TTS23 in the Galapagos Islands

TTS23 in the Galapagos Islands
From left to right: Scout, Lindsey, Sophie, Feyza, Erin, Caroline, Lena, Susannah, Charlotte, Rebecca, Allie, Hannah, Alizah, Maisie, Anne, Kate, Courtney

Monday, April 21, 2014


The students of Travel Journalism enjoyed their opportunity to share about their experiences during the Santa Cruz trek, and so they are excited to update you again! This time, they have chosen to experiment with blogging as journalism by shifting the format of their writing. As a group, they pre-planned thematic topics related to their anticipated experience and conducted observations and interviews throughout the Lares Trek towards Machu Picchu. The following is a weaving of content they produced...

And We're Off! - Beginning the Journey to Machu Picchu” by Scout

After a few busy days in Cuzco, which encompassed a series of clinic visits, time with parents, perusing market stalls, and a number of emotional ups and downs, TTS (+ parents) once again prepared to hit the trail. Following lots of packing and repacking, at seven o'clock Saturday morning there was a pile of duffels, backpacks, and TTS girls ready and waiting to load the bus. After two and a half hours of windy roads and conversation, with the occasional stop to pick up another one of Puma's family members, we arrived at the trailhead. Upon finishing up the last of the packing process, which included the loading of gear onto some 32 horses, our 40 plus collective feet began the steady uphill towards our first campsite set high in the mountains. [Don't forget to read the rest of Scout's post, which describes the end of the adventure!]

Pumaisms” by Feyza
“Today is the best day of all of our lives,” Puma would say at the start of each morning, motivating us to embrace the next 24 hours with enthusiasm and appreciation. Puma’s wise anecdotes, shamanic wisdom, love and positivity towards life, and wonderfully warm and compassionate crew contributed a special layer to the parent trip and our Machu Picchu visit, creating an unforgettable time. 

Before our Inca adventure, Puma introduced us to his family referring to his son as his “latest reincarnation” and his wife as “the woman I have chosen to share my life with.” He demonstrated a shamanic ceremony, letting everyone set an intention for the coming days. During our trek to Machu Picchu, his crew provided elaborate three course meals, enchanting flute music while we hiked, and a supportive loving family atmosphere. Puma would share advice such as, “everything goes two ways” or “listen to yourself first, and last.” We were impressed with how the crew brought a few of their children and a baby who were all easy going and enjoyable to be with. One ritual Puma showed us during the Lares trek was a group activity to help us stay in the present. We would stand in a circle all holding hands and repeat “hampui”: while saying this, we would start with our hands up, and bringing them down, we emphasized the moment we were in. The whole group absorbed Puma's wisdom on life, medicine, and nature, diligently drinking avocado pit tea when they felt ill, or listening to Puma when he would say, “We walk with Pachamama (mother earth) not on Pachamama.”

While at Machu Picchu, Puma educated us on Incan and pre-Incan history. Between his explanation on how the Incans moved massive rocks by blowing one hundred conch shells, to showing us his favorite spot where one can stand on a small rock and feel as though they can fly like a condor, we left Machu Picchu satisfied. Despite the thousands of tourists and hundreds of guides, Puma had shared with us an experience no one else could; creating another day that was “the best day of our lives.”

Striking Spirituality” by Allison
Two days before we left for our two-day long backpacking trip on the Lares Trek, we went on a spiritual journey with our guides. The ceremony that they performed was to ask for permission from the mountain spirits to climb the pass and ask for good fortunes on our upcoming trek. Two of our guides initiated the ceremony by placing out offerings such as cookies, chocolates, money and seeds. After that, they gave each of us three coca leaves to which we stated our intentions and hopes for our upcoming journey. The three leaves represent the condor, puma, and serpent, which are animals that portray one's spirit, physical body and consciousness, respectively. We did a similar ceremony at our first stop on the trail, but we only stated our intentions and placed our leaves in a creek running by the resting place.
Trudging up the steep trail, a thought flitted through my head of, “I can't do this.” Just then, mystical music floated to my ears making me feel lighter and more encouraged to move forward. I searched for the source of the music and saw one of our guides playing a beautifully crafted wooden flute. The music carried our group forward up the steep, rocky terrain and gave a sense of hope and peace.

Over the course of the trek, I received a plethora of information about the sacredness of this trek from Puma and our other guides. On our second and last day, we climbed about a 15,000-foot pass, the highest elevation we have experienced this entire trip. At our first break, Puma told us each to find a small rock and carry it to the top of the pass. When we reached the top, we were instructed to leave our rock there with a wish, intention, or something we want to leave behind. As everyone trickled onto the mountaintop, Puma explained how passes are like portals for your soul. When you are on one side of it, you are still your old self, but when you cross over, you become a new person - the person you want to be. Also on the top of the pass is one of three crosses in the entire mountain range, which stretches from Chile all the way to the North American Rockies. The cross was brought up by the Spaniards, is dressed in colorful clothing, and has a face with a crown on top. Puma described to us how native people of Peru wake up at 12 in the morning, do the entire hike in four hours and are at the top of the pass to see the sun rise over the sacred valley.

The entire trek was a truly magical experience. I felt like I was a part of something, something that had been sacred hundreds of years before I was born. Pre-Incans, Incans, Quechua people, citizens of Peru and tourists have all climbed this phenomenal trek to feel the sacredness and spirituality woven into the valley.

The Rhythm of Decadence” by Charlotte 
The encouraging trail of Puma's flute receded as a congratulatory chorus overtook its shrill notes. The sight of our campsite for the first night of our trek induced rejuvenated cheers, grateful sighs, and joyous high fives. The sea of red, blue, and tan tents set up by our abundance of arrieros along with the oblong dining tent dotted the green mountain's gentle slope. Our parade of thirty-two horses, cook crew, and horsemen had preceded our arrival and prepared the campsite for our stay.

