Saturday, July 30, 2011

Party Like It's...2011?

July 28-30, 2011

Um yeah, remember that campfire? Well I wasn’t able to pull out the guitar because of the excessively loud music. I figured it would die down after a little bit. Not so much. The town has several hotspots where the party goes, and one house has it during the night. Well, the one right next to the soccer field where we were staying had Thursday night’s party. They rented huge speakers and the sound blasted until, 6 am. Yes, that’s right. 6 am. So all night it sounded like the party was inside our tents and we got no sleep. Then, from 6 to 7 it was quiet, then it started again with the live music and bands of roving dancers!!! That is like 48 hours straight!! I guess it goes on for four days like that. I’m glad Friday was time for us to leave.

So Friday morning we hiked 1200 feet up the nearby mountain for an uninhibited view of Mount Veronica. Wow. It was so beautiful. I can’t wait for faster internet to post some pictures.

We got back to camp and said goodbye to our families. It was weird because the whole town was down at the soccer field and there were little kids everywhere trying to get in on the donations of books, stuffed animals, and school supplies that our students brought. It was awful, because the donations were only for our families that we worked with. Several little kids walked away crying when they didn’t get anything despite our efforts to explain what was going on. We did leave a backpack full of school supplies that were going to the kindergarten. The president of the community is holding it until I return on my motorcycle so I can present it to the school when it is back in session. It is cool to think I will be back soon on my bike.

Friday afternoon we did the $2 a day project and the photo scavenger hunt. Normally this is a time when Molly and I can catch up on our personal lives. This is especially important since we need to lock down what we are doing after Rustic. But, the electricity was out in town and there was no internet. I really had to send out some important emails and try to figure out the bike pickup, but that had to wait one more day. Elena was there and we talked about where I might live in town. At night, it was pachamanka again and copious amounts of lamb. Yes.

Saturday we said goodbye to our cooks and headed to town for lunch at the Blue Puppy. The manager is from Texas and gave me a lead on a place to stay when I return. Sweet. Then it was off on the train to Aguas Calientes. It was weird to think it might be my last train ride to Machu Picchu, but I have thought that before and still managed to end up going back there. Tomorrow will be my 7th visit. We got tickets to Wayna Picchu!! It is a beautiful hike and I am so pumped. Readers beware that there is a limit on tickets and you need to get them way in advance, use the website I posted in a pervious blog.

In Aguas we played two soccer games against the locals for money. (No one does anything down here without putting a little something on the game.) We won the first game!! I was in goal and did alright. The second game we tied 1-1 and I let in a soft goal. But still, we had a blast and I am definitely improving. We headed to our famous buffet at Inka Wasi and my favorite butt-sliding activity afterwards. We drew a huge crowd and the kids pushed the limits. Our highlight was Dustin doing the superman and Seth, Dustin, and I doing a 3-person wheelbarrow. I am pretty cut up but it was worth it.

Now we are headed to bed for a 4:30 am wakeup to catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. I can’t wait.

Peru Independence

July 23-28, 2011

Saturday was another workday. That night we got into a monster discussion about socialism. It is interesting to me how several of the students could not be more divided on issues of politics and the human race in general, yet here they are doing the same work in the same place. I suppose this is a reflection of how I feel about people after my journey so far. No matter what someone says they believe, how they live is what they actually believe. We are all on the same team down here.

Sunday we had to move the long wooden poles used to hold up the roof and the ceiling tiles. Wow. It was probably the hardest day of work I have ever had with Rustic. We moved heavy materials all over the mountainside for five hours. We were so tired we didn’t even work in the afternoon. We were supposed to have a soccer game but the locals didn’t show and we didn’t care. We were exhausted. Good thing that the next day was going to be a day off.

Monday was good old mountain biking and river rafting. Unfortunately, Julia wasn’t feeling too well and Molly took her to the hospital. She is fighting a very rare form of leukemia and her presence on this trip is very inspiring. We did the same routes as the other two groups, and there were no problems. At night we visited the dorm because the girls have two weeks off starting Tuesday. It was our only chance to meet them. A local author came and it was an amazing opportunity. I can’t remember if I have talked about him yet, but he is a local professor who wants to preserve indigenous traditions as well as the Quechua language. He has written two children’s books and one book of short stories for young adults. Each page has the story in Spanish AND Quechua. They are perfect for the girls in the dorm!! Our students bought 3 copies of each book to donate to the dorm. Thank you guys!

