Feliz Año! Happy New Year!

Greetings from Peru!

This blog post comes to all our friends and family a bit later than planned and we apologize: We were too busy conquering THE WORLD´S DEEPEST CANYON!! After three days trekking through the Colca Canyon, the OG Peru Winter Break crew has arrived safe and sound to the city of Arequipa, just in time to ring in the new year!

Though we are only five days into our trip, with our experiences so far and the way the group has come together, it feels like so much longer!

Our journey together began in the coastal capital of Lima where we truly hit the ground running. Cruising around the colourful districs of Mirafores and Barranco on local buses and combi vans, we had our first taste of Peruvian cuisine – ceviche, causa, huancaina, – got aquainted with the locals, and started settling into Peruvian culture! Our second day had the crew out scouring the streets to answer Peruvian trivia, take photos and practice our bargaining skills for the best deals in our Lima Scavenger Hunt! We finished the day with a home cooked meal of lomo saltado (stir fried beef with vegetables and french fries) and a crash course in Spanish. Buen provecho!

Our first encounter with the long-distance bus rides VERY common to travel in Peru was a 16 hour overnight bus into the Andes to Arequipa, the white city. Named for the use of sillar, a white volcanic rock used for many of it´s beautiful colonial-era buildings, the city sits under the shadow of the El Misti Volcano. We headed straight into the chaos of the San Camilo Market to try the local specialty, Rocoto Relleno (hot pepper stuffed with meat and vegetables in a peanut sauce!) December is the beginning of the rainy season and sure enough the sun set with a major rainstorm. A great opportunity for empanadas, hot chocolate, and discussion on what it means to volunteer abroad, the pros and cons of development work, and why we are here.

Our next adventure was into the Colca Canyon. At 4160m one of the deepest canyons in the world. We chose to do our trek through a local organization concerned with the effects of tourism on the canyon. Like Operation Groundswell, they promote responsible and ethical travel. Their treks work to support traditional lifestyle in the canyon as well as help fund education projects they run in the city of Arequipa.

A great organization, but about that 3am wake-up call? It was an early start to a tough hike down 2,000 metres into one of narrowest parts of the canyon. Definitely a challenge, but we had a chance to see the famous Andean Condors, learn about local medicinal plants, and enjoy spectacular views during our descent. We stayed the night with a wonderful local family and spent the next morning helping on their farm cutting alfalfa, picking fresh cactus fruit, pears, and apples, digging potatoes and searching out the biggest and best pea pods! Using traditional tools we learned how hard people work in the canyon and truly appreciated what it is like having fresh fruits and vegetables from your own farm! The kitchen had one less guinea pig running around after our lunch of cuy (traditional dish made from our furry friend) and the vegetables we got from the garden!

After one last night in the belly of the canyon we made our ascent early this morning to a well deserved lunch and a dip in the natural hotsprings. Tonight we ring in the New Year in style back in Arequipa all decked out in yellow, the color of the day here in Peru!

Tomorrow we start a new chapter as we head to Pisco to begin our volunteer work there. Ravaged by earthquake in 2007, the city is still recovering. We will be working with a local NGO there in various projects within community development, construction, and education. We are all excited to start and definitely ready to get our hands dirty!

Flying high, the OG Peru Winter Break crew only gets closer as we delve into the real Peru. Why? Because OG doesn´t take tour buses, we don´t sit in the dining hall while our trekking guide cooks, and we are not confined to the “gringo trail”. We cram into local combi vans, jump into the kitchen and cook with him, and we go to places most tourists haven´t even heard of. Livin´ like locals. Lovin´ life.

Happy New Years from the OG Peru Winter Break Crew!

Hasta Pronto!

(we promise there are pictures to come!)