Peruservations

By The Chisnell Inca Trek and Service Group

Mr. Chisnell, along with his students and fellow travel companions spent 12 days in Peru trekking the Incan Trail and volunteering at a local orphanage. Catch up on the highlights of their adventures below.
Contact Cultural Embrace to learn how you can have a Peru Incan Trek and Service Trip of your own or learn how to customize a group trip to a different destination.


7/30/10

Portraits from the trail – by Carolyn Berger

As I thumb through my notes to write a blog post about my impressions during the trip, a multitude of images and smells and feelings come bubbling back to the surface (and, funny enough, one can tell by the relative sprawl of my handwriting how strong they were at the actual time of note). What recurs with somewhat surprising frequency, though, are notations of the facial expressions of my traveling companions; Randon, eyes like saucers, soaking in every second of the Machu Picchu experience after regaling us with his research all trip. Emma, exasperated, reluctantly allowing herself to be draped in a makeshift Snow White costume as we all try not to snicker too hard. Karly, mischievous, cheating at cards and untiringly protesting that it is all part of the game. Steve, equal parts excitement, dread and delight, standing in the back of a pickup truck and announcing to the rest of us at his feet: “It’s the wedding.” Ellen, matter-of-factly planning to die romantically of drug-resistant tuberculosis, suddenly springing a goofy face for pictures. Greg, ever scowling and sardonic, cracking a smile for an ice cream break on day 4 of tough hiking. Alec, grinning broadly, speaking part French, part Spanish and part Airplane! with smart-alecky delight (no apologies for the pun). Dylan, sheepish, drinking a 2.3L bottle of Inca Kola in a train station (“It was only 7 Soles!”). We discussed prior to the trip how we were likely to be welcomed into the towns and families we encountered in Peru, and we certainly were, but it didn’t really occur to me until the end of the trip that our group would also become a temporary little family (or, in the case of the Fort Lauderdale airport Chili’s, actually be mistaken for a real family by a very talkative waiter). Steve writes below about experiencing the trip as a series of moments, and I can certainly agree to that perspective, but the thing that sticks each of those moments in my mind is the way they were shared among our group of new and old friends; none of them would have been the same without each of our unique expressions.


7/24/10

“During Trip” – by Greg Cline

The trekking was actually right about the amount of difficulty I was expecting. Not to say that it would have been disappointing if it was any easier because my blisters can attest to the fact that the trekking was not all nice and fun. I just want to say that I don’t care what anyone else thinks – going uphill is infinitely better than going downhill. Sure you’re short of breath most of the time while going uphill, but once you get in a rhythm going uphill is just plain fun. That’s probably the endorphins released by exercise talking though. Downhill on the other hand, is incredibly hard on your legs and feet. It is a constant pounding and wearing down of your limbs; and the Salkantay trail has enough downhill to last me the rest of my life, I might get escalators installed in my house so I don’t have to walk down the stairs. I was surprised that I didn’t have more trouble with the altitude than I did given that I haven’t done any exercise more strenuous than walking downtown (a couple blocks) in several years. It is certainly a good idea to make sure you’re in good cardiovascular shape before attempting the Salkantay trail, otherwise I think you will have much more trouble with the altitude.

7/16/10

The Curious Case of the Electric Kettle – by Ellen Vial

The following is my account of what happened on 7 July, 2010, the day we arrived at the orphanage in Limatambo. After we landed in Cusco we made the two hour drive to Limatambo (including a brief stop in Cusco proper where we met a man allegedly named Emilio…). Our driver, bless his soul, played worse song after worse song, including (but certainly not limited to!) Oops, I Did It Again, Smooth Criminal, and various New Kids on the Block hits. The road took us through the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever laid eyes on, peppered with impoverished villages proudly displaying election slogans. (Jesus Vargas, 2011!) The orphanage, however, is surprisingly affluent. A ten minute drive up a “road” that turned off of the main highway led us past many ramshackle structures made of red adobe and thatched roofs. I personally expected the orphanage to look and operate similarly, but I apparently couldn’t have been more wrong. The orphanage is a compound of small houses painted blue and white, with tile roofs and wrought iron window treatments. There is no shortage of food, activities, water, or other basic amenities we westerners are used to (aside from a brief evening without electricity). Our group is living in a guest house, complete with four bedrooms, a living room and a fully functional bathroom. On the buffet table in the living room, there is an electric tea kettle. I don’t even have an electric tea kettle at home. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one trying to gentrify this neighborhood.”

