Day 26 - June 29th, 2012

Another day down, another day closer to returning home, it’s still mind boggling to me that we have basically been living in Peru for a month now, wow. Today we got to sleep in which was pretty great and had to be on the bus at 10:00 a.m. I decided to eat breakfast this morning at the hotel; it was pretty simple in all honesty, trying to avoid consuming anything that would compromise the integrity of my digestive system. Two pieces of toast, jam, cheese, ham, eggs, banana, plain drinkable yogurt and a cup of hot coco tea were all on the menu. The tea this morning for some reason was really good while everything else was just consumed in order to maintain my energy. We left for our daily schedule as usual and the first stop was the central market of Cusco. It was a huge market that had everything from clothes, to food and yes, more people butchering entire animal carcasses, nice. After a few short words from Viktor the group broke off, and while I would usually go and wonder with someone I decided to simply walk alone and clear my thoughts for a bit. Perhaps the most exciting event that occurred at the market was the setting off of fireworks by a local street vender, it was so cool and I’m pretty sure that the fireworks she used are illegal in the United States. We loaded back into the bus from the market in order to head to the location of our lunch and the next traditional Peruvian activity known as “Panchamanca”, which is essentially, food that is cooked in the ground. We arrived at the site and the location was absolutely beautiful to say the least. We all gathered around the Chef Eduardo as he told us how the experience would exactly go down. After removing the hot stones from the ground, we all worked together (mostly Anna) to place cassava, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fava beans, chicken that had been marinating, lamb, cheese and herbs into the pit, then covering it with wet cloth to keep the heat insulated as all the food items cooked. The smell that the foods made as they were placed onto the hot stones can only be described as heavenly. After a few quick minutes of waiting and snacking on chips, guacamole and sauces, it was time to extract the food from its earthen oven. The food arose cooked perfectly and looking absolutely scrumptious. After a few prepping moments it was time to dine in. The lamb was a perfect medium well, all the starches were cooked perfectly and the food was probably the perfect way to end this weekend in Cusco. The food was so good that I didn’t even bother to use a fork and knife; all hands went in, old fashioned style. After eating, we all just laid in the grass and basked in the beauty of our environment, played limbo and just had a good time. We returned to the hotel … well the rest of the group did, Jude, Sarah and I hopped of the bus early in order to go to a local clothing shop that Viktor showed us in order to purchase some collared Peru shirts. We walked back to the hotel and I went out for another walk to clear my mind once again, just me and my music. Tonight we are supposed to be going out to celebrate me and Kristen C’s birthday’s that are on the 2nd and 1st respectively. I’m really excited to just let loose and have fun during my last night in Cusco. Well, I’m going to take a power nap. Until next time ~

Day 25 - June 28th, 2012

Today was the day most of us had been anticipating since we arrived in Peru. The day we would see, meet and experience Macchu Pichu.

We left the hotel early at 4a.m, so without a doubt that meant no breakfast, but it was worth it. We traveled for about 2 hours via bus, which I thankfully slept through the entire thing. We then arrived at a train station where I purchased a delicious hot chocolate for one soles that burned my tongue, but warmed me up greatly from the cold temperature. We then departed via train to reach the city where Macchu Pichu was located. I have no idea how long this train ride took, as I was passed out for most of it, only occasionally waking up to get a glimpse of the view. We arrived at then had to take another bus to carry us to the entrance of Macchu Picchu. Once again, more high cliffs and steep turns, exciting!! But I knew it was going to be worth it. We arrived at the top and it was time to begin our climb. The climb was really difficult due to the altitude, with most of us begin out of breathe easily and gasping for air. We pushed through however and reached the first checkpoint where we were able to see mostly all of Macchu Picchu. It was simply beautiful, with lush green grass and buildings that seemed to have withstood the trails of time. Throughout the day, with Victor as our tour guide, we learned all about the buildings, his theory on when it was built, and even more technology about astronomy and mathematics. Perhaps what stood out to me most, was that just like the other ruins we visited, events still continuously occurred on June 21st, the day of the Winter Solstice beginning, such a smart tribe of ancient people. We learned all about the sundial, how they were able to tell direction and how guinea pigs were used for healing ceremonies.

After about four hours of touring the entire site, we were all hungry, some even sick and headed back to the entrance where the restaurant where we were to have lunch was located. We all went in quickly devoured the food, after stamping our passports with the Macchu Picchu stamps of course. The food at the buffet was okay to me, nothing spectacular, except maybe the bread. I chose to simply eat light and only indulge in salads and light proteins. The dessert was better than the main entrees with the gooseberry cheesecake making me a cheesecake lover (I hate cheesecake). The food was definitely not the worst I’ve had during my time in Peru however, so it’s all good, and it was well needed after burning all those calories off climbing Macchu Picchu.

