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, August 30, 2013

Lost Cochoa

Today we're hiking to a place called "lost lake".  Not sure why it's considered lost because we had no trouble finding it…albeit it took a good 2 hours of hiking and another hour by boat!  On the way we saw tons of birds…vultures, wild turkeys, toucans, screamers, tons of turtles and more, and once we got to the lake we even found a few black caimans…

Lucas was pretty excited, but Sydney seemed a bit overwhelmed (or perhaps it's fatigue since the whole hike was about 8km round trip).

We even climbed to the top of a 200+ foot platform (a little high for my taste) to have a look around:

On the way back, we stopped at the biggest tree I've ever seen:

By this point, Sydney was a little tired and needed a ride so I obliged…

But i had to put her down to watch our guide coax a tarantula out of it's nest with a blade of grass.

That was enough hiking for us so we took the rest of the day to relax in the hammocks and view the local botanical garden before an early bed time.

EcoAmazonia & Monkey Island

On Tuesday morning we had a quick breakfast at Ana's and then off to the airport for our flight to Puerto Maldonado.  It's a short trip, only about 45 minutes, and we were met by our lodge at the airport to take us to our transportation.

The lodge is actually about 30km downriver so after a quick tour of the town and local market and a stop for water (and ice cream!), we're off.

We arrive at the lodge about 1.5 hours later:

And after lunch and seeing our bungalows, we're ready to see some animals…which is good because first stop on our tour is Monkey Island.  It's small island basically across from the lodge that's used to house monkeys that have been injured or for some reason need rescuing.  There are about 50 of them, across 4 different species, on the island, and they stay there until the local authorities determine they're ready to be returned to the wild.  In the interim, they're available for us to view and even feed…

The spider monkeys are our favorites, but they tend to be afraid of the smaller capuchins so they wait until after the other monkeys have their fill before coming down to say hi…

Tons more pictures on Flickr, but this gives you a little perspective…quite the first day in the jungle.  Now back to the lodge for dinner and then…a night boat ride looking for the ever elusive white caiman.  Well, its not so elusive because we saw a few:

Now time for bed…we have an early start tomorrow at 5am so nite nite!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nutrition Clinic

For the past two weeks I forged ahead alone far far away from our house (an hour walk there and back) to the nutrition clinic where I worked with a Peruvian nutritionist.  Before I went, I was looking forward to the experience and had done some research on the nutritional issues in Cusco.  I knew iron deficiency anemia was a huge problem.  Being here six weeks, I could now see why.  We have been pumped with so much rice, corn and potatoes that it isn't even funny anymore.  The clinic is called MONET and basically is like the American version of Early Intervention, WIC and a cooking class all in one.  There are seven MONET clinics serving the city of Cusco.

The nutritionists name was Catalina (Caty) and the woman has many responsibilities.  Each family that comes into the clinic must have an updated growth chart on the kids.  Caty checks the charts to insure each kid is growing.  The families pay 1 sole for both breakfast and lunch for each kid they have, which is about 33 cents per meal.  If the kids are not growing well, she calls them out on it and gives them a talking to.   I thought I was direct with my patients.  This woman is a force to reckon with and has to be given the situation.  She gives them nutrition handouts to emphasize variety and the importance of protein and fat, which is often deficient in these kids' diets.  There is also this huge push for hand washing.  Many of the kids have parasitic infections, which stunts their growth and brain development.  This has all been traced back to lack of hand washing so she spends loads of time teaching the kids and parents to wash their hands before they eat, after they change diapers or go to the bathrooms themselves.  Once they are checked in, the kids are free to play and we cook.  Aside from Caty, there is another woman that comes in as an assistant cook, but takes orders from Caty.    There is a very small play area where they also eat. 

Here is the kitchen they work out of.  NOTE:  The kitchen is smaller than it appears here. 

There is a four week menu cycle in this clinic.  I have been able to order food in restaurants, tell taxis where our home is located and buy tickets to museums, but learning the Spanish words for Peruvian food was a challenge. I had to ask Ana, my Spanish teacher at Maximo Nivel and then did a lot of Googling (when I could find internet access) to figure out what the hell the menu items were. Once I did, I realized the menus were very well balanced.  

