Saturday, July 7, 2012

Volunteering in Pamplona Alta, Lima, Peru Shanty Town

My time in Peru is now down to under two weeks which means it is time to get down to business and get the last adventures under my belt before heading back to the United States. I have always enjoyed traveling and meeting new people but my time in Peru has really taken that to a new level. Although I am a big talker, Peru has been a bit of a challenge for me in "gab" department because I am speaking in a different language and living amongst people from a different culture. While the language was a bit of a challenge at first, I must say my Spanish has progressed by leaps and bounds compared to my first week in Lima! A big part of adjusting to the culture in Peru has been by talking with the locals and getting involved in the community. 

Many students go abroad to study and have the time of their lives; but while I did come to Peru to study and have the time of my life, I would say my adventures have been abnormal to say the least in comparison to most people my age studying abroad. While in Peru some of my best memories have been going out into the poorest areas of Lima and volunteering or going out and volunteering in homes for underprivileged children. I have gone on volunteer trips with people from my study abroad program, I have sought out volunteer opportunities by myself, and I have been going on volunteer trips with people from my local church here in Lima. Overall all these adventures have really added to my overall love of Peru! 

To highlight my volunteer adventure from last weekend I first want to give a little background on the group that I went with. Back on Mother's Day I attended Potential Church for my first time, a local Christian church located near Parque Kennedy in Lima, and it was really refreshing to be able to plug in with a local church. The first day when I entered the church I was immediately welcomed with open arms by a nice greeting team and I had a great chat with the head pastor of the church as well. From the moment I walked through those doors into the service and met the greeting crew I could feel the presence of God moving through the building and I knew that God had some big plans for me with the people in the church! After that first service I was hooked and decided to come back the next week and I was even able to bring a friend. After the second service attending Potential Church I was invited to attend Elevate which is a group of young adults who get together after the service to play games, have a snack, and share a short message. That first evening getting to know other young adults within the church, who were locals of Peru, was a really great experience and again I could feel that this group was going to play a big part in my future activities in Peru. Fast forward to today, over a month after that day and I now have a group of friends that I can call on at any time of day to hang out and give me support in anything I need. 

A photo of where we were working in Pamplona Alta.

Alrighty well not that you have a bit of a background on what the Elevate group is I can share more about my experience in Pamplona Alta. Last Friday we had the day off of school so a group of us from Elevate got together to practice some skits and dances to present to the children in Pamplona. While my Spanish is still progressing my friends quickly put me in the skits group and taught me a few theatrical things for the following day in Pamplona. After learning my parts in the skits I also jumped in and learned one of the dance routines that we presented for the kids. Saturday afternoon our group headed up the hill to Pamplona Alta and I was quickly introduced to a part of Lima that I was not very familiar with. While taking buses in Lima I have seen poor areas of town but I really had no clue the extensiveness of poverty that some people live in on a day to day basis in Peru. While in Pamplona Alta I got just a glimpse of how the people live on so little but are truly much happier than many people that have a lot more. 
The boys were pumped and ready to win the game!
My costume and a cute little girl who was a bit skared of my costume. 
When we arrived at the area we were supposed to do our skits and dances we were informed that the kids were not there. Rather than getting discouraged and heading home we just took that as a challenge to go make some more friends and find kids who wanted to come see our presentation. In order to do this I was given this pretty pink wig, a pink nose, a crazy color hat, a big tie, and a pair of extra large glasses to wear as we went looking for children to join us. After a short 10 or 15 minutes we gathered up about 10 kids and then returned to the area where we were going to perform. After presenting one of the skits and one of the dances more kids started to come until we finally wound up having about 40 kids watching and participating. During our time with the children we presented a few skits and dances, played a game, and left all the kids with a little treat to say thank you for participating. I must say that during the trip my favorite little kid was this little boy that couldn't stop dancing the whole time we were playing the music. The video above captures just one of the songs where the little boy is moving and grooving and shaking his hips! 
Shake them hips!
After just a short two hours we had to leave, but in the short time we were in Pamplona Alta my eyes were really opened to the joy that can be had when we take time to enjoy the small things in life. Taking three or four hours out of my day to go to this Shanty Town provided these children with entertainment that made their weekend and it also provided me with a memory I will remember for many years to come! Throughout the whole experience it was great to get to spend time with my friends and really walk out a life of service! While I have always enjoyed volunteering this trip really helped show me that giving back in the community is one of the most rich experiences a person can have while traveling abroad. For this I challenge anyone traveling to not only be a consumer in the society you are traveling to but also be a part of the community and give back through getting involved with the locals, I assure you that you will not regret it! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Life in a Nutshell

