A Beautiful Gift

Back in January when the Chronicle Herald ran this article on me and the Peru Through the Lens trip, a lovely lady named Carol got in touch because she was taken by the photo of the mom and baby that had accompanied the article. Carol contacted me to ask my permission to use the photo as inspiration for a drawing of the little girl and that she would like me to take it to Peru this year to give to the family, if possible.

Family Portraits
Family Portraits

A few months passed and honestly, I had forgotten about the conversation all together. My phone rang one afternoon and Carol explained that she had the photo and if it wasn’t too late, that she would still like me to take it to Peru.

How could I say no?

I stopped by Carol’s place about two hours before leaving for the airport on April 5th to pick up the gift to take. I had no idea what I would be getting, other than it was a sketch, inspired by a photo that I had taken. I picked up this lovely drawing of baby Melissa Solome and I can’t wait to hand deliver it to the family in Ccaccaccollo. They were my home stay family last year, so I hope they remember me and hopefully they appreciate this lovely little sketch.

People in the world really are kind … such a beautiful gift.

Sketch from Carol
Sketch from Carol

It could only happen to me

The Peru Adventure has kicked off with a bang, as usual. It just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t have problems right from the get go.

Let me start by saying all is well, and all 13 of us are safely united and at Hotel Antigua Miraflores which is lovely and rich in culture. I truly adore the hotel and will write a post about it soon.

We touched down this morning in Lima at 6:34am, one minute ahead of schedule. We headed in through the airport, through immigration and off to get our luggage. Slowly each person found their bag and headed off to customs. Then, there were only a handful of us around and no more luggage coming down the belt. Everyone from my group had their luggage in hand.

Yup, you guessed it, no luggage for Shari. I don’t even think I got pissed off about it. I just simply said ‘that figures’ and went to talk to the lost baggage people. Of course, we have no idea where it got lost. Did it never leave Halifax? Did it not make the switch from the plane in Toronto to the new plane heading to Lima? No one knows.

So, luckily, I have the clothes on my back (although not really appropriate for the 25 degree weather in Lima, my sweater, my rain jacket and all of my camera and electronic gear. I have a toothbrush and deodorant, and a pair of underwear. I’ll NEVER go on a plane again without a change of clothes in my carry-on.

Am I mad? No, not really. It’s not the first time my luggage has been lost. Although, its a really crappy way to start a 15 day photography tour. No idea why everyone else’s luggage from Halifax made it and mine didn’t, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Guess it’s just another test for me.

I do recall saying ‘Well, if they lost it, they pay for it.’ Thankfully I have travel insurance to cover this. I’m insured, so if I could get in touch with any of them, I’d make arrangements to get a claim started.

Problem number 2. Although I have all of my emergency travel insurance contact information, I’m not able to make a collect call from the hotel. Not sure if it isn’t possible or if the person at the front desk doesn’t know how, but right now … I can’t get in touch with Insurance. Both insurance companies I deal with have 1-800 numbers for within Canada or US, but if you are outside US, you have to call collect. Apparently that’s not so easy from here.

When (if) they find my luggage, they’ll send it to my hotel here in Lima, if it is found today or tomorrow. Otherwise, I continue on without it and they’ll send it to catch up with me wherever I may be. Unfortunately, there are limited options for it catching up with me. For example, if I don’t get it by Tuesday, I won’t get it until Friday because there are no airports in the middle of the lake. Go figure!

So, here’s hoping it arrives tomorrow morning. Not to mention the fact that my printed materials for my photo workshops tomorrow are packed in that luggage. I have my power point slide show though, so I’m not in a panic. I just don’t have my fun game for participants and their cheat sheets.

It’s 4:15pm here now. I did some internet research and discovered that I need to dial 809 in order to make a collect call. The operators only speak Spanish though, so I’m glad I spent seven weeks in Dominican Republic learning Spanish this past summer!

I have a claim started and as of 6:30 local time tonight (12 hours after my flight), I can buy up to $100 worth of emergency clothing and toiletries to get me through. So, tonight, I will be doing a little shopping! If my luggage gets returned, I just have a few extra ‘souvenirs’ from Peru. If it doesn’t get returned, I’ll have clean clothes.

Travel Tip 1: Always pack a change of clothes in your carry on!
Travel Tip 2: Never travel without insurance.

Now, I’m off to take some photos of this beautiful hotel that we are staying in so I can post about it. It’s simply lovely.

