Monday, April 17, 2006

April 17, 2006 - Peru




The city of Arequipa is one of many beautiful churches and
cathedrals. Specifically, around the Plaza de Armas is the
cathedral that stretches the city block. During Holy Week,
Arequipeños boast that their observances of the days of
Semana Santa (holy week) are as 'good' as those in Seville.
With the volcano El Misti and the white capped Andes
looming everpresent, we enjoyed the festivities and
excitement a city can bring. We used this time to make
preparation into Canyon Country.
This area is known for the two deepest canyons in the whole
world and where you can see at least 3 out of the 4 of the
camelid family (alpacas, llamas, vicuños). And being the
adventurous soul I am, I figured I´d better check it out
for myself. We heading up into the mountains through tiered
farmland and small villages that have a stone archway at
each entrance welcoming us. It is a much slower pace of
life here and such amazing and beautiful scenery. We made
our way up and past 15,000ft and up to the village of
Cabanaconde. From here we hoisted our packs and began our
trek into Cañon de Colca, meaning canyon of souls. It is
named as such because they used to bury their tribes chiefs
and important people into the canyon wall caves by lowering
them with a rope like material.
For hour upon hour we decended to the canyon floor where
each switchback brought beautiful wildflowers of all
colors, loads of different cacti and picturesque views. It
appearred as almost a fake backdrop. Apparently it is twice
as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Once we came upon
the Rio Grande we crossed the bridge and began our ascent
of the other side through the small mountain and canyon
settlements. One very unique thing I continually noticed
was the channeling of waters from the peaks they did
through the settlements. As nightfall closed in and our
eyes stuggled to see the path, legs and lungs burning from
the altitude, the inclines and declines, we came to the
village of Cosñirhua. Here we stayed in a mud brick hut
that had dirt floors and bamboo tied framed beds. The
compound kitchen cooked over a wood fire and even the mule
had a lot to 'say' throughout the night. We spent the cold
night here very content in the settlement welcomed by the
local family. In the morning we set out across the canyon
and then once again decended upon the river by midday with
the sun pounding above. My friend, Jon and I continually
remarked how perfect some of the areas would be for an
ampitheatre and a music concert! Wouldn´t that be a scene.
After a stopover for lunch at an oasis where pools of water
from the canyon were collected and we took a dip, we had
our biggest challenge ahead. We ascended for the rest of
the day up and out of the severely inclined trail. With
every step you felt the altitude, the legs and lungs
burning. From hot afternoon sun to the late afternoon
breeze and snow falling on the peaks, the temperature
changed as the views became more and more remarkable. As we
finally came to the top and made the hour trek back to the
village, we were quite exhausted. On easter morning we
fought along with the local villagers to make the bus. As a
sidenote, the women here where these hand embroidered hats
that are almost peter pan-like in style. They also wear a 2
layered long colorful skirt where the bottom inches to a
foot are hand embroidered and the top one is pulled up and
pinned to the waist so it draps halfway down. Also
finishing off the ensemble is an intricately embroidered
vest and top. Quite impressive! The men don´t have any
specific dress, but all wear these hats that are a
combination of a cowboy hat and a sombrero.
Ok, so we made our way to Cruz de Condor to where the
condors roost and soar and then with the bus packed to the
gills standing room included, we went to this great town
for lunch called Chivay. Due to the holiday, our trekking
group that was split into 3 (a group that included 3
americans, a spanish, 3 Swedes, a dutch, 3 french, a welch,
2 peruvians and two crazy english!) put-putted our way back
to Arequipa in a broken down old bus. We went up and over
the pass where snow fell quite hard and our driver kept
stopping because our tires were missing some of the nuts
and bolts..I think we had 4 out of 6. Hours later and with
the English couple keeping us entertained with many ideas
for games and songs we finally made it back to Arequipa and
dropped to our beds!!! What an adventure....
After a breakfast on the balcony overlooking the plaza with
warm clear skies today, we reflected on the whole crazy few
days. Fun stuff...
Off back to Lima today (might try my hand again at surfing)
before completing the trip and into the Twin Cities on
Thursday night.
Look forward to seeing some of you soon!
Kristen

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Guyana - April, 2006


Nearly two months ago, “Scottie” – a member of my church – developed a serious blood infection in his left foot. The disease traveled quickly through his leg, and within a matter of days Scottie had to make an important life-changing decision: amputate or die. The thought of losing a leg was troubling, but Scottie had enough perspective to know that life with no leg was better than no life at all. And so, after a few hours in the operating room – Scottie’s leg was gone.

