Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One last goodbye

This, my final post (at least for now), is dedicated to all of you readers out there. My coming home was a remarkable event with my mom and my aunt LaVon surprising me at the airport in Chicago yesterday. I had been planning on taking the Badger Bus back to good old Dutch Mill Park 'n Ride when I saw a sign that said in broken spanish, "Welcome home, Kelsey!" shaking at the bottom of the escalator. The reunion with my family and friends has been wonderful and I thank all of you for being faithful readers and enjoying all of my crazy adventures with me! To study abroad in Santiago may have been the smartest decision I have ever made and if any of you are thinking of doing the same I strongly encourage it! Chile is the perfect study abroad country and I couldn't have paid for a better experience elsewhere.

I hope to see some of you soon and if not it has been great sharing my experiences with all of you! There is now only one thing left to do and it entails a lot of laundry.

It's been fun and I've hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing!

Take care,
Kelsey Marie

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Are you ready for this?

My life in Santiago, Chile has officially ended, or at least for now. The last half-day in Cuzco was spent getting things together, going to the airport and being extremely slap-happy with Kate and Max. I am going to attribute that to the fact that I actually did not sleep the night before, getting home at the ripe hour of 6:45 a.m. Luckily I made it just in time for the hostel’s breakfast of bread and jam and a much-needed cup o’ joe.
We arrived in Lima around three o’clock in the afternoon which allowed me just enough time to go to Kate and Max’s hostel for the next two days and then make it back to the airport for my flight back to Santiago. We used the airport’s Green Taxi service and I was lucky enough to get the same taxista both times, falling asleep each one. The first time I was at least with Kate and Max while the second I felt a little bad about it. I was having a nice conversation with him about the amazing gastronomical traditions and creations of Peru when suddenly I woke up and we had arrived at the airport. The driver turned to me and simply said, “I think you were sleeping for a little while.” He was a sweetheart and better I sleeping than he in this situation!

I was walking through the Lima airport in a half-alive state trying to find something to occupy the next couple hours of my life until departure. Luckily for me (perhaps not as much for her) Laura was also flying back to Santiago that night and we ran into each other, literally. We sampled extensive amounts of chocolate-covered fruits and nuts and even some delicious pisco! After we each bought a bottle—to take home, don’t worry—we decided to try the Peruvian ceviche which was incredible. It packed a powerful punch but when washed down with the best pisco sour I have had yet it made for a satisfied flight home. I slept those three short hours back to Santiago and then the real adventure began. I took the Transvip airport taxi to Mama’s house because she had told me before I left that it would be just fine to come back there. I showed up a little after four in the morning and rang the bell various times only to be unheard. Unfortunately I left my Chilean cell phone for the next girl living there and also had to give up my keys before I left so I had no way of calling anyone nor getting into the house. I hauled my pathetic self with my huge bags to wait for the micro so I could go see if anyone would be awake at Casa Suecia. I had also told Steph I would probably be coming there when I got back because I wouldn’t want to wake Mama up so early. I took the bus a few stops too many and because it was the only 504 (our bus of choice to get to Providencia) running at that hour I decided to just get off and backtrack via walking. I made it to Suecia around 4:45 and began ringing the bell until I decided to stop after the 15th time or so. The gate certainly is not conducive for climbing which is beneficial on the safety aspect for those who live there but for someone who is running on E at five in the morning this is bad news.

I looked up and down the fence a few times and eventually found my chosen path. I threw my bags over and just as I was about to start climbing a nice, young German girl came out and let me in, bless her soul. I crashed on their not-conducive-to-sleeping sofa using my coat as a blanket for a few hours until I woke up with freezing arms and toes. I called mama, went back to her house and after chatting it up for a while about the new girl, my trip and the family, Ellie came over and we had a nice morning. I think you could actually straight up classify the morning as pretty comical, which was much needed by both of us on our last day there. Ellie accompanied me back to Suecia so I could unlock the padlock Mama had given me for my suitcase (long story) when we ran into problems with the micro. Between the two of us I had enough money left on my Bip! card for only one rider so she just came on with me on the first bus. We got out at the metro station to put some of our last pesos on our cards so we could get back from Suecia with no problem. When we were getting back on the bus we attempted to sneak through the back door when Ellie’s foot got trapped as the driver quickly tried to shut the doors on any moochers trying to get a free ride, which isn’t so uncommon. We literally saw people do this every day so we figured it would be no problem but we definitely made a scene with the foot-in-door incident. It certainly didn't help that half of Santiago's population is currently out of the city vacationing or visiting relatives due to their current winter break. That was funny Ellie incident number one of the morning.

