We join four Macalester Athletes on their summer adventures. This week Mongolia and Ecuador. Next week, Rwanda and South Africa.
ZEKE + ROADTRIP
This summer Zeke Vainer ’17 could be found in the driver’s seat of a rickety used car—its exhaust pipe screeching as it dragged along the ground, one cylinder of the engine down for the count, and in dire need of a new tire—speeding down the rutted dirt roads of Mongolia. It was the final stretch of a 37 day adventure from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia called the Mongol Rally. Vainer was accompanied by three friends from the Boston area, brought together by soccer. This epic road trip took the four through 20 countries across Europe and Asia. It is attempted by many each year and informed by three rules: the car must be bought for less than for €1000, teams cannot ask the organizers for help, and teams must raise at least €1000 for charity.
Vainer’s team raised over $17,000 (€1491.75) for Street Football World, an organization with the goal of creating social change through soccer. “That’s what drew us all together and on this trip: this love for a game that meant more. We knew we wouldn’t be able to speak the language of everyone we met, but soccer is something that people in every place we went understood,” Vainer said.
After packing their tent, some clothes, and visas into the cheap little car that they painted like a soccer ball, the group set off with only a vague idea of what the next 10,000 miles had in store. “I was surprised by the safety and friendliness we were welcomed with as foreigners, when beforehand I had heard about all the violence.”
They travelled southeast from London to the Turkish coast of the Black Sea where the terrain suddenly transformed from desert to lush forested mountains, to the cow filled streets of Georgia and on to Azerbaijan where they awaited visa-less for five days for a ferry to cross the Caspian Sea. In Turkmenistan where they explored the Door to Hell natural gas field with another rally group from Ireland and then it was onto one of the highest highways in the world in Kyrgyzstan’s majestic mountains. They won a charity soccer game with the help of the minister of sport in Kazakhstan, and finally completed their journey in Mongolia where Vainer wrestled a Mongolian person.
“We got by, by meeting people on the side of the road who understood what we needed to get through the next few miles. They were incredibly resourceful,” Vainer said.
“This trip was all about engaging with people with different ways of viewing the world and doing things that made me uncomfortable. It was cool to be confronted with these things and have to be resourceful to make it through,” Vainer said.
LORNA + CARMEN + WWOFING
The summer of 2015 was an adventurous one for two Macalester runners.
Lorna Sherwood Caballero ’18 and Carmen Garson-Shumway ’18 spent six weeks out of their vacation in Ecuador. The pair was working for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, which helps facilitate the placement of volunteers on organic farms throughout the world.
These two Scots worked on two separate farms, harvesting crops and living with the families that owned the land. While many Macalester students were sleeping in, building sand castles or doing research on campus this summer, these two members of the Women’s Cross Country Team were picking strawberries and grinding coffee.
“Grinding the coffee was definitely a not-fun part of the trip,” Garson-Shumway said. “Every day we would look at each other, wondering who was going to have to grind first, and would shout out ‘Not me!’”
A high point of the trip, according to the two, was getting to sleep in a chocolate factory for a few nights. “I basically ate my weight in chocolate every night,” Garson-Shumway said. “Best brownies I’ve ever had.”
Garson-Shumway was originally inspired to go on the trip because of her interest in environmental science and knew she would be best off recruiting a trustworthy companion to accompany her. In Sherwood Caballero she found not just an enthusiastic travel partner, but a helpful interpreter as well. “I realized early on that Lorna was going to make a huge difference for me, seeing as I don’t speak a word of Spanish,” Garson-Shumway said. Sherwood Caballero, for her part, got plenty of benefit as the trip cemented her interest in pursuing an Environmental Science major.
These world travelers were side by side for every aspect of their adventure, from the breathtaking and exciting to the disappointing and, at times, dangerous. The major sources of trouble on the trip revolved around their attempts to keep up with their summer training routines. The two realized at various points during the trip that this was not the best environment for them to run. “We got chased by dogs, had to carry rocks and at some points got so scared that we had to throw them at the dogs so they wouldn’t come after us,” Garson-Shumway said. “The culture in Ecuador, also, isn’t as open to women participating in sports, which was hard. We got catcalled a few times, it got pretty uncomfortable.”
Still, the runners turned farmers got plenty of exercise performing their daily duties on the farm. “We definitely would have made Coach Murray proud with all our lifting,” Sherwood Caballero said. “Lifting buckets of ground coffee all day was pretty tiring.”
A few of the things they most love to rattle off are a few “fun facts” that they learned about Ecuador in their time there. These environmental enthusiasts were delighted to find out that in Ecuador, the environment has constitutional rights. The were equally happy to know that the parliament in Ecuador must, by law, be made up of at least 50% women at all times.
Those tidbits, however, are not at all the most important thing Sherwood Caballero and Garson-Shumway brought back from South America; that title belongs to their new Goddaughter, Samantha. During their stay, one of the girls with whom they were living was set to have her confirmation, and the two house guests were named her Godmothers. “I’m the official one because I’m the Catholic one,” said Sherwood Caballero.
“I’m not the official one because I’m not Catholic, so I just got to take pictures on the side. I’m the Godmother in spirit.” Garson-Shumway said. “We also helped her fall in love with running, which made us so happy.”
Samantha’s Godmothers agree that she is one very special 11 year-old and report that they have already sent her a few emails since they’ve been at school. Without a doubt, they plan on continuing to show her their love all the way from Minnesota.
So, the question has to be asked: what could possibly be next for this dynamic duo? As it turns out, there are many answers.
“We have a list,” Sherwood Caballero said. “Argentina is next up on the list right now. Japan is also definitely on there, and she’s supposed to go to Mexico at some point too, because that’s where my family is from.”
The list is long, but there is no doubt that these two will be together to check off every spot on it, finding unexpected adventures and maybe even adding more family members along the way.