Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trip 1 is in the books

It is hard to believe that our trip to Peru has come to an end. Two years of planning, preparing, and hard work came to a very fulfilling end as our group of RHS students made there way home yesterday. Where do you begin to try and describe the impact that this trip had on the lives of these 30 young adults? It was an amazing opportunity and the experiences had and memories made will last a lifetime. So, to close out this trip I want to give you a sense of what we covered as a group.

The Peru 2015 Trip by the numbers:
Miles traveled by plane: Just over 12,000
Miles Traveled by bus: Just over 300
Miles walking/hiking: Group average was 34 miles in 9 days
Number of flights of stairs climbed: Just under 400 flights of stairs
Number of major Incan ruins visited: 7
Nunber of historical sites visited: 15

So, as you can see, this was a trip that not only pushed the group to explore a culture never experienced before, it also was taxing both mentally and physically as well. I can't say enough about how awesome these students were to have on this trip and how proud I am of how they represented not only Rugby High School, but also the United States as well while traveling through Peru.

This trip exceeded the expectations that I had going in and I have to say that Omar, and our EF tour team, were top notch and gave us an excellent experience. With the first trip in the books for the RHS study abroad program, I can say that I am truly excited and and grateful to have the opportunity to continue this program in our school. The 2017 trip is booked and I know that the 27 students from Rugby that will be partaking in that trip will have an unforgettable experience just like the travelers to Peru.

I want to thank you for reading and following along as we took this journey and I encourage you to talk to the students that took part in this trip. They will have a lot to say!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 7 Lake Titicaca

Today went by in a flash and the events that took place were nothing less than impressive. We started out by loading up on the bus and heading to the pier. From the pier, we set out to spend the entire day exploring and learning about this massive lake.

The first stop on the tour was the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. We actually got to go and hang out on one of the family islands and interact with the native people. There way of life is absolutely amazing and they actually continually build there islands to stay floating on the wáter. The kids actually got a chance to dress up in their native clothes and listen to special songs performed by the family's women. After the time spent with these groups of people was up, a number of our students got to take a boat ride over to another part of the floating community in one of the hand made boats which was very neat. The total population of this community was just under 2500 people living on these islands out in the reeds of Lake Titicaca. What an awesome thing for the kids to see and compare to life back at home in Rugby.

From the floating islands, we made a boat ride, a little more than one hour, over to another major island in the lake. The Island of Taquile has a very important place in the history of the people of ancient peruvian civilization. Here the group got a chance to hike up the island to see the local way of life and also experience another true peruvian meal. We sat under make shift tents on the hill side and ate fresh vegetable soup and fresh grilled lake trout that was nothing short of amazing. During this time, we also got a chance to see the local farming practices and also had a demonstration about the symbolism of the local dress. All in all, the experience was awesome and the group really enjoyed the trip.

From Taquile Island, we made our way back to the Puno pier and eventually to the hotel. At the hotel the group continues to hang out together and it is easy to see just how much of a bond they have made while experiencing this trip together.

So, what is next? This will be my last blog entry until I am home and have a chance to sit down and reflect on the entire trip. Tomorrow we will make our way to the airport outside of Puno. We have one more Incan site to visit in the morning and then we load up and fly back to Lima at 12 noon. When we arrive in Lima, we will have a chance to check out the city a little bit more before heading to our final supper destination. After supper, flight group B will head to the airport to board their flight back to the United States. Flight group A will get to hang back with our tour director for a few more hours until they head to the airport and fly out as well.

This trip has been nothing short of amazing in every sense. These 30 students from Rugby have had a chance to experience part of the world in a very up close and personal way and I know that they will come home to share their experience of a life time with anyone who asks. In the last blog entry I make, I will put together the actual numbers of the trip to put what we did into perspective.

From Peru, adiós until we see you in North Dakota!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Day 6 bus to Puno

Well, today ended up being exactly what the group needed after two very demanding days hiking at Machu Piccu and in the Sacred Valley. We loaded up the bus at 7:30am and headed out of Cuzco towards Puno. In a matter of 20 minutes, the bus was silent as the kids were sleeping. We made a couple of stops along the way to get out and stretch our legs and use the restroom. One of the stops was at another Incan site called Raqui. This ancient city was a half way point in the Incan empire between Cuzco and Puno. As we walked around the grounds it was very interesting to listen to the students talk about the similarities and differences between the Incan sites we have visited and how much power the Incan kings had during their reign to commission such massive projects. I couldn't help but smile knowing that this history has really come to life for them as they start to really ask more questions. It's amazing how much they have changed over the trip and how they have adjusted to the cultural experiences we are having together.

Once back on the bus we headed out to complete our trip to Puno. We made one quick stop at the highest point of elevation we will visit which was just over 14,000ft. I'm amazed at how well the kids have handled the altitude and today the whole group, including Breanna, have been feeling great. Our drive to Puno was very interesting as Omar kept giving us bits of interesting cultural information along the way. The kids got time to sleep some more and have really rested up for the last two days of the trip here in Peru. Once again, the drive gave us a chance to see many different areas and also many different small communities. Hard work, family, hard way of life, and very little possessions are very clear to see as we drove past small agricultural communities. The perspective of life back in rugby compared to these communities has really started to sink in with the kids.

