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Peru: Hardcore Service Adventure 2016

Hola amigos,

Como estan? Dave and Katie here! We cannot wait to get the our Andean adventure on it’s way in the mountains of Peru! Everything is in place for a fun filled and meaningful adventure ahead and we are so excited to meet and get to know you all! Get yourselves geared up to become an integral member of a Peruvian family and get totally immersed in the language and culture! Your homestay parents and siblings are wonderful and are so excited to meet you! Also get yourselves in the mood for some seriously meaningful service work and to witness first hand the spectacular sights, sounds and smells of the Andes. We are ready to embark upon the experience of a lifetime that includes the magnificent Machupicchu ruins, the ancient Incan capital of Cusco, and the gorgeous Sacred Valley region!

We look forward to meeting you very soon and getting this adventure started!

Best wishes,

Dave and Katie

July 3, 2016

After multiple hours of air travel we finally arrived in Cusco, Peru. The flight had amazing views of the snow-capped mountains below. We began our trip in the heart of the capital of the Incan Empire, greeted with a parade of vibrant colors of the different ethnic groups. There, the group participated in taking pictures with baby animals such as goats and llamas. However, in Peru, it took us a while to realize we had to tip the people for pictures. We began to walk around the town to get used to the air pressure, and stopped along the way to catch our breath. For lunch we enjoyed sandwiches and some pretty interesting juices, some of them were really different… While we were in the sandwich shop they played a multitude of 2000-2005 American music consisting of: Sean Kingston, Tupac, Katy Perry, and others. We ended the day in our new home for the next two nights. We got our own small house and it is quite lovely up in the valley, everyone here is very welcoming and nice. The first night at the hotel we were served with a dinner consisting of: chicken, rice, and some potatoes, it was very yummy! For desert we had some blue corn pudding and then after that we had some cake and celebrated my main gal Katie’s birthday (Happy birthday Katie!!). We sang happy birthday in Spanish – it was pretty swell. We also had a bonfire with chocolate and S’mores!

July 4, 2016

For our first real day in Peru we woke up early at 8am and had a hearty breakfast including: bread, eggs, hot chocolate, tea, and coffee. It was super delicious.  After that we had a quick orientation in the pyramid room, which is a small yoga room that is adorable and it has a lot of pillows. We then headed towards the artisan market. We bartered for headbands, sweatshirts, socks, key chains, all sorts of stuff. Some people were able to barter for pretty good prices, for example someone went from 50 sols to 35 sols. At the market we also bought empanadas filled with cheese, beef, and vegetables. Once we were done shopping and eating, we headed over to a weaving and yarn place which had llamas and alpacas as well. As we fed the llamas and alpacas, we tried to avoid their spit, some people weren’t so lucky, either way it was very fun and entertaining. All of the indigenous people there did not speak any Spanish so it was hard to communicate with them. They spoke their ancient language, Quechua. We later learned how they created the yarn and wove it. It was really interesting.  After the Alpaca farm we went to dinner and we had some pumpkin soup and pasta and pesto. Like in the past nights, we have been hanging out after dinner and getting to know each other more and more, this group is a great and were excited to explore for the rest of the trip.

July 5-7, 2016

The morning of July 5th we woke up, ate some scrambled eggs and had finished some last minute packing and language interviews. Next, we went into the cozy yoga room and had our homestay orientation in which Dave and Katie described what it was like to live in a typical Urabambian house. The suspense of who we were going to get paired with in our homestay houses was eating us alive so finally they told us. The first pair to be announced was Paula and Fifer who were told they have a crazy energetic younger brother named Flabio and a 15 year old sister named Iyari. The next group was Savannah, Georgie, and River who were living with a 15 year old sister named Yornet and a 8 year old brother Matias. What are the odds that both Brian’s are paired together, well it happened. They have a 10 year old brother named Mauricio and an 11 year old cousin, Sebastian that lives with them too. Eden and Maya were going to live with two sisters, one named Michelle who is 5 and the other is Ashlee who is 11. The other trio was Megan, Isabell, and Lauren who have two sisters Mariana, 10, and Naomi, 6. Jake and Jason were put together and they have a 17 year old brother, Emerson, and an 11 year old sister, Azmir. Lastly, Brianna and Kara were paired and they have two baby brothers Jose, 2, and Enzo who is 4 months.

