Monday, August 30, 2010

New Teacher Orientation

Thank goodness for new teacher orientation. I feel so much better going into my 6 classes on Wednesday. I am teaching two beginning classes, three intermediate and one advanced class. It would be wonderful if I had all the books and curriculum to read over tonight but I have to wait for all of that tomorrow. It means I will be doing a lot of reading and planning tomorrow afternoon and evening. I was supposed to start in the academic office and be a floater or a substitute for the first month but apparently there were teachers that left who were not expected to be leaving. That’s OK though. I’m just going to have to dive right in! I feel so much better having met my fellow new teachers (Nick, Susan, Andrew, Jake, and Ian) and going through everything with Tom, one of my bosses. There are 23 teachers in total and I believe I am the only person who was recently hired by Máximo Nivél that hasn’t gone through their TEFL program. It’s a little intimidating but I think I will be OK. I don’t have the same student teaching experience they do but like everyone has said, it is all about enthusiasm, patience, and your rapport with students. I think I can handle that. I just have to remember that it’s stressful for everyone the first month of so. Máximo is known as one of the most prestigious English institutes as well as one that knows how to party. Haha. I think I am going to get along really well with everyone.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Time to become a Cusqueña

I have moved into the Maximo Nivel family house for the next five days should I need it. It is free lodging and food while I look for an apartment. I went to Maximo Nivel yesterday thinking I had a meeting to attend. They showed me around and that was it. It was nice to see the place though and the teacher’s lounge is fantastic. There is a big screen TV, computers, wi-fi, personal cubbies and a cubbies for shoes. It did also make me more nervous though. I got my schedule and it says that I am teaching 6 classes starting on Wednesday. They are different levels too. When Tom and I spoke last it was set that I was going to work in the academic office and be a floater and substitute as needed for the first few weeks or so. I also though I was going to have time to do more observations. I don't even know the book that we use and where I need to begin with my students who are at higher levels. Let the stress begin. Enthusiasm and patience are the two things that I have going for me. I'll just have to figure things out as I go.

While I was in the teacher's lounge I met Carl and he offered a room in his place that is open. I would be very happy moving into a place with 3 other teachers and only a 20 minute walk from work. He has been working for Maximo Nivel for 8 months and likes it. I spent some time uploading photos and got in contact with Leslie Eme who was in Cusco on vacation. We met up and got some food. I took her back to my place for a bit while I packed and then we headed to Jack’s café for some coffee and dessert. I love the fact that we keep meeting up with each other in South American and other places in our lives. She is definitely one of my favorite persons of all time.

I really like this Family house. My room is super tiny but the amenities are great. There is wi-fi and laundry services. I met a few people who are here volunteering or taking the TEFL course at Maximo Nivel. I hope to move into an apartment within the next few days though. There is an all teachers meeting on Tuesday so I should be able to work something out with Carl and his roomies if possible.

I think I am going to take a nap now to make up for the lack of sleep over the last 5 days.

Machu Picchu

First off I would like to say that the trek to Machu Picchu is one hell of a work out on the legs. It was absolutely amazing though. Each ruin that we passed was cooler than the last. I think my favorite one was Intipunku that was a place to worship the sun. It has lots of terraces and I had a view of the valley, our campsite, the mountain Machu Picchu and the Rio Urubamba.

All right I will begin with my pick up at 6:30am from the place I am staying at in San Sebastian. We met up with the Canadian family who were to be my group mates. The parents were from Taiwan originally and the two daughter Kelly and Chayling (I called her Chai and have no idea how to correctly spell her name.) who were 22 and 26. I really liked them a lot but found myself spending more time making friends on the trail. My guides were Ruben and Romulo who were friendly but had some difficulty with their English. I spoke in Spanish with both of them because it was easier.