Tuesday we hiked to the top of the free ruins. I have been told that when I am living in town that I will probably hike up there a lot. It is 1000 feet almost straight up and it is so beautiful looking down on the town. It was the first day of celebrations for Peru’s independence so there was a massive parade in town. We watched from above. They also had students give speeches. One very young boy (11 or 12) gave a powerful speech. It was almost a little creepy to hear it, it sounded like one of those dictator-like speeches you see in movies. He was yelling. But that is definitely part of the culture here, as every meeting we have ever had has begun with several arousing speeches. In town, I met Mark and Claire, two motorcyclists from England. They went through Europe and Asia a few years back, and are in the process of going from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. I got some great advice from them and had a good conversation. Monday night I checked a very famous website for worldwide motorcycling, horizons unlimited. Before I left, there was a young man who had disappeared in Ecuador. Well, they found his body last week, he was murdered in his campground. Two suspects are in custody. Anyway, this news rocked me a little bit, and of course it is going to make me a little nervous. But, the couple assured me that they have never felt unsafe ever in any of their travels (except a little in the US), even in Mexico. It was good to hear that. Hundreds of people are traveling on motorcycles right now, and there will be tragedies. But hearing from two people that have been all over the world was very reassuring.

Wednesday was go time. We had to try and finish the galpones since there usually isn’t much time on Thursday. Two of them did not get finished but we worked really hard together. The highlight was that the town’s festival started on Wednesday. There were people everywhere all dressed up in the clothes we usually wear for our last day and they were doing the same dances that we have done. It was very cool to see that the traditions that we have been doing are just like the local ones. But, one tradition that we didn’t partake in was the excessive drinking. We were turning down drinks all day. The dancing started in the evening and went on all night. Throughout the night there were people dancing to live music all over town. Also, every hour or so there was a huge blast that sounded just like cannon fire. They definitely know how to party down here.

Thursday was Dustin’s and Peru’s birthday. We put in three very intense hours of work in the morning to finish up. We ate lunch and had a little time to chill in the afternoon before our feast and the inauguration. All day the dancing and music continued, it never stopped!!! One group of dancers stopped just long enough to lend us their costumes and let us join in one dance. Gabe came and much of our conversation revolved around next week. I can’t believe it but Rustic is almost done!! I have to figure out how I am going to get my motorcycle and what route to take back to Cusco. It is almost time for the second part of my crazy journey.

In the evening we walked down to watch the Junior National Championships for women’s volleyball. Volleyball is HUGE down here, every young girl plays. Believe it or not, the game was between the US and Peru in Lima! Raul was trash talking so I bet him 20 soles on the game. The US lost 3 games to 2. Ouch. Interestingly enough, we actually saw the Chinese national team arrive at the airport when flew to Cusco last week.

Now I sit in front of a campfire. There is loud music, dancing, and speeches going on in the background of the surrounding village. One of the students commented earlier that I looked tired. Nope, just deep in thought. I try to clean my fingers, sticky from making dozens of s’mores for the students and local children. They were made with ease as the muscles in my fingers know what to do; I’ve probably made a thousand in my lifetime. As the flames flicker and the coals begin to take over, I am once again rocked by memories. The memories begin with sleeping outside with the last group, but quickly descend down the road of my past. I think about Special Days camps and hearing American Pie for the first time, which later inspired me to learn how to play guitar. I turn to Storer Camps, singing Down Under for Andy Norman and telling Green Eyes for the Outback boys. Then I think of Inpursuit Camp and the famous final campfires. I recall Rustic last year and our epic 4th of July fire. My thoughts turn to the fire pit in my own backyard in Grand Haven, and how I am about to miss out on our famous Coast Guard Festival. Staring at those glowing embers is like looking at a reflection of the beautiful parts of my story, and it is an appropriate end to Rustic 2011. Tomorrow we leave Palomar and it marks the beginning of the end of our two weeks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Final Group Arrives, Interesting Conversation with a Local Mom

July 20-22, 2011

Wednesday morning we were up at 6:15 am to get back to Lima to catch the plane to Cusco. We have 11 students on this trip. Carlos was at the airport catching his flight so we got in one final conversation and goodbye. I can’t wait to hear how his college, bike trip, and band work out over the next year. I’ll miss you man.

