Category: friends

Catching up on life

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind.  A new marriage, lots and lots of birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a dance event, a skiing trip in Colorado, huge amounts of interpersonal drama, and new jobs for both Michael and myself have proven to be just about all that I can handle.

It is ironic that, although I have been writing more than I ever have in my entire life, I think it’s the longest I’ve been silent on this blog since I started it.  Most of my time lately has been taken up writing for my new blog, forgingsignificance.com.  Right after the wedding I spent several weeks working on some quillwork for an artists’ market at my church, but since about mid-December I have officially taken the plunge and started working full-time toward becoming a freelance writer.

Since then, my days have consisted of lots of website tweaking and beating the pavement trying to submit articles to other sites.  I’ve consistently written at least twice a week on my own blog for several months now, as well as already had 3 articles accepted in other places.  Sometimes it’s frustrating and feels like I’m not making any progress; but then I remind myself that I’ve really only been at this a few weeks, and that helps puts things into perspective for me.

This post is just a brief summary, both for your sakes and mine, of what I’ve been doing the past few months.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write more regularly on here now that I’m in the swing of things :).

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Michael and I had the opportunity to go visit my New Jersey grandparents in October, just a few weeks after we were married.  I was so grateful that Michael had the chance to meet them both, but especially my grandfather, as he ended up passing away just a few weeks later.  We all miss him a lot.  He left quite a legacy.

I was able to do a few fall-specific things, like carve a pumpkin with Michael, meet my friend Sarah in Ellijay for their Apple Festival, and go to the Perry fair with my mom and younger siblings.  That was a really fun afternoon.  Perry is about half-way between Atlanta and Albany, so we met in the middle and made a day trip of it.  It’s hard to develop a relationship with your siblings when you live far away and they can’t drive and don’t have cell phones, so I’m always grateful for the opportunities that we do get.

I once again hosted a Christmas party this year, except this time I did 3 days in a row of Christmas parties!  We took this idea from a friend, and the thought was to try to incorporate as many people as possible, while also making an effort to focus on different aspects of the Christmas season.  So the first night was “celebrating friends,” which was basically my normal Christmas party.  I made dinner, we played games, decorated gingerbread cookies, etc.  One of the games was a new one – I wrapped little treats in saran wrap and made people unwrap the ball with oven mitts on.  It was actually a lot more fun than I expected!  You can read more about that here.

The other 2 nights were “celebrating others” and “celebrating God,” where we wrote letters to troops and did a lessons and carols service, respectively.  We had almost a completely different group every night, and it was really a lot of fun!  I was definitely tired by the end of day 3, though :).

One of the highlights of the last few months was New Year’s Eve.  Michael and I spontaneously decided to go to Birmingham for the night.  And it was really so much fun!  We hung out, played games, watched the ball drop, and enjoyed a great breakfast the next morning with people we love.  Nothing different from what usually happens when I go to Birmingham for NYE, but considering how much drama has been swirling around Michael and I lately, it was a welcome and much-needed respite.  You can read more about that trip here.

I also really enjoyed my birthday celebration a few days later.  It was a pretty low-key affair, but I was surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world (including my mother-in-law, who had just had knee surgery and could hardly walk!  It really meant a lot that she made the effort to come out.  I have great in-laws).  We had a potluck dinner and then went to downtown Atlanta to see the Christmas lights in Centennial Park.  The lights were gorgeous, and we even got a funnel cake!  I suppose that was my pseudo birthday cake, haha.

Several of my friends also brought gifts to the potluck, and as I opened them, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful they all were.  These people who had come to celebrate me together really cared about me.  I know it seems silly, as most people would say it’s obvious that I’m cared about…but when it feels like you’re being surrounded by selfish emotional drama on all sides, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.  It was a wonderful night to be reminded that I’m cared for.

