Thank you

April 10, 2013

Five days into the 2013 Peru Through the lens trip and I already know that it has been worth it. Only an hour spent on the Uros Islands and at least two of my passengers have stopped to tell me how happy they are to be here, how wonderful the trip has been so far and what a fabulous day tour this has been. And, it’s only about 9:30am at this point.

Then we arrive at our homestay community of Luquina Chico. After listening to some of the local men play music for us and have a quick introducation to the community, one of the passengers comes to me with tears in her eyes and says ‘This is just so beautiful, Shari’ Needless to say, I welled up too and choked back tears.

Despite not feeling well myself, there hasn’t been a day on the trip that I didn’t step outside and say what a beautiful day, I’m so glad to be here. And it is true. It is beautiful and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to experience Peru for a second time.

I am so glad that I made the choice to bring this group to the community of Luquina Chico. It is such a unique experience here with so much to offer. One passenger’s heartfelt tears was all I needed to know that it was the right decision.

A few people had been concerned about the home stay experience, but it was clear once we arrived that the beauty overwhelmed them more than their concerns.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca

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!

My arrival to Santo Domingo

This blog is a little late getting posted (2 weeks late), but none the less, here it is!

After my long day of transit to get here, including delayed flights and rerouting, I was happy that the Santo Domingo airport was easy to navigate and relatively no line ups. I was even happier when I saw a sign with my name on it at the end of a long line of people. Unlike when I arrived in Galapagos, it was clear that someone what waiting for me and I would soon have a home!

I walked out into the moist night making polite chit chat with Jesus, my driver, in broken Spanish. He was a smiley, friendly man and I felt welcomed after my long day.

As we drove through the outskirts of the city, it was quite and calm, but it was also after 9pm. That quickly changed as we headed into the populated areas of the city where, along the Malecon the traffic was heavier, there was music blaring from every other car parked on the street and there were people walking hand in hand everywhere.

As we turned into the Colonial Zone where I would be residing, the streets were packed with cars making it difficult for the taxi to navigate. Drivers don’t stop at corners and traffic seems to be moving constantly in all directions. There were people sitting out in front of their houses, in bars and corner stores and different types of music clashing from all directions.

Jesus pulled up to what we thought was my house address, but could not find a place to park and after stopping for 10 seconds, got honked at continually as there is not room to pass on the small streets. So, he looped around the block again. This time, stopping to check with folks sitting outside to see if we had the correct location. With the van blocking traffic, I quickly grabbed all of my luggage and was ushered to the street. I barely even had a moment to say thank you and Jesus was rushing off into the busy-ness.

I was welcomed to my new home by a lovely older woman named Angela, who promptly gave me a hug and a kiss and said ‘Mi casa, su casa’, meaning, make yourself at home.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I got through the first night at Angela’s as my Spanish was pretty basic and a week later I still wasn’t able to understand anything that Angela said. I guess my first night she spoke particularly slowly, talked with her hands a lot and I probably used my dictionary a lot!

She had a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers for me to welcome me to her home and she prepared me supper even though it was after 10:30pm.

I didn’t look around the house much that night as I was tired, but she showed me around briefly. There was a sitting room, a small nook where there was a computer, a living room with a television and stereo, my bedroom, a dining area, the kitchen and a bathroom. There were also three or four doors to areas that I was not shown. Later, I understood that these were the bedrooms of others who were staying at this home, however they were gone away for the weekend. After supper and a brief chat about my plans for the next day including what time breakfast would be served, I went to bed for a good night’s rest with my industrial size ceiling fan that really did very little to make the room cool.

A little overwhelmed and a lot tired, I was glad to be somewhere safe with a roof over my head and a bed to rest my weary head.

Dominican Food

I have now been in Santo Domingo for a week. I have loved almost everything that I have tasted. My home stay mom seems to be a really great cook. I’m not sure if they are all as good as her or not, but so far I’ve been very happy with the food!

Just to give you an idea, here are the meals that I can think of off the top of my head.

Breakfast (at my home):
We always have deliciously juicy and always fresh fruit (mango, papaya, pineapple, apple, banana)
Cornflakes (ok, not the best one)
Eggs with onions, Mangu – mashed plantanes
Some kind of porridge made from something similar to cornmeal. This was my favourite so far! It is a thick, hearty, mushy kind of dish that is a little bit sweet. Me gusta mucho!
Mangu and fried salami
Hot cereal made of rice and milk
We also usually have some kind of juice or lemonade which is always really refreshing.

Lunch (always at a restaurant):
1/4 roast chicken, french fries
Ham & cheese empanada
Rice, chicken stir fry, pasta salad
Dessert: Pudin de pan – (a local dessert) – a cake, set of like cheese cake, but not really, with raisins in it. Yummy!
Hot dog & chips (hot dog loaded with onions, cheese, ketchup, mayo and mustard)
Sancocho – a typical Dominican dish that is similar to stew for us. It has meat, plantains, potatoes and celery and is served over rice. I had it at a local friend’s house and it was yummy!
Fried Chicken & fried plantanes.

