This summer we won't be sending the kids to camp and hitting the beach. Instead, on June 26th, Scott, Melanie, Lucas and Sydney depart for a 2 month adventure in Peru where we'll immerse ourselves in peruvian culture, volunteer to help those less privileged, hike the Inca Trail and live in the jungle. Follow our blog for regular updates, pictures and videos from all 4 of us.

Friday, July 26, 2013

One Of The Boys

Before we came to Peru, I thought our work in the orphanage would be sad. That has not been the case. The boys are in a great moods when we see them and greet us with smiles, hugs and high-fives. Today was different.

We are suppose to help the boys with their homework; some need it and some don´t.  I sat down next to a boy that had his head down on his backpack today and told him I would help him with this homework. He shook his head no.  One of the directors came over to the two of us and yelled at him to pull out his homework immediately and begin. He had tears in his eyes.  When she walked away he put his head back down.  In my best Spanish (which is not terrific yet) I explained to him that I would stay with him and we could do the homework together.  He shook his head no. I decided to find out what the hell was going on so I walked up to the woman that yelled at him and asked about him. Here is his story:

JC is a 12 year old boy who apparently used to LOVE school and do well.  Apparently his father was horrible to him and everything changed. I did not get exact details;  I am not sure I wanted them.  JC ran away from home and lived in the streets.  The police finally picked him up and brought him to the orphange. Since then, he has been depressed.  He hates school.  He hates to shower.  He hates everything.  He has been in the orphanage a few years so, if you do the math, he ran away and lived in the streets when he was likely UNDER 10 years old.

We bring fun activities with us to the orphanage (balls, jump ropes, art supplies, etc.) I had colored pencils and paper with me today and so I sat back down with JC and told him that I would make him a deal.  I told him that we would play tic tac toe three times and then look through each of his notebooks to see what homework he had.  I drew the grid, nabbed him lightly with the pencil and told him to go first.  He looked up, took the pencil and marked an "X".  I let him win that first one.  The last two games we tied.  Then I began opening up his notebooks to see where his homework was.  As I flipped through his notebooks I noticed that some of his school work involved pictures he had to draw and color.  The kid had some artistic ability!  I asked him if he liked art and he said yes.  He had about six notebooks that we went through and for the life of me, I could not figure out what he had to do for homework.  But I did begin to figure just how much this kid loved art.

As I was going through JCs notebooks Sydney came to sit with us and she began coloring this picture where I had scribbled a bunch of black pen on white paper.  She added color to the spaces.  The finished product looks like a mosaic.  He just sat and stared at her picture.  I asked him if he wanted to try it and he said yes. So he and Sydney sat there and he completed about three of them and they were gorgeous!  I wrote a bunch of postive notes about his works of arts and told him to keep them.  By the end of the day he had done NO homework, but he was all smiles and had beautiful art.  Scott and I left him all the pencils and told him he can have them for the night ("JC, you are the boss of the pencils") and we will do more art tomorrow.  I would like to think the homework would get done tomorrow, but this is as far as I got today.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 3: Taquile

Our "mama" woke us about about 6a.  We slept in our clothes and there's no running water for showers so it didn't take long for us to be "up and at 'em".  Breakfast was pancakes with jelly…which everyone loved.  After saying goodbye to Lindy (Celestina's adorable 3 year old),


then came the long dreaded trek back down to the boat, but this time with a twist…our "mama" strapped our suitcase to her back and carried it for us!  Admittedly, I did the hard work of carrying it up the hill, but Celestina carried it, strapped in a blanket and hanging from her neck, all the way down the mountain without 1 complaint or so much as a stop to rest (I was not as generous going up).  She explained that all girls on the island, starting at age 15, learn to carry very heavy loads on their back…Melanie and Sydney have a lot of work to do to catch up!!!