We went on a ski trip 2 weekends ago – Michael’s first time!  It was bitterly cold, but a lot of fun.  Even though I’ve been skiing several times before, I actually ended up being a lot more sore than he was.  I think I was so scared from how fast I thought I was going that every muscle in my entire body ended up tensing up, lol.  But we both made it through the day in one piece, so I count that as a victory! 🙂

All that aside, Michael and I have been trying to focus on taking care of ourselves and getting into a regular schedule.  We’ve become connected with a small group at church that focuses on outreach to internationals in Atlanta.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  I’ve also started part-time work teaching a beginner ESL class twice a week.  It’s quite a challenge when you have Spanish, Chinese, AND Russian speakers, and there’s no telling how many people will actually show up!

Now that things are starting to calm down a bit, I’m hoping to be able to update both blogs.  But for the most regular updates, be sure to head over to my new site (forgingsignificance.com) and sign up for my newsletter!  I always post there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Wedding love

Just over 3 weeks ago, I married my best friend.  My wedding weekend was the closest thing to perfect I could have asked for.  Despite rain the entire week before and after, including the night of the rehearsal, our wedding day stayed cloudy and cool all day long – perfect for pictures, not melting in the Georgia heat, and minimizing the mosquitoes.  It was, in fact, the only day without rain within a span of nearly 3 solid weeks.  Please remind me of that if I ever say God doesn’t answer prayer.

My wedding really was exactly what I had hoped for.  It went smoothly, with to my knowledge zero hiccups.  Everyone looked amazing, the decorations were beautiful, we were surrounded by people we love, we honored God, and it was a great party.  But that would have never been possible without the incredible amount of love and support we received from so many, many people.  The weekend and day of, of course, but also weeks and months prior.  From the beginning of our engagement, we’ve had people reach out to us and plan engagement parties, bridal showers, help us with logistics and details…much more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed of.  Michael’s parents hosted a lovely rehearsal dinner – with almost no input from me and Michael, which was definitely a blessing!  One less detail for us to worry about :).  We had people volunteer to make the wedding cake, run the sound equipment, do my hair and makeup, create a video recording of the ceremony.  We had friends meet together for weeks in advance so they could lead us in worship as our first act as a married couple.  Our minister and his wife met with and mentored us on several occasions.  My dad made us an exquisite “unity coffee table” – two separate slabs of wood representing me and Michael, joined together only by the symbolic wooden bonds of faith, hope and love.  It’s so beautiful.  I love it, even more so for the time and care that so obviously went into it.

Married life has not been a bed of roses.  I knew it would be hard, but the challenges we’ve faced so far have been unexpected, and thus caught us somewhat by surprise.  But I hope that I never forget how supported and loved I felt, how present God was in all of the details, how incredible my friends and family were (and are).  I honestly don’t have a lot more memories from my wedding, as the whole thing passed by in a bit of a blur.  However, a picture is worth 1,000 words, and I do have plenty of pictures to show you!  Enjoy the 2 albums below, from the rehearsal / rehearsal dinner and wedding day.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, the wedding day pictures are the same ones posted there.  There is also a video of the ceremony at the bottom – it’s about 40 minutes long, if you’d like to watch it.


Ringing in a quarter century

Well folks, it finally happened.  I am now officially 1/4 of a century old.  Michael planned a dinner at Red Lobster with some Atlanta friends the night before my birthday to celebrate, but other than that the actual day passed by fairly uneventfully.  The next weekend, however, I went to a dance event, and a couple weeks later I went to visit my dear friend Sarah in Houston.  I have decided that those were the rest of my birthday celebrations….your 25th birthday only happens once, might as well make it last the whole month, right? 🙂

The dinner at Red Lobster was nice, albeit quite low-key.  I was originally a little sad because a lot of my house church friends were still out of town, but that just meant that it ended up being a whole new group!  Chris and Julia, Michael’s parents, and my mentor from church and her husband were all there, along with several house church people who were still in town.  I felt very loved and cared for.  We were going to go bowling after, but instead we all went to my house to watch Million Dollar Arm, which had been given to me as a gift earlier that night.  I do so very much love having people into my home :).

