Welcome to my journey.

Welcome to my journey.  I started this site in as a way to capture my pilgrimage, in 2014 to  Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.  I wanted a way to share the experience with the people I love so much, my family, my friends and those I serve.   As I began to build it, I realized I had so many more experiences to share with others of places that humbled me and people who transformed me.  Many of you have heard my my own story of how my cancer brought me JOI (Journey’s of Inspiration).  JOI has taken me to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and camp on the Serengeti, to a week in the Grand Canyon, to the Camino of Santiago, back to Africa to build homes, and recently to Peru to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.  I have also ventured out to Europe on a trip on my own and the most amazing trip to Taiwan with my cousin. 

Traveling and seeing the world is extraordinary.  The ones most dear to me continue to be the ones that I am called by God to do  – to live my faith and serve others. This blog is a work in progress and I will continue to build it with stories of my journeys and the people I have met along the way that have inspired me to be the best I can be – and I hope it does the same for you.

Beun Camino, 我的自由年代, bonne faço,njia nzur, buon mod

 

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Our last day

It was a typical day for us. Walked the kids to school. Worked on the last tiling and grouting and helped with babies and toddlers

I was able to meet Peggy today.

She is the lady that has been carrying $1000’s of unpaid debt for the milk that she supply’s every day. Through the fundraising from the most generous and amazing friends I was able to tell her that her debt is paid and there is money set aside to pay her to continue the delivery. It was a really special moment for both is us.

This is Natalya Bondar the administrator o Rehema. She has been here for 9 years taking care of this place and children.

This is Lauren Ouwenga. She also lives here and partners with Nat to manage this place.

And of course you know my shadow, Grace.

We had so much fun last night having movie night you can see by the shoes at our door we decided to host another night for the kids.

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I start my journey home tomorrow to Nairobi and then to the states on Sunday. Please send prayers that I get home and that Mr Tom has a safe journey to Tanzania and home too.

The world I am going home to has changed and so have I. Will need some time to let these two weeks sink in. It won’t be a goodbye tomorrow-that I know-only until next time.

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Life is still normal here

For the last two days we have been trying to stay in touch with the news of what is going on around the world. Tom bought a local SIM card and we turn it on a couple times a day to read email, txts and check the news. It is very bizarre watching the panic spread from a remote part of Kenya. It is like watching a movie that can be turned off when you get to the bad parts. It has not hit Kenya yet so I am confident that I will not have trouble getting back in the country. We fly to Nairobi on Saturday, stay over night and then I depart to home via Doha, Qatar. Tom is still planning on heading to Tanzania on Sunday. So back to here —- things are quite normal and I have two days to catch you up.

Yesterday, we had to go into town to buy more grout and sand for the tile project and the basics for the kids: sugar, flour, rice, oil and of course diapers. There is a little village of Bukura walking distance but for larger purchases we go to Kakamega. It is about a 40 minute drive away. We hire Jack the driver to take us to town, shop with us to help interpret. The cost – 1000ksh – or $10. This is a little bit of the town.

We also decided to treat ourselves for the first time this trip to an adult beverage. Mr. Tom comes through with to open up the bottle without a cork screw. Where there is a will……..

One of the sweetest times of the day is around 3pm. The babies are getting up from their naps – all 7 need to be changed and cleaned up, the toddlers march themselves to the potty and then all 10 of them are brought out to the blanket for afternoon air and sun. The younger boys are just getting back from school and join the younger ones on the blanket.

The older kids are always ready to help with the younger ones and they are so sweet and gentle. Tom and I are always commenting on how many kids you can get on a blanket

It is at this time that my phone is usually “borrowed” and this is the result .

Oh – this is Ronnie the pet dog. There is also Bob, but I don’t have a good picture of him yet. Ronnie is a lovable mutt and you frequently here in English and Swahili – Go Ronnie, Get out. He meets everyone at the gate and barks if he doesn’t think something is right as he overlooks the yard from above.

The other thing we decided to do is to treat the kids to a movie night. We bought each of them a soda and some cookies. This is all of them crammed into our room to watch Lion King on a small laptop.

And now the Mr. Tom report:

When we last left he was trying to figure out a way to cut the tile without a wet saw. He found a grinder with an all purpose blade and works like a charm.

Here’s is where we are as of tonight. Almost there – Mr. Tom has a few more pieces to cut, I have some grouting left to do and then we both will fill in the rim around the edge.

Tonight we had special guests visit and share a meal with us. Another friend of Mr. Tom’s from Tanzania came to see him. We had a lovely meal and conversation and they made us promise to return next year and visit their home. I said yes – so did Tom.

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Are we making a difference?

We have been here a week and I continue to ask myself that question.  Today was a hit of reality in the heart.  There are three more babies that have been abandoned and the Rehema home is one of the two that take babies.  The decision would be “of course”, but here it is not that simple.  There are already 7 babies and three toddlers in addition to the other 15+ children.  One more baby means formula, diapers, a crib, medical attention and more importantly constant care by an Auntie who is already running a mile a minute with the other babies.  Where will the money come?  Where will the help come from?  Lauren and Natalie, the administrators of the home are truly super women.  They have to run this entire place and make these types of decisions all the time.  I see the difference they are making in these children’s lives.  For without them they would not have one.  But there is so much need here as there is all over the world.  img_0482Tom and I are called short-term missionaries.  We are only here for two weeks and can only do what we can within that short time.  We see all that needs to be done and wish we had the time and resources to do more.  We know the babies and toddlers floor will be tiled instead of an uneven cement floor. I know that the generosity of the money raised for the milk fund will continue to bring sustenance to the children.  Is it enough?  Will that make a difference in these lives?  I can pray that it does and continue to bring the plight of these children and the needs of this home back with me.  There story needs to be told and that might be the best way to make a difference. Blue_Starfish_PNG_Clip_Art-1718One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”  “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…”I made a difference for that one.”On the Mr. Tom front and the progress we are making on the room.  This picture sums up our day between tiling, grouting, babies and children. img_0510

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Sunrise over the Kakamega Rain Forest

Alarms went off at 5am to get ready and meet our guide Patrick.  We signed up for a guided hike up Lirhanda Hill the highest elevation overlooking the Kakamega Rain Forest to watch the sunrise.  Kakamega Forest is a tropical rain forest situated  northwest of the capital Nairobi, and near to the border with Uganda. It is Kenya’s only tropical rain forest and is said to be Kenya’s last remnant of an ancient rain forest that once spanned the continent.

