Monday, October 20, 2008


Hello Everyone! Sorry this is late getting up, like all of our blogs have been. Let´s rewind a little bit to our week in Arequipa, which started 2 wednesday´s ago.
We were in another language school for a week, this time in a hostal called the Casa de Avila. It was run by a man named Armando, who was on top of it allt he time. He was great at his job, and we all appreciated his help and a cooking class he set up for us on Sunday of traditional Arequipan food! In general, classes were informative, and the feeling was that they were better than the ones in Cusco.
We stayed in homestays again here, and everyone was happily within wakling distance! My family, Ceresa´s, Carters, and Meghans were really close together, and we could all walk to school together! Me and Ceresa were "cousins" and were excited our families were super close. It was also neat to see the difference between the Cusco families, and the Arequipan families. The general sentiment was that the Arequipans were prouder of the Western influence in their city, and took great pride in the region.
On Saturday, we got a chance to do some white water rafting only about 20 minutes in a bus outside of the city. It was SO fun! We had to wear these silly wetsuits, red jackets, and life jakcets on top of that, but it was so worth the humiliation as the water was FREEZING. There were a few moments of craziness on some of the class 3 and 4 rapids, but all in all, everything went smoothly!
That night, we celebrated Carter´s birthday with a delicious dinner, a surprise afterwards from Brit and Nick! and a discoteca! Not all of us went to the discoteca, but apparently it was quite an experience, and really fun!
Other activities around the city we did, just in a list-- the old Catalina monestary, walking down San Fransico street (the hub of all things hoppin´in Arequipa), visiting the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, shopping, the food market, the clothes market, cake with homestays, an INCREDIBLE cake place near the plaza (that I´ve been to 3 times now!), good turkish food at El Turko.
The general feeling on Arequipa was mixed...some liked the big city feel, others didn´t. It was definitely way different than cusco, and there were significantly less tourists. Us blondies felt a little exposed here. In general though, it was a good week! Went extremely fast, but was fun!
Talk to you from Ecuador,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Alright well I know your all dying to hear about our incredible Machu Picchu trek so here it is for ya. We started out early thursday morning and got on a van and headed about 3 hours to Mollepata, ate a nice little breakfast, then headed another 2 hours to hour drop off spot. We all unloaded the van, steri-penned our water and began the journey. We hiked a hot 2 hours or so on the road until we reached more of a trail in front of the large mountain Umantay. After about 45 minutes on the trail it started to hail followed by some pretty heavy rain, lucky for us we were only about 5 minutes from our lunch spot where we were able to find some shelter. After some gooood lunch (the cooks knew how to get it done) the rain let up and we headed up the mountain about 2 hours to nearly the base of the even larger mountain Salkantay. The camp site was amaaazingg. The mountains were surrounding us and the energy that the place held was completley indescribable. It was a cold place, which I loved, with some strong winds. So we all did our own thing that evening, I sat in some rock caves and read and experienced everything around me,watched the crescent moon sliver peering over the mountains and the stars dancing in the sky. It was really one of the best experiences of my life. Later in the night when we were all huddled in our tents with our bottles full of hot water tucked with us in our sleeping bag, the sky roared and lightning, rain and thunder filled our camp spot and made for an even more incredible, eye opening experience to the force of nature. The next morning started at 5:30 being pampered with some Mate de Coca in bed and then breakfast together before our longest day of the trek. We immediatly had a steep hike in front of us and the 13,000 ft or so altitude and backpacks were some obstacles that brought some challenge but we all soon made it to the top where we met up with an amazing view overlooking our camp spot and Salkantay to the left. After about 2 hours more of hiking we finally made it to Salkantay Pass, which was the most incredible sight.(Ooo I forgot to add we had an English buddy from London accompany us on our voyage who ended up being a great guy named Johnny and was loved by us all.) But the pass, at the base of Salkantay was incredible, finally we got to be with snow as we stood above all the clouds and saw the caps of the mountains poking there white heads out. After being with the spot for some time we made an offering with coca leaves and a rock pyramid to pay hommage to the amazing land that was enabling us to pass. Then it was time for more of what we did best and we headed down about 2 hours ate some lunch and then another 2 or so down where we moved from the amazing land of snow covered mountains to hot, jungle nature. When we finally reached our camp spot in the jungle we were pretty exhausted and blistered up so we took it easy. Once again had an amazing meal accompanied by some good talks about politics, this crazy world and other good conversation then straight to bed for us all. The morning of course started at 5:30, did the routine and got on our way. This day was obviously great, just a little different because we ran into more people than before. We hiked through the jungle for quite some time, passed by and amazing river, enjoyed it and kept on trekking. It was a good day for me because even though there were pèople I was able to get by myself and just do my thing alone, which felt really good because there is nothing like being away from everything and just alone with nature, thats the truth. So we hiked for a looong time and finally got this little town where we stopped, which concluded our mountain/jungle journey. Then took a van to Santa Teresa where we set up camp outside a hostel, hit up some hot spring, ate some dinner, chilled with the little monkey and made some friends before getting our sleep. Next day was filled with hiking along the dirt mountain roads for a long time, passed some amazing waterfalls, and finally got to the rail road where we stopped for lunch. Then the hiking was along the rail road foreveeerr, which was really fun. We all kinda got hypnotized by the neverending road and balancing acts on the rails. So after hours of that we finally made it to Aguas Calientes, which was kinda bitter sweet for me because it was a town, full of tourism and all this fake man made stuff after so much realness and nature, but it felt good to reach it. It was a good night though, more good food, had a really nice talk with everyone about everything, and slept in bed.
