PASEO Program Adventure—Days 50 and 51: Conache y Huanchaco, Peru

Saturday was spent catching up on homework and getting a head start on projects due this upcoming week since Friday will be my last day in the program. In the evening, we had our Spanish for the Mental Health Setting class. After class, some of the other students and I went to dinner, before getting ready to go out in the city for our last official weekend in town. 

On Sunday morning, a van picked us up at 7:30am and took us to La Laguna de Conache, located near Trujillo for some sandboarding. If you can imagine snowboarding down a mountain with snow, sandboarding is almost the same, except on a mountain with sand. Sandboarding was truly a blast- even if we left the house at 7:30am after returning from a night out at nearly 4:00am. 

After having spent a few hours riding down the sand, we returned to Huanchaco for lunch, and walked around the local artisan market. We spent the rest of the day taking it easy, and made sure to sit by the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunset before going out for dinner and returning home to finish our homework. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 49: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

On Friday morning, one of the other students and I hosted an initial workshop with another group of Líderes Escolares. This was the first workshop where we presented by ourselves in Spanish (without one of our professor’s accompanying us). It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, but this was exactly the experience we needed in order to increase our level of confidence in regards to our public speaking abilities—especially in Spanish.

Similar to the other two workshops with Líderes Escolares that we’ve hosted so far, we spoke about changes in adolescence, as well as psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. As I stated before, it’s refreshing and worthwhile to see young adolescents eager to make a difference and help those around them. These leaders will truly be the change in the world that we wish to see.

After our workshop, we returned to Huanchaco for our Spanish grammar class. Right after class, another student and I led a group for adolescent males at one of the other sites we’ve been working at. This week, the group focused on effective communication, as well as different types of communication (i.e. passive communication, aggressive communication, and assertiveness). While many of these adolescents have struggled with anger, teaching effective communication (after last week’s session on anger/aggression) will hopefully be a beneficial tool that these adolescents can utilize on a daily basis.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Days 47 and 48: Huaraz, Trujillo, Huanchaco, y El Porvenir, Peru

On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast at our hostel (consisting of eggs, toast, butter, jam, freshly squeezed papaya juice, and coffee) for 4 soles (about a dollar and some change). After breakfast, we headed over to the bus station, and returned to Trujillo on an 8-hour bus ride. Once we made it to Huanchaco, we celebrated returning to sea level and being able to breathe again with a trip to the gym, followed by dinner. Because once you return from vacation, what else is there to do aside from eat?

On Thursday, our morning observations at local schools were cancelled since we had a workshop for the Líderes Escolares planned in the afternoon. As mentioned in an earlier post, we have been hosting workshops with groups of student leaders from three different schools in each group, with the focus of changes in adolescence and psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. 

Following this first workshop, we’ll host a final workshop with each group with the focus of empowering the student leaders to share everything they learned with their peers, and also how to spot signs of anger, sadness, depression, and suicide, in addition to how they can refer students to necessary resources, should someone be in need of help.

Today’s workshop was another initial workshop with a new group of Líderes Escolares. There is so much to be learned from the younger generations, and any opportunity to work alongside student leaders and individuals wanting to make a difference in their community is bound to be an enlightening and incredible experience. And today’s workshop was exactly that.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 46: Huaraz, Peru

On Tuesday morning, we hopped on another bus, ready for another exciting adventure (without oxygen). As we drove into El Parque Nacional Huascarán, our first stop was to see Pumapampa (agua gasificada), followed by Puyas de Raymondi, the largest species of bromeliad, and Laguna 7 Colores—a beautiful lagoon consisting of various colors. After making stops to see each of the aforementioned sites, we continued driving until we made it to our final destination.

When the bus dropped us off at our final stop, we were at a higher altitude level than the 15,000 feet mark we reached yesterday at Laguna 69. Just stepping off the bus was enough to leave you (by you I mean me) out of breath. We walked into the site of Pastoruri, and had one of two options. We could pay 7.50 (nearly $2) to ride a horse up the path and then continue walking for 15 minutes, or we would walk the full path for 45 minutes. Because the altitude was so high and given the opportunity, we decided to ride horses up the path.

