Change Yourself…Change The World.

June 25, 2009, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Dear friends,

I am going to be in Paraguay from mid-September to the end of November. Starting around November 20th, I will have about a month to travel around South America before coming back to the US. I definitely want to go to Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Brazil. I have a friend in Colombia who told me he would be happy to have me, and I would also love to see Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I also heard Bolivia is beautiful. However, I want to spend about a week in each place so I can really get a feel for the area and travel around to a few different places in each country. Therefore, seven countries in four weeks is not feasible. Any recommendations?

Much love,

8 Comments so far
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Hi Brittany,

I love your motivation! And your persistence in trying to get those internships as well… As you already figured it out, it is the only way to get things done in the underdeveloped world (I am from Ecuador so I can definitely relate).

I came across your blog a few minutes ago as I was doing some research about internships at Grameen, but I also just read your last post about your traveling plans for South America later this year, and I have a lot to say about that as well…

Let’s get the serious part out of the way first. I graduated last year with BA in Economics from the University at Albany (New York) and I also attended a conference that Mr Yunus gave in my hometown, Quito, while I was there on vacation that really impacted me and led me to get into this. Microfinance is one of my favorite topics in the Economics/Finance world, since it seems like a great approach to curb poverty and it seems fairly applicable in other underdeveloped countries (i.e. Ecuador).

Going back to the internship, I feel so lucky to have found this blog because it looks like you’ll be posting very often (I guess though it really depends how much leisure time you get) and you’ve been very descriptive and detailed so far. As you mentioned in one of your posts, I also have heard about more negative than positive experiences at the Grameen internship. Disorganized, too laid back, somewhat careless coordinators are some of the terms I’ve read around about the internship. It’s great to hear that you can overcome those things if you are persistent (I am definitely from that same breed) and if you are driven and motivated as you seem to be. I originally intended to attend the International Dialogue Program in November, but after I found out it costs about $1500 I decided to explore the cheaper option, the internship program. I guess the difference between the two is that the former is very intensive (only 13 days), and more hands-on since people who attend are potential replicators. Since I guess don’t really qualify as a potential replicator yet, I’m not totally disappointed with being “stuck” with the internship, since I still need to learn a lot before even considering replication of the Grameen model. I must say I’m a little confused with all these “sisters” and “partners” of Grameen that you are or will be working for. Also, I only have about two or three weeks to do that since I only get that much vacation at work (at least its more than the typical two you get in New York, I’m lucky I work in the family business) so that also might may things difficult, since I already see that a lot of the internship time is spent at rural villages, and time is definitely not on my side…

Now the fun part… Traveling! I used to travel like it was my job (before I got my real job) a couple of years ago. I grew up in Ecuador, went to college in the US, lived in South Korea, Brazil, and I’ve been to a lot of countries in Latin America , South East Asia, Europe, Middle East (if Israel is considered a Middle Eastern country), so I guess that makes me a sort of a citizen of…. The world! Traveling has been arguably the most rewarding experience of my life. The places you see and the people you meet are unforgettable. That being said, I totally agree with you that three weeks is not enough for South America. It’s not even enough for Brazil itself! But if time is a constraint, you are going to have to sacrifice a country or two. Most of the countries in South America are either too big or they have too many attractions. My only suggestion for now (it might sound lame) is to buy yourself more time. If for some reason that’s not an option, I can work on some objective, clear and cut travel advice next time…



Comment by Pablo

Hey! Sorry for taking so long to reply- I have been overloaded. And you say so many great things I am not sure how to begin replying- I will try my best.

It seems that you and I are cut from the same cloth. Yes, Grameen Bank does have a negative side- and that is called the International Program Department- and some interns come away with very negative experiences- but that is mostly because they expect people to do things for them, when it should be the other way around. Also, they get caught up in the fact that the International Program Department tries to conceal the negative aspects of Grameen Bank- which they definitely do- but then they assume that all departments do this. This is not true. From senior officials and the International Program, yes- you will get bullshit answers that aren’t satisfactory. But if you check out some different sources- for example, I became friends with someone who works in a Grameen Sister company, and we had a long conversation about the difficulties of Grameen Bank- then you will get the information you want. In my opinion, yes, there are some faulty things that Grameen Bank does not talk about to foreign students who intern there, but don’t let that sour your entire experience, because overall it is truly an amazing company. This is just how I’ve felt being here.