A few of us left the mountain and headed down to the market below where we lingered around for a few hours until it was time to leave and return back to Cusco. Jude, Carlos and I, even made friends with a stray dog that we named “Billy” whom we feed and gave water to drink. Billy was really territorial and even stopped other bigger dogs from coming around us. We really grew to love Billy; even though when we were leaving, we discovered that Billy was a girl. Oops.  We all boarded our train back and the ride felt like FOREVER. Luckily, a few of us killed time by playing a really fun movie game suggested by Stephen. It wasn’t long until we arrived at our station and rode the bus back to the hotel. Immediately after we arrived back at the hotel, Carlos, Stephen, LeRoy, Kristen K, Brett, Cliff and I headed to the restaurant “Yula” on the corner for dinner. Most of us got antichucho’s which were pretty good although a bit salty for me and the portion sizes were huge.  Tomorrow we are going to be eating from the ground. I can’t wait. But, that journey up Macchu Picchu has me extremely tired so, It’s time for me to catch up on some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s. Until next time ~

Day 24 - June 27th, 2012

It’s crazy and surreal just how quickly this Peruvian journey is about to be completed. It seems like just yesterday we were all getting to know each other and becoming accustomed to our new environment.

                Today was another day filled with tours of historical sites and various locations. Today, we spent most of our time located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas also known as “Valle Sagrado”. Our first stop of the day was a salt mine where to get there we had to traverse narrow mountain tops and cliff ranges, it was quite terrifying for me personally. If it’s one thing that Peru has taught me, it’s that I am definitely afraid of heights. The salt mine location was pretty cool and to see all of the salt pools and salt forming to be collected and sold, was really interesting.  I was also able to purchase some salt to take back home for my mother to cook with; I hope she appreciates the thought, hahaha.

After leaving the salt mine location, we traveled for another hour or so in order to reach our location for lunch, the Hacienda Restaurant.  The location and atmosphere of the restaurant was not only calming, charming and relaxing, but the buffet food was amazing and some of the best we have had during these latter weeks of the program. The standouts on the buffet to me were the chicharons, the Chifa style beef that they had, and mushroom ceviche which was BANGING, to say the least. After we were done chowing down, we toured the location for a bit and got to take pictures of the Llama’s that lived there and attempted to talk to a few bilingual parrots that lived on the location. It was simply fun and relaxing.                

Upon leaving the salt mines, we headed to another ruin location, the ruins of Ollantaytambo. At these ruins we climbed for a while which proved to be difficult due to the high altitude, a good prep for Machu Picchu I guess. At the ruins we learned about the Incan technology including astrology, math and science. We also learned about the importance of June 21st as the sun passes right over particular places and monuments at the ruins and creates phenomena’s due to the incoming Winter Solstice. It’s pretty mind boggling to think how these ancient civilizations were able to create and possess all the knowledge to make all these instances occur, even in today’s age.  We left the ruins and headed to the town of Pisac where we were able to enjoy their market for a few hours. I was able to obtain a bag for myself and a pair of pants for my mother. I had no luck in attempting to find a gift for my grandmother, father, and brother however.

We left the town and headed back to our hotel in Cusco. After a few hours of leisure, Kerri, Kristen x 2, Michelle and I went for dinner at the local restaurant that we went to the other night. I ordered the beef lasagna, which was extremely disappointing. It was salty, too cheesy and just had no flavor; I gave most of it away and swore to never eat there again, also, due to the slow service. Tomorrow is the day that most of us on this journey have been looking forward to from the start; Macchu Picchu. It’s going to be so exciting to actually see a world wonder in the flesh and be able to take in the entire environment. We have to get up at 4a.m in order to start our journey so I know it’s going to be a long day. I can’t wait.  It’s here!

Day 23 - June 26th, 2012

First full day in Cusco!!! Today was one of the most boring, yet exciting days I have had in Peru yet. Let me explain.  We woke up and had breakfast at the hotel that is ran by the school, it was pretty much similar to the breakfast options that we were offered at the  Hotel Senorial in Lima; but, tasted better, looked fresher and much larger variety of foods were offered. I opted for a simple breakfast again of bread, ham, cheese, drinkable yogurt and a cup of coco tea. After breakfast we left the hotel to begin our full day of tours, firstly by going to a city that is famous for its bread making and actually getting to watch the workers make the dough, form it and bake it in stone ovens. We were also fortunate enough to be able to sample some of the freshly baked bread straight from the oven which reminded me of freshly toasted bread from a toaster but with a better texture, flavor and crumb. We left the bread town and headed to lunch. Along the way we made a few pit stops including a market, a restaurant where we were able to see Guinea Pig (Cuy) in the oven, and a side vender where we were able to watch the ladies make chicarones and sample the crispy pig skin.

                We arrived back into the main city and headed to lunch at a restaurant named Deva, along the way learning about the architecture of the Andean people.  The lunch at the restaurant was pretty great and I was so hungry at that point that everything was amazing. I chowed down on the corn nuts as I awaited our first meal of Quinoa soup, which was a welcome change. After the soup was done, we were able to serve ourselves; beef stew, vegetable stew, rice, vegetables, queso, and tamales were really good, with the tamales being a standout for me, the cinnamon infusion of the tamales were amazing.  For dessert we were offered two choices and I chose the squash pie which tasted very much like apple pie and seemed to complete the entire meal.  We returned to the hotel in order to get a little bit of rest for our next tours of the city.