4 AM I wake up ready to get my trek on up to Machu Picchu and realize how loud the AC is in our room. I get up to see where it is, and oh well believe that, it´s dumping rain. It´s all good though nothings much better of an experience than a 4 AM hike to Machu Picchu in some real weather. So we meet up at 4, eat our food, and get right to it, no time to spare because the bus is right on our tail filled with old lazy tourists. So we start hiking, and we hike, and hike, and we´re working it up this steep mountain, beautiful mountain through a little rain with views of amazing mountains slowly being uncovered by the resting clouds, trying not to stop, but barley being able to breath. And after about an hour or so of hhaaarrdd reaaal work we get to the top, eeerrrewwww, kinda bitter sweet. A big restaurant and what not all looking nice for tourists. But it´s alright we know whatsup, and the hike was amazing itself. So we pretty much all make it up there before the bus unloads the hundreds of lazy people and the gates finaly open at 6. So we get in, head straight to the Wayna Picchu with our boy Jayer (our guide for the whole trip who just knows whatsup with everything) and are first in line to get some of the 400 tickets that are given out for access to Wayna Picchu. So after we get out tickets we go around, checking the place out, Jayer shows us around then we just do our own thing for awhile. Once you get away from the tourist factor it is a really amazing place. Elliot and I hiked Machu Picchu mountain, or as much as possible, which was the best idea we made cause it was away from everyone and had amaazzing views and was just beautiful all together. After that we all headed to Wayna Picchu, which was once again indescribable. I don´t even know what to say. It took about an hour to get up it, it sits next to Machu Picchu and overlooks everything and holds the craziest crazyness within it. Thats the only way I can describe the feeling when your there, your in a new world. The incans built the trail up it and built tempals and terraces on it´s top and it overlooks everything. You see all of Machu Picchu and everything around, and it really just grabs you and brings you somewhere new. So that was that. Then we headed back, all pretty much dead. Ate some food and caught the train for a long ride back to Cusco. So all together it was a great adventure. Personally the first couple days were the best for me, since it was filled with the most nature and everything seemed to speak to you and understand you. So what I take out of this is that the world is where ya need to be, so I gotta get away from most of the things that have made it impossible for the world to speak like it does when your with it. It feels good to see that. yuupp. woww damn sorry for writing so much, I didn´t really realize. alright hope all is well..

