Stephanie Stellhorn

I am a Pediatric Physical Therapist in southern CA, and Group Fitness instructor in the evenings after work.

 

Fri. 11/14/14. Choco Museo in Cusco (Chocolate Museum)

Well that was a bit rugged trying to sleep last night on a huge double decker bus over Peru’s rough asphalt highways, through cities with lots of turns and dirt roads, thru several major construction zones with bumps and potholes, stops and starts, and the many, many alertness bumps In the highways in series of three for this triple-axel bus.  Really loud little wake-up calls at about 15 minute intervals throughout the country everywhere that there are no giant speed bumps as you go through the towns.  So really didn’t get much good quality sleep on the way back here from Puno to Cusco.  And I waited for Freddy, the driver, for 25 minutes to pick me up from the bus station, but finally had to take a taxi back to Pilar’s.  Fortunately it is light enough, and I pretty much know my way around the central downtown and my neighborhood, to direct the taxi driver.

So, bummer, no WiFi on the bus.  Got way spoiled Wednesday!  I read and tried to nap a bit, and not let my mind run away with me throughout the trip back.  Now I am back in iffy Internet-ville, so may or may not get emails again until I get to Lima airport tomorrow night.
Gonna take it easy today.  I took some pastries to the Maximo Nivel staff, and visited them for the last time.  I don’t have anywhere that I have to be today.  Might try to find the chocolate museum that I have been hearing about.  Gonna go to the market one more time and get Pilar and volunteers some fruit.  And maybe cookies.  And then just have a quiet afternoon here, I think, or maybe a bit of souvenir shopping.  Haven’t done much of that yet.
So I did go to the big Orion Supermercado, and got Pilar’s Mani Americano (peanut butter), and  then across the street to the real Mercado San Pedro for fruta.  I guess that the time I came and there was so much bread, and so many bread venders, it was because of the PanWawa celebration that was pending that Saturday, cuz I have not seen that many pan vendedoras from Oropesa since then, and I haven’t seen those cookies ever again, that I got and loved sometime in my first week here.  So anyways, as I came out of the mercado with both arms full of bags of fruit, cookies, bread, etc, the same taxi driver that took me up the hill last Tuesday from the market was there, and he saw me and honked.  We had talked about where I am from and Los Angeles, and my Machu Picchu trek trip, and he was interested in So Cal stuff, so he helped me practice my spanish a bunch in that 8 minute drive.  Well today he took me up the hill again, and as we talked some more, I told him that I am leaving tomorrow, and will be flying out of Cusco airport in the evening.  He offered to come get me tomorrow evening at 5:00, and he wrote it down, but I didn’t get a name or number, so really don’t know if that will happen.
I grabbed a bit of lunch (giant oatmeal cookie with Nutella and peanut butter!  :-)))))).  That was after my super nutritious breakfast of “Choco Crunch”, yummy chocolate cereal, with chocolate milk of course, and fruit to balance things out a bit, early this morning before everybody else was up.  And then I headed back out to check out some of the souvenir stores and to find the Choco Museo.  For the first time, I actually went into the more expensive alpaca shops that have the higher end, for-sure baby alpaca sweaters, not the “maybe alpaca” that I had been educated to avoid.  And I did find myself a really pretty blue sweater with Inca designs on it, and hand made buttons.  There was a pretty little busty mannequin, in one of the tiendas, with a beautiful deep red floral embroidered sweater, like Peru size zero (that’s even smaller than US size zero)  And I was actually able to make a joke in spanish with the salesgirl, that if the sweater would make me look that good (and busty) I would buy it in a heartbeat.  She laughed with good eye contact so that I am pretty sure that it wasn’t at my poor broken Castillano that she was laughing.  Although I guess it could just have been that this giant gringa was even considering the petite little sweater.  Oh well, I like the thought that I was able to make a joke better, since I don’t even do it that well in English.
And I found the famed Choco Museo (chocolate museum).  Or at least I smelled it before I actually found it.  Tucked into an old Spanish Colonial mansion in the middle of Cusco, the shop front is small and unassuming, kinda blends right in with all of the other little tiendas on that street.  It takes up about one third of the old adobe structure upstairs, and just a small portion for the shop downstairs.  The young man who lead our quite informal tour, made up of the handful of people who happened to arrive at about 1:30 to the tienda and were told about the tour, was very informative and enjoyed the enthusiasm of our group for one of the best flavors known to womankind!  He had the visuals to provide a great little presentation, including the whole cacao bean pod, the dried hardened inner cone of seeds or beans, and individual beans, which he cracked open for us to taste the nibs.  Yuck!  He gave us a quick synopsis of the labor-intensive processes that the cacao bean goes through to get to be the tasty end-product that I sooooo enjoy.  Then there was video footage and an illustrated timeline to demonstrate the extensive time that it takes to create one batch of edible chocolate from all of those beans!  And we were given samples of the different kinds of chocolate, and of the chocolate tea, that actually was quite good and tasted of chocolate with a really lovely aroma of warm chocolate.
And of course, there is a gift shop, where you can purchase all kinds of chocolate products and/or cocoa butter products that really smell like chocolate, including:  chocolate bars and cookies, chocolate soaps and shampoos, lip balm, chocolate salsas mixed with a variety of different fruits, spices, and coca tea, chocolate liquors, t-shirts, cook books, aprons, etc.  What a wonderful fun little place!  It’s really not the place where the chocolate was actually refined and edible things were created, but just the place to demonstrate the (outsourced labor-intensive) processes that are involved, and most of which occur in third-world countries near the equator in a warm climate for drying and fermenting the beans.  I have new respect for my plain old peanut M&Ms, and the dark chocolate mint ones too that came with me on my trip and are long gone (thank you Arezoo!  ;-).  Fun little program!
I came back to Pilar’s and worked on spanish drills and new words, and then started reading, and it began to rain lightly outside.  The dogs kept barking on and off very loudly every time they heard someone outside of the gate.  And then all of a sudden, it was dark and the house was quiet, and I realized that I had missed 7:00 dinner (as it was nearly 8:00). My plate of food was under a little screened dome with my name on it, and since it was the (unusual in Cusco) treat of mostly vegetables, I heated it up and ate immediately.  And then put my jammies on and went to bed, sleeping for another full 8 hours before I woke up to more dog barks at 5 this morning.  My last day here.  Guess I was a bit tired after that long bus ride night.