The dance event, Sweet Side of Swing, is possibly my favorite event out of all the ones I’ve ever been to.  The leveled classes making learning easier for everyone, and every detail is attended to with such care that it makes it almost impossible to NOT enjoy yourself.  This year was even more special by the “Swing Literacy Development Training” course that I took.  This was an add-on that was offered in addition to the regular workshops and social dances….8 solid hours jam-packed with tips and techniques for teaching swing dance more effectively to beginner and intermediate dancers alike.  It was a really well-done workshop…I’m very much looking forward to implementing the things I learned at the weekly Atlanta swing dances!

But, as fun as Sweet Side of Swing was, the crux of the month was definitely my visit to Houston.  Aside from my brief dinner with her last year while I was in Houston for an interview, it’s been years since I’ve seen my dear friend Sarah.  We saw each other a lot while we were in Korea, and keep up regular phone conversations now that we’re both back stateside…but phone calls can’t hold a candle to seeing beloved friends in person.  I took advantage of the long weekend around MLK day to go see her…only got to spend a couple of days with her, but a couple of days is vastly better than nothing!  Sarah and Donnie are incredible hosts – possibly the best I’ve ever met – and also great friends….the two of those together made for one very happy houseguest!  Sarah picked me up at the airport, and then I was greeted at their home with a welcome sign and guest basket.  Over the course of 2 days, we managed to pack a lot in – game night, puzzles, church, a tour of NASA (Donnie works there), walking around an adorable little boardwalk and mini amusement park, and even a round of restaurant hopping (messy burgers in a sports bar with lots of character for dinner, and then drinks and cake at a gem of an establishment nestled right on the water afterwards).  And yet, somehow, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.  I guess that’s what happens when people who care for each other a lot just get to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.  I have decided that, even though they’re short, weekend trips are much better than nothing, and I’ll be making every effort to make more of them in the future!  So glad to be blessed with friends all over the world with whom I can pick life back up when I see them, no matter how long we’ve been apart!

 

The most wonderful time of the year

I have been looking forward to Christmas time since….well, probably since last Christmas, really.  It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year for me.  I love the lights, the weather, the foods, the gifts, the music (I am one of those people who start playing Christmas music in October)…it’s just such a festive, beautiful time of year.  I always do everything I can to make the most of it. Because I enjoy the season so much, Christmas festivities always start very early for me.  I think that the kick off this year would probably be the Tour of Homes that I took Michael on for a date in early December.  I don’t know what it is about home tours, but I find them exceedingly fascinating and enjoyable.  I’ve always enjoyed riding around and looking at homes from the outside…perhaps it’s just the extension of that activity that I find so much fun.  Whatever the reason, it was a blast.  There were 7 homes and 1 historic church on the tour, although we only made it to 6 homes before it ended for the day.  But even so, it was worth our time.  All of the homes were gorgeous, and on top of that most were decked out in all of their Christmas glory.  There were also different restaurants from around town that were offering food tastings at all of the houses.  We had apple and cheese wedges and a fancy meat and olive sampler and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup and key lime pie dessert shooters and lobster bisque and I’m forgetting the other one but they were all DELICIOUS.  Oh, and gawking at the gorgeous houses was pretty fun too, of course :).

The tour of homes was followed shortly thereafter with Michael taking me to see A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theater, which was FABULOUS.  I’ve wanted to go see that for years, but could never muster up the willingness to bite the bullet and pay the steep admission costs.  But Michael finally got me there, and it was totally worth it.  The set was beautifully done, and the actors and musical numbers were brilliant.  This version of the classic story also had a marked “gospel music” feel to many of the characters and songs, which was a new and enjoyable twist to a very well-known story.

A week or so later was my company Christmas party.  Michael has gone every year since the tradition was started, but this of course was my first time.  The highlight of the Brightlink Christmas party is the gingerbread house competition.  There are 3 rules – things can be prepared in advance, but nothing can be assembled ahead of time; everything must be edible; and you only have 1 hour to assemble your house once the contest gets going.  Some of the entries have gotten quite impressive.  There have been nativity scenes, a barn, an iconic building on the Georgia Tech campus, and an angry birds fight that involved a blowtorch and flaming marshmallows launched in a catapult-like contraption, just to name a few.  Employees are generally paired into teams with their spouses, but since Michael and I are dating we were also put into a team together.  Before this year, the gingerbread house that Michael was most known for was “Snowpacolypse” – he knew he wouldn’t get a house standing, so he put a bunch of marshmallows over the battered gingerbread and said a snowstorm had come through.  Oh dear.  I had actually never before built a gingerbread house in my life, but I knew that I wanted to at least get one standing, lol.