We got to Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tee-tom-bow) and I bought a walking stick and some coca leaves to chew on while walking. Then we passed through the punto de control or checkpoint and I got my passport stamped. The passport stamp at Machu Picchu is the coolest one though. Anyway we started our hike of about 10 km I believe and learned about the flora and fauna of the area. I saw lots of baby animals on the trek including chicks, ducks, donkeys, and llamas. Lunch was quite a treat. We got a two-course meal every lunch and dinner which included soup and some meat with rice and potatoes. There was also garlic bread at every meal. I have never eaten so well in the backcountry. Our cook was amazing. There was a tent to eat in with a table, table cloth, plates, utensils and cups. It was so fancy! We got to our campsite that was in the backyard of a family’s house along the river at about 4:30pm and set up shop. It was so weird not having to do any work when I got into camp. The tents were all set up and all I had to do was use my steri pen to get some drinkable water. I met my first friend from another group while doing that. His name is William Plumhoff and he is from New York. He is a Bichram Yoga teacher and is in Peru to do the trek and go to a Ayahuasca ceremony in Iquitos that includes hallucinatory plants and shamans. Pretty cool. He became a great walking companion over the next few days. That night we had fish for dinner because the porters were able to catch some in the river. It was delicioso! After dinner I watched the moon rise over the mountains. It was so pretty. I have been feeling a very strong connection to the moon lately and even more so here in Cusco. Can’t really explain it but it feels good.

The next day we woke up at 5:30am and got on the trail by 6:15am. This day was really long. We climbed to 13,776 feet from about 9,840 feet. It felt like it was never going to end but I got into a groove. I met quite a few people on the way up including Daniel from Trujillo Peru who is a surgeon and is on vacation. Really nice guy. I also met Marcelo and Marcela from Paraguay, Sandro and Flavia from Rio de Janeiro and Brad and Alex from England and Australia. There also seemed to be quite a few Canadians on the trek. Didn’t meet too many Americans which was interesting. I digress. I made it to the top of dead woman’s pass way before my guides and the Ku family did. I was asked to join in on another groups’ picture at the top but politely refused because I felt like I was betraying my group. That was the highest I have ever climbed before and I could feel the lack of oxygen in my chest and my fingers when they tingled a bit. I didn’t stay up there for long. The journey down was almost harder than the one going up because it’s harder on the knees. I also had to pee really badly and could not for the life of me find a place with enough cover. Fortunately, I found a spot and William stood lookout. Thank goodness. The toilets were mostly pit toilets at our campsites and absolutely disgusting. I kind of like pit toilets because they are easy and it’s just like nature peeing in terms of how you squat but wow, they were so gross. The worst night was the last campsite where there was a bar so the toilets smelled even worse.

I got into camp around 2:30pm and had lunch by myself and took a nap. I explored a bit and hung out at the campsite waiting for the Kus. While waiting I met another tour guide name Yamil who lives in Cusco and is more than happy to hook me up with kayaking, hiking, and biking tours that his buddies lead. I’m looking forward to it. I enjoyed chatting with him because he didn’t seem like he was trying to get my info or be flirty like a lot of Peruvians. He’s what they would call tranquilo here which more or less means he’s chill.

Kelly and Chai showed up around 4:45pm and had their lunch and Tina and Tim didn’t show up until 6pm. They ate a little bit of food and passed out. I didn’t blame them. They had been on the trail for almost 12 hours. That’s a lot of time.

While I was taking my nap after getting into camp I overheard a conversation between a tourist and a guide. The guide was explaining how tipping usually worked and when he said 10 US dollars per porter and guide the man (who was Peruvian) got a little upset about it. “I’m Peruvian too. That’s 100 dollars in tip! I can’t do that!” In Spanish of course. Tipping was probably the most stressful thing I dealt with on the trail. I only brought about 100 soles and 10 US dollars with me because I didn’t realize that there was going to be 10 porters including the head cook and two guides. I ended up tipping the porters 10 soles each and the head cook 10 US dollars. He definitely deserved it. The food was sooooo good. I told the guides that I would leave them tip at the agency when I got back and they said don’t worry about it because if I did that the agency would most likely take it before they saw it. I am going to try and get in contact with Romulo. He gave me his info at the end.

The next morning we got up at 5am and were the first people on the trail to Runkuraqay. It was super cool being first and away from the rush of people. We eventually were passed by a lot of people but for the first few hours it was very nice and quiet. I met my Urugauyan friends on the way up. We stopped at a few ruins this day including one of my favorites called Putupatamarca. There was so much going on there and I got a really good explanation of the place from Ronny who was William’s guide. Ruben gave a little explanation too when he got there with the Ku family but it was not as in depth. I am glad I caught Ronny’s explanation.

