Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amazonian fun

To start off our week in the amazon we met at the port of the tambopata river to take a 4 and a half hour boat ride up river to see where we will be working for the next week. when we arrived at Camino Verde we met Don Goyo who would be our cook for the next week, his food was absolutely amazing. Robin wnded up being a wealth of information on most things in the jungle, like one tree whos sap tastes like milk and is good for asthma, and a tree called Dragons Blood whos sap is a deep red and it speeds up the healing process of cuts. We spent out week in the jungle clearing trails with machetes and axes. Our last day of work was more laid back because we had finished clearing the trails and in the moring we spread a cover crop and watered some plants and we spent the afternoon swimming in the river and listening to stories that Robin told us. Sunday we took the boat back to Puerto Maldonado where we resupplied on snacks and water and then headed out to lake Sandoval, a 45 minute boat ride and a 45 minute hike and another 30 minute canoe ride to the lodge. Later that night we wnet out on a caiman hunt on a canoe with our headlamps to spot them. After seeing 11 of them and catching 2 small ones we headed back for a great dinner and a terantula hund and some well needed rest. after a 5:30 wake up call weheaded back out on the lake in search of some giant river otters, or lobos del rio. We found a small family of them hunting fis by the shore and we watched them as they dove back and forth through the water. Then after a tasty breakfast we were back on the lake headed to the other side for a short hike. After a delicious 2 course lunch we had a nice rest and then started out travel back to Puerto Maldonado.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Continuing Saga of Sam I Am: Week Nine

After a couple weeks of living in a very full homestay and passing our days with Spanish classes, salsa lessons, and some slightly chaotic construction work we were all ready for some serious rest and relaxation. Lucky for us, Sunday brought the beginning of our highly-anticipated yoga retreat just thirty minutes outside of Cusco in the stunning Sacred Valley. It certainly turned out to be restful and relaxing, but more so on a spiritual than physical level as we started off our mornings at seven with an hour of meditation followed by two hours of yoga in addition to a second two hour yoga class in the evenings. Our classes definitely erred on the side of more advanced which led to many sore muscles but also had the majority of the group doing handstands and exploring a few acro-yoga moves by the end of our retreat. The morning meditation sessions ensured we were challenging ourselves on a mental level as well. Throughout the retreat we had the opportunity to experience the unique benefits of mantra, breath, and chakra meditations. If I do say so myself, the intense reverberations and power of our collective 'oms' were downright otherworldly by the time our final classes rolled around.

When we weren't busy quieting our minds or "twisting ourselves up like pretzels" as Sarah would say we were busy participating in other activities aimed towards personal growth. For starters, we had an hour long morning seva. A seva meant doing chores around the retreat center including sweeping, dusting, weeding, helping with cooking, or anything that could help beautify or improve our living space all with the intention of showing appreciation for the incredible place we were sharing together. We were also able to participate in art workshops aimed at personal introspection, attend classes about vedic astrology and the seven principle chakras, and  even had the opportunity to delve into the history and practice of reiki massage with a local master. Fortunately, amidst all our spiritual growth we managed to stay true to classic Sam I Am form in eating a lot of very good food, this time of the delicious vegetarian variety! Every meal presented a plethora of fresh fruits a veggies in the form of pastas, soups, salads, juices, cookies, and pizzas proving that healthy, delicious, and environmentally friendly can very easily go hand in hand.

Just so we didn't get too relaxed while soaking in the gorgeous sunny weather and towering green mountains, Michael C. orchestrated our second group game of Assassin. For those of you who are not familiar with the game here's a quick rundown: each person is assigned a "victim" that they have to kill during our day to day activities by getting them to do, or refuse, a certain task or action. It has to be rather sly though as to not alert your victim or others present to your ulterior motives. In this round Nick was assigned the near impossible task of getting our loving Simone to refuse a hug. In the end he had to resort to the not-so-sly measures of walking out of the kitchen open armed after having coated his chest in honey and a few other remnants of breakfast in order to finally commit his "murder".

Wednesday brought the end of our retreat. We were all instructed to write down habits we wanted to leave behind in addition to something we wanted to take away from our four days there. We then proceeded to sing, chant, and share around a small fire before dropping our papers into the flames to burn physically so they could then manifest in our lives. Our final and greatest triumph of the week came about thirty minutes after we should have left the retreat center in the form of a five-person, three-story, downward facing dog pyramid. Hopefully, technical difficulties will not prevent me sharing the epic photo evidence with all of you.

We then proceeded to make our way into Cusco and bummed about the city for the evening before taking off on an overnight bus to visit Lake Titicaca. We stumbled off the bus at the lakeside city of Puno at 5:30 in the morning and proceeded to our travel office. After a very early and sleepy breakfast, we all climbed into our tour boat for a quick ride to the famous floating islands of Titicaca. The islands are made of reeds and anchored to the lake floors with rope, the same reeds provide building material and food for the islanders as well. While it was an incredible experience, it was definitely the most touristy situation we have found ourselves in as of yet. We had an hour to explore the islands and be pumped for as many soles as could be extracted from us before taking off on another boat ride. The second ride allowed a few of us three glorious hours to nap on the sun-drenched rooftop above luxurious blue waters before arriving on the stunning island Amantani. We then spent the afternoon recuperating from our bus-ride. However, Sarah and Michael C. opted to jump into the freezing cold waters of Titicaca instead of take a nap as their form of rejuvation. It certainly looked invigorating and luckily no one suffered from hypothermia post-swim. We then reconvened to hike up to the second-highest mountain peak on Amantani in order to watch the sunset and soak in the full glories of Lake Titicaca. From there we could see the snow-capped mountains of Bolivia and even soak in the intense sights of a far off lightning storm on another side of the coastline. The view was certainly one to remember, but even our brief hike at the 14,000 foot elevation winded us enough to make us all a little curious about how this four-day trek up to Machu Picchu is going to treat us...