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It was spectacular.  When we got to the top there was another guide and two other hikers from Germany and Italy.  Of course the Covid-19 seems to be the conversation of the day for everyone.

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As the sun rose above the rain forest below seemed to come alive.  Different sounds of animals slowly started to get louder and multiply.  It was one of those moments when just sitting in silence and watching, listening and just being was completely joyful. Of course we couldn’t sit there too long before we had some fun with Patrick and the panorama setting on the phone.

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We taught the other two hikers and their guide the same trick of standing in one place and when you are out of the camera’s lens you run to the other side so it looks like you are in two places in once.

On the way down Patrick pointed out plants in the forest that are both poisonous and  medicinal.  Like the one plant that cures prostate cancer. Another one that is deadly when eaten but placed on an open wound helps it heal. And still another one that when you crush and inhale it clears your bronchial pathways when you are congested.  We also so some monkeys and a baboon carrying her baby.

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We were so impressed with the rainforest and the conservation efforts they were making to save the forest we planted a JOI tree.

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Patrick will be taking care of it and sending us pictures as it grows.  The type of tree we planted will help the canopy of the rain forest and provide much needed food for various insects that help the forest.  It will take about 20 years for the tree to reach full size and we were invited back at any time to visit it.  (hmmmmmmmmmm – interesting thought!)

Tiling Report:

Upon returning from our respite we got back to work. We had our usual audience of 7 babies and 8 children sitting and watching us tile and grout.  Of course Auntie Karen – or as the kids say it Aunti Karo – downloaded Frozen 2 soundtrack for additional entertainment.

At one point I had to stop on account of crying babies that wanted changing and love and will start again first thing in the morning-starting at 6 as usual.

We can’t believe it is Monday already and we still have a lot to do.  You can see the progress made above. Mr. Tom’s challenge today was trying to figure out how to cut tile without a tile cutter.  Stay tuned……

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And on the 7th day….

We rested – well sort of kind of. Even on Sunday it starts early around here. Everyone up by 6-630 to get breakfast and ready for church. The church clothes are kept with Natalie and Lauren in their quarters so they are kept neat and clean. Every child has to go up and ask for their clothes and then return them after church.

This is wearing her new dress that Bryn from my office bought for her.

I walked with the bigger kids and the smaller ones were taken by car.

It was about a 20 minute walk on a beautiful sunny morning and you could hear songs of worship coming from various buildings along the way.

This is the PEFA church of Bukura (double green doors). The organization that sponsors the home. The service started with a wonderful song (in Swahili) with everyone singing and clapping hands and then going around and saying hello. Everyone said Karibu to me with a smile and a handshake.

The sermon was given by a parishioner in English with an interpreter in Swahili. It was about the power of forgiveness and why it is necessary to let go to let God take you forward.

We walked back and I joined Mr. Tiling Tom to continue my grout work before our day of rest began. We first went to the home of Mr. Paul for lunch. He is a friend of Tom’s from the time he spent in Tanzania at the Tumaini School. The picture below is his home, his parents and siblings.

We were welcomed into his home and honored with a meal of ugali, kuku, greens and rice (eaten by hands).

This is a typical road trip!

We then ventured to our final destination the Rondo House at the edge of the Kakamega Forest.

They served us tea and cake on the porch when we arrived and we reveled in the silence-something we haven’t had since arriving at Bukura

After tea and before dinner we toured the beautiful grounds and made arrangements for a hike up to see the sunrise over the forest. We start out at 530am.

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Life is Precious

I am sitting here in the dark with my headlamp on and listening to the rain fall.  It’s 730 the kids are in bed and all you can here are the voices of the Aunties in the kitchen and Ronnie the dog occasionally barking.  The lights went out around 7 which is very appropriate for today at that time.  I found out my Aunt was killed this week while on vacation and her funeral started exactly at the time the lights went out.  It is hard for me to be here and not with my family sharing in the shock and sorrow of this tragedy.  Instead, I will dedicate my trip to her and celebrate her life by helping these children.  For without Rehema Home, they would not be here today.

Today, we got a lot of work done on the floor.  Mr. Tom continued to lay tile as I grouted the parts that were complete. Since this is the room that 7 babies, 3 toddlers spend most of their time we are strategically trying to figure out how to work on what sections so the Aunties and babies can get back and forth to the cribs and bathrooms.  There might be some nighttime tiling in our future.  The best part of the day was when the kids came into the room to check out the new floor – so full of life. 

 

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It’s a boys life where ever you go……..

The life the children have is so very different. There are no electronic gadgets to be entertained with, tv, or after school activities. There are no choices in what you can eat or what you want to wear. There are no movies or stories before you go to bed and no mother to comfort you when you wake up in the middle of the night. But despite the differences there are also similarities and boys will be boys.

There are 7 boys here all around 7-8. They get up at the same time, get dressed in their school uniforms and wait upstairs in their rooms until called down for breakfast

Breakfast may be a bit different then what your children eat for breakfast. Here they have chai tea and a root vegtable. They get some crakers as a snack but most of them are eating it on their way to school.

The children wear uniforms to school. Standard is a button down shirt, sweater and pants for the boys. It is the same for the girls but they wear a skirt. There is only one uniform for children so it is kept as clean as possible.

I was asked to walk them to school giving the Aunties a little head start on the day chores. The school is only up the street and as you can see running in the gutter is fun anywhere it is.

They get home for lunch and as many young boys need to do is nap before the afternoon play time. Even laying on a blanket on the floor they were fast asleep.

The nap gave Tom and I the chance to continue working on tiling without interruption from the kids but that did not last too long as one by one they came and found us and wanted to be part of the action. They just wanted to play with that mud!

