Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 12 and ready to go...

  We happily arrived in Cusco to yet another festival with dancing, music, and people celebrating.  It was a bit of a shock to go from a town of less than 3,000 to a big city.  As we got on the bus we initially felt that going to Cusco made no sense.  Why were we not just going home? As we are getting settled in our hotel it is clear to us that jumping from Ollantaytambo to the comfort of home would absolutely induce culture shock on our reentry.  We had another great meal tonight; the pizza was terrific and the kids kept the humor light and fun.  It became a game for the boys to escort the girls to the bathroom door!  The restaurant was entertained by our male entourage.  As I write, the boys are contemplating choreographing a dance to Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor". We took some time to explore central Cusco and the markets.  It has a distinctively European feel set in the Andes, so we had another exposure to a beautiful place and great people.  
  The kids were sad to leave Ollanta, but they are ready to come home.  We are going to being a wrap up activity before our travel home starts tomorrow.  What a wonderful experience this has been.  Thanks for making it possible. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 11

   Macchu Picchu day was a hit!  We visited the site on the busiest day of the year: the Winter Solstice.  We met at a bridge in town, which is near Carver and William’s house and hustled to the train station to catch a 6:15 am train.  The trip took about 1 hour and 20 minutes; we winded down through the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River.  When we arrived, our transfer agent Mario made sure that we got entrance tickets and then on the bus up to Macchu Picchu.  It is an impressive operation; the train dropped us in the town Aguas Claiente where we bought tickets and caught the bus. We then rode the bus for about 30 minutes to the base of Macchu Picchu, and then we walked for another 15 minutes to the scenic panorama of the site.  Our tour took about 2 hours in which we learned about the discovery of the site, what scientists and archaeologists have put together about Macchu Picchu in the last 100+ years, and for what all of the different buildings were used.  It was a very informative tour and many of us were on info overload by the time things concluded.  We took about an hour after the tour to explore on our own, and Skylar finally got her picture with a Llama.  After that, we walked out and had lunch.  Since Macchu Picchu is a tourist site, the kids got to fill up on sodas, hotdogs, ice cream, etc.  We also ate fruit and sandwiches that Adele packed for us, so it was somewhat healthy.  Then, the bus took us back to Aguas Caliente and we walked to the train.  We arrived back in Ollantay at about 4:30 pm and we moved into the hostel.  Dinner tonight was burritos at a local restaurant and the kids devoured all of the food.  It was an impressive performance and apparently they were famished.
   Tomorrow we leave for Cusco between 9 am - 10 am.  It is a two hour drive to our hotel in the plaza of the city.  Once we are settled, we will have some time to explore Cusco and do some activities that will wrap up our experience.  We will have a closing, celebration dinner tomorrow night and the kids will “deliver” their graduation speeches throughout the day tomorrow.  Tonight they are exhausted and hyper.  The combination of our excursion today coupled with our time wrapping up in Ollantay has got them very excited.
   I am unsure if internet will be available tomorrow or if there will be time to update the blog.  If it is possible I will; but if you do not hear from us please don’t worry.  We are in transit and preparing for our flights to Lima, then Houston, and finally Denver.  Once again the kids were amazing today and although I am very excited to get home to my family I will miss the group!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 10