This is a photo from one of my volunteer projects where I was a clown!
Wow it has been almost a month since I wrote a blog and it feels like just yesterday I wrote my blog about dancing in Parque Kennedy for the TV show Esto es Guerra. But is has been a month and I guess it just goes to show that time sure does fly when you are having fun! I will definitely go back and highlight some of my adventures in the coming weeks but right now I should be studying for my final presentations and final exams. In the school department I only have this week and next for classes and then the first week of June are my finals so I need to hunker down and focus on classes. That being said I wanted to update you all on just a few things I have been doing. In a way to cut back on the chitter chatter and make sure I get some exciting highlights out I think I will use a bullet point format goes nothing:

  • On Mother's Day I got to speak with my parents and older sister on Skype and it was a great to see their faces and hear their voices again!  
  • Also on Mother's Day was my first time going to a church here in Peru and I ended up at Potential Church which has been a true blessing from God! 
  • In the last few weeks I started a second blog that is only focused on food...yes you read that correctly I am writing a blog about FOOD! That is one reason I have been writing on here less often. That being said if you would like to learn some recipes from Peru come take a look at my Culinary Arts Abroad blog!
  • I have gone on a number of volunteer trips with a group of young adults from my church as well as a group of fellow international students and it has been a blast getting to serve in the community here! I would highly suggest that if you ever find yourself abroad that you take some time to volunteer and give back to the community, it is well worth your time!
  • Along with attending Potential Church I have been going to their young adults program called Elevate and I have made many friends that have added many fun times to my experience in Peru!
  • I know I mentioned my food blog but I want to point out that I also found a great market to buy peanuts near my house, where I can buy a whole kilo (2.2 pounds) of peanuts for just over $4. That means I have been making peanut butter and candied peanuts like crazy! While Peruvians aren't accustomed to peanut butter they sure do love the taste! Here is my recipe if you want to try to make it yourself! 
  • Finally a bit about school...Classes are progressing and I much more comfortable with my Spanish skills now! While school is challenging I am learning a lot about the culture through my classes and I am gaining a new perspective and appreciation for education! 
Overall Life is Good and I will make sure to share more stories with you all soon! I have one month left in Peru and I intend to milk it for all it's worth, so be praying for me to keep my focus on school for the next three weeks and then finish off my trip with a fun two weeks of freedom! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dancing in the Park

Have you ever been walking through the park when something catches your attention out of the corner of your eye, and you are immediately intrigued and wanting to know more about the situation? Well this past Thursday I was finishing up a meeting with my pastor, at a coffee shop, when I decided to take a stroll through the park to look at the scenery on my way back home. As I was walking I looked at the different crafts that were being sold, smelt the lovely smells of the foods in the park, and then out of the corner of my eye I saw a camera crew and a guy standing there with a microphone...

I don't know about you, but when I see a random TV crew and a person with a microphone I often ponder what they are doing and then wander over to get a better look. At that moment it looked like the guy was not only standing there waiting to record a show, but he was looking for volunteers to join him. Since that was the case, I made eye contact with the guy holding the microphone and was quickly pursued and asked to join in on their festivities. Being the adventurous person I am I jumped on the opportunity to join in the fun and then realized that I was joining a group of Peruvian guys to do a dance routine. At the time I wasn't really sure what the show was, but soon after dancing I found out that the show was called "Esto es Guerra" and it was a game show where guys and girls compete against one another.

Before starting the recording we had a few quick run-throughs of the moves we were supposed to be doing and then we got down to business and started filming. Since everything was in Spanish I was not 100% sure what we were doing but I caught on pretty quick. Then within a few seconds of our recording I saw one of the producers point out to the male host that I had blue eyes, as did he, and they had me come up to the front and we showed of our blue eyes to the camera. One thing that I have noticed being in South America is that they really like blue eyed people! Anyways, after showing off our eyes I began to return to my position when the host told me that I was supposed to stay up front and show off a dance move to the camera. Having been put in similar positions I through down a move or two and then realized that everyone was following along, so the host told me to continue. So what did I do...I threw down moves like the sprinkler, shopping cart, among others. Along with that I had people move forward and back and side to side and they would all follow along. I have to admit it was a pretty fun experience!