Then we took a quick bus ride to meet our families and had a ceremony where we were all introduced to each other. We also got to meet the director of the school Sagrado Corazon de JesÚs where we got to interact with some of the students there. After the celebration of meeting our new families we traveled back to their houses and were able to exchange welcoming gifts. Then we spent the afternoon and evening getting to know one another by playing games and asking questions. The next day we had our first breakfast in the homestay and took a half an hour bus ride to our first service project site. The project that we first were assigned was to build a new dormitory for the girls that live in remote villages without a secondary school and this organization provides food, housing, school supplies and homework assistance. This foundation is called the Sacred Valley Project. You can find more information about this on their website; When we first arrived at the work site we managed to move all of the eucalyptus leaves into another area so we could prepare the land for making adobe bricks. Some of us filled up buckets of water and poured it on top of the mud and others dug away at the earth for the mud brick mix. While some people were stomping on the mud, others were cutting straw for the brick mixture and then sprinkling it into the mud. After working for several hours we got a lunch break and ate sandwiches. After we finished the rest of our work and headed back on to the bus. We went to the girl’s dormitory and got introduced to the girls individually and then we split into two groups. One of the groups got to play volleyball and soccer with the girls while the other group was beading bracelets and then we swapped. Some people were also able to help the girls study for their math test the next day. Afterwards, we went back to our homes and ate dinner.

The next day we ate breakfast again with our host families and got onto the bus towards the same work site. However, today it started pouring rain while we were trying to finish up the work that needed to get done. One of the jobs in order to make the bricks ready for the house was to put them into special molds and pack them with mud. Since we were making mud bricks by the end of the day everyone was tired, cold, and covered in mud, but we continued laughing and had positive attitudes not allowing our spirits to be broken. We were able to go home for lunch and thankfully shower and get a break between our next activities. Our next trip was to the ceramics place and it was close by so we got to walk! Once we were there we met Marco and looked at different Incan patterns in which we were able to design our own unique coasters and then we painted them and they will be fired and ready for us to take home. When we were finished painting we got to visit the market and little carts inside the plaza where we were able to get snacks and then return back to our homes for dinner and time to sleep.

July 8, 2016

Today, we woke up, ate breakfast, and went to the school where we started our next service project. Our task is to build an area with a covered roof where the students are able to eat lunch. We also are painting a mural on the school that represents children going through school and becoming successful later in life. Everyone has worked so hard today digging holes; sanding, measuring and sawing wooden posts for the frame and designing and painting an awesome mural for the school wall. Looking forward, we are going home for lunch in our houses and going to a place to learn how to make silver rings from the local artisans, and have a sporting afternoon of soccer with the school kids. Also the daring people get a chance to try guinea pig. We are very curious as to what that will taste like. It should be interesting. We are very excited for all of the upcoming activities and to see how the service projects turn out. Many of us are especially excited to visit Machu Picchu!


Georgie, Fifer, and River

July 8-11, 2016

On Friday afternoon, we had a wonderful lunch with our homestay families and then split into two groups to play soccer and make authentic silver rings. We played soccer with some local teenagers and played “sapo.” Sapo (frog in Spanish) is a Peruvian game in which you try to throw coins into a hole to score points. We went to a quaint silver shop where we met the owner, who taught us how to make our own beautiful silver rings. The shop is owned by a local family who also did our laundry, which we were very happy about. To make the rings, we first dipped the metal into borax, then we placed it onto a sheet of silver. We soldered the metal strips onto the silver sheet, and then cut them into the desired shape. We then shaped them into rings, and left them at the shop to be buffed and polished. It was fun, but we were very happy to have help. Once we had finished making our rings, the family brought out cuy (guinea pig) for us to try. Only the adventurous ones could stomach it, including River, Brian H, Brian R, Georgie, Lauren, Isabell, Fifer, Paula, and Jason. Cuye is a delicacy in Peru, but it was pretty weird to see a guinea pig cooked whole.

On Saturday, we ventured into the mountains to visit an indigenous community. We took a long bus ride to Ollantaytambo, where we picked up our local guide for the day and saw some Incan ruins. When we reached Huilloc, a Quechua-Andean community, we were given sacred necklaces and served mint tea. The local people performed a traditional dance and dressed us head-to-toe in their traditional clothes. We were each paired with a family, who showed us some of their daily activities. Some of us made intricate bracelets, some fed guinea pigs, and some helped the families cook broad beans and ‘mote’ corn. We then all met for lunch, which was cooked in a pacha manca. This is a traditional cooking method where many types of food is put in the ground with red hot rocks so it can cook, covered with stones and dirt, and left until everything has been roasted to perfection. The name pacha manca means ‘mother Earth oven’ as the indigenous people of the Andes believe that if we look after mother earth, she will provide for us. Next, we learned about their farming techniques, and tried to use their plows. We watched the elders perform a sacred ritual asking for a blessing for the upcoming harvest. They used sacred coca leaves and granted us three wishes, and then buried the parcel with the leaves that held our wishes in the ground. We were all able to make wishes as well, and it was really special to be able to observe their sacred practices. We went on a hike along a river, and saw some great views of the mountains. We jammed out to old hits on the bus with Katie’s jammy-pack (a speaker in a fanny pack), and had fun hanging out as a group.