Scottie has every reason to be bitter about life: he lost a leg, and with that he lost a variety of life opportunities. No longer can he walk along the road. No longer can he ride a bicycle. No longer can he play football or cricket. No longer can he swim in the creek. No longer can he walk up stairs to visit friends or family. Scottie cannot afford a wheelchair, and even if he could, the gravel roads and various potholes make it nearly impossible to move. Before the operation, Scottie had two legs, a decent job, and the ability to spend time with others – but now is a different story. He is handicapped. He is limited. He is dependant. If there is anyone who deserves to be angry about life – Scottie is the one.

I visited Scottie in the hospital about twice a week for the past two months, and I must admit, it has not been an easy ordeal. The local hospital is a dreary place, dirty in appearance and depressing in spirit. The atmosphere is miserable, and there are many days I wish to avoid going inside. However, what I found amazing about the past months was that – each and every time I visited – I never saw Scottie in a bad mood. Never! He was never sad. He was never angry. He was never bitter. While I often dreaded walking into that hospital, nothing seemed to bother Scottie. And not only that, instead of focusing on the amputation of his leg, he constantly celebrated his second chance at life. Rather than obsessing over what he had lost, Scottie kept giving thanks for what he had gained. He kept telling me: “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m alive! I’m well!”

Three days ago Scottie was finally allowed to leave the hospital, and this morning was the first time I visited his home. Scottie lives in a broken-down one-room wooden shack, and in many ways it is more uncomfortable than the hospital. And while my initial reaction was to feel sorry for him once again, I simply could not, for I again I stood in awe of his positive attitude and jovial spirit. Instead of being depressed about the way his life was altered, Scottie was totally overjoyed to be resting at home. Once again, instead of thinking about what he had lost – Scottie kept reveling in what he had gained. Over and over again, he thanked God for sparing his life and he “could not wait” to get back to church.

I believe Scottie taught two major lessons during the past months. First, he taught me that attitude is something we choose. Attitude is not an emotion that comes and goes depending upon the situation or environment, but rather, attitude is something chosen on a day-to-day basis. Each day we choose whether or not we want to be thankful, and each day we choose whether or not we want to be positive and encouraging. Scottie proved this firsthand. Secondly, Scottie reminded me that the things we receive each day are often the first things we forget to give thanks for. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I thanked God for my two legs. I can’t recall the last time I gave thanks for my ability to walk down the street, drive a car, or climb stairs. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever given thanks for my two legs! Yet, thanks to Scottie and his ability to choose an amazing and positive attitude, I have been reminded that just because we receive something each day doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.

For me and for many others, the most frequent blessings are often the most likely to be ignored and unappreciated. Things such as: friends, family, food, clothing, health, and shelter – these are all blessings we receive each day – yet how many of us truly take the time to acknowledge them and give thanks? Living in Guyana has taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons I have learned is that nothing should be taken for granted and we choose an “attitude of gratitude” by giving thanks for each and every blessing we receive. Simply put, everything we receive is a gift – and we cannot lose sight of that.