We arrived in Cusco for lunch after a lengthy flight delay. At lunch they gave us ice cream! We didn’t get that on any of the other groups. The flavor was lucma. Wow, it might be my new favorite flavor. We then got on the bus and headed for Pisac.

In Pisac we stayed at the same awesome hotel, had dinner, and watched more Copa America. In the morning we hit the famous market. Dylan bought an incredible painting of Machu Picchu with a condor, puma, and a snake in the background. He is going to get a tattoo made out of it. Sweet. Those three animals represent the heavens, the Earth, and the underworld in Incan culture. I’m jealous of it.

As we were loading on the bus, I saw a heavily loaded KTM 950 out front of our hotel!!! It was a Swiss man and his son touring around Peru. He owns a hotel in Lima and has lived there for awhile. He gave me a pretty intricate but beautiful route from Lima to Cusco and said that they have a motorcycle club in Lima. So I have his number and might try to look them up in a few weeks when I am there.

After the market we headed to Urubamba for lunch and to meet the mayor. He is usually gone on business but he was actually there! That is a big deal, we were pretty excited. We then headed back to Ollantaytambo for a few minutes and then back to Palomar.

They greeted us with the usual music, flowers, and confetti. We then launched into an epic soccer game with the local boys. I played goalie for the Peruvian team and got lit up by Seth. But it was fun, and the students quickly realized what 9,300 feet of attitude can do to you.

In the evening we had the Pago ceremony. Raul was really into it and added a few things that I had never seen before. They burned the offering at 10 pm, but I was already fast asleep. Three nights in a row of staying up past midnight finally took its toll on me.

Those first few days were really hard on me. I missed the last group so much, and going back to the exact same campsite and city didn’t help at all. Every small place throughout the campsite and town comes attached with memories of the last group. It was very hard for me to get into the new group. I felt like Maverick after Goose had died. I was there, going through the motions, but I couldn’t engage. Madison did send me an email telling me how the last group deserved my best and basically that I needed to suck it up and continue to be a good leader. I needed to hear that. Thanks.

Friday morning we met the families and headed off to begin work. Did I crack the same lame joke? Yes. I’m a math teacher, I get to do that. We are building 5 galpones this group. Some of the groups have a lot of work to do but we will work together to get them done. As we visited the last group, we had a very interesting conversation with the mother of the family. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Paul Farmer said, “All suffering is not equal.” So it was hard for me and Molly to go from such a poor community in Huilloc to a much nicer one in Palomar. We wondered if these people really needed it. Well, the mother told us how she and her husband decided to only have one child. That way, they could make sure he had food, clothes, and a good education. That’s it! It is like we are getting to see every step of the process from poverty to development. So I am glad we are here. We might be the final step to ensuring education for this community. After that, all the basic rights are being met and they are free to enjoy life in a happy and healthy way.

I had a great talk with Dustin who lives in Florida in the afternoon while hauling dozens of heavy adobes. Back at camp we had another epic soccer game. Once again, I was lit up in goal. I really need to work on that if I am going to live down here.

At night we played president in the kindergarten hall. It was fun, and WAY less intense than the last group. That is probably a good thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'm Never Alone, I'm Alone All the Time

July 19, 2011

This seemingly paradoxical statement is a quote from Glycerine by Bush. I think it will end up being a major theme of my trip. I feel so supported by all my friends and family back home. I know that despite the distance, the last group is still with me. I do not feel alone.

But here I sit in a hotel. I’m currently surrounded by a new group of really great students and excellent guides. I’ve never felt more alone.

Tuesday evening was our final moments together. Those last few hours are so interesting. They remind me of a Sunday night for a teacher. We teachers always have so much work to do on a Sunday night, and it hangs over your head all weekend. You know what is coming the next day.

We all knew what was coming. I had to balance the account book and take care of other small tasks. I ate my first McClutch (Big Mac + Chicken Sandwich + Medium Fry all in one giant sandwich). I checked my email at Starbucks and got some decent news about the motorcycle. It will arrive on Thursday and the total port fees are around $650. (I can handle that.) We played some final president games, and I had the kids sign my newly acquired Spanish version of The Alchemist. But the moment came.

It always comes.


There were hugs, tears, laughs, loud inappropriate sayings…and the recurring thought that I will never see most of them ever again. I don’t like it.