The initial euphoria of accomplishment gradually faded for TTS girls and their parents. We added base layers, wool hats, and extra socks as insulation. We set out sleeping bags onto firmly blown pads and ventured to the river to refill our water bottles. The guides set bowls of hot water outside to wash our hands. The evening on the Lares Trek proved chilly as we expected. I felt grateful for the close proximity of the dining tent. “The dining tent is always there to warm me up with hot chocolate,” Anne Fawcett related. Three long tables brimmed with boxes of tea, silverware, giant thermoses of boiled water, stools, tin cups, and bags of powdered milk. Cook crew served rounds of soup, platters of rice, vegetables, and chicken, and bowls of chocolate pudding. Sophie, chieflet for the day, proposed a dinner discussion of our favorite carbohydrates. Shivers disappeared as we passed steamy mugs and created bonds within our extended group. Although dimly lit by candles, the tent felt bright with a content but sleepy energy.

The morning arrived quickly and ensued with the guides' good morning calls. Parents and siblings stuffed their duffels and zipped them shut. Girls shoved clothes and gear deep into our lightened packs. Trays of bread and bottles of yogurt circulated the breakfast tables while more and more faces ventured into the tent. Puma's optimistic voice greeted us with his favorite words, “Today is the best day of our lives.” Once duffels were stacked and ready to be loaded, the group gathered to leave. Parents outfitted with hiking poles and girls with tightly strapped packs departed to start the adventure of trekking with the promise of finding the lunch tent soon.

 TTS' first glimpse at glamping (glamor camping) came as a surprise. Allie Stevens explained, “I have never heard of the term 'glamping' before, but I have been camping my whole life.” After the pure form of camping we partook in during the Santa Cruz trek, the Lares trek felt luxurious. From our downsized packs, plethora of guides, three course meals, and a herd of horses drooping with gear, the experience was decadent and less strenuous. With the circumstances and company of the parents, glamping provided a treat.

Trekking Triumphs via Trail and Terrain” by Alizah
The Traveling School – now encompassing eleven moms, dads, siblings, and a portion of Puma's extended family – began our trek by bus. Despite a 5:30 wake up, it was among our most chatter-filled rides yet as we raced to get to know the new faces surrounding us. Our two and a half hour journey was punctuated by stops so brief that the bus seemed to do no more than slow down; during each, new members of Puma's family would jump aboard, smilingly introduce themselves, and proceed to weave through the aisles and hug every one of the bus' occupants.

We came to our first substantial stop at the base of a winding dirt road, where we swung the familiar weight of our packs onto our backs and helped the parents to do the same. With a mix of eagerness and apprehension, we began our ascent to the Lares Trek's pass. The uncovered dirt road soon gave way to a steep, forested trail along which the overhang of trees diligently shaded us from the intensifying sun. Our steps gradually became steeper as the trail climbed, yet the hum of conversation never quieted (though it was increasingly interspersed by panting). Our group – which now walked in single file, as the trees framing our path grew closer together – stretched nearly a quarter mile back from start to finish. At each rare but warmly regarded plateau, we'd shed another of the morning's many layers, refill our water supply in the river that unfailingly flowed alongside us, and catch our breath just enough to articulate “BAM,” drawing the rest of the group's attention to the sweeping valleys, waterfalls, and cloud-tipped mountains surrounding us.

The next four hours of steady ascension pulled us out of dense forest into open valley views as the trail – now rockier but no less steep – wove along the periphery of the Lares trail. As we approached lunch, which proved more difficult to find than expected, we crossed back and forth over the river using improvised boulder bridges. Full and reinvigorated, we finished our post-lunch climb expediently and in good spirits, finally arriving at camp after a nearly seven-hour day of hiking. Our tents, surrounded by towering boulders, sat just below our final destination of 15,800 feet, an elevation that threatened to put Santa Cruz's 14,250 feet to shame.

After an equally early morning, we left our extensive campsite behind and set off for the pass. In our steepest ascent yet, we gradually conquered the distance separating us from our goal; the knowledge that our final push would give way to a day of downhill made the seemingly endless switchbacks ahead less ominous. Finally, legs aching and cheeks pink, we reached the elevation-apogee of our trip so far.

After an obligatory photo, Nature Valley bar, and shamanic rock ceremony break, we began our descent, calling upon muscles that had been forgotten in our climb. The Trail's initial steepness never wavered, giving way to innumerable pants-staining butt-slides. Tentatively, we descended steep rock steps, frequently stopping to peel on and off rain ear as the sky vacillated between extremes. The downward sloping terrain, though daunting in its own way, allowed for conversation and trail games as the group's order reshuffled. Exhausted, we reached lunch, refueling in preparation for three final hours. Two sporadic rain showers, three lake sightings, and some not-so-graceful falls later, we finally arrived at the road that had been taunting us in the distance. Both exhausted and relieved, our group reunited, looking back at the eighteen miles we had come.

Sick Days in Cusco” by Courtney 
We looked at the vast and sunny city of Cusco from the tight balcony of the “Choco Museo.” As I sipped chocolate tea with my mother, I pictured myself on the Lares Trek with bruised hips, freshly blistered feet, and a queasy stomach. With another taste of my hot, flavorful beverage, I began to come to terms with the microscopic villain living in my intestines.

The day started lazily, when I rolled awake at 9:30 in the Royal Inka Hotel, dubbed as “The Parent Hotel,” by my TTS classmates and teachers. For breakfast my mother and I strolled across the Plaza to a quaint French bakery. We welcomed the day with warm croissants, blueberry jam, and fresh coffee. “What shall we do today?” my mother asked, as I savored my croissant. I shrugged, uneasy with the control I suddenly had over my schedule. After two and a half months of living with my high school, the concept of planning my own day felt foreign and strange.