After the dance I watched the ladies do their dance and quickly realized that the dudes were far superior in their dance skills, although I may have been mildly biased. When all was said and done I went up and met the two hosts and a few of the crew members and they informed me that that show will be aired this following Monday the 28th of May at 6:30 PM on Channel 4. If you are in Peru you should definitely tune in to watch "Esto es Guerra" this following Monday and watch me as I make a fool of myself on TV!

To further the events of this story I will add that I actually saw some of the crew members later on that evening while I was walking to a friends house in another part of town. As I passed by a parked car I made eye contact with the person in the passenger seat, who looked a bit familiar, and then the gal in the backseat said "Dani, Dani!!!" I was a bit confused for a second as to who it was and then realized it was the group from the park that I had danced for earlier that afternoon. What a small world, right. As I talked with them the second time I shared with them that I had an idea for another dance party in the park that was inspired by the video on youtube called "Dance Walking Fitness." Now I am hoping to connect with the cast and crew from "Esto es Guerra" and film an amazing Dance Walking routine through Parque Kennedy in Lima, Peru as a way to unite music, exercise, and dance all together with friends and foreigners!

Stay tuned to see what will happen in the following weeks regarding this story. Hopefully I will have an amazing followup story that includes a video of us dancing in the park as well as a clip from the TV show that was filmed in our first encounter in the park!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Natural Beauty of the Amazon Jungle

There is something majestic about being in the jungle that is hard to explain in words, whether it is the sounds of the birds, the natural beauty of the plants and flowers, or the smell after a torrential downpour, all these things just add to the sheer beauty of the jungle. Being my first time in the jungle I did not really have an idea of what to expect, but after 5 days soaking up the views of the jungle I can definitely admit that it is one of the most peaceful and relaxing places I have ever been in my entire life. Since I was only in the jungle for 5 days I decided to wake up every morning in order to listen to the animals as they woke up and watch as the jungle came to life. Above everything else I think witnessing the view and sound of the jungle waking up every morning as the sun came up was one of the most rewarding things to see every day! 

While seeing creatures of the jungle in their natural habitat is preferable, being a part of a group of 40 Americans can make it a bit hard to come in contact with many of the animals of the Amazon. That being said, we were able to go to an amazing animal orphanage and butterfly house called: Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm where there were many species of butterflies and a variety of orphaned animals from the surrounding area. Since it had rained early that day there wasn't as much activity in the butterfly exhibit but nevertheless I did manage to get some beautiful pictures of the butterflies! Along with the butterflies there were a number of monkeys, an anteater, and a jaguar. Since the shelter has so many different types of animals they have a number of volunteers that help keep things running smoothly, one eager volunteer for example is pictured below...he ofter partakes in monkey business when interacting with those needing the bathroom. 

Along with going to the animal shelter and butterfly house we were also able to try our luck at fishing for the local piranhas. Since the jungle has had severe floods this season the fishing was not very good in the river so for this reason we actually went to a pirana park where we were able to try our luck at fishing in a little lagoon, which was located a few minute walk into the jungle. While the lagoon was supposed to be a bit easier to fish, only one person from our group was able to hook a piranha. Although we didn't catch as many fish as hoped we did get some quality experience between baiting our own hooks, walking around with a handful of meat, and using the traditional stick and string as a fishing rod. Before we left the piranha park I did make sure Luis, the guy who caught the fish, gave a big kiss to his new fishy friend. Growing up in Alaska I would always kiss the fish I caught so I figured having someone else continue the tradition was a good idea. 

To top off the trip and we were able to go to a manatee rescue site in Iquitos where we were all able to feed the manatees and learn a little about the operation that was being run to take care of the rescued manatees. While feeding the manatees I really enjoyed the feel inside of their mouths because they didn't really have any teeth, it was more of just a slimy mouth hungry to suck down all the fruit and milk in site! 

