Breaking the Cycle of Poverty with Love & Education

I knew my trip to India would not be a vacation by any means, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the sights, smells, intense heat and humidity and most of all the extreme differences in culture from what I have grown up with.
I have traveled all over the world and experienced the poverty in which much of our world lives in and it is never easy to stomach, especially when you realize the cycle in which it continues. However, for me, the most unsettling part of this whole trip has been the serious social issues and lack of equality amongst the people, both because of the caste system and the serious sexism.


Being raised by a liberal, single father I grew up being told I could do anything and that not only was I equal to every man, but every human is equal and deserves the same rights. It has been drilled in to me from the minute I was born and so it is still so appalling to me to see the way other cultures view and treat other humans. In a few occasions I have lost my cool and have been fed up with the constant sneers, awkward and intimidating stares and most recent invasion of privacy by one of the male staff at our “safe & secure” ashram where we are staying. I realize these things are harmless and comparatively speaking, laughable, considering not too far from this part of the world women are still being stoned to death for “disobeying” their husbands. I have to remind myself that Ghandi, this nations peaceful leader in freedom and human rights did not achieve his dreams through rage and outburst but by compassion, tolerance, resiliance and perseverance. My passion must not be misguided but focused on the solutions that will bring a balance to this world.


As I sat in the tiny one room medical clinic/elementary school in the slums of Barota, India, I watched as Dr. Mistry wrapped a little girls arm in an ace bandage while he questioned her father as to why the 9 year old had never been to school. He was mostly blind and the mother worked full time to support the four children so the little girl had to work cutting vegetables in a local restaurant. I thought about what this little girl’s life would be like. It was almost too easy to predict and the doctor later confirmed it was all too common that these girls worked from the youngest age until the time they were married off around 14 or 15 to then continue the cycle.


Later in the day more little girls showed up to the doctor’s office, peeking their faces through the door way, shyly spying on me, curious to this strange looking visitor but too shy to enter or speak. The doctor told me that the girls attended the classes that he and his wife ran at the clinic every morning and they were avid learners. The girls are the most passionate about learning, he told me. The young females seeking education are the moving force to building up the country to be strong and healthy he said.

This is why he has left his private practice of 21 years in New Jersey, to return to the slums of his home town of Barota in Gujarat, with his wife, educating the children and providing affordable and available healthcare.


It was such an inspiration to meet someone who walked away from their comfortable lives in the US to return to where the help was needed, where it will make the biggest impact and where it is much appreciated.
The next time I returned to the clinic/school I brought a group of college students, members of Dr. Interns summer medical internship program who I have come to India to help support through marketing and program expansion.

The students were as excited as I were to hear Dr. Mistry’s story and I was most excited to see the little girls who had gathered the courage to come sit by me and even posed for pictures for me and with me. They mimicked my English and were obviously hungry to learn anything I had to teach them. I was excited to meet these girls who’s situation seemed grim but who’s futures looked bright.


The next time I returned with an even larger number of excited students and arms full of school supplies including all my favorite things: crayons, colored pencils, markers, coloring books, chalk, UNO cards, notebooks, pencils and erasers. We were happy to contribute to the Mistry’s school/clinic and I was excited to speak more about expanding our program to assist with their work. This is what I came to India to do. This is what I am on this planet to do.
The little girls ran from their houses to greet me in the street with cheerful “Hi’s” and hugs with huge smiles on their faces.

As we sat around Dr. Mistry’s office/clinic/school the room quickly filled with small children who were all excited to see strange new faces in their neighborhood. The energy in the room was amazing and even though the little children had trouble keeping quiet while the doctor explained his story ( now for the third time for me, yet still as genuine and full of passion) it was sweet to see how much it meant to them that we had come and with supplies for their school.

I wanted to hug each one of them and tell them I was so proud of them for getting an education and to stay with it. I wanted to let each one know that they were special and worthy of having a better life, one of opportunity and freedom but with the little Gujarati I knew I was stuck with formalities but the love and compassion was felt between both the children and us.

We poured our love on to them with smiles and photos and laughter and found a renewed purpose in our work here in India, something that is easy to lose sight of when faced with the giant hurdles of social issues. However, like when we spent the day delivering reusable waterbottles to the children enrolled in school in the rural village of Ratunpura we realized with every act of love and support, regardless of how small, making a difference in the life of a child is the greatest action a person can take in life.

