June 30, 2016
We hope you are all back home safely, with Chickfila in your bellies and maybe you have even showered at this point! Saying goodbye today was the worst, or as Andrew would say, “it was buns,” but it has been so much fun to think back on our awesome memories together. We thought it would be fun to write down just some of the best memories of the trip for you all to think back on in your first few hours at home and think of us!
You guys seriously rock. We cannot imagine the past few weeks with anyone else, and as Sara’s grandfather says (GDaddy or SaySay?) “there was nowhere we would have rather been.”
Please stay in touch and let us know if you ever need anything in the future! Thanks for being such incredible people and friends.
And because we aren’t saying “goodbye,” we’ll just say, “¡Hasta pronto!”
Love, Taylor & Colin
June 29, 2016
¡Buenos días just after our tour of Machu Picchu!
We just finished a phenomenal five days on the Salkantay Trail, leading to our final destination of Machu Picchu. We started bright and early (4am bus ride!) on Thursday morning to get to the trailhead well before lunchtime. Right when we arrived at the trail, we saw in the distance the giant Salkantay Mountain, covered in snow. We knew that in less than 48 hours, we would be much closer to the glaciers, but we would have to gain a lot of altitude before then. We hiked almost entirely uphill for the entirety of the morning. Everyone was exhausted when we reached our campsite, but luckily all of our tents were already set up nicely and lunch was awaiting us in the mess tent. We bundled up with layers and prepared ourselves for the cold night ahead. Luckily, everyone had many layers and good sleeping bags, and despite being cold, we all made it through the night and woke up ready to get our blood moving again!
The second day of hiking was the longest. Within the first hour, we reached the Salkantay Pass, which was our tallest point of the trip (over 15,200 feet!). We took tons of pictures in many positions, different angles, and various groupings of people (roll tide pic!) and rested before beginning our long descent. After so much uphill, we were ready for the downhill portion of the trip. But none of us thought we would get so tired of the downhill that we wanted some hills to conquer again! We arrived at our campsite in a tiny village and scarfed down some delicious food. Collins introduced us to our favorite new game called “Signs”, and we spent many hours playing and laughing before and after dinner. Our guide, Marco, introduced two options for the following day: we could take a van for the first half of the trek and continue on after, or we could walk the entire way. The group continued to impress us, and they unanimously decided to take the harder route and hike the whole thing. We rested our muscles for a few hours before we hit the trail again.
We left early in the morning, covered in bug spray and with hiking poles in hand. Our bodies were sore and tired, but we pushed through with beautiful scenery on all sides. With trail games and singing, the time passed quickly, and we arrived at our new campsite, in the town called Playa, by early afternoon. Much to Anne’s happiness, we found that there were tons of chickens that also lived in our campsite. Soon after we got there, we watched as Anne ran around the tents chasing the chickens with her trekking poles. We also listened as Sara dramatically narrated our many games of mafia. Everyone loved her as the narrator so much that we played more games in a row than we have all trip. In the middle of one of the games, we wondered where Paterson and Thomas had gone. We looked towards the kitchen and realized that they had asked the chefs what they could do to help and were setting the table for dinner. What great expedition behavior! We went to bed early and slept for many hours with only the sound of the rushing river below us to lull us to sleep.
