July 18, 2016
¡Hola! Bonjour! ¿Cómo estás? (Imagine in Quinlyn’s great accents…!)
July 16, 2016
We have just arrived back to Cusco from our incredible five day journey to Machu Picchu! What an incredible trip. We began on Monday morning, before sunrise, to get an early start at the top of Salkantay trailhead. The hike for the day was challenging – mostly steep uphill and passing many mules hauling gear along the way. Despite the difficult terrain, everyone arrived to our campsite with high spirits because of our phenomenal view for the night. Our campsite was nestled around 14,000 feet, under the highest, snow-covered peak we could see. It was the most beautiful place most of us have ever been. After lunch, many of us decided to take a cat nap in our warm tents. However, Stokes, Sam, and Colin decided to explore a bit. They trekked up a snow-covered peak and almost made it to the summit, snowy shoes and all. They took some incredible photos and even a time lapse of the clouds shooting their way across the blue sky. After a hearty dinner, we cuddled in our tents and tried to stay warm in our sleeping bags. Our wake-up call was early, and many of us were ready to get our blood moving again bright and early the next day.
Summit morning! We awoke to the sun peeking its head over the mountaintop, and we soon began our ascent. Despite being quite steep again, we were excited to see what sorts of views we would see at the peak. We arrived after an hour of hard hiking and celebrated with some Sublime bars (our favorite Peruvian chocolate bars) and some incredible pictures. Eva was particularly pleased to meet another young woman from Holland, and she was very happy to be able to have a long conversation in Dutch for the first time in weeks! The rest of the afternoon was downhill, which was much appreciated after so much uphill terrain. We passed the snowy peaks and gradually entered a warmer climate. Soon we were wearing just t-shirts and shorts, which was quite a contrast to the day before. Our favorite hiking game was Star, a movie guessing game. Henry is reigning champion, as he always guessed Colin’s impossible choices. We arrived at our campsite just before dinner, in time to take Wet Wipe showers and change clothes. We enjoyed an alpaca dinner and fell fast asleep before 8pm! Everyone was thoroughly exhausted.
We awoke to another pancake breakfast before hiking to our campsite for the next two days called La Playa (the beach). The hike was “Peruvian flat,” also known as some serious uphills and then some serious down. We hiked for about 3 hours until we came to a van, which would drive us the rest of the way to the campsite. We were all very happy to see the van since our bodies were very sore from the day before. We arrived at La Playa just in time for lunch and an afternoon of relaxing and games. If you couldn’t tell, this group loves cards games, so we spent the afternoon playing cards and soaking up the sun. Mary Kate said that she couldn’t have been happier than she was sitting on a porch talking all afternoon. She hopes this is in her future and said, “I think being a grandma would be pretty fun!” Before dinner, we weren’t sure where Britt had gone, and we looked over to see her helping one of cooks set the table. What great Expedition Behavior! After dinner, our guide, Diego, was explaining the coca leaves to the group. We learned that they help a lot with altitude and that many locals chew them for energy at all points during the day. Stella was the only one brave enough to chew a whole mouthful, though judging from her facial expressions, she did not exactly enjoy it! We finished the night with a great Moonup question and fell asleep happily in the much warmer climate.
On Thursday, we happily enjoyed a spa day in Peru! Everyone was very happy to sleep in (until 8:00am!), but Hampton was too excited to sleep. We found him awake playing solitaire bright and early, enjoying the calm morning to himself. After a car ride filled with American tunes, we arrived at the Cocalmayo hot springs. The hot springs were three pools of different temperatures, nestled in the beautiful mountains. We spent the day soaking in the pools, turning into little prunes. Everyone felt rested and rejuvenated after some sunshine and warm water. We arrived back to the campsite where little kids were playing soccer and running around. Everybody jumped in to play, but one little boy named Yoel took a particular liking to Cameron. She spent about an hour playing hide and seek and tag with him before we called her over for dinner. He was very sad to see her go. We fell asleep early, resting up for our last day of hiking the next day.