Settling in to India

Our first few days in India were a whirlwind. The 15 interns trickled in at scattered times and in between each airport pickup we enjoyed the sights  of some suburban areas of Mumbai. The majority of us were able to walk through a local market and had lunch at a local restaurant where we got to know each other. We had such a great time laughing and enjoying our last meat meal for the next month that the surrounding tables were all staring and shushing us because our laughter was over taking the restaurant. It is no doubt we are a lively bunch and definitely stick out from this tame culture.

After the entire group had finally assembled, we left the airport on our chartered bus around 3 am and drove through the early hours of Friday until we reached the Muni Seva Ashram after what felt like we had crossed the continent. It was one of the longest, hottest and most exhausting bus rides of my life and I am proud to say I have made many 3rd world bus rides.  We were pleased to have arrived but due to jet lag, lack of sleep and relief, we were most happy about our very comfortable beds and air conditioned rooms of Atithi Mandir, the dorms where we are staying at the ashram.
I slept almost 12 hours to catch up from the days of sleepless travel and awoke the next day feeling like a new person.

Sunday, like most places, is a day of rest so the Ashram was very quiet and almost abandoned of people. We ate a small breakfast and had a tour of the entire the hospital and the different wards.

It was impressive the amount of advanced technology and equipment this hospital has in such a rural area. This hospital has the first mammography unit in Gujarat and is the leading cancer treatment facility in the whole state.

Pictured here is the CT scan that is a rare piece of equipment in Gujarat.

We visited the senior living community, Vanprasth Mandir, where many seniors, men and women, are cared for who cannot be cared for by their families.

We also visited the Bhagini Mandir center for mentally disabled women who also could not be cared for by their families or needed further treatment for a variety of reasons. At the facility they receive care but also have regular chores like cooking and cleaning based on their abilities and do crafts and create decorations for the community so to keep them involved. They all seemed in such high spirits and were pleased by our visit. One girl even sang us a song.

We toured the Gaushala, where the they house cows used for breeding and dairy farming. The ashram depends on the dairy, green house farming, and agriculture products to feed the hospital and ashram and also educate through programs for sustainability.

The cowshed project also fuels the bio mass gasification project that is saving 100% fossil fuel and powering much of the ashram. The Ashram runs a majority of their electricity from the extensive solar panel project all over the campus as well. Even the outside lights are equipped with panels. There are many solar cooking systems used also and a solar powered crematorium.

The Muni Seva Ashram is quite impressive in its programs and technology and is the result of the hard work and dedication of one woman, Anuben Thakkar who began the ashram in the 70s as a place to take care of children in need. Today it now serves as not only a hospital but has an orphanage, kindergarden, primary through higher secondary school, and now even has a nursing school. The work of one woman has grown into a community of people helping the sick, poor and uncared for and is a testament to the compassion and possibilities of humans caring for each other.

We are honored to spend out summer assisting in this incredible place. The adventure has just begun! Stay tuned.

 

Since my return I made this video for Dr.Interns. Enjoy!

Travel with a Purpose – A summer in India for Dr. Interns

Travel is one of the most rewarding experiences a person has in their life. Whether it is a family vacation, a semester abroad or a backpacking trip with friends, these experiences not only stay with us our whole lives, but shape who we are and how we see the world.

In today’s age we are lucky enough to have easy and affordable means of travel to just about anywhere in the world and with technology and the internet we can book these arrangements from anywhere with a press of a button. It is no doubt remarkable and in a lot of ways makes our planet a much smaller place. Where we could once only read about or see on a screen we can now visit ourselves, embarking on great journeys and having exciting adventures of our own.

It is a wonderful thing to see so many people of our time going out in to the world to see, touch, taste and experience first hand the wonders of different cultures and while it is breaking down barriers that once made us feel so different from one another, it is also an  opportunity for us to become better global citizens.

Our neighbors are not just the people on our street or in our city, they are in the bordering country or opposite continent where most of our products are produced and services provided. We depend on each other so much more than we realize, not just for business, but for assistance. There are so many organizations out there doing great things to assist our global neighbors in need and yet there is still a great need for more help.

Instead of just visiting these amazing places, taking cool photos in front of a monument or pristine nature scene, I have sought out to be an active assistant to the communities I visit. Even if it means collecting garbage from a popular hiking trail or beach, I want to be a positive impact, not just another tourist stopping by for a photo op. In each trip I take I look for a different cause I am passionate about and an organization I would be a good fit to volunteer with.

