Peru Vacation

My husband and I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Peru for vacation at the end of May and beginning of June. I’ve finally had a chance to write out my trip journal and edit at 700+ photos. (And those are just the ones I kept!) Don’t worry, I won’t share all of those with you. But I did have such positive feedback sharing journals from previous mission trips that I decided to share this trip with you, too. It’s long, so I’ll be sharing one day at a time. Here are days 1 and 2…

Day 1: Tuesday, May 24

Last night we said our sad good-bye’s to Lil’ Miss K. Even though she knew we were leaving, I don’t think she had a concept of the length of time. We slept horribly and got up early for a 7:10 flight out of KCI, but unfortunately we had an hour flight delay. Our layover in Charlotte was only about an hour and a half, but we made up enough time on the flight to run to our next gate. We were the lucky few that barely made it – a lot of others on our flight had connections taking off about the time we landed. We flew from Charlotte to Miami, where we got Cuban sandwiches for lunch, then we departed for Lima, Peru. The flight was about 5.5 hours long. Our flight included about three rounds of snacks and drinks (including alcohol) and a big dinner. I saved back several items that I snacked on throughout the trip. We landed around 8:30 p.m., went through customs, said a “hallelujah” that our luggage arrived with us, and attempted to check in for our morning flight. After butchering some Spanish and not understanding a Peruvian airport security officer’s English, we finally figured out that the STAR Peru gate did not open until 3 a.m. We’d booked an extremely convenient, expensive hotel room at the Wyndham, which was attached to that airport. We got to enjoy very Western amenities and our first of several delicious Pisco sours at the hotel bar before heading to bed.

Day 2: Wednesday, May 25

We woke up at 5 a.m. to head across the street to the airport and check in for our flight. There was a long line, so we ran back to the hotel and ate from a big continental breakfast very quickly before heading to our gate. The rush was pointless – our flight was delayed about an hour. Then our flight was combined with another flight, so we no longer had a direct flight to Puerto Maldonado. We were a bit confused about what was going on with the language barrier – the English translations over the intercom were choppy and hard to understand. We quickly learned that delayed flights with STAR Peru were the norm. After all that, we got to sit on the plane for a couple of hours in Cusco waiting for our connection. Our total time, for what was supposed to be about an hour flight, was five hours. We finally arrived in Puerto Maldonado around 1.

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The airport had one runway, one baggage claim, and two waiting areas/gates. Luckily, despite the delay, there was someone from Rainforest Expeditions waiting with our names on a sign. What a relief! Not being able to communicate stressed me out, so having reliable guides was a lifesaver. We had to wait on the shuttle for one other flight to land, then Rainforest Expeditions took us and probably 10-12 other people to their office (right around the corner) so we could drop off luggage, check wi-fi, put on bug spray, and buy some water. From there, we had about a 45-minute bus ride (where we were given a snack of a mini banana and a few sugar-coated brazil nuts), then a 45-minute boat ride along the Tambopata River to the Posada Amazonas eco lodge, primarily run by locals from Infierno. The boat was relaxing and cool, and we got our first meal – a delicious rice/egg/vegetable mixture wrapped in a large leaf.

Our boat docked along the bank, we took a steep flight of wooden steps into the rainforest, and after just a few minutes of hiking, we saw a pack of monkeys! Although there are a lot of monkeys in the rainforest, you don’t just happen upon them like you may imagine, so it was pretty exciting to see them right off.

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After a 10-minute hike to the lodge, we had a quick briefing and were given just 10 minutes to drop off our stuff in our rooms and start a hike to the canopy tower before dark. The room was so nice! Two queen beds with mosquito nets, open air to the forest, and a simple, yet nice bathroom.

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There were 9 of us in a group with our super-knowledgeable and easy-to-understand guide – Robin. We saw such diverse vegetation on the 20-minute walk to the canopy tower!

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We climbed the 120 steps to the top of the tower, feeling it sway from all the people, then made the final ascent up a ladder for a fantastic view of the top of the dense rainforest. We didn’t see much wildlife, but we did catch a beautiful sunset.

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After climbing down, it quickly got dark, so Robin took us to see a tarantula living beneath a tree near the path. Despite my arachnophobia and its massive size, I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought I’d be, perhaps because we were in its habitat vs. the other way around, or perhaps because it obviously wanted to crawl back into its den to hide. Approaching the lodge we saw another giant spider – a Brazilian wandering spider – which Robin said was very poisonous. Only when we looked it up later did we realize it was the deadliest spider on Earth. Robin had actually grabbed our phones and taken a close-up photo only a couple inches away from it!

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We had a late dinner after the hike. All the food at the lodge was delicious! Tonight we had chicken pesto spaghetti and quinoa soup. I slept pretty poorly that night, not being used to all the animal sounds that never seemed to die down.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 7

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

Friday, July 24 – We ate breakfast quickly and headed to the village a little earlier than normal to say our good-byes. We only had about 45 minutes there, and I started crying as soon as we arrived as I saw the kids run to Abby – I knew how much they’d miss her (and the rest of us), and maybe more importantly, how much I would miss them.