One Sleep to Peru through the Lens 2013

For all of you out there who have been waiting for me to start blogging about my Peru trip this year, the time is here!
I was up before the sun this morning in an effort to get all of my last minute things done. On top of my list is clearing off my laptop and hard drive so I have room to store this year’s photos. As I write this, I’m transferring files from my hard drive to my desktop computer … multitasking! Yay me!

There’s been a whole lot of change and excitement over the last year in my life. I won’t go into great detail as I’ve written other posts about it, but here’s the nitty gritty …

In Feb 2012 I went on a three week adventure to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and then on to lead Peru Through the Lens 2012 … a photo tour that was so much more! I had no idea that when I embarked on the first photo tour that it would have such an impact on me. I spent 11 weeks traveling from February to September of that year (adding in Dominican Republic) … and then came home, got sick and changed careers. Whirlwind 2012!

What’s even more amazing to me is that I am not the only person from the Photo tour who had life changing affirmations! Maybe it was the magic of Machu Picchu, the wanderlust from traveling or just the demographic of people who participated last year … but many of us saw life A LOT differently on our return to Canada.

This year as I head off to Peru in just one sleep! Yikes! I feel like I’m looking at it with a brand new set of eyes. Last year I was stuck. I was complaining of being on a hamster wheel and just spinning without going forward in my life / career. This year I seem to have most of it together. A new career as an Adventure Travel Specialist, better health (knock on wood that continues) and just as much vision as I’ve always had, but I seem to be able to articulate it better.

So, here’s to my next adventure … starting in approximately 36 hours … I’ll try not to be such a klutz at the airport this year! (you should read it, you’ll have a good laugh!)

Oh yeah … I’ve also scheduled the 2013 Art Show & Fundraiser for May 25th. Details will be out soon, but put it in your calendar now! Come see all of the participants work from the 2013 trip and support community, artists and the Planeterra Foundation!

Pisac ruins, Peru
Pisac ruins, Peru

Peru Through the Lens Info Session

Date & Time
Wednesday, January 9th
7pm – 8pm
Please RSVP here

Location:
The Adventure Travel Company
5552 Kaye Street, Halifax, NS
902-482-8000

April 6 – 20 – Trip Itinerary

If you are looking for an adventure and have a passion for photography, this is the trip of a lifetime for you! It’s a trip for hobbyists, enthusiasts and passionate photography people just like you!

Want to know what makes the Peru Through the Lens photo tour special and if it is a good fit for you? Come join us at our info session for detailed itinerary information including plans for this year’s special portrait project.

The idea is to be surrounded by people who love adventure and photography, to have just enough structure to be safe/organized, but lots of free time to explore Peru and capture beautiful photographs.

All of this, AND the expertise of a well-established professional photographer at your disposal for the whole trip. Workshops, Tips, tricks, shop talk and lots of opportunities to be fully immersed in your passion.

This is a fantastic opportunity to see Peru through your lens and share your passion for photography with others.

Highlights from Participants for Peru Through the Lens 2012

After a successful 2012 Peru Through the Lens tour, I asked participants to provide me with feedback about the trip so that I could continue to improve it for the 2013 year. Today, as I reviewed that feedback to see what I haven’t yet done, that I need to do, I reminisced while reading through each respondent’s highlights.

Here are participants responses to the question:
What were your top five favourite experiences or places of the Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour?

Lori’s Highlights
1. Meeting and making new friends
2. Tombs at Sillustani (optional excursion during free time near Puno)
3. Machu Picchu – for the personal physical accomplishment & the view
4. Lake Titicaca – specifically Taquile Island
5. Pisac ruins

Pachamama Beams Down by Lori Cammerota
Pachamama Beams Down by Lori Cammerota

Kristie’s Highlights
1. Puno
2. Home stay at Ccaccaccollo and community of Taray
3. Machu Picchu
4. Hot springs at Aguas Calientes (optional during free afternoon)
5. Markets (Cuzco, Puno, Ollantaytambo, Pisac)

Machu Picchu by Kristie McDougall
Machu Picchu by Kristie McDougall

Monika’s Highlights
1. The time Shari took to teach me about photographing using manual and using the histogram on the back of my camera
2. Seeing the ruins at Pisac
3. Lake Titicaca – including Taquile Island, the homestay at Luquina Chico, and the floating islands
4. Having the time to see the Ollantaytambo ruins the second day in the morning (optional during free time)
5. Ruins at Machu Picchu early in the morning
6. The sense of community that was established with our tour group early in the trip