Th. 11/13/14. Lago Titicaca (Grey Puma)

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 10:01 am  Peru  Comments Off on Th. 11/13/14. Lago Titicaca (Grey Puma)
Nov 132014
 

Th. 11/13/14. Plaza Mayor Hotel to Lago Titicaca

Got a really good night’s sleep.  My body needed that.  I feel like I am fighting something in my lungs, asthma keeps acting up a bit, but feel fine other than the coughing at night.  The hotel room reminds of one the little tiny ones that we had in Rome, really compact, but with everything you need right there, practically at your finger tips, especially with my long arms.  :-). Can practically flush the toilet while sitting on the bed.  And the hotel provided a nice breakfast, with plenty of fruit and whole wheat bread for toasting and to put my Nutella on–do I always talk about food?  :-)
So the boat ride is great!  The boat will hold 32 passengers and there are only 14 of us on the boat, and 4 of those are tour guides.  Yay!  Plenty of room to stretch out and move around.  Our guide is named Vladi (accented heavily with spanish), or Vladimir, and he likes his job!   The name Titicaca means grey colored Puma, and the people here have a puma god, and a condor god, and the lake people eat the local fish and birds as staples of their diet, in addition to potatoes, corn, quinoa, other seeds, reeds, and clay.  Yes, they eat the clay that comes out of the lake, after they have mixed it with water and stuff, and they eat the reeds that their little islands are made of.  I refrained from making jokes about the teenaged boys eating them out of house and home.  :-)
So, a bit of education:  the region of and surrounding Lake Titicaca is protected land by the government of Peru.  The indigenous peoples of the lake make their homes on islands that they also make out of the reeds that grow in the lake, and the people are protected also, as no other people are allowed to have the reed materials.  It is papyrus, and the reeds grow to become approximately 8 meters long, 4 meters above and 4 meters below the water line.  During the Dry Season (May to October), when the lake is lower, there are available the rootballs of the reeds, because the water has receded and uncovered parts of the bottom of the lake.  At that time, they harvest these root balls, which are very precious, and they dry them out (so that they float, and do not reabsorb water).  This is the foundation for the islands.  Since each one is approximately 18″ square and 1-2 meters long, like a square column, a family will need a couple hundred smushed closely together side by side and tied together with nylon cord, yes, modern nylon cord now.  It apparently lasts longer than the reeds as rope.  And they can start to build their island and have room to build one house.  Each island houses one extended family and the kids choose, when they are married, which set of in-laws they can best live with, given their skills and who needs what type of assistance.  And so that island is added on to, and a house is built, so that now the young couple can live there and make their contributions to the settlement.  This is a very community based culture and operates on reciprocity and lots of men come together to help one family build their island and their houses, and lots of women get together to fabricate the embroidery work that will be sold to help the whole community, and to raise the children and cook.
Fortunately, the government has a system whereby each of the 87 islands that are located in the smaller bay area of the lake, near Puno, are in a rotation for daily visitors from all of the tour companies that operate boats through the region.  Since there are not 87 boats per day, there is a rotation, so that each island has visitors only a carefully controlled number of times per week, and all of the family people on that island have their handwork displayed for the tourists on their days, and they put on a great presentation to show us how the islands are made by laying the reeds in opposing directions across the tied up reed root columns.  The islands are then anchored with long, long ropes, which are actually so long that there is danger that the little outboard motor propellers will sever the ropes in some places.  The men therefore place large heavy rocks on the ropes to weight them down to the lake floor in the middle to avoid that concern.  No technical or even mechanical modern equipment is used in the making of an island, no snorkeling or scuba equipment either;  just natural materials and the combined strength and skill of many hands and bodies.  And then the favor of help with manual labor is reciprocal, so that they all help eachother as needed.  Like the Shakers and barn-raisings, the whole community gets involved.
This bay of the lake is somewhat protected by two peninsulas, from the adverse weather conditions and large waves that the larger main body of the lake experiences.  And, as the weather is today, when the intense sun is shining, and there is a gentle breeze, the people are barefooted and handed, with leathery weathered and darkened skin.  Surprisingly, the women’s hands remain pretty soft to the touch
They showed us just how deep the water was underneath this particular island by dropping a stone with nylon cord tied around it down through a hole in the middle of the island.  17 meters was the verdict.  And then I got to meet and talk to the resident island baby, Angel, who, at 20 months old, is quite the draw for tourists. Super chulito kiddo!  He let me take his photo.  The 2 men with families on the island rowed us across part of the bay to another island, where the tourists seem to be congregated for snacks and banos–they use big charcoal pits–and then we took off again in our plush comfortable covered boat.  The children attend school on little reed islands, in reed buildings, and we floated past a little Seventh Day Adventist school here on an island too.  Vladimir states that an SDA school was the first school built here for the children in the 1960’s By missionaries.
So then we went the 1.5 hours to Taquile Island to walk around, explore just a bit, see the traditional clothing of the townspeople, and the men who are taught as boys to knit with fine knitting needles, and the women who do the weaving, and girls who do braiding for pulseras, or bracelets, and then graduate to small belts, and then to full weaving.  The colors in the hats symbolize age, location of your home, maybe specific families, whether the male is married or not, and whether you hold a public office.  Wow!  They can tell all that with just a hat.  And all of the women cover their heads and their skirts with a black fabric.  This is where we had lunch on the opposite side of the island after walking across and then the teenagers demonstrated some traditional dances for us, and one boy created their traditional soap/shampoo for us out of a local plant.
So on the return trip in the boat, we all toasted with our Pisco sours… Ugh!  Gross!  It burns your throat all the way down even with the Sprite and lemon juice.  Pisco is the fermented grape juice that is said to be the Peruvian rum.  Blecthgh!
Wow, I learned a lot today.  Vladimir did a good job, and made it fun for all of us!  At 3:45, we are just about back to the deck.  There are no slips For the boats.  They are all parked side by side with tires hanging between them and you just make a big effort to keep the boats from knocking together when you are sliding in.

Wed. 11/12/14. TourBus to Puno

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 12:28 pm  Peru  Comments Off on Wed. 11/12/14. TourBus to Puno
Nov 122014
 

Wed. 11/12/14.  Tour us to Puno via Andahuaylillas, Huaro, and Sicuani

 

Up nice and early and going already this morning, on the Puno/Lake Titicaca trip.  This should be another fun one!  Freddy, World Travel’s driver that stayed at the train station for so long on Monday night waiting for me, was really early this morning.  He got there at a bit after 6:15 and rang the “timbre” or doorbell to wake the whole place up.  I had wakened up nice and early this morning with plenty of time, but ran into a bit of a skid when I cut my hand on the metal bedpost, while I was making the bed, and then wound up in a mess of crazy-glue-like substance (glued my hand to my pajamas and a bunch of tissue) to get the bleeding stopped and band aids on.  Whew!