It was a busier day than usual for us in Ollantay, and as I sit here to recollect our day I am shocked by all that we accomplished.  So here is the run down of the happenings, wonderings, and accomplishments...
  We arrived at the school earlier than usual to make sure that we had enough time to finish our work.  We quickly divided and conquered; some groups were working on the A-frame, others were prepping the courtyard for grass seed, others were preparing the concrete, others painted the interior of a classroom with kids from the school, and amongst all of these activities we were constantly cleaning up.  The kids in our group wanted to make sure the students had clean play spaces, entry way, and exterior to the school.  We really worked hard to get the A-frame erected and cemented into place.  For most of the kids, this was their first exposure to mixing concrete.  The sounds, the mess, the weight of the material, etc., were all a learning experience.  We also were introduced to a plumb line and how to use it to make sure the A-frame sections were straight.  After hours of mixing, pouring, mixing, and pouring, we finished the work and got the structure set.  It will take 7 days for it to dry before any more work can be done, so we will not see that step of the process. Jose Manual, who was the project leader, will email me photos that I will certainly pass on to our kids. 
  The work took us a bit longer than expected, which we anticipated, so the kids had a quick turn around to get home, cleaned up, and fetch their host families for a celebration.  Tonight is the last night for the home stays.  For this event, we went to a local hostel where Adele’s brother, Alberto, had prepared a typical celebration meal call Pachimanka, or a meal cooked by mother earth.  Pork, Chicken, Qui (guinea pig), and all sorts of potatoes, are buried in a rock oven that sits below the ground.  The rocks are hot from a fire and more hot rocks are placed on top of the meats and potatoes.  It is then sealed with whatever materials are available.  As we arrived, Alberto was unearthing the food; the kids got to serve their host families and then speeches were delivered.  I spoke for St. Anne’s, Susan spoke for World Leadership School, Carver spoke for the kids, and Lucy (Shaun and John’s host mom) spoke on behalf of the host families.  It continues to surprise and humble us how important the home stays are to the host families.  They were shedding tears that this experience has come to an end; just as they families and the kids begin to get familiar and learn how to live together the experience is over.  While the kids are certainly excited to be in the comfort of their home and beds, they also are remarking on how much these people have meant to them.  To demonstrate this, many of the host moms were rushing out of the celebration so they could clean the kids’ clothes.  They wanted to make sure the kids left clean and most importantly happy.  I also know that these experiences are a two-way street, meaning that the families feel this strongly about the experience and the kids because your children (and you) are gracious, appreciative, and respectful. While this is the most challenging part of the trip it is clearly the most rewarding!
  The kids had a bit of free time in the afternoon before heading back to the ceramic studio to finish their pieces we worked on last week.  It took this long for all of their work to dry, and today we polished them.  Eduardo is firing all of them tonight and Adele will pick them up for us tomorrow to bring home (a father’s day present, perhaps?).  The polishing took way longer than we expected, because, once again, the kids got into it.  The wanted their work to be great, not good, and Eduardo was excited by this.  He helped each of us perfect our piece.  We ended our day preparing for the excursion to  Machu Picchu tomorrow where the kids will deliver their graduation speech.  This is not really a “speech” but rather a moment for them to share a reflection with the group.  The assignment is set in 2050 and they are delivering a graduation speech at the commencement exercises of the university they attended.  The types of questions they are expected to grapple with are: what do I care about? what motivates me? what are the experiences that led me to the connections and partnerships that I have now (in 2050)?  If Angela, Susan and I can get our act together we will be writing and delivering one too!  This will be the highlight and in many ways the pinnacle of the trip; I expect it will be their only opportunity to go through a graduation at Machu Picchu and as leaders we cannot wait to hear what they say. 
  Your children are feeling well, laughing a lot, and shocked by the sprint to the finish line that this week feels like.  We will all come home to Denver in a few days with more to offer because of our time with the people in Ollantaytambo.  Almost two weeks ago I struggled to spell and pronounce the name of our town, but for me, and all of us, it rolls off our tongue with comfort and fond memories.  More to come tomorrow about our journey to the ruins of Machu Picchu!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 9 - Happy Father's Day!!!