Once our horses dropped us off close to the top of the path, we had one of two options yet again. You could either pay an employee of the site to carry you on their back while they walk up the path, or you can walk the path yourself. We walked on our own, very slowly. Within 15 minutes, we made it to Nevada Pastoruri and Laguna Congelada. Even though it was freezing (as we surrounded by glaciers), and even though we were 16,000 feet above sea level gasping for any breath we could take, the view (pictured below) was absolutely incredible.

As our time on the tour was coming to an end, and more importantly, as we began to turn blue and have icicles forming on our bodies, it was time to return to the bus. We walked down part of the path, and rode another horse down the remainder of the path.

As the tour concluded, we stopped for dinner along the way, and returned to our hostel to rest for the evening prior to returning to Trujillo tomorrow morning on another eight-hour bus ride at 9:30am.

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 45: Huaraz, Peru

Today (Monday) marks our last full week here in Peru. So of course, the best way to make the most of our time here is to spend hours trekking nearly 9 miles, thousands of feet above sea level.

We were outside our hostel at 5:00 in the morning waiting for the tour bus to pick us up. Mind you, when you’re roughly 9,400 feet above sea level in the mountains during wintertime, it’s pretty cold in the morning. The bus arrived at 6:04am (not that I was staring at my watch for over an hour…), but we did stop for breakfast along the way, which definitely helped. After breakfast, we continued driving further into the Cordillera Blancas in El Parque Nacional Huascarán, where the bus would drop us off to begin our trek. As cameras and phones started snapping pictures on the bus during the drive, we stopped at Lake Chinancocha first for some pictures—every tourist’s dream.

Before beginning our journey (at around 9:15), our tour guide informed us that most people are able to make it to Laguna 69 in three hours, and some people even make it in two. The tour guide mentioned that he would walk behind the group, so as to help us keep a steady pace. He then informed us that if we were not at the Laguna by 1:00pm, we would need to turn around and return to the bus, because the bus would be leaving at 3:30pm with or without us. Considering the fact that there is nothing around the Laguna or throughout the trek, someone left behind would essentially have to wait to catch a ride back with another tour group (likely the following day). And since you’re thousands of feet above sea level in mountainous areas close to glaciers in winter-time, the weather is just as cold as you might expect.

So you know, Laguna 69 (located at the base of a glacier called Pisco Peak) is nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, which is higher than anywhere else in the continental United States. This elevation is merely 2,000 feet below Base Camp on Mount Everest (practicalwonderlust.com). Huaraz is known for its incredible hiking and trekking, and Laguna 69 doesn’t disappoint the countless amount of backpackers and tourists who stop by to give it a shot.

We began the trek through a valley (bottom right photo), which was fairly easy (aside from not being able to breathe). After making it through the valley, we came across steeper zigzags of mountainous terrain that was somewhat difficult to navigate. In realtime, I would absolutely say that it was extremely difficult to navigate. However, since it only got increasingly difficult, I have to save the use of any word synonymous with difficult, hard, impossible, scary, out of breath, can’t breathe, please save me, and/or send help.

After making it through the first half of the trek (mind you, I’m tying fast. This is now two hours later), we came across a small glacier lake (second photo on top) that was pretty stunning too. By this point, it truly was difficult to breathe (even though this kicked in minutes after beginning our trek) since the altitude was only getting higher as we progressed.

After trekking through zigzags and mountainous terrain for what seemed like forever, we finally arrived to an area of flat terrain. When you can’t breathe and everything hurts, it’s the little things in life like flat terrain that would really put a smile on your face. But again, when you can’t breathe and everything hurts, you smile internally. We walked through the flat terrain and came across another mountain that had to be climbed.

I read in a blog post that the last part of the trek involved walking over rocks that make you feel as though you’re about to twist your ankle, and constant thoughts that you’re better off quitting and not continuing. As we began walking up the pathway of rocks, I thought this was it. The thoughts of quitting were popping up (even though they were there for more than two hours now), and I had the number of a local podiatrist ready to call at any given moment. People around me were saying that this must be the last mountain before making it to the Laguna.

Excitement and anticipation were building, as was my tolerance for pain. We were so close. As we made it to the top of the mountain, I was so excited to see the beautiful Laguna that everyone had been talking about. But of course, nothing in life is that simple. As we crossed over the top of the mountain, we saw another mountain across from us, waiting to be climbed.

