Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy 60th Mom!!

So I have SO much to tell you all about this past weekend at Lake Titicaca (oh yeah...and about my students and about Peru in general...). I am planning on writing an entry tomorrow with some fun details and lots of amazing pictures.

But for now...

As many of you may now, my mom celebrated her 60th birthday this past weekend and she rung in 60 in style. For any of you who think that I am obsessed with birthdays, you have clearly not met my mother.

So because I couldn't be there to help in the celebration, I sent along a video message from not only me but from lots of my students, my host family and several fellow volunteers.

I thought you all might want to take a look! It's on YouTube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JV_3Kp0f_N0

Enjoy and stay tuned for more soon...

xoxo,
Debra

Friday, September 26, 2008

Futbol...with a U

I'm trying to redeem myself with two blog entries this week but don't get too excited...this one will be short! But I am leaving again for another "adventure" this weekend to Lake Titicaca and my only hope of catching up is to cut the chatter and just post some pictures...

So one thing that I have most definitely learned on this trip is that truthfully, the United States is probably THE only country that is not completely, utterly and entirely consumed by Futbol...or as us weirdos like to call it...soccer.

Even since I have arrived in Central and South America, I just have not ben able to avoid the sport. The kids play it all the time. I have walked through countless games in the middle of the streets. Even while I was in the Galapagos all the guides met on the beach to play one lazy afternoon.

So I won't say that 'm a "fan" quite yet but I have definitely found myself getting much more into futbol than I thought I would. When in Rome, right??

I have even been convinced to take to the pitch quite a number of times...here are the least unattractive photos I have of myself trying not to get hit in the nose by the ball...
My friends and I even went to a "real" futbol match a couple weeks ago and it really was fun. Completely with an upset win at the end and fans throwing garbage and yelling crude comments at the opposing team (it's amazing how "yo momma" jokes have crossed the borders...)And lastly (and most cutely), last week were the Olymics for our littlest students...only 4-6 years-old. One of the other volunteers, Daga, managed to snap some amazing photos...

Ok...well that's all for now. I'm off to Lake Titicaca (yep...Lake Titicaca...still funny) for the weekend and will give a full report when I get back...or at least within like 9 days of returning... :)

xoxo,
Debra

P.S...Happy 60th mom!! Hope you have a great party and no...I'm seriously not in town.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What goes down...must come UP

So I’ve decided that the very ironic thing about keeping a blog is that when you have the MOST to write about, you have the LEAST time to write about it! I honestly do not know where to begin (which is probably why this has taken me so long to muster up the energy to write in the first place)

I want to tell you about my kids and about the city and just some fun adventures but I’m going to dedicate this entry to my experience this past weekend: Colca Canyon.

Just to give you a bit of background...

With the program I signed up for, many excursions were included. This was most definitely one of them. Let’s be clear. I’ve definitely had some changes but I still would not choose an entire of intense hiking on my own free will.

From where we started, Colca Canyon measures exactly equal to the depth of the Grand Canyon which puts it at a tie for the 2nd deepest canyon in the world (although there is another spot in Colca that if measured from there, puts it at the deepest canyon on earth). So needless to say, this sucker was deep.

Add to that, the top of the canyon is at about 3400 meters or so (10000 feet) so altitude can get very tricky. The altitude also makes it FREEZING here at night and BOILING during the day. So you have to pack for al types of weather. Oh...and you have to carry your pack with you the entire time.

And so the fun begins...

So Friday morning at 4:30 am (does that even count as morning??) we boarded the bus to Colca. After about 4 hours of head bopping in the van, we arrived at Cruz del Condor (Cross of the Condor) at about 4000 meters...highest point of the trip It was here we were supposed to see these amazing, enormous condors that spanned nearly 10 feet in length.

Somehow the condors must have gotten the message that we were coming and they slept in late. So no condors for us. But we decided to walk down a couple flights of stairs to get a better lookout point and take some nice photos.
Seemed like a great idea. Until we had to climb up the stairs. So there I went...climbing the stairs when suddenly, I couldn’t hear or see and my legs felt like they belonged to a different person. Yep. 10 minutes in and I was moments away from fainting.