What we ended up with actually far exceeded my expectations.  We decided on a “beach house” theme, and I spent a long time the weekend before prepping everything I could beforehand.  I even made the gingerbread – Michael said that it look liked it had been store bought, a comment which I considered high praise, indeed.  We dyed blue icing for the water, made some grey icing for the mortar on the walls, and used a variety of different types of food to make the designs and textures that we were going for.  Some of my favorites included dried dates for the stones on the walls, triscuits for the roof, green peppers for the trees, fruit roll-ups for the towel and hammock, and crushed up cheerios for the sand.  It was fantastic!  I was so very pleased with the result….winning “chef’s choice” (the caterer’s vote) was just icing on the gingerbread (pun very much intended, haha)!

And then, of course, I also hosted my own Christmas party before leaving for Albany.  It is becoming a tradition – this is the third year that I’ve done it.  It was a blast, as always.  And this time I didn’t try to cram all of the prep work into a single day, which meant that I had enough energy to actually enjoy it by the time that people started showing up.  We had a nice dinner, decorated gingerbread cookies, played some Christmas games, made some silly photos in front of the Christmas tree, and then did a white elephant gift exchange that was really a blast.  Last year about 2/3 of the gifts were some form of chocolate, so this year I forbade anyone from bringing that, and it seemed to ignite people’s creative juices when it came to white elephant gift-buying.  There were books, and funny hats, and blankets, and house decorations, and even a bungee-cord chair.  That’s the one I ended up with :).  I really do very much enjoy hosting, and I love Christmas, and so throwing this Christmas party has probably become one of my favorite events that I host all year.

After the bustle of celebrating Christmas in Atlanta, though, it was nice to have a toned-down week in Albany.  Michael came with me, but we had very little in the way of planned activities.  One night we all went out to see Christmas lights, my grandfather took us out to dinner once, I went clothes or grocery shopping with various members of my family, and we watched several movies together (if you haven’t seen Annie yet, go see it!  It’s fantastic).  And then Michael cooked dinner for my entire family the last night that he was here to celebrate my birthday, which was lovely.  He really blessed all of us a lot over the course of the week.  But overall, Christmas week was a pretty low week, which was just what I needed.  A little R&R is a great way to start a new year! 🙂

Depth of life

For those of you who know me, it will surprise you to hear that I have not been dancing much lately.  I still can’t help but tap my toes whenever a catchy song comes on the radio, and I’m often walking with a swing in my step, swaying along to the music inside my head.  But when it comes to social dancing, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  I did go to a big dance event in Atlanta in October – and I placed 2nd in the competition that I entered!! – but other than that, I haven’t really done much dancing at all since May.

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

But I am ok with that.  I know that the funk will pass and I will love it just as much as I used to; but until then, I’ve been busy filling my time with plenty of other exciting things.  Michael has planned a few very exciting dates – a couple of my favorites were seeing Cirque du Soleil while they were in town (which was incredible, even though they didn’t let us take any pictures :[ ), and taking a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel that overlooks much of downtown Atlanta.  I don’t think I believe him when he says that his date ideas are boring :).

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away...

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away…

My friend Jess has made a yardsaling convert out of me.  If you know how much I hate to shop, you will understand that this is a very big statement.  But there’s something exciting about hunting down deals, about finding a treasure in the middle of a bunch of trash.  Perhaps I should take up dumpster diving as a hobby… 😉  But, despite my newfound affinity for yardsaling (I don’t think I’m converted quite enough to be able to say that I have an affinity for dumpster diving yet ;]), I haven’t been able to go very often.  My weekends have been taken up by other things – things like traveling, writing, seeing friends, or sometimes just baking yummy goods.

