PASEO Program Adventure—Days 53 and 54: Huanchaco, Peru

On Tuesday, our workshop with one of the groups of Líderes Escolares was cancelled, due to a huelga (strike) on behalf of teachers from various schools in Trujillo. Simply enough, the day was spent catching up on homework and preparing for two other workshops scheduled for later this week (which included procrastinating and going for a walk outside), followed by an adventurous dinner with some of the other students. And of course, since it’s my last week, I made sure to take in the sunset once again.

We began Wednesday morning with our Spanish for the Mental Health Setting class. After class, I had my final evaluations and supervision for the program, which consisted of an oral proficiency exam as well as reading a sample case study and deciding how I would work with the client and provide psychoeducation regarding TEPT (trastorno de estrés postraumático, or PTSD in English), as well as psychoeducation and techniques for relaxation. After the evaluation and supervision, we went out for a light dinner and spent the evening listening to music at a bar by the beach, and then sitting by the beach, as we took in the beautiful sights of the city.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 52: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (Monday) began with our Terapia Conductual Dialéctica course, which focused on Distress Tolerance, TIPP, and Emotional Regulation. During times of crises, TIPP is a useful tool that one can utilize to take a step back from the crisis to de-escalate the situation. TIPP can be used when one is about to engage in dangerous behaviors during a crisis, when an individual needs to make an important decision, but is too overwhelmed to think/make a decision, the individual is not processing information effectively, the individual is emotionally overwhelmed, and/or the individual isn’t able to use his/her abilities.

TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation. With regards to temperature, the individual can put cold water or a bag of ice on his or her face, while bending over and maintaining respiration (holding his/her breath). The individual can also put his/her face in a bowl of cold water for 30-60 seconds, or put an icepack on his/her face while bending over, and maintaining respiration (holding his/her breath). This action helps reduce emotional and physiological arousal. The action of Temperature can also be used when the individual isn’t able to sleep due to anxiety and/or while experiencing dissociation during therapy.

According to mindfulnessmuse.com, “In order to get ourselves to a place of being capable of processing information, we must find a way to essentially ‘reset’ the nervous system. Fortunately, all mammals have something called the ‘mammalian diving reflex’ that forces the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, which functions to relax us and calm us down.

Dr. Linehan explained that this reflex is activated by icy cold water (i.e., not freezing) on the face. In particular, the icy cold water must hit the parts of the face just below the eyes and above the cheekbones for the dive reflex to be activated.”

In regards to Itense Exercise, doing some form of intense exercise for 30-60 seconds can change one’s mood and lessen one’s negative mood, and increase positive affect. This can include running in place, jumping jacks, and/or running up/down a flight of stairs. Our emotions have the ability and tendency to make us ready for action (as in flight or flight), so an intense exercise can make regulate our body to a less emotional status.

Paced Breathing refers to inhaling and exhaling slowly (five or six breaths each minute with a four second inhalation and eight second exhalation). Paced breathing—in addition to the other actions can help us lower our level of emotional arousal and make the switch from utilizing our sympathetic nervous system (which is ready for flight or flight) to our parasympathetic nervous system (our more relaxed state).

Finally, with Paired Muscle Relaxation, the strategy is to tighten your muscles, noting the sensation of tension in your muscles (and you can work on specific muscle groups, one at a time). As you loosen your muscles, you can say the work “relax” aloud, noting the sensation of how your muscles feel. The goal with Paired Muscle Relaxation is to increase one’s awareness of tension and relaxation, and functions as one of the various abilities to overcome a crisis.

While these abilities, or strategies are meant to help during a moment of crisis, they are not by any means a solution to one’s crisis. These abilities/strategies should be paired with other strategies (i.e. confiding in somebody immediately after or seeking help by a professional).

When working with emotional regulation, one of the actions is to act in a manner contrary to the emotion that is currently affecting your behavior. First, you must identify the actions that are affected by your emotions, do the opposite action, and do so completely and fully, without holding back. Simply stated, you’ll want to do the opposite action of what you’re feeling (i.e. if you’re feeling lonely and went to isolate yourself, you would instead spend time surrounded by others). Instead of surprising what we’re feeling, we would simply use our emotions to guide opposite behaviors in order to make a change in how we’re feeling.

After class, we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I spoke about in prior posts. Each week, two students from the program are responsible for teaching the group members relaxation and emotional regulation techniques for them to utilize at any given moment and teach others in their community. This week’s topic focused on the difference between sadness and depression, as well as the importance of self-care—something that so many of us forget to do on a daily basis.

In order to emphasize the importance of self-care, each participant was taught the acronym CUIDARSE (caring for oneself):

C: Cariño (affection, especially for ourselves, no matter how difficult it may be)

U: Una cosa cada día (one thing per day—engaging in one activity that we enjoy doing on a daily basis)

I: Imitar al bebé (imitate a baby—while babies may not always be able to verbally communicate, they are still able to get their wants and needs met, which is exactly what each of us need to do as well. It is important for everyone to express exactly what they need, just as a baby does)

D: Descansar/dormir (rest/sleep—adequate rest is crucial for everyone)

A: Alimentarse bien (nourish/feed oneself well—proper nourishment is also very important)

R: Relajarse (relax—making time for ourselves to de-stress and calm down each and every day)

S: Socializar/Salir a pasear (socialize/go out for a walk—making time to be around others and taking time to enjoy the outdoors while de-stressing from our daily, hectic lives)

E: Ejercicio (exercise—20-30 minutes each day)

Imagine that you have a bottle of water and give a little bit to each person around you. There would be nothing left for you once you get thirsty. We can’t care for others if we can’t care for ourselves first. We tend to find ourselves telling those around us to care for themselves, but it shouldn’t be any different for us. It is just as important for us to follow the acronym CUIDARSE, and do exactly as it says—take care of ourselves. 

Following the group, some of the other students and I went out for dinner, and made sure to enjoy the sunset during our last week here.

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 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.