Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Working Hard in Huilloc

June 25-27, 2011

Saturday was a long day of working. Ben and I moved over 70 bricks (30 lbs a piece) at one house, and the two Alex’s and I built many layers that same afternoon. We all continue to be impressed with the work ethic of the local people. They never seem to tire and it is obvious that building these galpones is a big deal.

Many of the students started getting sick as well. This is normal as Peru fights back at every foreigner that visits. But it will pass, and better now than later at Machu Picchu.

Sunday morning we went to a local market. We saw all the local foods and supplies that the people need. We didn’t actually see any bartering, but apparently that is how it often works. Allen (our local guide) told us that the villagers usually only have potatoes to barter with and have to pay higher than usual prices because they have no other choice. Hopefully the guinea pigs can be game changers in this system. I bought a soccer jersey and some ojotas, which are the sandals worn by the indigenous population. They are made out of old tires and held together by nails. We also played a soccer game, gringos vs locals. We lost but not too bad.

Local Market

Ojotas. Do I look Peruvian yet?

Most of the students rented a horse to ride up the steep mountain to return for the afternoon. Haha, good times. They had to finish all the brick layers of the galpones because Monday we have an off day to go mountain biking and white water rafting. Tuesday when we return we start on the roofs.

We also started telling life stories at tea time and dinner. I shouldn’t be surprised that students who want to volunteer in Peru for two weeks would be so interesting, but they really are. I hope the next generation of young people finds ways to bring justice and peace to the world, and this trip is a small part of that. In addition, Molly (co-guide) and I asked the students to reflect on one thing they have that the local people don’t, and one thing the local people have that they don’t. The responses were insightful and well thought out. The most common answer for the locals was that they have a sense of community that we don’t. They all know each other well and help each other. Many of us in the states barely know our next-door neighbors. For us, they answered that we have opportunity. If we want to go to school, we can. If we want to work hard to achieve something, that it is possible (usually).

Many of the students have commented on my t-shirts. Yes, another chance at a plug for something I support! All the t-shirts I brought are Rosa Loves shirts. (Visit http://www.rosaloves.com) I found these when I commented on a shirt that Jeff was wearing a while back. It is basically a group of artists that want to change the world, one story at a time. They find someone in need from all over the world (US included) and design a killer shirt about it. On the inside of the shirt above your heart is the story of the person you are helping. Once they raise enough money to help the person, they stop making that shirt forever and make a new one. At any given time there are about 8 shirts available. I actually have one for an orphanage in Mexico City that I hope to visit on the way home.

Today (Monday) was a gorgeous mountain bike ride through the Sacred Valley. Wow. Then we rafted on the river Urubamba. It was a great time, and a needed break. But many of the students commented on the high levels of pollution in the river. Tonight night we have a hotel in Ollantaytambo with hot showers and very slow internet. Nice.

Bike ride

My highlight of the day was visiting the dorm!!!! I met Elena who is the dorm director this year. We had a lengthy talk and it looks like I will be a great fit. They had to hire two tutors for writing and reading, but can’t afford one for math. Hmmm, I am free. I just have to really work on my Spanish. I also might help out with the project’s blog and keep everyone informed on what is happening, as well as try giving a few guitar lessons with the Martin backpacker I brought. I did see a few of the girls from last year and they were happy to see me.

Also, after we checked in tonight two guys pulled up on Honda Transalps 650's fully loaded. I chatted with them a little bit with my crappy Spanish, they are from Argentina. But it was very cool to see other motorcyclists. I can’t wait to meet all the travelers who will pass through Ollanta over the next 4 months.

Honda 650´s

And finally here on Monday night, I got sick. I made it 6 days, one longer than last year. And it isn’t terrible; I don’t see another hospital visit in my near future. I was hoping my stomach had built up some sort of immunity, but not a chance. Peru still hates me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back in the Sacred Valley

June 22-24, 2011

Arriving in Lima was great. I saw many of the staff from last year and it was fun to catch up. My first group has only 9 students, but I can tell already they are going to be a lot of fun.

Day one (June 22) involves flying to Cusco then driving to Pisac. Right now in Cusco is the biggest festival of the year. We spent an hour watching the parade of saints marched around the Plaza de Armas. It was interesting to watch all the men carrying the heavy statues and marching to different songs. It seemed like there was an endless parade of saints.

One of many saints

Pisac is beautiful as always. Of course there was some festival going on all night, but every time I have ever stayed there that has happened.

The following morning we did not have time to see the Pisac ruins because our village is so remote. So after a little time at the market we headed to Urubamba. We stopped at the mayor’s office to get an official welcome. Our project is even listed in the city tourism guide!! After that, we headed to our village, Huilloc. It is much further into the mountains than any of the villages last year. We drove for 30 minutes, then got out and hiked for an hour straight up. We are at 12,440 feet. The people here still wear traditional dress all the time. Of course they were very welcoming. The first evening was spent playing soccer with all the local children.