While my time in the jungle had to end at some point I was very happy to not only have the experience to remember but also some amazing photos, videos, and stories to help me remember the trip for years to come. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Amazon Jungle: Becoming one with the Natives

My whole childhood I grew up in Alaska with the beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, animals, and all the other natural beauty within the great state of Alaska. That being said, growing up around such breathtaking things causes you to forget the true beauty that is before you, and begin to take it for grantid. I started traveling a good bit my junior year of high school and I began to realize that what I had back home in Alaska was something many people would never get to experience in their entire live. When I realized what beauty I had begun to overlook I began to pay more attention to the nature around me and truly admire what amazing things I was blessed to experience out my front door. Two weeks ago I went to the Amazon Jungle in Iquitos, Peru and I have to say this is another one of those places in the world where the natural beauty will blow you away. 
Since I was visiting the jungle with about 40 American students, who are studying in Peru for the semester, we were all excited to not only experience the majestic nature, but also to learn about the indigenous culture of the people of the Amazon. To do so we started off our trip by visiting one of the local indigenous tribes to learn about their ways of life. While the first tribe we visited was accustomed to foreigners, having a presentation prepared daily for tourists, we were still able to learn new things about their way of life. My favorite part about visiting the tribe was that they were all dressed in their native garb, working together as a family, and sharing their heritage with us at the same time. At the end of our time visiting the tribe they did a show where they presented a few typical dances and songs of their tribe and then allowed us to join in with their dancing. Above you will see a video that shows just a glimpse of what the dances were like. 

The first day in the jungle we traveled around in a nice metal boat with plenty of protection from the sun and rain with lots of space for our luggage; the rest of the time, however, we toured the jungle in more authentic wooden boats that often had a slight leak to them. While some people were scared that we were going to sink, I thought it was pretty cool to not only be in the jungle, but to be adapting to the ways of life of the locals. One other way I as able to show my willingness to adapt to the culture was by eating large bugs during dinner the first night. Bugs were not on the menu but there was a popular peruvian television network that was at our lodge filming and when I walked through the line it was perfect timing to get offered a big juicy jungle bug, to enjoy while being filmed on television. I jumped at the opportunity and was pleasantly surprised by the rich taste of the bug. The head on the other hand was a bit crunchy and I was not really sure whether or not I was supposed to eat it, so I did anyway. 

Later on during our trip we visited a second small village where we met the people of the Gen Gen and Centro Fuerte tribes. Here again we were taught about the traditional customs, habits, trade goods, and some more indigenous dances. While being taught about hunting the chief allowed us each to try his hunting blow dart gun, which was about two meters or six feet long. Trying the dart gun was very exciting because we got to not only witness the chief demonstrate the use of the gun, but we also got to try our skills out on a target. After we all successfully hit the target we were taught another dance that was symbolic of the fire ants. They called it the dance of the fire ant because in that area of the jungle there were many ants and they would need to keep moving their feet in order to keep the ants off of them. Again I got to dance with a cute little girl who showed me the ways of the native dance. This second tribe was definitely my favorite because the chief and his wife had a great sense of humor and were always laughing. The kids were also running around like baby Moglis which made me think of the jungle-book.

Overall the time spent immersing ourselves in the life of the jungle proved to be very gratifying and fun! Whether it was bailing water out of a boat, eating jungle bugs, or dancing with the natives, there was plenty of fun to be had if one was willing to commit to being one with the jungle! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunsets and Sunrises in the Amazon Jungle

Just over a week ago I got back from being in the Amazon Jungle in Iquitos, Peru where I spent four amazing days exploring the jungle, learning the ways of the indigenous tribes, and soaking in the pure beauty of the jungle. Every morning while in the jungle I took the opportunity to start the day with a quite time taking photos while listening to the nature. While there was no human in site from 5:15 till 5:45 every morning, while I watched the sunrise, I was joined daily by a very friendly parrot who would would say "Hola" and then relax with me as we took in the beauty of the first morning rays. While I normally have a pretty lengthy commentary about my day I will let this entry speak mostly for itself and just add a few extra photos. I will be posting another entry or two about the jungle so be sure to come back to read them! 

Since there are less words today it would be great to hear a response from people looking at the photos, which photo do you enjoy the most? 

 Right as the sun was beginning to set on our first day. 