Once loaded up, we started the short trip over to Taquile where we observed how the locals weave clothing the old fashion way…by hand on a loom, crafting designs entirely by memory.  Then…more hiking.  We spent the next hour walking to the city center:


where we had lunch of lake trout and of course potatoes and rice!  There's really not much more to tell about Taquile…it's much like Amantani where locals spend their entire time either catering to tourists or farming potatoes.

After lunch we walked over 520 steps down to our boat where we started the now 3 hour boat ride (which should probably only take 20 minutes on a normal boat) back to Puno.  In Puno we hit an internet cafe, since I was suffering from withdrawal, and then we had pizza dinner (pizza is incredibly popular in Puno…you can barely walk 10 feet without coming across a place that serves it).  By this time the kids could barely walk…in fact, Lucas fell asleep on the lobby couch at the hotel we where we waited to be picked up.  Our ride showed up at 9p, and took us to the bus terminal where we boarded the "night bus" back to Cusco.  Honestly, the night bus may have been the highlight of the trip for the kids.  Each seat reclined into a bed, we had movies (the kids watched Ice Age in Spanish) and we even had wifi!!  We probably didn't fall asleep (in the same clothes we've now worn for 2 days straight) until near midnight and the bus rolled into Cusco at just before 5a.

Exhausted and disgusting we spent all of Sunday recovering.  Enjoy all the pics and the few videos we took.  Next weekend is Machu Picchu!

Day 2: Uros & Amantani

Despite hot showers, Day 2 started a bit slow because of the higher altitude (Puno is roughly 600 meters higher than Cusco)…but don't worry it's nothing that a spot of breakfast and a little fresh lake air can't cure.  Today we're venturing out on to the lake, with our first stop being the floating reed islands of Uros, about a 20 minute ride from Puno.  The reed islands actually float about 20 meters above the bottom of the lake and are anchored in place by large stones.  Every 2 weeks or so, the locals put down a fresh layer of reeds, as the old layers slowly deteriorate.  There is no running water here, but they have some limited solar power.  The whole way of life is incredibly simple and backwards, and the only way these people can survive is money made from tourists (like us) which is bit ironic since they could practically swim to Puno where more modern accommodations await.  Regardless, it was very cool to see!


After about an hour on the reeds, we boarded our boat to head to Amantani.  Our boat is supposed to be "semi-fast".  I'm not at all sure what that means because there was absolutely NOTHING fast about it.  It took us almost 3 hours to get to Amantani and if the water wasn't just above freezing, I probably could have swam and got there sooner!  On the positive side, I guess you could call the ride relaxing…

Once we arrived at Amantani, the real adventure started.  We knew we'd be spending the night with a local "host" family to experience the Quechua way of living first hand.  What we didn't know is that our "host" would live about 2 miles straight up hill.  While the rest of our tour donned their hiking packs for the trek, I had to carry by hand the roller bag that we stupidly overpacked the 4 of us in.  Luckily our "mama", Celestina, had very nice accommodations for us once we finally arrived:


and she also served us a traditional lunch of sopa (soup), rice, potatoes and cheese cooked inside the most primitive kitchen imaginable.  While they have some electricity from solar power, people in the U.S. bring more modern equipment camping (thanks Greg Brown).  They cook their meals either over a wood fire or on a 2-burner camping stove.  There's no fridge so the food just sits on shelves or on the dirt floor.  There is no running water at all!  Yet somehow, the food tasted good, which probably shouldn't have been that surprising because almost every woman on the island was what we would call in the U.S. morbidly obese (maybe it's all the carbs).

Once we recovered from the hike and refueled from lunch, it was time to hike again because we were only about half way up the mountain…but at least this time I didn't need to bring our suitcase!  We hiked up to the top just in time to see the sunset:


Then back to our house for a rest and some dinner before Fiesta Time:


By this point, the kids are in tears from sheer exhaustion so after a few dances we bowed out for a cold night's sleep and what promised to be an early wake-up call!