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Alright, so, after such a delay, finally I am able to post this blog about our stay in Cusco. We all had such a crazy experience in the jungle, and even though our time seemed short, I think that we were all anxious to get back to some clean clothes, internet, and hot showers. As soon as we arrived in Cusco that night, we immediately set off to find a pizza joint, and we easily demolished 5 large pizzas. And oh man, at the time it had been the best meal the entire trip! Being back in Cusco was very exciting because our 1st spanish classes began, and it was our 1st experience being split up and living with a homestay. In school, we were divided up into 3 groups depending on our level of spanish. For me, I was pretty nervous because I had no spanish experience at all, just 7 years of french which is pretty useless here. I was so excited to finally be learning some spanish, but was a little disapointed when at the end of our 1st class, all I could do was read the alphabet and pronunciate correctly. There was no way I would be able to commuinicate with my family! Luckily though for me, my homestay brother knew a little bit of english, so he was able to help teach me a bit more, and we could comminicate alright with a dictionary. I´m not quite sure how everyone´s homestay was, but I was with a pretty big loving family that ate breakfast and dinner together every day. My family was so nice, and I really wished I were able to talk with them more so badly. Towards the end of week though I was defintely able to understand a bit more, so that was very exciting for me. Everyday we had classes from 9 until 1, which throughout the week everyone seemed to be getting a bit tired of. The spanish was useful, but the classes just dragged on for so long. It was really nice though to have some freedom in the afternoons after class to just hang out and explore Cusco a bit. Cusco is a really cool city, with really old roads and buildings and churches that date back to the Incan times. The mountains surrounding Cusco are just beautiful, and it was definitely a lot colder than expected. On the weekend, we all hopped on a bus and headed into the sacred valley to volunteer at an orphanage called Casa De Milagres. The city is really fun, but it was really nice to escape for the weekend. The orphange was so cool, with organic gardens and all kinds of animals and beautiful murals on every wall, inside and out. While down there we re-painted this huge mural on an outside wall that turned out looking awesome. We didn´t really get to spend much time though with the kids; they were off doing other things that weekend. One morning after breakfast, everyone was freaking out and rushing outside to see this rainbow that encircled the sun. I wasn´t sure why everyone was so ecstatic about it because I´d seen those plenty of times. I never knew that so many people had never seen them before, it was pretty neat. After returning from the orphange, we had 2 or 3 more days of spanish school and homestays, and then we all got to go horseback riding through the mountains to check out some Incan ruins and caves. The horseback riding was a lot of fun! We then all had a last dinner together in Cusco before packing up and preparing for our trek to Machu Picchu.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Jungle

Greeting from la familia,
I´m going to begin this blog with an apology for my spelling. I have no spellcheck, and it shows throughout the blog. After our "2" hour bus ride through the Cloud Forest, we spent the night in a comfortable hostel in the jungle town of Pilcotambo. As we stepped off the bus we could immediatly feel the difference in the air and temperature. In the mountains, the air was dry and thin, and we had become accustomed to breating deeply to satisfy our body´s need for air. The air in this jungle village however was warm and heavy with moisture. This was our first sign that our jungle adventure had begun. The next morning, we woke up and crammed back into the bus for a short 45 minute ride to a Atalaya. Atalaya is the final town on the dirt road we had been traveling for 2 days, and the last town to be identified on my Peruvian map I brought along with me. Atalaya rests on the Rio del Madre, a main tributary of the Amazon river. The Rio del Madre was the next unconvential highway we would travel on. We unpacked all of our supplies from the bus and threw them into a boat. The village we were heading to, Shepitiari, was a 5 hour boat ride down the river. Along the way we saw our first monkey in a tree, and many many exotic birds. When we arrived at the banks of Shepitiari, we were met by a group of men and women who helped us shlep all of our gear across the half mile path to where we were staying. The village belongs to the Machegenga tribe, a native tribe that boasts of never being conquered by the Incans or the Spanish armies. Our house was a two story wooden cabin on stilts with a thatched roof that, we would later find out, leaked slightly when it rained. Also on our compound was a seperate cabin for cooking, a latrine, and a newly installed satellite dish (which we found very suprising). Over our beds hung mosquito nets, and every night we had to make sure that the nets were tucked in tightly.
During our first day, we were given a tour of the surrounding area by our guide, Andres. Andres is from a another village, also of the Machegenga tribem, and gives tours in the jungle 10 months out of the year, though he has a family in Cuzco. Andres always carried his telescope and would stop the group often and give everyone a turn to look at a special bird or animal he had spotted. During our first tour, we saw our first giant Amazon trees, easily the largest life forms I had ever seen. We also went through the compound of a local tribesman, and got our first chance to shoot arrows at a piece of fruit. To my eyes, the compound was essentially a small farm in the middle of a rainforest. The surround area had been cut back, and the family had chickens, ducks, dogs, and a young pet monkey (they had eaten the mother.) That night we fell asleep to the sound of the animals screaming and shouting us a jungle lullaby.
The following day was our first day of interaction with the villagers. In order to earn our keep to stay in their village, we had volunteered to paint the local school. Helping us in this task were the school children themselves. We began by intruducing ourselves to the group, and then started sanding and painting the outside of the school. Our time that morning was split between working on the school and playing with the young highly energetic children. By noon we had made great progress and set off back to our compound for lunch. Andres in the mean time had set up a soccer game between us (team gringo) and the local players. After lunch and a quick nap, we had our first soccer game. It was extremely fun and extremely hot. Soccer games became an afternoon tradition while we were in the jungle. Hot and sweaty from the game, we walked to the Rio del Madre and splashed around in the water for a while. It was supprisingly refreshing. That night we slept very well, despite the sounds of the surrounding animals.