It was decided that Heather F., the teacher that stayed back with us “sickies,” would take my mother and I to the local market. The smiling vendors at the market proudly displayed everything from vegetables to shaman tools in a maze of organized sections. The smell of fresh bread and juice hung in the air. With purchases of pottery and earrings, we exited the chaotic and colorful labyrinth. We wandered through the cobble stone streets, eventually ending up at “Jack's.” Lunch at Jack's consisted of hot sandwiches, caramelized banana pancakes, and the enormous mango frappe I ordered. With our stomachs and money belts full, we shopped around the streets packed with alpaca sweaters, sparkly earrings, colorful scarves, stylish bracelets, and leather purses. My and my mother headed back with our arms full of fuzzy sweaters.
When we returned to the Hotel, I felt a strange mix of exhaustion and appreciation. Lucky to be sick in a place as interesting and vibrant as Cusco. Before trudging up to our hotel room, my mother treated me to a haircut at the hotel's salon. With a quick scrub and an intense blow-drying session, I lost recognition of the girl with straight hair staring back at me. Having smooth and tangle-free hair was another strange concept that I hadn't encountered during TTS.

After a dinner of hot chicken noodle soup in the hotel dining room, I abruptly collapsed onto my giant bed. With my soft hair, new sweater, and grumbling stomach, I felt like a Peruvian princess with a parasite. Sick days in Cusco aren't so bad.

Condors, clouds and civilizations” by Rebecca
Entering the gates into Machu Picchu, my preconceived notion of one of the Seven Wonders of the World was built on
the photos I had seen on postcards and the images on my computer screen. Displaying my passport photo I, along with two thousand tourists, entered the ancient Incan ruins for the day. The group divided into parents/siblings and students for our morning tour. The clouds covered everything past our foot-trail, groggily walking, and camera in hand, while following our guide Puma, the mist cover laid over the land like a blanket. We paused to admire the scenery as Puma said, “Chicas, don't ever wonder what heaven looks like-you are looking at it.” We continued along the tour, taking photos through ancient rectangular windows and pausing to learn about the significance of certain rocks or structures. At one point, Puma proclaimed it was his favorite spot in Machu Picchu: we stood overlooking the valley and towering mountain peaks protruding from the hillside was a small rock ledge. Every member in our group took turns standing with arms spread and feet staggered, overlooking the magnificent views. We felt the magnetic field while standing on the ledge. Through tiny quivers and shakes within our legs the feeling of unbalanced flight was attained. Next, with squinted eyes, we gazed upon a boulder that on the right side depicted a spectacled bear face. We each stepped up to admire the stone and then wrapped our arms around the bear's profile.
A hug given to the cool piece of stone is supposed to heal the individual. Continuing along the trail and climbing up steep stone steps we learned that Machu Picchu is in the shape of a condor, a bird representing Andean spirituality. Puma stated that in order for each of us to be a fulfilled person we must travel with a part of the condor, symbolizing spirit, puma representing physical body and serpent depicting conscious mind. “Only when one reaches this state of happiness, can they be of best service to others.” As our tour came to a close we approached the “Facebook photo” viewpoint overlooking all of Machu Picchu. Group photos were taken with our seniors throwing sun-hats for a graduation picture. Personally, I was posing for the camera in front of centuries of civilization without realizing the magnitude held in the sights I saw. After the initial frenzy died down, I was able to go off in a small group and gaze in silence at the true splendor of the architecture the Incans created. In that moment, I felt alone in my thoughts although still surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds. The impact of Machu Picchu is dependent upon the viewer. Perceived through my own eyes, the power of Machu Picchu was an extraordinary experience and I would love for the opportunity to visit again in the future.

Trains, Buses, and Cuzcan Afternoons – Our Journey Back” by Scout 
Once again shouldering our bags, we began our lengthy procession back to the train station to board the Harry Potter-esque Inka Railroad that would take us out of the Machu Picchu mist and back to the rest of Peru. Students filled their time with naps and reading, while parents slept and shared pictures or conversation. Almost two hours later, the TTS contingency emerged onto the sunny platform bleary eyed and a little disheveled, and headed towards the bus. Much like the train, the bus time was filled with napping. Interrupted only by a brief stop at a local chicheria to learn about the traditional fermented corn drink, and a fancy buffet lunch, we ascended the windy roads back to Cuzco. Upon arriving at the hotel, we said goodbye to Rick and Jennifer who would be home-bound that afternoon, and divided to conquer math classes, explore the markets and shops, or spend a final evening with parents. The journey to Machu Picchu concluded with good moods, unpacking, and a good night's sleep before beginning the next few days of classes.  

Click on this link for more photos from the trip!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What a wonderful bunch of girls!

Sharing the past two weeks with TTS 23, parents, and our local guides is an experience I'll cherish always.  The girls have learned so much about travel already including how to manage their packs and personal items, support each other in countless ways, most evident while trekking.  They show amazing strength and resilience while climbing up to a pass just below 16,000 feet.  Watching them perform skits to teach us travel tips and basic Spanish, I saw a level of trust and comfort with each other that was incredibly refreshing.  Each girl was comfortable being herself among her peers and teachers and that is one of the many wonderful things I remember.

I'm sure the pictures are of highest priority.  Here are a few from our first day together in Cusco:

Travel Tips presented by the girls for the parents in the form of skits - Erin, Allie and Hannah talk about handling money safely and protecting your friend while she is withdrawing money from an ATM.

Rebecca, Charlotte, Eliza and Lena talk about being prepared for all kinds of weather!

Sus, Ann(e)?, and Scout take questions from the audience about what to do in restaurants.

Courtney, Kate and Sophie present tips for staying clean and healthy while traveling.  
A passerby looks intrigued by the amazing acting happening.

And a hilarious presentation by Faisa (sp?), Lindsay, and Caroline about how to leave no trace and poop while camping.  There were at least 8 D's 

 I enjoyed seeing the students use theatre games to present information to us in a creative and fun manner.  There are so many things to share.  Thank you TTS for your commitment to empowering girls to teach and learn.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time with the girls and parents in Peru.  The guides were outstanding - and it was a treat to get to know both Jennifer and Heather - and Rick too.   Time well spent.

