Friday, May 6, 2016

Machu Picchu: The journey

The climax of our adventure was our journey to 
Machu Picchu....

Here is what the students had to say:

(Playing with a puppy at a pit-stop market on the way)
I am in a van for seven hours of discomfort. Once off the van, another three hours of mental and physical strength through the jungle. We all converge in the village of Aguas Calientes for dinner--the best dinner of my Peruvian experience.The next morning at 4 a.m., I'm on another bus to Machu Picchu National Park. Once there, I experience a line of tourists from all over the world. After exploring for a couple hours, I come to the conclusion that this it is a Peruvian Disney World.  The atmosphere seems somehow ingenuine. Basically, it seems like a historical jungle gym.  However, from the "Sun Gate" I see authenticity in the mountains--much the same as New England except much taller and jungle-like.

After my Machu Picchu experience, we walk down (I run) the mountain to have another nice dinner. I can't walk.  Once in a food coma, I enjoy a long sleep, to be awakened for another long hike, followed by another long van ride.  Now... I'm writing a blog.

When I passed through the front gates of Machu Picchu and saw the ancient ruins, I was filled with a sense of awe. Walking through the old stone buildings made me think about what it was like to live here thousands of years ago. I found it quite amazing that the Incans could send so much stone up the mountain and were able to build such a large complex in the span of a couple hundred years.

I also traveled to the Incan bridge, which was a winding path along the mountain side that offered a great view of the valley below. Overall, I had a very grand experience at Machu Pichu.

I am leaning on a rock in the shade at the top of the "Sun Gate."  After hiking around Machu Pichu since 6:30 this morning, the walk up here was tough, but James insisted that it's the most beautiful place, and I reminded myself that I'll likely be here only once.

I'm watching a little bird pick up seeds off the ground, left by a previous tourist. I can see the center of Machu Picchu and its cascading terraces continuing so much further down the valley than have been recovered.  The mountains start suddenly and stop.  From the bottom, I'd have to crane my neck to see in every direction.  Snow-capped mountains peek up from above the closer ones. What a place.

Looking up at the trail ahead, I feel my legs start to burn, my forehead starting to sweat and I ask, "why am I doing this?" Is walking up to the "Sun Gate" worth it? I am so tired.  Should I just wait here while Nina, Lylah, and James finish this walk?  I ask James, "how much longer until the top?"

"About ten minutes," he replies.

I weigh my options: I'm about twenty minutes from the base of the trail, so I'm two-thirds of the way there.  I can do this!  It's the final stretch, and I can see the terraces as I look over the steep edge.  I look to my left and there is Machu Picchu. What a beautiful view. James, Lylah, and I sit down and gaze at the beautiful mountains.  I look at my friends' sweet, sweaty faces and smile.

I stop to catch my breath at the top of the stone stairs. The sun hasn't risen and the blue-gray morning air creates a hush that sweeps across each mountain peak. I look at my shoes and turn to face the open air. The view is so shocking and vast that I can't put it into words and I can't stop staring. Mountain tops are at my eye level, snow caps in the distance behind me, and steep vertical peaks stretch up regally for as far as I can see. I peer down, my eyes following the trees that coat the mountain like an enormous chocolate-dipped strawberry. I can see cliffs, valleys, long vines hanging off jagged rocks, and a river carving between mountains, so far down that it looks like a restless little earthworm. Birds at eye level soar between the peaks. What a wonder.

I am sweating. I am in the midst of a 7 hour bus ride and I am sweating.  I hop off the bus ride and the next challenge is to hike along the train tracks for 3 hours to Aguas Calientes. I am overjoyed by the concept of the perspiration that is to ensue. The next 3 hours consists of extreme sweating. Then we get to a sweaty town and I eat a sweaty dinner. I am awoken at 4am to get on a sweaty bus that arrives at Machu Picchu. The view there is cool. There might have been literally 1000 other people there taking selfies and standing in the middle of the walkways, sweating. Small Peruvian men in vests keep blowing whistles at me because they make up fake directional rules for the stairs that I seem to violate. I am definitely sweating. Then it is time to leave and walk down the hill. The view is great. AND I'M STILL SWEATING. It was nice.