   We all send a big Feliz Dia de Papa (Happy Father’s Day) to all of our fathers. In fact, all of the kids arrived at Adele’s house a bit early today to shout happy father’s day to me.  It was touching and another example of the thoughtfulness of this group.  The kids looked great after a good night’s sleep.  The host families were very excited to have the kids back, and our group continues to benefit from their generosity.  Most of the families have figured out what the kids like and make that every morning for breakfast. 
   Our work at the school began at 9 am. We moved 40 wheelbarrow loads of dirt into the courtyard of the school after clearing the courtyard of rocks, sticks, and debris. We will plant grass and flowers tomorrow. Our work concluded with erecting one of the A-frames and tomorrow we will erect the other one and pour the concrete. The group broke for lunch, and because today was a special day (Dia de Papa) many guinea pigs were served.  Everyone graciously tried them, but most could not “stomach” eating all of it.  In most cases the families had prepared an alternative option because they expected we would not clean our plates at this meal. We reconvened at 3 pm and went to watch another bullfight.  This one is set up where about 50 bulls are tethered around the edges of a big field and alternate turns in the middle where they fight or simply butt heads.  It was unclear how the winner was determined, but apparently the bull who runs away loses. 
   We dedicated quite a bit of time today to our curriculum. Before lunch, we completed the activity entitled, “Building a Utopia”. In this activity the kids worked with the term utopia in terms of what it means and the biases and judgements that go along with this term.  For example, definitions of utopia include language such as, “imaginary”, “idealistic”, and “misconceived notion”. From that the kids worked with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) and prioritized them in terms of what is most important. The aim of this activity was to (1) introduce the kids to these goals, (2) have the kids grapple with the MGDs while living in a different culture with the assumption that it is different here than in their classrooms at St. Anne’s, for example, and finally (3) contemplate where they fit into this schema. All 10 kids worked together on this activity, which is uncanny because normally groups of this size can’t work together as well as this group can. They used health as the scale of interpretation to organize these goals in order of what is most important. Then, after learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they reorganized the goals in terms of happiness. Some takeaways from this were that dealing with hunger is a top priority and then helping individuals get jobs is next in line.
   To end the day we completed the activity “Marketplace of Ideas”, which is in my opinion the best curriculum piece and activity of the trip. To simplify the explanation of this exercise for purposes of this blog, the kids were divided into groups to come up with what their “next step(s)” is (are) in order to sustain the connection and partnership with Ollantaytambo or any community with which they are familiar and/or connected, and they made an action plan to deal with the world’s tough problems.  The three teams were: Papayas, Chichas, and Guinea Pigs.  The Papayas suggested that the World Leadership School be adopted, initially, by 3/4 of the schools in Colorado and the ultimate goal is 3/4 of the schools in the US. The Chichas suggested creating a website ( where crafts and goods from Peru can be purchased by anyone in the world.  The website would include photos, videos, stories, and details about the crafts and the hands from which the crafts come.  The Guinea Pigs came up with the idea “Aqua Dash”, which is a four-mile road race where the proceeds fund trips for anyone who wants to visit a Third World Country and install clean water pumps and filters in communities to provide potable water to communities.  Four miles is significant because that is the average distance that most people who don’t have clean water have to travel to get water. The kids present these ideas to the “marketplace”, which is our group, and get feedback to improve their concept.  They get some time to revise and then “sell” their idea in the market.  The group who sells the most and has the most “money” at the end of the exercise “wins”.  The students came out feeling empowered and with a terrific goal.  Please ask them about it when they return!
  Tomorrow is our last day of work at the school and the last night for home stays.  We move back to the hostel on Tuesday night after our excursion to Machu Picchu. Tomorrow afternoon we will help prepare a feast and an appreciation dinner for our home stay families. It feels good to be wrapping up our experience and sad to leave our new friends.  One student commented tonight how surprised he/she was that his/her host mom would do anything to take care of him. The kids remark that they will miss their families, miss the town, and miss our group.  As leaders, Susan, Angela, Adele, and I hoped for this to be case for each of the kids and we feel very fortunate that it has come to be a reality.  We too are excited to come home and we too will miss how well this group functions and how much joy the exude!