Number two came when we were on the way back to Las Condes from Casa Suecia. We had just sat down on the micro when Ellie asked me if I smelled dog poop. I caught a wiff, checked my shoes and found nothing. The scent grew stronger and stronger so she asked me to check her shoes too, just in case. First the right shoe and the coast was clear. She lifted up her left shoe and it was just caked in dog crap. Obviously we didn’t stop laughing the whole way back and after stopping at Lider to buy all of my favorite treats to bring home for my friends, we decided that there couldn’t have been a better way to spend our last few hours in Santiago.

Between all the giggles and tricks I lost track of time and by the time I got back to Mama’s I had less than a half hour to get all of my things ready that were there and hopefully squeeze one last lunch in with her. She threw together two of her trademark salads while I hurriedly packed. I am so happy that I was able to enjoy one last Chilean meal in my usual spot at the kitchen table with the sun shining through the glass door behind me. I said goodbye to her and Alicia, somehow dodging tears and off I went.

Steph and I met Laura at the airport and after a little rearranging we all had bags under the weight limit to avoid the extra fee. The flight wasn’t so bad and fortunately my slap-happiness had carried over and just about anything Laura would say or do made me laugh to the point of tears. The best was when I had lent her a book to read and when she actually wanted to start reading it we couldn’t find it. Steph was right behind us and she asked if I was looking for the book when she informed me that somehow the Spanish man next to her had gotten a hold of it and decided to take the initiative to start reading it. That comment nearly put me under but luckily halfway through the flight this man took an extremely extended (as in an hour long) bathroom break and Steph snatched it away for me. Between that and watching the seven-foot tall basketball team from Ontario roam through the aisles I was well entertained for the duration of the flight.

We are now waiting for our connecting flight from Toronto to Chicago and I guess we’ll be home before we know it!

See you all soon,
Kelsey Marie

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dreams made into realities.

Yesterday we went to Machu Picchu and amazing does not even do what we saw justice. After waiting in line for over 2 hours we got into the park around 6:30 a.m. and even got to be a few of the daily 400 who are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu, also spelled Waynapicchu, which is a tall mountain that hasthat boasts a looming view of the ancient city itself. The stairs on the way up are treacherous but absolutely, 100% worth it. The only injury I got was actually a nice big tear in the seat of my pants and I am going to have to officially retire this pair after the trip. I have been waiting to see Machu Picchu for so long and even through the scattered drizzles and clouds it was hands-down the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life and unfortunately I don't have the time to tell you all about it now.

We're off to Lima, then from Santiago to Canada and coming into O'Hare in only a couple short days!

See you soon!

Kelsey Marie

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle.

I am writing to all of you from our last night of our Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu here in Aguas Calientes, Perú. So far the trip has been absolutely amazing and getting better each day. As you already know our trip to the jungle was delayed by one day but it was almost an answer to our prayers. Not only did it allow Kate another day to accustom herself to the altitude but it also gave the three of us an opportunity to explore a little more of Cuzco and have a fun, chill day. We went horseback riding for $5 each near some old Incan ruins and then went to a pretty cool market that had everything under the sun, literally. There were artisan crafts up the wazzoo, loads of fresh fruit juice stands, a meat market, fresh vegetables and pastas, wood crafts, pharmaceutical products and more. It was fun to bargain with the shopkeepers and practice our Spanish at the same time. I especially love when someone asks Kate something in Spanish, she thinks for a second and then just looks to me for some help. I am more than glad to do that as long as she doesn't mind and maybe this will help me decide what I want to do with my future... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Our Jungle Trail started out without a hitch on Wednesday morning. We got in a van for a few hours and headed straight to just shy of the top of a mountain at 4316 meters (roughly 14,160 feet for those U.S. citizens) and did the unthinkable (for some): we biked down. This road was much different than the "world's most dangerous" due to its nice paved path and the fact that our guide went in front of us holding his helmet in his hand and taking only two breaks along the way. It was so much fun to bike through the mountains without a care in the world, that is until an occasional tour bus would pass through or until we came to the construction at the bottom. At first the smell of turned-up dirt was great and reminded me of dad but when we actually ran into the other, less-experienced tour groups in front of us who didn't exactly know how to use their brakes we ran into a bit of trouble. No worries though, within no time we were lounging on a grassy knoll atop of an old Incan sacrificial site overlooking Mt. Veronica and enjoying the avocado sandwiches provided for us by P.I.E. Peru, our tour company.