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Our family arrived at the community center (minus Jorge who couldn’t get off work), and there were lots of hugs and a few more tears. We walked to their temporary home since their Project H.O.P.E. house hadn’t yet been started aside from post holes, and we were lucky enough to have the interpreter Evelyn follow along with us. Since we had her with us in the beginning, we decided to go ahead and pray together and talk briefly. We told each other we’d continue to pray for each other and that we were so grateful to have met each other. Even after Evelyn moved on, we were still able to communicate much better than our first visit to their home. They opened their rice sacks of clothes and seemed to enjoy looking at them. We gave Sebastian a small board book of Lil’ Miss K’s that was in both Spanish and English – he knew immediately that it was just for him and wouldn’t let anyone else look at it. It was adorable to see how he clung to it! We gave him a couple other small trinkets too, and we gave Gizelle another apron, Jorge a donated baseball cap, and Estphanie a pair of cute pink converse sneakers, which she seemed excited about. Even though they have almost nothing, they gave us gifts too – a brightly-colored Nicaraguan napkin holder and a hanging key holder that says, “My God, where are the keys?” in Spanish. Earlier in the week we gave them a photo of our family.

Us with our Nicaraguan family
Us with our Nicaraguan family

After watching Sebastian play for a bit and taking a couple more selfies with them, he headed back up to the community center for a few more minutes. Estphanie and I played some clapping games, then we exchanged many more hugs and had to leave. I remained composure until we got on the bus, when I saw several other ladies crying too, and we saw them all waving vigorously good-bye. It’s hard to believe we’ll soon be going back to our normal, comfortable lives, and they’ll still be in the village, where they’ll be doing the same thing over again next week with another group of missionaries. I only hope we touched their lives half as much as they touched ours.

Next, we headed to Granada, a big tourist city in Nicaragua. It took about two hours on the extremely hot school bus, so the drive was pretty miserable. We arrived at a boat dock, had a bathroom break and bought some tasty roasted cashews from vendors, then hopped on about 3 boats for a tour of Lake Nicaragua. We got to navigate through some semi-narrow canals filled with what looked like a type of lilies on the water – it reminded me of a picturesque rainforest that would be on Discovery Channel – it was absolutely gorgeous!

Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Local fishermen
Local fishermen

About 15 minutes into the boat ride we started seeing giant homes on the water … we finally found where the few rich people in Nicaragua live. Halfway through the boat ride we came upon an island that inhabited a handful of spider monkeys – I’m not sure if they were native to the island or if they were placed there for the tourists, but they were definitely tame. They recognized one of the boat drivers and hoped onto his boat for a while. It was kind of surprising to see well-off Nicaraguan tourists on the boats too.

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The boat driver picked this pod from a tree and it opened up in a beautiful flower

After the boat ride, we went to an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake where we had chicken, steak, or pork entrees. The best part of the meal was the plantain chips, which were kind of like sweet French fries. It was nice to have a bit of time to relax and unwind after a week of work and an emotional morning. After the restaurant we went to a market, where we had about an hour and a half to shop – not nearly enough time, especially for my cousin Cyndie, who had 6 kids to buy for. Most of us bought fruit smoothies, and even though we took a risk with the Nicaraguan water, none of us got sick that I’m aware of. I bought a dress, sandals, and baby hammock for Lil’ Miss K, a couple souvenirs for our niece and nephews, Nicaraguan coffee, and a woven bracelet for myself.

At an open-air restaurant in Granada
At an open-air restaurant in Granada
View from the restaurante
View from the restaurante

After we left the market we had to endure about 2 more hours on the hot, uncomfortable bus back to basecamp. It might have been the worst part of the entire week – I felt pretty bad by the time we got back. We ended the evening with steak, which was probably my least favorite meal of the week. Every night we had a different kind of fresh-squeezed juice – my favorites were the watermelon juice, dragon fruit juice, and something similar to limeade. The passion fruit juice, which we had a lot in Haiti, was also delicious. They also had a dark purple juice that tasted like cinnamon that a lot of us didn’t really care for. And because we wanted to continue with the trend, we stayed up just a bit later than the previous night, going to bed after midnight.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 4

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Tuesday, July 21 – The women and men split up today. The men went to the village to work until sometime in the afternoon, when a few of them visited a jail (that housed about 75 men and 2 women crammed into a few cells), and all of them went to Furia Santa, which was a rehab facility. They played the Furia Santa guys in a game of baseball, and I hear they lost because the Nicas cheated. 😉 The women started the day with a very scary/bumpy bus ride to the House of Hope – an organization trying to help women get out of prostitution, which is legal in Nicaragua.