Machu Picchu was built entirely of stone, as I remember it. The buildings were different from any I have seen before.  Waterways were constructed in the ground.  The mountains were more beautiful than the city, to me.  Perhaps the Incans built their city in the mountains for the view.

One thing I noticed about its architecture was the construction of stairs.  They did not seem to be built for  taller people, as they felt awkward to walk up. One of the best parts of the day was the walk. While walking to and from Machu Picchu, I saw mountains and trees that I had not seen in New England.

I am sitting on a cold rock in the shadow of a tree, staring down at Machu Picchu. It feels like it's been forever since James continued to the top and my body begged to stop as my chills increased.

Watching the tourists, adorned with selfie sticks struggle up the steep path,  I counted only ten tourists without camera devices in the hour I waited.  Tons of tourists, speaking many different languages, climbed the stairs carved the rock I was sitting on. The amount of people with fancy jewelry and impractical shoes seemed more ready for a photo shoot than hiking in the Andes mountains.

Finally, James returned, hugging me as he presented me with an Excedrin. (Lylah)

I met Ryan and Julia and they told me about the top of the "Sun Gate."  We planned to meet at the entrance at 1:00 p.m, so I wasn't sure if I could make it all the way up and back in time. I rested for about fifteen minutes, staring down at Machu Picchu before I got up.  I wanted to see the view of a lifetime.

I got to the bottom of the long path to the "Sun Gate"  already tired and started to the top.  With a back pack on, it was harder to go uphill, so I stopped many times. The path got thin and had no railing. If I fell, it was over. My fear of heights was trying to turn me back and my bag was making it worse. I felt the weight of my bag would throw me off the edge, so I took it off and stuffed it beside the path.  I looked at the time and I knew I'd be late if I didn't go down soon, but I had to see at least a glimpse of it.

I got about two thirds of the way there and saw the beautiful view.  My leg hurt long before I started going up, but it ore than worth it. There were fifteen minutes before 1 p.m., so I turned back.  I was already going to be late, but I took a lot of breaks on the way down.  My legs were aching more than before, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  I picked up my bag next to the edge, still terrified of falling. I would have gotten to the top with more time, but I don't regret any of it.

I am peering through a stone porthole in Machu Picchu, watching the first rays of sunlight shine from behind a neighboring peak. we've arrived early, before most of the crowd. At this moment, I've stuck my head into the stone window to look at a glistening spider web and I can hear the valley's wind echo within this chamber.  It's beautiful.

I am tired. We awoke at 4 a.m., and I didn't eat shower or eat breakfast. We stood in line for a bus that took us to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We stood in the cold for an hour, and after we got through the entrance, the security people asked for our bagged lunches (we hadn't carried them in our back packs), so I had no food.

Once we got in, I walked with Mathew because we're both slow. But we eventually split up. I walked to a secluded spot and gazed at the Andes. Then I lay back, put the sun hat over my eyes, and took a nice long nap. When I woke, I realized that I should do some journal writing. So I took out my notebook and started writing furiously.  I wasn't happy. When I looked up, I was face to face with a llama. I jumped, as it took me by surprise.  Another tourist witnessed it and laughed. Soon after another llama showed up, and more people came, with their selfie sticks. The quiet spot became not so quiet.

Flowers from the hike

Sunday, May 1, 2016


 This morning has been a true test of our resilience. The overnight bus ride wound up being both too hot and too cold, crowded, smelly, and an all around unpleasant experience. I think if we added up the amount of sleep we all got, we might have a full 8 hours.  However, this is all part of the adventure. This morning at the bus station in Cuzco, we were one weary, sad-looking crew of teens.  The lack of paper towels or toilet paper at the bus station did not help.