We hopped back in the van after lunch, through the humid jungle and to Santa Maria, a miniscule spot on the map and spent the night there talking, playing spoons and most importantly laughing like little girls - yes, even Max. The next day included a hike up the actual Inca trail, a stop at a woman's house to visit her pet monkey and see the coffee drying process and of course get well-bit by our old friends, the mosquitoes. It reminded me just how long it has been since I have actually seen a mosquito, or bug for that matter, and unfortunately I was irresponsibly unprepared with no bug spray. Let's just say we'll have some nice battle wounds to bring back with us from this neck of the woods. That night included a stay in a different tiny town, Santa Teresa and we stayed at my favorite place yet-an EcoLodge. Our room was under a thatched roof and there were individual mosquito nets over each one of the beds to keep the bugs out and believe me, they were necessary. I fell asleep to the rocking of the floor beneath me, the sound of the Urubamba River running over rocks in the near distance and the soothing Quechua music playing downstairs. It was surprisingly one of the best nights of sleep I have had since I've been on vacation as well as the best experience. The food and service were great and while taking turns in the shower we also met some fellow Midwesterners which of course lifted our spirits.

Today we had a tough hike up to Llactapata which provides a side view of the Machu Picchu ruins as well as the surrounding mountains and river. It was absolutely breathtaking and is making me even more excited for tomorrow-our early morning trip to Waynapicchu for a stellar view of the old, Incan city! I have been waiting to do this ever since that day in 9th grade when Maestro G pointed at his poster and told us some random fact about Machu Picchu. I always knew I've wanted to go but never thought I'd actually have the opportunity so let's just say I'm pretty thrilled. The hike today was definitely a killer but luckily we were able to do it without our packs (nothing like the one we did in Torres but I'm also definitely not in that kind of shape) and were awarded a delicious, Peruvian lunch when we got to the top.This jungle environment is definitely cooler than I had ever imagined and I feel so fortunate to have been able to choose this tour! There are heaps of tours to Machu Picchu coming out of Cuzco but this is the only one that actually does the hike we did today and so far they have treated us like royalty. Our guides are great, the food has been delicious and our hostels have all been top notch. The interesting part is that we are being strewn in and out of extreme poverty in these towns yet are able to have showers, warm meals and comfortable beds to sleep in each night. It feels surreal but also reminds me just how blessed we really are.

My favorite parts of the Jungle trail so far:
Being in the jungle with Kate.
Speaking Spanish with the tour guides and helping them with translations.
The shortcuts that only the guide, Max, Kate and I took on the first day's bike ride.
Attempting to make silly videos on my Flip camera with Max.
Pretending Steve Schecher is with us even though sadly, he is not.
Seeing a beautiful waterfall on today's hike.
Going to an elementary school dance competition last night in Santa Teresa.
Sleeping under mosquito nets.
The mixed salad and Hawaiian pizza I ate tonight instead of chicken and french fries with rice. I mean, it is delicious but you can only eat so many starches in one day.
Having Kate stitch up the hole in my blue jeans.
...And after tomorrow I should be able to add seeing Machu Picchu!

I should get to bed, 3:30 am wake-up call!

Kelsey Marie

Monday, July 12, 2010

Live from the Urubamba River!

