Iquitos and Cusco!

Hi everyone!! Wow I have so much to share about the last couple weeks! I don’t have a whole lot of time so this will be a quick version, but when I get home (on Thursday!!!) I’ll have more time and better internet, so I’ll be able to write in more detail and upload some photos.

So my first trip was into the jungle! We flew into Iquitos, a city on the Amazon river pretty far into the rainforest, only accessible by boat or plane, and spent our first and last nights there. For two nights in between we stayed at a lodge about two hours up the river from Iquitos. This was quite the experience! I was with three other girls, and we had our own guide for the entire time. He took us on different excursions into the jungle and on the river as well. Our lodge was deep in the forest! We only got electricity from 6-8 pm, and all the walls were just net! Our bedroom walls were net covered with a bed sheet, and then we also had mosquito nets over our beds. We had a tiny little bathroom with no mirror or anything, it actually didn’t even have a door. So staying at the lodge was VERY different from anything I’d ever done before!

My favorite part of the jungle trip was a walk we took into the jungle one day. Anselmo, our guide, gave us each some sturdy boots and led the way with his machete. At one point, the path we were following just completely disappeared into the river! We later found out that a huge chunk of land had sunk into the water just the day before! So since our path disappeared, Anselmo just made his own path for us, which ended up being super cool! We ran into several houses of local people. Their houses were all risen pretty high because the water level changes so much, and they had leaf roofs, and usually had walls on only 2 sides of the house, and the rest was just open! It was really cool to see how people live out there. We got really lucky and ended up seeing some monkeys in the wild! They were the smallest monkey in the world, and Anselmo knew to look for them because he noticed a certain kind of tree that they eat from. We also saw a wild toucan! among other things!

One day we went to a place called “Monkey Island” where these kids showed us, and let us play with, a bunch of monkeys!! They don’t keep the monkeys in cages, but they feed them and so the monkeys just stay there and become tame. My highlight of that day was holding a baby sloth!!!

After the jungle trip, I met Hannah in Lima and we went straight to Cusco. We rode 22 hours on bus to get there! It was a looong ride, especially because most of it was through the mountains so we were CONSTANTLY going around curves. The city of Cusco is at a really high altitude, so the air is a lot thinner there. When we got there, we had to walk to our hotel and we were SO out of breath just from walking! It took a couple days to become acclimated to the altitude! Luckily neither of us experienced any other symptoms of altitude sickness besides shortness of breath. I absolutely LOVED Cusco. The people there were great, and Hannah and I both felt really welcome. It was a lot different than Lima or Iquitos because the people don’t stare at you!! It was such a relief… I could actually feel comfortable looking around while I was walking through town instead of just looking at the sidewalk.

Our second day in Cusco was definitely the highlight of my time here in Peru. We went to Machu Picchu and it just exceeded every expectation I had!! I have studied a lot about Machu Picchu and the Inca people and culture, so it just felt SO surreal to be standing in the middle of their most sacred city. The view was absolutely incredible, and the photos don’t do it any justice! I can’t even describe how amazing it was. We were there on a perfect day, too! We could see the city clearly but there were clouds in the background which made the mountains look super pretty! And it didn’t rain on us until we were about to go back down the mountain. I can’t wait to post pictures from this day!!!

The next day we took a bus tour of Sacred Valley. We stopped in a few smaller towns and saw more Inca ruins. Another really cool day!!

Anyway… I will write about some other things in more detail when I post photos once I get home. I’ll leave for the airport tomorrow night, and my flight leaves Lima at 2:30 AM on Wednesday morning, and I’ll back to La Crosse at 8:30 on Wednesday night! I have absolutely looooved my time in Peru, but I am ready to go home! I can’t wait to write more! Hope everyone is well!

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Off to the jungle!