However, as soon as we left the bus station, things started to look up. The recently risen sun was lighting up the sparse section of clouds in the sky with silver and the ride to the hostel gave us a good look at the hills of beautiful churches and residential spaces that outline Cuzco. The hostel wasn't ready for us until 11:00 so we left some of the more "under the weather" members of the group on the couches and terrace and went out to explore the early morning scene. We quickly realized that there was something going on today in the Plaza de Armas when we saw a gathering crowd of people dressed up in traditional dress, adorned with sequins, tassels, and baby llamas swinging from their  backs. We sat in the square, munching on tamales and watching them prepare for what we believe was going to be a parade, and by the end there must've been hundreds of fully adorned Peruvians in the plaza preparing for the parade. After getting our first cups of real Peruvian coffee, and watching the festivities from the balcony of the square, we decided to go back to the hostel and check in on our room and our infirmed--and to get a nap.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Arequipa! A few musings on our days.


I've enjoyed people watching and listening to people's conversations.

I've had a good day. That's all. I like Arequipa. It
reminds me of Boston. I don't like the traffic.

Today was our second day in Arequipa. We started the day off by going on a walking tour around the colonial district of the city. My favorite part was trying the "cheese ice cream" and going to an old cathedral with a lot of old art work. The rest of the day I napped until dinner and then went out for pizza. It was really good pizza.

Today was so amazing. This city is beautiful! I really appreciate how close everything is to our hostel. I'm also so appreciative of all of the locals who have tried their best to accommodate us.

I have been really enjoying the freedom in finding food, even when my Spanish completely fails and there are tons of miscommunication. I have been learning to not be ashamed, but instead taking it as a step in my learning.


I have enjoyed the city of Arequipa. Yesterday we ate at a restaurant and it was great. It was probably one of the better restaurants we have been to on the trip. I enjoy the weather here. It is less humid than Lima and even sunnier than Lima. The hostel in Arequipa is nicer than the one in Lima too. I spent more time at this hostel and one thing I like better is that it has more amenities. Arequipa is cleaner and less noisy, which I prefer to the more crowded Lima. However, I really enjoyed the beach in Lima, which Arequipa does not have.

My favorite moments in the last couple days were the many times I walked through the city and looked down a narrow cobblestone street and it made me stop and say, "wow".

Today I sat upon the rooftop of the hostel, gazing upon the  mountains, listening to the sounds of the chattering, buzzing city. I couldn't understand where the musical dinging sound of the ice cream truck was coming from until I looked down into the street and realized--it was a dump truck.

One thing I noticed was that because of Arequipa's remote location, some things seem more scarce or have a smaller selection.

I haven't left this bathroom all day. I'm bummed I've been missing the city. I hear it is nice.

I enjoyed talking with my fellow hostel guests, each with their own unique and diverse story.  We all came from different parts of the world and took wildly different paths in our lives, yet we all share a similarity--this convergence in Arequipa.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Travel for me is a lot about perspective. The perspective that while I'm travelling, it doesn't matter what the consistency of my hair is or the cuteness of my butt happens to be at the moment. The perspective that all of the little things I spend the majority of my time at home worrying about simply don't matter when I'm looking at houses made out of tin and sticks in the middle of a desert. Here what really matters is not that this pair of shorts in the store is super cute, it's that I remembered to apply sunblock in the last 4 hours. It's important that I am one of the only ones in my group with enough experience with the language to communicate with a taxi driver, or let my fellow travellers know what their options to eat are, or yes, with what frequency I'm pooping. When travelling, all of the logistics and chaos of getting to know a new place make everything seem so much more complicated, but the state of mind that I'm in is so much more simple.

Before I left, my mom told me that travel brings out the best and the worst in everyone, and maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit in saying this, but so far, the "worst" hasn't been terribly bad. The "worst" has been vastly diminished in comparison with the closeness we get by having to navigate a new city together, being crammed into a bus packed with Peruvians and having to hold onto your neighbors tight to prevent the both of you from sitting on the lap of an unsuspecting Peruvian, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to select the best of the fruit for the rest of us, and most importantly, going on a group-wide adventure to satisfy my need for a churro. So overall, my hair may be waxy, my pits may be smelly, and my shorts may feel frumpy, but I'm feeling very good about where my mind is.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

A page from the quote book....