As they cooked through breakfast and lunch, Caty and the cook graciously offered me food to try. Sometimes I took it.  Sometimes I did not.  I watched food preparation very closely and asked a lot of questions to learn their techniques, especially on how to cook quinoa (I am the world's worse quinoa cook).  While there are many wonderful things about Peru, food safety standards in the country are not the same so I was hesitant to try the food because where they cut the fish is where they may make a salad.  Wouldn't you be nervous?

Before I went to the Monet clinic I envisioned sitting at a desk, asking families to be patient with my Spanish and telling them how to feed their kids so they grow well.  That is not what I did.  I did do some simple nutrition counseling, especially when I saw a mother force feeding her kids.  (THAT DRIVES ME CRAZY IN PERU AND AMERICA!)  Here my responsibilities were broader in a larger effort to support the clinics day to day operations, which they desperately needed.  And…I was OK with this.
  • I cut potatoes, carrots and onions with the dullest knives you could imagine. It took me 25 minutes (no exaggeration) to cut an onion until they told me it was just right for the lunch that day.
  • I washed and dried dishes in the coldest water you can imagine in that tiny kitchen.
  • I swept and mopped the floor with a broom that had a towel around it that kept falling off.  Mopping took twice as long.
  • I cleaned the kiddie plastic tables and chairs over and over again and organized the developmental toys for the kids. 
  • I held and played with some of the cutest babies and kids.
  • I sat on the floor talking to mothers in broken Spanish about the differences and similarities between Peru and America. They had a lot of questions for me.  We talked about everything from feeding kids to Barack Obama and how horrible they thought guns were.
  • I bought wipes and diaper cream for a mom who I saw changing a kids diaper the day before and taught her how to properly clean and change the baby.  He had diaper rash (and many other medical issues).  I was stunned watching her change him and will spare you intricate details about how she changed and cleaned him.  His diaper was a thin washcloth she wrapped around him and then secured a plastic grocery bag (the kind they are trying to phase out in the US) as "rubber pants", similar to the 1970's version some of us may have worn.
  • I made grocery lists for the clinic.
  • I served food and tried some, when I felt it was safe.
  • I read the Peruvian governments goals for a healthier population (more about hand washing and lots about the importance of safety of children from abuse…of all kinds.  Violence in homes seems to be a big problem.
While it wasn't what I expected, I learned more in those two weeks than I would have sitting at a desk talking protein the whole time.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Heading to the Jungle!

We've now bee in Cusco for almost 8 weeks, and frankly we're running out of activities so thankfully we leave tomorrow for 5 days in the Amazon rainforest.  We're staying at this place called the EcoAmazonia Lodge, and for 5 days we'll be busy hiking and looking for wild animals.  Of course, we're practically experts at dealing with animals after spending 2 weeks volunteering at the zoo!

There's no internet access in the jungle so we wouldn't be able to post anything until we're back next Saturday so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Bathroom Situation

Mothers and daughters have many opportunities to bond in life.  I never thought one of those opportunities with Sydney would be the Peruvian bathroom situation.  The two of us have had bathroom experiences that I hope none of the women reading this blog have to have...EVER!   Our Cusco home bathroom situation is acceptable (although I am in a now six week fight with the shower as you may have seen in an earlier post) It's the bathrooms we encounter outside the home that are the problem.

In an effort to make this bathroom situation more bearable for the two of us and to get us in and out of bathrooms as fast as possible, we decided to develop a rating system each time we go.  Here is our scale:


Here are examples so you have a clearer understanding.