As the crowd grew it signaled to me to take the boys upstairs to the play room and out of Mr. Tom’s hair. Books, coloring and making a car out of an old suitcase was the activity of the afternoon. I downloaded some music and had a sing-a-long to the Lion King.

Even here the boys have their chores. This little guy made sure the steps were cleared before dinner.

After dinner of rice and chipati for everyone there is more time for cheza and what little boy doesn’t use his imagination to make a rocket out of an old box.

The night ends with all the children gathering in one room to sing praises to the Lord and thank him for the blessing of all the wonderful things they have in their life and the people that love and care for them.

I will be doing the same tonight.

And now an update on Mr. Tom — or should I say my hero. For he worked on the shower head and we have warm water for the first time since getting here. In addition to tiling the floor he also serves as great entertainment to the children. Once a papa always a papa.

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It takes a village — and more importantly a schedule.

Every morning at 6 am when you open the door to the babies room this is what you will find – and one is being changed and one is still asleep. These are the little ones and are so so precious. It is hard to understand why these children were abandon but I am not here to judge but to provide a hug when they are crying and a tickle to make them laugh.

The Aunties from the village are amazing. There are two women and a cook at all times helping to keep the child care machine running. They have it down to a precise schedule – one that is written out and hanging in our quarters.

600am – Babies up and start changing and dressing for the day and fed

630am – toddlers up, put on the potty, change for day, breakfast.

7am – last of school kids leave

9-11am – Babies nap

11am – Babies changed and bottle fed

12pm – Babies fed lunch

1245pm – younger kids arrive from school and eat lunch

2-3pm – Babies and toddlers nap. After their lunch they are typically brought out one by one to sit outside – of course after they are changed again (I did 7 diaper changes in record time)

430pm – Babies eat dinner

500pm – last of the kids arrive home and eat dinner

700pm – Bible and prayer

7-730 – Babies fed and all to bed. Karen included LOL.

I am in awe of the care that is given and the dedication of these women for so little in return. More on their story later.

And now a report on Mr. Tom:

Tom and I went into town to buy some items needed to start the tiling project. No, there is not a Home Depot but many little shops that may carry one or two or none of the items you need – grout and sand and a water heater. Water heater you say? Why would they need that – because the water heater to the shower does not work. How it works here is that there is a heater in the shower head. I still have hope in Mr. Tom to fix it.

He also started the tiling project – and yes “I helped” mostly by keeping the kids out of his way.

Still a long way to go and we will keep you up to date on the progress.

Good night all heading to bed – got them babies to get up soon.

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Karibu To Bukura

We flew to Kisumo and after an hour flight on a small prop plane and an 1 1/2 hour drive we made it to Bukura Rehema house.

It is small gated compound with a building that houses volunteer and administrators living quarters. A small Kitchen building, another building for the mess hall and boys bedrooms. There is a 3rd building for the babies, toddlers and girls. There is also a shed, chicken coop and soon-to-be green house.

Here is my living area for the next two weeks.

Our hosts for the two weeks are Lauren and Natalya. They are the administrators of the home and manage the entire property with 7 Aunti’s from the village to help take care of the 25 children – 24 x 7. It did not take long for some of the kids to immediately approach the Wegani’s – white person.

This is Grace and she is a bold and beautiful little girl. She took to me right away and I now have a little shadow.

It will take me some time to adjust to the way of life for these little souls. I am going to remain open to better understand how to best help now and in the future. Heading to bed – there are 7 babies to help get up changed and fed and 7 little boys that need to go to school. There for the Grace of God go I.

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Made it to Nairobi –

It has been a long trip so far but sooooooooo far so great. We left the house at 4am in Rochester and caught our first flight to JFK a quick 2 hour layover and a 9 hour flight to Doha, Qatar. Another 2 hour layover and a 6 hour flight to Nairobi. We landed around 3pm here (we are 8 hours ahead) and with all of our luggage – well almost. Our personal items for the two weeks are in our backpacks. The other suitcases are filled with the many donations of clothes and other items needed for both the children and the staff. One of the items that the staff asked for was over the counter painkiller drugs, Downey unstoppables washer freshener and coffee creamer. Tom also has packed computers that are going to Tanzania, an assortment of tools for handyman work and even a WiFi booster. The only item that did not make it was two bottles of French Vanilla Coffee Mate and that was kept by security in Rochester. They said it tested for traces of chemicals – well isn’t that what it is? We say a lot of folks wearing masks and the smell of Purel. They did check our temperature as we debarked off the plane other then that it was fairly normal.

In Nairobi we were met by two of the missionaries that work at Rehema Home Nairobi – Mark and Michelle. Mark is from Lima, NY and Michelle is from the Bronx. They are married and have lived here working as full time missionaries for 9 years. They took us to a place to exchange our money (101 shillings to $1US) get a SIM card and a bite to eat. They were so helpful in giving us some interesting facts about Nairobi (English is a native language) guidance about cultural differences, and eating dos and don’ts.

We finally got to the Guest House at 7pm where we need to get some sleep and back up at 4am for our flight over Lake Victoria to Bukura where our mission begins.

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August 5: A Tour of Lima and Home

A last day was a relaxing day starting with a walk to the ocean to dip our toes in the south pacific.

In the afternoon we had a tour of Lima. Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. I was stunned by the beauty of the architecture of the city.

In a museum there was this kitty sleeping in the midst of all the tours going on around him.  It reminded me of the two I had waiting at home for me and knew it was time to return home

Adiós y gracias Perú por un viaje de tu vida.

Amor y gracias por mi nueva familia.


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August 4: To Lima we go

Today was a bus ride to the airport for our trip back to Lima.  Of course had time for one more last stop at an ancient site –Sillustani.  This was actually pre-incas and a burial site.  It was amazing to see the artistry and workmanship of the stone blocks.  The stone blocks were not erected into straight walls but rounded towers. These were.

There was always a small opening at the base, facing east. It is speculated that since the Inca, and presumably earlier people were “sun worshippers” these doors related to the religious belief system that it may guide the departed soul to some kind of afterlife.

