Author Archives: mckperu2015

I Challenge You To Take An Adventure. To Travel. To See The World.

Hello Readers! For the first time in since Miami in March, I’m typing this post from the great United States of America. More specifically, Illinois and even more specifically, Lebanon.

As my unofficial editor pointed out, I should probably do a wrap up post. I ignored this advice for 3 weeks or so because my editor – who knows who he his but will remain unnamed – blamed me for the fact that his Coca Cola made him burp. His reasoning? The bottle had my name on it. (I roll my eyes at you, sir!)

More than a month after I returned, I’m finally getting around to writing this post. Maybe I’m over-analyzing myself when I say this, but I think that the reason I’ve held off so long is that the posting of this particular blog makes the end real.

I miss Peru. I really miss Peru. There’s no other way to say it. I never missed the States the way I miss Peru now. This is probably because in Peru, I knew exactly when I’d be back Stateside. Now, I know only that I’ll eventually get back to Peru. And that hurts a little.

Some days, it seems impossible that I even went abroad at all. So much about home hasn’t changed that it feels like I just took a nap in winter and woke up in the summer. Seriously. That’s the only difference. There was snow on the ground when I left and it was gone when I came home. And you’re probably all thinking “well duh, Taylor. That’s what happens when it gets warmer.” But think about it from my perspective, ok? My life changed and nothing else did. Some days I feel like I’m going crazy here. How did so much happen in that little time? I also sometimes feel like the worst person in the world, being so bored here. As if adventures are only possible in foreign countries. Adventure is out there, my friends, no matter where there is. Since my return, I’ve been pretty bad at finding it, something that I hope I can change as I move on with my journeys.

I’ve taken to rereading my blog posts, listlessly scrolling through my pictures, pining for a country and a world that seem as far away as the moon.

When I first got home, it was almost too easy to not talk about Peru. I had work and stuff going on with the family that I really didn’t need to talk about it. I missed it, sure, and thought of it often, but I never felt the need to vocalize those thoughts. I was excited, I had somehow skipped the most heart-bending part of reverse culture shock. However, since coming down to McKendree a week or so ago and being reunited with my friends, Peru has been on the brain. Experiences that I’ve had, interesting comparisons, things that I want to talk about to add to the conversation going on around me. To be fair, my friends have been incredibly accepting of this. They listen, ask me questions, and (I think) try to understand my semester. I don’t want to sound like it’s anyone’s fault other than mine that I feel like a shaken soda can on the brink of explosion. To my friends reading this: rest assured it is my personal anxieties that are causing me to balk. It is not you. I am incredibly grateful for all of you. Have I mentioned that my friends are the most incredible people in this world?

When I’m distracted, it’s not so bad. But I’ve spent much of the last few weeks without many distractions to speak of. Thus the pining continues. Luckily, though, I’ve accepted a position as an IFSA-Butler Global Ambassador. More or less, this gives me an excuse to talk about Peru and *hopefully* encourage other students to study abroad. I’ll be asking a research question (to be determined) that is study abroad related (duh) and working on answering it through the use of surveys and other research tools throughout the year. I hope that this will help curb some of the feelings of “I just did this incredible thing but now that it’s over, it’s done and there’s nothing left.”

Well folks, that’s all I’ve got. I am deeply unsatisfied with this blog post because it lacks a lot of content that I wanted to give to you. I wanted this post to be about how I’ve changed as a human, my new perspectives on life and the value of so many things that we take for granted. I had to leave those things out because there is simply no way to put into words the immense gratitude that I have for Peru. The country is more than Machu Picchu. It is more than llamas and alpacas. I’m tired of shrugging off my experiences. It is incredible to live in another country. It is breath-taking to stand on the top of a mountain. It is humbling to volunteer with children in a remote village. There are no words to describe half of what I saw, what I did, how I felt about it all. I did those things and more, other people didn’t or “could never”, and I’m pretty darn proud of myself. At the same time, I want nothing more than to see other people do what I did. Please. Go. Home will always be here; landmarks around the world, treasured sights and sites, they’re the ones changing, closing, or disappearing all together. By no means have I seen “it all” but you can be darn sure that I’m going to try. Who’s with me?

With love, friendship, and an issued challenge, I thank you for reading this last post From Lebanon to Lima. Ciao ❤

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One Last Big Adventure Before I Head Home…

Nike may have coined “Just do it” and my generation may have overused “YOLO” to the point of absurdity and so what if every time I say “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” I feel the need to follow it up with “stand a little taller” thanks to Kelly Clarkson; those three phrases are my broken record. Honestly, they’re the type of personal motto stuff that I totally would tattoo on my body, if not for their connections to various pop culture icons. I bring this up because I probably wouldn’t have done half of the things that I’ve done in my life without them. Yes, in Peru I’ve truly embraced them, but in the general course of my life I say these things often.

Anyway, Catherine and I took a trip to the lovely Peruvian city of Arequipa (pronounced are-ay-keep-uh) a couple weeks ago. It was incredible. Arequipa is everything that I loved about Cusco (cool air, beautiful skies, great food) without the altitude sickness. Read on, dear friends, read on!

Our adventure started before we even arrived in Arequipa, as we ran late for the flight and arrived at the gate as the last call sounded. We wouldn’t have been so late had we not stopped to buy cinnamon rolls in the airport because I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, but hey, the cinnamon rolls were delicious. I have no regrets. We landed in Arequipa an hour or so later, grabbed a taxi and checked into our hostel. The front desk guy had accidentally overbooked the room we had paid for (joy!) but luckily had an empty (and more expensive) room available. He gave that one to us for the night free of any additional charges. (Later we also worked out a deal to allow us to stay in the better room for the remaining nights in exchange for a good review). We reserved spots on a double decker bus tour of Arequipa for the following day, and upon discovering that we both needed to pay RIGHT THEN and that the hostel didn’t have enough change to break our bills, we headed to a small shop nearby. At the store, we discovered Arequipena, what turned out to be a disgusting excuse for beer, especially since it sounds the same as Cusquena, my personal favorite of the widely distributed Peruvian beers (I’ve enjoyed the locally crafted beers much more than Cusquena but when one desires a beer, one must buy what is available). In fact, as we would find out later in our travels through Arequipa, many local bars and restaurants don’t even sell Arequipena, it is that bad. Anyway, since I didn’t know how gross it was, I bought a bottle (when in Arequipa…), we made our other purchases, broke our large bills, and returned to the hostel to pay for our tour.

The next day, we had breakfast at the hostel and hung around until the guide came and picked us up. We saw many magnificent things such as the Yanuhuara Viewpoint, Carmen Alta Viewpoint, a watermill and the gorgeous countryside. We also got to sample an Arequipa original – queso helado. Queso helado is basically ice cream that looks like a block of cheese when it has been made (but tastes incredible and not at all cheesy) hence the name queso (cheese) helado (ice cream). One of our free samples was of a pisco flavored queso helado which frankly was the most incredible “this isn’t actually pisco but dang does it taste like pisco” thing I’ve tasted yet. Pure deliciousness. After the bus tour, we wandered the main square for a little while before deciding to venture to Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) to see Arequipa’s claim to archaeological fame: Frozen Juanita.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Juanita’s story– she is a young girl 13-15 years old, sacrificed as an offering to the Incan gods on Mount Ampato somewhere between the years of 1450 and 1480. She was discovered in 1995 by Johan Reinhard. After extensive research, it was discovered that she most likely died from a sharp blow to the head, breaking her skull and causing her brain to hemorrhage. Due to her incredibly well-preserved internal organs, researchers also know that she had consumed large amounts of an alcoholic corn beverage common in the area known as chicha. The chicha, combined with the severe altitude of Mount Ampato, and the freezing temperatures indicates that she likely did not feel the death blow that she was dealt. Pre-sacrifice, Juanita was the daughter of people important to the Incan society. Once she had been chosen to be sacrificed, she traveled to Cusco to be taught and instructed in many religious ceremonies to prepare her for what to expect both during the sacrifice and afterwards on her encounter with the gods. Post-sacrifice, she was buried with offerings to the gods as well as personal items. Juanita was never intended to be mummified so her organs were left in her body and no artificial drying was done to her corpse. Instead, the elements (namely the bitter cold at the peak of Ampato) caused a natural mummification. History lesson over! 🙂 For more information, I recommend a quick Google search. The amount that they know about the mummies and culture is far too much to include in this blog but will continue to fascinate me. Anywho, since Juanita is this super precious relic being kept at exactly the right temperature to keep her from thawing, absolutely no pictures were allowed. We had to leave everything at the front desk – phones included – so there was no chance of getting a picture.

After the museum, we headed back to the hostel. Since it was close to dinner time, we decided on a whim to go to a fairly fancy restaurant called Chicha not far from the hostel. Luckily we didn’t need reservations and were soon sat down. I finally got my medium rare alpaca steak, albeit in quinoa stew form, and it was incredible. God, I love meat. In hindsight, I’m not sure how I managed to be vegetarian for a year (but I’m still glad I did).

I don't know why I find double decker buses so fun to ride in, but I do.

I don’t know why I find double decker buses so fun to ride in, but I do.

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Yanuhuara Viewpoint

Yanuhuara Viewpoint

Queso helado <3

Queso helado ❤

For my fellow ornithologist-y friends

For my fellow ornithologist-y friends

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Carmen Alta viewpoint

Carmen Alta viewpoint

At some old dead guy's house, Catherine and I opted to not go inside, but instead hang around in the gorgeous weather just outside the house

At some old dead guy’s house, Catherine and I opted to not go inside, but instead hang around in the gorgeous weather just outside the house

Catherine!

Catherine!

Wook at da wittle babeee

Wook at da wittle babeee

On a horse at the water mill.

On a horse at the water mill.

Oh yeah, selfie from horseback.

Oh yeah, selfie from horseback.

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The predators survey each other

The predators survey each other

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Found the Whomping Willow at Museo Santuarios Andinos

Found the Whomping Willow at Museo Santuarios Andinos

I'M HOLDING THE ACTUAL DEFINITION OF CUTE OHMYGOSH

I’M HOLDING THE ACTUAL DEFINITION OF CUTE OHMYGOSH

Arequipa Plaza de Armas

Arequipa Plaza de Armas

Chicha Restaurant

Chicha Restaurant

My delicious alpaca steak/quinoa soup thingy

My delicious alpaca steak/quinoa soup thingy

The hostel dog didn't like me..... which I took personally. And also made me feel bad because when Chloe doesn't like people, I tend to feel similarly so I wonder what the hostel people thought of me. Merp.

The hostel dog didn’t like me….. which I took personally. And also made me feel bad because when Chloe doesn’t like people, I tend to feel similarly so I wonder what the hostel people thought of me. Merp.

Plaze de Armas at sunset

Plaze de Armas at sunset

Jugo de rana!!! Yum?

Jugo de rana!!! Yum? Afterwards, we just explored the extensive market which sold everything from Rocky Mountain Oysters (that’s bull balls), and whole pig’s heads to souvenirs for your average Arequipa tourist.

This juice has pureed frog in it.... *shudder* Why did we try it? WHY THE HECK NOT?!? But Catherine had read about it in a book and we just kinda said YOLO and went for it.

This juice has pureed frog in it…. *shudder* Why did we try it? WHY THE HECK NOT?!? But Catherine had read about it in a book and we just kinda said YOLO and went for it.

The next day we woke up at an obnoxiously early hour (2am) to go on a day tour of Colca Canyon. We had been warned that it was cold in the canyon so of course I wore shorts (what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!). Because…yeah. Anyway, it was super early and mountain cold and we got in this van filled with other drowsy people. The guide introduced herself quickly then assured us that we could sleep for the 3ish hour drive to Colca Canyon. When we arrived in a small town on the outskirts of the Canyon, we were given a traditional Peruvian breakfast and made small talk with some of our fellow travelers. I tried not to freeze to death and clutched my hot tea to my chest for dear life. The shorts – at least for now – hadn’t been my most brilliant idea (later in the day, temperatures rose significantly and I was much happier about the decision). After driving for another couple of hours and stopping at a view point, we arrived at the Condor Viewpoint. It was around 8-8:30am – prime time to see Andean Condors over the Canyon. In a word, it was incredible. The air currents are just right between 8 and 10am and all the guidebooks recommend getting to the viewpoint between those times. This meant that the area was fairly congested with tourists, but the birds were still visible. It became something of a game to see how many condors you could get in one picture. We were given half an hour to explore the area, take pictures, use the restrooms (which were FREE!!!!), browse the souvenir selection, and get back on the bus (which we were told would leave without us if we weren’t prompt).

Colca Canyon sign

Colca Canyon sign

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Guys, it's kind of a big deal.

Guys, it’s kind of a big deal.

After watching the magnificent birds hover over the Canyon, we got back in the van and headed back the way we had come. We visited more viewpoints this time (because we were no longer on a time crunch to see condors), got lunch, and stopped at a small, nameless (not literally, but I can’t remember what it’s called) town to try Colca Sours. Colca Sours are more or less just Pisco Sours but are made with sancallo (san-kai-yo) juice instead of lime juice. Sancallo is fruit from a cactus that grows in the canyon. It is kind of similar to a kiwi in that bitter green delicious way. We also got to try sancallo ice cream. Catherine and I shared a small serving because we were mildly suspicious of how it would taste (though I have no idea why, I’ve yet to find an ice cream that I didn’t like). There were plenty of photo-ops in the little town too. I got my picture taken holding a hawk of some kind and also with an irresistible baby alpaca. We stopped a little further along near the town of Chivay and were given 3 options. We could either A) go to the thermal baths or B) hike a small trail or C) go zip-lining. For Catherine and I it was a no-brainer. We were going zip-lining. I was nervously excited because it’s been something of a goal for me to go zip-lining during my study abroad experience. I’ve had this idea in my head since before I even decided on Peru, but a month or so ago, I wrote it off as lost. Discovering that I could do it in Colca was kind of a big deal. We were joined by a couple new friends, Sam and Rob, who were from England and traveling South America during part of their gap year. Of the 4 of us, none of us had gone zip-lining before, and we were all full of nervous energy. The prospect of flinging yourself into thin air with nothing but a harness and cable supporting you is something that I doubt many people face calmly and we were jittery to say the least. I trusted the guide with my camera and she got some great shots of all 4 of us braving the jump. Sam went first, then Catherine, then some random dude, followed by Rob, and I followed last. After the initial, holy shoot I’m actually doing this -fear, it was incredible. The wind in my hair, the rush of adrenaline as I soared through the air, the sound of the cable whirring overhead, the pure elation of feeling like I was flying. I’d do it again in a heart beat. We had 2 cables to do and everyone agreed afterwards that we wished it had lasted longer.