Dr. Interns is one of those organizations. With a mission of bringing sustainable healthcare solutions to very capable, developing parts of the world they are connecting college students interested in the medical field as well as travel to experiences in the world outside their own neighborhood. Dr. Interns is creating a new kind of world traveler; a traveler who is making a difference.

I am excited to begin my first experience of India, where I will be assisting with the marketing campaign for Dr. Interns at their first international program at the Kailash Cancer Hospital in Gujarat, India. I am joined by Ketan Patel, the passionate and intelligent organization director, and 15 incredible college students dedicating their summer to assisting at the hospital as well. We will be recording our story with the goal of inspiring many more to travel and to be active global citizens. Changing the world is easier than it looks. Don’t believe me? Try it.

-Lindsay M Hawley

Dr. Interns Marketing Director

 

SUNDANCE 2012!

Not even home a week and my bags are already repacked, only this time instead of trek gear and bikinis, my bags are stuffed with coats, scarves, boots and beanies, ready for the snowy playground that is Park City, Utah during the magical 10 days of Sundance! The Sundance Film Festival is not only movie premiers and a complete Hollywood takeover of the quaint mountain resort town, but also some of the best private parties and events this part of the world. I’ve had the pleasure of working James Franco’s “3s Company” party, Paramount Pictures Red Carpet event, The Twitterhouse and numerous nights at Las Vegas’ “TAO” nightclub, transformed from a parking garage to the luxurious and exclusive nightclub. Its pure snowmagic and this year will be my 3rd, and best year yet.

My travel companion, Kiersten, is coming for her first time and we are both excited for some work and play and most of all, to network with some talented and ambitious industry folk who can help us find the best way to utilize our own talents. In the last few months we have had some amazing adventures for purpose and pleasure and have taken countless photos and videos. It’s our dream to reach a greater audience this way to inspire and bring awareness to the many causes and organizations doing great things to change the world and who need help! So many people we have met love the idea to make every trip incorporated with a humanitarian element so it is my wish to show how reachable that goal is. Here are just a few of our high lights from Asia and South and Central America:

The Inca Trail!

Machu Picchu!

Costa Rica!

You can see more videos on my youtube channel.

Who knows, maybe next year Kiersten and I will be at our own premier!

Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

To blog about the last two weeks would be like trying to stuff a Reeses peanut butter cup through a key hole. Sloppy, useless and peanut butter everywhere (much like the many “hostel homemade” meals I have had in the past few weeks.) My trustee journal is filled with hilarious misadventures of Kiersten and Lindsay but for the sake of time and maintaining professionalism on my company blog I will save those stories for my travel blog or book one day.

To give you the cliff notes, we arrived in to San Jose and stayed our first night in Costa Rica at a friend’s “house” who so kindly let us stay there before we embarked on our surf safari. I say “house” because this kind of property is unlike anything most people will see in their lifetimes and is closer to the Playboy Mansion than any home I have ever stayed in. Their generosity in letting us stay was greatly appreciated as luxury is a seldom occurrence while “backpacking.”

The next day we hopped on a bus from a local hotel to Tamarindo, a popular beach town on the northern part of the Nicoya peninsula and were immidiately in a cab on our way to another beach town just south of Tamarindo that was much more our style. Avellanas was a little slice of heaven. Much quieter and with zero obnoxious tourist shops, bars, or even a real supermercado, we had successfully found ourselves “off the grid.” We agreed we needed to stay for a few days at least to fully dissolve our former stressed selves into the new “tranquilla” Kiki and Linz. It didn’t take long and with help from our amazing hosts, a Canadian couple who took over the Casa Surf Hostel, Ericka and Dan, we were adjusting to the “Pura Vida” lifestyle quite easily. We borrowed some good books and surf boards, hit the beautiful and wide open beaches, enjoyed Ericka’s incredible fresh and delicious cooking and made friends with the old shirtless surf dude locals Denny and Bob, a hilarious retired psychology professor.

At Lola’s Beach Cafe ^

Our first day at Casa Surf renting a board and sporting the sun protection of the locals: Desitin diaper cream.