One of my recent personal culinary victories was making homemade challah bread.  Challah bread is a sweet ceremonial Jewish bread that takes hours and hours to make.  It’s not particularly difficult (except braiding the dough so that it bakes into a nice pretty pattern is somewhat challenging), but it has to rise 3 separate times, each time for several hours.  So, all in all, it takes close to half a day to make.  ANYWAY, I have this memory of making challah bread in our old house with my mom.  I don’t remember the occasion – it must have been over 10 years ago at this point.  All I remember is the sweet time that I got to spend with my mother.  Ever since then, I have wanted to make it again, but never had a sufficient reason to invest all of that time into it.

So when an older couple from my church invited me over to their house to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the tabernacle, and specifically asked me to bring challah bread, I jumped at the opportunity.  It took me 2 days to make it, but seeing her face when I arrived was totally worth it.  She had been expecting me to just pick up french bread, since no supermarket sells challah bread.  Her genuine joy and excitement when I walked in with a homemade loaf was more than enough payment for any extra effort required on my part.

My challah bread - it came out beautifully!

My challah bread – it came out beautifully!

A curious thing has been happening to me in Atlanta.  I still yearn for adventures in other countries and cities.  But I am also learning that depth of life matters just as much as breadth, if not more.   I am beginning to experience relational profundity that I could never dream to have by spending a few weeks or even months in a foreign country.  I am learning so much about myself and God and people in general.  Some of it is hard, tough, ugly, painful stuff.  Life gets messy when you get that close to someone.  But I would much rather experience these things and grow from them, than to stay in my own blissful bubble of relational ignorance and bankruptcy.  I do still yearn for adventures.  But I am learning, as my roots are growing  (at least for now) here in Atlanta, that adventures are even more exciting when you have dear people that you love and care for to share them with.  And that is a truly thrilling thought.

4th of July camping trip and visit to Berry

During my time in Atlanta, I have been blessed with some truly extraordinary friends.  Not only do we love each other dearly and care about what goes on in our lives, but we also like each other.  We spend lots of time together, just because we want to.  One of my favorite examples of this was this past 4th of July.  A big group of my small group members went camping in Cloudland Canyon for the holiday weekend.  Despite having a very inauspicious beginning – one of the cars broke down in the middle of nowhere, and a few people had to go back and get those passengers, and then drive up to Chattanooga at the end of the weekend to get a rental car to get everyone home again – it was an amazing weekend.  In fact, the car breaking down almost made it better – it was really awesome seeing how positive and upbeat everyone stayed…they just pulled together and did what needed to be done, and had a great time doing it!  Plus it gave us a great story later on… 🙂

Aside from our little vehicular misadventure, we did plenty of other more traditional activities – went hiking, made bonfires, found a fun little playground to reconnect with our inner children, played card games, and found a lovely little waterfall to hang out around for a bit (Elizabeth and Caleb even went swimming in it!  Crazy kids…).  It was such a nice, relaxing weekend; I was so grateful to be able to spend it with people that I cared about so much.

(continue reading past the pictures below for the rest of the story)

As a bonus, we even got to stop by Berry on our way home!  Caleb and several others in the group had always wanted to go to Berry but never had, and of course I will NEVER argue about a trip to Berry; since it only meant about an extra 30 minutes of drive time, we decided to make the detour and go visit the place where I have some of the best memories of my entire life.

I got to play tour guide for the people in my car – I was a very enthusiastic guide.  I felt a little bad for the guys in the other car, who were missing all of the stories.  Of course, my story-telling may have gotten a little too enthusiastic at times…perhaps I should have been feeling bad for the people in MY car, lol…

But anyway, we had enough time to visit all of my old haunts – my old dorms and the lovely mountain campus and the famous Frost chapel and the beautiful Old Mill and the original one-room schoolhouse that Martha Berry founded before Berry was even a glimmer in the future. We tried to go to the Martha Berry museum, since most of the people in the group had never been there before, but it was already closed :(.  But it was still a wonderful visit.  I always love going back to Berry, but going back with people who’ve never seen that part of my life before, but are eager to learn about it and hear my stories, just made the visit all the more sweeter.  It really was one of the best weekends of my year.  And to think I almost stayed home and missed it!  Many thanks go out to my friend (and now roommate) Amy for convincing me to go!

