Peru: A Small Service Excursion Abroad

Hello faithful readers! My name is Megan, and I am Amy’s publishing assistant until May. Since she is on a trip this week, I’m here to share my experiences with you from my spring break trip over the last 10 days: Peru!IMG_9515.JPG

Before we get into specifics, I’ll give you a little bit of background information about me. This year I am a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University and will be graduating with a degree in Communication and with a minor in Spanish. I grew up as a military brat (Ooh-Rah!), and when my family was stationed overseas from 2006-2009, we traveled as much of Europe as we could manage. Though I don’t really have a place that I’m “from,” I currently live in Carroll County, Maryland, where I graduated high school. I love romance novels, which is what drew me to Amy’s open position, and my favorite novel of hers is Whispering Vines because, in my mind, it’s closely linked to my favorite movie, The Longest Ride, but features a fun Italian twist, and with recipes!

Over the first 10 days of March, my Spanish teacher finally achieved her four-year goal to get me on one of her Spanish study abroad experiences. Doctora, as she’s known by all her students, has been trying to get me to study abroad in Spain or Costa Rica, the month long excursions, since my first year in college, but I never wanted to spend an entire month away from my family. The Peru trip, though, was 1) only 10 days, 2) open to members of my family, which means I could take my mom, and 3) probably the only time I’d ever go to South America, so it was the PERFECT time and place to go.

Thus began our journey to South America.

Friday, 3/1/2019: Travel Day.

We woke up at 330 am to drive to Dulles airport, fly to Panama City International, and then fly again to Lima. Our passports were stamped with our visas, and we stayed overnight in a small hostel to rest before moving to lower altitudes.

Saturday, 3/2/2019: Travel Day Part 2

We woke up early again to fly from Lima to Cusco, and then took a van from Cusco to Urubamba, a town much lower in altitude. For reference, Cusco is about 11,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet, and Urubamba is closer to 6,000 feet. Staying in Urubamba allowed us to adjust to the altitude gradually and avoid some altitude sickness! At the hotel San Agustin, they had Coca Tea to help with the altitude. Coca Tea is made by steeping the literal Coca leaf in water and drinking the tea produced. I, personally, was NOT a fan, and chose to stick to my Altitude Rx natural pills instead.

Sunday, 3/3/2019: Ollantaytambo Visit

Our first real day of excursions! We visited the town of Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tie-tahm-bo) which had some ancient Incan ruins. Doctora scheduled a tour guide to lead us on different cultural tours, and this was the first day we met her. She led us through the ruins of Ollantaytambo and explained many of the different histories of the Inca, including the importance of the Incan cross, the terraces created in the mountainside to help with irrigation, protection, and to support the structure of the mountain, and even where the name Ollantaytambo came from. One of the possible explanations for it being named so could be a misconstruction of the Quechua (the Incan native language) word “tampu,” which referred to a small resting place for many of the Incan messengers to stop on their journeys. A “tampu” was supplied with food by the “allyu,” which was the Incan equivalent of a state. The state paid its dues in labor and supplies to Cusco, the capital of the region, and each “allyu” was responsible for maintaining their “tampu” for the messengers and other travelers. “Tambo,” then, could come from a mispronunciation of “tampu.”

Monday, 3/4/2019: Machu Picchu

Our day to Machu Picchu started with a van back to Ollantaytambo, where we rode a train car with MANY windows to the Machu Picchu station. Machu Picchu, or MaPi for short, is now considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, and many more people travel to it than before. Our hotel was the new Casa Andina, and we heard the roar of the Urubamba river outside our window while we slept. The town of MaPi has become very centralized for tourists, and includes many different restaurants, a shopping market that you can easily get lost in, and bus trips to and from MaPi itself. Once we rode to the top of the mountain, we saw the breathtaking ruins, climbed many stairs, and learned more than enough about its history from our tour guide. There were even llamas roaming free across the grasses, and they were incredibly unbothered by all the people.

