Monday, November 30, 2015

Abbi's Interview

This blog has been multipurpose.
1) A lot of people have asked about our trip and it was overwhelming to know how to begin explaining it all.
2) I like the November Gratitude Challenge, but I needed a little change up.
3) At some point in my life, I might try to write professionally and I thought this would be good practice and a challenge. (Which it has been.)
4) A memory for Rhonda, Mackenzie, Abbi and I to have in a tangible form.

The fourth point is going to be the purpose of my last blog. The four of us went through an experience together that we will never forget. This will always be a very special memory for me as I saw my daughter blossom, and I bonded with one of my favorite girlfriends and her daughter in such a unique way. We were pushed to our limits of comfort. We were confused and frustrated. We were rummy and silly. We were together. We were AWESOME! During all of the difficulties and all the triumphs, we laughed. We laughed so much! So for my last blog, I'm pulling all of the "funnies" out of our travel journal. You'll be privy to our inside jokes. Here, in mostly quote form, our favorite jokes throughout the trip.

We had little bags of chocolates to give to the gate agents and flight attendants for our travels. When we couldn't get on the DEN-MIA flight because it was full, Mackenzie said, "Ahhh! We wasted our chocolates!"

In Miami Airport, boarding for LIM- A big security guard type of man and a sliding space-aged doorway to the jetbridge. The doors closed ahead of me and I looked to him, in confusion. "Do you have duty free?" Me, "Uh, no." Him, "Then go!" He had a deep, thick African accent, and his serious demeanor did not match our giddy excitement. "Then go!" became a favorite quote for our trip.

Our first night in Cusco, we ate at Pacha Papas. We had a very nice waiter, named Roger. In jest, one of his coworkers told us that the live music was playing tonight because it was Roger's birthday. Rhonda and I broke out in the Happy Birthday song and other patrons joined us. It was not Roger's birthday.

During that first dinner, I had asked Mackenzie, "Do you like art?" I was asking because the entire street we had walked to dinner was filled with art galleries. And we had already been hit up by Pablo Picasso. Before she could respond, I said, "Because, I don't." I wasn't trying to be funny. I really don't care for art. My home is decorated with photos of the people I love. I have a few art pieces, mostly that have been gifted to me, and I do like them, but I don't think I'm a "tour an art gallery" person. I just stink at decorating anyway, and I don't care to own any more art in my lifetime. (Why am I feeling defensive about this?)

Anyway, for the rest of the trip, we laughed so many times about, "Do you like that?" "Because, I don't." Many, many times that quote was repeated.

The first night in the villages, Mackenzie was not going to sleep in her volunteer shirt. We had to wear it for three days, but changing her shirt meant changing clothes in the freezing cold. Rhonda said she should just sleep in it. Mackenzie said, "You, the one who set out new pajamas for me on Pajama Day at school, are going to talk to me about this?"

We remarked in our journal that the people of Huancancha gave us many hugs and kisses during the delivery of blankets. I think our whole group would agree that they were our favorite village.

Some inappropriate humor follows:

The third night in Cusco, Abbi and I were given a different room. When you opened the door, immediately there were steep stairs straight up. Rhonda said, "Oooh, it's like an attic!" And I replied, "Yes, Abbi and I are like Anne Frank!" Abbi thought that was a terrible thing to say.

During the night cap in our Anne Frank room, for some reason we were talking about making the decision to "pull the plug," on a loved one. Abbi said, "It's just adios, amigos!" and did a throat cut gesture. Ha! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the inappropriate tree?

We were laughing a lot that night, processing everything we had been through during the previous nights in the village. We had plans to leave for Germany from Miami, and we were probably being a tiny bit rowdy. Rhonda and I did tell the girls to ask us in the morning if we were still going to Oktoberfest.