Me and the Pelicans going for a wave ^

Kiersten having a blast at sunset on a boogie board ^

We even had a “cocktail party” complete with wine, cheese and ciabatta bread we had been promised by our new friend Denny the night before. To his surprise we showed up with Bob in our “Costa Rican cocktail dresses” ready for some entertainment and although Denny hadn’t remembered his offer from the night before he was good on it and we were definitely entertained!

Avellanas was starting to feel strangely like home and we rang in the new year with a bonfire on the beach with all our new friends and made smores, including a “Virgin Sacrifice” of the first banana grown off Dennys “plantana” tree (banana/plantain hybrid) which made for a delicious addition to our 2012 Smore Fest. After an impressive firework display at midnight we threw inhibitions to the Costa Rican wind and Kiki and I went for a skinny dip in the warm ocean, watching shooting stars in the insanely clear sky and the bioluminescence creating glowing stars in the water around us. (Algae that glows in the dark) It was a magical way to ring in the new year!

Me and Kiki showing our LOVE for the great year that we had ^

This is me, slam dunking 2011 and all of its greatness on the final sunset of the year. ^

Sacrificing the “plantana” with Kiersten, Ericka and me. It made for a delicious addition to our smores. ^

Smores master Linz ^

Smores connoisseur Kiki ^

Although we loved our “new home” and our new friends the travelers inside us were getting antsy to see more of the country so we headed out on a journey south which isn’t as easy as one would expect. Just finding a cab or a ride was difficult and the buses were mysteriously difficult to get information on. After finding a cab we got stuck in a river and Kiersten and I successfully pushed it out of its rut and we made it to Nosara. Guiones beach was my favorite surf spot. It was a bit more of a town with organic produce shops, yoga studios, local art galleries and cute little cafes. Our hostel, “Solo Bueno” lived up to the name and provided everything we needed; a bed, boards, a locker, a kitchen and great company. We enjoyed surfing 3 times a day and I found myself getting up at the sunrise, excited to get out to the beach and see what the waves had to offer. Being born and raised just a few feet from the sand, my heart has always been filled with happiness and peace while at the beach. That is something my father shared with me like his father him and I will forever find solace in surfing or just looking at the surf, imagining myself on the waves. The sunsets were incredible and being paddled out on the water that seemed to be on fire with the reflection of the sun was one of the most beautiful things my eyes have seen.

One of my favorite nights was at a local bar where folk singer / songwriter G Love (known for many collaborations with Jack Johnson) performed for a crowd of 80 people, a benefit concert for the Nosara Surf Foundation, raising money for local schools in need desperate help. We were right up front of course, dancing our pants off and stomping right along with him to the beat and cracking jokes back and forth with him and his guest singer, Brendan O’Hare. He played a great song, “No keeping Track of a Woman Like That”… I think it was written about me and Kiersten!

Of COURSE I had to get a “Surf Dog” during intermission! I worked up an appetite and most people know I LOVE me a dog!

After a few days of yoga, surfing and reading in hammocks we decided to try our luck moving further South. The plan was to stop in Samara, a great spot for snorkelling but while waiting at what we thought was a bus stop we got picked up by a car full of people we met the day before at the concert and decided to go to Santa Teresa with them. The tiny rental car they got was not equipped for the terrible dirt roads much less the 6 people and the luggage we crammed into it.

After 5 hours of uncomfortable yet high spirited driving down the beautiful coast, we found ourselves driving in the dark and unmarked roads, desperate for a hotel. Instead we found ourselves wedged in a ditch, safe but scared and a long way from anywhere we knew of and no phone service. Luckily not too long after a large truck full of Ticos heading in the opposite direction pulled us out of the ditch and gave us all a ride all the way back in to the next town. The kindness of people never ceases to amaze me. The travel Gods had our backs that night!

We continued on to Montezuma, much farther south than we planned but we liked the cute and colorful town and met some really fun groups of travelers while exploring the waterfalls and swinging off rope swings and diving off rocks. We had a bonfire yet again that night and got to enjoy the glowing waves from the bioluminescence once more. Such a treat!

The next day we took a boat tour to Isla Tortuga and got some spectacular views of the bays and islands around as well as a snorkeling tour we really enjoyed. Kiersten’s  dive casing for her camera was a lot of fun to play around with as were the 4 girls we met on the boat who were from San Diego and Los Angeles. They really enjoyed the adventure of traveling and exploring new cultures and wanted to incorporate philanthropy with their trips as well. We discussed ideas and ways to make it happen and could see their excitement grow as we told our stories. It is SO rewarding to know there are other people out there who are ready and willing to help make the world better while viewing all of its glory. It is our dream to continue to grow this “network” of world travelers with compassionate and conscious hearts and minds! I am looking forward to a collaboration with these inspiring and inspired girls!