So when the driver rang the bell this morning, early, I was just walking out of my room for some breakfast veggie quiche that Pilar left me special from last night, but I didn’t even make it into the kitchen. :-(.   So I ate nuts and a big oatmeal cookie with, you guessed it, peanut butter, for breakfast on the bus.  And I have snacks for the road.  :-))))).   Plus, we have WiFi on this bus and it is working better than any Cusco WiFi has worked for me yet! Maybe because of the mountains surrounding Cusco???  Don’t know, but this so much fun getting emails on the road!
We are once again going into the Sacred Valley, where I have spent several days touring and traveling now.  It’s really big with lots of communities connected by the main 2 lane road that runs through them.  Also a bunch of much more isolated communities like the settlement that I stayed at in Huchoy Q’osco that don’t have electricity or any basic services.  And then we will climb up out of the Sacred Valley again to Puno this afternoon.  Apparently Puno is even higher than Cusco, so I may wake up with that low oxygen headache that I had when I first got here.  Oh well….
At 9:00 in the morning, we’ve already made 3 stops:  one for traditional bread in Oropesa, and then the 2 fancy baroque Jesuit churches in Andahuaylillas and Huaro.  Our tour guide is just doing his job, sounds tired, like this is the daily grind for him (compared to all the other tour guides that I have had here).  Oh well, can’t win ’em all.  He was not really into it at the churches, or at the ruins in Raqchi.  But buffet lunch (with soup and plenty of starches) in Sicuani was really good with live Peruvian musicians!  And now we are heading into the Departamento Puno, and out of the Departamento Cusco at 4315 m (I’ll do the math later).  This is the area of Peru called Altaplana or Highlands, and this is where they grow lots of quinoa, and many of the (now the number is up to) 3,000 varieties of potatoes that Peru grows.  The number changes depending on who you talk to.  We just left corn country.  It’s a bit lower for all the different varieties of the “choclo”, large kerneled colored corns that they grow and bake like corn nuts here in Peru.  It is arid dry land with little scrubby shrubbery and large open farming fields, unlike the smaller, greener, family owned, choclo fields in the lower lands.
We stopped one more time at a small Inca museum in Pukara, and then it was a long 2.5 hours to Puno because the tour guide didn’t tell us anything at all during that time.  We went through 2 different big communities, and people were doing something in a big body of water.  I mean they were physically standing in the water near the shores of this body of water, and maybe catching fish?  Or digging for shellfish?  Or maybe just doing laundry.  I have no idea, but I would’ve loved a bit more play by play.  Oh well, this guy really didn’t want a tip anyway, I think.
We arrived in Puno at 5:00 pm straight up, and I was picked up in the bus station right away by a tiny little woman named Ingrid (yes, basically they are all pretty tiny here, next to me), who brought me in a taxi to my hotel, and who will be back tomorrow morning at 7:00 to make sure that I get on the right boat to a couple of islands in the lake.  I went to the Plaza tonight and got myself a little cheese empanada and a big bottle of water and I am set for the night.  Gonna do some spanish drills, email, maybe read a little, and then hit it early.
Nov 112014
 

Tuesday 11/11/14. Veterans Day in US

Muchisimas Gracias to our vets!  Y a Dios por protegerme y por su cuidar.
It has been quite an adventure these last few days, ending with a bit of a glitch with the train ride, but that was the only one for three whole days of trek and trip, and hiking, and wilderness, and the amazing ruins and the climb yesterday!  It really was a great trip!  I would recommend it to many!  Not all, because of the difficulty of the trek part, but it was a great experience!
I had some trouble winding down last night, didn’t get to sleep til after midnight, because I kept getting up to add more items to the list for tomorrow.  I wanna get my laundry done and go to the Supermercado before my trip to Puno Wednesday, which involves more touring the countryside, so that we are not just in a bus for 8 hours for the drive to Puno.  So need snacks and water.  I need to recharge my camera batteries and delete a bunch of not-so-good photos of Machu Picchu, cuz on the climb I just kept taking random photos of the valley and surrounds that I’m sure didn’t really show the beauty that I was seeing.
This morning I knocked on the front door of the little lavandaria down the way that I have been using, per Pilar’s recommendation, and he opened up to accept my super stinky dirty trek clothes that I didn’t want to pack in my suitcase without getting them clean first.  Ooooooh, huelen feo!  They really smell bad!  This was the first time that I saw into their little tienda a bit deeper to the home, that is similar in construction to Pilar’s with the Spanish Colonial architecture and the central patio.  As he was fiddling with taking all of the paraphernalia and linens (that get piled there overnight) off of the scale that they use for each customer;  s/.3 por kilo, I took a bit of a look around.  There are 7 little washing machines of a variety of shapes and sizes lining one wall, and clothes lines hanging every which way, and I know they have dryers somewhere too, cuz sometimes my clothes have been warm and dry in the evenings when I pick them up.  Sometimes not so much.
So today, I can take my time with everything.  I have no real obligations, except my little list, that I can do at a leisurely pace throughout my day while I am exploring.  It’s sunny and blue this morning, not super warm yet, but will hopefully get warmer, and I plan to just walk and explore, and walk, and visit the kids at Maximo.  I would visit the kiddos at the orphanage if it wasn’t such a long way to go.
The new volunteer, Page, here from England, is working in a detention facility for kids that has even fewer resources than Hogar de las Estrellas.  She says that there are no supplies for even bathing, no soap, no toothbrushes for the kids, no toothpaste or anything like it, no towels.  The kids do not own a change of clothes, they are here with the clothes that they were picked up in, so even if there were facilities for laundering, they would have to be naked to do it.  The single lightbulb in the place does not work, either burned out or not hooked up properly.  And only one person, occasionally there, who speaks Spanish.
Did I say Spanish?  I meant Castellano.  I have now met several purists who are insistent that Maximo Nivel teaches classes in Castellano, my teacher, Nadher, included.  And Rolando, and Romulo too, are very adamant that all of us gringos who think we’re learning Spanish should go to Spain, because all of Latin America speaks Castellano.
So I am back to my room at 1:00 in the afternoon, after going to the big outdoor market for produce, and to the little Supermercado for other snacks and things to take with me on the trip to Puno tomorrow, and to Lake Titicaca on Thursday.  And I am just sitting on my bed in the sunshine from the skylight, enjoying lunch of plantain chips dipped in peanut butter, and chocolate cereal.  Mmmmmm!  So nutritious!  But sure tastes good!
I stopped by MN earlier this morning to see if my WiFi would work better, but no such luck, and their computers were all occupied.  I did find another little bakery to get a few yummy things for the MN staff on Friday when I am up and about after the night busride, and I found some Americano type peanut butter for Pilar, with all the peanuts in it, so I know she’ll enjoy that!