"Are we there yet."
"Can we just stay here, in this know, and not go home?"
"Can we go back to the park?"
"No matter how much fruit you eat, that is not a breakfast."

"Are we there yet."
"Advertising is everything."
"Don't call me Yellow Beard."
"I really just argue with Ryan."

"I've decided to try everything."
"Yeah, I could help you with that cake."
"I never thought I'de be in the South America."
"Food is more engaging when you eat in a foreign place.

"Let's not talk about this ever again."
"Man, I love me some cathedral."
"I ate like 60 grams of chicken protein. Good meal."
"That book is bound in human skin. What's wrong here?"

"I will talk about my poop all of the time."
"I"m not going to sleep anyway, do you want to split a coke?"
"Bonjour, hola, good morning. The boy's room smells... rancid."

"Humanity is messy."
"I'm a chair"
"So, senior project..."

"There was a chicken foot in my soup."
"It is cool that I can look over everyone's heads all the time here."
"The bus was... interesting."

"I'm not going to, but you should totally poop on the airplane."
"I could live on mangos."
"Everyone's mother talks about how much they like Nolen. It's weird."

"I a-Peru-ve of your decision."
"The trick is to make a lot of bad puns. They the  mediocre ones sound great."

"No, my mother did not get me a rape whistle. I got me a rape whistle."
"No, these German guys actually worship the devil, but they are so polite."
"I can function without coffee,  just not well.

"I'm Nolen's protector now. Awesome."
"Shut up your face."
"This rock star is ready for bed."

"Ok, so who has the map?"
"I don't want to poop on an airplane."
"We have eleven students. Eleven."
"Are there sweet potatoes?"

"Thank you in advance for giving me reasons not to 'forget' you at this park."
"I don't dart."
"So, did you poop yet?"
"I don't know what you're eating, but put some in my mouth, please."
"Now what did we learn?"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Day 2ish

This was our second day waking up on a Hostel bed in a completely foreign country. I had personally been preparing myself to be in complete culture shock, for a while as this is my first time leaving the country.
     Going through customs was way easier than I expected, but I immediately realised that taking three years of French and avoiding Spanish at all costs was not a good life decision, as Ryan would say. We passed through customs with no problem and entered a very brightly lit orange baggage claim, with no windows and only fluorescent lights. It was very hard to tell the time of day. We all immediately noticed the sniffing beagle, who we later realised was a fruit smelling dog. Of course I was the only member of the group that the beagle approached.  As the suspicious dog jumped on my bag, the man asked me in Spanish "frutas, frutas?" and my pale, confused face must have shown my nervousness as I shook my head and said no. After a couple of minutes, and trying to put as much distance between myself and the dog, the man and the dog were back, as it jumped on my bag scratching and yelping. At this point, it was obvious that the man could not let me go, and he asked me to open my bag. I complied. After not finding anything, they allowed me to take my bag.
     Now, actually onto day two! I woke up early with the group of girls in search of fruit for breakfast. We searched for an inexpensive fruit cart, only passing a couple open stores. One thing I've noticed is that the city wakes up pretty late, in my experience of cities. The local coffee shop doesn't open until 8 am. We finally found a small market with a good amount of fruit. After Nina, Lila and Kestrel collected the fruit, Ryan went to pay. The woman wrote down 185 and Ryan asked all of us for more soles... which is a crazy amount. Nina and Lila came over to sort it out,  and of course it was only 18.5 soles (which is about 6 dollars)... typical.
     After everyone was fed and happy, we set out on our adventure to the historical district of Lima. The first quest of the journey was to find the bus station, which was located near the market we visited earlier (but we took a much different route that took more side streets). After loading a single metro card with enough swipes for the group, we made quite a scene as we lined up and entered one by one, passing off the metro card. The bus in Peru has been the most boundary-pushing experience. After walking to the platform, we realised that we would have to push and keep very up close and personal with Peruvian strangers. Immediately, I had a little butt moment with a middle-aged Peruvian woman before she pushed and shoved to get off at her stop. As an influx of Peruvians pushed on, I was immediately thrown into the sweaty back of Tim. After a very touchy bus ride we had to depart quickly, as the bus stops are extremely short.
     As I sit writing this in the hostel living room, with Ryan constantly pestering me about waking up to run at 6 am and Julia tiredly waiting for me to finish so she can publish it, I am ending this blog post with a combination of the ideas from the people around me.
     So Beunos Noches de Lima, Peru
       -Lylah Isadora Guzynski-Hakimoglu-Tay