After Putupatamarca we headed to the campsite. It was all downhill from here and while I was stopped for a quick break I saw Juan Martin running down the stairs like a crazy person. He stopped for a second and as we were talking I asked him if his bag felt comfortable because it looked like it was sitting way too high above his hips. He said it was fine. We decided to switch bags really quickly to compare how much we were carrying. His was probably a few pounds lighter than mine. We switched back and got on our way. I learned that he works for his family’s business selling spas, jacuzzis, and pools back in Montevideo and that he has traveled all over the world with his buddies. Later that evening I met his friend Federico who obliged me with some merengue dancing.

We had the choice to go right to the campsite or left to Intipata which was another ruin. I wanted to see the ruin so I took the left route and I am glad I did. It was so nice and quiet. Most people chose to go to the campsite because they were tired. There was no way I was passing up a ruin. Who knows when or if I will do the trek again. When I got there I found about 10 people. One of them was William, of course. We sat and enjoyed the view of the valley and the Urubamba river. It was fun just imagining lots of people sitting and worshipping the sun from where we were.

The last campsite on the trek has a bar and music, hot showers and massages. Lots of people showered but I wasn’t about to spend 5 soles on a shower that would be free the next day. We had a magnificent dinner of about 5 or 6 different dishes. The cook, like I said, was the most amazing cook I have ever met. I couldn’t finish it all. While in the main building I noticed someone who I met in the Lima airport. It was Liam and his wife Courtney. We thought we were going on different days but apparently we were on the same schedule. It was nice running into them again.

In the past when there were thousands of people on the trek a day there used to be mayhem and lots of drunkenness the last night. Most people went to bed early and only a few got really drunk. I was in my tent and at about 11:45pm a man and woman came to our campsite making a ton of noise. The guy tried getting into a tent and all of a sudden realized he was not in the right place. It was pretty amusing. I can’t imagine getting super drunk on a night when we would have to get up at 3:30am in the morning. It was difficult enough as it was to get up that early. I was not a happy camper at all for the first few hours. The reason we got up so early was so that the porters could catch the one train that would take them back to Oyantalltambo. The checkpoint didn’t open until 5:30am so we had a bit of waiting to do.

It was mostly a gradual uphill climb to Machu Picchu. The end was downhill from the sun gate. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy so we didn’t get a very good view of the ruins from the sun gate but it was all good. When I got there it felt so awesome having all my stuff on me. I was dirty and tired and feeling super badass. After checking my bag we took a tour of Machu Picchu. I listened in to a lot of other tours and got quite a lot from it all. It is absolutely amazing what the Incans were able to do. The place is enormous too. After the tour was over I sat on a terrace for a little while and took in the views. I didn’t have to be down in Aguas Calientes for my train until 2pm so I took it easy.

Aguas Calientes is a nice place. I hung out for a bit before my almost 4 hours train ride back to Cusco. I didn’t have money to spend so I just walked around and played some soccer with the Uruguayans and a few local kids. When my train finally left at 5:03pm I was ready to pass out. I got a little bit of sleep in with drool included. It was nice having a table to lean on.

So one would think I would go home, shower and sleep but I decided it would be more fun to go out with some people from the trek. We went to Mythology which is a club in the plaza. It was fun until the police came and said we had to have our passports. It was really lame and nothing came of it other than the music being turned off. Oh well. I still had a good time.

I will try and put pictures into this post when the uploading works better. For now, if you want to see pictures just click on the link on the sidebar that says Machu Picchu.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I made it!

It is amazing how airplanes can take you across the world in a matter of hours. I left the O’Hare airport at 12:15pm on Friday and got in to Lima at 11:15pm. We got out about 45 minutes late in Houston but fortunately Nella and her husband knew that I would be later than 10:30pm especially with customs and immigration. During the flight I made friends with a guy named Kris who was off to Arequipa to speak at a banquet the non-profit he built houses with is having. He gave me some great advice on places to go in Arequipa should I visit. I definitely want to at some point. I don’t have to worry about making a visa trip any time soon though. I asked for a 6 month visa and the nice immigrations man gave it to me. This means I don’t have to leave the country until February. However, I am thinking I might try and get up to Ecuador for Christmas if it is possible with my work schedule. I’d love to spend Christmas with my second family since flying home to my first one isn’t too economical right now. I digress.