Fancy photoshop Photos courtesy of “The Blonde Abroad” Blog, EAT PRAY LOVE PARTY

From Montezuma we took a bus and a ferry to Monte Verde on the mainland and immidiately off the bus headed to the rainforest for some canopy adventures. I fulfilled my dream of ziplining through the canopy of the Cloud Forest and even did the kilometer long “Superman” where you are head first with your back and waist attached to the line just flying over the trees. It was beautiful. The 300 ft freefall “Tarzan Swing” terrified Kiersten who has a fear of heights but was the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done! We also took a 4.5 kilometer hike through the Cloud Forest floor and really enjoyed taking in all the tiny details and natural beauty of the preserve.

Video taken by Kiersten Rich, might want to turn it down because the wind is loud and she screams “Shit” a lot but definitely worth watching.

In my Han Solo shirt about to do the “Tarzan swing” much like a bungee jump without the whiplash of being strapped by your feet.

Being a Rainforest Fairy ^

Another 5 hour bus ride and we were back at the “house” of our friend, with a full day and a half left to lay out by their pool, read, relax and enjoy our last full moments of peace and tranquilo! I fully enjoyed it and am so grateful to be blessed with blessed friends who like to share!

The trip back to San Diego was long with a 5 hour flight, a missed connection in Pheonix and a long drive in traffic home from LAX  but I maintained my mellow mood and was appreciative to be back in San Diego safely.

I feel like 2012 is the year of a more “tranquilo” Linz. Life is really too short and too sweet to not appreciate every moment and every blessing. I’ve resolved to smile at the people I walk past on the street, forgive the people that hurt or angered me in the past, say a Thank You before every meal and enjoy the amazing sights and activities all around San Diego, this amazing place I am honored to live with fantastic people! In the 40 hours I have been home so far I have walked along San Diego harbor and through Downtown, caught a sunset on a walk down Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach, and hiked to the top of Cowles mountain. I am still living PURA VIDA and no reason not to. 😉 Life is Good.

Christmas in Cusco then Costa Rica…

As fun and exciting traveling the world is there are moments when you realize how delicate each moment, each plan has to be. Kiersten and I are both experienced travelers and would consider ourselves incredibly resourceful, aware of our surroundings and prepared. Days like today make us feel like no matter what you do there will always be curveballs. As we sit in the Lima airport, stranded because we don’t have the proper proof of yellow fever vaccinations we both feel defeated and that “of course” attitude since we have been so excited to get to Costa Rica finally.

Peru has been such a learning experience, learning of the ancient culture, the history and also a lot about people in general; both who we want to surround ourselves with in life and who we want to be. I can’t say much about the current culture of Peru because I have made it a point to have a positive outlook and mindset about life, especially when it gets difficult but it seems that the more you try to assist and show generosity, the more people expect and Kiersten and I are both exhausted feeling like we have been taken advantage of far beyond our means.

Our mission has been completed. We finished the 4 day Inca trail to Machu Picchu and spent yesterday, Christmas day at the Hogar with the girls who we spent so much time, money and effort to fundraise for. Getting there was a complete nightmare. Our host and one of the directors of Peruvian Hearts was aware we planned to visit the Hogar onChristmas day for weeks, yet when it came time for us to leave we ended up standing in the freezing rain for almost an hour, changed taxis 3 or 4 times and still paid for both our taxi and hers and the teens accompanying her. We would have easily paid for a van to comfortably take us all and it would have cost the same had there been any planning by our “guides.” Instead, much of our day was spent freezing, wet, standing on the street hailing cabs or ANY car passing by and now we both have sore throats and very possibly colds.

The time we spent at the Hogar was worth any cold or cost since our simple gifts of hot chocolate, panetone (traditional sweet Christmas cake) and the packs with goodies from GUESS were more than those girls had expected for Christmas. They referred to us as their “Papa Noel” (Santa Claus) and knowing that we literally provided them with a Christmas was more meaningful than anything imaginable. We were constantly getting hugs and pictures painted for us and their gratitude was immeasurable. They had never had an art project like the one we brought and although we simply provided 5 colors of fabric paint and a variety of brushes the girl’s creativity was so impressive. It was the greatest Christmas gift to me to see my idea and hard work pay off as they went nuts over the different colors and ideas they put onto the fanny pack or paper.

