The week started out great…we were going to Machu Picchu! That’s about the only thing that’s gone well this week, though…
First, due to recent political strikes causing a back-up at Machu Picchu, we had at leave at 3:30 am instead of the planned 7am or so…then my friend Marc and I somehow got mixed up and thought it was 3am instead of 3:30, so she and I got up a half hour before we needed to and were wandering around downstairs wondering where everyone else was at 3 in the morning! Then our 1+ hour bus ride to the train station was one of the coldest experiences I’ve ever had, feeling colder than the north pole even though I was wearing two pairs of pants, four shirts, and a coat…and our bus driver was terrible…he was weaving all over the road (the curvy mountain road), and when we asked him to turn on the heat he turned on the AC. The 2-hour train ride wasn’t much warmer, and when we got to Aguas Calientes, the town right below Machu Picchu, it was raining. When we got it Machu Picchu (another freezing 25-minute bus ride) it was so foggy and misty we could hardly see a thing, but at least we began it warm up. And it did clear up after about an hour, and we all had a great time exploring and hiking around the ancient Inca civilization.
When we were ready to head back, however, our problems only continued. Our 2:35 train was 2 ½ hours late (they said it had broken down or something)…and by the time it came the people for the 4:20 train were also waiting. What ensued was mass chaos as hundreds of people tried to shove their way onto the train in hopes of making it to their assigned seats first before the other trainload of people…we couldn’t even figure out which coach was ours. No sooner had Eric and I gotten on what we thought was coach B and staked out our territory, then everyone started going crazy and insisting it was coach A. Pretty soon no one knew what coach it was. “They told me this is coach A!” “No, this is B!” “D? Is this D?” Finally it was confirmed that it was in fact A, and we had to shove our way through the masses yet again to reach our real seats. But it all worked out and we got our seats…things only got worse though, because then I started getting sick on the train ride back. And then the bus ride…we almost died! I kid you not, our bus driver passed every single other car, taxi, bus, and truck on the road, on blind curves and uphill stretches, once almost having a head-on collision!
Anyway, I still didn’t feel great Monday, and a bunch of other students were getting sick from eating pizza at Machu Picchu (I didn’t eat any pizza, so go figure why I was sick). And we had a 6+ hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno, with a bathroom that faced backwards, definitely designed by men, for men. And then once we got to Puno, I got locked out of my hotel room for more than an hour! And the front desk was super unhelpful (this is definitely NOT the U.S.). Then I hardly got a wink of sleep because my two roommates were talking really loudly in Spanish till 2am, and then I was up for another hour because I was feeling sick again.
Then we had to get up early to head to our village homestays, where we stay with families in the villages where we were working. Mine was in the village of Chijnaya, 2 hours away in this tiny van, squished in with all our luggage. By the time we got to Chijnaya, I didn’t feel well again, especially after touring the whole village and eating our welcoming lunch (potato and lamb soup – no, I didn’t eat any of the lamb – and rice and pasta with more potatoes). So I went to my homestay family’s home, and laid down and tried to sleep and feel better for the next seven hours, to no avail. Just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, my homestay father burst in to mention that I should probably lock the door because otherwise the dogs would get in during the night! Good thing too, because there was this huge dog fight outside my room during the night! Between that and the cows mooing, chickens crowing, pig oinking, and my family’s baby crying, I really didn’t get much sleep. Oh yeah, and the bathroom (if you could call it that) – which is actually just a hole in the ground surrounded by 3 ½ walls with no door – is located right in the middle of the cow pen, next to the pig sty, so I have to choose between risking getting kicked by one of my family’s enormous cows, or jumping over a pile of fresh manure. Oh yeah, and the food – I did eat breakfast the first day – rice, and the saltiest eggs I’ve ever tasted in my life (but at least they were fully cooked). Lunch – the same thing, which I saved for a dog (I wasn’t eating outside with my family because it was too windy). Dinner – I told my family I didn’t eat much in the evenings, and I’d just have hot tea, which I used the cup to warm my hands and then watered the plant in my room with after it cooled down. The next day: breakfast – potato vegetable noodle soup, I ate it; lunch – rice, chicken, and more potatoes – I ate some of it, as much as I could. Then I left yesterday afternoon – I just couldn’t handle the whole community thing anymore. As most of you can probably guess, forcing myself to eat food I don’t want to, or any food for that matter, is not one of my strong points at all, and I just couldn’t do it any more, not to mention the whole roughing it thing. And it was SO COLD there! I honestly wore the same layered outfit (tights, socks, two pairs of pants, four shirts, sweat shirts, jackets, snow gloves, snow hat) for 48 hours straight, never even taking it off.
But there were some bright spots – getting to test the eyes of about 60 elementary school children, with the Spanish alphabet (good thing that’s one thing I know!); giving the elementary kids crayons and pencils we had brought and doing a drawing project with them; getting to know my Chijnayan family in the VERY limited Spanish that I know; sharing pictures of my family with them; finally getting their 23-month-old baby to like me after I gave him a blow up ball and played catch with him (he’s very shy and was terrified of me at first); dancing with the community and laughing along with them at the community theatre we put on, even though I couldn’t understand most of it, except through context; giving my homestay gift to my family yesterday, as well as little gifts I’d brought for their kids, and being given a beautiful handmade wallhanging the mother of my family had made for me in return; having devotions with our group from Loma Linda and realizing just how much God has blessed us this trip; and bonding with my fellow students over shared crazy homestay experiences!!!
Okay, that’s the end of my novel for now, hope you all are well, and appreciating all the things we take for granted in life so often!