Day 7 & 8

We arrived safely back to Ollanta from Lares this evening.  When we go to town, we quickly headed to a Pizza Restaurant owned to a very kind man named Raul.  He treated us like royalty and the kids loved having some pizza after our excursion.  Now, to update you on the last two days...
Friday -
We arrived at the school at 8:30 a.m. and set to work on finishing the play structure and the mural.  We needed to get three more pieces of timber, so we walked to the lumber yard got two small and one large pieces of timber and again carried them through town.  We finally got down a system on how to distribute the weight evenly and learned to switch side in sync. The rest of the day was spent digging more holes and prepping the timber, which means to strip the bark, sand it smooth, and trim it to match the other pieces.  The school was celebrating father's day, so there were a lot of games and activities for the kids and parents.  Shaun got to step in and do one of the activities in place of a father who could not make it, and he did a spectacular job.  We left at 1 pm for lunch with the host families and then reconvened at 3 pm for some shopping before getting on the bus to head to Lares.  It gets dark between 5 pm and 6 pm here, so most of the drive was in the dark.  We arrived in good shape at the camp ground a little before 8 pm, where our chef, Armando, and porter had all of the tents set up and dinner waiting on the table.  We ate soup, rice, french fries, pasta, and chicken. The kids raved and claimed that this was the best meal we have had so far.  After dinner, we all quickly changed and got into the hot springs. The setting was beautiful.  We were nestled in a valley next to a river.  The hot springs consisted of 5 or 6 pools of different temperatures. The pools are all man made and nicely appointed and landscaped.  Also, the water in the pools is yellowish-brown due to the minerals (mostly copper, I believe) from the natural spring.  We swam, relaxed, and showered before finally crawling into our tents at about 11 pm.
   This morning we all woke as the sun drenched our tents.  All of us met in one of the cabanas overlooking the river for some morning yoga!  When in Rome...  It was a gorgeous morning and a great way to start the day.  We headed down for some breakfast of pancakes, fried yucca, bread, jelly, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.  Then, more swimming.  It was such a great setting and the water felt quite good; it was hard to resist and difficult to get out.  Finally, we all rallied and went for a short hike on the Inca Trail, really!  This was a great opportunity to get to see the landscape and the local flora and fauna.  The rain moved in while we were walking so we turned around and waited in the group tent for lunch to be served.  Armando whipped up some soup, pasta with red sauce and Fettuccine Alfredo.  I promise, we will not come home hungry.  The rain stayed around, so we got back in the tents and rested until it was time to head home at 3:30 pm.  All of the kids chipped in to help Armando and the porter pack up camp and get everything to the bus.  This ride was a treat, because we got to see the beautiful Andean countryside.  Along the way, we ran into several Alpaca and Llama herds!  The kids chatted, slept, and played cards on the way home.  They were thrilled with the pizza dinner and were begging to go home and go to sleep as we wrapped up the day.

  We all remarked on the surprising comfort we felt as we returned to Ollanta.  It was not like returning home, but it was nice to be in a familiar town with familiar faces.  I for one am looking forward to crawling into my bed tonight, and I know the kids feel the same way.  Tomorrow we will work at the school in the morning and then return home for a father's day lunch with our host families (Dia de Pappi). 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 6

   It sure felt good this morning as we stepped again into our routine of waking, eating breakfast with the host family, and walking to the school.  The host families go through extensive training to prepare for groups to stay with them, which means they know how to make an "American" breakfast.  Several of the kids had scrambled eggs and toast, while others had banana pancakes; it was a good morning.  As they make their way to the school, each pair of kids meets up with another. Will and Carver and Maddie and Skylar live on the opposite side of town from the school and from where Angela, Susan, and I are staying.  As they walk, they pick one another up and by the time they get to the "corner" where we meet each morning the group is intact.  It is a great scene to see the kids functioning so well as a group. 
   Our day was busy, but simple.  When we got to the school we learned that today we need to finish the mural, finish digging holes for the play structure, and get the timber for the play structure.  Picture this: we divided into three groups and tried to figure out how to carry a 6 meter long piece of timber through town to the school.  It was a funny site as we tried to figure out how to arrange ourselves and work as a team, but this impromptu team building activity ended up as a huge success.  Many different strategies were employed, but by the end we successfully delivered the freshly cut timber to the school.  The rest of the afternoon was spent stripping bark and sanding.  We certainly gained a new appreciation for the clean timber we can buy at Home Depot!  The day ended with 2 of the 3 logs cleaned, cut and ready to install, and tomorrow morning we will finish the other.  John and I tried hard to figure out how long each piece needed to be; fortunately I had a calculator and he had a working knowledge of trigonometry, so together we figured out where to cut the logs. Truth be told, I never would have figured it out without his help.  Tomorrow we will erect the two triangles that make a base for the play structure.  The mural is near complete, and the director of the school liked our work so much that she wants us to paint more tomorrow. 
  Today we learned that the road to the hot springs is under construction and it is closed from 6 am to 6 pm.  That changed our plans a little bit for the next couple of days - in a good way.  After working on our project in the morning, we all will go to the host families for lunch and to pack for the overnight.  We bagged the hike, and decided to take a bus straight to the hotsprings. We will depart Ollantay tomorrow at about 3 pm. We will arrive for dinner, take a dip in the hot springs and then get some sleep.  We will be camping in tents, but they have facilities so we will have some creature comforts.  Saturday will be filled with hiking and more hot springs. The kids are really looking forward to hanging out as a group and swimming! 