Pisac Terraces by Monika Bigelow
Pisac Terraces by Monika Bigelow

Diane’s Highlights
1. Machu Picchu
2. Cusco
3. Puno
4. Uros Floating Islands
5. The Flat topped island at the Chulpa Tomb ruins in Sillustani (optional tour during free time, near Puno)

Sillustani by Diane Slaunwhite
Sillustani by Diane Slaunwhite

Andrea’s Highlights
1. Homestay at Ccaccaccollo
2. Machu Picchu
3. Uros Islands
4. Luquina Chico Homestay
5. Taray Dance Festival

Ccaccaccollo Family Photo by Andrea Robinson
Ccaccaccollo Family Photo by Andrea Robinson

Ed’s Highlights
1. Seeing Machu Picchu at the end of the trip. It was the icing on the cake for this Peruvian adventure.
2. Home stays…both of them – Ccaccaccollo & Luquina Chico. This truly gave me an insight into the Peru culture and gave me a perspective on life that I would not have gained from looking out of a bus window or simply sitting in coffee shops.
3. Visiting the Uros floating islands and meeting the community who live there.
4. The photo project of taking family portraits. It was touching to see how many of these families were so excited to have us take pictures of them. When I showed my “Mami” and “Papi” the pictures I took of their community they both began to weep with joy. It was quite an emotional experience for me.
5. Making new friends with the group that I got to travel with. They were all fun and I learned more about photography from interacting with each and every one of them.

Ccaccaccollo Family Photo by Ed Robinson
Ccaccaccollo Family Photo by Ed Robinson

Sarah’s Highlights
1. Uros floating islands
2. Machu Picchu – It was great getting there early to sit and take in the vast beauty.
3. Taquile Island – tough active day but lunch with the million dollar view made the struggle worth it.
4. Pisac – so much beauty and history
5. Cusco architecture

Uros Islands by Sarah L. Hill
Uros Islands by Sarah L. Hill

As for myself, my highlights were:
1. Machu Picchu – Please read blog post Lost City, Found Self and you will understand.
2. Puno – The impromptu carnival street parade some of us saw during our free time and visiting the market to buy vegetables for our home stay families.
3. Luquina Chico Homestay – The parade of welcome music by the local men, dancing with the locals, helping make fried dough, photographing the locals at work (fishing & sorting fish), my little home stay sister Deanna, who cried when I left.
4. Uros floating Islands – The history of these islands fascinates me!
5. Homestay at Ccaccaccollo – challenging to communicate with our families because they speak Quechua, but feeling warmly welcomed. Enjoyed the volunteer family photos & meeting so many people of the community.
6. (I couldn’t just have 5!) Taray Dance Festival – A complete authentic travel experience. It was not a tour, nothing planned, just going about a day the same way that the locals do. Except this particular day was a local dance festival.

Ccaccaccollo weaving by Shari Tucker
Ccaccaccollo weaving by Shari Tucker

Interested in joining in the fun and discovering your own highlights? Join me for Peru Through the Lens 2013!

Taray, Peru – Dance Competition

In Taray, Peru I had one of the most fabulous days on the entire Peru Through the Lens 2012 trip. It was not officially part of our itinerary, but they happened to be hosting a dance festival that our home stay community was taking part in. So, we were invited to join in and I am so glad that we did. This is not your typical tourist ‘tour’, instead, it was a very real, authentic experience with the locals, going about their day and seeing how they really live their lives!

Taray is a small community along the banks of the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, close to Pisac. We were staying in the community of Ccaccaccollo up higher in the mountains and traveled down to the community, about a 30 minute car ride. Kristie and I traveled in a car with our home stay dad. Steve and Andres traveled by local ‘bus’, meaning a large open-backed truck with a tarp over it and I think Andrea & Edward walked down the mountain to the community with their home stay family.

We were all dressed up in traditional attire and each arrived at different times, creating a spectacle being white tourists all dressed up. Nothing like drawing attention our way! Kristie & I were the first to arrive. Our home stay Papi dropped us off with our Mami, Ruth and we started walking in a dirt / mud road to the main square. Not 15 feet down the road, three police officers made comments or cat calls (in Quechua – the local language), our Mami couldn’t really explain them to us though but it was obvious … and then they kept sneaking glances. Police officers in other countries are much different from here in Canada!

Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Kristie (Peru Through the Lens participant) getting her hair braided by one of our home stay moms and adorning traditional attire from our home stay community of Ccaccaccollo.