Annabel Sheinberg, Sophie's mom.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Can I be in all of these classes?!

Travel Journalism
As the first quarter came to a close, Travel Journalism students dove into the intriguing world of investigative journalism.  The midterm dealt with a fictional murder mystery!  Non-TJ members of the TTS community we're assigned roles to play, and the students in the class were charged with the task of interviewing these characters, reviewing documents, and researching police reports and newspapers to figure out how all the pieces connected.  They continued to consider the ideas of interpretation and analysis while writing their investigative report article. Next, we turned to blogging, and the significance of journalism and mass communication in the age of the Internet. As the group set off to Cordillera Blanca, the TJ girls took charge of the TTS activities blog to document the excitement of the Santa Cruz trek (check out their updates!).  The students conveyed the trip with words, and they also took some fantastic photos, both of the group and the incredible scenery!  I have no doubt that our visit to Machu Picchu will inspire more photography and opportunity to update the blog.

Advanced Conversational Spanish
The Santa Cruz trek provided ample opportunity for conversation, so naturally certain parts of the hike were designated as Spanish-only. With the majestic vistas of the Cordillera Blanca serving as points of conversation, the students enjoyed casual discussion practice while walking. The Advanced girls were called upon once again for their translation skills in a Global Studies class in which we chatted with our arrieros (donkey handlers) about their lives and work. Once back in Huaraz, we were able to take our class to the streets (literally), as the students worked together to navigate themselves to the market and purchase ingredients for group meals. During the experience, they were excited to learn and practice words for fruits and vegetables, as well as amplify their direction and bargaining skills in Spanish. As we explore the Sacred Valley around Cusco, the students will continue to fortify their translation and conversation skills with our friendly local guides.  Grammatically, our course is moving towards more complicated constructions in the subjunctive mood.  In addition, we are making progress with El Alquimista, as the girls continue to dedicate their minds towards a deeper comprehension of the novel.

Beginning Spanish
Girls of Beginning Spanish have added to boot changing verbs to their conversation repertoire. They also learned to use idiomatic expressions with the verb tener to express hunger, thirst, sleepiness, warmth, cold, luckiness, and being in a rush. Girls used the construction “tener que” to express what they have to do and the construction ir + a + infinitive verb to talk about the near future. Girls continued to collect new vocabulary words through their interactions. Hannah learned important restaurant vocabulary (la cuenta = the check) while paying for dinner. A trip to the market in Huaraz required girls to use their fruit and vegetable vocabulary as well as key phrases for bargaining in order to buy lunch for themselves and ingredients for the group dinner. Rebecca negotiated for a good price on broccoli and Maisie asked about different types of mangos. Erin learned the phrase “mantequilla de mani” in order to purchase supplies for her favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. During our stay in Cusco, girls used their Spanish to navigate the city. Caroline, Courtney, and Hannah chatted with the hostel owner's teenage daughter about her school and life in Cusco. 

Global Studies
While in the Galapagos, our Global Studies conversation turned to ecotourism: the students read articles about the topic and interviewed members of the boat crews to investigate their perspective.  Our arrival to Peru inspired snapshot snippets on the bus ride, in which we previewed aspects of the nation's culture, history, and government.  These mini classes and discussions provided a scaffolding on which we will build comparisons between the three countries we visit during the semester.  The midterm exam for the course involved construction of a "mind map," a graphic organization of connections among various parts of the curriculum, centralized around a quotation from Joe Kane's book, Savages. The goal of Global Studies is to provide a forum to make interdisciplinary links between classes and our experiences, and so we are working as a teacher team to encourage inquisitiveness about our environments.  To provide motivation to this end, we have added a new crew to our group responsibilities.  This group, which rotates every other day, is in charge of "hospitality": ensuring that the people that we encounter as a group are acknowledged and utilized as teachers.  For example, hospitality crew helped run a discussion with our donkey handlers during the Santa Cruz hike. In addition, as we begin the second half of the semester, we will be providing format variations of the RRQ weekly reflection, to allow for student input and increased creativity.  We look forward to these exciting changes as they are implemented during the campus visit and our journey to Machu Picchu!

After their trip to the Galapagos Islands, the girls completed their projects which required them to research the distance between islands and use these distances along with the Law of Sines and Law of Cosines to calculate the angle that the boat should sail to travel from one island to the next. A natural extension of our discussions about navigation was our study of polar representations of points, where points are represented by a distance from the origin and an angle, rather than an x- and y- coordinate. Students explored various polar representations for points and equations and discussed which types of equations are more simply expressed in polar coordinates and which are more simply expressed in rectangular coordinates. Next, we transferred our previous trigonometry work address computations with vectors, including addition, subtraction, scalar multiplication, and the dot product.

Algebra 2
Since midterms, Algebra 2 girls have focused on rational functions. They applied their previous experience in factoring polynomials to factor numerators and denominators and make observations about factors of the numerator and denominator relate to the appearance of vertical asymptotes and holes in graphs. An exploration activity using their graphing calculator allowed girls to generate and test hypotheses about the appearance of horizontal asymptotes as well. Following the rational function study, girls considered radical functions as inverses of quadratics and cubics. Our previous work on graph transformations provided a natural foundation for graphing radical functions and inequalities. As we transitioned to study conic sections, Maise and Allie applied the distance formula to derive the standard equation of a circle. An ellipse drawing demonstration using a string held by two tacks at the ellipses foci (as shown in the figure below) allowed girls a hands-on opportunity to understand the definition of an ellipse.

