Sunday, May 19, 2013

Disney Channel Solutions

Many of my friends have heard me reference the "Disney Channel solution" before.  Basically, in every Disney Channel original movie when the main character has to choose between two things the correct answer is always to choose both.  Of course, for most of the movie it doesn't seem possible to choose both options, but towards the end of the movie the protagonist suddenly figures out how to get everything he wants.  My mom and I faced such an issue today.

It's Sunday and we're in Puno, Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca (feel free to giggle if you say it out loud).  I always go to church when I'm traveling and so we planned on going to church this morning.  The problem was that our tour group was going to visit the floating reed islands at 9:00 am and we wouldn't have time to go to church and go on the tour.  Visiting the floating islands has been described as the second highlight of the trip after Machu Picchu and I really, really wanted to go.  But, I wanted to go to church more so my mom and I decided to pass on the tour in order to attend church. 

While we were looking up local LDS congregations last night we found one that meets at 8:00 am.  That would give us just enough time to attend the first part of sacrament meeting and then rush down to the port to meet up with everyone at 9:00 am.  I was a little giddy when we discovered this because it was the perfect Disney Channel solution--we could do both things! 

We got up early this morning, grabbed a taxi, and got to church at 7:45.  No one was there yet, but I wasn't worried.  Having attended many Spanish congregations I was well aware that arriving to church early isn't very Hispanic.  At 7:50 I wasn't worried.  At 7:55 I started to get a little nervous, but I told myself that church was very early and everyone would be arriving soon.  I prayed and prayed that church was actually here at 8:00 so that we could go.  I asked Heavenly Father again and again to make it possible for us to go to church.  At 8:00 I admitted to myself that no one was coming.  My mom and I sat down for a minute trying to figure out what to do and we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel rationalizing that we had tried and that our effort was good enough. 

As the taxi drove us down the street back to our hotel I saw a woman ahead of us that looked like she was on her way to church.  As we passed her I turned around to get a good look at her and I saw that she was carrying a Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow book, a sure sign she was LDS.  As soon as I saw this I said to the cab driver, "Pull over!" and I looked at my mom and said, "That woman's LDS!"  By then we were about half a block from her so I jumped out of the cab and started running to her.  As I was running I realized that it might be a little frightening for a small Peruvian woman to see a tall white guy suddenly jump out of a cab and sprint towards her.  I was a little too excited when I got to her and in one breath said, "I'm a member of the church from the United States and I want to go to church are you going to church?"  She said that she was and that she was running really late.  I said, "We've got a cab!  C'mon!"  And she got in the cab with us.  Her name is Hermana Nieves. 

As we were driving to the church I told her how I'd recognized because of the book she was carrying and she told me that she was going to put it in her bag, but for some reason had decided just to carry it.  She thanked us over and over again because she was going to be so late to church and that we had answered her prayer.  Actually, she had answered our prayer because we had been trying to go to church.  I told her that we had gone to church, but no one was there and she explained that that building was in a different stake and it was stake conference today so there wouldn't be any meetings there. 

The three us got to church right before it started.  There was no one to play the piano so we sang the hymns acapella.  It wasn't super-beautiful, but Hermana Nieves sang with all the energy of her heart and "Jesus listening can hear the songs [we] cannot sing."  We took the sacrament and then we had to go to meet up with our group.  I shook Hermana Nieves' hand and thanked her for bringing us to church.  She wouldn't let go of my hand and said that God had put us in her path to bring her to church.  She gave my mom a big hug and they both expressed gratitude to each other in languages that the other couldn't understand, but I could.  I nearly cried I was so touched. 

Our getting to church today was a miracle.  We had been in exactly the right place at the right time and the fact that Hermana Nieves was evening carrying her book and that I managed to see it as we sped past her seemed like more than coincidences to us.  My mom is certain that the miracle wasn't really for us, but that it was for Hermana Nieves.  She had wanted to get to church so badly to sing the hymns and take the sacrament, and somehow we managed to be a part of it.

Throughout my life I have had many, many prayers answered.  Sometimes answers to prayers can seem like coincidences, but every once in a while I'll have an experience where it's like Heavenly Father is saying, "Hey, I want you to know this one's from me."  Today He wanted mom, me, and Hermana Nieves to know that He was watching out for us.  I only knew Hermana Nieves for 30 minutes, but I will always remember her and how we were put in each other's path to help one another.  It's like Spencer W. Kimball said, "God does watch over us and does notice us, but it usually through someone else that he meets our needs.”  I know that that's true and I'm so grateful for it.  And I'm so grateful that He answered my prayer to be able to go to church today in such a miraculous and unexpected way. 