I am so glad that I had a place to stay in Lima and didn’t have to stay in a hostel. Their place is so nice and they really couldn’t have been more hospitable. I was able to shower and in the morning I gave my mom a quick call telling her that I was safe and sound. Their little boy is probably one of the cutest babies I have seen. Dad is from Japan and mom is Peruvian. His name was Adriano and when I gave him a little stuffed bear he got so excited. “Pooh” he called it since every bear to him is Winnie the Pooh. I’m glad he liked it. We’re best friends now.

The flight to Cuzco was 40 minutes late but that’s pretty standard I hear, especially with Taca airlines. I was impressed however, with the quality of the airplane and the service we received while in flight. There was in flight entertainment and drinks and snacks. After a short flight of 55 minutes we landed in the tiny Cuzco airport and I happened to meet at Máximo Nivel worker who helped me with my bags outside. As soon as I stepped outside I met Michael, a stringy haired 50-something expat with a canvas hat and big smile.

I think I may have said this in my previous entry but I found the Thompson’s on facebook through an expats in Peru group. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. After I got settled in my room here I had a cup of coca tea with Michael and met his friend Brad who is from Canada and staying with them as well. We headed into town to get some money exchanged; a key made, and have some almuerzo. I was quite winded but not as winded as Brad after our bus ride and walk around the plaza de armas and plaza de San Francisco I was ready for a break and some lunch. Nella told me to not eat too much as my metabolism will slow down a bit at higher altitude. I don’t disagree with her. Lunch was yummy though with soup and a side of potatoes with a tasty sauce. The main course was beef and rice with whipped mashed potatoes. Good thing I love potatoes. It is a staple here. I also love yucca which is much life potato and another popular food.

I could go on and on about the deliciousness of the food here even though I haven’t been in Cusco for more than a day. There is fresh fruit and produce everywhere. It’s so healthy and grown in the backyard. I love it. I wish it was like that in the US.

I really like Michael. He is an interesting guy who moved to Cuzco 7 years ago with his wife and two kids. They are from New Mexico and his daughter Angela, whom I will meet soon, is 20 and Gabe is 18. Gabe is currently in California with Laurel, the woman I spoke most with when setting up this homestay. He had to get cataract surgery and Glaucoma surgery. Yikes. Hope he is doing well. Anyway, Michael puts out a tourist newspaper which he asked me if I could proofread his Spanish. He writes the articles in English and then translates them online. He speaks Spanish but his writing is a bit rusty he said. I was happy to read it but I did warn him that I am a bit rusty myself and that a second opinion after mine would be a good idea. He taught me a few things about life in Cuzco and things to know such as how much it costs to take a taxi around town. It shouldn’t be more than 4 or 5 soles from the house to the plaza. That’s the equivalent to roughly a $1.50. The bus is even better and runs about .50 soles. Soles are referred to as luca by the locals. He also showed me the best place to exchange money. It’s called Wachi’s and it’s down the street from work which is great. I also know now who to go to when I want to get some good fresh coca and dried fruit. The market is fantastic and there is everything you could need there in terms of cooking. I am really hoping to learn how to make some good soup while I am here. I need to find a teacher first.

Later in the evening we were listening to some music and Michael asked if I would like to lay down some harmonies to a song he wrote. We had talked about what I did in college before that and he picked up on the a cappella singing. I told him I would love to. The song is great! We made a date to go to the studio at his friends place on the 31st in the morning. I can’t wait! I love recording. When I get a copy of the song I will try and post it on here.

I also met another guy named Carlos who was impressed with my castellano accent. It made me happy to hear that I sounded like a true Spanish speaker. I feel super rusty right now and slow in my formation of sentences but I know that with some time it’ll come back to me. Carlos is a friend of Michael’s and came over to hang out. That’s another thing I really like about latin America. People just show up and say hello and have a cup of tea with friends. It seems like getting together with anyone in the US requires a calendar and making a specific date and time. I’m all about people coming over and hanging out all the time. It felt very homey and I know that I am going to like it a lot here. Life is slower and people are really friendly and hospitable.