HORRIBLE:  We were visiting one of many Incan ruins, in the middle of nowhere, early in our trip and Sydney looks at me, crosses her legs and says, "Mom, I gotta go."  I cannot let this child pee on Incan ruins (disrespectful!) so we search for a bathroom.  I found the "bano" sign and we got into the line.  There was a man sitting outside the bathrooms with a bucket of water.  As people stepped out of the stalls, he took a bucket of water and threw it inside the stalls.  I thought he had amazing aim to be able to  get the water into the toilets after people left the bathroom.  What a talent this guy was!  When it was our turn, he pointed us into one of the stalls.  We walked in and all we saw was a drain, about the size of a standard checker board, on a flat floor. There was no toilet.  There was no toilet paper.  There was this drain on a very wet floor and it smelled "DEESKUSTING", as Sydney pointed out.   I had to brace Sydney on my arms, over the drain while she peed.  She looked horrified  and said, "Mommy!  This is awful!  I wish I was a boy right now".  I could not have said it better myself, bless her little heart. When I walked out of the bathroom a woman said to me in English, "You are a brave soul.  I used bathrooms like that in Europe 20 years ago and swore I would never do that again!"

EXCELLENT:  The JW Marriott of Cusco wins!  We happened to find the hotel walking around the city and Sydney had to go.  (They also had internet access so Scott and Luke had a few minutes to surf and check email) WOW!  This lobby bathroom wasn't reality.  There was marble and granite, working locks and hooks on the doors, hot AND cold water options, fragrant soap and the floor was D-R-Y!   Both of our mouths dropped when we walked into the bathroom.  We started to jump up and down and dance out of sheer joy because when we found the JW Marriott it had been about four weeks of mostly HORRIBLE and POOR experiences.  I told Sydney I wanted to hang out and live in this bathroom, but of course, we couldn't.  But we both washed our hands in the temperature of our choosing and our hands were nice and dry when we left because they had real towels to dry your hands with!  HEAVEN!

While this is not the most riveting blog we have posted, I want to remember to be forever be grateful for bathrooms with water temperature options, clean floors and towels or air for drying hands.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Well, for lunch today we made plans to go to a traditional peruvian restaurant that specializes in Cuy (guinea pig for you gringos).  At La Qunita Eutalia they have no menus.  Instead you look at the hand written chalkboard for what's on the menu that day, and the waiter hands you a sheet of paper and a pen to write down what items you want to order.
In addition to Cuy (3rd item down on the menu), the restaurant is known for rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers).  We also decided to try Costillaro (lamb ribs) can probably guess which is which in the picture below:
And, here is the's served basically deep fried with the head still on.

Melanie fell in love immediately...
It's actually quite good...tastes much like fried chicken...the only problem is that it's not easy to eat.  There's not a ton of meat and it's not something that you can just cut into pieces.  Honestly, it's meant to be picked up and eaten with your hands like you would a chicken leg.  We did our best and it turns out Sydney is a big fan (Luke, not so much).  If you can stomach another picture, here's the finished results...
Overall, a cool experience, but we pretty much all agreed that we won't be running out for another round of guinea pig so all your little furry pets back in the states will be more than safe around us when we return!

The Black Market

A few weeks back we picked up an alternative map of Cusco called the "non touristic map".  One of the items on it is a place called Baratillo.  The description is "second hand market (buy northface, Adidas, jask wolfskin, zara at very cheap prices."  It goes on to provide a warning "keep in mind this place is not 100% safe" so of course now I feel absolutely obligated to check it out!  Plus, Melanie has developed a slightly unhealthy infatuation with North Face products.

Anyway, our excursion to the market was planned for Saturday.  We first stopped for lunch.  Melanie recently found the only bagel place in Cusco, which is run by an Israeli and fellow MOT (oddly enough he also runs a sushi restaurant).  After bagels and milkshakes, Melanie strapped on her money belt, we hid all our valuables, grabbed the kids by the hand and headed off to the black market.  

After about a 10 minute walk we come to an area packed with peruvians.  There are tents covering the entire street for about 3 blocks selling anything you could imagine...used phones, chargers, toilets, and tons of old clothes.  We spend the first 20 minutes just walking around browsing and getting our bearings (we're the only white people in the whole place)...and then the real shopping started!  We duck down some alleyway into an actual building with 3 floors of vendors selling name brand shoes and apparel.  On the surface, it looks like high end stuff, but the prices suggest otherwise.  We start negotiating for a North Face jacket for Melanie...we start at 58 soles (~$20), but get it down to 51 soles pretty quick.  We find another North Face fleece for Luke for 40 soles and some North Face hiking pants for me for another 50 soles.  We even found a vest for sydney for only 8 soles.  

