June 27, 2008

We made it to Costa Rica with more stumbling blocks than we had anticipated.  (We anticipate with optimism).  Our flight from Lima to Miami was delayed 2 hours and we finally left the runway at 1am rather than 10:50pm.  We arrived in Miami, had a short layover in the morning hours and boarded our plane at 10am.  On the runway, seconds before take-off we were informed that the smoke alarms in the luggage cabin were going off and that our plane was being assessed by emergency crews.  30 minutes later we were headed back to the terminal to de-plane.

5 frustrating hours later we boarded a different plane to Costa Rica.  Thereby wasting an entire day because we had missed all buses from San Jose to Monteverde that day.  We arrived to San Jose right around dusk, contacted a family we know here and graciously accepted their open home.  And first hot shower in weeks.

Wednesday morning we woke early to catch the first bus out of San Jose.  630am.  After a 5 hour, hot, sticky and extremely off-road bus ride, we arrived in Santa Elena.

Our first adventure was a canopy-tour/zip line over the Monteverde rain forest.

In the evening we ate some food at a local tree house cafe and then enjoyed the hammocks at our hostel.

This morning we hiked in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  It was green, wet and beautiful.  And full of birds and monkeys.

Josh was wearing my (small) raincoat because he’s afraid of mosquitoes.  And scary movies.

And finally, this evening we took the very long, very bumpy bus back to San Jose.  In a lot of ways I feel like Costa Rica has become the second-born child with few childhood pictures.  One shortly after birth and then one of it blowing out the candles on the 2nd year birthday cake.

But despite my lack of motivation to capture it in photographs, it is beautiful here.  And much more humid.  But we are slightly travel-weary and it is slowly taking more and more to woo us into awe and wonder.  I find myself craving the familiar.  In some situations becoming bitter towards inconveniences and cultural differences.  I know I’ve seen some bell-curve chart of personal perspectives on cultural adaptation during extended travel.  It sounds familiar.  I feel like we’re on the downward swing of exhaustion and frustration.

These days I find myself craving a familiar face.  My comfortable bed.  The knowledge of safety.  My food in the refrigerator.

We haven’t been “home” in two months and at 60-days-in, I’m learning and growing.  We’re not at the end.  Yet.  And there’s more to learn.

Tomorrow we meet up with the rest of the OM team at the airport and begin our missions work in the jungle.  It will be a challenging week and I will not have the computer with me to share with you.  Until after.

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June 23, 2008

Today is our last day in Cuzco, Peru.

Right now we’re sitting on a bench outside of our language school using the free wifi to make our final arrangements for Costa Rica.

We fly to Lima, Peru this evening at 4:30pm and then have an overnight flight from Lima to Miami, Florida. Tomorrow morning we will fly from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica and then drive from San Jose to Santa Elena. I’m am sure we will be exhausted but we have two nights reserved at a beautiful hostel overlooking the Nicoya Peninsula and Monteverde Cloud Forest. The two days of solitude and rest are much anticipated and necessary before we hike into the jungle to work with Operation Mobilization.

Before we leave Peru and will likely have inconsistent internet usage, I wanted to catch you all up on photos and words from our last few days in Cuzco.

My fever and sickness turned out to be much more than I could handle. After 2 days and nights of sickness and extremely high fever that I could not control with Tylenol or Motrin, Josh and I made a visit to a local clinic. It was a frustrating experience full of waiting and confusion but we left with a bag full of medications and a diagnosis of Salmonella with a side of parasites (I know you were all interested). I then spent the next two days in bed sleeping and complaining about how much it felt like my insides wanted to be on my outsides. Josh was a dear. So was our host-mom. She continued to check in on me and bring bowls of chicken noodle soup (Peruvian-style).

As a result of my illness, I missed my last day working in the clinic as well as our official city-tour. I sent Josh on the city-tour alone (well…with our friend Hugo). He took some great pictures. Although Sacsayhuaman may not be as provocative as you were expecting!