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lúcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

Adventures in the jungle of Chachapoyas

We left Cajamarca for Chachapoyas at 4:30 in the morning. Mind you, we are not intentionally masochistic – there’s only one bus a day that leaves for Chachapoyas, and that’s the time it leaves. Apparently it leaves that early in the morning because the road is so dangerous that they have to do the entire route in the daylight.

At first I thought that was silly, but after riding that road I realized that they were totally correct. You know you’re in for a treat when they hand out barf bags to everyone before the journey begins.  Almost the entirety of the 13 hour ride is a single lane road. And not only is it incredibly windy, but one side of the road has a mountain that butts right up to the side and goes straight up, so there is zero visibility around the corners, and the other side of the road is a sheer cliff that falls away hundred of feet below. Oh, and of course there are no guard rails or street lights. That would just be silly :p. At first I wondered why the bus driver was honking his horn so often, and then I realized that was the only way to warn any potential oncoming cars that we were right around the corner. Yikes. Needless to say, I was QUITE pleased when that ride was over.

We found a hostel with Alies and Willem, a young couple from Holland who had been on the same buses and tours with us since Cajamarca. Although I saw them a lot, I didn’t really start talking to them until the bus ride to Chachapoyas. But they turned out to be really interesting; I’m glad I made the effort. Anyway, even though Caro and I were tired from the trip from Cajamarca, we decided not to take a rest, and jumped right into it the next day. We started with a tour of Kuelap, called by some a second Machu Picchu. Although it was super cool, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment. Not because it wasn’t incredible in it’s own right, but the two are just so different it’s difficult to compare the two.

Kuelap is a pre-Incan settlement that is known for its circular buildings. They were eventually conquered by the Incans, and in some places you can actually see where the Incans imposed their own rectangular buildings over the preexisting circular structures. That was pretty cool, although it was also a stark visual image of the brutality that comes from a people conquering and imposing its own culture on another people.

The jungle-like atmosphere of Kuelap gave it a sort of eerie, otherworld sensation. Chachapoyas is considered to be a part of the amazon jungle, and the tropical plants had well overtaken the parts of the ruins that had not been excavated and taken care of. It gave the entire complex a muffled, almost dream-like quality. I really really enjoyed it. Even more so because, unlike Machu Picchu, Kuelap is not well known, and so there were very few people there.

The next day we went to Karajía and Quiocta. Karajía is a group of sarcophagus that were carved into the side of a mountain, while Quiocta is an enormous cavern about an hour outside of Chachapoyas. I really really enjoyed Quiocta. I’ve always loved rocks and caves and things underground, and Quiocta has all three.  The bats definitely freaked me out a little bit, but lucky for me bats are generally more scared of humans than the other way around :). And the mud!! Oh my word. We all had to rent knee high boots to help us trek through the thick, icky mud that was often well over a foot deep. But the closest boots they had to my size were a size and a half too big, so I kept slipping out of them. My poor feet were left with blisters that I expect will leave permanent scars. But that’s ok. It was totally worth it :). Scars show that you have lived, right?

After Quiocta, I must admit that Karajía was a bit of a disappointment. The pictures make it look fascinating, but what they don’t tell you is that the pictures were all taken with high-res and long-zoom cameras. The tombs of Karajía in real life are wayyyy up high on the side of a mountain, difficult to see and impossible to get closer to. Karajía for me was really just a scenic walk. But that’s ok, Caroline was happy, so I was happy :).

