We are officially having the times of our lives… just incase anybody was curious.
Ryan and Jack have been getting the most out of our Cusco experience and it has been absolutely incredible. We are official volunteers at Aldea Yanapay, a social project here in Cusco working with under privileged children. [Before I go too much farther, I should tell you that one of the points of the Grand Adventure is to not only see sights, but to have truly authentic experiences. This volunteer opportunity with Aldea Yanapay is one of those opportunities to not only see incredible things, but to take part in something truly special.] Aldea Yanapay has three main components: Hostal Magico, La Escuela, and Restaurant Yanapay. It was started by a local Cusquenian, Yuri, who clearly wanted more out of his town and thought that he was the one to do it. We are currently living in the eccentric Hostal Magico, which directly funds the school and is where most of the volunteers stay and we went to BINGO and trivia night at Restuarant Yanapay on Tuesday (Jack was ecstatic to place 2nd to last in trivia, which only fueled Ryan’s anger of being in dead-last). The kicker though is working with the children in the the school. Every morning Ryan, Jack, and 15 other volunteers from all over the globe gather in a very low income
neighborhood, put on our bright colored smocks, and hug and kiss every child that walks through the gate. It is a little batch of heaven right in the middle of families’ worst nightmares. After we have suffiently shown each child that they are indeed loved, we move into the day’s activities. Ryan tutors ages 4-10 in spanish, although he knows almost none himself. Jack works in the computer lab teaching children how to use Word, Paint, and the internet. After a few hours of instruction, we move to circle time, where the children express their feelings about violence, abuse, harassment as well as good deeds they have recently performed and fun activities in which they recently partook. Finally, it is time for class and the children are broken up into age groups and taught a theme of the week. This week’s theme is “dances of South America” in which the children learn about counties, capitals, other facts, and learn a dance of their chosen country. Jack is really enjoying teaching Argentinian tango moves with the 7 year olds and Ryan is tackling a nifty Uraguayan party dance. We clearly are in unchartered waters, teaching in full spanish as well as leading little ones in South American dances, but there are enough laughs and smiles in the day to keep moving forward.
Ryan and Jack have truly begun to enjoy the school work and will miss the children very much once they have finished their time at the school. Screams of “Profe Jack!” will be tough to get over and we are beyond thankful that we were able to square away the opportunity to participate.
Although school has been pretty consuming, Jack and Ryan have been able to get out in the town a good deal. One of the things we are still trying to get over is the amount of stray dogs. Roaming in packs, they are generally kind enough, but it is tough to see at least 5 dogs every time you walk down the street. Although the dogs are a bit unsettling, Cusco really is a wonderful city. The locals are extremely nice and all of the tourists seem to be hardened travelers and don’t make many of the mistakes that rookies do. Everyone is there on some sort of adventure and it is great to hear other people’s stories [our story is stacking up pretty well against everyone else].
One interesting thing about the town is that there must be over 100 travel “agencies”. This includes everything from people selling trips to Machu Picchu to horseback riding through the Inca ruins above Cusco. For the latter, we decided it sounded like a nice afternoon activity and ended up going out with some other volunteers. We hike up an up and up, which isn’t easy considering Cusco sits at 11,500 feet, and finally make it to the horses. They are a bit small, but we get on and they instruct us to ride right up this steep muddy trail, remember it is the rainy season so “muddy” might be an understatement. Ryan is in front and Jack is right behind. Ryan then finds it appropriate at that moment when we are being hustled out of the stable onto this trail, that he has never rode a horse before. Great. Jack does his best to help Ryan out, but Ryan’s horse just isn’t going to move up that hill. He immediately got the name “old man.” Jack is able to
jump in front, having some riding experience, and leads the group of 4 up into the Andes. We visit 4 different, breathtaking, hidden Inca ruins. We see the Temple of the Moon and others, all overlooking Cusco and high up in the mountains. While avoiding the rain, we had a wonderful time. Ryan even got the hang of it eventually, but his horse still wasn’t very enthusiastic.
Finally to cap off the week we had our performance at the school with all the little kids. We “danced,” gave facts about our countries, and had some great laughs. We sat and watched while Yuri, the founder, worked with the kids on how to be better people for their school, families, and their community. It was great to watch him work and see his passion. At first glance, Yuri is a bit underwhelming, but as soon as he gets in front of the kids, a switch turns and he is loving, passionate, and kind. He is running a wonderful operation because the impression that we got was that he was extremely selfless. Its all for the kids.
After the performance at the school, the volunteers all headed to the Yanapay Restaurant for a promised, vegetarian buffet feast. We were not disappointed. All of our friends/volunteers were there and soon after dinner, and fully utilizing the the volunteer 2-for-1 drink specials, the tables got cleared out and the dancing started. The salsa started, quickly followed by Latino group dances, and ended with some American classics. Ryan, Jack, and all of the volunteers had an incredible time, just dancing in one big group, watching while one or two at a time would do their best to “break it down.” Finally the night ended and hugs were exchanged because we would not see any of them again because we were headed to Machu Picchu the next day…
Jack & Ryan
Current Location: Cusco, Peru