Saturday night there were fireworks in the Plaza de Armas as a continuation of the celebrations. I knew that this is the closest that Josh and I would get to 4th of July fireworks this year but I was still too sick to go out. Luckily, the fireworks could be seen from the porch balcony of our house!

By Sunday I was feeling 80% better and determined not to waste our last couple of days in Peru, we took a taxi up to Cristo Blanco.  This is the large statue of Jesus on a mountain that overlooks all of Cuzco in an amazing panoramic.

From Cristo Blanco we walked down a LONG staircase that lead into town.  We spent the rest of the afternoon running errands, eating crepes and sitting on a bench in the Plaza de Armas watching the festivities and parades.

I am so thankful to be feeling better before we leave for Costa Rica.  It is an amazing answer to our prayers.

We believe that our biggest adventure yet awaits us.

June 20, 2008

The festivities here in Cuzco have become more frequent and extravagant.  The past few days there have been dance competitions/parades in the Plaza de Armas.  Yesterday afternoon it was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to actually see the dancing.

So we walked a few blocks to our favorite restaurant here…Jack’s.  It is the only place we’ve found that serves fresh vegetables that are safe to eat.  (Side note: one of the other volunteers was stomach-sick this week and spent 2 days in the hospital.)  Yesterday was our second meal at Jack’s and, not surprisingly, our second time eating vegetables. It was glorious.

However, our savored lunch had nothing on the extraordinary dinner Josh and several other volunteers “enjoyed” last night.  Thursday night Cuy night. (warning: pictures of cooked guinea-pig are graphic).

the menu:

the Cuy:

I submit that it is no coincidence that I began feeling ill during the dinner (and I only watched!).  Last night I had a fever over 101degrees that lasted into the morning.  I stayed in bed until nearly noon feeling awful but my fever broke and I’m feeling relatively better.  I’m hoping this passes before we fly out on Monday.

Today was Josh’s last day at his after-school program.  The kids gave him a sweet card and sang songs for him, too.  Josh says it’s difficult to leave such cute kids.

Luckily, Josh’s rash (allergic reaction to mosquito bites) has almost completely cleared up.  Thanks for your well-wishes!  We have just a couple of more activities this weekend before we leave.  Tomorrow we have an “official” city tour during which we will visit Sacsayhuaman (sexy woman) ruins and in the evening there are fireworks in the Plaza.  Sunday we’re washing clothes, repacking and visiting a couple of other sites we’ve missed along the way.

June 18, 2008

This week we’ve been back to the usual: work (Amber in the clinic and Josh at the school), Spanish lessons, spending time with friends and host family and continuing to explore Peruvian culture.

I’ve been doing a ton of Hep B vaccines this week and today we also gave tetanus shots to teenage girls in one school. Only girls get tetanus shots in Peru because vaccinations are expensive for the government and because it is more important to vaccinate girls who may become pregnant in the future.

Some pictures from school vaccinations (note many of the kids holding their left arm where we vaccinated them):


Monday afternoon we visited another large market in Cuzco called San Pedro. It hosts an abundance of meat butchers, florists, fresh juice makers, etc.

One of my favorite things here is the Mango con Leche (fresh mango milkshakes). Beth and I could not resist and ordered one from one of the juice vendors. They slice the mango and blend it right in front of you. But not wanting to sit and drink it, we asked the vendor if she had “to go” cups we could use. A few minutes later we walked away with our mango con leche in plastic bags with straws sticking out. (Also note in one of the pictures above, at one of the school where we gave vaccinations, they gifted us with Inca Cola “to go” (in plastic bags).)