There were very few people in the community when we arrived, but within about 30 minutes, locals started strolling in and filling up the bleachers around the main dance area and stage. Next to arrive were Steve & Andres and then just before the competition started, Andrea & Ed joined us. By this time, the heat was so intense that it was almost unbearable, especially with our regular clothes plus traditional clothes on top.

Taray dance festival Peru 2012
The main square before people began arriving for the very popular dance festival in Taray. We sat on the ground at the foot of this building for lunch.
Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Plaza del Armas in Taray, Peru sectioned off to create the dance area for the competition.

Local vendors were selling snacks … pastries, homemade ice cream / popsicles. I knew that I shouldn’t be drinking local water, but the refreshing coldness of a popsicle beckoned me! I bought one and thoroughly enjoyed it. And, it didn’t make me sick!

After being there for about an hour, the bleachers were full, the sun was out and the emcees for the day took the stage. If I remember correctly, they spoke mostly in Quechua, but might have thrown a bit of Spanish in now and then. There was music, excitement and an insult competition! Yup, you read that right, an Insult Competition! This competition was a face off between a member from each community. The two would take the stage and each say something and then retort. The competition was in Quechua, so of course, none of us understood, but our guide Andres explained that is was similar to using ‘Yo momma’s so fat’ jokes. Regardless of the fact that we couldn’t understand, it was still quite entertaining and laughter amongst the crowd was contagious!

Taray dance festival Peru 2012
The crowds of people from surrounding communities packed on bleachers to watch the dance competition, listen to the insult competition and cheer on their favourites for both.

Once the dance competition started, I bought another popsicle to cool me down and then the rain came … fast and furious and chilly. Just after figuring out how to cover up to stay dry with plastic, the sun would shine and we were all sweltering hot all over again. It was an impossible mixture of overheating, then being chilly, then getting wet and staying chilly.

Between being too hot to move and the rain that arrived so randomly, I decided to only use my little point and shoot Canon Lumix camera instead of my professional Canon 5D MK II. It was also a good choice as I could take video of some of the dancing but also meant that the photos I have to show for my really interesting day are mostly point and shoot and not many super fantastic ones. There were also regular random water balloons being thrown into the crowd and silly string or shaving cream being sprayed everywhere as part of carnival celebrations.

There were about 10 different communities participating in the dance competition. Each troupe composed of boys and girls or men and women adorning traditional attire, but with distinguishing decorations. Some had plants, yarn or other materials as props, or additions to their costumes. Others had large feather wings or flowers in their hair / hats. Each of the communities told a story with their combination of dance performance, music and song. I have to say, the singing was shrill. I am completely open-minded and thoroughly enjoyed the entire day and experience, but the singing, was loud, screaming, high-pitched … much like nails on a chalk board. Now, obviously this is the traditional type of music and locals are used to it, but as foreigners, it was literally hard on the ears. Often we winced, covered our ears or put our hoods up to block even just a little bit of the shrillness.

Video 1 – Ccaccaccollo dance troupe
Video 2 – Ccaccaccollo dance troupe

We watched six or eight communities compete and then our own community of Ccaccaccollo was up and we cheered them on. Each dance was about 10 minutes long and consisted of some kind of story where the men were trying to woo and capture the women. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and sometimes, the tables turned and the women ended up capturing the men! This was particularly funny to the crowds.

Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Dance competition. Each of the groups told a story with their routine. Each was slightly different, but most of them were about the chase between a man and a woman.
Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Dancers in action during the competition. There were about 10 different communities who participated.

Once Ccaccaccollo had finished, the group of us and our home stay families made our way out of the bleachers and to the square where we had a seat on the cement area in front of the church and waited for our Mami’s to unpack and serve our traditional lunch. While we were waiting a musician with his guitar stopped by our group and asked if he could sing for us. This made some of the locals uncomfortable as they seemed to feel his intentions weren’t genuine, but I thoroughly enjoyed his little show and he spoke a combination of Spanish and English.

Here’s a little video of him singing

Musician
A young man from Cuzco stopped to entertain us with a song. Our home stay families gave him some of our traditional food as a gesture of good will.
Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Peru Through the Lens leader Shari with participants Steve & Kristie taking a break from the dance competition and getting ready to eat traditional lunch, including Cuy (guinea pig).
Traditional Peruvian meal - Cuy
Traditional Peruvian meal including Cuy (guinea pig), mixed vegetables, potatoes and quinoa.