Later in the evening:

I had a good four-hour conversation with Brad who is also staying with Michael and Angela right now. He is an interesting guy from Nova Scotia Canada. He is here on a spiritual quest and only eating a bit of food and drinking lots of water. He sold everything he owns and headed down here for however long it takes. He believes that we can harness light energy like plants and it shifts our DNA and we can take in energy directly. It is a very cool idea and he has a plethora of other spiritual tid bits that brought up some great conversation about life and the earth. I thoroughly enjoyed it and while I don’t believe everything he brought up, it is always nice to hear different ways of thinking about things. One thing I definitely got out of it was the feeling that I made the right choice to come down here. I’ve only been here a few days and while I know I will go through a period of homesickness, I think I am going to be very happy here. We had a nice little fire in the fire ring they have in their yard here. The moon was almost full and the stars were beautiful. Southern hemisphere stars are great. It’s an entirely new sky to get oriented to. I had a very nice night and I am going to bed around 8:30pm again. I slept 12 hours last night and couldn’t be happier to be sleeping and getting acclimated slowly and without a lot of headache.

I also walked back from the tour guide company today. It was a good 45 minute walk but I feel like walking the neighborhoods of a new place is the best way to get to know it. While Cuzco is a bit confusing with its twisting roads, I already feel much more oriented than before. I immediately took a nap when I got back. I am going to go on a walk with Brad tomorrow, possibly to the plaza de armas. We shall see what our energy levels are like.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Unpacking and Packing

It is a bit overwhelming to pack for 6 months of living abroad when you are not sure if you'll stay longer or not. It's also overwhelming to unpack from 3 months of camp and then re-pack in the span of 4 days. I am currently trying to do laundry, run errands, and make sure my back up hard drive works all at the same time. It seems to be going pretty well so far.

For those of you that don't know what is going on in my life right now I shall explain. I took a TEFL certification course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) last October in the hopes that I would be abroad again after another summer of leading adventure trips for Camp Echo. I originally was thinking I would head back to Ecuador but as I did more thinking I realized that I wanted to go somewhere new and somewhere I could have opportunities to work in the travel/tour industry after teaching. Cuzco seemed like the perfect place to go. Not only is there the Inca Trail to go on but a multitude of other outdoor activities to partake in. I have always wanted to do the trek to Machu Picchu and am set up to do it from the 24th through the 27th of August. Of course, I have wanted to teach as well and after applying to a few places in Cuzco I got an offer from an institute called Maximo Nivel. It is run by Americans and they have locations in Costa Rica Guatemala and the US. It has wonderful amenities and lots of resources which is fantastic. I immediately said yes. The interview went really well and the way I am set up to work is that in September I will start in the Academic Office and be a substitute while I get the orientation I missed because I will have been on the Inca Trail. I am very happy with the arrangement because I will have the time to observe and get to know the institute before being thrown into having 6 classes a day.

I am not going to lie and say that I have no nerves and am completely comfortable with everything that is about to happen over the next month let alone 6 but I am ready for the stress and the discomfort because it's all a part of growing and learning. I just have to remember that it will pass and I will eventually get into a groove. My biggest worry is actually altitude sickness at this point. Cuzco is above 10,000 feet and I will be coming from sea level. My body is not the happiest with drastic altitude changes but hopefully a few days of rest and a lot of water will allow me to be ready to do the trek. Thank goodness the company I am going with carries oxygen just in case.

I am also a bit nervous about being completely alone. I am staying with a family I found of facebook when I first get to Cuzco and then I will be moving in with a family associated with Maximo Nivel while I look for an apartment. I am hoping to move in with another teacher so as to have some camaraderie and to have someone who is in the same boat as me. I'm not worried that I won't make friends but there is always that point when moving to a new place when I feel like I don't know anyone and I am completely alone. It happened in college and I have no doubt it will happen again. At least this time I am ready for it.

Back to packing! Peru me voy!