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Catherine - AKA best photographer of our group - got this shot of me as a condor soared behind.

Catherine – AKA best photographer of our group – got this shot of me as a condor soared behind.

Catherine and I have been on nearly every adventure together. We're like partners in Peruvian crime. I'm definitely going to miss our craziness now that the program is over.

Catherine and I have been on nearly every adventure together. We’re like partners in Peruvian crime. I’m definitely going to miss our craziness now that the program is over.

The ancient terraces that were built ages ago are some of the most beautiful that I've encountered in Peru.

The ancient terraces that were built ages ago are some of the most beautiful that I’ve encountered in Peru.

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THERE IS A LARGE PREDATORY BIRD ON MY HEAD.

THERE IS A LARGE PREDATORY BIRD ON MY HEAD.

Mom, can I keep him?

Mom, can I keep him?

I want 5.

I want 5.

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All suited up, getting ready to jump!

All suited up, getting ready to jump!

Sam being brave and going first

Sam being brave and going first

Catherine ready to go!

Catherine ready to go!

Rob ready to go!

Rob ready to go!

I'm shaking in this picture, you just can't tell. I also made the people count down from 3 so I couldn't keep putting it off.

I’m shaking in this picture, you just can’t tell. I also made the people count down from 3 so I couldn’t keep putting it off.

If you reallllyyyy zoom in on this picture you can see the look of pure terror on my face, though I was all smiles by the time I got to the other side.

If you reallllyyyy zoom in on this picture you can see the look of pure terror on my face, though I was all smiles by the time I got to the other side.

Our last official stop was at Punta Alta (literally High Point). We were able to see 3 active volcanoes and an incredible number of cairns (stacks of rocks) that are built in acknowledgement to the mountain/volcano gods. The ancient peoples believe that building the cairns gives them safe passage through the area. Aside from it being nearly impossible to breath comfortably, it was beautiful in an empty sort of way. After we left Punta Alta, we headed back towards Arequipa, stopping once to observe a field full of alpacas and llamas in their semi-natural habitat.

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Cairn is a really fun word to say if you draw it out and say it in a funny voice like CAAAAAIIIIIIIIRRRNNN. Just saying.

Cairn is a really fun word to say if you draw it out and say it in a funny voice like CAAAAAIIIIIIIIRRRNNN. Just saying.

So. Many. Camelids.

So. Many. Camelids.

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We're goofy :)

We’re goofy 🙂

With Rob, Sam and some girl who was around our age from Texas and traveling with her mom.

With Rob, Sam and some girl who was around our age from Texas and traveling with her mom.

And just like that, we were done with Colca Canyon. We had visited the 2nd deepest above water canyon in the world at 3,400 m deep (The deepest is Cotahuasi Canyon, located about 3 hours north-east of Colca) , making it nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Back in Arequipa, we got dinner at a pizza place connected to the hostel (mainly because we got a 15% discount on the food). The food was good, but the best part was this small kid that came wandering into the store. He was probably between 5-7 years old and clearly painfully uninterested in selling whatever he was supposed to be selling. There was some futbol game on the TV and he came up to our table and stood there, staring up at the TV for a couple minutes before moving on to the next table where he repeated the process. No one tried to shoo him away, like many irritating street vendors, if you ignore them long enough they’ll go away. He puttered around the small restaurant, the picture of innocence, watching the game and not making any sales because he never asked anyone to buy anything, before finally leaving.

We highly suspect that he can only speak Quechua due to his lack of talking either time we saw him.

We highly suspect that he can only speak Quechua due to his lack of talking either time we saw him.

The next day our adventure of choice was white-water rafting on the River Chilli (YOLO, amIright?). We had some time to kill beforehand and didn’t want to waste any of our little remaining time in Arequipa, so we headed down the street to check out the Santa Catalina Monastery. This monastery is fairly extensive (my guidebook warned that getting a guide may be mandatory to avoid getting lost in the maze of halls and rooms) and indescribably beautiful. We opted for the tour, and ended up staying long afterwards, exploring on our own, grabbing desert in the cafe, and taking pictures of the gorgeous architecture and vistas offered by the brightly painted walls.

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BENCH WHY YOU NO CENTERED??

BENCH WHY YOU NO CENTERED??

Do I have anything to confess??

They want to know all of my secrets, the sneaky nuns. 😛 

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Because it wouldn't be a day spent in my company without at least a few shenanigans.

Because it wouldn’t be a day spent in my company without at least a few shenanigans.

I'm going to miss all the short doors in Peru... Of course, in the monastery, they're short to force you to bow when you enter.

I’m going to miss all the short doors in Peru… Of course, in the monastery, they’re short to force you to bow when you enter. But they’re still short doors and they’re still awesome. 

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We got back to the hostel and waited for the guide for our rafting adventure to come and pick us up. We were driven to the outskirts of Arequipa, suited up in wet suits, life jackets, water shoes, and helmets, before we headed to be dropped off with the rafts at the River Chilli. We were put in groups of four, so Catherine and I ended up with a couple from Germany who nervously admitted to us that they could speak no Spanish and so would need our help understanding the guide. We were introduced to Sergio – our guide who thankfully could speak decent English (I wasn’t looking forward to trying to translate while flying down a river) – and got into the water with our rafts. We received about 2 seconds of debriefing before Sergio pushed us off the banks and we were on our way. What followed was the quickest hour of my life. We learned how to duck into the boat if we were coming up on a narrow pass and how to paddle through the rapids. Two moments that stick out were one rapid that Sergio took us down backwards leaving us totally unprepared for the small waterfall thing that we went down. I screamed, thinking we were going to flip, then laughed hysterically in relief when we didn’t. The other was when Sergio was telling us what to do if the boat tipped. He then pointed ahead of us at an upcoming rapid and said “I’m just telling you now because earlier I was swimming after this” oh great. Thanks for that confidence boost, Sergio. We escaped unscathed, though, a little wet and cold but no more worse for the wear than before. When we got to the end of our stretch of the river, Catherine and I were given the job of carrying the paddles up to where the vans were waiting. A small shelter had been set up for us to change out of our wet clothes behind. We changed into drier attire to keep from ruining the van and were given complimentary cookies and a small bottle of water while we waited for the other groups to arrive. In a word – rafting was a rush. Adrenaline, adrenaline, adrenaline. But it was so much fun. I posted something on Facebook earlier about how all this crazy stuff that I’m trying then enjoying (zip-lining, paragliding, white water rafting, etc etc) is going to lead to me wanting to sky dive, because I’d probably enjoy that too. We’ll see what the future holds. 🙂

Pre-rafting pic

Pre-rafting pic

Catherine and I are on the right in this picture

Catherine and I are on the right in this picture

All smiles!

All smiles!

After we successfully got through a rapid, we would all clap our paddles together above the raft.

After we successfully got through a rapid, we would all clap our paddles together above the raft.

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AHHHHHHHH. Ok we're alive. Let's do it again!

AHHHHHHHH. Ok we’re alive. Let’s do it again!

I've never had so much fun while simultaneously fearing for my safety.

I’ve never had so much fun while simultaneously fearing for my safety.

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Our time in Arequipa was nearly through so we spent our last evening hanging around the Plaza de Armas, taking pictures, buying chocolate, and trying to find a halfway decent menu place for dinner. We saw our innocent little friend from the pizza place and humored him, purchasing some Starburst-type candy for one sol then watching as he went on his way, playing with some reed-like stick that he had picked up somewhere. Our flight left early the next morning (like 5am early) so we called it an early night after packing everything to cut down on what time we needed to wake up. Luckily for us, Arequipa (like much of Peru with any semblance of a night life) never sleeps so it was comically easy to get a taxi when we left the hostel around 3:30am.

Okiedokie, folks. That’s all I’ve got for you today! Yesterday, when I posted “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow” I said I was going to post this after I got done packing… well, I’m not done packing but the inspiration to blog struck so I reversed the order of my day. I hope you enjoyed journeying with me From Lebanon to Lima. Until next time! ~Taylor

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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” — A.A. Milne

My Wonderful Readers: As I march through my final week in Lima – a time of sadness and happiness and remembrance – I take the time to reflect on my semester. The good times, the awkward, the providers of life lessons. Learning to navigate a city, that walking confidently may not deter the catcalls but it definitely makes shaking them off easier, that missing your bus stop or getting on the entirely wrong bus is not the end of the world, just a lesson in quick thinking.

My grandma asked me something along the lines of “What have you gained here?” while she was in Lima in June. I answered without hesitation “Independence” but now I’m not positive if that does justice to what Peru has helped me achieve. In truth it’s probably more: Friends. A home. A language. Confidence. A better idea of what I want to do with my future.

I said at the beginning of this adventure – before I boarded any planes, before I knew much more than I had been accepted to the program – that the bravery that others commend me for comes not from me but from YOU. You who have supported me, encouraged me, shown me that I can paint with whatever color my dreams take on. You who have raised me, taken me under your wing, or simply been there with a word of praise. Your belief in me allowed me to take that step, to leave all I had ever known behind for a country that I knew nearly nothing about.

But it would be wrong to say that I came to Peru for all of you, because in reality I came to Peru for myself. (my friend and fellow IFSA classmate, Erin Murray put it perfectly “It’s very rare that people go abroad because mom and dad are making them, or because they have to.” Oh and by the way, you should check out her blog, since you’re probably all sick of my perspective on things) I came to scratch the travel itch that I never thought I’d be able to scratch. I left the States in a rush of terrified determination to prove to myself that I could be the person that you all think I am.

Only time will tell if I succeeded in that venture. But for now I find myself begging for more days, just a little more time, in this place I now call home.

But here it is. Saturday before the Monday that I ship out. All of my friends and I ask each other the same revolving door questions: When are you leaving? (8am Monday July 13) What is the first thing you’re going to do once you’re home? (Hug the life out of my dogs [not literally]) Are you ready to leave? (Some days, but not today)  Are you excited to go home? (Yes, but I’m afraid, too)

You may ask “Taylor, what could you possibly be afraid of coming home for? You’ve zip-lined and white water rafted and gone paragliding and ridden in combis, coming back to quiet little Petersburg will be like walking down the street.”

But you know what scares me? Coming back and losing me. I am beyond terrified of how much I’m going to miss this place. Unless you’ve spent any time abroad you probably can’t understand how much I am absolutely totally in love with Lima. I am. Lima is home to me. And in my heart I know that it will be many years before I am able to come back and that when I do come back, Lima will have changed. Not only that, but the people that make Lima so wonderful for me (IFSA crew, I’m looking at you) will not be there. I will come back, though. I may be old and grey and a flight risk by the time I do, but I’m not leaving this world without looking on Lima again.

A couple days ago, I was sitting in a little corner cafe, reading my Kindle, while a couple friends finished up a group project nearby. We had plans to go out for anticucho (grilled cow heart) later. I was looking out on the dark street, mindlessly observing the passersby and sipping fresh pineapple juice. Outwardly, it was nothing special. But it was that moment of absolute calm that I realized how at home I am in Lima. It felt natural to be there, like I belonged. That is the best way I can describe how it feels to be here. And that is why it will be so hard to leave.

Soon I’ll be home. Soon life will go back to normal. I’ll be working at County Market (come visit me!) again, hanging out with my friends, getting ready to go back to my other home – McKendree. I’m going to keep blogging. When I get back into things at McKendree, I want to start taking self-defense classes (because why not?). I’m going to be eating healthy again and getting back on the workout train. My goal is to make living in Illinois just as much of an adventure as living in Peru has been. The blogs will definitely not be as frequent (if you can call my haphazard blogging of this semester “frequent”) but I’ll try to keep you updated on my life.

I cannot thank you enough for journeying with me this semester. I still want to show you guys Arequipa so that blog will be up eventually (maybe tomorrow after I finish packing) and of course I’ll have a couple posts when I get home that will officially end my time here and in which I’ll probably discuss the re-entry process and reverse culture shock. Anywho. Until then, from the bottom of my heart, I hope that you have gained as much from this journey From Lebanon to Lima as I have. Ciao, besitos, abrazos, I’ll see you all soon. ~Taylor

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The Volunteer Experience of a Lifetime

At the end of April, I spent a week outside of Cusco in the small town of Pampamarca volunteering at a home for girls in high risk situations. The girls, about 20 of them, range in ages from 4 to 19 and come from a variety of pueblitos in the surrounding area. Some of them have family that visits on occasion, some of them have no one but the girls and nuns at the shelter. Pampamarca itself is rugged and quiet, with the most activity apparently happening within the walls of the churchyard and the shelter behind it, which houses the girls and the nuns that teach and care for them.

Full disclosure, when I signed up to volunteer, I did so because I could knock out 40 of the required 72 hours in one go. When I signed up, I didn’t feel much of anything for the girls that I would be living with for a week. After day 1 at the shelter, I was in love with the shelter and completely enamored of the simple beauty and tragic shortcomings of the life that the girls live within it. By the time the week was up, I was simultaneously ready to get out of the small space and willing to stay there forever.

More or less what happened was that Fallon, Hannah (an IFSA alumni who loves ADENAR so much that she has returned to Peru to become more involved with the shelter), and I made rough lesson plans and taught the girls some things that the nuns may not be teaching them. We had chosen to focus on dancing, dental health, and the environment, respectively.

In the end, the 3 of us served more to distract the girls from the monotony of day to day life at the shelter and less to actually teach them anything. While this was still a lot of fun for all of this, I left the shelter feeling as if I could have done more. Throughout the week, we made bracelets, baked bread and drove it to nearby Yanoaca to sell, celebrated my 20th birthday, danced, colored, did a scavenger hunt and attempted to convince the girls to pay attention to us.

Learning how to make bread.

Learning how to make bread.

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The pan (pronounced pahn) factory workers for the day

The pan (pronounced pahn) factory workers for the day

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In front of their drawings of healthy and unhealthy teeth

In front of their drawings of healthy and unhealthy teeth

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The shelter is relatively small, considering the number of people that live in it and rarely leave its walls. There is a greenhouse, a long 2-story building that contains the kitchen, dining room, prayer room, class rooms, nursery, library and sleeping areas, and a recently updated building in which the girls make pan (bread) to sell. A wall encloses all of these things and a yard large enough for a volley ball court and some additional lawn space. We slept in a small room off of the library and ate in a separate dining room from the girls, near the nuns’ quarters. This was done so as not to disrupt the girls’ eating rituals. In addition, though all three of us disagreed with this profoundly, we were fed better food than the girls received. The food was all very basic Peruvian fare, but while we enjoyed rice and meat and usually bread, the girls primarily ate a type of stew that looked anything but appetizing.