We awoke early to pack up our things and hit the road to the train station where we would begin our final hike. We spent the morning hiking along the train tracks, which was flat and beautiful. Our final destination was Aguas Calientes, which is the town closest to Machu Picchu. It resembles a small ski town nestled in the mountains, bustling with tourists from all over the world. We enjoyed exploring the town and markets all afternoon. For a snack, we stumbled into a French bakery, and everyone indulged in some delicious baked goods or milkshakes. Quinlyn was particularly happy to fill her sweets cravings with a giant piece of chocolate cake that she took down single-handedly. We were all very impressed, and she was very happy. We finished the day with a delicious dinner where we all talked about what we were most excited to see in the morning. Everyone was ready for bed, knowing that in the morning we would see one of the new seven wonders of the world!
Our morning at Machu Picchu could not have been better! The weather was gorgeous – sunny and warm! As we drove the bus up the mountain, we caught our first glimpse of the Incan ruins in the distance. We arrived to the most enthusiastic tour guide we have ever met. He gave us a show AND history all in two hours! We then had an hour to explore on our own, and ended up with many selfies with llamas…the best social media currency ever! We all left the beautiful place feeling very happy and amazed. And we took hundreds of pictures so that we can share our amazing experiences with you all!
We cannot believe we are heading into our final evening together in Peru. We are about to head back to our final banquet dinner. Colin and I are so incredibly grateful to have spent such an amazing time with these teenagers. They are an amazing group of students and we have loved every moment of our time together! We are planning to have some wonderful final hours together and will be sure to share many, many stories when we get home!
Taylor & Colin
July 11, 2016
We are writing after a phenomenal four days of service! We headed to Ccorca, a tiny village about an hour from Cusco, early on Thursday morning. Before we even got to the community center where we would be working, we were greeted by the children of the elementary school with huge smiles screaming “¡Hola! Hello!” We knew right then that we would love calling this town home for the next four days. We began our work in the community center in the pouring rain. On the last Machu Picchu Moondance trip, we demolished a pre-existing community oven. To begin our service, we finished the new oven that they built in the time between the trips. We swept the floors, moved trash, and put the finishing touches on the big project. Hampton hauled loads of bags of sand from one place to another without stopping. After a few hours of hard work, we headed back to our lodge for a hearty lunch. Due to the rainy afternoon, we spent most of our time playing Bananagrams, Hearts, and other bonding games. Stella impressed everyone with her incredible Hearts skills, and she beat everyone handily game after game. We enjoyed another great meal and fell asleep early to the sound of the rain on the tin roof.
We all awoke happily to sunshine and a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. We walked down to begin our tasks for the day, which mainly consisted of rebuilding walls that were starting to crumble from the rainy season. The excellent part of rebuilding the walls was that we got to literally throw mud at the wall and hope that it stuck! As you all can imagine, by the end of the morning, we were all covered in mud from head to toe. Quinlyn started the mud fights, and soon she was convincing everyone that a mud facial would do us all some good. We also demolished a huge stone and dirt wall, and Britt attacked it a lot of the morning with the pick axe as everyone else carried the dirt away. We finished our morning with our favorite game of Silent Football at the community center before heading up to the lodge for lunch. After a delicious meal of quinoa, guacamole, and yucca, we began our afternoon activity of zip lining! The zip lines that our guide, Marco, installed himself in 2002, soared above the village of Ccorca. Most of us had never been on zip lines that were so long, and we all loved soaking up the views while we were midair. Henry cheered everyone on throughout the whole activity, continuing to be an incredibly positive and generous leader in our group. We had a bit of a hike after our last cable, and we were all thrilled to arrive back to the lodge for a delicious pasta dinner. Bananagrams and Hearts ensued again, and we all fell asleep quickly after such a packed day.
