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. 

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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.

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 2 At Canyons Village In Park City, Utah

Upon waking up in Utah on our first official day there, I looked outside the window and saw so much snow. This could mean only one thing (besides knowing I would freeze once I walked outside); it was time to ski.

I had never skid before, so it was quite the adventure putting on skis, walking around outside, taking a ski lift, and getting off the lift all decked out in ski gear. Fortunately, my uncles were very helpful in showing me the ropes and teaching me everything there was to learn about skiing. I started on a green mountain (which is the easiest course to take), and tumbled most of the way down. But with much more practice throughout the day, skiing down mountains became much more enjoyable than falling and uncontrollably sliding down the route. By the end of the day, I had skid down a few blue courses (the next level up), and was having a blast!

Nighttime was much more relaxing (not having to worry about falling down any mountains), and as you can see pictured below, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

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Misioneros Del Camino: Changing Societal Norms

In 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. Throughout the past month, I have been discussion the incredible milestones that Misioneros Del Camino has accomplished thus far. As the story wraps up to today’s present date, I wanted to share a video with pictures that show some of the beautiful children who have been saved by Misioneros Del Camino.

Some of the countless children who have been saved by Mami Leo can be found in the video below. It only takes one person to make a difference, as Mami Leo has done, and just one person alone has changed a generation of children. This is evident in the fact that over the years many of the children from Misioneros Del Camino have grown up to be inspirational figures to the other children and have become exceptional figures in society. It is always such a joyous moment when we get to see them graduate from school and enter into adulthood, thus breaking the cycle of abandonment, neglect, and abuse. The success of these young adults is truly an incredible sight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO-BuoKrV9o#t=254

 

Reaching New Heights at Misioneros Del Camino

In 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. Throughout the past month, I have been discussion the incredible milestones that Misioneros Del Camino has accomplished thus far. As the story continues, we pick back up in 2011.

As you might remember from a previous post, in 2006, a neurological center was established on site, providing care and numerous therapies to children with various neurological disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and many more. In 2011, an expansion on the neurological center was completed in an effort to provide service to more children than our current facilities would allow. The expansion was devoted to both occupational and sensorial therapy.

Occupational therapy consists of teaching children everyday skills from getting dressed, to writing and more. Sensorial Therapy deals with sensory issues such as not being able to eat certain types of food, not being able to stand in a bright room, and more severe issues like the inability to sense hot or cold and high sensitivity to touch. To put this into perspective, imagine if someone touched you and it felt as though thousands of ants were crawling on you. Many children with Autism and sensory disorders cannot even be hugged or touched by their mothers because of such sensations. But thanks to the generosity of such great supporters, more will children will be able to hug their mothers and accomplish ordinary tasks that we would normally never even think twice about.

One such child who benefits from the therapies offered at the neurological center is Darlin, who is pictured below being carried on her mother’s back. She is four years old and has cerebral palsy. They live in a very poor village about 20 miles from the Neurological Center. To bring Darlin to therapy, her mother has to carry her daughter on her back to take a bus that leaves her about 5 kilometers from the Center, and then she walks the rest of the way with her daughter on her back. To return home, she does this again. She has been doing this since 2011 to help her daughter. Darlin has made fantastic progress! She is starting to take her first steps and is saying a few words. Hers is a long road, but there is hope. A few short years ago, she would not have had any hope or access to help, but thanks to the Neurological Center, that is no longer the case.

Misioneros Del Camino: The Opening of a Neurological Center

In 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. Throughout the past month, I have been discussion the incredible milestones that Misioneros Del Camino has accomplished thus far. As the story continues, we pick back up in 2006.

In 2006, a neurological center was established on site, providing care and numerous therapies to children with various neurological disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and many more. With a great team of certified therapists, psychologists, and doctors, hundreds of children are able to obtain the necessary treatments that they wouldn’t be able to receive anywhere else.

In addition to special education, various types of therapies are provided to the children at the neurological center including: speech, physical, psychological, occupational, and sensorial therapy. Neurological and psychological evaluations as well as parental and therapeutic training seminars are also provided so that the children can learn to overcome the obstacles faced with their neurological disorders to the best of their abilities.

As you can see in the video below, all it takes is determination and a dream to make a difference in someone else’s life, which is exactly what Mami Leo has been done for nearly thirty years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0mi8kCMyZ0