The next day was full of some much-needed R&R. After sleeping in and filling up on a pancake breakfast, we left for a day at the Cocalmayo hot springs. The three big springs resembled pools with gravel bottoms, and they were three different warm temperatures. We rested our tired muscles and bathed in the sun all day, and we all felt incredibly rested by the evening. The most popular snack by far this trip has been Pringles. Who knows why, but Peruvian stores all sell Pringles! On the way back from the hot springs, KayKay started the competition of who could eat an entire tube of Pringles (the big ones!) by the time we got home. She finished successfully first and then a few more followed suit. They claim they will never eat a Pringle again! When we got back to the campsite, Jenna impressed everyone with her killer Hearts skills. She won by a landslide! That night, after hearing that some of the girls aren’t fans of chickens, Andrew led the boys in a “chicken-in-tent” mission. They got a nice looking chicken from under a tree and sneak-attacked it into Anna’s tent, which led to much shrieking, as you can imagine. Meanwhile, the chicken sat calmly in the corner of the tent, wondering what all the fuss was about. Anna claims she is still plotting her revenge, and said she may leave Andrew in the Atlanta airport before their final flight home to Charlotte. 🙂
We began the next day with a quick bus ride to a train station called Hydro Electrica. Much to our surprise, the bus driver loves music from the United States, so we listened to his iPod and sang along to tunes, new and old. When we arrived at the train station, we started our hike along the train tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes. The hike took about three hours and took us through the jungle, with mountains and rivers on either side. Everyone was pleased to arrive in Aguas Calientes for many reasons. The town resembles a ski town out West: lots of restaurants and stores, and the hotels looked like lodges on the mountainside. We roamed the market throughout the afternoon, and Emma practiced her bargaining skills, getting a sweater down from 60 soles to 30! We popped into a French bakery for some snacks and coffee, and as we ate croissants and carrot cake, Hannah told us all about the best bakeries in New Orleans, making all of us want to visit Cafe du Monde. In the evening, we ate at a fun and delicious restaurant, where they had board games, Jenga, and excellent pizza. After Moonup back at the hotel, we went to bed early to rest up for our final full day together exploring Machu Picchu!
The ancient Incan ruins astonished all of us! Everyone agreed that it was even more beautiful and impressive in person than in pictures (though we did take thousands of those as well!). We spent the first part of the morning on a guided tour where we learned more details about the history of where we stood. After the tour, we had a few hours to explore the ruins on our own. After munching on our favorite Peruvian chocolate bars called Sublime at the top, the girls and boys split up: the boys to explore at their own pace and the girls to take bunches of pictures for social media, of course! We all enjoyed getting to look around and imagine ourselves living in the ancient city. None of us could fathom getting the huge boulders from the river below up the thousands of stairs to construct so many beautiful and well-built structures. We all thought back to our time in Ccorca only a few days ago moving bricks and stones only hundreds of feet, and we felt exhausted just thinking about it! We returned to Aguas Calientes for a yummy lunch and then took our first train ride of the trip on our way back to Cusco. We have just arrived back “home” to Cusco for our final banquet dinner tonight. We are hoping to get some last minute souvenirs in the morning at the market and spend some great time together before we all head our separate ways. As our trip comes to a close, Colin and I could not be more proud of our group. They have been absolute rock stars throughout the entire trip, making the best of uncomfortable and challenging situations. We have laughed harder than ever, shared stories about our lives, and have become vulnerable with a new group of amigos. We are certain we will be in touch with this group long after they leave us tomorrow.
We will post again after the group leaves for the Lima airport tomorrow, but for now, thank you for sharing your wonderful children with us. We have had an unforgettable few weeks in an incredible country!
Taylor & Colin
June 23, 2016
Allillanchu familias y amigos!
That is the Quechua word for hello! Quechua is the native language of Ccorca, which is a small village where we spent the last four days. The drive, though only an hour, was entirely filled with a full-group sing-along. Led by the girls, we belted Taylor swift, Disney channel originals, Justin Bieber, and everything else you could imagine. Pretty soon we all realized that Paterson was the only one that knew every single word to every single song, which he blames on his little sister. We arrived in this tiny village (population 1000 people) early Sunday morning ready to work. Our task for the four days was the beginning of a big project: building an oven for the entire village. We worked in the local community center where they host all sorts of events: quinceañeras, town gatherings, and camps for children. Since most homes do not have their own ovens, it is also the home to the giant community oven. The majority of our work was to demolish the pre-existing oven, which we were told was made very poorly in 1983. Due to the existing oven’s age and faulty construction, much of the community is left without fresh bread, and they instead have to ship in bread from Cusco, which can take 4-5 days. Thus, we immediately saw how our project could make a noticeable impact on the community. Since we arrived on Sunday, which was also Father’s Day in the US as well as Peru, we got to work alongside the local people carrying bricks and other materials to the center. We began the process of demolishing the existing oven, which took two days to clear.