Once lunch was ready, the ladies of the community piled our plates high with mixed vegetables, potatoes, quinoa (all locally grown and farmed by the community), as well as meat which was the Peruvian delicacy of Cuy (guinea pig). I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favourite meat to eat, but I did try it and it wasn’t bad. It was small and bony, but the meat was similar to chicken and didn’t have a strong flavour. The turn off for me was that there were still a few hairs on the skin and I just couldn’t get past that.

After lunch, we helped clean up, watched a dance parade in the streets of Taray and then Andres led us out-of-town for a walk across a foot bridge and in to the town of Pisac before bartering for a taxi for six of us up the mountain to return to Ccaccaccollo.

Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Dancers also paraded through the streets and around the square once they were done competing.
Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Dancers also paraded through the streets and around the square once they were done competing.
Taray dance festival Peru 2012
Dancers also paraded through the streets and around the square once they were done competing.

Did you know that I Did THAT?

When I sat down to start making a list of all of the fun, unique and adventurous things that I’ve done in travel since 2006, I was quite amazed at the list. Check it out!

** Updated Jan 1, 2016 – updates still in progress

Dominican Republic
White water rafting – Jarabacoa
River kayaking – Sabonita
Latin dancing – Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, La Romana, Cabarete and Sosua
Photos of Not for Profit School “Dominino” – San Luis district of Santo Domingo
Botanical Gardens, Santo Domingo
Visited Banos salt mines and the only sand dunes in the Caribbean.
Puerto Plata Teleferico (cable car) – 2555 feet – the highest cable car and manicured gardens in the Caribbean.
Horseback riding through rivers on Christmas Day 2014
Danced Merengue, Salsa and Bachata in a local barber shop – Santo Domingo
Survived local transportation in the form of carros publicos, guaguas, tour buses & moto conchos

Peru
Homestays – Luqina Chico & Ccaccaccollo
Lake Titicaca Boat Tour – Lake Titicaca
Rowed a boat made of reeds – Uros Islands
Volunteer Family Photographs – Ccaccaccollo
Incan Ruins – Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo
Hot Springs – Aguas Calientes
Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu & return to Cusco
Ate local delicacy – guinea pig

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
Lava tunnels – Santa Cruz Island
Snorkeling & swimming with wild sea lions – near Santa Cruz Island
Charles Darwin Centre – Santa Cruz Island
Boat tour & hike of the highlands – Floreana Island
Dolphins – Floreana Island
Teleferico (cable car) – Altitude 13 280 ft – Quito
Old town Quito private city tour – Quito

Poland
Old town Warsaw night tour – Warsaw
Packaging and delivering wishes to terminally ill children – Southern Poland
Majdanek Concentration Camp – Majdanek

Germany
Berlin Zoo – Berlin
Bradenburg Gate – Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie – Berlin
Train from Berlin to Warsaw

Mexico
Rapelling & Snorkeling in cenotes – Mayan Riviera
Zip lining – Mayan Riviera
Tulum Ruins – Mayan Riviera
Snorkeling with sea turtles and sting rays – Mayan Riviera
Coco Bongo – Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Ruins
Learned to surf – Sayulita (2015)
Horseback riding

USA
Bayou swamp tour – New Orleans, LA

St. Pierre & Miquelon
Zodiac boat tour – St. Pierre
Wild horses – Miquelon

Cuba
Catamaran & snorkeling – Varadero
Swimming with Dolphins – Varadero

Costa Rica
Cable car & Rain forest Zip lining – Arenal
Leatherback turtles laying eggs – Tamarindo
Black sand beaches

Nicaragua
Masaya (active) Volcano tour – Masaya
Granada Islets boat tour – Granada

Bermuda
Sea do tour & snorkeling – Dockyard
5 day cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines – Boston to St. Georges

Turkey
Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Horseback riding through Cappadocia at sunset
Visited Troy / Gallipoli and Anzac
Visited Aya Sofia / Blue Mosque / Galata Tower

Belize
Swimming with sharks and rays
Climbing waterfalls
Listening to spoken word poetry from our local guide in the jungle
Jungle horseback riding

Thailand
Snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi Islands
Travel from Malaysia to Thailand overland (train / bus)

The Philippines
Learned to dive
Visited the chocolate hills
Saw Tarsier monkeys
Learned about sand bubbler crabs
Snorkeling at _______________
Visited El Nido – Island hopping / snorkelling
Tried a bite of crocodile

Malaysia

Argentina
Visited Iguazu Falls
Street Art Tour

Uruguay

Chile
Felt an earthquake while at dinner

Montenegro
Visited the islands with the church / museum

Slovenia

Italy

Greece
Treno Sto Rouf Dinner Theatre
Street Art Tour

Croatia
Hiking through abandoned villages

Vietnam
Visited Halong Bay
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Agent orange museum ??