Hi everybody! It’s 5:30 AM here and I’m about to head into the jungle! Father is taking us to the airport in Lima and we’ll arrive in the town of Iquitos sometime this afternoon.  Today we are just going to find our hostel and relax, and our tour leaves early tomorrow morning! Click here to see all of the information about what we’ll be doing! We get back to Lima on Monday and I’m going straight to Cusco after that, to see Machu Picchu! I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have, but I’ll be back here at Casa next Sunday so I’ll be sure to tell you all about it then!

Casa Graduates

Yesterday the group of 20 who was here from Menomonee left. Their last day was pretty remarkable! Most of them had gotten really close with some of the kids, and so they wondered how sponsorships usually work. Each kid has a sponsor, and people can also sponsor whole families. This group was particularly interested in sponsoring the kids who are about to graduate, and will need financial help as they leave here and try continuing their education. (Casa Hogar pays for their education through donations as long as the kids are working part time and getting good grades.) They wanted to hear about some of their plans for the future, so yesterday afternoon the adults from the group and the about 8 of the kids who will be leaving here in December had a meeting. Each kid stood up and explained what they want to do with their lives, and some of the things they’re afraid of when they leave Casa. It was just so incredible hearing all of these kids’ dreams and goals, and knowing that it is solely because of this place that they have a chance at achieving them. And these kids were SO grateful that this group wanted to support them. It was just awesome to see how every single one of these kids came here from really tough lives, some having lived here for over 11 years, and this place has really shaped them into such amazing people who are ready to move on to the next step. And they are just a million times better off than they would have been otherwise. It’s so cool to be here and see that this place actually works, and these kids have learned to be appreciative, kind, thoughtful, and motivated to change their lives and work hard to make new lives for themselves different from what their parents had modeled for them.

Quick story…

This is just going to be quick, but you know how I mentioned that people stare at us because we’re the only white people around? Well tonight we were walking through town and this little boy was standing on the sidewalk with his dad, and he saw us as we were passing by and started tugging on his dad standing behind him, pointing at us, and yelling, “Inglés! Inglés!!!!” (Which means English!) And he kept his eyes glued to us for as long as he possibly could like we were famous or something!! Normally I really don’t like all of the staring, but this was really cute :)

Day in Lima!

Happy Sunday! Yesterday Hannah and I spent the entire day in Lima getting a personal tour of all the tourist sights! Pancho, a staff here at the orphanage, offered to take us and show us around because he is very familiar with Lima.  Graciela, another staff here, also came along.  It was a really fun and interesting day! We arrived to the center of Lima just in time to see the changing of the guards where the president lives.  I learned some cool history about Lima and Peru, and got a good taste of what Lima is like! It was especially cool for me, having studied Spanish and Latin American culture and having been to Spain, to see the influence of the Spaniards on the Peruvian architecture.  This time we ate at an actual Peruvian restaurant called La Muralla, and I had lomo saltado, which is a typical dish here.  It’s marinated strips of steak served with rice, french fries, onions, and tomatoes all mixed up in one sauce, kind of like a soy sauce. Sooooo good!! Anyway, I’ll write more about the actual places we visited when I post all of the pictures on Facebook, which probably won’t be until I get home.  But for now, here’s a couple pictures of the day we went to to the beach here in Lurín, and a couple from Lima!

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Little Update

Hola! Not much has changed here at Casa Hogar.  Hannah and I have still been teaching our classes, and it’s so cool to see the kids practicing their English throughout the day! Yesterday a volunteer group of about 20 arrived from Menomonee, Wisconsin.  The kids have been trying to talk to them using what we’ve taught them, but their conversations are pretty limited because nobody in the group speaks Spanish!

Yesterday Hannah and I took a mototaxi to the beach! We were only there for about 20 minutes because we had to get back, but we really enjoyed it! It was SO BUSY! I don’t know where all the people came from, because Lurín is relatively small but the beach was absolutely packed.  And of course we were the only white people there, since this isn’t a tourist destination.  It’s so strange.  I’ve begun just not even looking up when I’m walking through town because literally EVERYONE stares.  Every once in a while I stare back just to see if they’ll look away, but they never do.  I always am the one to look away first! The other day a truck drove past us while we were walking down the sidewalk and an old man just leaned all the way out the window and looked back as the truck drove away just so he could see us!