We had possibly been knocked at once for being too loud at 8 p.m. (We walked right by Dan & Barb's room on the way to our room, and we are pretty sure Dan knocked on the window to quiet us down.) When a knock at our door came, I was sure we were in for it. I was so embarrassed (I may have tried to hide,) and I made Mackenzie answer the door. It was just Jeannie with our tickets for the day hike in MP.  We settled down and went to bed soon after.

The Hritscos and I agree that Peru has a certain spice smell, everywhere! Abbi can't smell it.

Mackenzie had asked the time of day a lot! And the plans. She goes over them and wants to know what happens next. And then she converts the times to Pacific Time and Rhonda and I would scold her! "Stay on the time zone you're in or you'll have no fun!"

Rhonda was hugging and kissing Mackenzie and the local kids were pointing and laughing at them.

We wanted to treat the girls in MP, so we bought them ICE CREAM! and alcohol truffles!...ooops.

Aguas Calientes has a beautiful church in the courtyard. Rhonda and Mackenzie went in and were praying for their family and were having a very special, meaningful moment. Then, the guy next to them ripped a loud fart. So much for the moment! I didn't enter the church all of the way, but I did want to take pictures-- even though there were 'no pictures' signs everywhere. Abbi wouldn't let me. It is a funny dynamic in our relationship that the daughter enforces the rules on the mother... a lot.

When we were leaving MP, there was a group of local kids that stopped Mackenzie and Shelly (a beautiful blonde with blue eyes) to take pictures with them. Beautiful, white girls were like a novelty. We were wondering if they were doing a scavenger hunt and had to take a picture with a tourist. For whatever reason, Mackenzie was asked by 3 different groups to pose for a picture before we left MP. Her dark hair and beautiful blue eyes are stunning.

This is the rough cut. I ran out of time to edit it. Abbi didn't want to write for the blog, so I interrogated her. It's so long that really only her family members will want to take the time to watch it.

On a final note, I hope you've enjoyed spending this month of November with me. I've gotten some really nice feedback. It's been fun to share this journey. Please feel free to leave a comment below. It would be great to hear from you all!

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Today is the day to post resources for you.  If you've stuck with me for the whole month of November, you either really love me (or Abbi, Mackenzie or Rhonda,) or you are thinking this is something you might want to do in your lifetime! Which would be great!

Our mission was arranged through Global Legacy Programs. Their website leaves a lot to be desired, but you can find some basic info there and a contact if you want to arrange your own mission.

To arrange a trip to Machu Picchu, you can contact my friend, Navidad. He is on Facebook as Chris (Christmas=Navidad). His tour company Top Peru Trips can help you arrange your dream trip. He also does work with an orphanage in Peru, so he may have another outreach program that does missions, as well.

One experience that the Spokane girls missed out on was the cooking class. The people who did go really enjoyed it and gave it good reviews. They did that the first night we arrived in Cusco and we were just a little to tired for that excursion. Here is the website for that class though. Everyone who went really enjoyed it.

Rumors swirl that Southwest Airlines would like to grow into South America, including Peru and Brazil! But until then, we flew on LAN airlines out of Miami. They are having a sale right now $529 R/T to Cusco.( Lan Airlines )

If you want to donate to Kim's mission fund, you can find it here. She also did a blog post for GLP here. I noticed there are places in the blog for donations, too. I would assume that goes directly to GLP, whereas I think Kim has control over the gofundme. Kim will be organizing another mission in Spring of 2017. I don't feel comfortable putting her contact info on here, but you are welcome to discuss with me and I can get you in touch.

The hostels we stayed at were:

Amaru I;
Address: Cuesta San Blas 541, Cusco, Peru
Phone:+51 84 225933

Pirwa Hostel Machu Picchu
Address: Tupac Inca Yupanqui # 103, Inca Yupanqui S/N, Aguas Calientes, Peru
Phone:+51 84 244315 *Remember to bring your own ShamWow! :)

Although, I would love to return in 2017,  I'm not one to commit to plans that far ahead. There is also another Southwest Airlines employee that goes to a Guatemala orphanage three times a year. I think I might have to experience that next. I'm sure you'll hear from me when I decide to commit to another mission.

