Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peru Rail

Hello everyone, as you know we went to Peru and one of the really cool things we did was take a train ride. We had to take a train or hike the Inca Trail from Cusco to go to the town under Machu Picchu and we decided to take the train. The train was called Peru Rail and it was really cool! There was really pretty scenery on the route including: rivers, mountains with snow, ruins and other stuff. The route lasted about two hours and we got to take it back to Cusco too! All in all the train ride was really cool!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Next leg of our trip: Cosqo at 11,200 feet

Cosqo in the Quechua language, or Cusco or Cuzco in Spanish, sits at 3.400 meters or 11,200 feet! Its located in the mountains in southeast Peru. We arrived on Monday, July 11th after an overnight in Lima, Peru (at sea level).

Cusco is an enchanting city that literally and figuratively takes your breath away - especially for us low-altitude Minnesotans. It blends Spanish colonial, Incan and pre-Incan architecture plus some modern sprawl on the outskirts.

Taxis, people, and the occasional llama share incredibly narrow cobble stone passageways. You can hear Quechua being spoken in the streets (and see the sign for the Quechua test at the University). You can peek through doorways onto huge interior courtyards. You can see amazing examples of Imperial Incan style walls or rock fit walls that have no morter but are simply puzzle-pieced into place. At one corner, we saw an informational display explaining that a foot below the colonial cobblestone (1500-1800 AD) if you looked into the hole you could see the Incan road (1200-1500 AD) a foot down and cut further below was pre-Incan or probably Killke drains (from 900-1200)! Very cool.

Another really cool aspect was visiting the colonial Jesuit church and the Spanish Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas. They are gorgeous, with intricate wood carvings and gold and silver-leafed adornments filling them. In the very back chapel of the Jesuit church, authorities have excavated and discovered the Incan Temple of the Sun, which provided an excellent earthquake-resistant foundation. Spanish authorities in the 1500 and 1600 either destroyed or built directly over Incan temples in order to wipe out old religious beliefs and impose Catholic views. What's really interesting is that the Spaniards trained and commissioned local artists to do all the alters, sculptures, statues of the saints and Mary and Jesus, but the local artists time after time incorporated traditional Incan symbols - like making Mary's dress in the form of a volcano, thereby signifying Pachamama or mother earth.

We strolled slowly around the town. We watched the Copa America soccer tournament. And we celebrated my birthday in Cusco on the 12th by going out to dinner and ordering some of Peru's reputed delicacies; cuy or roasted guinea pig for me and barbecued alpaca for Dan (the kids stuck with really good grilled chicken and beef). Once was enough for me in terms of the cuy, but we all sampled the ceviche (fresh raw fish marinated in lemon and spices) that night and kept ordering it throughout our trip in Peru! Delicious!

All in all, when we weren't feeling light headed or sleepy or nauseous, we loved Cusco!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Family wedding

Okay, you hear a lot of about Southern California, but it was gorgeous next to the ocean and absolutely beautiful weather. As I jogged in the mornings past the beach volleyball camp for girls or the surfing camp for kids in the perfect 70 degree weather with no bugs - I thought I could see the appeal of living there. Of course, getting a break from winter in Chile was a huge plus.

My younger sister Britt married her long-time partner Pat overlooking Dana Point Harbor on July 9th. It was a beautiful wedding and it was the one time this year I will get to see my Dad and his partner Barb, Britt and Pat and my nephew Brayden, and my brothers Rob and Erik and Erik's partner Candace. We had such a great time.

Perhaps topped off by my first and hopefully last time doing karaoke with my equally atonal syblings! Ce-ciiiii-lia... :-) Congrats Britt and Pat!

p.s. The photo booth was super fun!

First leg of the journey..stateside shopping!

All of you who know us well, know that shopping is not an activity that our family seeks out. But for anyone living abroad, there's just some things that are really difficult to obtain, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get supplies for the rest of the year.