Luckily, I managed to find a rock, sit down with my head between my legs and regain consciousness. It was at this point that I began to panic. Two flights of stairs...deepest canyon in the world...two flights of stairs...hmmm...you do the math.

Suddenly, our guide Luz showed up with a little sucking candy for me. Now I have no idea what were in these candies but let me tell you...do NOT leave home without these babies if you want to go to extreme altitude and NOT look at condors. Apparently, some people have some issues with blood sugar at altitude and I guess I am one of those people. But have no fear...I managed to remain conscious for the rest of the trip.

We left the non-condor look-out point and drove another couple hours to where we were starting our hike. We stopped at a place for a bite before the big descent. It was at this lunch that mishap number two happened.

Lucky for me, I was not the victim of this one but one of the girls, Jessica, asked if anyone had any ibiprofun (aka: Advil) to take for her headache. Dorothy, another volunteer, quickly came to the rescue and dispensed two pill for Jessica. Down the hatch. Well, as it turns out, Dorothy had mistaken Ibiprofun for Immodium (extreme anti-diarrheal pills). Let’s just say that Jessica wasn’t using too much of our toilet paper supply during this trip. It was hilarious.

Ok...so we filled our water bottles, got our walking sticks (aka...my lifesaver) and started on down the canyon.
Please do not be decieved. Yes this part of the hike was downhill but it was by no means easy. We were slipping and sliding down loose rocks on the edges of steep drop offs (sorry again mom) and this went on for about 5.5 hours. Yep. 5.5 hours of switchbacks down a canyon.

Again...I think I’m an ok writer but trying to explin this is impossible. And I never claim to be a photographer but I’m telling you that even Ansel Adams could not capture the depth and beauty of this place on the way down. But of course, I gave it a try...
After the 5.5. Hours down, we arrived at the basin of the canyon to the river. We were at the bridge that I had been aiming towards since about hour 3. I sat down, examined my blisters, bandaid-ed them, refilled my water and off we went again.
As it turns out, what goes down, must come up. So up we went for about 1.5 hours. It was tough. Again, no way to describe it.

My legs hurt, my ass hurt...but this was actually a really beautiful part of the hike. After spending 5+ hours looking at nothing but rocks slipping below my feet, it was nice to actually look around a bit and enjoy the view.

This picture shows how far we went up the first night to our little village where we slept. When we climbed over the last bit and realized we were “there”, our hard work was more than rewarded with an amazing sunset...
After the sun dropped behind the canyon, we were off to check out our digs for the night. I think I can officially say that this place was far and away the more “rustic” (aka...complete shithole) that I’ve ever stayed in. I don’t know how it’s possible but this picture somehow makes it look much nicer than it was.
But I wasn’t complaining...I was just happy to not be trembling while hanging on for dear life to my trusty walking stick. Immediately after arriving at this Hilton in the canyon, we were abondon by our guide and had no idea where she went (this was a reoccruing theme throughout the weekend...I think Luz had other plans than hanging out listening to our complaints of aching muscles)

After wondering around like the confused tourists we are for a while, we finally ate dinner and (surprise, surprise), went directly the bed. It may have been “rustic” but I was completely unconcious for the huge majority of my time there so it was fine.

Up bright and early the next morning...we had a canyon to haul our asses out of!

So we started going back downhill to the basin (whoever planned this down, up, down back up thing seriously needs counseling). On our way, we visited this little cultural museum in the middles of nowhere.

Nothing like trying bizarre fruits, local alcohol brews and sporting local fashion in the middle of the canyon...
After the museum, we made it down the the basin, went up for about 30 minutes and suddenly, it was like I was in a different world.

Apparently, there must have been other tourist hikers in the past like me who were thinking, “you know what this place needs? An amazing pool to swim in!” Enter the “Oasis.” So bizarre but in the middle of all this was the most amazing little place complete with aqua pools and palm trees...see the pictures...

After a dip and a great pasta lunch, I was feeling like I actually might have it in me to climb the 3000+ feet outta here.

Well, my body had different plans. I started off strong. Climbed for about 40 minutes. And then I realized it...I was just out of my league. I could barely breathe, I could barely push my butt up one more step.