We made our way downhill, ready to do it all over again. The rocky path was even harder to navigate on the second mountain, and the feeling of wanting to give up was definitely real. We had to stop every few minutes due to the altitude, which had become quite the obstacle (that’s me sugarcoating it). As we continued to hike up the path, we saw people walking down telling us “Casi están allí. You’re almost there.” Those walking around us were also out of breath taking numerous breaks along the way. But we finally made it. And when we did, the view of Laguna 69 in the distance almost made me want to run towards it. Keyword: Almost.

While I wish I could say it more gracefully, the truth is, I schlepped over to the Laguna and laid down alongside the most beautiful view I had ever seen. The tranquil turquoise-blue water below the most narrow waterfall, carrying clear glacier water into the Laguna was absolutely breathtaking. It was truly a shame that the trek took my breath away first.

Seeing so many people accomplish the goal of trekking 7 kilometers (roughly 4.5 miles) towards Laguna 69, 15,000 feet above sea level was truly incredible, and it felt rewarding to be able to reap the benefit of seeing such a spectacular site. We arrived at 12:52pm, so fortunately, we got to stay a while and enjoy the Laguna, without having to turn around and return to the bus beforehand. Some people jumped into the glacial water and swam, but I was perfectly content putting my hand in and leaving it at that.

After enjoying about 30-45 minutes by the Laguna, our tour guide mentioned that it was time to return. I had completely forgotten that we had to make our way back and walk another 4.5 miles without an oxygen tank. I’ll spare you the details of our hike back, but will say that the views were incredible, and that I laid in the middle of the parking lot upon our return, thankful for the experience, and thankful for the opportunity to not have to walk anywhere else for the rest of the day.

Throughout the trek, I was fortunate to walk alongside one of the students from our program who continuously pushed us to keep going. Just like anything in life, having a support system—whether it be friends, family, or even an internal support system—is truly important, because at our seemingly lowest moments when we want to give up, oftentimes we need a push to get back up and continue where we left off. Fortunately for me, I had that on this trek, and was able to enjoy incredibly beautiful sites along the way. Find and/or create your own support system, and don’t be afraid to utilize it. It will come in good use when you least expect it.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 43 and 44: Huaraz, Peru

Since the altitude in Huaraz is more than 3,000 meters (over 9,800 feet) above sea level, Saturday was spent taking it easy and trying to acclimate to the change in altitude. 

On Sunday morning, we stopped by the Museo Arquelógico de Ancash- Huaraz, where we saw beautiful art from a famous Peruvian painter, in addition to artifacts that are centuries old. After walking through the museum, we stopped by the city’s Plaza de Armas and strolled through the city. We returned to our hostel shortly after to get a good night’s sleep, since we had plans to tour Laguna Llanganuco first thing in the morning (as in 5:00am). 

What I failed to mention in yesterday’s post is that after arriving to Huaraz, eating dinner, and watching the concert in the Plaza de Armas Friday night, I spent the entire night learning about the effects of altitude sickness. (Now that I’m a few days ahead writing about my experiences a few days ago, I don’t have to worry about my mother and grandmother sending over a team of doctors to check up on me.) While I can’t exactly say I was grateful for the opportunity to gain such firsthand knowledge, the effects of altitude sickness are much more inexpensive than a colonoscopy or endoscopy, but probably just as effective in cleaning out one’s system. So, at least there’s that. 

Tomorrow’s hike will entail more than four miles of trekking through both flat and mountainous terrain, with the highest peak (at least that we’ll reach) being 15,000 feet above sea level. Before I scare myself out of going on this trek by writing more about the terrifying details, I’ll leave it at that and say here’s hoping for the best. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 42: Trujillo and Huaraz, Peru

This morning (Friday), we hopped on a 9:30am bus that took us from Trujillo to Huaraz. As we drove eight hours north into the capital of the Ancash region, we came across beautiful sites, and snow-covered mountain tops.  

Today (still Friday) is the start of The Fiestas Patrias, or Peruvian National Holidays, which are celebrations of Peru’s independence from the Spanish Empire. The celebrations continue from Friday until Saturday, so tonight, we stopped by Huaraz’s Plaza de Armas, where a rock concert celebrating rock bands from all across Peru was taking place. It was great being able to celebrate such a joyous occasion with great company, and of course seeing such a strong sense of patriotism among the locals. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 39, 40, and 41: Trujillo and Huanchaco, Peru

Each of the schools we work with were closed on Tuesday (of last week) since all of the students were participating in a march throughout Trujillo, celebrating Peru’s Independence Day (July 28th). I spent the morning working on homework and completing observation evaluations, and in the afternoon, one of the other students and I went to Trujillo to walk around and take in the sights. (We really went in for work because we didn’t realize the schools were closed in the afternoon, but when we arrived, the director of our site gave us a tour of the Plaza de Armas.) So in the end, our mistake ended up working out for the best.