I could write an essay about each student and their impact on our trip. I could try to relay the laughs, long conversations, and memories we made over the past few weeks. But they can’t be summed up, only remembered in wispy, fleeting flashes of amazing memories. Memories that will slowly fade with time, yet will still connect us for years to come.

The same feelings rise again as I suffer the loss of such an amazing group, and only have 60 minutes to deal with it before another group arrives. Fortunately, Carlos was there with his guitar. We played Si Quieres Bailamos, March, and Glycerine. Guitar music like this always soothes the soul, even when played sitting on a cement floor in a busy food court surrounded by strangers.

As I sit here at 1:30 am with a new group spending their first night in a new country, I cannot get the students out of my head. Thank you guys for an incredible two weeks. I will always remember you.

I love you guys.

Too Many Amazing Things, Too Little Time to Write

July 11-17, 2011

There is just no time to write! Sorry for the long delay in information.

Monday was mountain biking and river rafting. We did the same bike ride as before. We started at 11,400 feet in Huilloc and dropped down to 8,600 in Ollantaytambo. We stopped for many pictures and it was a beautiful day. Rafting was a blast, and for the first time ever I got pulled in by a student. Alex (Chicago) crept up behind and got me when I wasn’t paying attention. Punk. We did manage to throw all the girls out of their boat, however. Haha, that’s right Grace. We finished by bridge jumping and having a few Sublime candy bars brought by Allen.

Tuesday morning we went to the school first. I was very excited to see the school in Palomar and get an idea of the educational system in the outlying areas. I was sick this day on the last trip and didn’t get to see the school. My first impression was that it was pretty nice. The classrooms had lots of posters on the walls and the students were quiet and working. (Every classroom has “I love you Jesus” written above the whiteboard.) Every classroom seemed to have a teacher, Raul was mildly surprised. We did notice, however, that as the grades went up, the number of students went down. First grade had 25 students, sixth grade had 13. Apparently some students travel into town for the higher grades because the education is better there. I also noticed a complete lack of any sort of technology or textbooks. But, it wasn’t terrible and learning seemed to be taking place. I have so many more questions and would love to observe a few times. Hopefully that can happen later. The kids played soccer and volley ball at recess then it was back to camp and a visit to the kindergarten classroom. In the afternoon we started peeling the bamboo and beginning work on the roof. That night was an amazing talk with Clare, Carlos, Milan, Grace, and Madison. We talked about important things that had happened in our lives. Several have had their mothers fight breast cancer, experience suicide at school, and I talked about my four rules of life in the context of some of the things I have experienced. We laughed, cried, and shared about our lives. It was an amazing night. Thank you to all of you who came in to chat. I will remember that night forever.

Wednesday we finished the galpones. This meant a long day for many but the kids worked really hard. That evening we had local musicians and people come in and teach us the traditional dances for the party the next day. The guys dance La Chumpa. They actually brought a real whip and Oliver got in a couple good shots. I knew revenge would be mine the next day. We did have an epic game of President that night, we stayed up late and were very loud. Who knew how competitive everyone would be? Asmita’s British accent was definitely a highlight.

Thursday was inauguration day again. We started by watching the women prepare the feast for later that day. We actually got to watch them kill and skin the guinea pigs. They kind of pull and twist the neck, it happens very quickly and humanely. But many of the students had trouble watching. They then put the finishing touches on the galpones and by lunchtime we were in full costume. We headed to the nicest galpone (Go Alex and Clare!) and listened to a few speeches. Each group went to their respective houses, I went with Oliver and Reid. We slowly trickled back to camp for a huge feast of guinea pigs, potato pancakes, chicken, rice, and many other things. After the feast there was a huge dance party in the church by our campsite. We danced Huyna (traditional music) with the local people and had a lot of fun!! We finished with smores at a campfire, we shared some with the local children. They loved it. Carlos, Asmita, Madison, Clare, and I stayed up very late at the campfire. Carlos and I took turns playing songs on our guitars. I loved it, it had been since last year that I have played my guitar so much. By midnight, we had run out of wood. Carlos, Madison, and I decided to head to his house to get more. Bad choice. All the friendly dogs we had been seeing during the day? Yeah, they turn into killer attack dogs at night. The entire village erupted in a chorus of barking. It was insane. Carlos managed to grab a few pieces and almost got ripped apart by the dog that saw him every day for 2 weeks!! So back we went and the five of us slept outside under the stars of the southern hemisphere. It was a great night.

