Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Peru trip: Machu Picchu

2. Machu Picchu...

...was everything I imagined it would be. Our tour director really wanted us to appreciate the moment, so she put blindfolds on us so we couldn't catch a peek of Machu Picchu. She told us on the bus that the reason why she does this with her groups is because you will only have one chance to see Machu Picchu for the first time, and she wanted it to be a special one.

I started crying even with the blindfold on because I really couldn't believe it was all happening. Once, I took it off the tears flowed. Here's a video of me just after that moment happened.

After, our local tour guide Kosmo gave us a tour of the city. I was taking pictures of everything!

The Incans sculpted this stone to look like the mountain Wayna Picchu (young peak)
Wild llamas!
Beautiful stone work.
Honoring Hiriam Bingham who discovered the Incan city in 1911
Marvelous stone work. Just look at that!
Walking through the city
So happy to be there!
Our tour guide for the day, Kosmo
Utter beauty!
Luckily, we had another day at Machu Picchu which actually ended up being the better of the two days weather wise. Some of us had discussed hiking up Wayna Picchu, but it was sold out because it was high season. They can only have a certain amount of people on the mountain at a time which is why no one else was allowed go up the mountain. It wasn't always this regulated I was told, but with the rise in tourism, they had to do something to make sure that these sites would be preserved. Although we were upset not to go up Wayna Picchu, we did get tickets to hike up Machu Picchu mountain (which never appears in the pictures.) Supposedly, it had a better view. I wanted to try everything so I agreed to go. I was ultimately fine with not doing Wayna Picchu because I can do it if I go back to Peru. ;)

Climbing up the mountain was a way to experience what it would be like doing the Inca Trail without doing the 3 to 4 day trek. Boy was it tough!! It made me so glad that I was in shape, because it was physically challenging. I was soaked in sweat within the half hour. A few times I hugged the rocks because I was too scared to look down at the valley below.

While climbing the steep and narrow steps, I couldn't help to think about the Spanish climbing these chairs. They must have been cursing the day they stepped foot on South American soil. To be in a place they didn't know, tired and exhausted. How did they not just give up and go home? Meanwhile, the Incans who made the stairs could go up and down them no problem. I gained a new found respect for the Incans and had some sympathy for the Spanish who had no idea what laid ahead of them. It is so important for Spanish teachers to live the culture that they teach. There is nothing like first hand experience.

Great views!
Took this from the comfort of our train
Helping carry stuff for the hikers
You can see the hikers on the trail
My hat goes off to them! What an accomplishment!
Zoomed out so you could get an idea of the trail
My favorite picture! Couldn't have asked for a better day!
Heading out for the hike
I'm climbing to the top of that mountain!
Here we go! No turning back now!
Taking a breather. It was tough work!
This was my eye level. God, I love the Andes. 
So worth the hike! Being in shape pays off!
I did it!
We are about 1,000 feet higher than the city.
A closer look
Talk about confronting your fears!
The hike down
How long it took to hike up and down.

That wasn't it. Oh no, no. After making it to the top, I had a new found confidence. I had no fear going back down. I was ready for more. I pushed the boundaries, and I wanted to keep going. So after a hearty lunch at the lodge, two companions and I decided to do some more exploring. We decided to go to Intipunku (the sun gate) to see the hikers catch their first glimpses of Machu Picchu after spending 3 to 4 days on the trail. The views we got were nothing short of spectacular.

We are heading to where the clouds are on the left. That's Intipunku
A closer look of the Inca trail.
That winding road is for the bus which we took after the long day.
Hikers celebrating their huge accomplishment

The day at Machu Picchu turned out to be much more than checking something off my bucket list. I knew I was going to accomplish a professional goal, but I didn't expect I'd accomplish a personal one, too. There were more than a few times when I questioned what the heck I was doing climbing such a mountain, but I kept my focus and continued to put one foot in front of the other. I wasn't going to let fear and exhaustion win. I was so proud of myself for making it to the top, and the views were the reward for hard work.