  There will be no blog post tomorrow night, and I will try to get one off before we leave.  No promises that this will actually happen. The kids continue to live life to the fullest here in Peru.  When we are together they are singing songs, telling stories, and constantly making one another laugh.  It is as good as it sounds.  Time is flying and while tomorrow is the half-way mark, we really are on the downhill slide of the trip.  We sometimes sit around and talk about our favorite Denver restaurants or spots and plan our homecoming meals.  There is a healthy balance of loving our time here and excited about going home! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 5

Some funny and nice stories to begin the blog...
- On the way back from the service project, one girl in our group saw a mother and daughter walking. The little girl tripped, fell, and skinned her hands.  She was crying and the member of our group picked up the little girl, brushed off her skinned hands, and asked her (in Spanish) if she was OK.
- Another student while weaving baskets, which was very difficult, said, "The basket weaver should change his job from basket weaver to confidence destroyer."
- Adele asked a student, "Hi, how are you? The student responded, "Bueno. Oh my god, I am speaking Spanish!"
   Today was another great day in paradise! We met at the corner of main street to all walk down to the preschool where we are working.  The school opened last December (the beginning of the Peruvian school year) for children ages 1 - 5.  The kids at the school stay for the morning, which is developmentally appropriate but it allows the staff to literally build the school and the curriculum while the children are not there.  It was a special treat to be there this morning when all of the kids were there.  The husband of the director of the school,  Jose Manuel, is our contact for the service work.  He guided us on finishing painting the mural that was started by St. Mary's in March and dug holes for a play structure that we will build over the course of our time working at the school.  We will also be working on a garden and planting grass seed as a final project.  Your kids are so excited to provide the school with a clean and safe place to play.
   We divided in to two groups and one group started on the work at the school while the other went to weave baskets; then in the afternoon we switched.  Pancho and Valvina were the artists who taught us how to weave; incidentally, they are also Hannah and Ashlin's host family, so we got to their family and living space quite well.  You will be absolutely blown away by the baskets that the kids made;  Pancho was very hands on in helping the kids - meaning he did a lot of the work for them.  He really wanted the kids to leave with an exceptional finished product.  In fact, we all came back to their home at the end of the day to make sure the baskets were perfecto!

  There was a break from the curriculum today, because it was so full! Angela, Susan, and I had dinner at Carver and Will's host family.  The boys kept us laughing through dinner, which was great for the soul but not great for practicing Spanish.  Nevertheless, it was an energizing meal.  Thinking about tomorrow feels great right now because we are in a routine and there should be nothing new tomorrow! This is a welcome feeling for us all at this point in the trip.  We will meet as a group at the school and work from 8:30 - 12:30, then back to the host families for lunch and back to work again from 2:30 - 5:30.  "Working" in Peru is enjoyable.  There is a lot of snacking, playing and talking while working.  Also, we hope to interact a bit more with the kids at the school tomorrow.  Leaders for today were Will and Skylar.  They kept us focused and moving forward while at the service project.  We have two more days of work this week before we head out for an overnight camping trip near some hotsprings.  Sorry to rub in all of the fun we are having here!  The generosity and positive spirits remain.  It is a bit like a dream, and we are waiting for reality to hit us! However, I feel confident that we will continue on this great path, because the kids have gelled so well.  Again, thanks for sharing them with us for these two weeks.  It might sound trite, but they give Angela, Susan, and me a lot of energy, which helps to get through the days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 4

