Location: Cuzco

The day began with a quick start: the fire alarm served as our alarm clock for the day, and everyone was up, alert, and out of bed before 7 AM. I’m sure Mariana, Jose, and Bill were quite pleased. Breakfast was our usual buffet of eggs, sliced bread, butter, jelly, fruit, and coffee, and after we ate and retrieved a few forgotten things from our rooms, we set out for the day.

Today was the very first day of our journey where we were separated from the Footsteps of the Inca group (high key so sad) but our group adjusted seemingly quickly to the new, more intimate group dynamic. We dropped the Footsteps group off at Santa Teresa and then headed for Casa Mantay.

Upon arrival there, Jose instructed us to cover the entire (yes, entire) second floor of the main building in the newspaper (yes, newspaper). The day´s activities consisted mainly of painting the railings on the second floor, and thus, the newspaper was necessary to shield the wood floor from paint stains. Painting railings sounds like a relatively simple task, but I can say with certainty that painting railings, is in fact, a relatively difficult task that requires much tactical painting skill. We are now of equal painting skill to Bob Ross. Each section of the railing had 16 rails, attached by a top and bottom rail. Each rail had four sides, one facing outward into the atrium, and painting the sides facing outward required us to angle our arms so that we wouldn´t get paint on ourselves (the paint only comes off with paint thinner!).

After a couple of hours at work, the group headed outside to the playground where we sat in a circle on the trampoline and had a snack break. We ate peanuts, cookies, and chips (everyone avoided the granola bars) as we played broken telephone, which ultimately proved a surprisingly hilarious game. We headed back in to paint some more and listened to Spotify´s Top 50 playlist as we worked. Kids and their mothers also waved at us from the first floor as they watched us work. Then came lunch. Lunch was Chaufa, which is rice with vegetables, hot dogs, and chicken (in my case, just vegetables ·#VegetarianSquad). We thanked the moms on kitchen duty for a delicious lunch, rinsed our bowls and utensils in the sink, and headed back outside to the playground to play with the kids. A few of us sat on the trampoline with some of the kids as they laughed, jumped on us, and ran in circles. Some of the kids grabbed our cameras and snapped enough photos to fill a portfolio. They´re so cute and friendly and excited that we´re there. It is the most heartwarming sight and experience on the planet.

Our time with the kids came to an end for the day as we had to return indoors to complete our painting for the day. Some of the kids followed us indoors and tried to help us paint. A girl named Raquel (yes, we have the same name) grabbed my paintbrush and began brushing a rail all while dressed in her school uniform. It was SO cute. She´s adorable.

We eventually finished painting and departed Casa Mantay for the day, and for the first time on this trip, we all fell asleep on the bus ride back to the hostel. We had some time to rest and refresh before we convened for a reflection circle session. Bill read us a quote that spoke of the differences between fixing, helping, and serving, and we broke out into a discussion of how those differences relate to our mindsets and perspectives of our service. It was quite the meaningful discussion, and we collectively came to the conclusion that viewing service as fixing it is negative, but viewing service as serving, as a mutually beneficial relationship, and identifying the potential to create lasting relationships with those we work with is the most effective way to do service.

We ventured out for dinner after reflection time to a burger place called Toro, which had a solid veggie burger and an AMAZING hot sauce (literally just kept asking everyone at the table to pass it to me). We brought back a broken telephone for a couple of rounds after we finished eating. It is honestly underrated and deserves much more recognition; it is an absolutely amazing time.

We returned to the hotel where we took a Salsa dancing class, which was one of the best, funniest, most immersive cultural experiences we´ve participated in thus far. A few of the boys partnered with some local girls because of our group´s disproportionate numbers. I partnered with my brother Robert (yes, Mom and Dad, Robert, and I did the salsa, and he actually got it down). Truly an amazing, unforgettable hour. The group also grabbed some paletas for a little evening snack.

I now sit in the hostel´s library and write this grand narration of today. Parents, if you´re reading this, love, and miss you. Robert and I are alive and thriving. Mariana, Jose, and Bill are taking great care of us, and we´re living our best life. Hope you enjoyed it. Goodnight. Raquel out.