Possibly the most bedraggled chicken, sleeping in the room we ate our meals in. It took us half of the meal to realize it was there.

Possibly the most bedraggled chicken, sleeping in the room we ate our meals in. It took us half of the meal to realize it was there.

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The bedroom that Fallon, Hannah, and I shared.

The bedroom that Fallon, Hannah, and I shared.

Working at a shelter operated by nuns was just about as structured as you can imagine. Except not entirely. Every day, the girls woke up and began chores between 5 and 6am. They had breakfast and continued with their chores. As volunteer educators, we were meant to fit into their schedules. To teach as they had time between tasks, end lessons whenever prayer was called. The bulk of our “curriculum” – if you can call it that since any structure outside the topics was practically nonexistent- was pre-approved by the nuns. Available space to teach was also decided by the nuns. It definitely isn’t their fault that classes fell apart, but it is much more difficult to keep kids on track when lessons are taking place outside. Lesson plans requiring board space soon degraded into braiding, bracelet-making and begging for us to play volley with them. This was roundly objected to since the “high altitude” made “breathing difficult” when really I had seen them play volley and was very aware of how little of an asset that I would be on the court. Not that this shocks anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to be on my team in competitive gym sports. For me, every game is dodgeball, no matter the true objective, and dodgeball is “can I convince someone on the other team to throw it softly and hit me so I can go sit out?” Anyway, in Pampamarca, I worked to distract the girls enough that they would forget all about volley or convince them of my tragic breathless-ness so that they felt guilty begging me to play. Despite my efforts, they asked on a daily basis.

Hannah helping Yosimar take a drink

Hannah helping Yosimar take a drink

Fun with yarn

Fun with yarn

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Drawing

Drawing

Braiding Fallon's hair

Braiding Fallon’s hair

El Gatito (the kitten)

El Gatito (the kitten)

A couple of girls with Bobey, the newest addition and guarddog in training.

A couple of girls with Bobey, the newest addition and guarddog in training.

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On Tuesday, it was bread selling day. Since the only nun who knew how to drive was relocated before she could teach the rest of them, they usually have a man from Yanoaca come and take the girls with their bread into town, wait around until they sell it, then bring them back. However, this week was different. Somehow the nuns had found out that Fallon and I both knew how to drive stick shift vehicles. (This is going exactly where you think it’s going. Just wait) Thinking that the vehicle was some little 4 door type vehicle that I’m accustomed to driving, I agreed to take a look at it. ONLY to take a look.

Then I was introduced to the beast.

Yes. The beast.

A late 90s, early 2000s Toyota something-larger-than-a-minivan. I don’t know car types.

Stick shift.

Larger than any vehicle I had ever even considered driving.

The keys were handed to me by a hopeful nun who assured me that “it’s ok if you can’t do it” yeah, right. Upon inspecting the set up, and coming to terms with the fact that I probably could drive it and that the only thing standing in my way was fear, I hesitantly agreed.

The van was loaded with bread, nuns and girls, as well as Fallon and Hannah in the front seat for moral support and also because I didn’t want to go alone. I stressed the importance of keeping ALL children, dogs, cat, pig, etc out of the immediate area. Pampamarca is an easy hour away from any trustworthy medical assistance and frankly driving some small child to help in the vehicle I hit her with wasn’t high on my list of things that I wanted to do. (not to mention the fact that my IFSA-provided health insurance doesn’t cover car accidents in which I’m the driver because I’m not supposed to be driving at all. yay)

I hadn’t driven an automatic in almost 2 months, it had been much longer since I’d sat behind the wheel of a stick shift. But lucky for me, it’s like riding a bike. It took me a minute to find reverse, but then we were on our way. In what can only be described as a true testament to my driving skills, the nuns and girls said rosaries the entire time the car was in motion. Hannah assured me that they do this every time they get in a car, regardless of the driver, which made me feel a little better. But if any of you start praying when I’m driving you somewhere in the future (unless you’re legit praying and not making fun of me) I’ma woop your butt and charge you for gas (so actually, please make fun of me, I could use the free gas 🙂 ). And lest you think I’m lying to you, here are some pictures taken of me, behind the wheel of a moving car, in Pampamarca, Cusco, Peru.

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My passengers

My passengers

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Everyone survived my driving and when I finally got parked in the Plaza de Armas of Yanoaca, it became clear that we were the talk of the town. The Driving Gringas, or something like that. I thought I had felt stared at back in Lima at PUCP, but stepping outside of the van in Yanoaca was akin to strapping a large flashing sign on my head. EVERYONE stared. I say everyone but there were probably about 15 people in the square, tops. Being stared at is unnerving regardless of how few people are doing it, though, especially when the manner of their staring makes you feel like a panda or some other rare zoo animal.

Another remarkable event that happened in Pampamarca was the celebration of my birthday. If you’ve ever spent a birthday away from home, you know the bittersweet quality of the day. As far as contacting my family, things went fairly well. There was signal at the shelter which allowed me to receive texts, if nothing else. The day started as many others, I got up and went downstairs to use the bathroom. As I waited outside of the stall the girls, who were already awake, surrounded me in all of my “just woke up need to pee” glory and sang Happy Birthday in adorable Spanish/English then proceeded to file past me, giving me besitos (cheek kisses) and wishing me a prosperous year. After that, the day was normal for the most part. We settled on bracelet making and many of the girls presented me with gifts made of yarn. My favorite bracelet is one that has the 3 stages of lost attention. The onset of the bracelet is complexly knotted but after awhile the artist clearly got bored of the complex pattern and switched to simply braiding. It doesn’t stop there though! A little ways past the braiding, she stopped doing anything at all and just measured it to the size of my wrist and tied it off. There are of course others, some with beautiful patterns and one in which the girl patterned my name.

As the afternoon dwindled, more and more of the girls scurried off to the main cafeteria area but refused to let me follow them. I knew something was afoot, but they refused to tell me and instead insisted “nada, nada senorita Taylor!” (nothing, nothing, Ms. Taylor!). I rolled my eyes but played along. However, none of the obvious planning could have emotionally prepared me for what was finally revealed. Before I was allowed into the room, a younger girl came up to me, gave me a pencil-topper-hat made of yarn, and said “So you don’t forget me.” nunca, chiquita querida. Nunca. (Never, dear little one. Never)  I was entered the room and was greeted with the most perfect birthday gift I have ever received. The girls and nuns had decorated the room with ribbons and balloons and made a center piece poster that said “Happy Birthday, Taylor. With much love” It was surrounded by dog paw prints (because they knew how I love animals) and colored with blue and purple (I lost track of how often they had asked for my favorite colors). Upon seeing the display as well as the girls lined up along the walls, clapping and singing happy birthday, I immediately burst into tears. I was so profoundly moved by what these virtual strangers had done for me that I couldn’t take it. Once the singing was over, the head nun talked about how happy she was for the 3 of us to be there and how much it means for the girls to have something to celebrate. After she got done talking, Hannah and Fallon were called up to talk. Luckily I wasn’t asked to say anything because I wouldn’t have been able to.

A cake was brought out (that admittedly I knew about because Hannah and I had brought it from Cusco) and I blew out my candles and cut it to the chorus of 20 happy little voices. Then I had to throw candy into the crowd of girls. They enjoyed clamoring for the small sweets almost as much as I enjoyed throwing the candy to their happy faces. Fallon and I served the cake, which the girls ate with their hands (hey, no complaints here.), and drinks.

The night continued with dancing and picture-taking galore. When the nuns finally insisted on bed-time, we offered to help clean up. They tried to deny us until it became obvious that Fallon and I could reach many of the decorations much easier than they could. When everything was cleaned up, we said our good-nights and retired.

Spending my birthday with 20 complete strangers could not have been more perfect if I had arranged it myself. I will never forget the generosity, kindness, and understanding of the girls and nuns at Casa Hogar. For that day, and for the rest of the week I was with them, they will always have a place in my heart and in my thoughts.

The setup

The setup

So overwhelmed

So overwhelmed

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Another highlight of the trip was Yosimar. Yosimar (or Yosi for short) is the only boy who lives at the shelter and he is permitted to do so because of his young age (approximately 2 years old). We don’t know how long he will be allowed to stay at the shelter as even male volunteers are not allowed to spend nights within shelter walls. Anyway, Yosimar is this adorable little boy. He is utterly precious, innocent in every way and curious about the world around him (and especially about the gringas who took so much interest in him). His story is a little sad, like the stories of many girls in the shelter. He is the second child of a 17 year old mother (making her 15 when Yosi was born). His older brother now lives with relatives in Yanoaca. Yosi lives with his mom at the shelter for now. Though in reality, Yosi is being raised by the other girls that live there. With 20 pairs of eyes all assuming that someone else is looking after their young charge, it should come as no surprise that he sometimes gets left alone as no toddler should. We would observe this behavior and run to his rescue, then lay awake at night wondering how he would survive without his GringaMothers to protect him. We consistently reminded ourselves that the shelter had raised one other child, and that Yosi had survived his first two years here without us. Everything will be ok, we constantly refrained. Still, it was hard to watch the girls treat him like a toy, a doll to be played with. Alas, that is the lot his life has given him. Precious little Yosimar. ❤

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Saying goodbye was – as expected – difficult. The girls all clamored around us asking if we would be coming back and when and why not? That question is very hard to answer. Because on one hand, you can tell the truth and say “It costs a lot of money to get here, I don’t know if I can afford it.” or you can lie and say “Of course, I’ll come back. But I don’t know when or how long it will be” They’re both lies, although the first is more truthful than the second. But how can you say “It costs a lot” when they don’t have the finances to get to Cusco, much less the States or even Lima? How can you say “it is too expensive” when their shelter is struggling to provide them with basic hygiene products? Most of these girls will never see Machu Picchu, a wonder that is less than 4 hours away from them. Most of these girls will live their entire lives in some other small town similar to Pampamarca, living day to day, trying to protect themselves from those who would hurt them. The awful truth of the matter is that a lot of these girls already have been abused and many will continue to be abused for the rest of their lives. So yes, it was incredibly difficult to pry precious 4 year old Yandi away from me, knowing that I was going back to a life of relative luxury and adventures beyond any that she will ever be able to have. To look into her eyes and know that someone someday would hurt her in ways she may not understand. To know that there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it and that no amount of letting her play with my glasses, “look like me”  and see the way I see can allow us to switch places in the real world. She’s a little girl, all pig tails and innocence. This was the little girl who, when I was trying to teach class, would wander in and demand I hold her. She would pry my glasses off of my face and smile wickedly, knowing she had done something wrong and practically daring me to stop what I was doing to pay attention to her. Looking at the older girls was just as difficult. Some are my age, but none of them will ever enjoy the wonders of traveling nor the gifts of higher education as I have. It was an enormous lesson in humility. And the worst part is that, aside from being born in a different socioeconomic status than I, we are the same. There is nothing biological that separates me from them. They could be my sisters.

Featuring: My glasses. They were a hit with everyone, not only the littles.

Featuring: My glasses. They were a hit with everyone, not only the littles.

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Yandi love <3

Yandi love ❤

Fallon helping with some wall destruction

Fallon helping with some wall destruction

We love lentes (glasses)

We love lentes (glasses)

The current wall at the shelter is really old so they have been looking for volunteers and donations to help with the building of a new one. Destruction of the current wall started on our last day there.

The current wall at the shelter is really old so they have been looking for volunteers and donations to help with the building of a new one. Destruction of the current wall started on our last day there.

Bobey and Aumendra, the old German Shepherd, cuddling in the sun.

Bobey and Aumendra, the old German Shepherd, cuddling in the sun.

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"I am very important"

“I am very important”

"We are the generation of change"

“We are the generation of change”

Like I’ve been saying for the past couple of blogs, I’ve got a lot more left to say, this is only the beginning of the end. Once again, I hope that you enjoyed today’s journey From Lebanon to Lima.

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YOLO : You Only Lima Once

Hey all! First things first: Yes. The title is YOLO. Yes. I realize that YOLO became a thing that only old people say awhile ago. No, I do not care. No, I’m not going to stop saying it. Yes, I’d appreciate it if you got over it and didn’t judge me too harshly. Actually judge me however you want to judge me. I’m my own person, I don’t need your approval! Boom. Drop the mic.

Pick the mic back up. Here we go! In this blog, I’m going to talk about my family’s adventures in Peru. Because they definitely were adventures. I’ve got everything from eating cuy to attempting a High School Musical jump on the sand dunes in Huacachina and Kobe being a sullen teenager in every staged photo but photo bombing like a complete boss in everything else. Oooohhhhh yeah, it was awesome. *For desired effect, please read the above paragraph like a comedian performing live somewhere fancy *Or not, be sad. *Actually don’t be sad, be a happy beautiful butterfly. *Unless you’re afraid of butterflies (don’t judge. I know someone who is and she is still a functioning and wonderful member of society).

Anyway. My family being in Lima was unspeakably incredible. Sometimes you forget how much people mean to you and how much you truly enjoy their company when you’ve been without them for so long. But we were reunited and it felt amazing. My family, the people I love most on this world, in Lima, the city that has become a 3rd home to me (behind McKendree and my actual home). There was so much happiness. 🙂 Before they left for a few days to enjoy Cusco, I introduced them to an older version of Lima. We walked to Huaca Pucllana, ancient ruins in the heart of Miraflores. I promptly got us lost, resulting in some pointless meandering of the greater Miraflores/ San Isidro area. We found the Huaca eventually and I arranged an English speaking tour. Afterwards, we walked to the hotel and just rested mostly because they had had a long day and not a very sleepful (its a word now) night due to flying. Kobe and I went with Erin and Andre to see the National Soccer (Futbol) Team of Peru play a friendly game against Mexico. That was definitely an experience. Our seats were incredible and I had never felt as much Peruvian pride as I did when they scored the first goal. In the end, the score was 1-1. We left the stadium and began the difficult task of finding a relatively cheap taxi and making our way back to Miraflores. We stopped at McDonalds for ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

The next few days, I continued with my life while they went to Cusco. I cannot tell their stories for them but here are some pictures of their adventures:

With a giant cuy statue

With a giant cuy statue

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When the cuy was served.... mwahaha

When the cuy was served…. mwahaha

When they got back from Cusco, we spent the next week in Lima and the greater Nazca/Ica area of South Central Peru. We explored the city center, ate at incredible restaurants that are outside my broke college kid budget, and saw plenty of museums. Dad and I tried (and failed) to track down a golf course for him, we ate cake at Wong (a Walmart- type store) and had milkshakes from La Lucha (best milkshakes in the city, though they are pitifully lacking to the pure deliciousness that is the Mom-made milkshake. I’m glad it is summer back home so I can reasonably request my favorite chocolate peanut butter milkshake. Mom, you’ve been warned, also thank you in advance. Dad and Kobe, thank me later. 🙂 ).

