what we don’t know, or don’t understand, to respond with fear. But it is much more worthwhile to respond with compassion and empathy and love.

Choose love.

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back to the blog

Its been a while since I’ve written anything on this poor, abandoned blog of mine. I know why, too. Its because I’ve gotten very used to living in Ecuador, and after a while I started feeling like my life in Ecuador wasn’t special or out of the ordinary, and it certainly wasn’t blog-worthy… it was just my normal, average life! As soon as I got an apartment I started doing normal-person things like looking on [the Ecuadorian version of] Craigslist for couches and bookshelves, paying rent every month to my ancient landlady, and balancing my non-profit salaried budget. And my “life in Ecuador” just became normal life.

Well, I’m back, and as my time winds down in Ecuador I’m reminded more and more that there is something special about every day I spend here, as average and normal as gray Wednesday afternoons here may seem to me. I want to keep documenting my time here, and as I prepare within the next six months to one year to make my transition back to the States, I think it’ll be an interesting process for you all to join me on.

I’m not going to update you on all the details about my life since I last wrote in, but just know a lot has changed and also a lot has stayed the same. Heres just a few details:

  • My Spanish continues to get better. Every day it gets better because I don’t give myself the option to not practice. I speak much more Spanish than English these days, and even talk to myself or think to myself in Spanish quite a lot.
  • Since I moved into my apartment I haven’t traveled that much at all. My parents visited in July so we traveled to Cotopaxi and Otavalo, and in September I went on retreat for Manna Project at my boss Nancy’s family farm near Mindo. In November José and I went to Mindo, and we just got back a few weeks ago from celebrating carnaval in Quilotoa. But beyond that I have been focusing more on enjoying Quito and the Valle de los Chillos where I live rather than  branching out to see new places in Ecuador…but I have a feel that will be changing as my time here comes to a close!
  • José and I are wedding planning and figuring out how to get to the States together. We’ve decided after a LOT of thought and prayer that now is the best time for us to make the transition to the States so he can start getting immersed in English, so I can go to grad school, and so we can both get more job experience. Depending on when he is able to get a visa [hopefully sometime between August and October] we will be leaving Ecuador and heading on to the next chapter in our lives together.12695437_10153996128577941_125104281_o
  • I continue to work for Manna Project and it continues to be going well. I’m taking on some responsibilities that I didn’t expect to this year, but its all turning out to be another meaningful year with MPI and I think I’m gaining a lot of experience AND insight into the non-profit sector in a way that will really help me in the future. I’m thinking of heading back to school to get my MPA (Masters in Public Administration) with a concentration in international development in August of next year, and I know that Manna Project has definitely confirmed for me that this is the career path I want to take.

I’ve got a LOT of ideas for new blogs, so the next few days I’m going to try to work on quite a few to get myself back in the swing of blogging and reflecting on my time in Ecuador. Topics include everything from my favorite budget-friendly recipes to US immigration law to changes in the community I live in here in Ecuador, so stay tuned!