Mayor's Office

Friday morning we were introduced to our families and began our project. Our project is to build a galpone (guinea pig hut) for 5 different families. These serve several purposes. First, they help the families house and breed many more guinea pigs than they already have in their homes. Second, they also give them a space outside of their home to keep them, thus greatly improving sanitation. Finally, the guinea pigs serve as an important source of food and income. I was talking to one man today and that is exactly what he said he uses them for. He sells them to buy things for his children, and they also use them to supplement the endless diet of potatoes and corn.

Alex, Martin, and Alex after a long day. That is a half-finished galpone.

Friday night the students asked about the dorm (Sacred Valley Project). I got fired up and told them all about it. I also showed them the Girl Effect video. I can’t wait for them to meet the girls in a week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

June 21, 2011

Alright, alright. Yesterday got a little dramatic. I was just tired, stressed, and frustrated. I am sure it is nothing compared to the border crossings I have ahead of me. It is all good.

This morning was goodbye to Casey. Nuff said. Thank you for everything Case, you are and always will be the man.

Gary was waiting for me at the dock. Remember, this was his day off. We went right in and after that submitting the motorcycle was easy. So it is all checked in waiting for the boat to arrive. Next time I see it, it will be on the other half of the world. Gary was a firefighter and worked right through the hurricane that hit Galveston. He had some pretty interesting stories and talked about how people worked together to help others out.

Goodbye bike, see you on the other side of the world

On the way back to Houston I stopped at Home Depot for some final spare parts. Frank, the gentleman who helped me, is an 82-year-old WWII vet and told me war stories for about 20 minutes. He was a good guy.

So that’s it. I am waiting in Houston airport for the kids to arrive. I am very excited to be working Rustic again. I feel very strongly that when young people have international service experiences then it only leads to good things. They experience life on a global scale and begin to ask tough questions about justice and equality, war and protests, and wealth and poverty. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

It is in moments like these that allow me to drift, momentarily, into the experiences of my past. It is the deep breath before the next life defining moment. This time, I am leaving for 8 months. It is my longest and most ambitious one yet.

I would like to just give a quick thank you to all of you for your support. I have received lots of mail encouraging me and what I am attempting to do. It means a lot.

Monday, June 20, 2011


June 18-20, 2011

It has been a long day. But let’s back up to Saturday.

Casey Jensen was the former varsity swim coach at Grand Haven and roommate of mine. Casey is an amazing coach, person, and friend. It was nice to pull in after 1600+ miles and 8 states in 5 days.

1625 miles in 5 days

Saturday was spent relaxing, catching up, and watching “True Grit”. (Good stuff) It was also the day for Beach Survival Challenge in Grand Haven. This event raises awareness and funds to promote beach safety, and was started in memory of Andy Fox and Daniel Reiss. This event is an absolute blast and I have now missed it two years in a row! Visit http://www.respectthepower.org for more information or to sign up your team next summer.

Sunday we worked out at this really fancy health club that doesn’t really cost that much. It was the first time I have swam laps since I finished swimming at GVSU in 1999. Needless to say I was pretty tired, maybe I should hit the pool when I return. I then spent all afternoon working on the bike. I changed the oil, put on new tires, and changed both sprockets to get more low-end power that I’ll need to get through the mountains of Peru. The bike felt great and I am happy with the results. That night Casey made what I will consider my last great meal in the U.S. We had New York strip, corn on the cob, and his world famous cheesy potatoes. Wow. Thanks Case!

Best Meal Ever

Today (Monday) I had two major agenda items. I needed to fix the bent bracket (from the campsite in Peoria) and load the bike onto the ship headed to Lima. I met Casey at his shop at noon and two employees got right to work on the bracket. They sacrificed their lunchtime to do it. They fixed it in no time. Awesome!! Thank you so much Arcadio and Francisco. After that it was an hour drive to the port in Galveston, Casey took a half-vacation day to help me out. Now I spent a good chunk of the morning calling my shipping agent and the port itself to make sure I had all the proper documentation. Everyone assured me that it was a piece of cake. Yeah, not even close. Apparently I needed a TWIC card which is a document which gets me inside the gate. I literally could see where I needed to drop off my bike but couldn’t get there. They told me I needed to hire a TWIC escort to get past the gate. But they were all busy. We sat in front of the gate for 3 hours. At 4:03 an escort finally showed up but the dock closed at 4:00. He really tried to help me out, and offered to come in at 8:00 am tomorrow morning on his day off!!! So after finding an overnight parking lot I left the bike and will drive back early tomorrow. This stresses me out because now I will not have the title before leaving for Peru. My flight down is tomorrow at 4:00 pm. I also had a few small things to take care of tomorrow morning which will not happen. But it will all work out, right?