A couple months ago, Kobe informed me of his insatiable desire to see the Nazca Lines. And who can blame him? Lines created during the time of an ancient civilization and that can only be truly viewed from above. A collection of artifacts whose origin, creator, and purpose remain largely a mystery. At first the trip was only for Kobe and I, but then the rest of the crew decided to join. Using my magical powers of Googling, I found and booked our hostel, flight to see the Lines, and our bus routes. (and yes, I’m bragging a little here but it all worked out really well so I’m proud of myself). The bus rides were long (7 hours, bleeeccchhhh) but much cheaper than flying. Our time in Nazca was short. We arrived in the afternoon and spent the remainder of the day hanging in the main plaza and eating dinner at a local bar. Our flight to see the Lines was early the next morning, a driver arrived at the hostel to pick us up and take us to the small airport. We were weighed, checked in and sat down to watch a short documentary about the Lines. However, due to the largely unknown nature of the Lines, the documentary didn’t do much more than talk in circles about how little is known. It was more a lesson in saying the same thing over and over again in different ways. Anyway, after the pointless documentary, we were taken out to the airfield (or whatever it’s called) and loaded into the tiniest plane I’ve ever seen. Standing up, Kobe was taller than it. We were introduced to the pilot and copilot then headed off! Seeing the Nazca Lines was incredible. Theories about aliens and star maps and early hot air balloon technology aside, just marveling at them was stupendous. Pictures will never truly do justice to the majesty of the Lines. We would be flying along and all of a sudden the copilot says “On your right” and bam. There it is. Sprung up from the desert, a mystery ages old. There is a part of me that hopes their secrets will never be discovered, because it would take away from the awe-factor. Unless aliens did make them, in which case the awe-factor would probably increase (or the fear factor, depending on your opinion of aliens).

The plane ride itself wasn’t as bad as some reviews that I’d read, that warned barf bags are a necessity. Mom and Kobe fared worse than the rest of us but thankfully no one actually puked.

Outside La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant in Lima

Outside La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant in Lima

Proving that art CAN be fun

Proving that art CAN be fun

This llama, it sees into your soul.

This llama, it sees into your soul.

Dabbling in the Pacific and leaving a very temporary mark on the beach.

Dabbling in the Pacific and leaving a very temporary mark on the beach.

The Nazca Lines plane is very tiny. Very. Very tiny.

The Nazca Lines plane is very tiny. Very. Very tiny.

Waiting to go up in the flea-plane

Waiting to go up in the flea-plane

After the flight, we went back to the hostel and waited until it was time to grab the bus to Ica. The owner of the hostel is awesome and set us up with a tour guide for Ica. After a 2 hour bus ride north, we ended up in Ica and met our guide. He took us first to El Catedor, a pisco distillery a little outside town. We had a delicious lunch before the free tour and pisco tasting. After making our purchases, our guide took us to Huacachina, the site of the only natural oasis in the Paracas Desert. In Huacachina, we decided to do a dune-buggy ride. This turned out to be roller coaster style and very fun. I enjoyed myself immensely, though I’m not sure everyone else would agree. We got to take some pretty cool sand dune pictures and then try sandboarding. The dune we were on was too steep for us to stand on the board (though I’m almost positive my complete inability to do anything athletic would have shot that one in the face) so we went down on our stomachs. Crazy fun, totally intimidating at first and I almost didn’t even go but thankfully the little voice in the back of my head that forced me to swim in the piranha-infested Amazon spoke up and said “hey. Hey you. Do this or you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.” So I did. And it was amazing. And so did Dad, Kobe, and Mom. When we got back in the dune buggy, the driver asked us how much adrenaline we wanted on the way back. We told him medium and so off we went, soaring over the sand. We got out one more time to take a picture on the dune that overlooks the oasis. Once we were done dune-buggying, William (our guide) took us back to Ica in time to get on our last bus back to Lima.

Momma and daughter shadows

Momma and daughter shadows

My favorite (and thankfully only) bruvver.

My favorite (and thankfully only) bruvver.

Fun with shadows

Fun with shadows

The oasis

The oasis

El Catedor pisco distillery

El Catedor pisco distillery

Failing in epic fashion at the High School Musical Jump. :D I love these goombas. <3

Failing in epic fashion at the High School Musical Jump. 😀 I love these goombas. ❤

The rest of their time in Lima was spent going to museums, eating and spending an evening sitting on the Malecon, looking out over the Pacific and trying not to think about the fact that Kobe was missing the Game of Thrones season finale. When I left them to go to class on Monday, it was bittersweet. I faced another month in Lima and they were more than excited to be heading home. In fact, their favorite talking point was “Things We Miss About the US” which made me laugh because there is really no comparison. Like, at this point, I don’t even miss certain things because I can barely remember what the US equivalent is. Of course, I also had the benefit of being in a honeymoon phase with Lima (and Peru in general) during the first 2 weeks that I spent here, whereas their honeymoon period probably lasted for about the first 5 minutes and ended with the taxi ride to the hotel in crazy Lima traffic with crazy Lima drivers. 🙂

Anyway, long story short, the family came down to Lima, I got really good at taking everyone’s orders and translating them for waiters and waitresses, they left, I was sad. But we had so much fun.

That’s all for now, folks! I’ve got a lot of blogging to get done but luckily I’m one final away from being done with this semester (finally, freedom) and then I’ll have a week to do nothing but say goodbye to Lima ( 😦 ) and blog. I hope that you enjoyed today’s journey From Lebanon to Lima. Hasta luego! ❤

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“Hiking” Huaraz

….. Readers? Are you still with me? I apologize for the brief hiatus. It has been an incredible and adventure-packed couple of weeks for me. I traveled to Huaraz (an 8 hour bus trip north of Lima) one weekend with Catherine, Fallon, Erin P and Rachel, the next week my family was in Lima (!!!!) and we journeyed to Nazca, Ica and Huacachina (Nazca is the furthest, about a 7 hour bus trip south of Lima), finally last weekend Catherine and I flew to Arequipa (1 hour by plane, approximately 12-15 hours by bus so flying was a no-brainer). This post was originally going to be a compilation of all 3 adventures, but the task of making one blog post so full of things was driving me nuts and overwhelming me so now you will be getting 3 blog posts.

HUARAZ

May 27-31, 2015

Huaraz is a city/town thing about 8 hours north of Lima by bus. The most time effective way to get there was by an overnight bus on which the seats recline far enough so as to mimic beds. It was not the most comfortable night of my existence, though also not the most uncomfortable. And attempting to sleep on a bus at night when there isn’t much else to do is a far more effective use of time than wasting 8 hours of a sunny day to do the same traveling. When I arrived in Huaraz around 6am, a bus assistant showed me to a reputable taxista and I was on my way to the hostel. Due to the altitude (and the fact that I left a day earlier than the rest of my group and so was alone) I spent the first 4 or 5 hours of my time in Huaraz sleeping the very deep sleep of someone whose lungs are struggling in the thin air. (Seriously, I’ve never slept better than when I was in Huaraz, Cusco or Arequipa, places with high altitude. I don’t know why.) When I woke up I left the hostel armed with my camera, my trusty guidebook and a map of how to get to the Plaza de Armas from the hostel. My complete lack of a sense of direction has taught me to orient myself around one place. In Lima, it’s Parque Kennedy. Most other places, it’s the Plaza de Armas. My routes may be sporadic and out-of-the-way but it’s a system that has rarely failed me.

On the way to the Plaza de Armas, I stopped at a cafe for some mate de coca which I had been seriously craving ever since arriving in Huaraz. After using the cafe’s wifi for a bit and resting (again), I continued on to the Plaza. I stopped into the Museo Regional de Ancash (Ancash Regional Museum) and took a quick tour, seeing some carved stone heads and taking the opportunity to selfie with them since I’m not making it to Easter Island to take the selfie that currently sits at the top of my “Selfie Bucket List.”  The museum also had a couple really cool mummies, which are only really cool until you start thinking “hey the presence of this thing probably makes the entire museum haunted. I’m alone in a probably-haunted museum.” Needless to say, shortly after visiting the mummies, I made my exit. After the museum, I grabbed a taxi to a viewpoint about 10 minutes away from the Plaza de Armas. The driver assured me that he would hang around and drive me back to the Plaza de Armas, which I at first thought was ridiculous (do you seriously think I can’t catch a different taxi, dude??) until I got up to the viewpoint. Basically after 5 minutes of driving on paved – definite sign of civilization – roads, the car turned onto a dirt road that zig-zagged up a mountain. When we finally arrived at the viewpoint, I was happy that the taxi driver had offered to wait until I was ready to go back down. There wasn’t much by way of car traffic so I probably would have been walking if I didn’t already have a ride. The viewpoint was cool. Nothing special. The lookout would have probably been better if they had trimmed the tree line. But then again, a tourist destination giving a crap about nature is hard to find so, YOU GO VIEWPOINT. SAVE THOSE TREES. After I took my pictures, got back to the Plaza de Armas, and paid the taxi driver, I spent the rest of the day wandering in circles around the Plaza. I searched side streets for local favorites and guidebook destinations, stopped for tea and wifi at a small cafe that (apparently) had a thriving nightlife once the sun went down. I never found out for sure. Around this time my stomach decided to hate me (it’s been a trend in Peru) and I walked back to the hostel, crawled my cramping stomach and pained body into bed and passed out, waking only when my stomach felt like it was ripping itself apart. At some point, I texted people who know medicine and asked if I needed to be concerned, they said no, just take it easy. SPOILER ALERT: I lived, though I’m still not positive what has been causing the pain. If it persists in the States, I’ll go to a doctor. Until then, livin la vida loca…. or something like that.

The rest of the group arrived early the next morning and got settled into the hostel. The rest of this blog post is going to be primarily pictures because, to be honest, the days run together and what really matters that we saw it. Plus I was an idiot and didn’t journal during the trip so now that I’m trying to tell all of you in hindsight it’s a little difficult. 🙂 The title “Hiking” Huaraz is such because of the layout of the area. Huaraz is the main metropolis – if you want to call it that – and known for the hiking opportunities in the area. But almost every recommended hike or activity is approximately 3+ hours by bus outside Huaraz. At the end of it all, we didn’t actually spend a lot of time hiking. We sat on buses for hours on end. But we saw a lot of cool things, so it was worth it.

Rachel and I drinking local beer at Los 13 Buhos. Photo credit: Fallon

Rachel and I drinking local beer at Los 13 Buhos. Photo credit: Fallon

Outside Chavin ruins. <3 perritos

Outside Chavin ruins.

The Three Amigos

The Three Amigos

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The Chavin ruins are still so well preserved that you can walk in tunnels that they used long ago.

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Chavin ruins

Chavin ruins. This huge carved slab of rock was in the basement of the ruins, in a series of tunnels used by people of importance in the society. These people were likely involved in rituals (either as the priest or sacrifice). 

Erin and I in the scary labyrinth at Chavin. Photo credit: Rachel

Erin and I in the scary labyrinth at Chavin. Photo credit: Rachel

I actually went into a dark, ancient, probably haunted labyrinth and didn't die!

I actually went into a dark, ancient, probably haunted labyrinth and didn’t die!

Serpent steps at Chavin

Serpent steps at Chavin

Pathetic begging puppy is pathetic. <3

Pathetic begging puppy is pathetic. ❤

Chavin ruins

Chavin ruins

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Valley that looks like Peru.

Valley that looks like Peru.

Dog's eye view

Dog’s eye view

Our friends from LA, Tommy and Danny.

Our friends from LA, Tommy and Danny.

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Laguna NAME??

Laguna Querococha

Rachel and a perrito

Rachel and a perrito

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Plaza de Armas in Caraz

Plaza de Armas in Caraz

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Laguna Chinancocha.

Laguna Chinancocha.

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Remains of the original church at Campo Santo

Remains of the original church at Campo Santo

Huge chunk of mountain debris at Campo Santo

Huge chunk of mountain debris at Campo Santo

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It's a buho!

It’s a buho! Which was randomly (seriously I have no idea why this owl was here) with a person at Campo Santo.

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Huascaran, the highest peak in the Cordillera Blanca – the mountain range that flanks Huaraz to the East.

Butterfly interrupted my shot

Butterfly interrupted my shot

On May 31, 1970 an earthquake sparked an avalanche from Huascaran Mountain. In under 3 minutes, the town of Yunguay was buried and nearly all of it's residents killed. Today Campo Santo is a still-active cemetery and the memorial site of the tragedy.

On May 31, 1970 an earthquake sparked an avalanche from Huascaran Mountain. In under 3 minutes, the town of Yunguay was buried and nearly all of it’s residents killed. Today Campo Santo is a still-active cemetery and the memorial site of the tragedy.

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Our favorite local find of the trip. Local beer, and the best Thai food in Peru. The owner, Lucho, had learned how to cook in Thailand and brought the craft back to Huaraz.

Our favorite local find of the trip. Local beer, and the best Thai food we’ve found in Peru. The owner, Lucho, had learned how to cook in Thailand and brought the craft back to Huaraz.

Pastoruri Glacier

Pastoruri Glacier

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Because I'm lazy, I paid to ride a horse for part of the glacier hike.

Because I’m lazy, I paid to ride a horse for part of the glacier hike. As my luck would have it, the horse in front of me had a bad case of gas…. Luckily back home I live with 2 gaseous labs, my brother and my father. So I’m used to smelling fart. 🙂 

Puya Raimondii, a plant found ONLY in Peru (as our guide reminded us approximately 50 times)

Puya Raimondii, a plant found ONLY in Peru (as our guide reminded us approximately 50 times)

Puya Raimondii

The Puya Raimondii spend 100 years or more growing, bloom once, then die. To see them in bloom is rare. Unfortunately, none were in bloom during our trip. 

Group with a Puya plant

Group with a Puya plant

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I paid 2 soles for this picture taken in the main square of Huaraz.

I paid 2 soles for this picture taken in the main square of Huaraz.