And now, here are some pictures of the floating islands because we did get to do both things today.
These people live on a floating island
It floats
The water under this island is 55 ft deep
And finally, a picture of me being silly

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Watch Out, They Spit!

We went to Machu Picchu on Thursday and it was absolutely spectacular.  It was as awesome as everyone says it is and I didn't want to leave.  But I'm not going to write about it now since I would probably write "It was so cool!" and other synonymous phrases over and over again and no one wants to read that.
Machu Picchu, check!
 On most days our tour company offers an optional tour for about $50.  We've been on two and they were well worth the money.  We were in Cusco yesterday and the optional tour was $65 per person so we were less excited about spending that much money.  And most of the sites they were going to see were close to town so we decided to save some money and find them on our own.  Our first stop was the Temple of the Sun where my mom and I hired our own guide for $13 to explain things to us.  She was very knowledgeable, but her English was so bad that I frequently had to repeat what she'd said so my mother who is unaccustomed to hearing non-native speakers would know what was going on.  The guide would just throw in random Spanish words when she didn't know the English word and occasionally would just speak entirely in Spanish.

While were there we ran into Armin and Shiloh, a young married couple in our group from Canada.  The four of us decided to share a cab up to Sacsayhuamán (sounds like "sexy woman").  I had never heard of it until the previous night when Barb mentioned that it was really cool.  When I asked her what it was she said it was an old Inca wall with stones so close together that not even a piece of paper can fit between them.  We've already seen a lot of walls so it didn't sound too exciting, but we decided to go anyway.
It's a wall!
We saw a llama there (which turned out to be an alpaca) and Shiloh wanted a picture by it, but she was scared that it would bite her so she'd inch closer and then it would move and she'd get scared and jump away.  This happened a number of times with us and Armin assuring her that it wouldn't bite her.  

Armin: Don't worry, honey, it won't bite you.
Shiloh: It's making funny noises!
Me: *laughter*
The lady who takes care of the alpaca walked over and held the alpaca's rope and we all got a picture with it. 
See, it doesn't bite
We then went to enter the Sacsayhuamán archaeological site.  When we got to the ticket office we learned that the entrance fee was about $30 per person.  My jaw figuratively dropped to the ground in shock.  Apparently the ticket to a lot of the sites we'd been to includes the entrance to Sacsayhuamán.  We didn't have those tickets because our tour guide never gave them to us and in spite of a bit of arguing in Spanish from me we were not let into the site.  We were also told that the site was huge (much more than just a wall) and included a ziz-zaggy wall and some tunnels.  Even though I'd only heard about it the night before I suddenly really, really wanted to go inside, but I was way too cheap to pay that much money.  While we were fretting about the cost and trying to figure out what to do a man walked up to us and offered to take us horseback riding for about $13 and promised to take us to an archaeological site as well as a great view.  We decided to be spontaneous and go.

As we were following this guy to the stables we saw another alpaca and took pictures with it, too.  Shiloh was nervous again, but pretended to kiss it.  My mom, not nervous at all, strolled right up to the alpaca and pretended to kiss it.  It then surprised us all and spit on her.  I randomly got a picture of it on my mom's phone (that we unfortunately can't figure out how to get onto my computer) and we all burst into raucous laughter.  Mom just laughed it off and we cleaned off the gift from the alpaca without any problem. 

Sergio, Paola, and I
We kept following the man up a small trail through some trees and I realized that we were breaking the first rule of international travel: don't follow strangers to a different location, especially into the woods.  Let me just say that I've never done anything so reckless before while traveling.  However, for some reason I felt totally okay about it and I was glad when we arrived at the stables instead of being kidnapped and turned into slaves or had our organs harvested.  My mom was the first to get on a horse and her bag got in the way so our guide Sergio said he'd hold it.  Usually I wouldn't have allowed this because her iPad and money were in it.  But once again, my gut told me it was okay.  My mom's horse was named Bonito, Shiloh's was named Benito (like me!), I don't remember the name of Armin's horse, and mine was named Paola.  I led the pack because my horse was the fastest and I had to continually pull the reins back so that she would stop and the others could catch up.  The ride was incredibly fun and I kept thinking to myself, how did we end up here?  It was a blast.

