Thursday, October 28, 2010

Farewell, Sweat, and SNOW!

It’s now been two days since we departed from Los Naranjos, and I already miss it very much. If you had told me I would feel that way on the day that I arrived, I would have said you were crazy. How ignorant was I?

Now five weeks later, I miss my family and miss my friends. All they had to offer me was care, concern, and community, but are there any greater gifts than these? Surrounded by this love, I had came to appreciate so much my existence in the jungle - so relaxed, so loved, so appreciated for just being me.

On our final evening in Los Naranjos a party, or a despedia, was given for the TBB group. The festivities began with our media presentations. There were 3 presentations made by three groups of TBB students, each focused on a different aspect of the Los Naranjos' community. One of the presentations was on monoculture, or “Plantain Life;” another focused on traditional medicines of the indigenous culture; and finally, my group’s presentation was on traditional clothing - “the tuná.” I hope at some point to share these presentations with you, the Los Naranjos community seemed to really enjoy them.

Following the educational aspect of the evening,  the REAL festivities began. The agenda consisted of:

  • Hair dying for the men (with a local a plant that produces a redish dye)
  • Body tattoos with the dye from another plant
  • Chica - a drink of fermented corn and sugar cane. Proving that all humanity shares a common bond, this ritual, of course, involved a drinking competition. 
  • A cleansing ritual
  • Tug-a-war. My team always won, not hurt by the fact that we lost the drinking competition! ;)
  • Spear throwing

After the festivities, we ate dinner which consisted of beef and a toasted plantain served on a leaf! The night culminated with a fireworks show and a goodbye from all of our families. My family gave Luisa and me a hand woven purse made by our host mother. They are beautiful. I was speechless.

The following morning we had to say our final goodbye. It was extremely difficult and the morning was filled with lots of tears. It was very hard leaving the close knit community, my shower (the river), and the infamous plantains. I WILL visit my family again. I WILL stay in touch. They did so much for me, I wonder if I did anything for them? 

I feel so immature for all the nervous feelings that filled my head before I went into my homestay. How could I eat nothing but plaintains for five weeks? How could I live so close to people I didn't know? Surely, the floor was more comfortable than the bed I was shown. How would I communicate? Really, honestly, how could I exist? 

If only you could see the place.   

Now I am typing on the computer in a real bed wishing nothing more than to be back in Los Naranjos laughing with my host sisters. 

If only you could feel the place.


Life moves on, but my experiences change me. 

These past few days have been spent readjusting Quito, Ecuador. The last time we were here we witnessed the beginning of a military coup. Thankfully, that has been quelled, so our preparations for Peru have been relatively peaceful. Yesterday, however, was certainly one of the most challenging and frightening days of my life.  

The program leaders decided that it was necessary for us to prepare for the Inca Trail with a little hike. Unbeknownst to us all our "little trek" soon became more akin to a death march! Our adventure began at 11 AM under the watchful eye of two expert hikers from the Quito area. Only two hours into the hike, however, we slowly began to lose people from our group (including our program leaders!).

Exhausted, physically and mentally, they headed back to the safe environs of Quito.  Of course, my mother's pride and competitive pushed me ahead. I was going to make it to the top! The hike was getting harder and harder, the number of students fewer and fewer, the path narrow and narrower, and the air thinner and thinner. The hiking experts keep encouraging us stating that it was only 15 minutes to the top. Little did I know that minutes to expert Ecuadorian hikers, translates to 4 hours for a redheaded Mankatoan.   

As the amount of oxygen was becoming scarce, the guides pulled just the perfect remedy . . . a rope! It seems the last of the trail demanded some serious rock climbing. If I hadn't climbed a smooth 15 foot wall in a local high school eight years ago, I might have really been scared to make the 100 foot over jagged rocks and a drop down to oblivion. With a dose of courage, buckets of sweat, more than a few tears, and yes, some blood, six of us made it to the TOP!  

We were welcomed by a group of hikers from Argentina - they congratulated us and were very impressed when we informed them that it was our 1st experience hiking. 15,000 feet they told us we had just reached! Ahh, the strength of those grilled plaintains was greater than our friends in Los Naranjos had advertised. Having reached the summit, now it was time to relax, enjoy the view and have some lunch, right? Wrong!

Just as I took my first bite of some well deserved nourishment, Havier, our expert guide, yelled “5 minutes until the storm moves in!” Huh? What storm? Sure, it was a little cold, but the sun was shining. I guess I wasn't the only one affected by the thin air. I laughed and took my second bite. Havier so no humor in this. He looked at me and said, "Move. Now!" I thought I was going to die of a stress-induced heart attack.  

Three slides, twenty bruises, and at least 10 lbs of sweat later we made it back to the base camp . . .  through a blinding BLIZZARD. Here I was so excited to escape the MN winter- and yet somehow I managed to see snow before MinneSNOWta has even seen a flake.   

At the end of the day, I felt proud, relived, and well thankful to be in one piece! We were informed later that our preparation hike was actually much more diffucult than the Inca Trail. Thank goodness!

Now after a full day of resting my sore muscles and icing my bruised knees I’m ready to take on PERU!  We leave bright and early for Cusco (4am), and before I know it I will be on the Inca Trail. Four days of following in the footsteps of the legendary tribe. It should be amazing sans the snow, ropes, and jagged peaks, I hope!  

I miss you all and have a Happy Halloween! Anna, hands off the bird suit.  ;-)

maddie p

Quick Itinerary Update:

Peru for a week
Then east, far east to CHINA for 5 weeks


  1. Maddie- I can't begin to tell you how much we enjoy following your adventure. Ryan thought the river would be an awesome bath! I have been printing them and bringing them to grandma & grandpa--they LOVE it! Especially grandpa..grandma is worried about you. You are a very talented writer...hummm do you know any GOOD publishers?? You should think about the career! Take care of yourself! Miss you much, the Haleys

  2. Katerina! thank you so much for keeping in touch, I am happy to hear Grandma and Grandpa are also being updated on my travels :) Oh I received some very cute letters before I left Ecuador... all my friends think Paddy and Ryan are ADORABLE, please tell them thanks. Ha, I'm not sure that I know any good publishers. Hope everything is well back in Mankato. Please say "hello" to everyone. love, maddie

  3. BRING THE SNOW TO COLORADO. i really could use a snow day. hey chica i got your letter too..your so cute. i showed all my friends, i brag about you. hey and guess what MSU is playing Denver tonight in hockey... I am going to go to the game Saturday, then out and about!! if i have any interesting stories from the night i will be sure to let you know.