“Kristina and Linda’s Spa” Giving the girls mini manicures of Nivea hand cream to treat their chapped and cracked hands and Sally Hansens Hard as Nails to help strengthen and grow their nails.

 

A friend we made at the hostel, Garreth, who happened to live on the same street as me back in San Diego is living in South America now, working through his travel blog and volunteering with an organization to build libraries down here. He also came with us to the Hogar and was an awesome addition. He was playful with all the girls and very funny. He and Kiersten even had a very spectacular dance showcase for the girls while we learned to salsa to Columbian music and played musical chairs. We certainly had a great time and will remain in my mind a success.

Now all we need is a successful rest of our South American tour. Thanks to a couple random California girls we met at the Taca ticket line who let us take photos of their vaccine records and Kiersten’s photoshop skills we have two “Yellow Fever Vaccination Cards.” We might actually finally leave this country and continue on to Costa Rica for the “fun” part of our journey. We are both more than ready!! Luckily we are the two smartest, fearless, travel savvy females we know so I am not too worried, just frustrated that no one, including the airline or travel service that booked our tickets from here to Costa Rica mentioned a specific card we needed. It’s all part of the learning experience. Lets just hope it doesn’t cost too much to change our flights and we can get on standby tomorrow morning or our next fundraiser may be to get us home!

Its Beginning to Feel a lot like Navidad!


All we want for Christmas is wi fi and a hot shower and we found the coolest hostel either of us have ever been to! A Cusconian, hippie, travel party compound with different dorm wings and awesome paintings everywhere, a bar inside, a courtyard with beanbags and table tennis, a kitchen with people from around the world cooking and eating. It looks like a South American party dorm! The study room I am in now has the constellations in actual little lights on the ceiling and above me  is Orion, the archer, my favorite constellation.I feel at home on this big green bean bag chair blogging away next to Kiersten.
Although we love staying with Daniel and his family,  it is nice to be close to the main plaza with hot water and internet.
Its only about 4 soles (1.50 US) to get a cab back to Daniels up on the hill so we will make it back tomorrow to help Rosa prepare the Christmas meal. Kiersten even said she would break her pescetarian ways to dine on traditional guinea pig for Christmas!

I am excited to be back in Cusco for Christmas and glad we are through with the commute we did the last 3 days.
We spent 20 hours over the past 3 days in different cramped tin cans of death on windy unpaved roads with waterfalls and landslides blocking roads we had to drive through. We took video of us driving through a foot of water that was running down the side of the mountain and it literally just running down off the cliff we drove along with no barrier or anything to stop the car from going over. We drove through at least 15 of these road hazards. All without any seatbelts. (Sorry if I am scaring you Grandma, but obviously the angels are looking out for us so thanks for the extra prayers)

Our first night was spent in Quillabamba where Daniel our guide is from. We saw the land where he grew up and spent several years running the coffee and mango farm, raisig his 3 younger siblings while his parents were in jail for being revolutionary union organizers, fighting for the rights of the local people. Such an inspiring story and an honor to know such a wise person.

Its a really small town with a really colorful, fun and friendly vibe. It reminded me of the same coziness of Siem Reap in Cambodia. Kiersten and I agreed it felt familiar.

While visiting a dining hall where Daniel’s friend throws events for her restaurant, we were invited  to come back to the party later that night, which we learned was a Prom!!
So we did what any 23 year old American girls in Peru do when invited to a Prom: We rented dresses from the shop across the street from our hostel and showed those teens some of the best moves of the west.
It was an awesome night. Footage to come soon!
The second day we spent another 5 hours in a sketchy cramped car only this time we had to get out at one point and cross over a makshift bridge about 50 yards long and 100 feet above a rocky muddy river. The bridge was simply two 2x4s laid across steel beams unsecured so balance was key. I dropped my poncho halfway across and two of the workers scrambled down into the ravine to retrieve it for me and fought over who got to return it. Such chivalry!
Although it was the Summer Solstice it was rainy so I was happy to have my poncho still.  We missed  some amazing solstice festivals and parades in Cusco but being in the jungle made up for it…We went to one of the sites of the last Incan refuge where the last of the Incas were tracked down and killed by the conquistadors who also destroyed all evidence of how the Incas lived. A shame. Kiersten and I wondered what our world would be like had we learned  more from them.
The sun did come out for a few hours while we did the tour and while we gave our offerings of coca leaves in the Incan fashion for the Intitayta (sun god and most important God to the Incas)
Daniel our guide played his flute for us as the sun went down on the longest day of the year here and Kiersten tried to bring back her high school first chair flute skills. Apparently an Incan flute is much different but I applaud her effort.