Well, not actually but today we did some serious rafting on the Urubamba River just outside of Cuzco, Peru! Yesterday morning my long-waited friends Kate and Max finally arrived after I went to go fish them from the airport! They were pretty tired so they napped and then we went to watch España defeat Holanda in the Mundial in a bar just off the Plaza de Armas in the city's center. Laura and I were strong for the Netherlands, simply because we have a few good friends from there and we had absolutely no reason to root for Spain. Unfortunately we were in the minority in the bar but at least we weren't in the Dutch bar just down the street. Walking by after the game and seeing all of the sad Dutchmen dressed in their orange jerseys after losing the world cup (which could mean a few drinks may have been passed around) was quite the sight.

After the game we walked around a bit with some of our other friends who are here right now, saw the city a bit and then last night made it to mass at Cuzco's beautiful and ancient cathedral. After we met up with some of the people from our Michigan-Wisconsin program and went out to dinner at a cute little restaurant called Nuna Raymi Restaurante. We were seated and had our appetizer of cuy, which is guinea pig, at around 10:30 accompanied by authentic Peruvian pisco sours. I have been waiting to probar (try) these since the moment I had a sip of my first pisco sour and unfortunately it was not what I had hoped it to be. I am delighted to report that I enjoyed the Chilean pisco sours more which is a pretty good theme for all of my likes and dislikes in South America ("everything's better in Chile"). The guinea pig was interesting, but I can say that after seeing the little guy with his eyes and claws still in tact it was a little difficult to want to take a bite. Don't worry, of course I tried it. My main course was aji de gallina which is a famous and traditional Peruvian chicken dish that I have been waiting to try and boy, it did not disappoint. I also tried a bite of Kevin's alpaca (similar to llama, which I tried in San Pedro) and I can say that it may have been one of the most delicious meats I have ever tried. I have a feeling that Peru's gastronomical selections are going to continue to impress me and I am A-OK with that.

We had a great night's sleep, crude oil for coffee for breakfast (a.k.a. the world's blackest and strongest coffee) and then headed out for a full day of whitewater rafting! Laura and I have been dying to do this since our arrival in Chile so we were pretty thrilled when we signed up last night. After a long wait in the crowded and warm van this morning we finally took off around 9:30 and got to the river about 3 hours later to equip ourselves in our wetsuits, spray jackets, life jackets and helmets.
There were more than five guides with us, all under the age of 26, and on the way there my ears perked up when I heard someone say, "Sipo weon" and Laura and I instantly shrieked with excitement. Of course we asked him where he was from and he said Chile-my day had already been made. We were able to throw out a few chilenismos, have a few laughs and get even more excited to soak ourselves in the freezing cold river. We were in a group of five; Laura, Kate and I with two sweethearts from London who had whitewater rafted in Africa. That instantly took any worry of mine away. After thoroughly practicing all of the safety commands we were off. We did a great job until the first spill when Laura decided to leap overboard and then until the next one when three of the six of us had to exit the boat in order to get around a rock (luckily Kate and I were safe in the boat with the guide).
After about three hours on the river we were back at the original campsite, hopped into the well-deserved sauna followed up with warm showers, ate a delicious lunch and then headed back for Cuzco with all of our gear and limbs in tact. Kate and I enjoyed singing at the top of our lungs to Toto's made famous, "Africa", came back and have been all smiles ever since.We were supposed to begin our jungle trail tomorrow but unfortunately we were misinformed and it seems as though we are actually beginning on Wednesday. But believe me, that does not change our excitement to see Machu Picchu! Plus, another day in Cuzco will be pretty sweet. Although this city revolves around tourism it sure is pretty and there's lots to see! And maybe, just maybe, we'll run into the sweet little 12- and 10-year-olds that we ran into yesterday and today, finally deciding to support their cause and buy some bracelets from them. They walked with us to our hostel, being adorable and asking us questions in English all the way. My heart both melts and breaks thinking about them and what they told us of their lives here in Cuzco but that does not change their cuteness. This city is small enough to see them again tomorrow, so maybe we'll get lucky!

Enough for tonight, besitos!
Kelsey Marie

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Isla Taquile: Where even the sheep try to sell you things.