Our last day in Chachapoyas found us heading to Gocta, the 3rd largest waterfall in the world. That was by far the most exhausting of the three days – getting to Gocta requires a trek of nearly 3 hours each way, and it’s not a flat, easy trek, either. Huge inclines, steep slopes, jagged stairs, and slippery mud were all part of the package. But, while it was definitely an exhausting hike, the group we were with made it all worth it. There was Kate, the adventurous Australian with the fiery red hair who was traveling all over South America by herself. And Maribel, a native of Chiclayo who was just the sweetest thing you’ve ever met. And Javier, who was born in Lima but has spent the last 14 years in Miami. And of course, Robert. By happenstance, Robert was on the same tour as us all three days that we were in Chachapoyas. The first day I hardly spoke to him at all, but by the last day we had become friends and were talking up a storm. Aside from being just a swell guy, he was also super encouraging. By the end of the return trip from Gocta I was REALLY struggling; if it wasn’t for Robert’s encouragement I probably would have given up and asked for a horse to be sent for me. But thanks to him (and, of course, the jugo de caña, a sweet drink made from pure sugar cane that is sold on the way to Gocta to give travelers energy), I can say that I made it there and back without a horse!  Hooray!!

Although we weren’t actually at the falls for very long, Gocta itself was actually really interesting. The tremendous force of the falling water creates a windy vortex of sorts at the base of the falls. It was wild. Thirty yards away it was warm and still, but then as soon as you got closer to the falls it because super windy and very cold. Was a very unique juxtaposition of weather within a very small area of land.

Since we planned on taking a night bus to Chiclayo that evening, we had already checked out of our hostel. However, after the trek to Gocta and back, a shower was not optional, so we paid the hostel owner 5 soles each (roughly $2) to let us take a shower in the bathroom in the back. I think it was actually the owners’ home and personal bathroom. Welcome to Peru, lol. And then, it was time to catch our bus to Chiclayo! I went to the bus station with mixed feelings. By this time, I knew that Chiclayo would be my last city with Caro – we had swapped out the trip to the jungle for a medical mission trip in south Peru for me, and a trip to Argentina for her, so after Chiclayo we were going to have to split up. While I was sad to leave her, I was also super excited about the mission trip. I’ll have to leave the details of just exactly how God got me there for another time, however. That’s a story in of itself :).

Inauspicious beginnings

My first trip to South America had a rather inauspicious beginning. My plane was supposed to leave at 11:00 in the morning of Tuesday, May 13th;  however, I got an email notification that morning saying that it had been delayed until 12:30. Ok, no biggie, I’ll just get there a bit later. Michael, Elizabeth and Matt all saw me to the airport – I felt very loved. But then after we arrived, as I was checking in around 10:07, I looked at the departure board and saw that my plane had been moved back to its original time. Yikes! I spent the next 50 minutes in a panicked rush through the Atlanta airport, getting there just before 11:00. All that hustle and stress, and then the plane didn’t actually leave until almost 1:00. Apparently the crew got lost – that was why we left so late, cuz they just hadn’t shown up earlier :p.

But no worries, I still had a layover of several hours in Fort Lauderdale, even despite the delay in Atlanta.  I met a fascinating man named Joseph while I was waiting. He is Haitian, but grew up in the States, and is now back in Haiti working in an agricultural organization that he started to help the people of Haiti. He was a very inspiring man. I wish I could have spoken with him longer.

But anyway, my second flight was fairly uneventful. I met two girls, Adriana and Laura, who were doing a similar thing as I – winging it for the whole trip. Except their trip was only for 2 weeks, and not only had Laura never left the country before, but she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I thought that was a pretty gutsy trip for your first time out of the country :-).

I arrived in Lima around 10:00 pm. Mario, my pastor from South Korea who, conveniently enough for me, happens to be Peruvian, picked me up from the airport.  I stayed with him for the 2 nights that I was in Lima. I was glad for his company and advice. Peru is a completely different world. Nothing is done the same way as it is in the states.  The first thing that I saw as we were leaving the airport was a mass of taxi drivers. There was basically an auction for our business once we got there – Mario told the “auctioneer” how much we were willing to spend on a taxi, and he found a taxi driver willing to drive us for that price. Forget metered taxis – everything is bartering in Peru :-).  It’s a blessing and a curse – they can’t run up the meter by driving around in circles, but if you don’t know where you’re going they can still take advantage of you.  I quickly learned to ask nearby pedestrians how much a ride should cost, and then flag down a taxi driver.  That way I knew if he was charging me a fair price or not.