Landed in Lima  — with luggage.  We stayed in the Miraflores district of Lima, known for its upscale shopping and restaurants and very near the pacific ocean.  We were treated to a beautiful and wonderful dinner at La Rosa Nautical Restaurant.

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August 3: The Island of Taquile

I stayed pretty warm during the night and was awakened at around 530am by the sunrise and sound of a donkey. No need for alarms here. I sat for awhile looking out the window and watched the community come alive. We had breakfast of quinoa pancakes and then our host mama took us to our boats by 8 am.

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We took a short boat ride over to the island of Taquile. Our day would be spent walking around the island seeing and experiencing local culture. One of the local authorities was there to check us into the island. We would learn there are 20 of these men that volunteer to be the officials of the island. Each day they walk around taking to the members of the community to see if everything is ok. There are no police or firearms but they do carry whips.

The St James (San Santiago) Festival & Taquile Textile Art Fair

There are 2,200 Taquileans living on the island.  They speak Quechua and we were to learn that they live in a cooperative society where all work is done to benefit the community  The local economy bases itself on fishing, potato farming, textiles, and tourism.  The work such as knitting, a male task, and weaving, a female task, is undertaken as part of the daily chores.

We just happened to be visiting during the time of year that they had a festival dedicated to their patron saint, the Apostle James.  It hit me that St. James was appearing again in my life – the Camino de Santiago being the first.  They had demonstrations showing their how they made  their hand-woven textiles, considered the best in Peru.  Taquile´s textile art were proclaimed by UNESCO “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

When we reached the main plaza many of the community members and the officials were watching and enjoying singing and dancing.

The doorways and arches were decorated with their national flower – Kantuta.

We walked along a beautiful path – the islands only way of getting around.  Our destination was the other end of the island where our boat would pick us up.

But first, we stopped at a wonderful and beautiful home for lunch.

After lunch we were treated to a presentation about the local traditions and customs they’ve preserved for centuries:

No handshake, just coca leaves

When two people meet on Taquile, both parties pull out a handful of coca leaves from the waist bag on the right side and exchange. Chew the coca leaves first, and then you can start talking.

Prove your worth by drinking out of your knitted hat

When a man wants to marry a woman, he needs to prove his worth by drinking water out of his knitted hat. If the hat is knitted so tightly that the water doesn’t drip, he has successfully proved his abilities.

We thought we were in for a “perfect storm” kind-of trip back to Puno – but our captain simply went around it.

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August 2: Titi – caca – titi – caca

Waking up in Puno – this is the view from our window.  If you look high to the right on the hill you will see a statue.  This is a statue of a condor.  The condor is part of the Incan trinity: Condor, Puma, Snake.  In these three animals, sky, earth, and the underworld are represented. Condor, we would learn, is the only bird strong enough to fly up to the heavens and deliver messages to God.  Puma has patience and strength. The snake travels to the underworld, and when it sheds its skin, is reborn, transformed. All part of the circle of life.  We would experience this belief throughout our trip in-scripted  in ancient sites, textiles, and modern symbols.

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Today we met our guide José.  He will be the guide for our Lake Titicaca adventure and we headed to the docks. We were told to buy some gifts of rice, oil and fruit for our family hosts where we will be staying tonight on the Island of Amantani.

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It was – again – a beautiful day and we had our own boat, traveling through the reeds towards the Uros Islands.

These islands are man/women made from the surrounding reeds and can each hold around 25 people or a few families. There are about 85 floating islands with approximately 2000 inhabitants.

It was not until the 90s that the island people allowed tourists to stop at their island. They have since embraced tourism but in their own way. The entire community shares the responsibility dividing the days that tourists can stop among them.

We were shown how the islands are made and how the people lived on these islands.

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A very cold ride on a Kon-Tiki boat compliments of Rick and we were back on the boat for a 2/12 hour ride around the peninsula of Capachica and to the isle of Amantani.

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On Amantani, we were met by our host families – our mama’s and papa’s for our overnight stay.  Names were called and I had the honor of joining Matt and Char to stay with a family.

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Our family of fourThe family speaks Quechua and understands a little Spanish and no English  – which proved to be a challenge to communicate but there is always the universal language of charades and children.

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We were served lunch in their kitchen of potato soup, okra, tomatoes and fried cheese. After lunch the three of us met up with the rest of our group to learn about the daily life of these farmers. Life has not changed very much over the 100’s and 100’s of years that these people have lived here. They still were traditional garb and are self sustaining. There are six communities on the island and a school. To our way of life it is very primitive but who is to say?

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There was another amazing experience waiting for us after dinner. We were dressed up in traditional dress and met in the community center for a good ole neighborhood dance.

img_7520At over 13,000 feet just walking up to the center was a challenge much less dancing. We all had a great time dancing together and with our host Mamas.

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It was very cold at night probably in the 30s and no heating in the homes. But they piled on at least five alpaca blankets on top of our beds that kept us warm.

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August 1: A Bus Ride to Puno

We left Cusco around 730am, loaded up a bus and headed out for a 7 hour journey to Puno – with Rick as our guide.

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We made a stop at the archeological site of Pikillaqta. We have been visiting Incan sites and this was pre-incan.  The amazing part of this site is the fact that it has been used since 5000BC

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The Sistine Chapel of the Andes

We stopped at St. Peter the Apostle Church, Andahuaylillas. We were not allowed to take pictures inside but the link above takes you to a lovely video. This church acts as a community hub and feeds nearly 400 children a day, an after-school program, library  all supported in part from the fees to see the church.
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We continued driving through the country side seeing small farms being worked by women in tradition garb, cows and Llamas. We stopped at a rest stop at the top of a pass at 14,000 feet – the highest elevation of our trip.  There were ladies selling goods and even a bathroom. You can see the top of the bathroom which had actual toilets and a man with a bucket of water that would come in after you to flush.

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We made it to Puno and we stayed at the Qelqatani Hotel.  It was beautiful and just a few blocks off the plaza.