Sunday was our family day, and it was the only day where we didn’t have any group activities. Brian and Brian went on a 5 mile hike with their family, and they saw lots of bulls and stray dogs. Paula and Fifer went to the market with their family to do some shopping. Kara and Brianna went back to Ollantaytambo to do some sightseeing. Savannah, River, and Georgie went to the market with their host siblings. Eden and Maya went on a hike and saw lots of animals. Lauren, Isabell, and Megan chilled at home and played games. After lunch, everyone went to Jason and Jake’s house in the afternoon. We played Uno and some volleyball with some of the host parents and siblings. It was a really fun day, and it was great to get to know our host families and to sleep in!

Today is Monday, and we’re doing service at the school again. We’re building a shelter that will protect teachers and students from the sun and rain as they eat their refreshments. Some members of the group are sanding down the poles for the shade area, and others are finishing off the mural. We’re hoping to finish the structure today, as we finished preparing all of the materials on Friday but still need to actually put it all together. After our service, we’re going to go home for lunch and prep for teaching English tomorrow. We have our final dinner tonight, and we’re going to eat together with all of the families. We’re sad to leave our families, but very excited to continue on with our Peruvian adventure!

We miss all of our families and can’t wait to come home, but are excited for the rest of the trip!

–  Savannah, Eden, and Kara

July 11-13, 2016

On Monday, after we finished up with service work, we had our last afternoon with our host families. Each homestay group wrote a farewell letter to their accommodating host families. After an afternoon of relaxation and packing, we got dressed up for our “Despedida” (farewell dinner). We went to a pizzeria, which was a nice taste of home after so many days of typical Peruvian cuisine. The evening concluded with us reading aloud our heartfelt letters to our families; tears were shed and hugs were given. It was fun to be all together and share the evening with our host families and friends.

Tuesday morning was our last morning in Urubamba doing our service projects. We all split up into groups to teach basic English to students of various grade levels. Maya, Brianna, Eden and Kara taught parts of the bodies to first and fifth graders, using games such as “Simon Says” and “My Monster Has”. Lauren, Megan and Isabell taught the names of different animals to second and sixth graders, using Pictionary. River, Savannah, Georgie, Jake and Jason taught parts of the body to second and third graders, using “The Fly Swatting Game” and “Steal the Bacon”. Paula, Fifer and the Brians taught first and fourth graders, using the group member’s artistic abilities. The students performed some songs in return for our teachings. The lessons were full of learning and laughter. After delicious empanadas, we said a sad farewell to Sagrado Corazon de Jesus.

We trekked through the town of Urubamba to arrive at Arco Iris, a school for students with disabilities. This school does not receive adequate funding, and is the only one of it’s kind in the area. Therefore, all of our donations were greatly appreciated. We were welcomed with warm hugs and dances performed by the students. They showed us around the school, and we helped walk the children, who needed aid, to their classrooms. We used our donations to make an arts and crafts table, where we helped the students create art. We also had a group who played soccer and played on the playground with children. Lastly, we had a group who massaged the students’ faces. This is done daily by their teachers. As part of their conditions, many students’ faces are very tense, and need to be loosened up by these massages. The students were very grateful for our visit.

We headed home for our last hours with our host families. Each of us enjoyed our last Peruvian home cooked meal and exchanged small gifts with our families. We all gathered at Sagrado Corazon de Jesus to take final pictures with our families, to recognize the projects we have completed, and to say one final goodbye. Wilber, the prinicipal of the school, made a speech to thank us for our hard work, and to say his goodbyes. We gave lots of sad goodbye hugs, and finally boarded the bus.

We met our guide, Ruben, for Machu Picchu. He gave a long lecture about what we would be doing the next day. We sang songs, and soon enough, we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes. Dinner on the train consisted of a sandwich of our choice, an empanada, an apple, a muffin and a juice box. We sat in groups of four and enjoyed each other’s company for the two hour trip. Eventually, we arrived at our hotel in Aguas Calientes. We had hot showers, and got ready for the early rise.

After a 5 am wakeup call, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the hotel. We then went on a half an hour bus ride to the mountain. As soon as we got off the bus, we were astounded by the view of the ruins. Ruben took us through different parts of the ruins, including the Inca King’s Palace, the Palace of Three Windows, and to an ancient compass. Pictures were taken, and memories were made. During a small break, we had a ceremony to receive the rings that we made in Urubamba. Each person said a nice thing about the group member whose ring they were given. It was nice to see the strong friendships that were made. Soon, we were off to the Sun Gate, which was a steep hike on the Incan Trail. It was very rewarding to see how far we hiked, and how small the ruins looked from the amazing view. We took a short break, before it was time to head back down to the buses.

We arrived back at Aguas Calientes, and ate at a small restaurant called Inca Wasi, where a live band serenaded us as we ate. We picked up our things from the hotel and walked to the train which will be taking us to Cusco, where our trip will conclude.

It’s crazy that we are approaching the end of our trip; time flies when you’re having fun! We will definitely be savouring every last moment with our new family.

-Maya and Brianna