We awoke on Saturday morning to the smell of pancakes in the lodge. Everyone scarfed down a delicious breakfast before we headed down to begin our work for the day. We spent most of the day cleaning the community center, which was incredibly dusty and dirty due to all of the mud, bricks, and cinder blocks we had been dragging through it for the past few days. Eva kept the group morale high by leading the singing of High School Musical songs and teaching us all a very catchy Dutch yogurt commercial. We all felt very pleased when we left for the day because the work we had done was very apparent and the place looked much better than it did at the beginning of the day. After lunch, we took all of the generous donations that the group brought to the neighboring village called Ccorca Ayllu. The children were shy at first, but very soon, everyone was playing together. A group of girls started a big game of Pato, Pato, Ganza (Duck, Duck, Goose), while some of the boys played soccer with the older local guys. All of the children were thrilled to receive Beanie Babies, necklaces and bracelets, bubbles, and clothes, and we had a lot of fun distributing. Mary Kate handed out necklaces and bracelets and patiently clasped each necklace to the back of each little girl. You should have seen the smiles on all of their faces! Cameron jumped right in to start a game of soccer with some of the girls, and she said it was so much fun even though her team lost by a lot! We were all sad to say goodbye, but enjoyed our time playing outside all afternoon. Of course, we ended our evening with multiple games of Hearts, and almost everyone knows how to play now. During one of her first games, Stokes “shot the moon,” much to her opponents’ chagrin. However, those not playing were clearly impressed. After a delicious steak dinner, we had Moonup and rested up for our final morning of service.
After breakfast, the local community members surprised us with a special ritual to show their appreciation for all of our work on the two trips. We went to a nearby potato field and a lady and two little girls showed us how to make potatoes in a traditional homemade oven. They used dried mud “rocks” to create a dome above the ground that they heated up for 45 minutes. Once it was hot enough, they added potatoes to the inside and then demolished the outside on top of the potatoes. We then waited for about 30 minutes as the potatoes cooked inside the hot dirt. The whole meal was called “huatia” and consisted of the cooked potatoes, cucumber and beet salad, and a spicy chile sauce. It was delicious! We said goodbye to our friends in Ccorca and made our way back to Cusco for the afternoon.
When we arrived back to Cusco, we walked around the bustling city and got some snacks at the market. We had a particularly eventful dinner because Sam and Colin decided to be the first to split a Guinea pig for dinner! It is a delicacy here, and it came out as a full animal – teeth, eyeballs and all! We have great pictures to prove it!
We are all very excited for the climax of our trip, hiking the Salkantay trail and reaching our final destination of Machu Picchu! We will be up very early to drive to the trailhead and will head towards the snowy peaks all day on Monday. We can’t wait to send an update when we finish a day of touring the incredible Incan ruins! Everyone is happy, healthy, and safe, and they all can’t wait to share stories when we get back!
Taylor & Colin
July 7, 2016
We just got back to Cusco from a fantastic three days on the Apurimac River! We have an awesome group of kids from all over the US and even one from the Netherlands! From the moment we all met in the Lima airport, everyone felt very comfortable around one another. We made it easily through the airports and had many hours before the flight to Cusco to try Peruvian snacks, get some rest, and play bonding games. Hampton jumped right into entertaining all of us with card games and word games, keeping us busy until the morning flight. When we finally arrived to our hotel in Cusco, we all got a few hours of much-deserved sleep before our afternoon of exploring the city. After a yummy restaurant lunch of chicken, veggies, soup, and dessert, we set off to the local market. Everyone loved exploring each stand, bargaining for good prices on sweaters, hats, and blankets. Almost everyone walked away with a pair of handmade socks with llamas on them! We filled up on a pizza dinner and rested up for a few big days of rafting ahead.
We arrived at the river in time for a full afternoon of rafting. Our guides, Frank and Segundo, talked us through all of the important safety commands before we got in our boats. The group divided into “Team Chillax” and “Segundo and His Six Chicks.” Both groups learned to paddle “in sync” and practiced all the commands on the easier part of the river. Though the water was quite chilly, Stella took every opportunity to jump in and swim, with or without her wetsuit. Everyone was tired after a few hours of hard rafting and ready for some time to hang out at the campsite. Quinlyn introduced us all to our new favorite game called Werewolves, which is similar to Mafia, and she narrated the game for us many times throughout the night. Since it was the 4th of July, we decorated ourselves in themed tattoos, wore red, white, and blue bead necklaces, and when it got dark, we lit our circle with glow-stick necklaces. After a dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes, we all indulged in an American classic, Snickers bars, before bed.