Cross at the viewpoint in Huaraz

Cross at the viewpoint in Huaraz

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Selfie with a stone head

Selfie with a stone head

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A local Huaraz theater was performing the Lion King that Sunday

A local Huaraz theater was performing the Lion King that Sunday

Huaraz Plaza de Armas

Huaraz Plaza de Armas

Overall, I enjoyed Huaraz. The area is gorgeous, framed by mountains that hide forests of rare plants, glittering lakes, towns containing pockets of hardy locals, and fast-melting glaciers. Hands down, my favorite part was Campo Santo. Just being at the site of such great tragedy was incredible. What made it more so was that we visited on the day before the 45th anniversary of the avalanche. You could almost feel the sorrow from the tragedy in the air.

Keep your eye out for a couple more blog entries concerning my trips to Arequipa and Nazca as well as a blog post about my impending departure from Peru. I tentatively hope to have them up in the next week or so. Until then, I hope you enjoyed today’s journey From Lebanon to Lima. 🙂 Ciao chicos!!

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Cruising through Cusco

If my family’s journey through the greater South West United States was christened “The Tour of Rocks” then this adventure through Cusco was “The Tour of Carefully Placed Rocks”. There are plentiful reasons why these ruins are so well-preserved but I’d wager a guess that one of the main reasons is that most of them are built entirely of stone. But more on that later!

First let’s talk spelling. You’ll notice in the title of the blog post that I spelled Cuzco with an “s”. Yet in the previous sentence, I spelled it with a “z”. You may be asking why. Well, frankly I did it because I adore alliteration and didn’t want to misspell “Cruising”. However, this debate on whether it is Cuzco or Cusco is a real actual debate in the real world, not just among those of us cursed (curzed?) with a love of languages. Luckily for all of you, however, I’m going to let someone else do the talking here. If you’re as curious about it as I was, click –> HERE. And actually, before we go on with the part of the blog that everyone wants to read, can we just admire my alliteration in the title for a second? Both the hard C sound and the “oo” sound. Dang, I’m good.

APRIL 22 – 27, 2015

The adventure arguably began with an office slumber party on April 21st because we had to be up at 3:30 the morning of the 22nd and some of us live a little far out to be taking a taxi at that hour. A group of us asked Lali if we could stay in the office and she agreed. We didn’t do much other than tie the chair cushions together and crash on the floor.

Ain't no party like an IFSA office party because an IFSA office party don't start.

Ain’t no party like an IFSA office party because an IFSA office party don’t start.

DAY 1. 3:30AM came very quickly and we were soon packing into a van and heading to the airport. We arrived in Cuzco at around 7:45 in the morning. The air was crisp and beautiful and mountain-y. I began having flashbacks of family vacations out west and visiting Glacier National Park. Turns out that, much like the Amazon, the mountains have that same intoxicating aroma here as they do back home. We drove to the hotel and had mate de coca – tea made from the leaves of the coca plant – and then retired to our rooms. We napped for a while before having a light lunch of quinoa soup, bread and the most delicious pineapple juice I’ve ever tasted. We had to nap when we arrived (even though it was only like 8:30am) to allow our bodies to adjust to the altitude. This was also why our lunch was the lightest served lunch that I’ve had in Peru. You have to take it easy the first day, even if you think you feel fine. Our first stop was Qorikancha (Quechua for Golden Courtyard) – which contains the Temple of the Sun for the Inca people in Cuzco. During the time of the Inca, its walls were covered in sheets of gold and silver, and there were life-sized golden figures of corn, llamas, babies and altars as well as a replica of the sun. During the first conquest, however, all of these treasures were looted and melted down. The Spanish didn’t destroy most of the Courtyard, however, they just covered it in dirt in the 1500s. Qorikancha remained undiscovered that way until an earthquake that killed hundreds of people also uncovered some of the temple wall. Peruvian government was called in and excavation and preservation began to take place. According to our guide, there is still gold and silver in the walls because the Incas used the precious metals in construction and since the Spanish never destroyed the temple, they didn’t take any of the precious metals inside. Gold and silver had no value to the Incas except when formed into religious items. Another interesting fact is that the Inca people believed that gods couldn’t die (which isn’t something uniquely Inca) The Inca also believed that their mortal kings were gods. To keep up the idea that the kings weren’t actually dead, they would bring their mummified bodies out each day and offer them food and drink, which was then ritually burned.

Sacrificial altar... morbid... fascinating. But morbid.

Sacrificial altar where both human and animal sacrifices would have been performed. Slightly morbid. Fascinating. But morbid.

The Incas discovered that trapezoid shapes withstand earthquakes better than rectangles or squares, so you will notice a lot of trapezoidal windows and buildings

The Incas discovered that trapezoid shapes withstand earthquakes better than rectangles or squares, so you will notice a lot of trapezoidal windows and buildings

These are the original walls of the Temple.

These are the original walls of the Temple.

View from the museum outside to Cusco. Incredible

View from the museum outside to Cusco. Incredible

We also visited the ruins of Pucapucara and Tambomachay. These ruins were once outposts for soldiers defending Cuzco. A pre-Inca civilization called the Wari had a system of earthquake-tolerant building in which two large rocks were separated by smaller rocks. When an earthquake occurred, the smaller rocks acted as a buffer between the two large ones, preventing them from smashing each other to bits. 

The Convento de Santo Domingo and yard from outside

The Convento de Santo Domingo and yard from outside

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This alpaca was seen achieving the highest level of laziness, eating only what it can reach while laying down.

This alpaca was seen achieving the highest level of laziness, eating only what it can reach while laying down.

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Tambomachay

Tambomachay

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A random dog just chilling by some ruins. Nbd.

A random dog just chilling by some ruins. Nbd.

Next we visited Qenqo (pronounced Can-co) and Sacsayhuaman (more or less pronounced sexy-woman [no, I’m not kidding]). These were also soldier outposts protecting Cuzco. Sacsayhuaman looks out over Cuzco and thus served as the final line of defense. All genders participated in the soldier lifestyle. While the men of the village defended Cuzco, it was the mother’s duty to train her children to become soldiers. When they turned 13, they began taking sparring tests and were not considered adults in the society until they had passed.

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Q'enqo

Q’enqo

Kat at Q'enqo ruins

Kat at Q’enqo ruins

Looking out over Cuzco

Looking out over Cuzco

Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman

The door is so high because they would bear their king through the doorway on a litter on their backs

The door is so high because they would bear their king through the doorway on a litter on their backs

Sacsayhuaman-- imperfection was not tolerated and something done wrong often resulted in death for the wrongdoer

Sacsayhuaman– imperfection was not tolerated and something done wrong often resulted in death for the wrongdoer

The ruler in charge of Sacsayhuaman's building wanted a llama in this outpost. So they made a llama.

The ruler in charge of Sacsayhuaman’s building wanted a llama in this outpost. So they made a llama.

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The sun was beginning to set, making for beautiful pictures

The sun was beginning to set, making for beautiful pictures

Sunset from Sacsayhuaman over Cuzco

Sunset from Sacsayhuaman over Cuzco

Native flora

Native flora

Part of the Sacsayhuaman ruins are this natural rock that just so happens to serve as a slide for tourists now. It is allowed by the security guards so I doubt we're ruining anything too sacred. :)

Part of the Sacsayhuaman ruins are this natural rock that just so happens to serve as a slide for tourists now. It is allowed by the security guards so I doubt we’re ruining anything too sacred. 🙂

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Our day ended with dinner on our own, most of us opted for pizza in some form or another, before heading back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for day 2.

DAY 2 started bright and early with my alarm going off at 5:30. Our hotel had possibly the most delicious breakfast buffet I’ve ever had and we took full advantage of it before getting into the van for a 3 hour drive through gorgeous mountain countryside. We ended up in Chahuay, this little itty bitty farming town a few hours south of Cuzco. Like most everything in this part of Peru, it was beautiful. Quinoa fields stretched for miles on the banks of Lake Pomacanchi. We toured a farm before the compañeras treated us to second breakfast (we ate like hobbits that day) in the middle of the quinoa field. The spread was out of this world, and all homemade and grown locally.

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In the cuy house with Gabo and Rachel

In the cuy house with Gabo and Rachel

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The feast

The feast

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Hi little cuy. I'm gonna eat you. :)

Hi little cuy. I’m gonna eat you. 🙂

This cat had the most beautiful green eyes that were always closed when I snapped a picture. Little brat. :)

This cat had the most beautiful green eyes that were always closed when I snapped a picture. Little brat. 🙂

Quinoa

Quinoa

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Oh you know, just casually in a quinoa field.

Oh you know, just casually in a quinoa field.

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See that greenish grey thing? That is a fruit. I can't remember the name of it but it was so delicious and sweet.

See that greenish grey thing? That is a fruit. I can’t remember the name of it but it was so delicious and sweet.

This was a guest house that you had to bring your own bedding to, but it would be worth it for the view

This was a guest house that you had to bring your own bedding to, but it would be worth it for this view out of the dining room window.

After touring the farms, which were run by Sierra Productiva – a self-sustainable farming non-profit, we drove to another small town. This time Yanoaca (Yah-no-cah) for MORE food (I told you we ate like hobbits). None of us were very hungry but we ate our fill again. It was strange because, though the place was a restaurant, there were no other patrons and the atmosphere was very homey. What appeared to be the cook’s family was enjoying conversation in the other room and the buffet was set out by a single woman who I can only guess was the mother of the house. After lunch we left Yanoaca for Pampamarca, the town that Fallon and I would be volunteering in the next week. We visited the girls at Casa Hogar de Maria de Nazareth. This is a home for girls who come from abusive families or situations. In some cases, the government has intervened and forcibly removed the girls from their homes but in other cases families send their daughters here. When we arrived, the girls danced for us then we were up. On the drive there we had quickly thrown together “Let it Be” by The Beatles and “Halo” by Beyonce. Sam had brought his guitar so he played as we sang. After that, the girls were given permission to “atacar los gringos” (attack the white people). We spent hours entertaining the girls, all of varying ages, with volleyball, bubbles, catch, tag and other games. When it got dark, the girls brought out the music again and started teaching us how to dance. It was…. entertaining, to say the least.

Dancing niñas

Dancing niñas

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Performing gringos

Performing gringos

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The girls and the IFSA group

The girls and the IFSA group

By the time we left, it was around 6:30 and already very dark and we gratefully relaxed for the drive back to Cuzco.

Day 3. We got to “sleep in” until 7 and checked out of the hotel at 8 after packing a smaller bag in preparation for Machu Picchu. We ate breakfast then journeyed to a llama and alpaca farm where we had the opportunity to feed llamas and alpacas and see vicuña on the hillside. We learned a little about the yarn-making process then had the opportunity to shop for souvenirs and clothes made of alpaca wool. After everyone had made their purchases, we drove through la Valle Sagrada (the Sacred Valley) to see the Pisaq ruins. One of the most interesting things that I learned about these particular ruins is that they weren’t so much discovered as people just stopped living there. No one had to discover them because they knew they were there, the people had just moved into Cuzco and other modernized areas. Another interesting fact is that if you see a building that appears to be thrown together, it was likely slave quarters. The rest of the buildings are works of art, but the slave quarters appear roughly made. The Pisaq ruins were beautiful, probably my favorite of the trip, and the hiking – while difficult at times – was worth it. Word to the wise: when your guide says “oh you can climb this huge hill but it’s only a view” CLIMB THE HILL. I can almost guarantee that the view will be worth it.

An attempt to understand the difference between llamas and alpacas and vicuñas

An attempt to understand the difference between llamas and alpacas and vicuñas

How to make different colors of yarn

How to make different colors of yarn

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Llama friend

Llama friend

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Erin feeding a llama, alpaca thing

Erin feeding a llama, alpaca thing

Vicuña

Vicuña

BABY LLAMA

BABY LLAMA

Gotta get that llama selfie

Gotta get that llama selfie

Group selfie in the Sacred Valley

Group picture in the Sacred Valley

Lali camping out in the van

Lali camping out in the van

La Valle Sagrada

La Valle Sagrada

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This cow licked my hand :)

This cow licked my hand 🙂

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That's the view I was talking about earlier

That’s the view I was talking about earlier

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See the building on the left and how it looks significantly less beautiful than the one next to it? The one on the left was the slave house.

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I love Cuzco. Can I go back?

I love Cuzco. Can I go back?

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Our trusty guide, Fernando.

Our trusty guide, Fernando.

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This cliff-side was riddled with holes. In each and every hole, they found a mummy.

This cliff-side was riddled with holes. When archaeologists excavated it, they found each hole to contain a mummy.

The Incas believed that a person couldn't move on to the next life if he/she had been decapitated. For this reason, when Moctezuma was captured by Pizarro and knew that he would die, he requested that Pizarro's men not decapitate him. His wish was honored and Moctezuma was killed with a garrote.

The Incas believed that a person couldn’t move on to the next life if he/she had been decapitated. For this reason, when Moctezuma was captured by Pizarro and knew that he would die, he requested that Pizarro’s men not decapitate him. His wish was honored and Moctezuma was killed with a garrote.

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View from the road in front of the restaurant

After we left Pisaq, we drove about 10 minutes to this adorable little buffet for lunch. It was one of those places that must have a great reputation because otherwise I have no idea how anyone would find it. It was at the end of a dead-end road, about 5 minutes away from any tourist civilization. But the food was delicious. They ran out of guac so Erin improvised, using pico de gallo and the palta (avocado) for sandwiches to make our own in a coffee mug that we weren’t using. After we ate, we went to a market and were given some time to shop to our heart’s desire and try out our bargaining skills. It was possible, with some discussion, to cut prices in half if you were determined enough. We also employed group tactics. We would say ‘well my friends are going to buy stuff from you too so maybe you can lower both of our prices?’ Or ‘one is 40 soles but all together we’re buying 6. We want to pay 25 soles each.’ This tactic proved surprisingly successful. Granted this is an environment that expects and thrives on bargaining. Those tactics would probably be significantly less welcomed in the US.IMG_1188 IMG_1189

We then visited the ruins of Ollantaytambo. These ruins consist of more than 300 stairs, but we arrived late so we couldn’t see all of it before we were forced to come down due to fading light. Some claim that Ollantaytambo is the Sun Temple because during winter months, the sun touches this place before anything else in the valley and at night, 3 important stars are visible in line with the temple. However, at the Sun Temple in Cuzco, the stars form a perfect circle (or something like that I can’t remember exactly), leading most people to believe Cuzco’s to be the true Sun Temple.

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From Ollantaytambo, we drove a short way to the train station, where we took a train to Aguas Calientes. This town is small and essentially serves as a halfway house for Machu Picchu visitors. It was dark so at first we didn’t notice that the darkness around us wasn’t sky, but mountains.