Honors History and Government of South America 
The second half of the semester began with students taking over the class. Allie, Sophie, Rebecca, Maisie, and Erin taught their peers about the past two presidents of Peru in addition to the current one. They taught about The Shining Path, a revolutionary group still active in the country, and the influence of Che Guevara. Each student came up with their own creative way to impart information. At first we gathered beneath a rock in the high altitude meadow we were camped in to have the Cordillera Blanca mountain range as a backdrop. Yet as rain began to pour down we piled into our circular yellow 'dining tent'. Allie took on various personas via masks she made. Maisie read a speech she wrote. Sophie and Rebecca recited original poems, and Erin read a children's book she created. Scout, Lindsey, Anne, Susannah, and Alizah had already presented pre-Galapagos, and got to sit back and enjoy the presentations.

 Students rocked the history exams taken in the Galapagos. Though they are grappling with complex issues in class discussions and written work, I look forward to watching them engage even more with each Peruvian and Bolivian they meet, seeing each interaction as an opportunity to learn. As we regrouped post-midterms, students got to share the histories they learned from the Galapagos crew members. Interestingly, many workers spoke about oil issues, but in a vastly different way than people encountered in the Amazon, the region most intensely affected by drilling.

Many connections are being made. Students remembered the grotesque painting on the ceiling of the Guayasamin museum in Ecuador depicting Peruvian silver miners and their early deaths when reading statistics on resource extraction in Peru. They are brimming with questions and can't wait to ask people they encounter the things they want to know.

History students are knee-deep in reading on the colonial history of Peru and its road to Independence. After an introduction to the government and political structures of the country, we will read more on The Shining Path, and discuss violence as a means to an end. Who knows what will come next...role plays, a debate, a graphic novel? All will culminate in a beautiful map of our journey, full of historical and personal events and revelations.

Honors Literature and Composition
Students lay with their backs to the alpine meadow grass and their eyes to the sky as I read the first pages of 'The House of the Spirits', by Isabel Allende. They let their minds open to the Trueba family, and the fantastical things that happen against the sometimes violent political backdrop. Literature class in the Cordillera Blanca was magical. Students journaled spread out on rocks, having conquered the mighty Punta Union pass at 15,000 ft! Each in their own world, they silently finished the sentences: I used to be...I am...I want to be...

We will continue to immerse ourselves in literary analysis in the coming weeks, writing love letters between the characters, discussing plot, and trying our own hand at the genre of magical realism!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I come to get to know you (Riksinkapa Shamuni)

Re-posted from the Tandana Blog


Written By: Alizah, New York, senior
February 20, 2014
The Traveling School arrived in Agualongo to greetings of “Feliz Dia de San Valentin” and Kichwa introductions from the community. In groups of three and four, we were paired up with the people who, over the next six days, would become our families.
After rolling out my sleeping bag on eye level with my host family’s pet guinea pigs, I joined my parents and five brothers at our “tulpa,” a small, separate room with a fire for cooking. I was amazed to find that every family member had a role in dinner preparation: the boys scrubbed dishes and collected kindling for the fire while my mom peeled entire potatoes with a single swipe. I tried (and failed) to imitate her “hand-as-cutting-board” technique with a bunch of scallions while ignoring every piece of culinary advice I had received over the past seventeen years. As the soup boiled between us – churning some roughly chopped scallions – smoke filled the small room. This gave way to our first family joke: “las gringas llorando” (foreigners crying).
We rose early the next morning for a community work party, or “minga.” Community members and students dispersed to gut chickens, peel potatoes, deepen an irrigation trench, tile the new community center, and prepare the soccer field for new lights that a former Traveling School student had fundraised for. After an exhausting and productive morning, we gathered for a traditional community lunch, which included blackberry juice, chicken soup, cuy (guinea pig) soup, and a customary mix of one dish contributed by each family. Following a series of “thank-you’s” from Tandana, community members, and students, we celebrated the morning’s hard work with an aftermath of volleyball, dance, and piggyback rides. Exhausted, and still digesting lunch, we returned home to prepare dinner. My eyes teared (a common theme, apparently) as I chopped onions one-on-one with my host-mom. For the first time of many, she told me how lucky she felt to have more daughters and how sad she was that we weren’t staying for a year, I was glad I had the onions to blame for my tears as I thought about how much love our families had to offer.
ImageThe next morning, dressed in traditional Kichwa clothes, part of the group went to mass with their families while the rest of us stayed behind to bake bread. Five oven-loads later, we piled with our families into two busses, which took us to El Lechero, a sacred tree and prime picnic spot. We set out PBJs, cold-cuts, and fruit and the families once again each brought a dish to combine. One of the community members facilitated this custom, and then offered us a bowl to share. In return, we offered the community free reign of our supplies, resulting in some triple-decker PBJs filled with unspread globs of guanabana jelly. After a group clean-up effort, we continued on to El Parque Condor, a bird rehabilitation center, for a flight demonstration. The kids – and two sixteen year old Traveling School students – got to hold some birds afterwards. Three days later, my brothers were still running around flapping their arms and bird-calling. We returned around 6pm which presented me with my biggest challenge yet: trying to get my homework done while simultaneously entertaining my seven year old brother who loves ninjas, Jackie Chan, and my camera. For the first time since our arrival, I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to finish a journal entry (a feat I was proud of until I realized it was only 7:46pm).
Over the next few days, we experienced a traditional cooking class, Kichwa lessons, and a 94 year-old espanto (fright) healer (who “cured” one of our own). We spent a morning at a tree nursery weeding, taking down a decrepit greenhouse, and learning about a local cement factory’s impact on the environment and economy. That afternoon, we panted our way up a 90 degree incline interspersed with cows to a weather station where we learned about the different weather-measurement instruments and the observed impact of climate change on Ecuador’s weather patterns and agriculture. We spent a memorable evening teaching our families to make s’mores (proof of which remains in the form of marshmallow residue all over my pants).
Between classes, service, and play, I acclimated to the world of bucket-flush, was both scoffed and supported in my attempts to hand-wash laundry, ate more starches on my plate than I ever thought possible, and unsuccessfully insisted that chicken is not vegetarian. Six exhausting days later, I found myself in the Casa Comunal for the last time, saying “mis despedidas” to the people I had come to love. We each stood up and said an individual good-bye and thank you to our family, and then sang a song – complete with choreography – that we had written in Kichwa class to the community:
From far away I come (Karumanta Shamuni)
I come to get to know you (Riksinkapa Shamuni)
I come to work with you (Kankunawan llamkani)
I eat a lot (Ashtakata mikuni)
I love the food (Mikuykuta kuyani)
Now we are friends (Kunan mashimi Kanchik)
I thank you (Ninanta yupaychani)