With that being said, I wish to thank you for something I receive each day: your support and your prayers. Your continued love and encouragement is something I deeply cherish, and I ask for your continued prayers in the times ahead. Each day brings new struggles and challenges, but knowing that you are “walking alongside me” in this journey gives me strength that I simply do not posses on my own. Thank you for everything. I love you, and I couldn’t do this without you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With peace and love in Jesus’ name…

Brian

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

April 12, 2006




From Cusco we again borded the Perurail and headed south to
Puno. The 10+ hour trip provided much time to enjoy the
locals plowing their fields by hand, gathering their crops
and herding their wandering livestock. It would continually
amaze me how far away from a village these men, women and
children would be. The train climbed continually to its
peak at La Raya at over 14000ft. You could feel the
altitude creep in as the headache and headswing set in.
Once again, a call for the coca tea and balance came back.
From the surrounding snowy peaks we decended continually
out into rolling hills, pastures and mountains. How the
hillsides gave me a smile as it appeared as a planting
patchwork quilt of all shades on the steep slopes.
We came into the city of Puno, which is the main port city
to Lake Titicaca (pronounced tea, tea, ha, ha...we were
reminded time and again). It translates to grey or stone
puma as per the shape of the lake. The following crisp,
clear morning, we headed to the docks and out the Islas
Flotantes (floating islands). Now these were something so
unusual, so unique that I will never cease to be amazed at
the originality of it all. Litterally, the totora reeds
that are in and all around the lake are the essence to the
people. Over many, many years, the Uros people have
layered, tied and grouped together these totora reeds to
make a floating island or city that they live on with about
10-15 families per. It is so absolutely amazing. You get
off the boat on this floating village and it is kind of
spongy like and soft (for you farmers, like being in the
silage). They make everything out of these reeds...their
homes, furniture, boats, look out towers, buildings...so,
so much talent. This is how they live and function on
hundreds of these islands around the lake. What they do is
continue to put additional layers on top as the bottom rots
out and with their homes, they pick them up, put more reeds
down and there you go! I cannot wait to show you all
pictures of these amazing people and culture. From there,
we continued on for a couple hours on this highest
navicable lake in the world to Isla Taquille. It reminded
me of what I believe the Mediteranean looks like. Clear
blue green waters, the 7km long islands rolling hills
filled with flowers, traditional and yet colorful mud brick
home of the Amarya people and the mountains in the
distance, sun shining in a blue sky. We walked the whole
island and took in the people, the small villages and the
scenery. Uniquely, you can tell if men and women are
attached here by what they wear. Men all wear black
trousers and vest with a white shirt and woven, colorful
thick waistbelt, yet it is the hats they weave that are
unique. They are the woolen ones with the earflaps and men
are seen knitting around the island. If the hat is all red,
with multicolors, they are married. If red with white and
maybe a few colors, single. Women wear multilayered dressed
with leggings and bowler hats and a colorful shall or a
black one over their head. If married, the skirt is black
and if colorful, single. The final decent of the island
back to the boat took us walking through the stone arches
that overlook the lake and make for beautiful pictures. As
we made the 3 hour trip back to port under a spotless sky,
I couldn´t help but smile and pinch myself at the two very
unique and unbelievably wonderful traditional long standing
cultures I had just witnessed.
After a walk to the port and a climb up to Falcon Point at
4200m early this morning (which gave us some altitude
problems) overlooking the city of Puno and Lake Titicaca we
climbed aboard a very interesting local bus which took us
over the mountains and into Arequipa with the active
volcano El Misti and snowcapped peaks looming over the
city.
Phew........
All my best,
Kristen