Tomorrow I’m going to spend the day in Lima with Hannah and Graciela, one of the staff here.  One of the drivers offered to take us there and show us all the tourist destinations! So I really don’t know what there is to see in Lima, but I guess I’ll find out! I’m excited, and it’s nice that he volunteered to drive us because taking the bus the other day wasn’t the most enjoyable experience.  You have to be suuuper careful of pickpockets on any public transportation here.

Anyway, I hope all is well back home, and that everyone has a good weekend!! :)

More photos of Lurín!

This picture is taken from the hill behind Casa Hogar.  You can see the building the kids live in, the convent, and how big the yard is.  It's incredible how extremely different it is on the other side of the wall of Casa.

This picture is taken from the hill behind Casa Hogar. You can see the building the kids live in, the convent, and how big the yard is. It’s incredible how extremely different it is on the other side of the wall of Casa.

Hannah and I walked up the hill to see the ocean.  It's about a 20 minute walk from Casa.  They call that rock formation "The Whale"!

Hannah and I walked up the hill to see the ocean. It’s about a 20 minute walk from Casa. They call that rock formation “The Whale”!

This is one section of our piñata class.  Monday we'll start putting tissue paper on them and they'll be fun and colorful!

This is one section of our piñata class. Monday we’ll start putting tissue paper on them and they’ll be fun and colorful!

The family who is here from California brought a bunch of crafts for the kids to do.  It was so much fun helping them!

The family who is here from California brought a bunch of crafts for the kids to do. It was so much fun helping them!

Mercados y talleres

¡Buenos días! Finally I am feeling more comfortable speaking Spanish! My first couple days here I was a little rusty but it’s coming back to me and feeling more natural.  Although most of the people here are really difficult for me to understand! They don’t have a strong accent that I’ve noticed but they talk very fast and slur a lot of words together.  The more I listen though, the easier it gets.

Hannah and I started teaching our classes this week! It’s summer vacation here for these kids so the orphanage has organized different “talleres” for them to sign up for.  These are just short classes on whatever the staff wanted to teach! Hannah and I are doing one on making piñatas and we’re also teaching an English class.  Some other ones are guitar, painting nails, math, science, and giving manicures! So far they’re going really well. They’re three weeks long and we see each section twice a week.  On Monday we started with piñatas and the kids were so excited! They were so creative with the shapes they made.  Hannah and I spent HOURS putting on the first layer of paper mache because the kids didn’t have time to finish, so that was a busy day.  Tuesday we had our two English classes.  The kids frequently see people come here who don’t speak any Spanish, so a lot of them want to learn basic conversation so they can communicate with the volunteers that come.  Today we started with hello, how are you, good, bad, okay, and goodbye.  They seemed to really like it and they were awesome students!! They were super well behaved and Hannah and I really enjoyed it.

After the English classes today, Hannah and I hopped on a bus to Lima to go shopping at some of the Indian markets.  It’s about an hour bus ride and costs the equivalent of a dollar! The markets were really cool, a lot of ceramic mugs and tea sets, blankets, scarves, and gloves made with alpaca fur, and a ton of other artisan crafts.  I bought a couple souvenirs, and we ate at a Spanish restaurant! Spaniards and Peruvians don’t eat the same foods, but I figured since I’m eating authentic Peruvian food every day at the orphanage, I could take a break and eat Spanish food since I never get to! We had croquets and Spanish tortilla! The restaurant was by Parque Kennedy, which was a plaza-like square with just benches and flowers, and there are a ton of stray cats that live in the park! I guess the people of Lima leave bowls of cat food out for these cats, and people can adopt them! It was really cute though because there were just a ton of cats sleeping among the flowers!