 Sunset on Day 1 

 Day 1 just about dark

 Early morning Day 2. 

 5:30 AM Day 2. 

5:29 AM Morning Day 2

 Day 2 Morning Conversation

 6:00 AM Day 2

 Sun is up Day 2

 Day 2 Morning Reunion

 Sunset Day 2

Sunset Day 2

 Sunset Day 2

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Islas Ballestas Paracas - Ica

I don't know about you but when I travel I thrive off of meeting new people and experiencing new things that I don't generally take part in during my life back home in the states.  Since being in Peru I have made some amazing friends that will definitely be a part of my life for many years to come.  Whether traveling with friends, family, or complete strangers, there are many things that you begin to learn about yourself and others when traveling in buses and living in close quarters with each other.  So far during my trip in Peru I have really begun to realize the small things that happen around me that I can be thankful for.  Whether it be food on the table (deliciously prepared by Lucy) or the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, everything we do has the potential to build us up as individuals.  That being said I hope you enjoy some of the pictures and commentary from my trip to Islas Ballestas Paracas. 

While it has been about two weeks since I got back from Ica and Islas Ballestas Paracas I love to look back at pictures and remember the fun times we had.  Before heading to Islas Ballestas Paracas we went sand boarding in La Huacachina and had the time of our lives and then spent the night at the Las Dunas hotel.  If you are staying in Ica for a night I highly suggest this hotel for all travelers.  Between the two pools, volleyball (sand and water), ping pong, golf course, skate park, and paintball arena there is definitely something to do for the whole family!  After a day on the sand dunes I was definitely grateful to be able to jump in the pool and cool off while playing some volleyball!

After a nice night at the hotel we woke up early, had a delicious complementary breakfast, and then headed off to Islas Ballestas Paracas.  I believe the bus ride was around an hour or so but I was pretty tired so I don't think I was up for a minute of it.  Once we got to our stopping point we all took a bathroom break and did a little bit of shopping and then headed on our boat tour.  Before jumping on the boat there were a number of pelicans that were hanging out on the beach and I couldn't help but think of Finding Nemo.  On our boat tour we saw many different aquatic 
birds like pelicans, a few penguins, and peruvian 
boobies (these are birds for those who are wondering).  Since there are so many birds on these islands the locals actually harvest the bird feces, called guano, and use it as a fertilizer.  Guano is a good fertilizer due to its high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.  Besides being a fertilizer guano has also been used to make gunpowder and other types of explosives.  

Besides seeing many birds we also were able to see many sea lions.  One interesting thing I learned from our tour guide is that the main difference between seals and sea lions is that sea lions have ears and seals do not.  While watching the sea lions I couldn't help but envy their laid-back lifestyle, although I don't know how comfortable posting up on rocks all day would be. 

After an afternoon on the water, watching the wildlife, we headed back to the mainland to get some food to eat and finish off our shopping.  If you are a seafood fan I would highly suggest eating ceviche while at the beach because it is hard to find anything more fresh than fish straight out of the ocean.  To finish off my time at Islas Ballestas Paracas I did a brief push up workout with my friend Evelyn.  Since we have been traveling around together to some amazing places Evelyn and I have decided to make a series of push up videos to document where we have been!  I hope you enjoy the video and photos!    

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sand Boarding in the Desert

I have grown up in Alaska all my life so I have become accustomed to cold and dark winters with endless possibilities when it comes to outdoor sports.  That being said I have never been big into snowboarding but I can hold my own when hitting the slopes.  Although I am not generally a boarder, I jumped at the opportunity to try out my skills in a whole new arena, one with the same venture of going down a hill with a board, but rather than having a wintery wonderland as the backdrop of this excursion, I was boarding down a sand dune.  

To hash out more of the experience I want to add a bit more detail about the trip.  I started out the day waking up way too early to get on a bus at 7 AM to head toward La Huacachina, which is a common area outside of Ica where people go to try out sand boarding.  After roughly 4 hours in the bus we arrived at the dunes and we were all itching with anticipation to try our luck at sand boarding.  When we headed out in the dune buggies all I could think about was strapping on a board and risking my life boarding in the desert, but I quickly realized that there was way more in store for me. 
Being a die hard adventurist I love to try new things and risk looking ridiculous and getting a few bumps or bruises while doing so, all of which I expected on this outing, but I was not anticipating having the best "roller coaster" ride of my entire life.... The moment we hit the dunes our driver reved his engine, throttled up, and we were off on a thrilling ride through the sand dunes!  For those weary of roller coasters you may not thoroughly enjoy riding in a dune buggy, but for those of you who like a thrill this is definitely a  must if you are traveling in Peru!   

