We totally postponed reality with a trip to the San Blas Islands! At the end of the school year, we made plans with the Smyth family to spend the weekend in San Blas. We had not been able to put a trip together all school year and it is a must experience when in Panama!
San Blas is an incredible place where pictures tell the story better than words.
Waiting until the final week for our trek was brilliant planning on our part! We really didn’t know how perfect it was until it was all done.
On Sunday night after a meeting with our guide and a description of our trek, we were off to bed since we were going to be picked up at our hotel at 6:00 am. Our trek began near Cusco so the van drive was quick. As soon as the van was unpacked, we witnessed the porter magic that would be our reality for the next 48 hours. In a short period of time, they had a table set up with simple food and drink.
Julian, our guide, was a perfect match for our family. He held an amazing pace as we trekked and provided amazing Inca and Andean information along the way.
Our hike began around 12,000 feet. The Inca trail that we were hiked is Huchuy Qosco. It connects Cusco with the Sacred Valley. Back in Inca time, it was an important trail to link the two areas. Currently, it is an important trail for the Andean farmers. We walked through small farming villages, herds of llamas, and potato fields.
Some things never change, Sully & Liam spent a lot of time scrambling rocks when the opportunity presented itself.
Surprisingly, it did not take us too long to get the groove of hiking. We were a bit worried about the altitude after living at sea level, but it wasn’t a huge factor. I think we all had a solid fitness base that allowed us to hike with ease.
We had been hiking for a bit when we were finally caught by the porters. In their huge packs they carry stools, tables, cooking gear, our gear, food, etc… As I said before, they work magic–when they unpack their packs, it is like a magician pulling out more and more things that seem like they should not belong. One thing that attracted us to Llama Path beside the name 🙂 was their philosophy of sustainable tourism. As we read more and more as well as information supplied to us by our guide, the company provides a lot of support to the porters. One example is that Llama Path built a dorm for the porters to sleep in the night before the trek. Most porters live 3-5 hours away from Cusco in small Andean towns. They need to report to work the night before and many porters had to sleep in parks or on the street since they had no place to go.
After our morning snack break, Liam had the experience of a life time (we all loved it). One of his favorite animals is the llama and the next kilometer had us hiking through through a herd of over 100 llamas.
After the excitement of the llamas, our next stop was lunch. We knew it was soon, but not quite sure when. Sully and I turned a corner and saw the most beautiful sight of 2 red tents! As we got to camp, the porters had set out our sleeping mats, bowls of hot water & a towel, and greeted us with Chicha Morada (warm purple corn juice)–amazing! The food was some of the best we had in Peru–stuffed avocados, rice, trout, ceviche, coco tea–incredible!
Twice we saw a lone figure in the distance. Twice the person moved at remarkable speed to catch us. Twice it was an older lady out in the mountains tending sheep. In case they see hikers, they carry hand-made goods to sell. Twice, we bought things we really didn’t need 🙂
After lunch, it was a bit difficult to motivate. Slowly we found our groove again and before we knew it, we reached the top of the pass–14,100 feet!
The next part of the trek was mostly downhill and we went through an Andean towns, incredible canyons, and the scenery was out of this world.
The last kilometer or so took us through an Inca gate and to the ruins of Huchuy Qosco. One of the porters left lunch early to secure the best camping spot. We were surprised to see two other companies setting up tents because we saw no other hikers on the trail! We were treated to another fantastic meal. Nighttime comes quickly near the equator so we were able to star gaze for a bit. A huge highlight was seeing the different constellations including the Southern Cross! The Milky Way was incredibly clear and mesmerizing!
We were greeted with a Buenas Dias and a hot cup of tea delivered to our tents! At breakfast, the cook had baked a cake! The boys were psyched (this was the second time we were given cake for breakfast!
Our next hike was around 6k and downhill! We had barely digested breakfast when we had our final lunch on the trail. We said good-bye to our porters and started the final stage with Julian to Agua Calientes.
Mountain air is awesome! I swear all our bodies hummed a sigh of relief when we arrived in Cusco to thin air, cool (cold) mountain temps, and no humidity!
Cusco is a rather large city that is the hub to the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu! It breathes history–large Cathedrals built by the Spaniards, amazing Inca walls, Inca ruins right outside the city. It also is full of tourist opportunities and the workers are not shy asking you to come eat at their restaurant or offer their services for tours, massages, to sell a piece of art or clothing. Once we learned the city a bit, we found amazing areas and places to visit outside the hustle bustle of the Plaza.
After two nights, we headed to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. This was a last minute change to our plans. We choose not to go to Lake Titicaca near the Bolivian border. It was too long of a bus trip for a short period of time; it had made sense with our original plan, but we made the right decision.
We loved Ollantaytambo! Our only regret was that we should have stayed 1-2 more nights. The ruins that are at the base of the town are spectacular as well as the hiking opportunities! I went for my first mountain run in almost a year–it was amazing! It is the last train stop before Aqua Calientes (Machu Picchu town) so most people use it as a 1 night stop before catching their train. We hiked, ran (me), explored the ruins, ate amazing food, and enjoyed the quiet of a small mountain town!
