Re-entry complete

June 30, 2010 - Leave a Response

Things that felt immediately normal after arriving home:

Being with family and friends.


Staying up late.

Throwing the toilet paper in the bowl instead of the trash can, although I still have the urge to flush before wiping and to fold the TP before discarding.

Things that felt weird — at least initially:

The thing that hit us strongest when we first landed in Cincinnati was how green everything is. It took our eyes a minute to adjust to all the color.

The heat — although we were only a day’s drive from the equator, it never got this stinking hot in Peru and certainly not this humid.

Not having to think through my Spanish script before going into a store.

The crush of carpet under the feet.

Drinking milk at will.

Drinking water without worry.

Despite all the wonderful food we’ve had since then, our most memorable meal at home was our first — pork barbeque, baked beans, sweet corn. Our taste buds reawakened to these flavors we hadn’t tasted in nine months. The other meal that struck us the same was of all things a turkey sandwich in the airport with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and banana peppers. We’d had several delicious chicken sandwiches in Trujillo and countless delicious avocado sandwiches but no cold cuts. Now all the food just tastes normal and our normal Peruvian dishes seem foreign again.

Maybe the weirdest thing is how quickly everything starts to feel normal, within hours really. That and the knowledge that just a week ago we were still in Peru. It seems like a month.

Just knowing that it’s all over.

One last adventure

June 29, 2010 - Leave a Response

Our last little adventure before departing for Lima and the airport was a little motor boat cruise a couple miles off the coast to the Islas Ballestas near Paracas, Peru. On a few jagged rocks sticking out of the ocean we saw literally millions of sea birds, a few sea lions — or sea wolves as they’re known in Spanish — and yes, a couple penguins. The water is that cold. In fact there are penguins several hundred miles further north in the Galapagos Islands.

The islands are very valuable for their quantity of guano or bird poo. It makes a great fertilizer with lots of phosphorus and nitrogen. Every few years a company goes out and collects the guano. Other than that, no-one walks on the islands except for a lonely vigilante who makes sure no-one steals his poo.

So, that’s it, our little nine-month adventure in Peru is over.

Colca Canyon and Condors

June 22, 2010 - 2 Responses

After Cusco, we took an overnight bus to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. It didn´t take us long to decide we wanted to be back in nature. We found a deal – three nights for the price of two at a hostel nicer than we are used to in Colca Canyon. We jumped on it.

The canyon is normally about three hours´ bus ride through the mountainous desert. That is, if your bus´ engine is in good shape. If not, we found out, it can take more than six when you include time broken down on the side of the road.

The canyon doesn´t seem as deep as advertised. It is supposed to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but it didn´t look it. None-the-less, it is beautiful and rustic. Throughout most of the canyon, the walls are covered in farming terraces built by the Incans. There must be tens of thousands of those terraces. The towns are small and basic, with the ample supply of rocks being used for walls along every street. Most of the women wear elaborately embroidered hats and full-length frilly skirts.

The canyon is also famous as the home of a multitude of condors, which can have wingspans of more than nine feet. One morning we went to Cruz del Condor where we saw dozens cruising the currents, sometimes right above our heads. Exhilarating.

Tourism is a relatively new phenomenon in the canyon, and it´s evidenced by how pushy everyone is for your money. This is a phenomenon pretty rare in our experiences here. More common  is Peruvians being helpful at the cost of business. For instance if you ask a restaurant if they have a certain type of fish, they will point you to the tastiest place in town instead of trying to sell you on their own fare.

Despite the pushiness and a few uncomfortable bus rides, we found the canyon to be a wonderful place to relax for a few days.

In other news, we will be home unbelievably soon – arriving in Cincinnati 3:20 Wednesday afternoon. I´ll probably keep blogging a little after that, partly because I have a slight backlog due to lack of internet access. You do want to see pictures of penguins and a baby sea lion, don´t you?

Machu Picchu pt. 2

June 21, 2010 - Leave a Response

So, we thought, we’re probably only going to Machu Picchu once in our lifetimes, may as well do it right. So instead of a couple-hour train ride, we opted for the four-day backpack trip.

We knew it would be tough and we were right. It’s up and down the whole way, and steep for much of that including three mountain passes. Being the path the Incans took to Machu Picchu, most of it is paved in stones. On the plus side, it preserves the path from the erosion of hundreds of people a day. On the down side it makes for some knee-grinding descents, which we are still feeling days later.