Monday, April 7, 2014

"It wouldn't be the Santa Cruz Trek, if it didn't kick our butts until the very last step"

As documented by the students of Travel Journalism

Day 0: “Before the Adventure Could Even Start” – Scout, senior, Connecticut
Preparation for the Santa Cruz trek ensued with a flurry of packing lists, trips to the gear store, emptying out the fridge, and lessons on everything from reading topo maps to using the bathroom in the great outdoors. In the days before leaving, girls dug out layers they hadn't seen since Miami, organized group food, took their final showers, and got ready to hit the trail.

On March 29th, two days before leaving for the trek, we set off early for an acclimatization hike in the Cordillera Negra. Running alongside the Cordillera Blanca, home to the Santa Cruz trek, the Cordillera Negra is its less snowy counterpart, and from there we could see the white peaks we would be heading to the following day. While our acclimatization hike included a steady descent over the rocky trail leading back into the valley, it was filled with frequent stops occupied with everything from snacking to posing for pictures before the surreal mountain views. On one of our earliest breaks, Erin gave us a thorough lesson on “Leave No Trace” trail ethics, complete with demonstrations of switchbacks and packing out trash, and later on we spent a silent lunch reflecting on both the vast landscape and little miracles that surround us in nature.

Arriving back to our hostel three hours earlier than planned, tired and sunburned, the afternoon consisted of trips to the gear store to replace missing socks or moldy water bottles, and a briefing on where the next six days of walking would take us. It also happened to be Susannah's birthday the day after we celebrated Allie's birthday. Born from Erin's “Leave No Trace” lesson, the evening concluded with a “Leave No Trace” themed birthday bash. During the festivities, Susannah was led by Tour Guide Allie through a maze of trail ethic skits ranging from the LNT police patrolling for people leaving trash, to a herd of sweat-hungry cows and rabid dogs that she was diligently warned to stay away from. On the roof of the hostel, surrounded by the sounds of nighttime Huaraz and the glow of distant Peruvian stars, we shared our favorite "Susannah moments" and celebrated with ice cream, cookies and togetherness.

The next morning came with eggs, bacon, and optional PE or church. After a few hours of classes, we divided up to tackle group gear packing. With one group on dinner, one on breakfast and lunch, another on GORP and the last on group gear, the hostel kitchen was littered with wrappers and bulk packaging as we condensed, double bagged and piled up oatmeal, ramen, hot chocolate, and anything else dried, sustaining, and purchasable in large amounts. Following this organizational feat, our teachers presented us with the “sexy pack” demonstration – how to strap everything down, what should be accessible, what needs to stay dry, and where rain gear should go. Packing itself, after numerous lists and check-ins, was an affair of scattered gear, trashbags, prioritizing and running from room to room in search of shared and reclaimed clothing. When the cloud of bandanas, Smartwools, wet wipes, and poly-pro cleared, there were 23 neatly packed backpacks, one on each bed, and 23 trashbags of unneeded clothes and gear tucked away in storage. After a final study hall at Cafe Andino next door, it was early to bed in preparation for the next few days, boots lined neatly by the door, and eagerly awaiting our transport into the mountains the next morning.

Day 1: “Why Are We Backpacking?” – by Courtney, senior, New Jersey
My alarm beeped and screeched, flashing 6:00am in my face. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my orange Tupperware and walked to breakfast. In order to clear out our food supply, we had every type of yogurt and leftover birthday cake for the most important meal of the day. After packing our PB&J lunches, we headed out of the hostel and filed into our white “turistico” vans. We kissed Huaraz goodbye.

We sat in the vans for hours, driving on the edges of cliffs and looking our at the mountains that poked into the clouds. The ride ended as we arrived in the tiny village of Cashapampa. Two men stood smiling with donkeys. We were quickly introduced to our arrieros, Pedro and Luis. After a short introduction from all the TTS girls, Pedro went on to say that we were all his family throughout the trek.

With our hiking boots laced up and our big packs strapped on, we played a game of “Wah” as our teachers talked to Pedro and Luis. As Heather made her final announcement, telling us to have empty bladders and full water bottles, I felt a wave of anxiety, fear, and excitement wash over me. We began to march out, clutching our purified water bottles as we looked up at the trail we were about to conquer.

We began to talk on a rocky trail, crossing over a rushing river, the more we walked, the more steep and dry our trail became. As we continued uphill, I began to wonder why we were doing something so painful, as the sun blazed on our faces. I thought to myself, “I am not meant for backpacking.” The girls in front of me stopped, announcing that it was break-time. My legs collapsed and I dropped onto my backpack. I took a moment to look around and was overcome by the scenery that we had worked our way into. A waterfall flowed next to me and surrounding us were mountains that didn't look quite so tall from our height. There are some places that can't be reached by a vehicle.

As our trail began to flatten out and we crossed a stream, I could see Pedro and Luis waiting for us at our campsite. A waterfall marked our home for the night, and I dropped my bag, grateful the hike was over. Later, as I looked up at millions of bright stars, I thought, “THIS is why people backpack.”