Overall the near death car rides were worth the spiritual experience we got at the last known Incan sites where not a single other person was around. We definitely felt the spirits.  Speaking of spirit, I am actually feeling the Christmas spirit back here in Cusco. There are street performers in the Plaza de Amras and all the lights and decorations are really pretty along the old colonial brick roads and cathedrals.

It feels like a real Christmas and I feel like actually getting in the spirit which is rare. It feels more genuine down here, like people appreciate their family and the meaning of Christmas so much more. It is more important to share a panetone (big spice cake that comes in a box with a handle) than presents.

Kiersten and I have been blogging machines for hours now and are the last remaining travelers in this study. Both of us are craving our own panetone to share in celebration of Christmas Eve in Cusco. I am so blessed to have this opportunity and a wonderful “non-domestic partner” to share it with. Excited to spend Christmas back at the Hogar with the girls and bring our Christmas surprises to them. The true meaning of Christmas is sharing your love, remember that.

“Camino Inca” A Pilgrimage to Machu Picchu

For anyone who has ever climbed a mountain or the Andes, you know what a physical challenge the hours of endless uphill trekking, downhill descends and sleepless painful nights with little to no “comforts” feels like. I anticipated the challeneges ahead and my travel compadre Kiersten and I anticipated, Peru was not going to be a “vacation” by any means. We came for a purpose to assist with a major issue in the community of Cuzco, providing scholarships to girls pursuing further education to break the cycle of poverty. We also had the goal of making the 48 kilometer trek through the Andes learning of Inca culture, visiting Ancient Ruins of a civilization with an incredible and almost unimaginable knowledge of agriculture, engineering, construction, philosophy and understanding of the Earth and its relation to the Universe. I could go on for pages of Archaelogical and cultural facts of the Inca people but that would bore you and its much more interesting in the black journal I started prior to this trip.

We accomplished our goal of surviving the Inca Trail thanks to Clif Bars, good jams on the ipods, amazing guides and each other’s awesome motivational powers and positive energy. For four days we hiked uphill through rainforests, through “Dead Woman’s Pass,” over rickety bridges, over powerful streams and down slippery, uneven stone stairs that went on for miles. We slept on hard cold ground in tents, ate very simple and sometimes indigestible meals with our group of Argentinians, a Mexican, an Australian, two Swedes and our amazing Peruvian guides, Juana and Pepe. We woke up before the sun, carried what little we brought with us on our backs and took dozens of stops to take pictures, meditate or just to concentrate on our Spanish speaking skills or to catch our breath with the incredibly high altitude.

We did not expect however to experience the same uphill battles and and steep scary descends emotionally. A member of our travel posse for the past 6 days was a very challenging person to handle at such high doses and it was a lesson to us that not only should you chose your travel companions VERY wisely, but even on the side of a mountain standing among ruins of some of the most positively charged structures and temples, we were still facing the challenges of dealing with people you can’t escape.

We realized after a day of walking on egg shells and still experiencing the wrath of someone we couldn’t understand or get through to, did we realize the true challenge of the pilgrimage. You will always get handed the challenges you need most when you least expect it. Moral of this story. Kiersten and I proved to be stronger compadres than ever before and helped each other physically and mentally meet these challenges and persevere.

From here, the trip will be much different now that we have parted ways and celebrated our liberation from this aggrivator last night with drinks and salsa dancing lessons with our guides Pepe and Juana who we had grown close to. Today we even went to Juana’s favorite spa for some sauna and salt and honey body scrubs  and did lunch and some shopping in the markets of Cusco. It was a great start to the next chapter of our trip.

Tomorrow we leave for another 3 day trek to the jungle of Bilkabamba, the last refuge of the Incan people, where Daniel, our amazing host/guide in Cusco is from. We will be spending the Summer Solstice, December 22nd on this trip and know Daniel will have so much knowledge to share with us and I am really looking forward to a real spiritual awakening here in the mountains of Peru.