I had a nice leisurely hot shower this morning, and rinsed out some unders, and a good breakfast with the other volunteers before they left for classes and work.  I took a load of trek clothes, etc to the lavandaria to be washed as I couldn’t stand the thought of packing them in my suitcase in their current state of stench.  And now, I am going to rest……
I found a book for Jesse about Machu Picchu, in spanish.  I could also get it in Portuguese, German, Italian, or French, but thought that he would be able to understand more in espanol.  I also found him his first lessons in Quechua, in a book, in the same place.  Not that he can use it very much unless he comes to Peru, but he’s a language guy, right?  Hopefully he’ll like it, or at least get a kick out of it.
So just 5 more days and I will be home.  It really has gone quickly, and I am feeling like it is just about time to go, so it’s all working out well.  Glad that I have two more days of exciting new travel stuff and then one day to recuperate and one day to pack up and go in the pm.  I put more minutes on the phone so that I can call Friday or Sat and just touch bases.
OMG!  I hear a vacuum!  I’m thinking it is a wet-dry vac from the construction downstairs, and not a household appliance cuz they are just not common in Cusco.  This is wonderful to be resting, journalling, just doing a few things here and there, and we will finish up with Salsa again tonight! ????
I’ve been studying and doing spanish app all afternoon while it rains.  Gonna try to get my laundry before salsa, or may have to leave salsa early to get it before they close tonight.  :-(.  Cuz I won’t be here to pick it up tomorrow.  They’re picking me up here at 6:30 tomorrow morning.
The young girl at the lavandaria, Elsa, asked me for my email address and if I have facebook.  I wrote down my gmail account for her and my name.  I hope she emails me!  She’s a neat kid!  ‘Got my laundry;  kinda wish that I had had the outer part of my jacket washed too.  It is filthy from all the time on the ground during our trek.  But I need to take it with me to the Lake, so will not be having it washed til I get back, I think.
Pilar invited us all to lunch on Saturday lunch for my last day.  I want to get her a jar of the Americano peanut butter, and maybe some pastries for the MN staff, and for us girls here too on Friday.  I kinda did a preliminary pack job tonight.  Gonna need the suitcase that I brought with the donations, I have so much stuff!  What happened?!!  I’ve even gotten rid of some stuff, but I have a bunch of gifts too, and books.  Why do I do that?  Books are heavy, and I don’t learn.  I still buy them.
 
Monday 11/10/14.  MACHU PICCHU!  :-))))))

Definitely a day I will remember for a long time to come!  I just spent 7 of the last 8 hours in the ruins of the ancient city, Machu Picchu (the name that the indigenous Quechua people later gave the site, meaning “Old Mountain”).  And it was super cool!  I woke up at 4 this morning, so I went ahead and got up to be at the bus by 5 (just a few minutes walk from the hotel), and even so, I was still in the 4th bus to leave for the site.  But it worked out great!  We were there by 6 when it opened, and I got to see the sun come up over the mountains in the nearly cloud-free sky.  Rolando, our trek guide had told us that UNESCO has mandated that only 2500 people be let into the site per day.  However the number of visitors who actually enter the site daily is actually about double that.  So anyways, there were many people there with me but the site is so big that it really didn’t feel crowded until about 10:00 in the morning.

I kinda felt like I had the place to myself for a while this morning, and I very much enjoyed taking lots of photos without a ton of people in them. (I was later admonished by Romulo that photos should never be without people, that it’s bad karma and bodes unwell for the photographer.)   Oh well, I’m over it, and I’m tickled by how many photos I was able to take without a ton of people in them.  I started in the agricultural areas, and then made a circle through the sacred and urban sectors before returning to the entrance, where I was scheduled to meet up with my group and a guide just for the morning at Machu Picchu.  His name is Romulo, and he was so full of information, and loved to talk, fast, with an interesting accent for the area, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him where he is from.
The word “Inca” apparently means king, but they were not all Kings, and Romulo started out by giving us an overview of the Inca civilization, including the 3 distinct classes of people:  Royalty, Nobility, and peasants or workers.  He said that the Kings usually married their sister and the first surviving son of that union would be the king’s successor.  He told us that Pachacutec, the 9th king in a series of 12, who built Machu Picchu, did marry his sister, but actually fathered 400 children with concubines.  They say that Machu Picchu was built as a sacred refuge from the Spanish conquest, and it apparently worked, because the Spanish didn’t find them.  The site is said to be 60% uncovered, and that 40% remains under the dense foliage of the jungle.  And they do not know how many other mountain peaks house more ancient ruins.  They also do not know why the city was never completed, and, judging from the degree to which buildings were left incomplete, and the quarry holds many stones in obvious progress, think that the Inca people fled quickly to another location.  Maybe because they still feared discovery, even up so high on a mountain peak in the middle of the jungle.  Peruvians love the mystery and really play it up when talking about their ancestral origins.  Machu Picchu is up much higher than the Meteora monasteries in Greece, but it is perched in similar fashion up on a granite peak, and the Incas were amazing stone masons, able to precisely cut and precisely fit stone blocks together to form walls that served many functions including stability against seismic movement, utilitarian housing, designation of sacred spaces, and protection from their enemies.
Ollantaytambo is a town that is a great example of the preserved layout of Inca cities, with narrow streets and walkways, and the intact canals and water systems are even more intact than those of Machu Picchu.  They are currently still in use today, as the fresh water runs through canals that run down the streets.  The citizens do their laundry in the constant steady stream from subterranean freshwater sources.
But anyways, I am here!  I got to see Machu Picchu!  It was amazing! It was wonderful!  And I climbed the big mountain that many of the most famous pictures are taken from, and it nearly beat me!  Took me 54 minutes of walking slowly up the side of the mountain on switchbacks of uneven stones that are also part of the “Inca trail”.  I almost didn’t think I would make it.  It took me a tough 45 minutes to come down again too!  That’s how uneven the rocks and stones were.  You can also climb Huayna Picchu (or “Little Mountain”), but I have the view in the pictures.  It was a really tough climb, a great workout, but I do feel sorry for the people who have to sit next to me on the train tonight, as I believe that I can smell myself;  and I was checked out at the hotel, so was not able to shower. :-(.  AND it didn’t rain again, til I got on the train and we were almost to Ollanta.
Afterr coming back down the hill on the bus, I actually bought a really expensive, really ugly, with hardened cheese, a 4 or 5 hour old little flatbread pizza thing of sorts, with tomato and cheese, in a tienda window in Aguas Calientes, and wolfed it down after she warmed it up for me.  And I washed it down with a small bottle of some orange colored Gatorade.  Wow, did that hit the spot!  So now am on the train heading back to Ollantaytambo, and then on to Poroy, where a driver from the travel company will pick me up and take me back to Pilar’s in Cusco.  The whole trip usually takes about 6+ hours.  Pilar is expecting me late and I have my key, so we’ll see how it goes.
It’s been a terrific day so far!
Wow, it’s a dinner car, on the train, with music and entertainment, and a fashion show of Alpaca and Vicuña weaves in scarves, ponchos, wraps, and a man’s sweater.  It’s also now officially a long trip!  Cuz I had to get up and use the bano, and I may have to do so again too.  Dude in the seat next to me is a fidgeter, who is large for his seat, and he keeps tapping or hitting me with his elbow.  I don’t think he appreciates the length of the trip either.  Oh, it’s either condensating terribly in here, or the window is leaking rain on him, or a little of both.  Whatever it is, he is not happy.  Whew!  He is gone to another seat.  :-)
LATER:  We’ve been at a standstill in the train for 2.5 hours with 1.5 hours of moving still left to get to Poroy because of “multiple landslides that have blocked the tracks in both directions”.  Hopefully they were able to get ahold of Worldwide Exotic Adventures to notify the driver to please wait for me at the train station.  Poor guy, whoever it is, waiting for 3+ hours more than he thought before driving however far it is to Cusco with me and then getting to finally go home to his family.  Hopefully he doesn’t have a small child with him this time.