Day 2: “Pacha Ichicocha” – by Charlotte, sophomore, Virginia
After a steep and strenuous initial day of backpacking, our campsite, ringed with mountains and waterfalls, stayed quiet until groggy but cheerful faces unzipped their tents at half past seven. We gathered for out rations of oatmeal before sending off three members of the group. Heather P, Vickie, and Hannah began their descent back to Cashapampa for health reasons, but only after rounds of hugs and safe wishes. Between redistributing the dwindling group food, filling water bottles in the Santa Cruz River, folding up tents, and organizing our bags, we were not prepared to leave until ten.

Starting at an elevation of 3700 meters, we only climbed 100 meters over the next four and a half miles. The terrain's gentle slopes and flat stretches came as a relief. The majority of the path remained level, yet littered with rocks and squishy with sand. We crossed over the Santa Cruz River multiple times as the trail wandered. Whether with animated skips, tentative stepping stones, or splashing strides, we kept on the elusive path past Llamacorral. We broke for lunch on the side of the trail. Packs plummeted to the ground as we eagerly shed the unfamiliar weight.

We hiked through Sapichuayta, maintaining a pace that supported the spectrum of speeds in the group. Conversations ranging from discussions of our parents to memories of previous backpacking trips entertained us for the five hours of walking. Pedro, our lead arriero, waited for us just around a bend in the trail, standing on a large rock. His greetings signaled the conclusion of the day's trek. Anew with energy, we explored our temporary home.

Our campsite lay at the edge of Lake Ichicocha. Rocks from the size of mere pebbles to mighty boulders sprinkled the even field. Mountains loomed on two sides while light tunneled through the channel they formed. We set up tents in the sunshine, nudging stray cows off our ground tarps.

History class ensued with the final few presentations of South American leaders, in an outdoor environment highlighted by a double rainbow arching as the backdrop. Cook crew prepared a hearty supper over a two-burner gas stove. We all ate in a circle, swelling the communal tent with our physical presence as well as laughs and voices. Voices rehashing the voyage so far, and speculating what was to come, scattered in the night air before returning to our sleeping bags to slumber.

Day 3: “Hiking Over the Hump” – by Allie, sophomore, Montana
Beep, beep, beep. Hearing my alarm, I rolled over in my sleeping bag, not wanting to go out into the much colder mountain world. Slowly, I , along with my two tent-mates Kate B and Alizah , extracted ourselves from our sleeping bags, put our warm clothes on, grabbed our Tupperware and emerged from our tent into the waking world. Immediately, I was again hit with the beauty of our campsite and the Cordillera Blanca. Already our third day on the Santa Cruz trek, and I knew I would never become accustomed to the view. Mountains shot up on all sides, their peaks hidden in the wispy clouds that hung ominously above. Waterfalls, disguised in the mountain rocks, sprung forth in a whitewater shower. The green grass flattened beneath my feet as I walked across camp to our breakfast tent.

A campsite like this is a pretty great place to have a birthday, one might say, and lucky for Caroline, now 17, her birthday happened to be today, April 2. The morning silence was  broken by “happy birthdays” and “can you believe you're 17?!” The excitement of another TTS birthday hung in the air as we ate our breakfast of oatmeal and polenta patties. After breakfast, everyone dispersed to prepare for the hike from Ichicocha to Taullipampa. This included deflating sleep pads, packing our clothes and sleeping bags, dismantling our tents, taking a pile of group gear that everyone helped carry, putting the final touches on our packs, and meeting at 9:15 in a circle at a central location ready to go. For the next 15 minutes, we stretched our sore muscles and talked about the day ahead of us. Hiking for five to six hours, gaining 1100 feet and ending up at “the most beautiful campsite in the world” was just the beginning of it.
Within the first ten minutes of our hike, we passed by a stunning blue glacial lake, set in a frame of towering mountains that met in a “V”behind it. “BAM!” rang out through the group as we all stopped for a Beauty Appreciation Moment. We had been hiking in this valley for a couple of days now, but this was the first glacial lake we had seen. We continued hiking for a couple hours, taking breaks here and there, until the scenery suddenly changed. Before we were hiking in forest-like areas with the Santa Cruz River running alongside, but all of a sudden, we were walking along vegetation-free, trail-free open land. Multiple creeks ran through the floor of sand, interfering with the desert-like scenery. We walked across this land for awhile, ate lunch there, and prepared for the switchbacks we saw cut in the mountain straight ahead of us. We stared the uphill as the weather decided to rain. Frantically getting out rain pants, coats, and backpack covers, we kept on hiking, prepared for anything. After a few hours, we were all gasping for air, feeling our backs and legs, when we saw it, “the most beautiful campsite in the world.” Not one, not two, but three glaciers towered over us and behind us was the valley we had conquered. Accomplishment filled the air with the knowledge we were now halfway done.

After setting up tents and laying out any group gear in our possession, we had a little free time until dinner. While eating a warming ramen noodle dinner, we partook in the TTS birthday tradition of going around in a circle and saying one thing we love about the birthday girl. As each person went, the dome-like tent filled with the love, support, and joy that was obvious in the words that were spoken then and throughout the day. Snuggling into our sleeping bags after dinner, sleep hit fast and hard as we prepared for another day - up to the pass.

