*Bailey was among five WKU students awarded Lifetime Experience (LTE) Grants to do something extraordinary in the winter/spring of 2013. What follows is a diary of her experience working on a reforestation project in the Peruvian rainforest. An essay summing up her experience will appear in a later post.

Saturday, 16 dic 2012
No matter how many times I travel by myself, I can almost never get over the initial anxiety as I enter the airport. After all, you get off the airplane and almost instantly get thrown into a brand new culture and language. It certainly doesn’t help that I won’t know anyone when I get off the plane!

Monday, 18 dic 2012
After a brief stay at my hostel, I woke up like they told me to in order to catch the bus from Cusco to the reserve. What should have happened:

  • 0400 Wake up
  • 0430 Picked up by reserve employee and taken to the bus station
  • 0500 On the bus, ready for an 8-24 hour cross country ride

What actually happened:

  • 0400 Wake up
  • 0430 Sit in hostel living room chatting with the house mom
  • 0500 Exercise my Spanish skills some more by calling every possible person to see why no one has arrived.
  • 0600 Give up.

Rosio, our self described ‘Peruvian momma’ finally just told me ‘go back to bed, and I’ll wake you up if they come.” At 8, I hitched a ride to the organization’s headquarters to see what had gone wrong. The look on the office manager’s face as I walked in was priceless. Long story short, there have been a lot of problems with the reserve employee and early morning pickups, presumably snoozing while I gave myself an ulcer worrying about how on earth I was supposed to get out to the reserve.
Everything worked out for the best, though. I got an extra day to sightsee in Cusco, seeing markets and other tourist attractions. One of the most interesting was ‘Cristo Blanco’, a large white statue of Jesus standing on a hill high above the city. I was told it was a 12-minute walk from the main plaza. “Oh!’ I thought to myself, ‘no problem. I’m in shape, and walking will be a great way to see the city!” WRONG. It ended up being 45 minutes up stairs that had to be at least 50-degree angles. I was passed multiple times by some of the local strays, and I swear, they were laughing at me. But that might have just been the altitude sickness.

 

Wednesday 19 dic 2012
SUCCESS! I’m finally in the Amazon! It’s so incredibly beautiful here. Although I’m sure that most of my elation comes from surviving the combi ride. After Monday’s mishap, I finally managed to make my way to the bus stop, which is less of a stop and more of an alley. All along the side of the road are these massive tour buses, and some rickety looking vans. I was rather disappointed when I got put into the van, because it looked a lot less safe than the bright, comfortable looking buses. Oh, how wrong I was! When we finally got on the road, I quickly realized that the road, while having 2 way traffic was DEFINITELY only made for one car at a time. As we got higher into the mountains, the 12-passenger van (combi) was buffeted around pretty badly. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like in the bus! The road is absolutely terrible, with potholes and landslides making it a tough trip. The sheer drop of the clip face is nausea inducing, to say the least. (Guess who had the window seat?) When we were about two hours out from the reserve, we suddenly pulled off the road. Apparently, the last pothole we hit took out the suspension in the back of the van. It was quickly getting darker, and the other passengers and I stood huddled together as the driver took out the ever-present machete and cobbled together a support out of a block out of wood and bungee cords. Of course, it started pouring, so we had the added fear of a landslide. I thought that I would have to ride back to Cusco on the roof of a gas truck!

La Reserva Atalaya is absolutely beautiful. I was dropped off at the stop, where the driver honked once and pulled away. Luckily, I wasn’t sitting too long, and was greeted by two of the volunteers who helped me cross the zip line. The river we had to cross is massive, and it was easy to imagine what would happen if we fell in. After a bite to eat, I finally got to lie down after what had been a long day. Of course, I got quite the wake up call from Paula, the Reserve’s monkey. Even though I had been warned that she liked to get in the beds of new volunteers, it was still very shocking to be woken up at 5am and watch your mosquito netting slowly, slooooowly rising…

Monkey

Thursday, 20 dic 2012
No Paula this morning! I count that as a win. Today, I and 3 other volunteers took our machetes and went to check on some reforestation projects that had been planted earlier in the year. Of course, this meant that we got to spend a lot of time feeling really cool while hacking at these absolutely massive bamboo growths, some of them as big as two hands around. Afterwards, Dixie, who is another volunteer, showed me ‘cascade pequeña’, or the small waterfall. It naturally has different levels of swimming holes, and a rock to jump off of. If you lie on your back, the trees frame the sky. It’s funny how quickly we’ve all started to bond with each other, even though we’ve been here different amounts of time.