7/15/2010

How Was Your Trip? – by Steve Chisnell

Ultimately, after a trip like this, I am asked, “How was it?” The quick response is almost ritualized nonsense: “Amazing,” or “Great,” or “Wonderful.” Of course, attempting to communicate the total experience is difficult, impossible. Our generic answer fails to articulate it and the listener nods dully, uncomprehending. So I don’t try to describe a trip, but moments from it. As my brother was captured by the moments of community around a pick-up truck, so too is Peru for me a series of moments:

* The Limatambo orphans laughing as Ellen (as Dopey in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) falls over smiling from Emma’s Snow White forehead kiss.
* The pre-school children wrapping themselves around the legs of our students as they left; and Carolyn’s Peruvian friend who twice came calling at our house to see if she could come out to play—and who named all of her friends as barnyard animals!
* How we poured a hot malted meal into our cups at 6:30 each morning as breakfast.
* Randon’s updates on hot water as we fired up the outside stove and hoped the pressure gauges would rise. (I had cold showers that week.)
* After riding in the dusty bed of the truck for several miles of sun, the synthesized strains of Lohengrin’s “Bridal Chorus” cut through the motor and we realize that we are not driving to Cusco’s “Marriott” but to see someone “marriéd.” Watching the poor guy chase his runaway bull down the road next to the ceremony!
* Alec’s fortuitous connection with a university professor of anthropology of the indigenous peoples—we couldn’t separate them! I suspect that while I’m typing this they are trading articles on pedagogy.
* The dreaded sand flies which tore into our exposed forearms and calves and ankles. Benadryl cream was the #1 commodity for the trip.
* Eating our cheese slices with our “papas” (potatoes) fresh baked in the Pachamama ovens; believing that the black soot from our fingers somehow made it all taste better; and knowing that the chili sauce offered definitely did.

For me, these experiences were a few of the more memorable. Combine them with our group’s climb through thick shrubs on a sharp slope in order to avoid forging a rushing river, or Karly and Emma’s later dive into that river’s icy water. I loved that Greg found himself a fan club of boys who wouldn’t leave him alone and that Dylan became more or less addicted to Inca Kola. The PE teacher at Rio Blanca played “Hey Jude” on his Quena wood flute while my brother accompanied him on a guitar. And these were just in the first few days of the trip.

None of these were Peru, but each begins a story of our experience, of our connections to people, to foods, to abandonments of US comforts, to a shift in the perspectives of our lives. We kept saying the same thing over and over during our trip: “Think of how many people actually get to go here/see this/do that.” Now when people ask me, knowing that it is unlikely they will ever see what we saw, I owe them the stories.

All that first week, the snowy cap of Salkantay was our backdrop. At night, the stars were so thick the valley was almost lit by the swath of the Milky Way. One afternoon we carried two large cairns of rocks across a river of meltwater as the sandflies ate our calves, and the truck to carry them got stuck in the river mud. We helped rock and push it out—Ellen got thoroughly sprayed with debris—but failed; all we earned was the driver’s invitation to his daughter’s wedding. He turned out to be the local pastor, and the ceremony was beautiful.

Next time I’ll tell them something different.

My notes on Peru: – by Karly Lawniczak

Day 1: Arrival

-Lots of billboards in Lima

-Buildings stacked like shoeboxes
-Most of the bottoms of the trees are painted white

-Inca Kola is disgusting

Day 2: Cuzco and the orphanage

-Taca Peru is the best airline in the world.

-The mountains are beautiful.

-Thanks to a short power outage the southern stars and Milky Way shine even brighter over our cabin

-Unexpected pit stop at the local lemonade stand leads to a plethora of unexpected charges in which we decide to carry all our possessions ourselves on the trek at the risk of paying more money.

Day 3: Orphanage!

-Spent morning inefficiently moving rocks to make a wall

-Got a truck stuck in the river while doing this and met the Pastor who invited us to his daughter’s wedding. (Didn’t think this was going to happen… but hey, we were in Peru!)

-Explored grounds with Emma and found Eucalyptus trees and beehives.

-Went for a short- very short- swim in the river before lunch and almost froze my extremities off.

Day 4: Wedding?

-Went hiking in the morning to find the lake which was supposed to be an hour along the river, surprise it’s actually two.

-Played some more soccer with the kids and whipped Snyder’s butt with the chicas!

-Upon being told to dress up to go to the Marriott Hotel to meet the founder of the orphanage in Cuzco, stumbled upon the Pastors daughter’s wedding and stayed for food and festivities! (Never made it to Cuzco.)

Day 5: Happy Independence Day America.