It was then that I decided to call in for backup...I got a mule to take me the rest of the way up.

Just to show my readers...this is as far up as I went...

And this is as far as I had to go...

I have to say that as silly as it seems now, at the time, I was really upset that I couldn’t finish the canyon. I’m usually a person who would be dragged across a finish line with bloody knees rather than call it quits. So there I was, waiting for my mule, crying in the middle of a canyon.

It was definitely the low point of the weekend but again, a good experience. So my mule, Negra, came to save me along with 2 other volunteers who had already decided to ride the mules and off we went. And let me tell you, the mule experience was definitely an experience in itself.

Our mules for one, hated each other and bit each other at every opportunity. We were also completley out of control (no reigns) of these animals as they walked ridiculously close to the edge of steep cliffs slipping on rocks. Blood pressure was rising...

But we made it to the top. And it was a great feeling...
Back to the hostal, dinner, lose consciousness...etc. The next morning, we started our trip back to Arequipa.

Along the way, we went t an awesome outlook and visited some amazing hot springs and Luz completely redeemed herself by serving us ice cream pool side.
So overall, it was a difficult, inspiring, humbling, at times impossible, hilarious, horrible and wonderful experience all in one.
xoxo,
Debra

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chile!

Ok, ok...this entry is a bit overdue but I’m working on it!

So this past weekend I went to Peru’s southern neighbor...CHILE! I went with 5 other volunteers (see mom? I have made friends...). I knew I was going to like these other volunteers when they said we were going to check out the airline prices rather than book a 10 hour journey each way for a weekend trip (not that that has stopped me in the past...)

Anyway, the airline gods were on our side and we booked a cheap and perfectly timed flight to Arica, Chile last Friday. And this trip that would have taken 10 hours via land was a whopping 21 MINUTES in the air! I barely had time to pretend to read and fall into a coma with my mouth wide open before we landed.

But land we did and it wasn’t exactly the landings out of textbooks. It was definitely a THUD...you knew you were in Arica. Apparently they didn’t want any passengers sleeping through the landing.

So upon waking, I look out my window expecting to see green trees, white sands and blue beaches. Instead, I was greeted with dessert. Flat, dry, brown dessert complete with sand dunes (another reason I didn’t have to stare at this scenery for the last 10 hours)

We walked into the airport expecting to be greeted by a $150 tax that only Americans have to pay (turns out, we are not exactly a favorite of Chile) but somehow manage to evade it...score. Find ourselves a taxi (which I’m sure we were completely ripped off for) and went to our hostel.

The hostel was great but clearly could use a bit of business consulting only because it was $15 to stay in this hotel. Period. It didn’t matter if you had a single room or in a dorm room, it was $15 a night. Hmmm...let me think...I’ll take the single. Another score.

So the 6 of us started walking into town to explore a bit and grab a bite to eat somewhere. Well, as soon as I saw the golden arches of McDonalds beaming down yellow light, I knew Arica was going to be a place I could really enjoy.

The city is really European feeling. People are pretty stylish and stores and restaurants were modern. I mean don’t get me wrong, the place definitely had it’s idiosyncracies...

For one, there are Chilean flags everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

Two, Jesus is big here. Literally and figuratively. Big statues, lots of memorabilia. He’s pretty much bigger than Michael Jordan in the 90s.

Three, people will tell you there are all sorts of restaurants in a certain direction or another and you look, and al you see are sand dunes.

So number three leads us to our first adventure. Where to eat? Like I said, we were pointed down the road by more than one group of people. A road that looked less than promising but we did it. What di we know, right? We started walking and walking...and walking. Nothing. Sand dunes.

One of the other volunteers, Francesca (lovingly called Frank) was brave enough to ask a woman in her car (ok..she basically stood in the middle of the road for the woman to stop and talk to her) for dinner advice.

After charming her with her Spanish and just overall “charming-ness”, the woman not only gave us a recommendation but offered us a ride!

Now she drove basically a car a bit smaller than a VW bug. And there were 6 of us and one of her...but we piled in. She drove us to this restaurant, we climbed a mountain (ok...just a big hill) to get there, had to confront two drooling street dogs just to find out that the restaurant was closed.

