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.

Visiting the Western Wall In Jerusalem, Israel

Although it may seem as though we had been traveling for weeks, we only spent three days and two nights in Barcelona, since our final destination was Israel. The most memorable part of our trip to Israel (besides seeing family members and loved ones) was our excursion to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There is so much history and an overwhelming sense of spirituality as you walk around.

It is absolutely beautiful to be able to go to a place and pray to a higher power (or whatever one may believe in) and know that a countless amount of individuals travel here to do the same. We were lucky enough to come on a day where members of a certain sector of the Israeli army had completed their training, and were officially becoming members of the Israeli Defense Force. And as we walked around, the view of the surrounding area was breathtaking.

We had such a great time touring Lisbon Portugal, exploring Barcelona, Spain, and visiting various cities in Israel, especially Jerusalem. We were sad to return home and get back to the “real world,” but we have since been left with a lingering and exciting feeling of knowing we’ll be back on a plane traveling again soon—although for now, the destination is unknown!

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The Western Wall In Jerusalem, Israel

Barcelona, Spain: Castell de Montjuïc

To start off our second morning in Barcelona, we took a cab to Castell de Montjuïc, also known as the Montjuïc Castle.

During a revolt in 1640, a fortification was built atop the Montjuïc mountain. It was attacked the following year, and eventually became a castle in 1694. In 1751, after a back-and-forth struggle of who had possession of the castle, the old fort from 1640 which stood inside the walls of the castle had been demolished. A moat was placed around the castle, and from 1779 to 1799, construction to provide accommodations took place within the castle, since the population within the walls was growing.  120 cannons had also been placed within and around the castle.

In the mid 1900’s, the castle served as a military prison, but in 1960, the castle was given back to the city. The following three years were spent turning the site into a military museum, and it opened as such in 1963 (http://www.bcn.cat/castelldemontjuic/en/welcome.html).

We walked around the grounds of the castle, and each angle of the castle had a different view of the city—one side of the castle provided us with a view of La Sagrada Familia, whereas the other side provided us with a view of the Port of Barcelona (pictured below). After touring the castle, we headed towards Telefèric de Montjuïc, which is the Montjuïc Cable Car. As the cable car brought us down the hill, we saw the entire city from a 360 degree angle. It was absolutely breathtaking!

 

 

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

At the beginning of the year, I set out to challenge myself each and every Saturday for the following fifty-two weeks. I wanted myself to take the time to find something beautiful, and as I did, I wanted to capture that particular moment which I was enjoying. Throughout the year, I have been following through with my Snapshot Challenge Saturday, and surprisingly enough, I haven’t missed a single week.

What I enjoyed most about this challenge is that it helped me remember to stop and appreciate my surroundings. Whether it was a beautiful tree in the backyard that I had never yet noticed, a breathtaking view from where I was standing, a stunning sunset, or an adorable moment between two animals, I have seen so many beautiful sights these past fifty-two weeks, and I am so glad to have ventured out on this worthwhile experience.

I will most definitely continue with this challenge throughout 2016 because in an age of technology and cell-phones, it is so easy to miss out on incredible moments taking place around us. I would rather immerse myself in the beauty around me as opposed to regretting not having done so at a later point in time.

And so, with this last Snapshot Challenge of 2015, there are many beautiful pictures which I could have chosen from to conclude the year. However, this challenge has helped me realize that the most precious moments are those spent with loved ones closest to us. I am beyond thankful and appreciative to have such incredible people in my life, and I cannot think of anything more beautiful.

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Barcelona, Spain: La Sagrada Familia

As we concluded our visit to Gaudí’s Casa Battló, we walked over to another one of his masterpiecesLa Sagrada Familia. In 1882, construction on La Sagrada Familia began with its first architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. However, due to various disagreements and conflicts, Antoni Gaudí was asked to take over the job in 1883.

To give some background information about Antoni Gaudí, he was born in 1852 and died in 1926 a few days after being hit by a tram. Nobody recognized him since he appeared to be a “beggar” due to his clothes, so he did not receive the immediate treatment. By the time somebody recognized who he was, his condition had deteriorated, and he unfortunately passed away within a few days at the age of seventy-four.

Alongside the church is a museum that showcases the numerous stages of La Sagrada Familia’s construction. One of the walls in the museum highlights a quote from Gaudí (pictured below), and it has since stuck with me. The quote states, “We must all contribute, as it has to be the church of a whole people.” Even after Gaudí’s passing, construction of La Sagrada Familia has continued, and his dream for the church is still, to this day, becoming a reality. Its expected completion date is set for 2026, so there is much to look forward to!

People from all over the world come to see La Sagrada Familia, and both the beauty and spiritual energy that fill the church are truly incredible. There are no words to describe how breathtaking the church is—inside and out—and the fine details in every nook and cranny are immaculate.

The structure of the church is quite interesting. Once completed, “The design will be completed with four domed structures, some 40 metres high, sited at each corner: two sacristies on the northern side; and on the southern side the baptistery and the chapel of the Holy Sacrament and Penitence. These four constructions and the three facades will be linked by a wide, covered corridor, with a double wall, referred to as a cloister by Gaudí, which will insulate the central nave from noise from the street, and allow circulation from one building to another without the need to cross the main nave.

Gaudí’s plan was for a group of 18 towers: 12 shorter ones on the facades (bell towers which will be 100 metres high, representing the Apostles), and six taller ones in the centre in a pyramidal layout reflecting the hierarchy of their symbolism. Of these, the tallest will be the one above the central crossing, representing Jesus Christ, reaching 172.5 metres in height. It will be surrounded by four, slimmer, 135-metre-high towers representing the four Evangelists and their Gospels. A further tower will cover the apse and will represent the Virgin Mary.

Gaudí wanted to construct a building that would make an impact on the skyline, but also show his respect for the work of God, which in his opinion should never be superseded by man: at 172.5 metres tall, the Sagrada Familia is one of the tallest religious buildings in the world but remains a few metres below the height of Montjuïcthe highest point in the municipality of Barcelona”(http://www.sagradafamilia.org).

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

This week’s Snapshot Challenge is of a picture taken in Barcelona, Spain. Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about a recent trip to Barcelona—a beautiful city filled with vibrant colors, breathtaking architecture, mouth-watering food, and an overall incredible energy that can be felt everywhere you turn.

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Barcelona, Spain

Enjoying Lisbon, Portugal: Part 2

After we left the Sé de Lisboa, we continued our journey until we reached the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. This lookout point is said to be the nicest in the Alfama area. From here, you can see traditional styled houses, the Tagus River, and the Igreja Santa Luzia. The views were truly breathtaking, and wherever you looked, there was something incredible to see.

Regarding the Igreja Santa Luzia, “The origins of this Church date back to the first years of Portuguese nationality, built in the 12th century, during the reign of the first Portuguese king, D. Afonso Henriques, by the knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and dedicated to São Brás, with defensive features as it was situated next to the town walls, on the eastern side of the town.

The present building, built over the previous temple, dates from the 18th century, with many alterations after the big destruction caused by the big 1755 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed a huge part of Lisboa.

The temple is characterized by its Latin cross plan and one-only nave, distributed by the main chapel, the transept and the nave, ten sepulchres in shape of gravestone and funerary monuments, classified as National Monument.

Also quite interesting are the two glazed tile panels signed in the historical Viúva Lamego ceramics factory, representing Lisboa with scenes of the conquest from the Moors in 1147and another one illustrating the Comércio Square before the big 1755 earthquake that forever changed the face of Lisboa” (www.getportugal.com).