The next day we woke up early, strapped on our gaint rainboots, and headed out behind Andres to explore the deep rainforest before we finished our work on the school. On our 3 hour walk through the forest we learned and saw so many new things. Andres taught us little tricks that the natives used to survive when lost in the Amazon. He showed us what to eat, what plants provide water, and what not to touch. Along the way we say a flock of tuccans, an intimidating line of army ants, more giant trees, colorful exotic birds and massive termite nests. I personally loved the deep rain forest. One of the reasons I had come on this trip was to experience the mysterious Amazon. I was not dissapointed. Later in the day (9:30ish) we went back and finished up the school. BY the time we were finished, all the chairs were painted a new green, and the exterior had a new, crisp, yellow and blue scheme that looked great. We went home, took cold showers, ate, slept a little, and then went and had our second soccer game. We were very tired but still managed to perform really well. Once again, it was very easy to fall asleep that night.
The next morning was very exciting. It was Saturday, and on Sunday the village was going to have their annual celebration of spring, to which we were graciously invited. All of Saturday was spent preparing for the celebration, and in the morning the men went out fishing together in order to provide enough food for everyone in the village. Luckily, our group was invited to the fishing. This was not your ordinary fishing we soon found out. We climbed in our boat, went down river, and found a section of water that was not connected to the main river. Because it was the dry season, the water level was greatly decreased and many pools and lakes of water had been seperated from the Rio del Madre. We walked up on the group of men that had beat us out there by a few hours, and they were busily crushing a roots with rocks. The roots of this certian tree contain a juice that acts as an drug to fish. When the fish breathe in enough of the juice, they become disorriented and swim belly up on the tòp of the water. The men were crushing to root so the juice would flow easily into the water. After all the roots were crushed, 2 men swam out in the river floating on logs, spreading the white juice throughout the whole lake. The members of our group sat back and watched the odd spectical unfold. After about 5 minutes, very little fish started throwing themselves on the bank. After about 20 minutes, large, edible fish began surfacing all over the lake. The men of the village swam out to a fish with a machete or a club, beat the fish into submission, and brought it back to shore. This went on for about 3 and a half hours. I had a great time. I caught two, baracuda looking fish. By the time we were heading out to leave, giant 5 and 6 foot cat fish were begining to surface, and the villagers were getting out their bows and arrows. Before we left, we saw one giant cat fish be taken out by a few machette swings. Weirdest way of fishing I have ever seen. Later that day when we were back in our compound, it started to rain, a heavy Rainforest rain, and I took a shower outside. The roofed leaked a little bit on some of our stuff, the corner of my bed was hit a little bit, but the roof soon expanded and we were dry and warm inside. That night for dinner we ate the fish prepared in the native way, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. Delicious. Slept well again.
During the night, a group of 3 Italian hikers had become lost in the jungle. They didn´t sleep, became soaking wet, and had a misserable time as they stumbled blindly through the Amazon. In the morning, as we were waking up and eating our breakfast, the 3 Italians wondered into our compound. We fed, warmed, and welcomed the strangers into our temporary home. Also, Sunday was Britt´s birthday, so our breakfast was a chocolate cake. The celebration for us was essentially a string of different competitive games. We had a very competitive soccer match against the villages bests, we played volley ball, and then ended the day with another soccer game. Also, the girls ended up dancing with the local village guys. It was funny to watch. That night we sadly packed all of our belongings because the next day we were leaving.
Throughout the jungle stay, I had ben trying to exchange a pair of water shoes that had been giving me horrible blisters for a bow and arrow. The final morning, Andres came up huge and managed to find a person that not only had a bow and arrow set, but also fit in my shoes. The end trade was a native bow and 4 arrows (3 fishing arrows and 1 hunting arrow) for a pair of water shoes and the rainboots we had gotten for the jungle. I don´t think i´ve ever made a better trade. The ride back up the river took a lot longer because we were going against the tide. At certain points along the river, the water was so shallow the men had to jump out and push the boat through the rapids. It was awesome/cold. During our trip upstream Andres also took us to the natural hot springs beside the river. The natives had created pools, and our group enjoyed a natural spa/hot tub treatment. it was great. It was one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. At the end of the day we completed our boat ride, packed all of our stuff back into the bus, and sadly said goodbye to the boat crew we had gotten to know during our time in the Amazon. That night we again stayed at the comfortable hostel in Pilcotambo, and our jungle adventure came to a close. Love and miss everyone back in the states.
Will Kimmell