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July 31: A Day in Cusco

Today was a day of laundry, shopping and enjoying the local cuisine. For me, the laundry was all the clothes I borrowed and the first day of wearing my own clothes.

Cusco

Cusco was was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital of Peru.[2] In 1983 Cusco was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”.  Like many places we visited it is a mixture of the traditional and the modern.

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The first tasty experience was in the local market. As soon as you walk in there are rows of ladies waving at you to come to their station to make you fresh juice. It had everything in it. Fruit I had never heard of, vegetables, bee pollen honey and the secret ingredient was dark beer.

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After enjoying that treat everyone went their ways to explore the market. Rick and I set off to comb the market for food and snacks for our bus trip tomorrow. The market had everything. A isle of breads that were being sold by the local women, an isle of cheeses, rice, beans, fruits and potatoes. There was a isle of raw meat that we did not go down-it is not like Wegmans were everything is sliced, packaged AND refrigerated. Just a huge isle of slabs of unidentified meat and chickens. We bought fruit, nuts, empanadas and sweet bread.

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We all met back from our daily adventures for dinner at a wonderful restaurant complete with music and entertainment.

We interrupt these wonderful pics of delicious food to tell you about Cuy.

This would be a good time to tell you about Cuy. What animal sounds like Kweeeeeeee? Give up? Ok, I will tell you, Guinne pig. Guinne pig is eaten all over the area. You can order in restaurants or on the streets. Guinne pigs are pests for the farmers that eat the bread crops so there is an abundance of them. You have heard of Man vs Food.  Well we had Tom vs Cuy  – the brave one amongst us to try it.

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Ok, then — that’s it for this day……

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July 30th: Machu Picchu and the day I get my luggage.

After I good nights sleep in a comfy bed and hearty breakfast we started out early to beat the crowds going up to Machu Picchu.  We caught the bus and back up the winding road. The bus would serpentine up the side of the mountain climbing 3000 feet- with no guard rails and at times having to pass the bus coming down. There were a few of us that had to sit on the inside isle seat and look the opposite way.  Thank you Mr. Tom for being my seat-mate down and up and up and down again – and for always looking out for me the entire trip.

 

 

Machu Picchu

First, we were taught how to properly say Picchu. The first “c”is a hard one. So pronounce it from now on as Pickchew or else you are saying Penis. Instead of saying old mountain you would be saying old Penis — I will leave it at that.  Things you never thought you would learn.

There is so much history and questions about this site. Why is it here, what was it used for and how did they construct this without tools? No one knows for sure but there are theories.  Chino and Omar were our guides explaining history to us along the entire site.  Do yourself a favor and watch some videos on the history of one of the 7th Wonders of the World.  It is truly amazing.  Here is a link to the a National Geographic 101.

 

 

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After going yet again down on the bus ride from another demension  – we spent a few hours in the town, met up for a phenomenal lunch and got on a 2 hour train to take us back to Cusco.

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This was no ordinary train ride.

They served tea and dessert, performed a traditional dance and even put on a fashion show of the finest alpaca sweaters (200-300$).  Here is a little bit of the experience.  YES – that is my roomie!

 

And through the entire experience our fearless heroes were planning the next adventure.

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Another 2 hour bus ride back to Cusco and I have clean pants, shirts and not only women’s underwear — but my own!

TRAIN CRASH

No, not ours, but exactly hours later on the very same train there was a collision.

 

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July 29th: 4th and final day on trail – 11km

We were woken up at 530am – or early as I told you —  to climb to the top of the campsite to watch the sun rise. Our Wawqi’s were up there waiting with hot tea. With..hot tea.It was a celebration that the hardest parts were over and we ONLY had a 6 hour trek DOWN to Machu Picchu. ONLY! And my feet and legs are barkin. I will never forget all of us being up there  – being together as a f-a-m-i-l-y and being alone in our thoughts at the same time – with new friends and old.  I continued to be blessed and surrounded in my life with people like these folks — crazy?  a bit.  Loving and kind — a lot.

Have I mentioned how much cocoa tea we had?  Oh and check out the wawqi’s headlamp holding the sugar.  I hope one of us left him ours.

Wait till you see this – 

We came down from tea and breakfast was waiting. We had our last breakfast el fresco and the cook made us quinoa pancakes with bananas and kiwi! What a treat and with maple syrup. They don’t have pancakes in Peru and they made it just for us.

This has to be my favorite picture and moment of our trip:

Today our destination was down to the Machu Picchu.  It would take us 5 hours through a vast set of Inca terraces full of swallows and orchids

Omar

Omar was all about the “MOUNTAIN”.  We loved him. He was so knowledgable about plants, birds and was always talking and learning from others.  He was also the one that would teach us about the traditional beliefs and you could feel the deep pride he had for his country and heritage.

Hey — Llama ahead! Yes, we were told to put our hiking poles on the right side and simply pass them.

They don’t call me a Llama Mama for no reason….

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If you look to the left of the picture in the middle you see some buildings.  Yes, that is what we need to get to for our lunch.

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But first navigating down the steps…

After another amazing lunch complete with jello.   This would be our last time we would be with our wawqi’s.  We had a thank you ceremony for them and shook each hand, thanking them for their service and presented them with a tip. It was such an honor to do so after seeming how hard they worked to make our experience seamless.

We said goodbye and started the final leg of the trip.  Chino had one more surprise for us.    We got to the Winaywayna sign and he had us look down to the right and face the mountain side.  He then had us all turn around at once to see this:

and this

Winaywayna

The name means “forever young” in Quecha. At this site, the Inca terraced the entire mountainside for growing food, and built a two-level complex connected by a cascade of fifteen baths. Since it is only 3miles from Machu Picchu it is thought that it was a  religious center.  The complex is divided into two architectural sections, with temples at the top and more rustic structures below. As many as 19 different springs carry water to various stone baths located at different levels throughout the characteristic Inca terracing.  We had a few moments to explore and experience the majesty like this pic —

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And then of course one of us had to make the most of it !!