Spending time here in the convent with Father and the other staff has been very interesting, because the founder of the orphanage in 1986, Father Joe Walijewski, is in the process of becoming a saint.  He’s from La Crosse but did a ton of missionary work in South America.  One step of becoming a saint is doing extremely thorough research about that person’s life, so Father Joe (the current priest here) and Jess (a staff here) have been traveling all around Perú and other places in South America that Father Joe is said to have impacted and they are interviewing people about Father Joe’s life and work in that area.  So it’s been really cool to hear the stories about Father Joe and hear about all of these people he impacted, and be living at this orphanage that he created.

A few photos…

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This is the convent at the orphanage. Part of it is the chapel, and the other part has a kitchen, dining room, and living room for some of the staff who live here and some volunteers who come.  This is where Hannah and I are both staying.

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The picture above is the building where all of the families live.  It also has the kitchen, cafeteria, library, computer lab, and a place for larger volunteer groups to stay.  The big grass area in front of it is part of the yard.  There is a ton of room here for the kids to play! And it is all enclosed.  Anyone who enters has to come through a gate.

These next pictures are from our trip to town yesterday!

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I made it!

Well I made it to Peru! Getting here, though, was a nightmare.  My flight out of La Crosse was delayed an hour and a half, which made me miss my original flight out of Chicago. They moved me to a later one, which I also barely made! I got off the plane in Chicago and knew it was going to be tight.  I asked a representative where I needed to be and if I was too late, and she looked at me and said “Gate K19, and you need to RUN”. I had to run past 20 other gates in a super crowded airport.  The whole time I kept thinking, please don’t trip, please don’t trip, please don’t trip!!! I didn’t trip, and I made that flight! Everyone had already boarded, and when I got on and saw them all looking at me I was so happy I just wanted to yell that I made it!!! So then I was off to Miami.  Same story.  I had to run through the airport to get to my gate, and when I got there they had already locked the door! I was SO thankful when they let me in!

I flew overnight and got to Lima, Peru around 5:00 AM.  I went through customs and went to baggage claim, even though I was fairly certain my suitcase didn’t make it, considering the amount of time I had between flights.  And of course, my bag never showed.  I went out to meet Hannah (who I was VERY excited to see!!) and we had the hardest time figuring out where to go/who to talk to about my lost luggage.  I would ask one person and they would tell me to go to a certain place, so I’d go there and they would tell me to go somewhere else.  The time between when I got off the plane, and left the airport was over two hours.  But I did (hopefully) get it figured out, and my bag should (hopefully) be arriving here in Lurin tomorrow or the next day.

The drive from Lima to Lurin was right down the coast, so it was really cool to see the ocean, the harbors, and the people surfing and stuff.  When we got to the orphanage, I immediately took a nap until lunch.  After that, Hannah gave me a tour of the orphanage which was really cool to see! The 64 kids are split up into 8 “families”, and the Family Teachers are married couples whose full time jobs are to live here and take care of these kids.  So in addition to the supervision role and behavior monitoring, the Family Teachers help these kids learn how to function in a typical family environment, which many of them had never experienced before coming here.

After learning about the orphanage, Hannah, Peggy (a woman from California who is here volunteering with her husband and four children), Cindy (a woman volunteering here from Onalaska, WI), and I went for a walk into the center of Lurin.  It was really cool to see.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be at this particular orphanage because Lurin isn’t a tourist town at all.  It’s pretty small, and there aren’t any attractions that would bring people here, so I know that I am getting a feel for what Peruvian life is really like.  We walked through the market, which was HUGE and sold anything you can imagine!! Apart from foods, it had clothing stores, restaurants, hair and nail salons, a pet store, toys, flowers, candy… everything! I didn’t buy anything today but I definitely plan on going back!

The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. After dinner Hannah and I took some time to catch up, and I’m getting to bed early tonight to catch up on my sleep!

 Tomorrow I’ll try to put up some pictures of the town and where I’m staying.