After a delicious lunch of chicken, potatoes and veggies, our guide Marco surprised us with an exhilarating afternoon activity. As we arrived to the top of a cliff with harnesses and hard hats, we realized we would be rappelling down the 300 foot cliff on the other side! None of us had ever done anything so high, and we all talked about the butterflies that were in our stomachs as we looked over the edge hesitantly. Sara immediately jumped to go first, fearlessly leading the way for the rest of the group. One by one, each member of our group pushed themselves, both mentally and physically, down the giant rock face. Exceptionally afraid of heights, Hannah faced her fears and conquered the wall as everyone cheered at the bottom. Thankfully, Anna was one of the first to go because she spent the rest of the time leading actual cheerleading cheers for the person in the harness. We arrived back to our lodge just in time for tea time where we devoured popcorn while getting a Spanish lesson from a local Spanish teacher. Even though she does not take Spanish in the states, KayKay participated eagerly the entire time, and now speaks Spanish to us even when we are playing cards! We all crashed early and slept like babies, gearing up for another big day of service.
On Monday morning, we filled up on omelettes and porridge and headed down to continue the demolition of the oven. We carried giant salt bags, cleaned parts of the building, moved bricks, and whacked at the old stones with pick axes to make the parts easier to carry. Thomas did not stop. His motto was, “I never stop until a job is done,” and became a pro with the shovel and pick axe. Emma set the tone for each day, modeling a no-complaining attitude and lifting and lugging heavy bags time after time. Around lunchtime, we headed back to the lodge for a delicious meal and another afternoon activity with Marco. This time, we went zip lining over the entire village! Each of the three cables was over 350 feet – far enough to make us feel like we were all alone in the center of the valley, high above the town. Every time he went, Andrew battle cried and howled the entire way across the zip line. We all knew when he was going! We got back to the lodge for popcorn, candy, and another Spanish lesson. After another delicious meal of spaghetti and chocolate pudding, we crashed early and slept for many hours until the sun woke us up.
Tuesday was another long morning of hard work. We could not be prouder of how hard each member of our group worked the whole time. The conditions were not easy, and dust buried itself into every little crevice of our bodies, but we never heard anyone complain. We began to see our work pay off as the new oven started to grow. Luckily, we had a mud-brick oven expert with us to show us what to do.
After three hard mornings of work, we all welcomed a little siesta after lunch that afternoon. Our afternoon consisted of gathering with all of the local children of Ccorca to pass out all of the amazing donations the kids brought. The little children were in heaven! As they opened each toy, they immediately started playing with it and grasping their bags with tight fists so that nobody would take them from them. Anne jumped in right away to jump rope with the little girls, and despite not knowing any Spanish, they soon became her biggest fans. Jenna organized a game of “Pato, Pato, Ganza” (Duck, Duck, Goose) that turned into a 30 person laugh fest! Thomas, Paterson, Andrew, and Colin played hours of soccer with the children, and they certainly will be in great shape getting back after all of the running at such high altitude!
During tea time, we munched on homemade empanadas and played the longest game of UNO in history. Collins took the game to a new level and made everyone laugh with her intense glares and sneaky moves to the players to her right and left. We devoured a version of chicken fried rice and enjoyed our final night in the Patawasi community lodge that had become our home away from Cusco.
On our final morning in Ccorca, we did a few more hours of hard work before saying goodbye to our local friends. After lunch, we headed back to Cusco for some much-desired showers and a trip to the market before the final leg of our trip.
We will be leaving bright and early in the morning to start our trek up to Machu Picchu! We promise to take lots of pictures and write down lots of great memories to share. Spirits are high and everyone is happy as we venture into the big climax of our adventure together!
Everyone says hello and that they miss you but can’t wait to tell you everything about the trip!
Taylor & Colin
June 19, 2016
¡Hola Familias y Amigos!
It is hard to believe we have only been together for five days because our group of thirteen feels like we have been together for weeks! Right from the beginning, everyone has been incredibly positive and inclusive, making it very fun for us as leaders! During a few long hours in airports, the group bonded over card games, Bananagrams, and snacks, and KayKay kept us all entertained with the tricky game, Black Magic. Early Wednesday morning, we arrived to our hotel in the heart of Cuzco for some much-deserved rest. Once everyone felt rejuvenated after a few hours of sleep, we explored a few markets and bought our first few souvenirs of the trip. We enjoyed a delicious pizza dinner in a local restaurant, and at that point, everyone was ready to get a full night’s rest in preparation for three days of rafting.