Tuesday, 3/5/2019: Machu Picchu Town and Travel Day

Because there are only two major times when the train rides between Ollantaytambo and MaPi, we had the morning to ourselves in MaPi until our 1:30 p.m. train departed back to Ollantaytambo. My mom and I strolled through the market for a bit before sitting in a cute little French bistro for the rest of the afternoon. I sampled a Mochaccino, which was homemade with authentic and delicious Peruvian chocolate. After we returned from MaPi, we took a van back to Cusco city and allowed our bodies to adjust to the higher altitude by simply relaxing and enjoying dinner in the hotel.

Wednesday, 3/6/2019: Cusco City Day 1

Our stay in Cusco City began with a trip to the Coricancha, or the Temple of the Sun God. For the traditional Incan people, the Coricancha is the equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics today. This was their holiest of holy places, and it was once covered in gold. Gold represented the tears and essence of the Sun God, also known as “Inti.” When the Spaniards arrived to colonize and conquer, they built a church and monastery over the Coricancha and ordered all other temples to stop construction as part of the conversion of the Incan people. Every 300 years, however, Cusco suffers a giant earthquake, and when the last one occurred in the 1950s, the Cathedral atop the Coricancha fell, but all the Incan stones of the Coricancha below remained completely intact. Because of this, the Incan belief in Inti and their historical culture is somewhat affirmed to the Incan people, and the Coricancha remains a reverent place for the traditions.

After vising the Coricancha, we took a short walking tour of Cusco city and made our way over to the orphanage where we would be serving for the next three days. As part of the Peru excursion, Doctora always works with an orphanage in Cusco to have us complete some time of service. We helped play with children ages three to six in the courtyard for an hour and a half, often giving hugs and physical affection throughout the time we spent there. Though there wasn’t much else to do, it was a good way to begin our service.

Thursday, 3/7/2019: Cusco City Day 2

We began the morning by shopping at the local grocery store for food to bring to the orphanage. Then we took the gifts we had of food and soap to the orphanage and volunteered until after lunch. Our Peru group had seven students this year, and we split into two groups for volunteering: those who could teach English to the older girls, and those who would play with the younger children. I was able to help teach English to some of the older girls, and while they knew some already, they were very eager to learn new songs, different English words, and what school was like at the university level in the United States. At lunch time, I was given a small two-year-old named Sandi to feed, and though I’ve never fed a baby anything before, I learned very quickly. She was so quiet, so sweet, and so cooperative that it was very easy! Her favorite thing to do when I held her before lunch and as she sat on the tiny chairs during lunch was swing her legs everywhere, but she was always looking for food.

After our time at the orphanage, we had the afternoon to ourselves, so my mom and I used our cultural ticket to visit as many museums as we possibly could in the Cusco area. We visited the Incan history museum near the orphanage, the Coricancha museum, and two different art museums that featured both popular and contemporary art pieces. We also found the Coffee Museum of Peru, which was free to enter and had a small hallway of information about coffee, as well as some delicious cafe snacks. Our server, Maria, was wonderful and I was able to hold a fluent, easily-understood conversation with her entirely in Spanish! As someone who aspires to be bilingual, if not multi-lingual, I thought this was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

Friday, 3/8/2019: Cusco Day 3

We attempted to start our day with more service at the orphanage, but due to a miscommunication, there wasn’t much for us to do. Before we left for Peru, Doctora handed out different school supplies for us to donate to the older girls at the orphanage who were attending school so that we could divide everything appropriately, and we handed these supplies out this morning. Many of the older girls at the orphanage actually do have parents, but their parents want to give them a better life, and the nuns who run the orphanage allow the girls to go to school in Cusco so long as they live and help with the younger children at the orphanage. This particular orphanage is only allowed to house children until they turn six, unless they are the older girls helping, and once children turn six they must either be adopted or they will be sent to another orphanage somewhere else in Peru, where more of the older orphans are.

The nun in charge of the orphanage spoke about one child who was in the orphanage because her mother was raped at 11 and had her at 12. Unable to care for the child and choosing to seek work elsewhere, the mother gave her daughter to her grandmother, who wanted to give her to the mother’s aunt who just had a baby herself. The aunt was unable to take care of another child, however, so the child was sent to the orphanage. This child was the one who, when we visited the first day, would go around to each person for a quick hug, over and over again in the circle, until she became distracted by someone else. The nun described how each child has a cross of suffering to bear, just as Jesus did, because they are unwanted or unable to be cared for, but there is Jesus in every one of their hearts, just as there is Jesus in every one of ours. By coming to volunteer, she said, she could see Jesus in our hearts and urged us to go home and hug our parents and our families, and to thank them for loving us and giving us the opportunities that we’ve had.