All told we spent about $50!  All the items look legit on the surface, but the labels are in all chinese so guessing that they're completely matter because we're feeling confident that we not only braved the cusco black market, but are now looking extra sharp decked out in all our fake north face gear!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Entertainment...Part 2

Well, I feel like I'm part of a Seinfeld episode, but it seems our entertainment issues have been least temporarily.  Yesterday, as we were walking home, we passed a street vendor selling DVDs.  I casually inquired if he had any in english, and he answered in the affirmative so we all started perusing the titles.  Then it hit me...these were 1st run bootlegged DVDs (for you Seinfeld fans out there, picture Jerry with a video camera taping "Death Blow" or "Cry, Cry Again")!

I have to say, the selection was pretty damn impressive, but I was very skeptical whether 1) these would be the actual movie and 2) they would be in english.  Regardless, after reading 9 books and watching the 5 movies we brought no less than 3 times each, I figured it was worth the risk.  Plus, you couldn't beat the price...we bought Iron Man 3, Oblivion and Wreck it Ralph for a total price of 5 soles or about $1.80 (or about $0.60 per movie).

We rushed home to check them out and see if they were legit ("legit" meaning they were the actual movie, since at $0.60 each these movies aren't exactly "studio sanctioned"), and to our pleasant surprise they were!  Other than a weird intro featuring chinese writing (which just reinforces that there's no copyright protection in China), the movies are all the real deal!!!  Not only are they studio quality, but the sound is good and we can choose english as one of the set-up options!

The kids and I enjoyed a movie night yesterday with Iron Man 3, and I plan to stop by my favorite bootlegger often to refresh my DVD collection.  If you have any requests, let me know!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Little Girl

A heartbreaking thing happened today. I was on my way home from the nutrition clinic walking to meet the kids and Scott.  I noticed this peppy little girl, about 8 years old, walking by herself ahead of me.  She was way too young to be walking by herself through the busy streets of Cusco.  I looked around for an adult near her.  There was no one.  I sped up to get behind her and saw her shoes;  they were broken, worn, torn, and disgusting.  I then saw her stop at a restaurant to look at the menu.  (Could she read?)  We came to a stoplight and I said "HOLA".  She looked at me and flashed me a small smile and had the cutest face I have ever seen (besides Lucas and Sydney, of course).  I followed her up to the street where I was turning.  I stopped next to her, leaned down, said hi again and asked her where her parents were.  She opened her mouth to respond to me (with still the CUTEST face you have ever seen) and her teeth were actively rotting out of her mouth.   I have seen a lot of rotting teeth; this was the worst.   She told me her parents are at home and she is going home now.  I asked her if she was hungry and she said yes and then took off.  I had a energy bar in my backpack, but I could not get it to her fast enough. I felt so badly.  Hungry kids make me sad.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The San Pedro Market

A few weeks ago we went to this famous market in Cusco.  I forgot the camera.  We finally made it back today.  My pictures don't do the place justice.  I find the entire culture under this roof fascinating.  Have an open mind.  Here goes...

I'll start is the bread we eat EVERY SINGLE MORNING with butter, jam and sometimes cheese. Yum, right?  Not that yum after six weeks of it. 

Chicken soup, anyone?

 This was the meat aisle. I did not recognize the white stuff for sale in the bucket.  Do you?

This pig had a rough day, but is for sale.

I am told Peruvians will use all parts, and I mean every single part, of animals for soups and stews

Intestines for sale...

This is such a learning experience for us all.  We all have to eat on the planet...we just go about it in different ways.  A few more pictures will be posted on Flickr soon. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Inca Trail

6 months ago when we were thinking about a trip to Peru, the one thing I really wanted to do was to hike the Inca Trail.  For those of you that don't know, the Inca Trail is the walking trail created by the Incas some 500+ years ago to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu. So rather than just take a train all the way Machu Picchu like most people, this past Saturday at 6a we started the 2D/1N "mini-Inca Trail" hike (it's mini because the 4D trek is a little too much for the kids).  