As it turns out, about 90% of the restaurants do not open until 9:30 in Chile...they eat LATE around here. But as most of you know, when I’m hungry, I’m HUNGRY. And the hunger panic was setting in...never good.

So we found another good place to eat with about 10,000 choices (imagine Cheesecake Factory in Chile) and were all promised by Chris (the only man of the group) that there was a Churros stand that we MUST go to for dessert.

So off we went, forgoing the delicious desserts at our own restaurant to find pretty much, NOT churros. They had a remote similarity in shape but were pretty much Styrofoam tubes filled with an unidentifiable caramel colored goo. Yum. Needless to say, Chris has still not heard the end of that one.
The next morning, it was off to find the beach and have a day of fun and sun. We woke up very disappointed to see a comletely grey sky. Damn.

But, the owner of the hostel assured us that at 12:00, things would be better. So we strapped on our beach gear and started walking. Again, walking and walking throuhg sand dunes, over railroad tracks, more sand and as of 11:57, the sky was still grey.

No joke...by about 12:11, the place was blue skies, nice sand beaches, slight breeze and sparkling waters. Probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

There wasn’t too much to do around Arica so we made our own beach fun, played in the water, took silly pictures and found a great gelato place.






Overall...great beach day. Somehow (again, thanks to Frank´s charm), we found a bus to take us exactly where we needed to go and we went up to the top of a “mountain”...in the distance of this picture to get some more good pics, check out the big J-man and watch the sunset. Pretty awesome.
That night, after much convincing, I was persuaded to go to the Chilean club...Zonna. Basically, it’s 4 clubs in one. A latin room, a “retro” room, a weird room with tables for two and candles and basically, a “techno” club.
We sampled a few rooms and the demographics were as different as the music. And seriously, I think about 80% of Arica was within the walls of Zonna that night.

We danced and headed back to the hotel... We had to go to church int he morning.Yep...I went to not only just visit the famous church (built by Mr. Eiffel) but went to the entire mass. Like I said, Jesus is big around here.
After church, it was back to the airport and back to Peru.We all went out to dinner at a place that specializes in MEAT. So basically, I loved it. (back on meat by the way after the mishap in the Amazon...)
I had a plate of steak, ostrich and alpaca...yum.
So to sum it up...another great weekend, another beautiful beach, another chance to take fun pictures and another stamp in the passport.
xoxo,
Debra

Monday, September 15, 2008

Loyal Blog Readers...

I have been a terrible blogger lately. I hope you have not all lost hope in me.

I promise there will be a new entry up here in less than 24 hours...and it'll be good.

I have a new passport stamp since I last blogged and some fun pictures too...

So moral of the story...STAY TUNED! Keep checking and commenting and I will do my best not to let you down...

24-hours starts now...

xoxo,
Debra

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Obsessed.

This blog entry will not be long. It does not have pictures. It is just a plain and simple check-in to say...I AM OBSESSED WITH PERU!

I arrived here on Sunday and since, have been falling in love with the city, the people, my host family, the school, the food...pretty much everything ever since I arrived.

I am living in Arequipa for my last leg of the journey. Arequipa is a big city of about 1 million people and I think I forgot how much I love living in a big city. The energy is amazing, the pace is awesome...and there is one cab for every 4 people here...SWEET!

The other volunteers are fabulous. Every one of them...just great. I have managed to find friends again and even make a fun weekend trip plan to visit the beaches of Chile (stay tuned...next entry...)

Ok...there are no words to describe my host family. Don't get me wrong, all of my host families have been amazing and all very different. It's been great to experience living with families so different than my own.

But here in Peru, it's like I could be living in my own house! I live in this modern neighborhood with THE most amazing people. My "mom" and "sister" are always pumping the tunes through the house, watching trashy VH1 reality TV, surfing the internet (yes...I have a computer in the house) and having fun dinners with their girlfriends. And the food is...ridiculously amazing.

Seriously...for any of you out there worried about my taste buds, they are seriously in taste bud rehabilitation right now. Meals are amazing and I even get dessert...this is a first in 5 months of travel.