Day 4. MACHU PICCHU DAYYYYY!!!!! We woke up at the buttcrack of dawn, packed and grabbed a “quick breakfast.” I put this in quotation marks because Peru time applied to everything on this trip. But it should not have applied to Machu Picchu. Granted, I’m a fairly time conscious person. I’m that person that everyone either loves or hates to travel with because I MUST be on time for EVERYTHING. Not to mention I tend to bring reading material wherever I go so my general time motto of “I’d rather be 30 minutes early and wait in the car than 5 minutes late” isn’t a problem. Whatever. I’ll read. This is also why the “arriving to parties” thing confuses me. If you tell me it starts at 7, why in the flabberbargen would you expect me to show up at 7:30 or 8? Whatever. I’m getting off track. THE POINT IS that I understand that not everyone is habitually early and respectful of other people’s time (woops, was that out loud? Darn. Truth hurts people) so I should have planned in advance for a slow start. But really? How often do you get to see one of the New Seven Wonders of the World? Ok, so blah blah blah I was antsy, that’s nothing new, we got on the bus. The bus zigzagged up the side of a mountain before finally pulling to a stop. We were there.

To be completely 100% honest, full disclosure — there is nothing that compares to seeing those ruins. In my opinion, they aren’t even the coolest ruins we saw on the trip. But there is something so perfectly right about getting past security and turning a corner and -bam- there she is. Wayna Picchu soaring up behind, that silhouette that nearly every educated person on the planet can recognize, ruin upon perfect ruin greeting the day’s warm glow. The forest looms up around and the Urubamba flows below, birds soar above and it is something out of a fairy tale. IMG_1223

Before we could admire very long though, Lali led us to a place where we could get better pictures with fewer tourists in the background. As the day progressed and the ruins got busier, the notion of a “tourist free spot in Machu Picchu” became an oxymoron. NOTE (aka I’m going to rant for a paragraph): if you want to come to Machu Picchu to enjoy the ruins in blissful silence, don’t. Lower your expectations. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and thus full of tourists. If you hate tourists being “disrespectful” and “rudely taking selfies” — go home. Selfies and selfie sticks are ever present. Society has invaded what the Spaniards could not and while there are no kiosks set up on the ruins, there are plenty of tourists who only care about themselves. Chances are that you’re one of them whether you realize it or not because this is probably your one chance to see Machu Picchu and thus you don’t want to miss out on anything. Join the club. It contains every person on that mountain while you’re there, every day before and every day after. Rant over. Please continue reading 🙂

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DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome)

DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome)

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“The” selfie

#iammckendree

#iammckendree

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Photo credit: Fallon

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Erin, Catherine and I

Erin, Catherine and I

After all of the pictures were taken, we were free to do as we wished. Our Wayna Picchu hike was scheduled to start around 10 so most of us chose to haphazardly map a route through the ruins roughly leading to the big mountain and tour hop along the way. Tour hopping is when you stand close enough to a tour guide’s group to hear what the guide is saying but far enough away so as to appear busy doing something else. This is infinitely easier if you are bilingual because you can listen in on both Spanish and English led tours. And, while this method could save you a couple bucks, in hindsight I would have preferred my own tour guide. As I wandered the ruins, I was left with so many questions that the little map that they gave us at the entrance just couldn’t answer. If you’re ever there my recommendation is to spring for a guide or bring a book about Machu Picchu so that you can look up information as you go.

Majestic llama on Machu Picchu picture? CHECK

Majestic llama on Machu Picchu picture? CHECK

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From the top, these stairs look like they just kind of drop off the mountain, but Erin walked down and took this picture looking up and there wasn't a rope saying we couldn't so how dangerous could it be?

From the top, these stairs look like they just kind of drop off the mountain, but Erin walked down and took this picture looking up and apparently the path continues along the side of the ruins.

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Photo credit: Fallon.

Photo credit: Fallon.

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That picture that Erin took looking up? This is standing just about 10 feet back from the stairs at the top, so you can see why we just thought it ended.

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The clouds really add the the majesty

The clouds really add the the majesty

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Some Potterhead desecrated a ruin in the name of the Hallows. I'm both ashamed of and impressed with my fandom because of this.

Some Potterhead desecrated a ruin in the name of the Hallows. I’m both ashamed of and impressed with my fandom because of this.

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Around 9:30 we began congregating around the entrance to the Wayna Picchu trail. Some llamas invaded the peace but thank goodness I’m an animal whisperer (and some little girl across the way was eating cookies that distracted them) and they left our little group of IFSA alone.

Wayna Picchu is the name of the mountain in all of the Machu Picchu pictures. The big one. And it is climbable. You have to buy your ticket beforehand (like when you buy the Machu Picchu ticket, beforehand) but they’ll let anyone willing to pay do it. To say I was worried about this climb was a drastic understatement. I’m not in the best of shape, the altitude would play a factor and I’ve never really considered myself a “mountain climber.” But I took the challenge anyway. Like I said earlier, you’re only there once. Why not? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

We began our hike at 10:20 and at first things seemed promising. Once the inevitable stairs started, though, it was another story entirely. I’m just going to put it out there and say that I wouldn’t have made it halfway – much less to the top – without my friends. They refused to leave me behind, despite my insistence that they do just that, and they calmed me down when I started doing that “hyperventilating can’t breathe holy crap” thing. Seriously, Leah, Fallon, Kat, Erin, Erin, Gretell, if you guys are reading this thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all. You carried my bag, you let me drink your water since I foolishly had none, you didn’t leave me behind and you encouraged me every step of the way. I’ll never forget that.

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Heartfelt thanks aside, the climb was doable. I’d recommend being healthy, take it slow if you need to and heed this warning: The sign warns against doing the hike if you’re afraid of heights. It does not however, mention that there is a tiny little tunnel thing that must be crawled through to actually get to the top. So if you’re claustrophobic, this could prove difficult.

When we finally got to the top, every snag along the way was worth it. The view was beyond amazing. Nothing compares to looking down on those ruins, to knowing that you’re at the top of the mountain that the world can recognize. I was shaking, I was sweaty and all around not the most beautiful human being at that time. But damn it! I did it.

Kinda close to the edge, there. eep

Kinda close to the edge, there. eep

Just a look at some of the path on the way down. (I was too concerned with dying to take pictures of the seriously scary ones)

Just a look at some of the path on the way down. (I was too concerned with dying to take pictures of the seriously scary ones)

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I made it. <3

I made it. ❤

Bogey made it too. #iammckendree

Bogey made it too. #iammckendree

Everything seems smaller when you're on top of the world.

Everything seems smaller when you’re on top of the world.

Getting down, however, was another matter. It had started to drizzle rain which covered the rocked steps in a lovely moisture. (note the sarcasm) I went down on my butt for most of it, honestly. For some reason the descent had fewer hand holds and railings than the ascent did. I’m hypothesizing that this is why going down was so much scarier. We passed some ruins on the way down (which took a slightly different path than going up) but I was so concentrated on not slipping and falling to my death that I really didn’t stop to admire them. We made it back to Machu Picchu at 12:36.

In just over 2 hours, I climbed up and back down a mountain. Talk about a feeling of personal accomplishment. A huge moment for me was actually post-climb. I looked back at the mountain and – instead of cursing it, as if my struggles were somehow the mountain’s fault – I thanked it. I pushed limits that day, endured more than I thought possible, struggled the entire way up but I DID THAT.

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At that point we were all exhausted so we made our way back through the ruins and bade farewell to Machu Picchu before getting on a bus and heading back to Aguas Calientes. There, we enjoyed lunch and went to the thermal baths that give Aguas Calientes (literally Hot Waters) their name. The water was warm and tinted kind of yellow with minerals. The buoyancy was incredible too, the water seemed to support you and even though there were no seats, standing wasn’t a burden. But the backdrop was the most beautiful. I wish we had been allowed to bring cameras in because essentially this area is a series of pools that look out into the jungled mountains. Rainforest is all around you, a huge mountain in front and then it started raining. As if the setting wasn’t already perfect, steady cold rain fell as we rested in the warm mineral water.

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We headed back to the hotel for a short time before heading to the train station that took us back to Ollantaytambo. Our van was waiting there to drive us back to Cuzco and the hotel there.

Day 5 was a free day. I and a few others of us used this to go explore one of Cuzco’s artisan markets. After shopping for a while, we left to get lunch at a small place serving cheap (but good) food. At that point, I broke off to explore the Plaza de Armas. I took some pictures and then met up with Hannah and Fallon to shop for ADENAR related things for a while. We ended up walking through the Central Market of San Pedro. It is a street market that has what can only be described as a unique smell. Imagine – if you will – the smells of a city, stray dogs, whole butchered chickens waiting in the sun to be sold, cooked and raw foods of every variety, vegetable stands, fish and seafood stands, artisan kiosks, stores with doors wide open selling any and all manner of things in one central location. That my friends, is what the Market smelled like. The smell was so pervasive that it was easier to just get over it than to risk opening your mouth and wafting that delicious odor over your tongue. So we got over it. After getting some shopping done, we headed back to the hotel to rest for awhile before heading back towards the Plaza in search of cuy and/or alpaca for dinner. We found both, though the quality was something to be desired. For this reason, if none other, Cuzco is still on my list of places to see so that I can have another shot at properly served cuy. I want my guinea pig, people. And I want it fricasseed. I also want a steak big enough to warrant a steak knife, but that’s another thing entirely. On the upshot, our meal came with pisco sours, so that was nice. By the time we finished eating, the day had come to an end.

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All of the dogs in this set of photos are stray, to my knowledge.

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Plaza de Armas, Cuzco, Peru

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CAAAKKKEEEE. Yes, please.

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Day 6 began my adventures with ADENAR – but that is another blog for another day. I packed my bags with the rest of the group that was returning to Lima, though, since I also left Cuzco that day, just not for Lima.

I mentioned earlier that this trip was “The Tour of Carefully Placed Rocks” and it really is. The physical feat of moving some of those rocks that are some easily 8 or 9 tons is incredible. And these rocks didn’t just slide across flat ground, no. They were moved up mountains and across rivers, they were transported miles before being hoisted into their final resting place. And the evidence of that work is still here! It never ceases to amaze me, but some of those ruins look as if they were built yesterday. All that is missing from the buildings are their thatched roofs. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have walked on the ruins, the tours take you right up steps that the Inca used long ago and along halls that they would have walked. In Cuzco, you can step into history, and quite literally walk the path of the Inca. The Inca people built a society that not only withstands earthquakes, but withstood the Spanish conquest and continues to withstand time. Their people may have perished, but their legacy lasts. It is my sincere hope that it continues to last for many more generations.

Cuzco is one of those places that I didn’t expect to love. I expected to enjoy my time there, but I in no way thought that I’d leave with such a strong desire to return. Granted, a lot happened in between when the IFSA trip ended and when I actually left, but still. The idea is the same. The hiking and sheer amount of ruins we saw each day was exhausting but I would happily do it again.

I realize that this blog was a long time in the making but I hesitate even now to post it since I’ve got readers who are – in the very near future – going to be seeing these things (!!!!) I don’t want to ruin the surprise for them all. But they are only 4 out of a bunch (I have no idea who all reads this thing but you’re all awesome), hence the posting.

Until I get around to writing the next one, I hope you enjoyed this journey From Lebanon to Lima!

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Buho or Lechuza?

Helllloooo lovely readers. This post was inspired by a question that one of my fellow IFSA students asked, first to his host mom then to a Peruvian friend then finally to one of our professors. Buho and lechuza are both words for the English word- owl. But as of now the only answer we’ve gotten concerning the difference between the two is that buho is your generic owl and lechuza is a snowy owl. But every so often you hear that it’s flipped and buho means snowy owl and lechuza means…. every other species of owl. So what gives, Spanish?? Curiosity got the best of me and I turned to Google for the answer. This is where you stop reading if you don’t really give a crap. This is where you continue reading if you want some useless bilingual knowledge to store up in that pretty brain of yours.

What is the difference between buho and lechuza?

Strictly speaking, they’re both words for “owl”. They are completely interchangeable and your average Jose on the street isn’t likely to get technical with you about it. Because let’s face it. There are no owls in Lima. (this is an exaggeration, according to this website) So why do we care?

We care for YOU! You, potentially novice Spanish speaker, are likely going to be confused when someone speaking about lechuzas suddenly starts talking about buhos. Speaking Spanish is difficult enough without having to worry about synonyms.

However, the ornithology nerd in me was happy to find that there is a difference between the two. (Finally getting to the answer here, people) The difference lies in the families. Now this is going to mean next to nothing to you unless you’re an avid birder or a biologist so I promise I’ll go into more detail soon.

The Spanish word buho refers to owls in Family Strigidae. The Spanish word lechuza refers to owls in Family Tytonidae.

Now we can look into characteristics of each family, what specifically makes them different? (Dear people that only want to know which species of owls are in each family: READ AND LEARN SOMETHING YOU LAZY TURDS… or keep scrolling until you find pictures. They’re at the end. But I highly recommend the reading/learning route) (sources will be included at the bottom as well because I did not know this before the info search and thus will not take credit for it)

Family Strigidae

Buho

  • Commonly referred to as “typical owls”
  • The family contains around 190 species of owls
  • They are found on every continent except Antarctica, with the great majority (80%) in the tropics
  • 95% are forest-dwelling species
  • They have a circular facial disk (the area containing the eyes, beak and face)
  • Other physical characteristics include: short hooked bill, large slightly elongated eyes, thickly feathered legs and cryptically colored plumage
  • Examples:

    Hedwig is a Strigidae, for you curious Potterheads. RIP, my snowy friend.

    Hedwig is a buho, for you curious Potterheads. RIP, my snowy friend.

  • Rufous Owl

    Rufous Owl

    Amazonian Pygmy Owl

    Amazonian Pygmy Owl

    Great-Horned Owl

    Great-Horned Owl

    Laughing Owl native to New Zealand. Now extinct.

    Laughing Owl native to New Zealand. Now extinct.

    Barred Owl

    Barred Owl

    Strigidae range

    Strigidae range

    Burrowing Owl

    Burrowing Owl

    In keeping with the "this is a blog about Peru" here is a Peruvian Screech Owl

    In keeping with the “this is a blog about Peru” theme, here is a Peruvian Screech Owl

Family Tytonidae

Lechuza

  • Commonly referred to as “barn owls”
  • This family only contains around 16 species of owls
  • Unlike the Strigidae, they have a heart shaped facial disk
  • Other physical characteristics include: elongated compressed bill, proportionately smaller eyes, long legs, and dark plumage on the upper side of their bodies with lighter plumage on the undersides
  • Examples:
  • Tytonidae range

    Tytonidae range

    Greater sooty owl

    Greater sooty owl

    Madagascar red owl

    Madagascar red owl

    Oriental Bay owl

    Oriental Bay owl

    Common Barn Owl

    Common Barn Owl

    Common Barn Owl-- you can really see the heart shaped facial disk here

    Common Barn Owl– you can really see the heart shaped facial disk here

Sources:

Pictures— I’m not posting links to every picture but if you’re really curious and for purposes of giving credit where credit is due, I Google Image searched “Family Strigidae” for Strigidae pictures and “Family Tytonidae” for Tytonidae pictures.