The first part of the trek is train ride to KM 104.  KM 104 is a little more than 2 hours outside Cusco and isn't an actual train station (we had to give the conductor a special pass for the train to even stop there).  Stop is relative because the train barely even comes to a halt long enough for us to get off and as soon as we're clear it moves on leaving us in the middle of nowhere.  

No train, no car, no road, no electricity or phones…just nearly 8 miles of walking in front of us to get to Machu Picchu so we strapped our backpacks on, slathered on sun screen and bug repellent, loaded up with water and started walking.  Our first stop, only about 10 minutes in, is Chachabamba, a small Inca ruin that was thought to be primarily a guard post for Machu Picchu (since Machu Picchu was primarily reserved for the upper class).  After a tour of the ruins, our guide Miguel warned us that the next part of the trail is the hardest.  For the next 3 hours, save for a few brief stops to rest and have a snack, we walked up the mountain on our way to a place called Winaywayna.  

For those of your familiar with Laguna Beach, picture walking up Park…about 10 times on an unpaved and uneven surface…and that's maybe close to what this was like.  On the way, we were able to freshen up at a waterfall:

And the reward for getting to Winaywayna…more stairs straight up!  The Incas weren't just incredible engineers, but they must have also been in amazing shape to traverse these trails and steps on a regular basis.

After Winaywayna, we start the more "gentle" path to Machu Picchu.  The trail winds through several different climates.  At times it's blazing hot as the sun beats down on us, and then the trail turns and we're in the midst of the cool jungle.  All the while, we have some of the most amazing views of the canyon and Urabamba river far below, and the mountains that completely surround us:

After another 2 hours of walking, we're in desperate need of a break, but Miguel pushes us on.  No rest for the weary until we finally make it to Intipunku, The Sun Gate.  Entering the gate provides the very first view of Machu Picchu and only those who take the Inca Trail ever get to see it!  

After soaking in the view and catching our breath, and with the sun starting to set, we begin the final hour walk down from Intipunku into Machu Picchu itself.  We'll spend the next day touring Machu Picchu in depth, but we stop briefly at the Guardhouse for the signature photo:

The hiking was hard, but the scenery and the experience were amazing…in fact, it's hard to do it justice.  Despite sore feet, shoulders and backs, all of us felt such a sense of accomplishment that made the whole experience so worthwhile.  But the day wasn't quite over yet.  We head to the buses to go into Aguas Calientes to spend the night.  The bus takes a winding road down the mountain side with what seems like mere inches from either crashing into the mountain, or toppling off a cliff…but at this point it's nice to be riding and not walking!  And once we get into town, what's the best best way to recover from some 7+ hours of walking?  How about a natural hot spring (video on flickr)?

After a quick dinner, it's off to bed because we're headed back to Machu Picchu at 6a the next day.  I won't bore you with all the details of our tour of the site because I don't think it will come close to doing it justice.  Here's a map of the site that might help, but all I can really say is that it truly is one of the 8 wonders of the world:

If you're interested, you can check out the 300+ photos and videos of both the Inca Trail and the next day's tour of Machu Picchu on Flickr.  There's also photos/videos of our hike to the Inca Bridge, which is a treacherous trail that extends on the back side of Machu Picchu mountain.  ENJOY!!!


As much as we're enjoying our time in Peru, I'll be honest that we're running a little short of entertainment options at night.  After the kids go to sleep (between 8p and 9p), time seems to slow a bit for Melanie and me.  At this point, I've read 7 books, watched 2 full seasons of Game of Thrones and started season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Melanie has read 4 books herself, and even Lucas has read 4.

Since Season 3 of Game of Thrones won't be out for a few more months, any entertainment ideas are welcome...books we should read, shows we should download, whatever.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Zoo is Crazy

Seriously, I've never been to a place quite like this zoo.  Every day something new happens that would likely result in a normal zoo being closed down by whatever authorities oversee these things, but in Cusco there is no such oversight.  Anyway, this morning we had 2 separate incidents of monkeys escaping from their cages.  In one instance, we look up to see a full size spider monkey swinging from the condor cages.  As the zoo administrator tries to coax the monkey down by tempting him with some bread, she asks me to grab the toucan.  I guess she was worried that the monkey might grab the toucan and kill it so I grabbed some loose clothing lying around (the old clothes are used for the animals to sleep with and to cover the cages from the sun) and cover up the toucan (you can't catch the toucan if she can see you).  Once covered, I pick her up and take her to her cage.  All the while, one of the other zoo keepers somehow convinced the spider monkey to jump into his arms, at which point he took him back to his cage and disaster was averted.