But it’s good to something really difficult sometimes, huh? And in many ways, the journey was as memorable or more-so than Machu Picchu itself. The nature was beautiful and so varied. We started in dry high sierra surrounded by cactus. We moved through lush forest to the edge of the jungle. And mountains, we saw so many mountains and beautiful valleys, not to mention Incan Ruins inaccessible by any other means.

On the fourth day, we woke up at 3:45 and started in the dark in order to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. After a couple hour walk we came to 50 enormous stone steps leading to The Sun Gate. When we reached the top, out of breath, we caught our first glimpse of the prize. I have to admit it seemed kind of small, just this little town perched high on a ridge, surrounded by enormous mountains. But sitting there, surrounded by dozens of hikers we had seen on the trail, the sun crept over the ruins and it was beautiful.

And once we’d walked around it a little, it was clear the city is anything but small. There are areas for farming, housing, industry, three major temples and maybe even hotels.

We spent about sunrise to sunset exploring and resting there, enough time that when we got down to town, our guide, with a look of bewilderment, said, “So, I gotta know. What were you doing all day?”

The Incan Trail and Machu Picchu

June 20, 2010 - Leave a Response

So, a little about the porters.

When we booked the trail we thought we would be with a group of five or six other people, which seemed a good amount — not ungainly, but plenty of new friends to talk with. It turned out we got a private tour, just the two of us, which normally costs a lot more, but still wasn’t really what we wanted. It worked out mostly well, we moved at our pace and our guide was fun to talk to — although as a 25 year-old single guy, girls are pretty well constantly on the mind.

So with our little party of two came four porters and a cook who also strapped on about 55 pounds – the most they are allowed to by law. At first we couldn’t imagine how it was possible that they were carrying so much for the two of us, considering we carried all our own stuff except the tent and food. At the first lunch we quickly learned when we found an eating tent set up with table, chairs, tablecloth and silverware. We received a hot tea cooked over gas, then soup and crackers. At this point we were satisfied with our lunch. Then they brought out the most delicious trout we’ve eaten with mashed potatoes and rice. Every meal was like this, just unbelievable. We even had eggs on our second morning.

Those porters worked so hard to bring it to us. They ran up and down the trail that pushed our physical limits in order to beat us to our lunch spot and then to camp and have everything set up and waiting for us, and did it with such grace. It was a little embarrassing really. They do all the running in sandals made from tires. The agencies all bought them hiking boots once, but they just hung them on their backpacks and went down the trail in their sandals.

These men are mostly local farmers who make most of their living on the trail. They speak Quechua among themselves – the language of the Incans.

To me, maybe the most disappointing thing about the porters is that they don’t get to go with us to Machu Picchu. After the 4 a.m. breakfast on our last day, they run down and around a mountain to catch a 5 a.m. train back to their children, corn and quinua. Some porters have done the trail hundreds of times without ever seeing Machu Picchu.

Because of internet problems, the rest of the trip will be in the next post.

Cusco aka Another Big Rock

June 15, 2010 - Leave a Response

We just arrived by a 10-hour, careening through the mountain curves bus ride this morning in Arequipa, the largest city in the south of Peru. That means we are finished with Cusco, a really fascinating city, the capital of the Incan Empire which stretched from Colombia to Chile in the 1400s. The evidence of the grandeur of this empire is around every corner, as most streets are lined with the most unbelievable stonework.

Although cold at night in our unheated hostel, there was plenty of sunshine in the day in this city dedicated to the worship of the sun.

So, here are some pictures of Cusco and some of the ruins we visited within a couple hours’ bus ride of the city.

And, I’m gonna leave you there with a picture of the night before we departed for our trip on the Incan Trail. I plan to upload pictures and thoughts from that part of it within the next few days, good internet service willing.


June 6, 2010 - One Response

So, that part of our life is over.

After spending eight and a half months at Hogar de Esperanza, we left Friday night. Who knows when or if we’ll get the chance to return. It certainly was a sad day. The people there have been incredible. The employees are all so encouraging and have such positive attitudes. They go out of their way constantly to make everyone feel special. Every month they select an employee or volunteer and everyone chips in a couple cookies or a really heartfelt card of appreciation. Not to mention the our birthdays and anniversary where  they serenaded us, made us pies and once again showered us with heartfelt words of encouragement. On the water filter, which we’d been working on for the last couple months and just wrapped up this week, they painted “Puri-Foster” as a surprise for me.

