My First Few Adventures! (And then some)

I did not expect to experience so many ‘adventures’ in only the first few days of my trip; so far this has been a great experience of travel and exploring the area!

The first ‘adventures’ were definitely the challenges it took to travel across the country. Originally, I had two flights booked leaving Saturday afternoon, and arriving Saturday night in Arcata. However, my first flight was delayed by 4 hours, and I missed my connecting flight at LAX. I was about to sleep in the airport until these nice strangers offered me their extra hotel room. I proceeded with caution, of course, but the offer turned out to be genuine, (and a kind one at that).

Outside my hotel room (3/2/19)

I stayed in a beautiful hotel room that night and then got on more flights the next day. Each of those were delayed by some time as well, so I ended up landing in Arcata almost 24 hours later than planned!

Landing in the Eureka/Arcata Airport (3/3/19)

I spent that night catching up with my family friends (who I am staying with) and getting some rest. The next day, I slept in, took a walk, and went to orientation at Food For People! Orientation was filled with important information about volunteers, where they are needed, the impact they have on the community, and so on. I was able to create a schedule with the director there, where I will be volunteering 3 out of 5 days in the week. Each day I will volunteer around 7 hours, mostly in the pantry and warehouse, (I will explain the work I do in later blog posts).

The Arcata/Eureka area is extremely interesting, where the population is a mix of hippies, southerners and indigenous people. There are many active Native American tribes in this area, and they also have many family owned businesses in the area! There is also a nearby playhouse and college town that I have discovered! I also found it interesting how the mix of the beach, the forest, the mountains and the palm trees all in one town makes for an odd yet picturesque place.

Taking a walk by the river (3/4/19)
An interesting mix of flora and fauna (3/4/19)
Driving around Eureka, where the food bank is. (3/4/19)

My second night, I had the pleasure of attending an event at the local Arcata playhouse. The playhouse is currently in a series of events for National Women’s History Month (!!!) and that night they were playing Roma, a new (and absolutely wonderful) Oscar nominated movie about home workers in Mexico during the political 1970s. Beforehand however, there was a discussion held where the playhouse brought in real house workers who were members of the community, and they shared their powerful stories. I felt very lucky and humbled for these strong women to share their stories with me.

Discussion before Roma at the Arcata Playhouse (3/4/19)
Female-Based artwork displayed at the playhouse (3/4/19)
More art (3/4/19)

Today, (3/5/19), I spent the day working on some writing in the lovely home I’m staying in since the rain and fog was coming down pretty hard. After relaxing for the day, I went to a spoken-word poetry cafe a few minutes away. If you know me, you know I love poetry. So much. I was lucky enough to get a seat in the crowded cafe, and I was also lucky enough that there was an open mic. After listening to many college students speaking, I really couldn’t help myself from participating as well. It gives me great joy to write and then perform it, and by the end of the night I felt extremely happy and accomplished! I did not get a video of my performance, as I was there on my own, but hopefully I will go next week with the new friends I made who go to Humboldt State College who will take a video for me!

A shot of a performer and my hot chocolate! (3/5/18)
The cafe’s SUPER cool bathroom (3/5/19)
A nervous Bess performing her spoken word poetry (3/5/19)
A happy Bess post last-minute poetry performance (3/5/19)

Tomorrow, I will start my volunteering at the food bank! I’m looking forward to the experiences I’ll have there in the coming days. I will make sure to keep you all updated on every adventure that crosses my path. Thanks for reading!


Hitting the Streets

In our matching Living Hope T-shirts we took to the streets of a township, Overcome, today to spread the word about the importance of hand washing and rehydration as they relate to the prevention and treatment of diarrhea. It was a powerful experience for our group to witness such poverty first hand.  We split up into smaller groups with local interns working with Living Hope (the faith-based NGO sponsoring the project) as well as similarly associated community members familiar with the people and streets of Overcome.  We were very well received by the residents who seemed appreciative of our presence and message.

I managed to sneak a pic, but for some reason it won’t upload. Rah!

More service tomorrow and an afternoon with kiddos in the after school program.

-T. Melissa


Andes Mountain High

The two-hour bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo allowed us to behold the Andes for the first time. Gasps were audible as the kids scrambled for their cameras, elbowed their neighbors, exclaiming, “Look at that!” I felt as if I’d never seen a mountain before these; hills and bumps, maybe, but not a real mountain. The imposing rocks jut sharply toward heaven and are something to be with reckoned with, for sure. Be careful here. But they are also majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. Oddly, they also seem welcoming. Perhaps it’s because they inspire such awe that we feel beckoned unto them.

We stopped along the road to take in the vistas and, I’ll just be honest, to use the bathroom. (Will I never again take a trip without a kid asking to stop to use the potty?) We tumbled off the bus and our relationship with the Andes began. Students sat down to stare at them. A few began to meditate. We hadn’t reached our destination yet and already we felt moved by this extraordinary space on the planet. It made me hunger for knowledge about the people who chose to carve (very literally) a civilization into these monstrous, unforgiving mountains.

Our home for two weeks is the village of Ollantaytambo, perched  in small valley where about six craggy peaks meet.  This was an Inca stronghold in the Cusco province and the estate of Emperor Pachacuti. It’s an amazing archaeological site and the footprints of the Inca have not been washed away by time. You can see the Inca everywhere, not just in the ruins that surround us, but in the faces of the inhabitants. You can hear the echo of their voices in the local tongue.

We met our representatives from World Leadership School who, on the first day, sent the students on a Global Issues Scavenger Hunt. The kids divided into teams and, without maps, had to find local products, sites or items. How do you do that without a map? How do you find items that you’ve never heard of before, such as a chakana? You ask the locals. It was a clever way to quickly break down barriers to interacting with villagers, to learn the layout of the town together and to simply learn what things are called. The students relished this competition won not by speed, but by quality of their answers.

Yesterday we hiked the massive ruins built on the side of a mountain, arriving at the Sun Temple. To stand in the Temple and survey the expanse around us left us as breathless as the altitude.  We saw specks of orange rooftops of our little village below. We saw the mountain we will climb for our trek and overnight camping. We saw the granaries of the Inca built impossibly high, magically high, otherworldly high on an adjacent peak. It’s difficult to comprehend the lives once lived nearly dangling from a precipice.

After our descent from the Sun Temple, we were guided to another sacred space in the ruins. There, we sat in silence to meditate and to journal. It was a profound silence broken only by the sounds of birds and the winds of the past and future.

What treasures will the Andes share with us next?


On Top of the World

Napaykullaki! That’s Quechua for hello.  Twenty-two students, my colleague, Maria, and I are about to embark on the first-ever Senior Project to Peru. Westtown has partnered with World Leadership School to provide students with what I am sure will be an extraordinary experience. WLS was chosen because its mission aligns so well with Westtown’s. They specialize in offering hands-on experience in leadership, service and cultural immersion.

We will complete a service project (building a retaining wall at a school), spend time within the school interacting with students, engage in leadership training, meet with local leaders and see many historic sites, not the least of which is Machu Picchu. Continue reading “On Top of the World”