Location: Cuzco

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STEPH! Our morning began with delicious banana pancakes and Muna tea in the little yellow terrace overlooking the city and a gorgeous mountain range. Our last moments in the wonderful city of Cusco (pronounced “Cosco”) were unfortunately spent crawling up the “stairs of death” with our bulging backpacks and duffels towards the bus. (Most of us made it to the top.) We fondly looked out of the windows towards the crowded streets and dangerously swerving cars as we headed towards our next destination – the Sacred Valley.

Our first stop on the way was an Alpaca and Llama farm! (For anyone who’s seen Emperor’s New Groove, there was this one llama that looked way too much like Emperor Cusco.) We went on a path through open stalls containing many different types of alpacas and llamas, feeding them with leaves and stems on the way. Although they were really cute, some of the alpacas looked like glorified rugs. The (attempted) llama selfies we took all required leafy bribes, or else the llamas would look at us with an amused look on their faces before walking away haughtily. Past the farms were examples of how Alpaca wool was dyed with natural sources such as different leaves or plants. A single purple bug could produce five different colors when mixed with salt or other natural elements. We watched native girls spin spools of colored alpaca wool, and gasped in admiration as they hand-weaved the wool into intricate designs. Our group explored the gorgeous articles for sale, only to discover that they were way over our lowly-student souvenir budgets. We did find these luxurious Alpaca fluffy slippers, (if any parent wishes to sponsor or purchase these for themselves or us, please contact us.) It feels like you’re walking on clouds.

Afterward, we headed to Pisac, “a beautiful Incan site” with gorgeous terraces made out of many layers of dirt, large boulders and “llama poo.” These terraces served as means of irrigation for farming of many Peruvian staples, such as corn and potatoes. The site was named after a special native bird, and in the worship of the condor – a sacred bird to the Incans. A nearby mountain towered over us, and Puma (our nickname for our Quechua tour guide) told us that the mountain was filled with ancient Incan tombs and that some of the tombs still contained perfectly intact mummies! ‘Twas very interesting.

Our group rushed back to the bus to get to the long-awaited Pisac market. We weaved in between the many colorful stalls and tables of silver jewelry, searching for that one perfect bargain deal. Most of us crowded around the cute multicolored woven bracelets with little beads and gorgeous patterns (I’m fairly sure that every one of us has at least a few bracelets tied in dead knots around our wrists – whether they’re from our friendship bracelet sessions at Casa Mantay or if they were purchased at a store during our trip. Rainbow is the new black.) Some of us bought adorable “100% Alpaca” sweaters, “100% Silver” rings and pendants, and cute backpacks as gifts for family and friends (and ourselves.) We only had a precious 30 minutes to dash from stall to stall, pick and choose, and bargain in our perfected broken Spanish. However, I do not doubt that great deals were discovered today.

Lunch consisted of a (much appreciated by our constantly-hungry male participants) ALL YOU CAN EAT buffet. The sweet potatoes were amazing in our appetizer make-your-own salad! We were offered many different types of vegetable or meat curries, and one lentil curry, in particular, tasted exquisite. I know my friend Noah greatly appreciated the rich chocolate mousse(s) they offered as dessert.

The Peru Crew had mixed feelings about the mountain biking “expedition” we were scheduled to go on. Despite the many apprehensions and attempted consolements, a handful of us did finish the whole trail. A van and a bus followed us along the way to pick up any brave stragglers who had had enough of bouncing on a hard bike seat over the very rocky dirt roads. It was admittedly a slightly “booty-bruising” experience, yet the breath-taking views of the fields, mountains, farm animals (like cows) and bodies of water made it all worth it. Tired but content with our performance (and how many black pigs we saw), the last survivors clambered onto the bus at the end of the trail to head to our next hotel.

We love this hotel. Our group of four girls (Avery, Steph, Sophia and I) got lucky enough to be assigned this charming and marvelously spacious loft as our home-away-from-home for the night. Equipped with SOAP, a heavenly functioning shower, and a toilet that doesn’t sound like a motorcycle engine coming to life each time it flushes, the loft is a dream come true. A friendly nine-month-old German Shepherd greeted us in the “very Zen” back garden. Dinner was delicious and filled with laughter over our “highs and lows” and “kudos” we sent to special people that influenced our day for the better. A bunch of us then gathered around a table outside, wrapped in thick and soft wool blankets, to “chill” (teenage slang for listening to music, chatting and in this case – stargazing.) The stars out here are beautiful and are a very rare sight for someone who hails from the 24/7 bright city of Shanghai. We spent a lot of time unwinding from the exciting day, and identified the milky way and three shooting stars! It was a great time to reflect on our amazing experiences, and I enjoyed getting to know our group better as individuals. I’m so glad Lifeworks brought such like (and occasionally different)-minded people together because it makes for such an interesting group of people who come from such different backgrounds yet ultimately all care about a single goal – serving someone other than yourself. Thanks for reading, I can’t wait to see what they throw at us next!