Cambodia
Visited Angkor Wat

Singapore
Singapore flyer ride

 

The School of Life

Let me tell you a little bit about some of the behind the scenes things that happened in my journey to decide to study Spanish.

Enter, Andrea and Edward Robinson. They are a perfectly matched, incredibly mature and wonderfully inspirational couple. They are currently on leave / sabbatical from work and are doing a full year of traveling during 2012.

I first met them at The Adventure Travel Company as they were planning to join me on my Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour in February 2012. By that time, they would already be fully immersed in Latin American culture having been in Quito, Ecuador for four weeks studying Spanish and then visiting The Galapagos Islands before heading on to meet up with our group in Lima, Peru.

I regularly followed their blog from December 2011 until February 2012, when we reunited in Lima to begin our 12 day group adventure. Every day, admiring their choice to travel for the year and excited to get to know them better.

I met up with Ed and Andrea the day before Peru Through the Lens officially started as we had all arrived to Lima a day or more early. We headed out for lunch and had a chat where I picked their brains about the process of taking off and leaving everything behind for a year. It was Ed and Andrea who helped me believe that learning Spanish and traveling is an education … far different and far more valuable for many people than your traditional book learning in University. Traveling and language learning while being immersed in culture is the epitome of the school of life. It should not be looked down upon as a lesser education and, if you view it as education, it is worth investing in!

It was the first time ever that I had considered that it might be ok to take out a loan to travel. That if I didn’t have the money saved up, it wasn’t the end of the world. It was the first time that someone had said out loud what I had always been scared to form into words. It was the first time that someone had encouraged me to follow my wandering heart and get an education, on location, in the world … even if I had to take out a ‘student’ loan. Ok, not the real kind of government student loan, but a loan that is equally important because it is a loan to fund my continuing education.

I wouldn’t hesitate to take out a loan for business education … learning better photography skills or business skills, so, why should I not invest in myself and become a better person? Wow. That’s a deep thought for many of us! Have you ever considered investing in yourself? Actually taking out a loan to improve yourself? Scary isn’t it?

For most Canadians, travel is a luxury and a vacation. It is a break from work where you go to a resort, eat and drink as much as you can and be lazy on the beach for a week. Then you return to your regularly scheduled life, until next year.

For me, I really do view travel as an education and vacation travellers can’t really wrap their head around that. This is because I don’t travel like I’m on vacation! I travel like I’m learning, because I am! When I travel I seek out opportunities to learn about the lifestyle, culture, history and hardships of the people of that country or community. I take opportunities to get to know locals, talk to them, tell them about my life and ask them questions about theirs. I challenge myself to navigate airports and public transit in different countries without knowing the language. I go out of my comfort zone and get lost in the beauty of far away places. I learn about the food, the land and the incredible achievements of the famous people from those cultures. It is like a living, hands on, on-location history lesson with 3D images instead of flat ones from books.

And, you may ask, what use is all of this? I believe that by traveling, I have learned skills that can never be taught in school … skills that are mastered through trial and error … ways of thinking that you can only discuss vaguely until they are put into practice.

Travel has taught me to be less judgemental, to appreciate and be grateful for the small things in life, to see beauty in everything, to be less materialistic. Travel has encouraged me to be open minded and open my heart to the differences in cultures, race and religion … that no one is right or wrong, they just have different beliefs. And for me, it is learning about the reasons behind those beliefs that fills me with wonder and amazement.

From day ‘minus one’ in Lima, Peru, I had a great respect for Ed and Andrea as a couple and as people that I would look up to for their clarity in living life. I quickly became friends with both of them and enjoyed many conversations throughout the next 12 days on all sorts of topics about photography (my reason for being in Peru) and about the possibilities of traveling and learning.

For the next 12 days my focus was on the Peru Through the Lens Photo tour, but in the back of my mind I was already starting to think about my next adventures in the School of Life. Where would it take me next? Could I really wrap my mind around funding my travel through a loan?

I guess the answer is that the School of Life is commencing for me in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on July 16th, 2012. I guess I’ve wrapped my mind around it!