Anyway, the day after I arrive Mario took me on a city tour of Lima.  We had ice cream made from lúcuma, a fruit which is only found in Peru. We also went all the way across town to eat lunch at a great Peruvian buffet.  It was so far away that we actually had to take 2 taxis, because no 1 taxi would take us that far, but Mario was determined to not expose me to “Peruvian germs,” to use his terminology.  It was great food, but probably unnecessary to go to such lengths to protect me from germs.  I wasn’t going to take that much care in my diet for the rest of the trip – might as well get exposed early on! 😉

My favorite part of the day, though, was definitely a 2-hour bus tour of Lima that we went on.  We saw lovely parks, and beautiful old churches, and even a monk jump off a cliff into the frigid water far below (apparently a monk from that order does that several times every day; the restaurant located on the same cliff they jump off of is even named “The Friar’s Jump.”) I had to really focus on the Spanish explanations rattling through the tinny speakers, though. My Spanish is no longer good enough that I can understand without actively listening :-(. Oh well, hopefully it’ll improve in the next month :-). Here’s to a grand 5 weeks!!

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(If you look closely, you can see the monk in a brown habit crawling back up the middle of the cliff after his insane jump into the water)

The beginning of a grand adventure

Well, I am leaving for Peru tomorrow.  While the past week since I graduated has been very busy, and I’m excitedly nervous for the start of my trip, I couldn’t have planned a better final weekend in Atlanta if I had tried.  I spent all day on Friday at an event called LeaderCast – basically a one day leadership conference that was much akin to drinking out of a fire hydrant for 6 hours straight.  Speakers along the lines of Andy Stanley, Laura Bush, and Malcolm Gladwell came and gave us their wisdom and insight into what it means to be an effective leader.  Then, in the evening, Michael and I made dinner for us and 2 other friends of his.  Although I didn’t really know them that well, it was still a very nice and relaxing evening chatting and getting to know each other better.

Saturday was spent at the Renaissance Festival, my annual tradition ever since I started college.  Although the forecast was threatening thunderstorms all day, hardly a drop actually fell.  It was simply nice and cool all day long, and the threat of rain had scared away much of the crowds, making it even better.  We watched incredible acrobats, and pottery and glass-blowing demonstrations, and meandered through the vendors’ booths, and of course took lots of pictures.  I just felt so blessed to be surrounded by so many people who love me so much.

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That evening, after we got back, Michael and I got all dressed up and headed over to Chris and Julia’s.  Julia was having an “Old Hollywood” themed birthday party that night.  So the guys were all decked out in their suits, and the ladies were well represented in sparkly, shiny, or old-style flapper dresses.  It was really a lovely night.  Julia outdid herself with all of the planning and little details, and I was super grateful for the opportunity to see her and get to meet and talk with some of her and Chris’ friends.

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The weekend was rounded out with a grand mother’s day celebration.  My whole family drove up from Albany early on Sunday morning, and got to my church just as the service was starting.  So I got to go to church with my family on Mother’s Day, something I haven’t been able to do in many years.  Afterwards, we all drove to a park in south Atlanta to meet the families of several degrees of in-laws.  We all brought some food to share, and had a grand picnic lunch.  Actually, grand is probably not the correct word.  It was really quite simple and unassuming; but the people that I got to share it with were what made it grand.

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Today (Monday) has been nuts, with me running around trying to get last-minute things for Peru.  Fortunately, though, because of wonderful friends who have pitched in and helped out with what they could, I was also able to go to Elizabeth’s graduation ceremony from Emory nursing school.  Graduating with honors, and already has the job of her dreams lined up – so proud of that girl!!

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And there it is.  I suppose that’s all for now, folks.  I leave tomorrow morning at 11:00 am.  I’ll do my best to give updates as regularly as I can, but as I don’t even know where I’ll be staying from night to night, I have no idea how regularly I’ll have access to internet.  As I’m reflecting over the last few years in Atlanta, I’m realizing more and more that life – all of it – is a grand adventure.  You don’t have to go to another country for weeks on end with no plan to have an adventure.  You can have one every day of your life, if you choose to find it.  But nevertheless, I’m excited to be going on my next big adventure!  Leaving in less than 24 hours!! 🙂