Sun. 11/9/14. Trek to Machu Picchu, day 2

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 2:17 pm  Peru  Comments Off on Sun. 11/9/14. Trek to Machu Picchu, day 2
Nov 092014
 

Sunday morning, el Domingo  11/9/14.  Huchuy Q’osco

I woke up at 4:15 to the sounds of the neighbors and the family and the farm waking up and getting busy;  mother and daughter’s voices just outside of my window were low and punctuated by the sound of whatever they were doing with their hands.  It sounded like they were hitting something, maybe mats or blankets.  I didn’t try to look because it was still so dark.  The cows moo-ed, roosters crowed, and sheep made their voices heard also.  Last night we walked up to the homestead with a horse and a couple of burrows, but I haven’t heard them yet this morning.  I hunkered down under the covers some more.  At 5:15, it was quite light and I got up to use the facilities.  I brushed my teeth at the little courtyard sink while a duck watched me, and the cow out back moo-ed loudly.  Another cow close by was still asleep on the ground.
The Señor and Señora of the house looked like they had already been up for hours.  We’re supposed to be having breakfast this morning at 7, but judging from our “7:00” dinner last night, which actually occurred at 8:30, I’m not so sure that we’ll be out of here by our hoped for 8:00 and back to the ruins.  Then we are hiking the 4 Km down the hill to Lamay.
Oh, there’s the conche shell wakening “bell” to signal time to get up, at 6:30.  I was given hot water to drink and am sitting again on the llama skins bench with Rolando and Patrick, 2 compadres from our trek.  Apparently we are the only residents at the homestay today, and we had a nice breakfast of banana filled “pankekes” with carmel drizzle, and bread.  And then began the questions regarding the traditional musical instruments in the corner of the room, the “Choclo” corncobs of many colors lining the room, and the traditional headdresses and “trajes” or clothing of the family members.  So the family gave us demonstrations of traditional Quechua music and dancing, and talked of the corn and ceremonial costumes, as well as the point that, when they go to town to speak with administrators or anyone in authority, they where Western clothing, because the government officials apparently totally diss the native Quechua citizens.  Bummer.  Kinda sounds like something. That happens in a lot of countries.  Then Rolando asked me to break out some Zumba music and we all danced and that lightened the mood back up a bit.  By 8:00, it was nice and warm in the sun as we were dancing in the courtyard.  We left the homestay at about 8:15, I think, and headed back to the ruins, where Rolando provided more info about the ancient Incas and their architecture, in his funny broken English.  He did a really good job and helped me with my Spanish too, so that was nice.
Ok, so 4 km didn’t sound like much to do to get to the bottom of the mountain, but let me tell you, an hour and a half after we left Huchoy Q’osco, when we stopped for a snack and some water, and Rolando told us that we were halfway down, everybody was pretty bummed.  Needless to say, it was very steep, very rocky and slippery, and very slow going.  And we were all blown away when the little 6-ish year old Quechua girl, that we had seen working in the quinoa fields up on the hill, went running down the hill past us.  Literally running and skipping like it was nothing, in her llama leather sandals!
WE MADE IT!  I can’t tell You how grateful I am to be all the way down the mountain!  And even more grateful that I don’t have 2.5 to 3 more days to walk these very steep and rocky trails!  There are Inca trails all over these mountains, and Inca ruins too.  You could walk for days through the Andes and not walk all of these trails.  And some of them really are tough.  It’s really been a great experience so far, and I haven’t even made it to Machu Picchu yet!  And I feel like I have dirt in soooo many places!  Yes, two days worth, cuz I know that wipey bath last night only just barely got the important places.  Fortunately, until late this morning, it was too chilly for me to be sweating on this trek, so was just doing that for the last couple of kilometers coming down when we would get on the side of the mountain that protected us from the wind, but not from the intense sunshine.  And tonight…..   Hotel!  Yay!  Warm running water, flushing toilets, hopefully adequate lighting!  I may even be able to shave my legs, and pluck my eyebrows!  Yay!  At least that’s what I am hoping.  We’ll see.
Wow!  Again, thank You for a really great trip.  I think we’re all working on a few endorphins right now!  Feeling pretty good to have accomplished our little slice of the Inca trail.  It has been a really great trip overall, and I’ve met so many wonderful people, really nice, all of them.  The couple who have the homestay at Huchuy Q’osco are Silverio and Navidad, and their 10 year old daughter Marivela.  They have two other children who are living in Lamay.
This morning’s walk, after we finished up the ruins, was kinda grueling, really steep rocky switchbacks sprinkled with the ruins of a few ancient stairs, because it is still part of the Inca trail.
Not something that I want to continue to do for the rest of the afternoon into the next two days.  Whew!  Really fun, but I am out of water, and the sun is so intense!  Rolando gave me a bit of what he had left (see?  Really nice people). But he only had a few swallows so didn’t want to take that all.  The clouds are starting to move in more this afternoon.  I am still hopeful for a sunshiney day tomorrow in Machu Picchu, after the fog lifts, and it can rain as much as it wants to after about 3:00 pm, cuz I think that’s when I get on the train back to somewhere that the bus will pick me up and take me home late Monday night.
We are currently sitting under some eucalyptus trees just outside of the little town of Lamay, hearing and feeling the wonderful breeze as it blows though the branches.  We all took off our shoes and are sitting in the shade just enjoying not walking for a few minutes as we wait for the driver to pick us up and take us to Ollantaytambo for lunch.  And then we’ll catch the 3:30 train to Aguas Calientes, the little town that is a half hour busride from the Machu Picchu ruins.