Day 4 – by Rebecca, junior, Montana
“Zip, zip, zip,” I opened the tent door to reveal one of the most beautiful campsites in the world. Surrounded by three mist-covered glaciers and towering mountain peaks, my eyes swirled in astonishment of the morning view. After eating an assortment of oatmeal in our Tupperware containers, we packed our tents, gear and bags as the nerves began to grow. The collective group was feeling the weight today would hold, not only on our backs, but also in the steep uphill slopes to come. Although we were reminded that in times of hardship, the power of one's mind can shift an experience for the better or worse. Shouting “we are TTS”and the consistent encouragement that “we can do this” began our trekking off to a positive vibe. With two liters of water, snack bags full and rain jackets on, the twenty of us began our climb to the pass. To help speed up the time, we had conversations ranging from glacial lakes to boys. We stopped at the curve in a switchback and stood breathless (physically and literally) of the view. In that same instant, a condor flew over the pristine blue water and circled around the valley, displaying its immense wingspan. Our arriero, Luis, told us the condor is an Andean sign of good luck and fortune. With our spirits lifted and the “red wooden marker” in sight, we forged forward. The last 210 steps to the Punta Union pass seemed to be the most pivotal steps I have taken. Cheers, high fives, and hugs were exchanged as our group felt a sense of unity reaching the pass. We took photos next to the sign depicting that were 14,250 feet high in altitude. While enjoying the lunch break, we indulged in (Snickers like) chocolate bars that Heather F. used to symbolize and describe as the layers of glaciers. One the downhill section of our hike, some of us slid and slipped on the rocks and mud, but you would always look from your fall to see a hand waiting to help you up. The feeling of accomplishment grew as our campsite was within eye sight. We marched through the rain and happily arrive at our site. Setting up tents, cooking quinoa and pasta while snuggling together in sleeping bags concluded day four of the Santa Cruz trek.

Day 5: “Dia de Relief” – by Feyza, junior, Iowa
On day five of the Santa Cruz trek, we crawled out of damp tents looking out to the pass we had summited the day before. The feelings of accomplishment and joy from it still lingering. The mountains with icy glaciers and jet black rock provided a dramatic contrast to the green-brown grass and moss lichen covered rocks surrounding our campsite, Morococha. We drowsily ate our oatmeal in the yellow dome tent preparing for the six hour downhill hike to come.

After packing up a bit faster than the previous day, we gathered in a circle for group stretches and to talk about how important it is to be careful hiking downhill. We set off around 9:30, talking and laughing, as we scampered over rocks and trudged through mud. The path that day was quite sludgy, as it had rained the night before – the grass lush with plenty of rocks to avoid some of the puddles. Mountains spotted with trees surrounded us in all directions. Around 11:30 we stopped for a break and started our solo hike, one person leaving every two minutes with teachers intermixed. In silence we walked for half an hour alone, taking in our surroundings, listening to the sounds of rain pattering on the ground, the water in the river caressing and pounding the rocks while we pondered life. Once the last person had arrived, we continued hiking, chatter beginning, silence disappearing. We walked and walked, picking up any trash we saw, going in and out of conversations, hydrating and reflecting. Arriving at our campsite Huaripampa earlier than expected, we set up our tents in the afternoon sunshine and began classes. Starting off with literature, we journaled and laid on the grassy hill, observing the towering mountains, bright blue sky with wispy clouds, and wild horses, as we listened to Sarah's smooth calming voice read the novel, The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende, written in the popular South American style magical realism. Following literature we had Travel Journalism and iLife classes.

Around 6:30, we gathered in our yellow dome tent for a dinner of mashed potatoes, chicken noodle soup, and soy meat. After dinner, we went around in a circle and voiced something we had learned on the trek and how we would apply it moving forward. Bringing the night to a close, Heather F taught us a song commonly sung in trapping canoes. Sung in two groups, each with a different part, growing in volume and then quieting down, we demonstrated with our voices how time comes and goes but one must appreciate the moment for what it is. With that knowledge in mind, we sleepily made our way to the tents underneath the bright stars and crescent moon, looking forward to the next day but ready to embrace our last night of backpacking sleep.

Day 6: “False Finishes and Final Feats” – by Alizah, senior, New York
One Saturday morning, after a breakfast of spiced polenta cakes and oatmeal (surprise!), we expediently packed away our campsite for the last time. By 9:15, we stood in our stretching circle, rolling our shoulders in preparation for our final descent. The trail immediately began weaving through a small village, Huaripampa; after five days of encountering nothing but cows, donkeys and an Australian hiker, ubiquitous houses and other faces came as a shock. Children emerged along the trail's perimeter, mesmerized by our trail games and oversized packs that tipped us slightly backwards. For nearly two hours, we followed Luis along the mildly sloping agricultural terrain in which every slight uphill was punctuated by the relief of going twice as far down. Finally we reached the river, which marked the beginning of our hour-long ascent to the end.

The road that we were climbing toward never left our sight, yet seemed no less distant with each step we took. Whenever our feet began to drag, however, Sophie would periodically remind us that “we're closer than we've ever been.” This mentality chipped away at the fatigue that had been building for nearly a week. Although the final incline was no steeper than the miles of mountain that we had conquered on days one and four, our proximity to the end combined with the lingering exertion that the past six days had demanded made these final hills seemingly insurmountable.

False finish lines – a red sign, a tourism van that could only be differentiated from ours from feet away, a hill so steep that it must give way to a plateau – both taunted us and divided the last leg into conquerable chunks. Finally, heads bowed and legs aching, we saw our vans (complete with the familiar Che Guevara bumper sticker and orange window coverings) fifty steep yards away. Although the group had been prone to dispersing as we walked, we finished the trek as a unit. One by one, The Traveling School reached the flat solace of road, which was marked by a sign pointing back to the summit we had conquered miles ago. Our panting reaffirmed Heather F.'s words from that morning: “It wouldn't be the Santa Cruz trek if it didn't kick our butts until the very last step.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Santa Cruz trek conquered

Just a little nugget to tide you over until students post stories about the trail.

Most popular trail game- If you really knew me, you would know...

Best dancing game at camp - Little Sally Walker

Daily intentions: Hike with someone new and spend time in the moment

On the last night, Heather Foran led a powerful chanting song in the dining tent to feel the immensity of the mountains and the bond between the group.

Currently, tunes are blasting through the mini speakers at the hostel as cook crew chops up ginger and onions as part of an amazing dinner with everyone hanging around, enjoying one another.

Erin is currently creating tomorrow's schedule as the first chieflet.

Stay tuned... the group will take an overnight bus to Lima and then fly to Cusco for the second Campus Visit. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014