Mom, Bonito, Shiloh, and Benito
We didn't go in this one
As we were riding it started raining and it got pretty cold and windy.  We left the horses by the highway and Sergio had us climb up a little hill with him.  He barely speaks English so he would explain things in Spanish and I'd translate for everyone else.  He had us go through a short cave (my mom had to crawl) and then showed us some Inca altars.  He also pointed out the entrance of a cave that takes two days to walk through and leads to a place called the Devil's Balcony.  We didn't go in there.  We then went into a cave called the Temple of the Moon.  It seriously felt like we were in a scene from Indiana Jones.  The cave was tall, but thin and there were some holes in the roof that allowed some light in. The only thing missing was torches.  He showed us an altar that the moon shines directly on from midnight to one.  It was very cool.  He talked in whispers out of respect (I'm assuming) and left a coca leaf as an offering to the moon. 

Here we are pretending to hitchhike
We then went back to the horses and it was still raining and Sergio could see that we were cold.  He said that we could take a bus back to town instead of riding the horses back if we wanted.  We were very cold (especially mom and Shiloh) so we took a bus back.  While we were waiting for the bus mom and Shiloh crowded next to me because I blocked the wind.  When we got back to Cusco it was 3:00 pm and none of us had eaten lunch and we were very hungry so we bought some delicious empanadas.  Right after we ate them mom very apologetically told me that she felt like she might vomit and wanted to take a taxi back to the hotel immediately.  Shiloh also wanted to go home so that's what we did.  While we were in the taxi I told Shiloh that she had been worried about getting spit on by an alpaca and now she might get puked on by an American woman.

Me and mom on the bus
Mom is fine and didn't puke at all, even on Shiloh.  Our day ended up much differently than I had imagined it and it was way cheaper than a tour.  Spontaneity usually pays off.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ollantaytambo (Say That Five Times Fast)

These last few days have been spectacular.  Two summers ago my mom and I traveled around Spain together for 10 days and we got really stressed trying organize train schedules, hotels, what sites to see, and meals.  We decided that this time we would just get a tour and pay someone to plan the trip for us.  I am now completely sold on travel tours.  I haven't been stressed for a second (once I got to Peru), I've seen tons of cool things that I'd never heard, and our traveling companions are just delightful.  It's been awesome.

Yesterday we went to a number of places including Ollantaytambo (which my mom will never be able to pronounce).  Ollantaytambo was an Inca agricultural site with terraced farming and lots of cool buildings.  Besides the incredible views, the way they built things is fascinating.  They used small rocks to shape bigger rocks until that they fit perfectly with each other.  The rocks fit together so well that there isn't enough room between the stones to even slide a knife between them.  And 500 years later they're still there.  Well done, Incas!
Notice the rocks behind us.  Also, this is
Freddie, one of our guides.  Yes, he's small.
Despite being 64 and at an altitude of over 9,000 feet, my mom climbed to the top with me.  She's a pretty spry.  
My mom rocks
Today we went to a place I'd never heard of called Moray (rhymes with deny).  They used to think it was an ancient sports arena, but recent excavations have revealed that it was actually an agricultural research center (probably the first one ever!).  The depths of the pits as well as differing levels of irrigation created a number of microclimates.  The Incas would plant crops at different levels, see where they grew the best, and then plant them at that altitude.  They also crossbred potatoes and there are now more than 5,000 varieties (Idaho's got nothin' on Peru.).  I'm sure that once the research was completed some Inca grad student wrote a dissertation about it that no one read, much like today.  

A 500 year old research project
Some really cool stairs

While we were walking around an elderly lady in our group named Marg saw me standing in the grass and said, "I can tell that you're outstanding in your field."  Like I said, the people in my group are delightful and I chuckled at her well-played pun.

Proof that I am out standing in my field
We then went to the salt mines which weren't mines at all.  There's a very rare phenomenon in the Urubamba valley where there is a spring that releases hot, salty water.  It's very strange and what's stranger is that it's been doing it for more than 2,000 years so there's a lot of salt in them thar hills.  Our guide had us dip our fingers in the water and then lick them to taste the salt and it was so incredibly salty that I made face similar to the one I make when I drink NyQuil.  The way they get the salt out of the water is by diverting it into thousands of pools.  The water then sinks into the ground and/or evaporates leaving the salt which is then harvested.  Some of the salt is pink (I forgot to ask why) and they use that salt at the most expensive restaurant in Paris (and other places too).  