Friday, 21 dic 2012
Today, we got the day off for possibly the best reason ever; as today is the ‘end of the world’, our supervisor has decided it would be extremely unfair to spend the last day of our lives working. Slept in until the princely hour of 8am, and hung around the eating area playing games and watching the rain fall. It absolutely poured, and we figured that if the apocalypse didn’t get us, then the rising water would! In the afternoon, Dixie and I went to the yoga temple, and went down a trail named ´Gallito de las rocas´ or, Cock of the Rock. The birds are this beautiful, vibrant red. We were lucky to see them, because most of the time they’re quite shy. It´s stunning to think that I´m actually living in the Amazon rainforest. I´m living in my travel dreams, and I feel like I can´t begin to comprehend the whole experience. As Jack, another volunteer said, “Who cares if it’s the end of the world? We’re already living in heaven.”

22 dic 2012

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.” -Edward Abbey

My family has been involved in scouting for a tremendously long time, and when my brothers went to middle school they joined a troop known for their high adventure backpacking and camping trips. My dad carried a paper with fragment of this quote by Edward Abbey on all of his trips, and he asked me to take it with me on this trip. I keep it tied to my mosquito netting to keep Paula from stealing it, and every morning I sit for a little while and think about what it means to me and my own experiences traveling abroad. One of the things I’ve struggled the most with while traveling alone is a sometimes crippling fear of going it alone. It can be very easy to remain comfortable in one spot, and not take the leap of faith to try something new. It takes a lot of self-confidence, and it can be really easy to talk yourself out of doing something-after all, isn’t it enough that you got to a foreign country in the first place? But it never is.

Sunday 23 dic 2012
Sunday, our first day off! We headed into town for the day, which believe me is a day-long affair. It starts off with a 2 hour walk to the nearest town, followed by a taxi ride to the NEXT town where you can buy all of the essentials-beer, ice cream, Inka Cola and wireless internet. I got to speak with my parents for the first time with Skype, while they visited with my grandparents up in Illinois for Christmas. That was kind of bittersweet, because this was the first Christmas that I’ve ever missed. However, how could I feel so bad when it’s 70 degrees and sunny out? It’s kind of marvelous to realize that I don’t miss internet access nearly as much as I thought I would. After we bought food for dinner, we searched for a taxi for 20 minutes and couldn’t find anyone to take us back. But how fortunate for us-the 4 of us piled into the back of a trailer that was pulled by a moped. After the driver filled his tank with a liter coke bottle full of petrol, we started on our bouncy way back to the reserve. I had a death grip on the rail, which didn’t help any with the cuts on my hand. Who would have thought that bamboo was so sharp?

Monday 24 dic 2012
Christmas Eve! The German volunteers were disappointed-while we generally think of getting a vacation for Christmas day, they usually celebrate on Christmas Eve. Our activity today was taking one plant apiece up to a reforestation project on trocha mariposa (the Butterfly Trail), where a landslide had taken out part of the trail. Oh, how naive I was in thinking that it would be easy. The ‘trails’ at the reserve are really less trails and more dirt that is loosely packed on top of tree roots. Trocha mariposa is one of the hardest trails, and is a good two hours in one direction. It required lots of scrambling and pulling on tree trunks, made doubly hard because we all carried a plant and a machete each. But the view…when we finally broke through the treeline, it was absolutely breathtaking. Some of the other volunteers said that if you go to the very top of the trail, you can see into the valley on either side. Some of the first explorers of the Amazon called it a green hell. From our vantage point, it was easy to see why. It’s unrelieved green in every direction, and past Pilcopata (the town we go to on Sundays) the green just goes on and on as far as the eye can see. That definitely gave me a new perspective as we climbed back down, as the trail winds back on itself and it’s incredibly easy to get turned around. I was ok because I knew that there was a base for me to return to. But what kind of terror must those first explorers have felt?

27 dic 2012
FLOOD! After raining for nearly 2 days straight, we woke up this morning to a rather terrifying realization-the water had risen so much during the night that our bridge had been washed away, and the zip line rope had snapped after ripping out the boards that made up the seat. We all scramble around in the rain looking for new boards and rope to try and fix everything as the monitor made his way across the zip line with a climbing harness. The river had swelled to at least twice its normal size, and after we successfully jerry-rigged the zip line back together, we had to have a super serious sit down with the supervisor about whether we wanted to stay at the reserve, or evacuate. Needless to see, at that point the water was incredibly high, and all but three of us chose to evacuate. Of course, that was when we had discovered that one of the new volunteers had decided it was a PERFECT time to go across the river to get cigarettes, and had locked the rope and the cart on the OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. We were all thoroughly displeased, as it was getting darker and was still raining. Álvaro got so fed up that he climbed across the wire to unhook it so we could finally evacuate. As we were near the end of our 30 minute walk to the evacuation site, who should pull up on the back of a motorcycle but the missing volunteer? We all just kind of ignored him for the rest of the night, because we were all so angry. It’s really dangerous to leave the zipline hooked on the other side of the river, because there’s not another way to cross for several miles in either direction. With the rain not letting up and darkness falling, we could have been left in a really bad way. We ended up spending the night squished together in twin beds that were at another reserve nearby that was owned by the same company, It was muddy, cold, rainy and kind of scary…but also some of the most fun I’ve had, for all that it was supposed to be an emergency evacuation.