     It was such a treat to see the kids this morning.  We met at the plaza at 8 am; there were even more smiles this morning than there were the day before. They are doing outstanding!  I believe every child remarked on how much he or she ate for breakfast, and the host families are making sure our kids eat well.  It seemed that scrambled eggs and toast were the most common favorites for today. After sharing more stories and talking about the schedule for the day, Maddie and Shaun led our group in a warm-up activity (it was cold!) and then we headed to the ceramic studio.  This was a beautiful open-aired studio with tools, clay, manual wheels, a kiln, and a view of the Andes and Inca Ruins.  Another unbelievable spot and moment.  The artist was a man named Eduardo who is a professional and sells beautiful pieces around the country and world.  His studio is simple and perfect for learning how to throw clay.  He was planning on firing our pieces this afternoon and we will pick them up in a couple of days.  Eduardo is also a musician and a flute maker, so the kids bought some flutes from him.
    After the pottery session, the kids were divided into groups and set off on a scavenger hunt.  The purpose of this activity was to build a cultural awareness about their homes, culture, and country compared to Ollantytambo's.  A couple of examples of questions are: Is there a hospital? clinic? pharmacy? What is the oldest and newest building in town? How many people and generations live in our host family homes? What are the kitchens, bathrooms, etc., like in your host family homes? One response was,"The kitchen has dirt floors but has everything they need to cook and eat: a stove, a sink, and a table. The kitchen is not for show, it is for cooking and eating." These are the types of insights that all of the kids are bringing to our discussions and that are blowing us away.  Our conversation ended with a discussion about the meaning of ethnocentrism (the belief in the superiority of one's culture) and how understanding that term helps our experience while in Peru. 
  Then, it was back to the homesetays for lunch before meeting at 2:30 pm and a walk to the Pampa and the finale of the festival.  The festival host, all of the dancers, and most of the town gathered for the blessing of the food.  We ran into the band that played for us yesterday at Pinkulluna and took more photos with them.  It was chaotic, crowded, and in Spanish (of course) so we stayed for the most important parts and then went for a walk to the old gate to Ollantaytambo (from the Inca times).  We got to climb around on another several thousand year old structure and take in the scenery.  As we walked back to town, Angela and I treated the kids to ice cream as a way to say thank you for their great attitudes and accomplishments so far.  It was a small token of our appreciation, but a well deserved one.  Our day ended with an activity and discussion about our leadership styles.  We used the personality tests to frame this discussion and we each got a chance to identify with terms and notions of how we believe we lead and look at the world.  This was another impressive performance from the kids, and we all departed with a hug.  Last night's hugging circle has inspired the group.

   The festival concludes tonight so our service project begins tomorrow.  We will meet at 8:30 for an orientation and then one group will work while the others learns Incan basket weaving.  The groups will switch in the afternoon.  Every day after that, we will all work together.  We mentioned to the group that one week from tomorrow we will leave Ollantaytambo to begin our travel back to the states and this brought sadness.  They are truly embracing this experience and feeling comfortable!  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 3