Road to House of Hope
Road to House of Hope

Although they are technically supposed to be of-age, I believe they said the average age of entry was 11. (Two years younger than the U.S.) We had the opportunity to purchase jewelry and cards made by the women at House of Hope, which they do every Tuesday during a weekly spiritual program – for many, the crafts are the only “honest” income they get. I think there were probably 80-100 women there. For those who want to enter the program full time, they offer basic housing to stay in for 4 years with very strict rules. They receive training and a small microloan to begin a business. If they are still in the program after those 4 years, they are given a bigger microloan and a home off-site, and they have slightly less strict guidelines to follow. If they stick with it 5 more years, the house is theirs and they graduate the program. We got a tour of the facility and watched a bit of the morning sermon, then gave out sunglasses and just hung out with some of the younger girls. And when I say young, I mean really young. They were covered in makeup and wearing slightly more provocative/feminine clothing than all the other Nicas I had seen. But they were joking around, acting like typical teenagers – it breaks my heart to think of what they’ve already had to endure.

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A woman walking along the outskirts of the dump

Next we went to the dump, where people actually live. I was expecting to see homeless people around the edge of a landfill, but we stopped a couple of blocks out, because it can get quite dangerous the farther in you travel. There was a group of kids already at a building (which was recently purchased by Project H.O.P.E.) having Bible study, I think. We played music with them with Sariah’s musical instruments, and not a single piece walked away when it was time to leave. Amie and I served them lunch – one ladleful of rice, and one spoonful of soy protein mix. It didn’t smell appealing at all. They all had old bowls (sibling usually shared one), and ate it with their fingers. After serving lunch, we headed back to basecamp for our own lunch of sandwiches.

Small education center near the dump
A small education center near the dump
Playing music at the dump
Playing music at the dump

In the afternoon we visited the women’s cancer hospital, adjacent to a women’s hospital in Managua. As an employee of the American Cancer Society, I was really looking forward to this experience. I have to say, I’ve never wanted to end cancer as much as I did while I was there. It was hot – there was no airflow whatsoever. The women were all laying around aimlessly in a room full of beds lining the wall, but when we got there, they began to rise and graciously accepted our hugs, and their eyes just lit up. Claudia, one of the Project H.O.P.E. staff/interpreters, created a really fun and energetic atmosphere with games and music. While we were doing games, 4 women from our group went into rooms where women were getting chemotherapy and prayed over them. They said it was really emotional. We finished off our time there by painting their fingernails and toenails. One lady wanted all her red nail polish removed and French tips added, which took me quite awhile. It was a rewarding experience.

Housing at the women's cancer center
A room for about 40 women to stay at the women’s cancer center. Makes me appreciate the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge!
These men were peaking in the window watching the activities at the cancer center
These men were peeking in the window watching the activities at the cancer hospital
Music and dancing at the women's cancer hospital
Music and dancing at the women’s cancer hospital
Painting nails
Painting nails

Back at basecamp, we cleaned up and ate meatballs, rice, and mushroom sauce for dinner. We stayed up late and played Phase 10 with several of the others in our group.

I forgot to mention that on Sunday night we tried to Skype with Lil’ Miss K, which was a complete disaster. She started bawling when she saw us, so we decided we’d better not attempt it again the rest of the trip. Luckily we had Wi-Fi at basecamp so we were still able to hear from the grandparents each day.

Project 52 Week 29: One of the most beautiful places on Earth

I just got back from a family vacation to Glacier National Park! We flew to Seattle and took an Amtrak train to the park. I’ve traveled a bit and seen many beautiful places, but I think Glacier is the most underrated national park in the US. It’s so unique because of the way the colorful mountains were formed by glaciers, along with all the wildlife and flora. It saddens me to think that the glaciers will be gone by 2020, mostly due to global warming. We got so lucky with temperatures in the 70s, clear skies, and almost no wind. Today it was 105 degrees in Kansas City; I already miss it!

My nephew looks out the train window as we travel through Washington.
A three-mile hike through patches of snow lead us to a spectacular view of Hidden Lake.
This little lamb was just one of many sheep we saw on the Hidden Lake trail. The animals in the park clearly have no fear of humans, as they just grazed near the trail and ignored the hoards of people photographing them.
An early morning view of Swiftcurrent Lake in East Glacier.
There are many beautiful wildflowers throughout Glacier National Park; I thought this was one of the most unusual.
A view from the top of our four-mile hike to see Grinnell Lake. The hike was supposed to be eight miles and take us to Grinnell Glacier, but unfortunately half of it was closed due to hazardous snow and ice. The lakes in the park are turquoise due to the glacial ice melt and the sediments it leaves.
We woke up to a large black bear grazing on berries about 50 yards from our cabin! This was the third bear sighting of the trip.
The wide-open Montana sky led to the perfect opportunity for me to photograph stars (a first). I took this photo around midnight as cattle trucks were unloading cattle a few miles from the park.
A one-hour time exposure of stars passing over the Montana sky.
Tattoo, the guard llama at the alpaca farm were we stayed, blocked the driveway as we tried to leave the last morning.