Sometimes our problems seem incredibly painful, but when compared to the suffering of others, it can easily put into perspective how lucky and blessed we truly are.

Without anything else to help with at the orphanage, we had another free day, and my mom and I took the day to explore the chapels and churches around. We met up with the main group at 2 p.m. to visit the Cathedral, and while no pictures were allowed inside any of the churches, I can promise you they were magnificent. Many of them were heavily influenced by the Baroque style of architecture, and gold leaf was a focal point for many of the decorations and didactic paintings.

Saturday, 3/9/2019: Lima City

On Saturday we flew back from Cusco to Lima, where we checked into our hotel next to the airport and began a 4-hour bus tour of the city of Lima. Though four hours may seem like a long time, we only scratched the surface of the cultural and historical elements that surround the city. We visited two main Plazas, the main church of San Agustin, and the Lover’s Park toward the ocean. We had another tour guide for this trip, and she told us many different facts about the history of the city. For example, there are three main colors of buildings from the old Spanish reign: red, blue, and yellow. Red buildings were often used to denote where native people and slaves, blue buildings were for the rich Spanish colonizers, and the yellow buildings were for different industrial shops and stores.

Another fun fact she mentioned was about the Lover’s Park, where they hold a contest every Valentine’s Day to see who can break the record for the longest kiss without breaking away. If you ever want to try and beat the record for yourself, the current one is at 1.5 hours, so best of luck!

Sunday, 3/10/2019: Travel Day Home

Sunday was, in a word, exhausting. We woke up at 3 a.m. for our flight from Lima to Panama City, which took about 4 hours. Once in Panama City International, we then went through ANOTHER security checkpoint that complies with the United States’ TSA requirements, and then flew another 5 hours from PTY to Dulles. Once there, we were free after customs!

Unfortunately, this meant we still had 2 hours to drive from Dulles to Carroll County, where I quickly did my laundry at home and had to drive another hour back to the Mount, where a quiz awaited me on Monday morning.

Normally I am a very organized person and always put my things away, but on Sunday night, I threw everything on the ground of my dorm room and went straight to bed. Though there was no time difference, travel jet lag is real!

Tuesday, 3/12/2019: Reflection Day

Writing this recap of my break has made me realize three things:

  1. No matter how experienced you are at traveling, there will still be hiccups and you will ALWAYS be tired. No one should have to fly 10+ hours in one day, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
  2. Peru, while never my first travel choice (I prefer Europe 🙂 ) was a beautiful place full of natural wonders, amazing history, no bug bites for me (!!!), and great experiences.
  3. Everyone deserves love, and everyone needs love, no matter how big or small. Our problems may be our own, but when we step back to serve others, we realize how fortunate and blessed we are to have what we do, especially when it comes to family. I’ve always been a big supporter of my family, and especially grateful for everything that my parents have done for me, but this trip helped put in perspective some other things about family. Though I may want to kick my little sister sometimes, at least I know I have a little sister. I know where she is, I can call her when I need her, and I know she’s usually safe. Even though my dad may try to go to Walmart more often than any of us needs, I know that I have a dad who is always supporting me, financially, emotionally, and in morale. No matter what hardships I face, I still have a full family. I still have a family that’s together. I still have extended family that I know, and that I know love and support me.

Not everyone gets that full family. Not everyone gets even half a family, or a small family. Sometimes all we have are those with Jesus in their hearts who reach out to help.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journey and seeing some of the pictures from the amazing trip that I was able to go on with my mom! Amy will be back shortly with more stories of her own trip this week. If I can leave you with one thing today it’s this:

Go hug someone you love and appreciate, and tell them so! In the end we’re all family, and sometimes family needs reminding just how important they are.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my journey 🙂



One thought on “Peru: A Small Service Excursion Abroad

  • Thanks for sharing about your amazing experience and kind words. God bless you on your future endeavors – no doubt you will find success and happiness in all that you do.

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