The Amazon and Back Again

As I sit on this extra-long plane ride home from Dallas, (thanks Air Force One) I have decided to finally finish writing about my trip to Peru. I left off returning home from Machu Picchu tired and excited. I had a free day before I had to go back to school and then that night I would take the bus to Puerto Maldonado (Peruvian Amazon). I did most of my packing before school, but it didn’t even dawn on me that I was supposed to check out of my room and remove my belongings since I wouldn’t be sleeping there. I ended up having to pay for the extra night, but luckily it wasn’t expensive. My silly mistake. I grabbed my bags and took a cab to the bus stop. The bus we were on was pretty fancy in my opinion, and I had a killer seat. I sat on the top level, right up front. It was a single seat with no one behind me. The closest people were across the aisle. They had free movies, and I was getting into my book. It was an overnight bus, meaning I left at 9pm and was arriving at 7am, so I knew sleep was crucial. In between cat naps I would look out the window and watch the rain fall and the scenery change. I was going from 11,000 feet high in the Andes to Sea Level in the jungle. I could see the condensation on the bus windows and feel the humidity. I finally dozed off for quite some time only to be awoken by the bus making a sudden stop and people getting on board. It was the Peruvian Military, and when they came on I could vaguely understand they were asking for passports. I handed the man my passport, he looked at it, looked at me and then returned it. He did the same to my neighbors across the aisle and then asked me for mine again. I assumed he was looking for my visa slip which I kept in a different location so it didn’t slip out of my passport. Everywhere and everyone in Peru wants to see your passport. I handed it to him a second time, he checked everything out and then returned it back to me. He left the bus with some of the local’s id cards and returned later to hand them back. I guess he was cross checking their names on some database. I found out later that he also took some passports from the lower level off the bus and returned them later. I think I would have been nervous had a scary looking foreign military man that I cannot communicate with took my passport out of my sight. Everything ended up okay. I guess they do random stops to make sure no one on the bus had been reported missing or is on a known list. Safety precautions. I arrived in Puerto Maldonado and boy was it humid. I hadn’t felt that type of humidity in a long time. Luckily I showed up during a “storm” (it was overcast), so I wasn’t getting all the heat. I found the man with the sign waiting for my group and he took us to our destination. We were to hang out at the headquarters of our lodge while we waited for everyone else to arrive before we could take the boat to our lodge. I was definitely tired and ready for a shower. We got a home cooked breakfast from the neighbors who were originally from Morro Bay, California. It was delicious. The boat ride down the Made de Dios River and it was was long. It felt like forever before we reached Planet Amazon. I liked the lodge. I got my own private bungalow (because I was travelling solo), and we had all our meals cooked for us. I was there for two nights and everything was led by a guide.  I thought the main lodge area might have wifi but it did not. I was okay with the idea of being separated from the online world for a while, but I had told a few people I would take to them that night, so I was hoping they wouldn’t worry. We went on guided walks looking at the flora and fauna and keeping an eye out for wild life. We visited a wildlife sanctuary, went Cayman spotting and on a night nature walk. We climbed a tree bridge that gave us an incredible view from the tree top. Since it was overcast the whole time I was there the weather was perfect and I didn’t have a problem with bugs. I had some pretty awesome people in my group, and luckily a few of them were taking the same night bus as I back to Cusco. Because of flights, we had to take the boat back to the main town quite early. Puerto Maldonado is not as big of a tourist town as Cusco, so it was nice getting a different view of Peru. I slept like a baby on the bus ride back, and this time no cops came aboard. The only bummer was we got back at 7am and you can’t check in until after 12, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed some breakfast and explored more around Cusco. This was it for me. I was going home the next morning. I bought any last minute trinkets and headed back to my room. I took a much needed shower and nap. Even though I slept on the bus, there is nothing like sleeping on a non-moving bed. I grabbed one last meal and hung out at the bar in my hostel one last time. I had an excellent time in Cusco. I was a little sad I wasn’t getting to explore more of Peru or South America, but I had been travelling for a long time and was ready to go home.

 