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And 2 hours later we reached our destination.  We all stopped on the trail just before the Sun Gate – or Intipunku.  It is believed that this was some kind of control gate for the people who enter and go out of Machu Picchu.  It was a celebration thanks to Izzy for the chocolate. It was a first glance of the site.  If you are wondering what the zig-zag roads are that is the only way up to the site by tourists.  Yes, will tell you about the bus that we took to get down and up again on those roads.

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We would not be touring today but walking past it to get to a bus to take us into town where a shower and bed awaited. We were a bit bedraggled looking group and very pungent as we passed the tourists. A cold beer while waiting in the long line for the bus hit the spot. We took a crazy bus ride down the side of a mountain into town and found our hotel the High Classic. It was quaint and beautiful and most importantly had an elevator

 

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July 28th: Dead Women’s Pass: 16kl  

Today was the big day. It was going to be a 11 hour day climbing up and down two passes. I was either going to make the 13,800 foot pass or would be a dead women myself. We were starting from approximately 12,300 which may not seem like a lot of elevation but at that altitude and the rise it was tough. Well, I am writing this so I made it but not without going through some of hardest physical and emotional times along the way.

They woke us up at 5:00am, breakfast at 5:30am and started walking by 6ish. This picture shows the pass we are heading for over my left shoulder. Look for the boob with the nipple.  Oh, sure it looks close enough…… 

At about 9am I reached the pass. Chino was playing music, the family was cheering and my roomie came down to meet me with a snickers bar.  Once you reached the top we received a pin for our hats by Omar.

A quick rest, a few pics and then down we go. We had another 2 hours of a rocky trail before we would stop for some soup.

On the way up when ever a Wawqi was passing us you had to stop  to let them pass – and of course yell out Allillachu Wawqi to them – Hello Brother!  Going down was a bit different because on top of carrying 50lbs on their backs in addition to navigating the rocks they like to run down. We could keep walking but had to stick to the mountain side as they ran by. Just……..unbelievable to see their agility and strength.

There were so many times I would look back and see where I came from.  It was true amazing what Mr. Peru (ask me about that) and I did — I mean we all did.  My F-A-M-I-L-Y.

Down that side of the mountain and then a nice lunch was waiting for us at around 3:00pm.   The goal was to get to our campsite before sundown and all we had left was a more gentle 2 hour hike to our 11,300ft campsite.  It was amazing and a little scary at the same time. It was on top of peak proving the most glorious views. It was very cold and we were tired.

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We all hopped in our tents to rest and get ready for the cold night ahead. Dinner at 7:00pm, bed by  8:30pm. I did it. We did it, as a family does – supporting and loving each other……um, hate to interrupt this wonderful moment of celebration to tell you that we were just told that we are waking up again early, early, early to climb up a hill to see the sunrise.  La la Salama…….

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July 27th: Up With The Chickens

Did I tell you we were sharing our campsite with chickens?  At 6am the Wawqi’s came around with cocoa tea and hot water.  Today’s hike would take us from 8,737 to 12,300 ft. It was a beautiful hike — always up of course.  Wow – it was always amazing to look back to see how far and high you came.  We started at the bottom on the brown mountains just the day before.

Our campsite was always “just a little further”  – but I heard instead of chickens we would have Llamas.  It is hard to see but the little red dot is a farmer with Llamas and we are heading there.

 

My Roomie – Linda

Linda and I were tent and hotel mates.  It was so much of her support and love that added so much to my experience of this trip.  Overnight we would get into our tent and there would always be a break out of the giggles.  We were told that it was going to be very cold this night – down in the 30’s/40’s.  On top of that we had the longest and hardest hike the next day.  We would sit in our tent and meticulously plan out how we were going to keep warm, what we were going to wear the next day and the most important conversation was about how we were going to get up in the middle of the night to pee.  The grey tent was not that far away, but when you have to leave the warmth of you sleeping bag in the middle of the night it is a long and cold walk. Sooooooo, sometimes you just go outside your tent.  I have no idea what time it was, but I had to go.  I unzipped the tent and I hear from Linda “be careful when you pee – it flows towards the tent.  Well that started the giggles.  Then trying to get back in the tent and in the sleeping bag was like trying to stuff the Michelin Man in a stuff sack.  That was it — we both just burst.

 

This is a Linda stroke of genius — she used her puffy jacket to keep her feet and legs warm.

Thank you Pablo – we decided instead to go with Paul’s suggestion of filling our water bottles with hot water as a thermos to keep our feet warm.  Perrrrrrrrfectissssimo.

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July 26th: Ollantaytambo and Our First Day on the Trail.

We packed up for the hike and first stopped at archeological site of Ollantaytambo.

This was our introduction to the engineering minds of the Incas. The walls are all built by stone and the further you climb the more amazing the craftsmanship is. In the pic above you can easily imagine how they used rocks to form create the walls closer to you. Well, wait until you start to go up.

As we climbed higher the rock construction would change.  Look at the pics below.  It starts out at the “Wow – how did they get the rocks up here and how did they get the rocks to be seamlessly fit tougher – amazing”

Then you get to the “how the hell” section.

And, then the “that’s impossible it must have been aliens” section.

We made a quick stop at a local store on the way to the trailhead and bought my poles and a sun hat- the last two items I needed to start.

We met up with our porters who were packing up for the trip. There would be 32 of them to support the 17 of us. Chino explained to us that the word porter is not the proper word to use since these people are Quetchwan. The way we were asked to refer to them are our Wawqi – or brother of man. So, from now on you will see me use the word Wawqi

We went through 2 check points where we had to show our passports to make sure they match the names on the permits we had to have to climb. This is a controlled park and only 500 a day are allowed on the trail. Across the Urubamba River and up we started.

Our first surprise from Chino was when we came to the top of a pass. All we could see was a big cliff and a high drop off. He made us turn around lock arms and walk backwards. He had Omar and Edu in back of us for reassurance we would not go over. Yea…..He had us stop, turn around and this is what we saw. It was their way of saying welcome to the Machu Picchu Camino!

After conquering my first height challenge i was feeling pretty good.