Well Readers, there you have it. I hope that you enjoyed this stupidly thorough look into the differences between owl synonyms and Spanish. Maybe this will be the million dollar question some day on Jeopardy. In which case, I’d appreciate a shoutout.

I’m still working on my promised blogs. They’ll get there when they get there. And I currently have a couple potential (previous unplanned) trips coming up. The planner/procrastinator in me is thrilled to have something to do. 🙂

Until next time, I hope you have benefited intellectually from today’s voyage From Lebanon to Lima.

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Midterm Mayhem

Well Readers, I’m officially half way through the semester and my time in Lima will soon be easier to manage in weeks rather than months. I cannot say with utmost certainty that I am entirely pleased with this. I have made amazing friends here, I have places that I like to go, food I like to eat, a language that I have grown to love, destinations that I still want to see. My life has changed in just 2 short months. Time has once again played me dumb. Half a year seems like such a long time in foresight. In hindsight, it is just a blip. But this blip has had a large impact on my life. I already worry about adjusting to life back home. How will I manage to be the person that my friends and family love while also being the person that Peru has made me? Of course I miss being home. I’ve taken to staring at as close as the Google car got to my house. That doesn’t mean I can’t love Peru, right? I’ll probably end up Google mapping places in Peru when I’m back home, pining for this country that I’ve grown to love.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess) this is as close as Google maps gets to showing me home. I’ll take it. ❤

I never expected that I would enjoy living in a city. I am not a city girl. At least, that is what I keep telling myself. I chose Lima specifically because I wanted a completely different experience than the one I love at home. I wanted the challenge of city life, one so different from the calm country life filled with back roads and bonfires. There is a part of me that hopes that I slip effortlessly back into my old life, seamless, simple. There is another part of me that wants to discover if I truly enjoy city life or if I just enjoy Lima life. There is yet another part of me that hopes I don’t shed my Peruvian skin so quickly. I almost look forward to the challenges of readjusting to my old life.

All of this talk is not the purpose of this blog. Today, I blog to account my adventures this week. I spent a great deal of time walking because I have discovered that, while longish (approximately 2 miles), the walk from Miraflores to San Isidro is considerably more comfortable than being squished into a bus. Plus I save a couple of cents. As has been my habit, I leave the house in San Isidro around midmorning and take the bus – when they aren’t full – into Miraflores. By the time I am heading back to San Isidro, it is usually rush hour and the buses are packed to the gills, making it a sweaty and miserable (albeit short) ride. So I walk. Yay exercise! This week (May 11-16) I had my midterm exams. Luckily they were fairly basic and easy, plus I was done by Tuesday afternoon and so had the rest of the week to myself. So what did I do?

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Discussing the chulloninja situation with Hannah

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The chulloninja and monster that I adopted. ❤

I volunteered. In a blog that I will hopefully write and post sometime soon, I will talk about my week with the girls and nuns at Casa Hogar Maria de Nazareth. ADENAR (Association for the Development of Girls, Boys, and Adolescents in At-Risk Situations) is a group that helps fund Casa Hogar and, as part of my IFSA classwork, I work with them. Since the week in Pampamarca (a small town outside of Cusco where Casa Hogar is located), I’ve been mostly doing menial labor for the group. My most recent project was sewing tags onto little chulloninjas that you can see in the purple tub on the right –>. It was fairly basic work but it gave me something to do. The chulloninjas will be sold for 20 soles each (about 7 US dollars) and all proceeds benefit Casa Hogar. A lady in the US donates her time to knit/crochet the ninjas and send them down to Peru where we stuff them, add the bottoms and tags, then sell them. The idea is to photograph the chulloninja in places around the world and thus spread the word about ADENAR. Right now my two little darlings are just collecting dust in my room. Hopefully when I get home I’ll have the presence of mind to take them to the plentiful Lincoln sites in the greater central Illinois area. My next ADENAR project is going to be collaborating with Hannah to try to achieve 501(c)(3) status for ADENAR so that donors in the United States can receive tax refunds for their contributions. Basically a bunch of legal jargon, but at least I’ll be doing something.

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All suited up and ready to go! (also nervous as heck)

I went paragliding with Catherine and Erin, two of my friends in the IFSA program. The paragliding had been on Catherine and I’s list of things for quite some time but fear kept pushing the actually date of flight back. We finally swore that we’d go after both of our midterms were over and we did! Erin joined us too because it was on her Peru bucket list. Despite some reservations about jumping off of a cliff and trusting air currents and wind to keep us afloat, we paid our piece and the adventure began. It was great. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to look down and see birds soaring below you, to be at the mercy of the air (and the professional guide person), to be that high off of the ground with only a harness supporting you. Absolutely breathtaking. My guide said something along the lines of “For hundreds of years, humans have wanted to fly like the birds. And now we are.”

We got ice cream afterwards to celebrate midterms and the flying

We got ice cream afterwards to celebrate midterms and the flying

THAT'S ME!!!

THAT’S ME!!!

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Being put in the suit was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the experience but only because the anticipation was killing me. Many of you know that I’m not the biggest adrenaline junkie in the world (I don’t even ride roller coasters for gosh sakes) so the prospect of this was mildly terrifying. Once we were up in the air, a strange calm came over me. It is really hard to be scared out of your mind when you’re suddenly flying like you’ve always dreamed of doing but never before had the capabilities. And plus, there comes a point when you know that stressing will do you no good. Once you’re up in the air, at the mercy of air currents, you kind of just have to sit back and enjoy the show. You’ve already decided to trust a guide you met seconds before and bundle of ropes and cloth with your life so why stress once you’re off the ground? If something bad is going to happen, there is no amount of stressing in the world that could change that.

Would I do it again? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. If I could paraglide back home in July, I would. Paragliding is way more enjoyable for me than flying, though I can’t imagine how long it would take to glide the equivalent of an 8 hour flight. Eep.

I saw The Avengers: Age of Ultron. FINALLY. It came out like 3 weeks ago. I went with most of the IFSA group and thoroughly embarrassed myself because as anyone who has ever seen a movie with me knows, I get a little excited. Plus I love the Marvel movie-universe (I haven’t gotten into the comics yet) so I tend to react. Which is totally rude, I know. But when (I’m not going to spoil it because spoilers are rude but if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what part I’m talking about) the part when the whole fracking theater gasped because of the thing that shouldn’t have been possible happened, who could really blame me? Anyway. After the movie, we went and hung out in Parque Kennedy in the little amphitheater part and just shot the breeze for a while before we decided that we weren’t going out for drinks, we were just going back to our houses.

We went to the zoo. Parque de Leyendas is this park that was built up around a huaca (ruins) probably to preserve it. But I didn’t see a lot of people going into the huaca, I’d say about 90% of the visitors just do the zoo part. The zoo was pretty neat. Considering that it was only 10 soles to get in (that’s about $3), and – unlike back home where once you’re inside something all the prices are waaaaayyyy higher than outside – souvenirs and ice cream and food were very cheap. For example: 5 soles for a 3 scoop cone of ice cream. I can’t even get 3 scoops of ice cream for 5 soles outside of the park. The zoo had monkeys of all sorts, a crazy number of birds, tapirs, giraffes, collared peccaries (little adorable forest-dwelling pig-like animals), capybara, a couple snapping turtles, mule deer, white-tailed deer, alpaca, vicuña (wild relative of the alpaca), sea lions, penguins, lions tigers and bears OH MY! and others. I realize now that that is a fairly comprehensive list and completely irrelevant except for the fact that I don’t have any pictures to supplement it with right now. (Though I have figured out that I can edit posts after I publish them, so I may add pictures later when they come available to me.)

In other exciting (for me) news– my parents and brother and grandma are going to be here sooooooooooooooooonn and I cannot wait! I’ll see them briefly on June 3 before they fly away to Cusco for a few days then they get back in Lima on June 7 and are staying a week or something (I don’t actually know how long they’re staying) but at least until Saturday hopefully because we’re spending Thursday/Friday exploring the greater Nazca/Pisco/Ica region of Peru. I’m kind of nervous about being their guide through Lima but it’ll be an adventure. We’ll have fun. I wish I could say with any certainty that I’ll be posting that blog soon after their departure from Lima but knowing my current track record with posting blogs in a timely manner, I’m just going to say that I’ll post it eventually, much like every one of my other blogs.

Upcoming blogs: Cruising through Cusco (yes that’s the title. Yes it is being drafted. No, it’s not perfect yet so no, you can’t see it.) and ADENAR adventures (not officially the actual title.)

On that happy note, I shall sign off. I hope that you all enjoyed today’s journey From Lebanon to Lima. Besitos! (kisses)

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Let’s VAMOS!

Hello Readers!  Journey with me into the wild and untamed Amazon Rainforest…………………………..

APRIL 2, 2015 – APRIL 5, 2015

What is there to even say about the Amazon? It is a beautiful world full of biodiversity unmatched. But mostly, I was just really happy that it smelled like the rivers and forests that I’ve explored back home. That deep, woodsy, damp aroma that arises from the soil and clings to the trees, the air, and – eventually – you. You can see it rise off of the water in the morning and feel it in the humidity of the day, but it comes from the soil. The rich earth gives off a scent that is so incredibly intoxicating and unique, it is hard to accurately describe unless you’ve experienced it before. I hope that if you haven’t, you do someday. The beautiful reek of nature decaying to be reborn anew is one that cradles you, unlike the bitter stench of smog that assails the senses in cityscapes. Even better for myself personally is that the timber smells like home. Minus the homey farm/cow-manure smell. But Iquitos even had that so really going to the forest was like sending my nose to central Illinois for a few days.

The excursion that we went on was planned by IFSA but only included in the price if you are a full year student. It cost a little extra if you are only a semester-long student so it was optional. But HELLO a cheap, planned, excursion into the Amazon?? YES PLEASE. I paid my piece with little thought. Of course I was going.

We flew from Lima to Iquitos, a roughly 3 hour flight over the Andes Mountains. We landed in the middle of a rain shower surrounded by trees and the smallest airport I’ve encountered so far (maybe even smaller than the one in Springfield. Not sure though). I was in heaven already. Immediately my nose was assaulted by heavy forest smell, fresh falling rain and the faint odor of civilization. This coupled with the bouncing excitement I was feeling at finally getting to the selva (Translation: la selva = rainforest. Fun fact– bosque also means forest, but I have found that bosque is typically used to refer to drier forest. Maybe a forest that experiences regular rainfall but doesn’t flood on a regular basis) put me in an exceptionally good mood. My mood was only slightly dampened (haha rain puns) by the realization that of all things to forget on a trip to the selva I forgot my FRACKING raincoat. Yes. My raincoat. *sigh* Good thing our chaperone had a bright pink poncho for me to borrow (please detect my sarcasm. Pink and I don’t agree). I looked like a human sized Pepto Bismol bottle with legs. I’ll include a picture for your enjoyment.

We were met by Francisco – our guide – at the airport. We packed our bags into one van and loaded ourselves into another. As we were behind schedule (no surprise here) our bags went directly to the hotel while we went directly to our first destination – a manatee rescue. Yes, it was just as adorable as you’re thinking. The rescue is part recovery area for forest critters and part “green” education for the youth in Iquitos. We saw parrots, a river otter that had been rescued from poachers 3 days previously, a couple full-grown turtles, LOTS of little baby turtles (because the eggs are a delicacy, the rescue collects the eggs, incubates them and raises the baby turtles until they are big enough to fend for themselves in the wild), and MANATEES!!!!

From LtoR: Me, Fallon, (front) Kate, Sam, Kali (back) Erin, Catherine

From LtoR: Me, Fallon, (front) Kate, Sam, Kali (back) Erin, Catherine

A little manatee background info: In the world, there are 3 types of manatees. The West Indian manatee (this is the one we all think about when we see/hear the word manatee) is found in Florida and south along the north coast of South America. The West African manatee is found in river systems along the west coast of Africa. The Amazonian manatee is the smallest subspecies and is found exclusively in the Amazon River. Some sources indicate the possible existence of dwarf manatees in Brazil, but many experts contend that the sightings of such “dwarves” are simply immature Amazonian manatees. Due to the murky quality of the river, the dark brown coloration of the manatees, and continued hunting practices, sightings in the wild are rare and the exact number of wild Amazonian manatees is unknown.

There really isn’t much else to say about them other than they are perfect and adorable and their little snouts felt exquisitely soft on my hands when I fed them. Also I doubt these guys are going back into the wild because they are ridiculously spoiled by the tourists feeding them.

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After we fed the manatees, we got back into the van and went on what I’m sure was a very interesting and beautiful tour of the city of Iquitos. I don’t know though because I – regretfully – slept through it. In my defense I was exhausted. The combination of being up really early, the adrenaline rush of getting to Iquitos and the fact that I must have been just plain tired. I don’t know. I felt awful for falling asleep. It was rude to the tour guide if nothing else but the van was comfortable and my eyes would NOT stay open. *sigh* The tour ended at our hotel and we had some free time but everyone was tired and I was still tired so we napped during our free time. Before dinner, a few of us left the hotel to walk along the river and watch the beginnings of the sunset. It was Easter weekend so the area was fairly well populated. It was really interesting because, while there were tourists in Iquitos, the people milling around didn’t appear to be. There were only 4 or 5 little kiosks selling typical “tourist fare” unlike the 40+ kiosks that lined the boardwalk in Paracas. There were street performers, artists, and food stands set up along the street and the buildings were lined with lights. We spent a considerable amount of time taking pictures of the view, but decided not to descend closer to the river.
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As always, I am fascinated by the street dogs.

