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—Day 14: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Last night, we went salsa dancing at a local club, which didn’t start until midnight. Given the fact that most reasons to stay up later in the States (i.e. Blacklist, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, etc.) are over by 10:00pm., it’s safe to say that this was way past my usual bedtime. We were out until 3:00am before I remembered I had to be at my internship site nearly two hours away at 8:00am.

Today’s observation was pretty interesting, since I was able to observe an art class, during which the students were learning Marinera—the coastal dance of Peru. I was then able to observe another class where the students were asked to draw a tree in which each part of the tree represents an important aspect of their lives—including values, support systems, and goals for the future. Last week, one of the principals informed me that vocational considerations aren’t usually discussed with the children, so it was great for so many children to have the opportunity to think about their interests, plans, and goals. It was also refreshing to see a professor teach with such passion because doing so allowed her to maintain the class’ attention, which appears to be a big problem in many of the public schools here. But it just goes to show, if you are truly passionate about what you do, you can absolutely make a lasting difference in the lives of so many others.

Upon returning from the school, I had class on global mental health, which I’ll discuss later on. For dinner, we went out for local street food, and of course, we had more papas rellenas, a baked potato dough usually filled with beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, cumin and other spices. Once prepared, this incredible healthy (just kidding) blob of goodness is deep-fried. Because what isn’t ten times better deep-fried?

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 12: Trujillo, Peru

This whole lack of a cell phone thing really got me wondering why our society places such a large emphasis on electronics and non-verbal communication. Text messaging instead of phone calls, following people on social media sites instead of maintaining active communication, ignoring one another at the dinner table to “talk” to others via cell phones instead, and the infamous “let me take a picture of this so I can capture the moment.” When you don’t have a phone in front of you to partake in these actions, the only thing you really have is time to sit and think about all of it.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s sad to think that so many pictures and videos are lost, but at the end of the day, that’s all they are—pictures and videos. The memories will always remain. (Yes, I’ve been told numerous times that I should have backed everything up on the cloud, but seeing as I’m not the most tech-savy person out there, the only thing I know about the cloud is that it’s what the weather forecaster speaks about whenever providing inaccurate weather forecasts). And in case you were wondering, no, my sense of humor hasn’t improved since losing my phone.

But really think about it. Everyone is trying to capture the moment we are currently living in, but are we really capturing the moment by snapping a picture? Of course you can look back years from now and enjoy the tangible object you have in your hand, but if we’re so focused on “capturing the moment,” we may lose out on actually living in and enjoying the moment. And that would be the biggest loss of all.

Maybe this is me trying to rationalize not having a cell phone at the moment and trying to look on the bright side, but I do hope that the day will come where we can stop relying on electronics to communicate with others while distancing ourselves from those around us, stop using emojis to describe how we’re feeling, and stop trying to preserve the moment we are currently in. When you take the time to think about it, each of the aforementioned actions only cause us to miss out on so many incredible memories that could be made all while doing so.

Yes, even though I’m sitting here writing about the challenges of communication in an era of technology, I still went out and purchased a Peruvian cell phone this evening in order to communicate with others. However, there is still something to be learned, seeing as so many of us are guilty on missing out on the current moment every time we try to “capture” the moment as best as we can. And as a side note, since the quality of the camera is subpar, I’ll leave you with a blank canvas to paint your own picture.

Day 4 At Canyons Village In Park City, Utah

We had to make the most of our last day in Park City, Utah, so of course, we concluded the trip with more skiing. We took multiple ski lifts and chairlifts to get to different mountains that we had not yet seen, and each sight was more breathtaking than the previous. We skid down mountains with incredible views and beautiful houses (one of which is said to belong to Will Smith), but more importantly, I barely fell! (Seeing as I had fallen so much within the last few days, this was a big deal for me).

Before it was time to call it quits and prepare to return home, we ended up at the same double-blue mountain we skid down the day before. (Keep in mind, yesterday when I skid down this mountain, I had no idea it was more advanced, and spent almost half the way tumbling down). In order to get back to the base, we had to ski down the mountain again, and even though it was difficult for me (to say the least), I managed to do it without falling!

It was such as great feeling to have learned how to ski these past few days, and to have concluded my trip with a second chance down a mountain I would have never approached just days before. And with that, it was time to leave Utah and its beautiful snow for Florida and its continuous summer weather.

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Day 3 At Canyons Village In Park City, Utah

Upon waking up in the morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed back to the slopes. The sights were incredible, and the skiing was great. I was able to fare much better off than yesterday, but still managed to fall a few times.

By the end of the day, my uncles told me that there was one slope left for us to ski down, in order to get back to the base of the mountain. I noticed a caution sign exclaiming that only intermediate and advanced skiers should ski down this mountain, but they told me not to worry about that. With a great deal of anxiety, I skied down the mountain alongside them (falling plenty along the way), and when we made it to the bottom, they told me that I had just skied down a double-blue mountain (which was much harder than anything I had done in the past two days).

Having a newfound level of confidence (and thankful to have been back at the mountain-base), we relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, and went back into town later that night. As you can see from the pictures below, it began snowing at nightfall, which of course, led to throwing around snowballs (something I don’t think I have ever said while living in Florida).

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