As for two and a half weeks, well truthfully if you want to intern here that is the perfect time- although I should warn you beforehand that you have to be a student if you want to intern with Grameen Bank. However, you CAN do an ‘exposure’ trip which is basically the same thing but not for students- and it’s about 2 weeks. Everything that you’ll want to learn about the basics of Grameen Bank you can learn in two weeks (if you’re proactive)- I’m sure about that. The only disappointing thing is that you won’t have exposure to Sister companies like I am getting- you really get a much bigger picture of what the whole ‘Grameen’ thing is about.

You say you don’t understand all of these Sister companies? Basically they are a bunch of companies that are kind of doing their own thing- but an aspect, or all of their business, is focused on alleviating poverty. So they attached themselves to Grameen, and they do special things for one another. Grameen Trust is a Sister company and they are about doing Grameen replication MFIs all over the world. Grameen Communications is a software developing company that does all of the software development for Grameen Bank. Grameen Shikka is more like an NGO (it receives funding from an NGO) that brings education to children under the age of 5. Grameen Capital Management brings MFIs to the capital markets. Some of them are non-profit, some of them are for-profit- Grameen Solutions is for-profit, but they spend a lot of their time working on software developmnet for poverty alleviation. So this is the basic premise of the Sister companies- they do different things, but they are all bonded together under the common goal to alleviate poverty, and they all help each other out in different ways.

Thanks for the advice on the countries! Unfortunately I only have one month to travel and I can’t stretch it any farther than that- what a shame, right? If you’re in Ecuador around December let me know- maybe we can meet up. I will also be in New York January too.

Thanks for introducing yourself! Hope to hear from you again 🙂

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

Considering the Midfielders pnacormrefe they could bring Luiz Gustavo if he plays decent in the coming season for Bayern. I cannot see how Ramires or Lucas are any better than him.

Comment by Defi

Thanks for writing back with all that valuable info!

It looks like you are having a great Grameen experience so far. The trip from your last post sounded pretty awesome…

Anyway, thanks again for all the info on the internship. I guess the first step for me is to find a way to overcome my non-student condition. If somehow I manage to get the internship, I will be going in November as I’ve mentioned before, and I cannot go for more than two or three weeks. Its great to hear directly from an intern that that short period of time may suffice. Although I’m totally aware that I won’t be able to get the full experience (Grameen sister companies and mini-trips to the countryside) but there is no doubt that a little bit something is better than a lot of nothing…
I will be researching and trying to find other opportunities (I really want to do something productive during my vacation this year), but if I decide to go for this I’ll definitely let you know. I’ll still be reading your blog just to keep up with your experience (I’m pretty addicted to blogging I have to admit).

So I guess time is a constraint for your South America travels huh? Plan B then. Depending on how much leisure time you get during your stay in Paraguay, you should try to get a little bit of Brazil and hopefully Argentina out of the way while you are still interning there.

First I’m going to do my best to give you bias-free descriptions of places, and then my personal suggestions. If you have further questions just write me back. Also, you can always tell me which type of traveling you like doing (i.e. big cities, adventure, etc.)