A couple of housekeeping items occurred to me this afternoon in regards to this blog.  First, you will see a "comment" button underneath each post.  Feel free to write a comment and I will deliver this to the kids.  Second, click on the photos to see them full screen.  For some reason, I am having trouble getting these to upload smaller...
We just left Maddie and Skylar's homestay where we had a wonderful dinner of Pollo, arroz, and pappas fritas, which was followed by some soccer in the courtyard.  As we left, Maddie and Skylar were going to play spoons with their brother Edu, which they taught him last night.  Your children might return asking for some tea after a meal; this is a Peruvian custom that many of the kids have adopted.  For lunch, we ate with John and Shaun and their homestay mother Lucy and her daughter Ellianne.  We learned from her that there are many families in Ollantay who want to be and apply to be host families, but they don't meet the criteria.  I believe all of the families with whom the kids are staying have had at least three other children from past trips stay with them.  These families take their job very seriously and know how to make the experience work well for the kids.  The St. Anne's students are handling these experiences beautifully.  They understand how generous the families are being to host them and they are taking great strides to connect with parents and children to show their appreciation.  I know you are proud of your children for what they are doing, but, I have to say, you would be blown away by how gracious and mature your children are acting.  We are feeling a lot of pride for how well they are representing themselves.  Now to the day's events...
We gathered this morning at 8 am, and after sharing stories about the homestays, food, beds, etc., The day began with a goofy game led by Carver (who is going by Roberto, because his homestay family struggles to say Carver) where the kids had to act out on command a palm tree, Charlie's Angel, or an Elephant.  There were a lot of laughs.  Then we got day packs ready, loaded up on snacks and set out on a walk to Pinkulluna, one of the Inca Ruins in Ollantay.  It is not knows for sure exactly what these ruins were, but it is believed they were seasonal food storage located on the side of a mountain. The highlight of our day occurred when we got to the top; a band that is a part of the festival that going on in the village was playing at the ruin.  They asked us to dance while they played so they could film it.  So, for about 4 minutes our group grabbed one another's hands and danced in the Incan ruins ont eh side of a mountain!  Afterwords, Kristina aptly commented that, "This is like a dream.  We are dancing to music played just for us in an Incan ruin."  She was correct! It was a wonderful and surreal moment where the group came together beautifully and thoroughly enjoyed the moment.  The hike down took a while; we stopped at more ruins, a cave, and did another curriculum piece: the stages of group dynamics. 
When we returned to town, the kids headed back to their houses for lunch with the families.  Many of them got a little bit of free time before they were required to be home, at which time they shopped for panchos, bracelets, hats, and junk food.  We made plans to meet at the soccer stadium, and to our pleasant surprise many of the host families joined.  We had a heated match where the stars of the game were the locals; in particular, Will and Roberto's homestay father, Rosario, had at least a hat trick, Shaun and John's homestay brother dribbled circles around us all, and the man who owns the hostel where we stayed the first night, Carlo, helped Angela and me save face for all of the trash we were talking.  Wow we have met a lot of folks here! It was another great moment, where the kids realized that playing soccer in a mountain town in Peru does not happen to them every day. 
After soccer, we gathered for the ceremony led by the Incan Shaman.  I feel confident in saying that all of the kids did not know what to expect going into this, and they certainly experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment.  The Shaman is an elderly man who walked out of the mountains this morning with one of his assistants to meet with us.  He told stories, talked about the [lost] ways of his ancestors, made connections to Native Americans or indigenous people in the US, and empowered the kids to do great things in their lives and to change the world!  It was powerful and the kids participated beautifully and appreciated his words.  The ceremony took longer than we expected, because the Shaman ended with a hug circle that the kids did not want to stop.  I think they all enjoyed giving and getting some hugs!  The day ended here and everyone went back to their homestays for dinner. 
Tomorrow we will meet in the plaza at 8 am and then go with an artist where we will make some Peruvian ceramics.  It is the final day of the festival; we will see the final dances and try to have dinner as a group.  We want to be considerate of the families and allow them to participate in the festivities! 

Angle, Susan, Adele, and have been blown away by your children.  They are doing so well and getting the most that they can out of every experience they encounter.  Hasta manana!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 2

Day 2 has come to a close and the kids are getting settled with their host families.  Susan, Angela, Adele, and I will make the rounds to visit all of the families before they go to bed tonight.  You would be so proud of your children; they greeted their host mom, dad, brothers and sisters with excitement, kindness, and respect.  They were all very excited to shower their families with the gifts that you so generously provided.  Here is a round-up of our day:
The kids got a great night sleep; we woke up at 7:30, took WARM showers and ate an American breakfast of bread and scrambled eggs.  Afterwords, we worked on the first curriculum piece entitled "Why Are We Here". It was a nice beginning to the day and the kids shared great insights.  We were picked up by our raft guides at about 9:15 am and traveled to the put-in spot.  Donned in wetsuits, spray jackets, life vests, and helmets, we paddled for about 2 hours. The first part was an enjoyable, scenic cruise and then we got to ride class 1, 2, 3, and 3.5 rapids to the finish.  There were some water fights and all of the kids "tried" swimming in a Peruvian river, Urubamba River; some chose this and others did not.  I expect to see some payback throughout the trip. 
Our rafting trip ended at a restaurant surrounded by Inca ruins and mountains.  The scenery here is spectacular, and we are all constantly wondering how we deserve to be in such a beautiful spot.  Lunch consisted of squash soup, grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and a dulche de leche (sweet milk) crepe.  WOW!  What a treat this meal was.  The kids have been so polite at every meal, and they eat with gusto.  At my house, I get to graze all off my kids plates for leftovers.  So far, either the kids clean their plate or Maddie beats to the leftovers.
We came back in to Ollantay just in time to see Adele's husband, son, and nephews dancing in the festival.  The costumes are amazing, and each year something new is added by a family member to the clothes and/or mask.  After the dancing, we went back for some downtime; the kids showered and packed for the transfer to their host families.  Before they left, we took some time to discuss cross cultural situation and gave the kids some tools to help navigate how to be polite and take care of themselves while with the host families.  They were great during this exercise and appreciated the content.  Then, we had cake with our host families, and the girls started a soccer game with some of their Peruvian brothers and sisters.  Incidentally, Angela and I got a small taste of how you might have felt at the airport.  As the kids were leaving, we had pangs of guilt, saddness, loneliness, and pride, especially as they happily and gracefully scooted off with the new Peruvian families. 