Road to Puno

We spent the past weekend traveling to Puno and Lake Titicaca.  It was a long, fascinating and often exhausting 3-day, 2-night trip.  I'll break it up into 3 blog entries, one for each day, because there's so much to tell.

Day 1 started on the "day bus" to Puno.  What's normally a 6 hour bus ride is made into 10 hours by breaking the trip up into a few stops along the way.  The bus is comfortable and modern and we have a bilingual tour guide who pretty much spoke for about 9 of the 10 hour ride, but don't worry the kids stayed entertained by playing video games and watching movies.  After a quick stop in a nearby village that is famous for its bread (it was fantastic), we made our way to Andahuaylillas which is known for only 1 thing…the church in the center square which is often described as the Sistine Chapel of South America.  I've been the Sistine Chapel, and this was no Sistine Chapel…but still impressive in its own right.


Next stop was Raqchi, home of a fairly well preserved Incan ruin.  This ruin is a little more modern then the ones we've seen in the Sacred Valley, but still pretty cool.


Probably the most interesting were the Qolqas or storehouses constructed to store food for when it's needed.


Viewing ruins always works up a good appetite so we stopped for a buffet lunch before heading to La Raya.  La Raya is the highest point on the road to Puno.  At 4,335 meters (over 13k feet) it's easy to be left short of breadth.  Let's just say that the altitude didn't sit too well with one of our group…


Altitude is no joke…Melanie felt nauseous, had blurred vision and was tingly in her fingers.  Despite commenting that it's sometimes mental (I may never let Melanie live that one down!), our guide pulled out the oxygen for her which helped tremendously.

About 20 minutes later, Melanie was about 90% and well enough to enjoy our next stop of Pukara where we briefly walked through the town mark, which is like most other markets we've seen…pretty much anything you could every want or imagine, laid out before you on a blanket placed directly on the street.  Before we get to Puno which is more of a tourist/resort town, we drove through Juliaca.  Juliaca is known as a commercial center of Peru and is famous for contraband.  Honestly, the place is a sh*thole!  I would guess that 95% of the entire city is under construction…not a single building looked completed (apparently because if construction is done, taxes kick in).  Even the guidebooks tell you that if you find yourself in Juliaca, leave as quickly as possible…so that's exactly what we did.

Finally by 5p, after a 10 hour journey, we rolled into Puno.  We were met by a representative from our travel agency who took us to our hotel…a journey that should normally take less than 10 minutes, but in this case took 45 because of gridlock traffic and construction.  The good news was that our hotel was very nice and centrally located with 4 beds, wifi and hot water heaters (Melanie would even say the altitude sickness was worth it)!

After a brief pizza dinner that was mediocre at best, our weary bunch was ready to turn in for the evening because we would be making an early start the next day!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Melanie vs. The Shower

I want each and every one of you to be grateful for your warm optimally pressured showers today.  You see while it is summer in America and likely hovering around 70 to 90 degrees, we are in Peru in the middle of winter.  It is really really cold.  Let me give you a mental image to work with on how cold it is.

Last night I went to bed with hiking socks on pulled up to my knees, long pants, a long shirt, a sweat shirt, a hat and a scarf wrapped around my head and neck.  I looked ridiculous (Scott confirmed this) and I was STILL cold.  (To the grandparents of Lucas and Sydney...relax.  For some reason, the kids are not as cold as we are.  They just don´t seem to feel it as much as we do. They rarely complain.  Don´t worry. They are bundled up.)

When you wake up from a cold sleep and it is your day to shower (we only shower every other day), you would look forward to a shower in the morning, right?  Wrong!  My showers are miserable.

They warned us.  Maximo Nivel told us the water pressure and heat are variable in the homes and I thought, "I am tough. I can handle it."  The truth is, I am not handling it.  I´ve lost my mind on shower day.  I started to talk to the shower like it is alive and we need to negociate terms.  I bargain with it saying, "We are in this thing together and we should cooperate with one another.  If you keep a good temperature and reasonable pressure, I will be quick so you can relax for a while." The damn thing never listens. Today my shower started off too hot for about 10 seconds then quickly turned freezing.  I couldn´t stand it.  I was out in 60 seconds and shivering.