Sat. 11/8/14. Trek to Machu Picchu, day 1

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 1:33 pm  Peru  Comments Off on Sat. 11/8/14. Trek to Machu Picchu, day 1
Nov 092014
 

Wow!  What an amazing day!  Saturday 11/8/14

So today was the start of the trek to Machu Picchu.  We are staying the night in Huchoy C’osqo (think I spelled that right), which means “Little Cusco”, in a primitive little settlement, right next to the Inca ruins of the same name, still pretty high up above the Sacred Valley (I guess, a 4 Km walk down some pretty steep trails).  I am currently sitting in my sleeping quarters being totally grateful for the backlighting of my iPad, as I am typing by the light of one candle.  And the bano, or Jisti’wana, in Quechua, is up some very uneven homemade stairs and across a little courtyard, right next to where they are raising the guinea pigs, or cuy (for dinner FYI). ????  and the bano on the trails?  The great outdoors!  ????   Or, as Rolando, our trail guide said this morning with his giant smile, “it’s back to nature!”  There are 5 of us total on the trip.  Kristina is the travel agent at Worldwide Exotic Travels that I booked the trip with, down in her office right across from Maximo Nivel, in the same building.  And she and her mother from Holland are on the trip, as well as another volunteer named Patrick, from Toronto, Canada.  Rolando, the guide make 5.
Once again, it really was an amazing day!  Beautiful, sunny, warm, with crisp puffy white clouds, and not one single raindrop where we were at any time today.  I couldn’t have ordered better for our 9 hours of walking with 1.5 hours of siesta after lunch today.  We started in Chincherro, and I, of course, was the only one with 2 day packs, because all of my warm jammies, and food, and jackets, would not fit into one bag with everything else.  So I was the nerd with a backpack on my back and a small daypack on my front.  This later came in handy as a windbreak when we were near the summit and going down the other side.  So that probably makes me even more of a nerd, since it really was helpful in the long run.  And I wore all of those jackets tonight, and underarmor, and a fleece vest, and gloves, as we were nearing the end of our trek in cold windy shaded areas.
Going up was tough.  Slow and steady was the name of the game, and apparently always is here in the Andes, for all of the possible treks that you can do here, because up so high there just isn’t enough oxygen for the average body to be able to climb much faster than we did.  “Poco a poco” and “Un pie en frente” (one foot in front) were our mantras, as we put one foot in front of the other, slowly ascending to a summit of over 6000 meters (I don’t think I even want to know how high that is in feet).  Of course we started pretty high too, but I am told that we ascended almost 1500 meters in just over 5 kilometers distance.  As of right now, this evening, I can tell you that that is a lot!  I totally understand where these small Peruvian people get their barrel chests, as I was breathing so deeply, and using every accessory muscle in my body, to get good deep breathes.  And then we descended even further down in just under 5 kilometers.  That was a lot too, and on rocks and through river beds.  My quads were quivering a bunch!
And yet, it remained a stunning blue, sunny, mostly warm day in The Sacred Valley, where we were.  Wonderful!  The wind at the top was bone-chilling as it came off the snow-capped Andean peaks (ok, yes, for my precious wimpy So Cal bones), but as we sat on the big stone peak at the summit, I felt like I was baking in the intense sunshine.  So, yes, of course I reapplied sunscreen and kept my cool new Peru hat on my head.  We ate sack lunches of 2 plain cheese sandwiches (yay for plain!) made with hamburger buns that were like wonder bread (really soft and squishy and exactly right for carbs and a bit of needed protein at the time), an apple, OJ, a honey and grains bar, and cookies.  Then we leaned back on our backpacks and took a bit of a siesta after lunch.  It was delightful, except for the bruise that it left on my left hip bone cuz I fell so dead asleep for about an hour!  The after lunch part of the day was all downhill, over very uneven terrain, and was nearly as much of a challenge for the quads as the going up part was for the lungs.  Good thing I’ve been running stairs in San Blas! Or I may not be able to walk tomorrow.  I may lose a big toenail though cuz that coming down was rough!
We arrived at Huchoy Q’osco at about 4:30 and then toured around some of the ruins until we were all so cold and shaking that Rolando had to take us up to our homestay.  The Señora greeted each of us with a kiss and flower petals showering over our heads (I bent down considerably for her to reach over my head), while her husband blew the conche shell, and her probably 10 year old daughter came and took some of our backpacks.  We sat on fuzzy llama skin covered wooden benches until they had sorted out our rooms and then each of us went to our respective rooms to clean up and prepare for dinner.
There wasn’t that much preparing to do, as I was not about to go strip down and get underneath the cold snow run-off that they use for water here, especially since the banos were across the little courtyard a good 50-70 ft away from my room.  And no electricity, so no warm shower pumps.  There was a single solar panel up on a plywood platform that was hooked to some random-looking wiring, but we were told that it had worked to power a small radio and a lightbulb at one time, and then had stopped working a few weeks ago, and he didn’t know how to fix it.  So….  We went through the dark cooking room, where our meal was being prepared by the mom and her daughter over the open flame, with guinea pigs running around the room too, and sat in the dark candlelit diningroom next to it, with large bench table and seating covered by traditional woven cloths of many colors.  There was appetizer of baked salted corn kernels–they are larger than our corn nuts–also of many colors, and hot water with a variety of things available to put into it, like teas, instant coffee, instant milk, raw sugar, and Milo (the Peru crystallized variety of Nestle’s Quick. Yay!).  We drained the rather large bowl of corn kernels as well as 2 large thermoses of hot water, and probably nearly drained the Milo and instant milk, while sounds of grinding stones and cooking were plentiful in the kitchen, as well as the Quechua music from a battery operated am/fm transistor radio with questionable reception.  Our first course was a large bowl of thick corn soup with haba beans in it, very hardy.  I could have stopped there, was nice and full and warm and sleepy by that time (almost 9:00).  But then they brought our main course to us individually, and they had cooked me a veggie omelet special, to go with my white rice, as everyone else had beef cooked with tomatoes to go with their rice.  The dessert was baked peach and apricot, one of each, both very small, and in a bowl in their own syrup.  It was really lovely and was served very traditionally, but I was just so sleepy and hoping to get to bed ASAP.
When we had talked to the family some and thanked them profusely over and over again, Rolando led us each back to our rooms with a candle, which he used to light the single candle in my room. That was nice since I had opened the small box of matches to light my candle earlier, and they were all burned, and then replaced in the box. ???  I went across the way to brush my teeth, and wound up doing so in the courtyard while looking at the spectacular full moon.  It was amazing, huge, and very bright, so only the brightest of the stars were visible, then I used a flashlight to see in the bathroom, and a flashlight to see my way back to my room.
 