Today was an adventure I have been looking forward to for a couple years now. In Spanish 223 my sophomore year I learned about the islas flotantes de los Uros, the floating islands in Lake Titikaka. They are made entirely out of reeds and have existed for over few hundred years. I had an extremely romantic vision in my mind but today when we actually arrived I was a bit disappointed, although moreso saddened, with what I saw.

When we arrived at our hotel yesterday we were presented a deal that included transfer to the Puno docks, the boat ride to the islands, transfer back and then an overnight bus to Cuzco tonight, all for a little more than $25 a person. What a deal, right? Well, the service was great, so I can't complain. There was just one minor detail that nearly broke my heart and unfortunately it was not so minor. The Uros people survive solely on tourism and people buying their artisan crafts. We arrived to the part of
the lake with the islas and all of the colorfully dressed women were waving their arms trying to convince the boat drivers to steer over to their island. After passing a multitude of these we finally pulled over to one with a name I don't quite remember. We were greeted in their native language Aymará and were taught how to respond ("waliki") so we all followed suit. The women were running around putting down blankets on big reed benches for us and before long we were shown a demonstration of just how these fascinating islands were created. I think that was the most interesting part simply because we were actually on the island, feeling the squishing of the reeds beneath our feet and learning just how they were, and still are being put together. Apparently each year they have to add a new, fresh layer of reeds to the top to keep from going under. Interesting, 'eh?

After we were shown the demonstration they split us up and took us each into their reed-houses and dressed us just like them. It was sad to realize that they only think we come there to gawk at their differences and buy their crafts. After we were dressed like American Girl dolls, the 19-year-old woman who showed us her room hurried us to
her stand where she had all of her crafts set up. She was literally begging us to buy things and although it was hard to refuse I just couldn't come to do it. Laura and I left the island in their version of a Mercedes-Benz (or rather, a big boat made out of reeds and plastic bottles) without any reed souvenirs, just the memories of the Uros people and their handicrafts.

I really didn't think it would get much more upsetting than that until we went to Isla Taquile which was about a 2 hour 40 minute boat ride away. I had read about this in Lonely Planet (like everything else) and it seemed like a cool getaway, or at least a not AS touristy part of town, or shall I say, lake. Sadly, we were mislead and misinformed. Our tour arrived to the island and after huffing and puffing up an enormous hill we were bombarded with little niñas trying to sell us bracelets for 1 sol. That is extremely cheap but just the way in which it was all happening really saddened me. There was also a beautiful lookout point over the lake that draws many a tourist for an incredible photo and just as a couple or group of people would pose, the children would flock. Six or seven girls and boys would run and jump in the picture and then hound the tourist for some monedas, or coins, for having been photographed. After watching this about seven or eight times I finally just had to walk to the other side of the plaza. In the end I decided to support their cause and buy one of their bracelets after all, even though I would much rather take them home with me and show them the opportunities they will never know! There is only one school on the island and who knows what they are taught and who exactly are their teachers, let alone how many of them actually go to school. I did not see many of the parents, probably due to the fact they were at home making the things for their children to peddle. After looking back on this, the day was definitely just another cultural experience for me because I have never been exposed to a community 99% dependent on a tourist's dollar.

We were taken through a couple of fields with sheep bahhhing at us all the way, served a delicious lunch, and then made our way back down the island on the other side for
the 3 hour boat ride back. On the way back to the hotel a street market caught all four of our eyes and we decided to spend a little bit of time over there. We walked through aisles of fruits, grains, potatoes, beauty products and toiletries and even saw some animal heads with big toothy grins still smiling at all of the passersby! Being the small town girls we are we all tried to take pictures of these things and for the first time were rejected. As soon as we pulled out our cameras all of the women hid their faces and one even threw some seeds at Maud trying to shoo us away. It was pretty interesting so we decided to just put the cameras away, continue our stroll through the happening market and then make our way back to a bread shop we discovered last night for some delicious corn bread and chocolates.

Tonight we leave on a 9 hour bus to Cuzco and in the morning I will be reunited with my wonderful friend and roommate, Kate! I am so excited because that means two things for me: 1) I will be seeing Kate's smiling face in less than 12 hours and 2) I am one day closer to the Inca Trail! Both Laura and I have been huffing and puffing up each and every step but that is not going to deter us from having an unforgettable experience in Machu Picchu.