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We found our way back to the hotel because it was getting dark and soon after left again with the rest of the group to have dinner at a Pizzeria that we had seen earlier. Yes. Pizza in Iquitos. Bite me.
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The next day we woke, put on “jungle clothes” (long-sleeved shirt, long pants tucked into long socks, tennis shoes, rain jacket and enough bug spray to choke a horse), packed our day bags (for me this included making sure my camera was in working order) and cleared out of the hotel. We were taken to a boat and quickly left Iquitos behind. We were headed further into the Amazon – finally.
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Amazon isn’t just a website, people. ❤

Jungle Fashion courtesy of Erin

Jungle Fashion courtesy of Erin

It still took us about an hour to make it to our destination, the Sinchicuy (I’ll never be able to spell it correctly) Lodge. Before we retired for the night, we visited the Yagua tribe and learned a little about them. They used a plant to paint our faces in a pattern that we were told meant that we were single. Everything with the Yagua tribe was very touristy. Kind of like going to a historical reenactment. You know that it was real at one point but now it is just something to help the locals earn a little extra cash and help the tourists learn. Regardless, it was pretty interesting.
The Lodge

The Lodge

the lodge

This little brat squawked through almost every meal at the lodge

This little brat squawked through almost every meal at the lodge

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Painted faces

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yagua shaman

Yagua shaman, showing us the medicines they use

Lodge life was not the most luxurious but also not without amenities. There was enough water being pumped from the river to take showers and flush toilets, private bathrooms in all of our rooms, buffet style meals cooked right at the lodge. Every night between 6pm and 9pm there was power for us to charge our devices and keep us *mostly* in light while we ate dinner. One night the lights flickered out and we ate in the dark but it was kind of like glamping (glamour camping. It IS a word, look it up). There was a bar, hammocks and chairs outside to sit and relax in during down time, everything nestled quietly into the jungle. Really we were very lucky to be there. I had expected to be essentially camping – and still kind of wish that we had – but I was also grateful for being spoiled.
 sometimes the lights go out during dinner
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Day 3 dawned (literally). We had the option to wake up and go out to watch the sun rise over the Amazon. 5:30 in the morning came quickly after our long day. I say this a lot about the things that I’ve seen and done in Peru but there are no words for that particular sunrise. If I had to, I could probably wrangle something together, but I really don’t want to so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking for me.
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Catherine and Erin at 6am

Catherine and Erin at 6am

 The morning was also filled with bird watching, which thanks to sophomore year Science Olympiad and competing in the Ornithology category, I loved. However, thanks to wonderful planning on my part, my camera was dead. So I’m going to use Google images to show you some of the birds that we saw simply because I was fascinated. We saw jacana and what I believe to be the Peruvian equivalent of a green heron. There were egrets and ave policia and orioles (here, the orioles are more yellow than orange). Not shockingly, the wading birds far outnumbered the Passeriformes (small song birds). This provided a nice change from the type of birds I typically see in the US. I also briefly saw some turkey-looking birds (probably a hen or two and some older poults by the sound of it) on the shore. No one else saw these but the guide complimented me on my good eye sight. Here is where I give Dad a shout out for taking me hunting and scouting turkeys and teaching me what turkeys walking through the brush sounds like. I may be the country-bumpkin of the group, but I learned it all from you and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
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Yellow Oriole (photo cred Google)

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Jacana (photo cred Google)

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Ave Policia (literally Police Bird) (photo cred Google)

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Green Heron (photo cred Google)

After the amazing birdwatching, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast before we embarked on what would become nearly 10 hours in the boat.
The first activity of the day was dolphin watching! Here are a few Googled pictures of pink river dolphins because though we did see some, it proved nearly impossible to get a decent picture of them.
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Now here are a few pictures of the river being beautiful and where I swear to you there were JUST dolphins. Alas.
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HEY LOOK A DOLPHIN!

HEY LOOK A DOLPHIN!

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A guide can make or break a trip and we were lucky enough to have Francisco. I’m going to rave about our guide because Francisco was awesome. We sat in this boat for at least an hour trying to find freaking dolphins that very rarely surfaced and somehow he managed to make it seem a little less miserable. He basically acted like a child for most of it, splashing at the water, “calling the dolphins” by saying “AMAZON FLIPPER” (which in the Peruvian accent sounded a lot like Amazone Fleepair) and being overly excited when one was finally spotted.
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After we watched the dolphins for a while, we left the main river for a tributary and headed into primary forest (forest that hasn’t been cleared for civilization). During the summer, this part of the tour would have been walked but due to high river levels we were “sadly” forced to do this by boat. I say sadly very sarcastically. It is much easier to accidentally nap during lulls in the excitement on a boat than it is to nap while walking. 🙂
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SURPRISE it rains in the rainforest. WHO KNEW??

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The forest is beautiful. I want to go back. Please, can I go back?
We didn’t see a lot of animals but we learned that as the river levels rise, the animals fall back into deeper forest and higher ground. On the upside, we didn’t have to walk. On the downside, we didn’t see any jaguars. We saw plenty of birds though and beautiful scenery. We stopped at a hut along the way that was only accessible by water. So yes, literally, the boat pulled up to some half-submerged stairs and we got out of it. The purpose was partly to stretch our legs and use the bathroom that was there and also partly to pick up a smaller canoe. Had we known why we were picking up the rickety canoe, we probably would have objected. As it was, I’m glad he didn’t tell us the reasoning behind it. A little further into the jungle later Francisco tied our big boat to a seemingly random tree and told half of the group to get into the canoe. We were going to see the tallest species of trees in the Amazon. I stayed behind to go with the second group which turned out to be a VERY good decision for 2 very obnoxious reasons. THE couple. Ugh. We have plenty of fun stories about them and while I’d love to share them – I won’t. For two reasons. 1. This is the internet and EVERYONE can see it. And seriously it would be my luck that they would happen upon this blog somehow and then suddenly I’d be the jerk.  2. Not all the stories are appropriate for the reading eyes of children. I’ll just leave it at that.
Ok so anyway. This couple was on their honeymoon or something (which should also give you a hint about the fun stories we have of them) and the wife was the most difficult person ever. (I might be exaggerating a little) Since I wasn’t in her boat, I heard this second-hand, but apparently she dropped her glasses and made Francisco get out of this tiny freaking boat to fish with his feet on the river floor for them. Yeah. Like, I’m sorry honey, but you shoulda worn your contacts today. (Though I really can’t talk. I do not have contacts and had my glasses fallen, my spare pair while in Peru were in Lima and thus horribly unhelpful deep in the Amazon Rainforest, I would have been screwed [not to mention blind]).
I keep getting off topic. The group of us that stayed behind mostly just rested, took in our surroundings (which included some fun little bats on the tree we were tied to.) and chatted away. IMG_0730 IMG_0729When it was our turn, we got in this tiny wooden canoe and headed into the selva. Kate – who was up front – hacked us through undergrowth (rivergrowth?) as Francisco steered from the back. Due to the amount of low hanging branches/twigs/leaves and the small size of the boat, we had a rule “DO NOT scoot, LIMBO or CROUCH” Scooting could result in tipping of the boat and the Amazon is one of those places where you just really don’t want to fall in the water. We saw a disgusting number of bugs that were far too close to me and the boat for my liking. I am ashamed to admit that I screamed when I saw a spider. Like seriously. I maintain throughout the first part of the trip and my time in Peru that I love spiders and then what do I do? Kill a family of them in Lima and scream like a banshee when I see one in the Amazon. *sigh* The star of the show, though, was the giant ceiba tree. It looked like something out of the Avatar movie (with the blue people on Pandora that is painfully long? You know the one) come to life. It was beautiful.
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First group

First group

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When we had tooled around the tree for a bit, we headed back to the main boat and clambered back to safety. We tooled back out to larger river after lunch at the previously mentioned hut where we ditched the canoe again. We then went fishing for PIRANHAS! Mwahahaha.
To fish for piranhas we used raw beef as bait and very rudimentary cane poles (basically we were fishing with sticks with some string attached to them). When we found a fishing spot, Francisco poured some of the blood from the beef container into the water. We then had to disturb the water and use our sticks (I mean fishing poles) to imitate an animal struggling/dying near the surface of the water. Then we dropped our hooks with bloody beef cubes into the water and….fished. The idea of fishing piranhas in and of itself is mildly terrifying. Anyone who has ever managed to catch an episode of River Monsters: Amazon Edition knows just how many terrifying carnivorous fish live in that huge freaking river. So despite Francisco’s reassurances that we wouldn’t be catching anything large enough to do us real damage, it was still a bit scary to be taunting the darn creatures.
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piranha bait is beef

Getting bait ready

morocco fishing

Morocco (one of the IFSA patas) fishing

My moment of pride (aside from the turkey sighting earlier that day) came when I caught the first piranha. But I didn’t scream which is probably because I was bracing myself for that moment and concentrating really hard on not flinging my carnivorous fish into a boat full of people. At the time, I thought we were looking to catch and eat bigger piranhas so after having someone else take the fish off my hook (ok sorry, I can do bluegill and catfish but you put something with razor-sharp teeth and a bad reputation on my hook and you’re taking it back off) I threw it back.
baby flesh eating im a piranha im from the amazon I CAUGHT THE FIRST PIRANHA guys i caught one
While everyone else attempted to catch their fishes, which most of the group did,
fish and catherine fallon caught one erin caught one

This is what the piranha's looked like cooked. Yummm?

This is what the piranhas looked like cooked. Yummm?

 I busied myself with unintentionally catching log after hidden underwater log. The biggest threat I faced with that was extracting myself from those situations. I kept having flashbacks of this time back home when I thought I had a log at Grandma and Poof’s pond but it was actually a snapping turtle’s leg. (We had to pull the poor guy onto the dock because I had somehow managed to get the hook in so well. oops) Yeah. Apply that to the Amazon and the multitude of things scarier than snapping turtles resting on the river bottom, recipe for potential disaster. Luckily, if I did have anything other than a log, it never surfaced or ate me so everyone escaped unscathed. After we gave up on fishing, we returned to the lodge for dinner. Due to the amount of time spent on the river, we could feel the steady back and forth rocking of the river for hours after we docked.
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During our last day 😦 we went briefly back to watch dolphins again before heading to a nature rescue. The rescue was incredible. We had monkeys running all over the boat, sitting in people’s laps, trying to steal their valuables, chirping adorably at us and each other. It was precious. There are no pictures documenting this 😦 but one did sit in my lap for a minute before he decided to try to take my camera AKA not adorable. The monkeys seemed to really love Kali, they would sit in her lap and chirp at her and cuddle up. It was possibly the sweetest thing I have ever seen. For some unknown reason, someone (not one of our group) had brought chocolate scented oil onto the boat. The monkeys managed to find, steal and drench themselves with it which attracted even more bugs and other things that we just didn’t want to deal with. *seriously who looks forward to a day on the Amazon River and thinks “Oh I’m going to pack my expensive imported chocolate scented oil today. This is a good idea”?* Anyone that the monkey sat on began to smell like chocolate. To be fair, there are worse things to smell like (me, for example, but more on that later).
dont freaking touch my camera erin and monkey fallon monkey spider monkey

monkey taking your bag is the real struggle

Monkey really wanted that bag

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Mama Laura (our chaperone)

Kali and her baby

Kali and her baby

kali and the baby kate and monkey

The sloth wasn’t around that day, though how you lose a freaking sloth is beyond me. They aren’t really the first creature you’d think of if someone said “oh yeah my wild animal ran away.” The word for sloth in Spanish is even the same as the word for lazy (perezoso, if you’re interested). Whatever. I didn’t get to hold a sloth. I’m over it.
I did get to “hold” an anaconda though. My opinion? Cool. Seriously, it was fantastic. But COME ON is there some way they can sort out the people who have an inkling of animal behavior and those that don’t??? I understand animals better than I understand people PLEASE LET ME HOLD THE ENTIRE FREAKING SNAKE. I PROMISE THAT IF IT STARTS SQUEEZING ME OR SLITHERING AWAY I WILL CALL FOR HELP. Uggg. All I want to do is hold one of the most dangerous predators in the Amazon without someone who actually knows what they’re doing holding the part that is going to try to eat me. Is that too much to ask?? I’m being a little sarcastic here, but also a little serious. Come on. This is a blind juvenile anaconda. I think I can handle it. Grumblegrowl.
hey dad I touched a snake
The day did look up, though, when I got to swim in the Amazon! YES I DID IT GUYS. I jumped into the river and I tread water for a few minutes then got out because there isn’t much to do in the river except worry about getting eaten by some prehistoric mud creature dwelling unnoticed on the bottom for hundreds of years just waiting for some poor traveler from Central Illinois to swim into its midst. What would have made it perfect would have been a noodle to float on and a couple beers but that wasn’t happening in the selva. A girl can dream. 🙂
LtoR: Kate, Sam, Me

LtoR: Kate, Sam, Me

Earlier I mentioned that a monkey smelling of chocolate could me worse and that smelling like me would be that “worse.” Well let me explain to you why. I hadn’t bathed since Iquitos. This is only a couple of days (which, honestly, a couple of days whatever. I can do that) but it is a couple of days  filled with bug spray, deet, sleep sweat, walking sweat, sitting in a boat sweat, adrenaline sweat, boat smell, bugs and forest smell. Translation: I REEKED. Jumping in the Amazon was not only fun, but it cleaned off some of the grossness while adding the beautiful Amazon river smell to my menagerie of odors.
After swimming and redressing, we grabbed lunch, said goodbye to Francisco, and headed back to Iquitos. The boat ride was uneventful, getting to the airport was uneventful and Catherine and I watched the group leave for Lima as we got squared away for our 5 hour airport adventure waiting for our later flight. We got into Lima around 10 or 11 that night and our adventure was over.
Group with Francisco

Group with Francisco

All in all, this was one of the most fun and incredible things that I have done during my time in Peru. I highly recommend seeing this magnificent river at some point in your life if possible. We saw a fraction of a fraction’s fraction of the Amazon and I have wanted to go back since the moment we landed back in Lima. I don’t expect I’ll ever see all of the river’s expanse, but I would like go see more of it and maybe spend a little more time exploring its waters in the future.
 this world is ours

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Our lodge was suspended above shallow water and there were tons of these little fishes eating bugs that fell into the water

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Centerpiece decorations. These flowers were picked from right outside the lodge where (I assume) they were growing wild

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Our one short jungle trek showed a beautiful glimpse of Amazon life during the dry season. Unfortunately the concept of “if you’re quiet we’ll see animals” was not clearly explained, so we didn’t see any animals. We were also 30 feet from the lodge, so that probably contributed to the lack of animals as well.

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Shelters like this were everywhere. Most aren’t even abandoned. Life continues for the people who call the Amazon home, it just becomes a lot more boat-bound. We even saw entire towns that were partially submerged or barely standing above the river

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Egret in flight

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Egrets fishing in the reeds

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Catherine and Morocco took ungodly numbers of selfies so it wasn’t difficult to catch her in the act

I hope you enjoyed today’s selva journey From Lebanon to Lima. Ciao, amigos! ❤
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