-Made Incan stone “Mother Earth” ovens to bake potatoes called Whateya (spelled incorrectly, but you could probably pronounce it phonetically this way.) The oven took about an hour to build and then we had to wait for the others to get back with potatoes and cheese from Limatambo to start up the fires. We played volleyball with the kids and a guava while to pass the time. The final product was deliciously baked, accompanied by a piece of cheese and some homemade chilie!

Day 6: The School

Went to the School today and helped out the kindergarteners! By helped out, I really mean we got to play with them outside a lot, and we embarrassed ourselves trying to teach them colours and body parts in English. Because it was our last day, we finally put on our long awaited rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, translated by yours truly and starring Emma as Snow White, Snyder as the Handsome prince/Bashful, and Carolynn as the Wicked Stepmother. The gift exchange went nicely and the kids made us jewelry. I think that my glow sticks were a definite hit.

Day 7: Trek

Ranall (who had been missing for sometime) disappears again today. A seasoned traveler should always remember to go to the bathroom before traveling up bumpy mountain switchbacks. We finally arrived at our treks staring point, with the Salkantay Mountain in view. At lunch, we met Stinky, Ugly, and their cute puppies! Also, Chisnell encouraged us to do drugs. (Albeit they were Coca leaves for tea that was for altitude sickness…) Upon making it to the pass, I collapsed into my tent, shivering from the mountain air which would later freeze me that night.

Day 8:

Woke up with no feeling in my toes today, which was only helped when I stepped into a puddle and the water soon after froze on top of my shoes. The seven switchbacks to the top of the pass were pure torture but those four hours of hiking were complimented by some of the most beautiful sites in the world. Chisnell and Carolynn had fallen far behind at this point, and missed out on the USA vs. Shining Path soccer game where Dylan, Greg, and Mike won some Peruvian beer! Everyone was overjoyed at the sound, sight , smell, and taste of popcorn that night.

Day9:

Got to eat wild strawberries on this morning’s trek, we met Peabody in the morning and collected Mangle and Cloud in the afternoon. The hike was beautiful again today and (thankfully) a lot easier! Went 2 and 0 in the Euchre tourney!

Day 10:

Last day of hiking! We were supposed to see Macchupicchu or something from the top of this mountain, but I only saw fog and more mountains. Not that that wasn’t also pretty… The downhill today was a bit awful and I was ready to cut my feet off. The artificial waterfall was really cool and super pretty and I just wanted to jump in it. The Aguas Calientes hostel was a relief- mostly for its showers and shopping area, where I was able to buy clean clothes!

Day 11: Macchupicchu!

Woke up at 4:30 to be first-ish in line for Macchupicchu! When we arrived the entire sit was covered in fog and you could only see bits and pieces. The fog cleared during our tour and was still dissipating as we climbed to the guards tower for some epic, classic shots of the ruins. The Temple of the Condor wasn’t quite what I expected, as was the strange ode to a Guinea Pig artwork that stood before Hyauna Picchu. The Temple of the Sun was really cool, as was petting a llama. Once again, Ranall has disappeared and was not there to pick us up in Cuzco, but we still made it to our hotel and later, to dinner and dancing.

Day 12: Home(almost)

Explored Cusco a little in the morning with Ellen and Emma, and later got to tour Lima by “bus.” I say bus in quotations because we spent most of our time walking. Miraflores district and the San Francis church/Catacombs/Museum was super cool. Although the artfully arranged skulls and femur bones were a bit disturbing… And so ends out trip to Peru.

(I still have the translation of Snow White if anyone wants it.)

Letter From a Reluctant Snow White- by Emma Green

If time and distance are truly relative, it is no more apparent than when you are travelling. I cannot seem to wrap my mind around the fact the there is really the shape of an ocean, some islands and all the states resting between me and my familiar home. It’s hard to conceive of the fact that I cannot simply catch a taxi back, home to ice water, and all those comforts that seem so routine.

The city, as noted in my sketchbook, is a strange conglomeration of squares and angles. The edges are all sharp lines and distinct corners. It almost looks like a shoe box model of a city that is somewhere else in the world. Everything seems very unreal, in a picturesque vision of urban centers. The countryside differs so greatly from this stacked up apartment style life. The houses are all separated by acres of farmland, spotted with the shacks of vendors displaying their wares. This is so vastly different from the way we structure markets back home, that it must be carefully dissected and taken into account. It is not difficult to locate the differences between societies; it is difficult to fully address them in one simple post.

As strange as it might sound, Peru has a very distinct smell. I’m not sure if it’s related to the food, the urban dwellings, or hygiene and personal cleanliness. But I continually find this one smell wherever we travel. I can’t quite place it, and it is mildly disconcerting, a tiny gap between the boards of a ship already on the water. I’m not sure why this struck me so prominently, no one else seems to have noticed it, yet for me, it is a constant link between each city, mountain, and jungle we travel to.