When we got to our first camp, Tarayoc the waiki’s were all lined up to clap and high-five us. Needless to say, they were always there ahead of us. Camp would be set up including the food tent, our tents and the bathrooms before we go there.

Inside our tents for two were two thermarest mattresses, our green duffel bags and sleeping bags. The waiki’s would bring a small bowl of hot water and soap to our tents to clean up.

Since this was our first night we had an introductory ceremony where the waiki’s introduced themselves to us and us to them. We presented them with a bag of cocoa leaves, which is a traditional exchange, to thank them for the work ahead.

There was tea at 6pm and an amazing dinner at 7pm of trout and vegetables. It is still a mystery how they bring everything up on their backs for 4 days and serve 3 meals a day for 17 people plus 32 Wawqi’s.  The most amazing group of men.

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JOI Goes to Peru

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

I went on another journey of inspiration. I traveled to Peru for two weeks. This trip is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first JOI climbers to Kilimanjaro. The 08’ers were kind enough to let an 09’er tag along for the trek. The first week included a 4 day, 43 km hike on the Inca Camino through the Andes to Machu Picchu. The second week will be a bit more of a relaxing tour of Cusco, Puno, Lake Titicaca and Lima. Though on a Rick French (Pack, Paddle and Ski) trip there is always a bit of adventure in everything we do. I am writing this after completing the first week and what a week it was. It was one of the most physically and emotionally challenges I have had and filled with some of the most loving, beautiful and spiritual moments too. It is hard to explain the combination of hardship and joy at the same time – but you know me, I will give it try. Let’s start at the very beginning…

The plane trip that would not end —

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The pic from the air is to help tell two stories. The first one is that the trip here did not start out nor end as expected. So, I will tell you the second one first.  This was the first time we saw a glimpse of the Andes.  I was not expecting them to be so grand and of course did not consider that I would be trekking through them in a few days.  They are spectacular from the air and from the ground.

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The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world and the only ones taller are the Himalaya Mountains.  I have never experience such majesty and beauty.

The part of the flight story is that our 7am flight was cancelled out of Rochester.  They shipped us up to Toronto for a 6 hour layover.  When boarding the flight from Toronto to Lima they would not let us the flight because American Airlines never issued us a ticket.  Once we got that figured out we got on the flight and sat for 3 hours.  Finally taking off we got to Lima at 530am instead of 1030pm the night before – just in time to meet the rest of the group for our flight to Cusco. Oh, wait it gets better.  We land in Cusco and no luggage.  I did not get it until a week later.  Yes, with all my gear, clothes, boots, you name it.  Ended up borrowing a little bit from the group and buying at local markets to get me through the trek. So the outfits you see me wearing on the trek are not of my choosing.   It was awful but got through it.  So enough of that.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Chino

We arrived in Cusco and met by our guide Chino – real name is RRRRRRRRRRubin.

Chino would be our main guide for the first week.  He became everything to us, our tour guide, our trek leader, our historian, our supporter, our cheerleader, our problem solver, our friend and family.  We were also joined by Omar and Edu other wonderful and amazing guides that I will introduce to you later.

Pisac Citadel

First stop was Pisac Citadel – our first Inca site.  We quickly learned that there are 1000’s of Inca sites across the country with only a small percentage discovered and accessible.

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Pisac, a word of Quechua origins, means “partridge”. Inca tradition dictated building cities in the shape of birds and animals, and as such, Pisac is partridge shaped. The Inca ruins included a military citadel, religious temples, and individual dwellings, a cemetery and overlooks the Sacred Valley, between the Salkantay Mountains.

The “ridges” on the hillside are called terraces and we would soon see them everywhere. These terraces are how they developed farm land on mountainsides. The terraces leveled the planting area, but they also had several unexpected advantages. Here is a great site to learn more about this farming technique.

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It is hard to see in this pic but this is the side of a very steep mountain next to the site.  It is a cemetery.  If  you look hard you can see holes in the side and steps leading up to them.  You can’t tell from the pic, but there are 100s of them.  When people died they were embalmed with local herbs, put into a fetal position and placed in the side of the mountain. The mountains were their father and the earth their mother. This way they would be reborn.  We will come to learn how important the spirit of nature was part of the culture and part of their souls – an apparently mine.

After a lunch of llama — yes, you read that right we went to the Villa Urubamba.  Exhausting first day but already an amazing journey.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

We were up early and went to the archeological site of Moray.

It was a fascinating to learn just how advanced the Incas were. Yesterday, we learned about the terraces.  This site showed the terraces in circles. The full purpose behind these concentric terraces isn’t fully known. However, it is widely believed that these ruins were once an agricultural laboratory. Each one of these terraces are a different depth, design and orientation to the sun, wind and temperature. These different micro climates at the different levels allowed them to study wild vegetation.

From there we walked to help get acclimated to the elevation and low and behold we came around the corner and there was lunch and the grey tent. For all my Kili climbing friends this will look so familiar and brought back such wonderful memories.

We even got a demonstration on how to use the grey tent since this would be our bathroom for 4 days on the trail. After lunch Chino “schooled” us about our days ahead and what to pack.

We then went to the Maras Salt Mines. This is an association of 350 families. Each of these pools are fed by an underground spring that starts to fill the bottom ones by a series of channels As they get filled rocks are placed to stop the flow and the next one is filed and so forth. It can take from 7 to 20 days to harvest the salt depending on the winds.

The Market

We stopped at a local market to see the Wegmans of Cusco.

So my luggage is not going to be here in time for my climb. We started looking for sweats, a jacket and underwear. Have you ever tried to shop with a group of people especially men for underwear and pants? You are lucky if you haven’t. I was also lucky – more then you know, and blessed.  My lady gang of Linda, Linda and Char formed a pride around me, kicked the men to the curb and found me some things to wear.

Chicha

After that experience, Chino took us to a Checharina where they make Checha of course. It is a traditional drink made of corn. They also had a flavored one of strawberries which was much tastier.

Our last meal was at a wonderful restaurant in town called El Huacatay. Then home to pack for the trip.