In fact, the other night, dessert wasn't quite ready when I was done with dinner so what did she do? She served me warm sweet rice in milk with cinnamon IN BED. Are you kidding me??

Weather...about 75-80 degrees, clear blue skies and sunny every single day. Need I say more?

Oh..and the school...somehow I always forget why I came here once I start talking food. But the school is so wonderful. I am back to teaching the little ones (1st and 2nd graders). They are definitely much more "spunky" than any other country I've been in so far (for you non-teachers out there...spunky is code for little hellions) but they are so much fun.

So that about sums up Peru. In a word...I'm obsessed.

xoxo,
Debra

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Galapagos...Are you freaking serious??

Ok...so from the title of this blog, I think it's pretty clear that I had an unbelievable time. I mean unbelievable in the literal term...like I actually could not believe what I was seeing about 98% of the time of my 8 days.

So since I am officially an obsessed blogger, I now experience things and immediately think, "how am I going to capture this in the blog?" I came up with three conclusions on this one:

  1. I can't. Plain and simple. Will NOT be able to capture this experience. I mean, I consider myself to be a pretty good writer and pretty darn verbal but seriously...this is impossible.
  2. On the same note as number 1...pictures are my only hope here so there are a LOT on this blog...more pictures, less words. And remember, I'm traveling with a little digital camera. This is without a powerful zoom and no crazy tricks...I was actually this close to these animals.
  3. Trying to do this day-by-day would probably take about 8 days to read and even longer to write. So I've decided to split it up into categories: The Boat, The People, The Animals, The Land and The Injuries
Here goes...

The Boat:
After much consideration, I decided to treat myself on the boat choice. After all, I've paid my dues in musky hostels, right? What have I got to prove. Plus, I figure it's one thing to take a chance on dry land...it's definitely another level of insanity to go on a "budget" boat.

So the Archipel II was my home for the last 8 days...
It was really nice but don't get me wrong...this was no Royal Carribbean. This boat held max 16 people (although I had a hard time imagining that) but we had 10 the first 4 days and only 5 of us the last 5 days (no...5 people did not fall overboard...you could choose how long of a cruise to take).

So despite the "luxury" class of this boat, I was still told that I would be sharing a cabin with a stranger. Now as many of you know, I have "People in my Room Induced Insomnia" so I was a bit nervous about this. But...I was blessed by the Galapagos Gods and I got my own room since the boat wasn't full.

Lucky for me because from this picture, I clearly needed one bed to sleep in and one to put my luggage on...
Next question coming from all the mothers out there...how was the food? Again, no Royal Caribbean but not too bad either. The problem? We were usually eating in the midst of some cross-ocean sail that was, to say the VERY least...ROCKY!

I managed to keep everything down but I think all of us looked very green at one point or another around this table...
And what review of the boat would be complete without a picutre of me driving the boat?The People:
Well, when you are on a boat for 8 days with only a few other passengers, you actually get to know people pretty well! During our first 4 days, there was a family on board of an older guy (who happened to be Israeli), his younger wife (who happened to be Ecuadorian) and their 10-year-old niece (who was from Spain).

Now I know I've metioned before that I grew up with a dad who took a LOT of pictures. But dad...I have met your match and beyond. This family must have walked off of this boat with more than 2000 pictures of this 10-year-old chick in front of everything. I mean not just animals..I mean like every single rock, cloud and raindrop. God help their family who has to live through that slideshow.
On board was also a great couple from Spain, a young couple from London and a fun couple from Australia joined us for the last 5 days. I was the only passenger who spoke both English and Spanish so I spent a good amount of time translating...and it was great!
The last person to mention here is our guide...Mauricio. As they say in Spanish, Mauricio had a large stick up his ass. I apologize to you younger readers but seriously, this guy smiled ONE time in 8 days and it was for this picture.
No joke...I asked him a question once and he literally was like "I already told you that Iguanas regulate their temperatures through their heads 3 days ago! You need to listen Debra." Needless to say, I was pretty scared of Mauricio and this wasn't the only time I was yelled at by him. One time, after snorkeling off the sandy beach, I had a bit of sand on my flip-flop when I boarded the boat. Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

The Animals:
So for any of you out there who haven't really heard much about the Galapagos before (kind of like my 9.5 days ago), the main attraction is deifnitely the animals. Honestly, this is the part that is aboslutely unbelievable and completly impossible to describe.