The volunteers were also incredible — so funny and sarcastic. Over the course of the greater part of a year living with them constantly, we all picked up on each other’s idiosyncrasies and just joked about them over and over. Everyone was such a good sport about it.

And the kids. They really are the best and the worst part of it all. They drove us crazy daily, but we can’t help but have a deep well of love in our hearts for each of them. It’s making me sad just writing this to think of leaving them. They all need so much love and direction and we won’t be able to give it to them anymore.

Friday as they performed songs and little choreographed dances and threw confetti in our faces from point-blank range, little Brigitte sat in my lap. She loves to sit in my lap, I think just because she wants to feel the strength and security of a Daddy. Shy, sweet, spunky Cristina sat in front of me, turning around periodically to see me. On days when we don’t have our normal tutoring session she tells her house mother how much she misses me. I know I miss her now. Heidi sat next to us, mocking us as we cried. So that kept us in check.

The orphanage is a wonderful place of love and opportunity, but it’s no place to spend an entire childhood. We just wish and pray that all of the children will go to live with families that love and support them, whether it’s their own parents or adoptive parents.

Oh, it’s tough. the feelings are still really fresh.

Even though a big part of us is still in Trujillo, we are now traveling and will have the opportunity to see some of the most incredible sights in the world, so that’s exciting, even if we’re still sad.

Now we’re in Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire. We thought we were starting the four day hike to Machu Picchu on Tuesday, but it’s been bumped back to Thursday, which is fine. It will allow us to have a couple more days to adjust to the 11,000 foot altitude.

Well, here’s the last installment of pictures from Trujillo.

Last Day

June 4, 2010 - Leave a Response

It is finally here!  Today is our very last day at the orphanage.  In fact, we are leaving tonight for Lima, then Cusco, Machu Picchu, then the deepest canyon in the WORLD, then the Peruvian Galapagos, and finally HOME!  We cannot wait to see everyone June 23, 3:20 in Cincinnati.  Thank you all for your support and prayers and please continue to pray for all of the children here that one day, there won’t even be a need for an orphanage anymore because they will all be in a safe and loving home with their families.


Despedida at Betania

June 2, 2010 - One Response

Last week was my last week teaching at Betania because this week they are on vacation.  Which is actually great timing, it gives me a lot of time to get stuff packed and just hang out.

As with all things Betania, they had a big party for me, which included the entire school, several dances, songs, prayers, lots of kind words, and much more.  In addition, several classes on their own brought in additional gifts and party supplies to have goodbye parties in their classrooms.

The teachers even took John and me out for a nice dinner on Friday night (we forgot to bring out camera for this).  This was especially generous of them, considering that they are paid very little as it is.  It was a nice evening together, celebrating, enjoying good music and delicious roasted chicken (the favorite dish of the locals).

Me with Ms. Dora who cried throughout the entire program. She said she is a big crier. We liked to share sarcastic comments with each other throughout the school year, and especially here before the start of the program. Notice the kids in formacion.

The Peruvian flag being marched in at the start of the program.

The 6th grade class.

Confetti in the face.

Receiving roses from some students.

I got pulled on stage during the middle schoolers performance.

The director of the school and the secretary giving me a big beautiful flower arrangement.

Hey Skinny!

May 30, 2010 - One Response

In the U.S., even the smallest innocent comment suggesting someone is overweight is cause for an colossal meltdown. Mention to your girlfriend that her favorite sweater seems a little tight, and you’d better prepare for a long week.

Here, not so much. If you want to get the attention of an overweight person on the bus, just yell out, “Gordo!” or essentially, “Fatso!” In Lori’s and my case, the usual salutations are “Hey Gringo/Gringa!” “Hey Blondie!” “Hey Youngster!” “Hey Pretty!” or “Hey Skinny!” Apparently my buddy Porkchop would fit in here in Peru.

Around the orphanage, they talk about weight like it’s no big deal, instead of the hushed and reverent tones we usually use. To one of the little girls, to wake her up, they’ll say, “You’re so fat because you sleep so much.” And the thing is, she takes it without offense.

The teachers from Lori’s school took us out to dinner this weekend. The principal was offering us the rest of the fries when we suggested her son could use a few more. “No,” she said, “he’s already very fat.”