Day 1 - Cusco (day spent acclimating to the city, 11k feet above sea level)
Viva Peru! I was so blessed to be able to take my son, nephew, and two nieces on a Humanitarian Trip to Peru with Choice Humanitarian. Google them, they have got this humanitarian thing down!
I have been blessed to have traveled a lot, but never have I experienced such beautiful and clean cities from Cusco to Ollentaytambo, to Aguas Calientes, within a 3rd World country.
Day 2 - Awanakancha and Ollentaytambo (travel from Cusco through the Sacred Valley on the way to Aguas Calientes)
This was not listed on our itinerary so imagine my surprise when we stopped at the Llama and Alpaca Farm! Best day ever for this animal lover!
Ollentaytambo stole my heart! Our stay here was not long enough, but so glad we stopped! This is the nearest city to the start of the 4 day Inca Trail Hike. It has here where we caught the Inca Train to Aguas Calientes.
Day 3 - Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes, the city at the base of Machu Picchu, was so quaint! There are only two ways into Aguas Calientes, train or hike! There are zero cars here! Busses were brought in on the train in order to transport guests to the base (although uphill) of Machu Picchu.
Need I say more? Absolutely awestruck!
The Incas started building Machu Picchu approx. 1450 and it took them a minimum of 100 years to build it. In approx. 1546, they abandoned this beautiful city and it was left undiscovered for the next 400 years. There are many more buried Inca trails (an Inca trail is identified by three levels of stone pathways built on top of each other) in these mountains, but the government isn't currently interested in appropriating funds to uncovering them. The locals who discover leave these trails well enough alone because of the highly poisonous Furtado snakes that live in these tropical forests.
Day 4 - Travel Day (Aguas Calientes to Cusco to Lima to Piura)
Welcome to life in a developing country! I was wondering when we were going to start experiencing mishaps like these!
During our return travels from Aguas Calientes to Cusco our train suddenly blew an engine. Within seconds our car filled with smoke and we were evacuated with only the belongings already on us. I had a crossbody purse with our passports around my shoulder, but soon became slightly worried that all my cash and credit cards were in my backpack still under my seat. Note to self, run when told to run, but always grab the essentials even when they tell you not to! Apparently, trains can run on their remaining diesel engines, so after about 30 minutes we were off again.
When we arrived in Lima we were pleasantly surprised at the quality and niceness of Hotel Los Portales and were so anxious to get settled, when all of the sudden our elevator stopped between floors. Our bellhop, Junior, was the best! He kept the mood light and humorous as he could tell some of us were concerned. Unfortunately, ringing the alarm didn't seem to be getting anyone's attention. I was able to facetime Tristan who was still at Floor 1 in the hallway with his luggage and tell him he needed to get someone to get us out! All of the sudden, we see Shawn's hands prying the elevator doors open (Shawn was the Salt Lake City paramedic, traveling with us with Choice). Woohoo! We did have to jump down since we were stuck between floors.
Day 5 - Arrival in Santa Elena, Piura, Peru
We were welcomed to the village of Santa Elena with a party complete with lei's, a band, a parade, dancing, and lots and lots of pictures! The moms all wanted to take pictures with Tristan (light hair and clear eyes) and they handed their babies to him and I, as well!!
Umm, these sleeping conditions were not what we expected! The mayor was so gracious to put us up in his home, but we were still a little surprised by the dirt floors (with tarps), the mosquito nets and scorpions. Then on top of that, I blew up my air mattress pump before the boys got to use it and they were not happy with me! Expedition leader to the rescue; an hour later. Whew! Another note to self: bring battery operated air pump when visiting foreign countries!
Day 6, 7 & 8 - Work
Today we worked and worked. We started digging the trenches to pour the foundation for the preschool, painted roof tiles (albeit, we did paint the wrong side on day 1 - oops), and built rebar columns.
We made hundreds of ecobricks (empty water bottles filled with whatever you can find in the environment) for the children's playground wall.
Day 6, 7 & 8 - Play
Part of Choice's humanitarian expeditions always involve play time with the children and interpersonal interactions with the villagers. These, of course, become some of our most cherished memories. The teenagers were shy while we were there and they mostly watched us from afar after they returned to the village from school. The boys did challenge us to a soccer game the day before we left, which they of course, won!
We also visited the pre-primary school, ages 3-5, where we read to them in spanglish, played, and danced the day away!
Besides soccer, the Trombo, was the toy of choice amongst the boys of Santa Elena. They spun these wooden tops for hours, picking them up and placing them on our hands as we tried to balance them. We bought a few for 4 soles each, about 1.25 USD, and the boys spent hours teaching us how to wrap them up and throw them.
Day 8 - A Day in the Life and Farewell Festivities
Today we split into small groups and visited with various families as we learned about their daily lives in the village of Santa Elena. Our group was picked up by a donkey pulling a cart for us to ride on out to the fields. We did feel a little bad as the donkey seemed to be working quite hard to pull our weight! We visited the cotton fields and tasted guayabas while on our tour.
The evening was spent with a parade in our honor and a fabulous Peruvian fireworks display. We loaded into balloon decorated trucks and motocabs and toured around the village waving and shouting, "Ciao" to all our new friends. The children ran behind the trucks, but it wasn't long before they clambered aboard to ride with us. Our truck gained so much weight from carrying all the extra children, that at one point it started rolling backwards as it attempted to climb a hill. The children got scared and started jumping off. I have never shouted "move" louder in my life! Unfortunately, I was shouting in English as my Spanish failed me in a moment of panic. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was only a matter of seconds before they all jumped back on with smiles on their faces!
The village of Santa Elena celebrated Choice Humanitarian with a tower of fireworks that will always be remembered!
Day 9 - Pictures of our somewhat finished projects (the preschool and park will be completed by the village)
Highlight - Traveling with Dr. Jim Mayfield, Co-founder of Choice Humanitarian
We had the privilege of traveling and learning from Dr. Jim Mayfield, co-founder of Choice Humanitarian and world renowned expert in rural government reform. His recent work bringing an entire region out of extreme poverty in Nepal is being published this fall. We left Dr. Mayfield in Peru as he stayed to train his in-country staff on his this new model. This man is truly dedicated to ending poverty and an inspiration to all.