The Apurimac River is one of the top 5 rivers in the world, and we got to raft 61 km of it! Our local guides were excellent navigators, wonderful cooks, and even better company. Never once did our group feel unsafe or unsettled by the multitude of rapids we traversed. During the first hour of rafting, we all learned to work together while paddling, but even our best teamwork did not keep us dry! Water was everywhere, literally. Emma took every opportunity to jump in and swim, despite the water being quite chilly! While trying to capture awesome shots and videos on her selfie stick GoPro, Anne fell in (twice!) leaving everyone laughing hysterically. On a particularly long day of rafting, Paterson went out of his way to be an exceptional LOD (leader of the day), encouraging everyone to stay positive and look around at our beautiful surroundings.
Each night, we were surprised by our three course meals on the river. We ate everything from veggie soup and lots of bread, to pasta, fresh guacamole, and cookies and popcorn. We have been stuffed to the brim after every meal! The guides were very impressed with Jenna and Thomas as they used their Spanish almost exclusively to communicate with them. Even our French and Latin students are picking up on some great key phrases!
After dinner, we relaxed around the fire and played games and talked into the night. After many games of mafia, Collins and Colin were very proud to be the first team to pull off a win. The girls cuddled in one tent listening to some of Sara’s funny stories, and all we could hear on the beach was giggling and belly laughs. Each night, we slept like babies under the millions of stars and the very bright moonlight. And Hannah can now officially say she has slept 2 nights in a sleeping bag!
On our final day rafting, we woke up to pancakes for breakfast and hit the river for a few hours of rafting before lunch. As a treat just before getting off the river, we got to jump off a small cliff into very deep river water. Everyone in the group did it! Even though Anna was completely terrified, she got up the guts to jump and was so glad she did. Andrew was the first to go, and he jumped off three times! On his final jump, he videotaped himself with the GoPro so we will all get to replay the moment again.
We just arrived back to Cusco for a night in town. Currently, the local people are in the middle of a two-week celebration of the winter solstice, which is called the “Inti Raymi” in Quechua. We have heard that we will get to see lots of traditional clothing and dances and even some fireworks tonight!
We are all so thrilled to be here and are having an amazing time! We are headed to the tiny village of Ccorca tomorrow morning where we will learn more about Peruvian culture and get to spend four days doing meaningful community service with the townspeople.
Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there! Here are some words from the group to you all:
Thomas: “Hey Ma! Peru is off the chain. I wish you could see some of the views here! Tell Pops I said Happy Father’s Day, and tell Eddie that I miss him. Hope Keswick hasn’t been too quiet for you and Mike, and I can’t wait to tell you about all the shweet things I’ve already done. Love y’all lots, T-Dawg”
Jenna: “Hi fam!! Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Can’t wait to celebrate when I get home! I’m loving Peru!! Love y’all tons!”
Emma: “Hola fam! Happy Father’s Day Pops and thanks for sending me to this awesome place! Love y’all!”
KayKay: “Hey family! Happy Father’s Day Dad! I hope you have a great day! Miss everyone lots! I’m very happy in Peru, it’s so cool!! Love, KayKay”
Collins: “Hola fam! Happy Father’s Day Dad! I’m having a blast in Peru! Hope everything at home is good! Love y’all!”
Anne: “Hey fam! I’m having lots of fun here in Peru. Happy Father’s Day Dad – I’m still looking for the llama egg.”
Sara: “Hi Mom, Dad, and Rett. Peru is fun and I love the people on my trip. Happy Father’s Day, Merrell. Love y’all.”
Hannah: “Hi family! Happy Father’s Day Dad! Thanks for sending me to Peru! I’m having a lot of fun. Happy birthday Sarah! Love y’all!”
Anna: “Hey family!! Happy Father’s Day! Thanks for sending me here! I am having fun! Love you guys lots!”
Andrew: “Hey guys, I miss you all. Happy Father’s Day Dad, I can’t wait to see you. Good hustle on the field, Will. See you soon!”
Paterson: “Hey guys, writing this for Father’s Day. Hope y’all are doing alright without me, no worries I’m having a great time. See y’all in a week and a half!”
We will be sure to check in after community service with more stories and experiences together! Meanwhile we will be soaking it all in!
Taylor & Colin