                After about a thirty minute rest period, we were off again to visit the Sacsayhuaman ruins which our tour guide kept telling us was the most amazing example of Andean architecture in his humble opinion. We arrived at the ruins and the view was beautiful, much more than I was expecting. We were able to crawl through a cave that was shrouded in darkness that shook quite a few of us up. I also watched as some members of the group slid down rock slides and take pictures with Llama’s. It was a really entertaining day. After returning to the hotel, I crashed; sleep was without a doubt needed. After waking up I went and got a personal pizza for dinner from a local restaurant that was “Ok” but nothing to backflip off a bridge about. A few of us are supposed to be going out tonight to a local dance club and I’m actually eager to see how this is going to play out. It’s a bit mind-blowing to think that this experience is almost over as it feels like it just began yesterday. I’m missing home and my friends, but it’s weird at this point in the experience where the end is close and the beginning is so far.  Well, I guess it’s time to go my second Peruvian night club. Cheers! ~

Day 22 - June 25th, 2012 

Another day done, another day closer to the completion of our study abroad experience and I’m sure we will miss it. Today was the day we arrived in Cusco, having to wake up at 3:40am in order to leave for the airport; and of course, breakfast was out of the question. We arrived at the airport, checked in and I shared a cinnamon roll with Brittnee from one of the stores in the restaurant which was pretty good, but a bit too sweet.  It was time to board the plane and everyone was shocked to see the size of the plane. Nine rows, four seats each row. Wow. I have traveled on a smaller plane before, but I would be lying if I said that I was not scared. After takeoff however, I began to feel a lot better.  The view of the Andes from the aircraft was nothing short of breathtaking, something I will remember forever. During the flight they gave us a box which contained a sandwich that had been filled with chicken salad and a muffin. We also were served beverages, surprising for a short flight. Once we landed, I ate the box sandwich but tried to take it easy in order to avoid the altitude sickness that I knew was coming. It was a strange feeling being so easily winded, but I popped my pills and prayed to God that I would not become sick.

                Once we arrived at “Casa De Don Ignacio” I quickly went to sleep in order to try and quickly acclimate to the new elevation. After I had awoken, it was time to go to the restaurant “Las Machitas” which was owned by Chef Alexandra who we worked with at USIL.  We were served a light soup, which tasted ok; a salad that had horrible dressing but the protein portion of the entrée was amazing to me. The chicken was not overcooked and was seasoned perfectly, and the vegetable portion of carrots and string beans were great as well. We returned to the hotel after leaving the restaurant where I quickly went back to sleep. Once I awoke it was time to explore the city some more and I ended up getting a Chicken Caesar salad from a local restaurant for dinner, which was pretty good although the croutons were a bit soggy. I’m eager to begin tomorrow and to see more of Cuzco, but for right now, sleep is once again, priority number one.

Day 21 - June 24th, 2012

Today was a really good relaxing day, and I feel as though I really got to see a side of Peru today that not many other students on the trip with me would have gotten to see. After a quick breakfast of French toast, coca tea and yogurt, it was off to Downtown, Lima with Sandra; who has been translating for us in all of our lab classes, Ahesha, Anna, Brett & Stephen. In order to get to downtown, we had to take the local metro bus which, although was a bit tight and claustrophobic, was extremely fun, and an experience that many will never have.  We arrived downtown and began our tour of central Lima. We were able to get a tour of the house that is owned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and visit the room where foreign dignitaries would assemble during any international events held in Peru. Perhaps the best part of the tour to me was the church we visited. The Catholic Church was massive and made entirely out of gold, it was absolutely breathtaking and something that I will always remember. I felt closer to God by just being present in the room, it was amazing.

                After a few more hours of touring we decided to stop for a quick bite at a Little Bistro shop. I got a ham sandwich which was alright and drank it down with some frozen lemonade. I was also able to sample one of Stephen’s yucca fries which I didn’t like too much as they were extremely starchy. Once we were done with our little snack break, we headed off to China Town; but not before passing a large culinary market that distracted us for about an hour and a half. On our way to China town, a local male bought Anna and Brett corn from a stall on the side of the street, which was really nice and the corn tasted amazing with the provided sauces. Once we made it to China Town, Sandra took us to her favorite Chifa restaurant; where to our surprise she treated us all to lunch. Dumplings, Fried Rice, Beef in Noodles, it was just a great spread for our little group to indulge in.                

                After arriving back to the hotel, we bid Sandra adieu and thanked her for the entire day that she had shown us today. After fighting with the internet, I was finally able to change my United ticket to the overnight direct flight out of Lima to Newark (score!). Since we were still pretty stuffed from the Chifa Food earlier, Anna and I decided to simply enjoy some Frozen Yogurt from Tutti Fruitti for dinner. Today was a great day to relax and see more of Lima.  Tomorrow we had to Cusco and I am excited and nervous all in the same. I hate flying and I know we’re going to have to take a small plane so it’s making me a bit antsy. I’m excited to see Cusco as everyone we talked too told us that it’s amazing, either way. Until next time ~