It is so important for us teachers to have these moments too when we step out of our comfort zone. It helps us connect with our students who treat Spanish class as their own sort of Machu Picchu. It's one thing to say that they want to learn Spanish, but it's quite another to actually make it happen. They feel uncomfortable, they doubt themselves, and they grumble at the work we give them. They need us to cheer them on their way up to the top. We need to provide them with moments to enjoy the scenery on the way up because it gives them the motivation they need to keep going. Finally, when they make it to the top, they realize just how far they've come. To share in that joy with them is probably the best part of my job.

So, what's your Machu Picchu?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Peru trip: An introduction

I didn't think it was going to take me so long to post this. I was planning a post before my trip, maybe during, and definitely after. I even thought that I would be able to read "Turn Right at Machu Picchu" by Marc Adams. None of that happened. I decided it was best to soak it all in rather than be glued to any electronic device. Of course, once I got home, life took over. Finally, I have been frantically preparing the Spanish IV Honors curriculum which I might make a post eventually as a way to preview what I hope for the coming school year.

(What is finally forcing me to sit down and write about my experience in Peru is the fact that I will be in Colombia in two days. If I don't do it now, then it will be that much harder after.)

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I had to do some serious pre-orientation homework. I actually was so grateful for that because I went on the trip with a focus. I was particularly interested in the following things: Peru's geography and the effect climate changes are having on the people, the rise of the Incans and their subsequent conquest, and finally Incan legends. These three themes tied in so well with what I am preparing to teach in Spanish IV Honors, a curriculum I'm designing myself that the trip was well worth it from a professional point-of-view. (Obviously, it makes sense to teach about what you are passionate about and what you have the resources for.) My hope was to be able to supplement my curriculum with authentic materials and first hand accounts of Peru.

I will organize the rest of this post around the highlights of the trip. Let's start with food! My favorite.

1. Food

Peruvian food has grown in popularity in the last few years, and I could see why. There was barely a meal I didn't like. I ate everything. When my husband and I discuss food, we tend to say the food "me cayo bien." to technically say that it sat well with us. (A nice way to also say I didn't get an upset stomach which is an absolute nightmare for a tourist.) I tried as much food as I could since it was all so tasty. Sad thing of course is then missing all that new food you like since it's hard to find here.

A. Beverages - There were a lot of new things to try. Although I drank a lot of mineral water and coca tea for the altitude, I was still able to try some other stuff.

Guarana (a fruit from the Amazon) and the famous Inca Kola (which tastes like bubble gum fluoride)
Pisco Sour 
So happy to drink a mug full of passion fruit/granadilla juice. I was in heaven!
 B. Corn - Purple corn is one of the coolest things ever. Who would have thought that purple corn would make such delicious things? The yellow corn they have is out of this world as well.

Purple corn in its natural state (photo taken at the market in Cusco)
Mazamorra morada - This is so different than the Mazamorra in Colombia (which is corn with milk) This was more like a jelly/gelatin substance with corn and fruit. I liked it.  
By far my favorite purple corn product. It's called chicha morada. Delicious!! I couldn't get enough. 
Love chicha morada so much I brought home these candies. 
Great snack. Satisfies that crunchy/salty craving. 
Corn the size of my thumbnail!
C. Meat. Well, you didn't think I was going to Peru and leave without try their delicacies, did you? The two most exotic ones are alpaca and cuy (guinea pig). I definitely prefer the alpaca over the guinea pig.

This alpaca was cooked just right.
How much I really ate. I split it with 3 other people. The full one is below.
Here it is! 
D. Potatoes - Potatoes can be traced back to Peru (and not Ireland). You can imagine how happy this Irish girl was in a place like this. 

I got the courage up to ask the vendor about the different potatoes. I wish I recorded it. Basically, she said each variety has a different purpose. 
My favorite - Causa! I could eat this everyday. No joke.

Papas a la Huancaina - a fabulous side dish. Huancaina sauce has a corn and yellow pepper base.
More causa - a meal in itself
 C. Other - These are other iconic dishes from Peru.

(l-r) frijoles, ceviche, papas a la huancaina, causa, arroz con mariscos, and seco. 
Pollo a la brasa - By the end of the week, I was so ready for this meal. Pardos chicken lived up to all the hype. 
Stay tuned for more from Peru!