I am not being snobby. I promise.  There is a guy here we volunteer with who has been around the world (He happens to be a student at Ohio State University--GO BUCKS!)  He was in Africa and said the African bucket showers are much (MUCH!) better than the shower experiences he has in Peru. Here is how his African showers worked.

  1. You lather yourself up
  2. Pour a bucket over your head.  
  3. That´s all!  You´re clean.  
And he says they were also quite refreshing because it is hot outside.  He says his showers here have been absolutely miserable and he is looking forward to ending this part of his Peruvian trip soon with his exit out of the country.

So please...be grateful today and every day for the means by which we get ourselves clean in the United States.  I love the people and our experiences here, but I will not miss the Peruvian shower situation at all. Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.....

 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Saqsaywaman & Christo Blanco

After staying out late on Friday night and being a little tired from a long week of waking up early for Spanish classes, we took advantage of Saturday to spend the morning relaxing around the house.  We slept  in a bit, had a typical Peruvian breakfast of spinach/egg pancakes and fresh squeezed papaya juice, and generally recharged because our plan was to spend the afternoon trekking up to the Incan ruins of Saqsaywaman (pronounced like "sexy woman") and the Christo Blanco (White Jesus).  Before making the hike from the city center, which goes nearly straight up hill, we walked into town to have lunch and fuel up.  La Boheme is Cusco's only "creperia".  It seats only 8 people and is run by the owner and chef, who is from France but has spent the past 3 years in Cusco.  Who knew the kids would be such fans…they each had a avocado and ham crepe, followed by several desert crepes!



By about 1p we had a full belly and were ready to hike.  Saqsaywaman is outside of Cusco so our maps don't actually show the specific path, but we knew the general direction…straight up.  Unfortunately, we followed an old sign to Christo Blank that must no longer point the right way because after climbing about 300 stairs, Sydney falling about 5 feet off the side of an embankment and me being chased by some kind of a rabid dog who was guarding a llama we were forced to turn around and retrace our steps.  


We regrouped, found the correct signs, and about 45 minutes later made it to the entrance of the ruins…which is where the real adventure started. Apparently viewing the ruins isn't free…it costs 140 soles.  While that's only about $50…we didn't have that much on us and it's not like there's an ATM next to ancient ruins.  While we sat there debating what to do next, a fairly shady guy came over and offered us a horseback ride to the ruins for only 60 soles (which is all we had) for the 4 of us.  Melanie was more than a little dubious about a horseback riding tour for only $20, but we decided to take the 15 minute walk to his ranch to check out his operation in person.  After getting the thumbs up from a few other americans who had just gone on the tour, we saddled up and were off.  Problem was…we had no idea where we were going!  Instead of a nice english speaking guide to show us the way and explain the history of these ancient sites, we got a Peruvian woman, carrying a 9 month old baby in a blanket strapped to her back who spoke no english and spent the time not telling us about the tour but rather prodding our horses up a pretty steep hill (while she walked behind us…still carrying the baby).  


(believe it or not, there's a 9 month old baby in that blanket tied around her neck!!!!)

At this point, I was feeling more than a little guilty that, for what's really only a nominal fee, we're comfortably being carried by horses while this woman is forced to walk, baby in tow.  Regardless, it ended up working out.  Eventually the mom was replaced with a much more physically capably 16 year old girl (it's still lost on me why the men who sold us the tour made the women walk next to the horses while they just hung out at the ranch) and the whole excursion lasted about 2 hours.  We visited 2 different ruins (in addition to seeing Saqsaywaman) and saw some amazing scenery from the horses, all the while enduring cold weather (it's about 15 degrees colder at the top of the mountains), periodic rain and even a little hail/sleet.  