All in all Puno was good to us for the few short hours we were here and we are looking forward to the next step in our adventure!

Kelsey Marie

Friday, July 9, 2010

Boats, buses and Peru!

That's right, folks! We have officially crossed the border from Bolivia to Peru and so far I can't see too much of a difference.

Laura and I made it to Copacabana yesterday morning and luckily ran into one of the same people that stayed in our hostel in La Paz just coming back from Isla del Sol which is where we were headed to next. We were not planning to stay there the night but she recommended it and said it was amazing so we decided to check OUT of the hostel we checked IN to five minutes earlier and headed for the dock. The day was absolutely amazing and I couldn't have thought of anything better than spending it on top of a boat on Lake Titicaca.

We got to the island with no problems, paid the 5 Boliviano entry fee and decided to find a place to ditch our heavy, oversized backpacks. We saw a sign at the top of the nearest hill with "Hostal" so we figured we'd give 'er a shot.

We started the trek up, got extremely winded and crashed on the grass about 80% of the way up. I'm blaming it on the altitude although I have a feeling there's something else going on (or shall I say NOT going on, and that would be exercise). A sweet young woman came and sat next to me (which is an instant "in" in Kelsey's book) and asked us with a smile and a giggle if we were looking for a place to stay. She had a few rooms and told us 15 Bolivianos (roughly $2) per person for the night and that was just an offer we couldn't refuse. The room was basic but had a spectacular lake view and a bed for each of us. We threw our stuff down, locked the padlock behind us and decided to go for a little hike around the island. We didn't get very far until we realized neither of us were in a very "exploratory" mood so we decided to eat a late lunch/early dinner. The setting was absolutely amazing and the food was great. This region is known for having great trucha, or trout, so we each ordered a plate and enjoyed it while looking out onto the expansive lake and watching the little boys and girls run by on the path above.

The island is beautiful and peaceful. In fact, so much so that if you don't have a flashlight after sunset you had better hope to be nearby your lodging. We made it back to our room just as it was getting dark and after failing in finding some hot chocolate to cure our sweet tooth.
There was a little restaurant with the light on and door open right near our place so we stopped in just to check. There appeared to be a family of four eating dinner and the shop looked pretty closed up. We asked if they were open and they replied with a very hesitant "si.." but much to our dismay the only sweets they had were Fanta and Sprite. We walked the rest of the way up the hill, brushed our teeth outside while looking at the milky way and were asleep by the ripe hour of 8:30. We slept for 12 hours and missed the sunrise but got a great night's sleep for the first time in a while!

This morning after a satisfying breakfast of homemade bread and butter with real coffee (it's been so long we literally forgot what it tasted like!) we took the boat back to Copacabana, spent the rest of our Bolivianos on a few of the many artisan shops, visited the church that makes the city semi-famous and then hit the bus for Peru! It was a lot easier going through migration in Bolivia this time around and it actually seemed like they wanted us to stay there! Due to the fact that Americans pay for the entry visa they have 90 days as a tourist and then up to five years with the Bolivian visa. The migration officer saw the date on the stamp and said, much to my surprise, "ohh poco tiempo!" (little time). Kind of a bummer to leave because Bolivia is an absolutely beautiful country and I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit! My favorite part: the traditionally-dressed women hauling extremely heavy loads on their backs and everyone and their sister calling us amiga. I love being everyone's friend.

Now that we are in Peru Laura and I met up with some of our friends, Maud and Haddy, who we met back in Santiago and the four of us walked around Puno a bit, went out to eat and are now back hoping for warm showers at our hotel. Yes, an actual hotel. A bit of a change from last night but they have towels, breakfast, internet, a few other luxuries and is still extremely reasonably priced by US standards.
Tomorrow morning we're leaving at 7 for the floating islands and by tomorrow night we'll be on a bus to Cuzco! Hopefully Laura and I start having better reactions with the food but no promises--we'll see what's in store for the rest of Peru. I can't believe our trip is already over halfway over, so far it has been absolutely amazing!

Un abrazo,
Kelsey Marie