The Iguazu falls are a MUST see, and they are located on the Argentina/Brazil border, a couple of miles south of the Brazil/Paraguay border. The bus ride from Asuncion to the Brazilian border is about six hours and its dirt cheap. Just beware of pocket-picking around there. Also make sure you read BRazil’s restrictions on visa issuing. They’re pretty tough on Americans (in reciprocation for America’s toughness on Brazilians). I lived in Rio de Janeiro, and I must say that it totally honors its nickname: marvelous city. Its hard to imagine a more beautiful metropolis anywhere in the world. Getting from the Brazil/paraguay border to Rio is a 24 hour bus ride or a two hour flight. Brazil has a couple of low-cost carriers that offer affordable air fares. The South of Brazil is also an easy reach from Paraguay, but there’s nothing much to see, in comparison to what you can see in other regions of the country. Sao Paulo is a huge city, looks just like Seoul, its grayer than NYC, but very cosmopolitan. You can find diverse people, food, music, etc. but I wouldn’t consider it a a must see. Nothing to see in Brasilia, the capital, and nothing to see in Belo Horizonte (another big city) located in a state called Minas Gerais. The state itself has a bunch of colonial towns with old churches and old roads and mining fields that are pretty cool. If you go into Brazil, you may want to consider visiting a town or two. They are about 15 hours by bus from Rio. Northern Brazil is super rich in culture. Its all the Afro-Brazilian part of the country. I only went to Salvador de Bahia, and personally didn’t like to much. But to be fair, a lot of people make the trip. Its also very colonial, and the food is apparently good. Again, its far away, and I wouldn’t consider it a must see if I had only one month to travel. The Amazon is a whole other story. By the time you get there, do some sight seeing, and get back to civilization again, a week may have passed, and then again, I would just leave that out of a rushed backpacking experience, but I would hope to go back. I didn’t go, also due to time constraints, but also due to the fact that I have a rain forest (that could be consider part of the Amazon rain forest) right on my backyard (don’t take it literally).
Before I finish Brazil, I do want to mention a place that is very known for its nature and fauna. I can’t think of the name of the place now, but north east of Paraguay, near the border, so it might be an option for you.

Another huge country with so much to see. Buenos Aires is a delightful city, with a lot of culture and amazing food (not so much for vegetarians I must say) and great wine. There’s a lot to do in the city, but if you don’t know any locals, its harder to get to see the highlights. Partying and night life is out of control! Probably the best in South America…
Just like with most major cities, you really won’t fully experience it unless you live in it.
The patagonia region is breathtaking. It really is. I remember taking a 40 something bus ride to the famous Glacier in El Calafate. There are also flights, and we didnt get them because we didn’t book them in advance. From there we went north to Bariloche, another beautiful town in the mountains. They called the little Switzerland for its resemblance to that country. It has beautiful lakes, ski resorts, fancy restaurants and shops, and great nightlife. Bariloche was definitely on my list of favorites. From Bariloche you can cross over to Chile pretty easy, or you can go north to Mendoza. I haven’t been to Mendoza but its supposed to be nice, especially if you are into wine. They have amazing vineyards and tours around them. From Mendoza you can take a bus over the andes to get to Santiago. I think that is a 20 hour bus, and its supposed to be amazing because of the view. Northern Argentina is the less visited part of the country by tourists, but there is stuff to do and see. I have not been there, but I heard its very different from the rest of Argentina. Its very laid back and underdeveloped. You can still see the indigenous heritage in that area (there is none of that in Buenos Aires) so you might find it interesting. From there you can get to Bolivia easily, and keep on the indigenous “trail”.

Arguably the most spectacular country in South America (I honestly think Ecuador can be a close second). It has everything! Absolutely everything! Glaciers in the south, green valleys and ski resorts in the not so South, A very cosmopolitan capital, Santiago, decent beaches in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, desert in the north, geysers in the north as well, and salt flats in the northeast, by the Bolivian border. I have been to all these places, but for a time-constraint traveler, I would definitely recommend the Northern part. San Pedro de Atacama is a place not only hard to describe, but also hard to imagine. You should read a little bit about it. Its a fantastic place! From there you have so much to do, especially the 3 nights/ 3 day overland tour from there to Uyuni in Bolivia. You drive at around 4000 meters high, through mountains, volcanoes, lakes (green, pink, and white- really all three colors), geysers, desert, and the famous salt flats. That is definitely a MUST DO tour. You can either start it in San PEdro (chile) or in Uyuni (Bolivia). I guess it depends where you are traveling from. If you do Argentina to Bolivia, you’d be starting in Bolivia. If you do Argentina to Chile, then you’ll be starting in San Pedro.

Very Indigenous. If that’s your thing, you’ll enjoy this country. Potosi, Oruro, and La Paz are the major attractions as they provide all the Indian Heritage sightseeing mining fields, and historic town. Everything is really cheap there. You keep buying and traveling and you still have a lot of cash around you… Its weird. They also offer tours to their small portion of the Jungle in the Eastern part of the country. From La Paz, Lago Titicaca is only a couple of hours away. I was not able to stay for too long there since I had to get to Cusco (Machu Picchu) in order to make my flight home. Had I had the time, I definitely would’ve stayed in the lake area. I’ve hear its pretty chill. You get to travel around the lake to visit some islands where people live in almost the same way they were living before colonization. From the Titicaca lake its only 10 or 12 hours by bus to Cusco.