Once we got to the first photo spot there was a group of girls that couldn't hold back their need to run down the dunes so they not only got the thrill of running down them but they also got to warm up the legs a bit by running back up them!  When we arrived at our first location to try out the boards our guides were not wanting us to standup so we all went down on our stomachs to get a feel of what we were doing.  One of our lovely leaders, Kelly, is shown here rocking the dunes with style!
After getting the thrill of going down on our frontside my friend Olivia and myself couldn't take it any longer and we decided it was time to try out our skills and go down standing up.  While the instructors were not too excited about the idea, we were persistant and as you can see we were able to convince them that we could do it.  While I was a bit skeptic of how well a board would slide down a sand dune I was pleasantly surprised with the thrill of the ride!  Although my board was pretty crappy and not meant to cruise around the dunes, I definitely got a taste of what the extensive desert dunes have to offer for the extreme sport enthusiasts out there!  

To top off a great afternoon at the dunes we ate a delicious meal of lomo saltado and lemonade while overlooking the lagoon in La Huacachina.  

All in all I would highly suggest that you go to La Huacachina and give sand boarding a try for yourself!  To get a better look at what La Huacachina has to offer take a look at this website!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Exercising While Abroad: Machu Picchu Workout

While studying abroad it is hard enough to try and juggle a new culture, new cuisine, new school atmosphere, and new set of friends, yet alone try to fit in a workout now and then. That being said I have done my best to make do with what I have.

Since the first day of being in Lima I quickly realized that all floors here are rock solid, thus there is not really a good place within the house to do a workout on the floor. While I have not actively been searching for an athletic store, that is something that has been and will continue to be on my list of places to go, in order to get a yoga mat or something to exercise on. Despite not having a cushy floor to workout on I have started to do a 100 Push Ups in 8 Weeks workout plan in order to keep my body active. While I have not always been a push up guy I would highly suggest this to anyone who doesn't have a lot of time or space to workout and they want to stay fit. Whether guys or gals this workout is set up to give everyone a good workout! Here is the link for the workout if you would like to follow along!
Along with doing some upper body work I have enjoyed going on evening runs in the park here near my house. The first week or two I was running regularly every other day but then I got to a point where I was having extreme pains in my right knee, being so young I was a bit concerned but I ended up realizing that the major cause seemed to be wearing flip flops all the time. While I am not a doctor and can't confirm 100% that flip flops added to my running struggles I would say that due to the lackage of support in the back of flip flops I started to compensate how I walked and ended up readjusting my step. Now that I have assumed flip flops to be the culprit of my pain I have decided wearing regular shoes more often is an easy enough compromise and it has allowed me to hit the streets again and get in some good cardio workouts!

If anyone out there has suggestions of other good workout to do at home with minimal to no equipment or if you live in Lima and have a suggestion of where to go to buy sporting goods stuff please let me know!

I hope you enjoy the video of me and my friend Evelyn doing some push ups at Machu Picchu. We were inspired by seeing some other Americans busting out some push ups so we decided we would join in the fun, get a workout in, and get some awesome footage of Machu Picchu at the same time!

Thanks for reading and please leave comments below!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Beauty of Machu Picchu

The beautiful Machu Picchu with the Cougar Flag!

Machu Picchu in the morning!

Housing on the side of the hill.

More housing.

Momma and baby llama kissing.

Golden Hour as the sun goes down around Machu Picchu.

After several days visiting Cuzco and the neighboring towns I was already overwhelmed with the beauty I was seeing and all of that was just a glimpse of what was to come...Machu Picchu was definitely the icing on the cake that took my breath away! Our journey to Machu Picchu started Saturday night when we took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.