One thing that has been very apparent since the day we arrived is that Peruvians like to celebrate and dance. Every day since we arrived, at some time of day, we have encountered a parade, people dancing in one of the many central squares or groups of people in traditional Peruvian clothing singing. 8am Saturday morning, midnight Tuesday night, 3pm on Thursday. Any time, any place. Tomorrow in the Plaza de Armas many of the local schools are participating in a traditional Peruvian dance competition. We’re going to go in the afternoon because the 16 year old son of from our host home is competing. Saturday night they are also having fireworks. It is especially festive right now because a very big celebration throughout all of Cuzco is happening on June 24th. I’m not sure exactly what they are celebrating but it seems to be somewhat equivalent to the American 4th of July. The festival on the 24th is unfortunate because we leave Peru on the 23rd.

It’s kind of like 2 years ago when we flew to Ireland the day after St. Patrick’s Day.

In other cultural events news, tomorrow we’re meeting with several other volunteers to go to a restaurant and eat one of Peru’s most traditional dishes. Cuy.  And by “we” I mean Josh and several other guys. Fire-roasted guinea pig does not look or sound appealing to me. At all.

We only have a few days left in Peru before we leave for Costa Rica and we’re making the final adjustments on our travel plans.

Josh’s cold is improving, however, his rash has spread. It now covers his arms, chest and abdomen. In my professional opinion, I think it’s just an allergic reaction and nothing more serious. We’ve made several visit to pharmacies here (which give prescription medications at your request) and I’m hopeful that the allergy pills and ointment with clear it up before we leave for Costa Rica.

June 15, 2008

We’ve had an incredibly busy weekend here in Cuzco.

Friday we joined up with a few of the other volunteers to take a mountain biking trip to visit the Moray ruins.  The ride was difficult but beautiful.

After the ruins, we rode to the nearest town to buy some lunch at a small stand.  The menu was limited as most Peruvian dishes are.  Rice, potatoes, and meat or eggs.

That evening after we had returned to Cuzco, we had dinner at an “American” restaurant in town that offers vegetables and salads that are safe to eat! (washed in mineral water rather than tap water). It was splendid.

(No pictures to share due to the maximum amount of time possible spent consuming fresh vegetables.)

Saturday morning we met with a group of other volunteers to go white water rafting.  Considering that the weather here is cool (in the 50’s-60’s) and the sun did not make an appearance, it was an extremely cold adventure.  The water from the Urubamba River comes directly from a glacier in the mountains.  After stripping down to bathing suits/underwear and then putting on a cold, damp wet suit, the last thing I wanted to do was take a dive into glacier water.  Nevertheless, the rafting was fun and when we returned to “base camp” with numb feet, there were warm “sauna” rooms for us to warm up in.  And they served us a warm lunch (rice, potatoes and meat).

Our host-dad works 4 hours from Cuzco in Machu Pichu and only returns home for 4 days a month.  Yesterday was his birthday and he returned home to celebrate with family.  So Saturday night, after spending the day rafting, we returned home to a birthday celebration.  A soccer game on tv at 7pm, dinner at 10pm, cake at 12pm, music, drinks and dancing (very) late into the night.  Our first true Peruvian celebration.

Finally, this morning we joined two other volunteers and took a 1 hour bus ride to visit the infamous Pisac Market.  It was a colorful, bustling, exciting place to visit.

A few notes:(I thought it would be funny to share with you some of the more humorous things we’ve encountered.)

-Most menus at restaurants are in Spanish, however some places try to cater their menus to tourists by describing dishes in English.  For example, some variations on the word “sandwich” we’ve seen are “sandwishes” and  “sanguches”.  Also, they offer “garlin bread” (garlic bread).

-There is a famous Incan Ruin site very close to our home here in Cuzco.  We’ve yet to visit it but hope to this coming weekend.  It’s called Sacsahuamán.  Only it is pronounced “Sexy Woman”.  We’ve taught the 8 year old girl who lives in our host home that saying “Sexy Woman” is funny…although she’s clueless as to why.

Tonight we are tired and a bit anxious about the travel we still have ahead.  Josh is sick with a cold, has mosquito bites that have turned into massive rashes on his arms and has a scraped up foot from rafting.  He could use your prayers.