Friday morning we hiked up the side of the mountain by our campsite. Then we said goodbye to our families. All the families couldn’t make it, so it wasn’t the emotional mess it usually is, but it was still sad to go. Back in town we went to Raul’s house to sew dolls. They did a pretty good job! We then sent them off on the photo scavenger hunt and the $2 a day project. Friday night the students got to see pachamanka being made. It is fun to watch all our food being thrown into a dirt pit and hot rocks placed on and around it. Then it is covered with grass, wet cardboard, and plastic to cook. The food was amazing as usual and I think I ate about two pounds of lamb. That night we are still in tents, but at a different campsite. There is always a truck there, and it is tradition to sleep in the bed of the truck. Katie, Clare, Grace, Carlos, and I all set up in the back of the truck and fell asleep to the site of the full moon above. We had a long talk about religion. I think it can be summed up that despite our different beliefs, we are all on the same team.

Saturday morning we headed into town for brunch and to catch the train to Aguas Calientes. We played World Cup at the nice town soccer field for several hours. We had a blast! I got my usual haircut and we headed off to dinner. We watched Copa America on the TV during dinner, Uruguay won in penalties. Then it is my favorite activity, 2-liter skiing down the steep sidewalk. Good times. We then hit the karaoke bar. Kevin and I busted out a pretty good version of “The Real Slim Shady”, and we all finished with “8 Days a Week”.

Sunday morning it was up to Machu Picchu. We did not make it to Wayne Picchu, they just changed the rules a few days before and we didn’t have time to get the tickets. So, anyone going to Machu Picchu, here are the new rules. Go to this website:

At the website, you buy tickets for Machu Picchu, and for an extra 25 sol you can get a ticket to Wayna. You now no longer have to make up at 3 am and rush up the mountain.

We had a great tour and we learned about some really cool photos from Raul’s cousin who led the tour. Then a group of us hiked up to the Sun Gate. It is so beautiful up there, looking down on Machu Picchu and into the valley. We just sat and stared. Carlos commented how it was so incredible that we were there, looking down on a wonder of the world and taking in the beauty of our surroundings. It was a great moment. We got down and watched the Women’s World Cup Final. We got a little fired up and made a huge ruckus at the hotel. There were 19 of us packed into a little hotel room watching. The other hotel guests laughed at us. Back in Ollanta, we visited the dorm. It was great. We had dinner and played volleyball. The students did a great job of talking to the girls. I am only a few weeks away from being there all the time. I’m excited. Once again, many students donated money to help the costs of the dorm. Thank you guys!!

Monday morning the bungee place is STILL working on installing a new engine, so no bungee. Bummer. We did go to the local high school though. I’ve wanted to see it for a long time!! It was pretty nice, and we saw a few of the girls from the dorm. We played a soccer game against the high school students. We were losing 5-1 until Raul came in. We ended up winning 7-5. Heck yes, I think that was my first ever soccer victory in Peru. Back in Cusco we went shopping and had dinner at Fusiones. The students dressed up and looked good. Oliver was rocking a very nice hairdo and Sam had a pretty classy shirt on. The girls all had dresses, we definitely did not look like a group that had been in tents for two weeks. After dinner a group of us stayed up very late talking. These long talks have been so amazing on this trip. It ended with just me and Carlos. He told me a great story about Africa last year. He and a friend went into the city every day for lunch and met with an old woman. They couldn’t really communicate, but it was good. On the last day on the bus, they saw her running to the bus. She gave them rope. He could tell how much they had connected and it was a meaningful gift. It was her way of saying thank you. He told the story in response to one of my favorites from last year. Our third group had a very tearful goodbye in Pallata, and we started a 3 hour hike into town to leave. While climbing up a steep mountain we saw two figures in the distance. It looked like people running across the field. As we reached the top we could see that they were actually running toward us. While we were resting at the top, they finally reached us. It was the two little boys that worked with Jack and Jesse. They had school in the morning and wanted to say goodbye before the boys left. They couldn’t even talk to each other, but the bond was obvious. It got a little dusty up there.

Tuesday morning was the San Pedro market, Espiritu de Rana, the cathedral tour, Indian buffet, goodbye to Raul, and our flight back to Lima. Oliver didn’t feel so well on the place. Yup, he puked all over the place. We felt so bad for him, but it was kind of funny that our leader in jokes the whole trip found another way to make us laugh. We’ll miss you Oliver.