My Commitment to NAU

At five days into my senior year, I have many thoughts on my mind and a never-ending to-do list. I only have one more year of working, studying, and spending time with all the people around me. But after that, what’s next?

I am pleased to announce that I will join Northern Arizona University’s class of 2023 in Flagstaff, Arizona. I will be majoring in Modern Languages and potentially minoring in something else (criminology and criminal justice is what I am currently leaning towards).

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Me throwing some LJ’s at the Grand Canyon

I first stumbled across Northern Arizona University early in my junior year when I was looking for colleges in the west that had degrees in more than one language. NAU certainly has a strong exchange program and it caught my attention quickly. I began digging and soon found that it was very strong in diversity and culture- exactly what I was looking for.

Before I left to Peru, I applied and got my acceptance notification two days later, approximately the same time I landed a job at Starbucks. However, I waited to accept my offer until I visited the school, as I was also still considering University of New Mexico.

I flew directly from Lima to Albuquerque, New Mexico on July 3rd. When I landed, my parents picked me up in our RV and we checked out the campus. I liked how much they offered in terms of languages, but I wasn’t a big fan of the city. I eventually completed dropped the idea of going there after a professor had a real talk with us about campus safety; apparently you can’t even walk alone as a woman.

We soon travelled on to Flagstaff, where we looked at NAU’s campus and talked with an admissions officer (honestly, the staff here is so kind and helpful). We started from the north campus and worked our way to the Walkup Skydome, where all the NAU football games are. Little did I know that they have a tradition of cutting a wooden ‘cookie’ from a log after every touchdown. I suppose we are the lumberjacks after all.

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More LJ’s in the Walkup 

Honestly, I fell in love with this school and its atmosphere. Plus, Flagstaff is super cold, just the way I like it. It’s also a fantastic city- not too big- and full of fun things to do, as well as many awesome day trips (Grand Canyon anyone?). I decided to commit immediately. I am definitely looking forward to starting here; it will be a grand adventure!

As always, stay tuned for more adventures. In less than a year, my NAU experiences will be up here,  but as for now, thank you for all the continued support. And remember, go Jacks go!

Reflections on Peru (12/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

I am crying while typing this post.

Why?

Because this is the final article. I have been back from Peru for two months as of yesterday. Even though I returned to my small mountain town, I have channeled all my love for this country every week into tiny snippets of publications, but alas, they are over. I have to move on from this trip, it is finally over and the real world (aka school), begins yet again.

When I arrived in Albuquerque airport after flying from Lima, the first thing my dad asked me was if this trip was better than my trip to Tanzania. In short, this is not a simple answer. Tanzania turned my world upside down, throwing me into a mindset of wanderlust and ambition. I saw sickness, starvation, dehydration. I saw the world outside of the little bubble of North Idaho. It changed me entirely. But was Peru able to meet the standard Tanzania set?

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Trekking in the Andes

Let’s examine.

Peru was easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Many spots quite literally took my breath away, although altitude already did that to begin with. More often than not, I was setting down my camera to take in the view rather than snapping shots from different angles. Even though Peru is home to many people, it felt open and untouched; there was some sort of a free feeling associated with it. I’m not sure how many places there are like this, but I’m positive they are few and far between.

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Machu Picchu

Additionally, the group of people I went with was just plain incredible. This was my second Education First (EF) tour, and I will never have such a good crew ever again. Our guide, Tin Tin, was outstanding. Not only was he super smart and an excellent resource for information, but was also so personable, kind, and flat out funny.

Also, Stephanie, our EF supervisor (not sure what the actual term is, she basically comes along and makes sure the trip is running smoothly) was awesome too. She is super spunky and down for adventure, but also loves helping people out too. I loved getting to know her.

Last but not least, my group was incredible. I loved everyone on the trip and there was absolutely no drama (a miracle for 17 high school students). I will never forget the nights of playing card games and determining places based on who got out first (1st: President, 2nd: Stormy Daniels, 3rd: Vice President, 4th: Secretary, 5th: Intern, 6th: Depressed Stay at Home Dad…. and so on), adventuring in the mountains, helping the school children, swimming in underwear in the Pacific, and all the other adventures we had. These people are family and I will never travel with a better group. I will never have better advisors; thank you Erica and Tyler!

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All of us at Plaza de Armas in Lima

Then of course, there are the little things, like the scenery. Gorgeous plants galore, as well as lots of new animals. Of course there’s the llamas and guinea pigs, but also the macaws, the vicuñas, and flamingoes. Many of these I have never seen in the wild, which I loved to do. Also part of me always believed birds can’t speak. That part of me was proven wrong on this trip.

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This bird told us ‘hola‘ many times

The adventures we had were superb and full of excitement. We had many exciting hikes up and around the mountains, times spent on the beach, late night campfires, and history lessons. I loved every moment, even when I felt awful from the low oxygen, and never wanted to go back home. I loved how we got to expand our creativity and seek facts and information at the same time.

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Being creative in a Pablo Seminario workshop

So was it better?

I still don’t know because I won’t ever be able to compare the two. My EF experience with Tanzania was much different than the one in Peru. Tanzania traumatized me at first and then built me into a better and more worldly person, but Peru did something else entirely, but at the same time, of a similar nature.

During our last few moments before the airport, we went to the Pacific one more time. The red sun settled into the horizon and my friends chased the waves as they rolled back and forth on the shore. As I sat there on the beach, with the salty air in my face, all the thoughts in my mind slowed to one:

This is me.