The evening brought some dancing and singing with the local Quechua poeple of the island and then very sound sleep for all after a long day. The next morning we were up bright and early to catch a boat to Taquile, another island about an hours ride away. Simone had to dig into our med-kit and rustle up some motion sickness pills for a few folks for this particlar ride as it was certainly a rocky one! After arriving we then had a couple hours to explore Taquile and enjoy a yummy trout lunch before loading up for our final three hour boat ride back to Puno. We all ventured off into the city to acquire dinner and kill time before our second overnight bus ride in three days. We arrived in Cusco bright and early this morning and ventured to our hostel to drop off our luggage before all going abouts our various explorations and activities around the city for our free day. Simone is teaching a yoga class this afternoon at The Healing House, a local living space and learning center that collaborates with the yoga studio we worked with this week. I am looking forward to attending the class if I don't find myself in need of a nap after last nights bus ride.

This week has certainly been an eventful one. The yoga retreat was an excellent opportunity to cement and further explore all we have learned on this trip, and take a closer look at what we may want for ourselves in the future. We're reaching the last leg of our adventures together, with only the rainforest and Machu Picchu ahead of us but I'm sure those will provide a bounty of incredible experiences and memories as well.

Lots of love and good energy headed to all our friends and family back home,


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

After a rigorous week in Cusco spent Salsa-ing, getting massages,
putting on puppet shows, and other draining tasks (such as playing on
slides), we are reading to head to the Sacred Valley and finally be
able to relax.

This past week has been filled with a wide variety of super sweet
activities. We started out the week, Sunday, by attending the local
soccer team´s home game, but only have of the group really Carpe
Diem´ed things by staying the whole time, despite the torrential rain.
I never really understand what kind of person would leave when a game
is tied 2-2, despite the weather, but I learned this past weekend.
Unfortunately, our ´´seizing the day´´ mentality didn´t particularly
help us, given that the game ended in a tie, and there is no overtime
or shootout. Whatever.

During the week, we continued our daily 2 hours of grammar lessons
mixed with a further 2 of practical Spanish. It seems as though
everyone has enjoyed the school here more than anywhere else, and we
all have improved our Spanish. We also supplemented our work with the
task of building a theater for a poor school, and putting on a play.
The finished piece was colorful and crackerjack aesthetically pleasing
(thesaurus.com says ´´crackerjack is another word for super´´), thanks
to the beautiful artwork and well-crafted architecture. The audience
of the play described it as ´´bonito´´ and ´´wow´´, but then again, we
didn´t expect much more from 4 years olds. One critic noted,
´´Extraordinary theatre, extraordinarily powerful, impeccably
performed and produced. A night of theatre to remember´´, after
viewing Kafka´s ´´Metamorphosis´´ performed.

After the play was finished, we spent a couple of hours playing with
the kids at the local ´´Pigeon Park´´, feature precariously moving
attractions and dangerously high slides for the average 4/5 year olds.
One highlight was when Nick went into the spinning ball thing. Another
was when two kids threw up inside of it.

Later in the day, the entire Spanish school took an overly-packed bus
to a nearby, maximum-security prison for women, where we spend about
20 minutes looking at their sewn, knit, and crafted goods, and talking
to a few of them about how they ended up there in the first place.
Although we weren´t allowed to go inside because of some shenanigans
supposedly going down, we had a good opportunity to learn from the
experiences of two women who were caught trying to smuggle drugs and
cake mix. Or something like that.

This morning, we moved out of our homestay and into a nearby hostel,
and we´ve happily spent the day being able to do whatever we needed to
get done before we head to our yoga retreat.
We´ll all be zen and stuff next week.
Miguelito de los Campos

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cusco: Week 1

This was our first week in Cusco. We arrived here last Sunday on a plane from Lima. We are all staying as one big family in one house, which we share with the old couple who lives there. We're studying at a Spanish school called FairPlay. FairPlay helps reduce poverty by providing jobs and training to single mothers who may have been involved in abusive relationships. Every afternoon we have 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish classes, which are usually exhausting but very effective. Half of the time is spent learning grammar in a classroom, and half of the time is spent practicing what we've learned, out in Cusco. We're also building a puppet theatre, and 12 tables for a local school. In our free time we've been visiting markets, getting massages, eating food, and playing spades (in our own tournament). Myself excluded (not a dancer), we've been taking salsa lessons. Everyone seems to be learning a lot and having a great time. On Saturday night, we went to a salsa club. On Sunday, we went to a soccer game, which ended in a tie (2-2) and a torrential downpour which thoroughly soaked us all. Today, Nick and Erin bought two ducklings, (for 5 soles each (2 dollars each)) which they named Sampson and Deleila. After we leave Cusco, they'll leave them with their Spanish teachers. As our comfort zones and fun-limits are being pushed, we all miss our families very much and hope everything is heavenly at home.
Michael L.

P.S. I will be posting photos on the blog either tomorrow or the next day.