Afterwards, we hiked up by foot to Christo Blanco where, coincidentally, we met 2 kids from Newport Beach taking in the impressive site.

By 5p we had had enough adventure and started the long walk back into the Cusco.  Once back into town we stopped for a snack and a few hard earned cervezas (for Melanie and me).  Having spent a very full day of activity, we grabbed some dinner at a place frequented primarily by the locals for its 1/4 chicken, and by 9:30p we were back at home completely exhausted but satisfied we accomplished all we had set out to do.  All in all…a nice little Saturday.


As always, more pics are posted on Flickr.

Quinceañera

On Friday night all the orphanage volunteers were invited to a special party to celebrate several of the kids from the girls' orphanage turning 15.  I guess the 15th birthday carries some kind of special significance here because it was quite the party!  Prior to the event, all 40+ boys spent the afternoon showering and getting dressed.  Someone must have donated clothes because every boy had nice shoes, dress pants and a pressed shirt and sport coat…all of which had been individually tailored to fit.  While the clothes weren't exactly the latest style (many kids looked out of the 70s!), they certainly cleaned up nicely.  


The party started at 6p at the Hotel Cusco…which is less of a hotel and more a banquet hall.  Each girl was announced and escorted by a boy in uniform.  A mariachi band showed up and performed and there was dancing and ceremony, while all the other kids watched.  Everyone was amazingly well behaved!  Supposedly dinner, cake and champagne were going to be served, but after 2 hours Lucas and Sydney started getting a little anxious so we left before the party ended, but we got several pictures while we were there.  Here are a few and the rest are posted to Flickr:



Friday, July 12, 2013

A Peruvian Farmer's Market

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to accompany Ana to her local farmer's market to buy our food for the week.  Her trek is similar to my trek every Saturday morning in Laguna Beach...well...almost.   The first few stands looked quite similar to my market, but I can never find pineapples or bananas.




Then I saw the cheese...just laying there...out in the open.  I am a nut about food safety.  Some of you may not be.  But I am.  I could not help but think how long it had been out.  Ana asked for samples for us.   The woman selling the chesse used the knife to cut off pieces and handed one to me.  I ate it.   The cheese was delicious! And then, because I am a nut,  I prayed prayed prayed the probiotics worked.  I´ll have you know...there were no problems.


Then my adventure got interesting...



I can honestly say, I have NEVER seen this in my Saturday morning Farmer´s Market in the US.


And to top if off, there was this little guy in the middle of the Farmer´s Market near the carrots.  

In summary, I had the best time and learned so much.  Ana is super picky about which stand she buys food from and takes great pride in the food she buys and prepares for us.  How lucky we are to have her!

Baseball

So Luke and I brought our baseball gloves and a ball to the orphanage yesterday, and it was a big hit.  Baseball isn't exactly a common sport here in Peru so, not surprisingly, most the boys had never held a baseball glove before.  Luke showed them the basics...like what hand the glove went on...and then he and I played a game of catch so they could watch.  Afterwards, we let the kids have a go.  Most of them caught on fairly quickly and there was a select few that actually showed some real talent at it!

On a unrelated note, Sydney had an interesting day yesterday too.  One of the boys was playing with Sydney and got a little rough with her to the point that she started crying.  It wasn't a big deal and she wasn't really hurt, but what was cool is that all the other kids came to Sydney's defense.  They pushed the boy away and really got on him for being too rough...to the point that one of them told Melanie they made him cry.  Maybe it's her blond hair, but good to know that the Peruvians have Sydney's back!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Volunteering

Some of you have asked for pictures from the orphanage so we took a few yesterday.  I've posted a few below and there's plenty more on flickr.




Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Past Weekend & New Pics

This past weekend we took advantage of being fully acclimated to explore Cusco and beyond.  On Saturday, we started with a big american style breakfast at The Meeting Place, and afterward we took advantage of the Free Walking Tour to learn all about Cusco.  We ate alpaca, learned the difference between alpaca wool and baby alpaca wool (baby alpaca is not from a baby, but is just the first time an animal is shaved for it's wool), hiked to the San Cristobal church and drank Pisco (a local liquor).


On Sunday we took a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, visiting Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba and Chinchero.


If you're interested, we posted a ton of new pictures to Flickr.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sydney...The Celebrity

We do a lot of walking through many neighborhoods in Cusco so this exposes us to the people.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen smiles, giggles, and looks of awe when people notice Sydney walking with us.  And some older people have actually stopped to touch her and make comments about how incredibly adorable she is.   The blond hair gets attention.  A few have asked her to start talking in English.  They want the combo platter...the cute little blondie who speaks the English language. Sydney is a celebrity in Cusco. Scott, Lucas and I are her entourage.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Zapatos

Today we took a mini-side trip today to El Molino to get Sydney some new shoes, as her old ones were too small and falling apart. On the way, we stopped at the statue of Pachacutec:


For about $1 we got to climb to the top, which is 100+ feet high:


We eventually made it to the market, which is like a huge mall under a tent with tons of shoes, clothes, toys, and everything else you can imagine.  This is where the locals do their shopping, and we found some success...for 88 soles (about $30) sydney got some blue and pink New Balance knockoffs the fit perfectly:


Who needs Nordstroms shoe department!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Spanish Favorites

We just finished up about 10 hours of intensive Spanish lessons this week.  I thought it would be fun to ask the family what their favorite Spanish words were from our first week of lessons.  Here goes:

SCOTT:  (No surprise to some of you)

  • Queso=cheese
  • Cerveza=beer

SYDNEY:

  • Amarillo=yellow
  • Ojos=eyes
  • Azul=blue
  • Hola=hello

LUCAS:

  • Hola=hello
  • Rojo=red
  • Helado=ice cream


MELANIE:  I learned many new words and phrases this week.  Here goes:


  • Menudo (not the band in the late 80´s)= often
  • Mi boca se hace agua= my mouth is watering (not sure when I will use this) 
  • Estoy feliz por ti=I am happy for you
  • Bien por ti=good for you
  • A lo mejor=perhaps
  • Tomar puntes=to take notes (I took many this week)
  • Hidratarte=hydrate (important word to know being in this high altitude)
  • Saludable=healthy
  • Mente=mind
  • Maquillarse=to put on make up (which I don´t do much of here)
  • Imponer=to impose
Next week we start a new round of lessons for the kids (only one hour each day) and then I am going to try to meet with a Spanish speaker that wants to learn English so we can work together to learn. I may return to formal Spanish classes again later this month.  Sadly, future and past tense verb conjugation is something I must have blocked out of my mind;  I need more work.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy July 4th

Hope everyone in the states is having a great July 4th today.  We celebrated with a transportation strike and a mini pub crawl where we visited several english pubs in town...ostensibly to rub it in that some 237 years ago today we declared independence from them.  Now that we're done, we'll start the 45 minute walk home since no cabs or buses are running today!

Cusco Geography

For those of you interested in a little more detail on Cusco here's a map:


The top right circle is where we're staying and you can clearly see where Maximo Nivel is located.  Each morning we make the walk, which takes about 40 minutes.  On the way we pass many restaurants, panaderias and supermercados (but no coffee shops).  The main roads (like Avenida de la Cultura) tend to be crowded with pedestrians, taxis and buses, and its not like California where motorists yield to pedestrians.  The buses are crazy...they're the equivalent of a sprinter van packed to the brim with 20+ people, half of which are standing.  I've actually never seen one not 100% full!

Anyway, today we had Ana pack us lunch to go and we ate on the plaza next to the Temple of the Sun (across the street from Maximo Nivel).  