There is an entire group on Facebook of SWA employees and mission trips they are planning. The same time that we were in Peru, a group was in Thailand at an elephant sanctuary. The group has lots of sharing of possible opportunities to help. I do believe you have to be a SW employee to join the group. It is found here.  They do have a public page that you can "like" and it has some information available for non-airline friends. This is a new group with a lot of ambitious young people. The fruits of their labor aren't yet ripe, but it maybe a good starting place?

I would caution anyone considering a mission to be careful and do your research. There is a wide range of prices for these trips. Our Peru mission was very inexpensive at $1100 per person. When you are researching, find out what the enrollment fees cover (meals, transportation, lodging, donations) and what the fund raising requirements are.

I liked going with Kim because she is very experienced in the setting and I felt comfortable that she knew the answers to some of my concerns ahead of time. Some of the mission work on the SW group page is very new and I feel a little more leery because I don't like other people's chaos. I have enough of my own! I need a good, organized leader for such an uncomfortable experience. I would recommend asking lots of questions about the actual work to be done, agendas, etc. before committing to a mission. Throughout our time preparing for this trip, Kim was very good about sending helpful resources, legitimate packing lists and detailed itineraries. I've heard stories and been witness to some less organized missions. It's a little frustrating to donate your time, energy and money to watch it being wasted away. Kind of like in Quisicancha, I suppose. The bottom line is either do a lot of your own research before you go, or go with an experienced group that will have the research done for you. It can be a distressing experience, and the best way to get through it is to be prepared and also be with a group you can trust to have your back and help you.

Tomorrow, you'll get the "B sides," or bloopers reel for our trip. Thanks for hanging in there!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Pictures & Stories that didn't fit anywhere.

Our Bag Weighed 40.8 lbs. Best Way to Get Rid of 8 oz? Drink 8 oz of Wine from the Box/Bag of Wine!

Some of 37 Pairs of Shoes Packed!

Taking a Selfie on a Horse Added to My Terror! I'm so scared of horses!

Aren't they adorable? I love their relationship!

Baby Packing

Our Leader Kim with a Q kid

This kid asked me to dance 2 songs in a row!

I love that big smile on Mackenzie's face. Beautiful girl inside and out!

After Everyone in our Group got One Daisy, the Leftovers were Distributed Randomly, but Tammy was a Favorite "Go-To Girl!"

A Little Cutie

I Loved Her Little Dress

This Teenager in Huancancancha Held a Dance Party for Us

Trying On Rhonda's Coat and Glasses & Thinking It Was SOOOO Funny

Dance Party--with American Music!

Cell Phone Video. Even though they hadn't had visitors in 5 years, the third village was actually the most advanced technology. They even had a freezer--because they sold popsicles!

Abbi and a Llama


To keep us healthy, I forced everyone to have an Airborne tablet every day. This was their faces about it on the train. They do taste terrible!

Abbi's Airborne face.

A skateboard in AG. The streets were full of hills, and this kid had the easy way down.

The paths in MP. Even the ground had engineering.

Our Death Hike Awaits...

More Llamas

I accidentally sat on my banana. This guy helped me clean it up. Then, we got in trouble from MP officials for feeding him. Whoops. But, very thankful for this llamas help. With no bathrooms, cleanup would have been really hard.

Temple of the Sun- Eyes of Pachamama (Mother Earth)

Dan showing how the Temple of the Sun is used. You use the reflection of the sun in the water to look at it.

Sweet Mother Daughter moment. I think they saw a butterfly.

Navidad Stamping Our Passports

One of a few of the really bad haircuts we saw in the villages.

Train on the way back to Cusco. So exhausted! But they leave the lights in the cabin on! No naps!!

My activity log for the mp day-15,509 steps--all on a stair master!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Day Hike--Grueling!