Houston has been interesting. This whole trip so far people who have seen me on the bike have been so nice and interested. But here without the bike it seems to be a totally different story. Maybe it is the stress of a big city, I don’t know but people seem to start every interaction with guns blazing. From the waiter at the restaurant to the port manager, it has been a battle to just get a reasonable response. But the escort guy (Gary) did drop everything to help me out. I don’t know. I suppose it is a cynical, cynical world we live in and people have been hurt so much that it is hard to have faith in others anymore. I’m sure every person I’ve ran in to over the last few days has had to deal with so much negative crap that I was just another annoying customer. To me, Grand Haven is an incredible place full of really good people. Do I think that just because it is my home? I guess I needed to get out and get a new perspective, perhaps I am just too naive. On the ride back to Houston I was feeling very deflated. After the debacle at the dock we started talking about systems of manipulation and injustice that exist. I started to feel like the world’s problems are so great that how can anyone make a difference? But Casey calmed me down. Even though me taking time off to try and help the young women at the dorm may not have a drastic impact on the world, he still feels inspired. Thanks for the pep talk Casey. I suppose that is the point. Do what you can to make the world a better place, perhaps others will see and do likewise.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Best Connection Ever

June 17, 2011

So this morning after some Cheerios I said goodbye to Amanda and headed south. After 10 miles I stopped for gas (at 52 miles a gallon I didn’t even need a full tank for the day). A gentleman riding a KTM 650 adventure bike pulled up next to me. Of course we were going to talk.

I asked about his bike, then told him a little about what I was doing. It turns out he was a missionary in Argentina all throughout the 90’s!!! And he drove a KLR 650 while he was there! We definitely had a lot to talk about, so he invited me over to his house which was only a mile away.

As we pulled in his driveway he rode up a big wooden ramp into an elevated motorcycle shop!!! He works on bikes in his spare time. I knew I would be there awhile. We got to talking and I just cannot believe the connection. Mike lived in Mendoza for 9 years and opened an orphanage there. The stories he told were of horrible things that happened to these kids, but how so many of them changed in powerful, positive ways while they were there. They are up to about 30 kids now. The best part is that my first stop from Peru is Santiago, Chile to visit Melissa, and from there I was going to cut across Argentina to Brazil, and Mendoza is the first city I was going to stay at!! So I am going to visit the orphanage and maybe even help out a little at the learning center. This is exactly how I wanted the ride home to go!

Mike then mentioned his son who they adopted while in Argentina. He is entering high school next year so I asked if I could meet him. Bobby is a great guy and totally hooked me up by asking if we could go out for a buffet pizza lunch. Heck yes. He is active in his youth group and will soon be vocals and guitar for a metal band. I’m sure if any of you Grand Haven kids got a chance to meet him you’d be impressed. He also mentioned a few of his friends from his childhood that I might be able to look up in Mendoza. That would be so awesome if I could meet them.

After lunch (which I was treated to) Mike and I talked a lot about his work, counseling prisoners at local detention centers. Wow, more intense stories. But he is making a difference. It must have taken some real guts to walk into there the first time, so I asked him how nervous he was. He said of course he was nervous, but now he feels comfortable and it is a great thing. I love it when my rule of life #2 comes true.

We then looked over the bike. He noticed the rear tire and how it was completely bald. I have two new tires waiting for me in Houston so I was trying to stretch these ones to get there. But it just wasn’t safe. So what does Mike do? Oh yeah, he had an old KLR tire chilling by a wood pile and gave it to me to get to Houston!!! Tires are not cheap, wow. Thanks for everything Mike.

People told me to expect it, but it really hit home today. Since Tuesday morning I have paid for two meals. I have paid for lodging once (would have been zero with 1 more day of planning). I have been given a tire. The kindness of strangers and friends alike is overwhelming. Thank you. And I guess any money I save is going to the dorm anyway, so it is kind of like a donation to the girls in Peru.

The ride down was fine, there was a strong wind but climbing a bunch of switchbacks through a mountain was pretty cool. Tonight I got a cheap room at a Days Inn in Kilgore, TX. I think it was something like 262 miles today. I’m beat. But I got a shower, some internet, and tomorrow I roll into Houston. It’s time for a reunion that I’ve been waiting for. Ladies and gentleman, be jealous because tomorrow I get to see Casey Jensen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Life on the Road

June 15-16, 2011

Well, the thunderstorm in Peoria was EPIC. It thundered from midnight to 6 am and was right on top of us. Even though I didn’t get a ton of sleep, it was great to be inside a little tent enjoying the storm. And the best thing was my cheap $35 tent held up perfectly. It poured rain solid for 6 hours and not a drop inside the tent. Yes.