We returned to Cusco to explore the city a bit more and other areas of the Sacred Valley. We had a day trip to Pisaq and another day was spent exploring the areas right out side of Cusco.
The Sacred Valley area is beautiful–full of culture, nature, history! The Andean people work hard and their way of life hasn’t changed much. The communities are like a family. They share food and resources with each other regardless if they are related. They are up in the mountains all day tending their herds or farming.
This sums up our action packed week and now we are ready for our final week–the trek & Machu Picchu!
Within 3 days of school getting out, we had packed our bags and headed to Peru. We had decided not to return to the US during our first summer living abroad and spend our money on an adventure. We got our moneys worth!
Peru is a huge country so it took us awhile to narrow our itinerary. We didn’t want to feel too stretched so we aimed for quality over quantity. Overall, we would not change our trip too much. Dano and I wish we had stayed in Ollantaytambo for more than 2 nights, but other than that we were happy with our choices for our three weeks. If we had more time, we would have loved to see more of Peru especially the northern mountains.
Our first week was designed to get our feet wet and familiarize our self with Peru. We spent two nights in Lima before we took the bus to Ica. We enjoyed Lima and the cuisine, but we were ready to get out of another congested, crazy Latin/South American city.
Changing of the guard
Traveling by bus isn’t something I have done since I took a Greyhound to Marquette University in college to see friends. I have always heard that buses in South America are nicer than planes. We “splurged” and spent 10 extra dollars for first class…so worth it!
By mid-day, we arrived in Ica, our stop to get to Huacachina. This part of our trip had two purposes–dune buggying & penguins! We also toured vineyards (Dano & I), hiked & ran on the dunes, and ate a lot of great food!
I did fear for my life at times…
Sea lion stretching after a nap
Vats used to make Pisco
After three nights in Huacachina, we headed back to Peru for the night before our next stop–Cuzco! We were beyond excited to be in the mountains again!
When you examine elementary schools within the same city or in different countries, you will see many similarities. Elementary schools have their special events and themes and ISP is no different! Here are some highlights–
Theme days & events led up to our Carnival Break. Mojadera is a huge water fight & a big party of Panama’s carnival celebration!
ISP Admin team
Liam on the obstacle course
A teacher’s dream…dumping water on students!
Bringing Literature to Life–March
All month we celebrated reading & started off the month with a parade of book characters!
Sister School Supply Drive–March
One of our sister schools, Las Trancas is a 5 minute drive from ISP. ISP has sponsored this school for years. Words cannot describe the conditions these students learn in.
5th grade leadership team delivering supplies to our sister school
4th Grade Field Trips–
Panama Canal Train, El Valle Sister School, and Overnight to Gamboa Rainforest
I was lucky to be the adopted admin to accompany 4th grade on their field trips!
In February, we took the train to the Gatun Locks in Colon since 4th grade studies the canal & Panama’s history.
La Mesa is another sister school in El Valle, 2 hours from the city. 4th grade had a book sale to raise almost 2,000 to buy supplies for the students and teachers. In December, the 4th grade fund raises for Christmas baskets for the families as well.
To support the ecosystems unit, the 4th grade has an overnight to Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
International Schools have a turnover of staff and students. It is the nature of the life, but it is still hard to see students & staff move on. To lighten the mood, we ended with a flash mob! Click on the above link.
For the past few Sundays, I was not the favorite person in my family.
On the first Sunday of May, we went to La Laguna de San Carlos. I had read about the lake in a tour guide and I knew it had a hike or two. It started out very positive, we found a bakery outside the city that had amazing empanadas and the drive was pretty easy.
We arrived at the lake. We asked for directions for the hike and went about our merry way. The hike around the lake was short, but sweet.
We asked the guard for directions to the other hike. He gave decent instructions and we headed off. I knew that the hike was to the top of a hill and I thought it would be similar to the Caves hike near our house in Colorado. Well…it was similar in length minus the switch backs. Pretty much we went straight up the mountain took a turn, went straight up, and so on. It was challenging since no one was mentally prepared to climb and they thought I tricked them to do this hike.
Once we were done and ice cold cokes were drank, everyone was a bit happier with me–kind of!
I knew there would be a few pitfalls with today’s activity, but it was a once in a life time opportunity–literally! The Panama Canal Authority was opening up the canal expansion to the public.
So, we got up early to get a start on the day. When we arrived, there was a quite the long line. It was moving so the vibe was pretty positive. We spotted this bird near the end of the line.
After 45 minutes, we loaded the bus to go to the site. We were welcomed with another line…even longer!
Okay, it was a bit ridiculous at this point…huge line & torrential rain! Our clothes were so wet we could wring them out. Eventually, we were under cover then before we knew it we were on the bus to the locks. It was absolutely amazing! The engineering & construction is out of this world. Even more incredible is that the first set of locks was created over 100 years ago without the technology that we have today.
The spirit in the crowd was contagious! The Panamanians are so proud of the canal and they came dressed in Panama jerseys, carried flags,and wore traditional hats! It was a once in a life time opportunity and I am glad that we gutted it out. Although, I don’t think I get to pick next week’s adventure…
I can’t believe there are larger ships than this one.
You can see the “steps” in the locks that the boats will go down to the Pacific