As we set out, we wondered, "Are we going to the top of that?" I thought, "No way!"
You already know that we were unable to do the Inca Trail Hike. We were left with two alternatives: The Seven Day Salkantay Inca Trail Hike or the Day Hike, Winay Wayna. When we were deciding how to proceed, I looked into the Salkantay Trail. It actually goes up to 6271 Meters (20575 feet!) and then drops back down into Machu Picchu at 2400 M (7875 feet.) After reading that many people experience altitude sickness at MP levels and also seeing that the Salkantay Trail was rated for experienced hikers, I felt it would be above our capabilities, especially with the daughters. I honestly didn't even research the day hike, because to me, "day hike" sounded like picinics and leisure. No big deal. Uh-WRONG!

The Winay Wayna  (Also known as Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu) trail is pretty special. It has a beautiful, birds-eye view of the Lost City. They only allow 400 people per day to climb it. They have two windows of time where they let 200 people in to do their climb. Ours was the 8:00 time slot. You can enter the hike anytime between 7:00-8:00, but if you miss the window, you will lose your chance to hike it. The trail is very narrow in places. Single file, hence part of the reason the time slot and limited number of people is important. When you do encounter people coming from the opposite direction, you have to find a place to stand to the side and grip the rock walls or small cable available for balance. After we got home from the trip, I googled it. It shows up in this article about the World's Top 20 Dangerous Hikes.  (OutsideOnline) Although we weren't "completely unprepared," we were not aware of how hard this hike is. It is so steep in some places it is like climbing a ladder. And that old steel cable felt like a lifeline.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can be a tough trek, and it takes a few casualties each year. But the real danger begins when you follow the trail past the mythical city and up Huayna Picchu, aka the “Hike of Death.” The old Inca staircase is carved out of granite and climbs about 1,000 feet in less than a mile. Plus, the route is full of rotting, crumbling rock, slippery stones, and exposed corners. Many people tackle the route totally unprepared—we’re talking flip-flops and no water.

Clouds and mist make the journey more difficult, and in some sections hikers must cling to old steel cables. Going up is the easy part. Coming down the steep slope often paralyzes travelers with fear. But it’s worth the pain—the view from Huayna Picchu on a sunny day is the best bird’s-eye view of Machu Picchu below.
Another article I'm glad I didn't see before we went is here.

Huayna Picchu and its So-Called "Death Stairs"

Huayna Picchu stairs
Also found near the summit of Huayna Picchu, the peak's famous "death stairs" are not quite as scary as some might have you think.  That being said, they're no walk in the park either.  Most visitors assume that the climb will be more intense going up, and the presence of this staircase at the start of the descent throws many for a loop.  It's quite an extreme set of stairs, reaching an angle of over 60 degrees at some points.  There's also no railing to hold on to, so we recommend a lot of caution when navigating this section of the Huayna Picchu descent.
Despite the impressive nature of this stair set, they're actually less difficult than some stairs going up.  What can be overwhelming for visitors regarding the "death stairs" is the sense of vulnerability created by a lack of railing coupled with the view in front of them, which can create the sensation that a misstep could result in a never-ending free fall to the valley floor below.  But don't worry--thousands of visitors have navigated the stairs at Huayna Picchu before you without problems, and you can do the same.
Navidad conferred with the group at the entrance. He said he would be waiting for us at the top. He said it might be too difficult for some of our group, and if at any point you wanted to turn around, he gave us the point to meet back up. He disappeared up the hill. We were together at the start, but it quickly became apparent that we were all different levels of cardio fitness and physical strength. The Spokane girls stayed together, but the daughters were climbing with much more ease than the mothers. They would get 50 yards or more ahead and we'd have to yell at them to slow down or wait up. We would catch up to them, but not catch our breath, and they'd be ready to take off again. Although it was physically trying, the more difficult part was the lack of oxygen. It was just impossible to "catch your breath." I had altitude sickness pills and prior to the trip Abbi and I had been taking ChlorOxygen, which was supposed to build up your red blood cells to help saturate your body with oxygen. It didn't seem to help.  Unfortunately for our daughters, if you stayed still, the bugs would come out to eat you. They were getting frustrated waiting on us because they would then become the bugs' feast. Mackenzie is quite athletic and climbed with ease. Abbi kept up with her, but kept one ear open for our yells from behind to slow down. It took Navidad 28 minutes to climb. It took our daughters 48 minutes and us about 55 minutes. There is another 50 feet higher that you could climb, but Navidad said it was too dangerous. He said the views don't get better and it's just too risky for our group. Although part of me wanted to summit to the top, I trust Navidad and felt pretty proud of us for reaching this point. Rhonda was having anxiety about the heights, too, so this was good enough.
One of Many Breaks Mackenzie had to take waiting on us.
What a view! Abbi looks tired, but also so very proud! We made it!