While on the train I met some ladies from Colorado and we were able to talk about different cultural things we had noticed through our travels as well as talk about our plans for the next day. Since the train ride is scheduled to be two hours I should have done some sleeping but there was no way I could sleep because I was counting down the hours until arriving at Machu Picchu. After finally making it to Aguas Calientes we put our things in the hotel and quickly went off to find some food for dinner. For those traveling to Aguas Calientes you should know that they do often charge a tax so be aware that it may be a little more expensive than you see on the menu. That being said I was able to get a plate of Pollo a la Brasa, which is fried chicken with rice and french fries, for only 8 soles or just over $3. A typical plate that I saw in Aguas Calientes at a decent restaurant was about 8-15 soles, so if you are being charged more then you should look somewhere else.

After finishing up dinner it was time to hit the hay because the first bus to Machu Picchu leaves at 5:30 AM so the lines for the buses start to get pretty long starting as early as 4:30 AM. Luckily we were heading up to Machu Picchu on Easter Sunday so there weren't as many people, but in general it is good to try to get in line thirty minutes to an hour before you plan on getting on the bus. In addition to taking the bus up the mountain there is also an option to hike up to the entrance which takes about an hour to an hour and a half from the main city of Aguas Calientes. If you do choose to hike to the entrance be sure to have your tickets and passports handy because they will ask for them at the bottom of the hill.

After a fairly quick ride up the mountain we were finally at the main entrance of Machu Picchu. At that moment in time I have to admit I was pretty excited to finally get a glimpse of the Ancient Incan Ruins. After getting our tickets and our passports ready we entered into the main park. Shortly after entering the park you reach the first terrace of Machu Picchu which is where you can take the iconic Machu Picchu picture that you see in so many books and magazines when you are preparing your trip. Since I am a die hard Washing State Cougar I took the opportunity to take my picture with a Cougar flag while also capturing the beauty of the ruins.

Following a photo shoot with people from my program we split up our group and headed on our respective hikes. Since Huayna Picchu only has a limited amount of people that can hike the mountain at all times our group was only able to get enough tickets for about two thirds of our group to climb it. I was one of the ones who didn't get a ticket for Huayna Picchu so I actually got to climb Machu Picchu which is a taller but a bit less steep of a mountain and it is located directly across from Huayna Picchu on the other side of the ruins. Seeing how the elevation of Machu Picchu is over 7,000 feet I would highly suggest buying coca leaves or candies in order to help combat the altitude. Even though there was less oxygen where we were I realized that once I started hiking and kept going for more than two or three minutes I started to get into a grove and my heart beat would even out to the point where it didn't sound like I was dying. After an hour and fifteen minutes I was summiting the top of Machu Picchu and I was able to see the abounding beauty of the ruins, the mountains, the clouds, and everything around.

After our hike of Machu Picchu we regrouped and headed on a tour around the ruins. I would definitely suggest having a tour guide when walking through the ruins because there are a lot of things that would not totally make sense without knowing the significance of the architecture and layout of the city. Since I am here in Peru studying Spanish my tour was in Spanish but there are many tour guides that speak a variety of languages so it is fairly easy to find someone who can speak your language and lead you through the ruins.

Since walking around all day will definitely cause you to get hungry I highly suggest that when traveling to Machu Picchu you bring your own snacks. While it may be a bit more of a hassel to bring your own food it is highly worth it in the long run. Once up at the entrance of Machu Picchu all prices for food and drinks have a multiplier of about 5 times as expensive as their retail would be in Aguas Calientes. For instance a normal water bottle in the city may cost around 1.50 or 2.00 soles but on the mountain it costs 8 soles. For this reason a lunch at the food court on Machu Picchu can easily cost 40-100 soles per person and that doesn't guarantee a yummy filling meal either. So in general bringing in water and food is a far superior way to feed your tired body while up at the ruins.

After a long day at Machu Picchu I finished of my day by going to Los Baños which are hot springs located in Aguas Calientes. It costs 10 soles to get into Los Baños but it is highly worth it at the end of the day. The hot water combined with the pebbles that line the bottom of the pools combine to make the end of the day very relaxing!

All in all my trip to Cuzco, the surrounding areas, and Machu Picchu proved to be by far one of the most beautiful and enriching experiences in my life! For anyone who is a lover of history, nature, and a good time I would highly suggest taking this trip! For those planning on making the adventure these sites add a little more detail on the opportunities at Machu Picchu: