Friday, May 27, 2011

My how time flies when you are having fun!

I just realized that it's Friday night and we've been in Peru for a week. Several people were mentioning today that it seems like we've been here for a couple of months already, and with everything we have done in the last week, I feel it too.
If the next week goes the same as this week, we'll all be too exhausted to actually get off the plane in Huntsville next Friday. This, I believe, is a good thing.
I had hoped that the trip hiccups would all be over after I and three others were separated from the group out of Huntsville and our ensuing jaunt across the US to try and catch up to the rest of the group. Of course, delayed baggage is always a trial, but when Ed's and Paulette's bags made it to the hotel in Lima on Sunday, I thought everything would be smooth sailing from that point on, even though my bag was nowhere to be found. I kept telling myself that as long as problems had to arise, as long as I suffered the worst of them, everyone else could just roll with it. If I stayed calm, they would all stay calm as well. Right?
We are entitled to our theories, and I guess the fact that we have to test them is what makes them theories. I have learned an incredible amount about planning and carrying out a study abroad trip in the last week, and I am far better equipped for any future programs I may choose to run after only seven days. This has been an incredibly grueling week with a steep learning curve for me, but everyone's still alive and the problems or difficulties are minor, so I'm counting it as a success thus far.
Having not written regularly this week, I will now try and give as much of an update as I can. I may also add photos, or perhaps put those in later, as pictures make my words a lot more interesting.
We left Lima on Tuesday morning for Nazca. There is no airport in Nazca (other than the little one used for the flyovers,) so my bag was not going to make it to me there. Thanks to Karen, the real force behind this trip, my bag was scheduled to arrive in Arequipa on Wednesday and I was to go claim it at the Arequipa airport. The LAN Airlines people insisted on delivering it to me at the hotel, so I waited an extra two hours for it to arrive, but what's two hours after SIX DAYS without it? It was good to get my bag back. That's really all I can say.
I must digress at this moment and air a grievance against the U.S. media channels. On May 9, 2011, workers in Puno, Peru began a protest against the government and blocked the highway that runs between Puno and La Paz, Bolivia. The protest has been entirely ignored by the American media channels, and I was completely unaware of the situation until Tuesday night when Karen informed me that the protests had spread and travel to Puno (and Lake Titicaca) is impossible. This meant we had an additional two and a half days to make up in our trip. We would miss Lake Titicaca, Sillustani, Pucapucara, Raqchi, and a couple of other significant sites on our tour as a result. The options available to us were to extend our stay in Arequipa, a city I am entirely unfamiliar with, or go to Cusco early and spend five days there. One benefit to Arequipa is Colca canyon, the debated largest/deepest canyon in the Western Hemisphere, which is a day trip away from Arequipa and is famous for the Andean condors that fly there. After negotiating with Karen about our trip budget and so forth, we (I) decided we would pay the extra money and make the trip to Colca canyon.
I believe I am speaking for the entire group when I say that it was well worth it.
So we're back in Arequipa for one more day and then to take the night bus to Cusco tomorrow night and resume the original itinerary. Machupicchu is the natural climax of this trip, and we will be able to spend most all of Wednesday there, then one more night in Cusco, a flight back to Lima, then back to the USA on Friday.
I hope I last that long.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Baggage Update:

I began yesterday (day two in Peru) with a more serious inquiry into the whereabouts of the lost luggage. I had hoped that the bags had actually completed the journey from Chicago to Miami and then caught the afternoon flight from Miami into Lima on the 21st. This would mean the airline would deliver it sometime later in the afternoon and all would be well. My phone call yielded some answers, but unfortunately not the ones I was seeking. My bag had been located in Chicago, but as of yesterday morning at 9:30, there were no plans to get it from Chicago to Lima. I asked about Ed and Paulette's bags, and they DID make it to Lima and were scheduled to be delivered sometime in the afternoon yesterday. I haven't actually seen the bags, nor have I spoken with Ed and Paulette since midday yesterday, so I can only hope. I have to make the call again, hoping my bag has actually moved forward and is either here or en route. Tomorrow morning we depart for Nazca, then on to Arequipa, Puno, and then Cusco, staying no more than one night in any of these locations until we arrive at Cusco. I'm going to be very hard to catch after 6:00 tomorrow morning.
I'm afraid the odds are not in my favor.

Perhaps it's wise to plan for the worst

It really is a wonderful experience and adventure traveling to another country, even if you’ve been there before. To expand your horizons, to engage a culture foreign to your own, to see the world from even the slightest different perspective are rewards in themselves. It’s an entirely different experience traveling with others, especially when you are the tour conductor or trip leader. To be responsible for the safety and well being of any number of other people is certainly daunting, but with the right people, those responsibilities, although great, are not overly challenging.
Our two-week excursion to Peru was to begin with a noon departure from the Huntsville International Airport on May 20. We were to fly to DFW, then back to Miami, then on to Lima, arriving in Lima at 4:30am on the 21st. Program participants were to arrive at the airport two hours early so we could ensure a smooth start to our journey. When I arrived at 9:45am, a few had already checked into the flight and had found that all flights into DFW were cancelled due to severe weather, and our group had been split up into two: one going to Chicago, the other to Washington, D.C. Both groups were to meet in Miami and resume the trip as originally planned. Sadly, that was not to be the case. For reasons that I did not understand or consider at the time, I was placed in the smaller group of four people sent to Chicago. The remaining 12 went to D.C. on U.S. Airways. (There was a small checked baggage fee issue for the last three in that group, but I was able to see it sorted out.) Both groups departed Huntsville on time, and the larger group (containing all of my undergrads) traveled smoothly for the rest of the trip, arriving at the scheduled time in Lima, with all of their luggage.
My little band of four was not so fortunate. We arrived at Chicago O’Hare to find our 5:30 flight to Miami was delayed until 7:05, putting our arrival in Miami at 11:15, a mere 40 minutes before that flight was scheduled to depart. We were willing to risk the late arrival in Miami because we had told the rest of the group to strongly encourage the Miami flight crew to hold the plane for us. Then the flight was delayed until 7:45. This required immediate action, because missing the flight out of Miami last night meant not getting to Lima until 9:45PM today. This would leave ¾ of my group alone in Peru without me and without the money to pay for the accommodations. Obviously I could not allow this to happen, so I called the rebooking services and managed to maneuver us into a flight to NY La Guardia with a transfer to JFK and a direct flight on LAN Airlines from JFK to Lima arriving about an hour and a half behind the original group.
With too much to detail, we raced to make the La Guardia flight from Chicago, were booked on the LAN flight, only to find that our reservations had been cancelled en route. We were placed on standby with the option of being routed through Guayaquil, Ecuador on a later flight that would arrive at 9:30am in Lima. Fortunately, miracles happen (as stated by the ticketing agent at JFK,) and we made the earlier flight. Unfortunately, when we switched airports and airlines, our bags had no way of knowing where we were headed and had only to wait and carry out the journey as originally planned. I don’t expect them to arrive any sooner than 9:45 tonight, but they have to make it through customs by themselves, then across Lima and to the hotel. I hope we see them tomorrow.
Then again, we have travel insurance that covers our lost luggage up to $300 if the bags are delayed or lost for more than 24 hours. I might get some new clothes out of this little adventure.
For now, we are all safe and secure, albeit travel-weary and worn, in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. I trust that all of the hiccups are now behind us and we can enjoy a smooth trip for the duration.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year's Resolve

I've finally hit the point where I am disgusted at what I see when I look at my physique in the mirror. New year, another recommitment to being healthier this year. It's hard to comprehend how quickly I have let myself fall out of shape, but rather than dwell on the fact that I am out of shape right now, I have to plan how to get back into shape.
My calves don't scream in agony after I run in the toe shoes any more, but I still feel them being worked when I run the hills in my neighborhood. I'm running an average of 3 miles per day, six days a week (over two weeks now) and regret that I can only run about an 8:45/mile pace. I used to average 6:30/mile or faster for any distance up to six or seven miles, and about 6:45-7:00 for ten to fifteen miles. I have a lot of work to do to get back to that point.
I have ridden my new fixie bike to seminary (six miles round trip) for the past two days this week, and the last 1/2 mile of each leg is when I start feeling the real fatigue in my legs. A fixie is a strange animal. Not relying on the derailleur to downshift when I ride up hills forces me to work harder overall, and not being able to stand stationary at an intersection without releasing my foot forces me to carefully consider my route of travel. I desperately need to learn to do a track stand. Retraining myself to never coast has been challenging at times, but not as challenging as figuring out getting into the stupid toe clips on the pedals easily. Arrgh.
I'm going to try the Scale Back Alabama program again this year. Our team's plan is to have everyone put in $30 and if we lose the 10 pounds, we get our money back. If not, those who do lose the weight get to split our entry fee. This is a more immediate consequence and one that is likely to encourage me to succeed rather than the incentive of entering each team in a drawing to win $1000 if all members of the team successfully lose 10 pounds in the 10 weeks. I hope my disgust at my image in the mirror also continues to provide incentive.
I'm also resolved to raise the bar in my classes this semester. I know all of my students this semester and know that they are capable of doing more and performing better in my classes than what I have previously required of them. I am excited about the classes I am offering, and look forward to the semester beginning next week.