The leaders for today were Tierney and John.  They did a great job set the bar very high for tomorrow leaders, Kristina and Carver.  Speaking of tomorrow, we will reunite at 8 am, then spend some more time getting familiar with the town while watching some more of the festival.  We got very lucky with the timing of this trip; it is not too often, that we get to see a festival like this and then get to know the participants intimately.  We will have the opportunity to meet a Shaman tomorrow afternoon and learn about the modern-day connection to Incan culture and spirituality. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 1

So, Day 1 is almost in the books.  As I write, the kids are in the town plaza with Angela and Susan completing a scavenger hunt in order to familiarize themselves with the town.  They are lucky, because as they work in groups to familiarize themselves with the town the annual festival called Pentecastes is taking place.  There is dancing with elaborate music and costumes, and many of our host families as well as Adeles husband are participating.  The kids continue to keep great attitudes and take advantage of their experience in Peru.  Here is our day...

We caught a 10 am flight from Lima to Cuzco on Taca airlines.  The airplane was way nicer than the United flight we took from Houston, and most of the kids slept. After arriving in Cuzco, we were greeted by Susan, Adele, Adele's daughter, Lida, and our driver Gilmer.  Before leaving town we stopped to exchange Dollars for Soles.  The drive to Ollantaytambo was magnificent. The scenery, the farms, small villages, and so on kept us captivated.  While many of the kids slept at some point during the trip, they enjoyed the breathtaking scenery at some point.  The four boys, however, stayed awake and serenaded all of us with some acapella.  We arrived in Ollayantaytambo and got settled into our hostel, the Full Moon Hostel.  The facilities are new and come with hot water!!!!  After a brief game and some ground rules, we ventured in to town for a late lunch and watching the dancing.  We ate a delicious quinoa and vegetable soup, chicken with gravy and potoatoes and drank a local favorite called Chicha Morado, or purple corn. Incidentally, tomorrow is the highlight of the festival so our timing is perfect! Soon, we are headed to dinner at a local restaurant and then back to the hostel for an early bed time.  We all need to catch up on some sleep before we go river rafting tomorrow followed by the festival!

As has been the case for most of our trip, the group continues to laugh.  One favorite moment today came from a boy in the group who said during a game, ¨I am not sure what color my eyes are, because when any person looks into my eyes, all they see is heaven!  The kids are doing terrific and dealing with the travel and cultural differences beautifully.  They make our job easy and it is a treat to be in this beautiful place with them.  More to come tomorrow. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

in lima!

We arrived safely in Lima, and we are getting settled in the Hostel. The kids are wired and have a short night ahead of them. More travel tomorrow: a plane ride to Cusco and a bus trip Ollantaytambo. Some memorable quotes as we got off plane:
`It smells wierd here. I feel like I am swimming in a pool of sweat.

It took a while for our luggage to come up, but no worries. We got all of the luggage and all the kids are getting quiet as I write. Lots of reminders about drinking only filtered water and no toilet paper in the toliet.

We are very impressed with the kids`attitudes and positive spirits. Look for more new to come tomorrow.