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Sunday, April 9, 2006

April 9, 2006 - Peru












As the fresh bread, tomales and boiling maiz first hit the
streets before sunrise, we too made our way to the rail to
head from cusco to the famed aguas calientes and machu
pichu. Out of the city the train did not circle up the
mountain, rather it zig-zagged its way out of town, and
down into the valley. The Andes creeped in on all sides and
the topography of the land rolled from farmland and small
villages to a ferocious river with the mountains hugging
in. The trip was gorgeous and after about four plus hours
of observing the hardworking peruvians on their land and
the rushing waters we came to the end of the line at Aguas
Calientes (hot waters). This was a town that reminded me of
many skiing villages in the Rockies out west...mountains on
all sides, a rushing river with many pedestrian bridges
connecting both sides, and the excitement that travelers
bring. We we able to take in the hot springs shortly after
our arrival and then settled into the hostel as the
following morning we set out for machu pichu. We awoke
before dawn and made our way the 8km to the entrance area
to machu pichu. As the moring dew was still upon the area
and the clouds we still forming a luminous fog, our climb
decended upon our first view of the legendary inca empire
city of machu pichu. As many pictures as you may have seen,
they never would do justice to seeing it in person.
Although you may think that it is a place to just see, it
is actually a huge area that has hours upon hours of hiking
and exploring. We hiked to the surrounding area to see the
Inca bridge hanging from the rock face, we explored the
never ending ruins and then made the big pluñge. You have
the opportunity to hike the mountain next to machu pichu
and up to waynapichu. This is certainly not for everyone.
It is a 70 degree (truthfully, according to the
guides...reminded me of climbing your attic stairs) incline
up natural steps in zig zag patern for a minimum of an
hour. You are watching every step as your heart races and
the air thins. You finally come upon waynapichu and are on
the edge of dropping off the edge, winding up inca block
steps, through a small cave among the mountaintop ruins and
then finally hopping to the very pinnacle of wayna pichu.
Here I sat at the crux of the mountain feet dangling where
any false step would mean about a 9000 foot drop. With
Andes all around, the clouds lazily passing by, and a full
view of Machu Pichu below. A site I will never forget. Upon
walking about the ruins, getting up close and personal with
the alpacas, we finally said goodbye. We decided to hike
down the 8km back to the village and I have to admit that I
don´t think I have ever walking up or down so many steps in
6ish hours or so in my life. After taking in some 'fuel' we
finally borded the train and wound our way back through the
mountains, the pastures, the rushing river at sunset and
back to cusco.
This morning I awoke before dawn and even with sore
muscles, I hiked to the 40ft stutue of Jesus Christ that
overlooks the city with open arms. I took in some time with
the locals as they rode their horses and played morning
games of soccer and then went into the plaza de armas as
Palm Sunday was in full force. The beutifully handcrafted
palm crosses in multiple design were flying as the huge
cathedrals Quechua men and women chanting floated out of
the giant doors. The Peruvian guard marched and raised the
flags as the clear skies were in full effect.
All of these scenes, the sights, the smells never stop
delighting me.
Off to Puno tomorrow morning on the train....
Kristen

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Friday, April 7, 2006

April 7, 2006




this morning we were in the very euro-latino feeling lima
and after a wonderful couple of days in the big city
checking out parks, watching the surfers and taking in the
surf, relaxing, looking through the millions of handicrafts
and walking and walking and walking the days away we flew
into the andes to cusco. the scenery in was absolutely
breathtaking. the mountains and steeps green, dotted with
old inca ruins, plots of homes, pastures and farmland and
completely surrounded by an exciting and bustling old city.
i cannot yet put my mind around this city of cusco. of all
the traveling i´ve ever done, it may...be the most
incredible place i´ve ever been. such deep history and
tradition set amongst the advance of todays society. the
streets are as if in san fransisco made of old bricks,
stone and cobble...the plazas bustling with people both in
traditional quequecha (sp?) dress and those in working
clothes...centries old churches, and on and on and on. in
every little crack and crevace and doorway you duck into
there is a wonderful surprise hiding and waiting to be
found. for those who have done europe, it is in that style
of narrow, old streets, steep walkways and side steets and
a wealth of stories to tell over hundreds of years. we are
overlooking the city and the plaza de armas from our hostel
up on the mountain. we see terra cotta roofs for as far as
the eyes can see with people moving all around in the city
below. we made our way around today, stopping at an
adorable place for lunch, starting sucking on our coca
'candy' to help with the altitude (3400m), going down to
the train station for our tickets on the old rail (where we
will head up to the base of machu pichou to aguas
calientes) and then some shopping the handicrafts that
leave your head spinning. we will take in the hot springs
in aguas calientes and then head up to the famed machu
pichou and beyond on saturday. we will then come back to
cusco and spend a few days here. we will be fortunate as
their elections and also palm sunday will be upon our
return. we (me, a peace corps friend, friend from
minneapolis and jon whom we met in lima) will then take
another train on monday to the border and into bolivia to
the lake titicaca region and puno.
off now to hike straight up the 60 degree streets to our
hostel in the mountain overlooking the plaza from the
veranda. more to come...
kristen
thank goodness i know spanish!

