Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kenya 2011

I'm going to Kenya.

It's a short trip, really. An opportunity to do some wonderful humanitarian work in some villages on the eastern coast of Kenya.

In September (as in a little over a month from now) I will be traveling with about 50 other volunteers to assist with building structures, providing teacher development training, medical and dental training and clinics, and economic development training. The local organization that I am involved with, Singular Humanitarian experience (SHe), is working together with CHOICE Humanitarian, a 501(c)(3) organization whose sole mission is to end poverty by focusing on sustainable development.

Over the next month, as we gather supplies and develop programs, I will be fundraising for this project. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this great cause -- even the smallest contribution will help.

You may donate online by clicking on the following link, click on donate and then follow instructions for donating to a specific SHe volunteer (that's me!!)

Thank you so much!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

We finally made it to the lunch spot with our dear friends. Our reunion was rushed, as we frantically had to divide our packs into 12 kilos per person. Since my pack currently weighed at least double that, there was a lot that had to be sent back to the hostel, which our kind drivers took care of for us.

We were introduced to our guide, Edwin, and another couple from Spain who were in our group. They had all rested and eaten lunch. We, again frantically, had to eat as Edwin reminded us, "You need your strength."

I was amazed by the food, all prepared by our resident cooks, Juan and Margarita. Creamy asparagus soup, chicken and vegetables, with all the garlic bread you could want.

The air was thin and freezing and though we had only been there for 30 minutes, I could feel the affects on my body. We started hiking straight up. Within minutes my heart was pounding faster than I can ever remember. We were moving at a very slow pace and each step was very deliberate for me. My body warmed up, but it was still a slow and steady process.

The Salkantay

We continued for 3 hours, back and forth up some very challenging switchbacks. The view of the nearby Salkantay was breathtaking. The altitude was also breathtaking, and my head and heart were struggling. But then, like my knight in dusty hiking boots, R carried my day pack until we reached our campsite for the night. A hiking stud, that's what he is.

Our campsite was set up by our rock star sherpa, Francisco. The cooks were busily preparing our dinner. We changed into our warmest clothes possible and tried to stay warm. Edwin announced it was "chocolate time." We didn't know what that meant, but we liked the sounds of it. So, we gathered in the food tent to find hot chocolate to warm our soul and stove popped popcorn.

Are you kidding me?? Popcorn at the top of the Andes. It was like my personal heaven. Not even my Whirley Pop could compare in deliciousness. I was on top of the world.


A blurry shot of "chocolate time." The outside air was freezing and the inside of the tent was warm. Hence, a foggy lens.

Our cooks...not sure how they cooked such amazing things in such conditions!

Hello gorgeous campsite!!

And then.....

This is the part where things get graphic, and can best be understood by anyone who has experienced altitude sickness. Your body starts shaking uncontrollably, though you don't feel cold. And the nausea won't quit. And one minute your fine, enjoying "chocolate time" with your friends, and the next minute your puking next to a pile of horse manure. Hey, I warned you it was graphic.

I wasn't the only one who got sick, but I was certainly the most wimpy. Thank goodness for good friends that stand by you in your worst possible moments! I'm talking champion friends for life, these people. And Edwin, he continuously filled my sleeping bag with hot water bottles to keep me toasty through the night.

S and Edwin

I didn't sleep much that first night, but I survived and that was enough.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We arrived in Lima just in time for breakfast at McDonald's. Ah, those universal golden arches. But you know what's not so universal? That peaches and coconut parfait. So tasty!

Another quick flight and we finally reached our destination of Cusco. We walked off the plane and stretched our arms open wide, basking in the sun and the joy of finally arriving.

Talk about service, Raul, from our trek company, was waiting to receive us. Yes, he even had our names printed out on a sign. He loaded our bags into the van and introduced us to our driver, Jesus. They were the best. Since we had arrived a day late and our group had started hiking at 6 that morning, they were going to drive us to the lunch site. They were the friendliest people. As we started our drive, Raul pointed across to the snowy mountain way in the distance and said, "That's where we were going." We had so much fun on our drive, chatting and listening to a mixture of 90s American tunes and every type of salsa. They promised to take us to the discoteque after our long hike.

Jesus and Raul

We drove for nearly 3 hours, through windy and bumpy roads. But, I was in awe at the beauty of the mountains. Every so often we'd drive through small little towns with so much to see. Peruvian men and women with loads larger than their whole bodies on their back, hiking to the market. Little children doing the same. We stopped to pick up bottled water and use the bathroom.

Our first bathroom

Then a little while later stopped to pick up coca leaves, which is a supposed cure for altitude sickness. You can chew them or drink them in tea. (Actually, I saw the leaves in most everything including chocolate). S was the first one to dive in. She was also one of the few that did not get altitude sickness when we reached the highest peak. And that's when I became a believer of the coca.