See the thin cable? I gripped it every chance I could. Some areas didn't have the lifeline!
It was as if we did the stairmaster for an hour straight. Great cardio!

There is this ledge that you can sit on and from back just a short distance, it looks like you are sitting on the edge of the mountain. It is actually a bit terrifying. (I don't love heights.) Abbi was sitting there, and I was really nervous, but I saw another couple also sitting so I thought it was probably not as scary as it looked. I asked Abbi before I came closer. She explained that just a few feet down there was a wide ledge. I inched closer and saw that, yes, just 5 feet down or so, there was a wide ledge that you could almost jump to. I sat and Mackenzie joined. Rhonda needed a minute to compose herself. It was very unnerving. The heights, the daughters, the accomplishment, the lack of oxygen to our brains.... all a bit too much! It was almost a religious experience. It's just indescribable. But, you should probably experience it. And, you might want to train a bit first. Like do your treadmill at 12% incline for an hour everyday. Maybe with a paper bag on your head to simulate the lack of oxygen?? I really appreciate our ignorance in the difficulty, but now you know that its hard. So you maybe want to train. :)
Jeannie & Judy

We sat there at the top, posing for pictures, chatting with a few strangers we met. We waited on the rest of our group. Most of us were together within a few minutes. But, there were four people that hadn't made it. It had been close to two hours and they were a few of the people we were worried the most about making it. Our sweet friend Jeannie has bad knees and woke up with a stomach bug. She wasn't able to keep anything down. I don't want to guess her age, but she does have kids close to my age. She is one of my favorite people from our group. We had flown together a few years ago, and coincidentally ended up on this trip together. She is a wonderful, sweet woman. Some others from our group said that she and Judy were sticking together and Jeannie was really struggling. We counted them out. The other two that weren't there yet were Barbara and Dan. Again, I don't know their exact age, but they also have kids in their 30s. And they've been married more than 40 years. We can guess they might be close to double my age.

Not that age means you can't do somethings, but the muscle aches and joint pains might be a bit more apparent? Navidad and I decided they probably wouldn't make it to the top. It was just too challenging. We decided to head back down. We got 300 feet or so down the trail, when low and behold--Judy! She let us know that Jeannie was shortly behind her and they were going to make it. I was surprised and so happy! What a great accomplishment. Even bigger than ours, I felt.  Our group decided to turn back around and get a group picture at the top. We still didn't think Barb and Dan would make it, but Judy thought otherwise. And sure enough, here they came! It was such a special moment. I was so incredibly happy for them.  Barb and Dan hugged and cried at the top. I totally cried with them. I grabbed Mackenzie and hugged and cried with her. Some stranger said, "Enjoy your daughter while she will still let you hug her." :) So, I had to grab Abbi and cry and hug her too. I asked Dan what gave him the ability to get to the top. He said, "I just couldn't come all this way here and tell my son I didn't make it to the top. I just had to." We started back down, leaving the four of them to enjoy their time at the top. Unfortunately, we didn't see Judy and Jeannie for the rest of the day. Dan and Barb caught up and Navidad continued our guided tour.
Does This Picture Make You Cry Too? Such a Sweet Moment!!

Our ENTIRE Group at the Top! (Minus Navidad, who took the picture for us.)