If you had one afternoon to do some shopping in the States for an ENTIRE YEAR - where would you go?

I dragged my dear brother Rob to Target and REI the first day we flew in LA. I know - Target has raised my political ire as of late, but I had an hour! I stocked up on kids socks, kids tylenol, hydracortisone, lots more earplugs, hairbinders, some t-shirts, underwear, gift wrap for the wedding, 2 containers of maple syrup that just about put me over the airplane weight limit! At REI, I bought travel pants, a new watch, a fleece, a travel dress, running shoes for Gracie, a camera band, etc. I had lists, I had google map directions. Dan had even warned the credit card company that our card would be active back in the States - so they wouldn't just freeze it!

I did my part for boosting the economy and got lots more earplugs to boot! Good deal.

Home again...

Three weeks of travel, four countries, 10 days in 10,000 feet or over, 799 photos... where to begin? It's really good to be "home"!

We had a great trip. I traveled solo to Dana Point, California (1.5 hours south of LA) at the beginning of July for my younger sister Britt's wedding. After five days (two plus in transit), I arrived back to Valparaiso long enough to take a shower and grab my other suitcase and Dan, the kids and I headed back out to Perú for the kids' two week winter school break.

Now we're back in Valparaiso and in our routines while catching up on things. I'll try to share some photos and stories of our travels. It was an amazing trip.

(photo of the Condor Chamber in Machu Picchu - see the natural stone wing structures behind the kids and the carved head below them).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The View from Huayna Picchu

If you look at the photo of Machu Picchu in our previous post, you can see a small peak at the far side of the Machu Picchu site which overlooks it.  This is Huayna Picchu, and it's about a 2 hour hike to the top from the main site.  We hiked up first thing in the morning.  This video gives you a feel for the place.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hiram Bingham

These two plaques are mounted near the entrance to Machu Picchu.  They tell an interesting story of the changing way in which Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who 'discovered' Machu Picchu in 1911, is seen by history.

"In honor of Hiram Bingham on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, 1961"

"The National Institute of Culture, Cusco, honors Melchor Arteaga and the Richarte and Alvarez families, who were living in Machu Picchu before Hiran [sic] Bingham arrived." -- October 1993

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Machu Picchu

This is what our guide called the 'postcard shot'.

We had a fantastic trip to see the extraordinary Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Perú.  I (Dan) am back in Valparaíso now, while the kids and Laura embark on a bus trip to see Arequipa, Lima, and everything in between.  I know they will want to write about Machu Picchu and the entire odyssey (and you'd rather hear it from them too!) so I'll leave the in-depth descriptions to them.  I have a few of the more geeky aspects that I'll post later in the week as I get around to it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cerro Abajo - Urban mountain biking in Valparaíso

Unfortunately we missed this annual mountain bike race this past summer.  The course featured in this video is not far from our house -- it gives you a good feel for the landscape, complete with stray dogs. Makes us glad we left the bikes back in Minnesota.  Full-screen mode recommended!

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from changoman on Vimeo.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vamos Chile! Vamos los EEUU!

While these may look like great 4th of July hats, there actually Chile cheering hats for the Copa America soccer tournament. All the heavy weights soccer teams from Latin America are playing for the next month in Argentina. Chile has high hopes for her team and there is soccer fever everywhere here (think superbowl with the whole country cheering for one team).

So as we cheered Chile to a 2-1 victory over Mexico tonight (lo siento a todos nuestros amigos Mexicanos) we also thought we could cheer for the good ole' USA on her birthday. Happy Fourth everyone (especially to all those at Ottertail Lake, MN - we missed celebrating with you) and Vamos Chile!!!!

p.s. Tomorrow I head to LA for my sister Britt's wedding!!! We're thrilled for Britt and Pat, and just sorry its too far and too expensive for all of us to travel. I return on Sunday and we leave that same day for a two-week winter break trip to Perú. Machu Picchu here we come! Not sure when we'll have a chance to post next (we'll be traveling without our laptops), but we'll have lots of stories to share next time we check in. Until then, our best to all of you.