Thursday 11/6/14

Had so much fun today in spanish class just talking to Julio and answering his questions.  He subbed for Nadher today cuz Nadher called off sick.  The orphanage was an adventure, as always.  And we took loads of vegetables to them from the San Jeronimo mercado.  So many vegetables and ourselves in a tiny little taxi that when the driver tried to go down a steep hill from the street above the orphanage (because he trying to avoid the road construction), the little car got high-centered and would not budge til Loretta and I got out.  Hmmmm, don’t know what that says about us, or maybe just about the dinky beat up little taxi car.  Or maybe about the loads of veggies, huh?  😉

Oh, today on the bus to San Jeronimo, there were two young girls who told me who the artist of a salsa song on the radio was when I asked.  And then, when I told them that I teach Zumba in the States, they wrote down the name of the song for me and the artist, and genre, and gave it to me to bring back. They were so sweet, and I was so tickled to be speaking Spanish and to be understood consistently without someone shaking their head at me!  Fun!
I was a bit late for dinner after the briefing about our trip, because one of the guys on the tour is the type to ask dozens of questions, mostly about the information that we already had written down for us.  But, ok.  I also stopped and got some more minutes for the phone.  If I am gonna be cut off from email, I am definitely gonna have the phone and not feel quite so isolated from my peeps!
And then, for the first time, I saw an artisan stand open tonight that I hadn’t seen before.  Actually several artisan stands in one place to the side of the smaller of the two cathedrals on the plaza.  And there were really pretty earrings and a bracelet there.  I really didn’t plan on spending any time there, and then….  One thing led to another, and now I have some really pretty silver and abalone earrings and a bracelet from Cusco. :-).  Yeah, that was too easy!  I’m going to do my Christmas shopping here too, I hope!
So, preps for the trip.  I picked up some laundry tonight and started figuring out what I need to take on the trek.  Probably my layers of jammies will be just about the most important things to bring with me for warmth in the home stay.  And I am really tickled at the prospect of staying in a hotel for a night, with hopefully good lighting, and warm running water, and WiFi that works?  Maybe that would be asking a bit much. ???   And it’s warmer at Machu Picchu than here because it is so much lower in elevation, so that will be nice too.  Although warmer does mean more mosquitos.  I am looking so forward to this trip!  It will be like having a vacation within my vacation! I need to make sure that I charge all camera batteries, as well as the USB cable universal charger, for the trip, and get a hat, have to bring a hat, or my scalp will be crispie! :-(

Thurs. 11/6/14. To make up for no journal last Tuesday…

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 12:42 am  Peru  Comments Off on Thurs. 11/6/14. To make up for no journal last Tuesday…
Nov 062014
 

I am trying to write a bit of a guideline for the other volunteers to use when they get here because I felt so lost when I arrived:

 

Routine at Hogar de las Estrellas

In general, go with a lot of enthusiasm and initiative, because you may or may not have guidance, depending on how many women are working each day.  Cezar is the wonderful young man, who was once a resident of the orphanage, and now is the official cook for the main meal of the day, lunch.  He is usually in the kitchen preparing lunch when we get there.  He cannot hear at all, but reads lips and uses sign and body language to communicate with the women and children. He’s super good with the kids and plays and jokes with them frequently.  Dani, Serena, and Tanira apparently do not attend school, and are home when we get there.  Tanira is the little “mother” for them all as she watches each of them closely and lets you know if something is not right.  The majority of the children come home at about 1:30 from school, and the routine goes something like this:
1.  CHANGE OUT OF SCHOOL CLOTHES:   Many of the girls in the downstairs bedroom (watch your head as you go in and out of doorways) need physical or at least verbal assistance with this task.  And so did I, because I never seemed to be able to figure out which clothes to put on whom.  Your best bet is to ask, but if you are not given guidance, find something that looks like it fits and try.  Socks and unders are in the little drawers outside the downstairs bedroom door.
Katy and Candy can pretty much dress themselves, and will choose their own clothes, and will also give occasional pointers regarding which “chompa” or sweater goes on whom.  Teo, Yessica, Yenni, and Pilar are capable, but need lots of verbal cues and encouragement to get the correct clothing item on the correct part of the body and going the right direction.  Yenni is actually injured at the time of this writing, and is needing full assist for everything right now.  Mayde, Betsy, and Tiki need full assist, and will frequently be the first ones to have showers when they get home from school. Mayde wears a diaper to school, but not at home.  Paloma, Marilia, Carmen Luz, and Yolanda (when she gets home a bit later with Joel) all go upstairs and get themselves dressed and ready for the next step in the structured chaos.
The boys are supervised by one of the women who work there, and Edwin and Leo frequently get showers immediately upon returning home from school.  Pablo is pretty self-sufficient, but easily distractable, needs frequent redirection and verbal cues, and lots of hugs.  :-).  Fabio has not been at the orphanage regularly since I was there, and is currently staying with his mother, I am told.
2.  WASH HANDS:   Everybody, except those getting their baths that morning or when they arrive home from school, has to wash hands and face before lunch.  The trick is to corral one or two at a time and take them to the big wash basin near the laundry and to use soap to wash hands and faces, and grab an almost-dry towel off the clothes line for drying.  Then each child knows that they are to go to the dining area to sit and wait for lunch.  They are so amazing and will wait patiently in their respective places for quite a while during preparation of the food and Cezar bringing it in and dishing up.  You can help Cezar to bring the dishes, cups, and spoons, and sometimes the food.  Or you can help with keeping the children occupied and entertained in the dining area, while they are waiting for their lunch.  And sometimes help is needed in corralling a few reluctant stragglers to the dinner tables.
Dani is ambulatory and does best when left to be independent in getting himself to the lunch table if you let him know it’s lunchtime.  He has figured out how to negotiate the stairs and usually is able to get himself around well, when he wants to.  He unfortunately can be quite combative and/or self destructive and will bang his head on the stone floor or walls when frustrated, as he is basically non-verbal.  He uses an apron as a bib, and may need some encouragement to remain seated when he gets bored with his food, but is pretty self-sufficient with a spoon.  He is the first one to the toilet following the meal.
3.   EAT LUNCH:   One of the children will say a prayer blessing the food, the caregivers, and volunteers, and many other things, and then it is time to eat.  Cezar dishes up and the plates need to be distributed to the children.  Dani and Serena both get a bowl and spoon vs fork, as they are unable to use forks well.  Edwin also gets a bowl frequently.  If there is a question about who gets a bowl vs plate, ask Cezar.  He will provide guidance, and usually watches the kids to see who needs what, and gives seconds to some of them too.  The caregivers and volunteers are invited to eat too.  When the food is nearly gone, it’s time to pour the “juice” or tea or whatever the liquid in the pitcher happens to be that day, and distribute to the kids.
All of the children are instructed to stay seated until everyone is finished eating, and then they are to clear their own plates, if they are able to do so.  Volunteers can help with clearing the plates that are left, helping Cezar take the large pots back to the kitchen, and with the toothbrushing line-up.  Also, all tables and chairs need to be wiped down, and the floors swept and mopped.  The line-up of which children have which duties following the meal is written on the exterior wall near the kitchen.  Betsy, Mayde, Pilar, Tanira, Yenni, Tiki, and Yesica head straight to the restroom following their meal.  And several others will follow after brushing their teeth.
4.  BRUSH TEETH:   Everyone needs to brush their teeth following the meal, and they frequently know which toothbrush is theirs;  frequently, not all the time.  Names are scratched into the plastic on the “sepios”, or toothbrushes. And you can assist by finding correct toothbrushes, and putting toothpaste on them, as well as providing maximum encouragement and guidance for the toothbrushing process.  Mayde, Betsy, Tiki, Marilia, and Yenni all need physical help with the brushing and getting their faces cleaned afterward.  They all frequently could use some physical assist to ensure thoroughness.
After teeth are all brushed and toileting, and possibly more bathing, are complete, usually by the caregivers, then it’s time for the activity stations and homework.  Yolanda and Joel almost always have homework that they need quite a bit of assist with and monitoring for.  Several of the other kids will have homework too, and then sometimes others just want to be involved in the writing or drawing, or the projects that are going on at the homework tables.  Yolanda, Candy, Katy, and Paloma are high functioning with their homework and most frequently just need close monitoring for distractions.  Joel has a lot of writing tasks, and is so easily distractable, he needs quite a lot of assistance, sometimes hand-over-hand.