Afterwards we toured the temple which features the oldest Incan ruins in Cusco:


Then we headed over to the orphanage to spend a few hours with the kids.  The orphanage is located due south of Maximo Nivel over the rail road tracks (pictured on the map)...about a 10 minute walk.  We normally take a taxi home from the orphanage, which costs 3 or 4 soles (or about $1), but tomorrow the taxis and buses are on strike (I have no idea why, but apparently strikes are quite common here) so we'll cut our volunteering short to make the hour long walk home.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Side Of Protein...Please

I have to agree with Scott on the breakfast issue.  While I keep an open mind about all things related to food and culture, we are physiologically craving more variety in our breakfasts.  Don't get us wrong....the bread, cheese and jam are delicious.  All of you would love it!  We just miss a variety of breakfast options, especially protein.  Ana packed us some amazing looking protein packed lunches today so we are looking forward to that meal in a few minutes.  Some of you may think we should just tell Ana how we feel.  It doesn't work like that.  This woman puts her heart, soul and culture into our meals and we feel the need to be respectful of her.  So we will keep quiet.  And then, on the way to school or volunteering, we may pick up some supplementary protein laden food along the way.  There are eggs in pastries and protein in ice cream. So those options would qualify.

Breakfast

OK, I've got to admit that while the food tastes great, the family consensus is that a little more variety might be nice.  We had bread, butter, jelly, cheese and fresh juice for breakfast again this morning. Luke asked if we could just have some dry cereal for a change but they don't really drink milk here so that's out.  To mix it up, we stopped at a bakery and got some pastries this morning, but we'll probably try to eat out quite a bit this weekend.

They also don't really drink coffee here!  There's only 1 starbucks in the whole city, and I would have thought that void would be filled by countless small cafes, but no.  In our 45 minute walk each morning we probably pass 100+ restaurants, street carts and bakeries, and not a single one offers a quick cup of coffee to go!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Soccer (fútbol) Anyone?


Yesterday was our first "official" day in country.  We started off with 9a spanish lessons.  The kids had a private lesson with Anamarie, Melanie is in an advanced intermediate class and I'm, of course, in Spanish for Dummys.  After Spanish we spent a few minutes online…downloading episodes of Game of Thrones to watch after the kids go to bed (with only spanish TV and no internet, it can be a bit slow at night)!

For lunch Ana made us lentils and rice.  I know it seems kind of plain, but she must have some kind of special Peruvian spices or something because it was fantastic!  I can't really explain it, but everything she makes is delicious…even the simplest stuff like chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, or spaghetti with meat sauce (meat sauce here is a piece of steak of top of spaghetti).  It's all home cooked and 100% organic…almost as if Melanie died and went to heaven!

Anyway, after lunch and a brief rest we made the trek back to Maximo Nivel (about a 45 minute walk with the kids) for them to take us to our volunteer assignment.  We'll be spending the afternoons at the Hogar Salome Ferro orphanage for boys, where they house about 40 boys ranging from 6 to 16.  Our responsibilities basically entail spending the afternoon playing with the boys and possibly helping out with a little homework.  The facility, while spartan by our standards, is actually pretty nice and all the boys seemed really happy.  We were only going to have a quick tour of the place today, but within about 15 minutes an impromptu soccer game broke out with Lucas, me, 2 other volunteers and 4 of the boys, and we played until it got too dark to continue.  Melanie and Sydney toured the girls orphanage and then Sydney showed the boys that she is the master of the swing set as she went higher than all of them (it wasn't even close!).  The kids had a blast and Lucas was begging to come back tomorrow and stay longer!

Today is more of the same, although at some point this week we plan to take a formal walking tour of the city, and we may take a tour of the Sacred Valley this weekend.  We're also planning a weekend trip to Puno & Lake Titicaca, which will likely involve an overnight bus trip which we've been told is actually quite comfortable with fully reclining seats, pillows and blankets so all the passengers can sleep.