We were given one small green duffle that we could fill with what we wanted to have on the mountain.  The porters would carry these along with our sleeping bags. Since I did not have one I needed to rent one from the touring company. We also would carry our daypack and that was it for the next 4 days. The rest of the luggage would be waiting for us when we returned to Cusco the following Monday which for me…….we still did not  know where mine was.

 

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 Xie Xie Taipei 

What is bubble tea?

I am glad you asked. It is one of those must try items in Taipei and we we’re not going to leave without tasting it.  So, Thursday before our flight we went to seek this drink out.


Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented  in the 1980s- of course the 80’s.  Most bubble tea recipes contain a tea base mixed/shaken with fruit or milk, to which chewy tapioca balls and fruit jelly are often added.

The first sip was quite the surprise when those jelly-tapioca-chewy-thingys hit your mouth. It was a nice send off for us as we depart on our 20+ hour trip to Chicago.

What is next for Chris? The team has a game against Czech Republic on Friday and South Korea on Saturday and then the final games where they will compete for a medal. There is a great explanation here.

It was truly an honor to be here for the first week of the games rooting on the Hawkeyes and the whole Team USA.  Tapei could not have been a more gracious host.  And, to experience this with my wonderfully, beautiful, and amazing cousin was priceless. We both leave with a new found respect and admiration for the country, its culture and most importantly its people.

 Xie Xie Taipei

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A Day of Unexpected Adventures. 

During the game on Tuesday night, a women wearing a Cubs tshirt came in to watch the game and sat in our section. Well, you can guess who jumped up to meet her (Mar is from Chicago and a high fan).  Turns out she and her husband are from a suburb of Chicago and now live in Taipei. They left their careers in the states to experience teaching abroad and now both teach at the Taipei American School.


She invited us for a tour of the school the next morning which just happened to be a few blocks from the stadium where Iowa was playing Japan.  What an amazing facility.  They have 2300 students K-12. It is an American-based education but as they describe it with a global perspective where the best of east and west is presented.  Well, you can guess who jumped up to ask questions about the opportunity to teach abroad (that would be me).

USA 5, Japan 11

We did not get the win but because we won the first two games we still advance to the medal round. The games are live here in Taipei but are not being streamed to USA for what we have been told-political reasons.


Celebrity Moms

After the game we headed up to the athletes village to meet the boys and take them out to dinner. While waiting, folks would come up and ask for their picture taken with the Baseball Moms!  They were even interviewed on local TV.


We all met up and enjoyed a wonderful dinner together hearing all about their experiences as the athletes.



It was such a great day filled with unexpected adventures making it a bit hard to think about heading home.

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USA 13 Russia 3

The morning we spent navigating other venues and events. (There is a great story of our adventure that we decided not to make public for our self pride sake-but get a glass or two of wine in is and we will tell you the whole story).

The game on Tuesday was a night game starting at 630pm. We were thrilled and anticipated the coolness of the night. Did I tell you how freakin hot it is here??? Ok, to be fair it did drop to under 90.  The game was at a different stadium which we brilliantly navigated ourselves to-we are so proud how we mastered the MRT and a little help from Uber!


The Iowa alumni was out in full force to root on the boys to their victory.  When it comes to sports, it really doesn’t matter what country you are from- there is respect shown for the dedication and effort.



After each game we go and wait for the boys to get on the bus. There are 3 Moms, a cousin and an Aunt here so at least three boys get warm hugs, encouragement from family.

But we aren’t their only biggest fans. The ex-pats and locals come to meet the boys and show their support, ask for autographs and take pictures. So, so cute and a thrill for the boys.

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Taipei 101

No, this is not a quick lesson on all things Taipei. Though if you would like one here is a link. The Taipei 101 is the name of the tallest building in Taipei. It was actually the tallest in world until 2010!


It used to have the fastest elevator in the world, traveling at 60.6 km/h and got us from the 5th to 89th floor in 37 seconds.

You can see the stadium where we were for opening ceremonies!

Most of the city is located in the Taipei Basin, an ancient lakebed. Chris had Monday off and the team was going to site seeing so we decided to catch up with them. We were able to have lunch with him at where else:


We decided to check out one of the famous night markets.

Shilin Night Market

This is one of the biggest and most famous of the many night markets in Taiwan. It was filled with stalls of food, clothing and more cell phone cover shops then you could count. It is where most of the locals will do their shopping with the typical malls that we know of filled with high end designer stores.

MaryEllen and I being the adventurous foodies fell in love with this snack so much that we are bringing some home for all to try. You won’t be disappointed.

Ok, kidding of course.

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Did we tell you how hot it is yet?

Second longest and hottest consecutive days over 90. Plus, 100% Humidity makes it feel over 100. We sometimes go into stores just to stand in front of their fans.  We had a beautiful Ice Angel take pity on us in a store and offered us ice for our drinks.


TyphoonSeason 

Heto came in at the south end and brought a much needed breeze to us in the north. Chris has had two night games where it dipped to a low low of 83…….and of course with the humidity.  It is a sweating palooza!

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Mastering the MRT and the First Big Win

Sunday we decided to master the mass transit system to take in some culture on our own. BUT,  first a stop at our favorite International Buffet to see what the serve for lunch. Oh, my, my, my…..I think you get the essence.


Ok-back to mastering the MRT.


It is probably the cleanest, easiest system we both have tackled outside the US-and quite frankly inside as well!  It reminded us more like an airport shuttle system, but complete with lovely music and free WIFI! (And no urine smell, garbage or people begging for money)


We were also “schooled” on how to properly queue up-I am sure this would work in the NYC subways.

 

 

Only when the cold season comes, then we know the pine tree and the cypress are the last to lose there leaves.

Guess who says that?


Confucius Temple
This temple was the largest and most ancient of China’s Confucius temples. It is located at the original site of Confucius residence, it has grown over the course for some 2,000 years and serves as a blueprint for Confucius temples in every province of China.

Play Ball!

The first game was played against Hola! Mexico at  the Taipei Tianmu Baseball Stadium. 


Chr​is led off the game as the first at bat, with

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a local alumni crowd cheering him on.


At the end it was a W!!!!!!!