I’ll start with Cusco since that’s where I left off in the previous paragraph. Amazing place for tourists. The historic district is very relaxed and people are very friendly. There are some Inca ruins around Cusco, but the main attraction are the ruins of Machu Picchu. This I think was my top pic of my trip. The place is so special. There’s so much energy around. Weird. There are several ways to get there; you definitely have to read about before you go, but try to make it there. Its worth any effort. I have not been anywhere else in Peru. Lima, the capital, is a huge city with nothing much to see. I know that shopping is pretty cheap, especially fake stuff. Piracy and the like. The South (border with Chile) is desert, and it does attract tourist, especially the valley of Nasca, which has some bizarre signs written on sand I believe. Nothing much to see in the north except for Mancora beach, which has gained a lot of fame lately for its relaxedness. Its packed with young wannabe surfers and potheads. I really can’t wait to go there. Hopefully this December I’ll have a chance finally. Peru also has a large rain forest to explore, but so does Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and to a certain extent Venezuela.

ECUADOR (the best! lol)
Tiny country, which makes it perfect for a tourist with time constraints. Everything is so close that its so easy to travel. The longest bus drive that you’ll take might be 10 hours, and the longest flight 35 minutes (except to Galapagos obviously). Quito should definitely be your starting point, unless you are coming from the south (from Peru that is). Quito’s historic downtown is considered one of the most beautiful ones. Tons of churches, old roads, museums. The people are very friendly and they embrace foreigners. From Quito you have lots of things you can do as day trips. Lakes, volcanoes, and lots of adventure tourism can be done in places near Quito. Banos is a town located at the bottom of a Volcano in the Tungurahua province. Its the most visited place in Ecuador. REally cool place. Very relaxed, and there’s a lot to do: bungee jumping, cannopying?, horse-back riding, bikes, and the best of all… You can feel the volcano as it makes explosions and you can also watch lava on top of the crater if you are lucky. North of Quito there are a couple of pretty cool lakes, and famous indigenous towns and markets. Otavalo is the most famous one, and its worth the trip. The beaches are pretty decent, but I wouldn’t consider them an attraction (not after you’ve been to Thailand or the Caribbean). The Galapagos. Can’t really say much cause I have not been there! (what a shame I know) It happens. We always tend to underestimate what we have around us and desire what we don’t have. Human nature. Anyway, the Galapagos are probably the main hook for attracting tourist into Ecuador. It is not cheap to visit, so keep that in mind. It is also twice as much for foreigners! (Did I forgot to mention that visiting Machu Picchu costs $12 to Peruvians and it costed me over $100?) Speaking of $$, we use US Dollars in Ecuador. ITs pretty convenient for tourists, and for everyone really. We’ve been with dollars after hyper-inflation in the late 1990’s.

COLOMBIA & VENEZUELA: I have not been to those two…

Hope that helps!!!!

Unfortunately I don’t have plans to go to Ecuador in the near future. I may go for the holidays at the end of the year. But even if I don’t go, I’ll find a way to help out while you are there, if you end up visiting Ecuador.

I should be in New York when you come, so maybe we can meet up then…


Comment by Pablo

Sorry for such a long post!! It should keep you entertained for quite a bit…

Comment by Pablo

Ahhh overload! Thank you for all of the amazing information! Seriously, thank you for taking all of the time to write up everything- I will most DEFINITELY use it when I plan my traveling there. I would write a much longer reply but I am just so swamped with work right now in Bangladesh, I don’t even have the time. I’m sorry that is a lame excuse, usually I write replies as long as you do 🙂

Why don’t you give me your email and we can chat that way? If I have any questions about South America I can ask you and if you have any questions about Bangladesh/Grameen Bank/traveling/whatever, you can email me there. Mine is

Thanks a lot for reading, for your input, and it would be awesome to meet you in Brooklyn next year!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

I wedonr why Marcelo, Fabio & Rafael of MU were not selected? Anyone has the answer?What about Alex, Anderson and Coutinho? They are quite good in club level, aren’t they?

Comment by Fraan

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Comment by ikyzpyyp

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