The following morning was goodbye to Jeff. I’m not an emotional guy but it got a little dusty. Without Jeff’s support I would not be doing this, and his riding out with me the first day meant a lot to me. Thanks.

It was weird going down that first highway without another bike nearby. But the miles roll away and eventually I stopped at Cathy’s CafĂ©. While ordering I noticed a contest to rename the place. I asked the owner and it turns out she is not named Cathy. That is two days in a row with an improperly named roadside diner. I love these places. I had a nice chat with a retired engineer from Chicago who said life did not slow down while retired and mentioned that Obama and all the politicians in Washington need to get out and see America to really know what is going on. Hmmm, that is what I am trying to do.

Wednesday was LONG ride. I met an interesting guy Tim at a gas station in Madison, MO. His son has a PhD in philosophy and his daughter-in-law has a PhD in political science. What a combo! We had a great talk. He was very interested in my trip and I gave him a card. After that I saw a sign that said, “DeWitt, pop 120” Really? I grew up in DeWitt, Mi so it was fun to see a tiny town in MO with the same name. I stopped again in Carrolton and immediately a guy came up to chat. He has a crazy story of an ex-wife who went to jail then divorced him and moved to DeWitt. Haha. Another guy pulled out of the gas station, then turned around just to come talk. It was great. I need those little breaks to keep going on these long rides. Kansas City seemed to never come, then my iPhone told me to go south of town to get to Patrick’s house, it was wrong. So by the time I pulled into his driveway the odometer said 390 miles.

Patrick is a good friend of mine from high school that I haven’t seen since the funeral of a close mutual friend in 2001. It was great to catch up and hang out with his sister and new wife. His niece and nephew were a lot of fun as well, they are both in high school and I enjoyed talking school with them. It made me miss my students back home. Patrick bought us pizza for dinner, so once again the kindness of friends and strangers is coming through.

Thursday morning Patrick took me out to breakfast at an awesome diner. When we got back to his house I did a few repairs on the bike and he called me over to the computer. “Do you want the good news or the bad news on the weather?” Yup, a huge storm system stretched from Kansas City to Arkansas, exactly where I was going to ride that day. Oh well, we got to hang out more and wait out the storm. We went to his parent’s house. It was great to see them and recount all the shenanigans we had in high school. Downstairs his dad has built the most amazing model train city I have ever seen. The streetlights lit up, the traffic signals worked, the stores had flashing neon signs. He also had a wireless remote that controlled 10 different locomotives around the entire city. It was really cool. I kind of wish it was in a museum or something so more people could see it.

Epic train city

Is that Kansas City? Nope, just the train set lit up.

After that, it was another long day to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The first hour I rode in rain and a little hail, but then it cleared up and the weather was perfect. I didn’t stop much at all because I left so late; I had to head south.

National Relief Network and Becky were in Joplin and I was riding right by there, but I just didn’t have time to stop. I have to get to Houston and get the bike ready for shipment. I was really upset about this, having a time schedule is terrible. Mark told me this advice before I left, “Walk slowly.” I know this, but I am not doing it yet. I could have stayed a few days with Patrick and NRN. A quick description: National Relief Network is a non-profit that leads trips of volunteers all over the US to do natural disaster relief. Interact Club (my high school service club) has done 10 trips with them. They are amazing and anyone interested in getting together a group of people to help should contact them now!! http://www.nrn.org/

After some back road, bridge out, dirt roads, road closed, directions from locals drama, I finally made it in to Arkansas. I did pass through 4 states in about 30 min. (southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas) The scenery dropping down on US 71 was the most beautiful of the trip so far. It was a nice change from the 900 miles of cornfields. Dropping into the valley the sun was behind me and I saw my shadow for the first time on the trip. It was a weird feeling knowing that silhouette was me on a motorcycle headed to faraway places. I had time to think about the events in my life that lead me to that moment.

I didn’t make it in until after nightfall, so it was another long day. The odometer read 341 miles. I am staying with Chase and Amanda who I met on couch surfing. What a great couple!!! Chase works at a BBQ joint and brought me home a huge plate of all different kinds of stuff. I was starving since I didn’t stop at all on the ride down. We had a great talk about different surfers they hosted, their careers and schooling, and interesting stuff in general. Chase works in a lab trying to find a way to clean the dirty, disgusting water that comes out of oil rigs when they pump out the oil. What a great thing. I am so grateful for the night’s stay. But all of us were exhausted so it is time to go to bed.

Now is a good time to explain couchsurfing.org. It is a worldwide project to connect travelers in a safe way. I have hosted before and this is the first time I have surfed. Join!!! Everyone wins because the travelers save money and meet locals, and the hosts get to meet interesting people and use extra space in their homes. This is one of the reasons I am doing this trip.

Tomorrow’s goal is Longview, TX. This will be my shortest day yet, 242 miles. I am so excited for a shorter day.