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Thursday, April 6, 2006

April 6, 2006 - peru







hello all!
we made it safely to peru, albeit after quite a bit of time
in getting here. we had quite the travels through trinidad
and caracas, venezuela. but, all was safe and smooth and we
arrived in lima, peru last night. we are staying at a cute
hostel in the san isidro area and spent the day exploring
the city. we found so many neat things and it is quite the
haven of activity. sort of european/latino flavor. pretty
much walked the entire day from about 9 unitl 5 stopping
here and there, taking in some parks, cathedrals, down the
cliffs to the beach where the surf was enormous (complete
with surfers) and black sand. the temperature is really
comfortable and we actually didn't sweat just standing
still. spent some time in the main markets and cafe's and
they are amazing. there are an unbelievable amount of
gorgeous textiles, jewelry, pots, ceramics, paintings and
it goes on and on. it would be amazing to decorate a home
with the decor. my friend kristi comes in tonight and we
will probrably let her get her bearings about her tomorrow
and then we are thinking about heading right to the cusco
area near machu pichou. we may even fly as the buses are
extremely challenging and long. we will then use the old
train rails that still operate in the southeastern part of
the country (the only ones still doing so) and spend a good
deal of time there. just kind of going with the flow and
planning one day at a time. nice, relaxing, beautiful,
amazing! i can't help but wish you all could see what these
eyes are so fortunate to see. more to come as we head into
the Andes.
we should have pretty reliable internet along the way, so i
will try to keep up and fill you all in.
all my best,
kris

Saturday, April 1, 2006

April 1, 2006


Today is many thing to many people. Today is the first day of April, maybe one of the first days you've enjoyed spring, or even the first time you've brought out the sandals for the year. For me it is the end to this long journey of my Peace Corps service. I am not sure if I could ever really, truely articulate what I've been through here. It is an experience that has touched me so deep into my soul. I have found out a lot about myself, humanity and what so many around the world
live like each day in trying to get out of the poverty stricken struggles each new day brings. There are really so
many snapshots and mini movies that will forever be
imprinted into my heart and mind. Some challenging, like
the long gone innocence seen in the eyes of a child forced
by her family to sell her body for money, the smile and hug
of a 8 year old dying of AIDS who is making the most of
their time with you, the rage of violence in a scene
witnessed that resulted in death. I could paint these
pictures one upon the other, yet I would never wish them to
become "real" to you. Yet on the otherhand, I will also
never forget the many laughs, the unending conversations,
the beautiful country, the music, and the experiences of
simplicity that lit up my heart, my mind and my soul to the
power of another people living and fighting just like me to
'count' in this world. Although we may appear different
from a superficial level, when you strip yourself of all
you deem essential to your life, you realize that your
needs and what is important are not so different afterall.
I will certainly not begin to pretend that this country
continues to have its fair share of struggle, nor will I
back away from saying they have made great strides, but
they are a very young nation (gaining their independence
from the British in mid 60's) who fight for an identity and
efficient systems in many aspects of government and
society.
Today I am officially an RPCV (returned peace corps
volunteer...although technically displaced right now) and
am without a doubt a very different person than the one who
flew out of Minneapolis on a cold, blustery day 26 months
ago. I can honestly say that this experience has been a
roller coaster from my lifes lowest lows to highest highs,
yet in the end I am stronger for it. Without the support
and love that so many of you have shown me and the strength
you knowingly or not provided me, I wondered at times if I
could have made it through. So today, I thank you for being
a 'silent' partner in my journey and I look forward to
seeing many of you into the very near future.
All my best today,
Kristen
Ps. I am flying out to Peru tomorrow and will be traveling
for a couple of weeks around the country (and maybe some
into Bolivia and Chile's borders) and will arrive back in
the Minneapolis area late on April 20th.