Peru gave me a self realization that no other place had. As I gazed into the distance, in one split second, I realized that this freedom that traveling brings is what I want to chase after until I am old and grey. This is what I want to do.

I don’t know when I’ll get this feeling again, but as for now, as poet Francois Rabelais once said:

“I go to seek a great perhaps.”

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Thank you to all those who gave me so much love and support after this trip! You all are the reason and drive behind this blog. Special thanks to Annette Orton for her continued support as well!

Taquile, Peru (11/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Taquile is the largest natural island in the waters of Lake Titicaca. From here you can see the shores of two countries, Peru and Bolivia. It is off the beaten path of most of the tourist destinations in Peru, the closest being Uros and the other floating reed islands, but nonetheless is still a gorgeous and cultural place to visit. This was also one of the highest elevation places we traveled to, making it a bit difficult to breath, but it was the bluest sky I had ever seen.

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The main arch upon arriving to the dock

The main source of profit in Taquile is the handwoven products. Being famous for their knitted goods, weaving is instilled into many aspects of daily life. Men begin learning how to knit in early childhood, as do women learning how to spin and dye the wool. Nearly everyone wears wide woven belts, or chumpis, which are woven by some of the women. Chuyos, a type of hat are also frequently worn by the men to denote their marital status. Depending on which side the top of the hat is placed, it will note on whether the man is single or married. Women also have a similar system, with the pom moms on their skirt marking their availability.

However, marriage is not the same as most of the West views it. In Taquile, couples will live together for years and possibly even have kids before getting married. This is to see if they truly want to live a life with one another before committing to. If they decide to split it off, the kids will typically go with a parent of the same sex, although its is becoming more frequent for them to live with both sides of the family. Because of this, divorce rates are exceptionally low.

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The hike up to the main square

We spent most of our time in the main square, browsing at the knitted goods and overlooking the massive lake (which was very cold by the way!). People meandered to and from, but it was a very quiet place. A few girls came to sell us handmade bracelets, of which I brought a few back for friends.

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The old colonial square

Before we left we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. Here we were easily amused by the owners who launched the tops off of soda bottles (more altitude equaled more pressure) and explained more about their life. They have continued using the terraces for centuries and still speak the Inca languages, Quechua. In addition, they create nearly everything from hand, including shampoo, which is made from a local plant. Watching them complete these talented actions was incredibly fascinating. I also loved the food, which was the typical Peruvian cuisine, plus local fish.

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Trout from Lake Titicaca

From there our adventures ended and we boated back to the hotel where we played pingpong until we couldn’t stay up any longer and prepared to depart the next day. Puno was a great place to end the trip and relax before the big flight home.

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The ever so interesting boat docking method in Puno

Uros, the Floating Island (10/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Our last days in Peru were spent on the beautiful shores and islands of Lake Titicaca, the a high elevation lake (13,000 ft) in the south of Peru. Here modern culture clashes with older ways of living, making for a unique atmosphere with tons of exciting aspects to explore.

To begin, we took a long drive from Cuzco to Puno, where we would be staying for the next and last two days. This is about eight hours, but theres plenty to see and do along the way, including many old cathedrals (pay attention to the paintings!) and if you are lucky, you might see some flamingoes off in the distance.

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Flamingoes!

Once in Puno, there is lots to see on the lake. One of the most interesting is easily the floating reed islands. People have been creating and living on these islands for a long time, despite difficulty and weather issues. The base of the islands is created by roots from the reeds that then make the ‘carpet’ of the island. Houses are then built from the reeds as well as other buildings and features.

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Reeds that provide material for islands
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Uros Islands

This was all detailed to us by the people of the island. In addition to how the islands are built, they also gave us information on their way of life. Tourism is easily their main source of income, however the islands used for tourism are switched frequently as this is their daily life and visitors can also be a privacy invasion. This idea of community is spread throughout every piece of their life. Families often join islands and a trade system is used rather than currency between people on the island. There is certainly a level of trust that doesn’t seem to be found in many other communities I have spent time with.

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Our wonderful hostesses

In recent years, their economy has been boosted by the crafts that are made by the people of their island. Men weave replicas of their large reed boats that look akin to cats (see a few photos above) and women embroider large pieces of fabric with Incan symbolism and bright colors. I couldn’t resist and bought a black one with flaming red and orange colors. Currently don’t know where to hang it, but it was too gorgeous to resist.

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Hand embroidered artwork 

One of the women that helped us understand their way of life was exceptionally gracious and even allowed us into her house. It was a tiny reed building, filled with her traditional clothing and her son, Alex, was curled up at the foot of the bed. She had us try on her clothes, but spent the time telling me to eat more because I was too thin (may I add this was after my issues with altitude so I was a bit peaky). Tin Tin, our guide, also tried on the clothes, leading to quite comical photos.

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Tin Tin being scandalous in his bright skirt
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Alex on his first birthday

Lastly, before we departed, we had the opportunity to ride on one of the reed boats. Called Mercedes Benz boats by the locals, these have been the traditional methods of movement for the people on Uros for many decades. I was impressed with their size; about 20 people could fit on it with ease. Out boat was guided by an abuelo (grandpa), and his son in law. Even the two children hopped aboard with their dog. This was one of the sweetest families I met throughout the whole trip.

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The niños and their dog
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Our sailors

While we saw many beautiful places in Peru, these people on the island captured my heart more than anything else and I loved getting to know their way of life. I was so impressed by their graciousness and hospitality and just the sheer beauty of their lifestyle on the little floating islands.