We woke up bright and early on Tuesday morning, anticipating a long day of rafting. After a hearty breakfast, we hit the river. We paddled for hours through exhilarating class 4 and 5 rapids. “Team Chillax” claims they were getting a little bit tired and hungry just before lunch and didn’t listen to one of Frank’s commands. Soon after, they all found themselves floating down the river, having flipped the raft. They all claimed they “deserved it”, but were pleased to see that lunch was just around the corner. Henry embraced the adventure, and loved falling out of the raft. He talked about it often for a few days afterwards. We ate tons of guacamole (avocados in Peru are phenomenal!) and veggie pasta along with some Inca Kola and Coke. We had a shorter afternoon and arrived to a gorgeous beach campsite before dinner. Britt immediately began her afternoon activity of burying Stokes, who loves the sand so much that she was begging to be buried. Britt proudly finished the job 30 minutes later. That evening, we ate like kings and queens. Snack time before dinner consisted of popcorn, grilled plantains, watermelon, and cookies…but that was just the beginning! We then had squash soup as an appetizer, followed by spaghetti and mushroom sauce. Needless to say, we all cuddled in our sleeping bags with full bellies looking at the stars. We forgot to mention! Everyone slept outside under the stars both nights on the river. Definitely an adventurous group!
Our final morning of rafting was a blast. We started the day with a delicious pancake breakfast. After gearing up for our final paddle, we hit some of the most challenging, but most fun rapids yet. Our favorites were called Babalua and Last Laugh. Towards the end of our ride, we got the chance to jump off of a cliff into the deep blue water. Everyone did it! Sam was the first to run up and jump off, fearlessly showing the way for his peers. Cameron, who is terrified of heights, faced her fears and “made herself do it.” The second she hit the water, everyone was screaming and cheering. We got some great pictures of everyone mid-air with picturesque canyons in the background. By the end of the rafting portion, we realized that Mary Kate might have been the only one who didn’t fall in the water during a rapid! Impressive! As we arrived at our final destination, it was bittersweet to get off of our rafts. While our bodies are a bit sore and most of us were ready for a shower, we had a wonderful time with our excellent guides. Our days were filled with laughter and gorgeous views, and our evenings were spent under bright stars and the very visible Milky Way.
While we waited for our final lunch on the river, Eva entertained us with Dutch tongue twisters. We are all looking forward to bringing some new Dutch phrases home after the trip. On the way back to Cusco, we stopped for some local ice cream before everyone fell asleep in the back of the van.
Colin and I feel so lucky to have this group with us for these weeks in Peru. So far, everything has been wonderful and everyone is getting along great. We are looking forward to four meaningful days of community service in Ccorca, and we will be sure to update you right after we get back! Until then, here are a few words from us to you!
Cameron – “Hey y’all! Peru is awesome!! I miss you guys! (And Jackson)!”
Eva – “Hey iedereen, Peru is geweldig! Ikhebhet heel erg naar mijn zin. Groetjes aan opa en oma en peusjes aan Flo xxx”
Mary Kate – “Hi Mom and Dad! Peru is beautiful!! I’m having a lot of fun and I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it. See you soon!”
Stella – “Hey fam! Hope y’all had fun in the mountains. I’m having a blast, and I love the group. Hope Max is going to have fun in France! See y’all soon!”
Britt – “Hey Mom, Dad, Pop, and Gomi! Peru is unbelievable! It is tons of fun and the group is awesome! Tell Alex I said hey and that I hope he has a blast in New York! Love and miss y’all!”
Henry – “Parents and siblings, Peru is unbelievable! I’m already having a lot of fun! The group is awesome and I can’t wait to tell you more! Can’t wait to see you guys! Peace out!!”
Quinlyn – “Dear Mom and Dad, Peru has been stunning! White water rafting was incredible and our raft only flipped once. However, I do miss you guys and I’ll tell you all about Peru when I get home.”
Stokes – “Dear rents, this trip has been dank. Honestly though, this trip has been incredible and I don’t wanna waste time writing this when I could be slapping back into ERS (card game). Okay, I’ll tell you about it later. Love yas!”
Hampton – “Dear Mom and Dad, I’ve been having a great time in Peru! It’s been tons of fun – we just got done rafting for three days and it was awesome. Can’t wait to be able to tell you all about it soon!”
Sam – “Dear Mom and Dad, Peru is amazing. The rafting trip was one of the coolest experiences of my life! The scenery is beautiful and the people are awesome. I love and miss you! P.S. Tell Virginia I miss her.”
Taylor & Colin