We were allowed to explore the salt pools on our own.  As I ventured out among the pools some random woman expressed concern that I'd fall in.  I said, "If I fall in then I can tell everyone that I was assaulted in Peru."  That garnered some laughs and even earned me a high five from the woman.  I'm sure that if she had known me and how often I make puns that instead of a high five I would have gotten some rolled eyes. 

No worries, I didn't get a-salted.  
The adventure has been awesome so far and tomorrow we're off to Machu Picchu.  I excited, but not thrilled.  Mostly because we're leaving at 5:00 am.  But I'm sure I'll be plenty giddy by the time we get there.

Obviously I'm too cool for Peru

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lines All Night

My last final was due on Tuesday and I was thrilled when it was done.  This last year of school wasn't great; probably my least favorite academic year to date.  It's nice to have it behind me.  On Saturday I flew to Miami where I met up with my mom.  At church on Sunday we met a hilarious woman named Claudia who was kind enough to drive us across town to Coconut Grove.  I'd never heard of it before, but it sounded swanky (there was a Cheesecake Factory there).  Claudia was a hoot and she's friends with Marco Rubio which is cool. 

The most exciting part of the day was a boat tour we did that not only showed us the city, but also the homes of famous people.  Most of the tour went something like this: "So-and-so used to live here."  We saw the former homes of Rosie O'donnell, Julio Iglesias, and Al Capone.  We also saw the house were Shakira's Hips Don't Lie was filmed.  That's all well and good, but what really got me excited was when we passed by a house that I recognized from an episode of House Hunters on Vacation.  I was so excited that I took a picture and texted Kevin.

The House Hunters house
Last night we were supposed to fly to Peru on LAN Airlines.  It's a Chilean company that I was unfamiliar with.  The flight was supposed to leave at 1:00 am and when we checked in the guy at the counter told us that there was a possibility that our flight would be cancelled.  What?  We waited at the gate for two hours and then at midnight we were informed that due to technical problems our flight was delayed until the following morning.  This caused a lot of groan and complaining from our fellow passengers, but I just smiled and laughed and wasn't too worried.  They then loaded a plane full of people on to buses and drove us to the Double Tree where the airline was putting us up for the night.  We waited for the bus for over 30 minutes and then, unsurprisingly, there was an enormous line at check-in that we waited in for an hour or so.  All that time I was happy and optimistic and even made some jokes like, "LAN must stand for 'lines all night'" that received some polite chuckles.  And I was thrilled when we were given our famous Double Tree chocolate chip cookie.  It was seriously delicious.  We got to bed around 2:30.  

We then slept for four hours and had to be in the lobby by 7:00 am to go back to the airport.  One of the buses broke down so it took a really long time to get back to the airport.  I was still optimistic and happy and was mostly amused by the comedy of errors.  Then we got to the airport, got new boarding passes and were informed that because of the inconvenience we could use our boarding passes to buy $20 worth of food at McDonald's.  I couldn't even conceive of being able to spend that much money at McDonald's, but during the five minute walk to the food court I came up with some ways to spend it.

As you can imagine, a plane full of people had just been given $20 to spend at one restaurant so the line was ridiculously long.  While we were waiting in line (I'd estimate with about 20 minutes left in the line) a LAN employee showed up and told us that our flight was boarding and we all had to walk back to the terminal immediately.  Our flight wasn't going to leave for another hour and I knew we still had time to get food, but the lady insisted we head back.  At that point I was tired and hungry and I had just lost the opportunity to spend $20 on fast food.  My good mood ran out at the precise moment.  It wasn't the long waits in line, or missing the first day our trip to Peru that broke me, it was not getting some fast food that finally broke me.  I complained as we walked back to the terminal and commiserated with fellow passengers while we waited for 30 minutes in another line before we boarded the plan.  It was painful knowing that we had had plenty of time to get food, but had to return to the terminal to wait in another line.  We eventually got on the plane, ate some airplane food, and my grumpiness went away.

My mom and I are now in Lima and we're pumped to be here.  I know Peru isn't Mexico, but so many things here remind me of Mexico and I just feel comfortable and at home here.  I love it.  We're staying in a nice part of town called Miraflores which is near the ocean.  My mom and I descended and then ascended 349 stairs to go down to the beach.  It was totally worth it.  Tomorrow we're off to Cuzco and then on Thursday to Machu Picchu.  I'm so excited to be in Peru and I have no desire whatsoever to eat at McDonald's.  

At the beach in Lima
So many stairs!  There were a lot more than just these.
A park overlooking the ocean in Miraflores