Friday, July 1, 2011

A photo montage of a typical day

Some folks have asked about what I am up to while Dan is working and the kids are at
colegio from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Well, here's a glimpse of what my days often look like.

We get up around 7:15am, just before the sunrise these days. We grab some breakfast and pack lunches and head down the hill to school.

It's about a 15 minute walk to school. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I drop off the kids off at 8:30am and then continue down to the waterfront for about a 4 kilometers walk/run. I pass by the sea lions, watch the ships in the harbor, and listen to the waves crashing against the shore. One part of this walk takes me by some old shipwrecks. I also pass some cool public art along the way. My favorites are the clothes pins holding up cars and also the highway pillars with famous people painted on them. At least one is Pablo Neruda. I haven't figured out anyone else.

On Tuesday and Thursdays, Dan drops the kids off at school and I head to English class. I have been teaching for the last month. I have a really nice group of students, some of whom are artists who have a gallery on our hill. Another one of the students is a parent from the kids' school. Everyone would like to improve their English in order to better interact with the thousands of tourists who visit Valparaiso every year. We've had such a fun time, focusing mainly on conversational skills. Language classes are always needed and such a wonderful way to get to know folks at a deeper level.

In addition, through one of the artists from class, I have been connected to another non-profit, TAC, which is doing some great work with community and youth development. We've discussed my doing some audits of their organizational systems and some help with a leadership transition that is going on now. I am hoping I can take a look at things come August.

After class or after my walk, I usually stop by one of the grocery stores around and pick up some items. Sometimes I stop at the sprawling fruit and vegetable market - which is really amazing but I haven't tried pulling my camera out there. Here's JUMBO grocery store which is close to my walk down by the waterfront.

Then I head back to our house (up the long hill usually with a backpack full of groceries - ugh). Sometimes I head out again to have lunch with a friend or sometimes I'll fix some lunch for Dan and me. I usually try to get some laundry or other household errands done too. Today I made a salad like I'd make at home with red butter lettuce, green apples, walnuts, craisins (imported), blue cheese, a little chicken and fresh french bread and grapes on the side. The produce is pretty amazing and pretty cheap here. I bought three heads of this beautiful lettuce for $1 today at the market.

Then in the afternoon I'm off to classes. I have my mosaic class with Monica on Mondays, which I love and wish I could do everyday. And often on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I attend my friend Cecilia's university class at the Universidad Católica of Valparaiso. She teaches advanced language and culture classes for foreign students and invited me to audit the class. I had a great time getting up to speed on recent Chilean history.

We are finishing the semester now, but recently classes have been interrupted due to large scale, national student protests. All public universities across the country have been taken over by students and classes suspended during these national protests. Its hard to know when classes will resume or how some resolution is going to be reached... We'll see.

In the late afternoon, I pick up the kids. I also stop by Maria Magdalena's newspaper stand, where she always holds a paper for me. Often, I am printing things at ValpoAlegre print shop, whether for the kids school projects or for English class or Dan's work. And then the kids and I usually stop by El Buen Gusto bakery for some hot, fresh out of the oven bread (fresh bread is coming out probably hourly...its awesome unless you're not intending on gaining weight!!!). We often grab some other item from one of the vegetable stands as well before we head up the hill.

Then its usually homework and dinner time and maybe if there's time we'll watch some Chilean soccer! In between these activities I'm am sometimes negotiating things like getting our visas squared away or other bureaucratic and often time consuming errands. I think you have to have at least one person in the family who has the time to take care of such things as they come up when you spend a year abroad.

There's a little glimpse of my typical day. Its been great for me. I walk everywhere and enjoy chatting with folks in all these places. There are some real characters and most folks are very friendly. I feel like we have become part of the community here.