19 December 2011

From South America to North: And So the Journey Ends...

I began my 31-hour journey from Cusco to Fruitport yesterday at 1:30pm, when I got picked up from my Cusquenian home and taken to the airport.  This was my last view of Cusco and the surrounding mountains from the ground (I took the picture as I was climbing the stairs into the plane)...

...and here I am at Starbucks in Lima, where I waited with all my belongings for three hours until I could check my bag.  After another three hours of waiting in the departure lounge, I took off for Mexico City at 12:20am...

...and got there at 5am.  After a two-hour immigration line, and an hour-long discussion with the suitcase people from AeroMexico (my suitcase definitely got left in Lima), I only had to wait another hour until I left for Chicago.  The flight proceeded with no problems, and I touched down in the good old U.S. of A. at 1:40pm!  After clearing customs and taking the train to Union Station, I was greeted with this lovely Christmas scene as I waited for my train to Holland.  Once I bored that, it was a five-hour ride (including the hour and a half delay) and a forty-five minute car ride to...

...home!  I am appreciating it even more today after a good night's sleep!  Things I didn't even know I missed--like drinking water out of the faucet, being able to throw toilet paper in the toilet, and going to a store where everything is actually in stock--seem like such luxuries now.  On the flip side, it is weird to pay more than $3 for a four-course meal and to not be able to bargain down the price of everything.  Still...it's nice to be home. It has been an incredible six months (I can't believe it is already over!), and I will never forget all that I have seen and experienced during this half-year.  For all of those of you who have kept up with this blog, thank you so much--it was so nice to be able to share my experiences with you in 'real time'.  If I ever go on another long journey, be assured that this is where I will be posting my experiences.  But, for now, I am back in the States, and I so I would like to close my six months of blogging with the words of one of my favorite jolly men: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

16 December 2011

Cusco, Peru: Last Day of Classes

Today was my last day of classes.  This shot is of the four of us students who were there this week, along with one of our professors and the director of ECELA Cusco.  I can't believe it's over...eight weeks of school just flew by!

15 December 2011

Cusco, Peru: Enjoying the Last Few Days

Heather and I took the opportunity of a rainy afternoon to enjoy some delicious wine and chocolate cake.  Yum!  I can't believe that I only have two days left...how fast the six months went!

14 December 2011

Cusco, Peru: Last Day in Oropesa and Last Trivia Night

Today was my last day with the kids at the orphanage in Oropesa.  The picture above is of me with Ivan, one of the kids who I worked the most with on his English.  As with most volunteer projects, I wish I could have done more, but I am glad I was there for a little while.  These kids--especially Ivan--will always hold a special place in my heart.

After I got back from Oropesa, it was time for my last Cusquenian trivia night.  Every Wednesday that I have been here, I have gone to trivia night at an ex-pat bar in Cusco, both because it's really fun and because all the proceeds go to a really great charity.  Tonight, all of the categories were holiday-themed, which, given my intense love for all thing Christmas-related, boded well for me and me team.  In fact, if you look at our team score ('No Soy Turista') above, you can see that we won!

This is my team (Joao, me, and Heather) with the bottle of wine we got as a prize for our impressive holiday knowledge.  We will certainly enjoy drinking this on Friday!

12 December 2011

Puno, Peru: Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, and Ruins

This weekend, some friends from school and I took the seven-hour bus ride to Puno, which is in the south of Peru, about two hours by land from the Bolivian border.  The non-land border, which is much closer, runs right through Lake Titcaca, which is the main attraction of this area.  Since Americans have to pay a $140 entrance fee for Bolivia, I didn't go, but there was plenty to see and do around Puno.  When we got there on Friday, we explored the city a bit, but it was rainy and we had been on a bus all day, so we basically ate and went to sleep.  Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to tour some of the islands in Lake Titicaca.  This is Joao (Brazil), Bastien (Switzerland), and I on the boat on the way to our first island.

Here is a shot of our first island!  This island, Amanecer (which means 'sunrise' in Spanish), is one of a group of about 56 floating islands in Lake Titicaca called Uros.  Yes, you heard me right: floating.  These islands, each of which houses two to eleven families depending on size, are built on big blocks of earth and reeds, layered and layered, and are then anchored to each other or to one of the stone islands in the lakes.  Whenever people want to move their house, they literally just pick up anchor and float around.  It was incredible to be standing on this thing and know that it was movable!

Also cool were the 'taxis' that are used to transport people from one island to the other.  Made of reeds and wood, they really are works of art.

After Amanecer, we visited one more island where it was possible to buy souvenirs (I was more interested in the great shot of a whole group of Uros islands, as you can see above), and then we were off on a two-hour boat ride to our next island.  The boat ride itself was also cool, especially if you think about that it was on the highest lake in the world (3850m, or roughly 12,000ft), and the biggest lake in South America (for all you Michiganders out there, no, it's not bigger than Lake Michigan).

Here are the three of us on the 5 km by 2 km island of Taquille.  This island, which is solid stone, houses about 900 inhabitants, most of whom are either farmers or artisans.  The 2.5-km walk to the town center was steep, but the views of Lake Titicaca on the walk made it well-worth it.  In the picture above, the left half of the lake belongs to Peru, and the right half belongs to Bolivia.  Nifty!

We had lunch on this island, and then walked down to the southern port, where Joao and I and two Venezuelan fellows went swimming in Lake Titicaca!  It was really cold (think Lake Michigan in early June), but really clean; unfortunately, I don't have pictures, as they are on Joao's camera, but I thought it was still worth mentioning :-)  We then took the two-hour boat ride back to Puno, where it was time for dinner and some great views of the city by night from our hotel.

Sunday was day of ruins, with the first stop being Chucuito, a city about twenty minutes from Puno whose main attraction is a pre-Incan fertility temple.  Apparently, in the ancient world, 'fertility temple' meant 'let's carve a bunch of penises', but it any case, it was interesting to see.  Also interesting was the fact that our guide was a girl who couldn't have been more than eight years old...but she sure knew what she was talking about!

The next stop on the Sunday of ruins was Sillustani, an Incan cemetery on the shores of Lake Titicaca about 40 km north of Puno.  Unfortunately, just as we got there, it started thundering and lightning and hailing, which made the walk up to the ruins a bit chilly, but it was still worth it!  The Incans buried their dead in giant towers here, and, as is standard for Incan ruins, the stonework was absolutely amazing (and even though it was stormy, the lake was still pretty).  After this, we headed back to the hotel to wait for our 9:30pm overnight bus back to Cusco.  Puno and Lake Titicaca were both very interesting, and the floating islands were incredible...what a great way to spend my last weekend abroad!