On Wednesday, we had our Spanish for the mental health setting class, followed by supervision. After supervision, one of the other students and I led another group for adolescent males at the site I wrote about last week. This week, the group focused on anger and ways to recognize that one is experiencing feelings of anger. The goal is to help group members recognize their feelings in the moment and try to implement techniques to de-escalate the situation and release one’s anger in a healthy manner. After our group, we had our Spanish Grammar class, since we begin our vacation on Friday due to the national holiday.

Again, since we begin our vacation on Friday (until Wednesday), Thursday was spent getting a head start on homework, completing observation evaluations, and packing for a trip we will be taking to enjoy our time off. Tomorrow morning (this past Friday), we’ll be taking an 8-hour bus ride to Huaraz, in the northern part of Peru to enjoy our time off. The enjoyment will officially start once we get off the bus, but a vacation is a vacation, so here’s to new adventures.

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 38: Huanchaco, Peru

This morning (Monday), we had our class on DBT (Terapia Conductual Dialéctica), which focused on chain analysis—an integral part of this type of therapy. Chain analysis looks at the ineffective behavior an individual has conducted, in addition to the precipitating event that led to the behavior. From there, vulnerabilities surrounding the behavior and event are explored, as well as consequences stemming from the behavior, and links in between (such as actions, bodily sensations, cognitions, events, and feelings). While it’s definitely not easy being cognizant of each link when analyzing a behavior or triggering event, practicing this type of thinking and analysis regarding our actions truly helps us be more mindful of our behaviors and ways in which we can improve and react to situations differently in the future.

We also learned about validation, and the importance behind this seemingly simply concept. More often than not, we tend to respond to dilemas that others are facing by trying to fix their problems or simplify the situation. Has anyone ever told you that what you’re experiencing isn’t really all that difficult, or that you’ve overcome similar (or harder) situations before, so you’ll figure out a way to do the same once again? While the latter statement may in fact be true, it’s not exactly the response we’re always looking for. In fact, for some, this type of “validation” may lead to experiencing self-doubt in how the individual reacts to and handles trying situations.

So how do we validate what an individual is going through? Instead of trying to solve or minimize their problem, we just need to be attentive and truly listen to what they are saying. While it’s much easier to jump in and interrupt with our perceived “wisdom,” active listening will go even further and make an even greater impact. 

We were left with a quote in our class that truly resonated. It translates to something along the lines of: “Sometimes we simply need someone to be with us, not to solve our problems or anything in particular—just to make us feel that we have their support and that we are important to them.” That right there is the simplest form of validation. More often than not, all we really need is somebody to listen to us. And in that moment alone, when we have that person’s undivided attention and support, we can feel validated and supported in whatever it is that we may be experiencing.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 37: Puerto Chicama/Puerto Malabrigo, Peru

This morning (last Sunday), a few of the students and I traveled to Puerto Chicama, also called Puerto Malabrigo, which is two hours north of Trujillo. We arrived in the early afternoon, and spent the day exploring the area alongside the beach. After trying to swim in the water (which was pretty cold, to say the least), we rented four-wheelers for less than three dollars. 

While I’ll admit that I was hesitant about going at first (because of homework, wanting extra sleep, and plenty of other excuses one could pull out of the book), I have to say that driving by the breathtaking beach and lagoons with great friends on a beautiful day with incredible weather was more than I could have asked for. It’s spontaneous adventures like this that last as memories for a lifetime.

While it’s definitely easier said than done, it’s important for us to remember that the only things guaranteed to us in life are death and taxes. Whether or not you pay your taxes is a different story, but everything in between is completely up to us. The decisions we make, the actions we take, and the dreams and adventures we choose to pursue are ours to make. 

It’s easy to say “No” and stay within our comfort zone (which for many of us on a Sunday morning is under our covers), but it’s taking that first step outside the front door and saying “Yes” that leads to new adventures. More often than not, the ball is in our court, and the steps we decide to take are entirely up to us. So why not decide to live a little and enjoy the most of our time here?