The other activity “stations” may include, but are not limited to:  drawing, painting, play dough, puzzles, jewelry making (that they sell at special functions in the town), and a few of the kids do their own thing, either sitting quietly on one of the sofas in the dining area, or playing outside.  Dani
can usually be found sitting quietly with a toy or container, and frequently gets himself up and around to observe what the other children are doing.  Tiki and Edwin are similar with autistic traits and are able to sit somewhat quietly with a self initiated repetitive activity.
The kids love music, love dancing, and really love individual attention.  They are generally healthy and very affectionate, with much hugging throughout the day.  Yesterday I was given a bracelet and some earrings that they have made as a token of their gratitude for me being there for just these three weeks.  They are so appreciative of all of the help from volunteers, and we are always named in their before-meal prayers.  It will be tough to leave them for the last time on Friday.

Wed. 11/5/14. A rainy day, but a good one!

 Posted by Stephanie Stellhorn at 11:27 pm  Peru  Comments Off on Wed. 11/5/14. A rainy day, but a good one!
Nov 052014
 

Wed. 11/5/14.  A rainy day, but a good day!

Whoop-tee-do!  I found out this morning that Pilar’s house is not full of volunteers next week and that I can come back here when I get back from the Machu Picchu trip, and that I can also keep my big bag here and come back here after the lake Titicaca trip too.  That’s terrific news, not just that I have the place and don’t have to move my bags down the hill and then back up for those few days next week, but I just really like it here, and Pilar is so hospitable and sweet to all of us here.  We eat a lot of starch, but she is here and cooks dinner for us every night, and she makes sure that  I have some protein and vegetarian options every day.  She even packs me a little plastic box full of fruit each day.  I have a hot dinner here each night.  It’s my home in Cusco, and Tio Mario is a riot.  He’s a funny little Peruvian man, who has made it his goal in life to help me be “not so flaca”, or skinny, and is always encouraging me to eat more bread and pretty much everything else too.  He thinks I am nuts for seeking out additional steps to walk up and down at the beginning and end of my days.  He feels that there are enough steps in Cusco without seeking out more!
So, I have figured out today that I am not getting all of your emails, and you may not be getting mine either with wacky WiFi at my homestay or at Maximo Nivel’s office either.  If that is the case, me disculpe, please forgive me.  I am answering every email that I receive as soon as I receive it, but I don’t know if those are getting back to you.  Once again, I am at [email protected] because I cannot access my primary Verizon email account at all in the city of Cusco anywhere.  And I have been doing a bit of facebook-ing, and the fundraising website at GoFundMe is:
Chelsey, who works here at Maximo Nivel, has created this website for the kids at the orphanage, and will post the items that have been purchased.  The kids need everything:  toothbrushes, vitamins, clothing, jackets, soap, food, medication, toilet paper, pencils and erasers and pencil sharpeners, and that only touches their needs a bit.  Once again, thank you all for the donations that I was able to bring here.  They are all distributed and being used Right now.  All hygiene items and vitamins and school supplies are used up quickly with 20 kids in one location on a daily basis, and there are several orphanages just in Cusco alone.  We volunteers are going today to the big market to purchase a week’s worth of vegetables for the kids at Hogar de las Estrellas, because there is not a vegetable left in the house… Not one.  The women work constantly and do their best to provide the care that the kids need, and the kids do know that they are loved dearly.  They laugh and play, and tease and fight, and cry at times, and are disciplined with tough love.  But they are generally healthy and know that they are well loved, and they mimic the care that is modeled for them by the caregivers, mothering and loving on each other.
It is definitely with mixed emotions that we travel to the orphanage each day, and try to provide all of the kids with the love and care that they need, as well as the fun and happy times that kids so desire, and an outlet for their abundant energy, most of the time, within a very small amount of space, and with few resources.  This week, since it has begun to rain again, we have not had opportunity to go to the park again.  But now that the street construction is completed outside of the orphanage home, they will be able to walk to a much closer park, when it is not raining.
So I am beginning to make preparations for my trip to Machu Picchu and will pack everything for 3 days into one small backpack–don’t know how I will fit all layers of jammies into it, but at least I know that I will be 3000 ft lower altitude and a bit warmer when I get there.  Machu Picchu is apparently in the Selva region of Cusco, or the jungle terrain, and will be a warmer, more humid climate (yay!) with bugs (Hmmm.).  The trek will begin much higher and will involve climbing to higher elevation before coming down, but will not be like the Inca Trail, Lares, or Salkantay Treks that have you sleeping at 14,000 ft, cuz I just know that that would not be fun.  I would be a walking Popsicle, and probably not much fun to be around.
So, after the two days of walking, we will be in a hotel near Machu Picchu for one night, and then will have the whole day at Machu Picchu from 5:30 am til about 3 when we need to be back in Aguas Calientes to catch the train back to Chicharrone and then a bus back to Cusco by about 10:00 Monday night.  So may need a bit of a rest Tuesday, or not, who knows?  Then, the next day, I leave again bright and early for the Lake Titicaca trip to Puno via bus tour for a day, Lake towns tours via boat the next day, and then a night bus for the 8 hour trip back to Cusco.  I’m supposed to be back to Cusco somewhere around 4:00 am, and will have a ride back to Pilar’s then.  I am just so glad to have a place that I know where I will be able to stay and rest up a bit before I leave Cusco for the last time on Saturday evening.  I might even be able to find time to fit another little tour in on Friday or Saturday morning, or maybe just a bit more exploring.  This city is really too big to be able to explore fully in just a few weeks, especially a few weeks packed full of classes and work.

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