Later, we start our daily responsibilities of cleaning some of the animal cages.  We're supposed to clean out any excess food, and pull out the loose clothes that are left in the cages overnight.  Sometimes the animals crawl inside the clothes and make it difficult to pull them out without letting them loose.  Today, I'm cleaning out some random animals cage and he's not visible so I'm assuming he's hidden in the clothes and so I'm trying to be a little extra careful.  After pulling out a few pieces of clothes, it quickly becomes apparent that the cage is empty...the animal has apparently escaped in the night!!!  We of course alert the zoo administrator, who doesn't really seem that worried.  By 11:30a when we left it was still unclear if the animal was ever found...oh well!

Finally, Friday is apparently "meat day" because next thing we know some random guy is walking in with a side of beef draped over his shoulder.  He literally has a huge chunk of meat about the size of a 10 year old boy, hanging over his protection, no gloves, no nothing.  After he deposits the meat in one of the back rooms, for some reason he insists on shaking all of our hands.  Keep in mind that he has raw meat literally all over him...thanks goodness we were all wearing gloves.  I gather someone else comes in later in the afternoon to hack the meat up to give it to the animals!

Next week we're back at the orphanage, but the zoo will never be far from our thoughts.  We'll miss it's non-stop entertainment and look forward to volunteering there again in 2 weeks.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This week we started a new volunteer assignment at the Cusco zoo.  When I say "zoo", I use the term very loosely.  While there are animals (and some of them are even kept in cages!), there are no vets and the people who work there seem to have little if any formal training on being zoo keepers.  There's a fee for visitors, but no one actually mans the entrance to collect the money, and there's really only 1 rule…keep the door to the zoo closed so the free-roaming llama doesn't escape!

Volunteering at the zoo typically starts with taking some of the animals out of the back storage rooms.  It's unclear why these animals aren't just left out overnight, but no matter.  We start by loading the turtles (there's probably about 20 of them) into a wheelbarrow and wheel them out to the exhibition area where we place them amongst the birds!  Next up is several monkeys and some other animals that look like ferrets and possums, but their exact names are unclear.  One, named LuLu, was allowed out of his cage and actually attacked Melanie, but she survived!  Finally, we bring out the toucan...for him we just open up his cage and let him hop out.  Today the Toucan, while roaming the zoo uncaged, actually attacked another bird...caught it in his mouth and seemingly killed it!  Check out the video:

It was unbelievable to watch, until the zoo administrator rushed up and grabbed the toucan and basically yanked the still alive bird out of its mouth!!!  Needless to say, this place is never dull!

Next up...feeding the animals.  What do they eat?  BREAD!  That's right, pretty much every animal in this zoo starts the day off the same way we do every morning…with a breakfast of bread.  The monkeys, the parrots, the macaws, the peacock, the bears, the ostrich, the deers…all of them get bread!  And how do they get the bread?  We feed it to them by hand!

I don't mean to be critical because it's a lot of fun…and I'm no vet (but mind you that neither is anyone who actually works at the zoo)…but I'm pretty sure none of these animals are meant to have a diet of complex carbohydrates.  One story I heard is that the zoo used to have a cheetah.  When we asked the woman who runs the place what happened to it, she informed us that it died of some kind of an intestinal disorder…likely from all the bread!  We also saw a dead monkey…can't say the bread was the cause, but guessing it didn't help.

Needless to say, I don't think this particular zoo is going to win any awards, but they do the best they can with the resources they have available.

Anyway, after the bread, we help clean the cages and then cut up fruit because the best way to wash down complex carbohydrates is bananas, watermelon, apples, pineapples and papayas!  On Monday's the bears, vultures and condors get Alpaca meat that one of the employees cuts up for them.  On other days, some of the animals get chicken.  The feeding isn't an exact science.