The animals let you walk right up to them and look at you just as annoying paparazzi. We saw iguanas, larger than life turtles, weirdest birds ever...I seriously have no idea how to describe it. Just look at some pictures, ok? Then multiply the coolness of these by about a million and you are somewhere close to getting it...

Crabs...these guys were EVERYWHERE:
Iguanas: Again...everywhere...and there are several types although I don't know the difference between them and trust me, I was not about to ask Mauricio twice...

Turtles:
These turtles are huge, super old (sme more than 150 years!) and freaking awesome...
This sign is from a turtle breeding center and I had to take a picture...in case you can't read it, it says: "It is not easy for giant tortoises to mate!" And then proceeds to show an animated depiction of the event...
This is a RIVOTTING video of a giant turtle...watch out Spielberg...
video
And yes...this is my IN an actual turtle shell:

Sea Lions:
I've decided that I need a pet Sea Lion. Here is one trying to steal some fish from a local fisherman...


Takin' a snooze with some sea lions...And here is a video of a Seal Lion learning how to waddle!
videoBirds: I'm not a fan of birds. But some of these were great. The most notable? The Blue-Footed Boobie (still funny at 27-years-old...a bird called Boobie...)
And yes, oddly enough, there are penguins on the Galapagos:
And flamingos...
Underwater: So I took 3 rolls of pictures with my underwater camera but those have to get developed the old fashioned way. But I did manage to snorkle a total of 9 times in 8 days and see everything from sting rays and sharks (yes mom...I swam with sharks...) to huge sea turtles and sea lions. Oh...and don't worry...I found Nemo too...
Here is a shark I got from land but seriously, I am counting on my $15 Kodak disposable camera...it really was an amazing and terrifying experience!

The land:
So I guess because I had been on other island cruises and because I've seen Gilligan's Island a few times, I had visions of lush tropical greenery and coconut trees. Wrong.

The Galapagos is some weird combination of landing on the moon and Mars...with a gorgeous beach...again...I'm going to rely on the photos here...
And another pretty cool thing on the Galapagos...Post Office Bay!

This crazy mailbox (seriously...off an episode of Gilligan's...) is a place where people can drop their postcards. BUT...they must get delievered by hand!
So basically, you drop postcards in and then look for postcards to people near to where you live and have to deliver them to their door. I mananged to find 3 Minnesota post cards and will deliever them when I get home!
And I sent a postcard to my parents (and you guys say I never write...) so we'll see how many years it takes to get there!

The Injuries:
Yep...what blog would be complete without a quick review of the injuries??

So I spent the last 8 days diving with sharks and climbing sharp rocks but none of those things took me down. What did you ask? A deck chair.

Yep. I was dragging a deck chair in an effort to find some shade and managed to drag it directly over my big toe. Let's just say that the Galapagos has captured my right big-toe nail. Ouch!

And one other injury...

Now I told this story to my friend Rachel this morning and her first words "Do NOT tell your parents this story." So parents...if you are reading this, this may be a good time to stop.

For the rest of you...

So I was on a snorkel and a strong current came along and shoved me into a pretty sharp rock. I felt a little scrape but was so mesmorized by the marine life that I didn't take too much notice. About 3 minutes later, I spotted my first of several sharks....WOW!

So when I boarded the dingy and looked down and say my leg was bleeding quite a bit, I realized that snorkling with sharks while bleeding...maybe not the smartest thing this girl has ever done, huh? Here's a picture of the leg after it was all cleaned up for the visualists...quite a few scratches though!
Ok...well that sums up the Galapagos. Actually, no it doesn't. But it is the best I can do.

And I definitely can't leave you with a picture of my scraped leg as a final impression of the Galapagos. So how is this...a rainbow on our final night...
Simply magical.

xoxo,
Debra

P.S...Next post from Peru!