Supper (at my home):
Pasta with parmesan cheese and toasted bread
Potatoes and fried cheese
Salami in a tomato sauce with a vegetable that is similar to potatoes (maybe yuka?)
Potatoes, plantanes, tuna, eggs in a salsa sauce
Empanadas (ham & cheese and beef)

Honestly, I was kind of expecting a lot of beans and rice, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the variety, the freshness and the deliciousness of it all! And, come to think of it, I haven’t had beans once yet in the first week that I have been here!

My first night at my home stay

I know that you have all been anxiously waiting an update from me. Sorry for the delay! There is an abundance of new things to learn in a new city, in a new country when the culture is completely different and you do not speak the language. Scary isn’t it?

Most of my friends and family are interested in knowing about my new home / housing situation. So, here’s a little bit about what it is like. Sorry, no photos yet. I’ve been too busy learning my way around to take any photos. And, more so, it is not safe for me to travel alone with my expensive camera, so I have to plan outings with others in order to be safe with a $5000 camera!

I arrived at my home stay on Saturday evening at about 10:30pm. My taxi driver, was a really sweet older man who spoke very little English. I wasn’t surprised though and he was very friendly, so I spoke to him in broken Spanish during the 35 minute drive from the airport to my new home.

My home for this week is a house in the Zona Colonial district, a very historic district of the city with beautiful old buildings and interesting architecture. Of course, I really couldn’t see much of this at night, but the next day I did!

As my taxi driver squeezed (literally) his way through the small crowded streets, full of battered old cars and people on every corner, I got a little nervous because it seemed, well, scary! We had to circle the block twice because he could not find a place near my house to let me off and help me with my luggage. The second time around, he parked in the middle of the street, blocking all the traffic behind us and helped me to the side of the street and left me with a group of people … none of whom were my Santo Domingo mommy.

The address on the house was the same as the one in my paperwork, so I knew I was in the right place, but it was like a child being a latch-key kid and not being able to find their key when their mom isn’t home … A mild panic spread over me as a line up of cars honked loudly at the taxi driver to move, I rushed to the side of the street with my luggage (large suitcase on wheels and two heavy backpacks with camera gear and laptop). I timidly asked the group of strangers sitting on outside if I was in the right place. One of the ladies from the street got up and yelled through a large gated door, and then next thing I knew, an older lady was speaking to me in Spanish and reaching her arms out for a hug. Her name is Angela (anne-hell-a) and she is my mom away from home.

Phew! Nothing like a good hug from a stranger to make you feel a little more comfortable.

She invited me in and began to show me around, but she ONLY speaks Spanish … no English at all. And, if you have never traveled to a Spanish speaking country, or if you have never had a conversation in Spanish …. OR, if you have never bothered to pay attention to the people who live in the country you are visiting, Spanish people speak incredibly fast … all of the time!

I was able to ask her to speak slower, but honestly, it didn’t help a whole lot. I still could only pick out two or three words per sentence. Sometimes I would get an idea of what she was saying. Sometimes I had no clue.

I did understand that she wanted me to feel at home and showed me the living room, sitting area, kitchen and bedroom which were all free for use. I put my luggage in the bedroom and she showed me where I could unpack my things. She showed me the bathroom as well, and then we talked in my basic spanish for awhile.

She also has two little dogs … well, three actually, but I only met two the first night! Estrellita (little star) and hmmm … I can’t remember the other ones name at the moment. Dogs here aren’t like dogs at home. Although the ones here are pets and they stay within the confines of the house, they aren’t cuddly pets. They are just kind of, well … there. Always at your feet and most of the time, just ignored.

Even though it was late, she offered me supper which was potatoes (papas) and fried cheese (Queso Fritas). MMMMMM Me encanta queso fritas. (That means I love fried cheese!)

Honestly, I was too tired from my long day of travels to even really look around at my surroundings, so I didn’t notice much that first night. I did, however, notice the lovely fresh carnations that she had placed in my room to welcome me! They are sitting beside me on the dresser as I type this.

The other students who were staying with Angela had gone away for the weekend, so they wouldn’t be returning until Sunday.

I asked about internet, which she tried to help me with. I was able to get the password, but could not actually make a connection. I also was able to ask for the key to the house and if there was anything happening the next day that I needed to know about. Of course, all of this in piece-meal Spanish, but it was just enough.

It must have been about midnight when I finally climbed in bed to put my weary head to rest in a huge and decently comfortable king sized bed! The 30+ degrees, PLUS humidity did not even bother me that night, probably because of my lack of sleep the night before and the oversized industrial fan on the ceiling to move the hot air around in order to simulate a breeze. Let me tell you, this is not Nova Scotia weather!

Off to dreamy land I went after my first three hours in Santo Domingo!

More updates soon. As of tonight (Tuesday), I have internet at my house, so it makes it much easier to keep in touch with the world. I’ll post photos of the house, details about my home stay sisters and my first couple of days of school soon. Oh yes and my public transportation adventures! Those should be fun to talk about! Stay tuned!