31 dic 2012
This was probably the best New Year’s eve I’ve ever had. We spent the day goofing around and playing board games that previous volunteers had carved out of the tabletops. Gloria, the woman who cooks for us made us popcorn, which tasted so much better than any other pop corn I had tried. Although that’s true for pretty much every food here. You would think that we would get sick of variations of rice and vegetables, but everything Gloria makes is amazing. We were left on our own for dinner, so as a group we all threw in some soles and bought the ingredients for homemade pizza and french fries. Dixie (who is from Texas) and I decided to add in our own flavor, and after scouring two towns finally came up with 72 Oreos, which were promptly fried for the pleasure of our audience. The reaction was mixed-the Europeans had never heard of a fried Oreo, and two of the volunteers from California thought they were something of an urban legend. Naturally, once they tried them they converted quickly! Since it was Dixie’s birthday, we stuck a sparkler in the pile and sang for her. People kept asking us why we spent so much time looking specifically for Nabisco brand Oreos. I like to think of it as an exercise in persistence. Why did we do it? Same reason we went to live in the Amazon-because we could.

5 ene 2013
Not much has happened in the past week or so, but it’s incredible how time flies! I only have a week and two days left. Although not a Sunday, 4 other volunteers and I decided to go into town after lunch. NEVER. AGAIN. We finished up around 8 pm, and I kept hinting that we should probably head back. “No, no.” They told me “It’ll be fine” they said. Surprisingly enough, there were zero taxis running. The pressure was on, because I was the only one of us who could speak enough Spanish to actually communicate with non-English speakers. We ended up wandering to the ends of Pilcopata, where I negotiated with a van to take us back to the reserve for 10 soles (approximately $5) a piece. At that point it was about 10pm, and the sky was this beautiful, inky black. Because there’s no light pollution, it’s so easy to see the constellations as we stood by the zip line, we suddenly heard a noise. When we shined the light on the line, we saw that the cook’s helper was trapped on the zip line, and according to her had been for nearly 4 hours! After we freed her and crossed ourselves, we all climbed a tall rock that stands in the river. I always thought that it was just excessive use of poetics when people wrote that the stars are like diamonds, but it’s so true. You can really see how easy it was for the ancient Greeks to come up with stories about the constellations!

15 ene 2013
3 days left… It seems like everyday I slowly get back into ‘reality’, as I come to grips with the idea that I have to go back to school in so few days. When we were in the nearest village charging our various devices the other day, we started chatting with the owner’s wife, and managed to get roped into playing fútbol in a tournament on Sunday. We hitched a ride to town at 930, and then had to sit around until 430 until we finally played for a grand total of 30 minute. While it was a waste of the day, it really taught me that I had to be patient with cultural differences with things like time. Giving up and walking off would have been really insulting, and hurt the relationship between the volunteers at the reserve and the locals.

16 ene 2013
I and one other volunteer got on the bus tonight to return to Cusco. I’m not going to lie, but I cried. It was one of those huge tour buses, and just jam packed full of people. Seated on the bench seat at the very back of the bus, I was squeezed between the other volunteer and a woman and her bags of coca leaves. Coca leaves are a really important part of rural Andean culture, and it isn’t allowed in Cusco except in small personal quantities. To combat this, every bus gets stopped as they exit the jungle and are inspected by the federales. They came onto the bus with tarps and 55 gallon trash bags, inspecting every piece of luggage, and every nook and cranny where someone could be attempting to smuggle coca leaves into the city. It was really amazing to see how creative some of these hiding spaces were-between the seat cushions, in the headrests, tucked up between the luggage rack and the window-no matter where it was, the police found it. The woman next to me kicked up quite the fuss as they took away her bags, and it had to have been at least 10 pounds of it. After the police left the bus and we started on our way, she started laughing as she showed me that they had missed the bags she had strapped to her legs.

18 ene 2013
In a rather bold move, I purchased last minute tickets to go to Machu Picchu. It was completely spur of the moment, and as I walked to the train station to pick them up, I kept going over all the things that could go wrong. But I went through with it, despite my misgivings. After getting a taxi to the train station, I took the train for a two and a half hour ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. When we finally got to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, I was so excited to start the climb. Visitors to Machu Picchu have two options: a 45 minute uphill hike, or a $25, 20 minute bus ride. After the climb, you pop out by the visitor center, and you enter into Machu Picchu proper. As I walked through the turnstile, the clouds parted and you could see the whole area. It’s incredible.

Macchu

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