We arrived at our hotel around 6pm and the accommodations are great. Our hotel is located on the shores of lake titicaca. The views are beautiful and kids have had fun getting into the pool and
playing ping pong and foosball to close out the night.

So, a day of rest has made a difference and the kids are ready to take on tomorrow in a big way! We will load up at 7am tomorrow to make our way to the pier of lake titicaca to take a boat excursion of the lake. This will be an amazing experience as the group will get a chance to mingle with the local people around the shores of the lake and learn about the history of the place where the Incan people originated from.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Day 5 the Sacred Valley

So, I think it is pretty hard to follow a day of sight seeing and hiking on Machu Piccu but we actually had quite a great and jam packed day. We loaded up on the train at 8:30am to make out trek back to Cuzco. On the way we got the chance to tour another very impressive Incan site. Ollantaytambo is a sacred Incan site located in the sacred valley. The ruins are very similar to that of Machu Piccu and that meant only one thing...... more stairs! Helen has been my physical activity tracker using her Fitbit. Between the tours of days 4 and 5, we, as a group, averaged 12 miles of walking which included climbing the equivalent of 325 flights of stairs! It was tough but the kids and adults did great and the rewards of their efforts were more than worth it with breath taking views of the ruins and the Andes moutains. After ollantaytambo, we loaded up in our bus and headed to the world famous Pisac market. Here we spent some time checking out local products and haggling prices. Soccer shirts seem to be a big hit in our group of boys. Together they have purchased enough to field their own team and probably another one to boot. The market was very neat and a great experience. We loaded back up on the bus and headed out to make our way back to Cuzco. 

On the way back we got the chance to stop at an alpaca farm and check out the different breeds of alpacas. The kids took a lot of selfies and only Helen, myself, and Morgan got spit on! The sun started to set as we loaded back onto the bus and made the 40 minute trip into Cuzco city. On this last ride, the kids started a dance party in the bus and sang songs that our tour guides, Omar and Jennie, were requesting. A whole bus of high school kids singing shania twain is quite a sight and Omar and Jennie loved it!

To cap off the night we made our way to supper. Along the way we got a chance to watch a special dancing parade taking place on the Main Street of Cuzco. Tonight marked the start of a series of celebrations for the city's anniversary. The streets were jam packed and the music and dancing were amazing! This was just another lucky chance we got to see another piece of the Peruvian culture. 

So, as you can imagine, we have seen and done a lot. The students have done an awesome job and Omar has commented multiple times on how great they have been. Nights have been easy because they are tired and ready to sleep by the time we get back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we will make our way to Puno for the last leg of the trip. We will be traveling by bus and the transfer will include a few stops along the way.

In terms of health, everything has been going fine. Other than being tired, Breanna is the only one still battling a head cold and some altitude effects. She has really come around the last day and will hopefully feel better tomorrow after a good nights rest.

Day 4 Machu Piccu

Well, we are back in Cuzco and I have wifi to link up and share the last two days of the trip. So, I'll start with day 4.

We started the day getting up and taking a short bus ride to the train station to take the train to Machu Piccu. The train was very comfortable and the views were outstanding as we made our way along the tracks. It was very interesting to see the reaction of the kids as they got a chance to see some very poor communities along the way. The train ride took us up to a small mountain town called Aguas Calientes which is basically the base camp for Machu Piccu. After about a 2 1/2 hour train ride, we arrived and unloaded to make our way to the hotel to check in before getting to Machu Piccu. At this point we had a pretty interesting situation take place. The whole group expect for two made it to the hotel. At some point between the station and the hotel, two from the group got turned around and lost their way. Those two just so happened to be Mr. Blikre and Mr. McNeff. Within ten minutes of them being separated, the emergency contact info was used and we were together again. Needless to say, the kids haven't really let them off the hook for getting separated from the group! Once we were together we made our way to the train station to catch our bus up to the gates of Machu Piccu. The ride was by far the most intense bus ride I have ever been on and the switchbacks made for some great pictures and sweaty palms!

We arrived at Machu Piccu around 12:30 and started right away with our expert tour guides. Freddy and Cosomel did a fantactic job of taking us around the ruins and educating us about the site. Words really cannot describe the feeling of standing on that mountain and seeing the shear size and wonder of the location of Machu Piccu. After the tours were over the group got another 2 hours to go and explore on our own. A number of students made the trip up to the sun gate and took some amazing shots looking down on the ruins. The weather was perfect and the experience was out of this world.

We made our way back down the mountain after the park closed and went  to the hotel to eat our supper. After supper, some kids stayed back with a chaperone to rest and the others went out to check out more of the town. Aguas Calientes really is a beautiful small town and easily the most unique place we have stayed at so far on the trip. That pretty much wrapped up the day and what a day it was!