My School

I was up and ready for the taxi at 9am, but this is South America. He arrived at about 9:20, and told me the following days he would probably be there around 9:15. I was told to not bring a lot, so I had change for my bus ride home, my cell phone, and a water bottle. I arrived at the school and was greeted by a male teacher. He did not speak English, and I don’t really speak Spanish. I asked for the name of the principal, but she was not there. He showed me to another administrative type of lady who speaks a tad bit more English. She gave me a tour and then showed me to the Art room where the first male teacher I had met was sitting. He motioned me to sit down, and we had a bit of awkward silence since there is a language barrier. There were a few kids there. Most had some type of a disability,  and none spoke English. He showed me a drawing, and motioned that I copy it. I am a terrible artist, but I did my best. I drew and colored, and then the teacher perfected it. In the end it didn’t look half bad. Eventually the cook showed up, and she started preparing lunch. She didn’t speak any English as well. I believe at this point the main principal had showed up, and she told the cook I was there to help. My first day in the kitchen mostly consisted of peeling and chopping which I am terrible at. I’m used to all my first world kitchen tools, so to take those away from me I am almost useless in the kitchen. I would peel one potato by the time she would peel 5. But I was helping, kind of. As lunch time grew closer, another volunteer showed up. She was fluent in both English and Spanish. I was relieved to have a conversation with someone that didn’t require sign language. We had some downtime before lunch, so I sat in the sun. Mary Ann, the other volunteer, said sometimes she brings a book, because there is often downtime around lunch. I don’t remember exactly what we had for lunch my first day, but I have yet to have a bad meal. After lunch, the 3rd volunteer, Lauri, showed up. I was going to help her teach English in the afternoons. Mary Ann is there a few days a week and she helps with homework. The first day of class was quite interesting. We have two groups. Basically the young kids and the older kids. They knew a little bit of English, but not as much and I thought they would. They were also quite wild. Everyone would talk at once. They were easily distracted. They constantly kept coming and going out of the room. It made for an exhausting first day. Luckily Larui was taking to same bus as me home. Only difference is she got off earlier than I. The bus turned out to be the easiest part of my day. No issues getting on, with the ride, or getting off. The second day of school was very similar. I did some painting in the art room in the morning, helped out in the kitchen before lunch. I brought a book, so I sat in the sun and read a bit until it was time to teach the kids after lunch. The kids were still rambunctious. They would slide on the floor, the older ones would play on their phones, and they loved to write on the dry erase board. Some kids were better at English than others, they all seemed interested in learning, but some were more easily distracted than others. I would essentially be at school from 9-6 everyday. So when I got home from school, I would eat, relax for a bit, and then go to bed. Outside of school I would either hang out at an Irish Pub or my hostel. On Cinco de Mayo, I went to the only Mexican restaurant in central Cusco, along with every other American. I kept wishing everyone a Happy Cinco De Mayo, and expressing my excitement for tacos and margaritas, and everyone thought I was a weirdo. Except all the Americans at the restaurant. They knew what it was about. Turns out they was a group of about 75 all travelling together on a Remote Year. I don’t feel like explaining what that means. You can ask me privately if you are interested in learning about it. Thursday was probably the best day for the kids. They were calm, and active, and you could tell they were really learning. It was a beautiful moment as a teacher. That Thursday morning when I showed up, I didn’t see anyone. No teachers, just two kids. I think an administrator was upstairs. I sat in the sun and read. I was reading a really good book so I didn’t mind. Friday was a half day for me. I was only at the school for a few hours. I didn’t even finish helping with lunch. I was going on a city tour which is why I left early. I’ll explain my weekend in a different post. Monday I returned to school, as I did on Tuesday. I was only working two days that week because I was leaving for Machu Picchu on Wednesday. I had a lot to do before my trek. It was kind of a sad moment because that Tuesday was my last day volunteering with both Mary Ann and Lauri. We had a mini picture day before class. The younger kids were all about taking pictures, but only one girl from the older group would take a picture, and she was all about the selfie. I have one more day of volunteering, and that is Monday, or tomorrow. I will have one familiar volunteer, John, and one new one. The new one is replacing Larui, and John rotates days with Mary Ann. I have enjoyed my volunteering experience. Everyone was really friendly. The kids might be wild, but they have a good heart. I will miss everyone.

Peru take 2

Alright well that didn’t take as long as I thought. So my flight to Peru was over 24 hours long. And I did not receive a proper nights sleep in almost 3 days. It may have been the most confusing 3 days of my life. We left for SFO at 2 am. My flight was at 6:50 am. I landed in El Salvador 1:40 my time. And then I left El Salvador at 8pm, to arrive in Lima at midnight, to leave for Cusco at 3am and to make it to my final destination at about 5am. Long day. And of course, no one lets you check in early, So I took a seat on a bean bag chair and passed out. I’m sure that was a sight to see. The El Salvador airport was something less to be desired. Hardly any restaurants, shops, and limited wifi. I found a place I could nap. Then when my gate was announced they would let me access it. It was behind a extra screening system. And even when the “be at your gate time” had come and passed they still wouldn’t let me through. They was a group of us and we were all very confused. Turns out the extra screening was for flights going to the US. Since we were headed to Peru, we had to wait until all the US bound people had left, so they could shut down the screening and let us through. No extra bag check. No one could explain this to us. And darn USA and their extra security checks. I arrived in Lima and immigration and customs was a breeze thank goodness! They made me put my bag on a x-ray machine, which I’m thinking now might of been for drugs. The only two countries that have ever x-rayed my bag was Costa Rica and Peru. I’m pretty sure they are looking for drugs. So after arriving in Cusco and taking my nap on a bean bag, I decided to explore around the city. I have been to quite a few places, and have met people from all over the world. I hadn’t really experienced a language barrier until then. Even in Italy most people could understand me or speak English. The language barrier has its perks. When street vendors try to pester me I honestly don’t understand them. Cusco is a city where there is something always going on and the sun shine brights. One of my first purchases was a hat. There was a parade going on in the main plaza, and it was relaxing to soak up some sun and watch the dancers and the musicians. I did retreat to my hostel and take a nap once I was able to check in. The following morning I had a meeting with the “principal” of the school I would be volunteering at. She runs the school, but it isn’t a traditional school like what I am used to in the US. That Monday was a school holiday, so I had another full day to explore the city. I spent a lot of time aimlessly wondering around. I had a map, but I found the city hard to navigate around. I got things ready for my first day of school. I was told the kids usually show up in the afternoon, so in the morning I would probably help in the kitchen and there was an art room. It was definitely going to be a new experience for me.