Monday, April 25, 2016

Blog Post
By Lila Shaw

Night of arrival:

We exchanged money and got situated, tired and discombobulated from our long day of flying. We got through customs and a sign reading "Rick Gordon", held by a kind Peruvian stranger. He was curious who Rick Gordon is. He spoke broken English, more broken than mine and Nina's Spanish. We talked with him on the way to our surprisingly non-sketchy vehicles, two small vans. Monuments and religious statues pass us by as we drive hurriedly among run down, caged off, dusty and colorful buildings. The streets criss-cross chaotically and the cars cut between lanes restlessly. It is approximately 11:45 PM.  Cacti and palm trees are strewn on every street corner. The music on the radio is in English, much to my dismay. I am so enamored with absolutely everything.  I attempt to read passing billboards, squirming in my seat in anticipation for the adventures to come.

The hostel is clean, friendly, and colorful. The gate is tall and metal and we have to buzz to get in and out. There is razor wire or a myriad of iron spikes dancing on top of every fence. The hostel patio is inviting, we spend much of our time there hanging out and enjoying the humid, warm air.

Our first day of waking up in the hostel we woke to Rick having brought us avocado, passion fruit, papaya, clementines, eggs, onion, a pepper, bread, butter, and jam. Kestrel and I cooked the eggs in the beautiful little kitchen and I told our incredibly friendly host (a woman, about 45? So hard to tell...) about our group. Our most frequent topic of discussion is probably poop/pooping; how to, when, what, and many excessive and or graphic details that I won't include. However...we are definitely already very close with each other in this way. The group dynamic, although whiny at times, is quite smooth. We all seem to be getting along very nicely! We are certainly a headstrong group, but there is a lot of flexibility among us and I think we have been very good about hearing each others needs. So far so good!

We have been noticing how humbling it is to see how many people there are in the world. I keep thinking about how each and every one of the people I see has a life, goals or hopes, and a family, and I know absolutely nothing about them, and probably can't even converse that well with them. There are so many people who are so different from us, but we all have so much in common. We share so much with these strangers just by being human and having human needs. It's also wonderful to gain perspective about things like toilets... we are all so used to the privilege of flushing our toilet paper and never seeing it again, but here we are grateful to flush our poop, and still adjusting to putting our used tp in a trash can...where it will stay...and not flush away into the ether.... the point is, we are all gaining a ton of perspective on our home lives in Vermont, whether or not we have all realized it yet.

It's so wonderful to get to know each of my peers more personally and in a new setting, each person on this trip has so much to offer.

We saw some of the most beautiful things today, including a meal outside near a big indoor market full of fruits and meats, and then the coast below us. I am finding it very challenging to express any fraction of the wonders we are immersed in, although I try every moment to record the beauty I see with an absurd amount of photos and plenty of journaling. I fear that I will forget details that open my eyes so wide, but recording things isn't as important as living them. When I think about it, I'm not that stressed about living each moment to the fullest, because whether or not I am writing, snapping photos, or just gawking at everything, each of these is a form of taking in all of the beauty around me. Anyway, enough of this, here are some of the photos I took today! I love them, it's so beautiful here. A picture is worth a thousand words....