Monday, August 16, 2010

S and I woke up Friday morning, laughing. The situation was altogether humorous on such little sleep. I peeked out the blinds, and made up some ditty about how good it was to wake up in America. Then we laughed some more.

If you do have to be stuck somewhere, may I recommend Connecticut. It is gorgeous. C's house is situated on a small lake with foot bridges and tall trees. It was lovely. C made us french toast and we ate on the back deck with her family.

The rest of the morning was spent on the phone, where I was able to convince American Airlines to reissue our ticket at no additional cost. The excitement was back as if we had just got a ticket for the first time.

"We're going to Peru!"

We also got in contact with our friends who had safely arrived in Peru via email and g-chat. I do love technology. They had not yet met with our trek company, but were hopefully going to be able to arrange it so that we did not miss it.

After a quick nap and some lunch, C's parents drove us to JFK. It took us 2 hours in traffic, but don't worry, we still arrived 7 hours early. We were taking no chances. Check-in lasted all of ten minutes. Which left us with 6 hours and 50 minutes to do whatever we pleased. Our activities included: shopping for Toblerone, eating Toblerone, lots of good girl talk, and dancing. Wait? Are we at a slumber party or the airport?

I think we were there so long we kind of forgot.

Finally, the time came to board our flight. 11:45 pm. We popped some sleeping pills in hopes of a decent night's sleep. I scored a seat next to a beautiful man who only spoke Spanish. Why did I take French in high school??? I also scored a window seat, so I propped my new thermarest pillow (best $20 bucks I've ever spent) against it, snuggled in my blanket and woke up just in time to land in Lima, Peru.

By Thursday night our excitement was bursting.

I was so prepared. You could tell by the 70 pound hiking pack towering above my head.

We were given two rules. Number one: Don't die. Number two: Don't go to jail. With that wisdom safely tucked in our minds, we set off for our adventure.

We had a few minor delays to the airport. Our ride was stuck in traffic, then there was a motorcade, then I thought I saw a double rainbow. My excitement forced our driver off course. The fates were on our side, or so we thought, because we still made it with plenty of time.

We met up with C, who had taken the bus to DC from NY so she could fly with us. Coincidentally, our flight took us straight to NY where we were supposed to catch a connection to Lima. As is customary at JFK, things did not go as planned. More appropriately I should say, as is customary with American Airlines, things did not go as planned.

In DC we were given one boarding pass. When we inquired as to where the others were for our 2 connecting flights we were told that we would get them in New York. Foolishly, we believed. Our flight to New York was a little delayed, but we landed in time to make our flight to Lima.

Now, if only there were some way to get a boarding pass! Can anyone help us? LAN airlines can't give us one. American Airlines can't give us one. Who will help us get to Peru?

The answer is no one.

We frantically call M, who was boarding our flight to Lima. She had taken a bus from DC to NY and checked in hours ago, patiently waiting for us to join her. We shared the bad news that we weren't making that flight. I frantically gave her all the information I could about the hostel, the trek, our other friend's flights and then she was gone. Off on the adventure without us.

Since it was after midnight, there was not much we could do until the morning. Luckily C's parents live an hour outside New York. We called C's friend SS. I wonder if her middle initial is O because she came and rescued us from our distress as fast as she could.

In the meantime, we consoled ourselves with bananas and dry blueberry muffins and vowed to never again book a flight with a company called CheapOAir. We ended the night fast asleep in C's house, ironically where C had began that morning.

Though definitely not as we had planned, I was thankful that we had a comfortable and safe place to sleep and that I was with people who certainly make lemonade out of life's lemons!

The week before my Peru trip was much like I expected. Lots of prepping, packing and shopping for last minute supplies. If I've got the time, I actually love this part of it. Thankfully, my roommate and I had the whole week to prepare. We spent hours at Target and $90 later had the best looking first-aid kit you've ever seen. We also spent hours at REI, where I acquired two nice big blisters on my pinky fingers from tying so many hiking boots. We pranced around the store in at least 50 different pairs of hiking pants to make sure they felt just right, then tried to mask their masculinity with some bright feminine-colored tees. There were rain jackets and bug sprays and electrolyte jelly beans, oh my! Until even the sales associate at REI said, "You two look like you are having a lot of fun."

We certainly were. And the trip hadn't even begun!

But, even all that shopping gets to be exhausting, so we took a break in the pool, because after all it's summertime and spontaneous pool breaks are required. We coupled it with homemade chicken alfredo pizza and I thought life couldn't get much better.

And then I went to Peru.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to Life, Back to Reality

9 days and 45 kilometers of hiking later, I am back from one of my new favorite spots and one of the best vacations.

Cusco, Peru and Machu Picchu.

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel about the entire trip, but I have about 2000 more pictures to organize and through {a few of} them can hopefully share the little slice of heaven I found waiting for me in the Andes mountains!