The people in Peru are anything but unfriendly. Perhaps they prepared in advance, setting out the most welcoming and jovial people to roam Salkantay before we got there. But seeing as this is rather illogical and requires a hefty amount of work, I am forced to believe that these mountain people are genuinely nice. I wonder if altitude or the absence of urbanization has done something to lighten their spirits. I’m sure there are statistics on it somewhere.

There is no possible way to sum up the absurdity of appearing before children, dressed as an illegitimate Snow White one night, sleeping beneath the very visible Milky Way, and climbing up the sides of a mountain in one web entry. I will leave my weak attempt at summary on a single note. There is nothing more refreshing than water taken directly from a cold mountain stream.

Rio Blanco School- by Alec Snyder

Our time at the Rio Blanco School was brief. We were only there for a half-day on Monday, but for me it was our most interesting part of our stay in Limatambo. As a teacher, I am always interested in how others practice the profession, regardless of where the school is. In this case, the school I was observing was located in the Andes Mountains, which was fine by me.

The school day began with the entire enrollment standing in formation in the outdoor athletic court. From a distance, it looked militaristic, but when we got closer it was apparent that the students were regular kids — talking to their friends a nominally paying attention. All the members of our group were introduced and the English teacher of the school translated what we said: “Hi, I am Alec Snyder — history teacher from the United States.” I felt like I should have been able to say that much in Spanish, but I knew if I tried only my two years of college French would come out.

Following our introductions, we were then assigned where we would go in the school. A couple of the kids went to the preschool; two of our students went to the phys. ed. class. A couple of chaperones went to an English Class. I was assigned to go with the History Teacher — and I was very excited. The teacher — Cristologo Galiano — spoke enough English for us to understand each other and our conversation was very interesting. He told me about his brief time in the school and his master’s project he was working on. His topic was fascinating — cultural integration of the rural indigenous peoples into the urban areas of South America — largely because it was just the topic I had been reading about prior to our trip. We exchanged contact information and I plan on staying in touch with him to monitor the progress of his research. More on his class I observed later…


7/14/2010

Trek Notes – by Dylan Davids

It is truly amazing how much a landscape can transform around you over the course of only a few hours while hiking in the Andes. Our departure point on the first day of the trek looked similar to where we stayed in Limatambo, only higher up, much higher. There were trees and scrubby bushes and various little flowers, all of which I had seen before at the lower elevations. But after lunch the trail started to radically transform, trees disappeared and the smaller plants soon followed. Above the tree line I was in a completely different Peru, following a diminutive path between two peaks surrounded by a surreal rockscape. My observations were mostly limited to thoughts like “That’s a pretty big rock” or “That’s a pretty small rock.” That did not prevent the trail from being visually astounding however; it seemed both uniform and chaotic at the same time. Reading The Silmarillion on the first night in the tent I kept thinking to myself that this was Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, an epic landscape where epic deeds occur. I could leave the tent and gaze down at a cloud and see the trail we had taken winding down and eventually disappearing around the wide base of a mountain. Near the ending of the second day we came into the third Peru, the “jungle-ly” setting, much different from the barren surroundings of the mountainous and the more tame surroundings of Limatambo. This part of the trek was the most visually interesting, the path was narrow and wound down through a series of valleys, and the faint rumbling of the river far below could almost always be heard. It seemed like butterflies and moths were everywhere, along with spectacular flowers of all colors. I really enjoyed seeing foods we eat here in the states growing amongst other plants, many of which Amilio kindly pointed out, otherwise I probably would not have noticed the abundance of avocados and miniature strawberries (which were quite tasty) along the trail. I was able to both observe the intimate details of the trail around me and the vistas offered by breaks in the foliage.

7/13/2010

Lessons from the back of a truck – by Randon Chisnel

Instead of attempting to review or summarize the entire trip (a task that seems impossible to me now), I’ve decided instead to focus on a single small experience with the Peruvian people in the small town of Limatambo. We were spending the week at the orphanage a few (rough) miles outside of Limatambo. A day came for a few of us to hop into the back of an open truck and head into town for potatoes and cheese (another story in and of itself). Along the way we came across several people on their way into town. They simply waved to the driver, we stopped and then helped them aboard. Again… And again. When someone’s “stop” came up, they’d just knock on the roof of the cab. This happened both on the way in and the way out of town. Quite simple and logical really – it just made sense. And yet, I think it may have been just that natural matter-of-fact kindness that had such a profound effect. We have much to learn from each other – there are no one-way roads. This is what Peru is for me.

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